What Is The Synagogue Of Satan?

9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.

To use a phrase that “this is one of the most misunderstood verses in the entire Bible” is to use a cliché, but in this case the claim is actually true. The traditional interpretation is as follows:

The Jews in the city of Philadelphia hated and opposed the Christians, but according to God, the Christians now were the true people of God (spiritual Jews), and not them (the carnal Jews). The Jews, because of their unbelief and rejection of Jesus, are no longer Jews spiritually, the Christians are now spiritual Jews. There will come a day when persecuted Christians will be triumphant and the unbelieving Jews will submit to them. God will make it abundantly clear to all that He was always on the side of the Christians. The Jews simply lied about their identity. The Church has now became what Israel once was, God’s own people.

It is clear that my simplified but fair summary of the interpretation of these texts is an example par excellence of replacement theology or supersessionism at work. What, if not this reading, should be the proper reading of this text? There are a number of issues to consider here.

First, Christian Bibles (well-meaning and faithful translations) still fall into the trap of age old Christian Anti-Judaism when it comes to translation decisions from the Koine Judeo-Greek text of the New Testament when it is translated into modern languages. Take for example the Greek word συναγωγῆς translated here as synagogue (of Satan), while in James 2:2 when the commandment is given to treat poor worshipers on a par with the rich the same word (συναγωγῆς ) is translated as (your) assembly. The word synagogue (συναγωγῆς) in the first century and following was actually a Greco-Roman institution that emerged and functioned during the time of the Babylonian exile. It became a place of Jewish gatherings for study, prayer and fellowship. It really did mean something like a meeting or an assembly. James 2:2 is therefore appropriately translated, but instead of applying the same logic when an utterly negative context is in view as in Rev. 3:9 (of Satan), the overwhelming majority of Christian translators chose to call it not an assembly, but a Synagogue of Satan. In the minds of all modern people (Jewish or otherwise) this word evokes a clear affiliation with the religion we today call Judaism. This was not always because the first century Graeco-Roman institution called a συναγωγῆς (synagogue) was freely used by Jews and non-Jews alike .

Second, and this is absolutely stunning, Jesus actually told the Philadelphian believers that people who were saying and doing these things are not Jews. Stop and think about it for a moment. If we do not accept the traditional interpretation that the carnal Jews are not the spiritual Jews, we could accept what may be called the plain meaning of Jesus’ words, namely that the people opposing them were not Jews at all. If they were not Jews, who were they? Given the widespread practice of conversion to Jewish ancestral practices (proselyte conversion) or coming near to them as in the case of God-fearers, we may be dealing here with overzealous people who were either completely new to Jewish ways of life or who were only superficially familiar with the traditions and therefore not representative of them. We must think through other interpretive possibilities if Jesus’ words (that these people were not Jews) could be taken literally and seriously.

The seven assemblies of Asia Minor were made up of large number of former God-fearers (Gentiles) who had joined the faith of Israel through their reception of Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) and the assemblies included those Israelites who had earlier followed Jesus as the Messiah. It is likely that the non-conversion prescriptions decreed in Acts 15:29 were to blame. The group of people, led by overzealous converts to Jewish ancestral ways of life and who, until recently, were not members of the Jewish people were the ones behind the persecution of believers in Philadelphia. They strongly objected to Gentiles joining the Jewish people without formal proselyte conversion which was not required by the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:29) and which the Apostle Paul clearly forbade (1 Cor. 7:17-24). Jesus promised the Gentiles who followed him according to the decisions of the Jerusalem Council (vs. those who chose the proselyte conversion path to Israel’s God) that he would finally and publically approve them (Rev. 3:9b). He also praised them for doing well.

10 Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 

The Jews in the Roman Empire were numerous and they were a privileged minority. Since the followers of the Jewish Christ from the Nations were instructed against proselyte conversion to Judaism, they were at odds with both the prevailing Roman culture and the majority of Jews who did not understand why they counted themselves among the people of Israel’s God without officially joining that very people. This was the primary meaning of conversion in late antiquity. Jesus promised these precious believers, that since they had kept his commandments in spite of enormous difficulties, he in turn would preserve them through the hours of great difficulty that were soon coming. It is likely that the empire-wide persecution of Gentile followers of the Jewish Christ was in view. That particular persecution took place under Emperor Nero (64-68 C.E.)

