Revelation 3.7-13 – Philadelphia

7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.

10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Philadelphia was the youngest city of the seven written to here in the early chapters of Revelation, and was originally founded as a missionary city to spread Greek language and culture. It was a prosperous city, by all accounts occupying a lucrative spot on a highway that connected east and west; the east with the west. Similar to Corinth, then, in the fact that it occupied a prime spot for trading of goods, ideas, cultures, and all else that is traded when people mix.

Jesus is described here as holy and true, and as having the key of David (Isaiah 22.20-23). Simply, then, Jesus controls our access to the Kingdom. As David did for Israel when ruling, so Jesus does for the Kingdom of God, there is no other way to get to God the Father, in the right way, than through His chosen Emissary, His Son, His likeness in a human body, Jesus Christ (John 14.6).

The church in Philadelphia were presented with a golden opportunity to evangelise (Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.). They were given the opportunity to spread the good news of Jesus to those around them who may not have heard it before, to reach those who are wandering, to influence the melting-pot culture they lived in.

Wow, what an opportunity! If only we could live somewhere so diverse and culturally rich and varied…(most people do now, don’t they…)

They receive a commendation and are not reprimanded for any actions, the only church written to in this way. As simply as possible, they were fully reliant on Him, faithful to Him, and drew on Jesus’ strength not their own.

The major blessing we see in this chapter is their removal from the coming tribulation, the hour of trial, also known as the Great Tribulation. Written in the past tense, they kept the Word of God, persevered, and as such are kept from the coming trial, which will try those who dwell on the earth. We know this is talking about those who are not believers, not saved, not following Jesus (Revelation 17.8 makes this clear). This is a particularly key verse in the pretribulational view of the rapture, basically that Jesus will come and retrieve the church from the earth before things really heat up, so to speak.

The church in Philadelphia received a promise from Him who is true and holy that they would not be subject to the coming tribulation. We then, by extension, (He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.), have the opportunity to be saved from the coming trials detailed in this book if we will do what the church in Philadelphia did;

  • Hold fast to the teachings of Jesus set forth in His Word to us – found in the Bible.
  • Stay on His works, Word, name, will, and way.
  • Above all else, be faithful to Him, keep our hearts focused on Him
    • (Proverbs 4.23 says ‘Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life’).

 

Revelation 3.1-6 – Two books

Today the church in Sardis comes under the microscope. Perched on a 1000 ft cliff, this community was wealthy and thought themselves invincible, but were eventually conquered by Cyrus, and again 300 years later. There is a strong parallel to Edom in the prophecy of Obadiah; living among natural fortifications (cliff/canyon) and feeling prideful and, basically, untouchable (Obadiah 3-4).

The church at Sardis had the reputation of being alive, but were actually dead…quite a condemning judgement. They were prideful about where they lived and no doubt prideful in their reputation (that is just my personal opinion, but, generally, prideful people are prideful people, it’s not situation specific for most).

They are encouraged to go back to what they received and heard, namely, the Word of God. The swift unannounced coming of our Lord is when He raptures the church (more on that tomorrow), and, unless the church at Sardis wakes up and repents, they will not be a part of that glorious event, then will not be found worthy of our Lord (Genesis 5.24).

The church at Sardis – and us, the wider Christian community – are told that, simply, unless you repent of your pride, unless you turn your heart to the Lord God, unless you remember and put into action what you have been taught from the Word of God, then our names will not be found in the book of life.

In the Bible, then, two books are mentioned at the start of the two testaments, or covenants; the book of Adam in Genesis 5.1, and the book of Jesus in Matthew 1.1. In ancient culture, to blot someone’s name out of the city register was a permanent irreversible thing, it happened when people were certifiably, certifiably, unequivocally deceased.

As we progress through Revelation devotionally, we will see that there are strategic points on the way to eternity from which they are no turning back. So, when Jesus says He will never blot out our names, that He will confess our names before His Father, and that we will be found worthy, these are things of permanence, eternal significance, and from which they are no turning back.

Thought for today –

Do you want your name to be found in the book of Adam, going the way of the world?

Or do you want your name to be found in the book of Jesus, going the way of eternity?

Revelation 2.18-29 – Jezebels

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star.

29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

 

The church at Thyatira was in the smallest and in the least important city of the seven written to in this section of Revelation. It was a city of business and trade (Acts 16.14-15), and there is no documented persecution of the Christians there.

Again, as with the other churches, they are doing some things well. We read, ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.’ So, the church in Thyatira were loving, faithful, serving, and had patient endurance. Perhaps the best commendation is the last; that their latter works exceeded their first, so, basically, they were progressing down the discipleship path that we are all on.

Isn’t that the goal for us all? Don’t we all want a deeper, closer, more fruitful relationship with the Lord?

But, nevertheless, they had some things they needed to repent of and turn away from (the two go hand in hand really, don’t they). Jesus sees with a Divine clarity, so He knows their good works, but also perceives what is wrong without a shadow of a doubt, remember He has eyes like a flame of fire. Their problem was tolerating sexual immorality amongst themselves and engaging in idolatrous practices. This centres around a woman called Jezebel (1 Kings 16-21, 2 Kings 9.30-37). This may not have been her real name, but the title implies a self-styled prophetess and comes with a negative connotation, for sure. Just think if someone called you a Judas, or a Hitler…not a good title to have.

Thyatira was full of trade guilds, and, likely what happened was that this woman, Jezebel, lured believers to the social gatherings of the guilds whereat they fell into idolatrous practices and/or sexual immorality. Feeling compelled to attend to further their work lives, they fell.

