“Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock” – Is Rev. 3:20 an Invitation to Salvation?

Is Revelation 3:20 an invitation to salvation? This was something I really wasn’t looking for but stumbled across in Daniel Wallace’s book Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. I know there is a debate on what the passage means when it says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock . . .” Is this an invitation to unbelievers to become believers or for believers to do something. I offer here Wallace’s take on the verse. The context is his discussion of the Greek preposition πρὸς. I have abridged it slightly.

“One of the more significant and, at the same time, most misunderstood passages (at least in popular circles) involving πρὸς, is Rev. 3:20. (Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he [will dine]  with me”.) The crucial phrase for our purposes is “I will come in to him.” This text has often been taken as a text offering salvation to a lost sinner. Such a view is based on two assumptions: (1) that the Laodiceans, or least some of them, were indeed lost, and (2) that εἰσελεύσομαι πρὸς means “come into.”

Both of these assumptions, however, are based on little evidence. With reference to the first assumption, that those in the Laodicean church were not believers, it is important to note that in the preceding verse, the resurrected Lord declares, ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” Here φιλέω is used for ‘love’—a term that is never used of God/Jesus loving unbelievers in the NT. (Indeed, it would be impossible for God to have this kind of love for an unbeliever, for it routinely speaks of enjoyment and fellowship. ἀγαπάω, rather, is the verb used of God’s love for unbelievers [cf. John 3:16], for it frequently, if not normally, speaks of commitment and, when used with God/Jesus as the subject, the idea is often of an unconditional love.) This φιλέω must be applied to the Laodiceans here, for the verse concludes, ‘Be zealous therefore, and repent.’ The inferential οὖν connects the two parts of the verse, indicating that the Laodiceans are to repent because Christ loves (φιλέω) them!

The second assumption is that εἰσελεύσομαι πρὸς means “come into.” Such an assumption is based on a less than careful reading of the English text! The ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, for example, all correctly render it ‘come in to.’ (Note the space between the prepositions.) The idea of ‘come into’ would be expressed with εἰς as the independent preposition and would suggest penetration into the person (thus, spawning the idea of entering into one’s heart). However, spatially πρὸς means toward, not into. In all eight instances εἰσέρχομαι πρὸς in the NT, the meaning is ‘come in toward/before a person’ (i.e., enter a building, house, etc., so as to be in the presence of someone), never penetration into the person himself/herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (cf. Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 16:40; 17:2; 28:8).

What then, can we say that this verse is affirming? First, we should answer in the negative: it is not an offering of salvation. The implications of this are manifold. Among other things, to use this text as a salvation verse is a perversion of the simplicity of the gospel. Many people have allegedly ‘received Christ into their hearts’ without understanding what that means or what the gospel means. Although this verse is picturesque, it actually muddies the waters of the truth of salvation. Reception of Christ is a consequence, not a condition, of salvation. As far as the positive meaning of this verse, it may refer to Christ having supremacy in the assembly or even to an invitation (and, consequently, a reminder) to believers to share with him in the coming kingdom. But to determine which of these is correct is beyond the scope of grammar. All grammar can tell us here is which view is almost certainly not correct—namely, that which sees this as an offering of salvation.” (381-82)

Wallace then offers the following footnote:

“The idea that one is to receive Christ into one’s heart is based on essentially two texts, Rev 3:20 and John 1:12. But neither passage addresses this. In John 1:12 those who received the word were Jews in Palestine who received Jesus into their homes and treated him as a true prophet. It is a historical statement, not a soteriological one.” (382n71)

Jesus Knocking

 

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11 thoughts on ““Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock” – Is Rev. 3:20 an Invitation to Salvation?

  1. Dear Louis,

    Excellent post! This is an example of the misusing of a verse of Scripture for memorization and preaching (Pastors, Beware of taking a verse out of context!) without taking into account the context of the passage.

