In Revelation we come to the Philadelphia Church, which in my mind brings up this hymn:
In West Philadelphia born and raised,
On the playground is where I spent most of my day.
Chillin’ out, maxing, relaxing all cool,
And all shooting some b-ball outside of the school,
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood.
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared.
She said, “You’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.
If you did not know, these are the lyrics to a theme hit comedy in 1990’s called “The Fresh Prince.” Telling from the lyrics, there was trouble in Philadelphia, and the solution was for Will Smith to leave in order to be protected from his surroundings.
Similarly, in Revelation 3:7-13 we meet a church seeking escape from trouble in its Philadelphia community.
EXAMINE Revelation 3:7-13
7 “And 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.
- Philadelphia Φιλαδέλφεια root meaning is friendly affection or brotherly love. City’s name was a memorial to two brothers Eumenes and Attalus, who founded the city.
- Philadelphia was ~30 miles southeast of previous city church in Sardis.
- Philadelphia region was backed by volcanic cliffs, which while offered beautiful scenery and fertile land, was also dangerous and susceptible to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Early writers note experiencing tremors and aftershocks as an everyday occurrence. This meant many people living in non-permanent homes along the countryside. It’s likely Jesus references this fact towards the end of this letter.
- Philadelphia city was along a main highway that connected Smyrna, 100 miles west, and Rome viewed the city as “the gateway to the East” and something of a missionary city for spreading of Greek culture. Again, it’s like Jesus references this fact about the church.
- In all, we do not know how the gospel started in Philadelphia or much about the church, other than – like Smyrna – Jesus gives no criticism or correction of the church, only commendation.
- Continuing the theme of each letter, Jesus reveals more of himself to another church.
- Jesus is “the holy one.” The title was ascribed to God in the OT, with the book of Isaiah having over 30 references to the title, and at least 10 other references in the rest of the prophets. We know God does not share or rival his glory, implying this title affirms the deity of Jesus. The Gospel writers use this title for Jesus also (Mk 1:24; Lk 4:34; Jn 6:69; Acts 2:27; 3:14). Revelation 6:10, 16:5 also notes this name for Jesus. In all, the holiness of Jesus highlights His perfection, purity, and separateness from humanity and any other god.
- Jesus is “the true one.” All that Jesus says is truth, and He personifies truth (Jn 1:14; 14:6). There are no little or secret lies with Jesus; He is fully honest and trustworthy and we can build our life upon His truth.
- Consider how a community nerved by constant earthquakes needs stability and finds their foundation in the unshakable truth of God’s word and promises.
- Jesus has the “key of David.” Jesus holding keys of death and Hades was mentioned in Rev 1:18, which is tied together from the prophecy of the Lord’s servant in Isa 22:22 “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder. He shall open and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” Jesus is the door (Jn 10:9) and holds keys that open salvation.
- Every heart has a lock that can only be opened with a cross-shaped key – the gospel.
- The gospel key opens the door, but it is still a narrow entry. The wide opening is easy but leads to destruction, while the narrow entry is hard, but it leads to life (cf. Mt 7:13-14). In other words, the narrow path is following Jesus even when its hard.
How does this church in Philadelphia relate to us? It shows the kind of church Jesus desires. Revelation 3:7-13 reveals four characteristics of the church Jesus desires.
8 “‘I know your works…I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
Jesus desires a faithful church.
The acknowledgment of Jesus’s omniscience continues. He knows each church. In this case, Jesus commends the Philadelphia Church for three areas of faithfulness:
- Their works. The Philadelphia Church is commended for works. Good works do not earn our acceptance with God, but they can demonstrate established faith in Christ and a genuine relationship with God. In contrast to other churches works that were immoral or incomplete, the Philadelphia Christians were a positive influence for the gospel.
- Your walk talks with your works.
à What work do you have for God and for His church?
CM/YM is always / Greeting is easy / Music takes skill & practiced commitment / Teachers / Organizers
– Every member is an ambassador.
- Their wherewithal. Philadelphia Church had little power/strength. It was likely one of the smaller churches, but Jesus is not rebuking the church for its size as a measure of success. Instead, Jesus is commending the church for using the resources they did have.
Sometimes we make excuses for what we do not have but fail to allow God to use what we do have. Our role is to be faithful with the little we have (cf. Luke 16:10). We may only have a few friends with the crazy idea to reach Jesus through the roof of a house, but will you obey in faith (Mk 2)? We may only be able to reach the hem of Jesus’s garment, but will we stretch out our hand (Mk 5)? We may only have 5 loaves and two fishes, but is it available to God (Mk 6)? We may only have a meager, empty room or an old donkey animal, but can it be used for Jesus (Mk 11)? We may only have the last of a known income to place in the offering, but will you give cheerfully (Mk 12:43-44)? We may only have the tears from our suffering to anoint Jesus, but will we approach Him or remain absent (Mk 14)?
Our greatest ability is not our strength but our faith, not our ability but our availability.
à What is in your hand?
- Their witness. The Philadelphia Church has kept Jesus’s word and not denied His name. Some people keep the word of Jesus privately but publicly they live something different. They claim their faith is a personal and private matter. Well, faith may be personal but it is seldom private. Those who are afraid or ashamed of Jesus before others will receive a rude awakening at the return of Jesus (Lk 9:26).
