Debunker no.3: Revelation 3:20, a Gospel verse?

“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; ESV).

Ever heard this verse used in evangelism? Both personal and collective evangelism? Based on this verse, people draw the conclusion that God is a “gentleman and cannot force anyone to believe in Him or to do anything against man’s will.” But is this really true? Is this passage viewed in its RIGHT context?

Before anything, let’s look at the context of this verse. Remember what context means? According to the dictionary, context can be defined as “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect.” So, let’s do that.

Chapters one and two of the book of Revelation are letters spoken from the mouth of the Lord Himself to the apostle John addressed to specific churches. John was exiled to the island of Patmos, which is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. This is where John wrote this book, and it is believed to have been written during the reign of the eleventh Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus (more widely known as Domitian). I found a very interesting piece of knowledge in Wikipedia about his reign: “A tradition based upon 4th century writings by Eusebius of Caesarea maintains that Jews and Christians were heavily persecuted toward the end of Domitian’s reign. The Book of Revelation is thought to have been written during this period. However no convincing evidence exists of any widespread religious oppression under Domitian. Although Jews were heavily taxed, no contemporary authors mention trials or executions based on religious offences other than those within the Roman religion.” My point with this is, Christianity (not Catholicism) was not tolerated by the Roman Empire. And the church was being persecuted at this time, although there is no vast material supporting extreme persecution during Domitian’s reign, but their faith was tested.
Chapter 3 of Revelation consists of three letters addressed to actual churches existing in actual cities around +A.D. 95. One was written for the church in Sardis (for more information on the history of this church and a deeper study about it, check out this link); another for the church in Philadelphia (for a deeper study about this church check out this link); and finally for the church in Laodicea (for a deeper study about this church, check out this link), which is our main focus in this Debunker.
Let’s look at verse fourteen: “the words of the Amen” the word Amen means faithful in the original Greek of the New Testament, it has the connotation of someone who is constant and does not waver. “the faithful”  the word faithful means someone who can be relied on. And “the true witness,” we get the word “martyr” from the word witness, which means a spectator, or in the modern connotation, someone who proves the genuineness of their belief through violent death. Let’s also look at “the beginning of God’s creation,” the word for beginning means “the first place, principality, rule, magistracy,” from where we get our word in English for “architect.”  Look at how this letter starts. It seems to me that it is filled with some sort of sarcasm, as if the Lord is telling them that He is the unwavering, truthful, enduring, sovereign architect, the only one, and they are not being faithful to this, which is in fact what comes in the following verses.
For the sake of length I won’t go into the same details for the remaining verses of this chapter but, please read Revelation 3:15-19. Quite shocking isn’t it? This sounds more like righteous divine anger towards slothful and dead “Christians” that profess to know the Lord when they were never known by the Lord. However, God in His grace and mercy gives them the opportunity to repent and come back to Him, to “buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” However, a truthful revelation and conviction of man’s iniquity to his soul always precedes an offer of Grace and forgiveness. See verse nineteen: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” Then comes verse twenty. The people in this church were not desiring fellowship with the risen Christ, their hearts were set on riches. But it’s not that out of their autonomy they can frustrate God’s will and bind God to their will, it is simply a warning to repent and the promise of forgiveness and blessings, but always preceded by a stern warning. 
So you see? This verse has nothing to do at all with witnessing or salvation. For man’s autonomy cannot and will not frustrate the desires of a Sovereign God. This verse is a call to true repentance for a fallen church and a gracious offer of true fellowship with the Living Savior, not a supporting verse for the fallacy of God being a “gentleman that cannot force anyone to follow His will.” That, however, is a topic for another entry. The main point is, can we use this for evangelism? When we so adamantly neglect proper exegesis and context, we end up chopping up the Bible to fit our theology. Let’s all be very careful with that.

God bless

7 thoughts on “Debunker no.3: Revelation 3:20, a Gospel verse?

  1. Wow… love it love it love it!A lot of things I didn't know before… a lot of history that definately needed to be taken into consideration. Keep up the great work 😀

  2. Is there anymore information you can give on this subject. It answers a lot of my questions but there is still more info I need. I will drop you an email if I can find it. Never mind I will just use the contact form. Hopefully you can help me further.- Robson

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