Revelation 3:20

Revelation 3:20-21 (see also John 14:23)
“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. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Calvinists often say that it’s a “pet peeve” of theirs when people cite Revelation 3:20 in evangelism because Jesus was speaking to “The Church,” which was already saved, and hence, it’s not evangelical. However, most Calvinists also profess a “Lordship Doctrine,” and therefore I like to ask such Calvinists: (1) Do you, as a Calvinist, profess the “Lordship Doctrine?” (2) What does the Lordship Doctrine mean to you? (3) Do you believe that Jesus’ description of the spiritual state of the Laodiceans is consistent with what you profess about the Lordship Doctrine? Now the Calvinists are in a pickle, because to maintain that the Laodiceans were saved, simultaneously guts any meaning to their Lordship Doctrine, and now they have to make a difficult choice? However, this shouldn’t be difficult for Calvinists to understand, since many secular colleges once started out as Christian seminaries (like Princeton), and therefore it should not be puzzling how a Laodicean Church might have similarly devolved into something else. Once Revelation 3:20 is recovered in an evangelical sense, then the Calvinist is forced to deal with it in an individual sense, and which is also consistent with John 14:23. It should also be remembered that many in Israel had believed in Jesus, but yet Jesus nonetheless also denounced some of the Israelite cities (such as Capernaum and Bethsaida), which likely was reflective of the majority state. The majority state of the Laodicean Church was likely similar, without dismissing the notion that some were likely Christians.

​Calvinist, John MacArthur: “Though this verse has been used in
countless tracts and evangelistic messages to depict Christ’s 
knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, it is broader than that. 
The door on which Christ is knocking is not the door to a single 
human heart, but to the Laodicean church. Christ was outside 
this apostate church and wanted to come in—something that 
could only happen if the people repented.” (The MacArthur New 
Testament Commentary: Revelation 1-11, p.140, emphasis 

If this is an “apostate church,” then is Revelation 3:20 an evangelical appeal? It seems that a Calvinists second favorite word (after “sovereign”) is “heretic,” and thus it is quite puzzling to see Calvinists so resistant to affirm that Revelation 3:20 is a message to the lost, for the purpose of salvation.

The context of Revelation 3:20 is the Lord’s address to the Church at Laodicea: “‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘“I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.’” (Revelation 3:14-19)

​Question: Which of those descriptions are consistent with the Lordship Doctrine?

Answer: I find it truly fascinating that people who profess a “Lordship Doctrine,” simultaneously insist that those of the Church of Laodicea, whom the Lord described as “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” were actually saved. Do they also wish to suggest that these were taking up their cross daily? 

​Question: What does Jesus mean when He says, “I will spit you out of My mouth”?

Answer: Can this be paraphrased to mean, “I will accept you into Heaven”? So what was a “pet peeve” for the Calvinist, now becomes a serious dilemma, and now Calvinists have to re-think the whole thing.

Not all Calvinists agree, though, that the Laodiceans were saved. 

Calvinist, Francis Chan: “As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” (Crazy Love, pp.83-84, emphasis mine)

Francis Chan: “From other references in Scripture (Colossians 2:1; 4:3, 15-16), the church at Laodicea appears to have been a healthy and legitimate church. But something happened. By the time Revelation was written, about twenty-five years the letter to the Colossians, the Laodiceans’ hearts apparently didn’t belong to God-despite the fact that they were still active as a church.” (Crazy Love, pp.88, emphasis mine) 

If such Calvinists as Francis Chan, who profess the “Lordship Doctrine,” affirm that the Laodicean Church was primarily lost, then pointing out that they were a “Church,” becomes somewhat irrelevant, since if they were lost and “we will not see them in heaven,” then Christs appeal is made towards those who are perishing, and thus such Calvinists must concede that Revelation 3:20 is evangelical in nature, and if evangelical, then also individual, since buildings are not lost, but the people in the buildings.  

​Question: So how would Revelation 3:20 not be evangelical then?

Answer: Calvinists have no way out of this, and once they concede that this is truly evangelical, then they are forced to conclude the it is individual, because individuals are lost, and individuals need salvation.

​Question: Is the invitation personal?

Answer: The invitation is personal (i.e. “anyone,” “him,” “he,” ect.), and it involves repentance, “be zealous and repent” (v.19), and in terms of Jesus entering a person’s heart, Adrian Rogers observes that in the Old Testament, God made a Temple for His people, while in the New Testament, God made a people for His Temple. The Bible speaks of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to the point that both the Father and the Son indwell a person: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23) So should a person invite Jesus to come into their heart? Well, of course! Because that’s the destination of God for the believer. How could that be up for dispute?

