Saturday, March 19, 2011

Revelation Chapter Three, Part 3 of 7

3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy
The sixth church, Philadelphia, was one of only two churches among the seven that was not admonished for its faults; the first of the seven being Smyrna. After Smyrna the church suffered false teachers in Pergamos, moral and doctrinal corruption in Thyatira, and spiritual deadness in Sardis. Philadelphia is a rejuvenated, vitalized, spiritual and sanctified church, eager to go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thusly, the first title Jesus uses to address this church is “he that is holy.”

Strong’s Concordance defines holiness as an attribute uniquely God’s; there is no other being in Heaven or earth that can, of itself, be ascribed as holy. The only reason an angel, man, place or ceremony is holy is because God’s life has somehow sanctified it and made it holy. God must be present in that person or place, or there is no holiness. All of God’s attributes are reflected to some dim degree in His creatures save this; holiness is an alien, entirely godly attribute that He must suffuse us with or mankind is utterly void of it. Were we capable of mustering holiness apart from God’s direct interaction in a life we could fit ourselves for Heaven. Heaven is holy because God dwells in it. Angels are holy because they bask in the presence of God. Saints are holy because we have the life of God in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

God’s holiness implies separation. God is separate from His creation and His creatures. God is not a part of this creation, this universe of matters and laws. When something in the Old Testament was consecrated to God it became holy; it was devoted and entirely set apart for God’s personal pleasure and use. It needed to be made clean so God could interact with said object in a way other than wrath. In other words God needed to provide a way to bring objects to a state in which they were clean enough to be approached by Him without provoking His hatred of sin, typified by a ceremonial vessel’s original unclean state.

The same is true in us. Unless there is a setting apart by God, the cleansing of Christ’s blood and the baptism of the Holy Spirit purging us of our natural and practiced sin God cannot approach us without being provoked to wrath. We are by nature children of wrath while unsaved. Our sin separates us from God, because God is holy and we are not. When we believe on Jesus Christ and receive God the Holy Spirit as an earnest of our future state of immortality with Him we are cleansed, sanctified, made holy. First we were separated FROM God by our sin; now through the miracle of the new birth we are separated TO God and separated FROM the world. As He (Jesus) is, so are we in this world, 1st John 4:17.

God’s holiness is difficult to grasp on even a fundamental level. God is uncreated. Our Triune God is eternal and immortal in the only true sense of the terms, since He has no beginning or end. With God past and future events are irrelevant because God is separate from our creation. This means that time holds no meaning to Him. When God speaks of things that have occurred and things to occur in the Bible He uses these terms for our benefit, so we can grasp what He’s saying. They hold no relevance for Him; and the sooner we understand this the more clearly we will begin to see the omnipotence and sovereignty of the God whom we serve.

Christians are commanded to be holy as God is holy, 1st Peter 1:16. This is a command for practical separation from this sinful world system. In Biblical terms Peter is speaking about sanctification, the salvation from sin’s power in our daily life as we abide in Christ and learn to walk in the Spirit, since we already live in the Spirit, Galatians 5:25. But note the important difference: Christians are commanded to be holy; we are at the same instant reminded that God, by nature, IS holy. Just as God is love (1st John 4:8) God is holiness personified. He is the source and originator of holiness; and the holiness God finds us acceptable by is that imputed by Jesus Christ. We are holy before God only because Christ’s sacrifice removed our sin debt and bequeathed us with Jesus’ infinite worthiness.

A Christian who follows Peter’s command to be holy as God is holy produces what the Bible refers to as the fruit of the Spirit; contrasted to the works of the flesh. The works of the flesh are typified in Galatians 5:19-21. The fruit of the Spirit, that is works done as we rely on God and learn to trust in His ability to work in us and through us, is also listed, Galatians 5:22-23. One day the motives of every deed will be made manifest; and everyone will give account of himself before God for deeds done in the flesh, 2nd Corinthians 5:10. “Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid,” 1st Timothy 5:24-25.

