March 12, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XXXVI: The Seven Churches of Asia Minor-Part III: Philadelphia

We see a distinct tone change with the second to last church Philadelphia. We also arrive at one of the most
interesting churches on the list of seven...

Philadelphia: The Consummate But Afflicted Church

Christ commends the church in Philadelphia for its persevering witness, in which he will empower its members further, and encourages them to continue to persevere so as to inherit end-time fellowship and identification with him. Christ and his people stand as the “true Jewish witnesses” in contrast to those “who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie” (3:9) by saying that Jesus is a false Messiah and his followers false Israelites.

“Holy” and “true” are divine attributes elsewhere in Revelation (so 6:10), so their use here suggests Jesus’ deity. In fact, Isaiah uses ἅγιος (“holy”) almost exclusively of Yahweh as part of the title “the Holy One of Israel” (about 20 occurrences). This background is probably present here in anticipation of the Isa. 22:22 quotation and of the Isaiah allusions in 3:9, where Jesus assumes the role of Yahweh and his followers represent the true Israel (see on 3:9; ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ [“the holy one of God”] is also a messianic title in contexts of fulfillment: Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; John 6:69). The idea of “true” carries connotations of Jesus being the true Messiah, who has begun to fulfill messianic prophecy (we twill chat more on 3:14), though he is rejected by the Jews as a false messianic pretender.

Whereas the keys in 1:18b are those of “death and Hades,” here we have instead a quotation from Isa. 22:22: “the one having the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, and who shuts and no one opens”. The substitution is meant to amplify the idea of the original phrase in 1:18b by underscoring the sovereignty that Christ holds over the sphere of “death and Hades.”

The point of the quotation is that Jesus holds the power over salvation and judgment. In 1:18 the stress is on his sovereignty over death and judgment, while in 3:7 the emphasis is on his authority over those entering the kingdom.

In verse 8 we see Christ, who is the true witness and sovereign over the realms of life and death, exercises his power in this regard on behalf of the Philadelphia church. He has granted its members power to enter into the sphere of salvation: “behold, I have given before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”

This entrance into covenant life is also referred to as entry into the “house of David” (v 7) and into the city and temple of God (v 12), all of which can likewise be understood as images for the kingdom of God. Christ has also given them power to remain in this sphere of life, as demonstrated by their life of persevering obedience and witness. Their “little power” was expressed through their keeping Christ’s word and not denying his name.

In verse 9 we see what is probably ethnic Jews claiming to be the true Israel, though they are not.  In reality, they are liars because they do not believe in Jesus, the true Jewish Messiah, and they persecute those who are faithful witnesses to him. Further we read this also in 9 referring to the Jews: “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” This prophecy has been fulfilled ironically in the Gentile church, which has become true Israel by virtue of its faith in Christ. In contrast, ethnic Israel fulfills the role of the Gentiles because of their unbelief. Therefore, Isaiah’s prophecies that the end-time salvation of Israel would spark off the salvation of the Gentiles has been fulfilled in an ironic manner. The Isaiah prophecies are to be fulfilled imminently in the Philadelphia church’s own experience, though not exclusively, since the letter is also addressed to all the churches. The positive focus on Philadelphia’s persevering witness is another piece of evidence pointing to the likelihood that “witness” is the prevailing theme of all the letters.

This is where Philadelphia’s testimony starts to become real interesting to me and I will elaborate on it. Christ promises that his power, which made it possible for the church to become his people and to maintain their status as his people, will continue to protect them spiritually from the tribulation that is about to come. This same protection in the midst of tribulation is discussed elsewhere through the metaphors of “sealing” (7:1), “measuring” (11:1–2), and “nourishment and protection in the wilderness” (12:6, 14–17).

Verse 10’s “τηρήσω ἐκ” or “will keep you from/out of” can mean either “keep you from undergoing” or “keep you through” this hour of testing “μελλούσης ἔρχεσθαι / about to come”, or imminently. Soon people…soon. Christ will show his faithfulness to the Christians in Philadelphia in the immediate future because they have been faithful witnesses to him in the past. “You have kept the word of my endurance” is best understood as referring to “the word about Jesus’ own endurance” in his ministry as this is written in the genitive case or possessive. This passages summarizing stresses the persevering nature of their witness in imitation of Jesus, who was the faithful, true, and enduring witness to the Father unto death on a Cross. The Philadelphia Christians have been faithful to the early church’s Gospel about Jesus, especially to his courageous loyalty through persecution in testifying to the Father. His perseverance was climaxed by his death.

