We return in our study of God’s Word to the book of Revelation tonight and to the message to the church at Philadelphia, chapter 3, verses 7 through 13, and this is part 2 in that study. Now, admittedly, there is no such thing as a perfect church. The church is not a club for people who have no weaknesses, not a society for people who have no faults. The church is really a hospital for those who know they are sick and needy. No church can be all that the Lord desires, as no Christian can be perfect.
But as good as churches get, that’s how good the church at Philadelphia was. Here was a church that came as close, I suppose, as human beings can come to being all that the Lord would have them be. This was a faithful church. This was an obedient church. Along with the church at Smyrna, it’s one of the two out of the seven churches in this section that received no warning, no threats, no judgments. This is a model, then, of a true and loyal church.
As we have been noting all along, each of these letters were written to historical churches, actual churches in actual cities in Asia Minor. But at the same time, these churches are examples or models or symbols of kinds of churches that exist at all times. In this particular case of the church at Philadelphia, we have the picture of a faithful church. And what is said to this church would be true for this very historic church in the city of Philadelphia and true also for faithful churches at all times in the history of the church.
So here we come to a faithful church, obedient, serving, worshiping the Lord. First of all, I remind you of what we looked at last time, the correspondent is identified in verse 7. “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia” - that is, to the messenger, the one who will take the letter to that church, “write” - and here’s the correspondent or the author identified - “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this.”
We noted last time that “He who is holy” is an Old Testament name for God. It is a New Testament title for the Messiah. This comes, then, from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who is none other than God. Secondly, it identifies the Lord as the One who is true. Truth is also an attribute of God and, therefore, as well of Christ. Numerous times in the Scripture, God is identified as One who is holy and true and so is Christ. So the holy and true Lord who has the highest righteous standard and puts a supreme value on truth writes to this church.
He also describes Himself as the One who has the key of David. That is an emblem of messianic authority, of sovereignty, of ultimate control. Whoever has the key can open or shut. He’s in charge. And here we have the key to open the door of salvation, or entrance to the Kingdom. Here we have the key to open the treasure house of blessing for believers. The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who has the key, He alone is the One who can open the way to salvation and open the treasure house of blessing. And then we note also that this One who has the key opens and no one will shut, and shuts and no one opens. That is to say, He is omnipotent.
What He does cannot be undone. He alone opens the door to salvation and no one can shut it. He opens the door to the storehouse of blessing and no one can shut it. He opens the door to evangelistic opportunity and no one can shut it. He has invincible power. So the writer, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, identifies Himself as God, holy and true, sovereign and powerful, invincible.
Now, that alone might have caused the Philadelphians who read this letter to assume they were going to get a strong rebuke. God, being holy, does not tolerate sin; God, being true, does not tolerate error; God, having the key, as it were, in Christ to open the Kingdom and open the blessings would be the One who would decide whether this church was to be blessed. We would not be surprised, then, that they would have expected perhaps a rebuke for some sin or some failure from such a formidable author, but that doesn’t happen.
The Lord Himself looks and sees nothing lacking. The key opened salvation, the key opened blessing, the key opened tremendous evangelistic opportunity. The Lord saw nothing to rebuke.
The second thing we noted was the city, Philadelphia, a city in Asia Minor, about thirty miles southeast of Sardis. And I remind you that seven men left John with the book of Revelation and the letters to the seven churches and each one dropped off at his own church as they moved through Asia Minor. The church, we don’t know anything about, its founding, all we know is what’s in this letter. And then we come to the point, the condemnation, but there isn’t any.
And so we turn immediately to the commendation. We start there in verse 8. And here the commendation is given. He says, “I know your deeds” or I know your works. And that’s a very simple statement to make but it expresses the omniscience of Christ. I know you, nothing escapes me, nothing is hidden to me, nothing goes unseen, I know your works. The holy, true, sovereign, powerful Lord knows everything there is to know.
And what did He see? Four things, remember them? First of all, He saw they had power, verse 8, “Behold, I have put before you an open door,” and He follows that through, you haven’t denied my name, you’ve kept my Word, but in the middle, “You have a little power.” They had power. That’s spiritual power. It was only little because they were a small church.
