Revelation 3:20a, “Behold, I Stand At the Door”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.”  

Revelation 3:20 is a very familiar Scripture.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in a church service in which a famous picture derived from this verse was being explained.  I don’t remember a lot about it anymore, except that it was the usual approach that Christ is standing at the door of the heart of the lost sinner, calling to him to open the door and let the Lord in.  One preacher in this vein even went so far as to refer to our Lord as “the Christ of the bloody knuckles.”

Ah, beloved, the Lord God and His Son have more interest in and concern for the salvation of sinners than you or I can even begin to imagine.  Look at all they’ve done to bring it about.  Salvation isn’t just the thing of a moment, the result of an “oops” on God’s part when our first parents fell.  It wasn’t some result of a “hastily called emergency meeting,” as one writer put it.  How anyone can even think such a thing of our God is beyond me.  There are no “emergencies” with God.

No. no.

Scripture tells us salvation stretches from eternity past, when it was conceived in the heart, mind, purpose and action of God, through today and the work of the Spirit in regenerating sinners and bringing them to faith in the Lord Jesus, into the boundless eternity of the future in the presence of These who loved us and gave themselves for us.  It was the Lord Jesus who died on the Cross, but the others have been or are just as active and have their own part in our salvation.

Christmas, just a few days from now, should remind us of all this.

But that’s not what John is telling us.  Our Lord is not talking to sinners, but to His own churches!  And since churches are made up of individuals, He’s talking to the individual members of those churches.

It ought to be a staggering thought – that the Lord of the church stands on the outside!  Asking for entrance!  No wonder John records Him as saying, “Behold”!

This doesn’t mean that the Lord is impotent, or that He “must” wait for us to “take the first step.”  It does mean that we are responsible for how we respond to His commands, and His entreaties.  Besides, Scripture tells us that He is quite able to open the door Himself, cf. Acts 16:14, which tells of us of Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened…to heed the things spoken by Paul.

And we are responsible to respond.  Make no mistake about it.  Some have taken the sovereignty of God to such an extreme that they almost make men puppets or robots.  Or take them out of the picture altogether.  They’re like those who responded to William Carey, “the father of modern missions,” who felt a call and desire to go to India.  In effect, he was told, “Young man, if God wants to save the heathen, He can do it without you.”  Others go to the other extreme and make God little more than a humble supplicant at the throne of man’s will.

We’re not sticks or stones.  And we don’t just run on instinct, as much of the animal world seems to.  We’re creatures with intellect, emotions and will. We’re able to think, to feel, and to do.  The fact that these faculties have all been corrupted by the Fall of Adam doesn’t make us any less responsible to use them, or for how we use them.

Churches.

The Lord’s talking to them.

I wonder how many in their church services really look to see if the Lord is with them, or if He’s on the outside.  Or if they assume that just because they’re there, then so is He.  And Baptists tend to be as bad at this as those “formal” churches they differ with.  After all, their “order of services” is pretty much as “set” as any routine in any liturgical church.

But He’s not talking just to individuals in churches.

There’s so much application here.

He’s talking to churches, yes.

But I think He might also be talking to –

Families…

Neighborhoods…

Cultures…

Our nation….

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock….”

 

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Revelation 2:18, The Christ and City of Thyatira.

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira, write, ‘The things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass….’ 

Once again, we’ve had to divide our thoughts into separate posts.

1. The City of the Epistle.

Thyatira was located in a valley linking two other valleys.  Because it had no natural fortification and was wide open to attack, a garrison was usually stationed there.  This defended the town, but had the added benefit in that it guarded the road into Pergamos, the capital of the province.

Because of its favorable location on the route between Pergamos and Sardis, Thyatira soon became a prosperous commercial center.  Many trade-guilds are known to have existed there.  One of her merchants is even mentioned in Scripture:  Lydia, a seller of purple, Acts 16:14.  What’s noted about her, though, isn’t her commerce, but her conversion.  She is described as one whose heart the Lord opened to hear the things spoken by Paul.  There’s so much I could say about this in these days of the widespread belief that God is impotent or at least unable to act until we give Him permission.  That is not the God of Scripture.

