Pastor Scott Andrews | July 17, 2022
Today we arrive at the sixth of seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor – the letter to the church in Philadelphia. We’re going to find it was a great church that lasted for centuries. Philadelphia was located about thirty miles southeast of Sardis on the main trade route from Smyrna on the coast to much of the east – in fact, the city was called “the gateway to the east.” The trade route, plus being located on the postal road from Troas through Pergamum and Sardis, made Philadelphia a considerable commercial city.
It was the most recent of the seven cities, founded about 189 BC. Philadelphia of course means brotherly love. How did it get that name? It was named after Attalus Philadelphus. But, the name Philadelphus was actually given to him because of his love for his older brother, Eumenes. You see, Eumenes was the king of Pergamum. Once, Eumenes was thought to be killed in battle, so Attalus was proclaimed king. But the news of Eumenes death was greatly exaggerated – he wasn’t killed. So when he showed up at Pergamum, Attalus gladly gave the crown back to his brother. A few years later, the Romans pressured Attalus several times to assume the throne, but he repeatedly refused. He didn’t become king until his brother died in 159. From such actions, he was called Philadelphus – lover of his brother. So, the name Philadelphia came to mean, city of brotherly love.
The city was founded as a sort of missionary enterprise, if you will – not like we think of missionary – but the city was put in place by Greek monarchs in the west to introduce the region to Greek ways and make them loyal subjects. They were successful – Greek was eventually spoken in those lands, and Hellenism spread.
The only problem with the city was its proclivity to earthquakes. That earthquake of 17 AD that I mentioned last week which leveled Sardis also leveled Philadelphia. Being closer to the epicenter, the aftershocks continued for some time. But, the city, like Sardis, received help from Emperor Tiberius to rebuild. In gratitude, the city renamed itself Neocaesarea to honor Tiberius.
The city was located on a high hill, as cities then were often built for strategic defensive purposes. But it was surrounded by rich, fertile, volcanic soil. Tana and I saw that kind of soil on a vineyard on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. It was perfect for growing grape vines, and the city became known for its wine production. In fact, while it was like all the cities of its day, worshiping many gods, its patron god was Dionysus, god of wine and pleasure.
Which brings me to some incredibly important truths. You may have noticed as we’re making our way through these seven cities how important the gods were. All the cities were polytheistic with temples built to a variety of gods. We’ve seen worship of a pantheon of Greek and Roman gods, to include Artemis and Aphrodite and Zeus and Roma and Athena and Apollo and Cybele and Dionysus and, of course, the Roman emperor. But here’s my question: where have all those gods and temples gone? I personally don’t know of any who worship the gods of Greece or Rome today – except for maybe Marvel and the Avengers. Where have they gone? Well, they’re all dead and gone – figures of antiquity, with no lasting divine, eternal value. We might have an image or two, statues and paintings in museums. We might have a column or two left. Remember, the largest temple to Artemis in the ruins of Ephesus has one column left standing. Last week, the temple to Cybele had a whopping two columns left standing.
Now, there have been a few temples reconstructed to give us a glimpse into religious history. For example, a little-known site preserves the best of Greek architecture in Italy – actually, some of the best ruins in the world. They’re in Paestum, south of Salerno, and the site boasts impressive temples to Hera and Athena. We visited, but there weren’t a lot of people there – and one thing else I noticed – there were no worship services.
There’s also the Parthenon in Athens, dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. It’s an incredible structure, located on the acropolis where the Apostle Paul actually visited. There are the remains of other temples there as well. Incredibly preserved, there were large crowds, but, again, no worship services. Now, you may remember when Paul visited Athens in Act 17. We read the following:
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.
22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus [we call it Mars Hill where politicians and philosophers gathered to chat] and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Here’s my point. People through the millenniums have worshiped a variety of gods – sometimes several at one time. They have fashioned him out of wood and stone. They have set him or her up in temples of their own making. They have created their own forms of worship, usually in ways that satisfy their sinful desires and craven lusts. And they’ve all gone the way of all the earth – into oblivion.
And here we are, studying ancient letters to ancient churches. Found recorded for us in the Christian Scriptures. Here we are, worshiping the God of the Bible. What’s the difference? Well, Paul said it. We worship the God who made the world and everything in it. We didn’t fashion a God of our own making, following humankind’s sinful personalities and propensities. We didn’t make God up – the true and the living God made us, and made Himself known to us.
