Sermon: Philadelphia – Faithful Witnesses: Revelation 3:7-13

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 45:14–25

Listen to how the Lord spoke to Old Covenant Israel through the prophet Isaiah concerning what would happen in the days to come among the nations of the earth.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours; they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you. They will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.’ Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. All of them are put to shame and confounded; the makers of idols go in confusion together. But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.  Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory’” (Isaiah 45:14–25, ESV).

New Testament Reading: Revelation 3:7-13

Now listen to how the Lord spoke to New Covenant Israel, that is, the church, made up of both Jew and Gentile, through John the Apostle:

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’’” (Revelation 3:7–13, ESV).


Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when writing a sermon. Such was the case this past week as I wrote this one. Never have I felt overwhelmed for a lack of something meaningful to say – God’s word is always meaningful.  And rarely have I felt overwhelmed by a text because I struggled to understand it’s meaning (though I can think of a few instances) – God’s word is generally very clear, though some passages can, at first, be hard to understand. I tend feel overwhelmed with a text when it is complex. I use the word “complex”, not to refer to a text that is confusing or hard to understand, but in reference to one that has lot going on in it. Perhaps a better word would be dense, or layered? Such is the case with the letter to Philadelphia. I suppose the same thing could be said of all the letters to the seven churches, but it seems especially true of this one: the letter to Philadelphia is jam-packed with symbolism. It is filled with allusions – references – to other parts of the book of Revelation. It’s language harkens back to things that have been said in chapter one and points us forward to things that will be developed from chapter four onward. And it is also filled with allusions to the Old Testament, particularly the book of Isaiah. The effect is that, when reading the letter to Philadelphia, the reader’s mind is constantly directed this way and that. One word will take our minds back to Revelation chapter one. Another word will make us think of things that will be said later in Revelation. Another phrase will remind us of Isaiah 22, whereas another will bring to remembrance Isaiah 45, or Psalm 86. That is what I mean when I refer to the letter to Philadelphia as complex. There is a lot going on in it. If we had hours together I would not feel overwhelmed, but we only have a short time.

The letter was written to Christians living in Philadelphia. This is obviously not a reference to our Philadelphia, but to a 90 A.D. city located in Asia Minor that went by the same name. The church there was strong and faithful and true. Notice that Christ did not rebuke this church for any shortcoming. He did not say, “but I have this against you”, but urges them to continue on faithfully to the end. Of the seven churches addressed in Revelation it is only Smyrna and Philadelphia that were not rebuked. The other five were rebuked for their weaknesses. Two of those were in especially bad shape.

I should remind you of something that was emphasized two weeks ago. Christ, though he rebuked and commended his churches for a variety of things, was supremely concerned with this question: is the church fulfilling their obligation to witness? That seems to be the criterion. That seems to be the principle or stander by by which Jesus Christ judged these churches. Is the church doing what she was designed to do? Is she faithful to shine forth as a light in the darkness? That was the primary question that the Son of Man who was seen walking in the midst of the lampstand was concerned with as he inspected his churches. Are they faithful witness to me? Though the word “witness” is not used in each of the seven letters, the idea is there. Christ inspected these churches with that question in mind – are they faithful witness of mine?

When I use the word “witness” I understand that many will automatically think of evangelism – that is, the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ with our mouths. Indeed that is a kind of witness, and an important one at that. But the word “witness” means more than to preach. Certainly we witness when we speak of Jesus, but we also witness when we live in obedience to God’s word, when we faithfully worship as God has called us to worship, when we believe and teach what God has revealed, when we maintain our devotion to God and to his Christ, forsaking the things of this world, even to the point of death. These are the things that a faithful “witness” does.

Witnessing is a way of life, then. The English word “witness” comes from the Greek word μάρτυς, which refers to “a person who has been deprived of life as the result of bearing witness to his [or her] beliefs.” Perhaps “martyr” would be a more accurate English translation. Now, I am not saying that God calls all Christians to “martyrdom”, that is, to literally die for the name of Christ. Indeed, only some Christians are privileged to have that calling. But is it not true that all Christians are called to martyrdom of another kind? Are we not all called to lay down our lives, to die to self daily, and to live for Christ? Is this not how Christ calls us to follow him? He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25, ESV). For some Christians the martyrdom becomes literal and physical, but it is spiritual for all who name the name of Christ. All are called to deny self, take up his cross (die to self), and follow after Jesus.

