LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA

 

 

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:7–13).

 

Philadelphia

 

The letter to the Church of Philadelphia is the most complementary of the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. We do find that this church was infected with a synagogue of Satan, but the infection was contained and had no significant influence in the church.

Philadelphia is located on the Cogamus River at the foot of Mount Tmolus SE of the city of Sardis. The city is known as Alasehir today. Philadelphia was established in 189 b.c. by King Eumenes II of Pergamon (Pergamus in the Revelation). Eumenes named the city for the love of his brother, Attalus II, who was designated to be his successor. The name of the city literally means “one who loves his brother”. The last of the Attalid kings, Attalus III, a.k.a. Philometer, died without an heir and bequeathed his kingdom, including Philadelphia, to the Romans in 133 b.c.

The city was struck by a severe earthquake in 17 a.d. and the Emperor Tiberius relieved the city of having to pay taxes to help it overcome the damage. In response to this benevolence, the city gave special honors to Tiberius. Later, the city was again helped by Emperor Vespasian. The city sponsored an imperial cult and was honored with the title of caretaker of the temple, the temple constructed to honor the Emperors. All that remains of the city today is a small theater on a hill outside Alasehir.

 

Outline of the letter

 

V 7 the Glorified Christ reveals Himself as true and holy, having the key of David.

In V 8–11 He describes the conditions He finds in the church.

And in V 12–13 He offers His gift to the overcomers.

 

The Glorified Christ Reveals Himself

 

Christ reveals Himself in verse 7 as “He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”. To this church, Christ does not use any of the characteristics seen in chapter one from which He presents Himself to the previous churches. This suggests that the Church in Philadelphia was in an appropriate state of spirituality to know Him who is holy and true.

In identifying Himself as holy the Glorified Christ asserts His deity. Isaiah speaks of Him in Isaiah 57:15, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones”. His name is Holy, and He chooses to dwell with the humble. This seems appropriate for this church as it appears to be of a humble and contrite spirit. The word contrite in the Hebrew means crushed, thus suggesting they were dependent upon Christ’s grace rather than on their works or reputation. In identifying Himself as true, He is making an even stronger assertion of His deity. In His prayer recorded in John 17:3 He says to His Father: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent”. The Apostle John amplifies what Jesus prayed here to positively establish His deity in 1 John 5:20, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life”. The disciples of John the Baptist acknowledged Jesus to be the truth as recorded in Matthew 22:16, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men”. And in John 14:6 Jesus states without equivocation, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”. In the realm of spiritual and moral issues, there is no other truth than the Lord Jesus Christ; there is no other way to God than through Him.

Jesus also says that He has the key of David and with this key He alone can shut and open whatever the key unlocks or locks. A similar statement appears in Isaiah 22:22: “The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; So he shall open, and no one shall shut; And he shall shut, and no one shall open”. This verse is in a promise to Eliakim as God promotes him to be the deputy of the king of Judah. The key is the symbol of his rank and authority in the household of David. Of this key, Adam Clarke writes:

 

Key is the emblem of authority and knowledge; the key of David is the regal right or authority of David. David could shut or open the kingdom of Israel to whom he pleased. He was not bound to leave the kingdom even to his eldest son. He could choose whom he pleased to succeed him.

 

Christ is the king in the Kingdom of God and as such He deputizes whom He will in His kingdom, the church. This authority is seen in Matthew 16:18–19, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”.

In verse 8 of this letter Jesus in a sense affirms the authority of this church to minister the gospel and continue to build His church. He says, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.” The church appears to be having some difficulty but they are faithful to Him in whatever the difficulty might be. He tells them, “for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name”.

 

A Synagogue of Satan

 

One of the difficulties is that there is a synagogue of Satan that has set up shop in the church.

The church at Smyrna had some trouble with a synagogue of Satan that was undermining the work of the gospel, creating some tribulation for that church. It appears that this synagogue of Satan at Philadelphia was not creating as much tribulation as that at Smyrna, but the potential to do so was there. The people of this synagogue of Satan were not teaching any false doctrines but yet their influence was just beginning to undermine the work of this church. The reason, they professed to be Jews but were not; they were liars. Jesus states plainly in Revelation 21:27 that liars have no place in His church, “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life”. Jesus consigns all liars along with all sinners to the second death as He states in verse 8, “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death”.

