Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 6, Philadelphia

Continuing on, our next stop is the Church at Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia was located in the province of Lydia in Asia Minor approximately 25 miles southeast of Sardis and 125 miles northeast of Smyrna. The city was located on the Cogamus River, which is a tributary of the Hermus River. Philadelphia was situated near the upper end of a broad valley that ran from the city down through Sardis and to the sea near Smyrna. This valley contained a very fertile plateau that was prized for its wine making, which was celebrated by the Roman poet Virgil.

This city was youngest of the seven cities that are addressed in Revelation chapters two and three, having been founded in 189 B.C. by Eumenes II, the king of Lydia, and was named Philadelphia, which means “Brotherly Love” in honor of his younger brother Attalus II, because of the loyalty he had shown to his brother, the king.

The city of Philadelphia was not started as a military colony like some of the other cities of Asia Minor; being an inland city it did not face the same threat of attack as those cities closer to the eastern frontier. Philadelphia was built more as a missionary city, by which I mean that the intention of Eumenes II was that this city would spread Greek culture, language, art, music, and customs throughout Asia Minor. The city was successful in this endeavor and by the year 19 A.D. the native language of Lydia had ceased to be spoken and had been replaced by Greek, which became the only language spoken in the region.

Because of its strategic location on the trade route Philadelphia also became a vital link in communication chain between Sardis and Pergamum to the west, and Laodicea and Hierapolis to the east. But for all of the positive things that could be said about the city it had a major flaw; it was built in an area that was prone to frequent earthquakes, and as a result the city has been destroyed several times throughout its history.

The city of Philadelphia was captured by the Turks in 1390 A.D and is known today by the name Allahshehr, which means “the city of God.”

Now that we know a little about the city, let’s look at the message that Jesus sent to them through the pen of John.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: 'I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie-- I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
Revelation 3:7-13 (NASB)
This letter begins like all of the letters, by addressing the angel, or pastor, of the church. Unlike the previous letters; however, the description of Jesus found here in the message to Philadelphia does not match exactly one of the descriptions given in chapter one. Here Jesus identifies Himself as “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”

Jesus first says that He is holy. Warren Wiersbe tells us that Jesus presenting Himself to the church as holy “is tantamount to declaring that He is God, which, of course, He is.”1 And John MacArthur adds, “Jesus’ identification of Himself as He who is holy can be no less than a direct claim to deity.”2

There are some who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, or that He never claimed to be the Son of God. This is just not true; not only can we see here Jesus’ claim to be God; it can also be seen all throughout the gospels as well. Below are just a few examples from the gospel of John:
The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
John 4:25-26 (NASB)
But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
John 5:17-18 (NASB)
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."
John 6:40 (NASB)
"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death." The Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.' "Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?" Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
John 8:51-59 (NASB)
"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."
John 10:37-38 (NASB)
These are just a few of the many verses that show beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus not only clamed to be God, but as we can see from John 8:51-59, these claims were not veiled. In that passage we can see that not only did Jesus claim to be God, but that the Pharisees were actually going to stone Him for making the claim, which shows that they clearly understood what He was saying. Now here in Revelation we can once again see that Jesus is God.

After reminding the Philadelphians that He is God, Jesus then says that He is true. The word translated true here is the Greek word alēthinós, which the Friberg Lexicon says refers to:
[P]ersons characterized by integrity and trustworthiness, true, dependable; a person who is what he claims to be (the) true one.3

Dr Vine says the word is “akin to No. 1,” and that it “denotes ‘true’ in the sense of real, ideal, genuine.”4 And Dr Zodhiates adds that the word is "Spoken of what is true in itself, genuine, real, as opposed to that which is false.”5

