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)