The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never again leave it. Upon him I will write the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from My God), and My new name.
I. LITTLE. "Thou hast a little strength" (ver. 8), or rather, "Thou hast small power." It refers not to her spiritual strength, for that was not small, but perfected in her weakness. She was mighty through God who upheld and sustained her. Hence the expression is to be regarded as referring, probably, to her membership as but few in number, to her wealth as but very small, to her knowledge and gifts as being but slender, to great and distinguished men amongst her as being very rare, to her social position as being quite humble. Hence she was small in human esteem, one of those "weak things," which, however, God often chooses wherewith to accomplish his own purposes. And many a Church, beloved of the Lord, is like Philadelphia, having only "a little strength." But also she was -
II. MUCH TRIED. Looking at this letter, we can gather what some of these trials were. It seems that:
1. Their place amongst the people of God was denied. We gather this from what is said as to the assertion of the Jews, who, as at Galatia and everywhere else, affirmed that they only, the descendants of Abraham, were the Israel of God: none else had part or lot therein. In ver. 9 emphasis is to be laid on the word "they" in the sentence, "which say they are Jews." St. Paul was perpetually fighting against this exclusiveness, and was for ever teaching that in Christ Jesus there was "neither Jew nor Greek." But all the same, it caused considerable uneasiness amongst the early Gentile believers. There was much to be urged out of the Scriptures in favour of the real descendants of Abraham, especially if they were also "as touching the Law blameless." They seemed to many as a privileged order, a spiritual aristocracy, admission into whose circle was indeed to be desired. Hence so many Gentiles submitted to the rite of circumcision (cf. Epistle to the Galatians, passim). And the taunts of the Jews at Philadelphia against the Christians, as being not really God's people at all, was one form of the trials they were called upon to bear. And still there is many a believer, excommunicated by man, but not at all so by God; denied his place in earthly Churches, though it be abundantly his in the Church of the Firstborn. Catholics have denounced Protestants, and Protestants one another, and both have retorted, and all have been wrong, and sinful in being wrong, whenever those whom they have denounced have shown that they did unfeignedly trust and love and obey Christ the Lord. The cry, "The Church of the Lord, the Church of the Lord are we!" is often raised by those who have no right to it, and against those who have. Thus was it at Sardis.
2. They had to encounter active opposition. Endeavours seem to have been made to shut the door of usefulness which the Lord had opened for them. His emphatic declaration that none should shut that door implies that there had been those who had tried to do so. And how often since then have dominant and cruel Churches made the same attempt in regard to communities they did not like! Witness the persecutions of Vaudois and Waldenses in Switzerland, of Hussites and others in Bohemia, of Lollards, Protestants, and Puritans in England, of Covenanters in Scotland, and of Catholics in Ireland, - all has been, with more or less of difference, the repetition of what was done at Philadelphia in the days of St. John. And there appears to have been:
3. Attempts to make them apostatize. The meaning of the latter part of ver. 8 is, "Because though thou hast but little strength, nevertheless thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my Name." Hence we gather - and the tenses of the verbs used imply it also - that there had been some definite attempt of the kind we have said. Like as Saul in his persecuting days forced the unhappy Christians who fell into his power "to blaspheme," so similar force had apparently been used, but, by virtue of Christ's sustaining grace, with no effect. For, notwithstanding all, they were -
III. FAITHFUL. They kept Christ's word, and did not deny his Name; and the first was the cause of the last. Their history illustrates the value of the word of Christ. They clung to it, they would not let it go, they had nothing but this, but this they had and clave to. Twice is it named: "Thou hast kept my word;" "Thou hast kept the word of my patience." And this latter and fuller form reveals a further aid to their faith which they found in Christ's word. "For the word of Christ, as the Philadelphians knew it, was not a word calling them to easy and luxurious and applauded entrance into the kingdom, but to much tribulation first, and the kingdom with the glory of it afterwards." And not only as a word which told them at the beginning that patience would be needed, did it help them; but yet more as the word which revealed Christ their Lord as the great Example and Source and Rewarder of patience; so that, however hard to bear their trials might be, they could turn in thought to their Lord, and behold him meekly bearing his cross - so much heavier than theirs; and they had seen him also sustaining his tried servants again and again, and they knew that he would do the same for them, and they believed that he would assuredly reward their patience. Yes, it was the word of his patience to which they clung, and in the strength of which, though tempted and tried sorely, they would not deny his Name. And their way must be our way, their strength ours, when we are tried. And they were -
IV. GREATLY BLEST. The Lord gave them large reward. To this day the suffering Smyrna and the much-tried Philadelphia alone remain of these seven Churches. Through all manner of vicissitudes the Christian faith has been upheld by them to this day. But see the recompenses spoken of here.
