Tag Archives: Tribulation

Big City Dangers: Tower of Babel II

IMG_0050Revelation 18:1-24

A well-known Christian personality recently made an interesting comment. He said, “If I had it to do all over again as a parent, there is one thing I would do differently. I wouldn’t raise my children in Southern California.”

Does that surprise you? After all, Los Angeles is sunshine, beautiful beaches, Disneyland, and some of the finest schools in the country! So how could he say such a thing? Because Los Angeles also means Hollywood values, rock video role models, pornography, cults, drugs, witchcraft, gang violence, greed, and peer pressure in mega-doses that few young people are able to resist.

Of course, it isn’t Southern California only that challenges our family values and Christian faith. Today, any city of moderate size poses the same temptations. And not only for children! The same forces are at work seeking to undermine our integrity and lead us away from Jesus. Paul warned in Romans 12:2, “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” (Phillips paraphrase)

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How powerful is this pressure to conform? e.e. cummings, the American poet and painter, wrote: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

In fact, thanks to television and the internet, the smallest hamlet can now play host to big city values. But the point is, they originate in the city. 150 years ago, most Americans lived on farms and didn’t face these pressures. We were innocent and naïve. Three cheers for innocence and naïveté! But today, with 95% of our people living in cities, the pressure to conform has become almost unbearable.

In this study, we examine the causes and cures of this problem. The original cause is Babylon the Great, mother of big-city wickedness. The cure, on the other hand, is two-fold. Our duty in the short term is to separate from evil. But the final solution is God’s – the destruction of Babylon the Great. Listen carefully, then, as we read this chapter for we are about to hear four cries from heaven. The first is –

  1. The Call for Condemnation

John reports in Revelation 18:1, “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by His splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted: ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’”

A. The Certainty of Babylon’s Fall

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The first fact this angel emphasizes is the judgment of Babylon the Great. This is in effect the end of Antichrist’s kingdom. Like many commentators, I find two “Babylons” revealed in Revelation 17 and 18. In chapter 17, it was “spiritual Babylon,” the false religious system that Antichrist used to unite his kingdom. But once he gained full power at the midpoint of the Tribulation, he destroyed it and took his seat in the Temple pretending to be God. That brings us to chapter 18 where political Babylon is in view. Here we are given a glimpse of the capital of Antichrist’s kingdom which will be destroyed at the end of the Tribulation. You can find evidence for these two “Babylons” in the phrase which begins Revelation 18:1. John writes, “After this (that is to say, after the events of chapter 17), I saw another angel coming down from heaven.” In other words, the events of chapter 18 follow the events of chapter 17. In chapter 17, religious Babylon is destroyed, followed by the destruction of political Babylon in chapter 18.

But someone may ask, if political Babylon is headquarters for Antichrist’s kingdom, what city is it? The passage does not say. The best we can do is piece it together from other passages of Scripture. For example, Daniel 9:27 identifies the Antichrist as the Roman prince, and since Rome was the great city in John’s day, known symbolically as Babylon (See this in 1 Peter 5:13, where referring to the church in Rome, Peter says “she who is in Babylon . . . sends you her greetings.”), it is my conclusion that the Babylon of Revelation 18 is the revitalized city of Rome, Italy. After all, how could Rome not be the capital of the revived Roman empire? Moreover, one fact is very clear. This is not the literal city of Babylon. Why not? Because, according to verse 17, this city is located near enough to the sea that the sailors can see the smoke of her burning, whereas ancient Babylon was located more than 200 miles from the sea.

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The best guess, then, come on is that this is Rome, which becomes Antichrist’s capital, but is destroyed due to her pride, her greed, her violence, and her godlessness. The reason for her judgment is given in verses two and three.

B. The Reason for Babylon’s Fall

Verse 2 says of her, “She has become a home for demons, and a haunt for every evil spirit.” In other words, she’ll look like an angel of light on the surface. She will be exciting, glamorous, and beautiful. But her appeal will come not from God, but from Lucifer who will use her glamour to blind people to the glory of Christ. That should not surprise us. The same forces are at work today. When you think of Hollywood’s grip on man’s fantasies, Las Vegas’ appeal to his passions, and San Francisco’s impact on his morals, is there any question from whom these cities get their power? If we looked beneath the surface, we’d find multitudes of unclean spirits working feverishly to keep people from even thinking about Christ.

How they are able to do this is explained in verse 3. John describes two weapons in the enemy’s arsenal: adultery and luxury. In our last study, we found that adultery is a symbol of false religion. Luxury, on the other hand, refers to the materialism which the city inspires. But then there is nothing new under the sun. In the Garden, it was the appeal of the forbidden fruit. In Gethsemane, it was the glitter of 30 silver coins. Today, it’s whatever new digital device money can buy. This is why Paul warns, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Howard Hughes is a sad example. Having become one of the world’s richest and most powerful man, he died mentally impaired and utterly alone. His scraggly beard hung down to his waist, his unkempt hair reached to the middle of his back, his fingernails were 2 inches long, and his toenails hadn’t been trimmed for so long they looked like corkscrews. Most tragic of all, when he passed out of this life, he entered a Christ-less eternity. Why? Because he loved money more than Jesus. So be careful! If you’re looking for real riches, try switching kingdoms. As Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6: 33)

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2. The Call for Separation

In light of Babylon’s judgment, God calls for separation in verse 4. “Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.’”

A. Reasons for Separation

Two reasons are given for separation. The first is temptation. God warns His people that if they do not “come out of her,” they may “share in her sins.” Sin is nothing to fool with. Many think, “I could never be tempted by that!” only to find themselves drawn toward the very thing they claim to hate. Our daughter was quick to learn this lesson. Invited to a party at age 15, her Christian friends chose to watch a video she knew we wouldn’t approve of. So, when it became clear they weren’t going to change their minds, she called us for a ride home. That didn’t win her any points with her friends at the party, but it multiplied our trust in her, knowing that she was able and willing to stand up for her convictions even when we weren’t around.

