The sixth church in the list of churches in Revelation 2--3 is the faithful church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor. This church, above all other churches, is the faithful and true missionary church that follows Jesus Christ. There is not one word of condemnation in the entire letter to the church at Philadelphia.
The church at Philadelphia was an historical church; it represents certain types of churches in every age: those that are faithful and Christ-honoring. We will use our same basic outline as we look at this letter. First, let's look at ...
I. THE CORRESPONDENT (v. 7)
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shuteth; and shuteth, and no man openeth."The letter is for the pastor of the congregation in the town of Philadelphia. In all of the letters, Christ gave Himself a specific title. He is the author--the correspondent. You say, "Why does He give Himself those titles?" In every case, the titles He used related to the church's particular situation.
A. His Sovereign Affirmation
1. A REFLECTION OF ATTRIBUTES
The church at Philadelphia was holy. Christ says, "I am holy." The church was true. He says, "I am true." The church had an open door. He says, "I opened that door." Whatever faithfulness and strength the church possessed was directly attributable to Jesus Christ. Any success and power that the church has is a result of Christ's presence in the church. If a church is holy, that is because He is holy and the source of all holiness. If a church holds to the truth, it does so because He is that truth. If a church has an open door to service and missions, that is because He opened the door--and He is that door. The Philadelphian church, or any other faithful church, is faithful as a result of Christ. A church that leaves Christ out has nothing because He is all the power, strength, holiness, and truth that the church will ever have. The true church is simply a reflection of the life of Christ.
2. A REMOVAL OF JUDGMENT
The description of Christ in verse 7 is the first one that doesn't come from the vision in Revelation 1. In the first five letters, every initial description of Christ in the opening verse of each letter came from that vision of the glorified Son. This one doesn't. Why? Because that vision presented Christ in judgment. He won't come to the church at Philadelphia in judgment. His character is completely different. There is no judgment for the true Christ-honoring church. There is no condemnation or judgment for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). Christ doesn't apply His judgmental character to the church at Philadelphia.
B. His Specific Attributes
1. "HE THAT IS HOLY"
Christ is God. He is the Holy One. As God, He has the right to call the Christians at Philadelphia to a life of holiness. In 1 Peter 1:15 Peter said, "But, as He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life." In other words, Christ is holy, and if He has called you, then He requires the same holiness from you. So Christ can say to those Christians, "I am holy. It is My holiness that you share." He can demand holiness from us. No church ever becomes faithful, holy (set apart to God), or victorious until Jesus Christ becomes the focus of everything that goes on in it.
2. "HE THAT IS TRUE"
a. The Declaration of Truth
There are millions of books in the Los Angeles Public Library. Yet of all the people who are written about in those books, only One stands true of all time: Jesus Christ. In the midst of error, heresy, false doctrine, and everyone's opinion, Christ says, "I am the truth." I have heard people say, "That's a little narrow minded." That's right--you can't get any more narrow minded than that! Christ can say, "I'm always right. Anyone who disagrees with Me is wrong." You say, "Why does He have a right to say that?" Because He is God. Jesus once said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life ..." (Jn. 14:6). He didn't merely say, "I give truth;" He said, "I am ... truth ...." Truth is a part of His nature. In the midst of false doctrine and perversion, Jesus Christ stands alone as the One who is truth. The church in Philadelphia was a true church: It stood for the truth because Christ was its source.
b. The Definitions of Truth
There are two words for true in the Greek text. One is alethes and the other is alethinos. The difference, although small, is important.
This Greek word refers to a true statement as opposed to a false statement. For example, "the sky is purple polka dots" is a false statement. "The sky is blue" is a true statement. Alethes refers to a true statement, but not truth itself.
This Greek word is used in Revelation 3:7. It means "truth itself, the genuine truth." Christ is not saying, "I make true statements." He does that, but that isn't what He is saying in verse 7. He says, "I am reality." Jesus said, "If you know Me, you will know the truth" (Jn. 18:37).
When we are confronted with Jesus Christ, we are face-to- face with truth itself, not just true statements. There is no substitute for God, and Jesus Christ is the genuine reality of God. By using the title, "He that is true," Jesus is saying, "If this church has truth, it is because I am the center of it, for I am truth."
The faithful church is holy and true because Christ is the center of it.
