There are times when I am meditating on the Person of Jesus Christ that all of the sudden I realize He’s really real. It unexpectedly touches my heart and I am aware that He’s fully alive and totally engaged with me and my life. Now, I can surely understand how silly this might sound to you, coming from a person who is currently being paid as a full-time occupation to search out God, lead His Church and tell others about Him. I totally get it. And if the truth be told, I think I still might be far more shocked than you when I see Him as He is.
It has happened about ten or so times over the past twelve years of being in relationship with Jesus. Sometimes it’s been in the place of solitary prayer with Him and other times it has been while I am preaching to others. What usually happens is that while I am talking to Him, or talking to others about Him, all of the sudden I connect with the idea that what I am saying is really true. This might sound like I’m not convinced personally about what I tell others, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am very convinced about what I believe, but there are times in my personal experience where I am quickened to how real what I believe is. It’s a really powerful experience and a great reminder that it’s easy to treat common things with a subtle familiarity.
The other reality to this experience I have mentioned above is that there are also times it seems Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and life in Him are way too good to be true. The culture in which we live breaks so many promises, or offers us things that become different when we actually read the fine print. There’s often a catch, a gimmick or extended payments after the first initial payment that you didn’t know about when you originally signed up.
To the Church of Philadelphia, this very well might have been their response to the promises made them by Jesus. This Church was a smaller, struggling-but-faithful-to-Jesus type Church. But when they hear the letter and the specific information Jesus has for them, the temptation to question whether or not He is able to deliver on His promises might have, at the very least, been a passing thought. As we take this entire chapter and look at both the historical setting of the city of Philadelphia and Jesus’ address to them, we want to come to grips with a God who promises much but is also able to bring to pass what He promises. What Jesus offers humans is not too good to be true.
History of Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia is situated about thirty miles East, Southeast of Sardis in this circular pattern and is today called by the name Alasehir. The word Philadelphia literally means brotherly love and it’s made up from two Greek words. The city was named Philadelphia because of the great love of Eumenes the Second for his brother.
History tells us that the city of Philadelphia suffered a major earthquake along with Sardis around 17 A.D. that nearly devastated the entire city. The region which was formerly Asia Minor is now modern day Turkey, an area riddled with earthquakes. Along with earthquakes and fault lines, there was also a nearby volcano whose eruptions created incredibly fertile soil. The city is known as the gateway to the East, because of the several major throughways connected to it and through it. And in fact, some have said this city was actually built as a pagan missionary city.
Because of the fertile soil of the area, there were a plethora of vineyards, wheat, grain and corn. There were so many vineyards that during the time the Revelation was written 90-96 A.D. Domitian actually passed an edict against the vineyards in favor of tax-generating wheat and corn crops. Because there were massive amounts of vineyards in the area, they needed room to grow wheat, grain and corn crops to fund the government as well as the life of the city. So it was true that the city was exporting two types of spirits from the many temples and large pagan culture: wine and demons.
Jesus’ Address to the Church Of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)
The Church of Philadelphia tells us many things, things which I don’t even claim to have a grasp on. But two primary things I do know and see clearly from Jesus’ words to this Church are that God doesn’t evaluate things the way we do, and that Jesus makes big promises which He fully intends to fulfill. Because the Church was a smaller body of believers, we could tend to look at them as not being very influential, but to Jesus this Church meant so much to Him. And secondly, Jesus makes some of the most outlandish promises to this Church, but He first qualifies Himself as the One who can fulfill what He promises.
Jesus open this letter in the same way that He opens all seven letters in Revelation 2-3 by saying here in Revelation 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. Through this introduction Jesus is Addressing what I believe to be the human leadership of this body of believers. Jesus is very intentional in Addressing the leadership because He clearly understands that the best way to the ministry is through the leadership. From His Address to them, He then moves right into the revealing of some specific Attributes of Himself that will directly help the Church. In this one verse I have identified a total of four Attributes Jesus uses to describe Himself to the Church of Philadelphia.