Compare that to the well-known Christian writer who was caught in adultery. He was heard to say for years that this was the one sin he could never be tempted to commit. Why was he vulnerable to it even after years of serving Christ? Because contained within our fallen nature is the desire for every wicked the thing this world has to offer. Not until we reach heaven itself can we afford to relax. In his book, The Best Is Yet to Be, Henry Durbanville issued this warning:

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With the mind at rest regarding the past, and the heart reveling in the consciousness of being at peace with God, you may have entertained the thought that all dangers are over, and that you will have no more problems as you journey to the Better Land. But that is not so. Scripture and human biography alike testify to the fact that old age has its perils. Noah, after long years of faithful walking with God, failed ignominiously. Moses, near the close of his career lost his temper. Samuel, the man of prayer and the prophet of God, put family interests before loyalty to God and His people. Solomon began magnificently, but ended disastrously. The records of all these good men, temporarily drawn aside from the path of fellowship with God, give point and urgency to the apostle’s warning, “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” The fact is that youth, adulthood, and old age – each period of life – has its own temptations and hazards.

Not only is there danger of sin, there is also the danger of judgment. To remain in Babylon will mean death for God’s people. Think of Lot in Sodom. 2 Peter 2:8 says he was “righteous,” which means his eternal salvation was secure. But had he remained in Sodom, he would’ve died with the Sodomites.

The same principle is just as true today. In your case, it may not be a city you’re asked to flee, it may be a church that no longer teaches the word of God; a romantic affair with someone who does not love the Lord Jesus; or a business partnership with someone who does not share your Christian ethics. No matter. Whatever compromising situation the Spirit calls you to leave, do it immediately and without delay! For fellowship with evil always carries within it the seeds of judgment – lost jobs, broken homes, sexual disease, even death. Don’t assume that eternal salvation will shield you from the present consequences of sin.

Many years ago, we attended the funeral of a young man who was involved in our junior high youth group. But in high school, he became involved with more “exciting” friends. After an evening of drinking, they began to chase one another in their cars at high speeds. Coming around the corner, our young Christian friend rolled his car in the ditch. He was the only one of the group who died. How happy we were to reassure his parents that he was in Heaven! But that didn’t spare him the shame nor them the pain of his needless death.

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The call for separation leads, in turn, to another warning. Verse 6 says, “God will pay her back double for what she is done.” Why? Two additional reasons are given for her judgment in verses 5 to 7.

B. The Reasons for Condemnation

The first reason is the persistence of her sin. Verse 5 says: “Her sins have reached to Heaven.” The word “reached” originally meant to put bricks together with mortar. This play on words is a reminder of the first Tower of Babel. God never forgets our sins unless they been covered by the blood of Christ. As verse 5 emphasizes, “God has remembered her crimes.” The truth is, what began at Babel with Nimrod’s rebellion has deceived mankind in every age culminating with the final wicked reign of Antichrist during the Tribulation. But God will put an end to her rebellion in this chapter, freeing the world from her sin.

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The second reason is the arrogance of her sin. Verse 7 adds: “In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as a queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’” Babylon is so proud of her renewed power that she can’t imagine it’ll ever end. But verse 8 says, “In one day her plagues will overtake her: death mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” Again, this is a reference to Babylon’s past, for after laying siege to the city for weeks, Cyrus the Great learned of a secret way. He diverted the course of the Euphrates River and in just one night he and the Persian army destroyed the great city.

Swollen with pride, Belshazzar, king of Babylon ordered his servants to bring the gold and silver vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem and defied the God of heaven by drinking from them at his drunken orgy. What was the result of this blasphemy? Before the night was over, God brought the city down around his ears, and Belshazzar died upon his throne. Heinrich Heine tells the story:

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Midnight came slowly sleeping on; in silent rest lay Babylon. But in the Royal Castle high, red torches gleam and courtiers cry. Belshazzar there in kingly hall is holding kingly Festival. The vassals sat in glittering line, and emptied the goblets with glowing wine. The goblets rattle, the choruses swell, and it pleased the stiff-necked monarch well. In the monarch’s cheeks a wildfire flowed, and the wine awoke his daring mood.

And onward by his madness spurred, he blasphemes the Lord with a sinful word; And he brazenly boasts, while the servile courtiers cheered and smiled. Quick the King spoke as his proud glance burned; quickly the servant went and returned. He bore on his head the vessels of gold, of Jehovah’s Temple the plunder bold. With daring hand, in his frenzy grim, the King seized a beaker filled to the brim, and drained to the dregs the sacred cup, and foaming he cried as he drank it up, “Jehovah eternal scorn I owe to Thee, I am the monarch of Babylon.

Scarce had the blasphemy rolled from his lips, ere the monarch’s heart was cold. The yelling laughter was hushed, and all was still as death in the Royal Hall. And see! And see on the white wall high the form of a hand went slowly by, and wrote – and wrote on the broad wall white, letters of fire and vanished in night. Pale as death, with a steady stare, and trembling knees, the king sat there; the horde of slaves sat shuddering chill; no word they spoke, but were deathlike still. The Magicians came, but of them none could read the flame-script on the wall. But that same night, in all his pride, by the hands of his servants Belshazzar died.

 The lesson for us? It’s as old as Proverbs 16:18. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

III.             The Cry of Lamentation

In verse 9, a third voice is now heard – a cry of lamentation by three groups of people, each group deeply impacted by Babylon’s fall. The first group are –

A. The Kings of the Earth

John says in verse 9, “when the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxuries. See the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her.” The word “mourn” means to carry on weeping and wailing with no relief in sight. Why will kings be so upset? Because all the economies of the world rely on her. She will be the great financial center of Antichrist kingdom. In fact, given our global economy and the complex computer systems, tying them together, it’s not hard to see how the collapse of one great city could send the stock markets crashing and leave the governments of the world in total chaos.

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B. The Merchants of the Earth

The second group of mourners are the “merchants of the earth.” They weep not because they are sorry for their sins or they sympathize with those who perish, but because they are materialists grieving their losses. Verse 11 explains, “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore.” They’ve lost all their customers in just one day their life of the luxury will come to an end.

