Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 3:7-13
Chapter 7

As we study the letters to the Churches in the Book of Revelation, it becomes obvious each church has certain characteristics common to all churches. Therefore, in a general sense, each letter is applicable to all churches today.

In addition, each letter also describes an individual church recognizable by its particular characteristics or situation. Churches are like people in the sense that each has its own personality and purpose. For example, some are very friendly. Some are generous. Some excel in teaching. Some are very evangelistic. Some have great youth ministries and so on, the list is endless.

This individualism, both in the Churches and the letters written to them, affords present day churches the opportunity to discern, through reading the letters, that the Scriptures are speaking to them personally. In other words, through these letters churches can focus the light of Scripture on themselves.

We have all heard a thousand times, "When the shoe fits, wear it" and it would be great if all churches today could find in the letter to the Church at Philadelphia, the shoe that fits, because there is no rebuke in this letter, meaning, the deadly problems that existed in the other churches, did not exist in Philadelphia.

For example, Ephesus lost her love for the Lord Jesus Christ. The zeal they had when they were first saved prompting them to work for the Lord, to testify of His saving grace was gone. From the letter to Ephesus we learn that one of the characteristics of those who lose their love for the Lord is they do not bother to tell others about Him or His church.

Do you remember the letter to Pergamum? They held to the doctrine of Balaam that taught it was acceptable to forsake purity and separation to mingle with the world. To them, a little sin was just the spice of life because they did not believe a little sin spoils everything. They also supported the teaching of the Nicolaitans or suppressors of the laity, who taught that the clergy were a special class, with special rights and privileges, meaning, they refused to accept the priesthood of the individual Believer who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

One of the fundamental doctrines of our faith is the Priesthood of the Believer. Every Believer has the right and privilege to approach the throne of grace at any time. No one who puts his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is in any way inferior or superior, but we are all the same in Christ, we are all sinners saved by grace. Dr. Maurice G. Stokum expressed the position of the Believer when he said, "I'm just a slum-bum sinner, saved by grace."

At Thyatira, they tolerated a false teacher along with her immoralities and idolatries. This was a grevious error because one of the primary responsibilities of any true church is to maintain doctrinal purity.

We also studied Sardis that was in a word, dead. It was a church with a name or reputation and no doubt thriving in terms of numbers but it was dead because of pride and improper motives in service.

Again, Philadelphia was unlike the other churches mentioned in the Revelation, in that the Church had no great sins for which the Lord rebuked them.

I. The Character Of The Lord Is Presented

"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth" (Revelation 3:7).

(1) "He that is Holy."

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the personification of Holy, and as such, is the example and standard to which we should aspire. Indeed, we should try to be so much like Him that when we are changed in the rapture, the change will be small. Also, we can be sure He will deal with us in a holy or right way because He is holy.

(2) "He that is True."

Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:13, that even if we are unfaithful, He remains faithful because He cannot deny Himself. No matter how uncertain life may be, one thing is sure, the Word of God. Jesus said not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all be fulfilled. Again, we can be sure the Lord will be true to His Word, meaning, He is true to Himself, to what He says, and to those that believe Him.

(3) "He that hath the key of David."

A key is a symbol of authority and the "key of David" is representative of the authority of the greatest of kings. Certainly, Jesus is "King of kings and Lord of lords" and no one has the authority to undo what He has ordained. Because nothing He has opened can be shut and nothing He shuts can be opened, there can be no doubt that He is the Sovereign of the Universe.

II. The Sovereign Lord's Message To This Church

"I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and has kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Revelation 3:8).

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

(1) "I know thy works."

Sometimes, when we labor in the church we begin to feel that what we do does not make any difference and that no one seems to care or even notice. Perhaps, it has been years since someone said, "Thank you" for your efforts. Or perhaps, it seems what we do does not make any difference because we do not see the immediate results of our efforts. Or maybe, on occasion it has seemed the whole ministry was at a standstill and "throwing in the towel" would be a welcomed relief from the drudgery.

