March 11, 2009
We have traveled long and far, having arrived at the sixth of seven letters that Christ wrote to the churches in Revelation. The church in Philadelphia is the bright spot, the shining example of true righteousness and obedience, and the only church among the seven for which Christ did not have a rebuke or reprimand. If ever there was a spiritual condition to which we should aspire as children of God, it is the condition that is found in the church of Philadelphia.
Even though most today do not know what the translation of Sardis, or Thyatira, or Smyrna might be, we should all know the translation of Philadelphia, since the city of brotherly love is well established within the American vernacular. Yes, Philadelphia means brotherly love, love for one's brothers, or love for the elder brother, just as the motto of the modern day Philadelphia so prominently proclaims.
Geographically speaking, Philadelphia was located some thirty miles southeast of Sardis, founded in 189 B.C. by Attalus II, whose name also happened to be Philadeiphus. Since it was Attalus Philadeiphus that founded the city, it was named Philadelphia after him. Some believe that Attalus named the city Philadelphia because of the bond of love and loyalty between himself his brother the then king of Lydia.
In its glory days, Philadelphia was an important trade route, a gateway to the eastern highlands and the Orient. The citizens of Philadelphia guarded and commanded one of a handful of passes through the mountains between the Hermus and Meander valleys. If one desired to trade with Lydia, or any of the other eastern and central regions, they had to inevitably go through the pass or gateway controlled by the Philadelphians.
Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes, which were both frequent and severe. A particularly violent earthquake felled the city in A.D. 17, and having been by and large destroyed, it laid in ruin until king Tiberius rebuilt it. As a show of appreciation toward the king who had rebuilt their city, the Philadelphians renamed it Neo-Caesarea. The old name of Philadelphia however, survived the passage of time, due to its prominence in Church history. The city exists to this day, having the name Ala Shehr, which means 'the City of God', or 'the Exalted City.'
Even though the historical knowledge of the geographical city of Philadelphia is abundant, little to no information survived concerning the church of this city. It is not known who founded the church in Philadelphia, because except for its mention in the book of Revelation, it is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament.
The only written record that is known to have survived concerning the church in Philadelphia, was a epistle sent to it by Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred in Rome between A.D. 107-115, praising them for their steadfastness in the faith concerning the Judaizers who fought to establish themselves there.
Even though the New Testament tells us nothing of this church, by the very nature of the letter addressed to it by Christ Jesus in the book of Revelation, we can receive the light of spiritual truth, in all its clarity. Throughout every generation, irregardless of the hardships, trials or persecutions, there have always been those who can be likened to the church in Philadelphia, those who with faith and obedience, temperance and virtue stood on the solid foundation of God's truth, not being moved by the storms of this present life, finding their joy and their peace in the embrace of the eternal Father.
Revelation 3:7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'these things says 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."
Although critical of all the other churches to which He addressed a letter in the book of Revelation, Jesus finds no fault, or reason for rebuke when it comes to the church in Philadelphia. He is the righteous judge of all that is seen and unseen, and when a rebuke or a chastisement is necessary in order to bring about repentance, Christ does not mince words, hesitate, or otherwise water down the much-needed message. Every correction, every chastisement, every rebuke is for our benefit. We might not receive the chastening of the Lord with joy at the time it is spoken, but once we put aside our own feelings and emotions, and see the situation from God's perspective, we must inevitably acknowledge that love compelled God not to spare the rod, love compelled God to speak harsh words, and I for one would rather have my feelings hurt, and be in right standing with God, than be praised and honored while distancing myself from Him.
Christ peered into the heart of the church in Philadelphia, and unlike the church of Sardis, they were not alive in name only, but were truly alive, and on fire for God. They had love for the brethren, and this is one virtue that Christ prizes, for it helps keep the body united, an allows for that body to fulfill its calling and its duty here on earth. When a certain thing is required of us, it is not without reason. When God requires us to have brotherly love, to weep with those who weep, and laugh with those who laugh, He is not leading us down a dead end street, we are not marching down the road to nowhere, we are not performing a task absent of reason. There is purpose in all that He requires of us, and what He requires conforms us that His ways may become our ways, and His thoughts our thoughts.
