Revelation 3:7-13 Isaiah 22:20-25
Christchurch, New Zealand disaster – 7.1 quake 09/04/2010. Subsequent 3-month period – more than 3900 aftershocks. 6.3 quake followed on 02/22/2011, toppled bell tower at Christchurch Cathedral already under repair from previous quake, caused 1/5 of population to leave city. Presently 165 known casualties, much property damage. Aftershocks have continued at average rate of 1 every 2 hours since 02/22, generally decreasing in strength; total as of 03/05: 5260 and counting. New Zealanders understand from personal experience what church in Philadelphia endured in 1st century.
What was Philadelphia like?
Philadelphia founded in about 140 BC, named out of love for founder’s brother; intended from its founding not to be military or manufacturing center but cultural center. Purpose would be to spread Greek language, culture, manners throughout region – established asmissionarycity. Located on fertile plain noted for vineyards and fine wines. Great fertility result of volcanic activity, reason the area called Katakekaumene, Burntlands; as might be expected, volcano(s) located on geologic fault line subject to devastating earthquakes. Ashakencity, nearly destroyed in AD 17 along with Sardis, plagued with violent aftershocks for years. Uncertainty meant residents lived for long period in fear of another disaster; many maintained homes/businesses in city but left city at night to sleep in countryside, even sleeping outside buildings out of fear.
Located on Imperial Post Road, had position on main line of commerce and communication between East and West, serving asgatewaycity, conduit for Asian goods in one direction, Greco-Roman culture and religion in the other. Along with Roman influence of course came practice of emperor worship, especially attractive following generous kindness bestowed by Tiberius during disaster. Consequently, became acitywithanewname, Neokaisareia, for a period of time. In 70’s, renamed again, Flavia, in honor of Vespasian. Neither of new names stuck permanently, used both old and new together or reverted fully to use of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia home to Jewish synagogue which apparently maintained connection with Great Sanhedrin which met in AD 90 to decide 2 momentous questions: what is extent of the canon, how to deal with spread of Christianity. Similar situation almost 1500 years later, Council of Trent! Jews believed they were guardians of messianic kingdom, had authority to lock door of entry for Christians into kingdom. Evident in hostility by Jews toward Christians, prayer offered when Jew converted to Christianity:
For apostates let there be no hope, and the kingdom of insolence mayest thou uproot speedily in our days; and let Christians and the heretics perish in a moment, let them be blotted out of the book of life and let them not be written with the righteous. Blessed art thou O Lord, who humbles the insolent. (Kistemaker, Revelation, 160)
Jesus in letter to church in Philadelphia addressed each of these characteristics, and like letter to Smyrna, offers no rebuke or criticism of the church. Letter primarily directed to the church, intended to comfort and encourage and stir up to greater effectiveness. A needed antidote to counteract discouragement following years of faithful service with little numerical growth to show for it, something Satan would be able to capitalize on. Letter also serves to warn Jewish community of what lies ahead for those who persist in rejecting the truth.
A. Characteristics of Christv.7 theRightful Sovereign
Each letter begins with reference to chapter 1 vision of Christ, not only identifying the person of the author but also his role relationship with the church. Here in our text he is represented as the one who:
Holy and true, holds the key of David. Opens and no man shuts, shuts, and no man opens. cf.Rev.1:17-18theRightful Sovereign
Given Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah’s prophecy, there is special significance to use of designation “he who is holy”. 25 times in Isaiah – “the Holy One of Israel”, used explicitly of Yahweh. Here – τάδε λέγει ο άγιος ο αληθινός – these things says the holy, the true. (Rabbit trail: τάδε λέγει κύριος σαβαώθ beginsIsa. 14:24LXX, text from morning sermon) Said in context showing Lord Jesus identifying/declaring himself to be the Holy One, God himself, who is the true/genuine Messiah and not one of many pseudo-Messiahs.
Not simply keys to death and hell that he possesses, Christ holds key to kingdom. In making that point, refers to/quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Shebna and Eliakim. Shebna having misused his authority would be deposed, God’s faithful servant Eliakim appointed in his place and given the house key. As such, Eliakim a type of Christ, foreshadowing of the genuine Messiah who would have kingdom key. Unlocking and opening and shutting of doors had dual reference: primary – to rightful entrance into kingdom of God; secondary – doors of opportunity for kingdom to advance in the world.
