The Church of Philadelphia

pillar photo

Revelation 3:7-13

Church of Philadelphia

This letter begins by describing Jesus as, “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (v.7).  This description is different from the other descriptions used in the other six letters.  The other letters use very specific quotes from the description of Jesus in chapter one.  But the description found here in 3:8 only alludes to 1:18.  In chapter one, Jesus has the keys of Death and Hades meaning that Jesus has absolute authority over death. Here in chapter three, Jesus has the key of David.  Why the change?  What does it mean that Jesus has the key of David?

The description of Jesus in 3:8 is actually a quotation from Isaiah 22:22, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David.  He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”

In Isaiah 22 we read that God is going to bring destruction on His people for their faithlessness.  In verses 15-19 we read about a horrible leader named Shebna.  Shebna is an indidvual who represents the national wickedness of Israel.  While he thinks he is someone big and mighty, God will roll him up like a ball and toss him far into a field. (22:18).  Next we see a man named Eliakim.  Elikaim is a good leader who trusts in God. He is given the Key of David.  He has the power and authority to care for God’s people and lead them in righteousness.

So what is the point?  In 1:18, the point is that Jesus has the authority of death.  In 3:8 the point is that Jesus comes as the far greater Eliakim.  He comes with all the authority over the the Kingdom of God.  Eliakim was a good leader but at the end of Isaiah 22, we see that even he fell short.   Jesus comes as the perfect leader of His people and has all authority over those in His Kingdom.  So when we put both verses together we see that Jesus has authority over all people, those who are within the Kingdom of God and those who are not.

Why is this important here in this letter?  Because the church of Philadelphia is said to have “littler power.”  But they are not weak because they are faithless, in fact, Jesus says they have kept His word and not denied His name.  What does it mean they have little power?  Perhaps it means they are small in number, perhaps they feel powerless because of the prolonged persecution they have endured from the Jewish population.  Perhaps the Jews continually say this church is not the real people of God, perhaps they are trying to have this church circumcised and follow Jewish traditions that have been fulfilled by Jesus.

Regardless why they feel weak, Jesus is with them.  Jesus is promising them, that while they might feel weak they are strong.  Jesus’ presence is with this struggling church lifting their eyes to behold His might and strength in them.

On a side note, I find it interesting that the church of Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only churches not to be rebuked.  They are both experiencing severe persecution by a common party, the Jews.  In both letters the Jews are said to be the synagogue of Satan (2:9,3:9).

Jesus promises this church several things that will help them continue to persevere in their faith.

First, Jesus promises that many of the persecuting Jews will come and bow down at their feet and they will learn that Jesus has loved the church.  So what does this mean?  As John has already quoted from Isaiah, it seems natural that he will continue to pull many thoughts from this prophetic book.  In Isaiah 60:14 we read a promise that God makes to His people, “the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”  It appears that Jesus is saying, “while you might feel powerless, I am going to use you to save some of the very Jews who are persecuting you that they will come and bow down and worship Me.”  So here jesus is promising that the persecutor will join the persecuted in worshipping God.

Secondly, Jesus promises  that He will protect this church from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world?  What is the hour of trial? Some have said this must refer to the Jesus’ second coming?  But if this was the case then it seems like an interesting promise if Jesus was not planning on returning for at least 2000 years later. Therefore that does not appear to be a good answer.  So what do we know about this hour of trial?  We know this trial will be brief.  It will target those who dwell on the earth (in Revelation the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” always refers to those who do not believe in Jesus).  And lastly, this hour of trial will not come upon the church.  Johnson in his commentary wrote, “God promises to protect his church not from suffering but from apostasy, we should not assume that Jesus will keep believers from this trial by removing them from the scene or shielding them from pain.  Jesus has prayed, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  Whatever the hour of trial entails, Christ’s people know that no one can snatch us from the almighty hands of Jesus and His Father (John 10:28-29) and that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:39)” (Johnson, 89).

And the last promise Jesus gives is that the one who continues to persevere in Jesus “will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” and He will write the name of God, the city of God, and His own name on them.  To have the name of God on you is to be counted His.  Here Jesus is promising this weak church absolute security in the Kingdom of God forever.

I cannot help but think of how many Christian brothers and sisters around the world feel weak.  They feel as though the world is pressing in on them and they might be destroyed at any moment.  How beautiful this letter is, promising that our King Jesus will strengthen us and protect us.  And even if we die, we will not be separated from His Kingdom for His very name is upon our foreheads guaranteeing our security in the Kingdom of God.