Secondly, He notes their obedience. “You have kept my Word.” And then He notes their loyalty, “You have not denied my name.” And then He notes their endurance, verse 10, “You have kept the Word of my perseverance.” Literally, “You have kept my command to endure patiently.” So here was a church with power, obedience, loyalty and endurance - commendable, indeed.
Now, because of such quality, our Lord gave them some privileges. First of all, He says, verse 8, “I have put before you an open door, which no one can shut.” We already noted that this open door would be the promise of Kingdom admission; that is, I have opened the door to the Kingdom to let you in and no one can keep you out. This would deal with the spiritual Kingdom and someday with the earthly Kingdom to come, so here was a promise of security, assurance. Then, obviously, He had opened the door of blessing to them. That blessing had come flowing down to them, no one could close that door, either, because they were faithful and worthy of Kingdom blessing.
And then we would also note that He had opened the door of evangelistic opportunity. He describes that in verse 9 when He says that Jews who are your enemy will come and bow down at your feet and know that I have loved you. In other words, you’ll have an open door of evangelistic opportunity in your city, even to reach the synagogue of Satan occupied by Jews hostile to the gospel. The door of salvation had been opened, the door of blessing, and the door of evangelistic opportunity. We noted that in this city of Philadelphia, those Jews who persecuted them came and bowed down and acknowledged the love of God for gentiles.
This also looks further into the future and sees that every faithful church will enjoy such an open door, every faithful church will find the Kingdom door open, will find Kingdom blessings available, and will find evangelistic opportunity given to them, particularly with reference to the salvation of Jews.
So here is a model of a faithful church. The Kingdom door is wide open and many are coming to Christ. The door of the treasure house of God’s blessings is wide open and being poured out on them. And a door of evangelistic opportunity is open and they are going through it, and God is even saving hostile Jews. And that has happened, as I noted, throughout the history of the church. Faithful, loyal, obedient, powerful churches have been blessed by being the place where many enter the Kingdom, by being blessed with all spiritual blessings, and by being given great evangelistic opportunity, often embracing the salvation of Jews. And someday the church will finally provoke Israel to salvation on a national scale.
Eventually, He says, the people who are against you, at the end of verse 9, will come to know I have loved you. That’s hard for Jews to accept, that God had a special covenant love with gentiles. Jonah had a hard time dealing with it. But God has loved His church, has loved the gentiles, and used the gentile church to provoke Israel to jealousy.
Now, we all looked at that last time. There is one more promise to this commended church that we didn’t look at, and it is significant. Verse 10. You are a powerful and obedient church, a loyal and patient, enduring church, and because you have kept the Word of my perseverance, or you have obeyed my command to patiently endure, because you have endured with blazing hope, persecution and hostility, because you have taken your suffering and not wavered and in the midst of suffering - back to verse 8 - you have kept my Word and have not denied my power or my name, because of that, here’s this promise: I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell upon the earth.
What a promise. You have successfully passed all the tests, tests to try your faith. Persecution, animosity, hostility, and your faith is found genuine. You have maintained your power, you have maintained your obedience, you have maintained your loyalty, and you have endured it all. And because you have passed so many tests, I’m going to spare you the future test. That’s what He’s saying. Could have been some simple historical reference to sparing the church in Philadelphia from some trouble when another wave of persecution came in the future or some trouble when the nearest volcano blew and the earthquake rattled their city to the ground.
It could have had some brief historical sense, but whatever brief historical sense that promise had gets swallowed up in the vastness of the promise. We could never limit it to a historical event that occurred in the little city of Philadelphia. It has to be looking far into the future at Philadelphia-like faithful churches and telling those true, loyal, powerful, obedient churches that they will escape a final hour of testing.
It kind of goes like this. When you were a student, if you were a good student in your senior year - at least this is the way I was treated as a student - you came to the finals and the teacher let you miss the final. I remember in my senior year in college having that privilege because I had dutifully passed my courses with decent grades. By the time it came to finals, I didn’t have to take my finals because the teacher said, “You have done well enough on your other tests, I’ll let you skip the final.”
