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Philadelphia

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Philadelphia

(NLT)
The Message to the Church in Philadelphia
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:
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. 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.
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. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 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.
13 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.
Philadelphia is a young city compared with the other six (3:7–13). Its name means ‘brotherly love’. The city’s founder, Attalus II, named it after his favourite brother Eumenes. He established Philadelphia to spread the Greek language and way of life to the regions of Lydia and Phrygia.
Jesus Christ tells the Christians in Philadelphia that he has opened a door for them. It is a door to freedom and life. He describes himself as the one who holds the key of David. The door of the house of David, the home of God’s people, had once seemed to be only for Jews. Now it is open to Gentiles. The local Jews are jealous and critical of the Christian church and have become agents of Satan. They will be forced to admit that Christians are loved and accepted by God. Christ encourages his people to hold fast during the coming persecution. They will be strong and reliable, like pillars in the temple.
In ad 17, Philadelphia was devastated by an earthquake. The emperor Tiberius gave enormous support to its rebuilding and, as a result, the new city was called Neocaesarea, the new city of Caesar. Now Christ promises to write God’s name on the church in Philadelphia. They are his own honoured people.
Apart from Smyrna, Philadelphia is the only church with which Christ has no fault to find. Whatever sternness there may be in his tone is due not to the finding of faults, but to the facing of facts. For a testing-time approaches—not, surely, the last great tribulation, as though John were mistakenly expecting that to be imminent, nor yet some local persecution, which could hardly be a ‘trial … coming on the whole world’; but the perennial ordeal, of which all particular trials and especially the last one are embodiments. And the church has no great strength to meet it. Christ does not minimize the difficulties.
But he does encourage the church. It faces both opposition and (possibly) opportunity, and his intention is to overcome the one and to confirm the other.
Philadelphia is again like Smyrna in that it has to face the opposition of the ‘synagogue of Satan’ (2:9). We can catch the flavour of the Greek word for ‘lie’ by thinking of these people as ‘pseudo-Jews’. They claim, falsely, to be the holy people of God. In contrast, Christ speaks as the true Holy One (verses 9, 7). He refers to the ancient prophecies of how God’s people will one day be vindicated and the rest of mankind will bow before them. The fulfilment of these prophecies, he tells the church, will be the reverse of what the Philadelphian Jews expect: they will have to ‘bow down before your feet’, and acknowledge ‘that I have loved you’. Let the Christians take heart, for it is on them that the Lord has set his favour.
Frequently in Revelation John joins the other apostolic writers in teaching that the privileges and promises given to Old Testament Israel have been inherited by the Christian church. The doctrine is here, for example, in the Letter to Philadelphia and its biblical background. Enquiry as to the meaning of the ‘key of David’ takes us to the book of Isaiah; we shall find allusions from every part of it here in . The ‘key’ appears in
, 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.
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. together with the promise that its custodian Eliakim, steward of the household, shall have the same authority that Christ has here to open or shut. To open or shut what? The entrance to the house of David. And for what purpose? The gates are opened, says Isaiah, ‘that the righteous nation which keeps faith may enter in’ (26:2). Then, just as Eliakim himself is fastened ‘like a peg in a sure place, and … a throne of honour to his father’s house’ (22:23), so in consequence the weak, the despised, and the converted outsider will be given ‘in my house and within my walls a monument and a name’ (56:5). The nations shall come in too, in humble submission (60:11); ‘all who despised you shall bow down at your feet’ (60:14; cf. 49:22, 23). The whole group of ideas thus concerns entry to the house of David, the kingdom, city, and temple of God. What happens to it we may follow step by step. The Lord condemns Jewish legalism (‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees … you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in’, ) and transfers the doorkeeper’s authority to the apostolic church (‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’, ). So Peter and his associates have the privilege of first admitting not only Jews, but also Samaritans and Gentiles, to permanent membership of the kingdom (, , ). In this way the entire concept—key, door, city, temple, and pillar—becomes a Christian one, and the basis for the reversal mentioned above. The Jews will ‘learn that I have loved you’.
together with the promise that its custodian Eliakim, steward of the household, shall have the same authority that Christ has here to open or shut. To open or shut what? The entrance to the house of David. And for what purpose? The gates are opened, says Isaiah, ‘that the righteous nation which keeps faith may enter in’ (26:2). Then, just as Eliakim himself is fastened ‘like a peg in a sure place, and … a throne of honour to his father’s house’ (22:23), so in consequence the weak, the despised, and the converted outsider will be given ‘in my house and within my walls a monument and a name’ (56:5). The nations shall come in too, in humble submission (60:11); ‘all who despised you shall bow down at your feet’ (60:14; cf. 49:22, 23). The whole group of ideas thus concerns entry to the house of David, the kingdom, city, and temple of God. What happens to it we may follow step by step. The Lord condemns Jewish legalism (‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees … you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in’, ) and transfers the doorkeeper’s authority to the apostolic church (‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’, ). So Peter and his associates have the privilege of first admitting not only Jews, but also Samaritans and Gentiles, to permanent membership of the kingdom (, , ). In this way the entire concept—key, door, city, temple, and pillar—becomes a Christian one, and the basis for the reversal mentioned above. The Jews will ‘learn that I have loved you’.
This undeserved favour is at the root of it all. In a sense, Christ keeps (or preserves) his people because they keep (or observe) his word (verse 10), and the encouragements for Philadelphia, as for Smyrna, are intended for all who are loyal to him. But the chain of cause and effect goes further back: they obey his word only because he has first set his love on them. It also goes further on: the final result of his loving care for them will be that this church of ‘little power’ will be established as an immovable pillar in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem (verse 12). She will be thrice sealed, as belonging to God, belonging to God’s city, and belonging to God’s Son. His tender promise to those who are painfully aware of weakness and insecurity is that they shall finally belong.
Until they reach that destination he calls them to endurance; and also, no doubt, to service. Elsewhere in the New Testament the ‘open door’ is a picture of opportunity (; ); and though, as we have seen, it here means primarily their own assured entry into the New Jerusalem, it is also the way by which others are to be brought in—even (if the picture in Isaiah is totally reversed) Jews converted from the synagogue of Satan. So they are doubly encouraged, for Christ who nullifies the opposition also magnifies the opportunity. The door has been opened by him, and none can shut it. Let them again take heart, and use the strength they do have in the service he sets before them.
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