The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

December 5, 2016 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary of Past Weeks

The Letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)
The Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)
The Letter to the Church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17)
The Letter to the Church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)
The Letter to the Church in Sardis (Rev 3:1-6)

B. Text of Rev 3:7-13

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open: ‘I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love. Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.’” (Rev 3:7–13, NLT)

C. Background and History of the City of Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia was located 28 miles south of Sardis. This city had a long history and was almost completely destroyed by earthquakes on several occasions. Grapes (the fruit) were one of the main crops and as a result Dionysus (the wine god) was one of the main objects of pagan worship (Walvoord, Revelation, 81). Along with Smyrna, there is no rebuke for the church in Philadelphia.

II. CORRESPONDENT (3:7)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:” (Rev 3:7, NLT)

A. Holy One and True One

Christians should be holy just as God is holy (Exod 19:3-6; 1 Peter 1:15). Furthermore, God is the author of truth. Together as “holy” and “true” they show right doctrine and right living go together.

B. Key of David

The key of David is likely a connection to Isa 22:22, “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them” (NLT). The “him” at the beginning of this verse is Eliakim who is given the key to Hezekiah’s household. This verse is a prophesy of Jesus with Eliakim as a “type.” Eliakim is a type of the exalted Christ who controls the keys of the kingdom (Osborne, Revelation, 187).

C. Open and Shut

This weak but faithful church needed assurance that God has power to bring about his sovereign will.

III. COMPLIMENT (3:8-9)

A. Obedience with Little Strength (v. 8)

“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.” (Rev 3:8, NLT)

1. An Open Door

The image of an open door is used by Paul to describe opportunities for Gospel witness and missionary work (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12; Col 4:3).

The believers in Philadelphia will have their faithfulness reward because of this promise of an open door that no one can close. God assures them that even though they have little power in a pagan city, their testimony will continue.

Other views are that this might be a door of “martyrdom,” “prayer,” to “salvation,” or to the “kingdom.”

2. Obedience with Little Strength

Two possible views for this “little strength.” I find Osborne’s comments to combine both views very well: “The church lacked size and stature in the community and was looked down upon and persecuted. They had ‘little authority’ or influence. ‘But’ they were faithful, and that has always been the text of divine blessing rather than success” (Osborne, Revelation, 189).

a) A Little or Small Christian Community

Most Christian churches at that time were small. This is a possible interpretation.

b) A Community with Little Influence

Since most Christians of John’s time were from less influential classes in the Roman culture, it is most likely that John was describing the small amount of influence the Christian community had on its city (Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 448).

c) Implications

This verse provides hope to us as people that struggle to be obedient and loyal to God. While the people in Philadelphia had “little strength,” they still were able to obey God’s word and did not deny him. Important note! It does not say that they were perfect, but it does say that they obeyed God’s word.

B. Philadelphians Are the Ones Jesus Loves (v. 9)

“Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.” (Rev 3:9, NLT)

1. Satan’s Synagogue

The phrase here is almost identical to Rev 2:9 in the letter to Smyrna.

  • “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.” (Rev 2:9, NLT)
  • “Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.” (Rev 3:9, NLT)
    Both the church in Smyrna and the church in Philadelphia experience severe persecution. Yet, neither church has a negative word spoken against them in Jesus’s address to them.

2. The Result

As a result of their faithfulness God promises unbelieving Jews who opposed them and their witness to the pagan city would be forced to acknowledge they were true followers of God.

IV. COVENANT (3:10-12)

A. The Time of Testing (v. 10)

“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.” (Rev 3:10, NLT)

Because of their faithfulness they will be kept from the time of testing or judgement upon the earth. The importance of this verse cannot be passed over because its on of the most commented-upon verses in Revelation, especially since it is the most important single passage in the book for the dispensational position.

1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture

Bible scholars who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture see this as a key feature that suggests believers will be rescued from having to endure the hour of trial. In combination with the promise of the seventieth week of Daniel (Dan 9:25-27) and Paul’s promise that believers are not destined for wrath (1 Thess 5:9), some scholars see a pre-tribulation rapture and as such see the translation as from (pre-trib) instead of through (post-trib). Supporters for this view are Walvoord, Revelation, 84;

2. Post-Tribulation Rapture

Osborne takes the “protection through” position, even though he is a pre-rapture person (Osborne, Revelation, 192-194).

B. Jesus Is Coming Soon (v. 11)

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.” (Rev 3:11, NLT)

1. When Is Soon

The word “soon” means suddenly and unexpectedly, not immediately. We are to be in constant expectation of the rapture.

2. The Crown

a) The Crown of Life

The crown mentioned here is the crown of life which consists of eternal life for the believer.

b) Proof of Loss of Salvation

In criticism of Mulholland (Revelation, [2011]), he does not define what the crown represents, but still believes it points to the fact that salvation does not guarantee eternal security. Instead, according to Mulholland, salvation is a dynamic relationship with God that can be broken and lost (Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 450).

C. The Victorious (v. 12)

“All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.” (Rev 3:12, NLT)

1. Pillars in the Temple of God (v. 12a)

Those who are faithful will receive promised reward. They’ll be permanent fixtures (pillars) in God’s household. This promise might have had extra meaning to Philadelphia Christians since their city was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 AD????

2. Citizens in the New Jerusalem (v. 12b)

See Mulholland, Revelation, 449, 450 (present tense participle), 590.

V. COMMAND (3:13)

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Rev 3:13, NLT)

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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