Revelation 3:9

Sermon preached on February 5, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was a teenager one of my favorite books was Alexandre Dumas' "
The Count of Monte Cristo". It is a great tale of vengeance. The hero of the story is Edmond Dantes. He is a young man whose career is going well and he is getting ready to be married. He is falsely accused of treason, betrayed by a supposed friend as well as the judge hearing his case. He is put in prison and for all intents and purposes the key is thrown away. His fiancée betrays him and unknowingly marries one of the men responsible for his imprisonment. For fourteen years Edmond suffers in the Chateau d'If until he manages to escape. He then plots an elaborate plan of revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. He plans to ruin and publicly humiliate them. He carries out his plan with great success. I remember how I really enjoyed the chapters that described how he brought down his enemies. He got his revenge. The good guy won.

But somehow, the end of the book wasn't satisfying like I thought it would be. Yes, he did go off into the sunset. But at the end of the story, I felt sorry for Dantes because in some ways he seemed to be a hard, unhappy man. He wasn't the hero that he was at the beginning of the book. He wasn't pure any longer. At the end of the book Edmond said had great remorse in his heart. He realized he had been wrong in seeking revenge. Instead, he said he should have left it with God. His advice to his young friends, who were just beginning their life together, was to 'Wait and hope.' Dantes realized he had been wrong. Dumas was trying to show us not only that revenge doesn't satisfy—but that it harms the one who engages in it.

Our text is not about revenge, but vindication. The two are closely related. Jesus says to the church at Philadelphia. (Revelation 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."

The great principle that we see here is that

one day Jesus is going to vindicate His people.

Specifically, He tells the church at Philadelphia that He will make their enemies come and acknowledge that He has loved them.

The historical background here is that Christians were being marginalized by the Jews. The Jews who were converted to Christianity were being put out of the synagogue. They were being told that they were not God's people, that God wasn't with them—that they were a false sect, a cult.

Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia that one day this will change. Their enemies will come to them and acknowledge that they were indeed God's people.

Some interpreters see this as referring to the conversion of some of the Jews in Philadelphia. Their present enemies, the traditional Jews, will, in effect, come to find life in Christ and join the Christians in worshipping God. They point out that the word that is translated 'fall down' sometimes means worship, and that when it does so it always refers to voluntary worship. So they see this as referring to the conversion of many of the Jews in Philadelphia. It is certainly possible that in certain cases that happened. That happened with Saul of Tarsus.

But I doubt that that is the primary meaning. The real problem with that is the Jews are not said to worship God, they are not said to bow at Jesus' feet, but at the feet of Christians at Philadelphia. This is not worship, but submission.

I think it's similar to what Philippians 2 tells us—that on the last day every knee will bow to Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of the Father. On that day, even the enemies of God are going to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Not only that that, but the oppressors of Christianity, who told Christians that they were not God's people, are going to acknowledge before them that God has indeed loved them. God's people are going to be vindicated.

One of the main implications of our text is that

you should leave it to God to vindicate you.

When you are wronged you don't have to be overly concerned about vindicating yourself. That's something that you can leave with God. He will vindicate you. He will take care of that for you.

God cares about you. He cares about it when you are slandered, insulted, abused.

How are you to react as a Christian when someone abuses your name, when they slander or insult you?

Listen to what the Bible says. Notice how it doesn't tell you to vindicate your name, to stand up for your rights. Consider first of all, 1 Peter 3:9. The Holy Spirit tells us,

"Do not repay evil with evil
or insult with insult, but with blessing,
because to this you were called
so that you may inherit a blessing."

So our first thought should not be about ourselves, about vindicating our name, but about the good of those who are doing evil to us. We are to seek that they be blessed. We see this teach a few verses later in 1 Peter 3. In verses 15 to 17 Peter tells us how to react to slander. He writes,

"But in your hearts set apart
Christ as Lord."

Note that well. When you're slandered, set apart Christ as Lord. Don't put yourself up as Lord. Don't think this is about you. You're nobody in this except someone who should put yourself last. Again, this is about Christ, His Kingdom, His honor, His glory. He comes first. Secondly, the people who slander you come second. Peter continues,

"Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give
the reason for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect,
keeping a clear conscience,
so that those who speak maliciously
against your good behavior in Christ
may be ashamed of their slander."

Again, you are to be concerned about the good of those who are slandering you. You should desire that they be saved.