11 I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

In the Roman Empire, Jews, even Jesus-following Jews, were a minority who were protected by law. However, Gentile followers of the Jewish Christ were not. Former Roman pagans who joined this Jewish coalition under Jesus without actual conversion to Jewish ancestral traditions and way of life were vulnerable to the attacks of their enemies on both sides – the Roman pagans that despised them and the former Roman pagans who went through proselyte conversion to Judaism (those who say “they are Jews, but are not” in Rev.3:9).

Even with the promise of preservation (Rev. 3:10), the coming persecution and survival/overcoming would not be easy. Once it was accomplished, however, the rewards of the Israelite Kingdom for Gentile members of this Jewish Jesus coalition would be great. Members from among the Nations of the world who joined the Jewish Jesus not as Jews, but as members of the nations, would be fully brought in and treated as first class citizens of the Kingdom of Israel’s God.

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  1. Caleb S Motupalli

    Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg writes in regards to who he considers are the “Synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 3:9): “We may be dealing here with overzealous people who were either completely new to Jewish ways of life or who were only superficially familiar with the traditions and therefore not representative of them.”

    I disagree! My explanation follows…

    Please do not slap an anti-Semitic label on me or censor me. I wish you well. Thank you!

    I would think that the converts (proselytes) would be more godly and god-fearing than the nominal ones, who i believe are trapped in conceit (See also Romans 11). The same is the case here in India with Hindu and Muslim converts to Christianity, who practice it more than their nominal peers. My wife, who was born in a Christian family, admits this fact.

    Paul writes, “At the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” This means there is only one Way–the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ–for both the Jews AND the Gentiles (John 14:6). There is no backdoor to heaven specially designed for the Jews. If the so-called Jews were truly Abraham’s children, they “would do the deeds of Abraham” (John 8:39), namely, to humble themselves and be born-again (John 3:3-5 & Matthew 18:1-4 taken together). They would embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father, and convert to Christianity. But “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). So let the nominal Jews no longer remain as laggards. The so-called Jews can learn a lot from this statement by Jesus in Matthew 21:31-32: “The tax collectors and the prostitutes [and Gentiles] are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes [and the Gentiles] did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” Hebrews 2:3 reads: “how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.” And 2 Peter 2:21 reads: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”

    So in my judgement, the translators too were inspired and correctly translated the Greek word συναγωγῆς in Revelation 3:9 as “Synagogue of Satan.” In any case, why would one want to associate and identify with the Pharisees, just as the Seventh Day Adventists are presently doing?

    But after all is said and done, the heavenly Father says there is indeed a backdoor for the Jews, who have been under the tutelage of the living God. But today “the full number of Gentiles have come in.” Therefore, Hebrews 4:7 reads: ‘He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”’

    Caleb Surésh Motupalli
    Cloud Missionary and Hindu Convert from India

  2. Will Maloney

    Let us hypothesize that “Jews” used here (Rev 3:9) refers to false Christians as in Matthew 7:20-24. The “congregation of the adversary” is NOT an identifiable sect or any denomination, but a group known to The Almighty as wretched liars. They are comprised from all the four corners of the earth. They claim that the congregation of Philadelphia are false Christians (possibly called a cult) who are hated by Christ, but the exact opposite is true. Christ LOVES them and will make the adversaries bow before them at their feet. Just to be clear, these adversaries are card carrying, mainstream “brothers, sisters, pastors and wives”, from the finest churches. Let us further hypothesize that there is a little flock which has planted to the four corners. They have a little strength. They go out and knock on doors, which often get slammed (Yeshua opens and no-one shuts, and shuts and no-one opens). They frequently use a name of God: Jehova. They began in Pittsburg and later, in Philadelphia (city of brotherly love). They do not believe in the Rapture, so they will be here, busy as ever, doing God’s work for the unfortunate remainers. They are the ONLY congregation that our Lord Master God Yeshua guarantees protection from the “trying” to come. I have studied with them for many years. I am not one of them. They have gotten some things wrong. I look forward and up to the Rapture, as The Bride of Christ (the first bride, Leah; for which He worked seven years, but didn’t want- amen Lord. He then worked ANOTHER seven years for the bride He desired, Rachel = Israel, the apple of His eye). One final thought (hypothetical, of course): the catholic church and her children are generally REPUGNANT to THE ALMIGHTY, and they lead the mob declaring JW’s a cult of the god with his heavenly name stripped.

