The Church at Philadelphia
I hope you all have been enjoying our study in the book of Revelation. I know that so far, we have not made it to the futuristic prophecies later in the book, but I truly feel that the only fair way to study the book is to do so verse by verse. And so, tonight we are looking at a passage in Revelation chapter three that records Christ’s words to the church at Philadelphia. And before Sister Janette asks, let me just go ahead and say that this is not the Philadelphia that’s in Pennsylvania! This Philadelphia was located in the same Roman province as the other six churches we’re studying. And before we go any further, who can remember what church we looked at last week? Yes, thank you, we looked at the church of Sardis. And compared to the other churches, was the church at Sardis doing well or poorly? That’s right, they were the worst church that we’ve looked at so far. And if you remember, last week I compared the churches to a stock market, and how Sardis was like the Great Depression. Thankfully, this week, we have the privilege of studying one of the two churches that our Savior had absolutely nothing bad to say about. If you remember, Christ had nothing bad to say to the church in Smyrna. And in this passage, our King speaks words of praise to this little band of believers. And so that raises the question, what’s so great about the church in Philadelphia? To answer that question, we need to read Revelation chapter three, verses seven through thirteen. Again, Revelation 3:7-13.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; ‘These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and He shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.’”
Let us pray.
And as we do every week, I want to give you a brief historical glimpse of the city we are studying, because often knowing the city’s history will help us put Christ’s words into their proper context. But to be honest, there’s not much to say about the city of Philadelphia. The city wasn’t very big. And the city wasn’t very rich. But the name of the town itself is fascinating. Who here knows what the name “Philadelphia” means? Ok, who knows what Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s nickname is? That’s right, the “City of Brotherly Love.” The city has that nickname because Philadelphia is Greek for, anybody want to guess? It’s Greek for “brotherly love!” Revelation three’s Philadelphia was named that because the king of that region loved his brother so much that he built him the city of Philadelphia, and named the city after their familial love. But beyond that, there’s not much to say about this little city. The only other interesting thing about the city is that it was famous for being destroyed by earthquakes. Sounds like a lovely place, right? And yet, in the midst of this unimportant, earthquake-ridden city was a small church that was extremely faithful to Christ. And because of that, I think that out of all of the churches that we’ve studied, the church at Philadelphia is the one that is most like our church. Because our church is small, and isn’t as well-known as some of the bigger churches in our area. And yet, in my opinion, we have been very faithful to the gospel. And so as we study these verses, please pay close attention, because there is something here for us.
With that in mind, let’s study verse seven of our text. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; ‘These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.’” Now, every week we have looked at how Christ emphasizes a part of His character to the church before He talks to them. And up to this point, it has always been re-emphasizing something that was first mentioned in Revelation chapter one. But tonight, Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia things about His character that were not revealed in John’s vision in the first chapter of the book. Jesus says three distinct things about Himself. He says that He is holy. He says that He is true. And He says that He holds the key of David. And then He says that the door that He opens, no man can shut; and the door that He shuts, no man can open.
In this verse, Christ establishes His absolute supremacy in both His character and His authority. He establishes His character when He calls Himself holy and true. And He establishes His authority when He talks about holding the keys. And while the phrase about the key of David is pretty confusing, it is easily understood when you realize that it is referencing a passage out of Isaiah 22. Isaiah 22:22-23 reads, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house.” In the New Testament, Christ is often referred to as the Son of David, and in this verse, the house of David refers to the Kingdom of Heaven. So, in essence, this verse claims that Jesus has the sole authority over who enters the Kingdom of Heaven, and who doesn’t. And so, if you are a born-again Christian, then the door is open for you. And this verse says that no man can shut the door that Christ has opened. Isn’t that nice to know? And also, if you are not a Christian, then there is no amount of penance you can accrue that will open that door up for you. There is only one Man who can open the door, and the Bible says that the only way to be saved is to make Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior of your life.
And Christ continues this thought in verse eight. Verse eight reads, “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” In this verse, Jesus says that He knows the works of the church in Philadelphia, and He has set before them an open door that no man can shut! And then Christ says that even though they have little strength, they have been faithful to the name of Christ. When Christ says that they have little strength, He must be talking about strength in numbers, because they were strong in the spiritual sense. And while it would be easy for a small church like that to get discouraged, Christ reminded them that because of their faithfulness, He had opened the door so that they could have eternal life.
