Jesus Expresses brotherly love for the Church in Philadelphia
Intro: Friends, my name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Jesus’ seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. Thankfully, today we meet a good church, a faithful church – in the city of Philadelphia.
PRAYER: Well friends, it has been A TOUGH WEEK. My beloved grandmother died on Thursday night. But thankfully, she was a Christian and so I grieve in the hope that I will one day see her again. Anyway, one of the songs she requested at her funeral is “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Let me share a verse or two (Slide 2-3).
Now share this story with you as a SEGWAY into the letter to the church in Philadelphia. (Slide 4). The name Philadelphia comes from two words – philia which means friend, friendship or love and adelphos which means brother. Let me tell you about the origins of Philadelphia. There were two brothers – one named EUMENES and the other ATTALUS. Eumenes was the King of Pergamum between 200-160BC. And King Eumenes – built the temple of Zeus in Pergamum– that I explained was probably the throne of Satan in Revelation 2. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about – listen to the sermon on the 28th August).
In 172BC King Eumenes was attacked in Greece (perhaps by the Romans) and reported dead. So Attalus (his brother) married Eumenes widow – Stratonice and assumed the throne for his brother. But it turned out Eumenes wasn’t dead. So Attalus divorced his brother’s wife, gave up the throne and remained a faithful brother and friend.
Now Rome didn’t like Eumenes. So they did everything they could to get Attalus (to betray his brother and mount a coup). But Attalus would never betray Eumenes.
Finally, in 159BC King Eumenes died – and his son was too young to become king.
So Attalus (his brother) – married Stratonice (for the second time), became vice regent and raised his nephew until he was old enough to assume the throne himself. Attalus was like the perfect brother and friend – and earned himself the epitaph – Attalus Philadelphus. And this is how the city of friendship and brotherly love got its name. It was built in honor of Attalus Philadelphius.
And just as the historical story behind each of the seven churches of Revelation is significant, so too is this story. Before Eumenes, handed over the kingdom he honored his faithful brother Attalus – with a city bearing his name. And Jesus tells us he intends to honor his faithful brothers and sisters in Philadelphia, with a city called the New Jerusalem – where the city will somehow bear their name AND they will bear the cities name.
Point 1: Jesus is a Faithful Brother to those who are Faithful to Him
Show: Rev.3:8-9 (READ)
Explain: Well there are only two churches out of the seven that get a good rap sheet from Jesus. The first was SMYRNA and the second is PHILADELPHIA. Only two from seven – are not rebuked for hypocrisy. Now we know from Revelation 1 that the person walking amongst the churches and addressing them one by one is Jesus. So Jesus says to the church in verse 8 – “I know you have kept my word and not denied my name.” In other words, they have NOT committed apostasy through their deeds or their words. They are faithful. And Jesus says – to these faithful ones – that he is the holy and true one – who holds the keys of David.
This phrase HOLY and TRUE is also used in Revelation 6 to describe God. The martyrs cry out; “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” The words holy and true – mean faithful. God will keep his word and vindicate the martyrs. And of course, just as God is faithful and can be trusted, so too Jesus is faithful and can be trusted. In particular, Jesus can be trusted as the Messiah who holds the keys of David.
The keys of David are spoken of in Isaiah 22 – about 700BC. (Slide 7 – Isa.22:21-22). In Isaiah 22, God takes the keys of David away from a guy named SHEBNA (the palace administrator) – because he has been unfaithful AND gives the keys to a servant named ELIAKIM who is faithful. Now notice – God gives this authority to Eliakim – so that he can be like a father to those who live in Jerusalem. The keys of David give a person AUTHORITY to rule Jerusalem on God the Fathers behalf. But because they are the keys of David – it is actually authority to rule God’s people as a faithful brother. It is authority for doing good in God’s family. And Jesus now has these keys. He is God’s chosen Messiah. He is holy and true. So the church in Philadelphia can rely on Jesus being faithful to them, if they are faithful to him.
In verse 8 Jesus says “I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door…” This is A REWARD of some sort for their faithfulness. (GOSPEL) But please understand our faithfulness doesn’t get us to heaven. Heaven is actually God’s gift. Not something we earn. THE REASON we need God’s grace is that we are all sinners. We have all sinned against God and the punishment is basically death and hell. Just think of hell as a long jail sentence, with no good parole.