These Christians will be protected spiritually from any threats posed to their faith by the coming tribulation. On the other hand, the “tribulation” is intended by God as a penal judgment of unbelievers. The tribulation is probably to be seen as having universal effect, since it is to come on “the whole inhabited earth / οἰκουμένης ὅλης”. This matches the same type of statements in Revelation 12:9; 16:14. This very well could me the “known” world of John (Mediterranean) or it could be the whole world. The Scripture is not clear. So here we see allusions to a believers’s endurance is based on the model of Christ’s own endurance.

This type of reading of this passage may suggest more than one way in which Christ will protect believers from the coming tribulation of 3:10. It could be by physically “rapturing” them from earth into heaven…or perhaps…just perhaps…something else.

The more I learn and study the Bible the more I find things I didn’t expect to see…

It must then be noted that if someone does a word usage on the words τηρήσω ἐκ in the New Testament, they are only used one other place: John 17:15. Christ literally prays, “I ask not that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from (τηρήσhς αὐτοuς ἐκ) the evil one."

Right from the mouth of Jesus we see a denial that a physical removal from tribulation is being addressed by this phrase in the proper context. As a matter of fact it seems as if Jesus is affirming some type of protection other than physical removal. Instead it implies spiritual protection from the devil. Pretty heady stuff people. John 16 and Revelation 2–3 use the “overcoming” theme too. Even though believers will experience “tribulation” in the world, they will have “peace” in Christ because he “has overcome the world”.


It is unlikely read properly in its context that Revelation 3:10 is referring to a protection of believers’ physical lives, since the preceding letters have focused solely on spiritual perseverance, while sacrificing one's physical life. Go read it yourself. if this text speaks of physical removal...its the only text in the book that specifically says so in a literal sense.

It has long been believed and said that the trial described in Rev. 3 is a divine punishment on the wicked and unbelievers, not a form of evil coming from the devil. In reality we must recognize God's omnipotence and  sovereignty in this situation. The tribulation that comes from the devil ultimately issues from the divine throne anyway or God isn't God as He is described in the He?

There is no delineation here: The same trials that punish unbelievers serve as tests to strengthen the faith of God’s people (a la Revelation 6:3–8). The trials or (hour of trial) mentioned throughout the letters and the visionary chapters that follow seem to indicate or argue for the fact that both the saints and unbelievers experience the same trials, but for the former trials refine faith, whereas for the latter trials only harden. Earlier, Christ promised Smyrna eternal life if they will endure sufferings and even physical death. Paul repeats the same theme throughout his letters (Romans 2 Corinthians, Philippians) as does Peter.

The next verses tells us that Christ has the key of David and whatever he opens, no-one can shut; and what he closes, no-one can open. This appears rather cryptic at first. It means that when God acts in He does so with power and authority, none can trump a sovereign God. I suppose this is a reference to the fact that man thinks he has control and can do things such as passing laws to force people to do things or excluded believers from things. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We begin to see this today in the litigious nature of the persecution of the modern church in America. We see it in the crippling speech laws of Canada to make it a crime to speak out against homosexuality as a sin. It is getting to the point that it is considered a “hate crime” to mention anything about homosexuality in a negative light without fear of legal or criminal reprisal. This is then compounded by the government trumping the will of the majority of the people passing laws to legalize homosexual marriage which clearly outside the will of God and a majority of the voting constituency of the domain in question. More and more we see the encroachment of the Government on the lives of people to deleterious spiritual effect. We now have laws being passed that will force people to pay into insurance pools for indemnification that will be drawn off of to fund abortions…all mandated by the government. Many of the sources will be Christian and they will be determined by law to fund this pool or will be forcefully extorted by unjust or unethical laws to pay into it. What the civil authorities in this situation fail to see is that Caesar may rule the people but God rules Caesar. As Daniel said:

Daniel 2:21 ~ “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding

So in this letter to Philadelphia we see that over all it is God either allowing these things and in the end if God chose to end it He will since He is the holder of the keys. Christ alone gives or withholds. This passage goes on to tell the Philadelphians that He has placed before them an open door that none can shut. When we compound this with the idea that Christ knew their works and they had… “kept my word”.  This should come as reassurance to use who are under steepening pressure to go against the Bible and conform to the culture. Philadelphia had “stayed the course” and not deviated into errant doctrine nor had they succumbed to the culture.  They had stayed true to Christ’s even through subjugation and persecution. Philadelphia had stayed firm and unwavering to their devotion to Almighty God. Considering they were a small church against a large powerful worldly force this is commendable. So Christ had given them and “open door” that only He could shut. To me this appears to be a reward for remaining faithful to Jesus even under spiritual and physical oppression. The reward for the one, “who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” This seems to suggest victory in Christ. To me victory in Christ is eternal life and ultimately to be victorious over the world and death (Morris 78-79).