Membership in the appropriate guild was essential to a tradesman and his business and social life was severely impacted if he refused to join.  But each guild had its own “god” and membership implied worship of that god.  Moreover, the periodic feasts of the guild, beside honoring their god, deteriorated into drunken orgies.  Perhaps this was one of the main problems facing the church there.

Although Thyatira was the smallest of the seven cities, its letter is the longest.

If we follow the idea that each church foreshadows an era of church history, then Thyatira represents that time between 500 and 1500 AD, when Romanism was savagely predominant.  I use the word “savagely” intentionally, in view of the rivers of blood Rome shed of those who refused to join with her.   The name, Thyatira, is particularly significant, made up as it is of two words which can be interpreted as meaning “a continual sacrifice.”  The continual offering of the Mass – the so-called “unbloody sacrifice” of the Lord Jesus – is the central blasphemy of Romanism.  The partaking of communion was never intended by our Lord to be a continuation of His sacrifice or a repetition of it.  It was never meant to be some sort of “magic potion” bringing “grace” to those who partake of it.  He Himself said it was to be a reminder of Him.  In 1 Corinthians 11:25, He told the disciples, This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”   It’s a memorial to His life and death.  Perhaps it’s significant that our Lord said this in the part of Communion involved in the drinking of the fruit of the vine, which is withheld from the communicant in Rome’s version.  The fruit of the vine represents His blood, without which there is no salvation.

This brings us to our next thought.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 18.

This is important.  In this day of “pluralism” and “diversity,” it’s vital to remember that our Lord taught that there’s only one way of salvation and that’s through Him.  All roads do not lead to heaven.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.  And not just the “Jesus” of a lot of modern thought, who was only a good man or a prophet or whose death was accidental or a mistake, or who is even, as some now teach, only a figment of the imagination.

There’s only salvation in a Christ Who is God, Who deliberately set aside His glory as God, deliberately came into this world through means of a virgin, deliberately lived a perfect life, deliberately died a horrible death, deliberately and willingly suffered the justice of God against sin, deliberately rose again from the dead and Who, one day, will deliberately return to this world.  There was nothing accidental or unintentional in a single thing that He ever did.  This is the Christ who saves, and He alone.

The Son of God.  This is the only place in these epistles where the Lord Jesus is so named.  Perhaps, in the wisdom of God, this is to warn people not to be deluded into thinking of Him merely as the Son of Mary.  Perhaps there’s something to be learned from her last recorded words in Scripture.  She had attempted to get Him to do something, perhaps just being a mother and not really thinking about it.  He told her that it wasn’t yet time for Him to be subject to man’s will.  Her response?  His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it,” John 2:5, emphasis added.  That’s still good advice.  There’s nothing more she can say or do.

Eyes like a Flame of Fire.

– to uncover and destroy works of error and apostasy.

We’ve almost completely lost sight of this facet of our Lord’s being and of His Father’s.  We seem to have this idea of God as this beneficent-type grandfather who winks and chuckles at the foibles of His wayward grandchildren.  We seem to think that it doesn’t really matter what He says in His Word, if it is His Word.  Academics argue and quibble over this and that, but they never seem actually to read what He says.  From a misunderstanding of Revelation 3:20, we picture our Lord as being on the outside and wanting us to let Him in so badly.  One preacher even went so far as to call Him “the Christ of the bloody knuckles”!  This is not the Christ of Scripture!

God is indeed very long-suffering and patient.  For that, I am very thankful.  If He were not, we’d all be in Hell, where we belong.  But one of these days, as Rolfe Barnard, a great preacher of another generation, put it, one of these days we’re going to run into the end of that patience and we’ll reap what we’ve sown.  I think we’re getting there.  Look at the headlines, the lead stories on TV, the sorry condition of the major candidates running for the highest office in our land.

When the Lord comes back, He’s not going to be “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  He’s not going to suffer the humiliation and rejection He did the first time. Scripture describes that time when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And Zechariah 14:9-21 gives us something of the nature and character of His reign on this earth when He gets here.

