Title : A Letter from Christ to the Church in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, less than 5o kilometres SE of Sardis is now known as Alaşehir in modern Turkey. She was established in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamum (197-160 BC) who named the city for the love of his brother and successor Attalus II (159-138 BC). ("Philadelphos", literally means "one who loves his brother). In terms of history this city was the youngest of the seven churches, and it was mainly founded to expand the Greek culture and language to the regions of Lydia and Phrygia.
This church represents two of the seven churches (the other being Smyrna) that receive no rebuke, but only encouragement from the Lord. There appears to be a spiritual similarity between the two congregations. Both are very vulnerable and both are exposed to the synagogue of Satan – those who say that they are Jews, but who are not. The greatest difference between the two seems to be that the church of Smyrna spends her spiritual energy in the bearing of the cross for Christ's sake, while the church in Philadelphia in spite of little power still has an open door for the gospel.
V.7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. As is the case for all the other churches, the message is addressed to the ‘angel’ or the messenger of the church. These words are said to be of Him who is the holy one and the true one. Holiness (the idea of being set apart) is an attribute of God. God is holy. In Him there is no sin and He can stand no sin. He is different and separate from all (German: “Der ganz Andere”) and Jesus shares this attribute because He bears the essential nature of God. Truth is another of God’s attributes. He is all truth, and in the same way Jesus is the Way , the Truth and the Life. (Jn. 14:6).
This church was holding on to Jesus and on to His truth. This church had remained faithful to the gospel in spite of strong pressure. She held on to Jesus – she confessed His name. The Lord says of her: "(you) have not denied my name." (v.8) Furthermore in v. 10 she is commended by the Lord, “you have kept my word about patient endurance.” This indicates that the church had patiently borne her cross under very challenging circumstances in the little physical strength that she had.
This word comes to her from “ the Holy One, the True One, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”
The phrase , "the key of David" is derived from Isaiah 22:22. Isaiah here pronounces judgment upon Shebna, king Hezekiah’s treasurer. Isaiah prophesies that this high office shall be taken away from Shebna, and that it shall be given to Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, who was found to be more worthy than Shebna. It is in this connection that Isaiah uses this expression "key of David." Holding a key means holding a place of great authority . A key means power of access. The analogy is clear. Christ holds the key to all God’s riches and He holds the key of access into God’s presence. He has the authority to open and shut the door of the Father's kingdom. He alone determines who shall enter into that kingdom and who shall remain outside. He adds to the church, and this church with little strength must not be discouraged on account of the little success that she currently has . There is a great promise given to her :
The Promise Of An Open Door
V.8 Jesus says to this congregation: “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” The promise of an open door reminds us of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:27 , when they returned from their missionary journey, reporting to the church “all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” So too in 1 Corinthians 16:9 we find Paul reporting that “ a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” So too Paul found that a door had been opened for him to preach the gospel in Troas ( 2 Cor. 2:12). Paul also asks the Colossians to pray for him that a door might be opened for him to preach the gospel (Col 4:3).
The open door speaks in each case of gospel opportunities, and here the Lord Jesus promises that He would create such an open door, a gospel opportunity for the church at Philadelphia. This is so encouraging for it teaches us that God is not hindered by our little strength. God is not limited by little resources. The great issue is patient endurance – faithfulness – believing in a great God who has all the resources waiting for us! The greatest issue is desire . Does our church desire to glorify God in seeing people converted in this city, country and continent? If so, the Lord tells us: Trust in me! I will fulfill my purposes through your little strength and the comparatively few resources that you have . Then put these requests before God and trust Him to supply your needs. He is after all the missionary God who has given us a missionary mandate, and if this is His will He will also provide the funds, the organization and the people. Remember, that at the beginning and the end of the missionary calling there is the One who holds the keys to heaven, and what He opens no man can shut , and what He shuts no man can open.
The Lord promises the church at Philadelphia, having faithfully struggled against the odds for a long time, that she shall see fruit upon her labours: “I have set before you an open door …”. They would see that the attitude of the enemies of the gospel would change. Now they would be listened to. The Lord is opening the hearts , minds ears and eyes of the people ( just as He can also shut the eyes , ears hearts – cf. Isaiah 6:9-10).
V.9 One more specific promise is given : "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 to come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you." There was in Philadelphia, like in Smyrna, a synagogue of the Jews which was bitterly opposed to the Christian church in their midst , but the church had patiently persevered against the odds. But now the Lord would finally open the door to their hearts and some of these Jews would be converted. On their knees they would plead for forgiveness, and they would acknowledge that God has loved this little church.