à Who is the person or where is the place God has been prompting you to go public with the gospel but you have been hesitant? Make a commitment this day to share – write it down and share with someone to hold you accountable.
8 “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.
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.
Jesus desires a missionary church.
Jesus gives two promises
- Open a door that no one is able to shut for the Philadelphia Church.
This open door has a double meaning – first in earlier reference to Jesus holding the key of David to fulfill the prophecy and open the door to salvation. Yet, this open door also have overtones toward missionary advancement. As the city was known as a “gateway to the east,” the Philadelphia Church had opportunity to influence its region with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This small and seemingly insignificant church (no famous church planter or pastor) had an open door promised by Jesus.
The New Testament uses the language of open doors for ministry and mission advancement.
- Acts 14:27 “And when they [Paul & Barnabas] arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:9 “[Paul] will stay in Ephesus, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Interestingly, Paul viewed opposition as opportunity.
- 2 Corinthians 2:12
- Colossians 4:3-4 “pray 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 – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
So, Jesus opened the door of salvation to persons in Philadelphia and He opened a door of ministry and mission for their church.
How can you discern an open door vs a closed door?
- Open doors should always align with God’s word.
- Closed doors can be easy to walk through but not the right fit.
- Open doors can be comfortable or they can be challenging. Sometimes the challenge is a sign of God’s means to empower and grow our faith.
- Open doors occur when you are walking through them. The faith life is not one of timidity or fear. Those who are paralyzed by decision-making or who avoid risks for God’s kingdom miss the miracles God wants to perform. Our faith life is to commit to making choices that honor God and trust the Lord with the outcomes and fruit.
- Open doors are sometimes seen by others before you see them. Listen to those who love you and whom God has placed in your life.
- What are the open doors for your mission? Start where you are: home, work, neighborhood, church.
- Open doors for mission at SPBC
- Boys & Girls (TL/AHG). Not what I would have expected, nor necessarily desired (sports, bible-centered), but I am observing how this could be used to cultivate character and teach truth.
- Home Groups (2Gather). There is something that happens when we open our life to others by being in one another’s homes. May God start and sustain a movement for gospel growth in our home groups.
- Make false [Jewish] believers bow down at the feet of Christians, and learn of Jesus’s love for them.
There will be a vindication of Christians who were once plagued or persecuted to receive justice (Isa 60:14) and love from God (Isa 43:4; Rev 1:5). Unbelievers will be humbled but believers will be honored, and will reign in the millenial kingdom. Ultimately, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord (Php 2:9-11).
For all the mention of open doors, we also must recognize circumstances of challenge and conflict in our life. Life is not ideal and is filled with imperfections. We can endure stages or seasons of difficulty. It’s in these moments we need the reminder that Jesus loves us and is working all things – even the undesirable – to better us and bring glory to Himself.
Psalm 94:18-19 “When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, [God’s] comfort cheers my soul.”
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.
Jesus desires a persevering church.
One of the specific promises given to the Philadelphian church is ability to persevere in the midst of trials. Jesus promises protection in trial but this does not necessarily mean removal from trials. The verb is used similarly elsewhere:
- John 17:15 “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
- 2 Peter 2:9 “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”
- Revelation 3:10-12 context references a patient endurance, holding fast, and overcoming – all indicators of the Philadelphia Church experiencing a level of trial that is coming on the whole world, yet by the grace of God will be protected.
- This hour of trial was for the Philadelphia Church, and while commentators disagree, we cannot entirely extract these circumstances onward into the future – over 2K years about another specific “Tribulation Period.” Whether the Church will escape or endure a time of Tribulation is up for debate. It does seem early Christianity expected tribulation and suffering would precede an end time return of Christ (Mat 24:15-31; Mk 13:7-20; Rev 7:14).
- Adam & Eve to clothe with skins and promise a seed of redemption.
- Noah and family rescued through a great flood.
- Israel sees and is spared the 10 plagues upon the Egyptians.
- Hebrew Men saved in the fiery furnace.
- Daniel saved in the lion’s den after a night’s stay.
- In all, this promise has great relevance for all who face trials, even if the trials mentioned here are specifically related to end times. Jesus wants Christians to realize they have nothing to fear and they can live courageously assured of victory.
Jesus promises to make the Christians a pillar in the temple of God, never going out. Written to a community who lived in physical instability due to earthquakes, the message of a permanent home would have been encouraging. Further, Jesus promised to give them a new personal name, a name of the city of God, and to be called as belonging to the name of Jesus. A believer gains a new identity as forgiven, loved, and free in Christ; they become citizens of a greater kingdom in heaven, and they are united with Jesus in a way that no person or circumstance can separate us from God’s love (cf. Rom 8:37-39).
13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Jesus desires a listening church.
This is the 6th church, and the seventh will repeat this saying: “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus expects each of the churches to hear and heed His desires.
- Some read Scripture daily – what do you do with it?
- Some come to church weekly – what do you do with it?
James 1:22 “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
John 5:39 “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about me. And you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.”
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10