Monday, July 06, 2015

Bread from Heaven and Manna in the Wilderness

In the book of Exodus, we come to the grand story of God’s redemption of Israel from the land of Egypt. So spectacular is this history that it becomes paradigmatic for the rest of biblical history. Themes of slavery and release resonate throughout the rest of the Bible, and being wilderness wanderers in a world not our home is frequently picked up on by the New Testament apostles. Even the ten plagues levied against Egypt become amplified to a global scale in many of the parallel plagues in Revelation.

It therefore should come as no surprise, therefore, that seeing God bring about the salvation of His people through the judgment of His enemies is often done in similar ways that become developed further throughout history. In Exodus 14, we see the miraculous deliverance of God in saving His people through the judgment against Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea, prompting the iconic song offered up by Moses and all the people in Exodus 15. But in Exodus 15:22-27, we see the faint hearts of the Israelites tremble yet again, for this time they believe themselves to be victims of thirst instead of victims of the Egyptians. It was at Marah that the water became sweet for them to drink.

And so now we come to Exodus 16. In the last verse of Exodus 16, we read, “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.” The narrative continues seamlessly in verse 1 of chapter 16, for the Holy Spirit says, “
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.” Approximately 45 days have passed since the Passover and the Exodus, and now the Israelites come to camp at Elim before resuming their march to the Promised Land once more. Moses records that they are in the wilderness of “Sin” (סִ֔ין), which was between Elim and Sinai—the mountain where Moses had first encountered Yahweh in Exodus 3. And just as at Marah, so here the people grumble against Moses. This time they grumble not about water, but about bread, for they state in verse 3 that it would have been better for them to die by the hand of Yahweh in Egypt “when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full” than to die in the wilderness for Moses to kill them.

Yahweh now responds to His grumbling people, and He tells Moses in verse 4 that “I am about to rain bread from heaven for you” to the extent that they will gather enough for each day. On the sixth day, they would gather enough for that day and the Sabbath day also. So now Moses and Aaron communicate this to all the people, and they state that “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” (Exodus 15:6-7) The issue, of course, is not that they grumbled solely against Moses and Aaron, but that they grumbled against the great God of heaven and earth—the same God who a month and a half earlier had powerfully delivered them from the land of slavery. Moses adds, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the Lord.

After instructing his older brother Aaron to tell Israel to “Come near the Lord”, the people assembled see the glory of Yahweh appearing in a cloud. And the Lord tells Moses that He has heard their groaning and that at twilight “you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh your God. (
אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם)” The scene is set, and the anticipation mixed with apprehension is present.

“In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.” (Exodus 16:13-14 ESV) The people of Israel, however, do not know what exactly this frostlike, flake-like substance is that is covering the ground, and so they ask, “What is it?” Moses replies that it is bread from heaven. He further instructs them how to gather it, and they each gathered enough for their own needs. Each one providentially gathered no more nor no less than what he needed over the course of that evening. Some, however, contrary to Moses’ instructions, kept part of it until morning, but it bred maggots and stank. Therefore, having learned their lesson, the people of Israel now gather it “morning by morning”. Interestingly, when the sun grows hot, the manna melted from the ground.

Verses 22-30 describe how the people of Israel gather bread, and this time they see that the manna kept overnight does not rot, for the Lord blesses obedience in accordance with His will. On the seventh day, however—the Sabbath day—some of the people of Israel “went out to gather, but they found none.” This prompts the Lord to tell the Israelites through Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and obey my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” And so the people rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath, although patterned after the original creation week in Genesis 1, was a new practice for the Israelites. During their enslavement in Egypt, they had no seventh-day rest. Now, however, for their good and His glory, the Lord reinforces this Sabbath rest for His people.