That’s a picture of our Lord that the church needs today.  He has no time for diversity and “tolerance,” especially of sin or error.  He doesn’t celebrate “inclusiveness,” at least not as it’s practiced today.  The Gospel is indeed “inclusive” in that there is no one to whom it isn’t addressed, or who does not need to heed and obey it.  But there is no such thing as “religious freedom” in Scripture – that we can take it or leave it, or twist it around to suit ourselves.

I’ve heard people say what the Scripture “means to them.”  The problem is, we need to understand what it means to God.  What does He mean?  Not what do the “notes” say it means.  Not what the preacher on TV says it means.  What it says it means.  These other things may or may not be useful.  We need to read and study the Scriptures themselves, not just read about them.  Not everybody is on the road to heaven.  Our Lord indicated that most people are on the other road, Matthew 7:13, that broad way that leads to destruction.

His feet like fine brass.

Revelation 19:15 says, He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

The Old Testament describes something of this:  Isaiah 63:1-6; Zechariah 14:1-3, 12-15.  The world may gather its armies together in one last desperate attempt to destroy Israel, and they may seem to be successful, but the Lord will come back and that will be that.  The world will finally see something of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

Satan will no longer, and not much longer, we pray, be the god of this world. 

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Infant Baptism: A Study in Three Parts. Part 1: The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice.

When I was a young student at a Baptist Bible college, I came across a book entitled, “The Biblical Basis FOR Infant Baptism,” by Dwight Hervey Small.  It shook me to my very core because I couldn’t answer his reasoning.  In further study on the subject, I came across a book entitled, “Baptism Not For Infants,” by T. E. Watson, in which he showed that Reformed scholars themselves answer, or rather, contradict, the teachings of other Reformed scholars.

In looking at Small’s book now, some 50 years later, I see that it’s all marked up.  His reasoning is no longer compelling, as it once was.

Why would I get into such a divisive topic?  Why would I go against the practice of almost the entire professing Christian world?  Who cares?  Sadly, few do.  I do, because, as you may have seen in other posts, my concern isn’t, “What does a church teach?” but “What does the Scripture say?” Romans 4:3.  It isn’t about what different scholars say on the subject.  I’ve read books from authors on both sides of the question who once held the other view.  Scripture stays the same.  What was true in the apostles’ day about baptism is true in our day.  “The church” has neither the right nor the authority to do anything else but what the Scripture teaches – in those cases where it teaches.  For example, the Bible says nothing about the use of computers.  We have perfect liberty, except in those areas where God has spoken through His Word.  The problem is that most Christians apparently don’t read it – all of it.  A few verses here and there don’t usually give us the whole Biblical teaching on any subject.

I’ve divided this study into three parts because of its length. I had intended to post all three at the same time, but decided it would be better to post them a day or so apart.   These studies are as follows:
I.   The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice.
II.  Circumcision, Passover, Baptism and Communion.
III. Israel, the Church, and the Covenants.

I. The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice. 

Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (NKJV and everywhere, unless otherwise noted).

This familiar verse is part of the Lord’s final instructions to the disciples before He ascended into Heaven.  In the Book of Acts, we see how the disciples understood His instructions about baptism, which are the only such instructions anywhere in the Bible.  Please note in the context of this study that when we use the term “Reformed,” we are referring to Protestants, who practice infant baptism.  “Reformed Baptists” would agree with us on the topic of baptism, but differ on other areas.  Nor are we talking about the Roman Catholic practice which is unScriptural as well, but has a different emphasis.

– Examples in Acts

Acts 2:41, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

This dramatic climax to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost shows that those baptized “gladly received his word.”

Acts 8:12, But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

Here again we see “believing” preceding “baptizing.”  In the words of the first example, they “gladly received his word.”  The additional detail tells us that both men and women were baptized.

