“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:
‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. ‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie– I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
– Revelation 3:7-13, NAU
The city of Philadelpia was about twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis. It was founded by King Attalus Philadelphus (159-138 BC) of Pergamus. The epithet Philadelphus means “brother lover.” So the name Philadelphia means “one who loves his brother” or “brotherly love.” The modern name of the city is Ala-Sheher.
The area where Philadelphia was located was susceptible to earthquakes. After the great earthquake of AD 17, the city was rebuilt by the Roman Tiberius. It was built on Roman roads and was an important commercial city. Mounce (p. 115) reports that it earned the title “gateway to the East.” So, for its size, it was a very important city.
According to Newport (p. 156), “the city was to be a mission city for disseminating Greco-Asiatic culture and language in the eastern part of Lydia and in Phrygia. ” Later (Robertson, p. 316), it became an important city for the spread of Christianity. With this in mind, the scholar Ramsay (p. 392) called it “the Missionary City.”
The Authority of Christ
John’s instructions are to write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. The speaker is Christ. As Christ speaks in verse 7, He stresses four important points about Himself and His power.
First, among the Jews the title “the Holy One” was a familiar title for God. Here, this title is applied to Christ. Lenski (p. 137) says, “As God is ever ‘the Holy One,’ so our Lord is “the Holy One.” According to Robertson (p. 316), this name is ascribed to God in 4:8 and 6:10, but to Christ in Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; John 6:69; Acts 4:30; and I John 2:20. Thus, “the Holy One” is a recognized title for the Messiah as the consecrated one who is set apart.
Second, Christ is the true Messiah. He is One “who is true.” Lenski (p. 138) writes that “Christ is not spurious, not a false Messiah as the Jews claimed by calling him ‘the hanged one.'” Robertson (p. 316) points out that this designation “is applied to God in 6:10 and to Christ in 3:14; 19:11 as in John 1:9; 6:32; 15:1.”
Third, Jesus has the key of David. As Robertson (p. 316) says, “This epithet comes from Is. 22:22, where Eliakim as the chief steward of the royal household holds the keys of power. Christ as the Messiah (Rev. 5:5; 22:16) has exclusive power in heaven, on earth, and in Hades (Matt. 16:19; 28:18; Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:9f.; Rev. 1:18).” Similarly, Mounce (p. 116) says, The key of David is “a metaphorical expression indicating complete control over the royal household.”
Fourth, Christ is the One “who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” The main point of this phrase is stated by Lenski (p. 139): “Our Lord alone has the power to admit to the Messianic house or kingdom, to grant us the right to participate in this kingdom and to shut out from such participation.”
The Open Door
As we expound verse 8, several points may be observed. The first point has to do with grammar, the second point concerns the open door, and the third point describes the spiritual condition of the believers.
First, based on grammar, there are a couple of ways to read this verse. The NAS translation is as follows: “‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because [hoti] you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.'” Under this translation, everything after “because” expresses reasons why Christ has opened the door.
The Revised Standard Version says: “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that [hoti] you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.'” Using this translation, the open door clause is parenthetical and the emphasis on what Christ knows. Thus, the phrase “I know” is repeated.
The Greek grammar is not decisive. The Greek word hoti can mean either “because” or “that.” Either way the main facts are in place. Christ has opened a door which no one can shut. The believers have little power, have kept Christ’s Word, and have not denied His name.
Second, much discussion about this verse focuses on the meaning of the “open door which no one can shut.” According to one view, Jesus granted the believers access to the Kingdom of God. Mounce (p.117) suggests that, in verse 8, Jesus “reminds the Christians at Philadelphia who may have been excommunicated form the local synagogue (v. 9) that he has placed before them an open door into the eternal kingdom, and no one can shut it.
As Mounce recognizes (p. 117), the more common view is that Jesus was speaking about the door He had opened for the missionary activity of the believers. Robertson (p. 317) says, “The metaphor of the open door was a common one (John 10:7-9; Acts 14:27; I Cor. 16:9; II Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3; Rev. 3:20; 4:1). Probably it means here a good opportunity for missionary effort in spite of the Jewish hostility.”
Another commentator who favors the idea of an open door to ministry is Lenski who writes (p. 140):
The phrase “no one is able to lock,” says Lenski (p. 140):
Both points of view express important truths. Access to the messianic kingdom is under the control of Christ, and Christ does open doors of ministry. In verse 7 Jesus speaks about access to the Kingdom, but in verse 8, the subject is the open door to ministry. The means by which Christ opens and shuts the door to the Kingdom is the proclamation of the Gospel.
Third, Jesus speaks about the “little power” of the believers. Literally the text says “you have a little power.” However, the emphasis made by Ladd seems correct. He states (p. 60), “I know that you have but little power [RSV] is a far more accurate translation that that of the AV, ‘for thou hast a little strength.’ The emphasis is not on the little strength that the church possesses, but upon the fact that she has only a little strength.”
Just what does Christ mean by power? Does He means that they have but little spiritual power or that they are weak in possessions, size, and influence? Horton holds to the former view. He says (p. 60), “The word ‘strength,’ or power, is used especially of divine power, miracle-working power, and the power of the Spirit.” However, Lenski’s view seems more to the point. He (p. 141) writes:
The Powerful Impact of the Gospel
As we read verse 9, we learn that the believers will be victorious over their opposition. Their opponents are a part of the synagogue of Satan. Those who oppose the believers will eventually prostrate themselves before them. Several points stand out.
