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A Spiritual Evaluation—Evaluating Ourselves and Our Churches by Jesus' Evaluation of the 7 Churches in Revelation - Part 4

Revelation 2 and 3

Part Four: Philadelphia

In Revelation 2-3, John is taking dictation from Jesus Himself for letters to be given to the seven churches in Asia. The letters are very revealing to us about these churches, but they provide great benefit for us as well. In six cases they are encouraging, but also lovingly honest about the needs of each church and areas where it needed to change. These are great letters to study as a church and as individuals. I hope you have read them.

We have already seen in our study of four of the churches that Jesus corrects the whole church when some of its members are not doing so well. In other words, He makes us responsible for each other. On the other hand, if He sees an individual or a group of people doing well in a local church, He will affirm the whole church as well as the individual.

With this background in mind, we have been asking and attempting to answer a number of key questions concerning these letters.

  • How do we apply the letters of the seven churches to our day?
  • What if an angel from God came down from heaven and delivered a letter from Jesus to our church; what would be affirmed and what would be criticized?
  • How do we apply this section of Scripture to our individual lives in our personal renewal/ revival"? (e.g., going into our prayer closet, drawing a circle around ourselves and praying until revival/renewal comes to us)

A whole lot of our extended family members and friends may not be that impressed with our Christian life until, by God's grace, they see the Lord's character shining in us. If you are ticked off, or not that impressed with Jesus and His church because of what you see in us, I want to ask you to forgive us. It is our intention to be more and more like Jesus, but obviously that is a process, and we are not perfect yet.

If you look at any of us close enough, including me, you will find flaws and failures. This is why these letters written so long ago can be helpful to us, because they not only reveal the good qualities of the church and its individual members, they give solutions to our inconsistencies and sins. Remember, there are not only seven types of churches mentioned here; there are also seven types of church members, too. We can be a combination of these descriptions as well.

Today, the focus is on the 6th church.

The Church in Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13

Philadelphia was located on a high plateau, approximately 25 miles S.E. of Sardis. The main highway ran through the city connecting Smyrna (another of the seven cities) to N.W. Asia; and it was also an important postal road for the first century, which came from Rome, passed through this valley and Philadelphia, and on to the East. It was a strong fortress city, a vine-growing district, along with textile and leather industries. The modern Philadelphia is calledAlasehir today.

An interesting sidelight is that the whole region was earthquake prone. In A.D. 17 an earthquake destroyed this city. This will be helpful information as we get further in this particular letter.

Let's notice the positive qualities that Jesus mentions here, and then once again take a test as to whether these are qualities seen in our lives individually and corporately.

The Qualities to Pray for

Jesus noticed the following positive qualities. 3:8—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.

Ask yourself as you view this verse, do these qualities describe me? Take the test.

  1. obeying the Word/not denying the Lord's name, even when you have little strength—3:8

yes no sometimes

Here we see the Philadelphian church had little strength, or a small amount of power, but had tremendous potential. We'll see more of that in a moment.

  1. keeping the command to endure patiently, even in the hour of great trial. 3:10—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.

    yes no sometimes

    Here the Lord encouraged them because they kept the Word, even in the midst of a great trial. Unlike the congregation in Sardis (v. 3), they not only heard the Word, but practiced it as well.

Application:

We should be reminded of this over and over, how knowledge is not learning or obedience. It is only when we hear the Word and put it into practice, that we are commended by our Lord. This is why so many church attenders today would not be commended by Jesus. Unlike the church in Philadelphia, they are only listening, not doing—and that is hypocrisy.

In keeping with their application of the Word, the church in Philadelphia was commended not only because they heard and obeyed, but did so under great testing. If we read between the lines and also from a letter that was written from the pastor of Philadelphia a few years later, we see that many of the believers were being tempted to deny Christ and return to strict Judaism. According to v. 8, however, they not only kept the Word, but did not deny the Lord's name. 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.

