Seven Churches of Revelation

Part 6

6. Philadelphia: Zealous Missionary City

Midway between Sardis and Laodicea, strongly fortified Philadelphia stood on the banks of the Cogamus River, twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis. It was not an ancient city, but was founded in 140 B.C. by Attalus II, who was nicknamed Philadelphos.

Philadelphia was in a very strategic location, on the borders of three countries: Mysia, Lydia and Phyrgia. A "border town," or "gateway, or door, to the East," Philadelphia commanded one of the greatest highways in the world, linking Europe to Asia. Attalus designed Philadelphia for commerce, to be a missionary city, through which Greek language and civilization would be spread to Phyrgia and beyond. However, the Phyrgians stubbornly resisted the spread of the gospel of Hellenism. Later, Philadelphia was an open door of opportunity to spread the gospel of Christ in virgin territory.

 

Spas, Earthquakes, and Wine

Philadelphia lay on the edge of a great volcanic plain called "The Burnt Land." Remarkably fertile, Philadelphia was world famous for its grapes and wine. Rich in mineral hot springs, Philadelphia was and still is a health spa for those who come to its medicinal waters. Philadelphian products were shipped to the whole world, and tourists came for health and healing.

Along with volcanism, Philadelphia was subject to earthquakes. The quake of A.D. 17 leveled Sardis and Philadelphia. Emperor Tiberius extended aid for its reconstruction. In gratitude, Philadelphians renamed the town Neo-Caesarea, but later reverted to the old name (see Revelation 3:12).

Frequent quakes meant Philadelphians lived an unsettled life. With each severe tremor, the populace fled to the open country, to escape falling masonry and stones. When the earth quieted, they returned. To the faithful Philadelphians, Christ says, "he shall go no more out" (3:12), never again to fear death and disturbing occurrences.

Since much of Philadelphiaís prosperity was due to the grape, its principal god was Dionysus, god of wine. Like Athens, Philadelphia had many gods and many temples.

 

Staunch Pillars, "City of God"

An interesting custom of Philadelphia was that when a notable man who had served the state well, died, the city erected a pillar with his name on it, in one of the temples of the city. So Christ will do the same for the faithful of Philadelphia (3:12).

When the Islamic religion swept Asia Minor after the seventh century, for over eighty years, Philadelphia stood as the last bastion of Christianity. It fell, not because of weakness or degeneracy, but because it was betrayed by its fellow Christians of Byzantium, who were jealous of its honor.

To this day, Philadelphia is a nominal "Christian" city in the midst of Moslem Turkey, with a bishop and some 5,000 Greek Orthodox believers. It is a town which has "kept the faith." Today, the Turks attach a certain reverence toward the city, calling it "Allah Shehr," or "the city of God."

 

He That Opens, and No Man Shuts

Revelation 3:7 says "These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, . . . He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth."

The Messiah describes Himself in several ways ó for a purpose!

Christ is the Holy One, Daniel 9:24; Acts 2:27; Hebrews 7:26, perfectly free from sin, One who hates sin as utterly opposed to His very nature. Christ is God (Isaiah 6:3, etc.), and He wants us to be like Him, I Peter 2:21, never to compromise with sin. The Philadelphia Church is to understand this fact: we are to be sinless and be born into the God family, but now, Christ is the only Holy One, the only One who is perfect. We are not yet perfect, but are to become so, I John 1:8, 9; Matthew 5:48, Hebrews 6:1.

Christ is true (Greek alethinos, "real or genuine") as opposed to illusory or spurious. He is not a hypocrite. He is "the real thing." The Philadelphia Church knows the real Jesus, the real gospel. It knows that real repentance and real obedience with the real Spirit will result in the real eternal life of happiness. Christ is the truth, John 14:6, and truth is what a Christian is to be girded about with, Ephesians 6:14. True Philadelphians are genuine Christians, not just in name only. They are filled with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, I Corinthians 5:8. They are not like the hypocritical religious people of the day, for they really do practice what they preach. They continue diligent Bible study, sincerely seeking to grow in Godís Truth, I Peter 2:1-2.

The key is a symbol of authority, such as that over the house of David, Isaiah 22:22. The apostles were invested with authority "to bind and loose" and "to open and shut," Matthew 16:19; John 20:23, that is, make binding decisions. The Philadelphian Church understands proper church government, and especially that Christ is the Head, the ultimate authority. He is the key, the one person who is able to open the door for us into the presence of God. The Church is built upon the foundation of Godís apostles and prophets, and the Philadelphia Church adheres to what the apostles taught. It has the key of prophecy, understanding where the throne of David is today, and where Israel is today, as well as the key to true doctrinal beliefs: obeying what you know to be true, never departing from it, trusting the Almighty to reveal additional truth as He wills through His servants. Man cannot open the door to Godís truth. God opens the door, reveals true doctrine to His servants, Ephesians 3:4-5, and calls those whose minds He opens by and through His apostles and prophets, John 6:44-45; Philippians 4:9.

