The Seven Churches of Asia - Philadelphia (Part 5)

Robert E. Surgenor

Revelation 3:7-13

As noticed last month the little assembly at Philadelphia had kept His word and had not denied His name. God’s word was treasured in their heart and obeyed in their life. Possibly there had been a crisis that brought out in a definite way these two wonderful qualities of the numerically small testimony. In spite of their temporal poverty, the hospitality of the saints has spoken to our hearts. Not only this, but the conversations in their homes always seem to drift to spiritual truths. I remember thirty five years ago, upon entering some Christian homes, it wasn’t very long until they were enthusiasticly telling us how they were reached and saved. Sad to say, there are very few Christians today that seek to intelligently discuss the holy scriptures in their homes with their Christian guests. They can talk about automobiles, farm machinery, the yield per acre and the weather, but turn the conversation to the scriptures and all of a sudden, they become strangely silent. I wonder, is it because they are on strange ground?

The Prophecy of Christ

"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from (out of) the hour of temptation (trial), which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10).

Christ manifested patience while here. Consider the fact that the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of this world in a moment of time and then said, "All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine" (Luke 4:6-7). What was our Lord’s response? Notice! "Get thee behind Me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve" (vs. 8). Christ was quite willing to wait His Father’s time, to receive what the devil was offering on that occasion. That event is still future and Christ is patiently waiting. The announcement of that day is found in Revelation 11:15. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). David foresees this proclaiming, "Ask of Me (the Father), and I shall give Thee (the Son) the nations for Thy inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Psa. 2:8 R.V.).

During this present interval our Lord never interfered in politics. He certainly didn’t approve of slavery that was prevalent during His earthly sojourn, but please notice, He never publicly condemned it. He made known to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight" an. 18:36). Christ makes known His appreciation to the Philadelphian brethren that they were not involved in the politics of this world. Neither were they joining protesting groups, nor were they prepared to join the Roman Army to fight for the country. Do our convictions on this subject coincide with these saints? Since our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), it is not our place to join the various anti-groups to protest the wrong deeds of a fallen race. Christians are never told to try and clean up this world, a world that is constantly ripening for judgment. Neither are we called upon to vote to put politicians into office. We are strangers (away from home) and pilgrims (journeying home). We look for a coming world-acknowledged establishment of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. It is future, it is certain and we patiently wait that day. This is what our Lord meant when He said, "Thou hast kept (guarded) the word of My patience." We gladly submit to Paul’s exhortation. "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ. (2 Thess. 3:5 R.V.).

The Lord now foretells of their preservation. He mentions the coming "hour of trial" (R.V.). That trial unfolds itself in chapter five with the opening of the seven seals and finally the pouring out of the seven vials of God’s wrath upon the earth dwellers in chapter seventeen. It is the time of Jacob’s trouble, a period of seven years of which the last three and one half years are termed "great tribulation." Noah would represent the godly Jewish remnant, those on earth kept through the trial just as he was kept through the flood. Enoch would represent the Church. He was translated before the flood, thus kept from it - just as we shall be kept from the hour of trial. Paul refers to this in writing to the Thessalonians. "Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." The wrath to come is that terrible outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth dwellers after the rapture of the Church.

Notice the expression, "them that dwell upon the earth," or "earth dwellers." This is our Lord’s definition of the ungodly. In other words, they are totally immersed in the world system. The word "dwell" means, "Those who have settled down upon earth, who have identified themselves with it." You can read about them in the following verses; Rev. 6:10; 8:13: 11:10; 12:12; 13:8,12,14; 14:6; 17:2,8. They are described in Phil. 3:19. "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." How different with us! "If (since) ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:1-2). Thus the materialistic values and the pleasures of this world should find no place in our hearts. Neither the world’s religion or its filth.

The Exhortation of Christ

"Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (vs.11).

This is the third of three "beholds" in the letter. (1) His call and restraint - "Behold, I have set before thee an open door." (2) The conversion and confession - "Behold, I will make them.. .come and worship before thy feet." (3) His coming and crown - "Behold I come quickly." He inspires them with the thought, "I am coming, I am already on the way." Being in the present tense, Thayer explains, "When in the present tense in Greek, such events are termed ‘historical presents’ and such occurrences dramatize the event described as if the reader were there watching the event occur." Did you ever phone expected company, hoping to get hold of them before they left home to inquire when they would be arriving, only to find by the ringing of their phone that they had already left and were on the way? That is the thought here in His word "I come." We are not informed as to the time of His coming. This ought to keep us on the alert, should it not? Remember the exhortation to the saints at Rome? "It is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation (the rapture) nearer than when we believed" (Rom. 13:11).

Consider what was written to the Hebrew saints. "And unto them that look (earnestly look) for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:28). "We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:20-21). Are we living in such expectation? Our hosts were, for He told them, "I am on the way - I am coming!"

In view of His coming, He constrains them to hold fast that which they had, namely, a little strength, His word (the truths of God relative to personal conduct and assembly function), His name and His promise to return. The Lord had a crown for them. There was the solemn danger that some other one might receive it. The crown is conditional, they were required to hold fast what they had. Naturally they would be reminded of Attalus, who relinquished his newly acquired crown to his returning brother Eumenes. Esau relinquished his birthright to Jacob; Reuben his position of first born to Judah; Saul, his crown to David; Shebna, his position to Eliiakim; Abiathar, his priesthood to Zadok; and finally the Jews to the Gentiles. These transfers were the result of not holding fast that which they had. Through their failure, another took their place. For the watcher there is a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4); For the shepherds, a crown of glory (1 Pet. 5); For the runner, a crown incorruptible (1 Cor. 9); And for the soul-winner, a crown of rejoicing (1 Thess. 2). Brethren, let us beware, lest through our failure, the Lord bestow the crown that might have been ours upon another!

The Promise of Christ

"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My new name" (v.12).

Being pillars would indicate a conspicuous and abiding position in heaven. Older ones in the assembly would well remember the former days when due to quakes and following tremors, they had to move out of the city and abide in tents, for safety’s sake. Christ assures them of a permanent and totally safe abode in the glory, unlike their earthly city, "they shall go no more out." Not only this, but the overcomer would be identified with Christ’s God eternally, having God’s name written upon Him by the Lord Himself. In Philadelphia when a heathen priest died after serving a faithful life to his god, men honored him by erecting a pillar in the temple he served and inscribed on it his name and his father’s name. The Lord’s statement to the saints would convey to them that their Lord would pay lasting honor to His faithful ones. The saints were also assured that they would be permanent residents of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of Christ’s God. Not reckoned as foreigners, but as citizens, having a perfect right within the city with all its privileges - having the name of that city written upon them by their Lord. Remember how we observed that Philadelphia had many new names? Finally the Lord promises to write upon His people His new name. Thus they were to share His triumphs, honors and rewards!

Regarding the Philadelphian assembly, the glory of Christ was revealed (vs. 7); The authority and power of Christ was declared (vs. 7); The word of Christ was guarded (vs. 8); The name of Christ was reverenced; The blessing of Christ was promised (vs. 9); The patience of Christ was kept (vs.10); And the coming of Christ was anticipated (vs. 11). What a Christ-centered assembly! Thus the Lord’s attitude to this assembly was, "I have loved thee " "I will honor thee" (vs. 9), "I will keep thee" (vs. 11). We bid them good-by. Prayers are offered to God by them on our behalf, that He will preserve us and use us for His glory as we take our 45-mile journey to Laodicea. Philadelphia, the place of an unforgettable experience! An experience for our own spiritual good. Do we affect others in the same degree as they affected us? I hope so.