But as Jesus died on the cross (and descended into hell) he took the punishment for our sins. Basically, Jesus did the time for our crime, so that we can be spared. Now if a mate took the rap for crimes you committed – I think you’d at least say thank you. That’s what Louie, Rachel, Terry and Elushaare doing today. Heaven and forgiveness is not something you earn by being good. Rather, heaven and forgiveness is God’s gift to everyone who accepts Jesus as Saviour and Lord and sincerely says “thank you.” That’s what Louie, Terry, Rachel and Elusha are doing today. They’re publicly accepting a gift.
But here’s the thing about the SYMBOLISM of baptism. As a person goes under the water – they are dying with Jesus. I don’t literally drown them. (Well, maybe Terry). But as they go under the water – their old way of life without God is dying. Then as they come up from under the water – it is like resurrection. They are coming up from the water – to live a new lives – obeying and trusting Jesus. NOW REMEMBER heaven and forgiveness is God’s gift to those who believe and are baptised.
But after we are saved (and in gratitude to Jesus) we are called to obey Jesus. Now if you are a Christian who disobey’s Jesus, is lazy and selfish) you may still get to heaven – as one escaping through the flames (1Cor.3:15). The wonderful thing about Jesus is that he remains a faithful brother, even when we are unfaithful. Jesus is patient with us. But as we’ve seen in Revelation there are still limits. Those who blatantly disobey Jesus or deny Jesus in apostasy – are in serious danger. They must repent and be faithful.
Apply: But to those who are faithful to Jesus (LIKE ATALLUS was faithful to Eumenes) – Jesus first gives an open door. This is a reward. The Bible says; “to those who are faithful with a little, more is entrusted” (Lk.16:10). The point is Jesus gives more and more responsibility to Christians who consistently prove to be faithful. If you fail to be faithful with a little responsibility, Jesus won’t give you anymore. Its simply the case that faithful infantry, get promoted to leiutenants and generals. Unfaithful infantry, remain infantry. So while we are saved by God’s grace – our faithfulness to Jesus does matter.
Now Jesus knows the Philadelphians have been faithful. So he gives them an open door. Many people automatically think the OPEN DOOR is about access to heaven. This is a possible, but unlikely interpretation. In the New Testament – AN OPEN DOOR – is usually an opportunity for the gospel. Let me show you. (Slide 9 & 10). So this is what is happening. The Philadelphian church have been faithful hearers of Jesus’ word, so he is promoting them to become missionaries and teachers of Jesus’ word.
Jesus opens doors for the gospel – to those he knows have the faithfulness to walk through them…
Point 2: Jesus Promises the Faithful they will be Vindicated & Guarded
Show: Rev.3:9-10 (READ)
Explain: Well in the first century – there were a lot of spiritual clashes between the CHURCH and Jewish SYNAGOGUES. As the apsotles shared the good news of Jesus more and more Jewish people believed he was the Messiah. So instead of going to SYNAGOGUE on Saturday and hearing about Moses, they started going to CHURCH on Sunday to hear about Jesus. Understandly this made orthodox Jews angry and often caused conflict with Christians. This is clearly happening in Philadelphia and Jesus speaks of the Jewish synagogue as a synagogue of Satan.
Now the Jews are God’s chosen people. But when Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah and start to persecute the Christian church – they are no longer working for God, they start working for Satan. Anyone who opposes Jesus and the missionary endeavor (whether consciously or unconsciously) is beginning to work for Satan.
Now we need to take these words seriously, while remembering the Jews are God’s people. The Bible says, the Jews have been given over to hard hearts, so the Gentiles can be saved. But before the great tribulation begins, we see in Revelation 7 – God puts a special seal on 144,000 Jews (from all 12 tribes). These are not special WITNESSES or EVANGELISTS to Israel. For those who are dispensational – no where, no where, no where are they called wittnesses or evangelists. Rather, it is A SYMBOLIC PICTURE, of God saving ALL ISRAEL, just as he explained in Romans 11 and Zechariah 12. (Now we’ll look at this more when we get to Revelation 7). But later in Revelation 9 – we read that all those who have the seal of God on their foreheads (rather than the mark of the beast on their foreheads) are protected. Not raptured. But definitely protected. The demonic forces (unleashed from the Abyss) are unable to hurt those who have the SEAL OF GOD on their foreheads. Christians are sealed by the Holy Spirit for salvation as we come to faith in Jesus. In Revelation 7 – a perfect number of Jews are sealed by the Holy Spirit, presumably by coming to faith in Jesus.
So Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia – don’t worry about the Jews because very soon I’ll make them come and acknowledge you were right and they were wrong. The Jews will eventually admit (before everyone) that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah
Illustrate: Now the great thing today is that Elusha (who is getting baptized) is a Russian Jew. Now he was raised without much knowledge of his Jewish heritage. But by God’s grace, he has come to realise that Jesus is his Messiah and he is acknowledging that publicly beofre us all.
Apply: So, Jesus talks about 1) an open door for evangelism, 2) then the hostile Jewish synagogue and 3) then Jews publicly acknowledging Jesus’ amazing love before the church. Jesus is saying the Jews are still a really important mission field. The Jews matter to God – and at some point all Jews (just before the tribulation begins) will admit the church was right about Jesus and they were wrong. Now I long to see that day – because what a wtiness to the world – when the Jews say – actually the church was right. Talk about a grand finale…
But the missionary door is probably bigger than the Jews. (Slide 12) If you look at this map you’ll see PERGAMUM was on a main road that led north-south. Part of Eumenes objective in setting up PHILADELPHIA on a major road heading EAST – WEST was to spread Greek culture and religion fruther east. Like George Stephenson – Eumenes was a Greek evangelist. He loved Greece and everything Greek. So Eumenes set up Philadelphia where he did – to intentionally take Greek religion further east. But this achieved two things simultaneously for the faithful church living in Philadelphia. (ENTER) When persecution came from Rome under Nero (or Domitian) – at least five of the seven churches were trapped on the north-south road. There was no easy route away from the persecution. But for the faithful Christians in Philadelphia – Jesus had given them not only a door for the gospel, but also an escape route from persecution (ENTER).
I think 1) the door for the gospel and 2) the escape route were the same door. They are kind of protected from the Roman hour of trial. As persecution under Nero or Domitian increased the church in Philadelphia were able to escape out the back door – taking the gospel with them up to Ankara, down to Konya and further west to Kayseri. These were areas the Apostle Paul had not really gone during his missionary journeys. So what a friend they have in Jesus – not only does he open a door for the gospel fopr them, but the same door begins to move them out of harms way.
Point 3: Jesus will make the Faithful – Pillars in God’s Temple
Show: Rev.3:9-10 (READ)
Explain: Well some Christians try to use verse 10 – to support belief in a pre-tribulation rapture. That’s the idea that the Christian church gets taken to heaven before the great tribulation begins. You see, Jesus tells the church that because of their faithfulness – he will keep them from the hour of trial. THE HOUR OF TRIAL is generally regarded as the great tribulation. Daniel 12, Matthew 24, Luke 21 and 2 Thessalonians 2 – tell us that there is going to be a period of time in world history (just before Jesus returns) of great, unprecedented distress in the world. If you accept a literal expression of time in Revelation it will be about 3.5 years. In this time there will be significant wars, natural disasters, famine and a complete collapse in the financial system. There will also be focussed persecution on Christians.
Now in the C20th (and mainly America) a belief emerged among comfortable middle class Christians – that just prior to this great tribulation – all the church would be whisked away and taken to heaven. This is called pre-tribulation rapture theology. Basically, the only people who stay and live through the great tribulation are non-Christians. And sometimes Revelation 3:10, where Jesus says he’ll keep the church from the hour of trial – is used to support pre-tribulation rapture theology. But let me show you plainly and simply why this is very, very unlikely.
First, the Greek word “KEEP” is threw. It means to keep safe, to guard or to protect in the midst of danger. But I cannot find a single place in the New Testament where it means to take away or remove from danger. Further, the word is used TWICE in verse 10 and take away makes no sense. The Philadelphians are commended because they have been faithful and guarded Jesus words and so Jesus will now be faithful and guard them in (or through) the hour of trial. The word “keep” or “guard” must have the SAME BASIC MEANING in both places otherwise the analogy breaks down Let me show you what happens if you accept the pre-tribulation rapture argument – that keep means “take away” or “remove”. (Slide 13). Now of course, such an interpretation becomes stupid. The Philadelphians are not commended for taking away or removing Jesus’ command. No. They are commended for guarding and keeping Jesus’ command in the midst of difficulty AND in return Jesus will guard and keep them in the hour of trial.