3. "HE THAT HATH THE KEY"
Christ says that I am "... He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shuteth; and shuteth, and no man openeth" (Rev. 3:7). He is quoting Isaiah 22:22.
a. A Type of Christ
Eliakim was the son of Hilkiah. The following is recorded of him: "The key of the house of David will I [the Lord] lay upon his shoulder ..." (Isa. 22:22). Eliakim was going to be given the key of the house of David--the king's key. Verse 22 continues, "... so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." Eliakim had the key to the treasures of king Hezekiah. He was the king's treasurer: He was the only one who could open and close the treasury.
b. An Antitype of Eliakim
1) Holding the Key
By referring to that ancient statement, Christ is calling Himself the antitype of Eliakim. (Type denotes an Old Testament picture that finds its fulfillment in its New Testament counterpart; antitype denotes the New Testament counterpart of that Old Testament picture.) As Eliakim had the key to unlock the treasures of the earthly kingdom, so Jesus Christ has the key that unlocks the treasures of the heavenly Kingdom. When He opens the door, no one else shuts it; and when He shuts it, no one opens it. Christ, the great antitype of Eliakim, has the key to truth, holiness, opportunity, service, testimony, and salvation. Jesus said, "... no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (Jn. 14:6). Why? He has the key--and He is the key.
2) Opening the Door
To the church at Philadelphia--and to any church--Christ assures that only He opens and closes every door of opporutunity for salvation or service. The key is the symbol of sovereign authority and ultimate power. There is no higher power.
a) In Heaven
In Revelation 5, Christ didn't open an actual door; He opened a book. In verse 1, God holds in His hand a book with seven seals. In that book is the unfolding of the terrible times of the Tribulation. In verse 2 an angel asks, "... Who is worthy to open the scroll, and to loose its seals?" In verses 3-5 John says, "And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the scroll, neither to look on it. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the scroll, neither to look on it. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the scroll ...." Who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah? Jesus Christ. He can open what no man in the universe can open.
b) On Earth
You say, "What do those verses mean?" The door to God is opened by Jesus Christ; Satan and all of his angels can't shut it. When God opens the door of a church by causing it to grow, Satan can't stop Him. Jesus said, "... I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18). When Christ opens doors, they stay open.
Every opportunity--every missionary effort, every effort of salvation, every door for the gospel of Christ, every opportunity of holiness, truth, and service--is made possible by Jesus Christ.
The church at Philadelphia was holy because Christ was the center of it. It was true because Christ, the truth, was its focus. It had an open door of salvation to God and to missions because Christ unlocked the door. Everything about the church revolves around Jesus Christ, not programs.
Let's look next at ...
II. THE CITY (v. 7)
The city was called, "Philadelphia." That name was formed from two Greek words: phileo, which means "love," and adelphos, which means "brother." That is why Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is called "the city of brotherly love."
A. Its Foundation
Philadelphia was located twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis. It was a new city, having been founded in 140 B.C. All of the cities referred to in Revelation were older than Philadelphia. It was founded by Attalus Philadelphus, the king of Pergamos.
B. Its Fear
It was a city of constant earthquakes. It was built in an area where there was much volcanic disruption. The people in Philadelphia were constantly having to flee the city in order to avoid being crushed by falling masonry from houses. The land was rich in agriculture and grapes were the primary crop. The Greek god Dionysius (the god of wine) became the city's main god.
C. Its Faithfulness
Through the years, a faithful testimony from the small group of Christians became known. Ever since those days, the church has continued--it never died. Today there still exists a town on the ancient site of Philadelphia. It even survived the Turkish rule. Today the town is called "Alasehir," which means, "city of God." That church has maintained its testimony throughout history, unlike other churches that been wiped off the face of the earth because of their sin.
We have seen the correspondent and the city. Now we come to ...
III. THE CHURCH (v. 7)
We don't know anything about the church except from the letter written to it. There is no word from Paul about it. We don't know who founded it or how it was started. But we do know this: Christ had opened some doors. The church at Philadelphia was the church of the open door--it had an open door to God. Why? Because Christ was the center. Who is the door to God? Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). The church had an open door to service. God had created opportunities for witnessing, outreach, and missions. When a church is faithful, true, and holy, God opens doors. The more we remain beside Jesus Christ, and the more faithful we are to follow His truth, the more doors we will see opened. The church at Philadelphia was a tremendous church.
There is no condemnation in this letter, so let's look at ...
IV. THE COMMENDATION (vv. 8-11a)
A. The Performance (v. 8)
1. FAITHFUL WITNESSES (v. 8a)
"I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it ..."
The Philadelphian church had a wide open door. Christ had opened it. He opens the door to salvation, to the Kingdom, to service, to witnessing, and to the mission field. He has all the keys. He even has the keys of hell and death (Rev. 1:18).
a. Paul's Alertness to Opportunity
Paul knew that Christ opened doors. For example:
1) 1 Corinthians 16:9 -- "For a great door, and effectual, is opened unto me ...."
