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In Revelation 3:20 (KJV) Jesus says:

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."

The Greek verb translated "stand" (esteka) is in the perfect active indicative tense, thus referring to a past action with continuing results. It could be translated as "having stood." On the other hand, the verb for "knock" (krouo) is in the present active indicative, indicating a present action. Is Jesus here presented as having already stood at the door? How then can he be knocking in the present?

I realize this text was originally addressed to the church of Laodicea, even though it is now used in personal evangelism. The church was being given its final opportunity to repent of its failures. But why do these verbs not seem to agree with each other? Was it a way of indicating that the opportunity to be restored was almost finished?

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  • Perhaps to give the sense that He is always prepared to forgive and accept. And the knocking is His current pleading with them to repent. Jul 13, 2017 at 15:30
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    Perhaps also the idea of the Greek image is about arrival: "I have come to your door (and thus am standing here). Having come, I am now knocking at the door." Jul 14, 2017 at 4:08
  • Perfect tense doesn't mean past tense or past action. Where did you learn such misleading grammar explanations?
    – Michael16
    May 7 at 15:59

7 Answers 7

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The standing at the door is a literary device employed by John, which I call the Three Door Segue.

  • Church in Philadelphia -- The Door is Always Open (Rev 3:8).
  • Church in Laodicea -- The Door is Closed (Rev 3:20).
  • If Laodicea opens the door they will sit on their thrones as Jesus sits on his throne next to God (Rev 3:21).
  • Lets look behind the door (Rev 4:1) where God is on his throne (Rev 4:2-3) with the 24 Elders (Rev 4:4) as representatives to all believers.
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  • Your comment was interesting enough that I'm up voting it. However, just so you know, the reason your answer was down voted is probably that you did not actually answer the question, which is about the Greek grammar (perfect tense).
    – Ruminator
    Jan 17, 2019 at 1:31
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I stand

Perfect tense[edit] The perfect tense (Greek παρακείμενος (parakeímenos) "lying nearby"), much as the English perfect tense, often describes a recent event of which the present result is important:

I knock

The present tense[edit] The present tense (Greek ἐνεστώς (enestṓs) "standing within") can be imperfective or perfective, and be translate "I do (now)", "I do (regularly)", "I am doing (now)":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_verbs

I stand

The Perfect Tense Action that has been completed in the past yet has results occurring in the present are expressed by the perfect tense.

I knock

The Present Tense The present tense can either be continuous/ongoing or undefined. The continuous present is usually translated as "I am loosing" while the undefined is best translated as "I loosen." When the present is used with the indicative mood it denotes present time.

https://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm#tense

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  • I removed a prescriptive statement indicating that a biblical character currently is doing something in the reader. Feel free to describe the text, but do not prescribe it upon readers. This site is focused on its original context, not its application to modern religious practitioners.
    – Dan
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:49
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The Greek grammar, with its tenses, is exquisitely suited for the prophetic meaning involved here.

When the comments by the risen Christ to various congregations of believers in Asia are viewed as having an on-going application, then he is both speaking in present tense to particular Christians in the first century, and in future tense to all Christians in the following centuries. The meaning will remain present AND future right up until he suddenly returns, to usher in the Day of Resurrection and Judgment.

Both the perfect active indicative tense (with 'stand') and the present active indicative (for 'knock') correctly indicate both past and present actions, without contradiction. Ever since Christ ascended to heaven, he has stood (as opposed to sitting) and is standing, and his symbolic 'knocking' started then, and will continue until it is time for "time to be no more" (Rev. 10:6).

The points of grammar have already been explained in other answers, and show that the wording was not "a way of indicating that the opportunity to be restored was almost finished". This section of the Revelation began with admonition (and encouragement) for Christians in the first century, for "Judgment begins with the household of God" (1 Peter 4:17). The entire prophetic book is about various judgments from heaven, upon those on earth, from Christ's ascension until the culmination comes with "the seven last plagues" and "the last trump". That is the point at which there is no more time for the ungodly to repent, or for believers to be more zealous for Christ (who are also told to 'repent, or...'). When "time shall be no more", then everyone is judged.

Of course, there is always the sense in which believers have no more time to do anything once they die physically. Yet, for one generation of Christians, they will not die physically before their Lord spectacularly appears with hosts of angels. This means that the particular grammar in the verses queried can be viewed in more than one way, and both perspectives hold true to the language employed. Greek was just the best possible language for the Christian scriptures to be written in, and this is an example of its unique application.

When we see that the Revelation began to apply from Christ's return to heaven, and that its final events still lie ahead, we see the on-going nature of interpreting it. Hence the use of both those tenses in those verses is significant.

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While I have no formal training in Greek, the moment I saw your question I remembered that this was covered in this excellent series, "Daily Dose of Greek" (http://dailydoseofgreek.com). It is a 3 minute video (most are) and it explains the function of the perfect. The relevant bit is at about :40 (forty seconds in):

https://vimeo.com/290791137


However, like ALL of the scriptures, Revelation is a historical artifact now. The Torah, the prophets, the gospels, all the letters by the apostles (other than Paul) and all of Paul's letters except Ephesians and Colossians (I don't consider the addressees of these letters original) are written to saints in this age. The rest were other people's mail. We are not in their situation.

Can we learn from the historical books? Of course. They are background and examples: "shadows" and types.

John is alluding to this passage and the point is that Jesus is paying a surprise visit to his servants. If they are anticipating his arrival (though they don't know the day or hour) then he will reward them by feeding THEM. If not, they are lousy employees and he'll whack them upside the head:

Luk 12:35-48 NASB - 35 "Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 "Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 "You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect." 41 Peter said, "Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?" 42 And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 "Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 "But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

This passage seems to allude to the generation to whom Noah preached, who ignored him and were swept away in the flood:

Luk 13:25 NKJV - 25 "When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,'

Gen 7:15-16 NKJV - 15 And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. 16 So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

When the LORD (IE: the Christ coming in his Father's name) knocks it is not wise to delay responding or to be prepared for his arrival.

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Because the message for the seven churches was aimed at giving hope and warning to churches today, it requires word in present tense. Its like an everyday call for people to allow God to dwell in them which is what we should also do allow God to dwell in us.

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The seven churches are metaphor of seven typical kinds of Christians from then, and now and to the future. So your perception is correct. Yes, Jesus is standing at the door of our heart every day, for many of us still love the world so much that we shut our door to the Spirit. Weren't many of us Sunday Christian? Neither cold nor hot as if we were Laodiceans. So Jesus said:

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.

The verse is actually a warning. If we kept shut up our door, our salvation is in vain. Let's hear His voice and open the door for Him. Jesus will work every day to save every soul, until the end of times.

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The intent behind the perfect tense for 'standing' is to show that Christ has been standing at the door for some time, not to show that he has stopped standing. If he is still knocking, he must be still standing. This is similar to a parent saying to a child, "I have been telling you to clean your room!" The parent hasn't stopped telling this to the child.

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