John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Where there is love, there is unity, and the unity of the body of Christ, the unity of the disciples of Christ attracts those of the world to the faith in Christ, that they might be saved and reconciled unto God. Just as a house divided against itself cannot stand, a body that is divided against itself cannot function properly. When a body is divided, even though the head, which is Christ, sends messages to the rest of the body as to how to proceed, where to go, and what to do, the message either never reaches the intended member, or having reached it, the member is hampered from doing its part by the rest of the body. Division in the body of Christ can be likened to someone who having suffered a stroke is no longer able to control a certain appendage, or an entire part of their body. Yes, the affected area is still part of the whole, but that area impedes the rest of the body from functioning properly. The enemy loves division within the house of God, because he knows that once a body is divided, it can no longer be the hands, the feet, the eyes and the heart of Christ on this earth. Division causes the entire body to suffer; it slows down the progress and growth of the whole, as it impedes development at every turn. I have often been witness to a handful of faithful souls taking on the burden of attempting to drag an entire body along the path of righteousness, themselves becoming weary and tired as the labors and expended energies become overwhelming. When there is no cohesion, when there is no unity, it is inevitable that a body of believers will become static and stagnant, no longer making progress, no longer growing in God, no longer fulfilling their mission and their duty before the heavenly Father.
A small but united body of believers can accomplish more for the Kingdom of God than a sea of divided souls. Only when there is unity and brotherly love within a body can the Spirit of God flow freely, performing its perfect work.
John 17:20-23, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You Father are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I give them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."
This scripture in the gospel according to John is perhaps the most eloquent and beautifully depicted description of unity within a body found in the Bible. It is humbling and glorious, simple and profound, an ever present encouragement to all who walk the narrow path of faith. It shows us ever so clearly the symbiosis between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as pertains to mankind, uniting their purpose and making it a singular action. The depths of the glorious mysteries of God are truly a wonder to behold.
Christ introduces Himself to the angel of the church of Philadelphia; He presents Himself to the Philadelphia condition, as He who is holy, and He who is true. As we are repeatedly shown in the Scriptures, these are attributes of God, and as God the Son, Jesus is able to allocate these attributes and titles to Himself.
Isaiah 40:25, "To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?' says the Holy One."
Isaiah 57:15, "For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy."
1 John 2:20, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things."
1 John 5:20, "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, and in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."
When Christ introduces Himself as He who is holy, it is not merely a title He appropriated for Himself because He thought it sounded nice, but He called Himself as such, because He was such. Yes, Jesus was, is, and forevermore shall be holy, having achieved this holiness in and of Himself proving as much while He walked the earth. Yes, Jesus was Holy when having taken on the form of man, walked the earth. He was spotless, sinless, pure in every way, even though He faced the same temptations trials and hardships we all face. Actually, that's wrong! He did not face the same temptations we face, He faced greater temptations, because no man, to the best of my knowledge has since that time been offered the world and everything in it simply to bow. The next time we find ourselves at the crossroads of indecision, the next time we talk ourselves into believing that a temptation is too difficult to overcome, may we look to the Holy One, may we look to the Christ, and realize He overcame far greater temptations than those that arise in our path.
As He introduces Himself to the church in Philadelphia Christ announces that He is not only 'He who is holy' but also 'He who is true.' It is tragic to know that in what is supposed to be God's own house, there is an ongoing effort to subvert the authority of Christ, to minimize the relevance of Christ, and marginalize the necessity for Christ. Christ is not only true; He is the essence of truth. By being the essence of truth, Christ is also true in all things, whether in His nature, making Himself known as the true Son of God, or in His words and deeds, revealing the Father to mankind as being both love and light.
It is of utmost importance that we know the person of Christ, the glorified one, who is holy and separate from evil, and who has the power to separate us from evil as well. In knowing the person of Christ as He who is true, we are able to place all our trust in Him and His instruction, and by following His example come to know the truth ourselves. Absent of Christ there is no truth, absent of Christ there is no life, absent of Christ we have no access to the Father, because Jesus is the way to the Father, and no man can come to the Father but by Him.
In their attempts to render Christ irrelevant within the hearts of men, the wolves and hirelings who wear the cloak of righteousness but are given over to the darkness of death, are attempting to keep their hearers shackled to this earth, roaming in the darkness, forever separated from the truth and the light.
The last attribute that Christ mentions is that of being 'He who has the key of David.' By using the term 'key of David', we are made to understand the profundity of the fact that Jesus has both the divine power and authority to guide and to save, as He is the Christ, the Root and the Offspring of David.
Every time the Bible discusses keys, we understand that the key holds the power to open, the power to allow one to come inside, but also the power to keep one out, to deny them access. Besides holding the key of David, Jesus also holds the keys of Hades and Death, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Revelation 1:18, "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and Death."
Matthew 16:19, "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
When revealing Himself to the church of Philadelphia, Jesus does so as one who has complete and total power and authority. He holds the keys, which open the doors and once He opens a door, no man can shut it. In Him resides the power to open the kingdom of heaven, of love and of light to all who would desire to enter therein. He is the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; He is also the keeper of the keys of Hades and Death. By Jesus, in Jesus, and through Jesus can we enter in, and be partakers of the promise. There is no other path, there is no other way, and any man who says otherwise is a liar.
