To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (NIV)
Philadelphia (meaning ‘brotherly love’) is the sixth church on the circuit through Asia Minor. As a city it was very prosperous, based on the fact that it was a grape-growing and wine producing region. Philadelphia was a centre for the worship of the God Dionysos (Bacchus). During its history the city had been given various names – Philadelphia, Neocaesarea and Flavia (this makes the reward of a new name mentioned in Rev 3:12 particularly significant).
As with the church at Smyrna, Philadelphia receives Christ’s commendation, but no rebuke or condemnation. Here was a church that stood firm in the face of opposition and had not accepted false teaching, or denied the name of Christ.
The ‘open door’ set before the church may refer to the opportunity to witness for Christ that the church had available to it. The words in verse 8 mirror those in verse 7, where Jesus describes himself in the following way: ‘What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open’. The inference here is that despite their ‘little strength’, the church can take advantage of the open door because Jesus has opened it before them and no opposition (from satan or the Jews) can prevent it being used. This open door has been placed before the church because they have been faithful.
The term ‘synagogue of Satan’ in verse 9 is identical to that contained in the letter to Smyrna (see 2:9) and again seems to refer to Jews by descent, rather than Jews whose faith affected their lifestyle. The statement that the Jews would eventually come and submit to the Christians, may indicate that the local Jews taught that the Gentiles would have to submit to the Jews. This would make sense in the context of persecution of Christians by Jews who saw Christianity as a sect of Judaism.
‘Since you have kept my command’ and ‘I will also keep you’ uses the same Greek verb to indicate the steadfastness of the church’s witness and Christ’s protection of the church throughout the persecution that was to come. The words in verse 10 can equally mean ‘I will also keep you right through the trial’ or ‘I will keep you from undergoing the trial’. The trial or tribulation envisaged in verse 10 is worldwide, rather than localised.
In verse 11 the church is encouraged to keep hold of (keep a firm grip on) what they have (the truth of the gospel) – see verse 8 where they are commended for keeping Christ’s word and not denying his name. As with other churches the crown envisaged is a victor’s crown or garland (not a royal crown).
The reward for faithfulness in the church at Philadelphia is to become ‘… a pillar in the temple of my God’, which alludes to the fact that the true believers will be permanently in the presence of God. The new names given to the believers will be written on them and denotes ownership and identifies them clearly with God. There can be no mistaking to whom they belong and to whom they give their allegiance. The idea of being given a new name would have had particular meaning to citizens of a city that had three different names during its history.
Looking for application for the message given to the church at Philadelphia the obvious thing is to encourage us to be faithful and steadfast in our witness. As Philadelphia was a wealthy and successful city it would have been easy for the Christians not to want to stand up for Christ in case their position of privilege and wealth would be challenged. Compare this to the church at Smyrna which was known for its extreme worldly poverty, but spiritual wealth. The church at Philadelphia remained true despite its wealth.
As individuals and churches we should look for the ‘open door’ that Christ has placed before us. Although we might feel that we have little strength, we should pray that Jesus himself will encourage us to be bold in our witness and identification with Christ.
Persecution is an ongoing theme in the letters to the Revelation churches. If we believe that the letters have universal application, then it should come as no surprise to us that we might face persecution and opposition in our lifetime. Whatever the source of this persecution and opposition we can be guaranteed that Jesus will be ‘keeping’ us through it.
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