Introduce who I am, the IC, my passion for ministry and the message of Revelation (privilege of studying under a prof. Darrell Johnson who has inspired this passion to bring the message of Revelation to the church.)
Revelation has three genres, it is a letter, it is prophetic and it is apocalyptic. In its apocalyptic genre, it seeks to do two things:
First, it seeks to set the present in light of the unseen realities of the future. For, if we know what the future holds, it should help determine the choices we make now.
Second, and more importantly, it seeks to set the present in light of the invisible realities of the present.
The fundamental conviction of apocalyptic is that "things are not as they seem," or there is more to reality than meets the unaided eyes or ears; there is more to this present historical moment than we can deduce. And, such writing seeks to unveil that unseen reality into the now, to pull back the curtain on the present so we can really see what is going on, it's simply beautiful.
Now, while the text for today is not apocalyptic, but a letter in genre, it is important to understand the language of the message that Jesus is giving in the context of the whole book. John the evangelist, to whom the revelation was given to write down, was foremost a pastor. He wants to encourage his people to keep on following Jesus in a world that is increasingly anti-Christ and we see John’s pastoral heart as he writes to the churches in the first few chapters of Revelation. Perhaps if John was around today he would have perhaps have written words such as “Hang in there....Jesus is going to win.”
But God wants John to write a message that not only ‘pats us on the back’ but that will grab hold at the core of our being. But ignite us from our present reality into God’s coming true reality. So, he writes an apocalypse that expands vision, both temporally, into the realities of God’s future and spatially, into the unseen realities of God’s present.
Richard Bauckham said it this way: POWERPOINT slide 1 “It is not that the here-and-now are left behind in an escape into heaven or the eschatological future, but that the here-and-now look quite different when they are opened to transcendence.”
John believes, as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, that there is more to “reality” than meets the unaided senses. If John were here now he’d say, “Look around you, take in all that you see, including all the data you can obtain with your eyes. Listen and hear all you can hear. Smell, touch, and taste. Gather all the possible data you can gather through your senses. And then realize, as I did in prison on the island of Patmos, that there is more to what we call 'life' than we can know with our unaided senses and intellect and emotions.”
Read Scripture – Slide 2. NASB
Can you sense the delights that Jesus has the Church of Philadelphia? I think Jesus enjoyed sending this message because it is different to the five preceding messages to the other churches. In that, there does not seem to be any word of correction. In this message, Jesus does not say “I have this against you,” as he did for the church in Ephesus (2:4), Pergamum (2:14), and Thyatira (2:20). For, the church in Philadelphia has not lost its first love and has remained loyal under pressure; it is not callously tolerant of ideas contrary to the gospel; it boldly confessed Jesus in the marketplace. And unlike the other five messages there is no call to repentance. Instead, Jesus heaps on praise: “I know your deeds. You have kept my word and not denied my name.” (3:8) The tone of the message to Philadelphia, positive and upbeat and the main exhortation is simply, “Behold!” “Look!” “Listen!” “Pay attention!” “Behold, I have placed before you an open door." (v8)
But, before we look at the main theme of this letter, I want us to pause and think about the magnificent radiance or put another way the sheer ‘brilliance of Jesus,’ as Darrell Johnson writes in his book, Discipleship on the Edge, “Throughout the years I have walked with him I have been captured by Jesus’ compassion and by his integrity. But more and more I am taken by his brilliance.” Dallas Willard a well-known Christian philosopher wrote: “Jesus is the smartest person who ever lived.” And, we see this brilliance in each of the seven letters to the churches whereby Jesus chooses unique words and images that resolutely identify himself to them. It’s beautiful and brilliant, it shows that Jesus in his message to each church desires that they know his intent and reward he personally has for them. So, when Jesus says to the Philadelphians in verse 12: “The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down to heaven from my God and my new name” (3:12), he understands how it is for them in their present reality but wants them to know what is in store in a future reality, an eternal perspective and promise.
There’re three phrases in this verse, “Will not go out from it anymore,” “new city, new name,” and “pillar in the temple.” All of which the Philadelphians would be intimate with:
Slide 3 (progressive with phrases 1-3)
1. “You will not go out from it anymore.” Philadelphia found itself situated on the edge of an active volcanic area. It was both a blessing and curse. The blessing meant it was provided with rich fertile soil and hot springs. But the curse meant constant danger from earthquakes. Frequent tremors and jolting could be felt throughout the city. And, whenever a quake struck, the people in Philadelphia would immediately leave the city only when the aftershocks subsided would they return. The Philadelphians were then always fleeing and returning to their city. Jesus knows this and is reassuring them when he says: "if you remain faithful to me you will enter the city of my God and will not go out for me anymore.” Jesus is telling them: I am your security, I am your unshakable foundation. In all, of your going and coming, you’re fleeing and coming back, I remain the same. My presence with you is not disturbed by geological economic and political disorder.