APPLY: Now you may believe there are other passages supporting pre-tribulation rapture theology. But my point is – this verse is definitely not one of them. Yes, I believe Jesus will be a faithful brother to those who have been faithful to him. I suspect that in the great tribulation Jesus will provide allsorts of wonderful, providential back doors of escape for those who have been faithful. I mean that’s Jesus promise. He will guard us and protect us – in the final hour of trial.
BUT PLEASE NOTE (no one) not even dispensationalists interpret this as one literal hour. Everyone interprets it symbolically as referring to the great tribulation. In this symbolic hour – Jesus will protect us from the most important thing – apostasy. Perhaps, just as the PHILADELPHIANS were able to flee Nero’s attack and move to the east. Just as JEWISH CHRISTIANS in Jerusalem in 70AD were able to escape to the hills of Pella; perhaps Jesus will give the church some protection from the worst of Antichrists attack. But believing this protection is RAPTURE to heaven – makes no sense of the passage and totally destroys the gospel nature of the open door.
Apply: Personally, we need Elusha, Louie, Terry and Rachel not to escape the battle, but help us in the battle. LOUIE as a young aboriginal man -needs to stand up for Jesus (put on the armour of God) and take the gospel to aboriginal Australia. Someone needs to do this. There are too many Aboriginals incarcerated in prison. There are too many aboriginals struggling with addiction and dying young. YES. I’ll admit some of this probably has to do with white-injustice and cultural trauma. But I don’t think a treaty or even the Uluru Statement of the heart is going to fix the problems. What every man, womn and child needs (whether black or white) is a great brother and friend named Jesus. And through a capable young aboriginal man named Louie – Jesus is giving us an open door to Aboriginal Australia.
THROUGH ELUSHA – God is giving us an open door to those with Jewish heritage and Russian heritage. I’ve already told Elusha – we have Russian women in our church whose husbands don’t come to church. Elusha’s job is to reach these men. Through Elusha Jesus is giving us an open door to these Russian men.
THEN TERRY, has life expereince in foster care and living rough on the streets of Kings Cross. Terry is our open door to the homeless in Sydney – who Jesus loves. Terry can tell them; what a friend we have in Jesus.
FINALLY, RACHEL – my dear daughter – may be an open door to all the young women in Sydney who can no longer find a decent heterosexual man to marry them. Maybe she can encourage them to give up the utopian lies of feminism and put their hope in Jesus. Perhaps she can point them to the ultimate husband, king Jesus and encourage them to be beautiful brides – while they await his return.
Apply: Friends, I want to assure you the missionary endeavor should not cease until the last trumpet sounds. Jesus asures us that those who remain faithful to him (until the New Jerusalem comes donw from heaven) will be pillars in that sacred city…
Again, this is SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE. In Galatians Peter, James and John are reported to be pillars in the church. They were PILLARS because they were faithful men – brave enough to walk through every open door. Simiarly, in 1 Timothy, the church itself is called the pillar and foundation of the truth. In this sense a pillar is something strong, dependable and admirable. A brother or sister worthy of Jesus.
Friends, we need to be pillars in Jesus kingdom. We need to be faithful to the one who is faithful to us – until verse 12 – the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. That is the finish line and that is our final reward. If we remain faithful to our brother Jesus (as Attalus remained faithful to Eumenes) Jesus will eventually reward us with a city – the New Jerusalem. And we will be linked to New Jerusalems name and New Jerusalem’s name will be linked to our faithfulness – just like Philadelphia was linked to Attalus’ name and faithfulness.
Freinds, I’m of the opinion, the great tribulation may actually be the FINAL PUSH the church needs to get out of our complacency and truly take the gospel into the last few corners of the world (including Israel). Throughout history – Jesus has used persecution and tribulation to spread the gospel – when his people have been too complacent. Jesus brought Christianity out of Jerusalem with the martyrdom of Stephen. Jewish persecution of Jewish Christians took the gospel to the Gentiles. Christian persecution in Europe ultimately took the gospel to America. And maybe tribulation (will create the last open door) to take the gospel right around the world and back into Israel.
Now that may seem scary. But remember, “what a friend we have in Jesus”. Rachel, Louie, Terry & Elusha stick with Jesus. He died for you. He is building a city for you and he is JESUS PHILADELPHUS. Be faithful to him AND he promises to be faithful to you – until the New Jersualem comes down from heaven and God wipes away every tear from our eyes. And until then (I think our prayer should be) – open another door Lord; open another door…