Philadelphia: A Faithful Little Church (Rev. 3:7-13)

Publié le 5 septembre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Pastor Vincent Bourrel on 15th Aug 2021

We all know pastors and churches that are largely blessed by God. They see many conversions, they carry out great projects, they have a great influence in their city and in the world. Their messages are followed by hundreds of people on YouTube, they have important human and financial resources… I visited a church like that in the US, there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers in front of the pulpit , when I pointed it out to a member of the church he gave me the amount of the budget for the flowers, it was about the total budget of our church at that time!

Their very gifted pastors write books that have a great impact. Sometimes these pastors carry heavy burdens and these churches are marked by great suffering. Thank you Lord for these great churches and beautiful ministries that are making a signifcant impact in this world and that we can benefit from.

But the church we are studying this morning is not really that kind of church. It is characterized by its lack of power. Every small church in a difficult context will find this letter encouraging. Every Christian unsure of his or her gifts and place in the church will be comforted. The basic message is profound: God is more interested in faithfulness than in success.

Let’s read Revelation 3.7-13

7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 

8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 

9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 

10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 

12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 

13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Philadelphia, located approximately 50km from Sardis, is called today Alla-Schahr. It was built around 190 before Christ by Attalus II, King of Pergamon. The unusual affectionate relationship that he had with his brother earned the city its name: « brotherly love ». It was strategically located from a commercial point of view and also a fertile land producing a lot of wine. But its region also suffered many earthquakes, including the one of 17 AD which completely destroyed the city, this earthquake was followed by many aftershocks so that a large part of the population lived for years in tents outside the city. The emperor Caesar Tiberius helped the city to rebuild so Philadelphia, to show its gratitude, was named New Caesarea for a while, and later, Flavia in honor of the Roman imperial family then in power. Scripture does not mention this church anywhere else, but it probably grew out of the extended ministry of the apostle Paul in Ephesus. 

Churches experience struggles because they are made up of imperfect people. The church is not a place for people without weaknesses; it is a place of fellowship for those who are aware of their weaknesses and long for God’s strength and grace to abound in their lives. So the church in Philadelphia has its imperfections, but like the church in Smyrna, it receives no reproach from the Lord. Rather, He praises its members for their faithfulness. 

Our church would do well to follow the example of the church in Philadelphia. It has little power but because it remains faithful to the Lord God can manifest his power in our weakness. Yes, it is worth it to be faithful because : 

Jesus opens the doors to the faithful v.7-9

This is how he introduces himself to the church 

v.7. The phrase « the one with the key of David » appears in Isaiah 22:22 where it refers to Eliakim the intendant of the king of Israel who controlled access to the king and the city. Jesus has the sovereign authority to determine who enters his messianic kingdom. He is the sovereign, no one closes the doors of the kingdom if He keeps them open and no one can force them open if He keeps them closed.

In v.8 Jesus points out that although they have little power, the church in Philadelphia has kept His Word, and they have not denied His name. They are obedient to the Word and it directs them. Like Job, they can say, « I have not forsaken the commandments of his lips; I have made my will to yield to the words of his mouth » Job 23:12. 

Illustration: a story of Luther

He was pressured to retract his criticism of the teaching and practices of the Catholic Church at the time. He was weak according to men, a simple monk rebelling against the system, but he was strong in Christ and in the Word of God. Before the highest authorities of the empire and the church he said: « My conscience is captive to the Word of God; I cannot and will not repent of it, for it would be neither prudent nor salutary to act against my own conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I am. God help me. Amen. » 

There is pressure when you want to remain faithful to Christ and his Word. The world hates it when you criticize these choices, the way you live, and people who dare to do so are stigmatized, mocked, scorned, persecuted… so we are tempted to let up on the pressure by abandoning our biblical views. But Jesus says, since you remain faithful to my Word, I will open a door for you that no one can close. 

What would have happened if Luther, wanting to preserve his security in front of the Diet of Worms, if he had said« I have gone a little too far, I withdraw my words… »? There would have been no Reformation.

Whether in high school, college, or the workplace, or even in our own families, we are called to remain faithful to the values and principles of the gospel. It takes courage, love, and wisdom, all of which the Holy Spirit fills us with. Staying faithful to Christ and his Word is often costly and scary (even though it is actually less so than giving up) but Jesus makes a beautiful promise here to the church in Philadelphia and to faithful churches v.8 « Because… I have set before you an open door. » Open doors are opportunities to serve Christ, they are often opportunities to proclaim the gospel (cf. 1Co 16:8-9; 2Co 2:12; Col 4:2-3). 

