Revelation 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 will dine with him, and he with me.” But to whom is Jesus speaking, a lost person, a wayward christian? Is this a call to believers for a closer fellowship with the Lord or a call of repentance to those who clearly do not know him? Is it even possible to discern the meaning of this metaphor using a contextual analysis? The penultimate, immediate context, the one word that proceeds this sentence, is the word “repent.” The Greek word transliterated into english that John uses is “Metanoeo.” It is the same word John the Baptist uses in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines the word repent; “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” Bible Study Tools also defines the word in a similar yet more exhaustive way, I’ll spare you the details. However, one verse they quote to illumine the word repent is Ezekiel 33:11. “Turn, turn from your evil ways!” It seems that we are to believe that we are to turn, to do a 180, to revolve. I know that I, for one, love a good revolution. But is this the true meaning of the word, “metanoeo?” Yes, that is a rhetorical question, that we will answer, but even with an exact and precise definition, that word alone doesn’t answer our original question, “to whom is Jesus speaking?”
Let’s get a little more context, shall we?
Revelation 3:14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:15‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 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 will dine with him, and he with Me. 21‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
The context is clear, we can say with certainty that Jesus’ words are directed towards those in the church at Laodicea. We should not and cannot take these words out of context. How can we say to the un-saved that Jesus stands at the door of your heart and is knocking when the context is clear that he is speaking to those within a church? In verse 19 Jesus says, “those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.” Notice verse 15, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.” This is written to a church, a church known by Christ Jesus. He knew their deeds and he loved them, regardless of said deeds. Case closed, those believers in a church that are lukewarm must repent from their lukewarmness, the context has commanded it. Or has it?
I used that word again, repent. It seems the people in the church needed a revolution from their lukewarm deeds. Is that entirely what Jesus meant, or at all? It is, yet unfortunately, I believe we have the wrong impression of what it means to be lukewarm. I also think we aren’t neglecting the severity of the word repent; though revolution does seem to be severe.
“Chliaros,” as it is transliterated, is the greek word translated to lukewarm in English. It is an obvious metaphor. One is not literally lukewarm, therefore we need to understand what jesus was alluding to when he used this term, lukewarm. In his radio series, Thru the Bible, Dr. J. not of 76ers and Umass basketball fame, but J. Vernon McGee explains how water in the mountains near Laodicea that started out cold, would warm as they traveled down to Laodicea and by the time they arrived, they were lukewarm. Literally, that is the translation of chliaros, tepid or warming. Other neighboring cities of Laodicea also had hot springs in which people would soothe their bodies. Dr. McGee goes on to make the argument that the christians who are cold reject every doctrine of the faith and is “in active opposition to the word of God.” Whereas a “Hot” church, “Speaks of those with real spiritual fervor.” The christians in Laodicea were, “between those positions of hot and cold.” Dr. McGee adds, “To my judgement this middle-of-the-road position is the worst kind of hypocrisy there is.” I agree, with the hypocrisy part but not with the middle-of-the-road part. His explanation does remind me of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, along with the Israelites in 1 Kings 18 where Elijah says, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.”
However, if this stuck in the middle between right and wrong, hot and cold is in fact the aim of Jesus’ words, why not reference an example from the Old Testament? For instance, to the church in Pergamum Jesus invoked the story of Balaam and Balak. To the church in Thayatira the Lord spoke of Jezebel and to Philadelphia, David. With all these references to the Old Testament to the other churches, why wouldn’t the Lord use such a clear example of stuck in the middle as the story of Elijah in 1 Kings? The answer is we don’t know and can’t know and it isn’t even a question we should ask because it can’t be answered. I only asked the question to get our discernment juices flowing. Let’s not talk about what is missing in the text, let’s talk about what we’re missing in the text. I am hoping that after reading this, you will change your mind. Which brings us back to the word repent; metanoeo. Meta, as in metamorphosis, to change, and noieo, to think differently after. Jesus clearly wanted the people to change their minds after listening to his words; repentance.
Jesus did want a revolution, a revolution in their minds. He wanted them to embrace an entirely different way of thinking. And if one’s way of thinking is wrong, is he born again? Were they regenerate, covenant people or were they lost? Context is king, and it’s the only way to answer the question.