When I studied this verse, my mind wandered back to the church at Sardis, and the parallels between Sardis and Philadelphia. If you remember, the church at Sardis was probably not being heavily persecuted, we also know that the church was in a richer area, and the church was highly-respected by the people. And then you have the church at Philadelphia. The church at Philadelphia was from a less-important town, they were being persecuted for their faith, and the church was said to have “little strength.” And yet, our Savior looked to the heart of the matter, and saw that this little church from Philadelphia was being faithful to Him. The lesson here is that appearances can be deceiving. But the comfort for us is that there is only one factor that determines our success in the mind of Christ. It is not our size. It is not our amount of money. It is not our local popularity. Church, the only factor that is important to our King is our faithfulness to Him and His gospel. As soon as we stray away from that principle and begin focusing on less important things, our church will fail. Not necessarily fail numerically. Some of the biggest churches in the country are spouting false doctrines, and their crowds get bigger every day. And some of the most faithful churches cannot seem to draw a crowd. But our Savior has promised us that even if we are faithful to Him with a little strength, He will give us spiritual victory.
But sometimes, church, God does translate our spiritual faithfulness into physical growth. To see what I’m talking about, look at verse nine. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” In this verse, Jesus says that the Jews who are persecuting His church are actually members of the synagogue of Satan. Now obviously, the members of the synagogue would deny following Satan, but Christ is making the point that you cannot claim to follow the Father and yet deny the Son. And Jesus says that He will cause these Jews to come and worship at their feet, and He would cause them to know that they were the recipients of Christ’s love. Now, we know from several texts in the Bible that God does not permit worshipping other people, so we can say with certainty that Christ was not saying that the Jews would start worshipping the Christians. What Christ was saying, is that some of the Jews would start worshipping God in their midst! Jesus says that the men who are persecuting them would soon see that the church at Philadelphia was truly loved by God.
In the Bible, there are several different methods of evangelism mentioned. Peter preached to a whole crowd at Pentecost. Philip explained the prophet Isaiah to an Ethiopian eunuch. Paul witnessed to his jailer immediately after an earthquake. But in this verse, we see the church at Philadelphia witnessing to the Jews not by their words, but through their faithfulness. Verse eight says that the Christians were holding firmly to the name of Christ, and verse nine says that some of the Jews will come to Christ because of that. Now what do you think that would look like in our culture? The principle for us is that sometimes, the best witness we can ever offer is a life of faithfulness in the midst of hard times. When you are struck with the death of a loved one, or with failing health, or with the mocking of an unbelieving world; and you simply raise up your hands to heaven and say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him;” you will show an unbeliever that there is true power in the gospel.
While I am not going to read them again, notice that verses ten and eleven continue this theme of being rewarded for our faithfulness to Christ. And verses twelve and thirteen cap off this great theme of faithfulness. Let’s read those final two verses once more. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and He shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.’” In my estimation, this is one of the most poignant statements of our promise as Christians. Christ said that He will make us pillars in the temple of God. Remember how I said that Philadelphia was a city known for being destroyed by earthquakes? Well to these Christians, they would have loved the idea of being a pillar in God’s temple. A pillar is unshakeable. But more important than that, pillars stand for a really, really long time. And throughout this verse, Christ is making the point that as Christians, our life with Christ is an eternal one. Christ will make us a permanent fixture in the temple of God. He will write God’s name on us, and He will write the name of God’s city on us. The idea here is one of identity. Christ is saying to the church in Philadelphia, “You belong to me. You belong in my city, and in my temple.” And verse thirteen makes it obvious that Christ is not only speaking to this one local church. Our Savior is speaking to every one of His followers throughout the ages. In other words, if you have trusted in Christ as your Savior, then He has written His name upon your heart. You belong to Him. Now, of course we know that God is not holding a gun to your head forcing you to remain a Christian, but we also know that our Savior has said that no man can shut the door that He has opened.
Church, I pray this evening that you can find joy in our Savior’s promise to you. Sometimes in this world it is easy to become discouraged. And as a small church, sometimes it is easy to fall into the deception that we just can’t compare with some others. But Christ’s message to the church at Philadelphia is that there is only one measure of a church’s true success, and that is their faithfulness to Him. My prayer for us tonight is that like this church of old, we will always be found faithful to the Christ who died for us. And not only will we be faithful, but that God will use our faithfulness to draw sinners unto Himself. My prayer is that people will see how much we love God, and that our love for God will be contagious. May we always be found faithful.
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