Church-Autopsy: Paralyzed by Abidan Shah, PhD

CHURCH AUTOPSY – PARALYZED by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Twelve years ago, on August 23, 2011, Nicole and I were eating lunch at a restaurant in town, and, all of sudden, the walls, the lights, and the tables began to shake. Many of y’all remember that. At first, we all thought that it must be some big truck or heavy equipment outside that was causing that, but soon the internet and social media was buzzing with similar reports. Come to find out, we all had experienced the aftershocks of a 5.8M earthquake with its epicenter near Mineral, VA, outside of Richmond. The quake was about 3.7 miles beneath the earth’s surface, but people felt it as far south as Florida, as far north as Canada, and as far west as the Mississippi River Valley. There were damages estimated at $200-$300 million, but thankfully no loss of lives. Compared to the West Coast, we hardly get any earthquakes, but if you keep up with the news, there have been a series of small earthquakes near the Canton area, west of Asheville, recently. Think with me for a moment – how would it shape your life if you had to live through a devastating earthquake? How would it impact your way of life if you were constantly feeling these tremors or aftershocks? Would you be afraid to be inside? How would that impact the economy? Today, we come to the sixth city in our series titled Church Autopsy where we are studying the warnings sent by Jesus to each of these cities – “Change or Die.” Today’s message on Philadelphia is titled “Paralyzed.” Main point: Fear will keep us from walking through the open-door God has for us. When we take Christ at his word and step out in faith, we can stand in the face of any trials. In fact, we receive the victor’s crown and enter the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 3:8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

Context: Philadelphia is situated about 30 miles further east of Sardis in Turkey. Again, because of time, we were not able to make it there. There is not much evidence regarding the history of the city. What we do know is that the name “Philadelphia” means “brother’s love.” We don’t know which brother founded it, Attalus or Eumenes, but they refused to let the Romans turn them against each other. This was held up as a model of brotherly love and loyalty. Hence the name of the city. There are other things that I can share with you about this city, but one detail is very important for our understanding of Jesus’ letter to church in Philadelphia. This city had repeatedly suffered damage due to earthquakes, particularly the one in AD17 and again in AD23. To give you a reference point, this was about 10 years before Jesus began his earthly ministry. Philadelphia was/is sitting at a seismically active area where the Anatolian plate is trying to move to the west, away from the Arabian plate to the Southeast, the African plate to the South, and the Eurasian plate to the North. Strabo (63BC – AD24), a Greek geographer and historian, wrote: “In Philadelphia…not even the walls are safe, but in a sense are shaken and caused to crack every day. And the inhabitants are continually attentive to the disturbances in the earth and plan all structures with a view to their occurrence.” He goes on to add: “Philadelphia is ever subject to earthquakes. Incessantly the walls of the houses are cracked, different parts of the city being thus affected at different times. For this reason but few people live in the city, and most of them, spend their lives as farmers in the country, since they have a fertile soil. Yet one may be surprised at the few, that they are so fond of the place where their dwellings are so insecure; and one might marvel still more at those who founded the city.” Imagine living with a constant fear of earthquakes.

Application: Are you living with a constant sense of fear of what may happen in our world? It may not be an earthquake, but it may be a sickness or the economy or some global conflict. Are you paralyzed in your faith? We think that absence of movement or lingering or being stuck in our faith is not a big deal. To the contrary, it is one of the causes of death!

Just like the previous 5 churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis), Jesus had to send a letter of warning to the church in Philadelphia as well. There were things going on there that were not right, and Jesus warned them to “change or else.” As I’ve mentioned throughout this series, all 7 letters have the same format. To keep in line with the medical imagery of the autopsy, we have made each point a medical reference in this series:


Revelation 3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, ‘He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: 

There are 3 titles here:

a. “the Holy One” – The title “Holy One” is found many times in the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah (about 25 times):

  • Isaiah 1:4 “…They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.”
  • Isaiah 12:6 “Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!”
  • Isaiah 30:15 “For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved…’”

The point is that Jesus is telling them that he is not some new inferior deity. He is the God of Israel, contrary to what the Jewish people who rejected the Messiah were saying.

b. the “trustworthy” – He is genuine. He is the real Messiah. He is the one they can trust.

c. the “one who has the key of David” – This is coming directly from Isaiah 22:22 “The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; So he shall open, and no one shall shut; And he shall shut, and no one shall open.” The story behind the prophecy was that a man by the name of Shebna was the palace administrator to King Hezekiah of Judah. He had built himself into the “man in charge,” even to the point of getting himself a tomb built among the kings of Israel. God hates pride of this sort, and he sent him word through Isaiah that another man by the name of Eliakim would replace him and would receive the key of David. The key represented true access to the kingdom of God. As we will see later, the church in Philadelphia was being persecuted by the Jewish community and Jesus sent them word that they no longer had the key to the kingdom. An 800-year old prophecy had a perfect application on several levels for this church!

Application: Do you realize that all authority resides in Jesus? Who or what do you fear more than Jesus? Are you afraid to take risks for the gospel?


Revelation 3:8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it…”

Context: Most commentators assume that there is no complaint against the church in Philadelphia. I disagree. Their fear of earthquakes or the persecuting Jewish community or both had left them paralyzed. They seemed to be stuck. All they could grow out there were vineyard because of the fertile soil. Even the emperor placed a ban on vineyards so they would grow other crops like corn.

Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”

Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Application: What keeps you from going into the house/the kingdom of God? What are you afraid of? Why are you content to live in the fields? Have the shutdowns shutdown your faith for good?


Revelation 3        8 “…for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”

Context: Again, no place for antisemitism. Keep in mind that the first church was Jewish and Jesus was chastising those who had refused to receive the Messiah, the true and rightful Holy One of Israel. Coming and worshiping before your feet is a statement of being humbled before God and ineffective before his people. One such was Paul himself!

Revelation 3       10 “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

This may very well be a reminder of the rapture to come before the Great Tribulation. If not, at least it points to John 17:15 “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”

Also, you can only have the crown if you go through the door into the house of God. Remember, this is the athlete’s crown not the royal “inherited” crown. You have to fight for it.

Application: Are you willing to go in? Are you trusting Christ to keep you from the hour of trial to come? Are you holding fast? Are you expecting the crown?


Revelation 3        12 “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Context: The first things to fall in an earthquake are pillars. They don’t have much stability. For example, the Washington Monument in DC was damaged because of the 2011 earthquakes. The promise Christ makes to the church in Philadelphia was to trust him that he would make them stand as pillars in God’s temple. People will see how they are able to withstand the trials of life and be triumphant.

Also, the name of the heavenly city is mentioned. Incidentally, the name of Philadelphia changed several times in its history – Neocaesarea to honor Tiberias for his help after the earthquake of AD17; Flavia to honor Vespasian during AD69-79. Those who trust Christ and step out in faith will get to live in the city that is eternal – New Jerusalem!

Invitation: Will you stand as a pillar in God’s temple through the hour of trial to come? Will you enter the New Jerusalem which is eternal? Will you stay paralyzed and just remain in the fields or will you step out to take hold of God’s promises? Some people are staying out of church for various reasons – hurt by church, hypocrites in church. How long will you tarry? Are you saved?

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