The last paragraph of this chapter looks beyond this immediate historical context to look at the role of “manna” (
מָ֑ן) throughout the 40-year period of the wilderness wanderings up until the time of Joshua. In texture it was like coriander seed, in color it was white, and in taste it was like wafers made with honey. When the Ark of the Covenant was built and Tabernacle worship was established in the Israelite community, Moses instructed Aaron to put some in a jar and place it before the Lord in the Tabernacle to be kept throughout all generations. And so he did. “The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” (Exodus 15:35-37)

And so this would always be remembered throughout Israelite history as God’s miraculous provision of life-giving bread from heaven for His people as He led them to the Promised Land. But lest we think this was limited for their own time and place, we conclude by hearing the words of a young Jewish Rabbi in the first century A.D. in the region of Capernaum, which is on the northwest bank of the Sea of Galilee. The day before, He miraculously fed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with five loaves and two fish, and they return the next day to get more free food. But instead, He tells them this…

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:25-35 ESV)

Jesus is the very Yahweh come in flesh, our true Bread from Heaven, but unlike the manna in the wilderness, this bread will never rot or spoil or fade. In demonstrating God's glory in salvation through judgment, just as in Exodus 16, so those who eat this bread will live, and those who reject it will die. Jesus is our bread of life, and whoever comes to him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in him shall never thirst. For those who come to him, He will be life-giving bread and water that comes down from Heaven, and for those who already know Him, He will be our life-giving and life-sustaining bread and water as He leads us to the final Promised Land—our everlasting home. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

Gospel-Centered Churches: The Hope of America, Part 1

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

Such are the words attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian and political thinker of the 19th century. And such a statement reflects well the truth of Proverbs 14:34-“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” That our nation often forgets this fundamental truth clearly evidences itself daily in the increasing secularization of American society and government. For instance, in this year alone, the rampant, militant agenda of homosexuality continues to assault the long-held convictions of biblical marriage. We continue to see the reprogramming of God-given gender in the transgender and bisexual agenda. Popular culture continues to present the corrupt fruit of moral depravity—and it presents it unashamedly. Increasing pressure from left-wing political entities presents an increasing challenge to those desiring to uphold righteous standards in civil government. Biblical illiteracy continues to infest the hearts and minds of numerous evangelicals. All these examples point to a clear call to this generation of Christians to live devoted lives firmly rooted in the authority of God’s Word.

In light of this, what then is the answer for the rushing tide of radical liberalism sweeping across our nation in this generation? The answer, as has been true throughout human history, remains the same. Our hope for the nation of the United States rests solely on the teachings in Scripture pertaining to nations: our God has sovereignly ordained the nation of the United States of America for His purposes, and calls this nation to walk according to the light of His Word.

The gospel-centered church in the United States continues to be a relatively rare phenomenon, when considering the approximately 300,000 Protestant congregations in America. In the 20th century, the bastion of gospel-centered, God-fearing, Christ-exalting preaching has largely disappeared from the mainstream media and the largest churches in the United States.

Nevertheless, as increasing liberalization threatens the very essence of long-held conservative convictions, gospel-centered churches continue to grow, despite the massive resistance posed by popular culture and liberal political ideologies. One needs look no further than the decision made by the Supreme Court regarding DOMA and Proposition 8. Or consider the victory of Coy Mathis, a transgendered student in Colorado who opened the door for complete acceptance of transgendered students in public schools.

The question must now be raised: what is a gospel-centered church? This question has profound implications for the future of Christianity in the United States. As gospel-centered churches gradually disappeared in Europe, liberalization gradually turned churches into centers of secular society. In post-Christian Europe, evangelism finds greater opposition than in regions such as Asia. And such will be the future of the United States, if our nation continues to turn further and further away from the God Who ordains all nations for His sovereign purposes (Jeremiah 27:5; Job 12:33). God calls all nations to walk in the light of His Word; never in the mind of our Lord were governments secular institutions that were free to remain religiously neutral (Romans 13:4).

