Philadelphia Brotherly Love
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19. Philadelphia Brotherly Love
Revelation 3.7-8

"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. 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.'" (Revelation 3.7-8)

Know Your Deeds

Philadelphia RemainsPhiladelphia or "Philadelphus" is the youngest of all the seven cities in this area to which the book of Revelation is addressed. It is founded by colonists from Pergamum under the reign of Attalus the Second (BC 159-138.) "Philadelphos" is the Greek for "one who loves his brother." Such is the brotherly love of Attalus for his brother Eumenes that he calls him "Philadelphos," and it is after him that "Philadelphia" is named.

Open Door

Ancient PhiladelphiaThe city of Philadelphia is founded as an open door city for the Greek culture and language into Lydia and Phrygia. So well did it do its work that by 19 AD the Lydians have forgotten their language and become Greek. According to Sir William Mitchell Ramsey (1851-1939) the Scottish archeologist and New Testament scholar, Philadelphia becomes "the center for the diffusion of Greek language and Greek letters in a peaceful land and by peaceful means." It is an ideal setting for Christians to spread the Faith.

Great Missionary Opportunity

Seraph - holy, holy, holyThe City of Philadelphia's open door is a wonderful missionary opportunity to spread the Good News of Jesus.The Risen Christ speaks of the "open door" that is set before "Philadelphia." Three centuries before, "Philadelphia" has been given an "open door" to spread Greek ideas in the lands beyond, and now there appears another great missionary opportunity, to carry to people, who never knew it, the message of the love of Jesus Christ.

Holy Holy Holy

Greek PhilosopherIn the introduction to this letter, Christ is called by three great titles, each of which implies a tremendous claim. He is "him who is holy and true." The seraphs sing, 'Holy, holy, holy.' Holy is the description of God himself in Isaiah 6.3b for "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." This is the song of the seraphs which Isaiah hears. In Isaiah 40.25 the prophet asks, "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One." And later adds, "The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth." Jesus is called the holy one. The Philadelphia Christians have little strength but are devoted and loyal to the holy true Christ, who is separate from humans but one of us. All through the Old Testament, God is the Holy One and now that title is given to the risen Christ as the holy true Christ or "him who is holy and true." "Holy" from the Greek word "hagios" means "different or separate from." God is "holy" because he is different and separate from humans. He has that quality of "being" which belongs to him alone. To say that Jesus Christ is "holy" is to say that he shares the very being of God, but is separated from human beings. The holy true Christ is at one time different and separate from human beings. Christ is also the "true Christ." In Greek, the word for "true" means "real." In the true Christ, there dwells reality. When we are confronted by him, we are confronted with no shadowy outline of the truth but with that person "who is the truth" himself, the true Christ. John 14.6 asserts, "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" He alone is the way, the truth, and the life!

Jerusalem From Heaven

The New Jerusalem from HeavenJesus Christ, who is holy and true, holds the Key of David which opens the way into eternal life from Heaven into the New Jerusalem.The key of David or David's house key refers to the New Jerusalem over which Christ has supreme authority. The key of David signifies Christ's authority to open the door into this future kingdom. Because Jesus has "the key of David" he opens and no one can shut, he shuts and no one can open. This is the picture of Jesus of Nazareth as the one who has the final authority which no one can question.

Faithful Steward Eliakim

King Hezekiah of JudahBehind this scene, there is an Old Testament picture from the Prophet Isaiah. King Hezekiah of Judah has a faithful steward called Eliakim, who is given the sole right to admit others to the presence of the king. He is in effect the key holder or doorkeeper to the king's presence. Isaiah hears God say of this faithful servant Eliakim in Isaiah 22.22, "I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David, what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open."

Key of David

House KeyIt is this picture of the key of Eliakin which is in John of Patmos' mind. Like Eliakim, Jesus alone has the authority to admit others to the new Jerusalem, the new city of David. As the Te Deum from Psalm 145 says, "Thou didst open the kingdom of Heaven to all believers." Jesus is the new and only way into the presence of God for all believers!

Open Missionary Door

Open Door into HeavenJesus Christ is the open missionary door of opportunity for Philadelphia, as they previously were the open door for Greek culture. What is the meaning of this "open door" the Risen Christ has set before the Christians of Philadelphia? It is the door of missionary opportunity. Writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16.9 of the work which lays ahead of him, Saint Paul says, "because a great door for effective work has opened to me." When he comes back to Antioch he tells the church in Acts 14.27 how God has given him an open door to the Gentiles, he writes, "On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."

Philadelphia

Armies of Caesar"An open door" is particularly appropriate for "Philadelphia", now called "Alasehir" on the Western side of Turkey. It is established in 189 BC by King Eumenes 11 of Pergamum (BC 221-160) as a border town and founded to be an open door for the Greek language and culture to the barbarous peoples beyond. Philadelphia has an important position on the imperial postal service road, which leaves the coast at Troas, comes to Philadelphia via Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis, and joins the great highway out to Phrygia. The armies of Caesar travel that road. Caravans of merchants ride it and now it is beckoning the missionaries of Christ as the new open missionary door!

