This sermon is number 9 in a series of 20
The Book Of The Revelation - Part 9
"Philadelphia, The Faithful Church"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Chapter 3 verse 7: "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation", or tribulation, "which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches".
Now we have noted over these weeks studying the seven churches, this being our sixth, with minor exceptions there is a pattern to each of them. Let me remind you of what that is: first of all, as Christ speaks to each of these churches He reveals certain characteristics of Himself that fit the need of that particular church. Up until this church, the characteristics have derived from the vision that John initially had, recorded in chapter 1. However the characteristics that we have given to the church at Philadelphia do not come from that vision. We will refer to those characteristics later on, but just let me make this particular point - noting that he does not get these characteristic traits from the vision in chapter 1, it might well tell us, and I think at least it is a true sentiment to say, that there is no vision of Christ, however great, that can depict Him personally in perfection. We revere the word of God, don't we? Rightly so, and yet even verbal descriptions, even visual, supernatural descriptions cannot ever exhaust or fully depict the wonder of Christ as He is. They hymn writer tried to capture this by saying:
'Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and power,
That ever mortals knew,
That angels ever bore:
All are too mean to speak His worth,
To mean to set my Saviour forth'.
So John - at least John is the penman - our Lord Jesus goes outside the vision of chapter 1 to describe Himself to Philadelphia as 'the holy and the true', verse 7, 'the key to David, the one who opens and shuts'. Those are the characteristics as Christ reveals Himself to Philadelphia.
Then secondly in each church there is a commendation, except of course to Sardis - we looked at that church last week - and Laodicea, which will be our next study. But there is a commendation to Philadelphia, and you find it in verse 8, the second half of the verse: 'For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name'. They kept His word, though they had a little strength - that means they were obedient Christians, an obedient church. They had not denied His name, even though they were little in strength - that shows that they confessed Christ with their mouth and with their lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it could be said of everyone here and this church, that we were obedient, and we confessed Christ with our mouths and lives? So they are commended.
Thirdly in most of these letters there is a criticism, but there is no criticism to Philadelphia in their letter. The only other letter that does not receive criticism from the Lord is the letter to Smyrna, the suffering church. Isn't it interesting that the only two letters who do not receive a critique from the risen Christ are the suffering church, Smyrna, and the church of little strength, the weak church, Philadelphia. I think there must be deep spiritual truth in the fact that there is no criticism for Philadelphia and Smyrna, and we'll see what that is in a few moments.
Fourthly in most of the letters there is a corrective command, because they have been criticised the Lord tells them how they must go on the right road - and there is no criticism, neither is there any corrective command to Philadelphia. It's wonderful, isn't it? Imagine being a church, or for that matter being a Christian, that Christ could not criticise, being a Christian that Christ did not have to give a further command to!
Now though there is no corrective command, there is indeed counsel given to Philadelphia. That is found in verse 11: 'Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown'. They are given counsel, how to stay faithful, whatever would befall them. Then fifthly, as in each letter, in verses 9-12 we are given a commitment by the Lord to those who would overcome, those in this church of Philadelphia overcoming the conditions that prevail. Verse 12 in particular states: 'Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name'. Interesting that the Lord Jesus here is speaking, as a man, of 'my God', and then He not only writes the name of His God, and the name of the city of God, but He writes His new name upon the overcomer. We'll look at the significance of those statements later on.
