The Philadelphian Church III
The Church of Privileged Status
Revelation 3: 9-10 “ Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which 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. 10 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.”
“I will make them.” ～ The Greek reads “didōmi ek tēs:” literally, “I give out of them ...” Christ is giving, as a gift, to the church, converts from the synagogue of Satan. He tells them, later in the verse, that he will make these Jewish believers “worship before thy feet.” More will be said on this a little later.
“The synagogue of Satan.” ～ Here for the second time (see 2:9) the Lord uses a bold metaphor for the unbelieving Jews. This letter is addressed to the presbyter of the “church” in Philadelphia and that “church” is contrasted with the city’s “synagogue.” The words “ekklēsia” (St’s #G1577) and “synagōgē” (St’s #G4864) have much the same meaning, and were used interchangeably between Christian and Jewish communities for some time. Not until after a long period of estrangement did the terms become used in a qualified manner. The Christians settled with the term “ekklēsia” (St’s #G1577, church), and the Jews with synagōgē (St’s #G4864, synagogue); neither wanted to be confused with the other. No doubt, the sentiment was mutual. As we saw in the commentary on 2:9, the term “Satana” (St’s #G 4567, Satan) is applied by Christ to the meetinghouse of the Jews, and by extension to those who worshipped there—because of the association of like characteristics. The word “Satanas” means the accuser, or adversary; literally: “the accusing adversary.” And in like character, the Jews in every city, occupied themselves with accusing the Christians before governmental officials. (See the commentary on 2:9, for further treatment.) The attitude Jesus displayed here is consistent with His treatment of unbelieving Jews during His earthly ministry. Listen to His words as recorded by this selfsame Seer,
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
The characterization of a whole religion as of Satan will shock many good intentioned people; and, no doubt, would meet with flat rejection if suggested by anyone else, but Jesus Himself. He does not ask our permission to make the association. He simply and flatly identifies the Jewish faithful (those faithful in holding to Moses and denying Christ as their Messiah) as belonging to the synagogue of Satan (the Accuser).
“... but do lie;” ～ (“alla pseudontai,” in contrast to “ho alēthinos” of v7). They do, indeed, profess to be Jews, but they lie. To Jesus this is a given, because their father was a liar and murderer from the beginning. A true Jew is one who, in his heart, is circumcised—not necessarily in his flesh.
It would be proper at this point to walk through a few passages of Scripture, and thereby discover the true Jew. Our short journey begins at Romans 2:28-29.
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom 2:28-29)
Paul, who himself was a Jew, gives his resumé to the Philippians thusly:
“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Phil 3:5-6)
A Jew of such impeccable credentials should have something worthwhile to say concerning a true Jew’s identity. So to Romans 2:28-29 we look,
“For he is not a Jew,” Paul begins, “which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh.”
Too much stress, Paul says, is placed on the outward requirements of Jewishness. He does not denounce circumcision, but only affirms true circumcision to not be fleshly. Then he continues,
“But he is a Jew which is one inwardly.”
He is directing our investigation to the inside of a person for proof of their pedigree. “Circumcision,” Paul says “is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.” According to the Apostle, one may follow the “letter” of the law concerning circumcision, but not be circumcised at all. It is the heart that must receive the operation, not the penis. According to Paul the true sign of belonging to God and being in covenant with Him is not any outward mark in the flesh, but the regenerating power of the God-spirit within, which cuts away the foreskin of the heart. This was the idea all along, for we read, all the way back in Deuteronomy,
“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (Deut 30:6)
Paul makes an important admission, and sets forth an equally important criterion on our subject, in Romans 9:6-8. After lamenting the plight of the unbelieving Jews (vv1–4), and vowing his willingness to be lost, if by his sacrifice his countrymen would come to faith in Christ, he then admits: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” His own words from chapter 2 of the same epistle must be on his mind. Paul is recognizing that there is a separation in the population. There are those who make up believing Israel, and are truly the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16); while the unbelieving part is not Israel at all. “Neither,” he continues, “because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Here Ishmael and his offspring are in view. Being a descendant of Abraham and in the covenant of circumcision is not enough. Paul further explains, “That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.” Here he is again referencing Ishmael, and that he was a child born from the flesh endeavoring to work it’s own way. Those whose religion is rooted in the flesh (i.e. physical works) are not the children of God. “But,” we are told, “the children of the promise are accounted for the seed.” Here Paul is drawing an allegorical contrast between Ishmael and Isaac, which he developed more fully in his epistle to the Galatians. In which place we may find an explanation that is unexpected. We go now with a certain degree of anticipation to Galatians 4:21-31,
“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” (Gal 4:21-31)
The Galatians, who were Gentiles (Celts, originally from Gaul), began in the Spirit, but were now permitting Judaizers
to bring them under bondage to the law. Paul writes to them, “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise.” We have heard from Romans 9:8 that, “they which are the children of the flesh,… are not the children of God;” and here, we are told that the son of the bondwoman (Hagar) was of the flesh—therefore, for the allegory’s sake: not a child of God. We are further assured that the son of the freewoman (Sarah) is the son of promise. What comes next is the unexpected explanation of Romans 9:6-8.