The Jesus Door

Door of OpportunityThe Jesus door in Revelation is pictured in the ancient city of Philadelphia as offering the way through it into abundant life. There is an open door of missionary opportunity before every Christian. To be a missionary is to be sent into an area to perform ministries of evangelism, to share the Good News or to teach, educate or engage in healing ministries. To be a missionary, we do not, however, need to go overseas out of our country or even our neighborhood to find it. Within our home, within our circle of friends, within our workplace, there are those to be won for Christ. To use the door of opportunity is at once our privilege and our responsibility.

Ancient Door

Ancient PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia has proved faithful but the reward for her faithfulness is surprisingly still more work to do for Christ! In the way of Christ, the reward of work well done is more work to do. It is suggested that the door which is set before the Philadelphians is none other than Jesus himself. This reminds us of his words in John 10.7 where he describes himself as "the gate for the sheep." Just as a shepherd in the Middle East today sleeps across the opening to the sheepfold to prevent a predator entering and attacking the sheep, so Jesus guards his own who enter the sheepfold through him. Jesus himself is the door to protect his sheep.

Holman Hunt's Painting

Holman Hunt's PaintingWith Jesus Christ, the new kingdom of David is inaugurated and so the Jesus door is there to admit only willing, contrite persons to the kingdom of God and to bar the way to all others. Jesus confirms this in John 14.6 when he says, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Philadelphia Earthquake Shocks

Grape VinesThe Philadelphia earthquake shocks and the tremors that follow from a seemingly extinct volcano come unexpectedly upon the people in this ancient city. Philadelphia is an important and wealthy center of trade in Asia Minor in the Roman Empire. It has a physical characteristic that leaves its mark upon this Revelation letter. It is on the edge of a great plain called "The Burned Land." This is a large flat valley left behind by an extinct volcano on a fault line. The land is naturally very fertile and Philadelphia benefits much by becoming the hub of a grape-growing region and a famous wine producer. But it still sits on a fault line and an extinct volcano and therefore prone to earthquakes.

Extinct Volcano

Extinct VolcanoEarthquakes have their perils and leave their mark on Philadelphia more than in most cities. The Greek geographer and historian Strabo (BC 63-24 AD) who travels widely from Egypt to as far west as Tuscany and to Ethiopia in the South. His works include Strabo's Geography around 7 BC chronicling political, economic, social, cultural and geographic details of almost the whole of Europe including the British Isles, the Iberian Peninsula, Gaul, Germania, The Alps, Italy, Greece, and the Northern Black Sea region, Anatolia, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. He writes that in 17 AD a series of earthquake shocks destroy Sardis, which is the modern city of "Sart" in Turkey, and ten other cities in the area. In Philadelphia, the earthquakes and tremors go on for years so much so that Philadelphia comes to be described as a "city full of earthquakes."

Every Day Shocks

EarthquakeWhen earthquakes happen, people meet them with courage, but re-occurring minor earthquake shocks drive people to panic. That is what happens in Philadelphia. Shocks and aftershocks become an everyday occurrence. Gaping cracks appear in the walls of houses and roads. One part of the city is in ruins, then another. Most of the population live outside their houses in temporary shelters on the streets and fear even to go into the city lest they should be killed by falling masonry during a sudden unexpected collapse. It is a dangerous and stressful time for the Christian church but Jesus encourages them because they keep his word and do not deny His name.✞

Asian Christianity

Ancient Philadelphia CoinThe ancient Philadelphia earth tremors terrify Asian Christians so much that the whole population resorts to living out in the streets. In the letters, we find that those who still dare to live in Philadelphia during the earthquakes are reckoned to be mad. They spend their time shoring up the shaking buildings from the earth tremors and now and then fleeing to the open spaces for safety.

Go Out No More

Earthquake GraphThe terrible days of the earth tremors are constantly on people's minds, and they wait fearfully for the ground shaking to end. Christians in Philadelphia know what security lies in the promise in Revelation 3.12 that "they would go out no more" when they have no earthquakes to contend with. John of Patmos writes, "The victorious one I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it."

Bastion of Christianity

Bastion of Asian ChristianityIn later days, Philadelphia which means "city of brotherly love" would become a great city. When the Turks and Muslims flood Asia Minor and every other town has fallen, Philadelphia stands firm against the invaders. For centuries, it is a free Greek Christian city among Muslim people. It is the last bastion of Asian Christianity in that area.

Faithful Christians

Ruins of PhiladelphiaIt is not until midway through the fourteenth century that Philadelphia eventually falls, but to this day there is still a Christian bishop and a thousand or so Christians there. Except for Smyrna, the other Churches addressed in the seven letters in Revelation are now in ruins. Philadelphia however still holds aloft the banner of the Christian faith.

"Philadelphia Brotherly Love"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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