Let Him In :: William Holman Hunt, “The Light of the World”

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World; Oil on canvas; 1901-1904.

In the seven letters to early churches which begins the book of Revelation, there is one verse that stands out above others as well known. In the last letter, addressed to the infamous church of Laodicea, Jesus issues a stern rebuke and call to repentance, emphasized with this statement: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). These words of the glorified Lord have effectively spoken to many people, leading them to open their lives to Jesus as Lord. What catches my attention is that these verses are written to a group of people and, not just any group of people, but a group of early disciples known as a church. What strikes me as deeply ironic is that Jesus stands outside the church community. He is standing at the door of the church fellowship’s gathering asking to be let in. Apparently, He is not in their midst.

William Holman Hunt was inspired by Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12), to paint The Light of the World. Hunt painted the same scene three different times. The original was painted in the mid-19th century and today is in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford. Shortly thereafter, Hunt painted a smaller version which today is in the Manchester City Art Gallery. The third and final version, Holman painted near the end of his life at the turn of the century. It was the largest of all three, bringing the figure of Jesus to life-size proportions. The painting was so revered it actually was sent on a world tour before eventually being purchase and donated to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where it continues to be held today. Jesus stands within an overgrown garden, knocking at a door with a handle only on the inside. The eye-catching frame, which surrounds the painting captures the words of Revelation 3:20, leaving us to reflect on the stunning situation: Jesus is on the outside of lives and even churches. Will the individual let Jesus in? Will the church let Jesus in?

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