Even more interesting is the products they sell. John lists 28 items including, among other things: precious metals, expensive clothing, costly woods, imported food, and livestock. But the most alarming commodity is found in verse 13: “bodies and souls of men.” In John’s day, they were 50 million slaves in the Roman Empire. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for as many as 10,000 human beings to be auctioned off in one day in the slave markets of Europe. Is John saying this will happen again during the Tribulation? Yes! n today, we see an ever-increasing loss of personal liberties – large corporations exercising more and more control over their employees; higher and higher taxes, giving government control over the private sector; private ownership of land becoming rarer and rarer. It is not difficult to envision worldwide slavery under the Antichrist. We’ve already seen that no one is allowed to buy or sell without taking his mark on their bodies. Henry Morris adds another explanation in his commentary on Revelation:

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“This probably refers to the so-called ‘white-slave trade.’ The Greek word slaves is soma meaning ‘body.’ The international traffic in forced prostitution, both of men and women, is a tragic but lucrative business of modern times and will become even bigger in the evil days ahead. These vice barons are venomous not only amassing great wealth for themselves, but destroying the bodies and souls of the helpless girls and boys under their control.”

But the wealth and security of this city will not last. Proverbs 23 warns, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” That’s a fitting reminder for modern, materialistic America. For what’s pictured on the back of the good old American dollar? An eagle with wings stretched out ready to fly out of our wallets. No matter how hard we try, we can’t buy security. The tighter we cling to what we have, the harder the fall when it is ripped away. And that happens here. In one day all the riches of the wicked are burned up, plunging them into inconsolable grief.

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C. The Sailors and Ship Owners of the Earth

The third group of mourners are the ship owners. Like the merchants, they will be ruined by Babylon’s fall. In fact, this judgment will lead to skyrocketing unemployment around the world. For in verse 17, it is not just the ship owners who mourn; it’s also their employees – the sailors. The verse says, “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors and, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim . . .Oh great city where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin.”

4. The Cry of Celebration

While Earth is grieving, Heaven is rejoicing at the fall of this great city. Notice two facts John emphasizes about her judgment in verses 23 and 24.

A. The Rightness of God’s Judgment

Verse 23 reminds us that this is no ordinary city that is being judged. It is the Great Harlot who deceives “all nations” with her magic spells. That is to say, she deserves everything she gets and more. Her judgment will also be total and complete. Six times the King James version uses the phrase no more – no more music, no more craftsmen, no more grinding, no more marrying, no more trading, and no more light. It reminds me of Bill Gaither’s song:

“The Marketplace is empty, no more traffic in the streets; All the builder’s tools are silent, no more time to harvest wheat; Busy housewives cease their labors, in the courtroom no debate; Work on earth is all suspended as the King comes through the gate. Oh, the King is coming, the King is coming! I just heard the trumpet sounding, and now His face I see. Oh, the King is coming, the King is coming! Praise God! He’s coming for me.”

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 B. The Reasons for God’s Judgment

Someone may wonder, how can a Christian rejoice at this judgment? After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Yes, but given the evil this city has caused, it’s only right to be glad about its destruction. Verse 24 says this is the city in which “was found the blood of prophets and the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” Our joy doesn’t come from the pain of those being judged; it comes from the fact that justice is being carried out. It’s the relief we may feel at the execution of a Ted Bundy or Wesley Allen Dodd. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. That’s why He has delayed His judgment so long. But when we realize this city can no longer hurt anyone, how can we not be glad? This is why God commands us to come out of her and rejoice at her destruction.

C. The Danger of Compromise

Have you heard of the friendship that exists between two little creatures living off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? One is the sea anemone, a little animal with a tubular body and a circle of tentacles. The other is the clown fish which attracts bigger fish to the anemone by darting in and hiding among its poison tentacles. The anemone immobilizes and devours all intruders except the clown fish which enjoys temporary immunity to its poison. Sadly, with time it too grows weak and loses its immunity. That’s when the tentacles close in on it as well.

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That is a picture of the Christian who ignores the danger of this present world system – a system born and bred in Babylon. Her charms are so inviting many forget that within her walls are heartache, sorrow, and death. But you don’t need to be fooled by her. You and I can remember who inspires these temptations and where she is in inevitably headed. Babylon the Great is falling, is falling! And when she does, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put her together again.” Praise his name forever!

(To listen to the audio message of this study, click Audio. To download a written copy of this message, click Written.)

Will the Real 144,000 Please Stand Up? (Rev. 7:1-17)

Revelation: Because the Time Is Near

Study #12: “Will the Real 144,000 Please Stand Up?” (Rev. 7:1-17)

(To listen to or download the audio version of this message, click Audio.)

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Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. When he arrived at Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, he was stripped of everything—his family, his property, even his life’s work, a manuscript hidden in the lining of his coat. The book outlined concepts he later called logotherapy—the necessity of finding purpose in life. He wrote, “I underwent and had to overcome the loss of my spiritual child. Now it seemed as if nothing and no one in life would survive me; neither a physical or spiritual child of my own! I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances life is worth living.”

While still wrestling with that question, the Nazis made the prisoners give up their clothes. Frankl recalls, “I surrendered my clothes and inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who was sent to the gas chamber. Instead of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of his coat a page torn from a Hebrew prayer book. It contained the sacred prayer, Shema Yisrael. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God, and you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” “How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to ‘live’ my beliefs instead of merely putting them on paper?”

Looking back, Frankl explained how he survived the death camp. “There is nothing in the world that can so effectively help one survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how.’”

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The evidence for that statement is found in this study. In our last lesson, we read about a future holocaust of God’s people that will make Hitler’s Holocaust seem small by comparison. Innumerable multitudes will be martyred for their faith. For that reason, Revelation 6 ended with a statement and a question, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (6:17) This week’s study answers that question. In Revelation 7, we read the testimony of two distinct groups of believers who will suffer the horrors of the Tribulation but ultimately overcome both Satan and his Antichrist. The first group, described in verses 1 to 8, are Jews who will survive both temptation and death. The second group, described in verse 9 to 17, are Gentiles who also overcome the lies of Antichrist, but not without dying for their faith.

As we learn about each group of overcomers, look for the “why” that made their suffering bearable. It may give you strength to endure the trial you’re facing.