1. Christ confesses them, and denies their slanderers. He pronounces for them and against their foes. Such is the significance of the august and sublime title which the Lord here assumes. It tells of the names of the Lord God of Israel. He was the Holy, the True, the King of Israel, of whom David, with his great authority opening and shutting according to his will, was the Old Testament type and representative. "The key of David" means the power and authority of David, and Christ claims to be as he was, and far more, the Representative of God, and the Possessor of his authority and power. Now, it was by this great and glorious Jehovah that the Jews at Philadelphia affirmed that the Church there was disowned and denied. They said, "You have no part in this God, but we only." But in utter contradiction of this falsehood, he, the Holy One himself, comes forward, and declares that the persecuted Church had part in him, but that they, her slanderers, had not. "Ye Jews say ye are Jews, but in any real sense ye are not; ye do lie; but this my despised, yet faithful Church, I have loved her, and I, the Holy, the True, the King of Israel, do now confess her as she has confessed me." And often and often has the Lord done the like of this. "When wrong has been done to any of his servants here on earth, he will redress it in heaven, disallowing and reversing there the unrighteous decrees of earth. It was in faith of this that Huss, when the greatest council which Christendom had seen for one thousand years delivered his soul to Satan, did himself confidently commend it to the Lord Jesus Christ; and many a faithful confessor that at Rome or Madrid has walked to the stake, his yellow san benito all painted over with devils, in token of those with whom his portion should be, has never doubted that his lot should be with him who retains in his own hands the key of David, who thus could open for him, though all who visibly represented here the Church had shut him out, with extreme malediction, at once from the Church militant here and the Church triumphant in heaven." And the grim cells of Newgate, and the bare bleak hedgerows of our own land, have often been the scenes of similar revelations to God's persecuted ones. God has taken their side, and pronounced for them as he did for the Church at Philadelphia.
2. Their Lord makes them abundantly useful. "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." His Name declared his power to do this, and here he affirms that he has exercised that power on their behalf. By the "open door," usefulness, opportunity of service and of doing much good, is meant (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 14:27; Colossians 4:3). Now, this Christ declared he had done for them. Perhaps it was by giving them favour in the sight of the people, or by breaking the hold of heathenism, arousing a spirit of inquiry, raising up able teachers, giving them entrance into fresh circles. Fidelity to Christ has given to it a key that will turn the most difficult lock, and open the most closely shut door.
3. Their enemies should submit themselves. As Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. And again and again out of the ranks of the Church's fiercest foes have come those who have first surrendered their hearts to her cause and then their lives to her service (cf. the conversion of Constantine and of Rome generally). In that this word was literally fulfilled.
4. They should be delivered from the hour of temptation - that dread hour which was drawing near so swiftly (cf. Psalm 91.). Perhaps they would be taken home first, delivered so "from the evil to come." And if not that, raised in heart, as the martyrs perpetually were, above all fear; or some wondrous deliverance should be found for them. They knew that hour was coming, and no doubt they had often shuddered at the prospect. But oh, what joy to be told by their Lord that he would deliver them!
5. The eternal recompense - the crown. Their Lord was quickly coming; let them hold on but a little longer, and then this crown should be theirs. In ver. 12 this crown of recompense is more fully described:
(1) As being made "a pillar in the temple of my God," i.e. they should perpetually abide there, dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever. Now we come and go, in fact and in spirit. Not so there. "He shall go no more out." It is a curious coincidence that amongst the ruins at Philadelphia there stands to this day a solitary tall pillar; it strikes the eye of the traveller, and suggests irresistibly this glorious promise made to the believers who lived there long ago. An ancient geographer says of the place, "It is full of earthquakes, and is daily shaken, now one part, and now another suffering, so that one wonders any should have been found to build or inhabit it." Now, to the Christians, who saw daily in their city the image of their own precarious position, Christ says, "I will make him who overcomes a pillar in the temple of my God," and he shall go no more out" - shall not totter and fall as these stone pillars do, but shall abide stable and sure for ever.
