One of the most iconic paintings of the twentieth century is the portrait of Jesus knocking on the door of a home. The work is that of the artist, Warner Sallman (April 30, 1892 – May 25, 1968). The theme of Christ knocking on a door has been reproduced in many forms by other gifted artist, but never as lovely as the original.
Sallman based his work on Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me”
The most popular and official interpretation of the painting, is that Jesus is calling upon the soul ensnared in the thistles of sin, and the darkness of ignorance and willfulness. There is an opening of grillwork in the door, revealing the darkness within. Yet, not all is hopeless, for the person in darkness can see who is at the door, and see that He is good and kind.
The knocking of Christ at the door represents the call of the gospel. If the person within the house, will but open the door, Jesus will come inside and have fellowship.
There is no knob on the outside of the door, indicating that a person must open their heart to Christ from within. Jesus will not force His way inside.
The beauty and creativity of the painting itself is of no concern, but the popular interpretation of the painting is of great concern, because the work is based on a text of Scripture, and Scripture must be understood properly.
When Revelation 3:20 is studied in context, the discovery is made that the verse is not about salvation, but sanctification. Christ is speaking to the Church of Laodicea, not to unbelieving sinners in need of a Savior. “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God” to the Church, the redeemed of the Lord (Rev. 3:14).
What message does the resurrected Lord have to say to the Church? Notice the text beginning in Revelation 3:15.
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:15-19).
Christ is speaking to those whom He loves. But He is speaking to a Church that needed to be rebuked, and chastened, because they were lethargic in gospel obedience. The Laodiceans were passive in their profession of faith. They would attend worship services, when it was convenient.
They would actively witness to the lost, on rare occasions.
They would give to the work of the ministry, but only if it cost them nothing, and they had extra money.
The Church of Laodicea had no enthusiasm when they sang the songs of Zion. Some, no doubt, were Baptistic, they never sang the third verse of any hymn.
The Laodiceans would not take the study of the Bible seriously. There was no desire for a Sunday School program, home Bible studies, or Sunday evening services. But there was plenty of time for food, fun, games, and sports.
When the Lord looked upon the Church of Laodicea, He did not see people in love with each other, and weeping over the lost. He did not see any passion for the work of the ministry. The motto of the Church could very well have been, Que, Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be.
The irony, is that the Church had a far different self-image than the Divine point of view. The Church of Laodicea said to one another, “We are rich. We are increased with goods. We have need of nothing” (Rev. 3;17).
They did not know that spiritually there were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
How could the Church of Laodicea have gotten everything so wrong?
Part of the answer was this. People tend to think in terms of relative righteousness. People compare themselves to other people, and say to themselves, “I am not that bad. I do not do those things.” The Pharisees were notorious for engaging in thoughts of relative righteousness. Jesus spoke of two men who went into the Temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:10-13).
Not only do Christians think in terms of relative righteousness, they tend to suppress the truth about themselves. The Bible tells us to examine ourselves, whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
It would not be wrong for a congregation to ask collectively, and individually, “Am I in the sphere of saving faith?” “Am I self-aware of my spiritual state before God?”
“Am I hot for the Lord?”
“Am I cold in spiritual matters?
“Am I lukewarm?”
“Is the Lord ready to spit me out?”
It is within this context that the Lord comes to His people and says to them, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.”
The word, “Behold!” is a strong word. It commands a person to take notice. So does the word, knock. “I knock” says Jesus.
The word is in the present tense, active voice, and indicative mood meaning that Jesus is now knocking. He is personally knocking, for the situation is not something that angels, apostles, or ambassadors can do.
The reality of the moment is intense. This is the knocking of judgment. This is the voice of Christ demanding repentance from dead works, and lethargic behavior.
Christ will not stop knocking. He will bash the door down if He has too to administer judgment and discipline to His people, unless they repent.
The reason why I am concerned about a proper understanding of Revelation 3:20 is this. If Christians read the text, and assign it to the unbeliever, or as a passage on gospel evangelism, then the message to the Church will be missed.
There will be no call to repentance to the Church, and spiritual lethargy will continue to prevail.
Rather than have the Lord spew another local Church out of His mouth in judgment, like so many around us, let us hear His knocking on the door of our Church, our congregation, as a whole, and begin to seek a serious time of fellowship with Him, resulting in a renewed passion for ministry.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 3:13).