The promises:

Because of their exemplary behavior and heart, the church in Philadelphia is given some wonderful promises in the verses that follow. I will paraphrase them so they will also have application to the one who stands true and faithful to God even today.

"I will humble your enemies." 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.

Jesus is promising the church that those who are persecuting them will some day be humbled and acknowledge that the church is the object of the Lord's love. We are not told what day that will be, but Phil. 2:10 tells us "...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..."

One of the greatest struggles we have with preChristians is with their opinion of us. Sometimes their sarcasm, criticism and biting putdowns leave people reeling, and even wondering if they can maintain their faith. (Have you ever been there?) While this example does not promise we will be exonerated in this life, we know that someday all those who oppose Christ will kneel at His feet and confess that He is Lord. The enemies of Christ and those who oppose us, sadly, will receive full payment. This should give us some courage now, keep us from seeking revenge, and all the more encourage us to share Christ's love so that those who are against the faith will not suffer some day.

"I will make it clear I have loved you." The latter segment of v. 9 says, "I will make them fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you." If the Lord's enemies don't come around in this life and see their error, we don't need to despair. Someday in eternity, beyond the love that Christ has already shown through the cross and His care for us, He will let us and all the people of the world know how much He loves us.

What do you think that will be like or worth? Can you hear the words already? Try to imagine them in your mind. He's already saying them to you.

"I will monitor your hurt and deliver you in due time." 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 is another promise given to the Philadelphian church since they have kept the Lord's commands and endured patiently.

There is considerable debate as to how these words might be applied. I think we can dismiss the"hour of trial" referring to some problem unique to the Philadelphians. The words "the whole world" is repeated in Revelation a number of times and refers to the end of time and to judgment on those who do not believe—Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; etc. This hour of trial is referred to in many places as "the day of the Lord," or "the great tribulation"—Rev. 14:7; Dan. 12:1.

The debate about the exact meaning is fierce. Some believe this refers to being preserved in the trial, while not being removed from the trial, until the end of that period (i.e., go through tribulation). Others think believers are kept from the harm of the tribulation through the rapture of the Church. I am certainly hoping for the latter view, but I believe whatever the case, we will be exempt from the hour of trial that will try the whole world by famines, earthquakes, wars, floods, etc. I believe we will be protected from the "wrath of God" either by removal from the earth (i.e., the rapture) or by His extraordinary protection.

In the words of Jesus, "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"—v. 10b. In any event, we have a marvelous promise of God's protection for those who have obeyed His Word. The reason I believe we will be protected from the "wrath of God" either by removal from the earth or by His extraordinary protection, is because Jesus said we would. So this isn't my opinion, but a statement of fact—Rev. 3:10.

"I will come soon." v. 11—"I am coming soon..." The word "soon" means "suddenly." Christ is saying here, "I will come suddenly." We don't know when this will be; we just know that it is the next main event and is always near. From our vantage point, it seems like a long time since Jesus said, "It is near..." The first rule of interpretation, however, is that we interpret words as they were meant by the one who said them. It will be the Lord's timeclock that will define "soon" and "quickly," not ours.

This is all the more reason for us not to become complacent and think that it will never happen. This is a wonderful promise for the people of Philadelphia and for us to claim.

"I will make you a pillar of strength." v. 12a— "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it." What do these verses mean? As we have already noted, the city was constantly threatened by earthquakes. Often the only parts of the city left standing after a severe quake were the huge stone temple columns. (Alan F. Johnson, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, p. 455.)

In v. 12 the promise is generalized, not only to the people of Philadelphia but to our day as well. Here Christ promises to set believers in the temple in such a fashion that no disturbance can ever force them out, i.e., no earthquake, or testing, or trial.

Have you had trials, problems, sickness, heartaches that have shaken you to the core? Have they made you skittish so that at the first sign of trouble you begin to wonder if the next one will be as bad as the last? Here is a wonderful promise for our future and our present. He is making us into pillars, securing our future so that we will never have to leave the temple of God.