I got into seminary, the same thing happened to me the last year of my seminary. I didn’t have to take the finals because I had passed all the previous tests. There was nothing left to prove and so I didn’t need to take the final.
And I believe this is what the Lord is saying to His beloved church. When you have gone through all of the tests, when you’ve gone through the daily quizzes and the routine monthly tests and you’ve gone through the mid-term and you’ve passed everything, I’m going to let you skip the final. There’s coming a test at the very end, an eschatological test, you’re not going to have to take it. Nothing left to prove. Overcomers are going to miss the final test because they’ve passed all the others.
What is this promise really about? Let me read it to you again. “I will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.” Now, there are some components there that you need to grasp. First of all, whatever the test is, it’s future. “I also will keep you,” this is a future test. The second thing you need to know is that it is a limited test, “I will keep you from the hour of testing,” which indicates that it has a controlled duration. It’s not eternal or permanent.
Another thing we learn about it is it’s called “an hour of testing.” It is something future, it is something limited, it is something that exposes. It is a test. That’s what a test does. A test exposes you, it reveals what you know. It reveals your character. It is a peirasmos, the word used in the Bible for trial, puts you on trial to see what you’re made of. The word used in the Bible for temptation, it puts you under a severe test to see what you’re going to do. It exposes you for what you are.
So this coming event is something future, something limited in time, something that exposes, and it is something worldwide. It’s about to come upon not just your city or your province but the whole world. Now, there it takes us beyond Philadelphia. It’s something worldwide. And then it’s something inclusive. Not just the world but the whole world. It’s going to get everybody. And then a last and very important note: It is something for unbelievers. “It is to test those who dwell upon the earth.”
You say, “Well, now, does that refer to unbelievers?” Let me show you something. Turn to chapter 6, verse 10. Here you have the saints who have been martyred for the cause of Christ. They are under the altar, and they are crying out with a loud voice, verse 10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” That can only refer to unbelievers. Right? Those who killed Christians.
Look at chapter 8, verse 13, “And I looked and I heard an eagle flying in mid heaven saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe.’” And that doesn’t mean hold up, stop, that means curse, curse, curse. Who? “To those who dwell on the earth.” Again, it has to refer to unbelievers. Chapter 11, verse 10. Here you have the two witnesses, two witnesses preaching the truth of God.
They are murdered for preaching during the time of testing. Verse 8, their dead bodies lie in the street. Verse 10, And those - here’s the same phrase - who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and send gifts to one another because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. That again twice used in that verse to refer to people who were tormented by the preaching of the gospel to the degree that they celebrated and had a party when they were killed, and it became such a massive celebration, they actually started giving presents to each other.
Turn to chapter 13. Here we have the reign of antichrist, and in chapter 13, verse 8, it says, “All” - here’s the same phrase - “who dwell on the earth will worship him.” Down in verse 12, “He exercises all the authority of the first beast,” here referring to the false prophet, first beast being the antichrist, “and he makes the earth and those who dwell in it” - same people, same phrase - “to worship the first beast, who is the antichrist.”
Down in verse 14, “And he deceives” - same phrase - “those who dwell on the earth.” The antichrist deceives, of course, the ungodly. In chapter 14, just briefly, verse 6, “And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth.” Now, do you get the feeling here that this is a technical term for the unbelievers? It is.
Chapter 17 verse 2, the great harlot, the false religious system with whom the kings of the earth, Revelation 17:2 says, committed acts of immorality and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality. Here is the world engulfed in this false religion. And then down in verse 8, the beast that you saw was and is not and is about to come out of the abyss and to go to destruction and those who dwell on the earth will wonder whose name has not been written in the book of life.
Those who dwell on the earth becomes a technical term for people whose names are not written in the book of life; that is, for the ungodly and the unregenerate, the objects of God’s wrath because of rejection and rebellion against Him. Now go back to chapter 3 and you will understand who He is talking about when He says, “This hour of testing, this hour which is about to come upon the wide world including everybody for the purpose of testing those who dwell upon the earth.”
