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My Notes on Revelation 3:7-13, Letter to Philadelphia

Updated on January 16, 2019
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Marcelo holds a B.A. in Bible and a M.S. in education. He has ministry experience and is collaborating with church planting in MD.

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According to the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to John in the island of Patmos and directed him to write letters to seven churches in eastern Turkey. The first letter was addressed to the church in Ephesus; the second letter, to the church in Smyrna; the third letter, to the church in Pergamos; the fourth letter, to the church in Thyatira; the fifth letter, to the church in Sardis; the sixth letter, to the church in Philadelphia; and the seventh letter, to the church in Laodicea.

In this article, we will attempt to understand the letter to the church in Philadelphia.

Revelation 3:7, The Key of David

The letter is addressed to the angel of the church at Philadelphia. This angel is not an angelic being, but a human messenger who as was a leader in the church and who read the Scriptures to the congregation in the church (see Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, 1 Timothy 4:13). As such, this angel represents the church before the Lord, and whatever the Lord says unto the angel, he says unto the whole church.

Unto this church, the Lord identifies himself as the holy one, the true one, the one who has the key of David, and the one who opens and shuts without anyone being able to reverse his action.

Of particular interest is his identity as the one who holds the key of David, and his description as the one who opens and shuts. This title and description are used by the prophet Isaiah in reference to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, whom God calls "my servant" (Isaiah 22:15-25, 2 Kings 18:18). The key of David was given to Eliakim to indicate he would replace Shebna as steward over the house of David. As such, Eliakim would have authority that no one would be able to contradict.

By identifying himself as the one who has the key of David, Jesus is saying that he is the servant of God and that God has given him authority over the house of David. Of course, unlike Eliakim, Jesus is not a steward over the house of David, but the one to whom this authority truly belongs for he is the holy one and the true one. He is the legitimate heir of David's throne.

Revelation 3:8, Jesus Knows

Jesus tells this church, this congregation, that he knows its works. This should not surprise us. God knows everything about everyone (Matthew 20:30, Luke 12:7). Moreover, even during his ministry on Earth, the Lord knew everyone's hearts (John 2:24-25), thoughts (Matthew 9:4, Luke 5:22), and actions (John 1:48).

Jesus also knows that this church in Philadelphia has little strength. Perhaps this church was not as knowledgeable and industrious as the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:2), and perhaps it wasn't experiencing as much growth as the church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:19); nevertheless, the Lord acknowledges this church because they have kept his word, have not denied his name, and have kept his command to endure patiently (v.10).

Thus, the Lord's focus is on this church's faith. For this reason, some scholars have pointed out a resemblance between this church and the church of the Reformation (the church which rediscovered the message of the gospel: that salvation is by grace through faith alone).

Revelation 3:8, The Open Door

For this church, the Lord has set an open door that no one can shut. Since the Father has given unto Jesus all authority on Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18 and John 17:2), no one can reverse the Lord's decision to open the door for this church.

Obviously, the Lord is using his God-given authority as the Messiah for the benefit of this church. But what does this open door mean, and where does it lead? We cannot simply say that this church has a God-given opportunity, but we must look at the context for clues.

Therefore, let us recall that the key with which the Lord has opened this door is the key of David. This key was a symbol of authority over the house of David, which was in Jerusalem.

Let us also note that that, in this letter, the Lord also speaks of the temple of God and the New Jerusalem.

Thus, the open door obviously represents access to this New Jerusalem and to God's temple. This message will become clearer as we examine in more detail the following verses.

Revelation 3:9, The Synagogue of Satan

To the church of Philadelphia, the Lord promises to make those of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews but are not, bow down before the church in recognition that Jesus has loved them, the church.

Jesus who was a Jew, who is the Messiah of the Jews, is here calling those Jews who do not believe in Him false Jews who follow Satan; and he does this by having John, a Jewish Apostle, write down his words. The point here is not social, but theological. Jesus is not calling on Christians to mistreat Jews, rather he is stating that those who do not follow him have abandoned the true Jewish faith and are being deceived by Satan. These words are provocative, but they were the subject of a heated discussion between Jesus and various Jewish religious leaders in John 8:44.

Surely, the occasion of this comment is religious persecution by the Jews over the Christians, even if this persecution consisted only on rejection. Jews surely rejected this gentile Christians who believed that Jesus is the Messiah sent by the God of Judaism, and they may have rejected the idea that Christianity was in any way associated with Judaism (conflicts between Christianity and Judaism over theological matters are common in the book of Acts and in the epistles of Paul).

Thus, Jesus, the Messiah, is encouraging the church by approving of them and critiquing those Jews who do not believe in him.

We should note that there are many Jews today, both in Israel and abroad, who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They have come to realize that the Messiah whom many gentiles follow is their Messiah!

