Philadelphia The Persevering Church

We are all a part of the same big story, and there are four parts to the story. The first part of the big story is creation. In the beginning, God created everything that is, and, as the crown of creation, on the 6th day, he made men and women in his image. They are bearing his likeness to represent him on the earth, to rule with him, and to be in relationship with him. But the second part of the story is brokenness. When we sinned, we introduced brokenness into this world. That brokenness was pervasive and unable to be fixed by us. Praise God, the story does not end there because the third part is redemption. Jesus Christ took on flesh, stepped into history, and lived a perfect life. He lived perfectly what it means to be in a relationship with God and to love others. Then he suffered, died on a cross, and rose from the dead. In doing so, he made it possible for us, by grace, to be forgiven, experience new life, and be reconciled to God. The fourth part of the story is recreation. We await the day when Jesus will return, and he is going to make all things new. He will dwell with his people forever.  That is the big story that we are all a part of.

Today, where do we live in the story? Where are we in the story? We are in between redemption and recreation. Jesus has died on the cross for our sin, and we can have a signed and sealed eternity with God forever. We rejoice in that; his spirit lives and dwells in us. Yet, there is still brokenness all around us because Jesus has not come back, and Christians are not exempt to any kind of brokenness. Our cars break down, our bodies get sick, we have bad bosses, we have financial hardship, we deal with fractured relationships, and so much more. But one day, Jesus will return, and all things will be made new. That day is not today, so here is a question that all of us, as followers of Christ, ought to wrestle with. What does it mean to live this part of the story well?

In Revelation 3, Jesus wrote a letter to the church at Philadelphia.

“Write this to the angel of the church in Philadelphia: These are the words of the one who is holy and true, who has the key of David. Whatever he opens, no one will shut; and whatever he shuts, no one opens. I know your works. Look! I have set in front of you an open door that no one can shut. You have so little power, and yet you have kept my word and haven’t denied my name. Because of this I will make the people from Satan’s synagogue (who say they are Jews and really aren’t but are lying)—I will make them come and bow down at your feet and realize that I have loved you. Because you kept my command to endure, I will keep you safe through the time of testing that is about to come over the whole world, to test those who live on earth. I’m coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one takes your crown. As for those who emerge victorious, I will make them pillars in the temple of my God, and they will never leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God. I will also write on them my own new name. If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Revelation 3:7-13

There are many different views on what the open door is. The two primary interpretive options are that either Jesus could be referring to the open door to enter into his Kingdom or Jesus could be referring to a door that is open for this church to bear witness to Christ in their culture. This phraseology of opening a door is used elsewhere in the New Testament multiple times to refer to God opening a door for ministry, so it could be either of those options or both because both are true.

He goes on to refer to the fact that this was a small church in numbers and resources. Other churches are not calling this church saying, “Hey, how do you grow?” The pastors at this church are not getting invited to speak at leadership conferences. This church is not important or impressive in the eyes of people but they are to Jesus.

He then shifts to describe three specific promises that he makes, and the application is different for us today. These are still the same three promises we have today when we put our faith in Jesus. The first promise is a justice. The synagogue of Satan was a particular group of Jews who were persecuting Christians, and they claimed to be God’s people, to be the true Israel. But they did not believe in Jesus making them not part of God’s people and thus liars. This is sobering because they did not know they were lying. They thought they were the ones who were right; they did not market themselves as the synagogue of Satan. They were self-deceived. Just because you sincerely believe something does not make it true. Believe something sincerely and be sincerely wrong. What counts is not how much you mean what you believe, but whether or not you believe the right thing. Jesus goes on to say that those persecuting you now will honor you in the end. One day there is going to be a great reversal, and the people who are maligning and attacking and telling these Christians are going to find out that they are the ones who were actually wrong. This ties into a larger biblical theme that one day everybody is going get a big reality check. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Scripture tells us that those who have been disregarded and dishonored for their faith will be rewarded.

The second promise Jesus makes is protection. The hour of trial is the Greek word that is referencing the tribulation. Some believe it is described in Revelation 6-19 where the whole world is going to experience a time of great suffering. Others believe that based on the word usage throughout the New Testament as well as the fact that this is in a specific letter written to a specific church, the tribulation it refers to something that is going to happen during the lifetime of those who are receiving the letter.  Some believe Jesus is saying I will keep you from the tribulation of Revelation 6 -19, and the way I’m going to keep all Christians from that is through the rapture. Others believe that this promise is more akin to what Jesus says in John, which is actually the only other New Testament occurrence of the Greek word for “keep you from.” In that context, it is not about physical removal from tribulation but protection from the devil.

The third promise Jesus makes is his presence. Philadelphia, as an ancient city, experienced frequent earthquakes, so these citizens they were used to fleeing from the city. It was not uncommon when they would come back into the city to see large structures decimated, whole buildings collapsed, all except for one part that was still standing – the pillars. Jesus says I will make them a pillar in the temple of my God. Satan’s persecution of Christians in Philadelphia involved excluding them from their temples. Jesus is intimately aware of this church’s suffering, and Jesus is aware of your suffering. Jesus says the only temple that really counts the one that he has keys to. These believers are not only going to have a place in that temple; they are going to be pillars. We know from Revelation that in the new city of God, there is no temple because the Lord God Almighty and the lamb are its temple. So what does this mean? Jesus is saying you will have a permanent place in the presence of God. He goes on to say he write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God. Our kids went to soccer camp last week, and we wrote Murphy on a bunch of stuff. We knew that it would probably be lost, and we wanted to signify ownership of it. This is even more profound. Jesus says three different names are going to be inscribed on these people: the name of God, the name of the city of God, and the name of Christ. Jesus is emphasizing to these people that they belong, and you belong, to God.