Bible Study Series: Revealing Jesus in Revelation
Revelation 3:7-13 Philadelphia: The church that was taken!
by I Gordon
We've been working through the different letters and report cards for the seven churches of Revelation and we saw that for the last two, Thyatira and Sardis, Jesus had some hard hitting warnings. They both had threats of missing the Lord's coming if they didn't heed the warnings and turn to Him. The church before us now, I'm pleased to say, is the total opposite. This is Philadelphia. This is the church of which Jesus has nothing bad to say! In fact it is given the promise that they will have an open door and will not see the 'hour of testing', the tribulation period, that will overcome and test the whole earth. This is a really encouraging letter and message for the true believer in Christ. It is a very telling letter for our day where we can see His coming more clearly and want to be found active in what He has for us when He comes. Let's begin with a quick overview...
Quick Philadelphia Overview
The city of Philadelphia was 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was located in an area noted for its agricultural products but afflicted with earthquakes which destroyed the city several times, most recently about a.d. 37. The city was named for a king of Pergamum, Attalus Philadelphus, who had built it. “Philadelphus” is similar to the Greek word philadelphia, meaning “brotherly love,” which occurs seven times in the Bible (Rom 12:10; 1Th 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1Pe 1:22; 2Pe 1:7 [twice]; Rev 3:7). Christian testimony continues in the city in this present century.
Bible Knowledge Commentary
- Meaning of Philadelphia: 'Brotherly Love' - A pointer to the love that this church had both for Jesus and for each other
- It is the youngest of the seven cities, originally founded around 190 BC.
- Philadelphia had many temples leading to it sometimes being called "Little Athens."
- In spite of this, the church was faithful and true to the King of kings, and were commended for doing so.
Here, you could say, was a church that delighted the heart of Jesus!
As an overview, the letter has the following:
- Commendation - You have kept my word and not denied my Name!
- Complaint - None!
- Counsel & Warning - Hold fast what you have so that no one will take your crown - the only warning is the potential of losing rewards if they don't continue as they are.
- Challenge - He who overcomes will be a pillar in the temple of my God - The true believer will experience His presence, forever secure in His His house!
Over-riding thought: This letter is for the true church. It contains wonderful promises for the born again believer who waits for their Lord while walking with Him and maintaining the work He has called them to do. It is a refreshing change from the warnings of the last two letters especially and there are great things to explore in this letter. What is the key of David? What is the open door? What is the hour of testing coming upon the whole world, that the true church shall be kept from? What does it mean that we shall be pillars in the temple of God? So many questions... Let's see if we can provide some answers!
The Picture of Jesus & the key of David
Rev 3:7 To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
Jesus introduces Himself as the One who is holy and true. These are two attributes we desperately need today. This world has warped morals, corrupted values, deceitful leaders and world wide propaganda. It really does and it is not getting better! So it is wonderful to follow Someone who is pure, right, set apart, honest and true! You will not find holiness and truth in the world. Only in Jesus! He is the One who is set apart from this world's system. He is the One who was and is set apart completely for the will of God. What a man! What a God! This world hadn't ever seen anyone like Him and it is without surprise that He ranks at number 1 on Time magazines 'Most significant figures in history'1 He was and is 100% holiness, 100% truth and even 100% grace (for those that see their need of Him!) all at the same time. There is no one like Him!
And He says that He holds the key of David. A key that can shut and lock an open door, or unlock and open any closed door. That's one useful key! But what is it exactly?
The background to "The key of David” is Isa 22:22, where the key of the house of David was given to Eliakim. Here is the context:
Isa 22:15-24 This is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: "Go, say to this steward, to Shebna, who is in charge of the palace: (16) What are you doing here and who gave you permission to cut out a grave for yourself here, hewing your grave on the height and chiseling your resting place in the rock? (17) Beware, the LORD is about to take firm hold of you and hurl you away, O you mighty man. (18) He will roll you up tightly like a ball and throw you into a large country. There you will die and there your splendid chariots will remain-- you disgrace to your master's house! (19) I will depose you from your office, and you will be ousted from your position. (20) In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. (21) I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. (22) I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (23) I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. (24) All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots--all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.
Now I know you are busy so here is the executive summary: There was a man called Shebna who was the palace administrator and treasurer in the days of King Hezekiah. This man was corrupt and focused on his own glory. He was a 'me-first, me-last and me in-between' type of man. He would use the kings treasury for his own financial benefit and was in the process of building a grand burial tomb for himself so that his name would live on forever in Judah. So the Lord said that He would judge this man. His name wouldn't live on in Judah for he would be rolled up and hurled like a ball into a large country (which was Babylon) where he would die. In his place, the Lord would set up Eliakim... a godly man who would administer the King's rule well. He would receive the key to the house of David. So what does this mean? The key speaks of the power his position gave him. It means this man Eliakim was going to be the mover and shaker in the King's court. He would control the king's treasury and administer justice and help on behalf of the king. With this figurative key Eliakim could open and shut whatever doors he chose!
