We often think we truly know a scriptural passage, only to dig a little deeper and be pleasantly surprised. For me, Revelation 3:20 fell into this category.
It is often misunderstood. It has been applied evangelistically, used to urge unbelievers to ‘open the door’ of their heart to Jesus as he stands outside knocking. The context, however, shows that Jesus is actually addressing believers.
Nonetheless, as I read the passage recently, I perceived new depths to the verse which delighted me. What I had not realised is that Jesus’ words clearly allude to the Song of Solomon 5:2 – ‘Listen! My beloved is knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one”’. Or, as the Greek translation in the Septuagint renders it, ‘The voice of my beloved, knocking upon the door’.
In both Revelation 3:20 and Song of Solomon 5:2 we have, in the Greek, a ‘voice’, ‘knocking’, ‘at / upon the door’ and ‘open’ – clearly not mere coincidence!
In Revelation, Jesus urges the sinful Laodicean believers to repent of their lukewarmness, perhaps manifested in half-hearted works. Remedying this would ‘open the door’ and facilitate fellowship with Jesus. He wants to share a meal with these believers. It is an offer of grace: fellowship with Jesus for those who are undeserving.
But, by alluding to the Song of Solomon, Jesus raises the offer to a staggering level. These lukewarm believers, needing to repent lest Jesus spits them out, are alluded to not as ‘You nauseating reprobates who don’t deserve the name Christians,’ but as, ‘My sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one’!
Although the Laodicean church may have been guilty of apathy towards Jesus, he still extends a gracious invitation. If there is an individual believer who yet hears, repents and opens, Jesus will come into that person and eat with them. Jesus’ attitude towards that individual person is the attitude of the Lover in the Song of Solomon who cherishes his beloved.
Does Revelation 3:20 afford the believer the right to apply the Song of Solomon to their own personal relationship with Christ? This author would suggest so.
We may go through times when our apathy becomes sickening to Jesus and we need to repent. But what an amazing incentive to change: Jesus still views us with ardent love and undying commitment!
He longs to restore fellowship with us, despite our indifference to him. Certainly, the warning that Jesus would spit us out of his mouth is a solemn one: it is worth noting that the Lover’s patience in the Song of Solomon, is not unlimited. The command to repent must be obeyed. But with one who is ‘altogether lovely’ seeking you with such a passionate heart, why would you want to delay?
Nick Fuller is pastor of Truro Evangelical Church, Cornwall.