philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are 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. Look, 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. I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying– I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.


12 responses

  1. This is not a passage I find much worthwhile in, and if others feel the same we might usefully press on. (?)>the true one, who has the key of> David, who opens and no one will >shut, who shuts and no one opens:Isaiah 22:22 about King Hezekiah’s steward, having gotten too uppity, being replaced by a new (& hopefully more trustworthy) man.The theme of this letter seems to be the idea that Israel, God’s originally chosen people, are being replaced in that position by the Christian churches.>I know that you have but little> power, and yet you have kept my >word and have not denied my name.Jacques Ellul makes much of this: “She escapes judgment because she has little power. Power according to men as well as the spirit of power which that brings about is truly the absolute enemy of God….. In reality it is Martha and Mary once more. Listening and faithfulness (which implies, of course, also putting into practice…[and due to this faithfulness] She exercises then a mysterious influence, not by the excess and superabundance of her actions and works, for it is God himself who converts and enlightens those in whose presence this church is found.”>I will make them come and bow down >before your feet, and they will >learn that I have loved you.Yuck! This refers to Isaiah’s prophecies of gentile subjection to the Jews, here turned around and not any prettier, taken literally. But the object is to say that those who are excluding them from their synagogue, subjecting them to potential Roman persecution as an unrecognized sect, will come to recognize God’s blessing on them.> Because you have kept my word of >patient endurance, I will keep you >from the hour of trial that is >coming on the whole world to test >the inhabitants of the earth.Malina’s book [co-authorized by John Pilch, please excuse my omission] says that the word translated “earth” here really means “the land,” that is, Israel. So this prophecy might date to before the destruction of the Temple? (by my perversal of the usual scholarly practice, which tends to date every prophecy after the time of its fulfillment!)> I will make you a pillar in the >temple of my God; you will never go >out of it.Edward Edinger (the Jungian) refers to I Peter: [Christ] is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourself close to him so that you, too, may be living stones making a spiritual house… “The idea is that individuals can be stones that go to make up a temple. When I read of this particular gift, I thought immediately of a dream reported by Max Zeller… ‘A temple of consciousness was being built. As far as I could see–ahead, behind, right and left–there were incredible numbers of people building on gigantic pillars. I, too, was building on a pillar. The whole building process was in its very beginning, but the foundation was already there; the rest of the building was starting to go up, and I and many others were working on it.'”When Jung was told about this dream, he said: ‘Yes, you know, that is the temple we all build on. We don’t know the people because, believe me, they build in India and China and in Russia and all over the world. That is the new religion. You know how long it will take until it is built? About six hundred years.’ ” Although Edinger’s book applied Revelation to our contemporary world, he was not doing this as a literal prediction, but interpreting it as a dream with tremendous contemporary power, expressing something in our collective psyche that will either have to be dealt with consciously, or else break loose in what we nowadays call “apocalyptic” fashion. This may be worth considering as we go on…

  2. Troubles with this passage. One — Synagogue of Satan. Okay. Not too subtle here are we? The world is carved up into the guys in the white hats and guys in the black hats. Not a grey hat in sight.And the white hat types are not really heroic do-gooders for all that. they are powerless folks whose only claim to fame is continuing to speak their truth in the teeth of murderous persecution. Issue two — behold I’m coming soon. A tiny bit embarassing after 2000 years don’t you think?This letter then really witnesses to a way of being in this world that doesn’t speak too much to clean liberal churchy peace and social action types with their Volvos and Birkenstocks.But then again. Don’t think it really has a whole lot to say to the conservative pro-Bush pro bomb the Muddled east into submission to truth justice and the ‘Murican way types either. Which may be a good thing. After all, what’s the point of divine revelation anyway if all it does is underwrite the lifestyles we’re already living and confirms us in our own prejudices?

  3. Good, I guess there still is some juice in this one (or at least in the letters in general. (& I was beginning to wonder if my chattersome ways were driving everyone off!))”Synagogue of Satan”… I thought we’d already run this down to the original role of Satan as God’s prosecuting angel. A rival synagogue that denounces the Christians as “not really Jews” is not at all the bunch of devil-worshippers that this phrase suggests in our day.As to “I’m coming soon,” the original Quaker theology as I understand it was: “He’s already here!”The book certainly does not underwrite our contemporary notions of what real “power” is, so we aren’t going to find backing for anyone’s hopes of gradually acquiring power and bringing down God’s Kingdom on our own. It wouldn’t be God’s Kingdom if we could do that, would it? We shouldn’t conclude that our role is merely to sit in the stands and eat popcorn, but I’m still far from knowing what it should be.That was one of the good things about William Stringfellow’s take on all this: that if you had something and could deduce a specific set of ethical rules from it, then it was not the Word of God. Which (ala “continuing revelation”?) is always speaking to our particular situation.

  4. Synagogue of Satan. Yes we went there before.Having said this, I have two points. First it is still aperjorative here whether we want it to carry all the weight of medieval angelogy with it or not. Synagogue of Satan, may not denote irreperably lost souls, but these folks are still the guys in the black hats, the them not us in the us-them dialectic.Second, while I grant that Ha’Satan was God’s prosecuting attorney for folks like Job — I’m unconvinced by the arguments that he was so for Jesus’ generation or for anyone afterwards. Further down the pike we see a whole mess of malevolent folks poured out into a lake of fire. Not exactly a reward for faithful service. The Ha’Satan is not mentioned there by name but I believe he’s implied.BTW, my absence has been due to personal issues, as I belive has Larry’s. Don’t kno about Crystal. Though you may be right — these letters do repeat themselves somewhat.