Paul continues by saying, “Which things are an allegory: for these are two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth unto bondage, which is Agar (Hagar). For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answerth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” The bondwoman (Hagar) and the free woman (Sarah) account is an allegory—in the sense that it is non-historical. Paul uses the event to illustrate the two covenants: One from Mount Sinai (Hagar), and the other from Mount Calvary (Sarah). Paul leaves no room for guessing his meaning. He states clearly that in this allegory Hagar represents Jerusalem with its temple worship, and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, represents the Jews, i.e. the “children” of physical Jerusalem (v25); these are the children of the flesh (Ro 9:8), and, therefore, NOT the children of God.
Paul continues his thought by saying,, “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (v26). The allegory gives us two Jerusalem’s: one physical and the other spiritual. The physical Jerusalem is Hagar who is in bondage with her children; while, counter-wise, the spiritual Jerusalem is Sarah, and is the freewoman who is the mother of all children of promise. The “spiritual” Jerusalem is viewed, by the writer of Hebrews, as the church of God (Heb 12:22), and also as the “Bride of Christ” in ch 21:2 by John. It naturally follows that the “mother” of the children of promise (Gal 4:26) would be the “bride” of the Father of promise (see 21:7). In v28 Paul says exactly that: “Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” By Paul identifying with his Gentile converts, with the second person plural pronoun “we,” he was including both believing Jews and Gentiles as the children of Sarah, and therefore the children of promise.
Now, in v29 Paul’s argument is brought home, so to speak, to the church of Philadelphia, in that, here he speaks to the ongoing first century problem of Jew on Christian persecution. Referring back to the struggle between Ishmael and Isaac, Paul writes: “But as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is now.” Just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (Gen 21:9 cf. 16:12; 25:18) so do the Jews, the antitype of Ishmael, persecute the disciples of Jesus, the antitype of Sarah.
Continuing the allegory, Paul sees the solution to the Jew on Christian persecution in the action by Sarah. He relates it this way: “Nevertheless what saith the Scriptures? Cast out the bondwoman and her son:” (see Gen 29:10-12) “for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” Those who profess to be Jews, but have not believed on Jesus their Messiah are lairs. They are the children of Hagar—not Sarah (spiritually)—and must be “cast out” as was Ishmael. For the unbelieving Jews shall not be heir with the children of promise. Paul concludes, “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (v31).
A Gift Of Jews
“... come and worship before thy feet, ...” ～ The Lord continues His thoughts from earlier in the verse. He has told the church at Philadelphia that He was giving to them, as a gift, some, out of the Jewish congregation. These Jewish converts would be “made” to worship at the Christian’s feet. The language used here is no doubt taken from Isaiah 45:14 and 60:14; which reads as follows:
“Thus saith the Lord, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God.” (Is 45:14)
“The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee; The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” (Is 60:14)
The prophecy of Isaiah was of the Gentiles bowing before the Jews. It was not expected that the Jews would receive worship in the true sense but only homage. But here the tables are turned and the church receives such from the Jews. Indeed, Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch, martyred AD 108), when writing to the church of Philadelphia (Philad. 6), indicated the presence of Judaizing Christians in the church, and warns the saints against their possible negative influence.
“... that I have loved thee.” ～ Those of the synagogue of Satan would see that the Christians are the chosen of God—that His blessings are upon them. It is interesting that Christ’s love is spoken of here in the past tense. That God’s love was imputed to believers, before they believe, is attested to in Romans 5:8,
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
“... the word of my patience, ...” ～ The favor of the Lord has been achieved by the endurance of the saints. Here, they are praised for keeping “the word of my patience.” The word “hupomenēs” is translated here as “patience,” but has a better understanding as “endurance.” The same use is seen in 13:10, “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints;” and again in 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints.” The thought of patience equaling endurance is captured in Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians, “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (2 Thess 3:5).
