“And to the angel of the church in 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”: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Revelation 3:7-8 NKJV
Have you ever experienced true sadness? I’m talking about the type that makes you physically ill as a result of your emotional distress. Unfortunately, you probably have because it is an emotion all too common in the world in which we live. I am equally sure that the reasons for each of us to have experienced this type of sadness are probably extremely diverse and often unique to each of us depending on the circumstances. We are not, however, alone in our capacity for sadness because the Bible has made it very clear that Jesus experienced and exhibited a wide range of emotions during His life on this earth, sadness being one of them.
This brings us to this passage from the book of Revelation written by John at the direction of Jesus Christ, and specifically the first three chapters which contain seven letters addressed to the Church. Most all scholars agree that this list of seven churches, while portraying a complete picture of the Church itself, also give a chronological picture of the evolution of the Church throughout history, with the last church, the church of Laodicea, being typical of the Church as it exists when Jesus returns at the time of the rapture. Considering that this church is described as lukewarm, with Jesus actually being outside knocking to get in, is it any wonder we are told it will be spit out of His mouth?
I cannot help but wonder though, just how difficult it was and is for Jesus to know and watch as His Church descended over time into its current form. Most commentaries I have read on these letters state the opinion that the most influential and successful church form is described in the letter to the church at Philadelphia, which receives no words of correction but rather is praised for staying true to His Word, not denying His name, and keeping His command to persevere.
Yet something happened to this Church and it is what I believe has produced in our Lord a sadness which is almost indescribable, and is what I believe will occasion His return for us any day. Exactly what happened? You need look no further than two words in verse eight of chapter three where we read that the Philadelphia church has what is described as “little strength”.
The word we find translated as strength can also be translated as power, which is the Greek word “dynamis”. It is the same word we find elsewhere in the New Testament, especially as it refers to the power of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, which resides in all who choose to believe. Look at what Jesus had to say to the disciples just before He ascended forty days after His resurrection.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 NKJV
This occurred just ten days later when the disciples were gathered together on the Feast of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit was sent as that promised power which would indwell all who believe and serve to change the world in which we live by the mechanism called the Church.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. Romans 1:16 NKJV
The gospel of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Church as God intended it to be, have all served to change the world yet something has happened over time which is revealed in one other word which we find in the message to Philadelphia and that is the word “little”. It is the Greek word “micros”, which I suspect you find familiar. Yes, it is where we get the word “micro” which as we all know is used to describe extremely small units of measurement. I have often used a micrometer to measure something too small to be measured by a traditional ruler or tape measure, and this is the word Jesus uses to describe the power of His Church as the end approaches. Now answer me this; just how sad do you believe this makes Jesus feel knowing and watching what has happened to the Church He created?
Better yet, how does knowing Jesus says, right now, the power of His Church can only be measured by a micrometer make you feel? Are you sad as well? What happened to bring about the situation we find the Church in today? Obviously that can be found in the description of the church at Laodicea, which many believe is typical of what we see today in the emerging church movement, as well as other liberal denominations which deny the divinity of Jesus or teach that faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection is not enough to save. I believe because of the popularity of these churches,what Jesus sees right now is His true Church being overwhelmed and outnumbered by the Laodicean church. These "lukewarm" denominations are growing to such an extent that He chooses to describe the power of the Philadelphian church as “mikros”.
This is in no way descriptive of the power that God has given to His Church in the person of the Holy Spirit, but rather a reflection of the size and influence it now holds compared to the Laodicean church.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 NKJV
So what are we to do as a church as we find ourselves being overwhelmed and outnumbered? I believe now more than ever we need to be bold and speak out in the spirit of love sharing a message which is not only unpopular, but also one that most do not want to hear.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
Yet there is good news here for those who choose to be part of the church at Philadelphia, and I believe we are about to witness its fulfillment in the very near future.
“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 come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. “Because you have kept My command to persevere, 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 am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. Revelation 3:9-11 NKJV
Although I am sure there are those who would argue, this verse is one of my favorite to explain why I hold to the pretribulational rapture of the Church. Because we persevere, we will be kept from that period of time in which the world will be punished for their unbelief. Although the power of the Philadelphia church is “little” compared to the Laodicean church, the power of the Holy Spirit inside of those who choose to believe is not. My question for you is this; are you using that power to the best of your ability? Keep His command to persevere, and very soon we will see Jesus fulfill His other promise; “Behold, I am coming quickly!” How quickly? That’s the subject for next week. (If we are still here.)