Revelation 3:20 (NIV):

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.

has typically (to my knowledge) been assumed to be referring to the decision of the individual, so much so that it inspired the famous Holman Hunt painting.

However, I have heard recently multiple people saying it is not about the individual. This quote summarises the thought best:

This door is not the door of the hearts of individuals but the door of the church. The Lord as the Head of the church is standing outside the degraded church, knocking at her door. The degraded recovered church must realize this!

Or this quote from John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary:

The door on which Christ is knocking is not the door to a single human heart, but to the Laodicean church.

What does the original Greek most likely imply? I have looked at Strong's where man and him do not clearly seem to imply the individual.

So does the original Greek imply Jesus is knocking at the door of an individual or the church at Laodicea?

  • Referent identification is a technical term concerning the referents of words like "these". It would be confusing to use it here as a tag, so I rolled back a recent edit.
    – user2672
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 16:29

3 Answers 3


Biblically speaking, the answer is both. The Bible is comprised of multiple letters and messages which in their original context was meant for the original recipients of those messages, be they to churches (e.g., many of the epistles of Paul, and these messages in Revelations to churches), or to individuals (e.g., the letters to Titus or "the Elect Lady", in John's letter). Yet although the original audience is specified, the Bible itself makes it clear that these writings are not just private communications for the good of the original targeted audiences, but they are intended for broader reflection and instruction by other readers.

In the letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16 & 17), the Holy Spirit led Paul to write:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This sets the expectation that future readers can be instructed and comforted by the words within the scriptures. So, is this book of Revelation (from which you shared the passage Rev 3:20) included in scriptures that individuals are encouraged to read for their own edification? Or was the book only written to select audiences at local churches?

Revelation itself begins describing its benefits to all future readers in this way:

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants[a] the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

These words were not only intended to inform the folks at those seven churches, but to bless all future individual readers and hearers. So the warnings, admonitions, and encouragement can be applied, as needed to individuals who find themselves in the state that is depicted by each church.

Matthew Henry writes of the broadly spread benefits to individual readers of Revelation:

On all who read or hear the words of the prophecy, a blessing is pronounced. Those are well employed who search the Bible. It is not enough that we read and hear, but we must keep the things that are written, in our memories, in our minds, in our affections, and in practice, and we shall be blessed in the deed. Even the mysteries and difficulties of this book are united with discoveries of God, suited to impress the mind with awe, and to purify the soul of the reader, though he may not discern the prophetic meaning. No part of Scripture more fully states the gospel, and warns against the evil of sin.

A good number of commentaries are written on Rev 3:20, and their authors have not chosen such a narrow application as MacArthur. I did some research to see which I preferred the best, but then opted to share the collection of them on this verse, posted on BibleHub.com.


The idea that it represents the church as a whole, rather than individuals, most likely is raised by "restorationist" types of the past couple hundred years. The church is lukewarm, they lament, and of course believe they have the fire to bring her back to boil.

Some try to overcome the obvious irony that they too would be considered the lukewarm church with the idea that the last three letters that overlap in time.

When the letters were written, it was simultaneous. They were to groups of churches made up of individual believers. Just like it has been for the last 2,000 years.


There is nothing of interest in the Greek, which is well reflected in the English. The translators all agree. The Laodiceans are dull of hearing. Those in the house have no clue. The "doorkeeper" is an individual:

Rev 3:20 NKJV - 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.

There are no "Churches" when Revelation was written, only homes. The assembly does not hear and open the door. The individual does and Jesus has a private dinner with that person.

Perhaps that person is Epaphras or one like him:

Col 4:12-13 KJV - 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

Perhaps he is the angel of the Lord?:

Rev 3:14 NKJV - 14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:

Unlike the Laodicean assembly, Epaphrus is on fire:

Rev 3:14-15 NKJV - 14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.

However, the individual would likely have a family.

