Last Friday we began reading the letter to Philadelphia in Revelation chapter 3. We saw that they’d been faithful, despite persecution from the local Jewish community which had rejected Jesus as Messiah. Although they were shut out of the synagogue, the door to God’s kingdom was open to them, courtesy of the new palace keyholder, Jesus. And ultimately, those who oppressed them would have to bow down and acknowledge they were right all along.
Now that’s all well and good for the future. But what’s going to happen in the meantime?
3:10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
Is Jesus offering respite (you won’t suffer) or protection (you’ll suffer, but I’ll look after you)? The Greek is unclear whether God is keeping them safe through trials or removing them from the trials altogether. The point is, those who suffer for the sake of Jesus can expect him to look after them and keep them safe.*
There’s also a promised reward for those who remain faithful:3:11-13 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them 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 them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The reward includes getting to be a pillar in God’s temple. Second prize is getting to be the floor. Or we could assume that it’s metaphorical. In that case, it probably refers to the two pillars in Solomon’s temple that bore people’s names (Jakin and Boaz – see 1 Kings 7:21) especially since the rest of the verse is about names.
And once again, Jesus seems to be applying one of Isaiah’s prophecies to his followers:Isa 56:4-5 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever [Literally, “will not be cut off”, which is more appropriate in the context of eunuchs. Disappointed the NIV didn’t try to translate this play on words].
As well as this new name that will endure, they also get God’s name written on them. It probably refers to Aaron, the high priest, who wore a golden plate on his forehead engraved with the words “holy to Yahweh”(Exodus 28:36-38). It’s like kids writing their names on their pencil cases at school so no one will steal it. If God had a Mum, he’d have her ironing little labels on us so that everyone knows we’re his. We’re a royal priesthood and holy to God (1 Pet 2:9).
We also get the name of God’s city written on us. Hopefully all this writing is also metaphorical or we’ll start to get invited on those Tattoo Nightmares reality shows. But having this name means that we are citizens of the heavenly city, even if we’re being shut out of earthly citizenship now.
And we also get Jesus’ new name written on us. What’s that? Well at this point, only he knows:19:12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.
But again, the point is that we belong to him. And his Father. And the city that is to come. So who cares if we’re “cut off” like a eunuch from the synagogue (or from our family, from our former friends, from the respect of the wider society) – when we’re the ones who have access to the kingdom of God?
* This verse (3:10) has been seen, bizarrely, as pointing to a secret rapture that will see the Church removed from a time of great tribulation, still in our future. This comes from a reading of Revelation as being a prophecy about the original readers’ distant future – rather than a a word of comfort and warning to the actual addressees, who lived in Asia Minor in the first century. It also sees the seven letters as describing the seven ages of the church until Christ returns, rather than being actual messages to actual churches. Because, yeah, that’s the obvious conclusion you’d draw, rather than taking the addressees literally.