  5. I agree that “synagogue of Satan” is a wee bit perjorative, and that the overall tone towards them is not friendly.Walter Wink has this long examination of the various references to Satan, both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament–and they generally do relate to his role as an angel of God, although as time goes on he’s increasingly seen as too fond of his job, getting out of hand. Where Jesus says that Satan “was always a liar,” he isn’t just maligning some wicked being–He’s saying that the spirit which accuses us of ‘sin’ is not the angel of light we’re prone to take it for. That the truth of us is good, not evil.This black-hats/white-hats orientation you dislike–That is what “Satan” really stands for, and our author is all too much under the influence. But there’s also some socially-redeeming value in the book, honest!There are other ways to look at that “lake of fire” business. Jacques Ellul has no humans whatsoever going into it, no doubt based on some French Protestant tradition I’m unfamiliar with. Wink has people continuing to be tormented by desire, not necessarily such a bad thing–but identifies the lake with the “sea of glass” in front of God’s throne. So far as this expresses a developing notion of “Hell”, I like what Rumi says (but I see someone’s bought my copy of that book!) about the spirits of the damned being happier than they ever were in this life, because now they constantly see God.

  6. But we’re not disputing whether humans go there — we can dispute that later. Does the Ha’Satan?

  7. I suppose it depends on whether you agree with Origen.But there’s another question involved: Is a “spirit” the same thing as “a sentient being”?If “Satan” is a sentient being with judgemental, punitive tendencies, I agree with Origen that the mercy of God would extend to him, and the power of God would be sufficient for his cure. If “Satan” instead is our tendency to condemn self and others for our God-given flaws, there may well come a time “he” can be disposed of, leaving no one there to suffer, as there never really was any “one” there.

  8. Okay. Firstly, what does Origen say? Doeas he think Ha’Satan is destiend to be saved? I know he speculated that all humans were saved.Your point about the sentience of Ha’Stan and other unclean spirits — and the powers and principalities a la Wink, Stringfellow, Berkhof, is well taken. I’m really not sure — spirit without sentience is hard to grapple with — an these critetrs are remarkably adaptive. If not sentient — they are certainly homostatic systems — responsive (or at least reactive to change).I wonder even if they are our own tendencies and not independent entities whether redemption may be possible. Perhaps those “God-give flaws” are not all flaws (all good things come from God, the father of light). Alternately, some may not be God-given. Like a pearl, if we perceive something God-given as an irritant rather than the gift it is, do we turn it into something else, something pretty and smooth to us but not what God made it to be?That persecuting spirit within, if it could have a vision correction (and learn to stop lying) may very well be doing God’s work.

  9. Yes, this doctrine is probably the one that made Origen officially “a heretic.”Wink talks about the powers as “the inwardness” of institutions, which to me would demand sentience, but I don’t know; does a bank have the Buddha Nature? (Mu!)A computer can “reason,” certainly can be programmed to be adaptive in surprising ways. Sentient? Sentience is not an externally-perceptible property. What about Hamlet? Or Myshkin? Do spirits of abstract qualities suffer pain or fear “death”?In _The Lathe of Heaven_, a character with miraculous powers is induced to “solve the race problem.” He dreams, and when he awakes, the entire human race is battleship grey, has never been anything else. But neither Martin Luther King not BB King has ever existed. The more problems he “solves” this way, the more colorless and drab the world becomes. God needed some way to tell one human from another, and so, while every quality in God is potentially in us, we do differ in which qualities we’re inclined to access, how easily and with what flavor we express them. So my notion is that our flaws are “God-given,” but probably as you say given to be worked on, not treasured forever as is.What didst Early Friends say? That “the Light” is “that which discloses sin in us”? Hmmmmmmmmmm!

  10. Hi you guys. sorry I haven’t been commenting, but I have been reading … just can’t always think of anything to add.About Satan, Wikipedia says …In the Bible the one named Devil and Satan is shown to be an angel who rebelled against God – the one who spoke through the serpent and seduced Eve into disobeying God’s command. He is also identified therein as the accuser of Job, the tempter of the Gospels, and the dragon in the Book of Revelation. It is widely believed that before his betrayal he was the highest of all angels and the “brightest in the sky.” His pride is considered a reason why he would not bow to God as all other angels did, but sought to rule heaven himself. He is called “the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24); “the ruler of the world” and even “the god of this world.” (2Cor. 4:4) The Bible book of Revelation describes how Satan is cast out of Heaven, down to the earth, having “great anger” and waging war with those “who have the work of bearing witness to Jesus” until he is destroyed forever in the “lake of fire.” (Rev. 12:7-17; 20:10)I’m interested in Ignatian spirituality, and Ignatius called Satan “the bad spirit” or “the emeny, adversary” and saw him as influencing people to turn away from God … not just a part of peoples’ personality but as existing objectively. I’m not sure where I stand on this.I saw this somewhere about Origen … According to Origen, even Satan will be brought back to G-d at the restoration of the creation.

  11. Well I’m here, David, taking it all in. But I don’t feel prepared to contribute at this point.My primary preoccupation at the moment is how to present Revelation to the Gainesville Friends’ Bible Study group as a one shot deal of an hour or two.

  12. Leonardo Boff describes a peasant bible study using shadow puppets. The story from chapters 12-13 (the dragon, the beast, the false lamb) is recounted/retold using the puppets and a narrator. Then the gathered group takes turns naming the heads of the beast — poverty, police, hunger — with the anmes of things that oppress them and “make war on the saints to conquer them”.It would take a lot of prep but I have wondered what that kind of approach might look like in a North American middle class church.

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