Philadelphia: Church of the Persevering Persecuted II
Dearly loved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
There’s a song that I remember from the Marcy record my mom played when we were kids:
|One door and only one, and yet its sides are two.|
|I’m on the inside; on which side are you? (2X)|
I think it was intended to sound inviting, but as that little tune plays around in my head it ends up sounding boastful.
Of course that’s the point of doors, isn’t it? To let some people in, but keep others out.
For a secret garden, a key opens the doors for the wonders within. If you don’t have a key, the doors are closed to you. Locked – you can’t get in. But if you have a friend on the inside who is able and willing to open the door for you . . .
Well, that’s the idea of the word picture Jesus uses in his message to the church in Philadelphia. They felt like they were on the outside looking in. And there was good reason for that. Like the church in Smyrna, it seems that the congregation in Philadelphia was facing persecution instigated by the Jewish citizens of the city.
When some of the Jewish people accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ with joy, it created conflict within the synagogue and community. Jewish people were not supposed to convert to Christianity. In order to correct their doctrine, converts to the Kingdom of God were thrown out of the synagogue – they were excommunicated; left on the outside looking in.
So consider what it meant to receive a message from Jesus, a letter written by someone whose title was:
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.
In the context of people thrown out of the synagogue, these words hold great comfort.
Three characteristics of Christ are used:
Jesus is identified as the Holy One. In the OT, the title “Holy One” was reserved for God himself. Applied to Jesus, it confirms that he is God: offensive to Jews, foolishness to Gentiles, but good news of God’s love to those who believe.
Jesus is also identified as true. This idea of “being true” carries a lot of weight in Greek just as it does in English. Being true means not only “correct” that Jesus it the right person, but also that he is trustworthy – you can put your faith in him. He won’t let you down. You can believe in him and he will be true to you.
Finally, he is called the one who holds the key of David. The phrase that follows is a direct quotation from Isaiah 22:22. Don’t be surprised if you didn’t recognize it, I’m sure it’s not a verse highlighted to be memorized in Sunday School.
In Isaiah 22, the story is told of a palace steward who oversteps his bounds. Shebna made a grave for himself among the graves of the Kings of Judah. Therefore the Lord, the Holy One, promises that Shebna will be replaced by Eliakim (a name meaning “whom God will raise up”). Eliakim will be raised to Shebna’s high office with the honour and responsibility of keeping the key of the house of David.
This title fits Jesus perfectly. Jesus was raised up by the Lord as well. He holds the key to the house of David. It is not the rulers of synagogues who determine who belongs inside or outside the chosen people of God. It is Jesus who holds the key to the house of David; Jesus who is holy and true.
That comfort is repeated in the Commendation – praise for what’s going well in the church of Philadelphia. There is a lot that is going well. This is the longest section of the whole message:
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. 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.
This is the section that indicates there is conflict in Philadelphia between the Jews and the Christians. But Jesus knows all about it. He had placed before them an open door – no one can stop them from entering that door. That open door is the result of Christians keeping Jesus’ word and not denying his name.
And one day there will be vindication. All their opponents will fall down at the Christians’ feet. Not to worship them, but in a posture of submission and respect. The ones who are accusing Christians of blasphemy and lies will admit that the Christians have it right: “I have loved you.”
If that were not enough, the commendation continues in the next verse:
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.
“Keep you from the hour of trial” – Seems to mean that the church in Philadelphia will not face the same persecution that the church around the world was about to face.
In this commendation, Jesus mentions that the Philadelphian Christians receive three rewards:
· open door
· future vindication by their persecutors – enemies will admit that God loves them.
· spiritual protection on hour of trial
Complaint – description of what not going well.
NO COMPLAINT! Of the seven, there are only two, Philadelphia and Smyrna, of whom Jesus has no complaint. Jesus is pleased with this congregation.
Correction – direction for fixing the problem.
Although there is no complaint, they are encouraged to “hold on to what you have.” It’s a repetition of what was written in the message to Thyatira just a few verses earlier. Hold on to what you have. Hang in there!
Consequence – Jesus’ response to their action or inaction as a result of the complaint.
Jesus offers great reassurance here:
— I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
It’s the promise that the Lord will be coming back soon. For people pushed to the limit of their endurance, this is enormously encouraging!
Hang in there, Jesus is coming back soon. Hold on to the promises, the faith, the reassurances that you’ve received from God, so that no one will take away your crown.
Conquering Formula – I keep using the Nike swoosh on this slide because there is a reward mentioned here for those who overcome – those who are victorious – a reward for Nike Christians. And here is how that reward is described for the church of Philadelphia:
— 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Like the image of an open door, the promises for overcoming persecution and holding on to what they’ve received are reassurances of belonging:
· Being a pillar in the temple of my God
o Now what is more permanently in the presence of God than the very pillars of the temple?
· Never leaving the temple
· 3 names written on him:
o name of God,
o name of city,
o Jesus’ new name
Archaeologists find names inscribed on temple pillars: names of donor, priests, and the god being honoured. It’s a real sign of belonging in the temple of God to be regarded as a pillar of the community with God’s name written on you.
These reassurances for a church under fire by their neighbours are great reassurance for us as well. True, we don’t face the same pressures and persecutions they faced. We face different pressures, unique to our culture and our time.
But the call to hold on to what we’ve received is the same. We have received the same promises that put the Philadelphia Christians in the crosshairs of their enemies. The assurance that God preserves his saints is a reminder that we need as well.
We cannot stand on our own; we are dependent on the promises and the presence of our God. Jesus is close by. He walks among the lampstands and knows what is going on. He corrects and encourages his people by giving them his Word.
Jesus has opened the door out of the grave. He has opened the door into the presence of God. He has made it possible for us to stand in God’s presence permanently, without fear or trembling.
You belong to God; he will not let you go.