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Philadelphia (1776-1914)

Dec 26, 2015

America is a political byproduct of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin’s experiment in Switzerland, where he put into practice the principles of Christian government in the city of Geneva, taught people the basic principles of how to establish a Christian Nation. And so, in 1776 we come to an event that took place in Philadelphia in the New World that was the climax of Protestant thinking in the time of the Sardis Church. It was the signing of the Declaration of Independence onJuly 4, 1776.

This year was also important because it was 2,520 years after the beginning of Israel’s captivity and deportations by the Assyrians in 745 B.C. As we pointed out in Chapter 15 of Secrets of Time, this was when the history of the House of Israel began to be repeated in a great historical parable. It was definitely a major turning point in biblical history.

Three Types of Love

There are three types of love, two of which are expressed in Scripture as phileo, or “brotherly love” and agape, or “divine love.” The third is eros, which is mere physical attraction, but this does not appear in Scripture at all. Phileo love is good, but it only describes a relationship that meets another person halfway.

Phileo is about fairness and justice, whereas agape goes beyond justice into unconditional love. When applying these terms to our relationship with God, phileo correlates with Pentecost, wherein we learn obedience to His law and His standard of living. Agape, on the other hand, encompasses the love of God, and when we manifest such love, we are in agreement with Him.

Philadelphia means “City of Brotherly Love.”

Philadelphia in America

The Church of Philadelphia (1776-1914) is well seen in the great American experiment. Its founders believed in liberty in law. It sought to bring the Church into a phileo relationship among its citizens and among all the nations.  Prior to the Protestant Reformation the world saw few benevolent civil rulers or religious leaders. The only example most of them knew was of men with selfish interests who had not learned the basic principles of phileo. Such rulers, both religious and civil, knew only eros, the need to be served by others.

The establishment of America in the city of Philadelphia was an attempt by the people to establish a phileo-Christian government. This was not bad, but it was imperfect, as subsequent history has proven. Regardless of how good our Constitution was in its beginning, and regardless of how just our laws were, there is no way for any nation to maintain its righteousness apart from having godly administrators. We see this in the story of Israel, a nation with a perfect system of law given by the mouth of God Himself—but a nation that degenerated into utter apostasy because of ungodly leaders and immoral people demanding freedom to sin.

There were many in early America who had a vision of building the Kingdom of God in the earth. But apart from the manifestation of the sons of God, which would bring forth perfect administrators of the divine law, how can any nation do anything but degenerate as even the House of Israel degenerated during biblical times?

Even so, America’s founding was a very important date in the history of the Kingdom of God, simply because it gave Christians a new vision for the manifestation of the Kingdom of God upon the earth as it already is in heaven. The main problem was that this began in the days of the Church of Philadelphia, the sixth church era. The 40 Jubilees of “Saul” had not yet run its course. And for this reason, the vision came too early to become a physical reality.

The Philadelphia church is also the Hezekiah church. Christ’s message to this church draws upon the lessons of King Hezekiah. His strengths and weaknesses are seen clearly in the New Covenant church of Philadelphia. If the Philadelphia church would follow the Spirit of Strength, or Might, it could overcome the problems of its time. But, of course, only the overcomers would actually have the strength to come into agreement with God during this era. And so, as we will see, the Philadelphia church era ended in captivity, even as the Old Covenant Hezekiah church too ended in captivity to Babylon.

The Message to Philadelphia

Revelation 3:7 begins Christ’s message:

7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:

Christ here presents Himself as the one who is both “holy” (hagios) and “true” (alethinos). To be “holy” is to be set apart for God and worthy of being revered. To be “true” means that it has not only the name and resemblance, but also the real nature corresponding to the name. It corresponds in every respect to the idea signified by its name or what it is called. To be true contrasts with that which is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated, or pretended.

For Christ to present Himself as such sets the standard of measure for this church. To be an overcomer is to overcome the spirit of religious simulation and pretention and to come fully into agreement and harmony with Christ’s character.

Even as the Sardis church marked a turning point in church history in 1517, so also the Philadelphia church raises the level of God’s expectations. Philadelphia was to be a transition from judicial love into the full divine love. Believers were to learn to treat each other justly as they grew to the mature love known as agape. Unfortunately, only a few became overcomers, as history shows.

The Power Struggle

Revelation 3:7 also speaks of a new door that was to be opened to the church. This is the door that is seen in the time of Hezekiah, who replaced Shebna, his steward, with Eliakim, who was worthy of this position of authority. The story is told in Isaiah 22:15-25. Shebna is introduced to us in verse 15 as “Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household.”