Since the faithful had kept Christ’s words and not denied His name as seen from verse 8 of the letter, it suggests that the people of this synagogue of Satan at one time either had a genuine experience of salvation or had made a profession of such an experience. These people did not persevere in their experiences but lapsed into sin and still professed to be saved. In verse 9 Jesus says to the church concerning these people, “Indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you”. The word indeed is rendered behold in the King James Version. It means to see and by implication to know. The Living Bible uses a modern expression, “Note this.” The word is not at all passive as if something may or may not happen; it is quite forceful indicating the certainty of what is to be seen or known.

The thing that will happen with these people for certain is that they “will . . . come and worship before your feet, and know that I have loved you”. This is not an easy statement to understand. What I see here is that their backsliding is not irreparable. The fallen conditions in the other churches mentioned in the Revelation gave no hope of restoration to those that had fallen away, but here we do see a glimmer of hope.

Christ still loves the backslidden, and while eternal death awaits them, He offers them another opportunity at redemption. The backslidden can repent and be saved from sin. Jesus will take back anyone that wants to come. Remember the parable of the ninety and nine sheep and the lost one. Albert Barnes in his commentary seems to feel the same way. He writes:

 

The truth taught here is, that it is in the power of the Lord Jesus so to turn the hearts of all the enemies of religion that they shall be brought to show respect to it; so to incline the minds of all people that they shall honour the church, or be at least outwardly its friends.

 

Gift for the Overcomers

 

Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. (Verse 10).

 

This hour of trail may be difficult to understand as there are several trials to which this might refer. Some suggest this trial is the persecutions that were coming under the Emperor Trajan. Some look upon this as the tribulation that precedes the millennium.

Since the Glorified Christ holds the keys to the kingdom and has control over the door, we might consider the thought that the hour of trial has some connection with a threat against the people in this church remaining in the kingdom. The most obvious trial that attacks the people of God is the temptation to commit sin.

The Apostle Peter gives us some assurance of Christ’s keeping power in 2 Peter 2:9, “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment”.

Jesus sets the context by telling the church they have kept His command to persevere, they were obeying the teachings of Jesus and living holy lives. Barnes in his Commentary makes a suggestion that seems in keeping with the context of Christ with the key of David.

 

The hour of temptation. The season; the time; the period of temptation. You shall be so kept that that which will prove to be a time of temptation to so many shall not endanger your salvation. Though others fall, you shall not; though you may be afflicted with others, yet you shall have grace to sustain you.

 

The statement following the hour of trial says that it “shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth”. In this, we would understand the trial to be a future event. However, it is probable that this trial concerns all people living then and in the future concerning their relationship to the gospel—the door Jesus opens and closes.

There are two kinds of temptation or trails the whole world experiences. The first being Christians and the temptations to sin. The Lord knows how to deliver them out of temptation.

 

 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

 

No one has to backslide or take on a profession without the experience. Salvation is real and Christ will keep those that put their faith in Him. It may be that some will commit a sin, but is not Christ’s intention to throw them out of the kingdom and shut the door on them.

 

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1).

 

The greater temptation is to those that are not yet in the kingdom. The temptation they face is to reject the gospel and be lost for eternity.

Jesus tells the church He is coming quickly; hold on to your salvation and do not let anyone take your crown. That crown is eternal life according to what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:8,

 

Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

 

Who could take our crown?

 

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–7).

 

The Church at Philadelphia was in the region where some churches had given over to false doctrines and were in the depths of apostasy. Just because we have salvation today and enjoy the true teaching of the Word of God does not mean we are exempt from falling away. There are always people that want to change the gospel to make it more “people friendly”; that is, less demanding that people turn from sin and live according to God’s Word. We live in a world that hates the gospel and the holy way of life of the Christian experience. Some would even want to come here and undo what we have in order to accommodate earth-friendly—world-friendly, flesh-friendly—living.

If we let the Lord keep us in our time of trial, we will overcome such things and in so doing we are made pillars in the temple of God. Jesus tells us the following in verse 12:

The temple is the church, the body of Christ.

As overcomers God uses us as pillars, those that uphold and strengthen the church.

He keeps us and there is no reason for us to be put out of His church.

And here is a beautiful thing: He writes the name of the city of God on us. We need no other name. We do not need to be known by some denominational for fellowship names, He simply writes Church of God on us and that is all we need.

Barnes closes this letter with an uplifting thought on the new name:

 

The reward, therefore, promised here is, that he who by persevering fidelity showed that he was a real friend of the Saviour, would be honoured with a permanent abode in the holy city of his habitation. In the church redeemed and triumphant he would have a perpetual dwelling; and wherever he should be, there would be given him sure pledges that he belonged to him, and was recognised as a citizen of the heavenly world. To no higher honour could any man aspire; and yet that is an honour to which the most humble and lowly may attain by faith in the Son of God.