Let me tell you, folks, it is not to test believers. We skip the final. It cannot be a present time of distress. It cannot be a permanent kind of testing. It cannot be a local kind of testing. It cannot be a partial kind of testing. And it cannot be a time of testing designed for the church. Our Lord is saying to the true church, “I’ll keep you out of the future time of testing coming on the earth to test the unbelievers.” The church is under trial now, and the true saints will pass. As Matthew 24:13 says it in the words of Jesus, “He that endures to the end will be delivered.” If you endure to the end, you’ll be delivered from the final because you passed the other tests.
Now let’s go back to this verse and look a little more closely at what we’ve just seen. “I also will keep you from the hour of testing.” This is a time of severe testing that comes on the wicked. What happens? What happens when that comes on the wicked? Two things. Some repent and are saved. Right? Some repent and are saved. Go back to chapter 6, verse 9. Here are the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God, because of the testimony which they had maintained. They cry with a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true wilt thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?
“And there was given to each of them a white robe and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed, even as they had been, should be completed also.” So here are some people who, during that time of testing, will believe and will be martyred. Some are going to pass the test, they’re going to be repentant and they’re going to be saved.
Look at chapter 7, verse 9, as John looks into the vision, he says, “And these things were what I saw. Behold a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands, and they cry out with a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.”
There, along with the angels and the elders, is a multitude of people who have been saved. When were they saved? Look at verse 14, “And I said, my Lord, you know. And He said to me, ‘These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation.’” That’s another term for the time of testing. At least the great - the great expression of fury and tribulation that comes in the latter half of that seven-year period. They came out of that time. They washed their robes. They made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
So we know that when the test hits, some are going to be redeemed. Some will repent and believe. Chapter 13 identifies them again. If anyone is destined for captivity, - verse 10 - to captivity he goes. If anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. Again, during this time of antichrist’s reign of terror, some saints will believe and persevere.
We find the same thing again in chapter 14, verse 4. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women for they’ve kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. Down in verse 12, again, the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus, so some will believe. Chapter 17, verse 14, identifies them again. Talks about the antichrist and his allies waging war against the Lamb. And the Lamb overcomes them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful.
So when the test comes, some will repent and be saved. The gospel during that hour of testing will be preached by those two witnesses. It will be preached by 144 thousand Jews. It will be preached by a flying angel in mid heaven. And some will repent and believe and pass the test; others will reject and be damned. Go back again to Revelation 6 and see this group. Revelation 6:15, “And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains.
“And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb for the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” Here are the rejecters, here are the rebellious, and they’re trying to hide. Chapter 9, verse 20, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands so as not to worship demons and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their immorality, nor of their thefts.”
Chapter 13, verse 7, says that antichrist - in the middle of the verse - has authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him. Chapter 16 tells us again of those who do not believe. Verse 11, “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores and they did not repent of their deeds.” Verse 19, again, Babylon the great was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. All the way down to the end, God pours out His fury on these people who will not believe. Every island flies away. Every mountain is crushed. Huge hundred-pound hailstones falling on those who reject.
You have it in chapter 19 in absolutely graphic terms. The Lord comes with a bloody robe and He comes in devastation. Verse 17, even the birds are assembled to eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and those who sit on them, the flesh of all men, free men, slaves, small, great. Now, then, we see what happens in the test. Judgment is poured out in the world. First there is holocaust after holocaust after holocaust. Then the antichrist rises in his blasphemous attack on God, wreaks his havoc. Then God Himself moves in in the fury of His own judgments.
Through it all, the gospel is preached and proclaimed and the test is on and some believe and some reject and some are saved and some are damned. But to the faithful church, Jesus says, you won’t be there. You already went though your tests, you don’t have to take the final. And then He adds an interesting note. He says, “I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come.” It’s something near. It’s something that is expected. It’s something that is anticipated.
You get the feeling that it’s something that could come at any moment. There’s a certain imminency about it that gets nearer every day. It could happen at any moment. Christians have always lived in anticipation of that reality. Romans 13 reminds us of the imminency of the day of testing, the hour of testing. Paul says, “For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed, the night is almost gone, the day is at hand.” It’s near.