"I will give you a brand new identity and put you in the spiritual hall of fame." v. 12b— "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."

An interesting historical note is that faithful municipal servants or distinguished priests were sometimes honored by having a special pillar added to one of the temples and inscribed with their name. (Barclay, Seven Churches, p. 89.) This very well may be the sense of the promise we find here in v. 12. This inscribed name on the pillar in the temple (v. 12a) signifies identification and honor. In other words, to the person who has "little strength/little influence" because they have been ostracized by the enemies of Christ, He promises recognition in His kingdom that is worthy of the most noble hero of any society. (Alan Johnson, p. 455.)

I am glad we will be pillars in the temple of God not because we have been perfect, but because of the cleansing from the blood of Christ. All who are overcomers will be inducted as pillars into the hall/temple of the Lord and will have Him write on them His new name. How is all of this possible? If we are speaking about human ability to pull this off, this is a little farfetched, but we are not. We have a part to play, but most important, this is all possible because of who Jesus is.

The Cause For Praise: Jesus

As we saw with the other five churches we have looked at, this first column describes the qualities of Jesus that are mentioned in relationship to each church. Jesus highlights a specific quality(ies) for each church. It is a side/a glance at Him that will be helpful to that church in its circumstances, either to help bring correction, or encouragement, or both.

In relationship to Philadelphia, we see Jesus described. Rev. 3:7—"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: 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.

Look at the three attributes that Christ highlights about Himself in this description. As we will see, these qualities make it possible for the church in Philadelphia to have all the promises we have just discussed.

He is holy

This characteristic has many meanings, but the one I like the best is, holiness means a total absence of sin and filled with every kind of goodness. Holiness also has the meaning of being "set apart, or separate." He is "wholly other." He is the One who says: "I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you"—Hos. 11:9. Christ's holiness also implies He is not created, but the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3). His holiness also means He is separate from all evil. Even though He died for sinners, He himself never sinned—1 Pet. 2:21-22. He was and is completely free from all sin.

If you are struggling, wondering if you serve a God who is able to help you, or is One you can follow, His holiness should settle the issue and answer your questions.

He is true—Rev. 3:7b.

"This means He is wholly trustworthy and reliable in His actions and in His words." (Johnson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 452.) The word "true" also means Jesus is genuine/real—the real Lord and the Messiah of the world. We can count on Him. For the church in Philadelphia, these titles and descriptions would bring encouragement as they heard His promises and surveyed their trying condition. But that isn't all Jesus said about Himself.

This is a remarkable section as we hear Jesus describe Himself as One who has risen from the dead and ascended from this earth back to His Father.

He is in control of everything.

v. 7c—"...who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open." Even if you don't know what that means, it sounds awesome. Pick a door: What He opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. The Apostle Paul knew that Christ opened doors to opportunity. (1 Cor. 16:9—because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.) (See also 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:2; Acts 14:27.)

In the case of those in Philadelphia, pick a promise they have received—what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. Wow! What a Savior and Lord we serve! He opens doors as He desires, and no one can shut what He has opened or pry loose what He has closed. How foolish it is when we try to knock down a door Christ has closed, or fail to walk down paths He has made clear for us.

If you are here today and don't know Him, there is only one door He will not force open at His will—the door to your heart. Rev. 3:20—Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

If you are a believer here today and wondering what is going on in your life and whether God is in control, your Lord can open and close any door because, according to v. 7, He also has the keys of David. v. 7—These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.

The key signifies the power of the keys that were normally held by the king himself, unless delegated to another. For the Jew, the use of the word "David" points to Christ as the Messiah; the One who will determine what will happen in the kingdom.

Application:

To the person who thinks his own system of good deeds and right beliefs is all that is needed, Jesus' words make it clear He is the only One who holds the key.

To the person who says everyone gets into heaven no matter what they believe; again, Jesus makes it clear He is the way, the truth, the life, the door, and in this verse, the key.

