Summary: Philadelphia: The Church of Persevering Witness
The Seven, part 13
Philadelphia: The Church of Persevering Witness
August 25, 2013
The Revelation was written to address specific issues with seven churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century yet they are as relevant to us today as they were to the church then. We have seen that the letters have a consistent pattern that we are using as our outline – an introduction, an evaluation, an exhortation, and a benediction. Each church's spiritual condition is diagnosed then given a prescription from the Great Physician as the antidote that will strengthen their witness in their city. Today Jesus describes a small but healthy church who has been faithful in their witness. It may be weak and insignificant in the eyes of the world but Philadelphia is the only church that Jesus does not criticize!
Jesus commands John to write because the bible is the primary way God communicates to and nourishes his people. These seven letters are prophetic letters. I have said before that in the Old Testament, the prophets spoke the very words of God to the people of God. Their words were accepted as inspired by God so were written down as Old Testament scripture. In the New Testament apostles replaced the Old Testament prophets as those who spoke the very words of God to the people of God. Their words were accepted as inspired by God so were written as New Testament scripture. But there is also prophecy in the New Testament where men and women spoke merely human words to describe something God brought to their mind for the encouragement and edification of the church but because this form of prophecy is fallible we are told to “test everything, hold fast what is good.”
Philadelphia is thirty miles southeast of Sardis. It was the at the junction of many trade routes having great commercial and agricultural importance. Remember, the introduction for each church has been relevant to that particular church. Here, Jesus describes himself as the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no will shut, who shuts and no one opens. The holy one is an Old Testament term which refers to God and then refers to Jesus in the New Testament, show that the New Testament authors see him as God and also as one who had been set apart for God's purposes. The true one is used in the Old Testament sense of reliable, dependable, faithful. God in Jesus has displayed his covenantal faithfulness to the new people of God, the church. As the Messiah he holds the key, exclusive authority and power to include and exclude to David's house, the Messianic kingdom, the kingdom of God not Jews. Who he lets in no one can exclude, who he includes no one can exclude. This is to encourage a small and struggling church that though the Jews or Rome rejects them, God embraces them. Their hope is Jesus not acceptance by the culture.
He writes, 'I know your works' then nothing but encouragement with three beholds we will look at in a moment. He commends them for two things. Though they have but little power, they are small and insignificant, they 'have kept my word and not denied my name.' This may be generally true about them but more pointedly he is referring to a specific incident when the church suffered a severe trial as many of the other seven churches and in that difficult time, they remained faithful in their witness. Jesus says they were faithful in their witness in two ways. First a positive, then a negative; two ways of saying the same thing. Positively they were obedient. It always boils down to this for all of us, are you willing to be obedient to Jesus. It is in the difficulties of life that we show what we are made of - how real is our faith and how deep is our faith. Negatively, they did not deny his name. Maybe they were being pressured to renounce Jesus or maybe their actions showed they valued Gods reputation above all things.
Let's look at those three phrases that start with behold. Behold means to pay special attention, listen carefully. The first is almost an interruption to his thought because of the seriousness of the situation. 'Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.' The ownership of the key means Jesus has absolute power and authority to grant access to his kingdom. He determines our destiny not the Jews nor Rome. I think this is the door of the kingdom and includes his presence. When life is the hardest, the presence of Jesus is the sweetest. Now look at the other two phrases that begin with behold. 'Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but lie - Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will come to know that I have loved you.' This can only be understood in the context of the Old Testament background. The history of Israel is the history of a people who turn away into idolatry and are judged by God and so come under the rule of Gentile nations. But God promises a bright future when these Gentile nations will bow down before Israel and acknowledge Yahweh as the Lord. Here is the fulfillment of this but with a twist. It is what bible scholars call a reversal motif; the end of the bible showing us how to interpret the beginning of the bible. It is not Gentile nations who bow before Israel and acknowledge Yahweh as Lord; it is Jews who come and bow down to the church, who fulfills Israel as the people of God and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. What is Jesus doing here? The Jews were saying we are the people of God but they lie; the synagogue is not a place of worship to Yahweh but a synagogue of Satan. He can say this because a true Jew is a spiritual Jew, an inward Jew with a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. A true Jew is one who believes in Jesus as the Messiah who was sent by the Father. The people of God under the New Covenant are not identified by a land or by an ethnicity, but as those who believe in Christ. They may be ethnic Jews but from Jesus' perspective they are a synagogue of Satan because they have rejected Jesus as the Messiah and are now persecuting God's people. Jews do not worship the same God we do. The church fulfills Israel as the people of God.