Peter said it. First Peter, chapter 4, “The end of all things is at hand, it’s near.” Paul said it, 1 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 29, “I say this, brethren, the time has been shortened.” James said it, chapter 5 and verse 8, in no uncertain terms, “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” So there’s coming an hour of testing. It’s near. It’s for the ungodly, including Israel. Daniel calls it the seventieth week, that one seven-year period still left in which Israel will believe and be saved.
It is a time when Malachi says God will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers before the coming terrible day of the Lord. This is the hour of testing for those unsaved in Israel and those unsaved in the gentile nations. But to the faithful church, I will keep you from the hour of testing. You have been faithful, I’m not going to put you through that. Listen to it, think of it this way: You have been faithful to endure through all your trials, I will not put you in a trial that would kill you. That wouldn’t be a reward for your faithfulness.
Some people who would like to have the church going through the hour of testing say that this verse can mean this: I will also keep you within the hour of testing. The verb tēreō, which means to keep or guard, is followed by a little preposition, ek. Ek means out of. But some people would like to make it mean in. There is a word for in, en, there is a word for through, dia. Our Lord didn’t use en, He didn’t say, “I’ll keep you in it.” He didn’t use dia, “I’ll keep you through it.” He used ek, “I’ll keep you out of it.”
Some say the Lord is saying, “I will preserve you through it.” Well, first of all, I have a question to ask. What kind of preservation are you talking about, since the saints get killed by the antichrist? What do you mean, “I will also keep you through the hour of testing”? In what sense? Since the first group of saints we meet in chapter 6 are already dead and they’re under the altar, having been martyred, asking how long until God avenges their martyrdom.
And then how about those in chapter 7 who washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb but also came out of the great tribulation and are now in heaven? What happened to them? And the other references I read to you in the book of Revelation that says the saints are going to be killed by the antichrist? That doesn’t sound to me like a very meaningful promise. If the Lord says I will keep you during, through, or in the hour of testing, in fact, I’m going to keep you so well the only thing that will happen to you is you’re going to be killed. What? That kind of keeping, I can do without.
And somebody will answer, “No, no, no. What He means is, ‘I’ll keep you saved.’” What? Do they need to be told that? I’ll keep you saved? Salvation is eternal, we know that. Somebody else says, “No, I’ll keep you from divine wrath.” Oh? Did we ever think we were going to get divine wrath since Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation,” and since 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 says we will be saved from the wrath to come? It wouldn’t make this any kind of a special promise. Obviously, all Christians are delivered from the wrath to come, the wrath of God.
So in what sense would we be kept through this thing? Or kept during it? That sounds more like a threat, if we’re all going to die, than a promise. And compare it with chapter 2, verse 19, the letter to Thyatira. He says, “I know about you,” and, verse 20, He says, “I have this against you, you tolerate the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads my bondservants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent and she doesn’t want to repent of her immorality. I’ll cast her upon a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation.”
To a sinning, wicked church He says I’ll put you in great tribulation. To a loyal, faithful church, He says I’ll keep you out. The unregenerate church will go into the tribulation, the regenerate church will be kept from it. He wouldn’t be saying, “You evil folks at Thyatira, I’m going to throw you into the tribulation. You good folks at Philadelphia, I’m throwing you in there, too. And by the way, you folks in Thyatira may die in the tribulation, and by the way, you good folks in Philadelphia may die also.” That’s a strange scenario.
I think what He’s saying is your present trouble is enough and you don’t have to take the final. The hour of testing is a time period. It’s a period of time. It has limits. It’s the same kind of phrase used in John 12:27 by our Lord. Let me just read it to you. John 12:27, Jesus says, “Now my soul has become troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this” - what? - “hour? But for this purpose, I came to this hour.”
Jesus said save me ek, out from this hour. Prevent me from it. In that other passage written by John, Christ prayed to be saved from the hour of crucifixion. He obviously meant, humanly speaking, I don’t want to have to go through it. He wasn’t praying, “Let me go through it but hang onto me.” He knew God would do that. He wanted to be spared the necessity of even experiencing it. It’s the same kind of use of the word ek by the same writer, John. He wasn’t praying for strength to go through it, He was praying to get exempted from it. Don’t let me go through that hour. Save me out of it, from it being the proper translation.