Now let me remind you of why we are studying in great depth, and why indeed John gives us the letters to the seven churches. Chapter 1:19 gives us an inspired outline of the book: the things that John saw, being the vision; the things that were, that is the seven churches that existed that Christ is writing to; and the things which are to come, which really comprises chapter 4, or at least chapter 6 right through to the end of the book. So the things that are are these seven churches of Asia Minor. We have noted, and it's worth reminding you of, that there were more than seven churches in total in Asia Minor - but these seven churches have been chosen by the Holy Spirit to be representive churches. If you look at the screen, let me remind you - I may not have said this since our first week - but if you were to travel from the first church mentioned by Christ, Ephesus, right round as they are mentioned by the Lord and written to by John, you would come in a complete circle, clockwise, please note. Therefore we have to say that, because the number seven is the biblical number of completion, and because these have been chosen out of the churches that existed in that day and age for their representative characteristics, we believe that prophetically - and Revelation, of course, as we have found out, is a prophetic book - prophetically what John is giving us is the complete timeline and prophetic history of the Church of Jesus Christ, a divine revelation concerning this church age in which we live. It is a complete moral picture and spiritual history of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Now that is understood in three ways. We have seen that it's understood literally, these were seven literal churches in these geographical locations. Secondly it's understood universally, each of these churches illustrate good and bad conditions in the churches as they have existed right throughout the church age. Similar to Matthew 13, and the seven mystery parables of the kingdom there that depict certain characteristics that can be found in every age in many churches. So you can see traits that are found in each of these seven churches right across the globe today in many churches. Yet there is a further interpretation, that being the prophetic. Not just literal and universal, but the prophetic. In other words, that each of these churches actually looks chronologically at that particular period of church history.
We started in Ephesus, which was the loveless church, and we saw that the characteristics there equate dramatically to the post-apostolic age of the church - that being just after the death of the last apostle. We saw there that generally speaking the doctrine in the church was pure, but their devotion to Christ was beginning to wane - that would have consequences. The next stage we found to be that of Smyrna, and not long after the apostles' death there was great persecution, and from the first to the fourth century we see under ten Roman emperors, ten very strenuous persecutions of Christianity - the tenth lasting ten years. Smyrna was the persecuted church, then after Smyrna came Pergamos, and we saw that it was the compromising church - Pergamos means 'married'. During the fourth and fifth centuries we find that Constantine, after his spurious conversion to Christianity, made Christianity the state religion in 313 AD. From that moment on the church lost, generally speaking, its fidelity to Christ because it became allied to the world. That was the church of the fourth and fifth century, answering very graphically to Pergamos. Then after Pergamos came Thyatira, the corrupt church. Thyatira meant 'continual sacrifice', and during the sixth and the seventh centuries we see the rise of what we recognize today as Roman Catholicism, and they espouse great dedicated sacrificial works for God, and also celebrate the continual sacrifice of the Mass. Of course, in the 16th century there was the Reformation, and here enters the church at Sardis. Though that Reformation was an awakening of God to the rediscovering of the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we see that what started as a work of the Holy Spirit and God's grace, a work of God, developed into ecclesiastical bodies that were originated by men. In Sardis we see a dead church, Sardis means 'those escaping', 'a remnant', that is the post-Reformation church. The Reformation was of God, but many of the ecclesiastical systems were established by men. If you want to know more about that, see last week's study.
This brings us now to Philadelphia, the faithful church. Now Philadelphia means 'brotherly love'. Now prophetically speaking, after the death of Protestantism, there were many gracious revivals that the Lord instrumentally brought to the church. The reason being that the Holy Spirit was bringing Evangelicalism back to the simplicity and the primitiveness of New Testament truth. You can see that very clearly in church history, that out of the dearth and deadness of Protestantism in general there came, during the 18th and early 19th centuries, a period of great evangelical awakening. Study it in church history, it is very instructive, and indeed encouraging. During that period many New Testament principles that had been lost to the church were rediscovered, particularly doctrines relating to church order and practice; and also the doctrine of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and many other truths related to that.
Also during that Great Awakening period, a great door was opened, a door that would allow the church once more - as the Apostles had originally done - to spread the gospel worldwide. What we see during this particular church period is the birth of what we know as the modern missionary movement. Out of all the periods of the seven churches, I think this was the period that I would have most loved to have lived during. Can I just say, as I leave this prophetic issue here: if the Lord should wait any longer before He returns for us, we are going to need a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit of God. Whilst this is a characteristic that generalised this period of church history, there are still revivals in our world today, hence the universal interpretation of the seven churches - we can have these characteristics today in the church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century, and oh how much we need it in Ulster! You remember last week that Sardis was the dead church, and there was then a transition from a dead church to a faithful church, Philadelphia, and it can still happen today - dead Christians can become faithful Christians, dead churches can become faithful churches once more if they rediscover many of the lost principles of the New Testament.