  3. Sonya Nolan

    Great article. I totally agree, and have wondered in my own thinking if that were the case, though I was not aware of anyone else who would agree with me. I was actually sent here to read a different article (about Luke) from Friends of eTeacher, but it wasn’t available(?). But I’m glad I came! Wow, thanks!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks for the response. Glad you came. Browse through the archives, we have all kinds of great articles here!

  4. Jane Z. Mazzola

    How wondrously kind her statement. if you can provide your mailing address, Ma’ lene, I can send a copy of Dr. Eli’s GOSPEL of JOHN book. I have some extras I ordered. Gift to you.
    If you prefer my email is jzmazzola1@gmail.com.

  5. Ma'lene

    Thank you for your knowledge and wisdom and above all, for hearing what Yahwe teaches you to tell people like me to hear! I know you are going to be humble now, saying it is all from G-d, it is, but thank you for spending time and for making it your mission and calling to teach me. I cannot afford buying your work and studies, but “I’m feeding on what you share per email and your blog.

    God Bless!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Ma’lene, thank you for you kind words. I am glad you can enjoy the blog. I will keep posting, you spread the word share with others and tell them what a blessing it is for you. Shalom.

  6. Pam

    Dr. Eli,

    It is true in my mind that the word “synagogue” evokes a clear affiliation with Judaism, and I am learning and understanding and seeing more and more the influence of Replacement theology in the “church”. This idea that the church has replaced Israel I completely reject!

    My confusion at present is with your statement: “The word synagogue (συναγωγῆς) in the first century and following was actually a Greco-Roman institution that emerged and functioned during the time of the Babylonian exile. ”

    My understanding is that the “place of gathering” came out of the Babylonian exile, but was it a Greco-Roman institution? According to the Jewish Encyclopedia “The synagogue as a permanent institution originated probably in the period of the Babylonian captivity, when a place for common worship and instruction had become necessary.

    It is not clear to me what you are communicating. Could you please clarify, explain?

    The blessing of the Lord be upon you!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I see where the misunderstanding crept in. Synagogue is a Greek word. Though it is used to described gatherings of Jews (in the NT especially) it is used to describe gathering of all kinds, Jewish, pagan, political, family, civic and etc. As such a gathering (synagogue) is not really Jewish or non-Jewish, its just a gathering. Synagogue as a Jewish communal institution is a different matter. It is all in the contexts. But just because the word synagogue is used (in speech or texts), it does not mean this was a Jewish gathering, and it does not even mean it was anything religious for that matter.

  7. Jane Z. Mazzola

    It sounds as if Dr. van den Berg has points & agreement w/your camp.

    Blessed hopes for more,
    Jane M

  8. Dr. Charles van den Berg

    An excellent exegesis! One of the causes of a wrong explanation of biblical texts is that one forgets to interpreted the text within its historical context.
    In Acts 14:1; 17:1; 17:10 is explicitly spoken of ‘ the synagogue of the Jews ‘, to distinguish it from other synagogues (assemblies).
    It would not have been necessary when a synagogue is by definition a Jewish phenomenon.

  9. Jane Z. Mazzola

    Soŕry. I just saw that the earlier post appeared. Yes you have mentioned this gent, Dr. Brad Young before. I did see a presentation he made (youtube) w/ the Galilee Summer Institute website advertisement.

  10. Jane Z. Mazzola

    Dr. Eli,
    I wrote a post @ this issue recently but appears the blog has a new format & not transmitted. So I’ll beat the “dead horse” again.
    Dr. Levine’s ANNOTATED New Testament uses a current use version of the NT with commentaries included and separate scholarly contributed articles, but not a whole newly translated NT, as I thought it would be.

    There is the precedent, however, w/Dr. David Stern’s Translation and also, a separate Commentary. He uses the phrase ,”synagogue of the adversary” which may sound more benign but still does not adaquately explain what was going on.