Photo by CJS*64 “Man with a camera”

The Church of Sardis

white clothes photo

The Church of Sardis

The message of this letter ought to send chills down our back. Jesus says in verse 1, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”  This church appears alive but Jesus says it is actually dead.  This reminds me of the movie, Weekend at Bernies.  Bernie was dead but those with him dressed him and moved him around so it appeared that he was alive.  So how does a church appear alive but actually be dead?

In the present day, this would probably be a church that has a lot of programs and activities.  They are busy, their doors are always open and their parking lots are always full.  They have softball teams, feeding the homeless programs, Bible studies morning and night, children’s programs, mens groups, women’s groups, possibly several Sunday services, visitation programs, lots of committees, many board meetings etc…  Now here’s the danger, lots of activity does not equate to positive spiritual health.  Perhaps people are involved in the church because it is socially acceptable, because they want to appear good, or perhaps they think by their works they are earning their way into heaven (or at least a more desirous position before Jesus).  Now don’t get me wrong, we are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).  The church is to be a busy people.  But, are busyness must not come from a heart that wants to be made right before God, but from a heart that has been made right before God.  We do not work for our salvation but from our salvation.

This letter ought to cause us all to pause and ask the questions, “why I am doing what I am dong?”  “Am I doing it for the glory of God or for some other reason?”

In this letter, Jesus is described as having the 7 spirits of God and the 7 stars.  Remember the 7 Spirits represent the Holy Spirit (1:4) and the 7 stars represent the angels of the 7 churches (1:20, angels are heavenly beings that also represent the church).  So what does this mean?  It means, Jesus knows exactly what is happening in His church.  It is His Spirit that is being quenched and neglected.  Jesus is not making a mistake when He calls this church dead.  And we should not think that we can fool Jesus into thinking we are alive if in fact we are dead.

So what does Jesus call this church to do?  Jesus gives this church several commands, “wake up…strengthen…remember…repent.”  This church is to remember the grace they received in Jesus and begin living for Jesus.  They are to repent of their “soiled garments” and begin live pure and faithful lives to Jesus.  But, if they do not repent, then Jesus will come like a thief in the night and come against this church.  Once again, we are reminded that Jesus is not some cute painting we place over our mantles.  Jesus is the lover of His church and if HIs church is unfaithful, He will come against it.

Interestingly we are not told what exactly has plagued Sardis.  We don’t know exactly where or how they began to slip into this spiritual slumbering death.  And perhaps that is good for us.  It prevents us from thinking that spiritual death only comes in one shape.

In verse 4 we see that not all those in Sardis have soiled their garments.  Some have remained faithful and have not compromised their faith.  Isn’t this good news? Jesus knows exactly who truly believes in Him and are living faithfully.  The sinfulness of the the church in Sardis has not skewed Jesus’ vision so that He sees nothing good.  He perfectly sees and knows those who follow Him.  Be encouraged, you might be living in the place that Satan dwells (2:13) but Jesus sees you and loves you.

So what it is the hope that Jesus gives this church if they repent?

He promises to clothe those who conquer in white garments and He will never blot their names from the book of life. He will also confess their names before His Father and the angels.  Jesus promises ETERNAL LIFE with Him.  Jesus says, you look dead right now, but if you repent, you will enjoy eternal life with Me.  Jesus says, I will make you clean with pure white wedding garments (19:8).  Death does not have to be the final verdict of this church.  They can experience eternal life with their King through repentance and faith in Him.

I hope you are encouraged by this letter.  Be encouraged, no matter what condition your church is in right now, there is always hope.  Pray for your church, pray for your leadership, pray for your church to practice regular repentance and to faithfully live for Jesus, our King.

The Church of Pergamum

Church of Pergamum

The third church that is addressed in Revelation is to the one located in Pergamum.  In this letter, Jesus is described as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword” (1:16).  Why does Jesus describe Himself with a sword?  I don’t remember seeing this picture in my Precious Moments Bible.  Here, Christ is pictured as a judge and executioner over His church.

Now before Jesus rebukes the church, He offers them a word of encouragement.   This is an example that all Christians ought to learn from.  How much more effective would we be if we noticed the strengths of others and encouraged them to walk faithfully before giving words of correction?

The church of Pergamum is commended for holding fast the name of Jesus even when Antipas (a fellow believer) was killed for his faith. In verse 13, we read that Pergamum is considered Satan’s throne and the place that Satan dwells.  Pergamum was rich in idolatry.  This city was the first in Asia Minor to build a temple for emperor worship (Beale, 65) and at the pinnacle of the city was an altar for Zeus.  This church is located in the crosshairs of Satan, it is in a very hostile city.  Believers are being killed and rather than denying their faith to stay alive, they  cling to their faith in Jesus.  They refuse to deny their King and Savior.