  1. 144,000 JEWS FOR JESUS

Some time ago, my wife and I were visiting our community, knocking on doors and sharing our testimony for Christ. At one door, we were met by a confident fellow who asked, “What can I do for you folks today?” “Well,” I explained, “we’re surveying your neighborhood for our church and wondering, ‘Do you attend church in our community?’” “No, we don’t go to church,” he firmly replied, pointing to something on his doorpost. “We go to synagogue.” It was a Mezuzah, a decorative case with Shema Yisrael inside it. So I quickly backtracked and tried to establish some common ground. I told him how much we appreciated the Jewish people. “After all, you not only gave us our Bible, you also gave us our Messiah!” “Is that so?” he said with a condescending grin. “Well, it’s good to hear that one of our boys finally made good!” Gulp.

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Sad to say, that’s been the attitude of most Jews down through the centuries. Not all Jews. In every generation, there’s been a believing remnant who have worshiped Jesus as their Messiah. But as a whole, the people of Israel have been opposed to the Gospel since it was first preached. In the first century, they were responsible for much of the persecution against the church. Remember Paul before his conversion? Today, their opposition is more passive. They just don’t care! As a result, God has temporarily set Israel aside as His chosen vessels, and is now working through a new body called the Church. (See Romans 9 to 11.)

But the good news is that one day Israel’s blindness will be healed! In Romans 11:25-26, Paul warns his Gentile readers against anti-Semitism and pride: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved!” One day God’s work with the church will be finished. One day the last Gentile sinner will accept Christ and the Bride of Christ will be removed from earth to heaven at the Rapture. At that point, God’s focus will shift back to the Jews, who will become His special witnesses on earth. The first-fruits of that generation are found here in Revelation 7—144,000 Jewish evangelists who will win the world to Christ. Notice three important facts about them.

a. Their Sealing

John writes in Revelation 7:1-3, “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’”

 

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Who are the mighty angels who will stand at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth? The context makes it clear. They are the four angels who are about to blow God’s trumpets of judgment. For John says they have been given authority to “harm the earth and the sea.” Much of the damage will be the result of drastic weather changes on earth, for their judgments are directly connected to the blowing of the wind. Those of you who have been through a tornado, a hurricane, or a forest fire fed by the wind know its awesome power. Furthermore, officials at the National Weather Service warn that capricious jet streams flowing through the upper atmosphere can also cause sudden shifts in weather patterns that can result in floods, blizzards, and droughts. Imagine the carnage that will take place when these natural forces are empowered by the supernatural judgment of God.

Before these angels can release their judgments, however, a special act of mercy is performed for the servants of God. They are sealed on their foreheads. What is the purpose of this sealing? In Biblical times, a king would seal a document by pressing his signet ring into melted wax on a scroll. This signified possession because the document now bore the king’s image. So it will be with the 144,000! This sealing will, first of all, identify them as belonging to Christ. Revelation 14:1 says they will have “His Father’s name written on their foreheads!” This is in direct contrast to the followers of Antichrist who, as a sign of loyalty to him, will choose to wear the mark of the Beast “on their right hand or on their foreheads.” (Revelation 13:16) From the outset of the Antichrist’s reign, God will make it clear who it is that truly speaks for Him.

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The second purpose is protection. The fact that they are sealed before judgment comes indicates that this sealing will protect them from all the plagues that are about to fall upon the earth. It also guarantees their survival until Christ’s return at the end of the Tribulation. For when “the Lamb” sets foot on Mount Zion in Revelation 14:1, the 144,000 are there waiting to greet Him. Matthew 24:34 further supports this opinion. Speaking of the great tribulation, Jesus said to His Jewish listeners, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will be no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled.” Jesus wasn’t referring to a span of time. The word generation is genea from which we get the words “genealogy” and “genocide.” He was referring to a race of people, promising that just as Hitler failed to exterminate the Jews in World War II, the people of Israel will miraculously survive the coming holocaust of Antichrist. Many Jews will be martyred, but all 144,000 will remain alive to enter the Kingdom of God.

By the way, though only the 144,000 will be sealed in this manner, we who love Jesus need to remember that we too enjoy a miraculous sealing. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” So take heart! No matter what disappointments or dangers you face today, you are precious and protected. The moment you received Christ, He wrote His name on your heart and sealed it with His Holy Spirit, so that nothing can touch you unless it’s by His divine permission and for your eternal good.

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b. Their Identity

Few passages have been as misinterpreted as verses 4 to 8. My own sister argues that the 144,000 are members of the Watchtower Society who faithfully kept its laws and will one be in heaven. Unfortunately for her, the Watchtower teaches that those positions have already been filled. So her best hope, if she is a good Jehovah’s Witness, is to be resurrected and one day live on a redeemed earth. However, a straightforward reading of this passage makes clear who these servants are. They are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon elders, or members of any other modern cult. They are Jews, Jews, and more Jews! John says, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” In fact, he lists the tribes by name.

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Dr. Harry Ironside commented, “The way in which so many unscriptural and often heretical sects arrogate to themselves this title would be amusing, if it were not so sad. You are perhaps aware that the Seventh-Day Adventists apply it to the faithful of their communion who will be found observing the Jewish Sabbath at the Lord’s return. They suppose that these will be raptured when the Lord descends and judgment will be poured out upon the rest of the church. Then we have the followers of the late Pastor Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses) who teach that the 144,000 include only the ‘overcomers’ of their persuasion who continue faithful to the end. . . Besides these, there are many other sects, whose leaders consider their own peculiar followers will be the 144,000 sealed ones at the end of time. All of these overlook a simple fact, which if observed, would save them from their folly. That is, the 144,000 are composed of 12,000 from each tribe of the children of Israel. There is not a Gentile among them. Whenever I meet people who tell me they belong to the 144,000, I always ask them, ‘Which tribe, please?’ and they are invariably put to confusion for want of an answer.”

This does not answer every question, however. For example, we are not told how they will learn from what tribe they come. Such information is lost among the Jews of today. Nor are we told why Ephraim and Dan are replaced by Joseph and Levi. (It may be due to their idolatry in the Old Testament.) Nor is their sudden conversion to Christ explained. The disappearance of Christians at the Rapture may be a wake-up call. But in all probability, like Paul on the road to Damascus, they will receive a personal visitation from Christ Himself.

c. Their Ministry

Although their ministry is not specifically explained in this passage, several facts indicate that they will be evangelists for Christ. First, this has always been God’s purpose for Israel—to be His witnesses to the nations. Speaking of Israel, He says to them in Isaiah 43:10-11, “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.” The Jews fell short of their calling due to immorality and idolatry. But these Jews will not “be defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” (See Revelation 14:4.) And Jesus promised when we follow Him, He makes us “fishers of men.”