Now there is a prophetic type here. According to Hitchcock's Bible names, The name Shebna means 'who is now captive' and Eliakim means 'resurrection of God'. So you have this picture of the natural fallen man2, who is self-absorbed, living for himself while in realty 'is now a captive' with the second man, who rules selflessly and is the 'resurrection of God' - that is Jesus Christ. This contrast will again play out in the last days when a world leader, the Antichrist, will come in the full character of Shebna, seeking his own glory, and will likewise be judged by divine decree and hurled into his place of death. And he will be replaced by the the true leader, Jesus Christ, who will rule in truth and holiness. He possesses the key of David, ruling over the Davidic Kingdom that will reach to the ends of the earth.
Note also that concerning Eliakim it is said that he would be like 'a peg driven into a firm place', and his whole family would hang securely from this peg. What an amazing picture this is... of Jesus! Jesus is the true peg that doesn't give way that we hang from! And it doesn't matter how many hang off this peg, because He can uphold them all! The whole world, if they so wished, could hang from this peg and it wouldn't give way! I love what McGee writes on this:
"My friend, have you ever had that experience? You drive a good nail into the wall, hang a heavy coat on it, and it comes down. The Lord Jesus Christ is the nail in a sure place. Shebna was a nail that came down, and so will all others who are like him. Are you hanging everything you've got on the nail that is in a sure place? Many people are not. They are hanging everything they have on something that is not sure. For instance, they make investments. A man told me, "I trusted a lawyer, and he made a mistake." He wasn't a nail in a sure place. Some folk have even trusted a preacher and have found that he was not a nail in a sure place. Only Christ is a nail in a sure place. I hope you are hanging your life and everything you have on Him."
J. Vernon McGee
I can relate to this. A couple of decades back I trusted a man, who was said to be a Christian, with a lot of money in an investment. Turns out he wasn't a Christian. Turns out he was a con-man. I learnt that lesson the hard way and a little too late! But whatever or whoever it is that we place our hope and trust in... it is all sinking sand apart from the Lord Jesus. He is the only sure, never-fail peg that we can hang our entire lives, and eternal future, upon!
The Open Door
Rev 3:8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
Having the authority and possession of the key of David, Jesus can open up provision for us from His great treasury of grace. And He can open doors that were previously shut and locked. So how can we would apply this?
- Spiritual understanding - Jesus can unlock our understanding into His word revealing insights from His great treasure house of truth! But we must have a heart that desires to learn and see Him more for He is the central theme of all scripture!
- Personal Providence - Jesus can unlock doors in providing for our need. Ever been in a situation where you felt trapped or locked? Maybe you couldn't see the way forward until the Lord unlocked a door. Maybe it is a desperately needed job. Maybe it is a way forward through a bad situation. We often feel like have the Egyptians behind us and the Red sea in front and there is no way out... until the Lord unlocks the door and makes a way!
- Ministry Opportunities - Jesus can open the door to reveal new ministry opportunities - if we would but see them and walk through them. I remember when Jesusplusnothing began and it wasn't even an idea I had or could see. It was my friend Brett who said that he felt the Lord speak to him, saying that we should start a Christian website. It hadn't even entered into my mind... but I was willing to walk through that door if that was a door being opened by the Lord. Now obviously if I had known the amount of work it would be for 20 years plus I would have said 'not on your nelly Brett!' But I was young and naïve then... easily led astray! Alright... just kidding. It was of the Lord and I'm really thankful for the opportunity. It is a labor of love (with equal emphasis on both labor and love there) for which I am very grateful. This 'open door' for ministry, in whatever form it takes, is the primary contextual meaning of this verse in Rev 3:8, Though they had little strength, the church of Philadelphia did not deny Jesus' name and thus the Lord opened doors for them to speak forth His name. That is how the 'open door' is used in other passages of the New Testament as well such as 1Cor 16:9, 2Cor 2:12, Col 4:3 where it is seen as God opening an opportunity to share His name.3
Yeah, but I'm too weak!?!
Now you might be thinking... "yeah, that sounds good in theory but I'm no good at it. I'm weak. Timid. Fearful. I can't speak. I'm not really sure how I could be used actually." If so, just note that Jesus also acknowledges that Philadelphia's work and faithfulness comes in the midst of weakness. He says "I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." That is such an important verse! We all feel weak right? Not many of us are Christian Green-Beret's as I like to call them. We all have insecurities. We are all cracked clay jars! But here is the great news of the gospel - Jesus isn't looking for strong people! He isn't looking for people that have everything together and can handle all things themselves. The Lord never gets glory from someone like that. He is looking for the Gideons who feel insignificant and not up to the task.. but are still willing to obey (even with knees somewhat knocking!) He is looking for the Moses' that don't feel adequate or able to speak... until they find out that with God they can! He is looking for the young David's to take down the large giants. There is a principle that runs right through scripture and it is this:
1Co 1:27 God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
2Co 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.
