Revelation 3:7-13, “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: 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.
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 am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
Profile Philadelphia: Originally built in 189 BC by Eumenes II the city was named “Philadelphia” or “brotherly love” for literally just that… The love he had for his brother and would be successor Attalus II. (Nickname - “Philadelphos” or “one whom his brother loves.”)
Though small Philadelphia was a prosperous city mainly because she was situated on a very important trade route that connected the East and the West. As a boarder town Philadelphia was the final stop before you entered more uncivilized areas beyond the Empire.
Historically, Philadelphia was known as being the “Gateway to the East” and it was because of her strategic location that the city had become an outpost for the spread of Hellenistic culture. In a way Philadelphia was a missionary centre for the Greek way of living.
Though the Protestant Reformation was successful in bringing needed theological reforms to the church, by in large Protestantism didn’t yield a return to the churches original commission - taking the Gospel out into the world. Because of her interdependency upon the State the Protestant Church failed to be missionary minded and was internally focused.
And yet, two significant historical developments would change the church’s inward perspective. The first occurred during the late 15th and 16th centuries and is known historically as the Age of Discovery. In the hopes of procuring areas of untapped wealth Portugal and Spain invested heavily in nautical exploration around the globe. Examples: “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered the Americas. In 1498 Vasco da Gama was the first to successfully sail from Europe to India.
Secondly… Not to be outdone, the English set to the seas hoping to establish colonies and trade networks of their own. The late 16th century would see the rise of the British Empire. Not only would the British colonize the Americas, but she would become the largest empire in history with a footprint in Africa, India, China, Australia, and New Zealand. By 1922 the British Empire “held sway over 458 million people, one-fifth of the world’s population.” At the peak of power she was “the empire on which the sun never sets.”
As a result of these developments not only did the European church awaken to the existence of a world beyond her boarders that had not been exposed to the Gospel, but the Empire itself provided the infrastructure by which missionaries could be sent around the globe. Note: What Roman roads did for the spread of the Gospel in the 1st century the British naval routs accomplished during the seventeen and eighteenth centuries.
And yet, the tipping point came in what’s known as the “First Great Awakening” which took Protestant Europe and British America by storm during the 1730s and 1740s. As a result of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the passioned preaching of the Bible by men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield the Protestant church not only recognized her own need for a genuine relationship with Jesus but also that of the world.
Enter a simple, British cobbler by the name of William Carey who was deeply touched by the teachings of Jonathan Edwards. In the early 1800s Carey would take the Gospel to India and become known as the “father of modern missionaries.” His perspective was simple… “To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.”
Carey would later write, “When I left England, my hope of India's conversion was very strong; but amongst so many obstacles, it would die, unless upheld by God. Well, I have God, and His Word is true. Though the superstitions of the heathen were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of the Europeans a thousand times worse; though I were deserted by all and persecuted by all, yet my faith, fixed on the sure Word, would rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God's cause will triumph.”
In the mid-1800s another Brit by the name Hudson Taylor would carry the Gospel to China. During the 51 years he spent in the Orient he and his organization, China Inland Mission, “would be responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.”
While there is no doubt this period of Church History is characterized by the missionaries who’d carry the Gospel into the uncharted parts of the world (David Livingstone’s heart for Africa included), it should also be pointed out the original Great Awakening and those to follow would produce an evangelical emphasis in the Western world brought about by a return to Biblical exposition and preaching.
In the mid-1800s Charles Spurgeon would pastor the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. His contemporary DL Moody preached with the same passion and tenacity for the lost at his Chicago Avenue Church. William Arnot preached tirelessly in Scotland. And in the late-1800s Andrew Murray would evangelize his native South Africa.
As you enter the 1900s these great men of faith would give way to men like J. Oswald Sanders, A.W. Tozer, J. Vernon McGee, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Chuck Smith. Even today this missional movement represented by this Philadelphian Church is alive and active in any Protestant Church that faithfully preaches God’s Word, relies on the power of the Holy Spirit, and has a deep commitment to reach the lost world for Jesus Christ!
Whereas Jesus had nothing nice to say to the church in Sardis, in this letter (as in His letter to the Persecuted Church of Smyrna) Jesus has nothing negative to say to this faithful church in Philadelphia. Instead, the letter Jesus sends is chalked full of promises!