The churches that were rebuked by Christ were rebuked because, in one way or another, they had failed to live as Christ’s witnesses. They had compromised, either in doctrine or in way of life. Their light was no longer shining in the darkness. Their lamp had grown dim. It had begun to flicker and sputter as a result of their failure to preserver it. These churches, in one way or another, had become like the world around them. They had compromised in their doctrine or in their way of life so that the distinction between Christian and non-Christian was melting away. Their light was growing dim and on the verge of becoming darkness.

The churches that were commended and not rebuked were commended, not because they were perfect in every way (there is no such thing as a perfect church), but because they were faithful to live as Christians in the world. They were uncompromising in doctrine and in life. The were unwilling to bow the knee to false god’s or to run after the pleasures of this world or to tolerate false teaching in their midst. They were true to Christ and to his name.

Such was the case with the Christians at Philadelphia. They were commended because they had (verse 8) “kept [Christ’s] word and [had] not denied [his] name” (Revelation 3:8, ESV). They had (verse 10) “kept [Christ’s] word” and were “patient [in] endurance” (Revelation 3:10, ESV). The Greek word translated “patient endurance” is ὑπομονή, which means to “continue to bear up under difficult circumstances—‘endurance, being able to endure.’” These were uncompromising, faithful, and sincere people.

But we should not take this to mean that things were easy for the Christians in Philadelphia. Clearly the church was under attack. It is not difficult to understand what the problem was there. We are told at the end of verse 8 that the Christians had “but little power,” and yet did not deny the name of Christ (Revelation 3:8, ESV). We do not know exactly what is meant by the phrase, “you have but little power.” Perhaps the Christians were small in number in that city. Perhaps they were poor. Perhaps they were outcasts socially. I would not be surprised if all of the above were true of them. What is clear is that the church in Philadelphia was weak as it pertains to worldly power, and they were vulnerable.

Specifically they were under attack from the Jewish community there in Philadelphia. This is clear from what is said in 3:9. There Christ encourages them, saying, “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9, ESV).

Indeed, these are harsh words leveled against the Jews in that city, and they are hard to understand if we are ignorant of the historical situation. A synagogue was, and is, a place of gathering and worship for the Jews. The word simply means “assembly, or congregation.” It is not all that different from the word “church”, which also refers to an assembly or congregation. The Jews have gathered in synagogues to worship ever since the Babylonian captivity in the year 586 B.C. The Jews worshipped in synagogues because they did not have access to the temple, which had been destroyed in that. The temple was rebuilt and then destroyed again in 70 A.D. making the synagogue the central place for Jewish worship once more, even up to this present day. Our Christian concept of the church and of worship is clearly connected to the Jewish synagogue system, and not to the temple. We assemble in what we call churches to pray, sing, and read scripture, among other things. Such was the practice of the Jews in the days leading up to, during, and after the life of our Lord.

It is important to understand the tension that existed, and the divide that developed, between the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and all who received him as such, Jew and Gentile alike.

Many of the first Christians were Jews. Jesus was a Jewish man. The Apostles were all Jewish men. Many Jewish priests confessed Jesus as the Christ. But many more rejected the claim. It was the Jews, after all, who handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified. Most of the Jewish religious elite denied that he was the Christ. The rift between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews was undoubtably deep and wide. Think, for example, about the Apostle Paul’s conversion. Before he was Paul the Apostle of Christ he was Saul the persecutor of Christians. His aim was to stomp out the Christian movement, but then he was converted. After this his life was constantly threatened by his own kinsmen according to the flesh, that is to say, the non-believing Jews.

It was not at all uncommon for Jews to persecute Christians in the early days of the church. Undoubtably that is what was happening in the cities of Philadelphia and Smyrna. In both letters Jesus uses the phrase, “synagogue of Satan” to describe the non-believing Jews who were persecuting the Christians. In Revelation 2:9 we read Christ’s words to Smyrna: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9, ESV). The phrase appears again in the letter to Philadelphia. In 3:9 where we read, “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9, ESV).

They were called by Jesus a “synagogue of Satan” because they were, ironically, doing Satan’s work as they were opposing and persecuting the Christians. They found themselves on the wrong team. They were on the wrong side of the divide, given their decision to reject Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.

