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Meaning of the Painting Based on Revelation 3:20

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


Most people are familiar with the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." The picture seen at the top of this article is entitled "The Light of the World." Surely, William Holman Hunt's painting is worth a thousand words. However, it would be good if those thousand words represented what Hunt had in mind.

Research indicates that the painting is based on Revelation 3:20. Therefore the interpretation should be in line with the context of that verse and the verses surrounding it. If that is not the case, then the interpretation can't be correct.

Without taking into account what the Bible says in Revelation 3:14-22, most people think Jesus is standing at the house of an unbeliever. They fail to take into account that the context of the verse clearly shows that Jesus was not standing at the house of an individual. Instead, Jesus was standing at the closed door at the church of Laodicea when He spoke the words:

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.

There were believers in the Laodicean church. However, Jesus described them as lukewarm. They were neither hot nor cold. Therefore, Jesus threatened them that He would spit them out of His mouth if they did not repent.

Explanation of Revelation 3:20

Before the correct interpretation of the painting can be given, the correct explanation of Revelation 3:20 is needed along with its context. Revelation 3:20 is only a small part of what Revelation 3:14-22 is about.

Revelation 3:20 is NOT about Jesus pleading with an individual to open up his heart and be saved. Notice Jesus said, "If anyone would open the door He would come in and sup with him." Isn't it terrible to think there was no one in the entire church who heard Jesus' voice and opened the door? Where were all the leaders, ushers, and greeters who could have opened the door? Instead, Jesus was left standing outside a closed door with no way to get in unless someone heard His voice and opened the door from the inside. This shows that people can be in a congregation but never hear the voice of Jesus.

The passage is about Jesus' appeal to the entire church instead of to one unbeliever sitting comfortably in his own house. The scripture is an invitation to a church full of believers who were wealthy financially but poor in their spirituality. They claimed to have everything they needed. They were self-satisfied and blinded by what they had instead of relying on God. Jesus described them as “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

When Jesus offered to sup with the Laodicean church, He was promising to share a meal with them. Sharing a meal with someone is an intimate and bonding experience.

After that first offer, Jesus offered them a greater reward if anyone in the congregation would hear His voice and open the door so He could enter. According to Revelation 3:21, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Let's Look at the Painting

Hunt painted three pictures based on Revelation 3:20 at different stages in his life. The explanation about the painting at the top of this article is slightly different from the other two.

You might still be wondering why Jesus knocked and waited for an invitation to enter. The short answer is that Jesus never barges, pushes, or forces His way onto any person or church.

Jesus is knocking on a door without a handle on a building that is completely surrounded by weeds and dead flowers. Hunt explained that the surrounding is symbolic of the sins of the people inside the structure.

The painter also explained that he did not forget to include a handle on the door. He said he deliberately did not paint a handle that is on most other doors. He wanted to make the point that people on the other side of the door must do two things as Jesus asked:

  1. Hear His voice
  2. Open the door

Jesus is displayed as waiting for anyone inside to hear His voice and open the door. He would enter only then.

Notice the light surrounding Jesus is contrasted to the darkness around Him. Ivy is around the church and on top of it. Weeds, shrubbery, briars, thistles, and dying flowers are on the ground. Those things prove that the wealthy Laodiceans didn't have their priorities in the right place.


Even though Revelation 3:20 was directed toward the Laodicean church, it is also directed toward all churches. Your church might not bear that same name, but it could be just like that lukewarm church in Asia Minor that Jesus was willing to spit out.

It is a sad occasion when church services are in session without Jesus who calls every congregation to hear His voice and open the door. Jesus wants to be part of the church that is without a spot or wrinkle that He will come back for (Ephesians 5:27). Until Jesus returns, He still wants to go into church services and fellowship with the people there. Unfortunately, Jesus is missing from too many churches. Therefore, He is left standing outside in the cold as He knocks on the door for someone to hear His voice and open that door for Him to enter.


Jesus Standing at the Door Knocking, But Do We Get It Right

Revelation 3:20: Jesus Knocking On Door

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