Firstly Jesus says, I am He who is holy… Through this Attribute Jesus is letting them know that He is the Holy One of God, or the One who was set apart to be faithful to His Father. Because this ministry was receiving trouble from outside relationships for their faithful witness for Jesus, Jesus Himself is working to strengthen them with the understanding that He knows what it’s like to remain holy to God when it costs greatly. Jesus knows the costly commitment to remain holy unto God while living in this present evil age. Jesus received much persecution for His commitment not only to remain pure, but to tell others what the Father had said about Him.
Secondly, Jesus refers to Himself as …He who is true… It’s here that Jesus is telling them about His eternal nature. As I have already mentioned, the promises that Jesus is going to give this group of believers in Revelation 3:10, 12 are going to seem too good to be true, but they aren’t. So prior to sharing with them what the promises are, He is letting them know that His eternal, unchangeable nature is that of truth. Revelation 19:11 says …He (Jesus Christ) who sat on him was called faithful and true…
Thirdly, Jesus reveals Himself as …He who has the key of David… Jesus is directly quoting Isaiah 22:22 which is the only verse in the Bible speaking about the key of David other than this reference here in Revelation 3:7. In Isaiah 22:15-25 God makes a promise to take the Key of David from Shebna because of pride, and give to Eliakim temporarily. This key was to be set on his shoulder as a sign of authority with permission to use the key as he deemed right. The key of David granted to whoever had it the right to access the royal treasuries of the nation of Israel. We know through other passages such as Revelation 5:5 and 22:16 that Jesus is the Greater David. This Attribute of Jesus lets us know that not only does He eternally possess the key of David, but because of His benevolent heart, He will also share it with us eternally. Through this, Jesus is letting the Church know that He is Holy, He is True and that He has the resources of heaven to fulfill His words of promise to them. They can believe what He says to them, because He possesses the ability or the key of David eternally. He will never lose it like the men of the Bible did. For everyone, other than Jesus, that key was given temporarily.
And fourthly, Jesus says to them …I am He who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens.. One verse later Jesus is going to make it known that many are closing the door of fellowship to this group of believers but that He alone is the One who closes open doors and who opens shut doors. This Church was losing the extended hand of fellowship from their countrymen, much like the Church of Smyrna. Jesus fully understood their situation as He had experienced the same thing. Jesus is the One who opens doors of ministry and influence; instead of focusing on the closed doors we should, like this church, refocus our eyes upon the God who opens closed doors.
Jesus follows the same order He has with the previous six Churches and moves from His Personal and specific Attributes to His Approval of the things that they were doing well. In Jesus’ Approval to the Church of Philadelphia from Revelation 3:8 He says 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. Jesus’ Approval of them and their situation must have encouraged them in the same way it encouraged the Church Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). Sometimes it’s enough to know that Jesus sees and understands my troubles, even though they don’t turn around in that moment, just knowing He’s involved is often enough.
Jesus tells the Church that He has set before them an open door. There is much to be said about this open door, as open doors throughout the scripture have various meanings. And in all honesty, there are people who have spent years researching the open door and I don’t claim to understand a fraction of what they have discovered. But to simplify it a little bit, and at least get you started in your study of this glorious truth, I see two primary things related to this open door. Firstly, it’s an open door of mission, ministry and opportunity. Even as they were being removed from the place of fellowship with others, Jesus is setting before them an open door of powerful and fruitful ministry both there and beyond. This happened with Corrie Ten Boom and her family as the Germans were shutting the door to Jews. Corrie and her family received an open door from God to serve the Jews in the midst of one of their (Jewish) greatest struggles. Though all doors close around us, remember not to look at the closed doors, but to the God who sets open doors before us.
