We are continuing our series of studies, verse-by-verse, through the Book of Revelation. We have been focusing upon the seven churches of Asia Minor and this week we are looking at the church in Philadelphia, what most scholars refer to as “The Faithful Church.” Remember, that our Lord Jesus Christ is doing the talking here. He is instructing the angel of each church to write down some things He has to say to each church. One of the things that I have been emphasizing is that we must learn from these churches as the Spirit of God speaks to us through these messages, too.
Two words sum up much of the Christian life: “Keep Moving.” When things get difficult and you think you’re ready to throw up your arms and quit, ready to say, “Maybe I will just sit this thing out, maybe I will take it easy now,” the answer often comes from that helpful little sign, “Keep Moving.” Just keep moving. Keep going. Persevere. Stay faithful. Keep on keepin’ on.
The church at Philadelphia is a church that just kept moving. All indicators suggest that the church was small, yet strong. They could easily have thrown-in the towel. They could have given up. But they just kept moving.
As we have read about these seven churches we have noted that most of them have some things wrong with them that Jesus addresses. There are only two exceptions to this pattern: the church at Smyrna and the church at Philadelphia. There is no rebuke from our Lord Jesus Christ, only words of encouragement.
As we study this church, we learn three actions to take concerning our response to the Lord Jesus Christ . . .
I. We Must Consider The Final Power of Christ – Verse 7.
In verse 7, we read of the absolute authority of Jesus Christ. He is the final power. There is none higher than He. That is what we read in verse 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.’” Jesus is described as the one “who has the key of David,” a key with which “He opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” In the Bible, keys represent authority and power. This statement of our Lord’s is an allusion to Isaiah 22:22. In this verse, King Hezekiah appoints Eliakim as the chief steward of Hezekiah’s household. Eliakim had access to the king and his palace. If you wanted to get into the king’s household, then you had to go through Eliakim. He held the keys. He opened and shut the door. He was the only way in. He was the final authority and power.
In the same sense, Jesus Christ is described as the one “who has the key” to the house and kingdom of David. Jesus Christ is the Davidic Messiah, the one who controls entrance into God’s kingdom. He alone “opens and shuts” the door. He is the only way in. No one else has this authority and power. This was probably very encouraging to the faithful Christians at the small church in Philadelphia. They were no doubt persecuted time and again and were very likely excommunicated from the local synagogue of Jews. They may have been shut-out of the synagogue, but Jesus Christ will never shut them out of the kingdom. He is the sole “key-carrier” to the kingdom.
There is no authority higher than the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone controls the keys to the kingdom. He alone opens and shuts the door. Mohammed does not open and shut the door. Buddha does not open and shut the door. No priest can open and shut the door. No New Age Guru can open and shut the door. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can open and shut the door to the kingdom.
The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men; the Man Christ Jesus.” In John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” And just in case you have not heard it in awhile, Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes unto the Father except by Me.”
I read recently about Charles Weigle, an itinerant evangelist and gospel songwriter. He returned home one day from an evangelistic crusade and found a note left by his wife of many years. The note said that she had had enough of being the wife of an evangelist. She was leaving him. That event sent Weigle into the depths of despair and darkness. There were even times when he had contemplated suicide. But, over time, his faith grew and he once again became active in Christian ministry. It was the hard experiences such as his wife’s leaving him that shaped his thoughts to pen these words to a popular hymn:
I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus,
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true;
I would tell you how He changed my life completely,
He did something that no other friend could do.
No one ever cared for me like Jesus,
There’s no other friend so kind as He;
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me,
O how much He cared for me.
There is no one like Jesus.
He is holy. He is true. He alone holds the keys to the kingdom of God. He alone can take the sin and darkness from our lives. He alone is Master. We must yield to Him and bow before Him. We must consider the Final Power of Christ.
Secondly . . .
II. We Must Commit To Faithful Perseverance For Christ: Verses 8-10.
The church at Philadelphia teaches us about the faithful perseverance for Christ. Verse 8 tells us, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it (again, a reference to Christ’s control of the kingdom of God); for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Jesus says to this church, “You have a little strength.” This statement is not to be understood as a weakness. This should be translated as, “You have but just a little power, just a little strength.” It refers to a church that is a small church, a struggling church, a church that was not very impressive on the outside, just a little power, just a little influence, just a little strength; a church persecuted and yet, faithful. Jesus is commending the church for her faithfulness even in light of the fact that she is relatively small and has little power and influence. The church had committed to faithful perseverance despite her little strength.
Jesus goes on to say, “You have kept My word, and not denied My name.” That is, “You are faithful.” Jesus never calls us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful – Just keep moving; Keep going; Keep on keepin’ on. Commit to faithful perseverance for Christ.