Can I remind you of what I shared with you in closing last Monday evening, the words of W.W. Faraday to Peter Brandon many years ago, speaking of a movement of the Spirit that God worked mightily through many years ago. He said: 'Slowly and insidiously they declined, until they moved from the organic to the mechanical'. What had been a living movement became a mechanical movement, and that has been the transition of every movement, I feel, that has not known subsequent revival. Faraday, predicting that decline, said to Brandon: 'Don't worry. You will have to start all over again as we did, and rediscover the truth, and rediscover the power of the Spirit, and God will multiply you'. Oh, do we need that today!
'Oh, for the floods on a thirsty land,
Oh, for a mighty revival.
Oh, for a sanctified fearless band,
Ready to hail its arrival'.
Now let's leave that prophetic interpretation there, although it will have application as we go through our study of this faithful church tonight. We want to primarily look at Philadelphia from a literal sense and a personal sense, verse 13: 'Let those who have ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches'. Each night we have looked first of all at the city where this church is found. So let us look at Philadelphia. Philadelphia was known as a rich city, partly from the grape growth, grapes flourished in this particular vicinity - but it was mainly known as rich because of the location where it was situated. It was known in its day as the gateway to the east. Its founder, who also gave it its name, Philadelphia, intended the city to be a strategic missionary city to propagate the Greek, or the Hellenistic way of life. So he intended that Greek philosophy and Greek wisdom would spread right across the known world, far and wide, from Philadelphia. It was an ideal location for this, because it was on the main route of the Imperial Postal Service that ran from the capital city of the empire, Rome, right to the east - and so it was a pathway along which many would traverse. The Roman army would march across it wherever they were going in the empire, there would be travelling caravans, business merchants - so you can understand why the founder of this city wanted this missionary endeavour to begin there. We can understand also then why the Lord speaks of opening the door, an opportunity to propagate the gospel through this church in Philadelphia.
Now let's look at the characteristics of the risen Christ as He is revealed to Philadelphia. Verse 7: 'These things saith he that is holy, he that is true', let's deal with these first. Holy and true - now again we say that these are characteristics that are independent from the vision that we have in chapter 1, but it's very easy to trace what the meaning of them is. Isaiah 43 and verse 3 reads: 'I am the LORD thy God', Jehovah thy God, 'the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour'. 'Holy' is a designation of God. Now when we turn to chapter 6 of Revelation and verse 10, we read: 'And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?'. So in this very book, in chapter 6 and verse 10, 'holy and true' are descriptions given to Almighty God - and yet here our Lord Jesus reveals Himself as 'holy and true' to Philadelphia. Of course 'holy' is a divine title, and the Lord Jesus Christ is God.
These were encouragements to these Philadelphian Christians who were faithful, Christ found them such, to remain faithful. You see the holiness of God is not just a doctrine that we celebrate and defend against all error, but Peter tells us that it is a reason for us to be holy: 'As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation', in your manner of life. So Christ is revealing Himself as holy to these faithful Christians, that they might remain holy and be encouraged to do such. He reveals Himself as true. Now there are two Greek words, I'm led to believe, that correspond to our English word 'true'. The first means 'true in contrast to that which is false', that is not the meaning here. It is rather the other meaning, which is 'true in contrast to that which is an imitation'. So what the Lord is revealing to these Philadelphian Christians is: 'I am really God, I am the holy and the true, I am not an imitation, I am not a substitute, I am the true and living Christ, the Son of the Living God'.
Now we need to emphasise this great truth in these days. I don't know whether you have followed the presidential candidacy in the United States of America - I haven't followed it that closely, but I have noted that one of the favoured candidates is a man called Mitt Romney, and he is a Mormon. Incidentally, he's not the first Mormon to run for the office of the presidency of the United States - do you know who the first one was? Joseph Smith in 1844, the founder of Mormonism. Now I'm not against a Mormon taking office in a sense, we've got to have freedom of religious liberty and so on and so forth, but he was asked on many occasions what his view of Jesus Christ was, and he said: 'Often I am asked this fundamental question, 'What do I believe about Jesus Christ?'', this was his answer, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of mankind. My church's belief about Christ may not be all that other faiths believe', but that's what he believes, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of mankind. Now that sounds good, doesn't it? That's what many people in many religions and even cults will say concerning the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the truth of the matter is that that statement is somewhat of a gloss, because the Mormon church believe that Christ was 'a god', just like all human beings can achieve 'godhood'. They believe that He was not unique - indeed He was the brother, they say, of Lucifer himself. They say that our Lord Jesus married several wives, fathered children, and Joseph Smith himself claimed to be one of Christ's descendants.