John MacArthur: “Christ’s offer to dine with the repentant church speaks of fellowship, communion, and intimacy. Sharing a meal in ancient times symbolized the union of people in loving fellowship. Believers will dine with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9), and in the millennial kingdom (Luke 22:16, 29-30).” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 1-11, p.140, emphasis mine)

​Question: Is this an invitation for faithful Christians to have fellowship with God or is this an invitation for lost members of a church to receive salvation?

Answer: It doesn’t sound like these are truly abiding in Christ, as per John 15:6, now does it? Jesus states: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (John 15:6) This puts Lordship-doctrine Calvinists at a fork in the road.

John MacArthur: “The invitation is, first of all, a personal one, since salvation is individualBut He is knocking on the door of the church, calling the many to saving faith, so that He may enter the church.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 1-11, p.140, emphasis mine)

​Question: What is a petition to the Laodicean Church, but a petition to so many members of that Church, which is tantamount to individuals?

Answer: Testifying to that fact that individuals are in focus, is the fact that Revelation speaks of “anyone” and “him.” However, some Calvinists suggest that the only people who are enabled to “hear” His voice are His elect sheep, who effectually hear Him upon Preemptive Regeneration: “‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.’” (John 10:27) However, the hearing of Christ’s voice comes through the hearing of His word, from which faith is born: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

But what does it matter if it is the door of the church, if the church was lost? For some unknown reason, it seems that Calvinists are trying to avoid having Revelation 3:20 be an evangelistic message.

​Question: Upon what “door” does Jesus stand and knock?

Answer: Jesus states: “I am the door; if anyone enters 
through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and 
find pasture.” (John 10:9) So Jesus both stands at the door, 
and is the door. This is a metaphor for a subject on how to 
be “saved,” and “anyone” indeed confirms individuality. 
Jesus states: “‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; 
and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and 
make Our abode with him.’” (John 14:23) Now we have the 
Indwelling. Seriously, if it’s illegitimate to use Revelation 
3:20 in “countless tracts and evangelistic messages,” then 
it’s equally illegitimate to use John 10:9 and John 14:23. 
Whether or not Calvinists wish to presuppose that a 
preemptive Regeneration causes a positive response to 
Christ, it ought to, at least, be agreed that Revelation 3:20 
is a message on how to be “saved.”

Billy Graham: “God wants to change our lives--and He will, as we open our hearts to Him.”

​Question: Do all Gentiles hear the voice of Jesus?

Answer: If you’ve heard the Gospel preached, then you’ve heard the voice of Jesus. His voice is heard in His word (Psalm 103:20), and He speaks to us through it. Hearing His voice alone, however, does not save. Revelation 3:20 states: “…if anyone hears My voice and opens the door....” Psalm 95:7-11 states: “For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.” The issue is not whether they could hear His voice, but whether they would hear His voice, meaning whether or not they would obey Him or harden their hearts against Him.

When the Gospel is preached, mans ears may hear your voice, but in their heart, they feel Jesus knocking. Revelation 3:20 is one of the most loving passages in the Bible. God takes the initiative, and does not force Himself. Few passages in the Bible are as treasured as this one, and, of course, is naturally another problem verse” for Calvinism, like John 3:16. Calvinists seem to think that it portrays God as weak. Perhaps Irresistible Grace is more macho and powerful. For Calvinists, everything is about the glory of God,” and which gets elevated above all else. Supposedly, that’s more reverential. I’m not seeing it, though. Calvinism seems to be more disrespectful to God, than anything else. Maybe God’s creative works were not solely driven by a need self-glory. Maybe instead God created man for the same reason that any parent has a child, that is, out of a surplus of love and a desire to enter into a loving relationship. Perhaps Calvinism simply doesn’t reflect God’s value system.

​Question: God comes by invitation. The demons come uninvited. So does Calvinistic Irresistible Grace operate in the way that God operates, or does Irresistible Grace operate in the way that the devil and his angels operate? 

Answer: The most common argument of the Calvinists is a “hand waving argument.” It’s a tool that quickly dispatches all such opposition: “This is only speaking of the Church.” With that, Calvinists dismiss anything else said, even though Revelation 3:20 reiterates what Jesus said elsewhere at John 14:23: “‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.’” Therefore, what is said at Revelation 3:20, also applies to the individual, as in The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But the hand-waving argument of the Calvinists, completely dismisses all such further considerations. What I like is the fact that this shows that man is not left to his own devices, but that Jesus intervenes.

