Summary: When we read Rev. 3:20 we need to ask: 1. To whom is he speaking? 2. What is his purpose? 3. What should be our response?
I recently finished reading Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Willard is the kind of writer that leaves you saying, "That makes so much sense." But I was struck by an illustration he used toward the end of the book regarding William Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World.” Hunt was a famous Victorian artist and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement. In the painting, Christ is holding a lantern and knocking at a door. I had always heard the explanation that this was Christ knocking at the door of the human heart asking for entrance. But Willard put a whole new twist on it that really speaks to us as a church.
But first, let’s go over the painting and see some of the rich symbolism there. As you have probably heard before there is no handle on the outside of the door. The reason is that even though Christ desires to come in, he never forces his way in. He must be invited, and the door must be opened from the inside. The decision is ours as to whether he will be allowed in or not. The hinges in the picture are rusted and the bolts are broken. The door is held in place only by vines, which shows that the door has never been used. Jesus is holding a lantern, which points to the fact that he is the light of the world. Outside, there is a neglected garden overgrown with weeds, fruit trees which have not been pruned, and a crop which has been lost because of lack of tending. There is fruit that has fallen on the ground near the feet of Christ, symbolizing Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, and that mankind has fallen from God. There is a bat above the door, a nocturnal creature which loves the night, and it is dark outside, pointing to the truth of the Scripture which says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
I saw this picture in St. Paul’s Cathedral when I went to London recently. Below the picture in the cathedral are these words concerning the door on which Christ is knocking: “It is fast barred; its bars and nails are rusty; it is knitted and bound to its stanchions by creeping tendrils of ivy, showing that it has never been opened.”
There is so much more, but as we see this painting, and especially as we read the scripture which says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” we need to ask some questions. The first question we ask is: To whom is Christ speaking? I had always thought that Christ was speaking to individuals, and the door represented each individual human heart. He was knocking because he wanted to come into our hearts and lives. But let’s consider the context. To whom is Jesus speaking in Revelation 3? He is speaking to the church Imagine it He is asking for admission into his own church. It is the church which has closed the door on him and never answered his knock.
This is particularly meaningful to me because of a very unpleasant experience I had as the pastor of another church. I was only there one year and a half. When I preached a series on the Apostle’s Creed they asked me where I got “that stuff.” In the middle of a series of sermons on the book of Philippians, they literally asked me to stop preaching from the Bible, and that is when I decided to leave. The interesting thing is that in the sanctuary, beside the pulpit, there was a very large picture of Christ knocking at the door. On my last Sunday in that church I paused during the sermon and looked at the picture. Then I turned to the church and said, “There are two things I notice about this picture of Christ knocking at the door. The first is that the door is still closed. The second thing I notice is, he is still knocking.” Every Sunday the church saw Christ knocking at the door, but instead of the door being opened, there were vines and weeds growing around it.