Now, all of the cults and false religions of this world, they dispute the identity of Christ. Now you know what that means, let me put this in very strong but definite terms: their christs are not this Christ, they are imposters! This Christ is the real thing: very God of very God, Light of Light. He is not a copy. 'In the beginning was the Word', Christ, 'the Word was with God', Christ was with God, 'the Word was God', Christ was God. John 1 verse 14: 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us' - Jesus Christ is and ever shall be the Eternal and Only Begotten Son of the Living God. Any caricature less than that is not the Christ of the Bible, it is not the Christ of history, and it is not the Christ of the saving Gospel. Did not Paul say in Galatians 1:8: 'Though we', that is, though any apostle, 'or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed'. Another Jesus is not the Jesus.
This church in Philadelphia were being encouraged by the Lord Jesus to reflect the true character of Christ in their day and generation, that was marking them as faithful. We must do the same today. We must be absolutely sure in what we declare about our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me leave that there and bring a secondary point out of this: how the Lord is revealed to Philadelphia would show us that truth is linked with holiness. Do you see it? He is the holy and the true. Truth is linked to holiness. Now that means true doctrine and holy living go together. Therefore, the converse sense is that there can be no true holiness without truth - there can be no true holiness without truth! That, therefore, means - now listen carefully - holiness is more than mere morality. It involves the truth, and you can have morality without the truth. You can have morality in religion, you can have morality in the cults - but that is not true holiness without the truth.
Now, in their difficulties the Philadelphians needed to grasp this. They needed to look to Christ to gain courage, to continue to be faithful, to live holy lives, to be real - not to be an imitation of the true, to have genuine holy lives that manifested and revealed the truth of God. That's why Christ revealed Himself as the holy and the true. But He reveals Himself also as 'the key of David', look at verse 7: 'the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth'. Now of course in chapter 1:18 the Lord Jesus is revealed in that vision as having the keys of Hades and death, but I don't think that's what this is referring to - it seems to be an allusion from Isaiah 22:22, and there we read of a man called Eliakim the son of Hilkiah. It is recorded that Eliakim, according to Isaiah 22:22, had the key of the house of David the King. And God said: 'I will lay upon his shoulder', Eliakim's, 'so that he shall open, no man shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open'. This was a literal man, who had a literal key, to the literal Treasury of the literal King David. Eliakim is a great type of our Lord Jesus Christ who has the key of truth, the key of holiness, the holy and the true - but He's also got the key of opportunity, he can open doors, doors of service, doors of testimony. He has administrative power, He has incontestable control, He is the Sovereign Christ - in other words, He has the key to everything! He's the risen Lord, and these Philadelphian Christians are encouraged to look to Him to be holy, look to Him not to be an imitation, and look to Him knowing that no matter what they were going through in trials and tribulations, He had the key to everything. You can look to Him tonight as the Captain of your salvation, isn't it wonderful? What characteristics as He is set forth to us.
Then we see in verse 8 the commendation given to this church, look at it with me. In verse 8, at the beginning: 'I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name'. Now what is this open door? Well, in the New Testament this is a phrase that is common, and it speaks primarily of an opportunity for ministry. Listen to these verses, Acts 14, speaking of Antioch Luke says: 'And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles', opened a door of faith to the Gentiles, an opportunity to minister. In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul says: 'a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries'. In 2 Corinthians 2:12, 'Furthermore', Paul says, 'when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord'. Requesting prayer in Colossians 4:3, Paul again says: 'Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds'.
Christ here is the Lord of the harvest, and with this key He is opening a door of ministry, an opportunity; as the Head of the church He is determining where and when His people are serving, these people in Philadelphia. There is much truth in this. Turn with me for a moment - and time is beating us somewhat, but turn to Acts 16 till I show you this - maybe because it's Christmas you'll give me a present of 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the meeting tonight! Verse 6 of Acts 16, now please, before we note this, note the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit and the Lordship of Christ in evangelism in the early church, verse 6: 'Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them'.