    1. The context as has been indicated is the letter to the Laodiceans.
    2. The next questions is whether the letter ends in verse 19 or continues to verse 20.
    3. I take the letter to end at verse 20.
    4. The verse is actually indicating that Jesus is standing outside the door of His Church, here locally referring to the Laodicean church, and asking permission to come in to His Church.
    5. This would indicate to me that the Church of Laodicea is operating without Christ.
    6. This would also indicate the “Church” is not referring to a “building,” but of each individual as that person acknowledges Christ and “opens the door to their heart.”

  2. Thank you for posting this. Best explanation of it that I have read. (And I’ve read all of them in the whole world of course.)
    Jeff

  3. So, if we do not receive Christ into our hearts, where then do we receive him?
    just kidding, of course ;-)

    As always, Wallace packs a punch and speaks clearly and sanely. Sadly, many in the church ain’t listening to much beyond the tradition they grew up hearing.

  4. I don’t think the pulpit commitees of churches today would elect Jesus as Pastor. They can’t hear Him knocking. If Jesus isn’t welcome at a church, then I truely would not want to be there. If people do not fellowship with Christ, then how will they be saved? “Rev 3:20″ is revelation about salvation and an invitation to salvation.

  5. Joe did you read the post and the Scripture carefully in its context? Not that Wallace is infallible, but I’ve never heard a gifted teacher argue what you have here. I would need more explanation to understand your take on it. I believed the same until I realized who God was speaking to and the context of his offer.

    Many Christians are saved and yet don’t pay much attention to God–hopefully for just a period of time. He wants to have fellowship with us and we benefit so much from it. That’s His plea and offer to us.
    Jeff

    • Mr Wallace examines the precise application and immediate context of 3:20. He knows the Christians being addressed have been and are saved. His primary concern is that modern day preachers will present 3:20 in such a way as to preach a false gospel. “Many people have allegedly “recieved Christ into their hearts” without understanding what that means or what the gospel means” (pg 381). Amen! However, a skillful preacher of the gospel being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, could use 3:20 in preaching to the lost and to the Church with equal power. Is Jesus knocking at the door? Is He in some way presenting the gospel to the lost and even warnings to the saved? “Whoever will” at the end of Revelation is who? My point is that Rev 3:20, if used rightly (big if), truely can be used in evangelism and in teaching or admonishing the Church. By all means please do teach the immediate context, but do not withhold the universal message. “If any man come unto me, I will in no wise cast him out”. God wills that all men be saved. If anyone hears his voice and opens the door… . God makes initial contact. People then respond one way or the other.

  6. Dear Joe,

    Great sermon, but it is not what the context that 3:20 is found is saying (see initial comment above). Furthermore,

    1. The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia were written to “Christian believers.”
    2. This means that “non-believers” are not being addressed here.
    3. 3:20-22 is the concluding statement, exhortation or invitation to the Laodiceans; thus, it is similar to 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13.
    4. Many times in the NT, as well as the OT, the final exhortation or invitation is addressed to believers. In fact, the special revelation of God as found in the OT & NT is made to believers not to non-believers. Creation, as such, are used by God, as revelation of a similar kind, but not the same as special revelation (cf. Romans 1-3; Hebrews 1:1-2 especially Romans 10:17, “So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God).

  7. Pingback: Around the Web - Bible, Prayer and Depression | Scripture Zealot

  8. OK, so let’s say we accept the premise that the NT doesn’t actually teach the idea that we are to “accept Jesus into our hearts” for salvation based on Wallace’s careful exegesis.

    But the NT does say that Jesus (or His Holy Spirit) dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph 3:17; Gal 2:20) and Rom 8 speaks of those who have and those who don’t have Christ in their hearts.

    So my question is, if we don’t accept him into our hearts, how/when does he take up residence there?

  9. I have always heard this verse as a salvation message. Now it seems that it is for believers to be more committed. I am confused about how vs. 16 fits into this: “because you are lukewarm ……… I will spit you out of my mouth.” How does relate to those believer’s salvation? (Romans 8:38-39)

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