Mar 21 2012 - E100.97c – Revelation 3:7-22, Philadelphia and Laodicea
Both of the letters we read today, to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) and to Laodicea (3:14-22), mention doors. In the first case, Jesus tells the church that he has placed an open door before them that no one can shut (3:8). The second would seem to imply a closed door, for Jesus says to Laodicea, "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" (3:20).
Both of these texts are often interpreted evangelistically. To Philadelphia Jesus says that he has given them a great evangelistic opportunity; in the face of opposition and despite their little strength, they will be used to draw many others to Christ. The verse to the Laodiceans is generally taken entirely out of context and used in evangelistic appeals. Following the famous painting by Holman Hunt which depicts Christ standing outside a closed door with no handle or latch on the outside, the text is used to plead that people open their hearts to Christ and let him in. He can do nothing for them until they do.
It seems to me that this fashion in interpretation is mistaken. Jesus' words to Philadelphia begin with him declaring, "These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (3:7). Jesus is the Messiah. He holds the keys to the kingdom; he alone can grant access to all of the blessings which God has promised his people. To the little church at Philadelphia Jesus says that the door is open for them and no one can shut it. All of the blessings of the kingdom are theirs.
To the church at Laodicea Jesus depicts himself as standing on the outside. They boast of their riches but they are a church in which Christ is not present; a church from which the glory of the Lord has departed. Their celebration of the Lord's Supper is an empty show for it is marked by the absence of the Lord. Jesus calls them to open the door; to be earnest and repent; to ensure that the living presence of the Saviour is at the heart of their fellowship once again.
Jesus has the keys of the kingdom. To have him is to possess riches beyond compare. Without him, all of our church life is empty show. Moreover, the whole world around us needs to know Christ and the riches of the kingdom that he alone can give.
Lord Jesus, may we never exclude you from the life of our church by self-centredness or a self-sufficient spirit. May we always know that without you we can do nothing, and without you we possess nothing.