“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 with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
Revelation 3:20 has been used by many as an evangelistic verse. Indeed for years I used it as such in my personal evangelism. Yet I came to realize that there are many reasons why this verse confuses rather than clarifies the issue in evangelism.
It Addresses Believers
The second and third chapters of Revelation are seven letters to seven churches. True churches are not buildings, but regenerate people who worship and serve God together. There is not even one unbeliever present in the Body of Christ.
The Issue Is Works
In all seven letters the Lord says, “I know your works.” The words faith (pistis) and believe (pisteuō) do not occur in the seventh letter of which Revelation 3:20 is a part. Clearly the Lord is addressing a problem with their works. There is not one call to faith in Christ anywhere in the seven letters. Indeed, in 2:13 and 19, the only places these words occur, he commends their faith!
We Open the Door by Repenting
If we read this one verse divorced totally from the context, we might be tempted to think it is a salvation verse. However, we would then still want to ask, how do I open the door? The context answers our question. The preceding verse says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
The way to open the door to Jesus Christ is to be zealous for good deeds and to repent of bad deeds. Their works were nauseating to the Lord (verses 15-16). If they wanted the Lord to come and share a meal with them, then they needed to straighten up their lives.
Those who suggest that this verse indicates we must invite Jesus into our lives to have eternal life do so by ignoring the context. If this is a salvation verse, then it teaches salvation by works!
The Meal Is a Symbol of Fellowship
In all cultures meals are a time of fellowship. Thus for the Lord Jesus to tell this church that He wishes to dine with them is a call to fellowship with Him. Fellowship with God is only possible if we are honest and open with Him (1 John 1:9). These believers thought they were doing well spiritually (“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…” verse 17). In reality, they were out of fellowship with God and thus needed to repent to get right with God.
Biblical Examples Never Include Asking Jesus In
There are scores of evangelistic encounters recorded in the Scriptures. Not one involves an invitation to invite Jesus in, open the door, etc. Think about the Lord Jesus talking with Nicodemus and with the woman at the well. Or Peter talking with Cornelius and his household. Or Paul evangelizing the Philippian jailer.
Surely if Revelation 3:20 were an evangelistic verse, we would find biblical examples where this idea occurs. There are none.
Just Tell Them to Believe in Jesus Christ
It may not be fancy; but it is biblical. Call people to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. Tell them that He guarantees eternal life to all who simply believe in Him for it. Verses like John 6:47, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life,” make this clear. The only condition is believing in Christ for the free gift of eternal life.
Use Revelation 3:20 as it was intended: to call believers back to fellowship with God.