And secondly, this open door that Jesus set before them is what I believe to be an open door of intimacy to His heart. We, the saints of God possess a special place of privilege here in this age that the rest of God’s heavenly created order doesn’t get to experience. Our worship of God isn’t because we have to, but because we want to. Those that serve around God’s throne are just that, servants. But for us, who are alive in this age, the Bible doesn’t only call us servants, but also friends. Jesus Himself said in John 15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. The Church of Laodicea was called upon by God to open up the door of their heart to Jesus and allow Him entrance. Though this passage from Revelation 3:20 is often applied to sinners, it was Christians that Jesus was speaking to. And the door He is asking them to open, is the door of their heart or the secret place of their affections. Jesus wanted entrance.
To receive an open door into Jesus’ heart is beyond what we are fully able to comprehend in this age specifically but maybe even in the age which is yet to come. That the God of glory, the uncreated God Man, would choose to open up His heart to us, inviting us into it to experience His depths, is something that I believe will continue to move us throughout this age and into the age which is yet to come.
The Church of Philadelphia was in an uncommon place in relationship to the other six Churches. In fact, it wasn’t just Philadelphia that was in an uncommon place, but also the Church of Smyrna. These two Churches were the only two among the other five Churches that Jesus didn’t have anything negative to say. So instead of having an Accusation for them, Jesus instead moves right into His Assurance to them of reward for those among the ministry who continue to persist and overcome.
Jesus says to them in Revelation 3:9 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. The close relationship between the Church of Smyrna and the Church of Philadelphia had more in common than only that Jesus had nothing negative to say to them. They also were both suffering at the hands of their own countrymen. The church in the city of Philadelphia wasn’t only receiving persecution and trouble from the state and those who worshiped pagan gods, but also from fellow Jews.
This situation they were facing in the city was exactly the same situation the Church of Smyrna was facing. Because the pressure the state was placing on those who didn’t worship the Emperor, these Orthodox Jews, were outing their fellow Jews who had have given their lives to Christ, in order to get the government off their backs. So Jesus is saying that they are only Jews outwardly, but not inwardly, in that they don’t believe in Christ yet. Paul helps clarify this idea through the book of Romans, that Jews in the New Covenant must not only be circumcised externally, but also internally, at the heart (Romans 2:29).
But their struggle for loving Jesus and staying faithful to Him in the midst of great pressure isn’t going unnoticed by Him. Because of Jesus’ great love for those who say yes to Him, He can’t help but get involved in the affairs of their lives. So Jesus makes a promise to them: that if they remain faithful to Him, He will make those Jews, who are only Jews outwardly, come and worship Christ at their feet. His purpose is to let those outward Jews know that Jesus has also loved their own countrymen and the Gentiles as well. Because of Jesus’ strong love, He loves to vindicate His people publicly. It’s not enough for Jesus to love in secret, He loves to love openly, in public and to let others around us know that He loves and cherishes greatly.
Jesus’ Assurance of reward continues into Revelation 3:10 when He says 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. This promise from Jesus has two primary applications, and there might even be more. But for the purpose of this chapter, I will share the two primary applications that I see from this passage. Firstly, Jesus was surely speaking directly to the Church of Philadelphia when He made them this promise, because of their present trouble and the trouble they would continue to face. The reason why I say Jesus was speaking directly to this Church is because many people take this to be a passage speaking only to the saints of God about the Rapture of the saints, which wouldn’t leave any application to this physical ministry of the Church of Philadelphia. But secondly, I see its application as a primary truth related to the Great Tribulation and the great trouble Jesus promises that the saints at the end of this age would walk through.
For us to understand better what Jesus was saying, we have to look at what the word keep meant and means. According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word keep that is used here is Greek #5083 which simply means to set a watch, to guard from loss or injury, to keep an eye upon something. This word keep that many falsely assume to means take away, is actually opposed to the Strong’s Greek word #5442 which means to escape. The other time that this word is used in the New Testament is found in John 17:15 and 18. As Jesus is just about to head into the dark night of His soul on Calvary, He prays to the Father saying I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one…as You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. Jesus not only uses this word keep in such a way that it clearly has no reference to being taken away, He continues in verse 18 by saying that He doesn’t want them taken out of the world, but sent into it. Jesus here in John 17:15 and again in Revelation 3:11 is making His intentions clear to the Church of Philadelphia.
