Kingdom Come: Revelation 3:7-13 prepared by Joe Ellis on Feb. 28, 2021
We are on our sixth out of the seven churches that Jesus sends a message to in the book of Revelation, — Philadelphia. Jesus’ words to Philadelphia are quite similar to what he has said to other churches, they are also in some ways very unique. Today, I want to focus on the unique aspects of this letter — but I’ll briefly touch on some of the similarities between Philadelphia and the other churches. Like many of the other churches, this church is not appearing strong — Jesus knows they’re just holding on — he says, “I know you have but little power, but you have kept my word and not denied my name”. Philadelphia gets the same basic message as the other churches: is hold fast! Hold fast to the faith. Persevere. Don’t let anyone take from you your victors crown. The crown Jesus Jesus is talking about is the same one he mentions to Smyrna — he’s talking about a laurel crown athletes were given after winning a race. Jesus encourages Philadelphia t persevere, keep running the race, don’t let anyone take your crown from you. Jesus warns them that a wave of persecution is about to break out over the whole world — but Jesus promises that he will keep them from the hour of trial. He doesn’t say how he will do that, just that he will protect them. Maybe Jesus is protecting Philadelphia because they have already been through much. Like the church in Smyrna, Philadelphia has had difficulties with the other Jewish people in the area. Like the church in the city of Smyrna, it’s likely that the Christian Jews in Philadelphia have also been kicked out of the synagogue. It’s possible that the Jews in Philadelphia were handing over Christian Jews to authorities for not submitting to worship of the emperor. So for those jews, Jesus has strong words of judgment — they are betraying his people and are not submitting to Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus as Messiah, is a theme that has not been as loud in the other messages to the churches. He is the long awaited King in the line of David. In His hand is the key of David — the key which opens the door into the messianic Kingdom. Having opened the door to that Kingdom, no one will ever be able to shut it again. And when He shuts that door, no one will be able to open it again. Jesus has the key to the Kingdom. That’s how Jesus introduces Himself, and then Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia, “I have placed before you an open door.” That declaration has really captured my imagination. Jesus says to the church, “I have placed before you an open door.”
There is such a strong connection between Jesus holding the key of David and that door before the church in Philadelphia. That door must in some way be a doorway between our world and the messianic Kingdom. The Kingdom of heaven. The place that so much of the rest of Revelation takes place. Jesus says that He has set before this church in Philadelphia that door. Have you ever been near a door where you are wondering what’s happening on the other side? Whenever I see a sign on a door that says, “Employees only”, I’m always so curious what magical things are on the other side of the door that only employees get access too! Usually its just a mop and bucket. Well, here is a door that lives up to our imagination — a door that opens up to the Kingdom of the Messiah. If you keep reading Revelation, you’ll see that John actually gets to go through that door in the very next chapter. John tells us, “I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” So, by the Spirit, John goes through that door. What does he see! It’s not a mop and a bucket. On the other side of that door is a Kingdom. In that Kingdom is a throne. On that throne is One seated whom words cannot describe! Around that throne twenty-four thrones and the twenty-four elders dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their head. As John looks, his ears are overcome by rumbling claps of thunder — yet he keeps looking and — look! — before the throne are seven flaming torches which is the sevenfold Spirit of God. The vision goes on — all this is just on the other side of that door. This is a picture of the Kingdom soon to come to earth.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Jesus says, “I have set before you an open door.” What does that passage do for your imagination? “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Picture a tiny group of Christians in a city in the middle east. Picture a small group of ten or twenty worshipers, gathering each Sunday and throughout the week to come worship their Creator and Saviour. One might think this to be not so remarkable, until you hear that they’ve got this kind of open door before them — and knowing what is on the other side of that door.