We are told about the third way we are to react to slander and insult in Luke 6:22–23. Jesus said,

"Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
because great is your reward in heaven.
For that is how their fathers
treated the prophets."

Again, note how we are to react. There is nothing about vindicating our names. Rather we are to rejoice. We are blessed when we suffer for the name of Jesus, for following His commands.

So you see, you don't have to worry about your name, about vindicating it, or about taking revenge on those who harm you.

Leave it all with God. He will either save those who are persecuting you, like He did with the apostle Paul, and they will one day acknowledge that God has indeed loved you, or they will not repent and will be judged by God.

God is going to judge those who persecute Christians. He is going to vindicate His people. We see this throughout the New Testament and in many places in Revelation. For instance, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6–10 the apostle Paul wrote,

"God is just: He will pay back trouble
to those who trouble you and give relief to you
who are troubled, and to us as well.
This will happen when the Lord Jesus
is revealed from heaven in blazing fire
with his powerful angels.
He will punish those who do not
know God and do not obey
the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord
and from the majesty of his power
on the day he comes to be glorified
in his holy people and to be marveled
at among all those who have believed.
This includes you, because you believed
our testimony to you."

God is assuring His people that those who trouble them will be judged. God will punish them for the harm that they have done to His church. Note well that their punishment is related, in part, to what they have done to the church. We see this teaching in again Revelation 18:20. It says,

"Rejoice over her, O heaven!
Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets!
God has judged her for the way she treated you."

And Revelation 19:2 says about God,

"He has condemned the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."

In each of those passages God says that He will punish those who have persecuted the church. He will punish them precisely because they have harmed the church. God is just. He will do that.

Those passages remind me of what God said to His ancient people, the Israelites, in regard to those who harmed them. In Zechariah 2:8 the prophet said to the people of Israel,

"for whoever touches you touches
the apple of his eye…"

Whenever the church suffers persecution, God takes it personally. (Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 17:8) John Calvin writes,

"I am disposed to regard this passage as intimating, that the love of God towards the faithful is so tender that when they are hurt he burns with so much displeasure, as though one attempted to pierce his eyes. For God cannot otherwise set forth how much and how ardently he loves us, and how careful he is of our salvation, than by comparing us to the apple of his eye. There is nothing, as we know, more delicate, or more tender, then this is in the body of man; for were one to bite my finger, or prick my arm or my legs, or even severely to would me, I should feel no such pain as by having my eye or the pupil of my eye injured. God then by this solemn message declares, that the Church is to him like the apple of his eye, so that he can by no means bear it to be hurt or touched."

Now what this means in practical terms is, first of all,

you don't have to worry about vindicating yourself.

This goes against our natural instinct. When we are wronged, one of the main things that comes to mind is the thought that we need to vindicate ourselves. It's like all of our facilities and resources stand at the ready and want to be led in that direction. There's a temptation to go there. But mostly you need to resist that temptation. Sometimes it's necessary to spend a little time on that area, but the problem is that it's something that can suck you in and consume you so that it keeps you from doing the things that you should be doing. You must not let it do that to you. Personal vindication is not to be one of the major matters of Christian living.

Consider Jesus. He was slandered. Lies were told about Him. False charges abounded. Did He stop what He was doing and focus on vindicating His name? The answer is basically— "No!". Yes, He did sometimes spent a tiny fraction of His time refuting those charges—but that was it. He mostly just ignored them. As the apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:23,

"When they hurled their insults at him,
he did not retaliate;
when he suffered, he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself
to him who judges justly."

So it is to be with us. Leave it to God to vindicate you.

Our text is actually an interesting twist on an Old Testament promise. The Old Testament background for our text is Isaiah 60:14. It says,

"The sons of your oppressors
will come bowing before you;
all who despise you will bow down
at your feet and will call you
the City of the Lord,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel."

According to this and other passages in the Old Testament, during the last days the Gentiles would one day pay homage to the Jews. Grant S. Osborne writes, (Revelation, p. 191)

"now this promise is turned on its head: Jewish oppressors would be forced to pay homage to Gentile believers. Christ is promising these persecuted Christians that they would be vindicated by God…"

The point of this is that you can be absolutely assured that you will be vindicated. God can and will turn things upside down to assure the vindication of His people.

Secondly, this means that

your primary focus should be on the major things of God's commands.

