Introduction to the Church of Philadelphia:
Philadelphia was thirty miles southeast of Sardis on the main trade route from Smyrna. Its volcanic soil was extremely fertile and ideal for growing grapes. It was the most recent of the seven cities, founded sometime after 189BC by either Eumenes II, king of Peramum, or his younger brother Attalus Philadelphus, so-called because of his love and loyalty for his older sibling. He lent his name to the city, which became known as the city of “brotherly love” and was proud of its origins.
I think the reason they gave me this letter to preach was because I was born and grew up 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I would go there to visit and was a faithful sports fan. Through many unsuccessful seasons where the Eagles made it so close but never won. There was reason to loose hope. You see, as spectators of the Church of Philadelphia, we see a weak church with hope wavering, but they were going to get a message full of vindication and hope to persevere, for the victory is already won.
My purpose this evening is to motivate you to persevere as faithful witnesses for Christ.
Intro (3:7) Jesus is worthy to be heard.
We will take this passage in three sections:
- Perseverance Recognized / commended (3:8)
- Perseverance Reinvigorated / Encouraged / empowered (3:9-11)
III. Perseverance Rewarded (3:12)
Conclusion (3:13) The opening of ears.
Intro (3:7) Jesus is worthy to be heard
“the holy one, the true one”
Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only two churches with no rebuke, and it is interesting that both were under severe threat from a powerful Jewish presence in the city.
Therefore, the names of Christ chosen here reflect that situation and reassure the weak Philadelphia Christians that the Messiah is indeed on their side, not on the side of the “synagogue of Satan” (3:9).
The titles used here of the holy one and true one is intertwined, and they are also combined in 6:10 to describe God. Here they describe Christ in OT terms. This is again combating the Judaism influence and showing Christ as the true Messiah who is God.
“key of David”
To possess a key is to control assess and entry.
In 1:18, Jesus said that the has “the keys of Death and Hades,” referring to his conquest of death and his control over eternal life. Here, Jesus refers to the salvation kingdom over which he reigns as heir of David. Jesus holds the key to the household of God and the ancient covenant blessings promised to Israel.
The language of Revelation 3:7 refers to an episode in the book of Isaiah. The Lord had rebuked a faithless steward named Sheba. In his place, God established a faithful servant, Eliakim, to administer the kingdom of David. The Lord added: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and non shall open” (Isa. 22:22). This faithful steward would control access to the king and would dispense the resources of the kingdom. Eliakim was symbolic of Jesus Christ, who has “the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7).
This description makes two essential statements:
- The first is that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ:
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
This teaching was especially significant in Philadelphia, where the Christians were opposed by Jews who denied Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus, as David’s royal heir, possessed the only key, and he alone could open the way into the kingdom of God.
- Since Jesus holds the key to salvation, opening and shutting the door to God’s kingdom, the church relies on Christ to grant success to its ministry.
This brings us assurance that we are on the right side. By declaring the worthiness of He who is speaking and His authority, Jesus is preparing their ears to hear what He has to say.
- Perseverance Recognized / commended (3:8)
This could mean that Jesus has secured salvation for the believers in Philadelphia. Though the synagogue door was closed, Christ opened to them the door of heaven, which no one could shut.
I think we can go further. It is likely that Jesus had in mind an open door for their ministry of the gospel to others. Paul had often spoke of an open door for opportunities to bear witness to Christ. (Col 4:3 1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12)
“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.” (Col. 4:3)
“I know you have but little power (weak)…”
“Weak” here means that the church lacked size and structure in the community and was looked down upon and persecuted. They had “little authority” or influence “but” they were faithful, and that has always been the test of divine blessing rather than success.
The weakness of the church would not hinder the open door that Christ had specifically granted its ministry.
Or, we could say that the fruit of the ministry is not based on the strength of man but upon the faithfulness of Christ.
“and have not denied my name.”
They have not denied His name. Unlike the majority of Sardians from the previous letter, the Philadelphians refused to “deny” Jesus.
We see similar instruction by Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33:
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
We could also look at 2 Tim 2:8-13, a letter for encouragement amidst persecution for the gospel:
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as I preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
If we deny him, he will deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful-
for he cannot deny himself.”
What it would have meant to be reading this letter and to hear the word of your savior say I know your works. Would that bring comfort or fear to you? Do we resemble the Church of Philadelphia or Sardis, having the reputation of being alive, but are dead?
- Perseverance Reinvigorated (3:9-11)
The OT taught that the Gentiles would be forced to pay homage to the Jews at the eschaton and now this promise is turned on its head; Jewish oppressors would be forced to pay homage to Gentile believers. Christ is promising these persecuted Christians that they would be vindicated by God, and this is a theme that will appear again and again in the book (6:9-11; 16:6; 18:20).
Verse 9 is an allusion to Isaiah 45:14, where God promised Israel that the Gentiles would confess Israel’s God:
“They will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.’”
What the Jews failed to realize was that by denying Jesus, they had themselves become Gentiles, that is, aliens to God’s covenant.
Notice that it is Christ who achieves this conversion: “Behold, I will make them come and bow down,” Jesus promises that He will cause unbelievers, including unbelieving Jews, to acknowledge that God’s love is upon the followers of Christ.
Not only does Jesus reject the false faith of unbelieving Jews, but he promises that their opposition will not even hinder the gospel’s witness to them:
The Philadelphia church (identified with all faithful believers here) will be protected from the wrath of God against the unbelievers but not from the wrath of Satan, and that this protection is within, and not a removal from the wrath.
This would encourage the church that though they face persecution it is not due to disobedience as judgement but as a result of keeping His word. However, through their patient endurance they will be kept from the hour of trial.
Christ’s “coming soon” is one of the primary emphases of the book of Revelation (1:7, 2:5, 16; 3:3, 22:7, 12, 20). Their anticipated reward, like the judgment of their adversaries (3:10), is imminent. The emphasis of holding fast is on the continual effort needed to maintain their walk with Christ. Paul explains this in 1 Cor 9:24-27 as him disciplining himself so after preaching to others he would be disqualified.
The warning is seen in “less someone take away your crown”. This is a call to persevere.
Warnings in scripture for the believer should cause us to examine ourselves and see if we are running this race to win or in a lukewarm manner. We should not be half hazard about our proclamation of the gospel. It is a means to cause us to set our eyes on the heavenly price that the price we pay now is worth the reward.
III. Perseverance Rewarded (3:12)
Pillar here is a metaphor for the permanent place the believer has in the final kingdom.
How wonderful it is that Christians who are acknowledged as having “little power” will through faith in Jesus be made pillars of strength in the eternal habitation of God.
To have “the name of my God” is to belong to him, to be of his essence and to be his child.
For the church of Philadelphia stability and access were so important as they faced earthquakes that destroyed their city and excommunication from the Judaizes. We are approaching a point were people are becoming more aggressive toward believers. Just the other day Drew Brees was receiving backlash for encouraging students to bring their bibles to school.
We must be hold fast to Christ.
The opening of ears. (3:13)
As we have studied through this letter to the church of Philadelphia we have been motivated to persevere as faithful witnesses for Christ. This is for all who call upon Christ. As Christ gently calls upon the church to hold fast may we be reinvigorated by knowing that He opens the door. There are doors open all around us of opportunities to proclaim Christ. Are we taking those opportunities? Do we believe He is able to change the hearts? Are we willing to face denial from man rather than deny our Lord? I pray that you have been motivated to be a faithful witness for Christ. May you leave encouraged and challenged to persevere in this endeavor for our reward is not here on earth but in heaven.