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.”’
Before we dive into the particulars of our text, it’s important I quickly point out two keys to unpacking any of these 7 letters recorded in Revelation 2-3. Not only is Jesus’ letter directed to a literal, first-century church location in the city of Philadelphia, but prophetically Jesus is addressing a specific time-period of church history - in this case the Missional Church.
As it pertains to this ancient city of Philadelphia located in Asia Minor… Originally built in 189 BC by Eumenes II the city was named “Philadelphia” or “brotherly love” for literally just that - The love Eumenes had for his brother and would be successor Attalus II. Note: Eumenes’ nickname for Attalus was “Philadelphos” or “the 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 with the West. As a boarder town Philadelphia was the final stop before you entered more uncivilized areas beyond the Roman Empire.
Because of her strategic location, historically, Philadelphia was known as the Gateway to the East! In many ways the city had become an outpost for the spread of Hellenistic culture into the world. In a way Philadelphia was a missionary centre for the Greek way of living.
While this letter was written to an actual congregation, the context is what Philadelphia represents historically. Though the Reformation was successful in bringing much 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.
The one glaring criticism of the Reformation is that because of her interdependency upon the State the Protestant Church failed to be missionary minded and was internally consumed.
And yet, as is typically the case, there were two significant historical developments that would change the church’s inward perspective outward. The first occurred during the late 15th and early 16th centuries and is known today as the Age of Discovery.
In the hopes of procuring areas of untapped wealth across the Atlantic Ocean, both Portugal and Spain invested heavily in nautical exploration around the globe. For example “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered the Americas. In 1498 Vasco da Gama was the first to successfully sail from Europe around the horn of Africa to India.
Not to be outdone by their rivals, the Spanish and Portuguese, the English set to the seas hoping to establish colonies and trade networks of their own. As I’m sure you know it was during the late 16th-century that we saw 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 or roughly 1/5 of the world’s population. At the peak of power she was known to be the empire on which the sun never sets.
Understand… As a result of this Age of Discovery not only did the Protestant churches that dominated the continent of Europe awaken to the existence of a world beyond her boarders most of which had not been exposed to the Gospel, but the British Empire single handedly provided the infrastructure by which missionaries could be sent around the globe.
One historian observed, “What Roman roads did for the spread of the Gospel during the 1st century, the British naval routs accomplished during the 17th and 18th centuries.”
And yet, the tipping point (and second of these historical developments following the Reformation) came with 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 1800’s Carey would boldly take the Gospel to India and end up becoming 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 carried the Gospel into the uncharted parts of the world using the trade routs of the British Empire (David Livingstone’s heart for Africa included), it should also be mentioned the Great Awakening 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, zeal, 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 others 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!
One of the interesting aspects of Jesus’ letter to Philadelphia and this missional period of church history it that Jesus has nothing negative to say about either. Instead, because this church is found to be faithful, 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 from all others.
He continues, “He who is true…” which is also one word in the Greek meaning “opposite to that which 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” represented the authority of the chief steward. Once again in this detail Jesus is emphasizing to the faithful His complete authority over both heaven and earth.
What makes this entire description of Jesus unique is that unlike the others none of these details are found in the original revelation of Jesus presented in Revelation 1. It’s as though Jesus is emphasizing an aspect of Himself only relevant to the faithful church.
And why is this the case? Where all the other descriptions 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.
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 Christians will receive worship. The word implies prostrating oneself to pay homage. The idea is to express respect. The phrase “before your feet” signified the act of a disciple yielding himself to the instruction of a teacher!
Jesus is promising to the faithful who are willing to 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! In the end and in spite of what may come all will “know that Jesus loved you!”
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.” Then He adds this exhortation, “Behold, I am coming quickly!” In this passage Jesus is specifically promising 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 much more significant than a localized persecution.
The truth of the matter is it’s impossible 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 mentions out that “the trial” is specifically designed “to test those who dwell on the earth.” This word “dwell” is interesting because it spoke to more than just those who “reside” somewhere. The word “katoikeô” means “to inhabit or settle.”
As you seek to understand what Jesus is getting at you should keep in mind He’s promising to keep this church “from the hour” or literally “time of” global trial. Another thought to consider is that every time this Greek phrase “those who dwell on the earth” is used in the Book of Revelation it always spoke of the unbelieving world and never believers.
It is clear from the text itself that Jesus is promising to remove this faithful church from the earth before “the trial” designed to “test” the unbelieving world begins.
This promised deliverance (which has to speak of the Missional Church as there is no historical evidence such an event occurred in the ancient city of Philadelphia) would also explain why Jesus also exhorts these believers with the admonition, “Behold, I am coming quickly.” Not only is Jesus promising to “come,” but this word “quickly” or “tachy” implies His coming will occur suddenly when it finally happens.
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 (rest 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 (new identity in Jesus).” How incredible!
