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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

April 30, 2014

Revelations 3:7:13

  1. Background. The city Philadelphia was founded about 150 B.C. Philadelphia was situated in Lydia along the Hermus River valley about 38 miles southeast of Sardis. It was backed by volcanic cliffs and though the land was rich and fertile from the volcanic residue, Philadelphia was a dangerous place to live due to the many earthquakes experienced by the region. Because of its location, the city was in constant danger of earthquakes and experienced shocks occurring almost every day. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 A. D., along with Sardis and other cities in that locality. Most of the others recovered rather quickly from the disaster, but the after-shocks continued in Philadelphia for quite a number of years, with the result that the people had to flee the city repeatedly. Philadelphia was founded with the deliberated intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and the Greek language to Lydia and Phrygia; and so well did it do its work that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own Lydian language and were all but Greeks. Three centuries before this letter Philadelphia had been given an open door to spread Greek ideas in the lands beyond; and now there has come to it another great missionary opportunity, an open door to carry to men who never knew it the message of the love of Jesus Christ.

  2. Verse 7. In our study over the last few weeks it is encouraging to know that the Lord is always ready to give us a word that fits our situation. When we are going astray he has a word that calls us back to his way. When we are doing well, He has a word that encourages us to keep on serving faithfully. When we are in sin, He has a word that calls us to repentance. God always has a word for us because he loves us. This letter is written again to the messenger of the church with the intention that the messenger shares the word. The messengers of the churches are not to just get a word, but they are to share the word that they have received. A true messenger does not share their word, but the word that they have received. Of course the author of the letter is Jesus. Jesus starts this letter by describing himself in three ways. He is the Holy One, the True One, and the One who holds the keys of David who can open doors that no one can shut and shut doors no one can open. Each one of these descriptions speaks to the church’s condition and the Savior’s power to help the church. The Holy One is a common Old Testament title for God (Isaiah 40:25; 43:15). Jesus is reminding the church that he is the Sovereign God who has all power. This is good news to a church with little power. The church with little power is serving the God of all power. He is also true in the sense that he is faithful and trustworthy. God can always be counted on to keep his promises (Titus 1:2). The church that is weak needs something to stand on that is stable. True is often used as a term that denotes stability. For a church that was used to being on shaky ground, a stable God was great comfort. John wrote that Christ is the One “who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (verse 7). Christ had set an open door before the church that “no one can shut.” What was this key that unlocked a door that could not be shut? The answer lies in analyzing the key and door metaphor, which is found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. He referred to an individual of his time named Shebna who had charge of the palace of the Judean king. Today, we might call him the chief of staff. The prophet Isaiah said the Lord would replace Shebna with a man named Eliakim. The Lord would “place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Isaiah 22:22). Thus, Eliakim would be a kind of gatekeeper with power to control entry into the royal kingdom. As the king’s steward, he would decide who could or could not have access to the king. This story in Isaiah serves as a prophecy of the Davidic Messiah. “The imagery suggests that Christ is the only one who can grant access to God,” writes Norman Perrin. Christ “has given the Christians at Philadelphia access to God and no one can deprive them of it.”

  3. Verse 8. Jesus states that he knows their deeds. Notice that he knows their deeds and finds no fault in their works. Jesus would usually correct a church at this point in the letter, but this church receives only praise. Jesus knows their deeds and he has made it possible for nothing to stop them from continuing in doing the Lord’s work. Jesus states that he knows that they have little strength but the good news is that they don’t have to rely on their strength. Isn’t that wonderful that the doors we need to be opened in our lives are not opened by us but by God? And since they are not opened by us these doors are not closed by us either. Jesus is encouraging this church to keep on trusting the Holy God who has never left their side. They have been faithful, and Christ wants them to know that God is going to be even more faithful to them. They had kept his word. “Kept” is the Greek threw, “to watch over, guard, keep, preserve” and “give heed to, pay attention to, observe” especially of the Law, or the Word, or teaching, etc. Undoubtedly, both ideas are involved. They were committed to Christ’s Word or the Word about the Savior to preserve it from false teachings, but they were also committed to observing its truth in their lives. These Jewish Christians often endured exceptional pressure and stress. They were called apostate Jews by their own relatives. Non-Christian Jews accused Christians of being usurpers. They insisted that Jews and not Christians had the open door to God’s presence and the keys to the kingdom. The early believers were always told that they did not have access to God or his love. Jesus wants to encourage this church that they have access to God that no one could take away.

  4. Verse 9. The Jews of Philadelphia who were persecuting and intimidating the Christians are called a “synagogue of Satan” (3:9), as they were identified in the letter to the church in Smyrna (2:9). They will experience a reversal of fortune – be forced to acknowledge that the church constitutes the true people of God (3:9).The background for verse 9 is also to be found in the Old Testament, but with an unexpected twist. Isaiah had pictured the victory of Israel over its enemies (60:14). In one place Isaiah said gentile nations would pay homage to Israel at the start of the kingdom. “They will bow down before you and plead with you, saying, ‘Surely God is with you…’” (Isaiah 45:14). The imagery of Isaiah bears a striking similarity to Revelation 3:9. But a stunning reversal of fortune has occurred. What the Jews hoped to gain from the gentiles, they themselves must render to the Christians. The Jews in Philadelphia must play the part of the heathen and concede that the church contain the people of God.

  5. Verse 10. Christ refers to a time in the future when the whole world would be tried and tested. The good news is that those who are believers would not have to worry during this time of testing because they were true to God’s word by believing in Christ and keeping his word.

  6. Verses 11-12. Jesus assures the church that he is coming soon. They are to be encouraged that he is coming to right the wrongs and redeem his people. Philadelphia was also told not to let any person take its crown which refers to the wreath of victory awarded to winners of athletic contests. This would have been a meaningful word to the church in Philadelphia, as the city was famous for its athletic games. Christ promised the faithful in Philadelphia that he would make them pillars in God’s temple (3:12). And, they would never again leave his presence. This is another symbol of assurance that the members would gain eternal admission into the kingdom of God. Christ also promised to write three names on the believer – the name of God, the name of the New Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name (3:12). Ancient pillars had the names of people they honored inscribed on them. The metaphor means to say that God will honor and bless his people. But in what way? First, the believer will have God’s name. In the Old Testament, the Lord told the priests to pronounce specific blessings on Israel, which concluded with this thought: “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). Second, to be named with the city of God – the New Jerusalem – is a symbolic way of saying that the believer has citizenship in God’s spiritual commonwealth (Galatians 4:26;Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 12:22). Third, the believer is to have Christ’s own new name. Perhaps this refers to a future full of revelation of Christ himself, which cannot be grasped until the believer is glorified (1 John 3:2).

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