WEEKLY SERMON BLOG
“Comfort for the Afflicted” --- Revelation 3:7-13
The Book of Revelation (not “Revelations”) is a disclosing of the majesty of the glorified Christ. The view we have of Christ from the Gospels portrays Christ in His incarnation. But during the incarnation, much of who and what Christ is was veiled from sight (which was necessary for a number of reasons in order for Him to fulfill His redemptive work). This Book of the New Testament reveals in different ways the things about Jesus that were hidden during His earthly ministry.
Within this revelation are the letters to the seven churches. In each letter Christ reveals different aspects about Himself; but also, He reveals His will for the people of God by praising what each fellowship was doing right, and rebuking what they did wrong.
In this particular letter, Christ expresses that He is aware of the hardships and difficulties that His people are facing. He praises them for their faithfulness and reassures them that He will vindicate them in the end in order to give them the encouragement to continue on in obedience and trust despite the trials they must face.
I. The Greeting: (7)
This letter begins with the same basic address that we find in the other six letters; “and to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write”. This instruction is given to John the Apostle who was the human author and recorder of the visions given to him by the risen Christ. These words immediately present us with an interpretive problem; what is the identity of the “angel” of this church? There are really only two options in regard to what Christ meant when He referred to an “angel” of this church. Either it refers to a literal angelic being (as the title normally does), or it refers to a human. The argument in favor of angels is that the Greek term “angelos” is only used in the Book of Revelation to refer to angels, and is the meaning of the vast majority of the times the word is used throughout the New Testament. Though this would therefore be the easier conclusion to adopt, there are problems with doing so. First, the Greek word literally means “messenger”, and in fact that was its primary meaning outside of the Bible; the majority of the times the word is used in secular Greek it referred to human messengers. Second, this Greek word (both in singular and plural forms) is used to refer to human messengers a number of times in the NT (Matt.11:10; Lk.7:24; 9:52; Jas.2:25). This reference to angels has no parallel to any other part of the Bible in which angelic beings are involved. Some do suggest that this refers to angels over nations (a debatable idea that some suggest is taught in Scripture); however, these churches are not from seven different nations but seven different cities, and there is no hint in the Bible that each city has a patron angel. The chain of communication is also radically different than in other places where angels are involved in distributing revelation. Elsewhere angels receive revelation directly from God and then give that to human beings (Lk.1:13, 35; Acts 7:53; Gal.3:19); but here Christ gives revelation to John, who in turn is to write down the seven letters of revelation for the angels (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). It is far more in harmony with the rest of the NT to understand that Christ was instructing John (who was in exile at the time) to write these seven letters and have human messengers (either an elder or a member of the congregation) take them to the seven churches. The symbol of a star (1:12-13, 20) was simply chosen as a metaphor for bringing forth light; and this would be true of those who would make sure that the churches received the revelation that Christ had for them.
In each letter, Christ refers to Himself, using descriptive phrases that are meant to clarify certain aspects of His character and nature that related to the specific revelation He was giving to each church. In the case of the church at Philadelphia, Christ said of Himself, “these things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David”. Jesus more literally says that “the holy one and the true one”. The title “Holy One” is a common title in the OT that is most frequently applied to Yahweh (II Kings 19:22; Ps.78:41; Prov.9:10; Isa.40:25; Ezek.39:7). Given the definite article that accompanies the participial title, the original readers would almost certainly have taken this as Jesus equating Himself with the God of the OT. The title “the true one” suggests that Jesus is genuinely what He claims to be in contrast to others that are not. Why Jesus employed these two titles becomes clearer as we go further into the letter to this church.