And in both letters Jesus makes this remark: they “say that they are Jews and are not”. What does this mean? Clearly these are Jewish people ethnically speaking. Perhaps there were some Gentiles amongst them who had converted to Judaism – to the religion of Judaism. Christ’s critique of them was this: Though they may have been Jews according to the flesh, and though they claimed to be Jews, that is to say, the true children of Abraham, and the true people of God – they were not. Why? Because they had rejected the Messiah. They had rejected the Christ who had been promised to them through the Fathers from shortly after the fall. Ironically then, they were therefore Jews, but they were not Jews; they were children of Abraham, but they were not children of Abraham; and they were Israel, but they were not Israel.   

You may think that it sounds strange to speak in this way, but it is the way that the story is told from the days of Abraham onward. Indeed, Abraham had very many decedents according to the flesh, but not all shared his faith. It was possible, then, from the very beginning to be a child of Abraham according to the flesh, but not according to faith. Jacob and Esau are held up as models of this dynamic. Paul held them up in Romans 9 to illustrate this very point. Though both were decedents of Abraham only Jacob had faith so that God said of them, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13, ESV). So, from the beginning is was possible to be a child of Abraham – a Jew, and Israelite according to the flesh – but not a true child of Abraham, Jew, and Israelite according to the spirit.

And what distinguished between the two? If we put the doctrine of election to the side for a moment and look at the issue from the human vantage point, we would have to say that the distinguishing factor was “faith”. The true children of Abraham, the true Israelite, the true Jew, had, not only the genes of Abraham, but the faith of Abraham. And what was Abraham’s faith rooted in? It was rooted in the promises of God concerning the coming of a redeemer, a savior, the Messiah, the Christ.

Even under the Old Covenant, then, we see that a distinction was made between those who were Jews merely according the flesh and those who were true Jews according to the spirit. This is where the talk of a “remnant” comes from. There where times under the Old Covenant when, though the Jewish population was indeed very great, only a small remnant remained. These were the minority from amongst the Jewish people who had the faith of Abraham – faith in the promises of God concerning the Christ who would accomplish salvation and would, one day, usher in the new heavens and the new earth.

Faith in God – faith in his promises – faith in the promised redeemer was the thing that distinguished between Israel according to the flesh, and true Israel, even under the Old Covenant.

And the same principle is true under the New Covenant. In fact it must be confessed that, not only does the same principle hold true, but it is greatly intensified under the New Covenant, for the New Covenant is made only with those who believe. The Old Covenant differed from the New in this regard: The Old Covenant was made with all who descended from the loins of Abraham. Every child born to a Jewish father was born into the Old Covenant and was circumcised on the eighth day as a sign and seal of that reality. If they would have faith would yet to be seen. If they would grow to become a true Israelite, a true child of Abraham, would depend upon their faith or lack thereof. But all who born to Abraham were indeed members of that Old Covenant. It was a mixed covenant, then, consisting of believers and non-believers, true Israel and Israel only according to the flesh.

But a promise was made in the days of the Old Covenant concerning the arrival of a New Covenant. And this New Covenant would be different from the Old in that it would be made only with those who had faith. In other words, the issue of genealogy or ethnicity wouldn’t matter a lick in regard to being a part of this New Covenant. The Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV).

This New Covenant would be made only with those who “know the Lord”. Everyone in this New Covenant would have a regenerate heart – God’s law would be written on their hearts. Under this New Covenant no longer would “each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me”, says the Lord. This is covenant would not be a mixed covenant, but a pure one.

This is why I say that the distinction between true Israel and false Israel does not pass away with the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, but is greatly intensified. For after the coming of the Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, those who do not have the faith of Abraham cannot even be consider as being in covenant with God as was the case under the Old.

Let us use Jacob and Esau as an example. Did Esau have faith? He did not. But was Esau an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, under Moses, and member of the Old Covenant? Yes he was! He was not a part of true Israel, but he was a part of Israel. He was not a true child of Abraham, but he was a decedent of Abraham. He did not benefit from the Covenant of Grace that would be instituted by the Christ, but he was truly under the Old Covenant. He could, in that external and physical sense, consider himself to be one of God’s people, though he was not one of the elect (read Romans 9).

But may I ask you this? Are there any Esau’s under the New Covenant? No! For all who are under the New Covenant know God, are regenerate, having the law written on their hearts – they all have the faith of Abraham. This is the thing that matters – faith in Christ.

