Charges of anti-Semitism are common in our day. Sometimes those charges are slanderous and unfounded, but often they are legitimate, for there are millions in this world with ill will toward the Jewish people. Just days ago, a preschool teacher in Texas was fired for encouraging her friend via social media to “kill some Jews”. Jews have had a tragic history, perhaps especially so in the last 200 years, during which discrimination and hatred of their historic race led to successive pogroms in Eastern Europe, and culminated in the Holocaust in Central Europe during World War II.
From a scriptural perspective, we could say that God never promised an easy road for Jews during the “times of the Gentiles¹”. In Luke 21, Jesus confirmed God’s allowance of an extended period of shame and persecution upon His chosen earthly people for their historical rebellion that reached its climax when they put their Messiah on trial and said prophetically: “His blood be upon us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Nevertheless, “God hath not cast away His people, which He foreknew” (Romans 11:2-5). Through much tribulation, Israel as a people will be ushered by their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, into a glorious earthly kingdom, often called the Millennium. And even now, there is a remnant who are saved “according to the election of grace.”
My real purpose is to make a few remarks concerning those who falsely take the place of the Jewish people during the church period, which is prophetically laid out for us in the letters to the seven prototypical churches in Revelation 2 and 3. In His letters to the assemblies in both Smyrna and Philadelphia, the Lord Jesus censures a group of people (or perhaps more correctly, a religious element) whom He calls “the synagogue of Satan”, speaking of them as those who say that they are Jews, but are not.
Now what is the significance of the Lord’s condemnation of this insidious element? Those “who say that they are Jews” in the Christian profession are they who have returned to Jewish religious principles, and so the “synagogue of Satan” is a religion of the flesh, which rests in outward things like works and ordinances, assuming and occupying the place of the Jews, whose worldly religion (although God-given) was altogether found wanting after the light of Christ and Christianity burst on the scene.²
It is noteworthy that the two assemblies to which He writes concerning these pretending Jews, Smyrna and Philadelphia, receive only encouragement from Him, and none of the rebuke directed toward the other five churches. It was the plague of idolatry that was the danger in Pergamos and Thyatira, but not so in Smyrna and Philadelphia, for these were spiritual assemblies where idolatry could not find a foothold. But in these godly churches, a spurious Judaism had to be guarded against, because returning to the religion once given by Jehovah in an earlier dispensation can be made to seem like godliness for all its emphasis on religious activity. And it surely is Satan who has refurbished and repackaged Judaism in order to attract sincere but unsuspecting Christians, so that “the synagogue of Satan” is clearly an appropriate designation.
Many Bible scholars view the seven churches in Revelation as representing seven periods in the church’s history, some of them overlapping, but all of them developing successively. I believe that Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13 represents a relatively brief period in the 19th century. It has struck me that Philadelphia enjoyed the recovered truth of the Lord Jesus’ imminent return (I come quickly), entered into the truth of the His patient waiting for His heavenly bride (the word of My patience), and enjoyed the promise of being kept out of the tribulation period (I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial). I do not believe it to be coincidental that the 19th century also saw the rise and development of many religious groups that went back to Judaism for their principles, and I will list but a few of the most evidently false systems as a warning to Christians:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses, who denominate themselves using the name by which God made Himself known in His covenant with Israel;
- Mormonism, which teaches that its adherents are either direct descendants of the house of Israel or adopted into it;
- British Israelism, which teaches that people of Western European and Northern European descent are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of the ancient Israelites; and
- Several “Seventh Day” sects, who in the designations they choose for themselves indicate that they keep the Sabbath, a sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with Jehovah.
Whether or not there are any true believers in these Judaistic systems (or others not listed here) is not the point. It is the systems that have the insidious character of the synagogue of Satan, and ought to be shunned accordingly by godly saints.
The Christian’s heart ought to have nothing but love and concern for those who are truly Jewish, and should desire their blessing in a future earthly kingdom and eternally. The Lord Jesus mitigated the severity of the Jews’ treasonous and presumptuous crime in delivering Him up to the Romans by classifying it as a sin of ignorance, when He uttered those beautiful words of forgiveness on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34; Leviticus 4:13-21). Now God can reach down in mercy upon both Gentiles and Jews, to save souls from both classes and bring them into the church of God, the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-18). It is not the ethnic or the traditionally religious Jew that should be avoided by the Christian, but rather, it is counterfeit Jewish systems infiltrating Christianity that must not be tolerated.
The most blessed of rewards is connected with faithfulness in the face of this false Judaism. In a coming day of Christ’s glory, and ours with Him, all whom the scriptures characterize as pretending Jews will be brought to their knees in acknowledgement that the Lord Jesus dearly loves those who have clung to Him and His word in the day of His rejection and patience.³
¹ Luke 21:24 ² Galatians 4:1-11; Hebrews 8, 9, & 10 ³ Revelation 3:8-10