He does not want to give them a false hope about what He is going to do with them. It’s clear that Jesus isn’t planning on taking the Church of Philadelphia out of their current crisis, or the greater crisis that’s coming to the earth at the end of this age. But what Jesus wants this Church specifically to know is that He fully intends on walking with them, keeping His eye upon and being near them as they continue to walk through both their present trouble and the great trouble at the end of this age. So again, the application is two-fold, being both for their present circumstance and also through the end of this age.
The typical address from Jesus to the Seven Churches takes a slight deviation from the standard format He has previously used and now jumps into some Advice for the Church of Philadelphia, before continuing with more Assurance or reward. Jesus’ Advice to them is seen in Revelation 3:11 as He says to them Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. In this portion of Advice that Jesus gives them, He is saying the same thing He has said to other Churches, but it doesn’t mean the same thing. This isn’t the first Church that Jesus has told He was coming to. But His coming to the Church of Philadelphia was different than His coming to the Church of Sardis. To Sardis, it was a coming of judgment, if they refused to repent and return to Him. But to the Church of Philadelphia, it was a promise of comfort. Jesus was assuring them that He was going to break into their world with grace that would enable them to stay faithful to Him, even in the midst of trouble.
But in order for Him to help them, they needed to remain faithful to Him even in the midst of their current struggle. Jesus makes it clear through His Advice that there was the possibility to lose their crown. If that weren’t so, then Jesus need not say …hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. If you could see my Bible, you would see this portion circled with the words written above that say losable? What was true for this Church was also true for the other six churches and is also true for us today; the rewards Jesus promises aren’t automatic. What I mean by automatic, is that just because Jesus says they can be ours, doesn’t mean they will. What Jesus is giving us is an invitation to respond to a great promise. But if we don’t respond in a faithful manner, that promise remains just an invitation and not an automatic reality for us. We must press into the heart of God and ask for help to remain faithful to Him under great pressure.
As I previously said, Jesus jumps from the normal format of how He has addressed the five previous Churches. From His Advice to them, He returns to more Assurance of reward for the faithful Church. In Revelation 3:12 Jesus says He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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. I think it’s important at this time to remember the specific way Jesus revealed three primary Attributes of Himself to this Church.
Jesus opened the letter to this Church by revealing three primary facets of Himself to them. He said …I’m He who is holy…He who is true…and He who has the key of David… Through these specific facets He is letting this Church know that He has suffered for costly obedience (like they were), that He doesn’t just tell the truth, but rather that His eternal nature is entirely truthful and that He has the key to access all the resources of heaven to fulfill His Assurance of reward to them, if they will overcome. Beloved, if we stopped for a minute and allowed the truths of who He is and the promises that He makes not only to them, but also to us, our minds would be blown for decades. Only Jesus can make such outlandish promises and only Jesus can fulfill such lofty Assurance of reward for those that overcome.
History tells us that that the ruler of Philadelphia, during the time the Revelation was written (90-96 A.D.) would actually enshrine outstanding citizens with a pillar, either down the mainstream of town or around their religious/political temples. On this pillar he would put their names on it as a testimony to those that saw it. But here, Jesus is most likely speaking directly to the local situation that the Church of Philadelphia was stacked up against. When Jesus first offers to make them a pillar in the temple of His Father, He is calling the Church to live their lives beyond this age and into the age which is yet to come. To the one who struggles with fame in this age, the Holy Spirit would say let go of your earthly pillars, clothe yourself like a servant, lay your earthly robes aside, gird yourself with a towel and wash the feet of the lowly. Quit looking at those earthly pillars and set your eyes on eternity and the pillars that never fade away. It’s my belief that the primary reason we can’t let go of earthly pillars with our names on them is because we simply haven’t seen that God promises to give us one in eternity, if we live in a manner that is worthy of His calling on our lives. Mike Bickle has often said, If you don’t think rightly about heaven, you won’t think about it at all. I believe this to be a very true statement, not only for me, but for most Christians I know.