The third and final title is “He who has the key of David”. This is an allusion to a portion of Isaiah’s prophecy:
In the original context, God, speaking through Isaiah, was rebuking a wicked steward who served king Hezekiah. This steward had the key to the palace and thus possessed the responsibility of either granting or barring access to the king. However, instead of focusing on serving the king, this steward spent his time focusing on his own enrichment and thus God replaced him with a man who would be more faithful in this position. Jesus was not quoting this passage as if to suggest that somehow this incident was a prophecy of Christ’s role. Instead this is an allusion to the OT passage to give a sense to what Jesus was saying about Himself. He was saying that He had similar role to that of this ancient steward. He had the key to the palace. Since it is the house of David, and in light of the Davidic covenant (see II Samuel chapter 7); the key that Jesus has either opens or locks the gate to the promised kingdom of God. Concerning His possession of the key, Jesus went on to echo the Isaiah passage in regard to the power this key gave Him. It gave Him the power to be the one “who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”. In other words, Jesus and only Jesus has the power to either grant access to the Kingdom of God, or to shut the way so to keep out those who do not belong.
The reason for Jesus speaking of Himself in this third way will, like the other two, become relevant to what He says later in this letter to the church in Philadelphia.
II. The Commendation: (8)
Christ’s praise of the believers in Philadelphia begins with the statement, “I know your works”. This short phrase carries with it a very encouraging thought; our Lord is fully aware of everything we do. We may at times wonder if our choice to do the right things in our daily lives ever gets noticed unless it accomplishes something that everyone regards as significant. But we may be tempted to think that the day to day ordinary expressions of obedience and faithfulness may not be noticed by the Lord. This statement demonstrates that He is aware of every positive thing we do, and not just our sins and shortcomings.
In light of what Christ knew about their works, He goes on to say, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it”. The one who has the key to the Kingdom declares that He has opened the gate to the Kingdom to these believers, and no one else has the power or authority to shut them out.
Then Christ goes on to explain why He has opened up access to the Kingdom of God to these believers; it is because “you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name”. In saying that the church had “little strength”, Jesus was not meaning it as a criticism or citing it as a short-coming. He was simply observing what was true about them. The church was apparently small and had little influence on the larger community. In this way it was a lot like many churches in the modern world. The point was not so much how much strength they had; it was what they did with their strength. Jesus observed that the believers of this church had “kept His word” and had “not denied His name”. To “keep” the word of Christ means to be obedient to what it teaches (Gal.5:3; 6:13; Jas.2:10; I John 2:3-4; 5:2-3; Rev.22:9). The Greek word translated as “denied” means to disavow or reject someone or something. Therefore; Jesus was saying that the believers of this church had shown loyalty and fidelity to Him.
The grammar of this clause implies that the obedience and fidelity that these believers showed related to a recent event in their past; some difficult trial in which others attempted to pressure them to disobey God in some way, and deny Him by making some choice contrary to their commitment to Him. But these believers had chosen to be obedient and faithful in the face of opposition, and because of their genuine faith in Christ, they had demonstrated that they were His people and thus belonged within the Kingdom of God.
III. The Vindication: (9-10)
At this point in the letter Jesus identifies those who were persecuting these faithful believers. Jesus refers to them as “the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie” (vs.9b). This description indicates that the persecutors are Jews who have rejected the Gospel of Christ. They are called a “synagogue of Satan” because of their choice to set themselves at odds with God’s purposes. The title “Satan” means adversary. Since these Jews were persecuting Christians and attempting to stop the spread of the Gospel they had made themselves God’s adversaries and thus (whether they knew it or not) they were in league with the devil. During His earthly ministry Jesus had said basically the same thing to some Jews who were resisting His ministry:
When Jesus says that the claim to be Jews was false and that they were liars; His point was that to be genuinely Jewish means more than simply being a blood descendant of Jacob’s son Judah. Being Israelite or Jewish is not primarily an ethnic distinction; it is a religious or spiritual distinction. A genuine Jew is one who worships the one true God in obedience to what He has revealed in the Scriptures:
Therefore, Jesus was expressing that ethnic Jews who set themselves against Christ and Christians are not God’s people; it is a false claim. The Jews might have believed that they were truly serving God, but they had chosen to believe a lie rather than the truth because the lie suited their natural bent.