There are two great problems with focusing on vindicating your name.

First of all, it can become all consuming.

In the grand scheme of God's Kingdom, your efforts ate personal vindication is something extremely minor. You shouldn't spend much time on it. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for focusing on the was that they focused on minor things and neglecting the major parts of the law. Jesus said to them, (Matthew 23:23–26)

"Woe to you, teachers of the law
and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
You give a tenth of your spices—
mint, dill and cummin.
But you have neglected
the more important matters of the law
—justice, mercy and faithfulness.
You should have practiced the latter,
without neglecting the former.
You blind guides!
You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Woe to you, teachers of the law
and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
You clean the outside of the cup and dish,
but inside they are full of greed
and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee!
First clean the inside of the cup and dish,
and then the outside also will be clean."

Self vindication can easily become all consuming.

The second problem with focusing on vindicating your name is that

it is essentially a self-centered activity. It will take you away from what you should be doing.

As a Christian the focus of your activities needs to be on the major things—on loving others, on showing mercy, on forgiving others, on seeking the glory and honor of Jesus Christ, on seeking the unity of the body of Christ, on helping others and lifting them up. Personal vindication isn't about any of those things.

Sure, it's all right to spend some time vindicating yourself when it's necessary your vindication lines up with the vindication of God's kingdom. But even then it should not be your primary focus.

For example, in March of 1539, Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, bishop of Carpentras in southern France, addressed a letter to the magistrates and citizens of Geneva, asking them to return to the Roman Catholic faith. A year earlier Geneva had ordered John Calvin and some other pastors to leave the city and told them not to return. They were exiled. In his letter to Geneva, Cardinal Sadoleto charged that Calvin and the other reformers were schismatic and had acted for purposes of selfish gain. When Calvin heard about the charges, he wasn't concerned about it and wasn't going to bother answer the charges at all. In a letter to his friend Farel, (September, 1539) he wrote about Sadoleto's letter,

"I was not very much concerned about an answer to it, but our friends have at length compelled me. At the present moment I am entirely occupied upon it. It will be a six days' work."

These sentences, combined with the response Calvin wrote, show us the proper course in a situation like that. Calvin's friends convinced him to do respond, not to vindicate himself, but the ministry of the gospel, as evidenced in the Reformation. As Calvin wrote near the beginning of his reply to Sadoleto,

"if you had attacked me in my private character, I could easily have forgiven the attack in consideration of your learning, and in honor of letters. But when I see that my ministry, which I feel assured is supported and sanctioned by a call from God, is wounded through my side, it would be perfidy, not patience, were I here to be silent and connive."

So Calvin decided to respond and vindicate, not himself so much, but the cause of the gospel. He also set himself a certain amount of time to write the response and determined that he was not going to go beyond that. Six days. That's what he did. Then he sent it. It became a classic document of the Reformation, helped Geneva remain Protestant, and was instrumental in the people of Geneva asking Calvin to return to be their pastor.

But my point is that Calvin isn't primarily known for vindicating his own character. He's known as the theologian of the Reformation. He's known for his great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he laid out the teaching of the Bible in a systematic way—clearly showing what the Bible taught and how it's doctrines were related to one another. That was a monumental achievement—that book is one of the greatest books ever written—clearly outlining truths that had been confused and muddied for almost 1500 years. He's known as the pastor of Geneva, who preached and taught the people from the Word of God. He's known for his commentaries in which he expounded the Word of God. He's known for his letters, through which he counseled kings and queens, pastors and Christian leaders, as well as ordinary Christian folk.

Do you see my point? It's all right to spend a little time vindicating yourself—but beware of getting caught it that spider web. It's not one of the primary things you should be doing. In 1 Corinthians 6:7 the apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians that sometimes it's better to let themselves be wronged and cheated rather than vindicate themselves. God will take care of your vindication. You don't have to be concerned about it. You should focus on the bigger things.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian, what this text means for you is that

you will never be vindicated unless you go to Jesus.

Only Jesus can cover our sins and wash them away. Only Jesus can take away shame and guilt so that on the last day we will not be condemned and humiliated because of our sins.

If you don't have Jesus, all your sins are going to be exposed. There will be great shame, humiliation, embarrassment and anguish because of your sin. Don't go there. Jesus can take that all away and give you His righteousness. He can vindicate you and acknowledge you before His Father. More than anything else you need Him. Go to Him now.