A janitor would wait patiently each week for a group of seminarians to finish their basketball game. While he waited, he would study his Bible. One day, as the seminarians were leaving the gym, they noticed the janitor carefully reading the text in his lap. One young man asked which biblical book was the subject of the janitor’s study. The old man answered, “The Book of Revelation.” The ballplayer was surprised and asked the janitor if he understood the complicated book. “Oh, yes!” the man answered. I understand it. It means that Jesus is going to win!” And that is a most accurate analysis of the book of Revelation!
Philadelphia was the youngest of the seven churches of Asia. The city of Philadelphia was founded in the Second century B. C. by Attalus II, who was also called Philadelphos, and so gave the city its name. Philadelphos is the Greek word that means one who loves his brother. The city was known for earthquakes. It can be likened to San Francisco or one of the cities of California. Earth tremors were frequent and caused many of the residents to leave the city for a safer home in the surrounding countryside.
The severe earthquake of A. D. 17, which had devastated Sardis, almost destroyed Philadelphia. However, by the 90s with the aid of imperial subsidy, Philadelphia was rebuilt. The city of Philadelphia supported the pagan cult of Dionysus, but the main problem the church faced was not the pagan cult, but the Jews. This has usually been the case throughout history. The Christian church has suffered more persecutions in the hands of religious people than pagans. The same thing is true today in many parts of the world. Attalus II founded Philadelphia as a center of missionary activity for the Hellenistic way of life. In other words, he founded the city as a center for people who would embrace the Greek culture, philosophy, and way of life. The city was prosperous; partly from its strategic position and partly from the grape growing that flourished in the vicinity.
I. THE LORD’S COMMENDATION OF THE CHURCH VV. 7-9
If there were a church among the seven churches of Asia Minor that I would like us to emulate, it was the church of Philadelphia. These seven churches represent the universal church. The figure “seven” plays an important role in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation. Seven is the number of completion or perfection. These seven churches were actually in existence when Christ gave John this revelation at the Island of Patmos. Among the seven churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia were the only churches that Christ did not find any fault or complaint. Therefore, I would like us to pattern our church after the church of Philadelphia because we have many similarities. One essential virtue we need to work on is love. When you are strategically located like the church of Philadelphia, you have to cultivate the virtue of love. Our church is also strategically located in the city of Arlington, Texas, a Metroplex of diverse cultures. The church of Philadelphia did not have problem loving each other. There was no internal bickering and fighting. Christ commends the church of Philadelphia.
In verse 7, the text reads, And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: The word angel, also means messenger. Angels are God’s messengers that is, why the NT teaches us not to worship them (Colossians 2:18). Here the word angel is a metaphor either for the elder or overseer of the church or the church. The person who is speaking here is the exalted Christ, hence the designations “he who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” Here the word holy does not necessarily refer to Christ’s sinlessness, but rather His complete dedication to God the Father. The word true is not referring to genuine or which correspond to reality, but one who is faithful and trustworthy. So, it is fair to say that the greeting is coming from the one who is completely dedicated to God the Father, the one who is faithful and trustworthy. This one has the key of David. “The key of David” is a metaphorical expression indicating complete control over the royal household. A key is a symbol of power. It is a symbol of authority and control. Keys are not given to everybody. When I give you a key to my house, that means I have given you accessibility to my house. That means I trust you. Christ has the key to the messianic Kingdom. He is the only Person who can let you in the Kingdom. He is the same who can shut you out of the Kingdom. After the door to the Kingdom is opened, no one can close it, salvation is assured. Once it is closed, no one can open it—judgment is certain.
The problem that the church was facing was that some of the Jews in Philadelphia said they were the true people of God who held the key to the Kingdom of God. But the truth is that when Israel rejected her Messiah, it forfeited the key of David. It is Christ alone and no longer Israel, who can give men and women entrance into the Messianic Kingdom. Christ has the absolute and exclusive power to give entrance and to exclude from the Kingdom of God. Christ shares this privilege with His church. “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).
