Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Church @ Philadelphia.

Last week we looked @ the church of Laodicea in
Revelation.  This week we will look @ the church @ Philadelphia.

Firstly a little background because that will help us anchor our thoughts & teaching.  The Church @ Philadelphia was one of the church plantings of Ephesus & as such belonged to that circle of churches originating from Ephesus & following the highway round in a circle.  We have some idea of what was happening here because we have looked @ the church growth in the area from Paul’s writings to Timothy, the overseer of the churches in this area of Asia Minor ~ modern day Turkey. Huge growth, heresy, false teachings, huge decline.

Philadelphia is between Laodicea, the apathetic church, & Sardis, the dead church.  Now each of the 7 churches in this area was a real church but these real churches also represent the Church ages.

Ephesus means the desirable one.  She is accused of losing her first love. The early church was desirable.  It grew beyond all worldly expectation exactly because her witness & walk made her desirable.

Then there was Smyrna, the persecuted church.  Her name means myrrh. Myrrh was obtained by beating & pressing the plant ~ & this was the fate of the church during the 2nd & 3rd centuries. Yet their witness [remember the original Greek can also mean martyr] brought many to saving faith in Christ.

Then along came Constantine who made Christianity the state religion, thus marrying state & church.  Pergamos means married, & the church has had difficulty divorcing from the world ever since.  People are happy to be *Christian* so long as it doesn’t cost them anything, so long as they can have heaven & their sin. It never works but people keep trying.

Thyatira means continual sacrifice.  This is the church that moved from salvation by Grace through the shed blood of Christ to salvation by works.  This was a compromised church seeking to win the Vandals, the Goths, the Huns with tolerance & compromise.  God will not have His people compromised.

Next there is Sardis ~ a church weighed down by ritual & man~made  rules, devoid of the power of the Holy Spirit & keeping the people in bondage through ignorance.  It was, & is, a dead church.

We have looked @ Laodicea, so that leaves Philadelphia. Philadelphia was an inland city beside the Cogamus River in the Kuzucay Valley ~ which probably doesn’t mean much to you. It has volcanic cliffs & being situated on the Anatolian Fault, suffered greatly from earthquakes, but with soil rich enough to grow grapes that produced excellent wine ~ wine good enough for Virgil to praise it.

Philadelphia was a wealthy commercial city serving as a crossover point between the Phrygian territory to the east & the Aegean ports to the west.  This gave them an open doorway for spreading the gospel.
So let us have a look @ what Jesus says to the church @ Philadelphia: Revelation 3:7~13

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.
This is the message from the one who is holy and true,
    the one who has the key of David.
What he opens, no one can close;
    and what he closes, no one can open:
 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.  Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.
“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.  I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.  All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

When you read about these seven churches, what is the thing that strikes you first?  See these were real churches yes, but they are also representative of the church ages & types for all ages & the thing that struck me most ~ & I have read & reread Revelation for decades~ is something that is quite simply horrifying.  The dominant characteristic of the majority of these churches is that they were out of step with God.  Off track.  Out of order. Wow.
As we read these letters we learn it is possible to be a loving church yet have bad doctrine or to have good doctrine but lack love, to be tolerant of sin, to be persecuted for righteousness or be unpersecuted & spiritually dead, for no~one bothers to persecute the dead.

Philadelphia is one of only two churches out of seven that is not faulted in any way. So they have kept their first love, unlike Ephesus. They hold good doctrine, unlike Pergamum.  They are not harbouring false prophets or heretical teaching like Thyatira. They are not spiritually dead like Sardis, nor lukewarm like Laodicea. They are faithful, Holy Spirit empowered, effective & holding to the Truth. To this church Jesus identifies Himself as the Holy One; Yahweh; The Great I AM~ for none is holy but God [1 Samuel 2:2]

He then mentions *the key of David*. David symbolises the Messianic Office & his key is his symbol of authority.  We know Jesus was of David’s house & line so He is, in effect saying, Messianic authority is mine. In John 10:9 Jesus says : I am the door: if any one enter in by me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and shall go out and shall find pasture.  
Now there are a lot of ways you can interpret the reference to *pasture*.  It can be the blessings of shalom ~ all the goodness, wealth, freedom from want of God’s Kingdom.  It could be what Jesus meant when He said Come unto me …& I will give you rest for your souls ~ that security & peace that is only found in Christ.  Or it could mean, & I am partial to this one, that we have unlimited access to the Father through Christ the son & no~one can deny us for we have the son’s authority to come & go @ will. This also makes sense in light of the reference to Satan’s Synagogue.
The next thing I would like to draw your attention to is the word Dynamai,  in verse 8, once translated as able & once [in a slightly altered form] as strength.  In both instances we are talking about power.  No~one has the power to close the doors that God opens.  In the same way even though they were a small church [mikros means small in size or quantity] they still operated in God’s power. This must be hugely encouraging for us. God was not interested in their numbers but He did note their obedience, their faithfulness, their loyalty & their perseverance.
You see they had people on their case…John calls them the Synagogue of Satan…  They may have been Jews…  They may have been other Christians but ones adhering to Jewish Law [Romans 2:28/29 says it is the circumcision of the heart that makes one a Jew, not ethnicity or religion or religious practises]…& they were applying pressure to forgo God’s Word & deny Jesus. [V8]  But this little church did not cave.

We know from Revelation & from Church history that heresy & false teaching was spreading out from Ephesus & infecting the other churches but not the church @ Philadelphia!  Because they were obedient to the word they were protected & earned the commendation of the Lord. They persevered in the Truth.

Now Jesus promises this faithful little church something that on the face of it seems a little odd but it would have meant a great deal to the church @ Philadelphia.  Remember Philadelphia was built on the Anatolian Faultline & subject to earthquakes & their aftershocks.  At least one in the 1st century was so devastating that the Emperor provided funds to help rebuild the city.

The strongest & most secure buildings in the city were the temples. They were built to withstand the earthquakes by laying the foundations on a bed of charcoal overlaid with wool fleeces.  This caused the temples to *float* on the soil~ sort of like a raft, each block joined to the next by metal cramps so the whole moved in unity. So Jesus is promising this little church a place of eternal security & safety where nothing could harm them. What’s more, they would never be forced to flee from this safe haven as they fled the city when the earthquakes came.

Pillars were often inscribed ~ as archaeology amply testifies.  The inscriptions might extol a king’s virtues or a commander’s victories ~ or they might simply denote ownership. God’s name would be inclusive of all of these things: His virtues, His victory over satan & the world, His ownership of those who love Him.  When you love & are loved it is a wonderful thing to be claimed by the lover.

He also promises they will be spared from the tribulation to come.  I do not have the time to go through this verse by verse with all the cross~references but I will give you a little Greek because that makes the final meaning very plain.
Verse 10 says *I will protect/keep you from the great time of testing…* tereo* is the verb keep or guard but in this sentence is the little Greek preposition ek.  Ek means out of.  Completely. John does not us en [in] or dia [through].  He uses ek. The faithful, loyal, obedient churches, the faithful, loyal, obedient Christians will be spared the Great Tribulation.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16

The church @ Philadelphia teaches us what it is to be a church in whom Christ finds no fault ~ not perfect, because there is no such thing, but obedient, working out their salvation with fear & trembling ~ & loyal.  How God values loyalty!  Churches & people who do not compromise, who do not commit adultery with the world, who are not ashamed of Christ.  May we strive to be a church like Philadelphia!

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