Philadelphia: The Church of Opportunity
Intro: In the book Did You Spot the Gorilla? psychologist Richard Wiseman describes an experiment he performed on unsuspecting people.
Volunteers watched a 30-second video of two teams playing basketball and were asked to count the number of times one of the teams passed the ball. What they weren't told was that halfway through the video, a man dressed in a gorilla's suit would run onto the court, stand in front of the camera, and beat his chest. Amazingly only a few of the volunteers spotted the man in the gorilla suit. Most of the volunteers were so intent on counting passes that they completely missed the gorilla.
Churches can be like that. They can get so caught up in the periphery of church and ministry they miss the gorilla, they miss opportunities to serve Christ and advance His kingdom.
Today let’s visit a church that was about to catch the gorilla, the church of opportunity…
I. Christ’s credentials
“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: Revelation 3:7 (NASB95)
Most place names in the Bible sound very foreign and other-worldly (Ai, Kadesh-Barnea) but not the name of the city we are visiting today. Philadelphia is well known to us and most likely we even know what the name means: the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia the American city was named after Philadelphia the ancient Asia-Minor city, which was named after King Attalus II, whose loyalty and devotion to his brother Eumenes earned him the title Philadelphus (one who loves his brother).
Philadelphia was distinctive from other Asian cities in three ways:
(1) It’s people lived in an area of great seismic activity, so much so that out of fear many chose to live outside the city following a great earthquake in AD 17 (the aftershocks continued to damage buildings for many days afterward).
(2) It voluntarily took upon itself and embraced a new Imperial name, NeoCaesarea, to honor emperor Titus, who had helped them in time of distress.
(3) By the time of John’s writing, it had evolved into a missionary city, attempting to spread the Greek culture of the Roman Empire throughout Asia Minor, and it was able to do so because it was in essence the door that opened into the Phrygian kingdom.
Christ describes Himself to the church at Philadelphia as…
- Christ describes Himself as the One who is holy, that means set apart or consecrated.
The only way I know to describe the concept of Christ’s holiness is to compare it to the experience of an ant trying to comprehend man. Next…
- Christ describes Himself as the One who is true
We tend to think of truth in terms of logic, reason, and philosophical pursuits, and there is truth in all these things. But Christ is the source of all truth, the embodiment of all wisdom and the opposite of deceit and falsehood.
Pilate asked Christ, “What is truth?” He was speaking to Him! Next…
- Christ describes Himself as the One who has the key of David
This is another peculiar title for Christ. John Walvoord helps clarify: “Here the allusion seems to be to Isaiah 22:22 where, speaking of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, it is recorded that ‘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.’ Eliakim had the key to all the treasures of the king, and when he opened the door it was opened, and when he closed the door it was closed. Christ, the great antitype of Eliakim, has the key to truth and holiness as well as to opportunity, service, and testimony.” [i]
Everything we know about the city and everything represented in the credentials of Christ prepares us to understand the city’s situation. Philadelphia, like Smyrna, received no condemnation. Look at the good things Christ had to say about the city of brotherly love…
II. Christ’s commendation
‘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. Revelation 3:8 (NASB95)
He will put before them an open door. We know that when Christ opens a door it stays open. But what is this door? An open door is found three other places in Scripture and they all have to do with kingdom opportunities. The first is an open door…
1. To share the gospel successfully
In the book of Acts Paul was traveling the Roman Empire spreading the Gospel. He and his party went to Antioch and…
“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 (NASB)
Christ was preparing Philadelphia for missionary opportunity. The second is an open door…
2. To perform Kingdom work powerfully
As Paul brings his letter to the Corinthians to a close, he informs them of his plans to remain for a time in Ephesus because…
“… a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Corinthians 16:9 (NASB)
The word “effective” in this verse comes from the Greek word energes which means active, and we get our word “energy” from that! A door of powerful effectiveness had been made and Paul didn’t want to miss the opportunities that came with it.
The church at Philadelphia was about to see all their hard work produce a harvest. The third is an open door…
3. To preach the Word with clarity
Paul gave the Colossian Christians a specific prayer request…
“… praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:3-4 (NASB)
So the door spoken of here was a door of opportunity. The door was opened because of…
- Their untapped potential – “You have a little power”
A “little” power was all they needed to take advantage of the future opportunities. Christ took a little bread and fed thousands; He took a man’s little faith and performed a mighty miracle (”Help thou my unbelief!” Mark 9:24). Christ said if we have the faith of a little mustard seed it was enough to move mountains.
Prime the pot! The pot at Philadelphia was primed and Christ was going to fill it with opportunities!
The door was also opened because of…
-Their faithfulness to the gospel – “have kept My Word”
This is critical. What we believe and what we teach is inseparably linked to kingdom opportunity. We must always be careful to preach the true gospel of Christ. A few days ago I picked up a copy of time magazine because of the cover story: “Does God Want You to be Rich?” Success doesn’t always equal faithfulness to the gospel.
And the door was opened because of…
- Their perseverance under trials – “have not denied My name”
In the text we read a few minutes ago, Paul expressed excitement over the open door of kingdom effectiveness but he admitted that along with it came “many adversaries.”
What a church! The church of the open door. Christ offers great comfort to them..
III. Christ’s Comfort
A. He will exalt them before their enemies
‘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. Revelation 3:9 (NASB95)
Christ’s promises in v. 9 that the Jews who had persecuted them would come and “worship” at their feet. The very ones who had caused their distress would be in the congregation of those saved!
B. He will keep them from the hour of testing
‘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. Revelation 3:10 (NASB95)
What exactly is in view here? Though thoughts vary widely, the testing must refer to the great tribulation because (1) it will come upon the whole world, not just the area of Philadelphia, and (2) the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” is unique to the verses in Revelation describing the effects of the great tribulation. So then this is not just a promise to the Philadelphian Christians, but to all Christians – the promise of being spared the horror of the tribulation (and one of many indications in Scripture that we will be raptured before this terrible day).
C. He will come quickly
‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Revelation 3:11 (NASB95)
Christ closes the letter with an invitation to overcomers…
‘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. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Revelation 3:12-13 (NASB95)
Overcomers will have a permanent home in God’s temple – no earthquakes, no need to go in and out.
Overcomers will take on the name of their benefactors – just as Philadelphia had.
Conclusion: This awesome door of missionary opportunity had been put “before” them. It was ahead of them, at some point in the near future. They were looking towards what Christ was going to do, preparing for it, praying about it, dreaming of it, longing to see it come. What a contrast to Sardis!
Of all the churches we are most like this one. But we must be ready, we must be focused, we must be flexible.
As Christians it should be our hearts desire to be Philadelphian Christians.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches
 Richard J. Goodwin, Kaikohe, New Zealand; source: Richard Wiseman, Did You Spot the Gorilla? How to Recognize Hidden Opportunities
[i] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 84.