    The point is that at some point, sooner than later, your task seems to remain. Then in my inbox today, an article appeared that you are addressing that task sooner than later.

    Good for you & blessings on your work for renewed enlightenment/discussion.

  11. Jane Z. Mazzola

    Dr. Eli,
    Not to beat a dead horse issue, but I shall!

    When the time is right in years to come, perhaps you will re-translate the NT. Precedents are there: Dr. David Stern has done so (you mentioned him in one of your webinars) & even, Thomas Jefferson (!). The MIRACLE is possible.

    With your knowledge & passion for this subject, you could also include the commentary for your translations. You have already begun w/the Gospel of John & Revelation.
    Blessings, Jane M

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you confidence, but I don’t think I am the right guy for the job! By the way my friend Brad Young is either working on it now or have already complied it! Check him out! He is very good.

  12. Miloslav Dunka

    Dear Dr. Eli,
    I don’t see that the Jews were a “privileged class” in Roman Empire as you indicate in this article. Not at least from reading the NT and Josephus. The Jews living in Rome were driven out of it (Josephus gives the reasons), see Aquila and Priscilla meeting Paul in Corinth. Paul himself had the regular privileges as a citizen just because he was a citizen from Tarsus. Many other Jews didn’t have that. It seems that most of the 12 Apostles didn’t enjoy even the citizenship of Roman Empire.

    Before I accepted Jesus in my life, I studied secular history. After my conversion, I matched the history of God’s people to what I had already known from the secular point of view. Based on the fact, I cannot other but accept the prophetic interpretation of the Seven churches which begins in Ephesus (as the First Christian segment of history) and ending with Laodicea (the end-time segment before His coming.). Doing this, it gives me much more harmony between what the “Letters to Seven Churches” say and the fulfilment during the last two milenia.

    As to the “synagogue of Satan,” I see that when Jesus uses the word Jews, it is appropriate to use the expression denoting congregation or gathering that is relevant for the name “Jews.” Further, it seems that the word Jew, Jews, or “those of Israel” is often employed in the Bible to indicate faithfulness to God in the truth and true knowledge of God, not just being a part of a nation or a congregation (nominal believers), see Romans 9:6. In fact the chapters 9, 10, and 11 of Romans are full of wisdom on this subject. Jesus, when He talks to the Samaritan woman, tells her that “salvation is from Jews,” not from Samaritans, not from any other nation. I can’t help it but believe that this means that the truth about salvation was given to Jews, and so it must be a Jew who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. The letter to the second church (Smyrna) uses the same expression to denote faithful ones vs. synagogue of Satan: “… the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” Rev 2:9.

    Again Apostle Paul in 1stCor 1:23, 24 says: “… we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Here again Paul goes back to the thought that nationality doesn’t matter in spiritual things. What matters is the true obedience to the calling of God.

    As to the severe persecution of Christians happening under Nero (for Philadelphians), we know that it was only beginning which didn’t impact all Christians of RE’s territory. Colosseum (the place of killing Christians for entertainment) was not in existence yet, Paul was one of his first martyrs, possibly Peter also. But Nero committed suicide and it was the emperors who followed in a next few centuries who extended the persecution to horrific proportions all over the Empire.

    I don’t mean to oppose at any cost, just making comment on what I know for perhaps enlarging the horizon of views for everyone who likes to read and study.

  13. jane z. mazzola

    Yes, you’re right & also, humorous! 🙂 The same Greek word or Hebrew word, whenever it appears in a text, would be better served to be translated consistently w/the same “new” language word. I wonder how this passage is translated in all English Bibles? I am not in VA w/my usual resources to check, but I shall when I return. I’ll check Dr. A-J Levine, ed.. New Testament & comments also. Have you considered for some future time, making your case to all publishers w/the recommendation that all future editions of English language Bibles change the phrase of “synagogues of satan” to “assemblies of the devil” or other less offensive words? Why not?

    Again, prayers for your safe, successful travels & safety for those in Israel.
    Jane M

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Jane. I have not considered, but we are talking about here a miracle of gigantic proportions. 🙂 Thank you so much!!!!!!

  14. jane z. mazzola

    Dear Dr. Eli,

    Thank you for your kind & generous words.