2. Jesus then tells them (Slide 4): “I will write on you the name of the new city”. In Philadelphia, at that time in history, the ‘new’ holds considerable significance, as in A.D. 17, an earthquake levelled the city. The Roman Emperor, at that time was Tiberius and, it is recorded that he extended kindness and generosity to the city, postponing its taxes and providing money to rebuild the city. Out of gratitude, Philadelphia changed its name to Neocaesarea, meaning the city of the new Caesar. Jesus knows history (“Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” ) and so when he says to them “I will write on you the name of the city of my God, the ‘new’ city, the new Jerusalem,” Jesus was telling them of what is to come for those who remain faithful (the New Jerusalem is described in Revelation chapters 21 and 22.)
3. The third phrase (slide 5): “I will make you a pillar.” Like the other cities to which Jesus sent messages, Philadelphia was a religious city. There were so many temples that Philadelphia gained the nickname ‘Little Athens’. William Barclay gives understanding to the significance when he explains that: when a person had served the state well, when he had left behind a noble record, as a magistrate, as a public benefactor or as a priest, the memorial which the city gave to him was to erect a pillar in one of the temples with his name inscribed on it. Philadelphia honored its illustrious sons by putting their names on the pillars of its temples, so that all who came to worship might see and remember. Jesus says to the disciples of Philadelphia, “I will make the one who overcomes a pillar in the temple of God.” Jesus honors those who are faithful to him by making them pillars, not in this worldly temple but in the only temple that will last. The temple of the living God!
Not only that, Jesus grants to those who overcome, the triple honor of bearing the name of his God, the name of the city of his God and his new name……
Jesus is brilliant! And he speaks of this in , when he refers to the 'bright morning star.’ Here we begin to grasp the unfathomable truth of how ‘brilliant’ he truly is, saying: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
Main theme: The Open Door
So now let’s look at the main theme of the message, the image of the open door. In verses 7 &8 we see how Jesus portrays himself to the Philadelphians (Slide 5): “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: I know your deeds. Look! I have put before you an open door which no one can shut.” Who in today’s world would dare to make such a presumptuous statement: “he who is holy and true.” And yet, Jesus could make them. Holy and true are both words the Old Testament uses of God, and only God. and tell us only God who is the Holy One. Only God is true. In the Hebrew ‘true’ translates as the word trustworthy, in the Greek it means real.
The believers in Philadelphia were in trouble with those in the synagogue, in fact, they had been excluded from the synagogue, because they were using the words ‘holy and true’ of Jesus. They used the words because that’s how Jesus speaks of himself. Jesus goes on to say he “has the key of David……… I have put before you open door.”
To what does this image of the open door refer?
To what door, or doors is Jesus, the holy and true one, holding the keys to?
As is often the case in the writings of the apostle John, there are two possibilities to be adopted:
A. The first refers to the open door' of salvation.
The phrase ‘the key of David’ comes from a text in the book of . (SLIDE 6)
Eliakim was the steward to the riches of King Hilkiah. He was given authority to open and shut the door to the house of David. To what does “the house of David” refer? If we continued to read Isaiah, we would understand that “the house of David” is another way of referring to the kingdom of God, to the city of God, to the temple of God, to all the riches of God the king.
In truth, Jesus is the great king. And he has the key of David that unlocks the door to all the riches of the living God. “Look! I have to put before you an open door.” It is by the death and resurrection of Jesus that this door is now open to all the living God is and has!
This testimony would’ve instantly lifted many of the believers in Philadelphia who had the door of the synagogue shut in their faces because of their faith in Jesus. They had been excommunicated, cursed, persecuted, disowned by family and community. Some of us may also have or are experiencing such exclusion, and then as now, Jesus is saying though “the door to the synagogue maybe shut, I have open for you another door, the door to the only synagogue that finally matters, the door to the temple of God in the city of God I have open the door into the very life of God.” Jesus describes this ‘open door’ in the Sermon on the Mount (Slide 7 ): “Enter through the narrow gate,” he says, “for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. “John Stott wrote: “There are two gates, and both are open. One door opens onto a broad and crowded thoroughfare. The road slopes gently downward and ends in the destruction called hell. The other door opens onto a sparsely populated narrow path, which winds steeply upward and leads to life in the city of God.” The open door is narrow, we must accept that fact. But, it is open, wide open, to any you will enter. And it leads to all the riches of life found in the richness of the living God. Jesus has the keys, the keys of death and Hades (), the keys to the kingdom, the keys of David, and he has opened the gates wide saying, “Look! I have put before you an open door.”
So, the first reference is to the door of salvation,
B. The second is the door of opportunity. This image of “the door of opportunity” is also used in other books of the New Testament. Paul uses it when writing to the Corinthians (Slide 8 – progressive 2 parts) He tells them in that he “will stay on in Ephesus until Pentecost for a wide door for effective work has opened up for him.” In , Paul mentions that “when I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ,…….a door was opened for me in the Lord.” This ‘door’ of opportunity is spoken of in when Paul and Silas return to Antioch and declared to the church “all that God had done with them, and how he had open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” The open door is the door of opportunity to tell others about the “gospel of the open door."
