Monday, October 27, 2008

Misquoted Verses: Rev. 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 eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)

In context:

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 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. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Rev. 3: 14-22)

This verse is the second most misquoted verse according to the poll, and most certainly it must be the most misquoted verse used during evangelism. Typically, it is used in a Gospel invitation near the end of an Evangelistic message or tract to ask people to "invite Christ into your heart". As it is normally presented in a well-known tract which does not need introduction:

Law 4: We need to personally RECEIVE Jesus Christ as our SAVIOR and LORD, then we can KNOW God personally and experience His LOVE.


We receive Christ by Personal Invitation

[Christ is speaking] "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him." - Revelation 3:20

The tract or message then uses this text to call sinners to ask Jesus into your heart. For Jesus is outside knocking on the door of the sinner's heart, and wants to dine with the person, if only the sinner would open his/her heart and allow Christ in, then s/he would experience the fullness of life promised by Jesus to all who believe in him (cf Jn. 10:10). The Gospel invitation is then given and the sinner is asked to respond to the Gospel so proclaimed. It all sounds reasonable, or is it?

First of all, this would NOT be an analysis/critique of the 4SL as commonly presented, but rather an analysis of the use of Rev. 3:20 as a proof-text for the Gospel invitation. Suffice it is to say here that the Apostles and most of Church History knows not this form of presenting the Gospel. [One example of the historical method of Gospel proclamation can be seen in evangelists such as Paul Washer as seen in a previous post here]

The context of Revelations 3:20 is the message of Jesus through the Holy Spirit to the Church of Laodicea. The Church of Laodicea was a a lukewarm church that was neither passionate for the Lord (hot) nor refreshing others (cold), and thus it incurred the wrath and judgment of God on her disgusting lukewarmness (v. 16). She thinks herself rich and prosperous (v. 17), which she most definitely is materially, but in spirituality she is wretched and poor. In a parody of her boasted condition, her Lord call her to get true riches, spiritual riches, as opposed to the outward material riches she has and boasts in.

It is in this context that Rev. 3:20 is situated. Rev. 3:20 therefore is addressed primarily to the Church of Laodicea to repent of her lukewarmness; that she by her lukewarmness has removed Christ her lord from her midst. Yet Christ IS the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23, Col. 1:18) and as such He is pleading with the wayward Church of Laodicea to return back to him and allow Him back into their midst, for their disgusting lukewarmness has chased Him away.

It can be seen immediately that there is a problem with applying this verse to the context of salvation and the Gospel call, not the least is which the contexts are different. The biblical context is towards people in the Visible Church as opposed to unbelievers, corporate as opposed to individual, and the call is to return back to their professed faith as opposed to calling unbelievers to repentance and faith. Such a major difference immediately invalidates such an application as committing a case of eisegesis. And pragmatism is no substitute for fidelity to the Word of God. There is no mitigating factor for misquoting the verse even if it somehow works, as if we have the power to convert anyone in the first place.

In fact, dare I say it, but that the application of this verse to evangelism actually demeans Christ. It reduces our sovereign Lord to be the helpless and often rejected beggar always so "meekly" knocking on everyone's doors, and most of them will reject Him anyway. It dethrones God and elevates Man, as if Man is the center of all things. Such an Arminian methodology compromises the person of Christ and the Godhead, and therefore dishonors the Lord we claim to worship.

With regards to the Gospel invitation, why can't we just use the method of the Apostles, of which we have apostolic warrant even? Let us look at Peter's Gospel invitation:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)

Peter's Gospel invitation does not require him to dethrone God. Instead, the focus of the invitation points to what is known as duty-faith: Man's duty to repent of their sins and therefore turn to Christ. God through the Apostle Peter commands the Jewish sinners present at Pentecost that it is their duty to repent of their sins and thus save themselves from their crooked and perverse generation. As Jonathan Edwards preached, sinners are in the hand of an angry God whose wrath is kindled against them for their many sins. All sinners are obligated to repent of their sins, as fallen creatures owe to their righteous Creator His due. THIS is the biblical basis for the Gospel invitation, and we should proclaim the Creator's right over the sinful creature and of his duty to repent. Of course, this would mean that a more complete Gospel presentation would be needed, but whoever said that the Gospel was just the presentation of a few points based on disjointed verses which do not seem to cohere with each other?

So therefore, let us STOP using this verse out of context, and re-evaluate how we should be presenting the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And may God be pleased to bless us and use us for the furtherance of His Kingdom. Amen.


Nathan W. Bingham said...

"It reduces our sovereign Lord to be the helpless and often rejected beggar...It dethrones God and elevates Man..."

Great summary of the result of this modern error. This misuse did need an entire post addressing it properly, so thank you for doing that.

I've been running through a What is the Gospel? series on my blog (, and I am nearly finished. When I am done, the presentation you took this law from, along with several other presentation will be getting a full critique. At worst, there is so much error in these presentations, and at best you could call it miss-emphasis. In any case they all distort the person of God and His gospel.

Daniel C said...


you're welcome. Have been glancing at your blog recently, and although I have been busy with various stuff, will look through your posts.

Joel Tay said...

YEA!!! It's in Law 4 of 4SL.

That is one reason why I prefer to use WOTM's 4 simple laws as a replacement of 4 spiritual laws. I still prefer the cartoon tracts though.

Daniel C said...


you DO recognize that I was from Crusade, right? Am trying NOT to be too explicit about where it comes from (although it is rather explicit, no need to add oil y'know)

Scripture Zealot said...

I found your blog via Nathan's.

This post topic is very interesting to me. Thanks for writing it. I would be very interested in reading more about the other ones if you have time, especially Matthew 18:19. Some of the older commentators say that it takes a turn there and Jesus is talking more in general but I go with those who stick to the context of church discipline.

I would add Philippians 4:13 which the TNIV pretty much clears up and Philemon :6 which people think is about "witnessing".

Daniel C said...


I would be going through each one of them as I have time.

As with regards to Phil. 4:13 and Philem 6, I guess what I am doing is more on interpretation of often misquoted verses and not so much looking at the original Greek etc, so unfortunately I wouldn't be covering them. But I will say that I don't think Philem. 6 is about witnessing, as the context does not allow for such an interpretation IMO.