2) 2 Corinthians 2:12 -- "... when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel ... a door was opened unto me of the Lord."
3) Colossians 4:2 -- "[Pray]... that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ ...." If there is an open door, God opened it. No power on earth or in hell can close the door that God opens.
4) Acts 14:27 -- Paul had been beaten and stoned when he was at Lystra. But God raised him up and returned him to his brothers in Antioch. And Paul "reviewed all that God had done with them [his companions], and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." Despite a stoning and beating, the door was opened. When God is going to open a door, He opens it no matter what men may do. And no one is going to shut it.
b. Man's Avoidance of Opportunity
Christ has opened many doors, but sadly, few people have ever gone through them. Many Christians have sat around for a long time, soft and indifferent, blinded by selfishness and the love of pleasure, money, and satisfaction. They don't even look to see if an open door exists. But the doors are fast closing. And we are missing the doors that remain open. Missionary organizations beg people to go to the places where there are open doors. For two years I traveled on the staff of Talbot Seminary talking to young people about going into the service of Christ. I may have found one in fifty young people who had any thought of going into the ministry. There are wide open doors all over, but few will go through them. If you're not looking for any open doors, you'll never see any. You don't have to wait to do something. If you see an opportunity, go. If you see an open door, don't wait for a divine push. The open door is enough; just go through it. If God shuts it, He will send you somewhere else.
The church had an open door, and they evidently went through it.
2. FAITHFUL REMNANT (v. 8b)"... thou hast a little strength ..."
Christ isn't saying that the believers were weak, only that they were small in number. God says, "My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness ..." (2 Cor. 12:9). Little is a lot when God is involved. It didn't matter how small a group they were; God could use them to turn the world upside down if He wanted to. The believers may have been few in number, but they were powerful.
3. FAITHFUL DOCTRINE (v. 8c)"... and hast kept My Word ..."
The faithful church is true to the Word of God. We see that fading fast today. Philosophy, sociology, poverty programs, religious existentialism, sex education, and other things are replacing the Word of God. For many, the Bible has become a myth. I am absolutely intolerant of anyone in the ministry who denies the Word of God. But that is prevalent today.
When I applied at a certain seminary to finish my doctorate, I was told that in order to get my doctor's degree in theology with a major in Bible, I would have to reduce the amount of Bible credits I had! I was told I needed more philosophy and had to catch up on several courses. One of the courses was called, "Jesus and the Cinema." I said, "Thank you for your list, but I don't want to go to your seminary." That's the way it is today.
The church at Philadelphia kept God's Word. That is what makes a church faithful. If there is no standard, there is nothing to build on. People have asked me, "What makes Grace Community Church the way it is?" I say, "Obedience to the Word of God and exaltation of Christ."
4. FAITHFUL PERSEVERANCE (v. 8d)
"... and hast not denied My name."
In Matthew 10:22 Jesus said, "And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake ...." The Philadelphian church never denied His name. What do we mean by the name of Christ? It refers to all that Christ is.
In Acts 3 and 4 is an example of the power of Christ's name. We are going to trace Peter's activity for two chapters.
a. Empowering the Healing
Acts 3:6 says, "Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none, but, such as I have, give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." The man did exactly that. The name of Jesus is very powerful. Verse 16 says, "And His name, through faith in His name, hath made this man strong ...."
b. Explaining the Healing
Acts 4:7 says, "And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" Peter responded, "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you well" (v. 10). The name of Christ brought the healing. The capstone is in verse 12: "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
The name of Jesus Christ is powerful. And the church in Philadelphia didn't deny His name. That means that it was a powerful church.
B. The Problem (v. 9)
"Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee."1. THE IDENTITY OF THE PERSECUTORS
Now you say, "What is the `synagogue of Satan'?" That is the same problem the Smyrnaean church encountered. There were certain Jews who claimed to be of God. The Jewish system hated Christianity because it seemed destructive to Judaism. Many Jews hated Christ and Christianity. Naturally, they resorted to harassment and persecution of the church. And they claimed to be the synagogue of God. But Christ says, "You're really the synagogue of Satan."
Christ speaks of those "who say they are Jews, and are not ..." (v. 9). What does He mean by that? In Romans 2:28-29 Paul said, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly...but he is a Jew who is one inwardly ...."