The church suffered because they tolerated this corruption from within, Jezebel flat rejected God and His perfect ways (I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality), and what a warning this is to us! Maybe there were just one or two in the church that practiced this, but, as we know, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Given a glass of water with 99% water and 1% poison, we simply would not drink it, would we?

The Christians in Thyatira are told to

‘…hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star.’

This is so applicable to us too, isn’t it, if we hold fast to the teachings of Jesus, resist the lure of ‘worldly wisdom’ (what some call the deep things of Satan), then we will have our share in the coming Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. We read we will share in His authority to judge and rule (Psalm 2) and we will receive the best gift of all, the best gift ever, Jesus Himself (And I will give him the morning star. – Revelation 22.16)

Revelation is not some mystical, future-ish, science fiction, far off prophetical utterance for a special few at a special time…it is truly for all of us.

Here, it is for those who are like Jezebel, leading others to sin.

It is for those who are following the teachings of a Jezebel.

It is for those who permit a Jezebel to influence them or those around them.

It also applies to the faithful in Christ as an exhortation to hold fast to the pure Spiritual nutrition of the Word of God.

 

Revelation 2.12-17 – Heaven bound

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith[a] even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Today the angel of the church in Pergamum is addressed. Pergamum was the political capital of Asia Minor, so another important city. It was a city noted for culture, as an educational centre (it had a library containing over 200,000 volumes), and was also noted as a ‘religious’ city. We read also that it is a stronghold of satanic power.

As to why it was such a stronghold, some believe because Pergamum was full or pagan religion, especially of “Asclepios Soter” or “Asclepios Savior.”, a pagan god depicted by a snake, a pagan god of healing. Sufferers would flock to this temple from all over the Roman empire and spend the night in the dark temple, being run over by tame snakes. To touch the snake, they believed, was to touch the god himself, and be healed…

Others believe it was because Pergamum had a huge altar dedicated to the Roman god Zeus, and yet others believe it was because Pergamum was the political centre of Caesar worship.

Clearly, a mixed up place.

This church are holding fast to the name of Jesus in a place filled with unbelievers, where the way of life totally revolved around worship of other gods, where people were known to be religious but were not in relationship with the One true God.

But, as there is no such thing as a perfect church, there are also behaviours and actions that they are told must stop, must be repented of.

Some in the church were still holding on to former ways of immorality and idolatry, as we read, they were holding the teaching of Balaam, see Numbers 22-24, and 31.

To live up to Biblical principles of morality means going against the grain, especially in Pergamum 2000 years ago. Listen to what Roman statesmen Cicero said,

“If there is anyone who thinks that young men should not be allowed the love of many women, he is extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle he stands on. But he contradicts, not only with the freedom our age allows, but also with the customs and allowances of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that what is now allowed was not allowed?”

As believers we are called to stand against such ‘freedoms of the age’, and live with the timeless truth of the Word of God in mind, the timeless principles embodied by the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must never have a spirit of accommodation towards false teaching, towards idolatry, or towards immorality…the church must be doctrinally pure, and God promises us true manna from heaven if we are (John 6.41).

He also promises that if we see this through to the end, we are heaven bound, as evidenced by the white stone. Here the name on the stone is far more important than the stone itself.

Think, if you won the lottery and were told, ‘Do you want a cheque, a bank transfer, or an enormous bag of cash?’, you wouldn’t care how it got there, you’d just care it got there, you see?

So on the stone is our heavenly name, our guaranteed reservation to dwell with God forever…if we hold fast to His timeless truths despite living in a world that seeks to water them down, push them aside, or out and out crucify them.

 

Revelation 2.8-11 – To the church in Smyrna

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

 

Smyrna was a big, beautiful, proud city at the time of writing, commercially rich and vibrant.

“Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship”,

writes David Guzik.

The Christians here lost jobs, money, possessions, and sometimes life for simply being Christian; for professing the faith that we also profess to have. At times like that, when we are suffering simply for being a Christian, its easy to feel like we have been forgotten by God, that there is no rhyme or reason to it all.

But, just as the suffering of Christ on the cross achieved so much, so can our earthly suffering produce fruit too. We may never see it, but we need to, we have to, we must believe in the good and perfect will of Almighty God.

Its easy to feel forgotten, but, Jesus says, “I know your tribulation…”, He knows our problems, He knows our poverty, He knows the slander of those who claim to be living a Christian life which tarnishes the rest of us with the same brush…He knows.

Churches in the day and age when Revelation was written had a plurality of male elders, and then one pastor; one installed to lead the leaders and to teach. In the church in Smyrna, it was a man named Polycarp (a personal hero of the faith of mine).

He refused to burn incense and renounce the ‘atheist’ Christians, and in a culture where emperor worship was the ‘norm’, Polycarp stood up for what he believed.

Rome thought that by denying the pantheon of Roman gods you were atheist…how wrong they were…

So Polycarp refused to worship Caesar as a god, and, long story short, was martyred for his faith. The governor of the time asked Polycarp to deny Christ and promised that if he did, his life will be spared. But the faithful saint answered the now famous line,

“Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and saviour?”

So, when we are persecuted, pushed, prodded, poked, or just made to feel bad for being a Christian, when we feel like God has forgotten us, we can remember the words of Polycarp, ‘…he has never done me injury…’.

God has not forgotten you, God will never forget you, and, as Jesus says here,

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.