In the beautiful and very sensual Old Testament love poem, the Song of Solomon, we see described in metaphorical language the courtship and marital relationship of a bride and groom.
After the marriage is consummated, we see the bride fall into some bad habits of the type that still hinder intimacy in marriage today. She describes a scene perhaps familiar to many married couples (5:2-6).
I was asleep but my heart was awake,
A voice? My beloved was knocking;
“Open to me my sister my darling” (verse 2).
This may describe a literal scene where the husband has literally been locked outside, or more likely, it is a metaphorical way of describing his approaching her with a desire for intimacy. Anyway, she has excuses for not getting up and going to the door.
“I have taken off my dress,
How can I put it on again?
I have washed my feet,
How can I dirty them again?” (verse 3).
Well, the young groom is persistent for a while, and she is finally aroused (verse 4), but by the time she gets around to opening the door, he’s gone (verses 5 and 6). He’s had enough. Sound familiar?
I believe it is this metaphor that lies behind the call that Jesus gives in Revelation 3:20 to the church in Laodicea, the seventh of the churches to which he addresses a letter (Revelation 3:14-22):
14. And to the messenger of the church in Laodicea write: These things says the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Origin of the creation of God:
15. I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot.
16. So because you’re lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I’m going to vomit you out of my mouth!
17. Because you say, “I’m rich, and I’ve become wealthy and I have need of nothing,” and you don’t know that you’re wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked,
18. I’m counseling you to buy from Me gold refined in fire so that you may become rich, and white garments, so that you may clothe yourself and that the shame of your nakedness won’t be shown, and eyesalve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
19. As many as I love, I reprove and discipline; so then be zealous and repent.
20. Look! I’m standing at the door and I’m knocking. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I’ll come in to him and I’ll dine with him and he with Me.
21. The overcomer, I will grant to him to sit with Me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22. The one who has an ear – listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
This church had a lot of problems. Of the seven churches, this is one of only two about which He could find nothing good to say. It makes me think of a former boss of mine who loved to mangle proverbial sayings. One of his favorites was, “If you can’t say sometin’ nice about somebody, den say sometin’ nasty.”
Jesus introduces Himself in this letter as the embodiment of truth. The first title He gives Himself is “the Amen,” a Hebrew word related to the ideas of both truth and faithfulness – something that could be relied on. We put it at the end of our prayers to signify that we mean what we say. The next two would agree with the first. He is absolute truth and expects the same from His followers.
He has many gripes. They are lukewarm. Jesus wanted either hot or cold, just like we do today. They make Him want to barf. They think they’re rich. They’re apparently wealthy materially, by the standards of their day. But they were spiritual paupers – just the opposite of the church in Smyrna (2:9). It’s a pretty sad picture.
What’s wrong with this church? He doesn’t name any horrible sins or vices. He doesn’t name any doctrinal heresies.
I get the idea that they were just a smug satisfied church. Just going through the motions. After all, they did have “works.” But there’s no reality left. Perhaps many of the members were Christians in name only – they had never really put their faith in Christ. Their names were on the church roll. They belonged to the church as they might belong to a club. The counsel Christ gives in verse 18 makes it sound like that. The things He counsels them to buy are the things that accompany salvation – the gold, the white clothes. They needed first to put their faith in Christ.
But in verse 19, He turns His attention to those He loves. This is not the usual word for the love of God for us. The Greek word used is PHILEO, the love of affection, the love one has for a friend. It is the word used for Jesus’ love for his friend (PHILOS) Lazarus. “See how He loved him” (John 11:36). Jesus still has friends in the church in Laodicea. It is with them that He seeks to rebuild that relationship.
And so in verse 20, we find Christ standing outside the door of the church. As the loving bridegroom of the Song of Solomon, the heavenly Bridegroom longs for intimacy with those in the church for whom He has a deep affection. And all it takes is for a hearer to open the door.
And in the same way Christ desires intimacy with us. Even if some of our church organizations have locked Him out, we can invite Him in.
But Christ is a gentle Lover. If we, as His bride, choose to just roll over and go back to sleep, if we make excuses for our neglect and rejection of His advances, He won’t force us. He’ll just wait for us. Though He may have to “reprove and discipline,” He desires us to willingly seek Him, as the bride in the Song of Solomon.