The Letter to Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7–13)
Philadelphia (brotherly love) was a city of the province of Lydia in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It was one of the seven churches of Asia to which John wrote in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 1:11).
In Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ describes the church in Philadelphia as the faithful church and the church that stood at the gateway of a great opportunity (Rev. 3:7–13). Christ said to this church, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” (Rev. 3:8).
The “open door” primarily means access to the presence of the Father. It also refers to the opportunity for spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Still, a city of considerable size, Philadelphia is known today as “Alasehir,” or “Allah-shehr,” “the City of God.”
3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens:
The descriptions of the Lord Jesus Christ in the previous five letters had come from the vision recorded in (Rev. 1:12–17). However, His description in opening the letter to the church in Philadelphia is unique and not drawn from that earlier vision. Instead, it has distinct Old Testament features and carries amazingly many empathies of God’s revelation.
He Who is Holy
The Lord God is “He who is holy” (Rev. 3:7), who alone possesses absolute holiness. The Old Testament repeatedly describes God as “the Holy One” (2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Ps. 71:22, 78:41; Isa. 43:15, 54:5; Hab. 3:3). To say that God is holy is to say that He is utterly separate from sin; therefore, His character is unblemished and flawless.
In the vision of Isaiah, the Seraphim cried out. They ascribed holiness to the Lord God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isa. 6:4). John also heard the four living creatures declare the same thing around the throne of God: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8).
Because God is holy, He revealed Himself in His only begotten Son, who is also holy. “The Holy One” is used in the New Testament as a messianic title for Christ. In announcing His birth to St. Mary, the angel described the Lord Jesus as “the Holy One” (Luke 1:35).
Peter said to Jesus, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69, NIV). Peter rebuked the unbelieving Jews, saying to them, “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One [Jesus Christ] and asked that a murderer [Barabbas] be released to you” (Acts 3:14).
Because God is holy, His church must be as well. “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1:15), and We are in Christ “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Therefore, God offered His Holy Son on the cross that He might bring His church holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:27).
Who is True
“He who is true” (Rev. 3:7) also refers to God. “Truth” is often used in combination with “holiness,” “justice,” or “righteousness” to describe God, His works, and His judgments. Thus, He is holy and true (Rev. 6:10), His works are just and true (Rev. 15:3), and His judgments are true and righteous (Rev. 16:7; 19:2).
Amid the falsehood, perversion, and error that fill the world, God revealed Himself through “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus Christ (Rev. 3:14; 19:11).
Has the Keys of David
The glory, majesty, power, and authority belong to God (Dan. 4:3; Jude 25). There is no authority except from Him (Rom. 13:1). A key in Scripture represents authority; whoever holds a key has control (Rev. 1:18; 9:1; 20:1; Matt. 16:19). (Rev. 1:18) reveals that the Lord Jesus Christ has “the keys of Hades and Death”; He has the keys to salvation and blessing.
The term “the key of the house of David” also appears in Isaiah 22:22, where it refers to Eliakim, the steward or prime minister to Israel’s king. Because of his office, he controlled access to the monarch.
David symbolizes the messianic office (Rev. 5:5; 22:16). The Son of God has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). God gave Him the key of David, the power to determine who enters His messianic kingdom (John 10:7,9; 14:6; Acts 4:12).
He Who opens and Shuts
The description, “He who opens and no one shuts and shuts, and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7), emphasizes God’s omnipotence (Isa. 46:9–11; Jer. 18:6; Dan. 4:35). What God does cannot be overturned by anyone. He declared in Isaiah, I work, and who will reverse it?” (Isa. 43:13). No one can shut the doors to the kingdom or a blessing if God holds them open, and no one can force them open if He has them locked.
The Father revealed His authority in Christ to open and shut, forgive sins and unforgive, in Christ. Christ has the power to open doors for service (Rev. 3:8), to forgive sins (Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), and to provide eternal life (John 17:2).
The Lord Jesus Christ gave the priests, represented in His disciples, the keys of the kingdom of heaven by the Holy Spirit. He said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19; John 20:22-23). So they open and close the doors of heaven according to God’s will.
3:8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.
The Lord Jesus Christ found nothing in the deeds of the church’s angel in Philadelphia that caused Him to be concerned. Instead, he commended him for four realities that characterized him:
Having a Little Faith
First, the church’s angel in Philadelphia had “a little strength” (Rev. 3:8), a little power. That was not a negative comment on his feebleness but a commendation of his strength. Second, the angel of that church had a small number of members, a “little flock” (Luke 12:32), but God gave them a powerful impact on their city.
Most of the members may have been materially poor (1 Cor. 1:26). But with Paul, they could say, “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NIV).
Despite their small size, spiritual power flowed from God in the Philadelphia church. They preached the gospel of Christ, redeemed and transformed the lives of many people.
The obedience to God’s word also marked the angel; he kept Christ’s word (Rev. 3:8). Like Job, he could say, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).
Being Loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ
The Lord Jesus Christ praised the church’s angel in Philadelphia for not denying His name despite the pressures he faced to do so (Rev. 3:8). He remained loyal no matter what it cost him.
(Rev. 14:12) describes the tribulation saints, who refused to take the mark of the beast: “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Like them, the angel of the church in Philadelphia would not recant his faith.
