These words of Christ are among the best known in the Bible. The subject of many religious paintings and quotations, we all know them, but we usually think of them out of context – as an invitation to open our hearts and minds to Christ and to turn to him in conversion. As Christians we need to understand that the context of the verse has much more to do with where we are now than it has to do with our initial conversion!
In Revelation 3 the apostle John records the words of Christ not to the unconverted, but to the church at Laodicea – a church described as being lukewarm and in real danger of failure:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Revelation 3:15-18).
It is within this context, immediately after this scathing rebuke, that Christ says: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock ...” (Revelation 3:19-20). The context in Revelation 3 makes the specific meaning of this metaphor clear. Christ tells his followers who have become lukewarm that he still stands at the door and knocks – we still have the opportunity to open that door wide and to fellowship with him.
The fact that Christ extends the analogy to say that if we open the door he will dine with us: “… I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20b) is also an important part of his message. Eating together was a mark of true and intimate fellowship in New Testament times and Jesus uses the analogy with purpose. He clearly tells us that no matter what our present relationship with him, we can improve it at any time if we so choose, by opening the door.
The only warning we must give ourselves is that the opportunity does not last forever. In Luke 13 we see Christ inverted the analogy of the open door in a very potent way: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” (Luke 13:24-27).
Notice again the image of the meal. These are people who had dined with Christ at one time, but had since fallen away from close fellowship. Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus urged his disciples to be: “ …like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him” (Luke 12:36).
So we see in the teachings of Jesus a frequent use of the analogy of the closed door that must be opened, a door we may open if we so choose, but a door that it will not always be possible to open. In Revelation 3, Christ tells some in his Church that the opportunity for close fellowship with him is available, but that we must not only open the door to him at our conversion – we must keep that door open till the end. To some he says “… be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19), but to all of us he says we must continue to keep the door open to him.
How do we know if our door is open? If we are “contented Christians” – if we are doing only what our conscience or our church expects – if our expenditure of time, effort and love is often or usually less than it could be – if we do not feel a need for more – we need to ask ourselves if, like the Laodiceans, we feel we “do not need a thing” (Revelation 3:17) and we have begun to close the door.
It is only when we keep the door of our hearts and minds open to him that we will have the kind of fellowship with Christ that he characterized as the sharing of a meal together. That fellowship is something to which the whole of the Book of Revelation points. It is the reason it tells us “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9a). But if we truly want to participate in that fellowship and want him to open the doors of that dinner to us, we, in turn, must keep our door open to him!