Is Christ Actually in the Church?

Anderson University houses the Sallman gallery. Here is the original painting used
so often to depict Revelation 3:20. 


Rev. 3:14   “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:

Rev. 3:15   “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”


Much has been written about the condition of the Laodicean church and an understanding of this passage. First of all, it has been suggested that the “angel” is actually the “bishop,” or the spiritual leader of the church. Great responsibility is laid upon those whom God calls to lead the church, and if there is corruption within their spiritual lives, it will have a very potent effect upon the entire church community. Therefore, the comments can be seen in light of the whole church, but quite specifically, pointed toward the leader. 

Near Laodicea were two other cities who were known for their water. Hierapolis had hot springs which created the most unusual cascade of water, forever identifying the city. By contrast, Colossae was known for its pure and cold waters. The problem with Laodicea was that it was built because of convenience to a road system, not to natural resources. It had an aqueduct that provided water but by the heat of the summer, this city was known for its putrid and distasteful water. So impure was this water that it would make people sick. This described the spiritual condition of the church leadership and community well. 

Sadly, they had developed a self-confidence that blinded them to the reality of their situation. Their community was known for its eye-salves, medical school, banks, and wool that was used for fine clothing. While they may have been physically wealthy, they also believed that they were spiritually endowed, and this all because of their own skill and intuition. What they did not realize was that they were indeed “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” because of their inability to see the reality of their condition. Lifting their eyes from their own resources, they are admonished to find their spiritual wealth in Christ, and to have their eyes healed by the great physician. 

Finally, we come to verse 20, one which has been used for evangelistic purposes for years. However, let us put it into context. We find Jesus, exiled from the church, standing outside knocking and wondering if they might let him back in! Becoming so self-confident, the leadership has forgotten about dependence upon Jesus, and somehow has locked him outside the church. The beauty of the story is the humility of Christ, who refuses to leave and stands knocking, wondering if anyone in the church might hear his voice and let him back in. If they will only open the door, Jesus will come and have fellowship with the church, providing all their needs. 


When taken to its final conclusion, the vision is of a church, operating on her own strength and ability, failing to realize that Jesus has been locked outside her doors. Suddenly that picture that I’ve seen and used for years takes on new meaning, and it makes one consider the reality of Jesus being shut out of the church, knocking on the door and asking, almost in ironic fashion, whether he can come and have fellowship in his own home. 

On the other hand, we are given a picture of the church community and leadership where Christ is in the center. That church is like the healing baths of Hierapolis, able to envelope those for whom nurture is required during their time of deepest need. The purity of the cold water is refreshment to the soul. There is a dependence upon God for their needs, both physical and spiritual. There is no shame, for fellowship with Christ results in participation with the divine nature where the overflowing holy love of God covers the past with white robes of righteousness. 

Arrogance and pride cannot define the church community, but rather, humility and a willingness to learn. The church and her leadership are dearly loved by Christ, and must have a spirit that allows them to be molded and remolded. The words of the angel to the church in Laodicea ought to be a time of reflection for all those engaged in the life of a local, district or denominational church. Where is Jesus? Is he actually in the church? Or, have we, by some sort of spiritual blindness somehow, slowly, ushered him outside, and locked the door? 


Lord, what a humbling thought that we may actually lock you outside your own home. Help me to listen to your voice and fellowship with you daily. May you live at the center of my life, and my church. Amen. 


  1. Thank you for your keen insight into the scripture, and reference to that well-known picture. I pray that our door, both personal and nationally, will open to His knock and calling out to us. Your post is so timely. Thank you again.


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