THE PHILADELPHIAN LETTER
These seven churches of Asia are not an accidental aggregation, which might just as conveniently have been eight of six, or any other number; on the contrary, there is a fitness in this number, and these seven do in some sort represent the Universal Church: so that we have a right to contemplate the seven as offering to us the great and leading aspects, moral and spiritual, which churches gathered in the name of Christ out of the world will assume; and the great Head of the Church contemplates them as symbolic of the Universal Church.
- ARCHBISHOP TRENCH.
THE HOLY AND TRUE
here claims to be ‘the Holy One’ and therefore God (ch. 6: 10; ch. 4: 8; John 17: 11). In the Old Testament ‘the Holy One’ is a
frequent name of God, especially in Isaiah
1: 4; 5: 19, 24; 10: 7, 20; 12: 6, etc.; Job
6: 10; Jer. 1: 29; 51: 5; Ezek. 39: 7; Hos. 11; 9; Hab. 3: 3, etc.
‘The Holy One’
has a very distinct meaning of its own. Varax, is
‘true.’ As opposed to ‘lying’; verus, is
(as here) ‘true’ as opposed to ‘spurious,’ ‘unreal,’ imperfect.’ Christ is the True One as opposed to the
false gods of the heathen; they are spurious gods. Both adjectives
are characteristic of
- PRINCIPAL A. PLUMMER,
THE KEY OF DAVID
Isaiah 55., where Jesus is addressing Himself to all
that would listen, whether Jew or Gentile, He promises, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the
sure mercies of David." Now the promise of the eternal throne to David
and to his Son could only be accomplished in resurrection (Luke 1: 32; Jer. 30: 9; Ezek.
34: 23, 24). Therefore the apostle Paul, in his sermon at
But the opening of Hades is in order to the
- R. GOVETT, M. A.
I COME QUICKLY
This announcement of the speedy coming of the Lord, the ever-recurring key-note of this Book (cf. 22: 7, 12, 20), is sometimes used as a word of fear for those who are abusing the Messiah’s absence, wasting His goods, and ill-treating their fellow-servants; careless and secure as those for whom no day of reckoning should ever arrive (Matt. 24: 48-51; 2 Thess. 1: 7-9; 1 Pet. 4: 5; cf. Jas. 5: 9; Rev. 2: 5, 16);* but sometimes as a word of infinite comfort for those with difficulty and painfulness holding their ground; He that should bring the long contest at once to an end; who should at once turn the scale, and for ever, in favour of righteousness and truth, is even at the door (Jas. 5: 8; Phil. 4; 5; 2 Thess. 1: 20; Heb. 10: 37; 2 Pet. 3: 14).
- ARCHBISHIP TRENCH.
[* Thus the current prophetical view that the Advent is a crisis of pure joy to all believers, irrespective of their attitude or conduct, is quite untrue. But the most crucial disproof the Archbishop has overlooked. To the Sardian Angel, unwachful, back-slidden, the Lord Himself makes His arrival a direct threat, and therefore one that cannot be denied as a church threat. "If thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon [arrive over] thee" (Rev. 3: 3): the Parousia will have begun, and the unrapt Angel will not even know it. - D. M. PANTON, M. A.]
AN IMMOVABLE PILLAR
This passage is but one of many which set forth the preeminence of the victorious saints of the present
dispensation, in the future aeon of blessedness and glory. They are the firstfruits
(Jas. 1: 18; Rev. 14; 4); the bride
(Rev. 21: 9); kings in the
Kingdom then to be established (Rev. 2: 26; 3: 22);
priests in the holy congregation (Rev.
1: 6; 5: 10; 20: 6); pillars in the heavenly
- E. R. CRAVEN,
The word of Christ, as the Philadelphians knew it, was not a word calling them to easy and luxurious and applauded entrance into the Kingdom, but to much tribulation first, with the Kingdom and the glory of it afterwards.
- A. PLUMMER,
HE THAT SHUTTETH AND NONE OPENETH
"Lord, open to us; and he shall answer, Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity" (Luke 13: 25). A little boy was sent away from the table for some misdemeanour and told to stand outside the dining-room door for five minutes as a punishment. He obeyed with tears streaming down his cheeks. When the time of his punishment expired, his little sister was sent out to bring him back. The father held out his arms, and the boy ran to them. As he was enfolded in his father’s embrace he said:- "I am so sorry I was naughty." The father kissed him, and wiped away his tears, and then told him about the text in the Bible; "And the door was shut." The boy thought he never would get the picture of the naughty ones who were shut out of heaven, but he did. Years passed, he became an engineer, and was in a mine when a fearful explosion occurred. He ordered all the one hundred and twenty men who were with him to remain behind the closed iron door, as it would keep out the fire-damp and poisonous gases until they were rescued. Whilst the long hours passed, the memory of ‘the shut door’ came to him, and with it a knowledge of the safety of those who were shut in with Christ. In that time he gave himself at last to Christ, and told the men what he was doing, and why. Not a few followed his example.
