A closed door?
Surprisingly often (including over this summer) I’ve heard sermons drawing on the book of Revelation, in which the most memorable detail is actually from the famous painting ‘Light of the World’ by Holman Hunt, inspired by Rev. 3:20 –
LIsten! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
The point often preached is that the door has no handle on the outside – it must be opened from within. We have to respond to Jesus’ knocking and open the door. I don’t think it’s a major distortion of the text, but it’s interesting to see how art shapes our understanding and even preaching. Personally, I suspect that there is a handle on the outside of the heart’s door – but Jesus prefers not to force entry.
In any case, I think it’s important to remember that this isn’t, as it is often preached, a call to new faith, but to a rekindling of faith – the faith of those inside the door has become lukewarm, and they aren’t really listening to the challenging, encouraging voice of Christ.
An open door
There are two open doors in these chapters. The first is that which Christ tells the people of Philadelphia that he has opened for them – and which no-one can shut. (3:8). They have stayed faithful through difficult times, and the door to God’s temple is forever open to them. They can’t open it. No-one can shut it.
Then from chapter 4, we begin to move beyond the world of letters to churches, and the viewpoint changes, as John sees another open door – or perhaps the same one. For this door through which John is called to enter brings him to the heavenly throneroom, where mortals and angels gather to worship. He begins now to see the unfolding picture of world history from the other side of the curtain – to see what’s happening and what will happen in the world below as it is seen from heaven.
So first of all he sees that the foundational reality behind the curtain is that God is worshipped. Whatever is happening here, worship is being offered in heaven. When we worship here on earth, we enjoy the privilege of joining our praise with saints and angels in heaven.
Second, John sees that God’s purposes for human history (and all history) depend upon the Lamb who was slain, Jesus. He alone is worthy to open the scroll of God’s plan – and he, Jesus, shares in receiving the worship of heaven’s host.
Again, Revelation centres on Jesus. He is the one who calls, raises up, reveals and opens the possibility of God to us. If we get anything out of the later chapters of this strange book, perhaps it is this reminder – Jesus is the key to history. He is the one who opens doors and then wedges them firmly open.
Going back to the door at which Jesus stands to knock: perhaps it’s actually the same door again. The Laodiceans have let the fire of faith burn low – they’re not actually cold, faith is not dead, but there’s no real heat there. Perhaps they too need to glimpse the doorway to a heaven’s-eye view of the world. After all, how much more alight would my faith and life be if I was seeing things from the angels’ side of the curtain?