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. Adam

    The Jews were the tribe of Esau, as proven in these Scriptures:

    John 8:33, 41-47
    Matthew 15:12-14
    Romans 9:6-13

    And in the Tanakh, how they got there to begin with can be found in Ezekiel 35. Obadiah speaks to it as well, to name just two witnesses.

    Go and see for yourself that King Herod was an Idumean. Go find out where Idumeans came from.

    And lastly, you MUST allow the Doctrine of Messiah interpret the REST OF THE SCRIPTURES, per His charge in Deuteronomy 18:

    “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”

    ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭18‬:‭18‬-‭19‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ————

    So with that in mind, here is the doctrine of Messiah that settles the matter quite frankly:

    “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

    ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13‬:‭13‬, ‭24‬-‭26‬, ‭28‬-‭30‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ————

    And He interpreted His own parable for all to understand:

    “He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.”

    ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13‬:‭37‬-‭40‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ———-

    So Messiah just said that the process works like this:

    He comes to plant His seed. Then at some time later, the devil comes to plant his seed alongside the wheat.

    And isn’t that exactly what Jacob and Esau represent?

    Doesn’t it say “Jacob He loved, but Esau He hated” ?

    In Obadiah, this is a very straight-forward curse given to Esau:

    “Behold, I have made thee SMALL among the heathen: thou art GREATLY DESPISED.”

    ‭‭Obadiah‬ ‭1‬:‭2‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    —————

    ^^^ This is why the whole world seemingly hates the “Jews” and why also the “Jews” are a small people.

    And another passage regarding 1948:

    “I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, AND I HATED ESAU, AND LAID HIS MOUNTAINS AND HIS HERITAGE WASTE for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas EDOM SAITH, WE ARE IMPOVERISHED, BUT WE WILL RETURN AND BUILD THE DESOLATE PLACES; thus saith the Lord of hosts, THEY SHALL BUILD, BUT I WILL THROW DOWN; and they shall call them, THE BORDER OF WICKEDNESS, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel.”

    ‭‭Malachi‬ ‭1‬:‭2‬-‭5‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ————-

    So now you know why He said this in Revelation 2:9 & 3:9.

    Go to the Doctrine of Messiah to understand where the New Covenant promised land of Israel would be… hint: it’s NOT in the middle east.

    Jer-USA-lem is its name:

    “For ZION’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for JERUSALEM’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: AND THOU SHALT BE CALLED BY A NEW NAME, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.”

    ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭62‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ————

    And He plainly tells us He would appoint a different land for His people after Christ established His kingdom… this is in 2 Samuel 7:10:

    “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime, and as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the Lord telleth thee that he will make thee a house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”

    ‭‭2 Samuel‬ ‭7‬:‭10‬-‭13‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ————

    And that ”appointed place” ^^^ rules out the middle eastern land of Canaan because at the time this word was spoke, they already possessed that land and secondly, it describes a place of safety, where their enemies cannot harass them and it also says that Israel WILL MOVE NO MORE.

    It then goes on to say it would be like the time of the judges, when every man did what was right in his own eyes… kinda sounds like FREEDOM, doesn’t it? Kinda sounds like a nation of self-governed people.. doesn’t it? Kinda sounds like a place of many tribes (aka states) that have their own elected leaders (aka governors & sheriffs)… doesn’t it?

    “Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell IN THE MIDST of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called A city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, The holy mountain.”

    ‭‭Zechariah‬ ‭8‬:‭3‬ ‭KJVAAE‬‬

    ————

    The “midst” of Jerusalem… means “the middle or center”…

    Let’s do an exercise, shall we? Let’s divide Jerusalem into three parts…

    Jer – USA – lem

    And remove the end portions… you get what?

    USA

    He who has an ear, let him comprehend.

    And he who has eyes to see, let him perceive.

  2. 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

  3. 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.