November 17, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:20 in the audio file.
Or, The Kingdom Has a Keeper
The church in Philadelphia was being harassed, and it was religiously motivated. Religious harassment is the most tenacious, because it’s based on judgments of right and wrong that are justified out of the box, no understanding required. In Philadelphia there was enough of a Jewish population that they were making life miserable for the Christians–similar to the situation in Smyrna. Jesus commended the Christians for clinging to His word and His name (Revelation 3:8), and promised that He would eventually vindicate the Christians before the haters (Revelation 3:9).
Drawing on imagery from Isaiah 22 and Isaiah 60, Jesus promised these Gentile believers that He was the keeper of His kingdom (Revelation 3:7)), that He had opened the door for them to come in (Revelation 3:8), and that the Jews who hated Him and made themselves ostensible gate-keepers would be brought to acknowledge that Jesus loved the church (Revelation 3:9). They would come and bow down and know that Jesus was the Keeper.
To those being discriminated against, Jesus gives assurance and exhortation and just conquer promises.
He picks up on their good works: they didn’t budge in their commitment. The basis of what He would do builds on what they did: “Because you kept the word of my endurance….” The ESV: “you have kept my word about patient endurance” isn’t as good as the NAS: “you have kept the word of My perseverance.” The church endured not so much in holding onto Jesus’ exhortations to endure but rather in holding onto the truth that Jesus Himself endured. Jesus endured to the cross. Jesus was tempted, harassed, rejected by Jewish leaders, falsely tried, and then tortured and killed. He remained faithful through it all, and the Philadelphian Christians received and lived according to that story.
Because they kept that word, Jesus said, “And I will keep you.” He wasn’t going to keep their word, but keep them “from the hour of trial” (ESV) or “hour of testing” (NAS). The rest of verse 10 is a detailed description of this particular “hour.” It is the hour “which is about to come on the whole inhabitable world to test the ones inhabiting the earth.”
The first thing to note is that this is not a local concern only. There had been trouble in Philadelphia, but this will be trouble everywhere man can be, far as the curse is found. “The whole world” (ESV), is the household of man’s dwelling, the place that isn’t the heavens or the underworld, and “the ones inhabiting the earth” are the persons, frequently mentioned in the rest of Revelation as the enemies of God. A coming “hour of testing” will be a global testing.
Note second that the Philadelphian church will be kept from that testing hour.
Let me flag the next few comments by acknowledging that it is precarious to build a doctrine on a preposition. Also, we are blessed to have more of God’s Word than the Philadelphians. We have our own copies of the complete Old Testament, as well as New Testaments. And while we believe that Revelation 3:10 fits the broader context of Scripture, we should ask what “from the hour of trial” indicates in the immediate context of Revelation 3:10. What does it mean to be “kept from” the global hour of trial? What encouragement did the Philadelphians grasp from this promise?
The preposition in Greek is ek, usually meaning “from.” There is another preposition that is typically translated “through,” and another for “in.” Jesus doesn’t use those. He promises to keep the Philadelphian church from the hour of testing. It sounds like a pre-test deliverance, a removal ahead of time. If that “hour” tests the whole world, if it tests the ones dwelling on earth, then where would the kept ones be? They would be gone.
This is one of the proof-texts for a pre-tribulation deliverance of the church. Jesus promised the church to be kept from that hour. They already endured testing, but the coming hour of testing will be even more extensive and destructive.
While those who argue against pre-trib removal have reasons, interpretations of this verse that change “from” to “through” are not compelling based on the context, not just on a Greek dictionary.
Arguments against understanding “keep from” as removal include when Jesus prayed in John 17:15 that the Father not remove disciples from the world but instead to keep the disciples “from the evil one,” to keep by guarding them though not evacuating them. The verb “keep” is the same as in Revelation, and so is the preposition. In response to that however, it is not the same timing; Jesus’ prayer for His disciples acknowledges that they will have trouble in the world, but that trouble isn’t this later “hour.” What’s more, the promise in Revelation 3 is the exact opposite of the prayer in John 17, and Jesus spoke both. John heard both, around sixty years apart. There are times when Jesus ordains trials for us to go through, and rejoice in, as Jesus calls many of the previous churches in Revelation to do. He ordained trials for the Philadelphians. But that is not what He ordains for them in this “hour.”
A great hour of testing to test all those dwelling on earth has not happened yet. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was brutal, but not global; besides, the Philadelphians weren’t in Jerusalem. To define “the whole world” as just the known world, as in the Roman Empire, doesn’t match this testing. Also, at that time the Jews bowed before Gentiles, yes, but Gentiles who professed Caesar as Lord, not Christ. Since this “hour of trial” hasn’t happened, we can acknowledge that none of the original audience of the message to the Philadelphians will be around for it. But if all Jesus meant was that they would die a natural death before a cataclysmic trial on earth, it’s not much of an encouragement.
All that to say, the case for a pre-trib deliverance is not hurt by Revelation 3:10. The (one) other passage that seems to speak to a “rapture” is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, especially verse 17.
