Philadelphia: So Hated, Yet So Loved (Revelation 3:9-13)

Who hates me? Let the whole world hate me, I am loved by Jesus Christ.  And someday I will be seen as a trophy of His love (Ephesians 2:6-7)

 

Next we are to notice that the Philadelphian believers were to Persevere Through Persecution. Notice verse 9, “….” Jesus spoke of the Synagogue of Satan to the church of Smyrna too, in 2:9, “I know the slander of those who say they are Jews but are not – but are a synagogue of Satan.” The obvious indication here is that these Christians were facing persecution from “the synagogue of Satan.”

 

What is a synagogue of Satan? A synagogue of Satan refers to ethnic Jews who were very religious but rejected Jesus as the Messiah and persecuted people who did believe in Him.  Jews are the specific culprits here because Jesus mentions a “synagogue” – a synagogue was the local place of worship for Jews.  But does Jesus mean that this synagogue worshipped Satan?  Like with statues of Baphomet and inverted pentagons and all that?  I thought Jews worshiped Jehovah?  Well, they were deceived – they thought they were serving God but in reality they served Satan.  This is a reality:  religious people – even Christians – can be manipulated by Satan and used for his purposes.  Turn to 2 Timothy 2:25-26 [read].  They didn’t worship Satan, but, because they rejected Jesus they unwittingly became Satan’s puppets.  How can that happen?  They rejected the truth and became slaves to the lie.  They thought they were serving God.  Religion is Satan’s best tool when that religion expels Jesus.  

 

Application: when you reject the truth, you are wide open to the deception of Satan.  If you don’t actively follow Jesus Christ you will unwittingly be a follower of Satan (Eph. 2:1-3).  If you won’t receive the light you will walk darkness (John 3:19-21).   Jesus told the Jews who rejected Him in John 8:44 “You belong to your father the devil and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” A synagogue of Satan refers to unbelieving Jews who are used by Satan to persecute the name of Christ.

Now you may wonder then why Jesus says, “those who claim to be Jews but are not, but are liars..” Didn’t we just establish He was talking about Jews? What is Jesus talking about here?  Are these Gentiles pretending to be Jews?  No, it’s ethnic Jews.  Let me explain. There are two kinds of ethnic Jews:  one is only a Jew physically, but, the other is a Jew both physically and spiritually.   Paul said in Romans 2:28, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly…No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly.”  In other words, Paul said that just because you are biologically a Jew, a Jew by the flesh, it doesn’t mean that you are a true Jew.  

 

To be a true Jew you have to be one inwardly, meaning your heart has to be right with God.  That means a Jew would have to believe in Jesus as their personal Savior, the Messiah.  Jesus – the true Jew of all Jews is the only one who can make a Jew truly Jewish.  A “true Jew” is a Jew who is right with God in his heart, and, whose heart has been transformed by the Spirit.

 

But since these Jews in Philadelphia didn’t accept Jesus they were not spiritually right with God. They were Jews physically in every way:  physical descendents of Jacob, having citizenship in God’s covenant nation, offering temple sacrifices, being circumcised, and so on – but it did not mean their hearts were right with God.  A Jew could go through the motions of his religion and not be a true Jew just like a “Christian” can go through the motions of church today and not be a true Christian.

 

Application:  We cannot allow religion to become a veneer for unbelief.  Don’t let your religious identity become a mask for what is actually a dead soul.  For us as a church we should aim that we never become a church of satan, who only has the right words and activities but has no true heart for Christ.

 

So the persecutors of the Christians in Philadelphia were Jews, but only physically. It also seems that the Christians being persecuted were mostly Jewish. Why? Because typically, the pattern in the NT is that Jews persecute other Jews who convert to Christianity. In 1 Thessalonians 2:14 Paul says, “You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches [in Jerusalem] suffered from the Jews.” Paul spoke to Gentile Christians and said, “You were suffering from your Gentile countrymen for becoming Christians just like Jewish Christians were suffering from Jews for becoming Christians.”

 

Application:  persecution will come closest to home.  Jesus said a prophet is not welcome in his own town.  He said He came to divide families:  “There will be five in one family, three against two and two against three.  A father will be divided against son and son against father.  A mother against daughter and daughter against mother.”  Jesus was rejected by His people – the Jews.  Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah were intensely persecuted by other Jews who didn’t.  Greeks persecuted Greeks who converted to Christ.  And on it goes – Muslims today will be killed by fellow Muslims if they convert to Christ.  Persecution comes often from those who are closest to home.