Acts 8:38, So he commanded the chariot to stand still.  And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

This is the familiar story of the Ethiopian eunuch, a high government official in his own country, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, v. 27.  On his way home, he was reading a copy of Isaiah, no small feat in a day when there were no printing presses or bookstores.  In the providence of God he was reading a portion we know as Isaiah 53 and so Philip had a ready made platform beginning at this Scripture to preach Jesus to him, v. 35.  This resulted in the eunuch wanting to know why he could not be baptized.  Some versions have Philip requiring a profession of faith; others leave that out.  Whichever is true, the eunuch’s faith in the Lord Jesus is implicit even if not specifically stated.  He, too, “gladly received” the word.

It’s interesting that these three instances cover the scope of instructions the Lord left with His disciples, and thus His church, in Acts 1:8 where He said, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 2:41 is Jerusalem (Judea).  Acts 8:12 was in Samaria.  In Acts 8:38, the eunuch represents the ends of the earth.

Acts 18:8, Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household.  And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. 

Here again are the familiar elements of “hearing,” “believing,” and being baptized.

These verses give us examples of the understanding of the early New Testament church as to “baptism.”  It was given only to those who gladly received the word, that is, they “believed.”  Both men and women were baptized.  In one case, it was considered important enough for a question as to whether the person asking it could be baptized. Nowhere is it said that children, let alone infants, were baptized.

– Yes, but….

In the very first sentence of his book, Small says, “The majority of Christian churches in the world practice baptism by sprinkling, including the children of professing believers in what is commonly called ‘covenant baptism’.” (p. 5.).  Yet Louis Berkhof, a distinguished Reformed scholar, admits in his “Manual of Christian Doctrine,” p. 319, “There is no explicit command in Scripture to baptize children; nor is there a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized.”  However, he continues, “But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-Biblical.”  This brings us to

– Household baptisms.

On p. 321, Professor Berkhof says, “Whole households were repeatedly baptized [sic], and this is represented as something perfectly normal.  It is but natural to assume that there were children in some of these households.  We know that in the second century children were baptized.”

With regard to his last sentence, it doesn’t really matter what happened in the second century.  Reformed teachers commonly refer to “the early Church fathers.”  We only comment that in going to the New Testament for our beliefs, we are simply returning to “the ‘original’ Church fathers.”  Their writings alone are authoritative.  Later writings may be interesting and even informative, but they have no authority.

Even the New Testament tells us that error began to infiltrate the churches before it was completed.  Many of the NT books were written to combat these errors, e.g., Galatians. Even Small in his book (p. 184) laments “an incredible need for reformation began in the church in the generations immediately following the apostles….  The need for reformation was present at the beginning of the second century, and the subsequent history of the church only reveals a progressive departure.”  Perhaps a large contributing factor to this decline was the introduction of unregenerate persons into the church by means of infant baptism.

With regard to the assumption “that there were children in some of these households,” we quite agree.  However, it is just as easy to “assume” that the apostles and others would have been obedient to the plain command of their Lord and baptized only those who professed faith in Christ.  Let’s look at the instances of “household” baptism in the NT.

Acts 10:44, 46, 47, While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word….  Then Peter answered, “Can any forbid water that these should not be baptized…?”  

There are several interesting things in this account – a watershed event in the NT: the first record of the salvation of a Gentile after Pentecost (Acts 10:1-11:18).  Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, 10:2.  He was sent a vision from God in which he was told to send for Peter to hear words from him, v. 22.  When Peter and those who were with him got there, they discovered that Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends, v.24.  Peter began to tell them about the Lord Jesus, vs. 34-43, and while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word, v. 44.  Then Peter said, “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized…?” v. 47.

This whole thing created a furor in the church at Jerusalem and so a meeting took place to discuss it, Acts 15.  There are many things here, but we’ll look only at vs. 17, 18, where Peter concludes his account:  “If God therefore gave them [that is, those with Cornelius] the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”  When they [that is, the others at the meeting in Jerusalem] heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” 

There is nothing here that is different from the first accounts we looked at; these, too, “gladly received” the word.

Acts 16:14, 15, Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us.  She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God.  The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying,”If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” 

Like Cornelius, Lydia was already “devout.”  Each Sabbath, likely, she would meet with other women who would gather to pray, not in a synagogue, but by a river.  And like Cornelius, God sent someone to her to tell her about the Lord Jesus.

