Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Darris McNeely] The last book of the Bible begins with Jesus in heaven as the anointed King of the world, personally writing seven letters to seven of His churches. Of these, one letter stands out. It is the letter from Christ to the congregation in Philadelphia. It is the letter of open doors and victory, but also of patient endurance. Join us as we explore "Philadelphia: The Faithful Church."
With all the churches that are available to us today, have you ever wondered why people pick the one they choose to attend? You think it's because of the music, that they might have really good music? Maybe it's the speaking ability of the pastor, dynamic, charismatic. Maybe that church has a very good outreach program in the community and people are attracted by that. Or maybe it's because they offer Starbucks coffee in the lobby. You know, I have actually known people to choose a church that they attend because of good business contacts that they can make there for their business, and that's it. Well, how about choosing a church because it teaches the truth, because it teaches the Word of God? Why not choose a church because of that? On "Beyond Today," we have been going through a series of programs on the book of Revelation, and we've been covering the messages to these seven churches of Revelation that are mentioned in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. There we find seven distinct messages written to seven congregations that existed in the first century in the area of what was called Asia Minor, today Turkey. There were seven congregations beginning with the one in Ephesus, and then Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and finally a church in a location called Laodicea, all there in the western area of Asia Minor in the first century. The messages that were given came from Christ and they show the challenges and the opportunities that the church had in the first century world of the Roman Empire, which was the dominant power at the time.
Now I ask, why do people pick a church today to attend? As we look at these seven congregations and you look at the messages there, here's a question that you might want to consider. Which one would you choose to attend of these seven based on what you read in the messages Christ gives to them? It's an important question because these messages, every one of them speak to God's church, God's people today. They speak to people of faith. And what we learn from the pages of Revelation has relevance to faith now, today. The church of God that is spoken about here in the book of Revelation in these pages is a small but strong body of believers.
Now, let me say something at this point in the story that might be a little bit surprising and even shocking. When I speak about the church of God that these messages are addressed to, I'm not talking about your church that you might attend on Sunday morning. I'm not talking about the large megachurch that you drive by in your neighborhood, or the large stone church building with a steeple and a cross on top occupying a nicely manicured, suburban lot down the street from your home. That's not the church Jesus Christ is talking to in these seven messages out of the book of Revelation. Does that surprise you? Really it should be shocking to think about that, and it should send a real searcher and a believer to study into whether or not I'm right or wrong. These messages refer to the church that has the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Now what are the commandments of God? Well for starters, all of the 10 commandments, which includes the ones that forbid the worship of idols, and relics, and images of saints, the commandments that shape a family and a marriage, of a man and a woman in a faithful relationship, the commandments that shape godly character and morals, and finally the one commandment that says to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The church that keeps those commandments mentioned and spoken of here in Revelation is a small church. It always has been. And yet it's alive today and Christ is its head.
Now these seven messages out of the book of Revelation, they speak to that one church which is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ and the members of the congregations of that church they are led by and filled with the Spirit of God. Revelation lays out a description of events that are occurring today in the world around us. Everyone wants to study the book of Revelation today because we are living in serious times. Those times are described in detail in the book of Revelation. We're seeing war, we're seeing false religion, we're seeing pandemic and famine all begin to stalk the earth and the peoples of the earth today. And frankly, as we look at the world and we can see the storm clouds of tribulation and trial beginning to gather on the horizon. In fact, our comfortable lives today are going to be disrupted more than they already have been, and it is time for us all to take notice of what this message is and what it says to us. Christ's message to the church throughout all of these seven, essentially says, "Wake up, time is short." A war rages around us and we have a role to play.
Revelation tells us that there is more to the present events that we read about in our headlines than we can know with the eye or the ear. The earth, the nations are caught up in a battle of spiritual forces, and Christ shows us how to survive and how to win. And the messages to these seven churches is a message for us to hear and to heed now. And so today in this program, we're going to study the message to the church in a place called Philadelphia. It's a church that had a message for not only their time, but for our time and our hour today. When we look at all of these messages, we can see that there are common threads of danger that were facing these churches during the first century. Through the other examinations of the messages of these churches, we've seen that they all had external threats. When we studied the message at Pergamum, we saw that the Roman government had actually killed one of their members named Antipas because he refused to denounce Christ and participate in the cult of emperor worship, the Roman emperor. There was also internal danger to each of these churches, such as the church that we studied when we covered that message to the church at a place called Thyatira. There, we read about a female member called Jezebel where she was teaching fellow members how to practice pagan rituals while actually remaining as a part of the church of God. So when we look at all of this and understand the fullness of the gospel, we come to understand that this message to the church at Philadelphia can be understood, that Christ holds something called "the keys to the Kingdom of God." He is the door, He is the way by which all have access to eternal life, and He is with His church through all time.