    The definition of “alliteration” which you quoted seems to fit this example of “synagogue of satan” perfectly or vice versa. Frequently the sounds may be repeated more than just 2x to continue the emphasis, but this one works quite well, w/ the harsh “S” sounds of “s”. It even creates (in my mind’s eye) a Sinister Satanic Situation (!) & for you, creates additional pain & anger, in light of history, ancient & modern. I appreciate your reaction, & it is so rightly justified. You are entitled. Thank you for your honesty & recognition that the personal perception may be present in this particular passage (alliteration?). 🙂

    On the other hand, you have pointed out that the translations of James & this passage in Revelation came from the same Greek word(s); hence the question remains, why are 2 different English words used? Was it really meant to be anti-Semitic? Or was there something else being emphasized w/this community? While you explain them so well in light of language, history, culture, & “connecting the dots”, there is still a measure of mystery w/Jesus’s messages to each of these communities. That possible unknown is what I see in this particular passage. I still wonder if the modern translation in other languages of the same phrase engenders as much “hair raisin’ on the back of the neck”? In other words, is the word “synagogue” actually what is used in different modern languages? Or would it be in a Spanish language Bible, a word used equal to assembly? It would be a good modern language word study. For instance, what word is used in a Russian Bible translation? Would it be more accurately translated to the original 1st c. text?

    I am not sure that I have made my question clear, but I hope. 🙂
    Jane M.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ok… I c. thanks. Why is this word used, probably, the answer is because people that were translating (most of them not harboring any bad feelings towards the Jews and some having real sympathies in fact) translated it this way is because they are thinking in the Church/Christianity, synagogue/Judaism paradigm. In other words this translation reads into text the kind of separation that was not there at the time of the writings! Synagogues were not exclusively Jewish and while it can be translated this way it should then inconstantly translated this way in other places too. Again I think when the Christian mind demonizes the Jews (and this translation whether on purpose or not) just that… literally, this is not the right way to go! (see I am not using alliteration here, though I at least now know what it is) :-).

  15. jane z. mazzola

    After reading this post & comments numerous times, I still come away w/ a certain defensiveness on your part, Dr. Eli, & that comes in all due respect from a reader/fan. I
    agree w/the gent, David, near the beginning of comments. I see your reasoning re: the use of the words, “assembly” & “synagogue” in different texts but w/the same Greek. However, is the case of English translation to “Synagogue of Satan”, a strong alliteration, for the purpose of emphasis of Jesus’ message to this community, rather than Jews as a group? Just by reading the phrase once, the English sounds are strong & harsh…an effective literary device. I would wonder if the same expression or sounds in French, Spanish, or any other modern languages would have that same effect or even same translation? For all you of numerous languages, what are your translations?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dearest Jane, I have never doubted your fan sympathies :-)!!!! I guess for a me this is a VERY EMOTIONAL issue. In other words how I hear this translation choice is very different from how I hear almost any other debated point. Hence (no doubt some of the defensiveness you are rightfully sensing). In my mind this kind of translations laid foundation for literally much later in Christian history spilling my people’s blood. So am sensitive about it. Yes :-).

      I had to look up alliteration :-). (Got this: “Alliteration is a stylistic literary device identified by the repeated sound of the first consonant in a series of multiple words, or the repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables of a phrase.”) Not exactly sure what you may be referring to here in your question. Can you rephrase and repost?

  16. yetilived

    Would the Jews ( that Jesus loved) already have had their hearts tested ( received the revelations of Christ) —but are unfinished/entombed? I am trying to understand what it means to be kept from the hour of testing and Exodus 16 speaks of testing like drops of water (heavenly messengers) rather than streams of living water.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Testing is good. It allows to show faithfulness and to grow. Consider Abraham and Job.

  17. Greenzone

    “Nearly all the Samaritans, but few among the rest of the nations, confess him [Simon Magus] to be the first god and worship him.”

    • Justin Martyr, Apology, I.26

    “He [Simon Magus] was glorified by many as a god; and he taught that it was he himself who, forsooth, appeared among the Jews as the Son, while in Samaria he descended as the Father, and the rest of the world he came as the Holy Spirit. That he was the highest power, to wit, the Father over all, and that he allowed himself to be called by whatever name men pleased.”

    • Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.23.1

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      ??? and…

      1. Greenzone

        9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan [ synagogues of the Gnostic Samaritans ]
        , who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie [ they are Gnostic Samaritans, which follow Simon Magus the Samaritan ]

        “Nearly all the Samaritans, but few among the rest of the nations, confess him [Simon Magus] to be the first god and worship him.”

        • Justin Martyr, Apology, I.26

        “He [Simon Magus] was glorified by many as a god; and he taught that it was he himself who, forsooth, appeared among the Jews as the Son, while in Samaria he descended as the Father, and the rest of the world he came as the Holy Spirit. That he was the highest power, to wit, the Father over all, and that he allowed himself to be called by whatever name men pleased.”

        • Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.23.1

        The People That History Forgot – Chapter 4 Who Built the Idolatrous Synagogues?

  18. premkumar samuel

    Jesus when he addressed the jews who believed in Him, said among other things I know you are Abraham’s descendents (Meaning they are Jewish by birth)You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.
    So i think It is quiet possible that Jesus may be referring to Jews who are persecuting the Church as belonging to the evil one.
    I also wish to add Dr. Eli, that David Stern of JNP has also taken your Stand and its worth considering.Replacement Theology is not Biblical and every Christian should be taught the truths of Romans 9-12 as well Jeremiah 33 which clearly states that His covenant with His people (The JEWS) are irrevocable and eternal.
    Premkumar Samuel

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You see it is one thing to have a heritage, to be born into a particular family and into the covenant. But one is responsible to live it as well. No one tossed out the personal responsibility out of the equation. Some people can be “bad Jews” but still “Jews” not someone else. Some people can be better then “bad Jews” but that does not mean God will dispossess the “bad Jews” of their “Jewishness” and hand it over to those who ware better than they are, but happen not to be Jews. 🙂 These things do not change. 1 Cor 7:19.

    2. alicialala

      If circumcision of the flesh is a distinct characteristic of a natural Jew, and the circumcision of the heart makes a spiritual Jew, does it mean that christians are spiritual jews? Does this fall under Replacement Theology?


    Another interesting article in all generational record keeping, keeps it up sir.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  20. yetilived

    Are you saying that the word church means assembly.? God didn’t exclude me, but the word church seems very exclusive to me (unchurched). I noticed in Exodus that the lampstand was gold and gold was ““tested by fire” I also notice that the manna was used to” test them and see whether they will follow my instructions”. Is the word assembly a reference to a building? Is assembly different than a temple or church? If a lampstand is the church how can a building test us? Just trying to clarify word meanings 🙂

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. English word church is very specific, but it is modern and is out of place in 1st century. Greek word Synagogue (at that time) meant a gathering and not necessarily a Jewish one (as it does today). So Synagogue/Assembly of Satan can include anyone!

  21. Kostya

    Shalom Dr Eli!
    I really appreciated this discussion of Rev 3:9 on the basis of’ the plain meaning’ of the words of Jesus. That is certainly a possibility that I have never heard before. I too have seen this text used as another log to throw on the anti-Semitic campfire.

    However, what you explain as the plain meaning of ‘who say they are Jews and are not’, and you have argued it well, remains, and I think you would agree, just a possible alternate interpretation.

    You answered the question of what was the synagogue in Philadelphia, but have you
    answered the question of why Jesus called it the synagogue ‘of Satan’?

    I no longer have computer access to your commentary on John 8:44 and don’t remember your interpretation of that text where Jesus told the Jews He was addressing that their father was the devil. But it seems to me that Rev 3:9 might possibly also be put into that category.

    The issue there in John’s Gospel was not about ‘carnal’ vs “spiritual Jew’ as some like to put the issue, but who is doing the will of the Father and has received the One whom the Father had sent.

    I am one who opposes replacement theology at every turn, even when it is very difficult to do so, but there is a big question that needs to be asked more often than it is: What does Jesus think of those who do not receive Him – whether they be Jews or not?

    These words of Jesus are more than a comment on the socio-cultural- historical situation in Philadelphia, they sound like a prophetic pronouncement from on high- almost of judgment.