Now this is not uncommon in the history of the church. Our work may appear to be fruitless and without results, and all of a sudden in response to patient endurance and faithful prayer, the Lord opens the floodgates of heaven for a season. Does this make you hopeful? Does this not encourage you to patiently persevere in prayer and in keeping on working for the gospel?
The Promise Of Being Kept From The Hour Of Temptation
V.10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Here is another promise. Difficult times were lying ahead for the church, but the Lord promises them that on account of their faithful endurance they would be kept in the hour of trial. The hour of trial refers in the first place, to a wave of persecution which swept over the church of Christ at that time. In all likelihood it was the same persecution which Smyrna would have to endure. This is of course true for the church in every age. How much the church has suffered in those parts under so many invasions , as new brooms swept clean! The last time that happened in this region was during the Greco- Turkish war (1919-1922) when the Muslim Turks conducted ethnic cleansings of the very large Greek Christian population. Greeks have lived in Asia Minor since antiquity and before the outbreak of the First World War, up to 2.5 million Greeks lived in the Ottoman Empire. The church has endured so much, and yet has survived against the odds , and it will be so until the end in the time of the Antichrist, when there will be days so terrible for the church that even the elect would not endure if they were not cut short. (Matt 24:22)
The promise to the faithful church at Philadelphia and also to the faithful church of the present time is that she will be kept from the hour of temptation that shall come upon the whole world. This does not mean that the church will be raptured out of the world before this happens (as some maintain) , but it means that the true church will be kept by her Lord in such times. His grace will be sufficient in such times.
This interpretation is in harmony with the admonition which immediately follows this announcement:
V.11 “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
The church is called to hold on in the midst of tribulation. Again, this points to the fact that the church of Philadelphia, and the true church of all ages may expect suffering and trial. To endure means that she must keep the Lord may always be before her, the faithful and true One, who holds the keys of David, and who gives the church the assurance that she need not be afraid, for His grace will be sufficient to keep His faithful ones in the hour of temptation, so that no one shall take their crown.
The Promise Of Future Blessing
V.12 But the Lord has still more promises for this church. He does not only come with promises for the present time, but also with promises of glorious blessings for the future. " The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
This promise is given in general to those that overcome- it is for you who patiently endure. The glory of the heaven is preceded by the suffering of this present time. And the rule remains without exception that we must suffer with Christ in order to be glorified together. Christ and His people are inseparably united. If they have hated Him, they shall also hate us. And if they have persecuted Him, they shall also persecute those that are His. Hence, only for those that patiently endure this this a future promise.
It is necessary to mention in this connection that this is no reference here to a literal temple. If temple is taken literally, pillars (you) must also be taken in the same sense. This is biblical symbolism. The temple of God is symbolic of the intimate dwelling of God with man. But in the NT God’s temple is His people (1 Peter 2) and He and they shall live in intimate communion and union with Himself , and there they are kept - “ never shall he go out of it..” .
The Lord further makes mention of a three-fold name which those who conquer will bear : They shall bear the name of God; they shall bear the name of the city of God; and they shall bear the new name of Jesus.
They shall bear the name of God ! No, we shall not be God; but the highest possible relationship conceivable shall exist between God and His people. And in that relation they shall see Him face to face, and He shall speak to them as a friend with his friends.
They shall bear the name of the city of God. This represents the society of the elect in glory, the body of Christ, the complete assembly of all the saints.
They shall bear His own new name. It is the name which was given to Jesus at His exaltation at the right hand of God, a name of glory and power and strength and majesty.
V.13 Hear what the Spirit says to the churches! “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
1. The church of little strength does not need to fear. In Christ she has all the resources she needs to work and to witness even in difficult times .
2. Her Lord is faithful and powerful. He has the key of David. He opens, and no one shuts; He shuts, and no one opens. No one shall pluck us out of His hand or displace us from His kingdom. And in all our work in the kingdom of God, our reliance should be on Him alone.
3. Trials will come, but in the midst of suffering for Christ's sake, the vision of the mighty King of kings must always be before us! With our eyes on Him we may be sure of the victory!
4. That victory provides us with rich hope . It shall be the victory of eternal glory in the new Jerusalem, in the temple of God and His tabernacle with men, where we shall see Him face to face and love Him forever, as He has loved us! Amen