THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA
Take a moment to carefully look at this impressionist painting by Millet called The Angelus. The artist found his inspiration from his childhood when the local church’s bells would call the community to prayer at appointed times during the day. The people would stop and pray wherever they were. Such is the power of godly parents on their children. As an aside, it is one of my wife’s favorite paintings!
During these studies we have visited the impact of The Church on daily life. It is an issue that spans the centuries and it is obvious that the Church’s impact on the world spans the entire range of possibilities from good to evil. Five of the churches in the Book of Revelation had some condemnation attached to themselves. One of the churches had only condemnation said of it-that is the next church-Laodicea. Only Smyrna and this church-Philadelphia had no condemnation and only commendation associated with them.
I remind you that these are my thoughts and impressions concerning this painting and may bear no resemblance to quality, educated, artistic interpretation!
The church at Philadelphia sat on a fertile plain at the base of a hill. It was 73 miles to Smyrna; 28 miles to Sardis; 17 miles to Laodicea. An ancient king named Attalus Philadelphius of Pergamum named the city because of his great love and affection for his brother and gave the city to him. It was located on the border of three different countries. It was a very earthquake prone region with hot springs were located nearby. It was destroyed in 17AD by an earth quake. Tiberius helped to rebuild it and renamed it Neo-Caesar, and it subsequently went thru many other name changes. The old name of Philadelphia was the one that stuck.
Additionally, it was an important Imperial posting with important roads running north and south, as well as, east and west crossing here. It guarded a pass thru the mountains of the region and was a center of Hellenism or Greek culture for Asia Minor. The worship centered around the patron god Dionysus and combined a debauched worship of fertility and wine. The soil was volcanic and provided excellent grapes. They also excelled in wool, hides, and textiles.
THE APPEARANCE OF CHRIST
Rev 3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
We have seen the Careless Church at Ephesus (33-100AD); the Crushed and Crowned Church at Smyrna (100-300AD); the Compromising Church at Pergamos (300-600AD); the Corrupt Church at Thyatira (600-1200AD; the Feeble-Dying Church at Sardis (1200-1500AD); and now we visit the Serving Church at Philadelphia (1500AD to the present).
Christ chooses to reveal Himself to this church, first of all, as the ‘holy and true one’. All that is to follow is genuine, true, and without fault. His assessment is based on righteousness and not error. There is no shadow of misinterpretation or deceit here. We can trust His insight. He is the one true Messiah of the Jews. He also says that He has the ‘key of David!’ This would be highly important to a predominantly Jewish church of the first century. Remember the apostles went to ‘the Jew first and also to the Greek.’ Thus, the early churches were predominately Jewish is character. They would have needed encouragement that the religion and law they were leaving behind did not also mean that God had no intent of fulfilling his OT promises.
Isa 22:22 And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
Much of the book of Revelation is firmly grounded in the OT.
2Sa 7:12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.
2Sa 7:13 He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
Luk 1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
Luk 1:32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
Luk 1:33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
After all, if He wasn’t going to keep the OT promises then what’s to say He will keep His NT promises!? Thus, Jesus assures the church that He and He alone holds the ‘key’ to fulfilling the promises to David the king. As we all know He is, indeed, David’s greater Son.
Mat 22:42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
Mat 22:43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
Mat 22:44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
Mat 22:45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
This is the whole argument of Romans 9, 10, and 11. Namely, that God has not cast away His people and promises. He goes on to say that He, Jesus, is the one that opens and shuts all doors and none can hinder His plan and actions!! These facts are crucial to what happened in this city in the first century. He has also said that ‘He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!’
THE APPROVAL OF CHRIST
Rev 3:8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
The very first thing that grabs my attention in this painting is that the people are prominent. Man as made in the image of God and holds center attention in this painting. The ‘imago dei’ (image of God) is the center of what God is doing in the world and is central to His plan of redemption. ‘The Unfolding Drama of Redemption’ involves people not buildings. The center of our focus is the church-that is-the people. It should also be the center of our focus as a church in our own time, as well. Contrast this to the previous picture where the church building held center stage and people were avoiding it.
