In the book of Revelation, the sixty-sixth and last book of the Bible, letters from Jesus are written to the Angels (the ἄγγελος or aggelos) or the messengers (the Pastors) of “the seven churches.” The Apostle John of Patmos records it in Revelation 1:10-11, saying:
“I came to be in the Spirit in the Lord’s day and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. Also, What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.'”
These seven letters to the churches contain both commendations and condemnations, and though these letter applied to the local churches of the day, they also apply to the corporate Church over time, and even to our Church, today. Being written by Jesus, the head of the Church, these letter span time, distance, culture and the development of the corporate church. Looking back on these seven letters, we can see how the descriptions of the Churches aligned with the historic situations of the Church through time, reflecting the changing ages of the Church, some short, some long.
|Ephesus||Pentecost to 100 AD||A time of expansion when the Church began to lose it personal relationship with Christ.|
|Smyrna||100 to 314 AD||From the death of Apostle John to the Edict of Toleration by Emperor Constantine.|
|Pergamos||314 to 590 AD||The period in which the Church moved from the person of Christ, to being corrupted by paganism.|
|Thyatira||590 to 1,000 AD||The Dark Ages in Europe.|
|Sardis||1,517 to 1,800 AD||The Protestant Church and the Reformation to the missionary movement.|
|Philadelphia||1,800 AD to the Rapture||Represents all the churches of the world which remain true to the Word of God.|
|Laodicea||1,800 AD to present and beyond||Churches and denominations of the world which have departed from faith to middle-of-the-road seeker friendly positions.|
You will note that both the Philadelphia and the Loadicean Churches represent us as the Churches of today. Today there are two sets of Churches; those which have remained true to the Word of God, and those who have departed from the Word and from true faith, into worldly middle-of-the-road seeker friendly positions.
Let us read what Jesus wrote to the Philadelphia Church, in Revelation 3:7-13,
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts; and shuts and no one opens, says these things: I know your works. Behold, I have given before you an open door, and no one can shut it. For you have a little strength and have kept My Word and have not denied My name
Behold, I give out of those of the synagogue of Satan, those saying themselves to be Jews and are not, but lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.
Because you have kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which will come upon all the habitable world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.
Behold, I come quickly. Hold fast to that which you have, so that no one may take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will go out no more. And I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from My God, and My new name.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
There is great commendation in the letter to the Philadelphia Church, but no condemnation. It is a worthy church, indeed it is a church worthy of study, for it is a Godly Church for these times. This letter provided seven (7) commendations of the Philadelphia Church which we today would be wise to study and emulate, for they were written for us by the Head of the Church:
1) “I know your works.”
When we read these words, we need to read them in conjunction with Ephesians 2:8-10 or we may misunderstand their meaning. Ephesians 2:8-10 says:
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Christians are to be judged by the fruit we bear, and though we are saved by faith and not work, evidence that we are saved are the works we do and the fruit we bear. As James 2:18 says:
“But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith from my works.”
In other words, the Philadelphia Church was recognisable by the godly fruit which it, and its congregation, bore.
2) “Behold, I have given before you an open door, and no one can shut it.”
There are a couple of possibilities in the meaning of this door which the Lord has opened for us. It could mean simply the joy of being a Christian, which grows and grows and resulted in the days of the original Philadelphia Church of courage, even unto martyrdom.
It also may relate to their having the key of David (Revelation 1:18), the key of the Kingdom of God as the Son of David. Hence he only opens and shuts, or determines who shall enter in, or be shut out. “The open door,” when related to other bible passages means great opportunities; generally for preaching the gospel and therefore most probably here means a way opened to convert the Gentiles.
3) “For you have a little strength.”
Having little strength seems to go against common sense, because we are viewing it from a worldly perspective, rather than a Godly. The Philadelphia Church is here being commended for its humility, for its lack of pretentiousness. This is to be compared to the contemporary Church with its focus on growth, on numbers, on programmes and on Church buildings.
Jesus commended their humility, so we can therefore reasonably assume that they were, nevertheless, “doing the job;” they getting the Word of God out, and growing the Kingdom.
The Lord here is obviously taking a close account of Christians and or their Churches, and is judging us. We need to remember that as First Corinthians 11:31 says “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” and it appears clearly that the Philadelphia Church judged themselves, following Paul’s sage advice of First Corinthians 4:3-4, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or by a man’s day; but I do not judge my own self, for I know nothing by myself. Yet I have not been justified by this, but He who judges me is the Lord.”
4) “you…. have kept My Word“
Jesus commended the Philadelphia Church for keeping the Word of the Lord. In John 14:15 Jesus said “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” and the commendation in Revelation 3:10 confirms His unchanged view of obedience to His Word.
The contemporary liberal and seeker-friendly Church falls far short of this mark. Indeed, as I understand, the full Gospel of Christ is no longer preached or taught in many churches today.
5) “you…. have not denied My name”
Again, by comparison, the contemporary liberal and seeker-friendly Church falls far short of this mark, with many apparently denying even the deity of Jesus. This is hardly surprising when there are seminaries which also refuse to teach the deity of Jesus.
The Philadelphia Church to which Jesus addresses His original letter, was no doubt a
church under constant persecution, yet the believers there chose to stand on their faith and no to deny the name of Jesus. Eventually however, every Christian in Philadelphia was slaughtered because of their faith, in around 1,360 AD, as Tamerlane overcame them.
In comparison and contrast to the liberal and seeker-friendly Church of North America and Europe, in many “third world” countries, particularly those under communist and Islamic rule, Christians still die for the name of Jesus, rather than denying Him.
Jesus makes His view of our denial of His name very clear in Matthew 10:33 as He proclaims: “… whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in Heaven.”
6) “… behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you”
The Lord Jesus is saying plainly here that He will make it known to the enemies of His Church, that He loves His Church. We may well look at the state of the Church today in many places and countries around the world and say that this must be a future prophecy, for it is not a reality. The perception of many Christians is that the world has overtaken the Church, rather than visa-versa.
This is an incorrect view of the Church. We need to see honestly, not only with our physical eyes, but with our spiritual eyes too. At the same time, we must recognise that many churches today, as the Lords says, are not Philadelphia Churches, which the Lord commended, but Loadicean Churches, which have departed from faith to middle-of-the-road seeker friendly positions. The Loadicean Church received the Lord’s condemnation.
7) “… you have kept the Word of My patience”
The patience to which the Lord refers here is the patience of waiting on His second coming. As Second Thessalonians 3:5 says, “… may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ.”
As we enter into the end times of this present age, the revelations of eschatology (the theological science concerned with the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell) are increasing and within the church there is a renewal of expectation, possibly akin to that of the first century church. There is an excitement in many Christians that the second coming may well be within their own life times, as the Church sees the end times changes and the bible being preached to all people groups of the world.
There is a renewed fervency to evangelise to the unreached and a palpable sense of expectation growing in many. There are constant new moves of God today.
Yes, the Philadelphia Church is here today, but so is the Loadicean Church and we need to recognise that one of them is commended, while one is condemned.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be in the commended Philadelphia Church, the signs of which are:
- A Church which demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit.
- A Church which open doors.
- A humble Church.
- A Church which keeps true to the full Gospel of Christ.
- A Church which does not deny the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- A Church which is recognisably blessed.
- A Church patiently expecting the second coming.