Christ is here presented as the divine genuine sovereign who rightfully governs his church and her affairs in the world. This in stark contrast and plain opposition to the unholy pretender, Satan himself, who continually strives by means of deception to usurp the Lord Jesus’ authority and unseat him from the throne.
Deeds, keeps Christ’s word and does not deny his name; endures patiently. Faithful perseverance would describe saints in Philadelphia; probably small congregation with slender resources and little measurable growth although had experienced spiritual maturing. In great danger of giving in to discouragement: required all of their micro-power (μικραν δυναμιν) just to maintain headway against the cultural tide of opposition.
Would be especially difficult if they listened to Satan’s insinuations – look at Brand X Church down the street; they can do this, that, and the other; they must be doing it right since their numbers are exploding. You don’t have enough people, space, money, programs, children, curriculum supplies, new ideas to accomplish anything. You’ll never get any bigger, you’ll never support any missionaries, you’ll never send out men to be pastors, you’ll never plant another church. You’re right – you’re small, weak, not much of an influence compared to the megachurch down the street. Oh, by the way, maybe your Jewish friends ARE right after all; look at how much they’ve grown.
What possible response is there to that sort of argument? Easy! The Lord Jesus knew their situation and their track record and he approved. In fact, since they had been faithful with little, he would give opportunity to be faithful with more. Regardless of results, they had faithfully obeyed Christ’s commands and maintained a public Christian witness. According to God’s plan, many eventually from synagogue who had labored to oppose spread of the Gospel would acknowledge they were a true church. Some, even, like apostle Paul convinced they were doing God’s work to resist Christianity, would be converted and become true members of the kingdom.
D. Instructionv.8, 11
Hold on to what you have. Don’t, because of discouragement, lose what you have. Keep the faith, keep your focus, remember why you are a church. Size and strength doesn’t matter; what matters is that Christ has set before you an open door, a gateway of opportunity for ministry. He guarantees success in their efforts, assuring them that those who would oppose them will not be able to stop progress of the gospel.
It isn’t Jews who decide which door is open, which closed; it is Lord of the Church; when he says to get in gear, best be moving. Just as Philadelphia was established as missionary city, so each local church is intended to be missionary organization; true regardless of size or strength. Mandate is to go and make disciples who will go and make disciples who…. Goal is 3-self churches: governing, financing, reproducing (Henry Venn, Church Missionary Society). Focus must be on Christ, following his lead, trusting him to provide necessary resources at appropriate time.
E. Promisev.10, 12
will be kept from hour of trial; They will be “kept from”, not “taken out of” time of testing; kept from being overcome, overwhelmed during time of severe testing experienced globally. Perhaps has occurred, maybe yet to come; either way, Philadelphia church continues as lone survivor of seven churches even now. Christ promises that even for their small size, little strength, he will keep them safe and faithful to him.
will be pillars in the temple; Promised stability, security unlike experience in Philadelphia. Would no longer need to sleep outdoors, live in fear of aftershocks. Also no question of belonging; it’s obvious if one is a pillar in the temple that they experience God’s love, that they truly belong in the kingdom. Will be an enduring permanent condition, not like city continually damaged by aftershocks and in need of repair.
the name of God, New Jerusalem, Christ’s new name written on them. three names, three points to be made. Name of God – remade perfectly in the image of God, a true child of God, belonging to him and under his protection. Name of the city – a permanent resident in the church, the heavenly city, participant in all its benefits and blessings. Name of Christ – as he has overcome his enemies, been exalted, experiencing perfect happiness, so the one who conquers. Unlike name of Philadelphia, changed at least twice, these names issued and written by God will never change or lose significance.
Certainly churches like Philadelphia and Christchurch shaken by “natural disasters” need encouragement to stay the course. Other things will bring discouragement and sense of defeat to a church, especially one struggling with size issues. The church, of whatever size and strength a particular local body may be, is means God has appointed to bring Gospel to the world, to train up those who come to faith. We must remember the one who has all authority (Matt. 28:18) has given a mandate: “Go and make disciples, teach them to follow Christ”. May God give us courage and determination to do just that.