Next, note the realism in this painting. All is as it should be. There is no distortion of the people or the background. I see real life people leading real lives and dealing with this world’s realities in a very special way. People had played a small roll except to avoid the building in the previous painting.
Here, in The Angelus, the true church-the people-are prominent not the building. If you look closely you can see the church building just behind the woman in the background. It is playing the roll it was meant to play. As an institution it is small. As a ‘light to the world’ it is clear that the building is not it in this picture, rather the people take precedence and are the ones shining their light for all to see thru their devotion to Christ. For this is devotion not religion we see in this painting.
The couple is far afield ‘laboring’ together by the ‘sweat of their brow’, thus fulfilling their God given purpose to supply their needs and the needs of their family and others. Note their dress and the harvest in the wheel barrow. The couple is dressed for laboring-simple yet functional. Nothing ostentatious. They, indeed, like the church at Philadelphia, have ‘a little strength’. Nothing presumptuous, no boasting, just simple dependence and thanksgiving to the Lord.
This picture is full of life. Human life that is the center of God’s redemptive plan. This is worth restating. There is little to distract from the worship this couple is involved in. No animals, No buildings. Very little of what is made by man appears, rather the people, made in the image of God, stand as an example of uncomplicated simplistic worship-just what Jesus was looking for. The church and its leadership are nowhere to be seen. In fact, no one else is, yet the couple is devout truly ‘they have kept thy word, and not denied thy name.’
History records that this church was a small one, but the city boasted a large synagogue. The Jews in Philadelphia enjoyed great blessing for that time period of intense religious persecutions. The Jews were allotted the status of being exempt from Caesar worship!
Rev 3:9 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.
With the Jews enjoying such privileged status in the city it was natural that when some of the Jews committed themselves to Christ they would try to maintain that status of not being required to sacrifice to Caesar. The Jews who did not commit to Christ, then threw the new believers out of the synagogue, and solicited the Romans to not allow these false Jews (in their eyes) or traitors to Judaism to be exempt, thus, the persecutions began for the new Jewish Christians. The faithful lost friends, family, fellowship, culture, status, money, and citizenship. Christ calls the rejecting Jews ‘the synagogue of Satan’ to indicate that they, not the followers of Christ were the false ones! They only claimed ancestry to Abraham, but as Paul says in Romans 9 they were not ‘of the promise.’ In fact, this is the reason Christ in His Appearance above states that HE (and no other) is the true one (not those Jews or even Moses in whom they trusted); that HE, Jesus-alone- has the keys of David.
Rom 9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
Rom 9:7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Rom 9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
Christ tells His dear followers that they may be rejected here on earth, but all shall know of His great love for them!! He will humble the others of the seed of Abraham and they shall worship at the feet of the true Jews (the physical and spiritual seed).
Our Lord says that He is setting before them an open door. A door of service; a door of utterance; a door of ministry; a door of fruitfulness. So too, our present church age has an ‘open door’ set before it. Ever since the Reformation (remember my suggested time period-1500 to the present) the gospel has been ringing forth and untold millions have been swept into it. Martin Luther, the Moravians, William Carey and all the great English missionaries, Adonirum Judson the first American missionary and the many thousands since that have all gone thru those open doors! Yes, there are closed corners of the earth, but even in some of them (like China) the gospel of Jesus is reaping a harvest.
Joh 4:35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
As the church to our generation (like the Philadelphian prophetically before us) we are to go thru those doors which no man can shut. Now is the time for action!
KEPT FROM THE HOUR
Rev 3:10 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.
Rev 3:11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
These faithful believers in Philadelphia ‘had kept the word of His (Christ’s) patience’. Thus, He also would keep them from the ‘hour of trial’ coming upon all the earth. This has been seen as a promise of being kept from the time of the Tribulation Period at the end of the age (pre-trib rapture) or escape out of this period (mid-trib or pre-wrath rapture). But, the problem with these interpretations is that they would mean nothing to the Philadelphians living in John’s day. They would already be in heaven! To make this passage have both personal-historical meaning and prophetic meaning requires me to see this as a promise of being kept from the ‘hour of (God’s) trial’ upon the wicked-14:7ff. So, I see this as the hour of God’s final judgment that all men must face.