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Second, Joel chapter 2 tells us that “in the last days” there will be a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and we know what the mission of the Holy Spirit has been since Calvary. It is to point people to Jesus Christ. Speaking of this, Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Matthew 24:14 confirms that this will continue to be the mission of believers during the Tribulation. There Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to the nations, and then the end will come.” Who will preach the gospel at that time? The church will no longer be on earth, but in heaven. Only the 144,000 will be left to do so. Revelation 14:6 points to their part in this great work. For immediately after describing the 144,000, John says that this gospel will be preached “to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” on earth.

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Third, Revelation 7:9 ties the salvation of the Gentiles to the work of the 144,000. Immediately after describing their sealing in verses 4 to 8, John writes, “After these things I looked,” and he saw a vast multitude of Gentiles saved during the Tribulation. The phrase “after these things” emphasizes a sequential order. First, the 144,000 are sealed; then the multitudes are saved. It is only natural, then, to assume that the first event leads to the second. In other words, the salvation of the Gentiles will be the direct result of the work of the 144,000. This is further supported by Revelation 14:4 which calls the 144,000 “first-fruits to God and the Lamb.” That is to say, the 144,000 will be the first ones saved during the Tribulation, but they won’t be the only ones. Multitudes of Gentiles will respond to Christ as a result of their ministry.

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Their impact is hard to grasp given the lack of spiritual leadership in the world today. But imagine if God suddenly unleashed 144,000 Spirit-filled John the Baptists, Apostle Peters, Apostle Pauls, and Billy Grahams all at the same time. There won’t be a need for any seminaries, mission agencies, or language schools to prepare them. Knowing that the time is short (just 7 years!), these totally dedicated men will put everything aside in their spontaneous desire to preach the gospel. Furthermore, Joel indicates that the true gift of tongues will be revived at this time, so that everyone is able to understand “in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Acts 2:11). What a day of revival that will be! But not without a price. For in the verses that follow we discover that everyone who accepts Christ will then be brutally martyred for their faith.

  1. A MULTITUDE OF MARTYRS FOR JESUS

Immediately following the sealing of the 144,000, John sees a vast multitude standing before the throne of God and clarifies four facts for us about them.

a. Their identity

Verses 9 and 10 say, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” “Then one of the elders,” verses 13 and 14 add, “addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”

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The first thing that’s obvious about this multitude is that they are not Jews, nor do they include the 144,000. For these believers are said to come from “all nations, tribes, people, and tongues.” In other words, they’re Gentiles. What Gentiles? Is this just another reference to the Church? No, this is a reference to multitudes of unbelieving Gentiles who turn to Christ after the Rapture has taken place. Let that be of great encouragement to you if you have unbelieving loved ones you fear may be left behind if the Rapture were to take place today. For here John reveals that one of the greatest harvest of souls the world has seen will take place not before, but after the Tribulation begins. So there is still great hope for your family and friends if the Rapture happens soon. Yes, they will have to suffer, but the suffering of this present time is very short compared to the eternal glory and joy that they will experience forever.

By the way, this confuses some who study prophecy. They assume that because the Tribulation brings judgment, then no one will be saved. But we must be careful to let the Bible speak for itself. And when we do, verse 14 makes it clear, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

b. Their number

How many will be saved at this time? John says, “a great multitude that no one could number.” Do you realize what this means? More people may be saved during Antichrist’s reign than all the years of the Church age put together!

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Dr. Tim LaHaye writes: “To assert that a soul harvest of gigantic proportions is scheduled to take place in the future is admittedly to controvert the thinking of most prophetic students. It is nevertheless exciting to think that more people will be saved during that time than responded to the preaching of the apostles, the early church fathers, the Reformation preachers, modern missions, radio and television preaching, and even the present day, when Bible-teaching churches are gathering in such a large number of souls. This is more than an optimistic dream. It is a reasonable conclusion of a number of prophetic realities, all climaxing with the text of Revelation 7:9, “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues.”

What a testimony to God’s mercy! Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. The Rapture itself may explain a great deal. Imagine the impact on humanity when thousands of Christian airline pilots, police officers, doctors, and other specialists suddenly disappear from the earth. Add to that the fiery preaching of the 144,000, and many thoughtful individuals who never before gave the gospel a serious hearing, will quickly blow the dust off their Bibles and begin to study the very information you’re studying today. They’ll want to know, “What on earth happened to the Church!” And when the truth of God’s Word, enlightened by God’s Spirit, finally dawns on them, they will soberly turn to Christ in repentance and faith.

c. Their worship

The most inspiring thing about this group is their worship. For the only thing filling their hearts as they stand in God’s presence is the greatness of Christ’s salvation. “Salvation belongs to our God!” The palm branches in their hands are reminiscent of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here they symbolize His complete victory over sin and Satan. Their robes washed “white in the blood of the Lamb” picture the means of salvation. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5)

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Is that the theme of your song? Dottie Rambo captured the greatness of Christ’s salvation in the beautiful lyrics that follow. Those of you who are familiar with Londonderry Aire (Oh, Danny Boy!) might even want to stop at this point and sing the words to Christ in worship, for their message will be the theme of our hearts forever.

Amazing grace shall always be my song of praise, for it was grace that bought my liberty. I do not know just why He came to love me so. He looked beyond my fault and saw my need. I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary to view the Cross where Jesus died for me. How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul! He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

d. Their rewards

Finally, in verses 15 to 17, John describes three rewards they will enjoy for their martyrdom. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

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The first blessing they enjoy is a permanent place. On earth, these martyrs were men and women “without a country.” Because they refused to worship Antichrist or take his mark, they were hunted down and beheaded for their faith. But in Heaven they find a permanent home. They live “before the throne of God,” serving Him “day and night in His temple,” God Himself dwelling among them. What Hebrews says of the Old Testament saints could be said of them, “These all died in faith and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

The second blessing they enjoy is permanent protection. During the Tribulation, there will be constant hunger, thirst, and suffering. The 144,000 will be safe from these plagues, but not believers at large. As is so often the case today, God’s judgments fall on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Think about the victims of the latest hurricane, earthquake, or forest fire. Is it only unbelievers who suffer these things? No, the results of the curse fall on all of God’s creatures today. But one day that will end! One day all hunger, thirst, pain, and suffering will come to an end, when we finally arrive safely home in the presence of our loving God.

