Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 08 (“The Letters to the Seven Churches – Philadelphia”)
1. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.3:7-13 (ESV) ~ “7And 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. 8‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 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. 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. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
2. THE CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA (3:7-13):
Philadelphia was located in a vine-growing valley, and it was a town with very felt Jewish presence. This town, apart from its vines, was also known for its textile and leather industries, which greatly contributed to the city’s prosperity. In the 5th century the city was nicknamed “Little Athens” because of its proliferation (Afrikaans: “vinnig in aantal toenemend”) of festivals and pagan cults.
The founder of the church in Philadelphia is unknown and it is one of the two churches which Christ had no word of rebuke. This is as remarkable as is inspiring and the possibility is suggested that our church can also fully enjoy a blameless walk. Why not if this and the church in Smirna could?
The Receiver of the Letter (vs.7a): “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia…” The receiver of this letter – yet again the pastor, must have been very encouraged when he read the letter that was sent to the church in Philadelphia, because the church in Philadelphia was one that had a tremendous impact in the day in which it existed. Of the seven cities mentioned in Rev.2-3, Philadelphia was the longest-lasting city, remaining standing until the 14th century, to be precise, until 1392. The church in that city continued generation after generation to conquer territory for the Lord Jesus Christ. The opening of doors that no man could shut is simply a picture of gospel productivity. But how does this church become such a strength in Asia Minor? In the commendation of the church we will see at least four marks of a church that will be given increasing opportunities for gospel productivity.
Christ’s Image (vs.7b): “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.” Christ described Himself as the One “who is holy and true, who holds the key of David,” and who is able to open or shut a door which no one else could open or shut.
Each of these identifications calls attention to Jesus as the true Messiah. “Holy and true” relates to God Himself and describe aspects of His presence among us (Rev.6:10). Holiness is the attribute of God whereby we sense the presence of the One who says, “I am God, and not man – the holy One among you” (Hos.11:9). He is the “True One” in that He is wholly trustworthy and reliable in His words and actions. These titles would encourage this congregation, for whom Christ has only commendation, to go on in their faithfulness despite their “little strength” (vs.8), in contrast to those described in vs.9. Furthermore, the holiness of Christ is a frequent truth in Scripture (1 Pet.1:15), and being holy He is worthy to judge the spiritual life of the Philadelphia church.
“The key of David” seems to refer to Is.22:20. Keys were normally held by the king himself, unless delegated to another and in Is.22, the key of the house of David was given to Eliakim who then had access to all the wealth of the king. “David” points to Christ as the Messiah, who determines who will participate in His Kingdom and who will be turned away ~ “(He) opens and no one will shut, (He) shuts and no one opens.” To the Lord Jesus Christ belongs the ultimate key of David, for He has said in Joh.14:6 ~ “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It is Christ Himself who adds to His church, He alone who opens up the way to God, He alone who saves.
Christ’s Praise (vs.8): “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” The church in Philadelphia had “little strength,” which means that as the world counts strength in numbers and influence, then Philadelphia did not appear to be in the top league. But her spiritual condition was very different, again in the face of harsh opposition from “the synagogue Satan” (vss.8-9). The actual promise Christ gives to them amounts to a firm assurance of great success in evangelism and gospel labour. The gospel would be preached, heard and received!
Christ commends the church for something else. In the face of numerous attempts at undermining her doctrinal beliefs through inducements (Afrikaans: “aansporing”) to false doctrine and attacks on her claims to orthodoxy (Acts 6:13-14), the church calmly remained faithful to the holy Scriptures.
The Philadelphians are also commended for remaining true in their devotion to God. This is a church that was exteriorly very modest in the maintenance of her testimony for God, a modesty that veiled are true spiritual stature. She was also tenacious in its adherence to the sword of the Spirit and unwavering in her fidelity to her Lord (Afrikaans: “Hulle was geprys vir die feit dat hulle vir hulle volgehoue, opreg toegewyd aan God geleef het. Dit was ‘n gemeente wat nie gespog het oor hul volgehoue verhouding met God nie – so ‘n gesindheid kan gesien word as ware geestelikheid. Hierdie gemeente was onstuitbaar getrou aan die Woord van die Here en hul getrouheid aan die Here”).