Finally, the Lord Jesus Christ praised the church’s angel in Philadelphia because he kept His word to persevere faithfully through all the church’s trials and difficulties. He told the angel, “You have kept my command to endure patiently” (Rev. 3:10, NIV).
The steadfast endurance marked Christ’s earthly life (Heb. 12:2–4), an essential part of the saving faith (Matt. 10:22). So likewise, the angel and the congregation in Philadelphia had the marks of Christ by His Holy Spirit (Gal. 6:17). To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5).
The Lord Jesus Christ gave the church’s angel in Philadelphia some wonderful promises because of his faithfulness.
An Open Door
First, He promised, “I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Rev. 3:8). Second, God would give the faithful Philadelphia church opportunities for service through Christ by His Spirit.
Elsewhere in Scripture, an open door depicts freedom to proclaim the gospel.
3:9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie — indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.
Subduing the Synagogue of Satan
As was the case in Smyrna (Rev. 2:9), the church in Philadelphia faced hostility from unbelieving Jews. The Lord Jesus Christ saw them not as a synagogue of God but “the synagogue of Satan.” Though they claimed they were Jews, that claim was a lie. They were racially, culturally, and ceremonially Jews, but spiritually they were not (Rom. 9:6–7).
Christ promised that those of the Jews who were persecuting the Christians at Philadelphia would “come and worship,” bow down at the feet of the angel of the church of Philadelphia, and know that God had loved them. Bowing at someone’s feet depicts abject, total defeat, and submission. But the day will come when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).
3:10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Protection in Hour of Trial
the Lord Jesus Christ promised He would spare the angel of the church in Philadelphia from “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world” (Rev. 3:10). That promise extends far beyond the angel to encompass all the faithful throughout history.
The most significant aspect of this specific trial is its purpose to “test those who dwell on the earth,” the unbelievers, who live in their earthly nature and sins (Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8,12,14; 14:6; 17:2 8).
“This hour of trial” might be a time of horror, “great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14). A picture of such a horrific time is in (Rev. 6:15–17). But, on the other hand, this great tribulation might be a daily life experience facing the believers for their faithfulness to the word of God.
The Lord Jesus Christ prayed to His Father, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). The Father has rescued the believers from the domain of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13; 1 John 5:19).
3:11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
I am Coming Quickly
Christ will deliver the church at His coming (2 Thess. 2:1). “To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:28), not to bring judgment on them.
The word “quickly” depicts the imminence of the second coming of Christ; it could happen at any time. Therefore, every believer’s response should be, “Amen. Come, Lord the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rev. 22:20).
The Crown of Life
(Rev. 2:10) defines this crown as the “crown of life,” or “the crown which is life.” The crown, or reward, is eternal life for those who faithfully endure to the end (2 John 8). (2 Tim. 4:8) describes it as a “crown of righteousness” and (1 Pet. 5:4) as a “crown of glory.” Thus, in our glorified state, we will be perfectly righteous and thus perfectly able to reflect the glory of God, our Father.
Because of Christ’s imminent return for His church, the Lord Jesus Christ told the angel of the church in Philadelphia to “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). He had been faithful and loyal to Christ, and the Lord Jesus Christ commanded him to remain so. Those who persevere to the end prove the genuineness of their salvation (Matt. 10:22; 24:13).
Christ promised the angel of the church in Philadelphia that no one would take his crown. Those who faithfully endure temptation will receive “the crown of life” (James 1:12).
3:12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
As the Lord Jesus Christ concluded the letter to the faithful angel of the church in Philadelphia, Christ promised four eternal blessings to the one who overcomes (1 John 5:5).
Being Pillars in the Temple
The first promise is that the Lord Jesus Christ will make him “a pillar” in the temple of God, and “he shall go out no more.” A pillar represents stability, permanence, and immovability. The Lord Jesus Christ makes the marvelous promise to believers that they will have an eternal place in the temple of God in heaven. They will have security in eternal glory.
Having the Name of God
Christ also promised to write the name of God on the one who overcomes. That depicts ownership, signifying that all true Christians belong to God. It also speaks of the intimate personal relationship we have with Him forever.
Having the Name of God’s City
Christ also promises to write on believers the name of the city of His Father, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven. Thus, Christians have eternal citizenship in heaven’s capital city, the new Jerusalem, described at length in (Rev. 21). That is yet another promise of security, safety, and glory.
Having Christ’s New Name
Finally, Christ promises to write His new name on believers. Christ’s name represents the fullness of His person. In heaven, believers will “see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2), and whatever we may have known of Him in this life will pale in comparison to seeing Him. The new name we will be privileged to call Him will reflect that glorious revelation of God.
3:13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Believers must heed the truths found in each letter since the seven churches represent the types of churches throughout history.
The letter to the faithful angel of the church in Philadelphia reveals that the Father pours out His blessings on churches that remain loyal to Him. He will bless them with open doors for evangelism, eternal salvation, kingdom blessings, and deliverance from the great tribulation that will come on the earth. He will ultimately bring all those who persevere in their faith to the eternal bliss of heaven, where He will reveal Himself fully to them. The promise of those rich blessings should motivate every church and every Christian to follow the Philadelphia church’s example of faithfulness.