The little phrase “keep from,” tēreō ek, means exemption. If He wanted to keep them through it, He could have said that, eis, dia, en would have said that. But the basic idea of ek is to prevent, to keep from, to take out. The contrary, tēreō en, is used four times in the New Testament, Acts 12:5, 25:4; 1 Peter 1:4; Jude 21. It always implies previous existence within with a view to continuing in. Tēreō ek would be the opposite. It would mean continuous existence outside. En and ek can’t mean the same thing. One means in, the other one means out.
Now, there’s only one other use of tēreō ek as a phrase, and that’s in John 17. It’s worth looking at. In John 17:15, Jesus said to the Father, “I do not ask thee to take them out of the world but to keep them from the evil one.” To keep them literally from or outside the power of the evil one. That’s the same phrase there. To keep them from the evil one. And the translators of the NAS have translated it accurately. To keep them outside the power of the evil one.
Listen, He’s not saying they’re my children, I just want you to hang onto them while they’re under the complete power of Satan. No. No. Colossians 1:13 says, “When you were saved, you were transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son.” Right? We’re no longer under the sovereign control of Satan. In Acts 26:18, we have moved from the dominion of Satan to God. So He’s not saying, “Father, protect them while they’re in the dominion of Satan.” He’s saying, “Keep them from the dominion of Satan” or the power of evil or the evil one.
First John 5:19, I think needs to be noted. “We know that we are of God and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” It is the unregenerate world that lies in the power of the evil one, not believers. So He’s not saying here, oh, yes, they do lie in the power of the evil one, but hold onto them while they’re there. No. Keep them from it. And we believe God answered the prayer of Christ in the saving work which He accomplished on the cross, which provides for us escape from the dominion of darkness, the rule of Satan.
So clearly, when you look at the logic of the passage in Revelation and you look at the linguistics of the passage, you are led to conclude that when He says, “I will keep you from the hour of testing,” that is the purest and truest translation, and it is the only thing that makes sense by way of a promise. The only other time the phrase is used, it has to mean the same thing in John 17, verse 15.
Then the Lord adds this, verse 11, “I am coming quickly.” You say, “It doesn’t seem too quick to me, it’s been a long time.” That’s your side. From God’s perspective, it’s soon. That’s what that means, it’s soon. There are a number of such statements already in these letters. Chapter 2, verse 5; chapter 2, verse 16; chapter 3, verse 3. Those probably were warnings of a temporal judgment. The Lord was saying I’m coming, I’m coming - and He meant to you, in that historical context, to act. And He did - He did.
Kind of like when He came into the church at Jerusalem and killed Ananias and Sapphira, kind of like when He came into the church at Corinth and brought disease and death to Christians who desecrated the Lord’s table. But all those historic comings when He came in judgment, even in His own church, were previews of the final coming in which false believers and unsaved people in the church will be judged and tested.
So the Lord says it’s going to be soon. From our perspective, doesn’t seem soon, but a thousand years is like a day to the Lord, so it’s soon to Him. Our Lord says I’m coming, which means this whole thing is going to happen, it’s going to happen soon. How do Christians react? Revelation 22, John says it for us in verse 7. Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly,” verse 20, “Yes, I’m coming quickly.” What did John say? “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” He’s coming. He’s coming for His church. He’s coming to take us out of the hour of testing.
Now, when He says “I’m coming quickly” here, He can’t mean the coming described in Revelation 19 when He comes in bloody garments with a sword to slaughter the world. He’s coming to bring the testing time. He’s coming to do what it’s describing in chapter 6 through 18, and to the church this statement, “I’m coming,” is not a threat. That’s why John says, “Come, come, come.” Because it’s the coming to deliver the church. It’s what we studied in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, it’s the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together to Him. This isn’t a threat, this is a hopeful event.