Hudson Taylor, Missionary to China
So when you stay true to the important things of God's word and His name, and have a willingness to obey (even with knocking knees at times), then He will set an open door in front of you... a door of opportunity to be able to share Him. And that often starts with those close to you. Charles Spurgeon spoke of a man who came to him and asked how he could win others to the Lord Jesus.
Spurgeon asked him, "What are you? What do you do?" The man said, "I'm an engine driver on a train."
"Then," said Spurgeon, "Is the man who shovels coal on your train a Christian?" "I don't know," said the man.
"Go back," said Spurgeon, and find out and start on him."
- Missionaries like William Carey and his work in India, David Livingstone in Africa, Adoniram Judson in Burma and Hudson Taylor in China.
- Movements / Revivals like the Great Awakenings in America, the Welsh revival in Wales - the Welsh rugby fans still sing 'Bread of heaven' (Guide me, o thou great redeemer) as their adopted anthem to this day, and this comes straight from the days of Welsh revival in 1904.
- Preachers / Teachers like Jonathon Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, H.A Ironside, Various Brethren writers like Darby and CHM who rediscovered and taught the hope of the imminent return of Jesus and the place of Israel in Bible prophecy.
- Evangelists like George Whitefield, John Wesley, D.L Moody, William Booth and Charles Finney.
This 'Philadelphia' church was true to the Lord and He set an open door before them which they used to preach and teach about Him, all around the world!
Rev 3:9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars--I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
Philadelphia had a large synagogue and Jewish population which gave the believers trouble. They weren't true Jews in God's sight because they need both physical lineage and spiritual faith in Jesus for that. Jesus Himself said they were of their father the devil. This is the same type of message given to the only other church that Jesus had no complaint - Smyrna. But there is a new revelation here. Jesus says that He will 'make them come and acknowledge that I have loved you.' It is possible, and quite likely given this letter, that this has prophetic implications. Through the true church seen in Philadelphia, Jews will come to see that Jesus is true and that God's blessing is upon these Gentile believers. In the day in which we live more and more Jews, even in Israel, are believing in Yeshua, Jesus, as their Messiah. Though stiff opposition and the divine decree of 'partial blindness' (Rom 11:25) remains, the veil is lifting. With few friends in the world, the nation of Israel has on several occasions acknowledged the support that the evangelical Christian Church has given them and the love of God for believers is making some jealous for the same type of relationship (as it should - Rom 10:19, 11:11)
Philadelphia - The Church that was taken!
Rev 3:10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
Here is one of the greatest, most unambiguous promises concerning the tribulation period, that the true church has received. If someone asks you for a scripture that says that the Church will not go through the tribulation period, you can start here4. Jesus speaks about the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world. This is not a limited trial in terms of geography. This involves the whole world. This is not limited in terms of the size of the trial. It is one that both Jesus and the prophets have said will be unlike any time before or after it (Matt 24:21, Jer 30:7, Dan 12:1). This hour of trial is unique, and not in a good way. But here is the promise to true believers, the true church - "Because you have endured patiently, I will keep you from that hour!" Wow! This is not a promise to keep them 'in the hour of trial'. It is a promise to keep believers 'from the hour of trial'. And it is a promise to the entire true church.
"Christ was saying that the Philadelphia church would not enter the future time of trouble; He could not have stated it more explicitly. If Christ had meant to say that they would be preserved through a time of trouble, or would be taken out from within the Tribulation, a different verb and a different preposition would have been required.
Though scholars have attempted to avoid this conclusion in order to affirm posttribulationism, the combination of the verb “keep” (tērein) with the preposition “from” (ek) is in sharp contrast to the meaning of keeping the church “through” (dia), a preposition which is not used here. The expression “the hour of trial” (a time period) makes it clear that they would be kept out of that period."
Bible Knowledge Commentary
True Church age believers will not experience this coming time of tribulation. It is not for them. It was not designed for them. The true church will be taken. Taken home. Kept from the entire hour of trial and with Him.
Now you might think - "well that will be easy. When push comes to shove, People will chose God." Except, many won't. Don't underestimate the fallen nature's ability to hate God. Nor underestimate the demonic delusion enveloping this world. To give you an example, this week we had a women's rights activist visit New Zealand to speak in a public setting. After a week of the media fanning the flames, Pro-transsexual protesters gathered, drowned her out and even assaulted her so that she had to leave with guards struggling to keep the crowds back. She literally feared for her life, cut her trip short and left the country. #ShameonNewZealand trended online but our media portrayed it like it was a good thing. On the 6 o'clock network news they showed a protestor with a sign saying "We need transsexuals more than we need God". That, unfortunately, sums up the spirit of many in this age.
