Rev 3:7-13 – To the Church in Philadelphia

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Rev 3:7

  1. Filadelfia is a small town in present-day western Turkey, now called “Alaşehir”.
  2. The city’s name “Philadelfia” is Greek and means “brotherly love”. The name comes from the fact that King Eumenes II of Pergamon founded the city in 189 BC and called it “Philadelphia” because of his love for his brother Attalus II, who was called “Philadelphus” and who later succeeded Eumenes on the throne.
    1. The city was relatively rich and prosperous because, due to its geographical location and strong defensive fortifications, it controlled one of the main trade routes linking Europe and the East, and was located in a valley with good cultivation opportunities, especially grapes. However, the town had to be evacuated from time to time due to earthquakes that occasionally destroyed the town.
      1. It is interesting to note that in the city called “brotherly love” the bread and wine of the Eucharist grew.
    1. Because of the city’s location at the edge of Europe, King Attalus originally used Philadelphia as a “mission station” for Greek civilization and the Greek language. So many Greek temples were built in Philadelphia that the city became known as “little Athens”.
  3. Jesus presents himself as both the Holy One and the True One.
    1. Jesus is not only “holy”, he is “THE Holy One”. Jesus is not just a holy man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago and nagged us to be nice to each other, Jesus is something much holier than that, he is our Holy God himself (Isaiah 43:15).
    2. Jesus is “the True One”, in the sense of being genuine. Just as most popular goods are copied, many false prophets and demons try to imitate Jesus and pretend to be like Him. But only Jesus is genuine and true and all other religions and idols are copies.
  4. Jesus refers to Isaiah 22:20-23 where the key to the house of David was given to Eliakim who then had access and authority over all of David’s house and all of his possessions.
    1. It is Jesus who holds the key to the kingdom of heaven and it is only through Jesus that one can enter heaven (John 14:6). The Father has handed over judgment to Jesus (John 5:22).
    2. Just as the city of Philadelphia, with its strong defensive fortress, controlled who could enter or leave Europe via the great trade route, so Jesus controls who may or may not enter heaven.

Rev 3:8

  1. Just as Jesus says to all the churches, “I know your deeds”, so he says it now to the church in Philadelphia. Although the church may have been small and weak, he knew the church’s situation and commended them for holding fast to God’s word and not denying the name of Jesus.
    1. Today, too, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus knows our situation, even though we ourselves may think we are small and insignificant. The church belongs to Jesus and he has a vested interest in making sure that your particular church is doing well.
  2. The city of Philadelphia was used to control who could enter or leave Europe and to spread Greek civilisation.
    1. Against this backdrop, Jesus presents himself as the one who controls who gets to enter heaven and tells the church in Philadelphia that the door to heaven is open to them because they have kept Jesus’ word and not denied his name.
    2. But not only is the door to heaven open for those who believe in Jesus, Jesus has also opened the door for the church to go out and spread the message of Jesus to the world. Normally, “an open door” means evangelistic and missionary opportunities (Acts 14:27, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3).
  3. Even if the power of the church was “little”, it does not mean that the church was powerless, rather the opposite! When a church recognizes its own weakness, God’s power can fill the void (John 3:30, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
    1. God can do more through a small and weak congregation than through a large and proud congregation.
  4. Philadelphia held fast to God’s word and did not adapt the Christian faith to worldly philosophies or the prevailing zeitgeist, but rather allowed its own thoughts and life to be influenced by God’s word.
    1. Such an approach is always met with resistance as the times change. But for those who want to hold fast to God’s word, you can be sure that there will always be something that is not politically correct or suitable for society. So it is important to do as the church in Philadelphia did and hold fast to God’s word even when faced with opposition.
  5. Philadelphia did not deny the name of Jesus. We do not know exactly what happened to the Christians of Philadelphia, but we understand that they encountered resistance in some form, but stood up for their faith and refused to deny the name of Jesus.
    1. Not denying the name of Jesus is not only about daring to say you are a Christian when someone asks, but also about daring to live your life according to the faith you profess.
    2. Every society and every new age has something that goes against God’s word. This changes over time and in different societies and cultures, but there is always something. As a Christian, it is important to be so familiar with God’s word that you let the Bible influence your view of all the different areas of life so that you are not prejudiced without even noticing it.
      1. Theologians have a special task to constantly develop and work out a Christian approach in the face of every new cultural invention or zeitgeist. God does not change, but as society changes, we must constantly think through how to relate to various social changes.
  6. All the other churches in Revelation hear some kind of criticism, but to the church of Philadelphia Jesus has no criticism at all! This is largely because of this:
    1. Philadelphia had an open door into heaven and out to mission.
    2. Philadelphia trusted in God’s power instead of her own.
    3. Philadelphia held fast to the word of God and refused to deny the name of Jesus.