The Lord has this key to open and shut, He is the one who determines where and when His people serve. Now if ever there was a need in the church today, there is a need for Christians to recognize the Lordship of Christ, and the Spirit who is the Lord over our evangelism. The Lord gave Philadelphia a great opportunity for ministry, He had placed them on this Imperial coastal route where they could reach the whole world. Now let me ask you a question: what great opening has the Lord of the harvest given you? What door has He opened, and opportunity of ministry has He given to you? Well, I can think of one immediately for all of us in general. We are a bit like the church at Philadelphia, because the world is coming to our doorstep. Now whatever you think of immigration in a political sense, it matters little to me: I'm looking at it from an evangelistic perspective, and evangelistically it is a masterfully wide-open door - but the church, it has to be said, at least some churches, are doing very little about it.
The Lord is opening doors. We need also, don't we, to recognize the doors that have already been opened by the Lord, and give praise and glory to Him for it. I'm only speaking personally, but one that the Lord opened to me - and I never pushed it open - is the open door of the Internet. Almost every day there is something coming my way of encouragement, even today I received an e-mail from a doctor of chemistry and biology in Brigham Young University in the United States, the Mormon University. Now wait for it: he has listened to our series that we did on Monday nights here on the epistles of John, three times right through. He has listened to the series on Ephesians that I did several years ago, twice. He has almost listened to the whole series in 1 Corinthians, and he's right up to date in our Sunday mornings on Mark's Gospel. You can't tell me that that's not an open door of the Lord. Who else could do something like that? We had a breakfast several weeks ago in La Mon House Hotel, and I can't remember the last time we had 25 unsaved men at a gospel meeting, but there were 25 men turned up for breakfast and they got a gospel meeting! That was their dessert, they got the gospel preached to them! Now that's an open door, and we've got to walk through these open doors these days - but think about planes, and all sorts of aspects of technology that the apostles didn't have. Think of the learning that is available, whether it is learning languages, and all these things are open doors for us to spread the gospel - and yet, arguably speaking, we're slower than those in the primitive church were to do it! It's an indictment to us all.
Here's another question: are we praying for the Lord to open more doors? Now that's different, by the way, than praying that people will wander into our gospel meetings - that's not what this church is being told. They were the church of brotherly love, and we need that for others outside to say: 'Look how they love one another' - but if they loved one another, it is implied that they loved the Lord; and if they loved the Lord, they loved the lost. Because they were already engaged in work for the Master - please note that - 'I know thy works', that's why He opened a door for them, and He'll give you more openings when you walk through the openings that are already there. Remember Sardis last week, the dead church? Warren Weirsbe says: 'The church that doesn't reach out will pass out'. Many churches are turning in on themselves, becoming parochial - 'Us four and no more, and the world can go to hell', let's not be like that.
Verse 8b, another commendation: 'You have a little strength, you have kept my word, and not denied my name'. That could be translated 'a little power'. Now please note this: they had a little strength, a little power, but they had enough to be obedient to the Lord, and they had enough not to deny His name. Now what does that say about the strength we must have? If they had little strength, whatever little they had it was real. Like Christ, as He is revealed to them, it wasn't an imitation, it was the real thing. Now I suspect, and you may disagree, that they were not only little in strength but they were little in number. Yet Christ commends them! This is the most commendable letter in all seven. Where did we ever get this idea that bigger is better? Do you know where we got it? The world. I'm not saying that God shouldn't add to your numbers when you're faithful, He may well do - but what I am saying is: little is much when God is in it. God was in this church in Philadelphia, and I think generally speaking that more often God is in the little things than the large things, so that no flesh should glory in His sight. For when we are weak, He is strong!
Some people get perturbed when folk resign from meetings, and when the numbers reduce they start to panic - but I don't get discouraged, in measure at least, because a reduction in numbers does not equate to a reduction in power. No, no. In fact, Jeremiah 45 tells us: 'Do you wish great things for yourself? Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not'. The Lord Jesus didn't choose 12,000 disciples, He chose 12. Assemblies, Christians need to follow the Lord, we all need to get low again:
'Wouldst thou be great, then lowly serve;
Wouldst thou go up, go down;
But go as low as e'er you will,
The Highest, has gone lower still!'.