What I will note as stated in a class lecture is there is no indication of being "ἁρπαγησόμεθα/will be snatched away" in this passage. The implication through the entire address to the Philadelphians as it was with Smyrna is that believers will need to endure tribulation/ θλῖψις until the end (McLaughlin 8C). It is interesting to note that Jesus has told the Philadelphians that “ὅτι ἐτήρησας τὸν λόγον τῆς ὑπομονῆς μου” / “you keep the saying/Word of my patience” and in return due to Jesus, “σε τηρήσω ἐκ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ πειρασμοῦ τῆς μελλούσης ἔρχεσθαι”/ “you will be kept out of the hour of trial soon to be coming”. The word “kept” here or specifically “τηρήσω/will be keeping” is used in the way of protection. More specifically, according to the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament it means: “…to guard from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon. For personal ends which is implied in the text as we as believers are Christ’s, means to hold fast, keep, preserve or to watch. It does not mean to take or remove from and it seems to imply a protection where the object of protection currently is located (Rienecker et al 820).

So...if I've understood my grammar correctly, if this is then combined with ἐκ it makes for some interesting grammatical implications. The word ἐκ is preposition denoting origin not destination or it is the point where action or motion proceeds from based on an orientation point. Christ’s protection will be at the point where the one being protected is located. This preposition refers to the location of the one being addressed and the one being addressed in this passage will be “kept from or out of the imminent tribulation” and the further implication is that this will occur at the point of which they are located or being addressed. At least this is the implication I have gleaned from the text in the address to Philadelphia. This therefore has cascading implications since the letters to the seven churches frames the rest of Revelation which in turn initially closes the Scriptures on an ominous but then glorious note.

The bottom-line which was so clearly elucidated by both the professor of my course and my written sources is this: We are called to persevere, endure and to remain faithful to Jesus Christ in our trials and tribulations of this world. Jesus was absolutely clear in the Gospel of John. You would think Jesus knew something we didn’t.

John 16:33 ~ “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In the end if we persevere faithfully until the end we will receive the crown (v.11) or a στέφανόν/stephanon which was the garland wreath given to the victor who ran a race successfully and won the price. In this case it is eternal life in glory with Jesus Christ. We today are called to do the same. As Paul said:

1 Corinthians 9:24 ~ “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”

We need to be diligent and stay the course even under duress and persecuation, just as Christ did. Christ who allowed Himself to be nailed to the Cross. Because He did this God the Father lifted His name above all other names.

Philippians 2:10-11“…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

This then leads us to our last church which is almost diametrically opposite of Philadelphia and offers us a Scriptural point of contrast which is ironically, much like Daniel in its style of prose (i.e.: Belshazzar/Nebuchadnezzar)

[Please note that through all of this I never said that a "ἁρπαγησόμεθα/snatching away" would not occur at all. That would require that I completely ignore 1 Thessalonians 4 and I cannot and will not do that. What I am simply saying that it is highly improbable that believers will avoid tribulation if Philadelphia and Smyrna set the pattern for a faithful church which will most certainly exist somewhere in the end times. Therefore my previous views on a Pre-Tribulation rapture or a “snatching away” seems less plausible to me than it once did in my Dispensationalism days which were not that long ago. I believe I adhere more to a Pre-Wrath or Mid-Tribulation rapture now. What we know for sure is that at some point God will put an end to the persecutions but it appears some will have to endure. More on this in later posts.]