When Jesus sets before the church and open door, it does not mean there are no obstacles! (Slide:10 part 2) as tells us ‘the great door of effective work was being opened for Paul in Ephesus, but in the next breath (Slide 9) Paul says,” and there are many adversaries.” This was the same for the church in Philadelphia, it too faced many obstacles. And as Jesus himself new, they faced them with little power: (Slide . Can I put slides of with different portions underlined?) I have to say, if someone gave me a task and then said you have ‘little power ‘to do it I would not feel encouraged at all. [Could share here a little of my journey overcoming disability] Here is the church before which Jesus has placed the open door of opportunity, and in itself lacks the resources to overcome the obstacles.
But, that is as it should be, for the Christian life cannot be lived apart from Christ. An example of that is in the letter to the church in Sardis, without Jesus we have little power. Jesus is always calling the church into mission beyond the resources that it has to depend on, it must depend on him.
The church in Philadelphia faced strong and even fanatical opposition from the threatened religious establishment. And despite such opposition it would have been tempting to just ‘lie low’ ‘to weather the storm inside and not venture out’. But Jesus says, “No, for you I have put before you open door!” The church in Philadelphia faced as did all the other churches, “the hour of trial” as Jesus puts it in (Slide ) that was coming on all the world, as Darrell Johnson puts it in his book, “the tidewaters of tribulation were rising throughout the Empire.” (Could include here the story of IC Shanghai or IC Hanoi and the platform the international community enables for the bringing of the gospel into closed countries). It is way too easy to just ‘hunker down’. But this is not what Jesus calls his church to do. “The door of opportunity is open” this is not the time to play it safe.
I am not sure if the weather here prevents you from going outside much but one thing I do know from being a parent is that when our children had to stay inside because of the weather they would soon start bickering and fighting amongst themselves. Unfortunately, it can be the same in the church, when the energy intended to be used outside is used inside, instead, of reaching out with helping hands we point accusing fingers, instead of reaching the lost we criticize the saved. The result is not glorifying to God and we become spiritual misers, finding fault with each other. Sadly, when such things happen the poor go unfed, the confused go uncounselled, and the lost go unpreached. Max Lucado in his book, ‘In the Eye of the Storm’ sums it up well when he says,’ when those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.” So, the next time the trials outside make you want to shut the door and stay inside, don’t. Jesus says "Look! I have put before you an OPEN door.”
Did you know why Philadelphia was founded in 140 B.C.E.? It was for the purpose of being the base from which to launch the Hellenization of the world. It was formed to spread the Greek language, the Greek worldview and the Greek way of life to the world. And, Jesus says to them, “Look," an open door, you are to be that missionary city bringing the gospel of good news. You are to spread God’s kingdom reality through this door that I have opened for you, and this door that no one can shut. You too have this ‘open door’. As an International Church here in Malmo you have a unique opportunity to the English-speaking community who are seeking something other than the world’s reality. People are searching as never before longing for meaning looking for hope for a reason to live. With 90 million displaced people today, you have a unique opening, here right now, with the power of Jesus, a church through which the gospel can be given. We are living in a time when philosophically everything is up for grabs. Jesus says, Look! I have put before you an open door of salvation and opportunity.
As we draw to a close, I would like to share a couple of last thoughts. Robert Bella, a sociologist at the University of California Berkeley, and director of the University Center of Japanese and Korean studies, writes: SLIDE 10 “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of just and gentle world. In Japan a very small minority of Protestant Christians introduced ethics and politics and had an impact beyond all proportion of the numbers. They were central in the beginnings of the women’s movement, labor unions and virtually every reform movement. The quality of the culture changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.” This should encourage us because we do not have to be a large church to be to make an impact for Jesus. He has already opened the door.
“Look! have put before you an open door.” Take those opportunities he provides.
What could our response be?
One response should be to commit to praying for three people whom we want to see be made ‘pillars in the temple of the living God.’ Ask Jesus to open the door. We have heard that “things are not as they seem,” and there may well be tangible obstacles. But, as with the church in Philadelphia in realizing that in and of ourselves have ‘little power’ without Jesus, and relying wholly on him we can overcome obstacles. For Jesus is moving in our cities, and Jesus alone has the keys to open what “no one can shut.”
Let me repeat that final phrase, “that no one can shut.” That small phrase should change our perspective for those we are praying for and for our lives. Jesus has opened the door no power anywhere can shut it.
It also asks: will you go through the door?
Maybe, you have never gone through the open door of salvation. Do it today, stand up walk through it. Jesus is standing before you with open arms.
If you have gone through the door of salvation then stand up and walk through the open door of opportunity.
Jesus gives us only one command, it is “Look!” “Look and see the open door that no one can shut.” Let us be hear him and walk through that open door.