In Jesus’ continued Assurance of reward to the Church of Philadelphia, and after the promise of His making them a Pillar in eternity, He also offers three other promises to the overcomer. Looking again at Revelation 3:12 Jesus says …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. Let’s take a brief look at the three rewards Jesus promises. Firstly Jesus says to them …I will write on him the name of My God… I believe this promise to be speaking about two primary things; possession and position. Speaking of possession, Aaron the High Priest was instructed by God through Moses to wear a golden plate on his forehead which had the engraved words HOLY TO THE LORD (Exodus 28:36-38). This spoke of God’s people being God’s possession. In Revelation 13:16 we see that during the last three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation the antichrist will require a mark, which will be placed either on the right hand or on the forehead. And in Revelation 22:4 we see that in the Eternal City, we will see not only God’s face, but also His name shall be on our foreheads. It’s clear that the antichrist will be working to steal the possession which belongs to God, by taking the place of ownership with his counterfeit mark.
But having God’s name on our foreheads is also about our position in Christ. This position that we have received in Christ means that we are recipients of God’s desire, His authority and the revelation of Him. The writer of Hebrews speaks about the life of the Spirit being poured out through Jesus’ death in Hebrews 10:16. The passage reads This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them. We have a measure of this promise in this age, but in the age which is yet to come the promise will be in fullness for overcomers.
Secondly, Jesus says …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… Through this passage, the Greater David, the Great Davidic King who came forth from king David, the One who eternally possesses the Key of David, is granting us access and authority in the heavenly city. Because of our relationship with the Son, the Father is going to give us access and authority in the Eternal City. It’s true today that people give mayors or prominent leaders a symbolic key to the city, or carve their name on a gate. Well, Jesus is offering us the same thing through this passage. And something else that Jesus slips in, for the first time in human history, He tells us plainly that the New Jerusalem is actually coming out of heaven to this physical, present earth. Now remember, John was well acquainted with the Old Testament and the concept of the Greater David ruling and reigning on the earth, but to hear this plainly from Jesus would have blown not only John’s mind, but everyone else that heard it.
And lastly, Jesus promises the overcomers in the Church of Philadelphia …And I will write on him My new name. Jesus has already promised this Church the temporal blessings of His nearness to them in the midst of their present and future struggle. But this is speaking about an eternal blessing of nearness to Jesus which we are only able to peer into from this age. It’s physically impossible to fully understand or grasp the level of intimacy with Jesus we will experience in the age to come. But through passages like this, and many others, we can look from a distance and dream about what it will be like. Revelation 19:12 says His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. This passage tells us that Jesus has a name that nobody knows but Himself. The reality is that the God Man knows Himself in a way that’s entirely separated and far from anyone’s opinion of Him. Jesus has secrets about Himself that He has reserved to share only with those who overcome. What motivation to overcome that Jesus is giving us!
And finally, we come to the close of Jesus’ address to the Church of Philadelphia; He ends it in the same way He has ended the previous five letters, with His Appeal. One of the primary things I love about Jesus is His utter honesty and His passion for us to be receiving everything He has for us. Because of His honesty, He’s forced to tell us the truth, not only about this age, but even more so, about the age to come. But because of His passion, He longs that none of His people would come up short of any eternal rewards, so He’s constantly calling us to a higher level in Him for the purpose of making sure we don’t suffer loss when we stand before Him.
He calls out to the Church of Philadelphia, and to all those that love Him, through Revelation 3:13 by saying He who has an ear to hear, let him what the Spirit says to the Churches. And so, we must turn our ear to the voice of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to bring back to our remembrance all things that Jesus said. May we be found as a people who listen to the Holy Spirit, who cooperate with Him by responding to His words and leadership in our lives.