The problem with Calvinism is that irresistibility indicates something being forced, and Revelation 3:20’s knocking is inconsistent with the use of force. If anything, it’s the demons who try to force themselves on people, and so Calvinistic Irresistible Grace ends up casting the gospel into the image of what the demons do. Jesus knocks.

Gordon Robertson: “You can be that ‘anyone’. All you have to door is open the door, and you will realize that Jesus has been looking for you all along.” (Life Beyond the Grave Part II)

Billy Graham: “God has provided the only must make the choice. Step four is for man to make his response to receive Christ. We must trust Jesus Christ and receive Him by personal invitation. The Bible says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock [Christ is speaking]: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him’ (Revelation 3:20). ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,’ writes the apostle John (1:12).” (The Enduring Classics of Billy Graham: The Secret of Happiness, Happiness Through Peacemaking, p.126, emphasis mine)

One Men’s Devotional explains: “God loves you individually and intimately; His is a love unbounded by time or circumstance. Christ’s love for you is personal. He loves you so much that He gave His life in order that you might spend all eternity with Him. Are you willing to experience an intimate relationship with Him? Your Savior is waiting patiently; don’t make Him wait a single minute longer. Embrace His love today.” (Journey with God, emphasis mine)

Gary Cohen and Salem Kirban comment on Revelation 3:20: “The promise of this verse applies to ‘any man’ (Greek: tis, ‘any-man;’ ‘any-woman’--it is both masculine and feminine) and hence its offer goes beyond merely those who were at Laodicea at the turn of the 2nd century A.D. Christ is standing at the door (He is near to all, Acts 17:27); He is knocking (Greek Present Tense--He now is continually knocking--He is thus actively seeking us; He is making the initial overture). Christ’s voice is calling--This is heard in the preaching of the Lord’s Day, over the air waves, in the printed page, and from Christian’s who tell others of the Good News. Man’s part in salvation involves hearing Christ’s voice and opening his heart’s doorGod’s part involves the initial call and then upon the opening of the heart in trust, it involves God’s entrance and continued abiding fellowship--‘I will come in…and sup.’ The promise is definite; if the door is opened the knocking one will certainly enter. This verse, in an allegory, puts for the identical truth found in Acts 16:31, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’” (Revelation Illustrated, p.80, emphasis mine)

Albert Barnes: “…he recognizes our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away - perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back. The language here used, also, may be understood as applicable to all persons, and to all the methods by which the Savior seeks to come into the heart of a sinner. It would properly refer to anything which would announce his presence: his word; his Spirit; the solemn events of his Providence; the invitation of his gospel. In these and in other methods he comes to man; and the manner in which these invitations ought to be estimated would be seen by supposing that he came to us personally and solicited our friendship, and proposed to be our Redeemer. It may be added here, that this expression proves that the attempt at reconciliation begins with the Savior. It is not that the sinner goes out to meet him, or to seek for him; it is that the Savior presents himself at the door of the heart as if he were desirous to enjoy the friendship of man. This is in accordance with the uniform language of the New Testament, that ‘God so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son;’ that ‘Christ came to seek and to save the lost;’ that the Savior says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,’ ect. Salvation, in the Scriptures, is never represented as originated by man.” (Parallel Classic Commentary on the New Testament, p.1125, emphasis mine)

Jacob Arminius: “All unregenerate persons have freedom of will, and a capability of resisting the Holy Spirit, of rejecting the proffered grace of God, of despising the counsel of God against themselves, of refusing to accept the gospel of grace, and of not opening to Him who knocks at the door of the heart; and these things they can actually do, without any difference of the elect and of the reprobate.” (Works of James Arminius, Vol. 2, emphasis mine)

​These quotes represent the heart-beat and pulse of Arminian Evangelicalism. We don’t come to Christ, rather, Christ comes to us. We didn’t first love God; God first loved us, and sent His Son to save us. Calvinists, however, see things differently.

Calvinist, J.I. Packer: “…the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message.…we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence ‘at the door of our hearts’ for us to let them in.” (Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, emphasis mine)

Was Jesus being “impotent” at Matthew 23:37, when He stated: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling”? Calvinists like Packer use phrases like “reformulated,” as a way to suggest that Free Will is something brand new, as if the early Church did not fiercely defend Free Will against the Deterministic Gnostics. The fact is that salvation is presented in Scripture as an offer. The parable of the Wedding Feast at Matthew 22:1-10 shows that the invitation is indiscriminate: “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.” If God wishes to present salvation as a gift, invitation and an offer, where is the wisdom in mocking it?