Before we look at these promises, notice first how Jesus introduces Himself… “These things says He who is holy…” This phrase translated “He who is holy” is actually one word in the Greek - “Hagios” meaning “a most holy thing.” In this description Jesus is emphasizing His distinctiveness. Because He is holy He’s by definition separate for all others.
He continues, “He who is true…” which is also one word in the Greek - “Alêthinos” meaning “opposite to what is fictitious or counterfeit.” In this reference Jesus is emphasizing His genuineness and authenticity. It’s not that He’s true, but that He’s the real deal!
Jesus also refers to Himself as “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” In quoting directly from Isaiah 22:22 we understand “the key” represents the authority of the chief steward. Once again in this detail Jesus is emphasizing to the faithful His complete authority of both heaven and earth.
What makes this entire description of Jesus unique is that unlike the others none of these descriptions are not found in the original revelation of Jesus back in chapter one. It’s as though Jesus is emphasizing an aspect of Himself only relevant to the faithful church.
Why? Whereas all the other descriptions of Christ in these letters intend to correct problems or provide encouragement, it may be that Jesus emphasizes these characteristics with the specific intention of substantiating and validating the promises He’s about to make.
Series of Promises:
First, Jesus promises to “make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie… come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”
This phrase “worship before your feet” does not mean what you might initially think (that we’ll receive worship). The word “worship” or “proskyneô” implies “kneeling or prostration oneself to make homage.” This idea is to express respect. The phrase “before your feet” signified the act of a disciple yielding himself to the instruction of a teacher… Basically, Jesus is promising the faithful who carry the Gospel through the “open door” that even their staunchest enemies will ultimately recognize the error in their thinking. He's telling this church that even when the opposition looks great, His work is greater!
Secondly, Jesus promises to “keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly!”
Specifically, Jesus promises to keep this church “from the hour of trial.” The use of this definite article “the” implies He is not speaking of “a trial” but something more significant.
Additionally, it would be hard to place this “trial” into any previous period of church history considering the fact Jesus says the “trial shall come upon the wold world.” Keep in mind, at no point since Noah’s Flood have we ever seen a global judgment of God.
It should also be pointed out that “the trial” is specifically designed “to test those who dwell on the earth.” This word “dwell” is significant because it speaks to more than just those who “reside” somewhere. The word “katoikeô” means “to inhabit or settle” to make home. Pastor Joe Focht observers that this Greek phrase “earth dwellers (or those who “dwell on the earth”) always speaks of unbelievers in the book of Revelation.” Note: 6 times.
With all of this in mind, because the promise is that Jesus will keep this church “from the hour” or literally “time of” global trial of the wicked, it is my conviction that Jesus is promising to rapture this faithful church from the earth before “the trial” begins.
Note: This promised deliverance seems to substantiate a Pre-Tribulational view of the rapture which would also explain why Jesus then exhorts these believers with the admonition… “Behold, I am coming quickly.” Note: This word “quickly” or “tachy” does not mean His coming will occur soon, but rather when it comes it will occur suddenly.
1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Thirdly, Jesus promises that “he who overcomes (those who remain faithful), He will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more (purpose for all eternity). I will write on him the name of My God (ownership of God) and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem (citizenship in heaven), which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name (identity in Jesus).”
Finally, Jesus closes His letter exhorting them to “hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” Understand, Jesus is not saying they needed to hold on out of a fear that someone could come along and take their crown from them. Rather, Jesus is encouraging the faithful not to “discard or let go of” the opportunity He’d set before them… For if they did both the opportunity and the potential reward would be extended to another.
If you’ve been with us in our study of these Seven Letters to the Church you probably noticed that I skipped over Jesus’ commendation of this church - this was not an accident. You see every church (and person) wants to identify with this Philadelphian church. I mean how could you not!? No persecution, no scathing criticisms, nothing but glorious promises… That’s all rather appealing. Seriously who wouldn’t want to have the Savior, God-King Jesus examine their church (or life) and reach these same conclusions?
And yet, don’t forget this letter was not written in a vacuum. After evaluating this church Jesus found them faithful because they had been faithful! This church had as part of their very DNA characteristics Jesus found commendable… Characteristics that must be part of any church or person for Jesus to also declare faithful!
In conclusion and in way of applying the substance of this letter to our church I want to take our remaining time and examine the essential characteristics of a faithful church. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
1. A Faithful Church is Mission-Minded…
Jesus begins… “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door…” In context this “door” was open because Jesus had opened it which is why “no one could shut it!”