Therefore, these are the marks of a gospel-centered church: commitment to preaching God’s word, likeminded fellowship, and a passion for evangelism and discipleship. Examining each of these in turn will show what the backbone of our nation was founded upon, and what our nation must return to now. Obedience to these standards brings national blessings, and disobedience to these standards brings national judgment. Over and over in Scripture, the King of kings judged unrighteous nations in the Old Testament—requirements to be a godly nation did not apply solely to God’s covenant nation of Israel. And that same King today judges the nations by the same righteous standards. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to heed the marks of Gospel-centered churches, for faithfulness to God and His standards determines the true state of the nation.

A question must needs present itself at this time. Is the Church called to become the State? Certainly not, for the hope of the United States does not rest on the success of right-wing political involvement, as helpful as that may be. Historically, much damage arose when the Church stepped outside her established lines of authority and jurisdiction and took on the role of the state. However, another error arises when Christians separate civil government from God’s Word. We are called to be a Christian nation; there is no such thing in Scripture as nations that are blessed for willfully violating God’s Law by indulging in wickedness. Therefore, if churches in the United States fulfill their calling, then persons of the body of Christ can indeed uphold God’s Word as authoritative in politics, economics, culture, society, and the multitude of avenues God has called us to. However, whether or not the nation of the United States of America experiences revival or not, Christ has promised that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

What therefore are the specific ways in which churches need to be Christ-focused, Kingdom-driven, and Gospel-centered in a nation that shakes its fist in the face of God? How can churches remain true to the Gospel in the midst of increasing oppression and persecution as they reside in a land that views a reprobate mind as lord rather than acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord? Such will be the topic of next week’s blog post. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Philippians Week 56-The Excellence and Praise of Christian Thinking

-“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV)

Philippians 4:8

-Paul has already written at length to Philippi about moral excellence and the praise of God the Father. He has prayed for them that they might increase in love characterized both by knowledge and discernment, so that they might approve what is excellent, resulting in Christ filling them with righteousness to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
-Paul states that God has exalted His Son for His own glory, for His Son is Yahweh over all of creation throughout time. (Philippians 2:9-11)
-Paul has urged the Philippians to be morally excellent by working out their own salvation as God works in them for His own glory. (Philippians 2:12-13)
-Paul has exhorted the Philippians to be morally excellent in the midst of a pagan culture, so that they might shine as lights in the world while holding fast to the word of life. (Philippians 2:14-16)
-Paul has stated that we glory in Christ who are the true worshipers who have been born again. (Philippians 3:3)
-Paul now restates the six qualities of Christian thinking with two predicative nominatives: excellence and praise. The six qualities are all predicate adjectives: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, and commendation. Now he summarizes by stating how they are to affect us and how they are to affect our praise to God.

Verse 8—Excellence (Αρετή) and Praise (Επαινος)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The Excellence of Our Thoughts

Old Testament
-This concept of excellence in the Old Testament derives from the intrinsic glory of the Lord God of Israel. (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 42:12; Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 63:7)
-This concept of excellence in the Old Testament derives from God’s majestic splendor. (Habakkuk 3:3; Zechariah 6:13)
-God’s excellence requires us to be faithful to His commandments. (Joshua 22:5)
-God’s excellence required moral excellence of His people as the condition of the Old Covenant. (Leviticus 26:3-13)
-God’s excellence commanded moral excellence among the Israelites as He covenanted with them. (Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 28:1)
-God’s excellence demands moral excellence among His people for them to be reconciled with Him. (Jeremiah 7:23)
-The Psalmist calls upon his audience to be obedient in worship before the Lord God of Israel. (Psalm 76:11)
-The Psalmist spoke of God’s blessing upon moral excellence in His covenant people. (Psalm 103:17-18)
-The Psalmist spoke of his love for God’s excellent commandments. (Psalm 119:47-48)
-The Psalmist frequently spoke of his adherence to the law of God. (Psalm 119:100-102; Psalm 119:112)
-The Psalmist also spoke of his desire to be instructed in the law of God. (Psalm 143:10)
-Solomon urged his readers to obey the commandments set out in the book of Proverbs. (Proverbs 6:20)
-The wise will heed the commandments of the Lord and live a morally excellent life in His sight. (Proverbs 10:8; Ecclesiastes 12:13)

