Revelation 3:7-13 (text); OT Readings: Isaiah 22:22, 45:14
|September 23, 2012 (Imus First Anniversary)||Download sermon (PDF)|
In June of 2011, about four families from a couple of churches that embraced the prosperity gospel left their churches and were at a loss as to what church to go to. So we started a Bible study at the home of Olive Acasio with Elmer and Cynthia Sarmiento and Sarah Esguerra. Later, we moved the Bible study to this location, and we were joined by the Ongs, Gani and Leah and their boys, and Mr. and Mrs. Ong. After three months, we all felt the need to start Lord’s Day worship services since they had no church anymore. They were the pioneers in this church. As a small one-year-old congregation, we still have our constant struggles.
Our text today on this our first anniversary speaks about a church like ours in the city of Philadelphia in the Roman province of Asia (present-day western Turkey), with “little power,” struggling physically, financially and spiritually.
These seven churches in Asia are not symbolic, but are real churches arranged so that a messenger could travel in a circular route from Ephesus to Laodicea. The Spirit of Christ was speaking directly to these seven churches, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” They were struggling with false teachings, pagan idolatry and immorality, and complacency. In most of the letters, Christ opens with a commendation, a rebuke, and a call to repent. Finally, he has an encouraging promise of victory and blessing to those who repent and faithfully persevere through persecution and suffering because of his enemies. Those who do not repent face judgment.
Philadelphia was situated as an important commercial and cultural gateway from the western Roman empire to the eastern provinces. Because the city was built near a volcano, its soil was very fertile so it was renowned for its vineyards and wines. But being near a volcano also had its drawbacks: the city was often hit by powerful earthquakes. In A.D. 17, a massive quake destroyed much of the city so Emperor Tiberius exempted the city from paying taxes for a time. Tiberius was so generous he even donated a vast sum of money to help rebuild the city, so the city leaders renamed the city Neocaesarea (“New Caesar”). Emperor worship was also a common religion in the city. Still, the old name Philadelphia, which means “Brotherly Love,” stuck.
But the aftershocks were so strong and persisted for so long that people slept outside of their dwellings for years afterward. Those who had businesses kept them inside the city, but they left in the evening to sleep in their houses outside the city.
As in any Scripture text, this historical-geographical background helps the reader understand Christ’s words to all seven churches, including Philadelphia. In fact, the recent history of this city factors greatly into the words of encouragement Jesus gives to this struggling congregation. As a gateway, the city was an open door to both East and West. For their faithfulness, Jesus says they will never leave their city. Even the renaming of the city is mentioned in the commendation of this church who has but “little power,” yet is known to Christ by its “patient endurance.”
Today, we dwell on the theme “Christ Commends His Faithful Church” in three headings: (1) The One Who Commends; (2) The Reason for the Commendation; and (3) The Promises After the Commendation.
The One Who Commends
“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.” Holy and true are descriptions of Christ: “the faithful and true witness” (Rev 3:14); “holy and true” (Rev 6:10); “Faithful and True,” the rider on the white horse (Rev 19:11).
The words “holy” and “true” are most often used as attributes of God, so Jesus claims to be the divine God. Isaiah uses the word “holy” about twenty times as an attribute of YHWH, the Lord. John intentionally uses this word because in the next verse (3:8), the apostle quotes Isaiah’s messianic prophecy (Isa 22:22). Not only is Jesus the holy God; he is also the “true” God. John also writes in his epistle that God’s Son Jesus Christ is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). In persecuting Christians, the many Jews in Philadelphia accused the church of worshipping Satan. But Jesus turns the table around in saying that the Jews are not the real Jews, but Christians are, and that they worship in “the synagogue of Satan” (3:9).
As the divine Messiah, Christ is not only “holy and true.” He also has royal and divine authority in holding “the key of David.” As the Messianic Son of David, Jesus alone has complete authority to admit anyone into the everlasting kingdom of God (2 Sam 7:14). Christ is alluding back to Isaiah 22:22, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” Recall that Jesus quoted the same prophecy when he gave his apostles the same authority in the church, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosedin heaven” (Matt 16:19).
Jesus not only holds the “key of David” to let faithful believers into the kingdom of heaven. He also holds “the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:18). So on Judgment Day, all those who have not repented of their sin will be raised from their graves to be judged, “Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:13-14). Therefore, when Jesus returns from heaven, he will judge all the living and the dead in all the earth, some to eternal life, and some to eternal hell.