 

Promises (v9-12)

In the last section we are going to see Jesus make 5 promises to the believers in Philadelphia.  In light of the persecution they face these promises would have had real meaning.

 

First is the promise that their enemies will honor them.  Verse 9 Jesus says, “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”  God has a great day of reversal coming.  Isaiah 49:22-23 also promises the future reversal when Gentiles will honor and respect Israel.  Jesus is really looking forward to this day when He reverses everything.  Right now your enemies hate you.  But, the day is coming where they will see who I am, who you are, and they will fall before you to honor you.  

 

Now let me point out two things about this glorious moment.  First, Jesus will force this moment.  He says “I will make them…”  They will be in full submission to Him.  Every knee will bow to Him and every tongue confess Him as Lord.  Then He will make his enemies get up and go over to those believers who were persecuted and lick the dust at their feet.  Secondly, the Love of Jesus sustains us through everything. Who hates me? Let the whole world hate me, I am loved by Jesus Christ.  And someday I will be seen as a trophy of His love (Ephesians 2:6-7)

 

The second promise is that they will escape the global Tribulation.  Notice verse 10 with me, “…”

 

This verse, when seen together with many other verses, shows us that our Lord’s plan is to take His church away from the earth before the terrible days of the Tribulation occur.  Let’s notice some things about this devastating period.

 

First, it is a definite period of time.  Jesus says “the hour”, indicating not a 60 minute period of time, but, a defined period of time with a distinct beginning and distinct ending.  We see the word “hour” used in 14:7 referring to the Tribulation time period [read].  

 

This time period Jesus is referring to is the 7 year Tribulation referred to as “the Time of Jacob’s Trouble” and “the Great Tribulation”.  It is the final 7 year period of God’s specific dealings with the nation of Israel.  It will begin with the antichrist signing a 7 year covenant with the nation of Israel and it will end with the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ to the earth.  For 7 years the world will experience horrific disasters of global and cosmic proportions unlike anything in its entire history.  

 

Second, this hour of trial is global.  Not local.  Not regional.  Jesus says it “will come upon the whole world.”  The entire world is going to be subjected to this devastating hour of trial.

 

Third, Jesus says the targets of this global judgment are the unbelievers of the world.  He says the hour of trial will come upon the whole world – and here it is – “to test those who live on the earth.”  There is a distinction made in the book of Revelation between believers and unbelievers.  Unbelievers are called “those who live on the earth”, or if you are reading another version it might say “inhabitants of the earth”, or “earth dwellers”.  Every instance in Revelation where the phrase “those who live on the earth” occurs  (12 by my count) it designates the unbelieving masses of humanity who reject Jesus Christ the Lord.  

 

  • Those who live on the earth  will mourn at Christ’s appearing (1:7);
  • Those who live on the earth will be under God’s judgment during the Tribulation (6:10);
  • the angel declares woe to those who live on the earth (8:13);
  • Those who live on the earth will gloat over the dead bodies of the 2 witnesses.  Why?  Because those who live on the earth were tormented by the preaching of these two men from God (11:10);
  • Those who live on the earth will be deceived by the antichrist and worship him (13:8, 12, 14);
  • Those who live on the earth will be intoxicated with the adulteries of the woman who rides the beast (17:2);
  • and those who live on the earth never had their names written in the book of life (17:8).

 

The phrase “those who live on the earth” is not just a geographical designation.  It is also a moral characterization.  They not only live in this world, but, they live for it!  Everything this Satanically controlled and energized world stands for they love and embrace.  All that God is going to heave His judgment on this world for is what they cherish.  The Christian’s citizenship is heavenly, but those who live on the earth have their citizenship here.  Their fate will be that of the world’s as well.

 

Fourthly, Jesus says that this hour of trial will be a test.  Notice again that Jesus says this hour of trial is going to come in order to “test those who live on the earth.”  God is going to “test” them, and He is going to do it with the terrible judgments described in chapters 6-19.

 

The Biblical purpose of a “test” is “making what is inside of you come out.” A test is putting you in circumstances and situations that bring out what is truly inside of you.  God will punish those who dwell on the earth and in the process they will continue to shake their fists at God and refuse to repent – even though they know it is God who is behind the terrible calamities at that time. Turn to Revelation 9:20-21 [read].  God is going to “prove” their wicked and stubborn unbelief.  He is going to manifest their unrelenting will to do evil during this trial.  No matter how hard God makes it for the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth their hearts will remain hardened towards Him.  