By “kept the word of my patience” is not meant “the words which Christ has spoken concerning patience, but the word of Christ which requires patience to keep it; the gospel which teaches the need of a patient waiting for Christ” (Vincent). The idea is to persevere in the cause of the gospel of Christ!
James, the brother of the Lord, gives us sound and encouraging advice concerning our endurance. He writes,
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” (James 5:7-8)
“... because thou hast kept ... I also will keep ...” “Kept” and “keep:” The Greek is etērēsas and tērēsō (St’s #G5083). There is a play on this word. Just as the saints had “kept” the Lord’s commandments, so too would He “keep” them.
“... from the hour...” ～ Because of Philadelphia’s perseverance in “waiting for the precious fruit” of the Gospel, they, unlike their sister church Smyrna, would be kept from the hour of temptation. The Greek phrase “ek tēs hōros tou peirasmou” transmits the thought of being kept through the hour of trial (the preposition “ek” has the meaning of through and out). The idea is that Philadelphia would be kept from the power of the hour of trial which was to “come upon all the world.” This understanding is justified by the law of Greek grammar which states the verb must agree with its subject in gender; the verb “erchesthai” (come) is feminine, which agrees with the feminine “hōras” (hour) and not the masculine “peirasmou” (of trial). The “hour” of trial which was to come is most likely speaking of the time of tribulation called “great” (ch 2:22; 7:14; Matt 24 :21;). Just as Noah and his family did, in truth, live through the judgement of the flood, but were protected from it; and just as the children of Israel were in Egypt when Yahweh judged that place, but were safe in Goshen; so too will the Philadelphian church be kept from any hurt. We see this clearer in the sealing of the 144,000 of ch 7:1-8 prior to the breaking of the Seventh Seal which introduces the Seven Trumpets, which are accompanied by the Seven Vials.
The Habitable World
“Which shall come upon all the world.” ～ This time was coming on “all the world.” By the phrase “all the world” is to be understood the Roman Empire. The word translated “world” is “oikoumenē” (not “kosmos,” St’s #G2889, the word used commonly for world at large) and should be understood as “habitable world,” and, indeed, was understood to reference only that terrane part of the globe under the governance of Rome. All territory laying outside Roman jurisdiction was considered uninhabitable from lack of law and order; i.e. a wilderness (see St’s #G3625). “Oikoumenē” is used here in the same sense as in Luke 2:1. Notice that the Scripture says in that place:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1)
“All the world” that “should be taxed” is, of course, the Roman world. The word “oikoumenē” is also used in ch 12:9 where Satan is said to be deceiving the whole “oikoumenē” (habitable world). It is the “habitable world,” i.e. the Roman Empire, that is in view in passages such as:
Acts 11:28 “great dearth throughout all the world (oikoumenē);”
Acts 17:6 “These that have turned the world (oikoumenē) upside down etc.”
Acts 17:31“...he will judge the world (oikoumenē) in righteousness.”
Acts 19:27 “Diana ... whom all Asia and the world (oikoumenē) worshippeth.”
Acts 24:5 “... a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world (oikoumenē).”
It is also significant that “oikoumenē” is used in Matthew 24:34 instead of “kosmos.” Jesus said, in this place:
“And the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (oikoumenē) for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.” (Matt 24:34)
This happened within the very first generation of gospel preachers, for Paul could write to the Romans (A.D. 57) twenty-seven years after the birth of the church,
“But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world (oikoumenē).” (Rom 10:18)
The “world” in view in the text under examination is the ordered world of law and justice, which was Rome. However, when the writer of Hebrews wrote of the rule of Christ over the cosmos he spoke of “the world (oikoumenē, the inhabitable earth) to come” (Heb 2:5; 6:5).
I present this information here to make manifest the “world” upon which the hour of trial was to come. Philadelphia was, indeed, within the borders of that habitable world but would be protected from the potentiality of that “hour;” as Noah and his family were kept from the destruction of the flood.
“... to try them that are upon the earth.” ～ The trial (which brings tribulation) under consideration here is for the purpose of trying “them that dwell upon the earth.” Just as the word “oikoumenē” (world) is used for the ordered world of government, as opposed to the out-lands of human habitation, the term “earth” is used in the Apocalypse as a regular designation for that segment of mankind who are living in hostility to God (see 3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8; 17:2, 8). Those who oppose God are the focus of both the tribulation, and the wrath of God: tribulation upon the house of Jacob (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Matt 24:21, 29), and wrath upon the earth, i.e. the kingdom of the beast (16:1-21).
☩ Jerry Hayes