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Text - Revelation 3:7-13
Today we’re going to look at my favorite church, it should be everybody’s favorite church, because it is the church that is faithful to God, inundated with the Word, loving one another, and loving others.
Which is the other good church we’ve looked at? Smyrna. They are also a great church, but what makes them pure? The fact that they are persecuted. Philadelphia is a good church not from outside influences, but from inside influences.
Before we go too far, I want to point out that people have tried to make an argument for a chronology of churches here in Revelation…I don’t see it, I really wish I could see it, but I don’t…each one of these churches has existed at all times since the First Century. But…because soooooo many people hold to this, I want to teach it to you, because it has exciting ramifications if it‘s true…and there is a small chance that it is.
First, we start in Ephesus, this is the church between Christ’s departure and any discernable persecution. In the 80’s, the persecution began, this is the church at Smyrna. Then after a little while of the church being pure, sin crept in; not through death and destruction, but by way of Balaam’s deception, this is Pergamos. As the sin got worse and worse, false teachers rose up and led the church in a completely wrong direction, and what happened? It died. This the promise that was given to Thyatira, and what happened to Sardis, they were dead with the reputation of being alive.
But what can God do with things that are dead? He can resurrect them. This is Philadelphia, completely unstained by the church at Sardis, alive and thriving. Here is where I have a problem with this progression, something big has to happen between Philadelphia and Laodicea. Laodicea is the worse church imaginable, it is the church we are in as a nation today. Pergamos would need to happen again in the middle…but we don’t see that in Revelation.
Here is what people say, and I sortof, kindof, not really see it, we start with the Asian church founded by Paul, Smyrna is a massive persecution against Christians which is brief, but thorough, under the Emperor Domitian. From here, the pure church gets corrupted by sin, opening the door for Montanism, or Charismania to sweep the church. As promised, Charismania results in the children being stricken dead. From here is opened the door for a ridiculously long running Catholic capturing of the church, dead, with the reputation of being alive. In 1517, God chose Martin Luther to start a world-wide reform of the dead church. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and others were the few that walked in white among the dead Catholic Church. From their efforts was borne the Philadelphian movement which lasted four-hundred years, until it was replaced by the Laodicean church, which is the extra-dead church.
When we look at Laodicea next week you’ll see how a church can be extra-dead.
It’s all smooth and believable when they present it that way, but the problem is that’s not the way it happened. There was a massive persecution under Nero in the 60’s…he lit a slum on fire in Rome in order to blame it on the Christians and from there beheaded Paul, crucified Peter, and killed many, many other Christians. The dead church has always been a problem; Lystra in Galatia, is where the Epistle to the Galatians was sent, they were dead with the reputation of being alive…during the Roman reign, we still see little Philadelphia’s in the Donatists, Valdensians, and Lombards….
But in recent history is where we see the biggest problem with this idea. During the Reformation, you can look at the Munsterites and see the church at Thyatira, you can look at Zurich and see Smyrna, you can look at Rome and see Sardis…but even today, we’re not all Laodicea…America is for sure, but Africa is still Thyatira, and China is Smyrna, and Rome, as well as adding Salt Lake City, is forever Sardis.
Even during the reign of when the Philadelphian church as supposed to be happening, we see massive fallings away from the faith, like from 1720-40, we’re supposed to be square in the midst of the Philadelphian church, but at the time the colonies were only about 7% Christian…after the Great Awakening, the colonies, which became the United States of America, were about 85% Christian.
So I just don’t see the progression view…all seven of these churches are with us today, just as they have always been and will be until Christ comes back. So lets look at the best church now, the church we want to be, no matter what the predominant church is…in the United States, which is Laodicea, we want to be Philadelphia, in Africa, which is Thyatira, we want to be Philadelphia, in China, which is Smyrna, we want to be Philadelphia.
Who do we want to be? Philadelphia.
Revelation 3:7-13 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: '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. "'I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
First, lets talk about the name and location. Philadelphia, at the time of the writing of this letter, was not Philadelphia. That is the most exciting fact I’m going to share with you today. Does anybody have a guess as to what Philadelphia means? A little critical thinking here.
Phila comes from Phileo, which is a type of love, delphia comes from adelphos, which means brother. Philadelphia literally means “brotherly love.” It is why Philadelphia in Pennsylvania is so named, they wanted to be the church at Philadelphia, and for the most part they were that church for a long time. Oh to have love in our name…we’ll talk about this more in the last lesson from this series.