Christ took cognizance of these facts. In reward, He who holds the key of David and is the Way, availed to them full access to all spiritual blessings, particularly those from the triumphs of gospel witness. Christ affectionately declared ~ “I have set before you an open door.”
Christ’s Rebuke: As already stated, we find no rebuke in this letter to the church in Philadelphia. They were faithful to the gospel and the apostle’s teaching even during the trial of their faith alluded to in the words… ~ “…and have not denied my name” (2:13).
Christ’s Counsel (vs.11b): We read in vs.11b ~ “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have…” The language of our Lord here is that of an imminent return (Afrikaans: “naderende wederkoms”). Never does Christ desire that the Church should, in any age, exclude itself from being alive to meet Him at His return. Each day, each church, in each age, must expect Christ’s prompt return. With this in view, the Philadelphian church is cautioned against complacency, which can easily result in the loss of crowns promised for faithfulness. She needed to hold on to what she had, namely, modesty, His Word and His Name. In the race to receiving rewards from the heavenly podium of God’s grace, none can claim these solely on the basis of historical success. Like in the race, the last laps are as important as, if not more than, the first laps. A call for consistency is herein made.
Christ’s Promise (vss.9-13): “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. 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. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Of all the seven churches, this appears to be the one receiving the most rewards. Four are listed.
o First is the reward of earthly exaltation (vs.9). It is apparent that the Jews in Philadelphia were of the proud and arrogant kind that did not conceal their contempt for the believers in Christ. Naturally all their pride emanated (Afrikaans: “vloei voort”) from the foolish belief that they were the original Israel. But according to Christ’s holy standards, they were Satan’s workmanship. Sooner than later, all their pride would amount to nothing. God will judge them. In the judgement that was on its way, with the spiritual awakening often attending such, many would run and cling to the feet of the true saints, crying… ~ “what shall we do to be saved” (Acts 2:37) (Afrikaans: “Met die afwendbare oordeel wat gaan kom en die gepaardgaande geestelike ontwaking en herlewing, sal baie mense hulle na gelowiges wend en uitroep… ~ ‘Wat moet ons doen om gered te word?’”). Others will publicly admit, as they see God’s discriminating grace, that … ~ “the lovingkindness of God is always on His people.” They that were despised soon became objects of envy. Those, for long considered feeble, turn out to be towers of strength.
o Secondly is the reward of preservation (vs.10). In the immediate context that refers to a wave of anti-Christian persecution and anti-gospel fury that was going to sweep through the then-known world, when the loyalty of those who confessed Christ as their Saviour and King would be tested to the limit. Yet there is a wider reference, for such waves have been regular features of the history of the church in the world – the Roman Catholic persecution of the evangelical martyrs at the time of the Reformation when many went to the scaffold and stake, the persecution against the Scottish Covenanters in the 17th century for insisting upon what they rightly regarded as the crown rights of Jesus Christ of His church and present-day persecution and imprisonment of Christians in the Muslim world, China, and other places are some obvious examples. So, Christ’s warning here is both specific and general – another indication of the timelessness of this book we are studying.