Further, He doesn’t dwell in these temples made with human hands – now lying in ruins. We didn’t fashion a God out of gold or silver or stone by the thought or imaginations of man. We don’t serve Him with human hands, since He has need of nothing. Rather, He gives life to all, and in Him we live and move and have our being. And this true and living God, we have seen, is calling all people everywhere to repent – because there is coming a day when He will judge everyone by the One whom He raised from the dead. Who lives forevermore. It is this God we worship, and this God we serve, and this God we love, and this God to whom we have given our lives.
Oh, and by the way, Jesus said He would build His church, and the very gates of hell would never overcome her. And we are now reading the end of the story – the end of time, and guess what we find? This God, the true and living God, will one day return to make all things right, and take His people to Himself. He has and will always exist and always be worthy of worship.
Which means this – now catch this – there will never be a day in human history when Christianity will be extinct. That you will simply read about this God of the Christians in history books. That you will simply visit museums and church buildings where this Christian God was once worshiped. Oh, to be sure, there are such cathedrals and buildings – some now turned to mosques, for example – but the God of the Bible is everywhere worshiped, and His Son Jesus Christ will always be due the honor and glory of His name. He will forever be worshiped by His people. And this book tells us there is coming a time when Jesus will come back for His own – even though many in the world and in this country have soundly rejected Him. Remember, there is coming a day when they will know the truth, and they will bow before Him with whom they have to do. Don’t miss that – there is coming a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Even those who have denied, opposed, ridiculed Him and His followers. Remember that as opposition and persecution increases.
The opposition was rife in these seven cities – largely because Christians refused to worship false gods, idols, and refused to worship a man become God – that is, the emperor. Rather, they worshiped God become man to die for the sins of His people. And we get to Philadelphia and find while the city was called the place of brotherly love, it was anything but. Well, except in the church of Jesus Christ. Have you noticed what is going on in our country? The vitriol, the violence, the vehemence, the division, the racism, the chaos and mayhem, the death? Where is the brotherly love? In the church of Jesus Christ. We have an opportunity to shine the light of the gospel perhaps like never before. Let’s not squander the opportunity. Well, with all that, let’s read the letter, shall we? Revelation 3:7-13.
This is one of two letters, two churches, of which Jesus has no correction, only commendation. Interestingly, the other one is Smyrna, which faced similar challenges – that is, from the Jewish community. Those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and set out to dismiss and discredit the teachings of Christianity. By this time, Christians had been barred from attending any Jewish synagogue throughout the empire. Some of their fiercest opposition came from Jews. And yet, in both Smyrna and now Philadelphia, the church did not bend to the pressure. And so Jesus has some great things to say to them. And to us, as opposition increases from every quarter – the encouragement to us is to remain faithful – after all, we worship the true and living God.
The outline is as follows:
- The Angel of the Church of Philadelphia (7)
- The Self-description of Christ (7)
- The Commendation of the Church (8-11)
- The Promises to the Overcomers (12)
- The Call to Hear the Spirit (13)
Again, notice, there is no correction, and therefore no call to repentance. What an encouraging letter today. We’ve already talked about the city. We don’t know much about the church – it appears only here in Revelation chapters 1 and 3 in the Bible. We assume it was founded during Paul’s two-year ministry in Asia Minor or western Turkey.
But notice Jesus’ self-description in the second part of verse 7. First, the One who is holy, the One who is true. Many of us know that God is regularly referred to in the OT as the Holy One – the Holy One of Israel, for example. We find in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 that four living creatures surround the throne of God. They have six wings – with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly. And they cease not day and night to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
We remember when demons came face to face with Jesus, they fell at His feet and cried out, “We know who You are, the Holy One of God.” This is clearly a declaration of deity. In fact, you should know, this title appears again in Revelation 6, only it’s applied to God who sits on the throne, when the souls of those who have been martyred cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The text goes on, “And there was given to each of them a white robe…”
God alone is the Holy One, and Jesus unabashedly takes the title upon Himself. Further, He is also the true One – the genuine One, the faithful One. By the way, these self-descriptions are not found in John’s description – But Jesus takes them on Himself. Why would He remind the church in Philadelphia that He is the Holy One and the True One? Because, their main source of opposition was the Jewish synagogue, who denied the deity and messiahship of Jesus. So Jesus reminds them – I am the Holy One, the Genuine One. Yes, there are those who oppose you, wanting to deny Me – but know that I am He. We will need to be reminded of this in our increasingly pluralistic culture – there is only one true and living God.