The clearly stated persecutions of the faithful in the book of Revelation would seem to argue that this is some other trial than The Tribulation Period. See 1:9, 2:9, 7:14, 13:7f, 14:12. While it might be argued that everything after chapter 4 is not the Church, but tribulation saints, thus they, not us, go thru the ‘hour of trial’. Yet, John is part of the Church, as would be the Philadelphians and they were persecuted historically and certainly would not be in the Tribulation Period. Allowing the church at Smyrna to suffer persecution (2:8-11) and promising deliverance for Philadelphia is inconsistent, as both were faithful and had no condemnations against them.
In fact, all of these churches were promised something in regards to the coming da of judgment. Stated positively, the overcomer will ‘eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God’ (2:7), receive the ‘crown of life’ (2:10), receive the ‘hidden manna’ and a new name (2:17), inherit ‘authority over the nations’ (2:26), be arrayed ‘in white raiment’, be confessed by Jesus himself before His Father (3:5), become a pillar in God’s Temple and receive a new name (3:12), and will ‘take his seat’ with Christ in His throne (3:21).
Negatively, the overcomer will not ‘be injured by the second death’ (2:11) and not have his name ‘blotted out of the book of life’ (3:5). Thus, this interpretation of escape from final judgment is in keeping with something the Philadelphians would look forward to. It is also something the current church could look forward to. In addition, the church throughout the ages could look forward to this escape from judgment.
NOT JUST OPEN DOORS!
The plants as the fruit of the ground fill this painting. God is clearly blessing. ‘God inhabits the praises of his people.’ The church at Philadelphia had set before it an open door which no man can shut. The couple is surrounded by vast open spaces that are ‘white unto harvest.’ The way is open before them with God’s blessing.
IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH
This prompts the couple to pray in thanksgiving. The church in the town has done its job in training the family and calling them to prayer. The couple worships as a family wherever they are. Note, that depicted in the picture, the artist was able to observe this setting first hand-a family that worshiped together led by the parents.
Joh 4:21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
Joh 4:22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
Joh 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
Joh 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
As this couple is faithful in true worship Christ assures them that those ‘who are of the synagogue of Satan shall bow before them! and worship at their feet’. ‘All shall know that Christ has loved them.’
I notice the light in the background that breaks thru from heaven bringing the thought of hope and pleasure from the Almighty. I get the impression from the picture He is pleased.
Because I see these churches also existing all together and representative of different churches scattered around the world at any given time, what type of a church are we? Not the building, but the people? What kind of people are we?? Will the Savior find something to commend in us? Will He find something to commend only to turn around and find something to condemn? Will we be like the suffering church and find Christ’s approval? Will we be like the witnessing church and have an ‘open door’ to share the glorious Good News of a risen Savior?
Rev 3:12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
Rev 3:13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
As for the ‘overcomers’, they would be delivered from the hour of trial to come upon the whole earth. This couple has a citizenship in heaven. Can anyone doubt that these ‘will be pillars in the temple of God?’
These people are absolute nobodies. No names come attached to the painting (although, I suspect Millet has in mind his parents). Like the apostles James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus (Mt. 10) only their names are recorded in scripture no deed or act is ever mentioned. Yet, they served like this couple faithfully where only the eyes of heaven see. To the Philadelphians and this couple, in fact, all the overcomers, He will give a new name, and the name of the city of God, and Christ’s own new name. This is how highly Christ treasures true devotion. Don’t play at religion. Stop faking it. When no one is looking be as true as when all the world sees, for heaven always sees.
OUR MAILING ADDRESS:
Bob and Anna Nilsen
Unit 3026 INTDR
3170 Airmans Dr.
Fort Pierce, FL 34946