But how are we to apply the promise of “being kept”? Certainly not by a secret rapture of the church, for no such thing exists here or anywhere else in Christ’s teaching. Rather it is a rich and glorious promise of the Lord’s keeping of His church to the very end. The verb can literally be rendered, “keep your right through,” so the meaning is that Christ will enable, protect and preserve His people, even in the worst of times. Even those who have suffered (or will yet suffer) “to the point of death” (2:10) are just as much “kept” by Jesus as those whose “lives” are not required.
o Third is the reward of the crown (vs.11). Christ promised, “I am coming soon,” a concept repeated often in the Book of Revelation. The thought is not simply that of coming soon but coming suddenly or quickly – unexpectedly (1:1; 2:16). They were exhorted in the light of His coming to continue to hold on to what they have and then, when He comes, they will receive the crown of life. Christ will come to reward their fidelity (Afrikaans: “getrouheid”), and to punish those who fall away; they shall lose that crown which they once seemed to have a right to, which they hoped for, and pleased themselves with the thoughts of. The persevering Christian shall, however, win the prize.
o Fourth is the reward of great stature in glory (vs.12). The leaders of the Jerusalem church were known as pillars (Gal.2:19). When this metaphor is transferred to the heavenly realm, we see that there too shall be those whose stature shall tower with the height and strength of great pillars. This means that there are ranks in heaven. We know that angels do not share the same honour, ranks exist among them. We know too that there is a logical order of subordination in the Godhead. Then we have the imagery of the New Jerusalem, with its walls, gates, etc. (Rev.21), all illustrating the aesthetic diversity, functional diversity and executive diversity that shall subsist (Afrikaans: “voortbestaan”) in the church of the glorified. Doesn’t all this sufficiently demonstrate that rank is not an unknown phenomenon in heaven? Not all shall share the same honour, though all shall be in an honourable state. Those who overcome, in the context of the trials undergone by the Philadelphians, will enjoy a high standing in heaven and will be like pillars in the heavenly temple (Rev.7:15; 11:19; 15:6-8) (Afrikaans: “Dit is duidelik uit die beskrywing van die Nuwe Jerusalem, dat daar funksionele en uitvoerende verskille onder die verheerliktes sal wees Daar sal m.a.w. ‘n verskeidenheid van range in die hemel wees. Nie almal sal derhalwe dieselfde eer en/of krone ontvang nie, maar almal sal in ‘n verheerlikte staat verkeer. In hierdie brief aan die gemeente in Filadelfia word dit duidelik gemaak dat die gelowiges wie vervolg word in die hoër ordes in die hemel sal verkeer – hulle sal die ‘Kroon van die Lewe’ ontvang – Jak.1:12; Openb.2:10”).
In this magnificent temple shall be sections held up by mighty pillars. Such pillars shall be the faithful persevering Philadelphians. In this setting, pillars would be those heavenly worshippers privileged with pivotal (Afrikaans: “belangrike”) or leading roles in the worship processions and will also enjoy an eternal closeness to Him who is on the throne. This promise of being a pillar in the heavenly temple is for anyone in every church who triumph even today, in a similar manner that the Philadelphians did.
This message to the church in Philadelphia, is a message to all churches of all times ~ “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs.13).
3. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
This message should inspire us to be blameless in our walk with Christ, because Philadelphia was able.
It should also inspire us to pray that He will work in us to be willing and able.
Christ is the only one who can open doors for the gospel and make us productive in reaching out. Only Christ holds the keys – He opens and He shuts doors. Paul asks for prayer in Col.4:3. A prayer that we should often pray for ourselves and our church ~ “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.”
Last week we heard how important consistency is. It is also mentioned this week. The questions we should ask ourselves are:
o Are we consistently reaching out to others?
o Are we consistent in our prayers?
o Are we humble and faithful?
o Are we ready for Christ’s prompt return?
If we are, we will also be awarded with earthly exaltation, preservation, a heavenly crown, stature and everlasting glory.
Beloved, I urge you to go through this sermon again and again to be able to apply the Word you’ve received.
1) The Imperishable Crown – (1 Cor.9:24-25)
2) The Crown of Rejoicing – (1 Thes. 2:19)
3) The Crown of Righteousness – (2 Tim.4:8)
4) The Crown of Glory – (1 Pet.5:4)
5) The Crown of Life – (Rev.2:10)