So what Jesus is saying here is that not only is He God, but that He is the only God; He is the true, genuine, real, ideal, trustworthy God, not like all of the idols and false gods of that day. Warren Wiersbe says that by saying He is true Jesus was stating:
He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days, but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God.6
Jesus then says that He is the one “who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut and who shuts and no one opens.” In chapter one Jesus is identified as the One who has “the keys of death and Hades” but here in chapter three He says that He has the “Key of David.” In the Bible keys represent authority, so in chapter one when Jesus said that He has the keys to death and Hades He was communicating His authority concerning judgment; here in chapter three, by saying that He has the keys of David He is expressing that He has :
[T]he sovereign authority to control entrance into the kingdom. In 1:18 He is pictured holding the keys to death and hell—here, the keys to salvation and blessing.7
The key of David is probably a reference to Isaiah 22:22 where Eliakim is given the key of the house of David and thereby had access to, and authority over, all the wealth of the kingdom. Here, Christ is pictured as possessing the keys to the kingdom, which gives Him alone the authority and power to “open” and “shut” the doors of spiritual blessing and opportunity.

Now that Jesus has identified Himself He begins His message to the church. Please note that this church, like the church at Smyrna, does not receive any condemnation, only praise. Jesus tells them, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Jesus tells them He knows their deeds. As we have already noted, the word translated know is the Greek word oída, which means, “to know intuitively or instinctively.”8 Jesus is once again reminding us that He is intimately aware of everything that goes on in His church; there is nothing in His church that is hidden from Him, and nothing that He does not know.

What is it then that Jesus knows about this church? He tells them that He knows their deeds; He knows that they have a little power, that they have kept His word, and that they have not denied His name. He also tells them that because of their faithfulness He has placed before them an open door, which no one can shut. Let’s look at each of these individually.

The first thing that Jesus mentions in regard to their deeds is that He knows that they have a little power. John MacArthur tells us:
That was not a negative comment on their feebleness, but a commendation of their strength; the Philadelphia church was small in numbers, but had a powerful impact on its city.” 9
The power of this church was not derived from their own strength, but from their reliance on Jesus. They could say with Paul that in Christ, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). It was because of their deep dependence on Jesus’ strength that they had kept His word and not denied His name.

We have seen as we have looked at these churches that Jesus knows what is going on, and that nothing is hidden from His sight. We have also heard Him say “but I have this against you.” As we have also seen though, this was not the case here in Philadelphia; when Jesus looks at this church and He comments on their condition the thing He says is that they have kept His word, and have not denied His name. As I read this I couldn’t help thinking about the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and what it will be like to one day hear Jesus say “well done good and faithful servant, come and share your Masters happiness.” This is what the church at Philadelphia heard, and the goal of every Christian should be to live their life in such a way that they too will hear these words.

So what does it mean that they had kept His word and not denied His name? John MacArthur says that it means their lives were “marked by obedience” and “despite the pressures they faced to [deny the name of Christ]. They remained loyal no matter what it cost them.”10

In other words, this church was marked by faithfulness; they were faithful to the name, and to the word of God, and as Hebrews tells us: without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The church in Philadelphia may have been small, they may have not have had much strength, but they had faith. When Jesus looked at them that was all that mattered; there was no condemnation here because they were faithful, and they were obedient. And because of their faithfulness they were going to be blessed.

Notice that Jesus also told this church that He had put an open door before them that no one can shut. There are two views as to what this could mean: the open door could speak of opportunities for ministry, or it could be a reference to their salvation. In the New Testament the picture of an open door is often used to speak of opportunities for ministry and service as we can see in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Colossians:
But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (NASB)
Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,
2 Corinthians 2:12 (NASB)
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:2-4 (NASB)
Because of the location of their city the church in Philadelphia had a tremendous opportunity to spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor. Remember the reason the city was built where it was was to spread the Greek language and culture throughout Asia Minor, and Jesus was telling them that because of their faithfulness the door was wide open; as long as they remained faithful that door could not be shut.

There is a lesson here for us today as well; Jesus rewards and blesses faithfulness with opportunities for ministry and service. If you find that doors seem to close for you, take a look at your life and see if you have kept His word and not denied His name. Chances are if you find doors closing for you there is some sin or disobedience in your life or some area where you need to repent. That was not the case here in Philadelphia; however, here the door was wide open.

