Revelation 3:7-13 – Philadelphia

I apologize sincerely for taking so long to get this out.  I was waiting for Cyber-Synagogue to update so that the notes and streaming would be in tandem, but we appear to be experiencing unusual delays . . . or the usual ones, as the case may be.  Sorry about that.  So for the sake of going ahead and moving this along:

Tourists visit the pillars of Philadelphia in the middle of a thriving city

3:7“To the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia, founded by Attalus II Philadelphus in 140 BCE. Though it has several times been almost destroyed by earthquakes, it still exists today as Alasehir (the “City of God”).  The beauty of the city of old was such that when Xerxes saw it on his way to Greece, “he appointed a keeper for it, and adorned it with golden ornaments.”  Of all the seven congregations, only Philadelphia and Smyrna received nothing but compliments from the Lord, and only these two remain as important cities today.  Indeed, the high praise that Yeshua gives to both assemblies is very similar, as we will see.

Philadelphia (now called Alasehir) today

Philadelphia was a part of the province that Sardis was the capital of, Lydia.  Philadelphia is therefore often identified with the great revival that came out of the mainline Protestant denominations in the 1800s, as well as with those few and scattered churches around the world that hold to the ideals contained within this letter, while remaining distinct from the general run of the mainline denominational churches. And while that is possibly where prophetic Philadelphia finds its beginnings, that is not the whole of the story.

To this assembly worthy of His praise, Yeshua commands John, write:  “He who is holy, and commands us, “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2; 1Pe. 1:16) he who is true, the true God; he is the living God, and an everlasting King: at his wrath the earth trembles, and the nations are not able to withstand his indignation (Jer. 10:10), he who has the key of David, the Lord here referring to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah in type.  For in the days of King Hezekiah, Shebna the scribe (2Ki. 18:37), who had grown in pride and forgotten the God who had rescued him with all of Judea from the hand of Sennacherib of Assyria.  Isaiah says of his crime, “What are you doing here? Who has you here, that you have dug out a tomb here?’ Cutting himself out a tomb on high, chiseling a habitation for himself in the rock!” (Isa. 22:16), so it may be that he had built a great tomb for himself among those of the kings of Judah.  For this crime, the Eternal God says,

I will thrust you from your office. You will be pulled down from your station.  It will happen in that day that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your belt. I will commit your government into his hand; and he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will lay the key of the house of David on his shoulder. He will open, and no one will shut. He will shut, and no one will open. I will fasten him like a nail in a sure place. He will be for a throne of glory to his father’s house. (Isa. 22:19-23)

In the same way, Yeshua introduces Himself to the Philadelphians as the true Right Hand of the Almighty who will cast down the usurpers who seek to elevate themselves.  In this role, Yeshua is he who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one opens, and says these things:

3:8 “I know your works, for indeed our King praises first not our words of faith, but our works born of faith, and in this the Philadelphians have much in common with those of Thyatira who have rejected the false prophets.  Yeshua continues, Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one can shut, a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Messiah (Col. 4:3).  Whatever this specific open door may have been in the 1st Century, many commentators see in this promise the great open door of missionary work that Messiah opened in the eighteenth through twentieth centuries.  I also see in it an open door to the assemblies of the Far East, particularly China and South Korea, whose nations are making business deals in many parts of the world where the Good News has never been proclaimed.  But more than that, there is a very specific door in mind here, as we will see.

Yeshua holds open this door because that you have a little power, a little dunamis, the Greek word from which we get our word “dynamite,” but which in the NT nearly always refers to the working of miracles.  But why does our King praise those who have only a little power, a small working of miracles among them?  Should He not rather praise those of such faith that they cast down mountains?  Sadly, the working of miracles often works in our flesh to turn us into “sign junkies.”  Many, having tasted of the Divine Spirit and hungering for it like Edmond after the White Witch’s Turkish Delight, even take to wandering from church to church, from revival to revival, seeking more spiritual manifestations.  They become prey for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves (Mat. 7:15) and even outright occultism.  Therefore, to those who are content with a little power, who praise the Eternal One for all His benefits but are content to let the Spirit move as He will, Yeshua sets an open door.

