Bible Study

7 Letters of Revelation Philadelphia: Being Faithful With What You Have

The church in Philadelphia was known for their faithfulness, yet Jesus still warned them about perseverance and holding on strongly to their faith. In His Revelation letter to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus offers enormous encouragement as well as serious implications to us today as well.

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

Revelation 3:7

Philadelphia was located about 30 miles (48km) southeast of Sardis. Known for vineyards and volcanic activity, the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 AD. Much of the population chose to live outside the city in surrounding farmland after rebuilding.

Thanks to the volcanic nutrients in the soil, Philadelphia was a fertile wine grape growing region. Worship of Dionysus, the mythical god of wine and agriculture, was common in ancient Philadelphia.

Dark grapes growin in vineyard
Photo by Grape ThingsPexels

While the letter to the church in Philadelphia is only 7 verses long, there is quite a lot of encouragement and warning for Christians and for the church today.

The Revelation Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

Revelation 3:7

The church in Philadelphia was most likely a small group by ancient and modern standards. Given their location and the scattering effects of the AD 17 earthquake, these believers may have felt abandoned or isolated. Jesus begins His message to them by first reaffirming His position as “the holy and the true one.”

This is important to His followers in Philadelphia and to you today because Jesus is reinforcing both His deity (John 6:69, 1 John 2:20) and His reliability (1 John 5:20).

But what about this “key of David?”

Take a look at the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Isaiah 22:22

Look at that parallel…some explanation is in order!

Isaiah is speaking here about Eliakim, King Hezekiah’s chief steward. Eliakim is said to have held the “key of David” and according to Isaiah’s reference, that was the authority to allow or block access to the king and to the royal household.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:5

David, being a forerunner of Messiah, represents access and admittance (or not) into the household of Jesus, who is the one and only mediator between God and man. This is illustrative of access to God through Jesus Christ alone: there is no salvation outside of Christ (Acts 4:12, John 14:6).

Open and Closed Doors

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.

Revelation 3:8 (a)

As in the previous verse, again Jesus mentions an open door in verse 8 as well. A little more background to Philadelphia…

Old wooden door representing open and closed doors in Revelation letter to the church in Philadelphia
Photo by Mati MangoPexels

The city was established to be an outpost of sorts for missionary-type expansion of Hellenism, which is Greek thought, culture, and lifestyle. Jesus captured that thought and expressed His assurance of salvation through Himself to the small Philadelphian church.

His message then and now is that He alone keeps the door and that salvation through Christ is absolutely secure.

Small yet faithful

I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3:8 (b)

Often, we equate the power or strength of a church by it’s numbers. How much property do they have? How many people attend on any given Sunday? Or even, what’s the size of their budget?

However, Christ’s message in His letter to the church in Philadelphia serves to tell you a different story.

Jesus says this church has “little power” as a reference to the small amount of people, yet He commends them for their faith. He tells them that they have both kept His word and didn’t deny His name.

That’s a really big deal!

In the context of their culture, the church at Philadelphia didn’t bend under or give in to the pressure from the affluent Jewish presence or to the cult teaching of the emperor Domitian.

You don’t have to think too long about how that can apply to you or to the church right now. Social persecution towards those who follow Christ are prevalent in our society. Churches are splitting over apostate teaching and serious denial of God’s word. It’s also been said that violent persecution of Christians is higher today than at any other time in history.

Just like the Revelation church in Philadelphia, Jesus sees your faithfulness, and faithfulness always brings reward from Christ.

You’ll find those in the next verses.

Patient endurance and coming trials

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

Revelation 3:10

It’s true that Jesus promises His faithful followers that He will “keep you from the hour of trial.” Does that mean that He won’t allow trouble in your life, though? Of course not.

You could probably tell me of many situations where you were troubled, pushed to your limits, or maybe even threatened or persecuted on account of your faith. But He will keep you, and we cannot read into this text what isn’t there.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

There are many examples and illustrations throughout Scripture proving there has been and will be trouble for Christians. Most notably, I’m thinking about John 16:33, John 15:18, and Jesus’ own account of the Tribulation in Matthew 24:21-22.

2 views from verse 10

The letter to the church in Philadelphia has sparked debate from a few different perspectives among Christian scholars. These relate to whether or not the church will be present during the Tribulation.

That’s a huge issue between some Christians, but let’s not stray so far from the text that we divide over that!

Again, you can’t read into the text what isn’t there. What Jesus does say is there is an “hour of trial.” He also says that He will “keep” His faithful from it, and that it is “coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”

This time of trial is “coming on the whole world,” so it most likely isn’t something localized to Philadelphia. It appears to be a global occurrence, and “those who dwell on the earth” is synonymous throughout the book of Revelation with people who do not follow Christ, but who belong to the world.

In fact, this descriptive phrase is seen at least 9 more times in Revelation, and “the earth” is seen at least 30 times in Revelation as an image of the rebellious, sinful realm.

So what’s the debate? Well, some scholars believe that in this verse, Jesus is promising to take His church out of the world before the hour of trial, and some think otherwise. I cannot conclude which is correct, scholars far more advanced than I still knock their heads together over the grammar in this verse!

And, what if we’re not called to make that distinction?

It hinges on the use of the Greek word “keep you from.” That’s because it could mean either keep you from or keep you through something. However, Jesus does tell us to “be ready” at all times and that no one knows the hour of His return.

That’s a far greater warning to pay attention to!

Be Ready

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

Revelation 3:11

Soon is such an interesting word, isn’t it? It can mean just about anything and something completely different to everyone!

To one person, it could mean, “when I get around to it” and to another it could mean, “I’ll get to it next.”

Hourglass with blue sand sitting on rocks
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

To Jesus though, soon means a promise that He will return.

The encouraging warning that He gives is to be ready and to hold tightly to faith in Him. Don’t give in to the pressures of the world around you that lead to loss of His rewards (1 Corinthians 3:10-17).

The Revelation Letter to the Church in Philadelphia Today

The letter to the church in Philadelphia is one of encouragement to persevere and to remain faithful.

The Philadelphian church didn’t appear to have enemies from within, like at Thyatira. There’s no mention of heresy like in Pergamum.

Actually, the church in Philadelphia had quite a lot in common with Smyrna. Both received praise in their letters without accusation. Both churches faced demonic opposition in the form of persecution by false Jews that Jesus called the “synagogue of Satan.”

And both Philadelphia and Smyrna were promised crowns.

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Revelation 2:10

The Revelation letter to Philadelphia is a promise to God’s children of eternal stability. For you who will remain steadfast in your faith, who will not compromise with the ways of the world or with apostate teaching, there is a time coming when you will only know certainty, security, and permanence.

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

Revelation 3:12

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