(77) If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person – Revelation 3:20

The last book of the Bible is a revelation about the future that God gave to the apostle John. Its name is taken from the first word of the book which is ‘Apocalypse’ in the Greek or ‘Revelation’ in English. It starts with seven letters to churches and then gives us a heavenly perspective on what will take place on earth between the time it was written and Jesus’ second coming. It ends with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth where God’s people will be with him forever. It is included in the Letters section of the New Testament in the Bible Bookcase but is more like one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament in style.

Revelation is a difficult book to understand and there are many different views on how to interpret it. It is full of symbolism, including much from the Old Testament, which would have been understood by its original readers but which can be lost on a 21st Century audience. As an example, the number seven, which appears many times, represents completeness or perfection.

The book starts with John, who has been imprisoned on the island of Patmos, receiving a startling vision of Jesus. John, who had lived alongside Jesus as a man for three years, now sees him appearing in a different form. He sees someone “like a son of man” (Revelation 1:13) – a name that Jesus used for himself taken from a prophecy in Daniel – walking among seven lampstands representing seven churches in Asia. (The Roman province of Asia was in the west of present day Turkey. John was based at one of the seven churches, Ephesus, and Patmos is an island off the western coast of Turkey). John struggles to describe the man he sees and keeps using the word ‘like’: “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (Revelation 1:14-15). John is overwhelmed in his presence but Jesus tells him to write down what he is about to see.

He is then given messages for the seven churches, each of which follows a similar pattern. The church is commended for its positive qualities and then receives a strong challenge. Three are rebuked for following false teaching while three are challenged for the state of their faith. In Thyatira some tolerate immorality in the church. Ephesus has abandoned its first love and Laodicea is described as lukewarm. These rebukes are followed by a call to repent and return to true teaching and practice. Ephesus is warned that if it doesn’t repent Jesus will remove its lampstand. He will not allow churches that don’t stay true to him to continue indefinitely.

The most well known call to repentance is to the church in 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” (Revelation 3:20). The artist Holman Hunt painted a picture of Jesus knocking at the door of a human heart which can be seen in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The door is overgrown, indicating that it has not been opened for a long time. When it was pointed out that the artist had made a mistake as the door had no handle he replied that the handle was on the inside. Jesus will not force himself into our lives. The decision to allow him in has to be ours.

Each letter ends with a plea to persevere, a promise to the one who perseveres through life’s trials, and a solemn charge: “Whoever has ears, Let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Churches, like people, have unique characteristics. Some are more fervent than others, some are strong on the teaching of the Bible, some on serving the community, while others have settled into comfortable inactivity. The challenge of the letters to the churches in Revelation is that Jesus is not ambivalent about the state of each church. He assesses each one and passes judgement on the positives and the negatives, requiring each church to address its shortcomings and stay true to him whatever the world around it thinks. The letters also challenge each of us as individuals to open the door of our hearts to allow him to come in and be part of our everyday lives.

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