Let's then look at the message there. The members at Philadelphia withstood the time of trial that was upon them and the time of testing. When we turn to the book of Revelation chapter 3, and we read what Christ says there, it begins this way. "To the angel of the church at 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.'" Quite an opening there. Christ appears to this church in Philadelphia as the holy one. Now to understand that term, "the holy one," it's a term that is used by Christ to really affirm that He is God. It's a title attributed to God. We find it several times back in the book of Isaiah, one of the major prophets of the Old Testament, where he describes God over and over again as holy. God is described as Himself being true, not false. And so Christ sets Himself in this message as divine and as genuine and understanding that gives us a key to the background to what the members in Philadelphia were facing and how noble it was that they were enduring in a faithful way. In this opening passage the next thing that Christ says to the church is that He has something called "the key of David," and He opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens. Now all three of these descriptors that we read about holy, and true, the key of David, they speak to the supremacy of Christ and that counters the challenges to the faith that those people had in the city at that time and for us today.
Let's look at this idea that is mentioned here called "the key of David." What did that mean? What did it mean when the members of the church heard this letter read to them there in that city of Philadelphia? Well, they would've thought about a scripture from a little known passage way back in the book of Isaiah that is not always even read today. It's in Isaiah chapter 22. It is talking about the time of King Hezekiah, one of the kings of Jerusalem, and he was a descendant of King David and He lived in Jerusalem. Now, King Hezekiah had a top official there in his court called Shebna. This is the story in Isaiah 22. Shebna functions as a chief of staff. He's kind of the top person on the staff to the king. He is the one who controls access to the king, the appointment manager. He manages all the innermost workings of the royal office there in the palace, including the staff and appointments and everything else. However, the role begins to give Shebna thoughts of grandeur and ambition beyond his job. So he goes and has a grave carved for himself among the tombs of the past kings, sort of like these that you see here on the screen. Isaiah comes in though and delivers God's judgment upon Shebna, and he tells him that he's going to be sent away to another land and die there, and he'll have no need for the elaborate tomb that he's bought. Furthermore, Isaiah goes on to say that Shebna will be replaced by another man named Eliakim, and Eliakim will have a different nature. He's not going to be impacted by the office and that authority. And Eliakim will be given something else called "the key of the house of David." It's Isaiah 22:22. Used here in Isaiah, the term, "the key of David," the key is a term for a metaphor. It's a metaphor for power and authority that only Eliakim would have. He only has access to the king to either close or deny people coming and going and seeing the king because he has the key or the access. That's what it means.
And so when Christ uses that term in Revelation 3, from Christ, the head of the church, and Him being the rightful heir to the house of David, comes the acknowledgement that the members of the church are His. They're the Israel of God. And the church has as part of its mission to go to what Christ called "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And so Jesus is saying here to the church, "I have the key that gives access to God and to the Kingdom of God." So Christ has such a deep affection for the church of Philadelphia because they've endured trials and their faith has been tested. And that's further recognized by what Jesus goes on to say next to them. He says, "I know your works. See that I have set before you an open door. No one can shut it. For you have a little strength. You have kept my word and have not denied my name." Philadelphia has good works. They're commended for that. But Jesus says, "See, look what I've done. I've set before you an open door and no one can shut it." If you look at this in "The Message Bible," it paraphrases this this way. It says, quote, "I see what you've done. Now see what I have done." Christ keeps the focus on what He is doing to guide the church. In the New Testament, this term "an open door" can mean an opening to preach the gospel. Paul uses this term when he speaks to the church in Colossi, and he says to them, "Meanwhile praying for us that God would open a door for the word to speak the mystery of Christ through which I am also in chains." In the New Testament, an open can and does refer to an opportunity to, with a clear path forward, in preaching the gospel. Is that what it means here in Revelation? Well, the focus of Christ having the key of David as we have seen, does refer to Christ giving access to the Kingdom.
What does it mean for us today? Well, it means that the church is to preach the gospel of Christ and the Kingdom of God to the world as a witness before the end of the age. The true gospel unlocks the mystery of God's will to unite all things in heaven and earth through the work of Christ, and that includes His sacrifice for sin and resurrection to life, the means by which eternal life is given and by which Christ then when He returns to this earth in the power and the glory will bring with that the rule of the Kingdom of God. Christ gave to His disciples the commission to go to the world with the gospel message, and the commission also includes God's commission to go to that lost house of Israel. And so this phrase carries the understanding of God's enduring faithfulness in His promises to the descendants of Abraham. And it carries a commission to warn today's nations of all of mankind through Christ who holds the key of David.
Something else was happening in Philadelphia that we should also understand. There they encountered opposition from those who should have been brothers and fellow workers with them in the Kingdom, the Jews of the city who did not accept the truth that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They shunned the church of God treating them as enemies. Notice what Jesus says in verse 9. He says, "Indeed, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but lie. Indeed I will make them to come and to worship before your feet and to know that I have loved you." What was happening in the church at this time late in the first century is this. The Jews had shut the door of the synagogue to the church. Remember that the church began among the Jews and from among them. And yet, by the time of the end of the first century, things had changed. There's a phrase for this. It's called "the parting of the ways." Jews and Christians separated, and this began to work against the Christians. Persecution from Rome was growing, and in some cases, unfortunately, even the Jews were betraying Christians to the Roman authorities, and that's the friction that we see Christ addressing in this letter. Jews were not only denying Christ, who was the Messiah, the one who was holy and true, but they were denying even their own scriptures describing their role as a part of the larger nation of Israel, the covenant people, holding the promises that God made to Abraham. And so there was a very serious spiritual problem there. And Christ is telling His church that He will correct this injustice in time. He says, "I have the key of David, the authority to make it right."