The Seven Assemblies, read right-to-left

Moreover, Messiah says of Philadelphia, and they kept my word, and didn’t deny my name, a praise which is joined to the promise that follows: 3:9 Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but lie.  We read previously about this synagogue of Satan and considered what it might be.  I consider both of those options to still be on the table, though I think Gene Schlomovitch’s comment on that post gives a very good argument that Replacement Theology is the more likely culprit.  Either way, it is interesting that Yeshua does not say that He will destroy this synagogue of Satan, but rather, Behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you, as Joseph’s estranged brothers, who persecuted him, came and bowed themselves down to him with their faces to the earth (Gen. 42:6).  In this allusion there is a hint of reconciliation between brethren.

The menorah for the coming Temple

Either way this allusion, and the fact that the branch of Philadelphia joins to the branch of Smyrna (as Sardis does to Pergamos and Laodicea to Ephesus), indicates to us that Messianic Jews are addressed in this letter–not solely, as if they alone had the qualities our King praises in this assembly.  Indeed, I am sad to say, most Messianic synagogues are more like dead Sardis or charismatically-dominated Thyatira than Philadelphia.  Even so, I find a special word of encouragement to Jewish Talmidei Yeshua (Disciples of Yeshua) who have resisted the temptation to keep their faith silent or even deny Yeshua’s Name, but who have accepted rejection and persecution from our own people as a worthy sacrifice to present to the Holy One, and yet who have remained “holy, as I am holy”in their lives and dedication to the Jewish people.

3:10 Because you kept my command to endure, literally, “the word of My patience,” a cheerful and hoepful endurance in the face of wearying labor, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, which is to come on the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. The phrase “keep you from,” tereosu ek, only appears in one other place in Scripture, in Yeshua’s prayer for His disciples:  “I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  It indicates protection within a sphere of danger, not bodily removal.  For this reason, and because this promise is given to Philadelpia alone, we cannot regard this as a promise of a pretribulational Rapture, as some do.  Would Yeshua take to Himself only 1/7th of a Bride?

3:11 I am coming quickly! Hold firmly that which you have, just as I commanded the Thyatirans, so that no one takes your crown.  This crown is not eternal life, for “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).  These crowns represent honor and glory, as in the Pirke Avot (“Sayings of the Fathers,” 4:19):  “R. Shime’on said, There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, and the crown of Priesthood, and the crown of Royalty (Ex. 25:10, 11; 30:1, 3; 25:23, 24); but the crown of a good name mounts above them (Eccl. 7:1).”

3:12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, not in some bizarre physical transformation, but in the same sense that Paul called Peter and John pillars (Gal. 2:9); that is, leaders and men of reputation.  Of these pillars, Yeshua says, and he will go out from there no more, never to be separated from the Divine Presence ever again.  He will be like the twin pillars of Solomon’s Temple, Bo’az and Yachin (1Ki 7:21), “In His Strength . . . He Will Establish,” for indeed we are established in the Holy One’s strength, not our own.  I will write on him the name of my God, another possible reference to the restoration of the Tetragramaton to our knowledge and speech, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which shall be known as Kisse Hashem, the Throne of the Lord (Jer. 3:17), Hashem Tzidkeinu, the LORD Our Righteousness (Jer. 33:16), and Iyr Hemmet, City of Truth (Zec.8:3), which comes down out of heaven from my God, as foretold by Isaiah 62:1-7,

For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.  The nations shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.   You shall also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.   You shall no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall your land any more be termed Desolate: but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.   For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons shall marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.

I have set watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day nor night: you who call on the LORD, take no rest, and give him no rest, until he establishes, and until he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

And my own new name.  Not, perhaps, so much a new name in speech, but a new honor and reputation as the Lamb who was slain is truly shown to the whole world to be its true King, who rules in righteousness, but also with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:9).  It is interesting that even in this context, Yeshua thrice calls His Father “My God,” perhaps a reminder to us that in Yeshua the Word of Hashem came to open up a new way of redemption and union with Hashem, but not to replace Hashem, the Eternal One, our Father in our hearts. 

3:13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.

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