Revelation 3:10, Kept from Trial

Jesus tells this church that since they have kept his command to be patiently endure (that is, to retain their faith in Christ despite adversity) he will keep them from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to try all who dwell in it.

Because the seven churches represent the Lord's entire church throughout all times, this verse indicates that the events of which Revelation speaks, that hour of trial, are not meant to try the church, but the world.

Therefore, as we will see further ahead, the events in Revelation concern not the church, but the world and the nation of Israel.

Revelation 3:11, The Crown of Victory

The Lord tells this church to hold on to what they have so no one takes away their crown. What did this church have? What was this church's crown? Who would be able to take away this church's crown?

As mentioned previously, this church had faith in Christ's word and his name. The Lord is clearly telling them not to give up their faith Christ and his gospel.

The crown, on the other hand, is their reward for keeping the faith. It is everything that is promised to them in this letter: the open door, being recognized by Jews, being pillars in God's temple, the name of God on them, and the name of the New Jerusalem on them.

Is there anyone who can take away the crown from this church? Most likely, this verse does not seek to identify who would take away the church's crown or how. The clear point of the verse is that faith will be rewarded and therefore it is worth to maintain one's faith.

This is a point that the Apostle makes in 2 John 1:7-9. Notice that 2 John 1:7-9, just like Revelation 3:11, focuses on receiving the reward instead of losing the reward. The ones who would not receive a reward are the deceivers, concerning whom it would be hard to believe that they ever had a reward.

Moreover, if the crown represents eternal life, there is no one who can take away the church's reward, because Jesus says no one can ever take from his hand and the Father's anyone to whom the Lord gives eternal life (see John 10:28-29).

Therefore, as I mentioned before, the clear point of this verse (and perhaps the only point of this verse) is that faith will be rewarded and therefore it is worth to maintain one's faith.

Revelation 3:11, The One Who Conquers

Jesus now makes a promise to the one who conquers: that is, to anyone who conquers. Who then are those who conquer?

It is important that we understand that the conquest to which this letter and the rest of the letters to the churches refer is not the conquest of a problem in the church: it is not an improvement that must be made in the church. After all, the Lord does not ask this church to make any improvements.

The conquest is a reference to having faith in Christ (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4-5), which is the characteristic of this church that the Lord acknowledges. Everyone who believes in Jesus is a conqueror, one who has overcome Satan, the world, and sin.

Thus, the Lord is making a very special promise to everyone who believes in him: that person will be made a pillar in the temple of God and will never come out from it. In other words, that person will be before God forever, he will have a place before God's presence for all eternity. This again is a reference to eternal life.

Moreover, the Lord says that on this person he will write the name of His God (God the Father), the name of God's city (New Jerusalem), and the new name of Christ. By writing the name of God on this pillar, on this person who believes in Jesus, the Lord is stating that this person belongs to God. By writing the name of New Jerusalem on this person, the Lord is stating that this person belongs to New Jerusalem (he is a citizen of New Jerusalem). Moreover, by writing his new name on this person, the Lord is saying that this person belongs to him.

The writing of these names also symbolizes eternal life.

Revelation 3:12, Jesus Has a New Name

It is interesting that the Lord declares he has a new name. In the Bible, a new name represents a new relationship with God. God renamed Abram as Abraham because he would be the father of many nations before God (Genesis 17:5); God renamed Sarai as Sarah because she would be the mother of many nations (Genesis 17:15); and God renamed Jacob as Israel because he behaved as a prince before God (Genesis 32:28).

Thus, the Lord may have a new name because of all he has done before God. Will he be called Alpha and Omega? The First and the Last? The Lamb? The Word of God? Maybe even Immanuel? We do not know: this is something that God will reveal when it is time.

Revelation 3:13, Ears to Hear

Finally, the Lord finalizes his letter by restating the refrain that is common to all seven letters. This refrain is based on a saying the Lord used several times during his earthly ministry (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, and Luke 14:35). The refrain means that the message is intended for everyone who hears his message: in other words, for everyone in the church.

Like the rest of the Scriptures, this letter is a message given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, (2 Timothy 3:16).

Questions for Reflection

  1. Have you ever met someone who gave up their faith in Christ?
  2. Why do some people give up their faith in Christ?
  3. Do you think people who give up their faith in Christ lose their salvation? Why or why not?
  4. Is there anything that would cause you to lose your faith in Christ? How do you cope with this possibility?
  5. What should motivate us to keep our faith in Jesus Christ?
  6. How can a person be saved and have eternal life?

Prayer

God and Father of My Lord Jesus Christ, your Son and Messiah: I thank-you because you freely gave me eternal life when I believed in Jesus Christ. I praise you because no one can take me away from your hand.

Oh Lord, I look forward to that day when I will enter the New Jerusalem and our temple, and when I will be before your presence forever.

In you do I place my trust, keep my heart close to you. Amen.

© 2019 Marcelo Carcach

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