The Highest of all has come as low as any could. Now, Philadelphia teaches us, surely, that we - no matter what size we are, no matter how many people leave our ranks and ostracise us - we, like Philadelphia, are to hold the truth, whether we get the crowds or not. Most of all, we ought to practise it whatever the consequences! The flesh wants the limelight and the accolades of worldly success, but how many of us like Philadelphia can say:
'Give me to serve in humble sphere,
I ask not aught beside;
Content to fill a little place
If God be glorified'.
You see, the lesson of Philadelphia is: as a church or as a Christian, you can be too big for God to use, but you can never be too small. It's a hard lesson to learn. In verse 9 we have another commendation, the Lord tells them: 'I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee'. Now we saw this 'synagogue of Satan' in chapter 2 and verse 9, incidentally they opposed Smyrna and persecuted them. Now they were probably Jews outwardly - Romans 2 speaks of Jews that were outwardly Jews, but not inwardly Jews, they hadn't the circumcision of the heart by faith, they weren't saved. They may have been the Judiazers that were trying to impose upon Gentiles Jewish rites and rituals. Either way we know this: the Jews were persecuting the early Christians, and the synagogue doors were shut to believers - but the Lord is saying: 'Don't you worry about those shut doors, I'm opening doors for you and no one will shut them'. Hallelujah for that.
This is a strange phrase, the Lord tells them: 'I'm going to bring these Jews, that are not, to worship before your feet'. Well, it seems initially to be a bit odd, but when we look into the Old Testament we find it was an old idea. In Isaiah 45 we read about it, Isaiah 49 verse 60, and it there relates to Israel, and speaks of the nations of the world coming to worship at the feet of Israel in the kingdom. So the idea here, I think, may well be that some of these Jews of the synagogue were going to get converted, and come down the road to the little church of Philadelphia and fall at the feet of Christ, and acknowledge in the presence of the Christians that God was among them. The synagogue used to be called 'the synagogue of Jehovah', but now Jehovah has left it and gone to the assembly of God's people. Were these converted Jews going to say: 'Of a truth, God is among you'? A triumph of the gospel amongst its greatest opponents - have we got faith to pray like that? Are there open doors like that for us? When God saves 'big sinners'? Sure, the biggest opponent of the gospel of all was immersed and embraced by the grace of God, Saul of Tarsus, Paul the apostle.
Then in verse 10 another commendation: 'You have kept my word of patience', what does that mean? Well, I believe this is indicating that these believers were effectively taking the position of Christ that He has now in relation to this world. What does that mean? Well, the kingdom of God does not exist today in power, it is in tribulation, it is in men's hearts. Our Lord is now rejected, and by the world disowned - and so this is a time of patient waiting, a time of working, a time of waiting, a time of watching until our Lord does come in power. The hour is drawing nigh, the crowning day is coming by and by, and the kingdom will come in power, and He will take control. Now that's not now, that's why these believers had to be patient. Christ is waiting for the moment when He will return, we must await it too.
Now here's an application of that: you can't make the world Christian. We've been talking about open doors to evangelism, and that's important - but never you think that you can change the world and Christianise it, it's impossible! This world is a wicked system, and now the church, which literally means 'the ecclesia', it's a company of called out ones, called out from the world. Their commission is to save others out of this world, and one day judgement is coming upon this world - and just before it, Philadelphia is told, Christ will call His own out of this world. He says, look at it, verse 10: 'I will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world'. That temptation is the Great Tribulation spoken of in the Old Testament as 'Jacob's trouble', the time that has never been, or will be repeated. It's depicted for us in Revelation chapter 6 right through to chapter 19 - incidentally, the church isn't mentioned in all of that part of the book of the Revelation. The Lord says to this faithful church: 'I will keep thee from the hour', it literally means not 'I'm going to keep you through it', but 'I'm going to take you out of it, and I'm going to try those who dwell upon the earth', the earth dwellers. This isn't for the church, this is for unbelieving Jews and for unbelieving Gentiles.
