Message to Philadelphia

“I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11)

In 189 BC Philadelphia was established by King Eumenes II who was the ruler of Pergamum during 197-160 BC. King Eumenes II named the city Philadelphos which means “one who loves his brother.” He gave the city that name because of his love for his brother Attalus II who was his successor and ruled from 159-138 BC. Attalus II was the last king of the Attalid kings of Pergamum and bequeathed his kingdom including Philadelphia to his Roman allies when he died in 138 BC. In 129 BC Rome combined Ionia and Pergamum to form the Asian province. (Wikipedia)

Philadelphia is twenty eight miles southeast of Sardis, today the name of the city is Ala-Sheher. In 17 AD the area was struck by a large earthquake and the city had to be rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It became an important commercial city as it was located on Roman roads. Philadelphia gained the title “gateway to the East.” Philadelphia gained prominence with the spread of Christianity and was called “the Missionary City.”

The Letter to the Church of Philadelphia begins with Jesus establishing His authority to be the author of the letter. The letter was written by the Apostle John and was addressed to the Angel of the Church in Philadelphia. The letter contains the words of Jesus as given to John in his vision on Patmos. Jesus begins by stressing four important points about Himself and His power.

First Jesus claims the title of the Holy One. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:” Holy One is a title of God and now Jesus also applies the title to Himself. At the Throne of Worship for the Creator John hears the four creatures ever saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Revelation 4:8) Clearly this identifies Jesus as He is the first and the last. At the opening of the fifth seal the Martyrs cried, “And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10) Even the evil spirits recognize Him as the Holy One of God. “Saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are–the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24)

Second Jesus is the true Messiah, as He is the one who is faithful and true. As the Apostle John writes, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.” (Revelation 19:11)

Third Jesus has the Key of David. The Prophet Isaiah mentions this key that Jesus holds in his book. “Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, When he opens no one will shut, When he shuts no one will open.” (Isaiah 22:22) Jesus has the Key of David which gives Him authority over Heaven and earth. “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Jesus also has authority in Hades. “And the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) And He can give this power to His faithful followers. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) Jesus has complete control over all of creation.

Forth Jesus is the one who can open and shut doors. What Jesus opens no one can shut and what Jesus shuts no one can open. Jesus alone has the power to admit people into the Kingdom of Heaven, to participation rights in His Kingdom, and also to shut out those whom He gives no right.

In verse eight we read, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” There are two points that we need to look at here.

There is some question as to the “open door.” One view is that Jesus grants entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. The view is that Jesus is reminding the Christian believers that even as they were excommunicated form the local synagogue that He has placed before them an open door into the Eternal Kingdom and no one can shut it.

The other and more common view is that Jesus opens the door to missionary activity. This metaphor is common throughout Scripture. “When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27) (John 10:7-9; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3; Revelation 3:20) In spite of the Jewish hostility towards the Christian faith in that day and this day as well still the door is opening all around the world to the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

There are times and places where the door is not open to hear the gospel and we are to pray that the Lord will open them. An example would be that Paul was not able to go to Asia or Bithynia because the door was closed. But the door to Macedonia was opened. “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:6-9)

Jesus mentions that the Church has little power but just what does He mean by that? Could it be that they have little spiritual power, does it mean that they have few possessions, size, or influence? The prevailing view would mean spiritual power or divine power. If they lacked divine power then the door to do the good works of the Lord could only be limped through and they would be unable to do much. Jesus gives us this promise. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) We must always be in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In verse nine we read that the believers in Jesus Christ will at the proper time be victorious over their opposition from those who worship in the synagogue of Satan. “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.”

The Jews of the City of Philadelphia believed by their national identity and religious heritage that were uniquely the people of God. The Jewish people are the chosen people of God but they rejected their Messiah. Therefore the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation was offered to the Gentiles. National identity and heritage have nothing to do with the salvation that God offers. Salvation is not an outward appearance but a change of the heart. As Paul taught, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29) Because of their unbelief in their Messiah Jesus, the Jews in time would be brought to bow down before the Christians who were grafted into God’s chosen people and followed Jesus in faith.

The Jewish nation of Israel will have to have a change of attitude in that they will have to become converts to the Christian faith and understand that the Church is the beloved people of Jesus Christ. There are some who believe that is at the time that every knee will bow before Christ. “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) At this time the Christians will be with the Christ. “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

It is more likely that this time of bowing down will come will come in a time of recognition of Christ’s love for His people as a result of God’s Spirit moving and causing a revival. True repentance and accepting Jesus as their Messiah and Savior and Lord will bring about a change of attitude towards the Christians which they had been persecuting. This may be fulfilled during the time of the tribulation and the second coming of Jesus.

These truths are a comfort as the Lord will be with His own in these times and they will see a great harvest of fruit from their ministry. When Christ returns every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord either in worship or submission as Jesus will be the victor.

In verse 10 because the faithful followers of Jesus have kept His Word Jesus will keep them from the trial that will come upon the whole world. “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” This is in reference to the Rapture or the Church being caught up before the Great Tribulation. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) As the Church, the Bride of Christ, has not been appointed for the time of God’s wrath. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

Jesus always keep His own in their walk for the Lord God. Some have suffered great trials and have been delivered while others have given their lives for the cause of their faith. Even so in their death they have been brought victoriously into the presence of Almighty God the Father.

The future reward is great and given unto all the saints of Jesus Christ. “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name.” (Verses 11-12) Here the Christian is given a powerful incentive to remain faithful.

The follower of Jesus is to hold fast to what he has and to trust the Word that he has been given. Ladd writes, “I am coming soon is the keynote of the entire book: the coming of the Lord in power and glory to finish his great work of redemption and to establish his Kingdom on the earth.” The Christian must be strong in the face of opposition and times of persecution. The Christian has this assurance that by holding to their faith no one will take their crown. As Paul tells us, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)

There are two wonderful promises that Jesus gives to His followers in these verses. One is the overcomer will become a pillar in the Temple of God. Horton says this, “For all who are faithful, overcomers who keep on winning victories, there is both a place of high honor and a place of permanence and stability–as a pillar in the divine inner sanctuary.” We see this inference used by Paul in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Secondly we will not go out from this sanctuary anymore. Walvoord explains it this way. “This seems to mean that they will no longer be exposed to the temptations and trials of this present life and will have their permanent residence in the very presence of God.” Once we have entered into the sanctuary of the New Jerusalem the trials we have suffered in this world shall be no more.

The saints of Christ shall be eternally identified with God the Father as Walvoord says, “In addition to this promise Christ gives them a threefold assurance they will be identified with God, because (1) they will have the name of God, (2) they will have the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven, and (3) they will have a new name belonging to Christ. The expression ‘new Jerusalem’ is a reference to the future eternal city described in Revelation 21 and 22.”

As follower of Christ we must keep our spiritual ears open to hear what the Spirit says. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The promises of this Letter to the Church of Philadelphia apply to us today. Let us not waver from our mission as His Church. Jesus is the Messiah and holds the Key that opens and shuts the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. He opens the door for worldwide missionary work that we are called to do. The powerful result is that many will come to Him in faith a bow before His name. In all circumstances Jesus will be with us and never forsake us as He is faithful and true. The reward for our service to Him is greater than our imagination and we will ultimately be identified with God the Father eternally.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, May 16, 2016

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