These words of Jesus are very similar to what He said to the church in Smyrna:
Repetition within a letter like this indicates an emphasis. Christ wanted to assure the Jewish Christians that their unbelieving brethren were wrong about their standing before God, were perpetrators of great sin, and were by no means correct in their view of God’s will and purposes.
From these words we get an understanding why Jesus introduced Himself the way He did. He told these Christians that He was “the Holy One” because the Jews that were persecuting them claimed to be doing what they did in the name of Yahweh the Holy One. But since Christ is the God of the OT, then clearly these Jews were completely wrong. Christ told the church He was the “True One”, because the unbelieving Jews were trying to convince the believing Jews that Christ was a false Messiah. Finally, Jesus spoke of having the keys of the Kingdom of God (i.e. the kingdom where a Son of David would rule eternally) because it was He who determined who would and who would not enter the Kingdom of God, and no one else. The backdrop to this would have been how the Christian Jews had doubtlessly been excommunicated from their synagogue as heretics with the suggestion that they would not enter God’s Kingdom. So, Jesus was re-assuring the believing Jews that their excommunication from the synagogue was meaningless in regard to their eternal destiny.
Having pronounced that their persecutors were completely wrong about the truth of God; Jesus went on to speak about the first way in which this congregation of believers would be vindicated before their enemies; Christ revealed that “Indeed I will make…them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (vs.9a, 9c). A number of interpreters suggest that what Jesus is speaking about here is the future salvation of the Jews and how they will be honored. However, though that is a genuine doctrine that is taught elsewhere, that idea does not at all fit in the context. First, because the “worship” is directed to the feet of human beings not God; and second, because this glimpse into the future relates to the vindication of those who already believe in Christ, not to the future salvation of those who do not. Instead, Jesus makes this statement as an encouragement to the believers in the Philadelphian assembly. The pronoun “them” of course refers to the Jews who are described as a synagogue of Satan. Christ promises that these persecuting enemies will be made to worship at the feet of the believers of this faithful church. The Greek word translated as “worship” means to fall down prostrate before someone else. It is therefore at times used for worship because it means to acknowledge someone else as one’s ultimate superior. However, the word can also be used to refer to the complete subordination of a defeated enemy. In the ancient world a defeated enemy would be made to bow face down in the dirt before those who had been victorious over them. This practice was meant to demonstrate that one’s foe acknowledged fully his own defeat. In the future Christ will make the church’s enemies acknowledge that the believer was right all along and their opponents were the ones who were wrong. For these adversaries to know that Christ loved them indicates an acknowledgment that the Christians were truly the object of God’s love and favor, and not these Jews who persecuted the Christians in the name of God.
This declaration of what the future holds has an ironic twist to it. In the Old Testament we read:
This passage was one that was well known among the Jews in the first century, and they looked forward to that day with anxious anticipation. Yahweh promised that the Gentile nations who had harassed Israel would be made to acknowledge that Israel was a nation that belonged to the one true God. She would be vindicated before her enemies. The ironic twist is that many Jews in their willful disobedience to the will and purposes of their God had become His enemies. For those who were disobedient, the future did not hold vindication; it held a time of reckoning and shame.
Christ then gave another reason for why the believers at Philadelphia would be vindicated. Jesus said through John that these believers had “kept My command to persevere” (vs.10a). More literally Christ said, “you kept the word of My patience” (see NASU). The main differences are as follows:
Jesus was commending these believers for following His example of persevering through hardship and resistance that was taught in God’s Word. Because of this ongoing virtue, they were promised a second form of vindication.
That vindication would be, “I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (vs.10b).
There are two different perspectives among evangelicals as to what Jesus is promising here. One view is that Jesus is promising to preserve believers through this period so they come out safely on the other side; the other view is that Jesus is promising to remove believers from the earth so they do not live on the earth during this period of time.
