While exiled on the Isle of Patmos, John was instructed to write to the seven churches. The church of Philadelphia was one of the only two churches; the other was Smyrna, to which no reproof or rebuke was given. These two were commended because of their obedience.
Today, the Christian church as a whole seems to have forgotten that God’s grace, His mercy, and His love do not excuse disobedience, nor does it make it unnecessary to obey His word. Professed Christians boldly commit premeditated sins believing that they will be forgiven. These premeditated sins are presumptuous sins.
The church of Philadelphia was not perfect. The Bible record does not say that the members never made mistakes or stumbled morally, but that they were faithful. It is said of it: “You … have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Revelation 3:8. This church was obedient. Only those who are obedient and develop a holy character will be protected in the time of trouble. (See Revelation 3:10.)
Within all churches there are two groups: those who make a profession to believe and those who act on their belief. It is this second group that make up the true church. Within the Ephesian church were some who claimed to be apostles but they were not. They were liars.
There were people in the church at Smyrna that Jesus said were of the synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9). In the church at Pergamos, there were Nicolaitans of the Gnostic sect. Jesus said that he hated what they were teaching (Revelation 2:15). He had a few things against the church at Thyatira because they put up with the spirit of Jezebel in their church, which seduced the people to commit fornication (Revelation 2:20). And at the church at Sardis, most of them were spiritually dead; there were very few who had not defiled their garments (Revelation 3:4). Every church suffered problems, even the church of Philadelphia.
The church of Philadelphia represents the church that is living in the time of the end and preparing for Jesus to come. By the account that John saw there will still be people in this church who are part of the synagogue of Satan. How can this church be recognized?
The Philadelphia church is a faithful church. It has kept Christ’s word and not denied His name. Three facts are immediately apparent about this church.
The Church Is Not Hierarchical
A hierarchy is a body of clergy organized into successive ranks, or grades, with each level subordinate to the one above. The Philadelphian church is not a hierarchy because it is a faithful church. Referring to the early believers: “For a time it had seemed that the people of Galilee would receive Jesus as the Messiah, and that the power of the hierarchy in that region would be broken.” The Desire of Ages, 395. The ministry of Jesus did not build up the Jewish hierarchy. Rather it tended to tear it down.
The Jews believed that they had a representative form of government but, in fact, they had a hierarchy. The Roman Empire at one time was a republic. The United States government was patterned very largely after the Roman Republic, which had a government with a senate and popularly elected officials. Julius Caesar was assassinated because he was taking too much power and the people wanted to retain the republic. Though they claimed their republic up to the last days of the Empire, the last 400 plus years, it was actually a military empire. You may say that you are not a hierarchy power and that you have a representative form of government, but what counts is how the system actually works. In the time of Christ the Jews had a hierarchical church government. And concerning Jesus, “The fame of the new Teacher had spread beyond the limits of Palestine, and, notwithstanding the attitude of the hierarchy [the Jewish church], the feeling was widespread that this might be the hoped-for Deliverer.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 3.
A hierarchical church government is one of the prominent identifying features of Babylon and of the Roman Catholic Church.
A Hierarchical Church Uses State Power
“When the leading churches of the United States, uniting upon such points of doctrine as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions, then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result.” The Great Controversy, 445.
An image of the Roman hierarchy is formed when the churches use the power of the state to sustain its decrees to enforce their will. The Philadelphian church, called a “faithful church” did not do this.
“The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.” The Desire of Ages, 509.
Notice, though Jesus kept Himself completely separate from civil government, He recognized its authority. When tempted by the Jews with the question, “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?” Jesus said, “Show me a coin.” He asked, “Whose is this image?” And they said, “Caesar’s.” He said, “You pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but render to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 20:17–21, literal translation).
Jesus recognized the place of civil government and He did not interfere with its role. Though the government was corrupt, He did not attack or interfere with it and kept His mission separate. He is our example and the example for the church to follow. As individuals and as a church, we are to keep aloof from civil government.
Never Mix the Sacred with the Common
The Philadelphian church does not attempt to mix worldly philosophy with the religion of Christ—the sacred and the common. The Philadelphian church does not try to mix the theories of eastern mysticism with the gospel or with Christian life and practice. The Philadelphian church does not try to mix the religious exercises of the Jesuit Ignatius Loyola, with the Christian religion.
The Philadelphian church does not teach people to use vain repetitions in their prayer life. The Philadelphian church does not foster, promote, or teach people to practice what is called spiritual formation. “Anciently it was a great sin for the people of God to give themselves away to the enemy, and open before them either their perplexity or their prosperity. Under the ancient economy it was a sin to offer sacrifice upon the wrong altar.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, 411.