Rev 3:9

  1. One can be Jewish partly by origin, but also by religion. Jesus and virtually all of the first Christians were Jews by origin, and at first (at least the Roman authorities) considered Pharisaic (Rabbinic Judaism) and Messianic (Christianity) Judaism to be both part of the Jewish religion. But gradually the gap between the “rabbinic” and the “messianic” Jews became wider and wider and Judaism was divided into Judaism and Christianity.
    1. For Jesus, it was important that a Jew not only assume that he was a child of God just because he was related to Abraham, but that he also shared Abraham’s faith (Matthew 3:9, Romans 2:28).
    1. Probably in the city of Philadelphia there was a Jewish synagogue where some of the Jews came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah while others did not want to believe. Perhaps there was a quarrel between these two Jewish groups where the Pharisee Jews tried to persuade the Messianic Jews to deny their belief in Jesus (something similar happened in Acts 17:1-10). When the Messianic Jews refused to do so, they were expelled from the city synagogue and not allowed to join the Jewish community.
      1. The answer Jesus gives these Messianic Jews is that even if the door to the synagogue is closed, the door to heaven is open through their faith in Jesus. Even though these Pharisaic Jews exclude the Messianic Jews from the Jewish community, it is themselves they have actually excluded from God’s community and now belong to Satan instead because they have denied Jesus. The Pharisaic Jews call themselves true Jews, but by not believing in Jesus as their Messiah, they show that they do not have Abraham, the father of faith, as their father.
    1. Jesus comforts the church in Philadelphia and promises them that they will be the ones who will ultimately be on the winning side. All other people will eventually, whether willingly or not, bow to Jesus and realize that he is Lord (Phil 2:9-11).

Rev 3:10

  1. Since Jesus speaks here of a trial “that will come upon the whole world”, he is probably talking about the “tribulation” that will come in the last days before Jesus’ return (Matt 24).
    1. Some Christians believe that all believers will be “caught up” (1 Thess 4:17) before the great tribulation, and see this verse as proof of their position.
    2. Other Christians believe that all believers will remain on earth during the tribulation, but that Jesus will preserve us from the worst torments.

Rev 3:11

  1. That Jesus is coming “soon” does not mean “soon” but “quickly”.
    1. Although we Christians do well to live as if Jesus is coming soon, we still cannot know exactly when Jesus is coming. Moreover, Jesus has said that he will not return until the gospel has been preached in the whole world and to all nations (Matthew 24:14), something that has not yet happened, and which was certainly not within the reach of the first Christians in Philadelphia.
    2. So we cannot know if Jesus is coming “soon” or not, but we can know that when he does come, he will come “quickly” and “suddenly”, and therefore we must always be prepared. We should therefore be careful not to postpone our salvation or wait to live as Christians until we are retired (Matt 24:36-44).
  2. The crown that the church has is the crown of “life”, as Jesus calls it in his letter to the church in Smyrna (Rev 2:10). Receiving this crown means receiving eternal life and entering the kingdom of heaven.
    1. The church in Smyrna would receive this crown if they were faithful until death, but the church in Philadelphia has already received this crown because they held fast to God’s word and did not deny the name of Jesus. Jesus has already opened the door to the kingdom of heaven for the Christians of Philadelphia.
    2. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “crown” is “stephanos”, the name of the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:59).

Rev 3:12

  1. A pillar symbolises strength and durability. Because of the city’s many earthquakes, Jesus compares the believer to a “pillar” that stands firm even when everything around it is crumbling.
    1. When a city has been completely destroyed by an earthquake, you can often see various pillars standing firmly amidst the rubble. In the same way, those who keep their faith will stand firm in the midst of a world that is falling apart.
  2. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for the person who financed the building of a temple, for example, or gave political permission to build, to have his or her name engraved on one of the pillars. When those who entered the temple saw all these names, they were reminded of who had financed and built the temple.
    1. On the one hand, God himself is the temple of God, and will be in the new city (Rev 21:22), but the temple of God is also the body of Christ (John 2:21), the believers (1 Cor 6:19). God writes his name on us to show the rest of the world that we belong to him and that it is he who has “built” us through regeneration and “financed” us through Jesus’ death on the cross (Matt 10:32).

Rev 3:13

  1. This message is primarily addressed to the local church in the city of Philadelphia 2000 years ago, but it is also addressed to all Christians of all times. Anyone who wants to be like the church of Philadelphia should do more than just call their church “the church of Philadelphia”, and also do as the church of Philadelphia did, i.e. hold fast to the word of God and not deny the name of Jesus!
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