Revelation 3:20: “I stand at the door and knock . . .”

There are passages in the Bible that are often misunderstood but taken for granted. Over the next year or so I’ll address some of these from time to time. Here are several translations of 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 dine with him, and he with Me. (NKJ)

 

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 ESV)

 

Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door

I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20 NET)

 

Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20 CSBO, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

 

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door,

I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 KJV)

 

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. (Rev. 3:20 NAS)

 

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,

I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Rev. 3:20 NIV)

 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 RSV)

 

First, some comments about the translations. Every translation hits the mark on the words “I will come in to him”. The Greek is not that hard. But let us notice how often modern readers have not understood the verse even in English because of bad assumptions they bring to the text.

Naturally, the NIV has to change something: “eat with that person, and they with me”. If we truly believe in an inerrant, verbally inspired text, we must not tamper with it. The Greek does not say “eat with that person, and they with me”. It just does not say that but says “eat with him, and he with me”. Why did the NIV change the singular “he” to plural “they”? The only reason I know is that they were trying to be inclusive. “He” sounds sexist, at least to the NIV translators. So, without divine authority, they changed singular “he” to plural “they”. What have we lost? We have lost the preciousness of one person having a close personal relationship with Jesus the Son of God!

We don’t deny the corporate aspect of the context, which is the Church at Laodicea It is not “either or” but “both and”, but our point is to look at the translation of the verse.

One more thing on the NIV. It leaves out completely the words “to him”: “I will come in and eat with that person” instead of “I will come in TO HIM and eat with that person”. Why do that? When the NIV first came out, I was in seminary as a Hebrew and Greek major, and I was excited to see it. We students were given an advanced copy of the Gospel of John. I was startled when I got to John 1:13: “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. (John 1:13 NIV)  Gad’s, are you kidding me? Is it theoretical possible to translate it HUSBANS’S WILL? Yes. Is it likely? NO! I have found many such errors in the NIV, some much more egregious. My advice: stay away from it! [I checked out Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nissa, Ambrose, St. Leo the Great, John of Damascus, Clement of Alexandria, and a few others, and all translated the text not as “the will of the husband” but always as “the will of man”. And some of these men had Greek as their first language. The “will of the husband” just did not dawn on them.]

Next, the NET Bible is what I call an exegetical paraphrase. It is always interesting to consult, but not something I would want to recommend to the layperson who is untrained in the biblical languages. The NET says: “I will come into his home”, which is an exegetical paraphrase. The context is Christ standing at the door of a church, but the fact is that it does not say “home” but “I will come in TO HIM”. Let us leave the interpretation alone in translation, as much as possible. But if you want my interpretation, it is the church where He is knocking, not inside a person, but I would not add that to a translation. I take the Fox News approach: “I translate, you decide.”

More to our point:

  1. Notice the bold print in each verse above in Rev. 3:20, rendering the verb and preposition correctly, something like “I will come in” (one word in Greek and space after “come in”) “to him.” It does not say, and cannot be made to say, that Jesus, knocking at the door, will come INTO the person. No, it cannot mean that. The verb is clear that something is entered (“come in”) and someone is dined with the One coming in “to” that person.
  2. Why is it that virtually all competent translations translate the verb and preposition accurately as “come in to him,” not “come into him”? The simple answer is that the Greek does not allow anything else. The verb means TO ENTER something, and the preposition means to go TO something, or in this case, TO someone.
  3. Here is a proposed translation: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter to him, and I will dine with him and he with me.”

So what difference does it make? There is no doubt that Jesus comes into the heart of those who come to know Him, and I would not deny that Jesus overrules our lack of precision in presenting the Gospel when we say to have eternal life just ask Jesus into your heart, but that is not the way the New Testament presents the Gospel. The point in believing in Jesus is to have eternal life, to have forgiveness of sins, to have righteousness (Phil. 3:9). It can be a very subtle error to substitute the work of the Holy Spirit for the work of Christ. That is one of the errors of Pentecostalism. The fact is that when we believe in Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit automatically:

13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom [Jesus] also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:13-14 NKJ)

. . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love . . . (Eph. 3:17 NKJ)

“Did you received the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2)

We do not deny but maintain that Christ lives in our hearts by faith. But what we have in Rev. 3:20 is not initial salvation, but the ongoing ministry of Holy Communion, and perseverance in the faith. The door at which the Lord stands, according to the context, is the door of the church, saying that He wants to “dine with him, and he with Me”. (Rev. 3:20 NKJ)

John is writing to the church of Laodiceans, and he is asking them to have the Communion meal with him and Jesus (Rev. 3:14 NKJ).

The point is that the Gospel is not asking Jesus into our hearts; it is believing in Him, trusting in Him for forgiveness of sins. This may sound very picky, but there are important principles. In other words, the Gospel is objective, outside of us, not subjective, inside of us. When we believe in Jesus, we receive His eternal life; indeed, we receive Him. The gospel is not financial prosperity, not physical health (at least in this life), it is not that we need to be happy and expect Jesus to grant us wishes to make us happy. It is holiness, not happiness, that the Lord requires for our lives. The gospel is that we are sinners, that we are under the wrath of God (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5-8; 9:22; 12:19; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6, 1 Thess. 1:10, etc), and if we trust in Jesus He will forgives us our sins, give us His righteousness, and enter into our hearts as a result of believing in Him.

. . . be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Phil. 3:9 NKJ)

9 . . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame”.  (Rom. 10:9-10 ESV)

The word “heart” here, as often throughout the Bible, means the mind, the inner-man, the immaterial part of mankind. Jesus is the object of our faith (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit), and when we believe, Jesus knocks on the door of our church, asking to have communion with us.

There are many other things in this verse that we could explore. Sometimes this verse is used for the Arminian idea that we’re in charge of our own salvation, that Jesus is a helpless savior who sits on the sidelines, wringing His hands, waiting for someone to open the door of his heart so He can grant salvation. There is nothing like that in the context. Jesus is judging this church and commanding it, in an indirect and merciful way, to bow to Him to get their sorry church in order. Let us not mistake His mercy for our presumed sovereignty. Even as an indirect command, it does not confer ability to obey. In other words, “ought” does not infer “ability”, never does, never will (John 6:35, 44-45). AMEN. Ω.