Elijah on Mount Carmel did not use the altar used make sacrifice to Baal. He built the altar of the Lord. “It was a sin to offer incense kindled by the wrong fire.
“We are in danger of mingling the sacred and the common. The holy fire from God is to be used in our efforts.” Ibid. We are not to mix the sacred and the common. We are not to take the theories of eastern mysticism or worldly philosophy and try to mix them up with the Christian religion. That was the problem with Gnosticism in the early Christian centuries. It attempted to mix Greek philosophy with the Christian religion, which ultimately resulted in the papacy.
“The holy fire from God is to be used in our efforts. The true altar is Christ; the true fire is the Holy Spirit.” Ibid. There is a tremendous meaning in those few words. There are things that are common and are all right in their place, but they are not to be mixed with the Christian religion.
“The true altar is Christ; the true fire is the Holy Spirit. This is our inspiration. It is only as the Holy Spirit leads and guides a man that he is a safe counselor. If we turn aside from God and from His chosen ones to inquire at strange altars we shall be answered according to our works.” Ibid. Notice, only the person who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit is a safe counselor. Just because somebody is a minister does not mean that that person is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
There are identifying characteristics of the church of Philadelphia:
- No hierarchical church government.
- No use of the power of the state to enforce her will.
- No mixing the sacred and the common.
In all the letters to the churches, only to the Philadelphian church is given the promise of divine keeping power in the time of trouble. But remember, even within this faithful church, the true church, there are people who are of the synagogue of Satan. Who are they?
“Christ speaks of the church over which Satan presides as the synagogue of Satan. Its members are the children of disobedience. They are those who choose to sin, who labor to make void the holy law of God. It is Satan’s work to mingle evil with good, and to remove the distinction between good and evil. Christ would have a church that labors to separate the evil from the good, whose members will not willingly tolerate wrong-doing, but will expel it from the heart and life.” The Review and Herald, December 4, 1900.
“The origin of false commandments may be clearly discerned by the principles which underlie them. All that is not in accordance with the known and expressed will of God, is at enmity with God, and has its origin in the synagogue of Satan.” The Signs of the Times, June 11, 1894
Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders and priests professed to be God’s people but they crucified the Son of God. There will be those of the synagogue of Satan in the Philadelphia church at the end of time who will crucify Jesus Christ, the Son of God, afresh (Hebrews 6:6).
How do we, as Christians, crucify Christ afresh? There are at least seven ways:
- By engaging in any kind of persecution of His people. The Lord says that the one that touches you, touches the pupil, the sensitive spot, of His eye. “They [the apostles] were men of whom the world was not worthy, and by killing them the Jews crucified afresh the Son of God. So it will be again. The authorities will make laws to restrict religious liberty. They assume the right that is God’s alone. They will think they can force the conscience, which God alone should control. Even now they are making a beginning; this work they will continue to carry forward till they reach a boundary over which they cannot step. God will interpose in behalf of His loyal, commandment-keeping people.” The Desire of Ages, 630.
“God has a controversy with the world. When the judgment shall sit, and the books shall be opened, He has an awful account to settle, which would now make the world fear and tremble were men not blinded and bewitched by satanic delusions and deceptions. God will call the world to account for the death of His only begotten Son, Whom to all intents and purposes the world has crucified afresh, and put to open shame in the persecution of His people. The world has rejected Christ in the person of His saints, has refused His messages in the refusal of the messages of prophets, apostles, and messengers. They have rejected those who have been colaborers with Christ, and for this they will have to render an account.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 39.
The twentieth century is the most bloody, the most violent in history when more of God’s people have been murdered and martyred than in any previous time of which there is record.
What about when we persecute each other in the church? The way we treat others is accounted as done to the Lord; the way we speak or the way we deal in business, however we treat each other by word or deed. It touches the apple of His eye.
“In as much as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to Me” (Matthew 25:36–41, literal translation).
- By taking a fellow Christian to court. We are strictly forbidden to take our brother or sister to a worldly court. “When troubles arise in the church we should not go for help to lawyers not of our faith. God does not desire us to open church difficulties before those who do not fear Him. He would not have us depend for help on those who do not obey His requirements. Those who trust in such counselors show that they have not faith in God. By their lack of faith the Lord is greatly dishonored, and their course works great injury to themselves. In appealing to unbelievers to settle difficulties in the church they are biting and devouring one another, to be ‘consumed one of another’ (Galatians 5:15).