The second way that this phrase could be interpreted is in reference to salvation. J. Ramsey Michaels, in his commentary on Revelation says:
The open door is simply a guarantee of salvation or eternal life, like the promises to the ‘overcomers’ in all seven messages. Another way of saying it is that I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (v. 10). Like the “two witnesses” in 11:12 or the child born of the woman in 12:5, they will be ‘raptured,’ or taken up to God in heaven, before the wrath of God is poured out on the earth.11
There is validity to both of these viewpoints, and to a certain extent both views are accurate, but I think that what Jesus was referring to here is an open door for evangelism and ministry, not a reference to the Rapture.

Now in verse nine we once again encounter the synagogue of Satan, which Jesus says, is made up of those who say they are Jews, but are not. This is the same thing that Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, and from this verse we can conclude that they were active in Philadelphia too. Notice that Jesus says they “say they are Jews, and are not, but lie.” Here then we must ask the question; what is a Jew? There is much controversy over this issue, some say that a Jew is one who is a physical descendant of Abraham, and some say that it is those who have put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. I am not going to be able to exhaustively answer this question here, but I will give you my opinion based on what I believe the Bible teaches us about who are the “true Jews.”

Let’s begin in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 2:28-29 (NASB)
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
Romans 9:6-8 (NASB)
From these two passages we can see that being a Jew is not outward and physical, it is inward and spiritual. Paul goes on to say, in the letter to the Galatians:
Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Galatians 3:6-9 (NASB)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:26-29 (NASB)
These verses (and many more) all teach us that it is those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ who are the true descendants of Abraham, and therefore are true Jews.

From Revelation 3:9 we can conclude then that there was a Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia, made up of unbelieving Jews, who were persecuting the Christians in that city. Jesus tells this church that He will make those false Jews to come and bow down at their feet and to know that He has loved them. This is an interesting statement, and John MacArthur explains its meaning like this:
Bowing at someone’s feet depicts abject, total defeat and submission. The Philadelphia church’s enemies would be utterly vanquished, humbled, and defeated… The Philadelphia church’s faithfulness would be rewarded by the salvation of some of the very Jews who were persecuting it.12
It is for this reason that I believe the open door in verse eight refers to their ministry and not their salvation.

Then in verse ten Jesus gives a second promise to this church; He says, “Because you have kept the word of my perseverance, I will also keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.” This is a promise of the deliverance for this church, and for all faithful churches throughout history. It is a promise that when God pours out His wrath on this earth during the Day of the Lord they will be spared. Jesus says that He will keep them from the “hour of testing.” There is no reason for those who have already proven their faithfulness to Jesus to be tested by God’s wrath, so they will be delivered from it.

Please note that this verse promises only deliverance from the wrath of God, it however offers no promise for deliverance from the persecution that will come upon the church from the hands of Satan or the antichrist. Robert Van Kampen tells us:
This verse [Revelation 3:10] has been fought over by both pretribulationist and posttribulationists alike. Both believe that the correct interpretation of this verse will settle the issue concerning the timing of the Lord’s return to rapture the church into the heavens. Sadly, theology has gotten in the way of sound exegesis. With regards to the great persecution of God’s elect at the hands of Satan/Antichrist, this verse offers no hope.13
In verse eleven Jesus says, ”I am coming quickly.” Here again we see a verse that is commonly used to support a pretribulational rapture. The argument used here is that this verse teaches that the return of Christ is imminent, but this cannot be the meaning of this verse since over nine-teen hundred years have passed since Jesus said “I am coming quickly.” In response to this claim Robert Van Kampen says:
There is no way that ‘coming quickly’ can be reconciled with a 1900 hundred-year gap. Coming quickly cannot mean ‘at any moment.’ The lord’s coming is only imminent when the greatest persecution His children will ever face has begun.14
This persecution will be at the hands of the antichrist.