(2) As being identified with:
(a) God. "The Name of my God" Christ will write upon him. It shall be evident that he belongs to God. "Surely this was the Son of God" - so spake they who had crucified the Lord: they could not help seeing the Name of God written upon him.
(b) "The city of my God." Jews had cast them out, but the God of the true "holy city" had declared it theirs, and that their true home was his own city. There are many of whom we say, "We hope they are going to heaven;" there are some of whom we say, "We are sure they are," for their identification with heaven is so complete.
(c) Christ's own Name - that aspect of Christ's love by which the believer realizes that he is Christ's and Christ is his.
"So, gracious Saviour, on my breast,
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God.I. THE CONQUEROR IS TO BE A TEMPLE-PILLAR. Not an outside, but an inside pillar. The interior colonnades or double rows of tall pillars in some churches and temples are splendid beyond description. They are part of the vast fabric; not like those who minister there, going out and in, but standing immovable in their surpassing beauty. Such is the reward of the Philadelphian conqueror. An everlasting inhabitant and ornament of that sanctuary of which we read, "I saw no temple therein," etc. They shall go no more out! Their home is the innermost shrine in the heaven of heavens. Like Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:15, 21), there they stand for ever. II THE CONQUEROR IS TO BE INSCRIBED WITH GLORIOUS NAMES. It is said of Christ that He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, "King of kings and Lord of lords." It is said of the redeemed in glory that they have their Father's name written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1); so here on these Philadelphian pillars are many names to be inscribed, each of them unutterably glorious. These inscriptions are written by Christ Himself: "I will write." He engraves these names upon these temple-pillars, that they may be eternal witnesses to them in the glorious sanctuary. The inscriptions to be thus engraven are as follows:
1. The name of my God. This is the name which God proclaimed to Moses, the name which is the summary of His blessed character, as the God of all grace. What honour! To be the marble on which Jehovah's name is carved, and from which it shall blaze forth in the eternal temple!
2. The name of the city of my God. Other pillars set up on earth by man have the names of deities, or kings, or warriors, or cities graven upon them. But this inscription excels all in glory.
3. My new name. This is the new name given by Christ, which no man knoweth save he who receiveth it.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)I. THE QUALIFICATION INSISTED UPON IN THE TEXT. "Him that over-cometh."
1. The term evidently implies a struggle and conflict.
2. The term "overcometh" implies daily advancement and success.
3. A third feature of the man who "overcometh" is perseverance. His religion is not the mere meteor of the moment, extinguished almost as soon as kindled. He will set his face like a flint against corruption; will "resist, even unto blood, the contradiction of sinners" against the Master he loves.
II. THE PROMISES ADDRESSED IN THE TEXT TO THE VICTORIOUS SERVANTS OF THE REDEEMER.
1. The successful Christian shall be "made a pillar in the temple of his God." In this world the servant of the Redeemer may be a mere outcast in society. Nevertheless, "he that overcometh shall be made a pillar in the temple of God." That poor outcast, if a true servant of Christ, shall be stripped of his rags and wretchedness, and be raised as a pillar of ornament in the temple of the Lord. Great will be the changes of the last day: "the first shall be last and the last first."
2. He "shall go no more out." The sun of his joys shall never go down. The wellspring of his comforts shall never fail.
3. "I will write on him the name of My God." In this world, it is possible that the sincere Christian may be perplexed, either by his own doubts of acceptance with God or by the suspicions and insinuations of others; but in heaven his acceptance and adoption will be no longer a disputable point. He shall be recognised by Him who has stamped him with His own name.
4. "I will write on him the name of the city of My God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God." Even here it is "the city not made with hands" which the Christian seeks. And to that city he shall be exalted in heaven.
5. "I will write upon him My new Name."