There is so much here.

The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  Here is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, doing His work so that people understand the Word of God is the Word of God, not just another set of religious instruction that is really no different than that of any other religion.

Here is the baptism of Lydia and her household.  We’re told nothing about this household, but there’s no reason to assume that there was something different here.  No doubt, Lydia would have explained what had happened to her and why Paul and his company were with her.  We’re not told if these were only adults, or if, indeed, there were infants and children present.  Some believe that these were the servants and retinue of a businesswoman in a city not her home.  Possibly.  We just don’t know.  In any event, even if there were infants and children there, as we said before, it’s just as easy to believe that Paul would have been obedient to his Lord and baptized only those who professed faith in Christ.

In no instance in the NT is baptism separated from the prior faith of the one being baptized.  There are no instances of “second-hand” baptism, no “proxies,” based on the faith of someone else, parents or otherwise.

Acts 16:31-34, So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  …And immediately he and all his family were baptized.  …and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Here again are the common elements preceding the baptism of these folks.  “All who were in the house” heard the Word and the jailer rejoiced, “having believed in God with all his household.”  Like all the others before them, “they gladly received the word.”

Reformed scholars argue that the Greek indicates that only the jailer believed.  The verb is singular.  The ESV translates v. 34, And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.  The verb is also singular in v. 31: “believe”.  However, if all that’s indicated is that only the jailer believed and yet his whole household was baptized on that account, why are we told that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house?

Since “household baptism” is one of the arguments for “infant” baptism, are we to believe that only infants were in this “household”?  Certainly not.  Why then, if the “household” were baptized on the faith of the jailer alone, and if the household consisted of more than infants, why then don’t the Reformed also baptize all members of a new believer’s household:  infant, child, teen or adult?  WHY ISN’T “HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM” HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM?  Why is it restricted to infants?

The truth is, we aren’t told everything that happened in this household prior to its baptism.  No doubt, the events that transpired with the jailer and his former prisoners at the house gave the opportunity we read of for Paul and Silas to witness about the saving grace of God.  Even though we’re not told directly about the household’s response to this witness, based on every other baptism in Acts, we may infer that the “household” believed along with the jailer.  As far as the mention of “his” faith, it is mainly “his” story.  As for his household rejoicing that he had believed [why would unbelievers rejoice at that?], couldn’t it simple be that they were happy he had indeed believed, and then brought the good news home to them with Paul and Silas so that they, too, “the household,” could hear and believe?

There is one more instance of “household baptism” in the NT.

1 Corinthians 1:16, Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas.  

Paul refers to these people later in the epistle:  you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of God, 16:15 (ESV).  Even in these brief verses, we can trace the NT pattern of faith before baptism.

On p. 42 of his book, Small claims that “baptism becomes a seal of the blessings which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by his act of personal faith.”  This is completely contrary to the NT, in which baptism is the confirmation of faith, not the other way around.

There is one more verse often used to support infant baptism.

– What about…? 

Acts 2:39, For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar, as many as the Lord our God will call.

In a note on this verse, the “Reformation Study Bible,” R. C. Sproul, editor, says, “Peter proclaims that salvation through God’s Messiah is promised to the Jews, their children, and to all those far off (i.e., the Gentiles, Eph. 2:11-13).”  Commenting on this verse, Small (p. 43) says, “One of the very first concerns [of new Jewish believers who were parents] would be whether or not the provisions of the covenant continued with respect to their children….  Peter first assures the Jewish believers that the promise is still in effect…the covenant promise continues to be in force for their children,” although he also says that an entirely new principle is added to the covenant in that it is extended to those who are afar off, Gentiles.

In common with his fellows, Small takes no notice of the qualifying phrase at the end of this verse: as many as the Lord our God will call.  In other words, the promise is only to those who are “called,” that is, “saved.”  Only those who are “called” are the subjects of this promise, and they alone are the only ones who should be baptized.

Next:  Circumcision, Passover, Baptism  and Communion.