No doubt, each of us has at one time or another felt unappreciated or unneeded, in the church. Even so, no matter how we may feel, or how we may be ignored by other people, or how bogged down things may seem to be, the Lord knows our work. I would much rather my efforts be ignored by men and known to God, than the other way around.

(2) "Thou hast a little strength."

The Apostle Paul, writing under direction of the Holy Spirit in Philippians 4:13, said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Surely, it is the Lord that strengthens or empowers His church and Christ is never weak. In truth, without Christ as the power in the life of the church, it is not a matter of a little strength, it is a matter of having no strength at all.

Just as Samson was incapable of defeating his enemies without the strength of the Lord, we are helpless without Christ working through us. Again, it is not a matter of a little strength without Christ. Rather, without Him, we have no strength at all. Therefore, it seems the statement has to do with numerical strength. In other words, they were small in number.

(3) "And hast kept my Word."

Even though they were small in number they were faithful to the Word of God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:4-5,

"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."
Today, Paul's prophecy is fulfilled in the growing apostasy of congregations that are not faithful to the Word of God. For the sake of numbers they do not want to offend anyone by preaching the truth of God's Word and so they compromise, they water it down or abandon it altogether.

Thankfully, churches like Philadelphia still exist, though small in number they are faithful to the Word of God. Communicating God's truth to a few is better than deceiving large numbers of people.

(4) "Hast not denied my name."

Not only had the church at Philadelphia been faithful to the Word of God but they had not abandoned the name of Christ.

Sadly, at the time John wrote this letter and continuing until today, there are those people who outwardly hold the Scriptures in high esteem, but at the same time insist that righteousness comes by adherence to the laws contained therein. For these, the Bible is a catalogue of "do's and don'ts" and not the revelation of God's Grace, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are those who teach salvation is the reward for righteous living and by doing so, they frustrate the Grace of God, determining for themselves that Christ is dead in vain.

Philadelphia did not abandon the name of Christ, for as Peter said in Acts 4:12, "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

Salvation is available only by Grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and anyone who denies that He is both necessary and sufficient to justify those who put their faith in Him has indeed denied His name.

(5) "Hast kept the word of my patience."

Philadelphia kept the Lord's command to be patient.

It has been a long time since what might be called the "glory years" for many churches - Those years when the Sunday School attendance was growing weekly and the budget, building and baptisms followed accordingly.

For many churches, declining neighborhoods caused people to move away, so that in recent years there has not been much flash and glitter. However, because there are those who are faithful and patient to wait upon the Lord to answer their prayers, He is moving among them. Many of our inner-city churches are beginning to again reach people in their own neighborhoods with the Gospel.

Philadelphia, was patient to wait upon the Lord and we see in this text,

III. What God Has in Store for This Church.

Even though the Church at Philadelphia was small in number, they continued to work. They remained true to the Scriptures and the gospel of Christ, and they were patient in their endeavors for the Lord. Philadelphia was a church with the potential to be used in a mighty way by the Lord.

As you know, the responsibility of the church is to water or to sow, but it is the Lord's responsibility to grant the increase. Because Philadelphia had been faithful to water and to sow, God was going to give the increase. Notice what He tells them:

(1) "I have set before thee an open door and no man can shut it" (Revelation 3:8).

Because of their faithfulness, God opened the door of opportunity and no man could shut it. This means that in the face of adversity, attempts to stop the progress, and minor setbacks, there was assurance the door was open and God would keep it open because He wanted them to use it. If the Philadelphians failed to use the opportunity set before them, it would not be because someone else stopped them. It would be because of their own disobedience.

Clearly, they did use the opportunity and even today there is a strong Christian influence in Philadelphia, 28 miles Southeast of Sardis in Asia Minor, better known as Turkey.

Likewise, the Lord has opened the doors of opportunity for many churches today and if they do not go through them, failure is their own fault.

(2) "I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee" (Revelation 3:9).