Christ commends the church of Philadelphia. First, he says, “I know your deeds.” Christ doesn’t reprove or reprimand the church of Philadelphia. In the sight of Christ, the church was beyond reproach. They were doing everything right. The members were living in unity. They were getting along with each other. They were reaching people for Christ. Every member had a sense of belonging in the fellowship. It is a sobering thought to realize that Christ knows the deeds of every church. He knows the deeds of every Christian. He knows your works, and there is nothing that is hidden from Him. Christ knows everything that goes on in every church. He knows the things that you do behind the scenes. The church of Philadelphia was known for her good works. I would like Christ to say a similar thing about our church if we would follow what the Bible teaches. Everybody in the church was using his/her gift to serve the Lord in this church.
Second, Christ says, “I have put before you an open door.” The church of Philadelphia, like ours was small in size, but Christ opened the door wide for her to reach people with the gospel. Today we have the opportunity to preach the gospel more than any time in history. We have the opportunity to share our faith in the market place today more than anytime. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have opened the door wide for you and me to point and bring people to Christ. Many are asking spiritual questions. Many for the first time are trying to analyze what is essential in life. Our church needs to take advantage of this open door to minister to people and lead them to the saving knowledge of Christ. Christ has opened the door wide, and we must utilize the opportunity to bring the lost to Him. I would like to see both spiritual and numerical growth. Take advantage of Sunday school this year so that you can really grow in your walk with Christ. Make time to attend Sunday school and Bible study and prayer meeting and see the growth that will take place in your life. The church of Philadelphia was not worried of its size because it had a big Savior and the Lord who held the key to the Kingdom. It is easy to underestimate our potential by focusing on the size of our church.
Christ knew that the church of Philadelphia had little power. Our church has little power physically and financially, but if we remain faithful to Christ as the believers in Philadelphia did, He will keep the door open. Christ opened the door for the church of Philadelphia because she kept the word of the Lord. This church endured great opposition and persecution from both the pagans and the Jews, and yet did not succumb to pressure. The church held her head high and remained faithful to Christ. The church faces similar pressures today. We face pressure from cults, the hostile media, the gay agenda, and those who want to redefine the family. The Christian church faces opposition from religions that are hostile to Christ. However, it is good to know and admit your powerlessness and embrace the unlimited power of Christ. Christ commends the church of Philadelphia for not denying His name. When Christians go through difficult times, it is easy to deny the name of Christ. Many deny the name of Christ by the way they live their lives. Many deny the name of Christ by the things they say. Many deny the name of Christ by the things they do. In a time when the economy is bad, it is easy to be dishonest and deny Christ. It would have been easy for the believers in Philadelphia to abandon Christ and join the Jews, but they didn’t. Let me ask you a question. How many of you have not been able to pay your rent? How many of you have missed a square meal? Yes, some of us have lost loved ones; some of us have experienced some reversals in the past year, but when we count our blessings, we realize that the Lord has been good to us. Last year, we were worried whether we could meet our church budget. By the grace of God, we exceeded the budget. Who provided for you to give to the church? It is Christ, who provides for us financially. That is why Christ admonishes us “not to be anxious about what we will eat, drink, or wear. But to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33). When the people of God are faithful to Him, he has promised to take from the unbelieving world and give it to us. We are to take advantage of the open door because the Lord is not going to open it forever. Now that He has opened the door, we must go through it. Now people are looking for answers to life’s ultimate questions. People are more receptive to the gospel now. The flagrant hostility to Christ and the church has minimized because of September 11 and Covid-19. God is working behind the scenes in people’s lives. It is up to you and me to locate where the Spirit of God is at work and join Him. The church of Philadelphia did not use her little power as an excuse for doing nothing. The church knew that she had a great and powerful Lord who held the key to the Kingdom in His hand.
In verse 9, Christ says that He will make the enemies of the church of Philadelphia to come and bow before her. The Lord is doing a similar thing today. Today many are seeking spiritual answers from believers. This is a great opportunity to bring seekers to Christ. Many are opened to the gospel because everything else has failed, except Christ.