In Isaiah 22:18, the prophet addresses him, “you shame of your master’s house.” We do not know why Shebna was a shame to the house of David. However, in 2 Kings 18:18 we find that Shebna was only a scribe, and Eliakim was the head steward over Hezekiah’s household. This certainly was prior to Shebna’s downfall, because it is highly unlikely, given Isaiah’s dire word, that Shebna would have been demoted to a scribe. He was cast out and exiled (Isaiah 22:18) when he fell from grace.

Hence, it appears that at some point in time Shebna usurped the position of Eliakim, perhaps by falsely accusing Eliakim of some indiscretion. But later, when the truth became known, Shebna was exiled, and Eliakim then replaced him as beforetime. It also appears that Isaiah backed Eliakim, for he prophesied to Shebna in Isaiah 22:20, 21 saying,

20 Then it will come about in that day, that I will summon My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah; 21 and I will cloth him with your [Shebna’s] tunic, and tie your sash securely about him. I will entrust him with your authority, and he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.

Since this was a prophecy about a future event, we know that Isaiah received this word while Shebna was still the chief steward, or Chief of Staff. In other words, the prophet knew the truth before Hezekiah discovered it.

The Open Door and the Key of David

Isaiah prophesied that Hezekiah would take the key of David from Shebna and give it to Eliakim, who was worthy of this position of trust in the House of David. Isaiah 22:22 says,

22 Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder. When he opens, no one will shut; when he shuts, no one will open.

This is the verse that is referenced in Christ’s message to the Philadelphia church in Revelation 3:8, which says,

8 I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have little power [dunamis, “strength, power, ability”], and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.

In other words, Isaiah’s prophecy not only applied to the situation in the Hezekiah church but also in the era of the Philadelphia church. Hezekiah’s name means “strength of Yahweh.” His name is derived from the root word chazak, “to strengthen, prevail, be strong.” Even as the Hezekiah church showed strength, so also Christ says of the Philadelphia church, “you have a little power,” or strength.

Hezekiah’s strength was in the fact that he was a godly king who “did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done” (2 Kings 18:3). In fact, 2 Kings 18:5-7 says,

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went he prospered.

In other words, he was Judah’s best king since David himself. The Hezekiah church, then, saw a time of prosperity on account of its godly strength. Likewise, the American Experiment that began in Philadelphia in 1776, saw a time of national prosperity and strength. It was established as a Christian Republic, and the foundational principles of government were rooted in the laws of nature and nature’s God (Creator).

It was as if the nation had been given an open door. The oppressed peoples of Europe looked at America with awe and delight, while the rulers of the old Roman church order were frightened, lest their own nations would rise up and demand the same type of government. Those old powers quickly took the reins of the new American government and usurped power, in order to begin to turn the hearts of the people back into idolatry and immorality.

Perhaps the most serious subversion of the law of God was its refusal to apply the law equally and impartially to all men. Slavery was a divisive issue from the beginning, and it was only because one of the two delegates from New Jersey failed to appear for the crucial vote. At that time, both state delegates had to be present in order for either of their votes to count. Both of the New Jersey delegates were anti-slavery, but because one was not present, the other vote too was lost. And so the clause prohibiting slavery was lost, and as Civil War General John A. Logan wrote,

“Thus was lost the great opportunity of restricting Slavery to the existing Slave States, and of settling the question peaceably for all time” (The Great Controversy, p. 4).

Both the slavery issue as well as relations with the native American people were the main weaknesses of the American nation and the Philadelphia church. Up to that time, studies of biblical law had been extensive for two centuries, but their viewpoint was still largely based upon the Old Covenant. Not truly understanding the New Covenant, they failed to see the full distinction between the power of the physical sword and the power of the sword of the Spirit.

Hence, they conquered men by physical force and enslaved those that they had conquered. If they had understood the power of the spiritual sword, they would have used it to set men free, rather than to enslave them. But the principle of brotherly love was yet restricted to white people, and many (especially those in government and in the legal system) did not consider non-whites to be “men” in legal language.

For this reason, the government found itself free to violate any treaty with the Indian tribes, and only the overcomers were able to meet the standard of holiness and truth presented by the One who gave the message to the Philadelphia church.

The key of David is agape Love. David’s name means “love,” so his key is the key of love. The love of God is impartial, for James 2:8, 9 says,

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

History shows that the law of love was the key of David that was offered to the church of Philadelphia from 1776-1914. Yet the church of Brotherly Love failed to understand the basic principle of phileo love in their study of the divine law. Because they, as a whole, did not grasp that key, which would have opened up the door fully, the Philadelphia church era ended in captivity, even as the Hezekiah church ended in captivity to Babylon.


This is part 30 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Revelation


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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