2. THE JUDGMENT ON THE PERSECUTORS
Christ says, "I'm going to make that synagogue of Satan bow at your feet so they will know that I love you." How would the Jews know that Christ loved the believers in Philadelphia? I don't know how it happened, but those Jews wound up at the feet of that little church.
C. The Promise (vv. 10-11a)
"Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly ..."What is the hour of temptation that will try everyone on the earth? It is the Tribulation that is displayed in Revelation. Does the church go through the Tribulation? Christ says, "... I ... will keep thee from the hour of temptation ...." That is a tremendous promise! We won't go through the Tribulation.
1. PAUL'S AFFIRMATION
In 1 Thessalonians 1:10b Paul says, Jesus "delivered us from the wrath to come." We will be kept from that hour. We have no place in the Tribulation. The church wasn't a part of the sixty-nine weeks of Daniel, so why would it be in the seventieth (see Dan. 9:24-27)? The church is on earth in Revelation 2 and 3; in chapters 4 and 5 it appears in heaven; and in chapter 6 the Tribulation begins on earth. The church is in heaven, not in the Tribulation.
2. CHRIST'S ASSURANCE
Christ says to the church, "Since you have been faithful, I will keep you from the hour of temptation." By using the word "hour" Christ is referring to a time period. The Tribulation will be a seven-year period. Christians won't go through it because it is intended to judge those who dwell on the earth. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
In verse 11 Christ says, "Behold, I come quickly ...." He will take Christians out of the world before the Tribulation comes. The word "quickly" means "suddenly," not "soon." Christ is saying, "I will come suddenly." His coming is imminent. Once Christ ascended, the next event on His calendar is His return for the Rapture of the church. We don't know when that will be; we just know that it's the next prophetic event. And it is very near.
We have seen the correspondent, the city, the church, and the commendation. Now let's look at ...
V. THE COMMAND (v. 11b)
"... hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."
A. Receiving a Crown
You say, "Don't I earn a crown as a believer?" Absolutely. If you serve Christ, He rewards you with a crown. The crown of life, the runner's crown, the incorruptible crown, the crown of rejoicing, and the soul winner's crown are all mentioned in the Bible. When you serve Christ, you receive a crown.
B. Losing a Crown
You say, "Could I lose my crown?" Yes, you can. You need to watch out that something doesn't take it. You say, "What does that mean?" The sin of this world can rob you of your crown. For example:
1. 2 JOHN 8 -- "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward." You can actually lose your crown. But John is not talking about losing salvation--that's not even an issue. Paul says that if all of your works add up to wood, hay, and stubble, you will still be saved (1 Cor. 3:12, 15).
2.COLOSSIANS 2:18 -- "Let no man beguile you of your reward ...." The world and the flesh would like to rob you of your reward. You can serve Christ and win a reward, but if you go back into sin, you can lose it.
Christ says to the church in Philadelphia, "You've got a reward. Now, hang on to it! Don't lose it. Hold on fast; it's not going to be easy."
Finally, Christ gives the church ...
VI. THE COUNSEL (vv. 12-13)
"Him that overcometh [the one who believes in Jesus Christ] will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God; and I will write upon him My new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
A. A Memorialized Eternity
Christ says, "Him ... will I make a pillar in the temple of My God ...." You say, "What is that?"
1. ANCIENT TEMPLES
Whenever a great aristocrat, senator, educator, or any other famous or noble man in the ancient world had done a great deed, and the people of a city wanted to memorialize him, they would erect a pillar with his name carved on it in one of their temples. Thus his name was memorialized as a constant reminder of him and his deeds. Throughout the ancient world, there were pillars in the temples of pagan gods with the names of men who had been deserving of honor.
2. GOD'S TEMPLE
In the eternal temple of God, every one of God's children will have his own pillar with his own name carved on it. There will be one for each of us. We will be memorialized for all eternity because we belong to Jesus Christ. That's exciting! So Christ says, "I'm going to make a pillar for you in the temple of God. If you think it's something to have a pillar in the temple of some pagan god, then you haven't seen anything!"
B. A Secure Eternity
In Revelation 3:12 Christ also says, "... he shall go no more out ...." That was a significant statement to the people who lived in Philadelphia. They spent their lives getting out of town: An earthquake would start and they would run out of the city; the earthquake would stop and they would come back. Afterwards they would rebuild, but another earthquake would come, and the cycle would repeat itself. So when Christ says that they would not have to go out anymore, they understood His message. They lived in constant insecurity and fear. But Christ says, "You're secure; there is no need for fear. When you go into My house and My city, you don't have to go out any more." What a promise!
C. An Inherited Eternity
Christ says that He will write three things on the overcomer. You say, "What's He going to write on me?"