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The third blessing is permanent peace. Our passage closes with one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. Here Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Psalm, becomes a never-ending reality. The Lamb becomes our Shepherd and leads us “to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” There are some trials and heartaches in this life which seem so devastating that we think nothing can ever ease our pain. But that is not so! The One who was able to calm the storm and hush the sea will have no difficulty speaking perfect peace to our hearts. Just as a little child runs home for the comfort of his mother’s kisses when he’s hurt, so God will wipe away every hurt from our hearts and every tear from our eyes.

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Near the beginning of the last century, Dr. Henry Morrison, president of Asbury College, left on an evangelistic tour of China. After months of exhausting labor, he and his wife returned by ship to the United States, in great need of rest and encouragement. But this was no normal voyage. On board was Teddy Roosevelt, returning from safari in Africa. When the ship entered the harbor, crowds lined the docks, eager for a glimpse of the president. But no one was there to greet the Morrisons, and the missionary was disappointed. “We’ve given our lives to serve Christ, while the president has been having hunting animals. It’s not fair! Where are the crowds to cheer us?” The more he thought about it, the more depressed he became until his wife reminded him, “But Henry, we’re not Home yet!”

Have you found the “why” for persevering under trial? There are many reasons to serve Christ well, but the most encouraging are rewards to come. Keep that in mind as you face the trials of this present time. Keep in mind where your real home is and what awaits you. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My name’s sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in Heaven.” Or as Viktor Frankl learned, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

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Philadelphia: The Great Little Church!

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(To listen to or download the audio version of this lesson, click HERE.)

Study #7: ‘’Philadelphia—The Great Little Church”

Proverbs 30:26 raises a question: What is a coney? The verse reads, “Coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags.” Some versions translate it “rabbits” or “badgers.” But the best research indicates that this was the Syrian hyrax, a strange little rodent about the size of a guinea pig. Sometimes it is called a “rock rabbit.” But it is actually unrelated to any other animal. Its teeth and bones resemble those of a rhinoceros. But that’s as far as the similarity goes. The coney is a helpless creature—easy prey for hawks, snakes, and other predators. So how does this little fellow stay alive? That’s the interesting part. He hides himself in the crags of the rocks, often on the side of a cliff.

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Why are we to learn from this Proverb? That we too are weak, helpless, and vulnerable to spiritual attack. So how do we protect ourselves? The coney knows. The answer is by hiding ourselves in the cleft of the Rock—our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, contrary to popular belief, it’s not bad to be weak, as long as you’re protected. And we are in Jesus Christ! Believing in Jesus does not eliminate life’s dangers, but it does make us eternally secure in the midst of them. In fact, the Bible says our weaknesses are an advantage in serving Christ. 2 Corinthians 12:9 is a good example. There the Lord tells Paul why he’s suffered what he has. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concludes, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In other words, when we’re weak, we’re forced to depend on Christ instead of ourselves, and that’s where true strength is found. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary, wrote: “God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him.”

But our primary example is the great little church of Philadelphia, described in Revelation 3:7-13. The city was 30 miles southwest of Sardis in Asia Minor and built in 189 BC by King Attalus of Peramum whose nickname was Philadelphia due to his special love for his brother. So that became the name of the city. It was also located in an earthquake zone with agriculturally rich soil because of the volcanic ash that was frequently deposited in the area.

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As for the church, Jesus said they only had a “little strength.” This was because they didn’t have the large membership or great resources of churches like Ephesus and Laodicea. But the truth is most of the great churches throughout history have not been large or wealthy. The churches of the great Puritans like John Robinson and Jonathan Edwards were churches of fewer than 200 people. In fact, 60 percent of churches in America today average 89 members. Because it is always just a remnant who truly love Christ and His Word. And yet, when welded to the iron bar of His strength, the copper wire of their weakness made the church at Philadelphia the most dynamic church in the Revelation.

The question is: Will we learn from them? Will we admit our frailty and rely on Jesus alone for our strength? To understand what made them one of the great little churches of history, there are four facts to recognize about them.

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  1. The Nature of Their Greatness

Jesus begins the letter like this in Revelation 3:7-8, ““And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

Two things to notice here. First, notice how they were corrected. They weren’t, were they? Like the persecuted church of Smyrna, Jesus found nothing bad to say about them. Instead, He speaks words full of encouragement and blessing, reminding us how tender and compassionate our Savior is toward those who do their best for Him. Some of us were raised in negative households, where Mom or Dad always seemed to find fault with us. So it is difficult for us to think of God as being pleased with us. But He is, if we do our best for Him. He’s not a difficult Master to please. His expectations are always in direct proportion to the strength He gives us. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” But to those with only a little strength, only a little is expected of us. Psalm 103:13 is one of my favorite verses. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.”

The second thing to notice is how they were commended. They were commended for keeping God’s Word. You see, we live in an age when the uppermost thing in people’s minds is not right, but rights. A woman’s fundamental right to choose. A pornographer’s fundamental right to free speech. A homosexual’s fundamental right to promote his lifestyle. Of course, the world isn’t so quick to fight for the unborn’s fundamental right to life or our fundamental right to protest on their behalf. Because it’s rights, not right, people care about, making many Christians wonder, “Should I even bother saying anything? And do I have the right to push my beliefs on the rest of the population?” The answer is: Not only do we have a right to do so, we have a fundamental responsibility to speak the truth in love. After all, how kind is it to quietly stand by while an unwed mother doubles her pain by taking the life of her unborn child? Or how loving is it to say nothing as the LBGT community shortens their lives by sexually dangerous behavior?

stand-firmSo I say, even if no one listens to us, we have a responsibility to take a stand not for what is politically correct, but for what is good and right and decent. Or as Jesus credits them here, “You have pleased Me by fulfilling your fundamental responsibility to keep My Word.

