Philadelphia: The Church on Shaky Ground, Part 2

Revelation 3:7-13

Click on this link to read the passage.

God alone decides the atmosphere for our ministry in the community.

The church in John’s day was at odds with its community in every way. Tacitus, Roman historian AD 56 – ca.  120, says this about the beginning of hostility of Rome toward Christians —

800px-Wien-_Parlament-Tacitus

Tacitus Roman Historian

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace… Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who confessed [to being Christians]; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of arson, as of hatred of the human race. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed” (see Tacitus, below; click on this link to read the entire passage).

What was at odds with Rome was automatically at odds with Asia Minor’s citizens. Jews were a legal religion. They paid a tax in lieu of sacrificing to pagan deities or the Emperor. After AD 64, Christianity was separated from Judaism. Christianity was no longer afforded legal status as a Jewish sect.

Today, it seems everyone is against Christians. If we believe and practice the Bible, society is at odds with us. We may grow discouraged about our lives in the public forum. How did things get this way? Those of us who have lived long know our world was not always this way. I confess I often think, I wish I had been born under better circumstances or perhaps in an another age. 

LOTRsI am reminded of a conversation in the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo is lamenting that evil had to occur in his time and that he had to live through it.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

All who live through tribulation share Frodo’s wish. Ultimately it is for the Lord of Glory to decide which times in which we live and minister. He holds us in the midst of trial! 

What hurts us most is having former friends against us when we stand against false teaching. 

vs. 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.

“The Christians in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7–13) evidently also experienced opposition from local Jews; this is suggested by the fact that John refers to the Jews of Philadelphia as belonging to ‘the synagogue of Satan’ (Rev 3:9), just as the Jews of Smyrna.” (see Schnabel, below).

Judaism & Christianity

After the persecution of Christians under Nero (AD 64 fire in Rome), Jews joined in with pagans to persecute Christians in Asia Minor. Judaism was a licit (legal) religion. Christianity after AD 64 was illicit (illegal) since they were no longer a sect of Judaism. Such persecution was not empire-wide at all times, however.

It is obvious that Jews wanted to be viewed as loyal Romans, so they didn’t want to be confused with Christians. Philadelphia was a place where Jews wanted the distinction to be made absolutely clear. They turned on former attendees at the synagogue — Christians. Christians are the true people of God. Jews that oppose Christ are a synagogue of Satan when they persecute God’s people.

Jesus had warned of this in Matthew 10 — 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

Will our enemies be converted or judged?

“I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” This is a reference to Isaiah 45:14; 49:23; and 60:14.

(1) Some see in this verse a fulfillment of Romans 11:25-26. Israel as a nation will be saved in the future and will pay homage to the church as being right.
(2) Others see it as a fulfillment of Phil. 2:10-11. All people who reject Christ and his church will come before the church and pay homage in the end.

At some times, God converts our enemies and His. However, when they are not converted, they serve His purposes unwittingly. See Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 50:15-20. What the brothers meant for evil, God overruled for Joseph’s good! God will do that for us, as well.

God protects His people while they are in the midst of trial

vs. 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.

This is a reference to Luke 21:19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (cf. Heb. 10:36).

I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” “From” is ek, in Greek. It means “out of.” For many this means removal from tribulation. However, this is not the case. It depends on the context.

Ek from the hour cropped

“Keep” is best translated “protect” here. Note carefully how it is used in John 17:15. Both times in John he uses ek. The keeping from the evil one is within the sphere of the trial. Jesus specifically says that he did not ask for his church to be removed from the world. He asked that they be kept from (ek) the Evil One. Also compare Acts 15:29 and Prov. 21:23. In some contexts apo and ek are used to indicate the same thing.

Trial shows the true character of the one experiencing it. 

“That is going to come on the whole world.” The word for “world” is oikoumenê — the inhabited earth. We derive the English word “ecumenical” from it. Local tribulation in “hot spots” around Asia Minor would become widespread in the Empire after John’s day.

“Test” is peirasmós in Greek meaning “adversity, affliction, trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s faith, holiness, character.” (see Thayer below.) Testing proves what we really are. Ungodly people are shown to be just that by trials — unbelievers who are against God and His people. On the other hand, testing confirms true believers as genuine. We don’t give in, give out or give up!

The “earth-dwellers” is a stock phrase in Revelation to indicate those who are rebellious unbelievers (cf. Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8) and persecutors of God’s people. They are fully at home here. God’s people are a pilgrim people. We know our true home is with Christ in the new heavens and new earth. We are never fully at home on the earth! Click on this link to see this pilgrim theology Hebrews 11:13-16.

Perseverance is necessary for the Christian in the midst of trial

vs. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

The word for “crown” is stephanos = victor’s crown. It is not the diadem of a monarch (see the comments on Rev. 2:10)

God gives His people stability in an unstable environment

vs. 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.

“A pillar in the temple of my God” refers to the practice of honoring a person by erecting a special pillar in the temple (naos — inner sanctuary) with the person’s name on it. The pillar was important in a city where earthquakes were quite common and destructive. Oftentimes, the only thing left after an earthquake hit were the pillars of the temples. After God shakes this old world, the only thing that will remain are his pillars!

For vs. 13 see the comments on Rev. 2:7 in the Letter to Ephesus post, part 2.

Next time, we move on to Laodicea.

Notes

Ladd, G. E. (1972). A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Ladd writes from the historic pre-millennial position a commentary for lay persons.  

Schnabel. “Jewish Opposition to Christians in Asia Minor in the First Century.” Accessed March 4, 2019 from https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/bbr18b03_schnabel.pdf

Tacitus. (AD 56 – c.120). Annals, xv.44.2–8. Accessed March 4, 2019 from https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2019/first-hearers-apocalypse

Thayer. (1889). Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Accessed March 6, 2019 from https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/3986.html

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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