This is why Paul spoke as he did, saying, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6, 8, ESV).

In Galatians 3:7 Paul put it this way, saying,

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:7–9, ESV).

Under the New Covenant ethnicity doesn’t matter – your physical birth gets you nowhere. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28–29, ESV).

When the New Covenant was ratified in Christ’s blood the promise made to Abraham that through him (though his offspring) all the nations of the earth would be blessed was fulfilled. Jesus the Christ is the savior of the world. The apostles were commissioned to make disciples of all nations. The wall of separation that had existed under the Old Covenant between Jew and Gentile had been broken down. The dietary laws that distinguished the Jew and Gentile had been removed.  On and on I could go.

All of this made it possible for Paul to write the church in Ephesus as he did, saying,

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11–22, ESV).

So much more could be said about this. The point that I am laboring to make is that when Jesus the Messiah came he instituted the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was no more. It was fulfilled by Christ. And this New Covenant, while certainly not disconnected from the Old, was radically different. It was particularly different in regards to the question “who is in the covenant, and on what basis.” Under the Old the answer was mainly this: Israel is in and on the basis of birth, though not all have true faith (there was a way for Gentiles to come in too). Under the New Covenant the answer is this: it is those who have faith who are in the covenant, and this is equally true for Jew and Gentile alike.

This was a radicle shift, friends. And it was this shift that makes the tension between the Jews and the Christians in the early days of the church understandable. The Jewish people were (and are) insistent in their claim that they are God’s people on the basis of their ethnicity. What was Christ’s opinion? ‘You say that you are Jews, but you are not. In fact you are the synagogue of Satan.’

It always feels wrong to use this language given what has happened to the Jews in the past. I struggle to say it, but is the language of our Lord. It is the language of scripture. We must remember that this firm language is not racially motivated. Jesus was a Jew. Most of the early Christians were Jews. This is not an attack upon the Jews as a people. And in no way is it intend to motivate hostility towards them. Such action would be completely contrary to the way of Christ.

The strong language, however, is meant to draw attention to the serious error that these Jews had made. They had missed their Messiah. Though they were Abrahams children according to the flesh they did not have the faith of Abraham, for Abraham believed in the promises of God concerning the Christ would be a blessing to the whole world – Jesus was that Christ, and they did not believe upon him. And not only did they fail to believe upon him, but they persecuted those who did.

Do you see the irony. Those who were called “the people of God” under the Old Covenant (the Jews) were now called by God “not my people” under the New given their lack of faith; and those who were called “not my people” under the Old (the Gentiles), are now called by God “my people” under the New because of the faith. The prophet Hosea prophesied concerning these things in Hosea 1, and the Apostles Paul explains these things in Romans 9.

This whole passage drips with irony.

The Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia was strong. They persecuted the Christians. They excommunicated the Jew who professed faith in Christ. The doors were slammed shut in the face of Christians. Their claim was this: “we are the true people of God, you are not”; “We are in covenant with God, you are not”; “We are in the kingdom, you are not”; “Abraham is our Father, not yours”; “David is our King, not yours”; “we are in, given our heritage, and you are out”.

Ironically, the opposite was true. Notice half way through verse 7 that Jesus Christ himself is the “holy one” – a title reserved for God alone, especially in the book of Isaiah, which is alluded to throughout this passage. Jesus Christ is “the true one” – he is the true Messiah, God’s faithful servant. Jesus is the one “who has the key of David” – he is the promised descendent of David who’s Kingdom would be everlasting – Jesus is the King, and God’s Kingdom is his. Jesus, therefore is the one “who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” The Jews in Philadelphia had shut the Christians out, but it is Jesus who has the authority to open and to shut the doors to his kingdom. It is those who believe upon his name that have an open door before them. Look at verse 8. To the Christian church he says, “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8, ESV). For those who do not believe, the door is securely closed. This corresponds to the vision of Jesus in chapter 1 where Jesus is is heard saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18, ESV). In chapter 1 it is Christ’s authority to bind and loose in regard to death and hades that is emphasized. He in the letter to Philadelphia it is his authority open and shut in regard to the kingdom that is emphasized. There is a very important passage surrounding Isaiah 22:22 that is behind what is said here concerning the “key of David”. I so wish that we had the time to explore it, but we do not.