    Verses like John 8:44 and Rev 3:9 together with many passages in Hebrews are important indicators to us of how God considers those who reject His revelation in His Son.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear, Kostya, I am glad we are on the same page with replacement theology. The question you asked is “Why Synagogue of Satan?” Is this not a prophetic pronouncement of judgement? Perhaps. The question I ask is “who is precisely the synagogue of Satan?” And my answer is – could be anyone and not necessarily Jews. The word Synagogue is not a Jewish equivalent of Church in 1st century. Since the word synagogue does not mean a Jewish gathering exclusively in 1st century there is no need to think of the gathering being qualified as Jewish.

      The fact that someone rejects something bears no effect on one’s identity, heritage, genealogical decent and belonging. An elephant may hate to be on land and prefer to swim but that does not classify him as a fish. He was born and elephant and will remain as such, just really water-loving elephant. 🙂 The whole rhetoric “who say they are Jews but are not” follows this simple logic. My interpretation has nothing to do with acceptance or rejection of Jesus. Jesus is not a factor of Jewish identity. It has to do with identity confusion and priority confusion. If one’s life choice in life to to be a member of “the congregation of Satan” that that is his chosen path and chosen identity and negligence whether Jewish or not. A bad, undeserving and wayward Jew is still a Jew. Not that there is such a thing and a true or real Jew and less deserving, less real Jews. That’s my thinking…

  22. Jay Axtell

    Rev. 3:9-13 (TLV) “9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of satan—who say they are Jewish and are not, but lie—behold, I will cause them to come and bow down before your feet , so that they acknowledge that I have loved you! 10 “Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon—hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12 The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the Temple of My God , and he will never leave it. And on him I will write 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 My own new Name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Ruach is saying to Messiah’s communities.”
    Jacob (James) 2:2 (TLV) “For if a man with a gold ring and fine clothes comes into your synagogue, and a poor person in filthy clothes also comes in”

    There is consistency. The TLV is a fully vetted translation with team of biblical scholars (seventy in all), both Jewish and non-Jewish. Some on the translating and theology team you might recognize are Jeffrey Feinberg, Helen Dallaire, Ray Gannon, Michael Brown, Dan Juster, Glenn Blank, Eric Tojaker, Craig Keener, just to name a few. The Tree of Life Messianic Jewish Family Bible project manager is Jeffrey Seif is also illustrated by Messianic Jewish artist, Michael Washer. Here is a link: https://tlvbible.com/Portals/0/bible/index.html.



    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am glad there is consistency. I know TLV. 🙂 This still does not fix the problem that in the 1st century the word Synagogue DID NOT mean “a Jewish gathering” exclusively and was often used by pagans to describes their assemblies as well. Today it is always understood as a Jewish gathering and here it the problem of a modern reader. While its technically accurate functionally it does not accurately transmit the same broader idea.

  23. Jay Axtell

    Outstanding explanation, Dr. Eli. Have you ever looked at the new Tree of Life version? Baker publishing just picked it up.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      No. How does it translate it and other problematic “anti-Jewish” sections? Would love to hear about it.

  24. Jerry S.

    As a “Gentile member(s) of this Jewish Jesus coalition” I love this particular kind of study in search of HIS truth. I’ve written before, it’s the implications of these studies that interest me most.

    Your summary is just what I was taught as I sat under traditional Christian teaching and is what the majority of Christians I know have come to understand as doctrine. The false doctrine of Replacement Theology has been” institutionalized”.
    I’ve found that coming at this debate from the translation stand point defuses much angst that results from the discussion, but not always. There lacks much in understanding translation/interpretation from one language to another in the “assembly” of believers today.

    The translation of the English word church runs parallel with the word synagogue in its misleading modern understanding of scriptures intent. The Septuagint can be used as a key to interpretation where there exists a correlating Hebrew to Greek translation/interpretation that then can be used as a basis for Greek to English understanding.

    OT Hebrew words Qahal and Edah are both translated to English as assembly, convocation, congregation readily, but NT English translations for whatever reason use these English words intermittently alongside of both the words church and synagogue. Any lay person can study this phenomenon with modern internet search engines.


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I agree the word church should not be used to translate anything in new testament (ekklesia and church are not the same ideas, one is jewish (first one) and the second (church) is already invested in Christian vs. Jewish conceptional meaning, therefore is problematic. Read Anders Runesson (Oslo, former McMaster University) on this.