AN OPEN DOOR
It is unutterably wonderful that we have actual Letters from our Lord sent to us long after He returned to Heaven; Letters (if possible) infinitely more precious because they are the last communications from Him, and because He has maintained an unbroken silence ever since. They (with the whole Apocalypse) must be of crowning and finishing value for our dispensation. And it is still more impressive, and it brings it closer home to ourselves, that to each of these Letters the Lord Jesus adds a postscript which transmutes the Seven into an Encyclical address to the Universal Church - "hear what the Spirit saith TO THE CHURCHES," everywhere, in every age; so that here and now - not a whit less than nineteen centuries ago - the Lord is actually speaking to us. And what is most thrilling of all is that in each case it is a believer standing alone before his Lord, as each of us must do before long; that the Lord’s analysis in these seven cases is a forecast of the investigation of us all, the Apocalypse being the book of judgment, and judgment beginning at the House of God (1 Pet. 4: 17); that therefore the Letters are judical throughout, ‘grace,’ ‘salvation,’ ‘atonement,’ ‘justification,’ being never once named, for all are assumed;* and so, therefore, if each of us is Sardinian or Philadelphian or Laodicean in character, exactly such shall be the words, and no other, we shall receive from the Lord on His Judgment Seat.
[* The whole standing of the Churches has already been defined once for all (Rev. 1: 5,) in the magnificent doxology on which the Lord erects the entire superstructure of the Seven Letters.]
opens every Letter by blocking the vision with Himself; and His presentment of
AN OPEN DOOR
Now the Lord reveals His estimate of the Angel’s character. "I know thy works, that thou hast a little power, AND DIDST KEEP MY WORD, and didst not deny my name." The central fact is that, against a thousand odds, the Angel obeyed the Scriptures. Jesus Himself makes clear that to ‘have’ and to ‘keep’ are totally distinct:- "He that hath my commandments, and KEEPETH them, he it is that loveth me" (John 14: 21). Truth we do not live, we lose; and the supreme quality in the Angel on which Christ seizes is both his Scriptural creed and its embodiment in his life. He lived what Christ uttered. Here is our own golden opportunity. Every doctrine to-day has to fight for its life; and so for the prayerful, the studious, the wide-awake the opportunity is rich and rare, for all such have been divorced by the modern earthquake from the merely conventional, and breathes wider air as they stand on the precipices of the end; while for somnambulists in the Church the cries will be certain shipwreck. All turns on that which Christ finds in the Philadelphian - integrity of heart-devotion to the Scriptures, and ceaseless squaring of the life to the Book.
Lord now casts His shield over a persecuted Angel. "Behold, I will make them [the
synagogue of Satan] to know that I have loved
thee." The Church
immediately after the Apostles had no more bitter enemy than the Jew, and twice
in these Letters our Lord uses the terrible expression that ought to pull up
abruptly all who would, under any conditions whatever, amalgamate the synagogue
and the Church. To collaborate with Satan’s Synagogue is only less sinful than
it will be to collaborate with Antichrist’s
[* "It is noteworthy that twenty years later the Philadelphian Church was more in danger of Judaizing Christians than from Jews" (Dr. Swete). Christ states that what He says, the Spirit says; so conversely therefore what the Spirit says, He says - and this covers the whole Bible: but obviously ‘My word’ includes, and specially accentuates, our Lord’s own personal utterances. He thus here affirms His Ascension charge (Matt. 28: 20) decades after Paul’s death, and the revelation of the ‘mystery.’ All teaching therefore, whatever its source, which pronounces our Lord’s words as ‘Jewish,’ or relegates them to another dispensation, must be resisted with our whole strength, if ours is to be the Philadelphian’s praise.]
Christ now gives the only direct personal promise given to an Angel (with the promise in the verse preceding) in the whole Seven Letters; and in doing so He narrows down the ‘kept word’ to a section of it, and bases His promise on that kept section. It is most striking than no sooner has our Lord commended the most faithful servant of the seven than His thoughts turn, first to deliverance from the Great Tribulation, and then to coronation in the Kingdom beyond. "Because thou didst keep"* and He addresses His Word so specifically to the church that it is impossible to challenge it as a Church revelation on how alone escape from the Tribulation is possible for ourselves; and it is equally indisputable that Christ bases the Philadelphian’s exemption, not on his standing in grace, but four-square on a specific attitude in his Christian conduct. Nor could the Lord Jesus more closely interlock the two. If we keep his Advent word as an intact jewel, as an intact jewel He will keep us out of earth’s last awful storm.** This critical utterance of Christ is a sword double-edged (Rev. 2: 16) cutting right and left: on the one hand, it excludes from deliverance all believers who do not share the Angel’s attitude; on the other, his deliverance from the ‘hour,’ and not from the ‘trial’ only, makes it impossible for any such ever to see the Tribulation at all.*** If the Angel had not escaped by death, he would have escaped by rapture. It is the Divine lex ialionis, which has been beautifully called here the lex benigna - the gracious retort, the love-recoil, of fidelity.****
[* The Greek word is:- "In the sense of obeyed, watchfully observed" (Dr. Swete). The word of Christ’s patience - the doctrine concerning a delayed Advent - is "the patient waiting for Christ, till He, the waited-for so long, shall at length appear" (Archbishop Trench).