Like I said, if we misinterpret the first few chapters of Revelation it throws the entire book out of whack and then, viewed from the context of the entire rest of the Bible, we come away misguided. To say that a promise of deliverance from the incomparable physical horrors of a “great tribulation” is a state made out of the context of the introductory chapters of Revelation...therefore it is an except to the remaining prose of the book and the overall pattern of Scripture. If there is anything I am clear is that we should trust the pattern of Scripture when the Scripture is not entire clear on a topic (i.e.: women in ministry, apocalyptic language, prophecy)

During this period the text of Revelation ultimate describes a  threat that is not physical but spiritual harm, which has been a threat to God’s people throughout history. The final tribulation in Revelation is not necessarily escalated with respect to the nature of physical trials, but is an intensification of the inaugurated end-time tribulation (1:9; 2:9), in which persecution is no longer selective but universal (Revelation 11:7–10; 20:8–9).

That John has in mind a spiritual protection of Christians as they go through tribulation is evident also from the fact that Rev. 3:10 may well be alluding to Dan. 12:1, 10 where “that hour” (τὴν ὥραν ἐκείνην) is immediately described as “that day of tribulation” (ἐκείνη ἡ ἡμέρα θλίψεως, v 1) when “many are tested (πειράζω) and sanctified and sinners sin” (v 10).

Daniel 12:1 ~ “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.

Also in context

Daniel 12:10 ~ Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand.

This suggests that the “testing” in Rev. 3:10 has the double effect of purifying and strengthening believers and of divine punishment of others. This assessment is confirmed from Rev. 7:14. Much of this is often totally glanced over in an attempt to jump right to the more sensationalized aspects of Revelation and the entire rest of Revelation is then read out of context. these portions in Revelation are impossible to ignore and are not clean-cut. When we take this portion and then combined it with 1 Thessalonians 4:17, things become even more uncertain in relation to timing and actual events. Anyone willing to speculate on the exact sequence and timing of such events runs the risk of reading things into the text that are just not there. Frankly, this is exactly what the Devil does and those who wish to twist Scripture. Many even do this unwittingly.

There saints are depicted as “coming out of the great tribulation” and wearing white robes in allusion respectively to Dan. 12:1 and 12:10 (see on 7:14). The fact that precisely the same two OT allusions are appealed to here further point towards the idea that the subject of both passages is the church as latter-day Israel and its destiny to experience trial. Revelation 7:14 is clearly that of believers enduring through tribulation and coming out of it successfully, which points further to the same picture in 3:10. They are not preserved from trial by removal from it, but their faith is preserved through trial because they have been sealed by God. there is no mention of ἁρπαγησόμεθα or "taking away" physically nor is it implied. We need to incorporate 1 Thessalonians to justify this view but Thessalonians plucks this idea from a  different context that does not involve persecution and suffering per se, it deals with believers who have already died right after a portion that dealt with right living before God or living a life pleasing to God.

Christ promises that he will come imminently (soon) in order further to encourage these believers to stand strong in their faith and witness through the crisis that they are about to pass (“hold fast what you have”). “Hold fast” suggests that they will be going through trials that will require especially diligent safeguarding of faith (of the two other uses of κρατέω [“hold fast”] in the letters, one allows a situation of trial. Such endurance will indicate that they have not been prevented from successfully completing their pilgrimage of salvation.

At the final consummation no form of physical or spiritual suffering will harm the church because of the full manifestation of God’s presence in its midst. This is indicated here by (v.12) “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and by no means should he go outside anymore”. Christ’s statement that he will write “the name of my God and the name of the city of my God” on the overcomer who becomes permanently identified with the temple recalls Ezekiel 48:35.

The language of Revelation 3:12 is then repeated verbatim in 21:2 to introduce a vision of the end-time temple of God, where God will dwell forever with his people; the temple there is modeled on the Ezekiel 40–48 temple. This further emphasizes the theme of divine presence in Revelation 3:12. This line of thought in which Jesus’ followers persevere through tribulation and then are rewarded with the presence of God and Christ in the “temple” (ναός) is also found developed in 7:14–17.

That the promise of a place in the Ezekiel 40–48 end-time temple has been inaugurated is suggested by the parallel with Revelation 11:2, and the fact that 11:2 pictures the community of faith on earth as already identified with that temple.

The saints are then given a concluding exhortation “to hear” in v 13 because they need spiritual discernment in the midst of the affliction that they are about to endure in order not to deny Christ’s name (cf. 3:8b, 10a) and to inherit the final reward.  If they are not heavenly-minded and focusing on their final reward, they will be tempted to conform themselves to earthly circumstances around them, which includes compromise of their faith because of persecution.

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