Verse 9 says, “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.” Those “who say they are Jews and are not, but lie” refers to those who reject Jesus as the Divine Messiah. These are the Jews who live in Philadelphia who have excluded the Christians from worship at the synagogue. They have excommunicated the Jewish Christians. Jesus calls them “the synagogue of Satan.” That does not sound very good, does it?
Jesus promises to bring vindication to the Christians. He promises to vindicate them. He promises to “prove them right.” He says, “I will make them come and worship (better, bow down) before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” In this, Jesus promised that He would vindicate His people and make sure that their persecutors recognized they were wrong, and that Jesus and His followers were right. The idea is of vindication before self-righteous “spiritual” persecutors. God promised that the church in Philadelphia would be vindicated before their persecutors.
God promised Israel that Gentiles would honor them and acknowledge their God (Isaiah 45:14). Now the tables were somewhat turned, and these Jewish people will play the role of the heathen and acknowledge that the church is the Israel of God. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 speaks of unbelievers falling down in the midst of Christians to worship God. This establishes that it was not Christians who were being worshipped, but God was worshipped in the presence of Christians.
This is a picture of submission, not worship. The Jews who had excluded the Christians would one day come and bow down before the Christians in submission to the truth that Jesus Christ really is the Divine Messiah. The Christians will be vindicated. Jesus will “prove them right.”
The same is true for you. You keep being faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. One day our Lord Jesus will “prove you right.” Allow God to take up your case. You will be proven right in the end. The Bible reminds us in Philippians 2:10-11that the day will come when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In the meantime, we must commit to faithful perseverance for Christ.
Jesus goes on to conclude, “And to know that I have loved you.” As those who were once their enemies worshipped alongside them, they now knew that Jesus had loved these people they once persecuted. The best way to destroy the enemies of the Gospel is to pray that God would change them into friends.
Persecuted people often long for justice against their persecutors (Revelation 6:10). A passage from a second century Tertullian, a Christian historian shows this, “What sight shall wake my wonder, what my laughter, my joy and exultation? As I see all those kings, those great kings… groaning in the depths of darkness! And the magistrates who persecuted in the name of Jesus, liquefying in fiercer flames than they kindled in their rage against the Christians!”
In verse 10, Jesus says, “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. Jesus also promised them protection from the hour of trial coming on the whole world.
Most Bible scholars see this hour of trial as a prophetic reference to the Messianic woes, the Great Tribulation, which precede Jesus’ earthly kingdom. Jesus promised to keep these Christians from that hour of trial. The phrase, “To test those who dwell on the earth: The test is directed against those who dwell on the earth” is used nine times in the Book of Revelation, and it speaks of those who are not saved in Jesus. Revelation 17:8 makes the term synonymous with the lost, “And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.” This test is for unbelievers, not Christians.
The phrase, “Those who dwell on the earth” refers not to believers but to unbelievers who are objects of God’s wrath” throughout Revelation. Christians are different. Though we walk on this earth, our dwelling place is in heaven. We have been seated in heavenly places in Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). We do not “dwell on the earth,” our life is hidden in Jesus (Colossians 3:3).
Some have questioned if the phrase “keep you from the hour of trial” means an escape before the Great Tribulation, or a promise protection in it? Each side believes this passage easily supports their position. Those who believe the church will be here on earth during this time of Great Tribulation focus on Jesus’ command to persevere, and say the context demands seeing this as protection that enables the faithful to persevere in the period. Those who believe that Jesus will come for His church before this time of Great Tribulation note that protection is promised from the very hour of trial, not just the trial itself. They also point to the worldwide, inescapable cataclysm predicted in the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21 and Revelation chapters 6, 8-9, 16).
The word “persevere” is in the past tense, showing it is something that the Christians had already done before the hour of trial, which has not yet come upon the world.
The promise is a reward
For past perseverance,
Not the equipping to
Persevere in the future.
As far as the Philadelphian church was concerned, the rapture of the church was presented to them as an imminent hope.
In addition, the ones tested by this “hour of trial” are not primarily believers, but “those who dwell on the earth” – whose home is this earth, who are not citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
The sense of these words is much like in the Gospel of John where Jesus prays for His disciples. In John 17:15, Jesus says, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” God will always protect His people and “keep them from the evil one.” You remember reading how God did that during the 10 plagues of Israel. The Egyptians suffered the wrath of God, but God’s people were protected.
God does not have to take His people out of the world in order to protect them. Again, Jesus prays in John 17:15. That is the sense here in Revelation 3:10. Jesus says, “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.” We must commit to faithful perseverance for Christ.
