Revelation 3:20: Imagery And Literary Context -- By: Tim Wiarda

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 38:2 (Jun 1995)
Article: Revelation 3:20: Imagery And Literary Context
Author: Tim Wiarda

Revelation 3:20: Imagery And Literary Context

Tim Wiarda*

Reflection on Biblical imagery is always a valuable exercise. This is particularly true in the case of an image heavily used in preaching and teaching, such as that contained in Rev 3:20. The present study will proceed with the concerns of expositors especially in view, offering three principal suggestions. (1) The most common understanding of the imagery of Rev 3:20—namely, that it pictures Jesus seeking entry into the human heart—can be modified and significantly enriched by reference to incidents in the ministry of Jesus that portray him receiving hospitality from a sinner (e.g. his entering the home of Zacchaeus). (2) The reality pictured by Jesus’ knocking includes as one of its elements a call to repentance. (3) Though originally addressed to a church, the form of Jesus’ words in Rev 3:20 suggests that he is stating a general truth that applies in other contexts as well. It is thus quite legitimate to present this verse as Jesus’ promise to those who are unsaved.

I. Imagery

Following the introductory idou, Rev 3:20 presents a unified picture easily visualized in three scenes: (1) Jesus standing before a door knocking, (2) the person within hearing and opening, and (3) Jesus entering and eating with the one within. An implied house or room is basic to the imagery. But what kind of situation, with what attending nuances, does this simple picture represent? There are other pictures within the Bible that to varying degrees parallel the language and imagery of Rev 3:20. These may give us help as they show some of the ways the original readers could have understood scenes involving a door, entrance and a meal. Two cautions must be kept in mind, however. (1) Before letting similar imagery found elsewhere in the Bible influence our interpretation of Rev 3:20 we must be sure that true parallelism actually exists. (2) Scripture and early Christian teaching is not the only background to be considered when determining the meaning of an image, since general cultural context may be equally important. How would church members in Asia Minor, influenced not only by Christian tradition but also by the whole cultural milieu of the first-century Mediterranean world, most readily have understood the imagery of Rev 3:20?

* Tim Wiarda is a lecturer at Singapore Bible College, 9–15 Adam Road, Singapore 1128.

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