(J. W. Cunningham.)I. IN HEAVEN NOBLE SERVICE. Believers are called in the epistles, even while they are on earth, "the temple of God." But how often it is desecrated and defiled! Here the same image has a more glorious and fitting application to the perfect life of heaven. We seem to see the entire company of God's servants fitly framed together into one vast, living temple; the polished stones brought from many distant parts. What worship there, where every stone has a tongue to praise, a heart to feel! But as, in examining a noble pile of building, the great whole distracts you, and you turn from it to look separately at single parts — a window, or an arch — so let us follow our heavenly guide, as, leading us through the "temple of His God," He points our attention to one of its component parts, bids us observe the functions of a "pillar" in it. It is the office of a pillar to support, uphold, an edifice, and also to adorn it. A column, then, is a noble part of any building; noble because of its important function — to sustain within a small compass the weight of the spreading roof and arches; and noble also because there can be joined with this utility beauty of form and wealth of ornament. Then, too, a pillar is not something extraneous, introduced into a building for a temporary purpose, and then to be removed; but it is an essential part of it. So the servant whom Christ makes a pillar in God's temple shall by that appointment become himself an actual part of heaven itself, bearing its glories up by the unwearied strength of his own hands, and adding to its beauty by his holiness and by the bright success attending all his toils. As a column has no wasted parts, but is so shaped that every atom bears its due proportion of the weight, or carries ornament in keeping with the beauties around it, so you are being moulded, by the Divine Workman who makes the pillars for that temple, in such wise that your energies will neither be left latent nor be overstrained, but developed to the full, and kept in joyous exercise, till you, in your place there, will become a very part of heaven, its beauty and blessedness augmented by the contribution of your pure delight. For the light of God will flash back reflected from the pillars there.
II. NO LAST HOURS IN HEAVEN. This expressive image of a pillar is often applied, and justly, to the positions men occupy on earth. For men of high faculties do often find worthy scope for their powers — fill important posts with eminent success. The warrior who saves his country's independence — what a noble pillar of its fortunes is he! Or the statesman, who develops its resources, and conducts it to greatness and renown — how fitly is he called a pillar of the state! When the great abilities needed for such high stations are employed in filling them, have we not all we covet, namely, noble faculties in noblest exercise? Well, forget if you will the failures and disappointments which attend such careers, yet will you say that such a lot is comparable to heaven? Look on a few years. A great funeral passes by — the pillar is broken. Out of his high place he goes, and does not return. Oh, what an abatement of pride to know that any day the stately column may fall prostrate in the dust! But he whom Christ makes a pillar in the temple of His God "shall go no more out." His strength and beauty will never know decay.
III. SUCH SERVICE IS THE REWARD OF VICTORY HERE. For he whom Christ makes a pillar there, is "him that overcometh." So that the temptations, the disappointments, the wretched weaknesses, all so harassing, and in such sad contrast to the bright light above, are not hostile to it, but co-operate towards it. The stability of heaven, so firm and glorious, is to be won only by patient endurance of earth's changes and earnest conflict with its sins. So if you want to work for God there, with delightful ease, you must learn by hard effort here to use your hands skilfully for Him. The workman who does the hardest task with greatest ease has gained that dexterity only by years of strenuous toll. And so the servants who do God's work with joyous ease in heaven, have all come out of great tribulation, and have by that hard discipline been schooled into their glorious proficiency, and only after a long, fierce conflict did they "overcome."
IV. THE DOUBLE AGENCY SPOKEN OF. "Him that overcometh": the man must fight and conquer. "I will make him a pillar": like a passive column, he is fashioned by another's hand. Yes; both are true. We must act; not because God does not, but because He does. Christ, by the might and skill of His Divine hand, makes a pillar, not of the man who wishes and dreams, but of the man who overcomes. The blows of misfortune, which were so hard to bear and seemed so disastrous, were the strokes of His Divine chisel, educing beauty from deformity. The bitter deprivation of what they prized so much, and which excited such complaints, was the cutting away of what would have for ever disfigured God's temple if it had remained.
(T. M. Herbert, M. A.)I. HERE IS THE IDEA OF SANCTITY.
II. HERE IS THE IDEA OF STRENGTH. God uses the good in the maintenance of His Church in the world, hence they must give their best sympathy, talent, and effort in its service. The good will be stronger in the temple above.
III. HERE IS THE IDEA OF PERMANENCE. In this life moral character in its higher mood is uncertain in continuance; it is beset by many enemies who would carry it out of the temple of God; but there it will be eternally amidst scenes of devotion and splendour.