So there are some wondrous promises given to this church and to all faithful churches. You will have the Kingdom opened to you, you will have the blessings of the Kingdom opened to you, you will have evangelistic opportunity, and you are promised deliverance from the final hour of testing so that you can live in the hope of the coming of Jesus Christ and fear nothing because when He comes to initiate the hour of testing, it won’t come to you. And so you can say with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Come and gather us to yourself.”
And then sixthly in our little outline, the command is given, in verse 11 - the command. “Hold fast what you have in order that no one take your crown.” Now we’re getting practical. The practical implications of the Lord soon coming to rescue His church and initiate the testing, He’s going to come, rescue the church, gather us with Him, start the testing and He just says, “Hold fast what you have.” What’s He mean? Remain true, remain faithful, remain holy, same thing He said back in chapter 2, verse 25. What you have, hold fast until I come. Hold onto it. Be faithful, persevere, endure. This is the perseverance of the saints.
Let me tell you something. Only saints who are faithful to the end are saved. Is that not true? That’s the perseverance of the saints. You say, “Now wait a minute, I thought we were secured by God. I thought we were secured by the eternal power of God who secures us.” That’s true. But do you know how He secures us? He secures us by giving us a persevering faith. That’s how He secures us. He doesn’t secure us by some divine statement that is unrelated to us. The security that we possess is granted to us in an undying faith.
That’s why 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us because they were not of us, if they had been of us, they would have remained with us.” They would have taken the persecution. They would have endured the difficulty because true Christians are granted by God eternal security through the maintenance of a persevering faith that never dies. So He says persevere.
You say, “Well, do we have a part?” Sure, we’re saved by God’s power, and yet our power is to believe. We’re kept by God’s power, but our part is to continue to believe. And just as God calls us to believe initially to be saved, He calls us to keep on persevering to maintain that salvation. All of it is energized, of course, by the Spirit of God. In Colossians 1, it says it as clearly as it can be said. Verse 22, “He’s reconciled you in His fleshly body through death in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. Yes, if indeed you continue in the faith.” That’s it.
You say, “Well, I know somebody, believed for a while, and they don’t believe anymore.” Not a Christian. Never were truly saved. Because whom God saves, He keeps, and no man is able to pluck them out of His hand. And He keeps them, not against their will, but He keeps them by the Spirit of God empowering their will to a sustained faith. So He says hang on with a persevering faith. I love this, “In order that no one take your crown.”
What’s He talking about? What’s your crown? Well, go back to chapter 2, verse 10, end of the verse, “Be faithful until death.” Same thing. Persevere down to the very end and I’ll give you the crown of what? Life. In Greek that’s the crown which is life. The crown is eternal life. The crown which is life. James helps us to understand this when he says, in James 1:12, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial.” He doesn’t lose his faith. He will receive the crown of life. What do you mean? He’ll receive the crown of his faith, which is eternal life.
Second Timothy 4:8 says he’ll receive a crown which is righteousness. What does that mean? That our eternal life is righteous. First Peter 5:4 says he’ll receive a crown which is glory. Our eternal glory, eternal righteousness, all wrapped up in our eternal life. So He says, “Look, you’re going to miss the final because your faith is real. And I’m going to infuse into you the power of the Spirit of God, and I ask you to faithfully persevere, hold what you have in order that no one take your crown, your eternal glorious righteous life.”
Beloved, don’t you ever think for a moment that there’s an imbalance in this issue of eternal security. Yes, you are eternally secure by the power of God. Yes, you must maintain a continual faith, just as at the moment of your salvation you were saved by the power of God and yet you had to turn from your sin and believe. Remain faithful, hold fast.
And at last, then, the counsel. The final words of encouraging instruction. Verse 12, “He who overcomes.” Who is that? First John 5:5, he is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s a Christian. To the Christian who proves the genuineness of his Christianity because he holds fast to the end, to the Christian, I’ll make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will not go out from it anymore, and I’ll write upon 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 my new name.
