Again, John uses a familiar image from the Roman world that would resonate with his recipients of this letter. Listen to the words he writes to the church in Philadelphia:
12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
What does it mean to be made “a pillar in the temple of God?” What does it mean to “write on him the name of my God, the name of the city of my God?” Again, John is using the imagery that surrounded our ancient faith ancestors to show them a powerful truth about the Kingdom of God. For the one who “conquers,” that is this world and all the sinful temptations that are within, including the worship of other gods…Jesus promises to make them into a pillar that supports the temple of the real and mighty God. The Greco-Roman world used caryatids or atlantes as pillars in their ancient temples. Caryatids are stone carvings of draped female figures. Atlantes the plural form of Atlas and points to a carving of the male form that holds up the temple of the gods. I have included some pictures of these, the most popular is the caryatids from the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens which is the picture above, the others are from Rome and have been included below. The atlantes are just another visual example, only they are obviously the male counterpart to the female.
Some people would donate money (become a benefactor) to the temple, and in so doing they would be given an inscription that included a dedication to the god, their home city, and their name. John writes that Jesus will provide those who have given their lives to God their very own inscription that would include a dedication to God, they name of the city they reside in which is the new Jerusalem, and new name!
Thus, in the letter to the church of Philadelphia there is reference to the surrounding culture like in each of the 7 letters to the churches. This encouraging word takes something that they see as representative of the splendor of the Roman Empire, namely the ornate and vast architecture of the temples, and shows that as Christians participate in the building of God’s Kingdom, they are building something far greater than their eyes have experienced. Therefore, there is something greater than the Empire and it is to be pursued to the very end as Christians build a witness to God in the midst of these lesser important distractions.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.