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.
In light of these glorious promises there is no question every church (and Christian) should want to be identified with this Philadelphian church. How could you not!? No criticisms and nothing but glorious promises! Who wouldn’t want to have the Savior, God-King, the Man Jesus Christ 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 declared 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 Christians for Jesus to also declare faithful!
In way of applying the substance of this letter to our church (for don’t we all want to be found faithful), I want to take our remaining time and examine the Profile of a Faithful Christian. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
1. A Faithful Christian looks for ministry opportunities! Jesus begins, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door!” In context to all that He’s saying, 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 had proven faithful to seize upon the opportunity! And what opportunity had Jesus provided this church?
Looking at the backdrop of this church in Philadelphia as being an outpost for the spread of Greek culture and the context of the Missional Church, the “open door” Jesus references was the opportunity to be missionaries of His Kingdom throughout the entire world. In a micro-sense the “open door” references whatever opportunities Jesus has given you!
In Colossians 4:2-4 Paul mentions the “open door” when he asked the believers in Colosse 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. In actuality, I have discovered anytime you kick down a door you’ll be disappoint with what you find on the other side.
Instead, if you want to be found faithful, never forget 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 Christian depends on the Holy Spirit! Jesus commends them for “having a little strength!” While it would be easy to see this as a backhanded compliment, in actuality this may be one of the greatest commendations Jesus gives to any of these churches!
The reality was this Philadelphian church was weak enough to know that their entire strength had to be found in the Lord. There was simple no room for self-sufficiency!
The truth is this idea is a constant theme in Paul’s two letters to the church located in Corinth. 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.”
Christian, the key to your faithfulness is not found in your strength or resiliency, but rather in your dependency upon the Spirit’s strength and sufficiency. Zechariah 4:6, “'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts.”
Christian, the issue never centers upon the amount of strength you have, but instead the source of that strength! True faithfulness is only found when you rely on Jesus’ sufficiency in the place of your insufficiency. His ability filling the chasm of your inability.
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 able for God to use them in any type of tangible way. You see pride in one’s self, ability, or human ingenuity actually 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 totally self-aware and therefore humble! They had a proper perspective of themselves and their inability. Their un-ableness made them very able to rely entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. A Faithful Christian centers their life on the Word of God! Look again at the text. Jesus commends them for “keeping His word!” This word “has kept” means “to attend to carefully.” It wasn’t just that this Philadelphian church was faithful to obey God’s Word. Jesus is instead commending them for how they approached the Word of God itself.
Please never forget this key point… Historically, revival never happens apart from a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And yet, many fail to observe that the singular thing that brings about this outpouring is a return to unashamed teaching of God’s Word.
In the history of the church there has never been a move of God’s Spirit that wasn’t first initiated by a return to God’s Word. The same is true in your life and our church!
This church in Philadelphia, as we see in the Missional Church movement, experienced a Great Awaking brought on by the Spirit and a return to the Great Commission because they were faithful to preach the Word of God to the people. The Word of God was central!
Famous preacher 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 Christian is Christ-Like! I’m blown away that 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” well!
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 through their actions they were living up to the high standard of the “name” for which they represented… They were Christians! The name meant something. It was significant and separated them from the rest of their world.
Christian, if you’re to be found faithful, understand it is paramount that you take seriously the “name” for which you represent. Your actions as a Christian do not just reflect on you. They reflect on Jesus! His standing in your community rests on the way you represent Him! How sad it is that so many of the misconceptions the world has concerning Jesus exist because of the way Christians so poorly represent Him.
5. A Faithful Christian Perseveres! Finally, Jesus says, “You have kept My command to persevere!” It seems likely in the context of this promise to “keep them from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world” that Jesus was referencing perseverance in the face of trial and persecution. Once again the key to unpacking the deeper lesson is to put this commendation in the context of this ancient city and the Missional Church.
As the final outpost between the Roman world and the Barbarians to the East, Philadelphia had to constantly defend against infiltration. She existed to influence the world beyond not vise versa. In much the same way, the key to being a good missionary is to build a bridge with the culture you want to influence without compromising the message of the Gospel.
Please understand, faithfulness requires the willingness to persevere in the face of opposition. It demands the tenacity to stand for what is true even if such a position goes against the tide of popular opinion. It necessitates the simple acceptance that following Jesus will draw the ire of this world and ultimately result in persecution for your beliefs. And it’s in such instances you’ll have a choice… Persevere or compromise.
In the end I pray you want to hear Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” And yet, understand this will only happen if you’re a “good and faithful servant.” To be faithful, like this church in Philadelphia and the Missional Church, it is paramount you’re willing to walk through the doors Jesus opens for you, remain dependent upon the Holy Spirit, keep God’s Word at the center of your life, take seriously your call to represent Jesus to the lost world around you, and when faced with persecution prove willing to persevere regardless.
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