“These men cast aside the counsel God has given, and do the very things He has bidden them not to do. They show that they have chosen the world as their judge, and in heaven their names are registered as one with unbelievers. Christ is crucified afresh, and put to open shame. Let these men know that God does not hear their prayers. They insult His holy name, and He will leave them to the buffetings of Satan until they shall see their folly and seek the Lord by confession of their sin.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 299.
God’s church is to be one family in Christ. If we have differences, we are to get together and pray and ask the Lord to help us to solve our problems, our misunderstandings with one another, but we are never to take one another to civil court and publicly air our differences.
- By being a Christian who never grows up. When a person is first converted they are a “babe in Christ.” Peter says that person is to “grow in grace” (11 Peter 3:18). Paul rebuked the Hebrews when he told them that they had had enough time to be on solid food and that they should not have to be on milk anymore (see Hebrews 5:13, 14). “Every Christian who is indeed a Christian must grow. … If his light does not shine more and more brightly, his faith becomes weak, his love grows feeble. And unless he sees and acknowledges his danger, he is doing the cause of God more harm than an avowed unbeliever. Piety leaves the soul-temple. He turns carelessly away from duties and responsibilities. The Son of God is by him crucified afresh and put to open shame.” The Upward Look, 74.
A Christian baby is a wonderful thing, and the Lord loves all seekers just the way they are, but He wants all to grow into the full stature of men and women in Christ.
- Reject God’s law. “Those who reject God’s law crucify the Son of God afresh.” The Review and Herald, January 30, 1900. These people claim to love Jesus but refuse to keep His law.
- Live a life of self-indulgence. “The word of God draws a dividing line between His followers and the worldling. Over that line, toward Egypt, is the life of self-indulgence, fashion, frivolity, and the veriest slavery to sin. Over that line, God is forgotten. When the professed followers of Christ should be fighting the Lord’s battles, how often are they out of the path of duty, on Satan’s ground. Christ is wounded when any who bear His name are found there; He is crucified afresh, and put to an open shame by those who profess to love Him.” The Signs of the Times, October 21, 1880.
- Live a life of selfishness. “God has a controversy with those who use His gifts for self-gratification. When the judgment shall sit, and the books are opened, these will have a fearful account to settle. If they were not blinded by the enemy, they would fear and tremble at the thought of the time when God will avenge the death of His Son, whom, by their selfishness, they have crucified afresh and put to open shame.” Ibid., July 24, 1901.
Jesus’ whole life displayed the unselfishness of the character of God. When He was crucified, love and selfishness stood face to face. It was the greatest display of unselfishness on God’s part and also the greatest display of selfishness on the part of the devil and the Jews.
- Fanaticism. Mentioning fanaticism makes deadly enemies of those who are involved in it. “Our testimony was rejected, and they clung tenaciously to their errors. Elder Dammon and several others were baptized many times and frequently by the hand of a woman, Mrs. Ayers, a female preacher who had drunk deep of fanaticism. We had done our duty, and with hearts filled with sorrow we turned from these our brethren, whom we had loved, reluctant to leave them in error and delusion. These souls that I had warned turned from me because I had told them they were in error and in darkness. Many of this company went on further and further in delusion and deception, following impressions and impulse rather than the Word of God, until they became disgusted with their own wicked course.
“A fearful stain was brought upon the cause of God which would cleave to the name of Adventist like the leprosy. Satan triumphed, for this reproach would cause many precious souls to fear to have any connection with Adventists. All that had been done wrong would be exaggerated, and would lose nothing by passing from one to the other. The cause of God was bleeding. Jesus was crucified afresh and put to open shame by His professed followers. The anguish of my spirit could not be described. My tears and prayers went up to God for His bleeding, suffering cause. I could see nothing that I could do to help those who refused to be helped.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 8, 237, 238.
Fanaticism, something very easy to fall into, is extremely dangerous. It was more dangerous to the Protestant Reformation than the papacy. One of the biggest problems facing Martin Luther and the rest of the reformers was the many forms of fanaticism that appeared during the Reformation. This was also a challenge for the early Adventist believers. Within the synagogue of Satan there are people who specialize in fanaticism, going beyond what the Word says and developing a theory out of it.
God is going to purify His church. We can be purified by having these problems taken out of our life or we can hold on to them and be separated from the church by divine providence. There is no need that any fall off the path. The Lord can help us to be part of the church that He purifies if we allow Him. “Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘thus says the Lord’ in its support.” The Great Controversy, 595.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” II Timothy 2:15.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.