“Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
Some pretribulationists think the expression “I am standing at the door and knocking” refers to an imminent return of Jesus. It has also been wrongly understood to be an “evangelistic call” to unbelievers. Both interpretations are mistaken. These are easily refuted interpretations so my comments will be brief. Not only does this verse have nothing to do with an imminent return of Jesus, it has nothing to do with his future return in the first place. This verse is imploring lukewarm, indifferent believers to become restored to spiritual fellowship with the Lord as the immediate context of the previous verse indicates: “All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent!” (Rev 3:19). If the believer repents by hearing his voice, he will “share a meal with him,” which is imagery for intimate fellowship.
Accordingly, these words are directed toward believing individuals, not the church as a whole. As one commentator puts it:
“The gracious invitation that follows in v 20 is given, not to the church as a whole, as though Christ was outside the church (which would require, ‘If the church will hear my voice…I will go in and eat with them, and they with me’), but to each individual within it, conveying the offer of the risen Lord to share with any who will open the door of fellowship in even the commonest activities of life. (George R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition; ed. D. A Carson et al.; Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 1431.
There are additional reasons why this verse is not a proof text for imminence. First, this imagery of Jesus’ “standing at the door knocking” is not some looming threat of an “imminent” return, or a return in the first place. It is rather a loving promise from our Lord that he continues to pursue and seek restoration with his people even when we have gone astray. It may even be a picture of a foretaste for the future messianic banquet (Rev 19:6–9). Second, it makes no sense if it were to refer to an imminent rapture, because there have been countless believers who have repented and restored fellowship with Lord without the rapture occurring. Third, if one tries to make the Laodicea church represent the church as a whole (which there is no evidence for), then where in the Bible does it say that the church must repent as a whole before Jesus returns? This would establish a prophesied condition where the church as a whole must repent in order for the rapture to take place, which contradicts imminence, the very point that pretribs argue against!
For these reasons, this verse fails miserably as a proof text for pretrib imminence. The important point from this passage is to ask yourself if you are a “Laodicean” Christian who has become lukewarm and indifferent to the Christian life being entangle into the material affairs of this world. If so, then Jesus is pleading and “knocking at your heart’s door” to repent. If you are experiencing his loving rebuke and discipline, then consider that as a good thing, because if you choose not to hear his voice and continue to keep that door shut refusing to restore fellowship with him, then he will “vomit you” of his mouth!