They also did not deny Christ’s name. Why does that matter? Because just as godly wisdom is found only in the Word of God, supernatural power is found only in the name of Jesus. Think back to the crippled man Peter healed in Acts 3. The Sanhedrin asked him, “By what power have you done this?” Peter replied, “Be it known to you all…that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…this man stands here before you whole…Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

You say, “Isn’t that rather simplistic?” Just be faithful to God’s Word and God’s Son and God will bless?” I often meet that attitude in counseling sessions or planning meetings. People want to see change in their lives or growth in the church. But when you insist that they go back to square one and start again with holiness, honestly, and love, they’re angry.

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Like Namaan the leper, who was told to wash seven times in the Jordan River, they think, “It can’t be that simple! I’ve heard these things for years.” Yes, but have you been practicing them? Are you a doer as well as a hearer of the Word? My wife and I have made many mistakes, but 41 years later, I can testify that God has blessed us with more resources, more friends, and more family joy than we ever imagined. Simple obedience is the surest route to the blessing of God.

The truth is that it doesn’t take a lot of talent or charisma to be useful to God. In fact, those things can actually get in the way of serving Him. Instead, what we need do is give Him the little bit of strength we have, let Him match it with His greatness, and then explode it with divine power. That’s the secret to success with God. Determining to hold fast to His name and His Word no matter what comes your way. And that’s something you can do! You may have just a little strength, but a little is more than enough when God is involved.

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Someone has said, “The mighty oak was once just a little nut who held his ground.” That homey maxim is my philosophy of spiritual growth and ministry. Dig in your heels, hang on to God, and never let up until He blesses. The Philadelphians did that, and not only did they become one of the great churches of the Revelation, they are also the only church which has survived until today.

  1. The Source of Their Greatness

Each of the seven letters, you’ll remember, begins with a description of Christ intended to encourage the church in question. And this church is no exception. The only difference is that this description doesn’t come from the vision of Christ in chapter one. Why not? Because that was a vision of Christ preparing to judge the world. But the weak don’t need to hear about judgment. The unruly need to hear about judgment, but the weak need to be encouraged. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak.” So, in order to strengthen their confidence in them, in verse 7 Jesus emphasizes three encouraging truths about Himself.

He begins, “These things says He who is holy.” Throughout the New Testament, Christ’s Deity is proven by the fact that like the Father, He is holy. In John 6:69, when His superficial disciples began falling away, Peter assures Jesus, “We have believed and come to know that You are the holy One of God.”

What does that mean? The word “holy” means to be separate and distinct. It is the opposite of the idea espoused by America’s unofficial religion – the New Age movement. According to the New Age movement, God is the divine “force” which binds the universe together giving it its unity and direction. Nor is there any distinction between God and His creation. God is in everything and everything is a part of God. And it is at this point that Jesus has given us a mandate to stand up and defy our culture, “No, God is not synonymous with His creation. He infinitely higher and holier than the things He has made.” Hebrews 7:26 says, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” Christ is holy, and because He is, He cannot tolerate sin and demands holiness from His people. “Be holy as I am holy, says the Lord.”

Verse 7 continues, “He who is true.” There are two Greek words for “true.” Alethes, which refers to something true as opposed to false. For example, “The ocean is wet” is a true statement, whereas “The ocean is dry” is a false statement. But that is not the word Jesus uses. He uses Alethinos, which means the source of all truth. Jesus, in other words, isn’t just a person who tells the truth. He is truth incarnate, which means anyone who disagrees with anything He ever taught is by definition wrong. He is the standard by which every other thought or teaching is judged. You say, “That’s awfully narrow!” You’re right! It is. But this is who Jesus claimed to be—the only true revelation of God. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). If that isn’t a cause for confidence, I don’t know what it.

Verse 7 adds, “He who has the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” What does this mean? Jesus is likening Himself to Eliakim, the faithful treasurer of King Hezekiah, described in Isaiah 22. Eliakim held the key to the king’s treasury with the power to open or shut it at will. Now the Savior takes that Old Testament truth and applies it to Himself, saying, “I am the Greater Eliakim with the keys to Heaven’s treasures, so that whatever your need may be, I can supply it.” It is what Paul promised the Philippians when He said, “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)

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Then, just to make sure we don’t misunderstand how important this is, Jesus continues in verse 8, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.” Do you realize how powerful and encouraging that statement is to a struggling church? Think of the problems we face today—economically, politically, morally, spiritually—and realize, we as Christians have been called to do something about it. But how is that possible? Things are so evil, how can we ever hope to make a dent in them? The answer is that victory is not only possible, it is certain because of who holds the key. Every effort we make for Christ—every missionary effort, every witnessing effort, every Bible class taught, every prayer offered—has the potential of eternal life-changing success. Why? Because Jesus Christ has opened the door. Paul referred to this in his letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “For a great and effective door has opened for me.”

Sometimes we talk about looking for opportunities to serve the Lord. But that’s a cop-out, isn’t it? We don’t have to look for opportunities. Why? Because Jesus has already opened the door. All we have to do is walk through it and take advantage of the opportunities that exist. Will you do that? Think about the unbelievers you know. Isn’t there at least one you could befriend for Christ? Or think about the pressing needs of our missionaries or other believers in your fellowship. Isn’t there are least one need you could meet? Remember, there’s no such thing as being over-qualified for the Lord’s work. If Jesus could wash feet, then what could possibly be beneath us?

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  1. The Threat to Their Greatness

You can see it in verse 11. Jesus warns, “Behold, I come quickly. Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” This is a clear indication that the Philadelphian had already earned a wonderful reward from Christ. There was nothing new or different they had to do. All they had to do was hold on to what they had. But that isn’t easy. For it is possible to serve Christ well, earn a reward, but then, because of lack of unfaithfulness, to drop out of the race before it’s ended and lose everything you’ve achieved. 2 John 1:8 warns, “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.”

