The Church at Philadelphia

Faithful, patient, tried, and full of integrity are all fitting terms describing the church at Philadelphia.  Philadelphia, along with six other congregations, was blessed with the unique privilege of receiving a letter from their Lord and Savior (Rev. 3:7-13).  Unlike some of her sister congregations, Philadelphia received a letter filled with compliments, reassurance, hope and opportunity.  This small letter, when applied, provides powerful lessons for the church today.

The city of Philadelphia was founded in the second century B.C. By Eumenes, king of Pergamum.  There is little doubt it was named after his brother Attalus, whose loyalty had earned him the name Philadelphus.  From its very beginning, the city had a spirit of faithfulness.  With this disposition ingrained in their hearts, it is easy to understand why these Christians remained faithful to the cause (Rev. 3:8).

The land around the city was very fertile and successful in the production of fruits and vines.  To this day, grapes, corn, cotton, and tobacco are found as favorable crops there.  Some scholars hold the view Eumenes founded the city to take advantage of the quality wines produced in the area. 

Philadelphia, an economic success in agriculture, was hampered with several disastrous earthquakes making living in the city burdensome and fearful.  It was heartbroken several times and “the great earthquake of A.D. 17 ruined it completely” (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia).  No doubt, the words of Rev. 3:12, providing hope of a new city, lifted the spirits of the Philadelphian Christians.

As a good Bible student, one must remember the context and language of this revelation recorded by John.  This book is full of signs and symbols that, when properly understood, can unlock the vast amount of meaning contained in the divine writing.  “And unto 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” (verse 7).

The key mentioned by Jesus is a sign of authority.  In Matt. 16:19 our Lord told Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  We understand Peter was granted the power to unlock the kingdom of heaven, the church.  This successfully occurred on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 33, when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, used this key and preached the first gospel sermon.  Three thousand souls obeyed the gospel giving the church a glorious beginning, and from that day forward “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2).

According to Isa. 22:22 David had such possession of a key.  With it he was granted the authority to open and shut, as he desired.  Christ, given all authority from his Father in heaven (Matt. 28:18), has the ultimate key.  Christ, through his atoning sacrifice on the cross, has opened the door of salvation.  With this open door, no person has the power to shut it, save the doorkeeper himself.  Satan, his evil forces, and even man cannot change the blessed gospel and the steps of obedience one must take to have his sins washed away.  Jesus declares, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9).  If one desires to enter, he must follow the steps laid forth by Christ: believe (John 3:16), repent (Lk. 13:3), confess (Matt. 10:32-33), and be baptized (Mk. 16:16).

Just as Christ has opened the door, he will, at the appointed time, shut it.  When it is shut, no person will be able to reopen the wonderful door of salvation.  Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  When he closes the door, time shall be no more, all will gather  for the great judgment day.  There will be no more occasions to do the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21).

“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” (verse 8).  Christ declares, “I know thy works.”  He was well aware of the activity of the Philadelphian congregation.  He knew what they were doing to evangelize their family, friends, and community.  Because they were keepers of the great commission, remained faithful, and stayed true to the cause, they were granted an open door of opportunity.  This refers to great opportunities to preach the gospel to lost souls (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12).  This was an amazing opportunity granted to these Christians.  Because they were tireless in doing the work of the Lord, they were blessed with more occasions to speak the truth.

The Apostle Paul, a great soldier for the cause on the Asian battlefield, realized the importance of having opportunities such as this.  Col. 4:3 informs us, “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ.”  This reflects the tremendous amount of godliness possessed by Paul.  While under control of Roman guards, Paul was not concerned for his physical welfare, but for the welfare of the church.  He lays a request upon the Colossian brethren; they are asked to pray “that God would open unto us a door of utterance.”  With the remarkable example before us, how many pray on a daily basis for God to open doors?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every person in your local congregation would pray such a prayer every day?  If that is the case, God will make doors available!

“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” (verse 9).  Like many other cities in Asia Minor, Philadelphia had a large population of Jews.  Those who were staunch in the Jewish faith were arrogant concerning their special relationship with God.  They were so blinded by their egos they were unable to see Jesus as the Messiah.  In view of their spiritual blindness, Christ appropriately calls them, “of the synagogue of Satan.”

It had been the concentrated effort of the Philadelphians to convert Gentiles.  The Jews were stubborn; the majority of them rejected the truth.  When the door was opened, Christ made opportunities for those of Philadelphia to teach the Jews for the purpose of conversion.  They were to come and worship before Christ’s feet, not worshiping the Christians of this humble congregation, but joining with those faithful brethren and worship God.  Some came to proper understanding, acceptance, and embracing of the truth. 

“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (verse 10).  Christ pays this congregations one of the greatest compliments possible, “thou hast kept the word of my patience.”  Keeping the word as it is written, avoiding defiling the “faith which was once delivered” (Jude 3), is a worthy endeavor.  It would be grand if Christ could say the same of our home congregations. 

The hour of temptation the Philadelphians are to be kept from is unclear.  Many scholars have drawn various conclusions concerning this thought.  Adam Clarke states, “Many understand by the hour of temptation the persecution under Trajan, which was greater and more extensive than the preceding ones under Nero and Domitian.”  Persecution of the first-century church brought delight to many Romans.  Even though ungodly men ruled Rome, the church stood firm and continued to grow.  The promise of keeping them from the hour of temptation was a real comfort.

“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” (verse 11-12).  Heartbroken, downtrodden, and depressed over the condition of their hometown, the Philadelphian Christians anticipated something better.  If heaven is our goal, and we are dedicated to accomplishing that goal, then we will receive the same compliment of faithfulness as the Philadelphians.  To those who remain faithful to the end, they will “receive a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Article By: Brad Shockley