II. THE LORD’S COMMITMENT TO THE CHURCH VV. 10-13
Because the church of Philadelphia has obeyed Christ and emulated His example of perseverance, He promises to keep the church from the hour of testing that is coming upon the world. In Revelation 2:10, the tribulation of which the believers of Smyrna are warned is to test the church. Sometimes God allows His church to be tested. But in our present text, the hour of trial is to test or try those who dwell upon the earth. Those who dwell upon the earth is a term used to describe the non-Christian world, those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ (6:10; 8:13; 11:10). There is something I would like you to understand; whereas the devil prompts the opponents of the church to persecute the believers of Smyrna, it is God who tests the unregenerate world during the hour of trial by His own judgment. God is going to try the people that are outside of Christ not to destroy them, but to drive them to repentance. Could it be that what we are experiencing in the United States and the world is a wakeup call from God that Jesus Christ cannot be ignored? God’s hour of trial of the world is indicative of His disapproval of her ways. It is God’s compassion to drive the believing world to repentance and faith in Christ. The hour of testing is also indicative that the coming of Christ is approaching.
Christ says that He will protect His church from this hour of trial because His church has been faithful and loyal to Him. Verse 11, Christ says that He is coming quickly. In the Book of Revelation, the coming of Christ is always in the present tense, not in the future. Christ then says, “hold fast to what you have so that nobody takes your crown.” You and I have different gifts, abilities, experiences, and maturity. God does not expect you and I to act the same, but He expects us to hold fast to what we have, to persevere in using our resources for Him. The term “hold fast” means “keep a firm grip on.” You may be a new believer and feel that your faith and spiritual strength are little. Use what you have for Christ, and God will commend you. When Christ returns, only the things that you did in His name will count. When Christ comes, only things that have eternal significance will matter. First and foremost, people are what have eternal value that is why Christ came to die for us. You are going to be crowned according to your service to Christ. You see, nobody can steal your crown, but you can forfeit because of your attitude to Christ, the gifts He has given you, and the place He has put you. Disobedience and rebellion to Christ can cause you to forfeit your crown. Because of disobedience, Saul forfeited his crown to David. To serve God is high privilege that cannot be compared with anything in the world. But this privilege would be withdrawn if you fail to fulfill the task the Lord has given you. Christians who don’t want to get their hands dirty will lose their crowns. Christians who are selective in what they want to do for Christ will lose their rewards. The word “crown’ is stephanos, which means a garland or wreath. It was often used of victory for athletes in the Greek world.
Then Christ says that the overcomer will be made a “pillar in the Temple of God.” This is a figure of speech, which means permanent residence in the New Jerusalem. As I explained to you that the city of Philadelphia was known for earthquakes, God will honor the believers of this city who defied the earthquake and stayed to serve Him faithfully in spite of the opposition from the Jews. One great assurance that Christians have is that we are sojourners and pilgrims in this world. We are just passing through, therefore don’t plant all your feet in this world. Christ is preparing a permanent and better home for us. Christ will write on us the name of God the Father. This is a symbol of possession. All the followers of Christ will bear His mark on our forehead to show that we belong to Him. The followers of the beast will also bear his name (13:17). The mark that you and I will receive will protect us from God’s wrath that will come upon the world. All who bear the name of God belong to God (22:4). Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be citizens of the New Jerusalem.
In the consummation, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend to earth (21:2) and God will take up His residence with us. When Christ returns as the mighty Conqueror, he has a name inscribed, which nobody else knows except Himself (19:12). This is a symbolic way of suggesting the glory and majesty of Christ at His revelation, which will be shared by those of us who have placed our trust in Him.
Some Christians serve Christ reluctantly as if they are doing it for the pastor. In reality, you serve Christ for yourself. This passage is an eye opener for you and me to give our best to Christ as His return is approaching. Make this year one of unreserved commitment and service to Christ. In conclusion, Christ says, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The question is, are you listening to what the Spirit is saying?