In a sense Jesus is commending this church for taking advantage of the opportunities He had placed before them… They not only recognized the opening, but they had proven faithful to go through it! And what opportunity had Jesus provided this church?
Looking at the backdrop of this church in Philadelphia as an outpost for the spread of Greek culture and the context of the Missional Church itself it seems the “open door” was the opportunity to be missionaries of His Kingdom throughout the whole world.
In Colossians 4:2-4 Paul mentions the “open door” when he asked the believers to “continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.”
I hope you understand when it comes to sharing the Gospel or opportunities to minister to someone in need it isn’t your job to open doors. Instead, your job is to (1) be looking for the doors Jesus opens for you, and then (2) be willing to go through them.
2. A Faithful Church is Spirit-Dependent…
Jesus commends them for “having a little strength…” While it would be easy to see this as a sort of backhanded compliment, in actuality this may be one of the greatest commendations Jesus gives to any of these churches! The reality was that this church was weak enough that their entire strength and dependency had to be found in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:27, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise… the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
2 Corinthians 12:10, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 13:4, “Though He was crucified in weakness He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God.”
The key to your faithfulness is not found in your strength or resiliency, but rather your dependency in the Spirit’s strength and sufficiency. The issue is not the amount of strength, but the source of strength! His sufficiency in the place of our insufficiency.
2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God…”
2 Corinthians 12:9, “Jesus said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Sadly, there are many people who are simply to strong for God to use in any type of meaningful way. Pride in self-sufficiency or human ingenuity robs a person of the supernatural, world-changing, life-altering power that comes only from God!
This church was faithful and effective for one simple reason… They were humble and self-aware! They had a proper perspective of themselves and their ability. Their un-ableness made them very able to rely entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. A Faithful Church is Bible-Centric…
Jesus commends them for “keeping His word…” This word “has kept” is “têreô” meaning “to attend to carefully.” It wasn’t that this church was faithful to obey God’s Word. Jesus is instead commending them for how they approached the Word itself.
Understand… Historically, revival never happens apart from a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But many fail to observe that the singular thing that brings about this outpouring is a return to the faithful, unashamed teaching of God’s Word.
This church experienced a Great Awaking brought on by the Spirit of God because they were faithful to preach the Word of God to the people. Note: There is a significant difference when someone preaches the Word as opposed to preaching from the Word!
Charles Spurgeon said this concerning God’s Word, “If you wish to know God you must know His word; if you wish to perceive His power you must see how He worketh by His word; if you wish to know His purpose before it is actually brought to pass you can only discover it by His word… Now, mark this: by this shall you know whether you are a child of God, or not; by the respect that you have to your Father’s Word. If you have small respect for that Word, the evidences of a bastard are upon you.”
4. A Faithful Church is Christ-Like…
Jesus also commends them for “not denying His name…” Here was a mission-minded church dependent on the Holy Spirit who held God’s Word in high esteem… It seems only logical that Jesus now commends them for their faithfulness to represent “His name.”
The idea behind this phrase “not denying” is more than a decision to stand for Christ in the face of opposition. The idea was that though their actions they were a church living up to the high standard of the name for which they represented… Christian!
If we’re to be found faithful, it is paramount that we take seriously the name in which we represent. Your actions do not just reflect on you. They reflect on Jesus. Remember… His standing in our community rests on the way you represent Him!
5. A Faithful Church is Rapture-Ready…
Finally, Jesus says, “You have kept My command to persevere…” Because the context of this admonition is the rapture of the church (“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”) it seems unlikely Jesus was referencing perseverance in the face of persecution.
Instead, it seems Jesus is commending them for the fact they were “patiently enduring” as they waited for His coming. The word “persevere” means “a patient, steadfast waiting.”
In John 14:1-3 Jesus promised, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Sadly, there has been a move within Christianity to minimize the expectancy we should have concerning the rapture. Some reason that a church so focused on Christ’s return will prove to be ineffective when it comes to reaching the lost or serving our communities.
And yet, I find the complete opposite to be the case! A church’s expectancy of Christ’s soon return and therefore “the trail” that will follow should not yield inactivity, but be a greater motivator to make every day count. Honestly, as illustrated by this letter, it would seem effectiveness and expectancy are not mutually exclusive! Jesus found them faithful.
Luke 12:37-40, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
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