What do you do when the fabric of your life is torn? Most of us would say that we don’t like our lives to be dull and monotonous, but that is probably not what we really feel. Life is made up of routines, habits, and traditions, and it is usually when these routines are disturbed that we experience our greatest anxieties.
Our lives may be interrupted, for example, by illness or by the need to make major decisions. The wholeness of life is disturbed when we find ourselves in anger or strife, or feeling unsettled or insecure. It is in circumstances like these that we long for ordinary routines that signal less troubling times.
The Philadelphian Christians
The church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3 was living in a time of upheaval and transition, a time when the ordinary routines of life were greatly disturbed. The believers’ old habits, for example, of going to the market place and buying provision for the day, were made difficult by serious religious persecution led by the local Jewish synagogue.
It seems that these Christians in Philadelphia were ethnic Jews who had professed faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t know exactly how or when the Christian faith came to Philadelphia, but probably someone had come into the city and begun to preach Jesus as the Messiah in the local synagogue.
This was a common pattern.
When the Apostle Paul went into a city, he would go to the local synagogue and argue from the Jewish scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. We also know, from references in the New Testament, that this was Apollos’ technique. Paul and Apollos were able to powerfully refute the Jews in public, proving from the Jewish scriptures that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Jewish Messiah.
Animosity, Hostility, and Persecution
The message of the crucified and risen Messiah was probably met with a great deal of interest in the beginning. Some apparently believed and trusted in Jesus while others reacted negatively to the message. And so, within the circle of family and friends that populated the synagogue, division arose. In some instances the division of worship and belief cut right across family lines. It cut across lines of tradition, heritage, and friendship in every instance.
Eventually, when these “heretics” who believed in the crucified and risen Jesus could not be persuaded to come back to the traditional Jewish faith, they were forced to leave the synagogue and form their own circles of worship in household churches. They began to develop their own patterns and experiences of worship, centered around the confession that the crucified Nazarene who had been raised from the dead was the exalted Son of God and truly the Messiah of Israel.
You can imagine that this did not set well with the non-Christian Jews in Philadelphia. When they could not bring their former friends and family members back by friendly persuasion, they resorted to animosity, hostility, and persecution.
I’ll say more about this persecution in my next blog post when we’ll continue to take a close look together at the lives of the Christians in the ancient Hellenistic city of Philadelphia.
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The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Robert Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on March 11, 1990.