What impact does an open door have on your house? We know too well in this season. Several times a day I call out to my kids, “close the door!” Doors keep things separate. Doors keep warmth inside and winter outside. And when doors are open the different climates influence each other. Jesus has set before this small church in Philadelphia an open door. The door is wide open. If doors keep things separate, that open door reminds us that the heavenly kingdom is not so separate from the earth. Just as warm air from our house rushes into the winter when that door is open — what do you think happens when we stand before the open door of heaven. Have you ever felt the warmth of the fire of the the seven-fold Spirit of God as you’ve stood before that open door?
Not all churches have forgotten about this reality of the open door that joins those things that we think are usually so separate. If you ever go worship at an Orthodox Church, you’ll notice they close the door of the sanctuary when the worship service begins. We do that too, but its so we can’t hear the kids during Sunday school. The Orthodox close their sanctuary door for a different reason. They know that in their worship services, their sanctuary has gone through a doorway into the heavenly Kingdom. They know they are in the presence of Go. They know they’ve gone through an open door.
If you really believed that, what would change for you? What would it take for you to believe that as we gather in worship there is an open door before us.
In a famous quote, Annie Dillard says, “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us to where we can never return.”
Even in this weird virtual state that we are in right now — do you think there is no open door? Where are you right now? Do you think you are still at home? How would you know? How do you know that God hasn’t spirited you away to another reality that looks like him. How do you know that when we eat the Lord’s supper together in a few minutes, that you and I aren’t closer to each other and closer to Jesus than we could ever imagine. Put on your crash helmets. The veil separating heaven and earth isn’t as think as you might suppose.
Now, there are some who wonder if this doorway the Jesus put before Philadelphia is more about God opening a door to proclaim the Gospel. They take their cue from Colossians, where Paul said, “Pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the world, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison.” Some wonder if before Philadelphia is a doorway to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe. Let’s go back to thinking about the Orthodox Church. Remember they shut the door of their sanctuary — recognizing that they are entering into a different realm, a realm where the separation between heaven and earth is only in appearance. They worship, they hear the Word, they Celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And then, they open again the door of their sanctuary — they step back into the world. But they’re not the same as they were before. They step through the door and are bringing with them the Kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom comes with them. The Kingdom comes with us. That’s what fuels the conversations we’ve been having about how we live our our mission as Christians and as a church. We work for the Kingdom of God in in our communities because the Kingdom comes with us. Knowing that the Kingdom comes with us shapes the choices we make — after all, knowing that you’ve been transported into the throne room of God only to reemerge in the world — wouldn’t that change the way you live? Knowing that the Kingdom of God and its mercy, justice, fellowship, love, peace are clinging to you. Knowing that the Kingdom comes with shapes how we welcome lonely people, people who are outsiders, who have no community. Knowing that the Kingdom comes with us shapes how we advocate for look for people and places lacking justice — people who are in danger of being lost in the system, people who are disadvantaged because of mental illness, people who’s lives are threatened because they don’t have a voice, or the way we care for the land around us. Knowing that the Kingdom comes with us shapes our conversation on mission — it changes the way we talk about a soup night, a community garden, a support group in a high-fashion boutique, a playhouse. The Kingdom comes with us and that changes everything we do in this worldis hurting for want of the Gospel.
In living the reality that the Kingdom comes with us, we aren’t being idealistic, we aren’t fooling ourselves into thinking somethings happening when its not. We are being prophetic. Jesus says to the church in Philadelphia — hold fast, 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.” There is so much there, but what I want to underscore is that we live like the Kingdom comes because we know the Kingdom will one day come in fullnesss. The Kingdom of Heaven will come to earth and this world will be transformed. When we live like the Kingdom is with us, we are being prophetic. We are prophetically pointing to the day when the city of God will burst through the doorframe and arrive in triumphal procession to our land. The Kingdom will come, Jesus will come. Whatever we do in the name of Jesus and His Kingdom is a prophetic declaration that the Kingdom will come and is coming in full. On that day, what our small little actions here and now have been pointing to — the day when the one seated on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new.” Jesus, come quickly.