This is the doctrine of the rapture. We haven't got time to go into it, but it's not for those who dwell upon the earth - they won't be raptured. Those who dwell upon the earth, and the word for 'dwell' is not the word just 'to dwell', it means 'to settle down', these are people who do not have the pilgrim nature of the church. You know what that is, don't you? Philippians talks about our lifestyle, our conversation being in heaven, from whence we also look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus. Peter said: 'Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul'. Christians are to be pilgrims, they are not to put their tent pegs in deep, they're to be ready to go up, and to go out with the Lord! We've lost this pilgrim nature, many believers look more like earth dwellers. We are to be pilgrims, why? Verse 11, Christ is coming quickly, and that speaks of the imminence of Christ's return, in the sense of the return for His people to the air, to take them to be with Him - it's imminent. 'Behold, I come quickly', therefore you've got to be ready. We're not waiting for seven years tribulation to come before it, it could happen at any moment! Therefore, because it could happen this very night, hold fast. In the meantime, hold fast, and let no man take thy crown.
There's the counsel - they needed it, and we need it. Now please, just slow down for a moment and grasp this: this is a church that Christ couldn't condemn, He couldn't say a word about it now - but she was in danger of losing her crown then. That's serious stuff, isn't it? Not a harsh word to them, and yet they had to be warned, they had to be counselled: 'Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown'. That's the same for the Christian: it doesn't matter how you start, it doesn't matter how you've gone on if it ends in a shambles, in an apathetic stupor. If we miss our open doors, Philadelphia, Christ says if we miss opportunities, Philadelphia, we might well miss our reward - and then we will be ashamed before Him when He comes. Now come on: if He came tonight, how would you feel? What are you in? What are you doing? Where are you spiritually? Are you living like an earth dweller, or are you a pilgrim ready for the Bridegroom call? Listen to the words of Charles Luther's hymn:
'Must I go, and empty handed,
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him,
Lay no trophy at His feet?
Not at death I shrink or falter,
For my Saviour saves me now;
But to meet Him empty handed,
Thought of that now clouds my brow.
O the years in sinning wasted,
Could I but recall them now,
I would give them to my Saviour,
To His will I'd gladly bow.
O ye saints, arouse, be earnest,
Up and work while yet 'tis day;
Ere the night of death o'er take thee,
Strive for souls while still you may.
Must I go, and empty handed?
Must I meet my Saviour so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him,
Must I empty handed go?'
To the faithful in verse 12, there is given a commitment. The overcomer will be a pillar in the inner sanctuary of God. Now that must have been meaningful for these people who lived experiencing many earthquakes. They would have no need to go out of this heavenly city in the way they had to flee Philadelphia many times because of the earthquakes. This heavenly city would be something that no persecution, or no earthquake could destroy. The thought here is to this weak but faithful people in that day: you'll be like a pillar in the sanctuary of God, strong, honourable, permanent, unmovable. Those who have been faithful in the day of Christ's rejection will realise the glory in the day of His enthronement.
That glory is seen in these three names that Christ writes. You see Christ as a writer here: first He writes the name of God upon the overcomer. Now that's in contrast, I think, to the mark of the beast that's coming later. The earth dwellers will be identified as a possession of the mark of the beast, they will belong to him, he will give them their rights. Here we have the name of God being written upon these possessions of the Almighty, and then secondly there is the name of the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven from God. If the name of God tells people who they are, the name of the New Jerusalem tells where they belong. Then there is the new name of the Lord Jesus - do you know what that is? You don't, because no one knows - but do you know what that tells me? In eternity we are constantly going to be given fresh revelations of Christ from Christ. Sure, when He was on the earth, John the apostle said - the same John - 'There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen'. That's when He was on the earth, what will it be up yonder?
Age to age will tell more and more, show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. Oh, we love to sing:
'O that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me'.
Now it will if you're saved - you'll see Him - but the challenge for overcomers tonight is that the amount of glory, I believe, that we'll enjoy up there is related to the amount of faithfulness we have shown down here. It is a trade-off: glory down here, or glory up there; life down here, or life up there - the choice is yours.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "Philadelphia, The Faithful Church" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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