Jesus tells the Christians in Philadelphia, as well as us today, to “hold fast to what you have, in order that no one take your crown.” In other words, all Christians are to remain faithful and loyal to Jesus Christ. It is this perseverance to the end that proves the genuineness of our salvation; there are many warnings in the Bible against falling away from the faith, and it is only those who remain faithful to the end who show that their faith is genuine. John tells us this same thing in his first epistle:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
1 John 2:19 (NASB)
John Macarthur adds:
It is true that believers are eternally secure because of the power of God. Yet the means by which He secures them is by providing believers with a persevering faith. Christians are saved by God’s power, but not apart from their constant, undying faith. 15
The crown mentioned here in verse eleven is the victors’ crown. The Greek word that is translated crown here is stéphanos, which is:
[N]ot used of the kingly crown but of the crown of victory in games, of civic worth, military valor, nuptial joy, festival gladness.16
So it appears that this is another mention of the crown of life that we saw in the message to the church at Smyrna. The admonition of this verse then is that we are to hold fast to our faith in Jesus Christ, and by doing so we can be assured that no one can rob us of the victors crown that is promised to all who persevere to the end.

Then in verse twelve we once again have a promise to the overcomer; this time Jesus promises that those who overcome will be made a pillar in the temple of God and they will not go out from it anymore. He also says that He will write the name of His God, the name of the city of His God, and His new name upon him. Let’s look at each of these individually and see what we can learn:

First Jesus promises to make them pillars in the temple of His God. A pillar is picture of strength and beauty, and this would have been especially meaningful to people living in Philadelphia where they were plagued with frequent earthquakes. David Guzik, in his commentary on Revelation says of this phrase:
When a building collapsed in an earthquake often all that remained were the huge pillars. Jesus offers us this same strength, to remain standing in Him when everything around us crumbles.
He then goes on to say:
The pillar holds up the building. The only thing supporting the pillar is the foundation. True pillars in the church support the church, and they look to Jesus as their support foundation.17
In ancient cities great leaders were often honored by the erecting of a pillar with their name inscribed upon it; the promise that Jesus makes here is that the overcomer will himself be a pillar, and inscribed upon him will be the name of God, the name of His city, the New Jerusalem, and the name of Jesus Christ. MacDonald and Farstad write:
Whatever else this may mean, [this phrase] certainly carries the thought of strength, honor, and permanent security. He shall never leave this place of safety and joy. The overcomer will have three names written on him: the name of ... God, the name of the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from ... God, and the new name of the Lord Jesus. He will thus be identified as belonging to all three. 18
John MacArthur adds:
In biblical times, one’s name spoke of his character. Writing His name on us speaks of imprinting His character on us and identifying us as belonging to Him.19
So what Jesus is saying here is this, those who overcome will be honored with a permanent place in the temple of God, they will remain forever in this place of permanent security and joy, because they belong to God. What a wonderful promise!

And once again Jesus closes His message with the words “he who has an ear, let him hear with the Spirit says to the churches” which lets us know again that this message was not for the church at Philadelphia alone, but is for all Christians of all ages.

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 3:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (119). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Friberg, Barbara; Friberg, Timothy; Miller, Neva F. (c2000); Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Electronic edition) (1107) Grand Rapids: Baker Books
4 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:645). Nashville: T. Nelson.
5 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G228). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 3:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
7 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 3:7). Nashville: Word Pub.
8 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3608). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (121). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (122). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 Michaels, J. R. (1997). Vol. 20: Revelation. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Re 3:7). Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press.
12 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (124). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch3 Pg4 (© www.revelationcommentry.org). Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
14 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch3 Pg4 (© www.revelationcommentry.org). Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura.
15 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (126). Chicago: Moody Press.
16 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4735). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
17 Guzik, David. (c2001). Commentary on the book of Revelation (74). Simi Valley CA: Enduring Word Media.
18 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 3:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
19 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 3:12). Nashville: Word Pub.

Next week we will look at the final message; the message to the church at Laodicea
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1 comment:

Lawrence said...

Very comprehensive study. Clearly you have done your research. Thank you.