  25. Lori

    This interpretation is so logical. Instead of manipulating the words to fit our pre-conceptions, the actual historical facts are simply presented and fit perfectly.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Lori, many thanks for your feedback. It is amazing how much is being read into texts. Everyone is guilty. So we should just be on the lookout always asking ourselves what else may we be overlooking?

  26. cecille12

    I love the way you pull the actual historical and cultural to explain Revelation as well as God’s plan with His loved ones who are stepping up to follow His Son Jesus. I heard a Rabbi on the Internet this past week, though not a believer in the Jewish Jesus, say the Torah speaks where anyone can understand. Just from your explanation of the believers in the Church of Philadelphia, it is crystal clear, you point it out from the proper understanding and ground of the Jews. It has to be because of the replacement theology or supersessionism that has clouded the meaning. I always want to put others before me, but it seems the replacement theology and supersessionism wants to put Jews under their feet to the nations and not to Jewish Israel. Israel will be the head, not the tail. Thanks be to the Lord Jesus who deemed it good in His eyes to fully bring me in and be a first class citizen of the Kingdom of Israel’s God through His great mercy!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Mary. I don’t think there is a real conspiracy here. But I think those are trajectories of meaning. Once people accept them they go long way. Most things that blind us are not what we don’t know, but we think we know – one wise man had said.

  27. Luis R. Santos

    Well said!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Luis.

  28. yetilived

    Your example of replacement theology is indeed excellent. I noticed in Acts 15:19-21 that the reason behind the decision of the Jerusalem Council was because the law of Moses had been preached in every city on every Sabbath. I also noticed that they were speaking about gentiles who had turned to God, not Christ(?) If I toss aside the “sinners” model of evangelism this seems to be more about the blood covenant than sin. Questions I am asking myself are: 1. are the 7 stars in Revelation the Holy Spirit? 2. is this different then the seal of the Holy Spirit? I was under works (- no sacrificial system +Ten Commandments) before I repented. I turned to God in my repentance and the hidden manna and the white stone were the revelations bringing me to faith to accept the blood covenant (Matthew 26:26-29) A lot to think about.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Let’s keep on thinking about it together.

    2. alicialala

      What I know is we also do what the jews does. The difference is the jews are obeying the laws to avoid punishment and condemnation, but in our case we obey the law out of love for God and others, and we want to be free.

      I will not eat meat if others will see and will get stumbled for eating such. Jews will not eat meat because it is forbidden by the law. Spiritual Jews eat meat with gladness, thankfulness, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. So it is all about the manner of practice of being natural and spiritual in all conduct of our lives.
      Paul said the natural first then the spiritual. Jews first then the Christians. But In the case of salvation, the first became last, and the last became first. Jesus taught through the natural so we will understand the spiritual. The jews did not fully understood the significance of the Blood Covenant because they did not saw the spirit behind it, it was kept hidden from them because of their carnality. Christians understood it because of their faith and knowledge of the One who gave them the Blood Covenant manifested both in the natural and spiritual way, the jewish heritage and culture as their parallel. It is so true that the New Testament revealed what the Old Testament has concealed. Praise God Almighty and Lord Jesus Christ!

  29. Don Demrow

    Excellent article. Todah rabah!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      bevakasha (welcome) 🙂

  30. David

    Dr.: I believe you are a little mixed up on this translation, and are making an effort to make the translation of the verse sound anti-Semitic. In doing so, you make the reading of this article difficult.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      David, hi. Any one can be mistaken including myself. Plz, make your point in more concrete way, where do you believe I am “a little mixed up on this translation”?

  31. Disciple of Jesus

    Under the heading of “A brief History of the Terms for Jew” in the 1980 Jewish Almanac is the following:

    “Strictly speaking it is incorrect to call an ancient Israelite a ‘Jew’ or to call a contemporary Jew an Israelite or a Hebrew.” (1980 Jewish Almanac, p. 3).

    http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/1/61.abstract — The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses

    http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/1/61.full.pdf+html — The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses

    Jesus was an Israelite (temporarily) not a “Jew”.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think in John in particular, while Jesus is a Jew (in a sense of being Judean), but he is primarily an Israelite. So I agree, but I am not sure that you with me on everything here :-).