Further, I have the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and not one opens. What does that mean? This is a clear allusion to Isaiah 22. Remember, the book of Revelation is filled with OT allusions. In Isaiah 22, the steward named Shebna who was in charge of Hezekiah’s royal household was replaced by a man named Eliakim. And to Eliakim was given authority and the key of the house of David, and “when he opens no one will shut, and when he shuts no one will open.” The point is, he was given authority over the palace – the key of David – and when he opened the entrance to the palace, no one could shut it, and when he shut it, no one could open it.
Jesus applies this verse – which some saw as Messianic – to Himself. I have the key of David – I open and I shut. Further, remember, in chapter 1, Jesus has the keys of death and hades, which means He has authority over death, and authority over entrance into hades. Here, He has the key of David, which means, Jesus and Jesus alone has the key to allow or disallow entrance into God’s kingdom. Jesus not only has authority over death; not only has the authority over the place and placement of the dead; Jesus alone will permit entrance into God’s kingdom. When He opens the door to someone – by His death and resurrection – no one will shut it. Further, when He shuts the door to someone – no one else will open it. Entrance into the Kingdom of God is controlled by Jesus alone. There is no other way, there are no other gods. This text screams with the authority, deity and exclusivity of Jesus Christ.
Bringing us to the much-needed commendation in verses 8-11. I know your deeds – but He holds off listing those for a moment. It appears He goes on a tangent, but He doesn’t. He applies what He just said in verse 7 to the church in Philadelphia. Can you imagine how encouraging this would have been? I know your deeds – behold, listen up, look, I have put before you an open door which not one can shut. I have the key of David – the authority to open the door into My Father’s kingdom – and I have opened it for you. And no one can shut it. Why does He say that? Because the Jews had shut the door to the synagogue – shut the door seemingly of access to God. You can’t come in here. And Jesus says, but you can come into My Father’s house, My Father’s kingdom. I’ve opened the door – and they cannot shut it. No one can.
Why has He opened it to them? Because you have proven the reality of your faith by your commitment to Me, Jesus says. He says three things about them: you have a little power. That’s not meant to be a negative statement – don’t read it that way. Most agree Jesus means Philadelphia was small church. They didn’t have the power that comes from size and numbers and influence and money and politics – the things that many churches pursue today. Nope – they only had a little power, and yet in the midst of that smallness, that seeming insignificance – you have kept My word. You’ve remained faithful to the Gospel and all that it requires in obedience. You’ve faithfully followed even though it has cost you. And in the midst of that opposition, you have not denied My name.
Therefore, Jesus says something startling in verse 9. Now, we already got a glimpse of this truth in the letter to the church of Smyrna where Jesus said, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy [or slander] by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Strong words. We saw what Jesus meant was these were ethnically Jews, but they were not spiritually Jews. You see, to be spiritually a Jew was to be one of God’s chosen people. To stand with God and His purposes. And here, it was clear, they stood in opposition to God. To Christ and His church.
Remember Romans 2:28-29, “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…” Paul says a Jew is not one who is simply physically a Jew, but one who is inwardly so.
Then later, in Romans 11, Paul reminds us that the Jews were broken off the olive tree, so that wild branches, the Gentiles, could be grafted in. Yes, Paul also makes clear in that chapter God is not done with the Jews, His chosen people. But the point is, God’s attention is on NT believers in Jesus – the church – those who have accepted His Son. And these Jews had not. And so, they were of the synagogue of Satan.
They claim to be Jews, but they aren’t actually – that is, they may have the physical blood of Abraham flowing through their veins, but these Jews are not My people – because they are slandering My people. As such, they are of the synagogue of Satan – the avowed enemy, the adversary of God – the accuser of God’s people. These Jews were falsely accusing God’s people, just like Satan does – therefore, they earned the right to be called the synagogue of Satan.
Jesus takes it a step further in the letter to Philadelphia – they lie. And then He says something absolutely incredible, “I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.” Now, several times in the book of Isaiah, God tells the Jews, there is coming a day when He will make the Gentiles who have oppressed them, come and bow down at their feet. For example, Isaiah 60:14 says, “The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all those who despised you will bow themselves as the soles of your feet; and they will call you the city of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”
Do you see? The Gentiles who have afflicted you will come and bow down at your feet. Unbelievably, Jesus reverses that and says to the church, these Jews who have afflicted you as My people will come and bow at your feet. You will be vindicated. Wait, how does that work? Well, back in Isaiah 45, we read these words, “Thus says the LORD, [the Gentiles who have afflicted you] will come over to you and will be yours; they will walk behind you [a symbol of defeat and submission], they will come over in chains and will bow down to you; they will make supplication to you: Surely God is with you, and there is none else, no other God.”