I mention this because as we grasp God’s holiness we begin to understand the motives for doing deeds in Christ’s name must begin with a motivating factor outside of us. Christ is holy; what He did for us wasn’t done to aggrandize Himself but to benefit the many. He humbled Himself, bore the cross, suffered sin and death and demonstrated His love TOWARD us. God’s love that reaches down to man is grace. Man should now be motivated to reciprocate in love that reaches up to God; and such love is worship. If our deeds done in the flesh reflect a love of God, we are worshiping Him in what we do and are storing up treasures in Heaven.

3:7 he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth
Our Lord is the truth, John 14:6. He is also the faithful and true witness, Revelation 3:14. Earlier in the same verse Jesus stated to the church that He is holy in Himself. We know that only God is holy; it is an attribute reserved only for deity. Likewise only God is true, Romans 3:4; 2nd Corinthians 1:18. Jesus then is the holy and true God approaching His church with exhortation.

As a man Jesus claims the key of David; it is He that opened the way to Heaven by the sacrifice of Himself and it is He who closes the way to the Lake of Fire by His infallible justice. Specifically Christ here is speaking about having the key of David. David was king of Israel, the greatest king of his time and arguably the greatest Hebrew king (apart from our Lord) to have ever lived. What he allowed came to pass, and what he forbade was quickly stopped. This was the prerogative of the king. Jesus claims the authority of David as a greater King, Psalm 110:1; Mark 12:35-37. What our Lord commands to be open shall, and what He commands to be closed shall. The way to salvation for the Gentiles had been opened through Peter (Acts 10) and proclaimed through Paul’s ministry, Acts 22:21.

In first century Asia there was a rival to Christ’s authority. His name was Janus, and he was known as the two-headed god, and the god of the hinge. His image was one of a man with two faces looking in two directions at once, so his head “hinged” between the pair. Janus boasted that he could open and no one could close, and close while no one could open, claiming authority and ability only God possessed. Our Lord was reminding the church that there was truly only one with this power, and it was not the demon god, Janus.

3:8 for thou hast a little strength
I have been told that the article “a” in the phrase “a little strength” isn’t actually in the Greek, so the phrase may simply read “thou hast little strength.” It means that these saints were not relying on numbers, affluence, natural skills or any other human contrivance; they were excelling because they were abiding in the true source of Christian power: Christ Jesus. Have you ever wondered why the writers of the New Testament and Jesus always spoke so often about the humble being exalted, while the exalted would be humbled? This is it. If we have little strength God may work through us to accomplish things simply not possible by human effort, and our Lord receives the glory. Only someone genuinely humbled by the Lord, emptied of self and selfish pursuit, can be such a vessel. Have you heard of George Muller? He did the impossible back in 19th century England by providing for thousands of orphans while his income was derived by donations from fellow Christians. He told his needs only to God in prayer, and was never disappointed as those needs were met daily. This saint once said that one day George Muller died; died to self and became alive to God. This is a Christian’s path to power: death to our self-centered lives to enthrone Jesus Christ, with us as servants whose new desire is our Master’s interests. If this is not your desire, you will never have this type of victory with God.

Paul wrote of this paradigm: “And [Jesus]said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong,” 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10.

It is when a believer is brought to this relationship with the Lord that our weakness can be perfected by the strength which God supplies, Hebrews 11:34. The heroic deeds of the saints in the Old Testament weren’t done by human industry; they were accomplished by the ramrod of God’s might. Samson slew Philistines because the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, Judges 15:14. David turned back armies because God was with him, 2nd Samuel 8:14. Likewise the Philadelphian church was now following the saints of old, and trusted wholly in the Lord. They leaned upon Him rather than their own understanding and it was the difference between the spiritual deadness of Sardis and the vitality they presently enjoyed, Proverbs 3:5-6.

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