The Faithful Church
Of the letters sent by Jesus to seven churches, only two received no criticism. The Church of Philadelphia was one of these. The name Philadelphia in the Greek means brotherly love or love of the brethren. The Church of Philadelphia has also been called The Missionary Church. There are many Scriptures about love. Let’s look at two of them, the first with words from Jesus and the second from the Apostle Paul.
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 1 John 13:34-35
But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another 1 Thessalonians 4:9
Philadelphia was the youngest of the seven cities to which the Messiah’s letters were sent. The city was strategically located on the main route of the Imperial Post from Rome to the East. It was called “Little Athens” because of the many pagan temples within the city. Philadelphia was originally intended to be a center for spreading the Greek language, culture and manners throughout the Asian provinces. Beyond Philadelphia lay the wilds of Phrygia and the barbarous tribes. The city became the gateway from one continent to another.
Not only was the city known for being a center of Hellenism, but also for its frequent earthquakes. It sat on a fault and so was prone to many earthquakes. The city was destroyed by a serious quake in 17 BC. The same quake destroyed the city of Sardis and ten other cities. Many people refused to move back and stayed out in the countryside.
Let’s view the entire text of the Messiah’s message to the Church of Philadelphia:
7 And to the angel of the Church of Philadelphia write, “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, ‘He who has the key of David, he who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens. 8 ’I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it, for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, 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. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:7-13
In contrast to the pagan influence of the Greek gods worshipped in Philadelphia, Jesus introduced Himself as Holy and True. Jesus did not just have holy and true tendencies within Him. He WAS Holy and True. It was His very being. The Apostle Paul mentioned the many gods within the Hellenistic world in his first letter to the Corinthian Church:
5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6
The Greek word used here for true means: “true and not fake.” He is the real GOD and He is the real man; Son of God and Son of Man. Only Jesus could make the claim of being the one and only true GOD. The martyrs in Revelation 6 referred to Him with the same words:
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10
Because He is genuinely Holy, He is able to judge sin. Because He is also genuinely True, He is able to righteously vindicate His people. There is no one else who can truly make these claims.
Not only is He holy and true, but He can open doors that no one else can open; He is able to open doors no one can shut; and He will shut doors that no one can open. In the New Testament, doors symbolize opportunities for ministry. He expresses His power and authority, especially to admit and exclude. The Messiah is quoting from a passage in Isaiah:
20 Then it shall be in that day, that I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah; 21 I will clothe him with your robe and strengthen him with your belt; I will commit your responsibility into his hand. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open. 23 I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place, and he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house. Isaiah 22:20-23
Below are a couple passages concerning the doors of ministry God had opened in the days of the early church.
Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27
12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord. 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia. 14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 2 Corinthians 2:12-15
As Head of the Church and Lord of the Harvest, Jesus is the one to decide who will ministers where. So often in today’s world, “ministry” is done when and where people decide for themselves.That is a big mistake. We forget that it is His Church and we are all under His leadership. The examples of this are scattered throughout the New Testament. He gives the opportunities for ministry and provides the guidance and power from on high to fulfill His calling.
Historically, the city of Philadelphia was meant to be a “missionary” city representing Greek culture and language. Now, Philadelphia was being offered a much greater task—the task of spreading the culture of His kingdom through the whole region. Would this church take the challenge? (Will we take the same challenge today?)
In verse 8 of the text in Revelation 3, we are told that Jesus did not see the Philadelphian Church as strong nor large, but in verse 10 He did say they were faithful. Size, strength, or notoriety does not really matter; rather faith, trust, and obedience. Whatever God commands, He always enables! God’s man is not dependent on talent scouts, nor is his ministry in the hand of religious officials. His headquarters is located in heaven and his itinerary is made up by the Lord of the Open Door. This means the Lord of the Harvest also should be given all of the glory.
Actually, when we read that the Church of Philadelphia had a “little” strength, we may get the wrong impression from the word. The original Greek word does not really indicate “weakness” but rather “real” strength. They were weak enough to be strong in the Lord. We can be “too strong” or “too big” or too sure of ourselves for God to really use us! As ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, we need to have a poverty of spirit, knowing we need God’s strength working through us. The Scripture tells us that Moses was the meekest man on the earth, but was he weak? Not at all. He just knew that he needed God’s power working through him at all times. Are you meek? Does this mean you are weak? Are you strong? Do you fail to remember Who it is that is the source of your spiritual strength? The Apostle Paul was a good example of weakness being transformed into strength. Jesus made that principle clear to the great apostle.