One Daily Devotional explains: “God loves you. In times of trouble, He will comfort you; in times of sorrow, He will dry your tears. When you are weak or sorrowful, God is as near as your next breathHe stands at the door of your heart and waitsWelcome Him in and allow Him to rule. And then, accept the peace and the strength and the protection, and the abundance that only God can give.”  (Journey with God: For Men, emphasis mine)

This shows that what Calvinists otherwise deem as a weakness on the part of God, is actually a strength, as this demonstrates omnipresence, and with a sense of fatherly care. Those who otherwise do not know the person of God, scoff at such a concept:

First of all, the church is made up of individuals, and second, if it is an apostate church, then the message is evangelical, and therefore should be used in an evangelical setting. 

This video almost sounds like the unbelieving Jews who would have said of Jesus, “I could never serve such a weak and humble Messiah, nor tolerate such a blasphemy as the great and glorious king of Israel being depicted as one suffering and dejected.” In other words, if Calvinists can reconcile a Savior who has voluntarily condescended and temporarily lowered Himself to be the servant of all men (Phillipians 2:5-8), why can’t Calvinists similarly reconcile a God who condescends to mankind in the operation of a participatory gospel, in the way that Arminianism describes? Arminians acknowledge that God could have chosen to operate the way that Calvinism describes (had God felt that there was any value in Calvinism), but that God sovereignly chose to do things through free agency, by being more glorified (and receiving more glory) in having a kingdom of people who chose to be with Him under adverse circumstances, which otherwise in Calvinism, would just be a kingdom of arbitrarily chosen individuals, in which He could have just as easily chosen others instead. 

​Questions to ask Calvinists regarding Revelation 3:20:

(1) Do you, as a Calvinist, profess the “Lordship Doctrine?” 

(2) What does the Lordship Doctrine mean to you? 

(3) Do you believe that Jesus’ description of the spiritual state of the Laodiceans is consistent with what you profess about the Lordship Doctrine?

(4) If you, as a Calvinist, believe that the Laodiceans were “apostates,” do you have a Big Tent approach to your Lordship Doctrine whereby they are also saved?

(5) Do you believe that Jesus was petitioning saved people or lost people?

(6) If Jesus was petitioning lost people, how is His petition not also “evangelical” in nature?

(7) If Jesus’s appeal was evangelical, how is it not also individual, since individuals are lost, and individuals are in need of salvation?

As far as what I believe, I believe that anyone (such as the thief on the Cross), has a warrant to believe in Christ, and that sanctification is a gradual process of growing into Christ-likeness, whereby the Holy Spirit transforms a person, and not that sanctification is a prerequisite for salvation, or else salvation is never attainable, since sanctification is a life-long process of dynamic spiritual growth. As for the Laodiceans, they may have once been a body of believers, but perhaps had changed over time into something else, such as how the once Christian seminaries of the northeast had transformed into the secular Ivy League schools of today.

Indeed, our righteousness in Christ is not based upon what we do to make ourselves more worthy of saving, but about our trust in someone else entirely, namely Jesus, to have mercy upon us who are unworthy and to forgive us based upon what He did on the Cross two thousand years ago, and hence a true Lordship Salvation is one that trusts in the Lord, not ourselves. Adrian Rogers comments that he would not trust in the best 15 minutes of his life to get saved, much less the worst 15 minutes, but that it is only by trusting in Christ that we are saved.

The way that I understand salvation and sanctification is that there is a specific point in time when a person receives the “deposit” of the Holy Spirit, as per Ephesians 1:13, which occurs after having received the Gospel. That completes salvation, and begins a lifelong process of sanctification in which we “work out” (rather than “work for”) our salvation. (Philippians 2:12) With Arminians, the question is whether one can defect from God, through apostasy, such as by sowing unforgiveness, as per Matthew 6:14-15 and Matthew 18:23-35. Arminians conclude that it is possible to defect in such manner. As for the nature of faith, faith without a leap of faith, is just a pretense of faith, and not really faith. This is why I infer that James was not speaking of the works of the Law at James chapter 2, but was talking about faith being exercised into a living faith, in which James supplied examples of people (Abraham and Rahab) who stepped out in faith. Neither of those two had anything to do with the Law, as both preceded it.

For an additional article, see here.