Philadelphia in Asia is on a plateau, 800 feet above the valley floor. This city was placed here for one purpose, to spread Hellenism, or the sort of enlightened view of the first centuries BC and AD. It sits at the crossroads of two major roads, and was used for spreading information before Christ opened up salvation to the world from the chosen-people of Israel.
In AD 17 there was a major earthquake in the region, it demolished two cities, Sardis and Philadelphia. The Roman Emperor sent relief to both cities to rebuild. In Sardis they thanked the Emperor by building a big statue in his memory…but Philadelphia took it one step further, they renamed their city Neocaesarea, which means, “The new Caesarea.” Real quick, Caesarea is mentioned in the Bible, it is Northern Israel and was a man-made port-city. Israel, for some reason, has no natural ports, you’ll hear jokes everyonce in a while about Jewish sailors and it derives from their lack of sea-ports. To confuse you a little, don’t mix up Caesarea with Caesarea Philippi. Philippi is north of the Sea of Galilee, regular Caesarea is in the Mediterranean. It sank into the sea. Caesarea on the Mediterranean is mentioned a lot in the New Testament. I wish I had more time to spend on this, but this is where a Roman Centurion was saved when Peter preached to him, the reason Peter was in Caesarea was because he was sending Paul off to Tarsus. God loves to work in ways like that, that seem like coincidences, but in hindsight are definite plans of providence. Phillipi is likely where the transfiguration took place, it is an absolutely gorgeous region.
So, Philadelphia at this point wasn’t Philadelphia, it was Neocaesarea, but Christ chose to call it by a more important and revealing name…Brotherly-Love.
v.7 These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
This is Christ setting a precedent for what he is going to do with Philadelphia, that he is holy, and true, holding the keys of David. Everytime I read a passage, I learn a little more. I was arrogant before starting this study and felt there was little more that I could learn about these churches…wow was I wrong. This time through I’m seeing how many times Christ quoted the Old Testament.
Isaiah 22:20-25 In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.
I wish we had time to go into this, but pretty much by quoting this passage, Christ is referring to a great priest in Isaiah’s time, Eliakim, whose name means “God will raise up.” Eliakim is compared to a nail in a wall on which everything is hung, like if you hung a certificate of achievement. Christ is claiming here that everything that is about to be done is based on his achievements, not the efforts of the church.
v.8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
Philadelphia had no great abilities of their own, neither strength, nor great preachers, nor fantastic scholarship…but they had what mattered, the Word of God and his blessing on their efforts.
v.9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
Literally, these were the Jews who rejected Christ, but figuratively it is any one who stands against him. He was about to show through his actions in Philadelphia that they are the chosen people of God, not those who call themselves Israel but are not Israel.
Philippians 2:5-11 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
v.10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, 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.
This verse is difficult to discern exactly what it means, because this church wasn’t spared from persecution, as many from it would die with Polycarp, as well as in a larger sense, many of the Reformers would be burned at the stake, thrown into prison, baptized to death, or beheaded. This may be a reference to there not being a faithful church left right before Christ comes, albeit this seems unlikely, because somebody has to be around to be raptured.
Perhaps it means that there will be no great temptation for this church, or that when trials and tribulations come, they will keep the faith and be faithful to the end. This is what I would hold to, because if you know and live the Bible, you will be ready to face any trial. A quote I like is, “The Bible is more valuable than all other books put together. It equips a man for life, it prepares him for death.”
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
v.11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Salvation is assured on Christ’s death and resurrection, so what we’re talking about here is our rewards for our works in Christ’s name. Remember that I don’t need to see your birth-certificate to know you were born; the fact that you’re living proves you were born. Therefore, with Philadelphia we don’t look at their past works to say they are a loving church, we look at their current works.
Lets consider this one in a marriage relationship. The husband says, “I used to love my wife. I used to love her A LOT. I did nice things for her, I told her I loved her, everybody knew I loved her. Therefore that love was good enough and I don’t have to keep loving her.” Our good deeds and works done in the past are wonderful, it is good that we did them, but unless we keep doing them, we should have no expectation of reward.
v.12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.
A pillar in the house of God refers not to its structure, but a pillar of monument, a trophy of grace; like famous Christians in history who we seek to emulate. He who seeks to lose his life for Christ’s sake will find it.
John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
Matthew 11:11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Finally, our new name is Christian, and the name of Christ and Heaven will be figuratively engraved on us. Like a normal statue, there is some sort of engraving to show what it is there for. A pillar of God is there to point to Heaven and Christ.
Lets be Philadelphia.
How do we be Philadelphia? By reading our Bible and doing what it says.