The Seven Churches of Asia - Philadelphia (Part 1)

Robert E. Surgenor

Revelation 3:7-13

Travelling 26 miles to the southeast we approach the border city of Philadelphia, situated on the slopes of five hills, the foothills of Mount Tmolus, 1,000 feet above the sea. We have finally arrived on our journey to the gateway to the central plateau of Asia Minor. We stand where the borders of Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia meet. Philadelphia, the youngest city of the seven on our tour, was founded that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and language to Lydia and Phrygia. So successful was the plan, that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own language and were identical to Greeks. Journeying on our road from Sardis, we noticed a large volume of traffic and through inquiry discovered that the road we were on was the imperial post road which continued eastward from the Aegean coast to Pergamos, Sardis, through Philadelphia and into the interior of Phrygia. Thus we were standing on the gateway to the high central plateau of Asia Minor. As we approach the city a sign catches our eyes, "Gateway to the East."

Being a highly volcanic region, Philadelphia suffered often from seismological disturbances. In A.D. 17 the city was almost completely destroyed. So great was this quake that for over twenty years tremors plagued Philadelphia and some told us that almost every day walls and masonry in the city fell. Consequently most inhabitants moved out, dwelling in tents for fear of their lives. Walking northeast of Philadelphia we observe a great vine-growing district. The volcanic soil was very fertile for growing grapes and the people called this great plain "The Burned Land."

Going into Philadelphia, an imposing temple meets our eyes, the Temple of Dionysus, god of wine. Wine stores dominate the city’s streets. Various hot springs with bathers draw our attention and even though weary with the journey we avoid bathing with the ungodly. Inside the city we linger at a textile mill, viewing the operations, then move down the street to view a leather works. Inquiring we are told where a very small group of believers meet and upon finding the place we discover a little unimposing room. The door is locked but the neighbors tell us that they are well acquainted with the place and the Christians that gather there. We are informed that the little group was always asking them to come and hear the gospel. There is a strong Jewish element and theyappeared very antagonistic to the Christians. We discovered that a nationalist Jewish party gave more trouble in Smyrna and Philadelphia than any other city. These two cities contained the most faithful assemblies. Another thing noticed was that it was only the Smyrna and Philadelphia assemblies that were being attacked by Satan. Why would he attack Sardis when it was like a corpse? or Thyatira when it was so false? or Pergamos when it had married itself to the world? or Ephesus when it had left its first love? Satan was pleased with their condition, but Christ was grieved.

Lord’s day was a beautiful day in Philadelphia for more than just weather conditions. To us the assembly was beautiful. The brethren gave us a cordial welcome as we presented our letters. As we gathered, the smallness of the group was very apparent. However, the worship delighted our heart. Godliness prevailed. The sisters were so subdued. There was no trimmed hair, jewelry, cosmetics or immodest apparel to be seen amongst them. Their veils (hats) were not showpieces, but simply constructed for the sole purpose of covering their heads. The brethren’s apparel for the occasion was considered by society to be very proper for the occasion. How unlike some other assemblies where brethren came casually dressed and disorder prevailed. We could see that there was poverty and lack of social prominence. The character of the saints so reminded us of the beloved brethren that we had come to love in Smyrna.

We had been informed of the city’s history prior to finding the gathering center. There was confusion whether Eumenes II, King of Pergamum, or his younger brother Attalus II Philadelphus (his epithet), who reigned from 159 to 138 B.C., founded the city. We were told that when Eumenes went to Greece, a report came home that he had been killed. Consequently, his younger brother Attalus took the crown. However, the report turned out to be false and when his brother returned from Greece, the Roman influence upon Attalus was to overthrow his brother and become king. However, Attalus, in profound love to his returning brother, relinquished the crown, giving it back to his brother. Thus Attalus was called Philadelphus, meaning, brother lover. The city was named after him, Philadelphia, meaning, brotherly love.

In A.D. 17 a severe quake destroyed twelve cities of the Lydian Valley. Sardis and Philadelphia were hit the worst. When this earthquake devastated the city, the emperor Tiberius gave it financial aid and out of gratitude to him the citizens of Philadelphia changed its name to Neo-Caesarea, meaning, The New City of Caesar. They also built a temple for the cult of emperor-worship. Then in Vespasian’s day the city’s name was changed again to Flavia, which was Vespasian’s family name. However, this was short lived and the name of Philadelphia was soon restored to the city. Because of its numerous temples and festivals it was often called Little Athens. The frequent name changing of the city had a definite effect on our Lord’s message to this small, but faithful assembly, as we shall notice later.

Our stay at Philadelphia will be pleasantly prolonged as we dwell in the midst of our beloved Philadelphian brethren who so graciously manifest the spirit found in the name of their city —brotherly love. Join me (D.V.) next month, will you? Our Lord’s letter is on the way and we will be learning some delightful attributes of our blessed Lord who is receiving so much pleasure from this little gathered out company. Thank you for coming with me to the city of brotherly love.