Did you enjoy my picture of a door with no walls (and a few friends)? Yes, the picture is about the door but I could have put a picture of any of 10,000 doors there. It is also about what is not there, and although I seem to be in the habit of looking at things that are not there, I have my reasons. Look again with me closely to the beginning and ending of our text. Revelation 3:14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
“The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds…'” and 20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Look at the picture again and I hope you will realize why I used this particular picture. It is because the Lord stands at the door, yes, but it is also because there are no walls, why? It is owing to the fact that he is the true witness and he knows our deeds, he sees all, there are no walls to him. He sees us exactly how and where we are. Yet he is knocking at the door; to awaken us? No, that was the church in Sardis. Is it to have a closer fellowship with back-slidden believers? I think not. Let’s quickly examine the text in between the one who sees all and the one who knocks.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” The late, great, faithful servant of Christ, Dr. McGee would have us believe that lukewarm represents the middle between hot and cold. While I disagree with his perspective, it is a very logical conclusion. However, consider what Dr. McGee himself said on his radio program about the lukewarm water. While you’re doing that, look at Jesus’ specific words: “I wish that you were cold or hot.” Why would Jesus want a church to be cold if cold represents, “an active opposition to the word of God?” I know what your thinking; at least this way he knows exactly where they stand. The faithful and true witness, the knower of deeds, the one who has no walls needs to know exactly where they stand? In the adjacent communities and areas to Laodicea there were hot springs used for the soothing of muscles and mountains with ice-cold, fresh, drinking water. But what kind of water was found in Laodicea? Lukewarm, germ infested, good for nothing water! Hot water is good. Cold water is even better. Lukewarm water only does one thing, it induces vomiting. That’s right, it is expelled, look at verse 16, “I will spit (literally vomit) you out of my mouth.” All this to say that lukewarm water doesn’t represent a stuck in the middle christian, it represents a useless and worthless person. Don’t believe me, continue to look at the context.
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…” Does that sound like a person stuck in the middle or does it sound like a useless person? Consider the opposing text in Revelation 2 to the church in Smyrna: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich).” And what about the eye salve so that they could see? Jesus did say they were blind. He then offers them eye salve. And what of their nakedness? Jesus offers them clothes. And what about their poorness? Yes, he offers them Gold. My only question is what does all of this mean? I think the statement Jesus makes in verse 18 sums it all up very well, “that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” Turns out that the Old Testament is referenced here, and not only the Old Testament but the oldest of the Old Testament. Genesis 3:10 “And he (Adam) said, ‘I heard the sound of Thee (the all-seeing, all-knowing, ever-present, eternal God) in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.'” He hid himself from the God of no walls and even while the Lord was knocking, Adam made an excuse.
Nakedness is not a symbol of a middle-of-the-road christian, it signifies the fallen man. I’m afraid the answer to our original question is that Jesus is speaking to a church full of unrepentant people, otherwise, why would he tell them to repent?
I don’t want to write things such as, “The church in America” or “The western Evangelical churches have lost their way.” That type of overarching, stereotypical rhetoric neglects those “Smyrna” type churches that are poor, yet rich. Those churches that are making an impact for Christ, or better yet, suffering terribly for their unrelenting stance on the word of God. However, where am I and where are you? Are we naked? Do we want to be found naked? The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church in his second letter to them that, “we don’t want to be unclothed, but clothed.” That is, that we want the mortal to be eradicated and the spiritual to overtake us. Have the majority of our churches become nothing more than social clubs where we thank God for our earthly tents? Is the American dream not the American naked nightmare? Do we prefer to push our politics or practice and preach piety? Are we sacrificing ourselves for the sake of our savior, serving Smyrna? Prisoners, orphans, widows, the poor, do we serve them or argue about curtains, music, pews and the like?
I’ve disagreed with a faithful servant who is now in the presence of the Lord. The truth is, Dr. McGee is a hero to me, so to speak. I agree with most of his commentaries and acknowledge the incredible work he put into them. Another of my heroes that has long since gone to be with the Lord is Martin Luther. Again, an imperfect man with whom I don’t always agree but a hero nonetheless. Why? Because while trying to aid in purifying the church, he was forcefully removed. Think about it. Are our ears being tickled or are we suffering persecution? 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So, are we having our ears tickled or suffering for Christ’s sake? China–persecution and the church is growing, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, the list continues. But in America the church has declined; because we are rich. My hero was kicked out, and I fully expect to be kicked out. The very next church business meeting I’m in, when, not if, when something as trivial as curtains, or music, or length of service comes up, I will stand and say, “Picture Jesus whipped, scourged, beaten, pulverized and nailed to a cross, and REPENT!” Oh how we are made for so much more than curtains; I say this in love and perhaps it is a bit harsh because we are there to serve others but is that the way in which we are truly called to serve? Look! He stands at the door and knocks. We can’t run, we can’t hide. Let’s open the door to Jesus and close the door to the world.
One last thing, and once again, it’s something that isn’t there. The Lord is standing at a closed door, one at a church with no walls and he has nothing good to say about it. Even to the dead church in Sardis at the beginning of chapter 3, “He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.'” I realize that is an extraordinarily lilliputian endorsement, yet is something, no matter how miniscule. To the lukewarm church the Lord has nothing good to say about their deeds, other than he knows them. The scariest, most sobering words found in all the Bible are what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'” A close second is a closed door to the one who knocks.