Misinterpreted Verses #1 – Jesus, the Traveling Salesman

I’m going to spend the next few days looking at some commonly misinterpreted Bible passages. Some of these are verses that many of us have been exposed to all our lives, and you may find what I say about them to be offensive or wrong. Hear me out, examine the context, and let the text interpret itself and not what we isegete (read into) it.

The verse for today is one I have heard an untold number of times during altar calls and revivals. It is found in Revelation 3:20 (ESV) 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.

Why do I find this verse so problematic? For several reasons: 1) It makes it seem like we are the ones who are the primary doers of salvation, reducing Jesus in effect to a telemarketer, 2) The context of this verse is Jesus addressing a church, not a personal invitation, 3) This verse is more about restoration of fellowship of a church that has forsaken its first love.

When doing any good Bible study, the first thing to do is to examine the context. We find this verse in Jesus’ letters to the Seven Churches, this one going to the church in Laodicea. This church is lukewarm, and as said before has forsaken its first love, Jesus. We do not find here an altar call or evangelistic plea. Instead, we find the Master of the house coming home and being expected to be let in. This is a church that has locked Jesus out and He has come to knock on the door and be welcomed in. The picture of close fellowship conveyed in the eating is meant more to signify the communal relationship Jesus has with His Bride, the Church. It is a restoration of fellowship, not the beginning of.

Immediately before this particular verse is a discussion of repentance and reconciliation to the Lord. The image of knocking is the Master alerting the household that He has come and that they must repent of forsaking their first love. They had abandoned Him in their life and practice, and Jesus is seeking for them to make Him Lord once more.

That said, I must concede some things. Jesus does pursue us to save us. But He does not do so as a transient seeking to find a friend (Forrest Gump Jesus), as many have taken this passage (and some poorly written hymns over the years too) to signify. Jesus, the rightful owner and master, arrives to expect His people to repent and welcome Him back to His church. I am also not saying that we do not have a part in the process of salvation. But not in the sense that we “choose” to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. He has to change our hearts, to make us new in Himself before we can possibly ever expect to submit to Him. Only after our hearts being born again can we ever choose to follow Jesus. We do that which our heart most desires, and until Christ makes us new our desire is rebellion and sin. I must also concede that this verse “works” in presenting the Gospel. And while it is true that the offer of salvation is wide and free, that does not mean we must interject and use verses out of context. Pragmatics should not dictate our practice. Good theology should determine our methods, not results.

Jesus is more than a traveling salesman going door to door hoping someone will let Him in. Jesus comes as the Master and will not be turned away. Instead of asking this of the lost, we must present this verse in its full context and speak it to the church that has forsaken its first love and its members who have professed Christ but are out of fellowship with Him (actively or through apathy/laziness/indifference).

Tomorrow is Matthew 7:1
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