 

Fifthly, Jesus says believers will be taken away.  The Greek for “keep you from” means to keep you away from it – to remove you from the vicinity entirely.  Some people believe that Jesus means the Church would go through the Tribulation but preserved through it – that none of the awful things in the Tribulation will touch the Church.  Many even say that it is meant to purify the Church by going through this ultimate trial.  That doesn’t make sense for several reasons.

 

First of all because the language clearly says “keep you from” – meaning to take you out and away from the situation altogether.  That is different than going through an event and kept safe in the midst, like on a boat with Jesus in the storm or like getting into a car crash and walking away unharmed.  But Jesus intends here that their safety is due to the fact they won’t even be in the storm.  They won’t even be in the car.

 

Second of all, nowhere in Revelation are we told that believers are supernaturally protected from God’s judgments while the rest of the unbelieving world suffers.  That is an unsubstantiated claim.  Everyone is going to feel the famine, the war, the diseases, the inflation, the demonic attacks from the Abyss, the darkness, the heat, the 100lbs hailstones, the bitter water and so on.  

 

Thirdly, from chapter 4 on we don’t even see the Church mentioned again at all.  In the first 3 chapters of Revelation the word “church” or “churches” is mentioned 19 times.  That’s once every 3 ½ verses.  The Church is getting a lot of print.  The Church is under a microscope.  It’s the big story in the first 3 chapters.  But, then from there, starting in chapter 4 the Church isn’t mentioned at all.  Well, once in chapter 19 and then 22, but the question is this:  Where is the Church when the worldwide Tribulation is going on in chapters 6-19?  When God’s judgments are hammering down from heaven where on earth is the Church?   

 

Fourthly, nowhere does Revelation or the Bible say that the Tribulation is to purify the Church.  The idea that many people today have is that we are going to go through this Tribulation because the church needs to be purged and purified.  However, they misunderstand the nature of the Great Tribulation.  The Bible never describes the purpose of the Tribulation as a way of  purifying the Church – Jesus did that by His blood and His Spirit.

 

Fifthly, the there is a difference between tribulations (little “t”) for the Church and the Great Tribulation (capital “T”) for the world.  Tribulations are promised to all Christians in all church history but the Great Tribulation is a definite 7 year period.  The tribulation for Christians comes at the hands of evil people who hate them because of the name of Jesus, but, the Great Tribulation comes from the hand of God as He unleashes His wrath on this vile world.   Point:  Jesus tells the believers to endure the sufferings caused by evil men, but, He tells them they will be kept from the suffering that God is going to bring on the whole world.

 

The third promise Jesus makes is that He is coming soon.  Verse 11, “I am coming soon!”  This is the theme of the NT and Revelation perfectly presents this great Christian hope.  Jesus is coming soon!  The book opens with His coming in 1:7, “Look!  He is coming with the clouds…”  It also ends with His coming.  The final chapter has Jesus promising 3 times He is coming (22:7, 12, 20).  His coming we are told is going to be like a thief in the night – suddenly and unexpectedly.  Just like His judgments were worldwide during the Tribulation so too will His appearing be – the whole world will see Him when He tears the sky open.  He is coming soon!

 

Since Jesus is coming back, the question is this:  Have you come to Him yet?  Revelation inspires us with His coming, but, it also implores us to come to Him.  Revelation 22:17 says, “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’  Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”  Jesus promises that all who come to Him He will never drive away.  He will receive anyone who comes to Him for salvation.  But you must come to Him before He comes again or it will be too late!  Remember no man knows the day or hour of His coming.  So you must deal with this now!

 

The last couple of promises are rewards for believers.  Those who endure for His name’s sake and those who overcome will be rewarded with these special honors.  I do not believe these are automatic for every believer simply for being a believer.  Nor do I believe these are references to losing your salvation if you don’t get these.  

 

The fourth promise is a crown.  He says in verse 11, “I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown.”  Jesus will come with our crowns – crowns we earn by our fidelity to Him.  In Revelation 22:12 He stated:  “Behold I am coming soon!  My reward is with me and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”

 

Who or what are you going to let rob you of your crowns?  What are you getting now that is costing you your crown when He comes?  Second John 8 says, “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for but that you may be rewarded fully.”  

 

The last promise is that of your honor, belonging and permanence.  NOtice verse 12.

 

Conclusion:

Seize the opportunities God gives you to serve. Persevere through persecution that comes your way. Remember that you will be Taken Away from the Tribulation. Make sure you have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. For if you do, you will receive a crown, and be made a pillar in the temple of God. You will never leave it, and you will have the name of God, the name of the city of God, and the new name of Jesus written on you.

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