New Testament
-In the New Testament, excellence derives from the glory of God’s redemptive acts. (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3)
-Jesus stated that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments. (John 14:15)
-Jesus declared blessed those who hear His words and do them. (Luke 11:28)
-Jesus stated that obedience is an identification of those who follow Him. (John 8:31-32; John 15:14)
-Jesus declared that He sovereignly chooses us for salvation and to bear fruit in His name for the glory of the father. (John 15:16)
-Jesus is the only perfect example of moral excellence before a holy God (John 17:4), and He is our righteousness as we walk in the light of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
-Paul maintained a testimony of moral excellence to the praise of God’s grace throughout his ministry. (Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16)
-God redeemed us by His grace so that we might be obedient by His grace. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
-God’s excellence demands moral excellence in His children. (1 Peter 1:13-20)

A Mind of Godly Excellence
1. Do our minds seek to be faithful to God’s commandments?
2. Do our minds seek to worship God with virtuous thoughts?
3. Do our minds believe that God blesses moral excellence in His children?
4. Do our minds genuinely love the commandments of the Lord?
5. Do our minds seek to be wise and subsequently follow God’s guidelines?
6. Do our thoughts motivate us to obey the Lord Jesus out of love for Him?
7. Do our thoughts enable us to keep a testimony of moral excellence before men?
8. Do our thoughts remind us of Christ’s obedience as we strive to be obedient?
9. Do our thoughts enable us to think virtuous thoughts about fellow Christians?
Do our thoughts encourage us to be obedient by God’s grace?

The Praise of Our Thoughts

Old Testament
-Praise for God is closely linked to God’s excellence, as תְּהִלָּה (tĕhillah) in the Old Testament is translated (among other forms) as αρετη in the Greek Septuagint.
-The Lord God of the Christian Scriptures is the supreme object of praise—and the only divine object of praise. (Deuteronomy 10:21)
-God redeems His people for the glory of His name. (1 Chronicles 16:35)
-During the time of restoration after the exile under Ezra and Nehemiah, the Levites directed the attention of the returning exiles to the praise of God’s name. (Nehemiah 9:5)
-During the time of Nehemiah, men remember the times of praise to the Lord under David’s reign. (Nehemiah 12:46)
-The Psalmist cried out to the Lord for deliverance so that he might praise the Lord in Jerusalem. (Psalm 9:13-14)
-The Lord is still enthroned on the “praises of Israel” even during the times of our intense suffering, and also during the times of David’s suffering and the suffering of the Son of David. (Psalm 22:1-5, 25)
-Praise is a defining characteristic of the people of God. (Psalm 33:1)
-We are to praise the Lord at all times. (Psalm 34:1; Psalm 71:8)
-Those who rejoice in God’s magnification of the Davidic Servant will praise the Lord for His righteousness. (Psalm 35:27-28)
-David directed the choirmaster to lead the Israelite worship in recounting God’s deliverance for His anointed king. (Psalm 40:1-3)
-The Lord’s praise is as glorious as His name and as expansive as His name. (Psalm 48:10)
-To praise the Lord’s glorious nature and name is a Scriptural imperative. (Psalm 66:2; Psalm 66:8)
-The Lord’s people therefore desired greatly in Old Testament times to praise God in the center of Israelite worship—in the city of Jerusalem. (Psalm 65:1; Psalm 102:21)
-The Lord’s purpose in extending mercy to His people was so that His name might be praised. (Isaiah 48:9)
-During the future restoration of Jerusalem and Israel in Christ’s earthly kingdom, God will restore His chosen nation for the praise of His glory. (Isaiah 60:6; Isaiah 60:18; Isaiah 62:6-9; Jeremiah 33:9; Zephaniah 3:19-20)

