Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Revelation is a very hard book to understand if you forget that it was not meant to be taken literally. Indeed, the very first verse of the entire book says it was “signified,” that is, written in signs and symbolic language. Also remember that the Bible is and has always been its own best commentary. The Old Testament psalmist wrote under inspiration, “The sum of Your Word is truth…” (Psalm 119:160). We will never be able to properly understand what is right about any biblical topic until we take into account what the entirety of Scripture says about them. That also applies to understanding the truth about the symbolism in Revelation.
Case in point: the passage above which was written to the church in Philadelphia. When we remember that Revelation was written in symbolic language, it is clear that the Jews talked about in verse 9 are not literal, ethnic Jews. Throughout the New Testament, the term “Jew” is many times symbolized to represent Christians; this is because Christians under the New Testament are God’s chosen people, just as Jews were God’s chosen people under the Old Testament. Paul wrote that under the new covenant, one is not a Jew outwardly, but inwardly (Romans 2:28-29). In other words, under the New Testament God is not focused on outward Jews, ethnic Israelites, as His chosen people as had been the case in the Old Testament; rather, one now is a Jew inwardly, i.e., part of His chosen people who are Christians, Christians worldwide of all nationalities. That’s why James addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). The literal twelve tribes of Israel you read about in the Old Testament had long since ceased to exist by the time James wrote his New Testament book. James, like Paul with the term “Jew,” was using the term “the twelve tribes” in a symbolic way to refer to Christians, God’s chosen people under the New Testament.
Thus, Jesus is not saying to the church in Philadelphia that some in the city were claiming to be ethnic Jews but were lying about it. Instead, he’s actually talking about Christians. He’s saying that some in Philadelphia were claiming to be Christians but in reality were followers of Satan. This is an important lesson for us to remember today. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually a Christian in the sight of God. Jesus made this very clear when He foretold that many on the day of Judgment would find themselves condemned in spite of living very religious lives full of good works in His name because, in the end, they did not obey His Father (Matthew 7:21-23).
The church at Philadelphia had been praised by Jesus earlier for keeping His Word and not denying His name (v. 8). Thus, they would not hear what He would say to false Christians on Judgment Day: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Instead, He would welcome them into eternal heaven to reign with Him. Therefore He told that faithful church that these “false Jews” from “the synagogue of Satan”—false Christians—would be made by Him to “come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you” (v. 9). On the day of Judgment—the only “hour of trial” spoken of in Scripture “that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth (v. 10)—the faithful church at Philadelphia would be kept from such condemnation.
All those who profess Christianity must continually examine themselves to see if they truly are keeping Christ’s Word and not denying His name. How well do you know your Bible? When was the last time you read it? Do you obey it? These are important questions to consider.