The Word has established the means by which we attain salvation, it has established the means by which we enter the kingdom of heaven, it has established that which we must do in order to be reconciled unto God, and it has established that which we must do in order to remain in the will of God. It is not lack of information that hinders so many from finding the truth; it is their own stubbornness, disobedience and impertinence toward such a great and all encompassing love.
Imagine a man who preparing for a journey goes and buys a map, or better yet, one of those nifty GPS devices which tells you to turn left to turn right, or go straight ahead. The man punches in his destination, but at every turn, he does the opposite of what the GPS device instructs him to do. This goes on for a long time, the man taking a right when he should have taken a left, continually disregarding the voice trying to get him back on the right road, until finally, no closer to his destination than when he began, he grows frustrated and throws the GPS device out the window. I realize this sounds far fetched, but it is a good allegory of how many people treat their journey toward the kingdom of heaven. The Word tells them exactly which route to take, it gives them specific instructions, down to the most minute detail, but thinking themselves wiser than the Word many choose to forge their own path, disregarding the guidelines, the instructions, and soon find themselves steeped in darkness, far from the light of truth, and far from the love of God. Was it God's fault? No it was not, but that won't stop many people from shaking their fists at God, blaming Him for their lack of spiritual maturity, for their lack of spiritual growth, and their lack of intimacy.
Just as the GPS device in the allegory is faultless, having done everything it could to keep the individual headed toward his destination by the shortest route possible, even recalibrating when the individual chose to disregard the direction, so too is God faultless for the time so many spend wandering in the desert because they choose not to heed His direction. May we be wise and submit to the authority of God, thereby growing in Him, maturing and becoming seasoned warriors ready to take up the weapons of our warfare and defend the truth.
Revelation 3:8, "I know your works. See I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name."
For some the first sentence in this verse is a comfort and an encouragement. For others, it is a rebuke uttered by none other than Christ Jesus. He knows our works. He knows the works of every man. It is not only the act itself that Christ knows, but the root cause and birthplace of our endeavors, the intent with which we performed certain tasks, whether it was for His glory or our own vainglory, for the kingdom of God, or for our own kingdoms here on earth. Christ knows our works, our thoughts, and the desire of our hearts today as He knew the works, the thoughts and the desires of the church of Philadelphia, the recipients of this sacred letter. Absolutely nothing can be hid from His all-seeing eyes.
The works of the Philadelphia condition can be encompassed in the words that Jesus spoke at the conclusion of this verse: 'you have kept My word, and have not denied My name.' Whomsoever keeps the word of Christ in its entirety, and does not deny His name, His nature, His sovereignty and His power to save, is without blemish in the sight of God. The life of one who keeps the word of Christ, and does not deny His name, is the joy and pleasure of Christ, a sweet smelling and pleasing sacrifice.
When brotherly love is evident, when it resides in the lives of believers, then the keeping of God's word is sure, and Christ rejoices and extends His blessing. If love is the root cause of our endeavors, and love is that which compels us to labor and sacrifice for the kingdom of God, then the source is sure, for the source is none other than Jesus. Christ knows our works, and our works may not seem great in the eyes of men, they might seem insignificant in the eyes of family and friends, but if they are born of love, they are truly great in the sight of God. Whether we help feed thousands, or we give a glass of water to a thirsty soul, what truly matters is that it is done in love, and obedience toward God. I have seen proud men do noble things, great works for which they were praised by their contemporaries, yet in my heart I knew that God did not receive their works, for they were not done in love and a right spirit.
The saints of Philadelphia had little worth in the eyes of the world. To their contemporaries they might have been irrelevant, easily written off, because they possessed no influence, no power, and no sway over dignitaries or kings. The saints of Philadelphia didn't have an international ministry or own a private jet, they did not revel in the adulation of adoring fans, nor were they invited on national news magazines, for even Jesus said to them that they had little strength. What so many fail to understand however, is that it was their weakness, it was their insignificance in the eyes of the world that made them so loved by Christ. In our weakness, in our impotence, even in our irrelevancy, it is God's good pleasure to show His power, to show His authority, and to move on our behalf. In my own strength I am impotent, in my own wisdom I am but a fool, in my own glory I am nothing, but when I walk in the strength, the wisdom, and the glory of God, I am more than the sum of all that I ever was, or ever hoped to be.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
From what is known, and judging by the words of Jesus, the church of Philadelphia didn't have much in the way of resources. They were not rich; they were not many in number, in fact they seemed to have been few, and poor, and of little strength. The entirety of their hope, the entirety of their confidence, the entirety of their provision was in Christ and this fact elevated them above all the other churches to which Christ wrote letters by way of apostle John. What kept the church of Philadelphia was brotherly love, and absolute dependency upon the person and promises of Christ Jesus.