You say, “I didn’t think a Christ could lose his salvation?” You’re right. We can’t. Not if we have truly been born again. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 assures us that even if our works amount to hay, wood, and stubble, and are burned up at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we ourselves will be saved as from the fire—if our foundation is Christ. It isn’t a matter of heaven and hell. It’s a matter of rewards. We’re warned that unless we’re watchful, we can lose our crowns. Or to be more precise, we can have them stolen from us. Who would do that? The enemy of our souls. Satan knows very well that he cannot take away our eternal life. So he settles for second best. He seeks to tarnish our victory by stealing our rewards. How? Through pride and complacency.

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I’m thinking right now of a well-known pastor who was heard to say many times over the years that the one area in which Satan would never trip him up was his sex life. And yet, it wasn’t long before he was caught having an affair with a woman he was counseling. Isn’t that tragic! To work hard for Christ, but then, because of a lack of watchfulness, to disgrace yourself, your family, and to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve? But it can happen. Paul said it could happen to him. That’s why he wrote 1 Corinthians 9:27. He said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” So let’s take nothing for granted. Let’s hold fast to what we have, that no one may take our crowns. Or as Revelation 2:10 puts it, “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.”

  1. The Rewards for Their Greatness

Given the faithfulness of the Philadelphians and the positive tone of this letter, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find this letter filled with promises. And it is!

A.  Vengeance

The first promise is found in verse 9 where Jesus says, “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.” That is a promise of vengeance.

The Christians in Philadelphia were suffering severe persecution like the other cities in the region, but in their case it was instigated by the Jews. There was a large synagogue of Jews in Philadelphia who believed that Christianity was a blasphemous lie, and like Paul before his conversion, they wanted to destroy the church. But instead of giving in to bitterness, the believers simply looked to the Lord in faith. Why? Because of what we Christians have been taught for two thousand years now. Romans 12:17-19, “Do not return evil for evil, and do not take revenge, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay, says the Lord.”

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It isn’t our job to get even with those who hurt us—parents, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, co-workers, fellow church members. For God promises that His judgments are much more just and satisfying. Here He promises that anyone who hurts us, mocks us, or takes advantage of us, because we’re Christians, will one day be made to bow before us in repentance. “Indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” That should do away with the need for wrath and revenge, shouldn’t it?

B.  Deliverance

Next, Jesus promises deliverance. Verse 10 continues, “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.”

This is one of the most important verses in the book of Revelation. First, Jesus warns that there is a period of judgment coming upon the entire earth, not just Philadelphia or the region of Asia Minor. What period of judgment is that? After all, no worldwide judgment against sin has taken place since the Genesis flood. But read the rest of this book and it becomes clear. He is referring to the Tribulation pictured in chapters 6 to 19.

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But He doesn’t stop there. He goes on to make a promise to the Philadelphians which applies to believers in ever age and every kind of church. We know that because the letter again ends with the call, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:13) This is a promise that those who truly love and believe in Christ will be removed from the earth before this hour of trial begins. After all, what bridegroom wouldn’t rescue His bride from disaster if He could. Certainly our Heavenly Bridegroom will. Two facts make this clear:

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First, the preposition “from.” Some versions translate it “out of the hour of trial.” That is the most accurate rendition. For the Greek word ek means “out of” and comes from a root word meaning separation. This indicates that Christ isn’t merely going to protect His Church in the Tribulation; He is going to keep us “out of” it. In fact, those who teach that the church must go through the Tribulation, but be protected by Christ in the midst of it, have problems explaining what follows in the rest of the book. Later chapters reveal that those who come to faith in Jesus Christ during the Tribulation will not be protected from persecution, but will be martyred for their faith.

Second, Jesus says that this hour is designed to “test those who dwell upon the earth.” This phrase is used 10 times in Revelation and always refers to unbelievers, not believers. So, if you think the church might go through the Tribulation, the question you must answer is: Why? What purpose would be served by it? The answer is: No good purpose. This is an hour intended to test “earth-dwellers,” not those whose citizenship is already in heaven.

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In fact, what is striking is how often we have read the word “church” and “churches” in the first three chapters. I counted 19 uses of the word, and in each case the church in on earth. However, once we come to chapter 4, there is never again any mention of the church on earth, because the church is now safe in heaven, represented by the twenty-four elders worshiping before God’s throne. Of course, this is not to suggest that the church will escape all tribulation. In John 16:33, Jesus clearly warned, “in the world you will have tribulation.” But what we won’t go through, if we’re genuinely saved, is the Tribulation. The definite article indicates a very specific time of trial from which we will be delivered—“the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Rev. 3:10)

C.  Permanence

Third, Jesus promises the church permanence. Verse 12 adds, “He who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” This alludes to the tradition of the Philadelphians who honored their heroes by carving their names on the pillars of their temples. In our case, there will be no physical temple in the New Jerusalem, for Revelation 21:22 tells us that Christ will be the only temple we need. But He will memorialize our good deeds. How? By giving us a status that will cause others to look up to us.

And He promises that we “will go out no more.” That phrase had special meaning for the Philadelphians. Built in an earthquake zone, the citizens spent much of their lives getting in and out of town. An earthquake would strike and the people would run for safety. Then the trembling would stop and they’d return and rebuild their homes. In fact, we’re told that in 17 AD a major earthquake struck the area, destroying 12 cities including Sardis and Philadelphia. Another earthquake destroyed Laodicea in 60 AD.

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So this is a promise of peace and permanence. It is what David sang about in Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

D.  Acceptance

Finally, Jesus promises us three new names: “And I will write on 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 I will write on Him My new name.” What do these three things signify? Acceptance and belonging. Just as an earthly bridegroom gives his name to his precious new bride, so Jesus will give us His new name, signifying forever that we belong to Him.

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So let me ask you. How strong are you? Chances are, not very. Because what God so often chooses are the weak things of this world to shame the strong. Which means that, despite our outward appearances, most of us are weak, sensitive, and vulnerable. But that’s OK as long as you’re protected. And we are! How? The coney knows. By placing our lives in the care of Jesus Christ. That gives us safety and strengthen for whatever He asks us to do today, and courage and hope for what we face tomorrow. So stay close to Christ. He is our Rock!

(Thanks for studying with us! To download the written lesson, click Written. To download the Powerpoint slides for teaching, click Slides.)