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In the letter to the Church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3, John writes concerning the synagogue of Satan and those who claim to be Jews, but are not.

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. (Revelation 3:9 ESV)

What group was it that claimed to be Jews and were not? What was it about them that made them the synagogue of Satan?

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I think this question might need to be scoped. – Mr. Bultitude Dec 31 '14 at 2:06

4 Answers 4

I would guess that the reference to the synagogue of Satan is not to some local synagogue of Satanists that were pretending to be Jews, but instead to all those everywhere who claimed to be Jews but were not really, spiritually, Jews. Consider Jesus' words in John 8:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. ... You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. John 8:39,40,44

In other words: "your actions show you aren't Abraham's children (i.e. you aren't Jews); you're children of Satan."

And then, also consider this passage, which divides everyone into two groups: children of God and children of the devil:

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:10

Also, consider Galatians 3:7-10:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."

Finally, Romans 9:6-8:

... not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

So we see that the true sons of Abraham, the true Jews, are those who are "of faith". Thus, I would conclude that the passage you quoted is simply referring to Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah.

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Kevin, welcome to this site and thank you for this answer; I hope you'll stay to ask and answer more questions. If you haven't already taken the tour and looked at our help pages, that would be a good thing to do, as well as browsing through the other existing questions and answers. – James T Dec 11 '13 at 20:40
I have to vote your answer down because Abraham was not a Jew. It is important to realize that the descendents of Esau, that is all the Arabs (including Herod) claimed Abraham as a father. The Muslims rightfully claim Abraham as a father as well. – gideon marx Dec 12 '13 at 13:50
@gideonmarx Whether you want to call Abraham a Jew or not is beside the point. The point is that looking at these Scriptures, we see an understanding of what it means to be a son of Abraham, one whose reckoning is according to his spiritual offspring, rather than his physical offspring. That means some who are Jews according to the flesh are not Jews according to the spirit, because they are not sons of Abraham. That would explain Rev 3:9. (Note that if you are not a son of Abraham, then you are certainly not a Jew.) – Kevin Dec 12 '13 at 20:08
Anyone can convert to Judaism and is then reconed a Jew. The question was about those who say they are Jews and are not. Abraham is not mentioned. Work to find the simplest answer. Occam's razor. The result is amazing. – gideon marx Dec 13 '13 at 12:16
I would guess is not a good opening for a quality answer. – Flimzy Dec 12 '14 at 12:01

Matthew 13:24-30

24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Matthew 7:15-26

15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

I am interpreting "Jews" here as to mean "chosen people of God" -- i.e. the saved. I am not interpreting "Jews" here as the ethnically Jew.

In Christianity, people are either (1) worshipping God or (2) worshipping Satan. Those who claim themselves as Atheists, Agonistics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists ... are essentially saying "Our set of principles provides a way to live a meaningful life without declaring that Jesus is Lord." (and thus, by Christianity, are labeled as followers of Satan.)

Now, among those that follow Satan, we can split them as follows:

  • those who outwardly reject Jesus as Lord
  • those who pretend that Jesus is Lord

The former would include the Atheists, Agonistics, Muslims, Buddhists, etc ...

I then interpret the passage above, as a warning against people who (1) claim to be Christian and (2) are not.

This is similar to Matthew 13:24-30 -- where the tares outwardly look like the wheat ... but inwardly are not. Then, only in the end, can we tell the difference.

Similarly, I also see this as related to Matthew 7:15-26 -- where there are people who (1) believe themselves to be Christian, and (2) are doing lots of 'good' works supposedly in the name of Christ, and (3) are rejected by Christ.

I will admit however, I have no idea how to interpret part of the verse:

behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet,

I have no idea how to interpret that, since 'bow' is generally related to worship, and we are related to worship God alone.

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Welcome! This answer would be improved if it had references to show that this is a common interpretation. – Mr. Bultitude Dec 31 '14 at 2:06
I'm citing verses from the Bible. What more are you asking for? – unregistered 00000 Dec 31 '14 at 2:32
Please see this post on meta: What makes a good supported answer? These may also prove useful for "learning the ropes" of the site: the help page and How we are different than other sites? – Mr. Bultitude Dec 31 '14 at 2:51

The best Catholic commentary on Apocalypse is

On p. 100, he commentates on Apoc. 3:9, saying:

In the first sentence, Christ shows the contrast between Himself, who is the True One, and the “synagogue of Satan”, who claim to be Jews but are false Jews and liars. They per­secuted the Church at Philadelphia as at Smyrna. By doing so they persecute Christ. The Church is the Israel of God; and as they did in the days of St. Paul, so these false Jews still continue their hatred against Christ and His Church.

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I Am The Witness has a profound narrative discussion specifically on the topic in question. It is a re-post of a writing by theologian and preacher John D. Keyser edited for this website, which does not delineate far from the original. It points out that the reference 'those of the synagogue of Satan' refers primarily to the Sadducees, Pharisees, and those who, yes, were Jewish, but saw no authenticity in Christ's Messiahship or refused to see him as good. In that time, it could be said that those were 'false Jews' did not even see the good of Christ regardless of honoring his Messiaship. There were those who to fell as bad Christians, but the link's explanation is much more thorough and better worded than mine.

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"but it does not delineate far from the original..." perhaps you didn't read this part of it: "The Roman Catholic Church has inherited all the doctrines of the Synagogue of Satan mentioned in the book of Revelation and is, therefore, the SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN in today's world — along with all her "daughter" churches that expound similar doctrines." - I don't exactly see that in "the original" - do you? – bruised reed Sep 19 '14 at 9:14

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