To the local church, if we are given the opportunity to reach into people's lives and around the world to nations that don't know Christ, we should understand we have One who goes before us to open and close doors. If our Lord opens the door for us to reach out, all things are possible.

Conclusion

What is it that we will need to do to see all this accomplished? I want to take you back to v. 11.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

What are we to hold on to? If we look at the context of this passage, I would like to suggest a few things we need to hold on to in order to see all of God's will accomplished in our lives.

  1. We are to hold on to Him who is holy and true and who has the keys to every door, to shut and open them as He wills—v. 7. We are nothing without His holiness and truth.
  2. We are to hold on to the opportunities He has placed before us by means of the open doors —v. 8.
  3. We are to hold on to the little strength we have, and pray for more—v. 8b.
  4. We are to hold on to the Word that He has given us—v. 8c.
  5. We are to hold on to His name and never deny it, no matter what the trial or persecution—v. 8d.
  6. We are to hold on to the fact that He loves us, no matter what our enemies or circumstances might do to us—v. 9.
  7. We are to hold on to His commands and endure patiently the cost of obedience—v. 10.
  8. We are to hold on to the promises of God, that He is going to monitor our testings and give us an eternity with Him—vv. 10-11a.

If you have nothing to hold on to for your eternity, then I hope you will understand how critical it is that you come to the Lord Jesus and let Him hold on to you. The call is to allow Jesus to come into your life by opening up the door for Him to enter. From that point on, you will be able to hold on to Him as He opens up every good door and closes every bad one. This pathway of doors and opportunities will take you into eternity with Christ.

On to our fifth and final Spiritual Evaluation, on Laodicea

 

Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7. Jesus holds the churches in His hand and walks among us. Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7.
a. forsaking love of Christ, i.e., the quality/intensity of love has weakened—v. 4
yes no sometimes

b. solution: vv. 5-7

Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11. Jesus is the first and the last (Alpha & Omega). He was dead (crucified) and came to life (resurrected). Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11.
a. no sin to repent of
b. encouragement: vv. 9-11
Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17; Heb. 4:12. Jesus has the sharp, two-edged sword, a sword He gives to us (the Word of God). He also has power over life and death—Rev. 1:16; 19:15,21. Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17.
a. compromise which leads to sexual immorality—v. 14
yes no sometimes
b. pushing Christian liberty to an extreme/self-indulgence—v. 15

yes no sometimes

c. solution: vv. 16-17

Thyatira—Rev. 2:18-29. Jesus has eyes like a flame of fire—sees through seductive arguments. His feet are like burnished bronze, i.e., He has strength and splendor; rules with authority—v. 27. Thyatira—Rev. 2:18-29.
a. tolerating false teaching and sinful behavior rather than confronting it—vv. 20-21
yes no sometimes
b. Would you like to be singled out by Christ by name?
c. solution: v. 21
Sardis—Rev. 3:1-6.
Jesus holds the 7 Spirits of God (Is. 11:2-5; or it means full range of power of H.S.); & the 7 stars, i.e., pastors. He never erases an overcomer's name from the Book of Life, but acknowledges his name before the Father/angels.
Sardis—Rev. 3:1-6. 
a. look spiritual but dead inside—v. 1
yes no sometimes
b. solution: vv. 2-6
Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13.
Jesus is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut; what He shuts, no one can open. He knows our deeds; no plan/project/scheme succeeds if He uses the key to shut it out (or vice versa). Writes on us a new name—v. 12.
Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13. —nothing to repent of
Laodicea —Rev. 3:14-18.
Jesus is the Amen; the faithful &true witness; the ruler of God's creation.
Laodicea—Rev. 3:14-18.
a. neither hot nor cold - lukewarm in faith—v. 15
All churches/people—Rev. 3:19-22. Those He loves He rebukes and disciplines. He stands at the door and knocks—v. 20. He gives the right to sit on His throne to all who overcome, as He did—v. 21.