New Testament
-The Holy Spirit reveals through the apostle John that God the Son came into His own creation as a human being, and that the apostles witnessed the glory of the Son. (John 1:1-5, 14)
-Jesus claimed that the Father glorified Him as His Son. (John 8:54; John 17:5)
-Jesus’ passion was for the glory of His Father. (John 4:34; John 6:38; John 12:28)
-The promise for the redeemed is that they will see the glory of God. (John 11:40)
-Paul frequently speaks about how God saved us for the praise of His grace and glory. (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; Philippians 1:11)
-Peter wrote that we Christians will endure suffering so that our faith will bring praise to at God’s work in Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)
-Paul’s symphonic declarations of praise resound to exalt God’s glory. (Romans 11:33-36; Romans 16:25-27; Ephesians 3:20-21)
-Christ Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature. (Hebrews 1:3)
-The final moments of human history revealed in salvation through judgment testify to the glory of God and of the Lion of Judah, who is the Lamb of God and King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Revelation 5:12-13; Revelation 7:10; Revelation 19:1)

A Mind of Glorious Praise
1. Does your mind seek to glorify the Lord of the Christian Scriptures?
2. Does your mind praise the Lord with your thoughts for God’s redemption in your life?
3. Does your mind recall and find hope in the fact that Yahweh is enthroned in the praises of Israel even in times of intense distress?
4. Does your mind praise the Lord at all times with your thoughts?
5. Does your mind praise the Lord with your thoughts for the hope that He will return to reign in Zion when He redeems the people called by His name?
6. Is the passion of your thoughts the glory of God? 
7. Do your thoughts reinforce the promise that you will see the glory of God?
8. Do your thoughts praise the Lord for saving us for the praise of His glory and grace?
9. Do your thoughts enable you to endure suffering so your faith will praise God in Christ?
10. Do your thoughts turn your mind to meditate upon Christ, who is the radiance of God’s glory?

-“Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.” (1 Chronicles 29:10-13 ESV)



Monday, June 29, 2015

The Letter of the Holy One to Philadelphia

The book of Revelation, personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus to His beloved disciple John, contains the prophetic revelation of the last days of human history. John ties together prophetic themes from the entire scope of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy into a symphonic proclamation of God’s glory in salvation through judgment. The message of Revelation is clear: Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and God the Father is seated on His heavenly throne. But before the apocalyptic revelations unfolding in chapter 5 and following, Christ personally speaks to seven of the major churches in Asia Minor.

Therefore, Jesus first speaks through John’s quill and ink and parchment to the church in Ephesus. While now in exile on the island of Patmos, John had ministered for many years in Ephesus after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Following Ephesus, the Lord speaks to Smyrna, and then to Pergamum and Thyatira. Then He speaks to Sardis, and now in Revelation 3:7-13 the Lord speaks to the persecuted church at Philadelphia. While “Philadelphia” is transliterated from the Greek Φιλαδελφείᾳ
directly into English, and while it is based on the Greek words for “love” and “brother”, this city was no city of brotherly love to the Christians residing in the community. Located on the Cogamus River and situated far inland, the city was bordered by volcanic cliffs to the rear with lush fertile plains on the other side. Historically, the church has already suffered a great deal under the persecutions of the Roman emperors up to this point, but persecution would only escalate. John writes when the church is facing increasing hostility, and any hopes for the establishment of the promised kingdom for Israel seem very bleak when the Israelite nation has been devastated two decades earlier by the Romans.