These words are a serious warning to the Jews in those days who used the same text in Isaiah 22:22 to prove that they themselves had authority to shut Christians outside of the synagogue. But Jesus uses the same verse to say that the Jews are the ones in “a synagogue of Satan.”
If this was a grave warning to unbelieving Jews, this was a great comfort to the suffering Christians then and is today. Jesus is the Lord of his church, because he alone has authority to give access to Christians to heaven. He walks among his people, always present in the faithful churches, never leaving them nor forsaking them. He even protects his people from spiritual danger in the form of false gospels and false teachings, such as those we often see today on television.
Therefore, as long as Trinity Covenant Reformed Church is faithful to the words of Christ in the Bible, you are protected from spiritual danger, and Jesus has words of commendation for you.
The Reason for the Commendation
Out of the seven churches, only Philadelphia and Smyrna received no rebuke, but only commendation, from their Lord Jesus Christ. Twice in verse 8, he tells the Philadelphia church that he “knows” their situation well. In the first instance, he says, “I know your works,” What are these works? Verse 9 tells us, “you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Even in difficult circumstances, they were faithful to his Word. Even when they had very “little power,” meaning, they had little strength because they were few in number and they were financially poor, they were faithful to their Savior. Their pastor faithfully preached the true gospel of Christ, and the congregation refused to deny Christ in the face of violent opposition from the Jews.
Because of their perseverance in the faith, Jesus says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (3:8). Does this open door symbolize opportunities for ministry as found in Paul’s letters (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12; Col 4:3)? In this context, “an open door” has a different meaning: it is a door into the kingdom of God, as we shall see in verse 12. Jesus has the key to this open door, and he will keep it open to his faithful church.
Not only is the open door the entrance into the kingdom of heaven; it is also the entrance into the temple of God, because these two places are identical. Again, the open door to God’s temple will never be shut by Christ so that his faithful congregation can enter in. He is able to do this only because he has accomplished his saving work through his perfect obedience, death and resurrection. The unbelieving Jews, not even Satan their leader, are not able to prevent him from keeping the door open. The church in Philadelphia easily understood this allusion because their city was an open gateway from the western to the eastern Roman empire.
How sad and tragic to compare the ancient church in Philadelphia with most churches today! They had no power, no financial resources, no big flashy buildings, no state-of-the-art multimedia systems. They had no lively worship teams with expensive instruments singing contemporary pop to entertain the congregation. They met in homes, always wondering when the Jews would come to harass and revile them, and even burn down their homes and attack them. Yet, these powerless, ancient believers were faithful to the gospel of Christ, and did not deny his name in the face of violent opposition.
This past year, our little congregation has had difficulties in terms of finances and attendance. We could hardly afford the rent. In March, Pastor Jayson Santiago started his ministry here, with only a promise of a small allowance. We had many visitors, but only a few others stayed till today. The enticing and glamorous entertainment of many big megachurches around us, compared with our basic and simple worship, are much more attractive to them. The popularity of the prosperity gospel and moralistic, therapeutic sermons are more “relevant” and “authentic” to them than the true gospel of Christ.
What is needful for us is to seek and study how the ancient church kept the word of Christ when they gathered to worship the holy and true God. Every Lord’s Day, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). And how did the 16th century Reformers recover this ancient worship consisting of preaching the true gospel, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and with many prayers? In stark contrast to most churches today, the worship of the ancient and Reformed churches had no drama, dancing, hip hop, jokes, and many other entertaining gimmickry.
Lord willing, in the coming years, our finances and attendance will improve without these gimmickry, but with much prayer from all of you. Pray also that we will mature together spiritually, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). But one thing is needful and most important: you are to be faithful to the true gospel and to God’s Word, and to give glory and honor to the name of Christ.
The Promises After the Commendation
Not only does Christ commend the church in Philadelphia for their faithful works. Because of their faithfulness to him, Jesus promised eternal, heavenly blessings to them.
In verse 9, Jesus calls the Jews “the synagogue of Satan.” He condemns the Jews in this way because they claim to be Jews—God’s people—but they are not, so they are “liars.” They consider Christians as apostates, but they are actually the false Israel who worship Satan. Christians are the true Jews, the true children of Abraham, the true Israel (Gal 3:29). John actually wrote in his gospel that Jesus referred to the Jews as the children of Satan the devil who is also the father of murderers and liars (John 8:44). In opposing Christ, the Jews are actually doing Satan’s work.
