Some years ago, I was discussing the future of Israel with a rabbi. During our talk, he said something to me I will never forget. "You are a premillennial evangelical," he said, "and I am a Jew." (The word premillennial refers to Christians who believe that Jesus the Messiah will literally return to rule over Israel during the future Millennium in fulfillment of Old Testament promise and prophecy.) "You premillennial Christians," he continued, "are the only Christians we Jews can really talk to."
I was intrigued. "Why is that?" I asked.
"Because," he replied, "you believe there is a future for Israel. That enables us to communicate with you. So many other Christians have just written us off; they have written Israel off, and we have nothing in common with them."
This rabbi's comments underscore the fact that when you truly reflect the love and compassion of Christ, and when you truly understand the promises to Israel in the Old Testament and how they relate to the prophecy of Revelation, you have something in common with Jews anywhere. You can communicate with them, and they will respect what you say and do.
As we come to verse 9, we will see that our Christlike love, together with our reverence for the Word of God, gives us an open door for ministry to the Jews.
3:9 "I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you."
Here is the Lord's promise that He will use His power to subdue the enemies of the Philadelphian believers. Their enemies will respect the Philadelphian church and openly acknowledge God's blessing upon them.
In this verse a phrase from the letter to Smyrna appears again: the "synagogue of Satan." As in the Smyrna letter, this phrase refers to those Jews who claim to be spiritual descendants of Abraham, yet who persecute Christians and reject the truth. Though they are physically descended from Abraham, their attitude is far removed from Abraham's faith. During His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus repeatedly opposed the "synagogue of Satan," the spiritually arrogant scribes and Pharisees who claimed to be Abraham's children. Jesus' message to them was harsh but true: "You are of your father the devil."
The church in Philadelphia, like most churches of that early era, was composed largely of Jews who had converted to Christianity. So the hostile Jews of the "synagogue of Satan" were actually persecuting other Jews — converted Jews — because of their beliefs. In His letter, Jesus reassures the mostly-Jewish Christians at Philadelphia, "I will make [those Jews who persecute you] . . . fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you."
How? What will cause the anti-Christian Jews to bow before the believers in Philadelphia and acknowledge God's blessing on the church? Answer: they will see the church respond to their opposition with love, courage, and an intimate knowledge of God — a knowledge these nonbelieving Jews do not possess, even though they have the Scriptures. Their hearts will be changed as the Christians of Philadelphia exhibit the results of a special and supernatural relationship with the living Christ.
What was true for the first-century Christians in Philadelphia is true for you and me today. Today, Jews are far more persecuted than persecutors. The plague of anti-Semitism continues to threaten the Jews worldwide, and the nation of Israel continues to survive while encircled by enemies. But though there is no Jewish oppression of the church today as there was in the first century, there are many Jews who harbor deep resentment against Christians. This resentment is rooted in the fact that many past persecutions of Jews were carried out by so-called "Christians."
I have a friend named Tuvya Zaretsky. He is Jewish, and as a child was raised to distrust Christians and to hate the Christian gospel. The name of Jesus was anathema to him. The very subject of Christianity filled him with an intense loathing and anger.
Today, however, Tuvya Zaretsky is a changed man, a devoted Christian who is always eager to share his faith in Jesus Christ. He now works with Jews for Jesus in San Francisco.
What made the difference? His heart was changed by the loving, caring example of genuine Christians, living out the Word of God and the lifestyle of Jesus. At a crucial point in his life he met some Christlike people who were willing to minister to him, listen to him without judging or arguing, and accept him despite his anger and hostility. Gently and gradually they loved my friend Tuvya into the kingdom of God.
As we live out the lifestyle of Jesus under the authority of God's Word the Lord opens doors of ministry even among those who are hostile and unreceptive to our message.