 

An Open Door

In Revelation 3:8, the Savior says to Philadelphia: "I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it."

To Philadelphia, Christ opened a door to spread the gospel, Acts 14:27; II Corinthians 2:12, opened through prevailing prayer, Colossians 4:2-3. in spite of many adversaries in the way, I Corinthians 16:9. Some of these adversaries come from within the Church, Acts 20:28-30; II Thessalonians 2:3-4.

Not only is He the key, but also Christ is the door, John 10:7-9, the only way to salvation. Just as in the ancient sheepfold, the shepherd stood in the entrance and was literally the door, so likewise Messiah is the only way to salvation, not some man or organization of men.

Ancient Philadelphia had many Jews. When some of the Jews became Christian converts, they had the synagogue door shut in their faces, themselves excommunicated, cursed as apostates, and shut out. Messiah is saying, "Men may shut you out from their fellowship, but the door of fellowship with me can never be closed on you by any man."

The "door" is also the door of prayer. No man can shut our door of prayer with the Eternal. The Philadelphians understand the power of prevailing, persistent, prayer, Colossians 4:2.

 

Little Strength, Yet Mighty Spiritual Power

Revelation 3:8, " . . . for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name."

It should be translated "little strength," rather than "a little strength." Philadelphia is little in the eyes of the world, I Corinthians 1:26-28, a little flock, Luke 12:32, weak in physical power, but strong in spiritual power. Like the little pebble directed by God to smite Goliath, so the work of Philadelphia is done by Godís power. Each Philadelphian, though feeble originally, is like David, and their ministers like God and His angels, Zechariah 12:8; Isaiah 56:4-5.

Philadelphia has passed its test, proved itself faithful, and now they have to hold fast, Revelation 3:11. They have the true name and keep Godís word faithfully. They are obedient and boldly proclaim Godís name, Romans 1:16.

 

Synagogue of Satan

Revelation 3:9, "Behold [carefully consider, keep in mind what I am saying], 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."

Some believe that the Synagogue of Satan is the Jews, who claimed to be Godís people, but denied Christ and persecuted Christians. But more likely it means false Christians, who claim they are true, and persecute true Christians, even casting them out of the church, II John 9, 10; Isaiah 60:14, 49:23, 66:5.

Some apply the "Synagogue of Satan" to Catholicism. Clement, a fellow laborer with Paul, Philippians 4:3, was said by Origen and many others to be bishop of Rome (following Simon), shortly after Paulís death. Thus the followers of the Catholic church came out of the Church of God. Just as Godís church has an angelos, "messenger" or apostle, so Satan has a messenger (angelos) in human form. See II Corinthians 11:14, 12:7.

Indications are that the end-time false prophet will arise out of Godís church. According to the original Greek, II Thessalonians 2:7-8 should be translated: "For the mystery of lawlessness already is working; only he who restrains at present [the apostle Paul] until out of [the] midst he be, and then will be revealed the lawless [one], whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth, and annul by the appearing of His coming."

Like Judas Iscariot, the coming son of perdition will be revealed out of the midst of Godís people. He will with "all deceivableness" work lying miracles so that many, even true Christians, will be deceived, II Thessalonians 2:10-11. The elect, true Christians, will almost be deceived, Matthew 24:24. Would a Catholic Pope deceive many of us today? Hardly!

 

Kept From Great Tribulation

Revelation 3:10: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."

What is the word of Christís patience? It is enduring to the end, Matthew 24:13, controlling the self, not fighting back despite persecution, Luke 21:19; Romans 5:3,4; Hebrews 10:36, 12:1. Philadelphiaís patience is tried, James 1:3, 5:7, 10, 11, especially as a result of those within the Church of God who speak both blessings and cursings (James 3:10, 14), and the struggles and fightings within the Church, James 4:1, the envyings within the Church, verse 2. In addition to the Synagogue of Satan developing within their midst, Philadelphians have to contend with the "rich men" (James 5:1), the Laodiceans who condemn and envy the just (Philadelphians), who do not fight back and resist them (James 5:6). Because of all this, Philadelphians have to be especially patient (James 5:7, 10, 11), having to endure (5:11), and be truly honest and sincere (James 5:12 compared with Revelation 3:7). In the face of persecution, Philadelphians must resist the temptation to retaliate, patiently enduring stedfast to the end.

Just as ancient Philadelphia had natural mineral springs beneficial for healing, so modern Philadelphians know and follow the Great Physicianís instructions in James 5:14-15, trusting God for true healing. They use the door of prayer, verses 16-18, and strive to rescue those in the Church of God who have erred from the truth, verses 19-20.

The "hour of temptation" is the "Great Tribulation," Matthew 24:21-22, "affliction," Mark 13:19, "time of trouble," Daniel 12:1, in which many will fall from the Truth, Daniel 11:32-35; I Corinthians 11:19. There will be trying times of persecution for some, but also a Place of Safety, Luke 21:12, 16-19; Revelation 12:13-17; Zephaniah 2:3; Ezekiel 5:2-4, 9:4-6; Isaiah 26:20-21, 43:20-21.