So never underestimate the strong deception that many are already under. Never underestimate the demonic delusion that seems to be affecting countries all around the world - especially Western countries that previously had the gospel. Never underestimate the greater level of deception that is still to come. But also, thankfully, never underestimate God's ability to open doors, open eyes and draw the softened hearts back to Himself. The whole world is and will be tested.
The Counsel - Hold fast and don't let anyone take your crown!
Rev 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Jesus is coming quickly. The NIV uses 'soon' here where as most other translations use 'quickly' which is better. The Greek word has the thought of an event happening suddenly. When Jesus returns for His bride, it will be sudden. So like a Jewish bride waiting and ready for her groom we should be found watching and holding fast to what we have. This had previously been used to try wake Sardis up! Rev 3:3. Here it is a word of hope and rejoicing! Our salvation is close!
So from this letter, what do true believers hold fast to?
- Using opportunities to speak about Jesus ("I have set before you an open door")
- Relying upon God's strength ("You have a little strength")
- Staying true to the Word ("You have kept My word")
- Not ashamed to name the name of Jesus ("You have not denied My name")
Don't compromise or give in. In doing so your will keep the rewards that Jesus promises those that are His at His return. This is not a verse about salvation. Our salvation is sternal and secure. But our rewards as believers are based on our life and deeds as Christians (Rev 22:12, 2 Jn 1:8).
A tattoo that doesn't get old
Rev 3:12-13 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (13) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
So to him (and her) that overcome, they shall be a pillar in the temple of God. Now that might not overly excite you straight away. It is possible that you haven't caught yourself thinking 'I'd love to be a pillar in a temple!'6 but spiritually this is pretty cool. The temple of God was where God dwelled. It was where His presence is. Is it starting to sound better? This promise is that we will dwell eternally and securely in HIS presence!
"The overcomer will be made a pillar in the inner sanctuary of God. Whatever else this may mean, it certainly carries the thought of strength, honor, and permanent security. He shall never leave this place of safety and joy."
William MacDonald, The Believers Bible Commentary
I like that! This picture is taken from the Old Testament where the temple of Solomon had two pillars on its porch. One was named 'Jachin' (He shall establish) and the other 'Boaz' (in Him is strength) (1 Kings 7:21). And the believer who is a pillar in God's eternal home will have learnt and experienced the reality of both of those names!
But the promises and blessings don't end there... Jesus also says 'I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem,... and I will also write on him my new name.' Now I'm not into tattoos but here are three I will willingly have! Three names are said to be written on the believer - The Father's name, the New Jerusalem & the Lord's new name. What does this mean?
- The Father's name speaks of ownership. You belong to Him! He is your eternal Father!
- The City of God, the New Jerusalem speaks of your destination and dwelling. You have a whole new home to look forward to for all of eternity!
- The Lord's new name speak of our relationship with our Savior. He has redeemed us with His blood, we are in Him and He is in us. This new name, whatever it is, will speak to the unique and personal relationship that we have with the Son!
In contrast to all of this, the unbelievers will have the name or number of the Antichrist marked on their forehead or right hand. It goes without saying that I know which I'd rather have! That my friend is what they call a no-brainer! So the promises to believers in the true church, the Philadelphia church are immense. An open door will be set before them. This involves ministry in this life and also an open door into heaven when the Lord comes for them. For they are promised that they will be kept from the hour of trial that will test the entire earth. In contrast to those of this earth, believers will be found in the presence of their Father and their Lord in heavenly temple of God.
That is the destiny and experience of the overcomer - the true born again believer in Jesus Christ. Awesome!
See: https://ideas.time.com/2013/12/10/whos-biggest-the-100-most-significant-figures-in-history/ ↩
Shebna is a useful picture of the flesh because the flesh is self-absorbed also loves to promote itself. But like Haman seeking to promote himself in the days of Esther, the Lord has a way of bringing the fleshly man down in his own gallows! (see https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/Esther7) What we need is Eliakim - the resurrection of God! This is achieved by glorying not in yourself but in Jesus, and relying upon His life and work in your life! ↩
Though it is not exclusively used that way. A couple of related verses show that it includes salvation and knowledge:
Mat 23:13 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Luk 11:52 Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.
Joh 10:7-9 Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep... If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
To that you could add 1 Thes 1:8-10, 1 Thes 5:9, Rom 5:9. See: https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/PreTribRapture ↩
This is a common phrase used concerning God's judgement as shown in Isa 18:3, Jer 25:29-30, Rev 11:10, Rev 14:5. ↩
"The pillar holds up the building. The only thing supporting the pillar is the foundation. True pillars in the church support the church, and they look to Jesus as their support foundation."