The message for the Christians in Philadelphia was clear. They were to continue persevering through the persecution for they were the true Israel of God by virtue of their faith in Christ. Jesus was the Christ. Though him they had an open door to the kingdom.

Notice that Christ said that he would make “those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9, ESV). This is a reversal of what was promised to Israel in the Isaiah passage that was read at the beginning of the sermon. In Isaiah 45 it was promised to Israel that the day would come when the nations would come and bow before them confessing the their God was the one true God. Here in Revelation 3 the same language is used but it is promised to the church that the Jews would bow before them. The promise of Isaiah 45 was fulfilled at the first coming of Christ and continues to be fulfilled to this present day as Gentiles come to the God of the Jews through faith in Jesus who is the Messiah. The promise of Revelation 3 will is fulfilled when ever Christian live as faithful witness to God and to Christ in the presence of Jewish people, leading them to confess that indeed Jesus is Lord. It’s a marvelous reversal, isn’t it?

The promise to the Christians was that Christ, through their patent endurance,  would “keep [them] from the hour of trial [was] is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10, ESV). It is hard to know what particular trial this was in reference to. What is clear is that they would be “kept” by Christ. Many pre-tribulation, pre-millennial interpreters take this as a reference to the rapture that will, in their view, come before the great tribulation. Their thought is that Christ would never allow his people to pass through tribulation, but that he will “keep” them, that is, take them out of, the tribulation. That’s an awful lot of theology to cram into this text! And it ignores what is clearly said elsewhere! Was it not just said to the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, ESV)? And what about Jesus’ words in John 17 (recoded by the same John who wrote the book of Revelation, mind you)? There we hear Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, saying,

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one… I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:11, 15, ESV).

It is the same word in the Greek found in both John 17 verses 11 and 15 and Revelation 3 verse10. The word “keep” does not mean “to take out of”, but rather, “to keep watch over”, or “to guard”; “to cause to continue or persevere.” This is the thing that Christ does for his people who are in tribulation – he sustains spiritually. That is what he promised to do for the faithful in Philadelphia.

And what do the saints have to look forward to?

“I am coming soon”, he said. This could be a reference to the second coming. But we should also remember that book of Revelation speaks of Jesus coming in judgment and in support of believers in other ways (2:5; 2:16; 3:3).

He exhorted them, saying, “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Revelation 3:11, ESV). They have rewards in heaven waiting for them. They are to hold fast to them, and not trade those treasures of infinite worth for the fleeting pleasures of this world.

And to the Christians Christ said, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it…” (Revelation 3:12, ESV). There will be no physical temple in the new heavens and the new earth. Revelation 21:22 says so. Something better will be there, for the whole earth will be the “temple of God”, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22, ESV). In other words, the presence of God and the glory of God will fill all. Everything will be what the Holy of Holies in the temple symbolized. What then is meant when Jesus says, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God”. Certainly this is symbolic language. We do not expect to be made into stone, do we? The promise is that the one who remains faithful to Christ to the end will have a permeant place in the new heavens and new earth. That one will enjoy the presence of God and the glory of God always and forever.

Furthermore Christ promised to “write on him the name of [his] God, and the name of the city of [his] God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from… God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12, ESV). Here everything points to the principle of possession. We belong to him and he to us. What he has earned is ours through faith in him. This is our eternal reward.


The letter concludes with these familiar words: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:13, ESV). I know that you have ears, but I wonder, do you have ears that really hear? Is the word of God alive to you? Does the Spirit instruct you in it? Does it have power in your life? Does it have an effect upon you? I wonder if you have developed the discipline of meditating upon the word after you have heard it? Do you think deeply upon the word? Do you work to understand it? And after that, do you work to apply it? The word is to be applied!

It is true that these letters were addressed to churches living long ago who faced challenges that were in some ways unique to them. But friends, we must not forget that principles stated here are timeless and universal.

You are God’s chosen people. You’ve been called out of the kingdom of darkness to walk in light. You are to shine forth as lights in the darkness so that others might come to give glory to God almighty. Are you walking in the light? Is your life – your thoughts, words, and deeds – distinctly Christ like? Or are you worldly.

May the Lord purify us. May he make us able and willing to keep his will and to walk faithfuly before him, setting our eyes upon the eternal reward.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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