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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Revelation Letters to the Seven Churches: Philadelphia

Our little church congregation is embarking on a bible study of that book at the end of the Bible that everyone talks about but no one actually reads - The Revelation.  I'll try to publish here in this blog some of my notes as we go along.

Revelation 3: 7 – 13 Philadelphia

Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly-love” was a frontier city 28 miles south-east of Sardis. The main road from Rome to the farthest eastern parts of the empire passed through Philadelphia as the last “civilized” stop along the way. Unfortunately, it was built on the edge of a great plain called the Katakekaumene , which means the “Burnt Land.” It was the edge of a great volcanic area. The earthquake that leveled Sardis in A.D. 17 also destroyed Philadelphia. The frequent earthquakes and tremors sent the people of Philadelphia running out to the plain to escape the falling masonry and crumbling buildings.

Philadelphia, known as the “little Athens,” was a center of Greek culture and was influential in educating the central regions of Asia Minor in Greek philosophy and thought. The city was founded by King Attalus II who had been given the title “Philadelphus” (Brother-lover) because of his loyalty to his brother (Newport, 156).

The message to the Christians at Philadelphia came from The Holy One the True One.

“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth.
His glory fills the whole earth.

Isaiah 6:3

Throughout the prophets, and especially in Isaiah, God is described as “the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 1:4; 5:19; 10:17, 20; 40:25; 41:14, 16, 20; 43:3,14, 15; 47:4; 49:7)” This Holiness is a separation from all else, a transcendence of everything. He is also the God of Truth (Isa. 65:16). The Christians in Philadelphia receive no word of condemnation from the Holy One, the True One. Instead they are praised by “the Holy One, the True One who has the key of David, the one who opens and no one shall close and who closes and no one opens.” This description is drawn from Isaiah chapter 22 wherein Isaiah prophesies against Shebna who had attained the highest office, next to the King, the master of King Hezekiah’s palace. He was to be run out of his office and replaced by an honest servant:

I shall dress him in your tunic,
I shall put your sash around his waist,
I shall invest him with your authority;
And he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the House of Judah.
I shall place the Key of David’s palace on his shoulder;
When he opens, no one will close,
When he closes, no one will open.

Isaiah 22: 15 – 25

Handing over the key was not just an appointment as a porter and servant in the palace, but an endowment with full authority and complete power. The false Jews at the Synagogue of Satan were to be replaced by true and honest servants, who would be endowed with the authority of Christ. Though the Christians living in Philadelphia had only “a little power,” they had remained true to Jesus and had not denied his name.

Therefore, the false Jews (those who were Jews on the outside by circumcision but not inwardly by faith – Romans 9:6 – 13) would be made to come before the Christian community to kneel down and to recognize that it was the Christians that Jesus, the Messiah had chosen and loved. “Your oppressors’ children will humbly approach you, at your feet all who despised you will fall addressing you as ‘City of Yahweh’, and ‘Zion of the Holy One of Israel.’ (Isaiah 60:14)”

Because they had been faithful during their times of oppression, Jesus promised that they would be kept “safe in the time of trial which was coming for the whole world, to put the people of the world to the test.” Though some teachers maintain that John is speaking about the rapture here, but this is not a rapture verse. The weak Christians in this city would not be rapture” out of their trial, but would be kept safe through it. They would not be seized away, but bought through.

John was not speaking about a time of trial some 2000 years removed from his first century audience- such a message would have been completely irrelevant to them. What value would a letter saying, “Be of good cheer you patient, suffering, faithful servants of first century Asia Minor, I won’t let Soviet missiles, killer bees, or nuclear explosions (or anything else Tim Lahaye, Hal Lindsey, or Jack Van Impe might dream up) get you.” The hours of testing that John wrote about was in their immediate future, “I am coming soon,” Jesus said – words that would have been of immediate relief to that first century audience.

The time of trial which was coming for the whole world, to put the people of the land to the test was the same time of trial and tribulation that Jesus spoke of in his Olivet discourse (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5 – 36). “The people of the land,” is an expression used 12 times by John – once for each tribe of Israel – to refer to the False Jews, Apostate Israel (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14:6, 17:2, 8). In addition, it is used in the LXX version of the Old Testament throughout the prophets to describe the rebellious idolatrous Israel about to be destroyed for her sins, and driven from the land. (Jeremiah 1:14; 10:18; Ezekiel 7:7; 36:17; Hosea 4:1, 3; Joel 1:2, 14; Zephaniah 1:8)

The whole world being put through this tumultuous time of trial and tribulation was the oikoumene, the “inhabited world,” or the “Roman world.” This is not the entire globe – and does not point to a “universal period of tribulation, (Lahaye, Revelation, pg. 57)” still in the future, despite the claims of many prophecy experts.

The faithful and victorious followers of Philadelphia are promised that they will be made into pillars within the heavenly Temple of God. John tells us later that he, “could not see any temple in the city since the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb themselves were the temple. (Revelation 21:22)” The temple where God was formerly said to reside was in Jerusalem, but according to the revelation John received that physical temple was about to be removed (Revelation 11: 1-2) and the spiritual sanctuary (which is God and the Lamb themselves) would be opened (Revelation 11: 19). Faithful overcomers would be made into a pillar in this spiritual temple and they would never depart from it, they would be forever in God’s presence.

They would be marked with three names: 1) “the name of my God,” 2) “the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem,” and 3) “my new name. (Revelation 19:12, 16) Much anxious speculation is made about Revelation’s “mark of the beast,” but Revelation’s true emphasis on the mark that God’s people receive, not the mark of the beast. (Ezekiel 9:1 – 7; Revelation 14:1) “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:4).

I shall give them in my house and within my walls
A monument and a name better than sons and daughters;
I shall give them an everlasting name
That will never be effaced

Isaiah 56:5

Not many years after the Revelation, Ignatius also addressed a letter to the church at Philadelphia, warning them against the coming of “judaizers” saying that unless they speak of Jesus Christ they are “monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. (Ignatius, 6:1)

Newport, John P., The Lion and the Lamb Broadman Press, Nashville TN, 1986.

LaHaye, Tim, Revelation Illustrated and Made Plain, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1980.

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