I know that the rapture is not cool among the Reformed types in the Evangelical pie. But are you willing to be discriminated against for trusting what Jesus said? This verse is included in the Spirit’s call to anyone with an ear to hear not just the Philadelphian believers (Revelation 3:13), and it is more than a promise of help to endure worse since they had already endured some before exhorting them again to endure more. Verse 9 commends them for keeping His word, verse 11 exhorts them to keep on keeping what they have, and verse 10 promises that they will be kept from that great test when the time comes.
The motto of the book (see 1:7) starts verse 11. “I am coming soon.” Jesus wanted the Christians to be depending on that, and motivated to keep on keeping on. “Hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown.”
What they “have” is every spiritual blessing in Christ. What they have is all things pertaining to life and godliness. What they have is forgiveness in Christ and justification in Christ and eternal life in Christ and resurrection hope in Christ and the great inheritance of the saints in Christ. They have the kingdom. They are in. And like in the promise to the Smyrnaeans, they will receive a crown.
This verse is the honey-butter on the bread of the paragraph. It includes the JustConquer promise, and there are two parts to it.
“To the one conquering,” that is, the one overcoming discrimination and all the temptations that go with it such as compromise or resentment, giving in or giving up, Jesus said 1) “I will make him a pillar in the temple, and 2) “I will write on him a name.”
The “pillar” is not physical, but it is permanent. So also the “temple” is the designated place of God’s personal, intimate fellowship in presence with His people. It is God’s temple, and the overcoming one will be part of it in a big way.
The Philadelphians would have appreciated this image more than most. The city of Philadelphia was near a volcano and had been essentially leveled by an earthquake in AD 17, that also destroyed numerous other cities. Philadelphia was affected by a nearby earthquake in Laodicea again in AD 60. Their location made them susceptible to aftershocks, and a number of citizens moved outside the city proper so as not to keep losing everything. A pillar represented stability. They wouldn’t have to go out, and the Greek could not be more emphatic: not not go out outside ever. As the Keeper, Jesus will give them a permanent place of secure fellowship with God.
And the overcomer’s identity and belonging will be unmistakable. “Name” is the object of what Jesus will write thrice, as is the “my God.” 1) Name of my God, 2) name of the city of my God, and 3) name of mine that is new.
Names also were significant for the city. Philadelphia was named after Attalus Philadelphus who loved his older brother and founder of the city, Eumenes II, king of Pergamum; it was the city of brotherly love. But after the earthquake in AD 17, Caesar paused his expected tribute so that they could use some of their own money to rebuild, and Philadelphia renamed itself “Neocaesarea” in his honor (Osborne). That title eventually fell out of use, but apparently they took another imperial title, “Flavia,” related to the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian in the 70s.
The Christian will be named and claimed by Jesus. To have the “name of my God” written on him means to be possessed. What you write your name on you identify as yours; no touchy.
Even more specific is “the name of the city of my God.” Temple and city, worship and governance, liturgy and living, Savior and King, the Messiah. That city is described even more specifically as the “New Jerusalem coming down from (ek) heaven from (apo) my God.”
What is this city? And what is the significance of calling it the “New Jerusalem”? The city is the city of God, the place of which we already have citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Jerusalem was the city of David, where the Lord’s anointed ruled on his throne over the nation. Jesus is the keeper of the key of David and will reign over all the nations as King of kings (Revelation 1:5; 17:14; 19:16). He will also do some from His throne in “old” Jerusalem (Revelation 20:1-6) until the coming down of the “New” one. We won’t get to Revelation 21:2 for a while, but it is good.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4)
The third name written is Jesus’ own “new name,” which He will reveal at the proper time (see Revelation 19:13).
Here is the sixth call to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Just Conquer Promise #6: the one who overcomes discrimination will be included, permanently and personally, in Christ’s eternal kingdom.
There are two ways to live by faith. We can live by faith that now is the most important, or we can live by faith that now is important in light of what is coming. How we react when others criticize or harass or discriminate against us will demonstrate which faith we have.
Of course it is tempting to want to be included. But included by whom and why? Of course being comfortable is more comfortable. Of course being mocked, being left out, being told we are wrong or bigoted or intolerant or unloving or judgmental doesn’t sit well. But we are not called to have things sit well. We are to hold fast to Christ’s name and word.
Overcome rejection, ridicule, irrelevance, being on the outs, treated as insignificant, regarded as unwelcome. Conquer embarrassment, discrimination, exclusion, harassment, and the instability that seems to belong with all the above.
Christians are victims in various ways, but not identified by our victim status. We are identified with God’s name, and Jesus identifies us as conquerers and more than conquerers through Him who loved us. Just conquer.
Manage your expectations about what your week, and life, should be like. In other words, invest your anticipation according to the principles of God’s economy. If you invest expectations into the comfort account, the best you can hope for is to break even. If you invest your expectations into the rejoicing account, the account of living by faith, you will have rejoicing and compounding rejoicing. Just conquer.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13, ESV)