So now, Jesus speaks in the midst of this historical backdrop to the church at Philadelphia. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7 ESV) The “angel” here, taken from the common Greek word for “messenger”, does not refer to a heavenly angel but to the leader in the Philadelphian church. Jesus introduces Himself as the “holy one”, the “true one”, the one “who has the key of David”, and the one “who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” The term “holy one” is no new one in John’s writings, for not only did the demons recognize Christ approximately 60 years earlier as the “holy one” of God, so did His disciples confess Him to be the “holy one” of God. Therefore, Jesus identifies Himself as Messiah and Lord, and the One who is true. He possesses the key of David, and with it He opens and shuts with no one to overthrow His sovereignty.

Jesus states that He knows the works of this persecuted church, and He sets before them an open door that no one can shut. Then comes the stirring second half of the verse that states, “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Oh that we might all be known by these words. Here is a persecuted church in the country of Asia Minor, facing marginalization and hostility in a pagan Roman culture, that has little power. Indeed, all of God’s children have little power. But in spite of their feeble strength, this church receives the high praise for keeping the word of Jesus and for not denying His name. Throughout the Gospels and throughout the epistles of the apostles, both Jesus and the other writers repeatedly command the readers to hold fast to His Word and to affirm His name in their speech and conduct in the world. And such had the church in Philadelphia accomplished. Jesus states here that they hold fast to His Word and do not deny His name, and so they (along with the church at Smyrna) receive no reproof or rebuke for malfunctions within the church.

Jesus then offers a word of hope and encouragement. “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9) Who are these individuals in the “synagogue of Satan”? Due to the use of the Jewish term “synagogue” and the description of those who “say that they are Jews and are not, but lie”, these would be none other than the Jews who hated their Messiah and sought to bring great harm to the church of the King of Israel. These Jews were persecuting this Philadelphian church, which doubtless included Jews from the “true Israel”—the Jews who believed Christ to be their sin-bearing Messiah. And so, in language reminiscent of the imprecatory psalms of the Old Testament, Jesus states that “I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” The hatred of these Jews for Jesus and for Jewish and Gentile Christians was nothing other than the work of Satan Himself, and so a strict judgment would befall them as Christ would demonstrate His love for the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Philadelphia. He states that because they kept His word with patient endurance, He will keep them from the “hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth.” No worldwide trial came in this day of the scope that Jesus refers to, and the “hour” of trial refers instead to the Great Tribulation that will come in the last days of human history on the entire world.

He includes a direction affirmation of His soon return next, for He states, “I am coming soon.” Lest those place the promise in verse 10 as having already taken place, they should remember that verse 11 must therefore be divorced thousands of years from the preceding one with that interpretation—and this is unwarranted by the text. In the meantime, Jesus exhorts them to “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” The “crown” here refers to the laurel crown awarded to athletes and victors, not to royal crowns. Only three individuals wear royal crowns in Revelation—Satan in Revelation 12:3, the Antichrist in Revelation 13:1 and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in Revelation. These crowns for the Philadelphians are those that Paul spoke of when he said, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)

Jesus, in like fashion with the other churches, issues a blessing to the one who overcomes. “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12 ESV) What then does Jesus mean when He speaks of the “temple of my God”? Clearly, this is a metaphor, but while many temples are spoken about in Scripture, ranging from the physical temples of Solomon and Zerubabbel and Herod and Ezekiel to spiritual temples such as Jesus’ body, our bodies indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the New Covenant church, this “temple” refers to the new heavens and the new earth. Never will this conqueror leave this “temple”, and Jesus sates that He will write the name of God on the conqueror. Furthermore, He will write the name of the city of His God, the New Jerusalem, on the conqueror as well as His own new name.

We now conclude as Christ Himself concludes the letter to Philadelphia: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:13 ESV) Let us strive to be like the church in Philadelphia, being those with little strength who do not deny the name of the Lord Jesus and who hold fast to His word in trying times of oppression and persecution. And
the Holy One, the One who is true and who holds the keys of David, will open for us the gates of the New Jerusalem when He brings us to the city of His God. So let us hear what the Spirit says to the churches.