IV. HERE IS THE IDEA OF INSCRIPTION. In heaven moral character will be more God-like; it will be transformed by a vision of the Eternal. Every man's life has some inscription on it, which is read by the world. Lessons:
1. That the good are consecrated to Divine uses in life.
2. That the good are to be morally useful in life. That the good should in their lives exhibit the name of God.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)I. THE STEADFAST PILLAR. Now, I take it that the two clauses which refer to this matter are closely connected. "I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." In the second clause the figure is dropped; and the point of the metaphor is brought out more clearly. Here it cannot mean the office of sustaining a building, or pre-eminence above others, as it naturally lends itself sometimes to mean. For instance, the Apostle Paul speaks of the three chief apostles in Jerusalem and says that they "seemed to be pillars." We cannot conceive of even redeemed men sustaining that temple in the heavens; and also, inasmuch as the promise here is perfectly universal, and is given to all that overcome. Now, the second of the two clauses which are thus linked together seems to me to point to the direction in which we are to look. "He shall go no more out." A pillar is a natural emblem of stability and permanence, as poets in many tongues, and in many lands, have felt it to be. But whilst the general notion is that of stability and permanence, do not let us forget that it is permanence and stability in a certain direction, for the pillar is "in the temple of my God." And whilst there are ideas of dignity and grace attaching to the metaphor of the pillar, the underlying meaning of it is substantially that the individual souls of redeemed men shall be themselves parts, and collectively shall constitute the temple of God in the heavens. The special point in which that perfection and transcendence are expressed here is to be kept prominent. "He shall go no more out." Permanence, and stability, and uninterruptedness in the communion and consciousness of an indwelling God, is a main element in the glory and blessedness of that future life. Stability in any fashion comes as a blessed hope to us, who know the cause of constant change, and are tossing on the unquiet waters of life. Sometimes the bay is filled with flashing waters that leap in the sunshine; sometimes, when the tide is out, there is only a long stretch of grey and cozy mud. It shall not be always so. Like lands on the equator, where the difference between midsummer and midwinter is scarcely perceptible, either in length of day or in degree of temperature, that future will be a calm continuance, a uniformity which is not monotony, and a stability which does not exclude progress. "He shall go no more out." Eternal glory and unbroken communion is the blessed promise to the victor who is made by Christ "a pillar in the temple of my God."
II. Now, secondly, notice THE THREEFOLD INSCRIPTION. The writing of a name implies ownership and visibility. So the first of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously God's. "I will write upon him the name of my God." There may possibly be an allusion to the golden plate which flamed in the front of the High Priest's mitre, and on which was written the unspoken name of Jehovah. How do we possess one another? How do we belong to God? How does God belong to us? There is but one way by which a spirit can possess a spirit — by love; which leads to self-surrender and to practical obedience. And if — as a man writes his name in his books, as a farmer brands on his sheep and oxen the marks that express his ownership — on the redeemed there is written the name of God, that means, whatever else it may mean, perfect love, perfect self-surrender, perfect obedience. That is the perfecting of the Christian relationship which is begun here on earth. In the preceding letter to Sardis we were told that the victor's name should not "be blotted out of the book of life." Here the same thought is suggested by a converse metaphor. The name of the victor is written on the rolls of the city; and the name of the city is stamped on the forehead of the victor. That is to say, the affinity which even here and now has knit men who believe in Jesus Christ to an invisible order, where is their true mother-city and metropolis, will then be uncontradicted by any inconsistencies, unobscured by the necessary absorption in daily duties and transient aims and interests which often veils to others, and renders less conscious to ourselves, our true belonging to the city beyond the sea. The last of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously Christ's. "I will write upon him My new name." What is that new name? It is an expression for the sum of the new revelations of what He is, which will flood the souls of the redeemed when they pass from earth. That new name will not obliterate the old one — God forbid! It will do away with the ancient, earth-begun relation of dependence and faith and obedience. "Jesus Christ is the same...for ever"; and His name in the heavens, as upon earth, is Jesus the Saviour. That new name no man fully knows, even when he has entered on its possession, and carries it on his forehead; for the infinite Christ, who is the manifestation of the infinite God, can never be comprehended, much less exhausted, even by the united perceptions of a redeemed universe, but for ever and ever more and more will well out from Him. His name shall last as long as the sun, and blaze when the sun himself is dead.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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