Revelation Lesson Seven: Chapter Three – Philadelphia

14 Oct

REVELATION STUDY (LESSON #7 – Letter to the church at Philadelphia): Philadelphia is the sixth church addressed in these letters in Revelation.  The name of Philadelphia means ‘brotherly love’.  Perhaps one of the first ancient cities to bear the name Philadelphia, it was established in 189 B.C. by King Eumenes II of Pergamom and he named it for his brother Attalus II who was to be his heir.  These brothers really loved on another and Attalus was even given the nickname “Philadelphos” which literally translated means “one who loves his brother.”  Attalus III would die without a heir and therefore left the kingdom to his allies in Rome in 133 B.C.  The city is located about thirty miles southeast of Sardis. In ancient times it was celebrated for its wine and had a heavy Jewish population some of whom were not tolerant of the new Christian community.  Philadelphia was a very prosperous Byzantine city once referred to as ‘little Athens’ because of its festivals and temples.  The domed Basilica of St. John was built in about the year 600 A.D. the remains of which are still there today.

An interesting side note: Timur, an Islamic Turkish ruler whose military campaigns are said by historians to have been responsible for the deaths of about 17 million people, invaded and took Philadelphia in 1402 A.D. Timur’s body was exhumed from his tomb in 1941 by the Soviet anthropologist Mikhail M. Gerasimov. Timur’s tomb is protected by a slab of jade in which are carved the words in Arabic: “When I rise, the World will Tremble”. It is said that when Gerasimov exhumed the body, an additional inscription inside the casket was found reading “Whosoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.” Two days after Gerasimov had begun the exhumation, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, its invasion of the U.S.S.R. The Russians must have felt there was a connection as Timur was re-buried with full Islamic ritual in November 1942 just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Christ introduces Himself with “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).
J. Vernon McGee writes the following concerning Christ’s description here:
“Christ reminds them that He is holy—
i. holy at His birth (Luke. 1:35b “…that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”),
ii. holy at His death (Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.),
iii. holy in His present priestly office (Heb. 7:26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;).

He is likewise true (John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.)  True has the meaning of being completely and perfectly genuine.  He also says He has the Key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;  This is a reference back to Isaiah 22:22 which says “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.”  The reference in Isaiah 22 is to a man called Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, who according to II Kings 18 & 19 was over the household and treasure of the king.  He is a type of Christ in that on him hung all the glory of his father’s house.  It is a beautiful picture because Christ is the key who openeth the treasure of God’s word.  He reveals, through His spirit, what no man can open of his own effort. Conversely, where there is perversity and sinfulness of spirit, such as is found in natural man, Jesus shutteth and no man can openeth the truth therein.  He is also the key to salvation.  As He said in John 10, He is ‘the door’.

The commendation: “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.”  The Lord Jesus is looking for fruit from those who profess to be His.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10).  There is something wrong with your faith if it doesn’t produce works. James was a great man of prayer who said, “… shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18).  These are not works of law but works of faith.  Calvin once said, “Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone.”  Saving faith produces works. (J.V. McGee)

The Lord first mentions that they have little strength.  The word strength in the original Greek is Dunamin which means power.  It is where we get our English word, Dynamite.  He says they have a little power.  I believe the true churches of the modern era will never be the most popular or populous.  The world will flock to programs and productions, but are only attracted to God’s Word when the Holy Spirit draws them.  Unfortunately, what I just typed is rather telling as it also seems true of modern converts too.  They only come when they see some benefit to themselves temporally.

Next, the church at Philadelphia hears two of the most blessed and precious things which could ever be said about a local church.
(1) You have kept my word. This implies not only believing, reading, or studying the Bible but also obedience to His revealed will found therein. Twenty times in the old testament from Leviticus 19:37 to Ezekiel 43:11, you’ll find that after God says to keep His commandments, judgments, and statutes He also says ‘and do them.’ Twenty is an interesting number for it was sort of an age of accountability ie. those over twenty died in the wilderness. John stated in 1John 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. Jesus said simply, John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
(2) You openly confess to the incarnation of the Son of God. In Acts 4:18, Peter and John were commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. They come back in Acts 5:29 with the truth, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Apostasy was already taking hold even in the early church. The Arian sect denied the deity of Christ and many Gnostics denied the authority of the word. The apostles knew this, that is why all of them who wrote epistles in the new testament warned against false teaching and false doctrine.

Nothing negative is said of or to this church. The Lord does promise a reward however. (Verses 9-10,12)This promise three-fold.
First, those Jews who locally had been persecuting the Christians at Philadelphia and those who taught the Judaizer view would one day worship before the feet of the saints of Philadelphia. This does not mean they will worship us but that they will worship Him before us while we are at His side! The remnant of Israel which was being saved had left the synagogue by this time. They had given up the Law as a means of salvation and sanctification. Those who continued in the synagogue were now in a false religion. As Paul makes it clear, “… For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6)—they were no longer true Jews. He considered the true Israelite to be the one who had turned to Christ.

Second, He promises His true church that they will not have to go through the tribulation. Peter had warned that scoffers would show up in the church asking, “Where is the promise of His coming?” Philadelphia had patiently waited upon Him. Their reward would be that He will return to catch the true church away. We often hear that He will return as a thief in the night and while that is true concerning the unbeliever, it is not true of us who believe. I Thessalonians 5:4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. We don’t know the exact time but we are looking for Him! 🙂

Third, to those who overcome He will make them a pillar in the temple of God and write upon them His new name as well as the name New Jerusalem. These names mark the personal and new relationship we have with Christ. The pillar symbolizes our eternal life. The overcomer is simply the true believer (See 1John 5:4-5).

Christ then reminds Philadelphia of His soon return. It is interesting that in the previous passage Jesus says, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience”. It is His long suffering that has allowed man this great space of time to repent. But in verse 11 He says, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Friend Jesus is coming soon. Praise God. Be ready. The crown here is referring most definitely to rewards not salvation. We cannot lose salvation but we can lose reward. 2John 1:8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Remember, according to John 10:28-29, no man can pluck us out of the Father’s hand. You and I, if you are saved, cannot work our way out of what we did not work our way into, Salvation…

Just as Ephesus represented the early Apostilic Age (Pentecost-100 A.D.), Smyrna the time of persecution (100 A.D.-313 A.D.), Pergamos the time from 313 A.D at the signing by emperor Constantine of the Edict of Toleration (Edict of Milan) to about 590 A.D., Thyatira the time when the Roman church reached a pinnacle of its power, and Sardis the church period from 1517 to about 1700 (the period of the Protestant Reformation), Philadelphia represents the period from about 1700 to the Rapture. It represents the true church with periods of revival. Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, William Carey, David Livingston, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, R. A. Torrey, A.W. Tozer, and many other great men of God have blessed us with their service for God and their stand on the Word. I believe that Philadelphia and Laodicea exist together presently. Philadelphia represents the possessors of the church, those who are truly saved. And Laodicea represents the professors, those who claim affiliation with Him but who really don’t know Him.

It is interesting that Philadelphia means literally “He who loves His brother” for Christ said in John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.



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