It appears that Jesus is alluding to when YHVH visited Abraham. Abraham was inside his tent attempting to escape the heat of the day:

Gen 18:1-10 NASB - 1 Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, "My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 "Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant." And they said, "So do, as you have said." 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes." 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate. 9 Then they said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "There, in the tent." 10 He said, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

Something that makes the visit to Abraham more compelling is that the visit occurred because Yehovah wanted to discuss what he was about to do to Sodom. Revelation is about the destruction of Sodom. Jesus is announcing the imminent destruction of Jerusalem which is "spiritually called Sodom and Egypt":

BLB Revelation 11:8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.'

Rev 10:7 KJV - 7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

Rev 22:6 KJV - 6 And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.

Eph 3:5 KJV - 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

All this amounts to the same thing: "If you open your heart to me I will fill it with Revelation.":

BLB Genesis 18:

16When the men got up to leave they looked out over Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them off.

17And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed. 19For I have chosen him, so that he will command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has promised.”

20Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great. Because their sin is so grievous, 21I will go down to see if their actions fully justify the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will find out.”

22And the two men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.

23Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24What if there are fifty righteous ones in the city? Will You really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous ones who are there? 25Far be it from You to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

26So the LORD replied, “If I find fifty righteous ones within the city of Sodom, on their account I will spare the whole place.”

27Then Abraham answered, “Now that I have ventured to speak to the Lord—though I am but dust and ashes— 28suppose the fifty righteous ones lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for the lack of five?”

He replied, “If I find forty-five there, I will not destroy it.”

29Once again Abraham spoke to the LORD, “Suppose forty are found there?”

He answered, “On account of the forty, I will not do it.”

30Then Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak further. Suppose thirty are found there?”

He answered, “If I find thirty there, I will not do it.”

31And Abraham said, “Now that I have ventured to speak to the Lord, suppose twenty are found there?”

He replied, “On account of the twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32Finally, Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak once more. Suppose ten are found there?”

And He answered, “On account of the ten, I will not destroy it.”

33When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, He departed, and Abraham returned home.

BLB John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

BLB James 2:22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” e and he was called God’s friend.

For more information see Dr. Heiser's post.

But what meal would Jesus eat with the one who hears and responds? Given the context of Revelation (which is about the new covenant with the Jews) the one who hears and responds is one in the new covenant who needs no human to teach them. Instead the Torah is written upon their heart by a spirit of wisdom and revelation.

And what is the meal associated with new covenant? Jesus assigned new meaning to the seder. The wine represented the ratification of the new covenant made in Jesus' death. The bread represents his body.

Another allusion seems to be to Jesus' assurance that his servants were to "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ":

Mat 25:31-46 NASB - 31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' 41 "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' 44 "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' 45 "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Heb 13:1-3 NKJV - 1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. 3 Remember the prisoners as if chained with them--those who are mistreated--since you yourselves are in the body also.

  • 2
    This only obliquely addresses the issue that is raised by the question.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 6:06
  • Seems to me that most of this answer is about a broad systematic theology, related to how Rev might be read within the whole book. I guess focusing just on the literary source of Rev would be an improvement. Your first quote does that but only in the version the OP had, despite him asking specifically about the Greek aspects. I'd like to see more discussion about the distinction of writer and reader, literally and figuratively speaking or interpreting it. Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:04
  • @LangLangC As I see it there is nothing of interest in the Greek. It clearly refer to an individual, as is accurately reflected in the translation. This is not a Greek difficulty but rather a matter of understanding the OT background, which makes all clear. But I appreciate your comment. Did you down vote my post for that?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:09
  • I just read it after glancing over meta. / Your observation/opinion about the Greek (since it was asked for [but I haven't checked the src!]) should be part of the answer (OP choosing a garden path?). If you connect the OT background better to why it should be regarded (Rev-author doing that/knowing it?), then that as well. You know, moving from doctrinal sense making to literary interpretation(s). Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:14
  • Well, feel free to show me how it's done.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:18

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