Here is some wonderful encouragement to the true Christian. Four eternal blessings are yours, you folks that endure to the end, and I’m going to catch you away, and in the gathering together, you’re not going to go through the final. I’m going to promise you these four things. One, I’ll make you a pillar in the temple of my God and you won’t go out of it anymore.” In other words, I’m going to make you a permanent pillar in the house of God. What’s that? Heaven, the glorious dwelling place of God. What do you mean, a pillar? Several ways to look at it. A pillar would be stability, permanence, immovability, continuance. It also could be honor.
A pillar could be carved in such a way as to represent an individual. And in temples very often they did that to honor certain deities. I’m going to give you an eternal place of honor and I’m going to give you an eternal place of stability and permanence. To folks used to earthquakes because they lived on a fault line, they would understand this. To folks who had experienced buildings coming down around their heads and having to move out, this was a clear Word. I’m going to put you in a place that will never be shaken and never move, and you’ll never have to leave an unshakable, permanent, immovable, eternal, stable, secure place.
Secondly, “I will write on him the name of my God.” That just thrills me, absolutely thrills me. When we used to take our little kids off to church when they were small, we used to write their name on a piece of tape and stick it on them. Do you ever do that? You know what that meant? He’s mine. He belongs to me. And that’s why God wants to write His name on us.
The persecutors may have thought that they were representing God when they attacked these Christians, certainly the Jewish persecutors must have thought that. They were wrong. They didn’t belong to God at all. The ones they persecuted did.
So what does He promise? Security forever in heaven and a personal relationship with God. Third thing, “I’m going to write on them the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven from my God.” What did that mean? Citizenship. They get eternal citizenship in the capital city of heaven, which is the New Jerusalem. This is another note of security, another note of safety, another note of glory.
Revelation 21 - we’ll get into this later, of course - says, “I saw the holy city,” - verse 2 - “the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride, adorned for her husband.” Then he goes on to describe this incredible city all the way through chapter 21. You can read all the way from verse 10 to 27, read this incredible description of this city made up of all kinds of jewels and shining in the midst of it is the glory of God and the Lamb is the lamp of it. The capital city of heaven.
So He says I, first of all, am going to put you in a permanent place you’ll never have to leave, I’m going to write my name on you, I’m going to give you citizenship in the capital city of heaven. And then He says, fourthly, “And I’m going to give you my new name.”
Christ’s own new name. What does that mean? Well, the name of God or the name of Christ means all that He is. We know Christ - we know Christ - but we only know what we have read, we haven’t seen Him. The moment we see Him, His persona will take on utterly new dimensions. And whatever we may have called Him and understood by the name will pale in the reality of what we see. And there will be a new name to describe Him, and He’ll give us that new name and we’ll be privileged to call Him by it.
Chapter 2, verse 28, He said I’ll give you the morning star, that’s it, I’ll give you Christ, I’ll give you Christ in His full glory. Not just the incarnate Jesus that we have seen only with the eye of faith, but the all-glorious God whom we see with the eye of a redeemed body.
So that final Word is so rich. You folks overcome, you hang in there to the end, and I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll put you in eternal heaven, secure forever, and I’ll write the name of God on you, and I’ll write the name of the new Jerusalem on you, and I’ll give you my new name by which you can address me forever. And then He says in verse 13, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Boy, this is one I’m glad I heard. You, too?
The holy, true, sovereign, mighty God looks down on a faithful church, knows their deeds and yet is no threat. In fact, He says to the faithful church, I’ll open the doors of the Kingdom and pour out blessing and salvation, I’ll open the doors of evangelistic opportunity, I’ll bless you because you have power, because you have obedience, because you have loyalty, because you have endurance. You have passed all the tests and because of that, I will grant you salvation, Kingdom blessings, and deliverance from the hour of testing. I’ll let you miss the final.
And I will take you from this world into a place of eternal, secure, stable glory. I will take you to a permanent relationship with me and you will know my name and mine will be written on you and the name of the city of Jerusalem. Oh, the blessedness of being a faithful church.
Do you see the power of these letters? They should win over an unfaithful church. One, by the letters to the unfaithful churches, that should frighten an unfaithful church. Two, by the letters to the faithful churches, that should woo by virtue of the immensity of the promises an unfaithful church to faithfulness, Amen.
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