Philadelphia, Church of the Open Door Revelation 3:7–13
Jesus’ message to the church in Philadelphia, located in the province of Asia Minor, has always been my favorite among those found in Revelation 2 and 3 for three reasons: (1) Philadelphia was the ancient church of the “open door” (v. 8), and I came to know the Lord in a church of that same name when I was 17 years old. (2) Because all of my adult life has been spent in the vicinity of this town’s modern namesake, I am a little partial to its message. (3) It is the only message of the seven that contains an unqualified commendation. I appreciate the fact that when people are faithful, Jesus tells them so.
Certainly our Lord’s message to this church was different from most of the others He delivered to the churches located in what is today western Turkey. Along with the church in Smyrna (2:8–11), the church in Philadelphia was not told to repent—a charge strongly issued to all the others (2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). Jesus’ word to the church in Philadelphia (lit., brotherly love) was one of unqualified commendation. Whereas the message to Laodicea was all condemnation and no praise (3:14–22), the message to Philadelphia was all praise and no condemnation.
This brief letter to Philadelphia abounds in Old Testament images and allusions. It is full of hope and promise, and its message is as relevant today as it was nineteen hundred years ago! In it there is a word about Christ, the Church, and the individual Christian.
The Christ With the Key of David (v. 7)
As in all the other letters, the Lord Jesus identified Himself by certain of His attributes. Here He is the one “that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth.” To understand this figure, it is necessary to see its Old Testament background found in a little-known passage, Isaiah 22:20–25. Isaiah prophesied that Hezekiah’s treasurer, Shebna, would be replaced by an unknown individual named Eliakim. “And 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” (Isa. 22:22). The key on his shoulder represented his authority in David’s government. Just as Eliakim had authority over the physical treasures of David’s house, so Christ has authority over the spiritual treasures of the Davidic Covenant. He is the rightful heir to David’s throne. In another passage, Revelation 1:18, Jesus declared that He has “the keys of hades and of death.” The important truth to see is that Jesus has all authority—both in life and in death. He opens the door of salvation, since He is “the door” (Jn. 10:9).
The Church of the Open Door (vv. 8–10)
Jesus not only opens the door of salvation for sinners, He also opens the door of service for saints. He told this faithful church, “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” (v. 8). There may be an allusion here to the fact that the ancient town of Philadelphia lay at the entrance of a mountain pass to the inner region of Asia Minor. The opportunity lay before the church to enter that door and spread the gospel to the surrounding area. If God opens a door for ministry, we are surely remiss if we do not enter (1 Cor. 16:9; Col. 4:3).
Jesus also issued a stern warning to those Jews who opposed the work of the gospel (v. 9). Although He did not condemn all Jews certainly there was strong condemnation for those Jewish leaders who persecuted the early believers and opposed the spread of the gospel (see, for example, 1 Th. 2:15–16). Elsewhere, Paul declared that the remnant of Jewish believers are the true Jews (Rom. 2:28–29) and thus compose “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).
The heart of the message to the Philadelphian believers and to all who follow in their steps, is found in verse 10: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Here is one of the most precious promises in all the Word of God. It is also a promise that has great implications for the end times. According to both the Old and New Testaments, a worldwide trial will take place someday. Most identify this period with Daniel’s 70th week of years (Dan. 9:26–27). Jesus referred to this awful period as the “great tribulation” (Mt. 24:21). Its specific purpose is to try the earth dwellers, a technical term used nine times in Revelation for the unsaved on the earth during the Tribulation (see also 6:10; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:8). If the purpose of this universal trial relates to unbelievers, the saved of this age will have no part in it. That is exactly what Jesus promised—that we will be kept from the hour (v. 10). If the Lord had intended to declare that His Church would be kept through the Tribulation, as some affirm, He could easily have expressed it that way. The phrase is clear, however. We will be kept from the very time period (i.e. “the hour”) of the Tribulation. A clearly parallel reference to this phrase was used by the Lord Jesus in John 12:27: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour.” The great commentator, J. B. Smith, writes: “We conclude that since the words ‘save me from this hour’ express the desire of Jesus for exemption from the period of suffering … so the phrase, ‘I will keep thee from the hour of trial,’ likewise means He will exempt the church from the coming period of trial which is to try the earth dwellers” (A Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 333). Jesus earlier stated this truth in another way: “Watch ye, therefore, and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Lk. 21:36).
This does not mean, as some have said, that we who teach a pretribulation Rapture of the Church are not preparing believers for suffering. God’s Word is clear that believers may experience trials, persecution, and suffering (Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12). But suffering tribulation is not the same as experiencing the Great Tribulation. The promise is clear: The special period of time reserved for the punishment of the world and the purification of Israel is not for the Church. We are saved from that period of wrath (1 Th. 5:9). Jesus has promised to return and take us back to Heaven (Jn. 14:1–3), a promise that is meaningless if we then return with Him back to earth. It is this blessed hope that we are to look for (Ti. 2:13)—not the Antichrist. Don’t let anyone rob you of that blessed hope. Be ready for His coming—it may be today. “Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (v. 11).
The Christian as a Pillar in the Temple (vv. 12–13)
“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, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name” (v. 12) Notice that there are three prominent symbols in this letter to Philadelphia: a key, a door, and a pillar. The key represents Christ’s authority; the door represents the Church’s opportunity; and the pillar represents the Christian’s security.
An understanding of the Old Testament background is again essential to understanding this figure. Pillars played a prominent role in Israel’s Tabernacle and Temple. According to 1 Kings 7:13–22, there were two pillars at the door of Solomon’s Temple. Each was solid bronze, 35 feet tall and 5 feet thick. They were given names: Jachin (established) and Boaz (strength). They spoke clearly of firmness and security. Because the believer is promised to be a pillar in the heavenly temple, his salvation is secure. This truth of the believer’s security is clearly taught by the Lord Jesus (Jn. 10:28–29), the Apostle Paul (Phil. 1:6), and the Apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1:3–5). This promise is to “Him that overcometh.” The overcomer, according to John in his first epistle, is the believer in Jesus Christ. “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:5). Nothing can shake his eternal security (Rom. 8:28–29). His place is secure in the New Jerusalem. Become a pilgrim in this life—you will become a pillar in the next.
Will you heed the message to the church of Philadelphia? Will you enter through the door of salvation and then go out the door of service? Your reward will be exemption from the Great Tribulation and a secure place in the eternal Kingdom. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (v. 13).