 

Hold Fast Because He Comes Quickly

Revelation 3:11, "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."

"Come quickly" can mean two things: (1) to instill fear in those who are abusing Christís presence by wasting His goods and ill-treating their fellow servants, Matthew 24:48-51; II Thessalonians 1:7-9; I Peter 4:5; James 5:9; Revelation 2:5, 16; or (2) to comfort those who are facing difficulty in holding their ground in the face of trials, James 5:8, Hebrews 10:36-38.

What are they to "hold fast" is: sound doctrine, the faithful word, that is, the faith which has been taught, I Timothy 1:19; II Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9, 3:14; Philippians 4:9.

"That no man take thy crown" can mean several things: (1) Watch out for yourself, for you are the only one that can take away your promise of eternal life, II Timothy 4:3-4. (2) Watch out for false teachers who may desire you and overthrow your faith, II Timothy 2:18. The Epistle to the Colossians was also written to the Laodiceans (Colossians 2:1, 4:15-16). Its theme is to "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit . . . . Let no man beguile you of your reward . . . lest any man should beguile you with enticing words . . . ." (2:8, 18, 4, see also verses 16 and 22). In order to prevent any man from taking our crown, we must stay "stablished in the faith, as you have been taught," Colossians 2:7, 1:23, and "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints," Jude 3.

The crown is not already possessed, but laid up, promised, to overcomers, II Timothy 4:7-8. We must hold fast, making our election sure, II Peter 1:10.

 

Pillars in the Temple of God

Revelation 3:12: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall no more go out . . . ."

Pillars represent great spiritual leaders, stable and strong supporters of the work of the Almighty, as were James, Peter and John, Galatians 2:9. Pillars are the main supports, towering above the rest of the faithful. Those who qualify to become pillars will "no more go out," that is, they will be fixed in obedience, not able to fall away (see Matthew 24:24). They will be forever in Godís kingdom as great leaders, I Thessalonians 4:17; John 8:35; Isaiah 22:23.

Philadelphia frequently suffered earthquakes, and as a result, its people were noted as unstable and fearful. But those who overcome will become pillars, the symbol of stability and permanence, of unshakeable stability. Jesusí disciples marveled at the colossal marble pillars, the glory of Herodís Temple, Matthew 24:1-2. Two bronze pillars, called Jachin (Establishment) and Boaz (Strength) stood in front of Solomonís Temple, II Chronicles 3:15-17, and remained as a symbol of Israelís strength, until they were broken up by the Chaldeans at the time of the Captivity, Jeremiah 52:17.

Such pillars point to the God of Israel as the supporter and upholder of His Church. We are to be like Him. Philadelphian believers have but little strength, and are the weak of the world, I Corinthians 1:27. But God takes these weaklings and makes them pillars, strong as David, strong like God, Zechariah 12:8. As living stones, they grow up to become pillars in the house of God, I Peter 2:2-5.

 

A New Name

Revelation 3:12, " . . . 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."

Philadelphia has a new name, Allah Shehr, "City of God." We are to receive an everlasting name, Isaiah 56:5, a name written in our foreheads, Revelation 14:1, showing that we belong to God. And we will have the same name as God, showing that we will be His born sons. A new name for Jerusalem will be Yahweh Shammah, or "The Eternal is There," Ezekiel 48:35, or "Yahweh Tsidkenu," or "The Eternal, Our Righteousness," Jeremiah 33:16.

Aaronís mitre had a signet on his forehead with the engraving, "holiness to the Eternal," Exodus 28:36-38. We do not know what the new name may be, Revelation 19:12, but it will signify being a part of the Kingdom of God, and having Godís glory, for all eternity.

 

The Church Which Kept the Faith

Gibbonís Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (c 1 xiv) describes Philadelphia as unique among the seven Churches of Asia. Ephesus in uninhabited, Laodicea is in ruins, Sardis is a miserable village, while the god of Mohammed is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos. Smyrna is populous based on foreign trade. Philadelphia is still erect, and was the last of the cities of the area to succumb to Moslem invaders. After months of severe privation and suffering during a protracted siege, Philadelphia at last surrendered to Bajazet, and some years afterwards it was besieged and stormed by Timour (Tamarlane), the great Mogul Emperor. But in all Philadelphiaís reverses, the conquerors dealt more leniently towards it than to any other city. Seemingly they were influenced by some superstitious feeling respecting its sanctity. This is a foreshadow of Christís promise of protection in the hour of trial. Throughout the entire period of Moslem misrule and oppression of the Asiatic provinces, Philadelphia enjoyed freedom of religious worship and other immunities which were withheld elsewhere. This was the result of a few who "kept the word of Christís patience."

 

Part 7.

Seven Churches Beginning.

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