1. THE NAME OF GOD
The first thing He's going to write is the name of His God. You say, "Why would He do that?" In those days, anyone who had a slave would often brand them. Christ is using that familiar terminology to show that the overcomers belong to Him. God is going to say, "He is Mine. It is written on him that he belongs to God." When you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are an overcomer. If you are an overcomer, you have God's name written on you. No one can touch you because you belong to Him.
2. THE NAME OF GOD'S CITY
Christ says that He will also write on the overcomer "the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven ..." (v. 12). You say, "Why is He going to do that?" Where is your citizenship? It is in the new Jerusalem. Christ wants to make sure that everyone knows where you belong. You are a pilgrim in the world; you belong in the new Jerusalem.
3. THE NEW NAME OF CHRIST
At the end of verse 12 Christ says that He "will write upon him My new name." Can you imagine having the same name as Jesus? What an identification!
You say, "What is His new name?" I don't know, but it is also referred to in Revelation 19:12, where we see Christ riding on a white horse as He comes out of heaven at His Second Coming. It says, "His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself." I don't know what that name is, but I know that it is the same name that's written on Christ. That confirms to me that as an overcomer by faith in Christ, I am in union with Him. We have the same name.
For example, when you ladies married your husbands, the two of you became one flesh. Now you have the same name. In the same manner, Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the bride. When that marriage occurred, we received His name. I trust that you are a part of the faithful church. I trust that you are an overcomer and that you know Christ.
Focusing on the Facts
1. Who is the faithfulness, strength, and success of any church attributable to? According to Revelation 3:7, what attributes did the church at Philadelphia have?
2. What is significant about the description of Christ in Revelation 3:7 in comparison to the descriptions in the other letters? Why?
3. Why does Jesus Christ have the right to call Christians to a life of holiness? (see 1 Pet. 1:15)
4. Explain the difference between the two words for true in Greek. When we are confronted with Jesus Christ, what are we face-to-face with? Explain.
5. Who was Eliakim? What was his specific responsibility? How can Jesus Christ be considered to be the antitype of Eliakim? (see Isa. 22:22)
6. What is the symbol for sovereign authority and ultimate power in Revelation 3:7?
7. Who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah? What did He open in heaven according to Revelation 5:5?
8. When God causes a church to grow, why can't Satan stop Him? (see Mt. 16:18)
9. What does Philadelphia mean?
10. Why were the citizens of Philadelphia constantly having to flee the city?
11. What are the doors that Christ opens?
12. Why did Christ say that the believers in Philadelphia had little strength?
13. What makes a church faithful?
14. Explain what is meant by the name of Christ. Give an example from Scripture regarding the power of Christ's name.
15. What was the problem that was facing the believers in Philadelphia? Explain. (see Rev. 3:9)
16. What is the hour of temptation that Christ refers to in Revelation 3:10? Will the church be a part of that hour? Support your answer.
17. Discuss the crowns that a believer can earn. Explain how a believer can lose his crown.
18. What ancient practice was Christ referring to when He said that He would make a pillar for every believer in the temple of God? Why is that significant for every believer? (see Rev. 3:12)
19. What is Christ going to write on every believer? Explain. (see Rev. 3:12)
Pondering the Principles
1. Examine the three attributes of Jesus Christ that are listed in Revelation 3:7. What things has Christ done in your life that reveal His holiness, His truth, and His opening of doors for the gospel? Are those same attributes reflected in your daily Christian walk? Give examples of some instances when each one was reflected in your walk, and some instances when you had an opportunity to reflect each one and didn't. Given the command of 1 Peter 1:15, what are some practical ways that you can be holy in all you do? What are some practical ways that you can stand for God's truth in the world? Finally, what are some practical ways that you can be more active in sharing your faith? Are you looking for the doors that Christ has opened? How many open doors have you missed--or were simply unwilling to go through? Take this moment to make the commitment to reflect the attributes of Jesus Christ. Follow the practical suggestions that you have made, and be consistent to apply them daily.
2. How do you set up standards of conduct for yourself and your family? Are they based on what the world has said or what the Word of God says? The church at Philadelphia was commended because they kept God's Word amidst the pagan society they lived in. Can you be commended in the same way? What do you need to change in your life for God to commend you for keeping His Word?
3. Review the promises that Christ gives to the overcomer in Revelation 3:12-13. Have you ever desired to be recognized for some achievement? Compare that desire to having your name memorialized for eternity in the presence of God. How does that make you feel? Spend this time in prayer. Thank God for the security He has given you for eternity.