Jesus has words of high praise for Christians who keep on keepin’ on in the midst of trials and difficulties. Remember, God has not called you to be successful. He has called you to be faithful. Commit to faithful perseverance for Christ. Someone said it was by faithful perseverance that the snail made it to Noah’s ark. He just kept on keepin’ on! If you are faithful then you will benefit from the third actions. Remember, we must consider the final power of Christ. We must commit to faithful perseverance for Christ.
Verse 11 shows us what Jesus wants the church of Philadelphia to do, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
1) They are to be looking for His soon appearance. The phrase, “Behold, I am coming quickly” speaks of these believers remembering the imminent return of Jesus, and that they must prepare for His coming. The expression “quickly” is to be understood as something which is sudden and unexpected.
2) The phrase, “hold fast what you have” means that the church at Philadelphia must not depart from its solid foundation, as described in Revelation 3:8 . . .
· Evangelistic opportunity – “I have set before you an open door.”
· Reliance on God – “You have a little strength.”
· Faithfulness to Jesus – “Have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” These things can and must continue among the believers in Philadelphia, but it will only happen as they hold fast what they have.
Number three . . .
III. We Must Claim the Future Promises in Christ – Verses 11-13.
Jesus states in verse 11, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” In the phrase, “that no one may take your crown” Jesus is not talking about the possibility of losing our salvation. The idea is . . .
Do not get your eyes off the goal.
Stay focused and you will receive
The reward of a crown of blessing.
This was not a crown of royalty, given because of royal birth. This was a crown of victory. Jesus encouraged His saints to finish their course with victory, to “play the second half” just as strongly as they “played the first half.” The Bible says in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
God will reward your faithfulness. Do not get tripped up by the attraction of the world around you. The Christians at Philadelphia kept on in the mist of much difficulty – Some lost their jobs; some lost relationships, but they continued to persevere.
Following Jesus Christ is not always easy. Sometimes it can get pretty tough. Sometimes just living in this world can take its toll on us. We get in a bind financially, we face difficulties at the workplace, we get sick, someone hurts us, we face worries and temptations all the time. Jesus says, “Remember your future. I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
Jesus goes on and says in verse 12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” That promise was particularly meaningful for the Christians at Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia frequently suffered earthquakes. When a building collapsed in an earthquake often all that remained standing were the huge pillars. Philadelphia had suffered a particularly bad one in AD 17 which totally devastated the city. The only things left standing in the city were the “huge stone temple columns,” the pillars of the temples. Jesus offers us this same strength, to remain standing in Him when everything around us crumbles.
Also, because of the earthquakes, the citizens in Philadelphia were often forced to move outside the city limits and start over. Jesus is speaking of the stability and permanence that is found only in Him. “He who overcomes,” that is, “the true believer, the one who perseveres to the end,” Jesus says, “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” We are secure, we are stable, in Him. The overcomer would have a place of permanence and stability with God, in contrast to an uncertain place in this world.
Remember that when you are shaken. We will face difficulties in this world. We will be shaken around a lot. Some of you may have experienced some “shaking” in your home life, or you have moved a lot, having to “start over” again and again. Just remember that the day will come when you will be shaken no more. We will move into a permanent home, a place that remains secure forever. It will all be worth it then.
In verse 13 Jesus about names that He will write upon the Christian, “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 I will write on him My new name.
The overcomer will also receive many names. These names are marks of identification because they show who we belong to. They are marks of intimacy, because they show we are privileged to know Him in ways others are not. This works together well with the image of “a pillar.” In the ancient world, sometimes they would add a special inscription added to one of the temples to honor a faithful city servant or distinguished priest. Someone has said, “Philadelphia honored its illustrious sons by putting their names on the pillars of its temples, so that all who came to worship might see and remember.”
Verse 13 ends with this statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” A general exhortation to all who will hear. We all want to hear the praise and encouragement Jesus gave to the church at Philadelphia. If we will be like this church, we must stay on their foundation, which was Jesus’ name and Jesus’ word. We must also depend on their source of strength which was Jesus, not themselves.
Unlike the majority of the membership at the church in Sardis who were ashamed of Christ, the Christians at Philadelphia were unashamed of Jesus. Because they were proud to be identified with Christ, Christ is proud to be identified with them.
We may speculate on exactly what all these names are in the literal sense, but doing so may cause us to miss the point . . .
The point is that Christians
Belong to Jesus.
The point is that
He knows us and has a home for us.
All we are asked to do is to be faithful. When the going gets tough, the true Christian keeps going. So, as they hymnwriter says . . .
“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war; with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go. Onward to the prize before us! Soon His beauty we’ll behold; soon the pearly gates will open; and we shall walk the streets of gold. When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!