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
The Messiah mentions to this Church that He is aware of the opposition that they faced, mainly from the Jews. The real source of the attacks was Satan and his evil cohorts. Our battle is never really with people, even if they have evil intents. What was it that the Jews in this city were doing to the Christians? They were excluding them from the local synagogue and they were also spreading false accusations about them. This is also what the Apostle Paul experienced. The Bible tells us that Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” and he uses the accusations from people as his vehicles for his own purposes. Let’s look at what was taught to the Ephesian Church:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
How did the Philadelphian Christians respond to the difficulties thrown at them? Jesus said He saw that they had kept His word and had not denied His name. The idea behind not denying His name is more than proclaiming their allegiance to Jesus, but that they lived in a way that was faithful to the name and character of Jesus. Many believers claim great faithfulness to the Word of God but in all reality, deny His character through the way they live. Success of churches in the service of our KING is not measured by our ecclesiastical position, how many buildings our church complex has, how large the crowds are, or how much money is brought in through the ministry. These are too often used as a measurement of success, but they are not heavenly measures!
What was this church known for?
- Using the evangelistic opportunity given to them
- Reliance on God
- Faithfulness to Jesus
Does this sound unspectacular? These things should be commonplace among churches and among true believers. Jesus was very pleased with this Church and had no criticism or correction to offer them.
What is it that Jesus is going to do for these Christians of Philadelphia? Jesus says in Revelation 3:9-10 that he will make those Jews (who are Jews in name only) come and worship before their feet, and cause them to know that Jesus loves the Philadelphian believers. There will come a time when everyone on earth will be brought to a recognition of Who Jesus really is, and who His followers truly are! It’s His promise. By inspiration, the prophet Isaiah made comment about God causing Israel’s enemies to see reality in a special day in the future. In the second passage below, the Apostle Paul makes mention of the fact that at the end of the age all people on the earth will be brought to a recognition of Jesus as God.
Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the sols of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 60:14
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
A second promise made to the Church of Philadelphia says that He would keep them from the hour of trial that will come upon the whole earth, referring to the Great Tribulation, or the Revelator’s Apocalypse—The Great and Terrible Day of the LORD. The immediate reference would have had to do with a particularly brutal time of Roman persecutions which was yet to come. The ultimate reference, however, has to do with what is going to encompass the entire earth in the last seven years just prior to the 1,000-year reign of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as GOD–KING of the entire planet. The prophet Zephaniah referred to this specific time in his short Old Testament book:
1 Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O undesirable (unashamed, without longing) nation, 2 before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you! 3 Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger. Zephaniah 2:1-3 (emphasis added)
Another powerful passage referring to the time of Great Tribulation coming upon the earth and what God is going to do with His faithful people is found in 1 Thessalonians:
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
There are many more passages of Scripture that could be mentioned that make it very clear that our Lord and Savior is going to remove His true followers from this world just prior to the great judgments of the Day of the LORD are poured out. The bottom line is: True believers and followers of Messiah Jesus are not permanent earth dwellers. Our citizenship is in Heaven. We have been seated in heavenly places in Jesus as we are told in Ephesians 2:6. Our lives are hidden in Jesus.
A third promise made to the Philadelphian Church is that God would honor them for their faithfulness. In the ancient world it was common for their heroes and great leaders to be honored by inscribing their names on the great pillars that held their structures. Quite often, it was these pillars that survived the earthquakes, when everything else came down. God here says that He will make them pillars in His heavenly city, Jerusalem. God’s pillars are of course not made of stone, and in the eternal city of Jerusalem, there is no Temple. Instead, God’s special faithful ones will be recognized as “pillars” and they will bear His Name for His glory forever!
A segment of today’s Church is much like the Philadelphia Church. We have had many opportunities; many open doors. God opens and He shuts. We trust; we obey; we wait; we move. We have the opportunity to see obstacles as opportunities for God to answer prayer. That is the Church of Philadelphia. Do you belong?
Jesus is returning very soon. We must keep watch and as we do, keep preparing to meet our Lord and King; our Messiah. He said He is coming quickly; in other words, SUDDENLY! Hold fast to what you have, don’t let anyone steal your crown! Hang on, be patient, be faithful, be encouraged! This is not a crown of royalty. It is a crown of victory!
Many sports teams have done well the first half of the game and then poorly in the second half. Make sure you are living the second half of your Christian life stronger than the first half! Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” If we follow through, we will genuinely be the overcomers that Jesus is describing in this passage of Scripture in Revelation 3:12.
Hear what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church…to you, today!
To Be Continued in Part Ten