** "Because thou hast kept my word, therefore in return I will keep thee" (Trench). "As the Philadelphians had continued steadfast throughout the period of ordinary testing, they were to be exempted from these extraordinary trials which were to come upon the world " (Dr. E. R. K. Craven). "It is a special reward assured by our Lord to a special excellence" (Govett).
*** One school of interpreters habitually overlooks a point which, to say the least, makes their interpretation extremely difficult, if not impossible. The deliverance promised is not from a place, but from a time: Jesus does not say he will keep the Philadelephian out of the Tribulation, but out of its hour: that is, when the hour strikes, the Angel - either by death or rapture - will not be on earth at all. How can a man be kept from a given hour if, with everybody else, he has to pass through that hour? Equally fatal is it that, as a matter of fact, the Angel is dead, and so cannot conceivably be kept through the Tribulation: if that is what the promise meant, it has failed.
**** It is extraordinary how the simultaneous rapture of all could be built on these words; yet Mr. William Kelly, voicing many, says, - "So the Church will be kept from the coming hour." It ought to be obvious that the whole Church can be so kept only if the whole Church is, without exception, Philadelphian; and he who imagines this is watching a desert mirage. "The principal idea is plain, and very striking. The promise is special on the ground that the virtues in question are special" (Moses Stuart). "Christ on His part pledges Himself to keep those who have kept His word" (Dr. Swete).]
Our Lord now passes to coronation. He separates sharply between rapture and the Kingdom, revealing that escape from the coming horrors does not, by itself, ensure coronation at the Coming. "I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown: he that overcometh,* I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God." The Philadelphian’s escape from earth’s horrors was certain; his crown is still in jeopardy: the one is dependent on Advent attitude; the other, on unswerving fidelity to our last breath.** The Lord concentrates everything on our ‘holding fast’ against a thousand countering storms. Amiel wrote in his journal, for no eyes but his own, these words:- "He who is silent is forgotten; he who abstains is taken at his word; he who does not advance falls back; he who stops is overwhelmed, distanced, crushed; he who ceases to grow greater becomes smaller; he who leaves off gives up; the stationary condition is the beginning of the end - it is the terrible symptom which produces death." The very brevity of the battle is our appeal. In the Russo-Japanese war, just before a Russian admiral’s flag-ship was blown to pieces, and while, among the falling shells, men’s heads are said to have grown grey in a few minutes, the Admiral turned to his men and cried, - "This is our last fight, men: be brave!" So once again the Crown (and therefore the Kingdom) *** is declared not of grace, but conditional, dependent on conduct, forfeitable; and as the Kingdom looms nearer in the King, Jesus signals - Hold out: I come quickly!
[* "‘The conqueror,’ the victorious member of the Church as such" (Dr. Swete).
** "The idea is that perseverance is essential to the final reward of Christians" (Moses Stuart).
*** - "that which is at once the wreath of the victor and the crown of the king" (Dr. E. R. Craven).]
THE HEARING EAR
The words with which the Lord closes every Letter are far more solemn than the Churches of God seem to realize. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches": that is, since the Spirit is addressing the Churches only, the hearing ear and the unhearing ear are both inside the Church. Spiritual truth needs a spiritual organ to receive it. When our Lord addresses John at the close of the Book, after the whole volume has been dictated in Patmos, and says, - "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify these things FOR THE CHURCHES" (Rev. 22: 16), it is obvious that the ‘churches’ must include those then existing: equally certain is it, therefore, that when here, at the opening of the Book, He says to John, - "Hear what the Spirit saith TO THE CHURCHES," these must equally include the Churches then existing on earth, and they can be no imaginary assemblies yet to arise in the Tribulation. He who dictates each Epistle allows of no limitation to one Church alone, or one Angel alone, or one century alone: the contents of every Letter are for every believer everywhere. "BLESSED IS HE THAT KEEPETH THE SAYINGS" - and supremely the sayings to the Churches - "OF THE PROPHECY OF THIS BOOK" (Rev. 22: 7). His church may perish, but the individual believer can triumph; or his church may triumph, while he passes into the shadows.