49) Intimacy in the Inner Room (Revelation 3:20)
Next to John 3:16, this is perhaps the most famous evangelistic passage in the New Testament. The question is, Should it be? To this lukewarm and backslidden church, Jesus issues this stunning invitation:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
As noted, most people simply assume this is an evangelistic appeal to non-Christians to open the door of their hearts and invite Jesus in to save and forgive them. Let me say first of all that if you came to saving faith in Christ in response to the use of this passage in an evangelistic presentation, praise God! The fact that this text was, in all likelihood, used in a way inconsistent with its original intent in no way invalidates the spiritual life God graciously imparted to you through it.
There’s one more thing to note before we proceed. Colin Hemer has pointed out that Jesus has once again drawn on imagery familiar to the people of Laodicea in order to make his point, for the city was situated foursquare on one of the most important road junctions in Asia Minor. Each of the four city gates opened on to a busy trade route. The inhabitants of Laodicea, therefore, “must have been very familiar with the belated traveler who ‘stood at the door and knocked’ for admission” (204).
According to the most commonly held view, this appeal by Jesus is addressed to unbelievers. The door at which Christ stands is the door to one’s heart or life. The knocking and voice of Christ are heard through the preaching of the gospel. The opening of the door is the decision of the will to invite Christ into one’s heart or life. The result is that in conversion Christ enters the person to take up permanent residence.
Another, more likely view, is that the invitation is addressed to backslidden, unrepentant believers who, in their self-sufficiency, had excluded (indeed, excommunicated) the risen Lord from their congregational and personal lives. But in an expression of indescribable condescension and love Jesus asks permission to enter and re-establish fellowship with his people, a fellowship portrayed in the imagery of a feast in which Christ and Christians share.
One final view to consider is eschatological in nature. This interpretation says that the invitation (v. 20) has a future fulfillment. It is addressed to backslidden believers in the church at Laodicea and pertains to Christ’s second coming. The door at which Jesus stands is a metaphor for the imminence of his return (cf. James 5:9). Those who are prepared and alert to receive their Savior at his coming will enjoy intimate communion with him in the messianic feast of the age to come. This view links v. 20 with v. 21 and the promise of co-regency in the future kingdom.
The salvation view strikes me as highly unlikely. According to v. 19, Jesus is addressing the children of God who, as children, are recipients of divine, loving discipline. Jesus has in view the corporate discipline of the church, similar to what we saw in Revelation 2:5 with regard to the church at Ephesus.
Also, v. 19 (as noted in an earlier meditation) is an obvious allusion to Proverbs 3:11-12 and Hebrews 12:5-6, both of which have in view the children of God. We should also note the connection between v. 19 and v. 20, the latter being a description of what repentance is and what follows upon it, namely, a restoration of intimate communion between Jesus and the believer. We also must acknowledge the obvious reference to the messianic kingdom feast (in this regard, see Luke 12:35-39; 22:28-30). Added to this is the fact that the sharing of table fellowship was a common image in those days for deep communion and the strong bonds of affection and companionship.
Whereas some see in the “feast” and the imagery of “dining” a reference to the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist), I find this unlikely. The picture here is one in which Jesus himself dines personally with the individual, whereas in the Eucharist it is we all, corporately, who share a meal in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ.
Thus the appeal of v. 20 is not to unbelievers so that they might be saved. Rather it is an appeal to individuals (“anyone”) within the church to repent and forsake their spiritual half-heartedness. As a result one may experience now the intimate communion and fellowship of which the feast in the messianic kingdom is the consummation. All present fellowship with Jesus is a foretaste of that eternal felicity which will be consummated in the age to come.
What, then, should be our response today to this divine invitation? I’ll let John Piper answer that and conclude with his words. In agreement with the view I’ve suggested, this letter, says Piper,
“is addressed to lukewarm Christians who think they have need of nothing more of Christ. It is addressed to churchgoers who do not enjoy the riches of Christ or the garments of Christ or the medicine of Christ because they keep the door shut to the inner room of their lives. All the dealings they have with Christ are businesslike lukewarm dealings with a salesman on the porch.
But Christ did not die to redeem a bride who would keep him on the porch while she watched television in the den. His will for the church is that we open the door, all the doors of our life. He wants to join you in the dining room, spread a meal out for you, and eat with you and talk with you. The opposite of lukewarmness is the fervor you experience when you enjoy a candlelit dinner with Jesus Christ in the innermost room of your heart. And when Jesus Christ, the source of all God's creation, is dining with you in your heart, then you have all the gold, all the garments, and all the medicine in the world.
How do you buy gold when you're broke? You pray, and trust the promise: ‘I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’ There is an intimate communion and fellowship with Christ which many of us . . . need to seek in earnest prayer. Because when he dwells in the innermost room of our affections, he brings the power we want more than anything – the power to conquer selfishness and live for others” (“How to Buy Gold When You’re Broke,” a sermon on Revelation 3:14-22, January 2, 1983, http://www.desiringgod.org/).