It may seem like an impossible endeavor to see ourselves as possessing little strength, to see ourselves as impotent and weak in our modern age when the gospel message has been perverted into a message of self esteem, self worth, and self image, but only when we see ourselves as weak do we seek out the One who is strong. Only when our impotence is made known to us, do we cry out for the strength of Christ to envelop us and indwell in us.
It is by acknowledging our weakness and His strength, by surrendering our self and our ego that He sets before us an open door that no one can shut, a door that leads to the fullness of blessing, the fullness of peace, the fullness of joy, and the fullness of grace. In the progression that is our Christian faith and walk, all that God has to offer is before us. His blessing is before us, His grace is before us, his peace is before us, His protection is before us, His strength is before us, and nothing that God has for His children is behind us. We have moved on from darkness to light, from death to life, we have pressed on, moved ahead, and in our constant progress we discover the fullness of all that God has for us.
It is the natural condition and natural environment of a follower of Christ to be in perpetual forward motion. We are always journeying toward our goal, toward the prize, toward the reward and the crown that awaits us at our journey's end. We are ever maturing, ever becoming the image of Christ on this earth, and as long as we move ever onward, the door will always be open to us, and no one will be able to shut it.
What we must understand, because it is an important and integral part of our relationship with God, is the level of commitment the church of Philadelphia exhibited toward Christ and the word of Christ. The church of Philadelphia lived in trying and turbulent times. Their faith was tried and tested; yet they remained faithful, never denying the name of Jesus, and keeping His word. They were committed to live and to die for that which had been revealed to them, they were committed to uphold the truth no matter the level of opposition, and it was in their steadfastness and faithfulness that this door of which Christ speaks was opened to them.
So what exactly does this door lead to? What can we hope to find once we walk through this open door? Although it is a study that can be expounded upon, the doorway that is opened to us, leads to the kingdom of God. It leads to the daily fellowship of the soul with its creator, to the daily nourishing of the spirit, and the daily strengthening of our constitutions.
This door is opened to us just as it was to the church of Philadelphia only if we keep His word, which is a representation of what and whom Jesus is, keeping in mind that in Him the Father is also revealed to us. Jesus the Son came into the word to testify of God the Father, and no one could have fulfilled this task except Him.
If we obey and fulfill the word of God, it is evidence that we possess the true faith, because by obeying the Word, we obey both Jesus the Son, and God the Father, bringing honor and glory to them. There can be no Christianity absent of Christ, we cannot pin our hopes upon the fleeting and passing doctrines of men, no matter how good they might seem to the flesh, because eventually every teaching that is not centered upon Christ, will ring hollow and fail at the most crucial of junctures. The beauty of the gospel of Christ, the beauty of God's Holy Word, is that one can apply it and be transformed by it whether they are in the farthest reaches of the Siberian wilderness, or the most metropolitan city in America. Whenever a doctrine or a teaching can only be applied to a certain segment, on a certain continent, in a certain financial bracket, then it is not the true gospel but heresy.
Other than being lauded for keeping His word, the church of Philadelphia was also esteemed for not denying the name of Jesus. If we love Jesus, if we love the name of Jesus, His unseen person, then we are not ashamed of Him, but on the contrary, testify Him, and witness concerning His goodness, love, and saving grace whenever and wherever we are able.
There are men today who deny the name of Jesus, not because they are being persecuted or constrained to do so, but rather because their denomination is more important and meaningful to them than Jesus is. I have had conversations that led nowhere relevant, because each time I would mention what Jesus said, the reply would be, 'but that's not what my denomination believes.'
We must understand the fact that we can as readily deny the name of Jesus by our actions as we can by our words. The church of Philadelphia remained faithful in the face of persecution, and strange doctrine, because they kept the word of Christ, and did not deny His name. When our faith is principled, and fueled by the conviction of truth, we stand firm on the foundation of the Gospel, and lift high the name of Jesus. Even though the idea of compromise might be pleasing to the flesh, and the notion of tolerance and all inclusiveness seen as a respite from the battles and confrontation that come along with standing for the truth, their end result is ruination and a denial of Christ and His nature. The enemy is never satisfied with half measure, and if he can get the children of God to compromise one principle, he will not stop until he's beguiled them into compromising all of their principles.
This is why we must stand on the foundation of truth that is Jesus, unapologetic in following and standing for our convictions, because only in this way will Christ say of us as He said of the church of Philadelphia, 'you have kept My word, and not denied My name', now walk through the door that has been opened to you.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.