In one sense this Church is a model for us as believers to follow.  They are unbending in their faith in Jesus.  And yet in verse 14, we read of a terrible rebuke against this church.

We are told that there are some people within this church who have watered down their faith and are holding on to the teachings of Balaam.  Balaam was an O.T. prophet who encouraged the Moabite King, Balak, to send “moabite women to seduce Israelite men into sexual immorality and and idolatry” (Johnson, 76).  Rather than seeking to only please God, Israel thought they could live in sin and still be the people of God.  So what did God do?  God came down and killed 24,000 people in a plague (Numbers 25) to show that He will not tolerate sin.  We cannot be citizens of God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the World.  We can only have one citizenship.  So what does this have to do with church of Pergamum?  It appears that this group called the Nicolatians said that you can be a follower of God and eat food sacrificed to idols and commit acts of sexual immorality.  In essence the message was, you can be a Christian on Sundays and do whatever you want the rest of the week.

Do we do this today?  Sure we might not eat food sacrificed to idols but there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians and have no problem committing acts of sexual immorality.  Today, we are told it is okay for Christians to practice homosexuality and have sex before marriage. We are told you don’t have to gather with the church, you can spend your money on whatever you want, and what you do in your free time is your own prerogative.  Today, much of what is called Christianity, is nothing like what we see in God’s Word.  It is some kind of watered down soggy filth.  So this definitely is a message we need to hear.  As Christians we are constantly bombarded with messages from the TV, billboards, the radio, magazines, and our cell phones calling us to compromise in our faith.

First Jesus is going to tell the church what will happen if they do not respond appropriately and secondly He will tell them the reward they will have for following Him.

So what does Jesus call this church to do?

Repent.  Jesus says, turn from your wicked lifestyle.  Jesus says, follow Me.

What happens if the church doesn’t repent?

Jesus will come with the double edged sword make war.

Just like God killed 24,000 in the O.T., so Jesus will make war with those who are in His church and yet live like the world.  What does it mean to make war?  I’m guessing Jesus isn’t bringing His sword for cooking but for killing.

In 1 Corinthians 11 we read that there were people in the church who were taking communion improperly.  And Jesus responded by causing some of these believers to become sick, weak and even die.  If Jesus will discipline believers to the point of death, how much more will He judge those who say they are Christians but live as pagans?

And for those who repent, Jesus promises to give them the hidden manna, and white stone with a new name on it that only they will know.  Manna in the O.T. was the food that God gave His people to survive on in their wilderness time.  Jesus has now come as the bread of life who preserves us.  So what is this hidden manna?  Could this be an illusion to the wedding supper that we will participate in when Jesus returns (Rev 19:9)?  Or is this Jesus promising to nourish those who are “faithful with an unfailing supply of heavenly spiritual food” (Poythress,88)?  The manna in the O.T. was also described as looking like a white stone (bdellium) (Number 11:7).  In Pergamum pink granite dominated the construction of buildings and was easily found in the county side.  However, the ruins of this city have also revealed, stones of white marble with names inscribed on them.  It is believed that these stones would have been imported into this area and would have been very valuable and rare.

So it appears that those who are faithful to God are valued and nourished by His Word (which could mean now and when Jesus returns).  But what does it mean that a new name will be on these rocks? Possibly it means that we are given new names, but in Revelation 22:4 we read in the New Heavens and New Earth we will have a name written on our foreheads, but it will not be our name. It will be the name of God.

So whatever this name is on this rock, we can rejoice that God knows us and we are promised to be with Him forever sustained by His Word.

As Christians this letter is not meant to cause us to tremble in fear and question our faith.  Rather, it is to strengthen our faith that we would all the more make sure of our salvation.  It is a blessed reminder that God has saved us to live for Him and for Him alone.  If we need to repent of wrong living, then let us repent, knowing that God provides grace to forgive and strengthen us.

Photo by Lemsipmatt

Pray for the Court; Pray for the Church

We definitely need to be praying for our country and its leaders.   There are major decisions being made that have the potential to radically affect the relationship between the church and state.  Let us pray for wisdom for our leaders.  But also let us pray for wisdom, grace, mercy, and boldness for the church.

In 1 Peter 2:13, we read the church is to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

But we also read in Acts 4:19-20 after the High Priest and others told Peter and John to stop talking about Jesus they said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  And in Acts 5:29 after the apostles had again been told not to teach about Jesus they said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Here is an article regarding potential rulings regarding Same Sex Marriage.

http://www.religionnews.com/2015/06/11/supreme-courts-pending-sex-ruling-dominate-southern-baptist-meeting/