Do you see? There is no other God – there is only one true and living God. And He has made Himself known in the person of His Son. And to deny Jesus is to deny God. They will therefore bow down to you, and I will make them know that I have loved you. Yes, they will oppose you, but at the end they will know the truth about Jesus and His followers. Incredible.
And so, verse 10, because you have kept the word of My perseverance – the idea is, you have persevered in My name – I also will keep you. You kept Me, I’ll keep you. And the rest of verse 10 has produced no small amount of conversation and debate. Look at it: 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. Remember, we have seen that earth dwellers in the book of Revelation are referring to unbelievers.
So, Jesus says, there is an hour of testing which is going to come upon the world of unbelievers, but I will keep you from it. This is a strong verse used by pre-tribulation dispensationalists who say the rapture of the church will happen before the events of Revelation 6-19. That is, before the tribulation when God tests the world of unbelievers, He will keep the church safe from that testing by delivering the church – taking them out of the earth.
You’ve probably heard this before since this, while a relatively new doctrine not held in the early church, is widely held by evangelicals today. And why wouldn’t you hold it – it sounds good to think that we won’t be here during the tribulation period when God is pouring out His wrath on the world for their rejection of His Son and their persecution of His people. We won’t endure that, you see, we will be raptured before this seven-year tribulation.
I’m not going to get into that much today other than to say this: an equally valid and legitimate translation of the verse is, I also will keep you through the hour of testing. While things are going to get really tough, I will preserve your faith – maybe not your physical life, but your spiritual life, through the tribulation. I will keep you as you have kept My name.
In other words, this new idea of a rapture that takes the church out before Revelation 6 and the tribulation may not be true. And if that is possible, even likely, I would be remiss to not prepare you for the coming time of great persecution and tribulation. The book of Revelation was written to encourage you to persevere in the midst of great affliction. If we are not going to be here, why not just say it? Why was the book even written if it does not matter?
Now that I’ve tipped my hat, you know that I believe the church is going through the tribulation, that there is one very public second coming at the end and no secret coming, that we the church will go meet the Lord in the air as He returns, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. You say, I don’t think I like that. Good for you – I don’t like it either. But I will prepare you and not teach a deliverance doctrine based on weak biblical support to encourage you to not worry about it when John is writing to encourage you to faithfully persevere.
I’m sure I’ll say this more than once, but if you hold to a pretribulation rapture and you are right, you can just wave to me on the way up and say, see, I told you. Further, I just hope we don’t go according to our belief – that is, you wave at me and say – if you’ve only believed, you would have been raptured too – enjoy the tribulation.
So, God’s testing is going to come on the earth – we’ll read about it soon enough. And if we are here, He will keep us through it. Notice in verse 11, He says, I am coming quickly – which means His coming is imminent and can happen at any time. Hold fast to what you have – don’t let go, don’t turn away, so that no one will take your crown. Like last week when Jesus said, I will not erase his name from the book of life, so also this week, that’s not intended to be a negative, held over your head kind of threat. No, it’s an encouragement: hold fast – like you’re doing, and no one will take your crown.
Leading us to our fourth point, the Promises to the Overcomers in verse 12. He makes two promises – one of security and one of a new name. Very quickly – first, He who overcomes the opposition and remains faithful and keeps My name and obeyed My word, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. This speaks of firmness, immovability – which would have been an encouragement to people living in an earthquake prone and persecution prone environment.
Now remember, we’ve said there is no temple which holds God – He is talking about being in the presence of God. I will make you a pillar firmly planted in the presence of God. Revelation 21 and 22 talk about the New Jerusalem and living in the presence of God – and we read specifically there is no temple in it, because God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. In other words, all creation is His – and we will dwell in His presence – that’s the temple.
And we will be a pillar in His presence. Not a pillar that will fall and decay and be no more – the idea is that of permanence – we will remain standing in His presence, and we will not go out from it – that is the temple, God’s presence, anymore.
Second promise – and He will write three names on us:
First is the name of God – which speaks of His ownership of us.
Second, the name of the city of God – the New Jerusalem, which speaks of our citizenship there.
Third, I will write My new name on them – which speaks of His purchasing us by His blood.
Last point – the call to hear the Spirit – he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Again, this text screams this truth – think of a text you get on your phone – all caps, in bold, exclamation points – there is one God, and we know Him through His divine Son. And as we follow Him, no one will separate us from Him.