So this message to Philadelphia, it speaks to the church of God today during a time of growing world upheaval. Preaching the true gospel to a distracted world today brings many challenges. The promise of Christ being holy, true, and holding the key of the authority of the Kingdom of God should not be lost on those of us who live at the culminating period of world history. The messages to these seven churches, they were written in the first century. They were real congregations in real locations in Asia Minor, which is today Turkey. Yet there is a sense of movement through time when you read all of these messages beginning with Ephesus and going to Smyrna, where you have definite statements that fit the early church. When we come to the message to Philadelphia, we see not only descriptions that fit the early church, but statements that can only be interpreted at the close of the age before the coming of Jesus Christ. Notice what Christ says in verse 10 here. "Because you have kept my command to persevere." Christ commends them here for their ability to hold to the Word of God and to persevere in the face of incredible opposition that was thrown at them, the opposition of the Jews, as we've seen, and even Rome itself, all engineered by Satan. And Christ reveals Satan as the persecutor through human powers and the real enemy of the gospel and the church of God, the people of God.
Now Christ goes on to make a more direct reference even to today's world here in verse 10 to the church. He says, "I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I'm coming quickly. Hold fast what you have that no one may take your crown." That statement there points to a global time of trial. The phrase, "Those who live on the earth," refers to the power described in Revelation as the beast power which rises from the nations and will specifically persecute those identified as the church of God. The hour of trial he mentions, it's the same referred to by Christ in his prophecies by the term called "the tribulation." It's the same event, even created by the man of sin mentioned by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. There's a coming time of world trial that is foretold here, and it matches perfectly with other references of Christ through this message to Philadelphia.
Jesus is promising for his believers not to be removed from the earth by something called a "rapture," which many people believe today, rather he's promising spiritual protection from an event that will impact all people, believers and non-believers on this earth. It's a promised time of protection from the forces of evil that will bring persecution upon those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. This message has meaning for us today. It's a comforting promise as well as a sobering reminder of the times in which we live. Christ looked into our modern time and He foresaw a time of global trial. And as He provided spiritual protection and safety for the church in the first century, so He will to do the same today, but we must hold true to His Word and to His teachings. Christ's messages through all of these churches have application for the church today. It's worth reading at this point something from the book of Matthew chapter 16, where Christ said to His disciples and therefore to the church. He says, "I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 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."
This message to Philadelphia speaks to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. And it contains a promise of protection from the worst of the storm to come upon the world. Christ means it as a twofold encouragement for the church to be confident, confident in doing his work. He's with it and it will prevail. When we examine the last message of the seven, the one to the church at Laodicea, we will see that there's one glaring obstacle that the church has in the last days, but that's for the last program in this series. So with all that is happening in the world today, it seems, as I mentioned earlier, everyone wants to understand the book of Revelation. These messages to the church, they fall within this last book of the Bible, Revelation.
Our study aid that we're offering today on our program is a booklet that we have written called, "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy," and it lays out a foundation to understand what the Bible teaches about the developing prophecies of today's world. With war, with disease, spiritual confusion, we are seeing many prophetic foundations that are being laid. You can receive this free booklet, free, by calling the number on your screen or go to beyondtoday.tv and download and begin reading it today. Very helpful, very informative as an overview of prophecy.
When we look at the ancient world, upon the ancient temples of that time, men would write their names. They wanted their work and their memory remembered by future generations. Yet it was all vanity. God is making pillars today in a different temple. The church is described as a spiritual temple that God is making and is composed of individual members who have the Spirit of God. And God puts his name on the one who overcomes and endures through the events of the end of this age. And the question is, is God writing his name on you? When we go to the conclusion of the message to the church at Philadelphia, Christ says this. "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God. And I will write on him my new name." And He concludes that message by saying, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
[Narrator] Please call for the booklet offered on today's program, "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy." Prophecy is God's inspired revelation to mankind. God shows us who He is and how He has an amazing plan for all people. It shouldn't be a mystery. This free study aid will help you see the true magnitude of prophecy as it places the past, present, and future into clear perspective. You will learn about amazing biblical prophecies that came to pass centuries later exactly as they were predicted. Call toll free 1-888-886-8632, or write to the address shown on your screen. You will see how God keeps His promises and covenants, and how those promises explain the news you see every day. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one-year subscription to "Beyond Today" magazine. "Beyond Today" magazine brings you understanding of today's world and hope for the future. Six times a year, you'll read about current world events in light of Bible prophecy, as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family, and godly principles to guide you toward a life that leads to peace. Call today to receive your free booklet, "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy," and your free one-year subscription to "Beyond Today" magazine, 1-888-886-8632, or go online to beyondtoday.tv.
[Gary Petty] Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with the United Church of God. If you are looking for a church that encourages living what the Word of God really teaches, you've found the right place. We're a community of believers dedicated to seeking the truth and preaching the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. We'd like to welcome you to come and join us on this spiritual journey. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. Visit ucg.org to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.