For their faithfulness, the Philadelphian believers were given several promises by Christ.
First, the Jews will be under their authority, “I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you” (verse 9). Christ will cause these persecutors to bow down at the feet of Christians. They will know that God loved Christians, and not the unbelieving Jews. Just as Isaiah foresaw Gentiles bowing before Israelites (Isa 45:14; 49:23), so will Jews bow before Christians in the end. This is because the church is made up of true Israelites—those who believe in Christ—not unbelieving Jews. Ironically, this means that false Jews will bow down to the true Jews, which is the church. This is so because only those Jews who bow down to Christ are real Jews.
Second, because the church in Philadelphia has kept Jesus’ word, Jesus promised them, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (verse 10). Compared with the days, months, and years frequently mentioned in the Book of Revelation, an hour of intense persecution and suffering is short (cf Rev 19:19; 20:7-9). Those “who dwell on the earth,” refer to those who are not in God’s kingdom (Rev 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8; 17:2) who will suffer God’s wrathful judgment. This is not a promise to spare Christians from persecution, suffering and even martyrdom, or to remove them from the world, but to protect them from God’s wrathful judgment. In fact, the end result for the church is victory over those who spilled their blood (Rev 6:10–11), “for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev 12:11). He promises to shield his faithful church from God’s terrible wrath in hell that is coming upon the rebellious world.
Third, Jesus promised, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (verse 11). Because the “hour of trial” will be brief, the Philadelphia church will soon see relief from their sufferings. Christ will come soon, which means he will rescue them quickly. Jesus also encourages them to hold on to what they have, which is the Word of God, the gospel of Christ that they have believed in.
Because of their faithful perseverance, they will receive their crowns of glory, and no one can remove their crowns from their heads. This is the same “crown of life” that Christ promised to the faithful believers in Smyrna (Rev 2:10). Everyone of you in this church “who remains steadfast under trial” is blessed “for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12).
Fourth, to “the one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it” (verse 12a). Jesus promises to make those who “conquer” or “overcome” sufferings in this world a pillar in God’s temple. Unlike their being forced to leave their homes because of continuing earthquakes, they will never be forced to leave this temple by anyone or anything. God’s people will be like pillars in the heavenly temple, pillars that will never and can never be shaken or removed.
Even today, you are being built as God’s temple on earth, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). Christ himself is this temple’s chief cornerstone that the world has rejected (1 Pet 2:4, 7). In the end, you will be taken to heaven as God’s holy and true temple to dwell there for eternity. No earthquake or persecution can shake or destroy this heavenly temple. For you who are pillars in this temple, you will forever dwell in it in perfect peace and security as King David’s royal heirs in his everlasting kingdom. This also means that there will be no future earthly temple, because God’s temple is heavenly (Rev 21:22), and Christ’s “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)
Fifth and last, Christ promises,“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” (verse 12b). In the new city of God, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are inscribed on the twelve gates, and the names of the twelve apostles are inscribed on the twelve foundations of the city (Rev 21:12-14). All nations will see your righteousness and glory, and “you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give” (Isa 62:2).
You who persevere will have the name of God inscribed on you. This means that you bear the name of the holy and true God, that you belong to him, and are protected by him for eternity. The name of the city of Philadelphia was changed to “New Caesar,” but the name of the city of faithful Christians will be “New Jerusalem.” So we read later that all Christians, in this new city “will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). They will be sealed with God’s name on their foreheads because they are “servants of our God” (Rev 7:3; 14:1).
Dear friends, as we celebrate this first anniversary, be mindful that Christ encourages you to be faithful to the true gospel and always give glory and honor to him who has saved us from sin, death, and God’s coming wrath.
Christ has promised that he will give you strength to be faithful and persevere in the face of sufferings. When you see that you are a very small congregation compared with many others, pray that you will be faithful to God’s Word, and that he will add to your number. Do not be enticed by the entertainment in other churches, because your Father seeks worshippers who worship him in Spirit and in truth, with reverence and joy, not in frivolity.
Therefore, in your hour of trial, Christ promises protection and preservation from Satan’s deceptions. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, you have entered an open door into God’s kingdom. Even today, Jesus has gone into his Father’s house in heaven where he is preparing your eternal dwelling-places. Hold fast to the gospel of Christ and all of its benefits, so that he may call you a conqueror and an overcomer who will dwell in God’s heavenly temple forever.