In the last four weeks we have spent our time on vv. 14-18 of Revelation 3. There we discovered Christ’s character (v. 14), the weakness of the church in Laodicea (vv. 15-16), the problem she is facing (v.17), and Christ’s counsel for the church is (v. 18). This then leaves us with Christ’s love for the church (v. 19), his desire for intimate fellowship (v. 20), and the challenges to overcome and to listen (vv. 21-22).
In v.19 we see that Christ loves the church and that this leads him to discipline her. In other words, he loves and that is why he rebukes. The goal for such rebuke and discipline is repentance (see also 1 Cor 5:1-14 where we see Paul’s love for the church which necessitates in church-discipline with the goal of repentance). We see the same image expressed in Hebr 12:4-11 (thus Prov 3:11-12) where God is shown as a Father who must discipline His children if He is a loving Father!
What Christ desires is fellowship (v. 20). The introductory “Behold!” or “See!” signifies that something important is about to follow (see for example “Behold, the lamb of God” in John 1:29). Here the apostle pictures Christ standing at the door. We need to keep in mind that Christ is speaking to Christians and thus this is an invitation for renewal of their fellowship with Christ – a fellowship which is already in place. Some see Song of Solomon 5:2 as a parallel: “I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.’” Though the entire passage does not fit the present context it is interesting to see that some Jewish commentators understood “open to me” as a call for Israel’s repentance and a renewal of the covenant relationship with God.
Does Christ address individuals or a group? I think that we do not need to split hairs over the issue, nor make it a matter of an “either-or” issue. However, we see the singular is used (yet a group is made out of single persons). The individual response seems to be stressed. Whoever hears his voice needs to respond and open the door; then actual fellowship will result by sharing a meal together. Dining in Mediterranean societies is a sign of acceptance and fellowship: “To share a meal in the ancient world was to share a life” (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002],213); which I personally experienced in Hungary and Namibia.
This restoration of fellowship is a sample of the final messianic banquet (Rev. 19:6–9; cf. Luke 13:29; 22:29–30), whereas the present renewal of fellowship is emphasized (it is more closely linked to v. 19 where repentance in the present is still possible.
In the concluding verses Christ challenges to overcome (v. 21) and to listen (v. 22). Christ now gives promises to the one who overcomes. Again this can be seen individually as well as corporately. If the church overcomes the economic pressure of society (coupled with idolatry!) and is ready to be a true and faithful witness, then she will rule with Christ in his kingdom (in Scripture we see a three stage throne theology: Yahweh sits on the throne, Jesus partakes of God’s throne, and the victorious saints share in the throne). The final promises of each letter point to the end of the book and the vision of paradise!
Verse 22 Christ challenges all churches to listen to his advice and discipline. That he is addressing “all churches” further signifies that the message is not only applicable to the church in Laodicea but to all seven churches. And as seven is the number of perfection Christ is addressing all churches – even ours today!
The question for us today is then: Are we willing to listen to the words of our Lord? Are we willing to be different? Or are we complacent in our cozy homes and are like lukewarm water, neither being hot nor cold? Our identity in Christ cannot be watered down or neglected in a society where being a Christian is not a hip thing. We need to be distinguished from society and not just blend in!