In order to properly interpret this passage, it is best
to begin by clarifying some of the terminology in the verse:
The arguments in favor of the view that Jesus is speaking of preservation within the period are:
The reason why I believe this passage is speaking about deliverance from the time period are:
The point here is that when the time of God’s wrath is unleashed upon the earth, the Lord promises the genuine believer that they will be removed from the earth before it takes place. This should not be understood to mean that believers will never suffer hardship or death. Only that God will not call His faithful ones to enter the time of God’s wrath; because they have been saved from it (I Thess.5:9).
IV. The Admonition: (11)
Jesus now exhorts the believers in Philadelphia to continue on the path of faithfulness; “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” Jesus’ promise to come quickly must be interpreted within the context of the fact that nearly two thousand years have passed since this promise was given. The idea seems to be not that Jesus was saying specifically that it would happen within the first century; but rather that it could happen at any time. In a sense we stand at the edge of the end of history. Since the first century history has advanced, moving parallel to that edge, and at any moment God could cause us to cross over into eternity.
The admonition is to “hold fast to what you have”. The Greek word translated as “hold fast” means to grab something tightly to keep from losing one’s grip on it. This is used metaphorically to refer to persevering in one’s devotion to Christ, to one’s faith in Him, and to one’s commitment to obey His Word.
The reason for doing this is said to be so that no one takes the believer’s crown. But what does the crown represent? Throughout these letters there is the challenge to be victorious and overcome the resistance that this world creates to following Jesus (overcome verses). The Greek word translated as “crown” refers to a laurel leaf crown that was given to the ones who was victorious in the various athletic competitions. The best way to determine what this crown represents is to compare what Jesus says here to what He says to the other churches whom He addresses in this Book. In regard to the “crown” we read:
In what Jesus says here words we see that what is at stake is expressed in a far clearer way; perseverance in the faith results in eternal life. This may seem to contradict what Jesus said earlier to these believers about the fact that He had opened up before them access to the Kingdom of God (where only the saved will dwell). So were they saved or not; are we saved when we believe or only when we have believed for our entire life? The answer is that genuine faith saves immediately. But Jesus was addressing an entire congregation. Some of them were saved, and others not (as is almost always the case). Therefore, Jesus had laid out the promise for the ones who genuinely believed and were saved. For the others Jesus included the reminder that true faith leads to life change. If that life change is not evident, there is a reason to doubt one’s faith. In this way assurance is given to the saved, but no false hope is given to those who have yet to truly trust Christ.
V. The Reward: (12)
In each of the letters Jesus makes a promise to those who overcome (are victorious). In the closing comments to the other churches Jesus promised the following to those who overcome:
All of these promises relate to the rewards of salvation to eternal life in the Kingdom of God. In His words to this church Jesus promised, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” In regard to the reference to being made a pillar in the temple, there is a two-fold sense to this metaphor because while a pillar gives stability to the building which rests upon it, it is itself firmly and permanently fixed in place. Therefore, it conveys that one both belongs in the New Jerusalem and cannot be removed. It is this idea that Jesus elaborates upon by using a double negative to convey that in no way will one ever be dislodged from this eternal home (an idea that would carry a special poignance in light of the fact that a few decades earlier most people lost their homes when a great earthquake struck the city).
Next Jesus says that He will write three names on these believers; the name of His God (the Father), the name of the eternal city (the New Jerusalem), and His new name. To have these names written on them means that they belong to God, to Christ, and are citizens of the New Jerusalem (the idea of a name written on someone conveys ownership-14:1; 22:4). It is emphasizing the security of one’s salvation, and emphasizes that the believer will know that they truly belong in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ new name reflects an image that will be revealed later in the Book
Christ’s new name relates to the theme of the Book; it relates to the things about Jesus that have yet to be revealed about our glorified Savior that only the saints who are glorified and enter the Kingdom will be able understand.
Jesus concludes by saying; “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The conclusion is simple; the believer is called to heed and obey what Christ says through the Spirit of God. Obedience and faithfulness leads to life; unbelief and disobedience lead to ruin. This is a message not only for this church, but for the other seven, and ultimately for all churches throughout the ages.
In the Bonds of Christ,
Pastor Michael Huard