V.9 Like the church in Smyrna, the Christians in Philadelphia faced fierce opposition from unbelieving Jews. These are Jews who vigorously reject Christ as Messiah.   They are Jews, descendants of Jacob culturally and ceremonially, but Jesus says they are not spiritually because they did not love him. Well, Jesus promises that the faithful and persevering witness of the Philadelphia Christians will be rewarded with the salvation of many of those Jews who are persecuting them at this time. They will recognize that these Gentile Christians are God’s beloved people.

You may be experiencing opposition in your families today, contempt, indifference, rejection… it seems quite unthinkable that these people would turn to Christ. Remember that it is Jesus who opens the doors and gives salvation. Persevere in faithful witness and prayer and trust in the one who opens and no one will close.

Jesus preserves his faithful people v.10-11

In v.10 Jesus makes another promise to this faithful church of Philadelphia, he will keep them in the hour of temptation (or trial) that is to come. They have already been tested quite a bit but Jesus announces a new trial that will spread over the earth. Some see the same tribulation here as in 2:10, others see it as a reference to the great Tribulation from which the church would escape. The rest of the book of Revelation presents a terrible trial. The believers are persecuted by the dragon and his troops (the dragon = the devil) in Rev 6:9-11; 12:17; 13:7; 20:4. 

But in fact in Revelation the martyrdom of the Christians is seen as a victory over Satan (cf Rev 12:11). As when he put Christ on the Cross, Satan brings about his own demise every time he takes the life of a believer. Since for the believer death is gain, let the sufferings for Christ produce for him, beyond measure, an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). 

Christ has the power to strengthen our testimony to keep us faithful to Him until the end. 

Today millions of Christians are facing persecution or death in our world, but Christ keeps them faithful. My brothers and sisters, we know temptations of all kinds, let us also persevere, let us remain faithful to the Lord. How? 

V.11 « I am coming soon » This is the 4th time that the return of Jesus is mentioned in the letters to the churches but it is the 1st time in a positive sense. In Ephesus (2.5) « if you do not repent I will come and take away your lampstand », in Pergamum (2.16) « repent or I will come and fight you with the sword of my mouth » and in Sardis (3.3) « repent or I will come and catch you like a thief in the night ». But here it is not a question of his coming to judge, but to help, to deliver his Church. By saying « I am coming soon » Jesus reminds us that he is in control of history, that his plan is being fulfilled. That he is not delaying. And he puts before our eyes the prospect of his imminent return, and that is the encouragement we need to persevere through the trial. There is a glorious end to it all. When we are close to giving up let us remember that he is coming soon. 

He associates his return with crossing the finish line of the Christian race. Do not give up but hold on to what you have, i.e. your membership in the kingdom of God, your salvation, the promise of deliverance, and divine protection. 

Persevere, you have not suffered all in vain. 

We all have struggles, we all have difficulties, do not give up. Persevere, the Lord is coming soon. 

Jesus honors the faithful v.12-13

In v.12 Jesus ends his encouragement to the faithful church with the promises reserved for the overcomers, (= believers, those who persevere and complete the race). He says, « I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall not depart from it. » This is a metaphor of course, for stability, security, permanence and honor in the presence of God. 

Do you realize what this means to a church that has experienced earthquakes, that has had to flee the city frequently, that has lived in tents, that has not found safety in the city (think of the images you have seen in the last few weeks of floods and fires), that has been despised and rejected by unbelieving Jews (think of the church of Jesus Christ in India that is threatened with extinction). The promise is for each of them, a place of honor and security with God. The promise is for them. For you too, you are weak, unrecognized and slandered today… Remain faithful to Christ and his Word and he will give you stability, security and honor for eternity. 

« I will write on him the name of my God, the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem which comes down from heaven from my God) and my new name. As proof that the faithful Christian belongs to God (he bears his name), he is his child. As proof that he is a citizen of heaven (he bears the name of the city of his God). And the new name of Jesus that the Christian confessed sometimes at the risk of his life will be new because then this name will be recognized by the whole universe and all will give him glory. 

Indeed Jesus the Almighty made himself weak, his name was not loved by many, so much so that he was abandoned by all and nailed to a cross. But His God raised Him from the dead and gave Him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. 

Jesus ends his letter v.13 with a call to pay attention to the message. 

What have you done with that name? Have you recognized Jesus as Lord? The one who offered his life as a sacrifice for your sins. Have you bowed your knees to him? 

Are you tempted to forsake the Word, to disobey? The Lord is coming soon, do not let anyone take your crown away from you. 

Are you tempted by success before men more than by faithfulness to God? When we get to heaven, the greatest reward may well be for those Christians who despite having little power, have persevered in difficult and humble situations like Philadelphia. Let us aspire to faithfulness, more than to fame.