Jews were the greatest opponents of our Lord's earthly ministry and some of the greatest persecutions of the Church have come at the urgings of or as direct actions of the Jews. You may remember the Apostle Paul was called "Saul" and was a professional "terminator" of Christians. The Jews of that day had the idea that because they are God's chosen nation they had license to attack the church. Even today, some orthodox Jews have little tolerance for Christianity.

The Jews in this passage are representative of all who ridicule and persecute the Church, who feel secure in their own religions or beliefs and shun the truths being taught by the Church. While they think they alone are God's people, in truth what they think is a lie and they are really "of the synagogue of Satan."

Our Lord's statement in Revelation 3:9, is not a threat to these people. Rather, it is a promise that God will graciously stir their hearts and open their eyes of understanding. Then, they will know the people He loves are in His Church and that true worship of Him is in His Church, among His people. In the short term, God is going to use His Church to reach those people that have previously shunned them and the Lord. In the long term, those that refuse to repent will bow for judgment before the Lord and His Bride.

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

Leonard Carter, my father in the ministry, once told me the best way to keep trouble out of the church is to trouble the waters of baptism. He was right. Churches that devote themselves to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ see people responding in faith, joining the Church and identifying themselves in Christ, through water baptism. They enjoy the excitement of obedience to the Great Commission. However, to do this requires the patience or perseverence commanded by our Lord.

Two key ingredients for perseverance in ministry are faithfulness and obedience, therefore, patiences proves faith in the Lord and obedience to His will. Because it is not necessary to test that which is obvious, people and churches that are faithful and obedient do not need testing. One application of Revelation 3:10, is that the Lord restrains testing by Satan when His people are being obedient and faithful.

Another application is the promise that the Lord will keep His Church from the "Hour of Temptation." This "Hour of Temptation" is also known as the "Great Tribulation" and the Lord's way of keeping His Church from this terrible time is to take His Church out of the world before it happens in the great event known as the Rapture.

IV. The Reasons For Faithfulness
"Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 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, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name" (Revelation 3:11-12).
The Lord commended the Church at Philedelphia for its faithful service, its commitment to the Scriptures and the Gospel, and for its patience. He told them about the door He opened for them and He promised them success and protection from the enemy. Next, He offers them two reasons why they should take advantage of the opportunities He gave them:
(1) "That no man take thy crown" (Revelation 3:11).

Among the biggest mistakes Christians make is allowing someone else to take their crowns. That is, they allow another to get the rewards they could receive. When our Lord says in this verse, "hold fast that which thou hast," He is not talking about hanging on to a crown or reward already earned. Rather, He is talking about taking advantage of the door of opportunity He has opened. Because Christians can only earn crowns or rewards by being faithful in service, when they pass an opportunity to serve, someone else will do the job and get the crown. Jesus is simply saying, do not let someone else do your job and get your reward.

Oh well! One may think. There is plenty of time. Do not count on it. Jesus also said in this verse, "Behold, I come quickly." God's people need to realize that the time to earn rewards is when He provides the opportunity and the person who continues to put off service to the Lord will someday run out of "tomorrows" and the opportunity to earn crowns will be gone.

(2) "I will write upon him My new name" (Revelation 3:12).

As long as Christians are in this world they wear the name of the one they serve. The name they wear today is the name of the suffering Savior who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead, the Lamb of God. However, one day He will no longer be known as the suffering Savior of the world, but He will be the King of kings and Lord of lords. When our Lord takes His new name, so will Christians.

V. The Position And Privilege Of The Believer(Revelation 3:12).

(1) He is qualified to stand in the temple or presence of God.

(2) He receives the name of God, meaning, he becomes a child of God through the new birth. The children receive the name of their father.

(3) He receives the name of the new Jerusalem, meaning, he will know the name and location of the heavenly abode of God. The only way to know this is to be there. Those who are not there are confined to the lake of fire where they know nothing but torment forever and ever.

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
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