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Jesus Addresses Philadelphia, the Faithful Church
The Book of Revelation includes seven letters Jesus instructed the Apostle John to address to seven separate churches which were in existence at the time John was given this Vision.
In this article we will look at the sixth of these seven letters written to the congregation at Philadelphia (Chapter 3, verses 7-13).
We will begin with an overview, then the actual verses taken from the Book (with my commentary added), concluded by an historical summary about the city of Philadelphia.
May you be blessed by the comforting words Jesus imparts to the Philadelphia congregation, "the faithful church".
The Letter to Philadelphia
Philadelphia had not turned its back to the Word of God, nor denied the Deity of Jesus Christ. So the letter contains no rebuke and no suggestion of judgment. It's to this persevering, spiritually awakened, faithful church at Philadelphia that Jesus alludes to the Rapture.
3:7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens:
In stark contrast to those in Sardis (whom Jesus had nothing good to say) to these in Philadelphia there are no suggestions of judgment, no stern reminders of His authority to regulate the church, no laments, and no hint that His examination of the congregation had found them wanting. On the contrary, Jesus has only praise, and thus presents Himself more personally with name-titles that reveal the sacred truth of Him.
“These things says He who is holy, He who is true...”
Here, Jesus shows the Oneness He has with Jehovah God as the One God of the Old and New Testaments (see—Lev.11:44; John 17:3). He is “holy”, separate from evil, perfectly hating it. And He is “true”, as distinguished from false gods, the perfect realization of all that is true.
“…He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (see—Isa.22:22; 9:6-7).
Here, Jesus shows Himself as God the Son, upon whom God the Father has placed supreme power and authority over all things. For it rests with Christ to open and shut heaven and hell based upon His determination who shall and shall not be admitted. He alone shuts what no man can open, and opens what no man can shut. His determinations stand fast, and none can reverse them. He is the King of Kings upon whose shoulder the government shall rest without end.
3:8-9 'I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie-- indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you'.
Philadelphia had "a little strength", which probably means that they were a small congregation. Perhaps they were comprised of low-income families with little political authority or influence, no powerful evangelistic outreaches adding numbers to their church, no mighty prayer groups toppling evil governments or satanic strongholds, and no loud voices influencing the community around them with the gospel. Seemingly, they were just enduring.
"See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.”
Because the congregation was steadfast in truth, yet with little strength of its own, Jesus assures them of His Divine intervention on their behalf. He would open a door for them through the adversity and opposition and lead them into vast new opportunities to proclaim the Word and spread the Gospel.
"Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie…”
Seemingly, Philadelphia was being troubled by the same organization of Jewish heretics found persecuting the church at Smyrna (see notes—Rev.2:9).
“…indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you."
It’s uncertain whether this promise is a temporal or future event, or both. If temporal, it could suggest that through an upcoming and divinely empowered evangelism, the Jews would be constrained to acknowledge them as children of God in God’s favor; maybe to the degree that some of the Jews would be converted and ultimately join their congregation to worship Christ in their presence.
If a yet-future event, it would find its fulfillment at the end of the age, when every non-believer files through for judgment in the court of heaven and is forced to kneel at the feet of Jesus and made to confess that He is Lord to the glory of the Father in the presence of His church (Phil.2:10-11).
3:10-11 "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown".
The “hour of trial” Jesus promises to keep the congregation from is not explained. Some consider it a reference to the more extensive Roman persecution that resulted under Trajan while others suggest it might refer to some calamity by disease, earthquake (common in that region), or famine.
If so, then we should conclude that what Jesus meant when He said, “I also will keep you from the hour of trial” is that He would divinely guard and carefully watch over them to keep them from sinking under the affliction of that trial.
There is, however, another suggestion.
Some commentators take the phrase "hour of trial" to be a direct reference to the great tribulation; for several reasons. First, because the trial appears broader in scope than a local issue in that it comes “upon the whole earth” to “test those who dwell upon the earth”. Secondly, this global tribulation is consistent with the words of Jesus when He said, “For there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world…and unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved” (see—Matt 24:21-22). And finally, they regard the faithful in Philadelphia as a type for the true Church and Bride of Jesus Christ that shall be raptured and thus kept from the tribulation. I tend to agree.
"Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one take your crown."
Many elements in the world can cause us to turn from the hope of glory that will rob us of future rewards. We must remember that Christ is coming soon and therefore must always resist the temptation to do evil whether by act of negligence or unfaithfulness.
3:12-13 "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'
"I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.”
A pillar serves as an essential and thus permanent part of a structure yet is above ground and in full view so artisans can also craft it into a beautiful adornment of the structure (check—1Kings 7:13-22). So I see the thought to mean that we will have a permanent standing in the heavenly city of God not unlike that of a pillar, yet also stand in full view of heaven as the workmanship of Christ whom He made beautiful. Likewise, the fact that Philadelphia had frequent earthquakes seems to include the idea we will stand on solid ground that will neither be unstable or ever shaken.
“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 out of heaven from God. And I will write on him My new name."
By implication, we know that neither our identity nor place of origin will ever be questioned in heaven. Though we travel into the uttermost parts of God’s creation, we will always be known and recognized by the names we bear: the name of God, the name of New Jerusalem, and the “new name” of Jesus Himself.
Philadelphia was founded after 189 BC, and therefore is not as ancient as many other cities of Asia Minor. Its name means "brotherly love.” But it had a number of names prior to that, so why and when it was so named is uncertain. It came under the domain of Rome in 133 BC and eventually became an important and wealthy trade center as other coastal cities declined. It remained a Roman town until it fell into the hands of the Turks in AD 1379 (the last of all the cities in Asia Minor to do so). As in most Asia Minor cities, many Jews lived there, and possessed a synagogue. Still a city of considerable size (but of little importance), Philadelphia is known today as Alasehin. Although there are few ruins, what remains are several pillars supposed to have been columns of a church.
About the Author
James Kobzeff is an evangelical born-again Christian who has long had a passion for the Church to know the Revelation. His commentary is the result of having studied and taught the Book many times over the past thirty years and is considered a continual work-in-process.
You can read more at his blog Learn the Revelation
Other Church Letters
- Revelation 2 (1-7): The Letter to Ephesus, the Insincere Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Ephesus is a grieving lament. See why, and what did He mean they left their first love, they could have their lampstand removed, they resisted the Nacolaitans?
- Revelation 2 (8-11): The Letter to Smyrna, the Suffering Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Smyrna is one of comfort. See why, and what He meant by the synagogue of satan, tribulation ten days, and the second death.
- Revelation 2 (12-17): The Letter to Pergamos, the Carnal Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Pergamos is one of rebuke. See why, and what He meant by where satan's throne is and where he dwells, Balak's stumbling block, the Nicolaitans, a white stone.
- Revelation 2 (18-29): The Letter to Thyatira, the Idolatrous Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Thyatira is one of strong rebuke. See why, and what did He mean by the woman Jezebel, cast her into a sickbed, rule them with a rod of iron?
- Revelation 3 (1-6): The Letter to Sardis, the Spiritually Dead Church
This letter Jesus addresses to the church at Sardis is a call for them to wake up. See why, and what did He mean they were alive but dead, that He would come as a thief, that names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life?
- Revelation 3 (14-22): The Letter to Laodicea, the Lukewarm Church
The letter Jesus addresses to the church at Laodicea contains a strong rebuke. See why, and what He mean I wish you were cold or hot, I will spew you out of my mouth, I stand at the door and knock?