A New Name (Revelation 3:7-13)
Philadelphia was called ‘the gateway to the East’ and justly so given its situation at the junction of the approaches to several cities of Asia Minor. It was named after Attalus II Philadelphus of Pergamum who founded the city in 140BC. A prosperous city and famous for its grape growing, it was the centre of missionary activity for the Hellenistic world-view and the centre of worship of the god Dyonisos as well as containing temples to other gods. Dyonisos was said to have been born from the thigh of Zeus, his cult often violent and bizarre and his nature perceived as both man and animal, male and effeminate, young and old. He represents an enchanted world and extraordinary experience and a challenge to the established social order. When the Romans adopted the Greek gods (as they did wholemeal along with many other Greek customs) Dyonisos became the familiar Bacchus, the god of wine and intoxication.
The hot springs of Philadelphia were the product of volcanic activity and the city suffered from an earthquake in 17 AD. Although the name Philadelphia persisted the city received a new name twice: that of Neocaesarea as a sign of gratitude for Tiberius’ help in rebuilding after the earthquake, and later Flavia, after the family name of the Emperor Vaspasian.
So, to a city famed for its worship of a god of disorder and intoxication, whose name was changed twice according to the circumstances and political winds of the time Christ comes as:
“[The one] who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open”
“Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.”
The contrast could not be starker! As we have looked at these letters it has been striking that all the churches were ‘in the world’ but, to a greater or lesser degree, not ‘of the world’. These were not ivory tower Christians but, as we have seen - from the example of Sardis last week for instance - some came dangerously close to being worldly Christians. Philadelphia was not and, like Smyrna, received commendation but no censure. Yet they were evidently small (“you have little strength” v8), nevertheless had qualities that were to be commended. Christ knew their deeds and wanted to encourage them and there is much here about perseverance. What were the commendable deeds of the saint in Philadelphia?
· They had kept God’s word
· They had not denied God’s name
· They had kept God’s command to endure patiently
When you consider where they were and what pressures of custom and practice surrounded them: the allure of success and wealth; the pleasures of temple worship; the ‘enlightened’ world-view of the Hellenists, we can begin to appreciate how they might be an example for us today. Our society favours wealth and celebrity and their attendant pleasures above almost everything and post-modern man assures himself that his liberal ideas make him enlightened above all that have gone before. Yet, like the society of Philadelphia, these things are subject to the winds of change and nothing permanent remains. Even in the church now bandwagons are commonplace, each promising fresh blessing, new programmes and insights and a sort of celebrity for those most adept at the latest thing.
To us, as to the saints of Philadelphia, Christ is the one fixed point in this changing scene and, unlike the world, he promises a permanent place (vv 11-12) in God’s temple and a permanent name, which is the name of God for all those who persevere as they did.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those of who belong to the family of believers” (Gal.6:9-10)
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