First, verse 9 deals with the central conflict between the church and the synagogue in Philadelphia. Mounce (p. 118) makes these comments:
Second, the clause “who say they are Jews and are not, but lie” is parenthetical. As Horton says (p. 62):
Third, the central question has to do with the attitude of the Jews when they are given to the Christians. According to Mounce (p. 118): “the major question is whether they are given in the sense of becoming converts to the Christian faith or given in the sense that they will finally come to understand that ‘you [the church] are my beloved people’ (NEB).”
Mounce (p. 118) favors the view that the Jews will be forced to bow in respect. Horton (pp. 62-63) includes both views: He writes:
What the nations will have to do before Israel when it is restored, not only nationally but spiritually, the Christ-rejecting “Jews” (who may have been a cult) will have to do before the church (compare Isaiah 43:4; 45:14; :23; 60:14).
Some take verse 9 to refer to the time when every knee will bow before Christ (see Philippians 2:10-11). The believing Christians will, of course, be with Jesus at that time. (See I Thessalonians 4:17). But it seems more likely that the bowing down and the recognition of Christ’s love for His people will come as the result of a revival move of God’s Spirit. Genuine repentance and the accepting of Christ as Savior and Lord will bring a changed attitude toward these Christians they had been persecuting. It may be that such a revival occurred shortly after the Book of Revelation was written. Or it may be that this is a promise to be fulfilled when the Jews (true and false) as a whole accept Christ as their Messiah and Savior at His second coming.
Once again, we can take comfort from all these truths. The Lord will be with the believers in times of proclamation. Because He is with them, they will see a harvest. This harvest will occur as they minister. In addition we know that when Christ returns every knee will bow, either in worship or in submission, before Christ. He is victor!
Christ Will Keep You
Because the believers have kept the Word, Christ will keep them from the hour of trial which is about to come upon the whole world. According to Mounce (p. 119), with regard to verse 10, “The major question is whether Christ is promising deliverance from the period of trial or safekeeping through the trial.” Two views dominate the interpretation of this verse.
First, one view is that Jesus will keep us “through” the coming hour of trial. Mounce (p. 119) holds to this view. He says that this is consistent with Christ’s prayer in John 17:15. Jesus prayed: “‘I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.'” According to Mounce (p. 119), “It is their preservation in trial that is taught.” In his view, “The hour of trial is that period of testing and tribulation that precedes the establishment of the eternal kingdom.”
Second, the contrasting view is that Jesus refers to the rapture of the saints. Horton (p. 64) counters Mounce as follows:
In my view Jesus refers here to the rapture of the church. However, we know that Christ keeps us always in our walk with the Lord. Sometimes the saints of God have gone through great trials and have been delivered. Others have given their lives for Christ, but even in death, they are ushered victoriously into the presence of almighty God.
The Future Reward
In verses 11-12 Jesus deals with His future return, with the importance of holding fast, and with the abundant reward that He will bestow upon the saints. This is a powerful incentive for the church to remain faithful.
First, in verse 11, Jesus says He is coming quickly and exhorts the believers to hold fast to what they have. According to Ladd (p. 62), “I am coming soon is the keynote of the entire book: the coming of the Lord in power and glory to finish his great work of redemption and to establish his Kingdom on the earth.” The believers are to hold fast to what they have in the face of opposition and persecution.
By remaining faithful, by holding fast, the believers can be assured that no one will take their crown. As Mounce (p. 120) states, “The crown was the wreath awarded to the winner off an athletic contest (cf. I Cor. 9:25; II Tim 4:8). The metaphor would be especially appropriate in this letter in that Philadelphia was known for its games and festivals.”
Second, Jesus makes several key points in verse 12 concerning the future reward that will be enjoyed by the overcoming saints. Clearly, as believers, we have a wonderful future in store for us.
One, the overcomers will become “pillars” in the “temple” of God. With regard to “pillars,” Horton (p. 65) says, “For all who are faithful, overcomers who keep on winning victories, there is both a place of high honor and a place of permanence and stability–as a pillar in the divine inner sanctuary.” Then, concerning the temple, he (p. 65) says, “The word “temple” here is the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies. It is a word also used of the Church in Ephesians 2:20-22, but here it is used of the Church’s place in the final state, that is, in the New Jerusalem on the new earth where God will dwell with His people forever.
Two, the promise is given that the overcomer “will not go out from it anymore.” Walvoord (p. 89) explains, “This seems to mean that they will no longer be exposed to the temptations and trials of this present life and will have their permanent residence in the very presence of God.” Once we have entered the sanctuary in the New Jerusalem, we will no longer have to suffer the trials of this life.
Three, as Walvoord (p. 89) states: “In addition to this promise Christ gives them a threefold assurance they will be identified with God, because (1) they will have the name of God, (2) they will have the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven, and (3) they will have a new name belonging to Christ. The expression ‘new Jerusalem’ is a reference to the future eternal city described in Revelation 21 and 22.”
One of the names that believers will have is Christ’s new name. Concering this name, Ladd (pp. 63-64) writes: “When Christ comes as the mighty conqueror, he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself (19:12). This is a symbolic way of suggesting the glory and majesty of Christ at his revelation, which will be shared by his followers.
Once again, Jesus concludes with this exhortation (verse 13): “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'” The promises are for all who hear, believe, and obey. These promises apply today, just as they did in the early church and throughout history. Let us ask the Spirit to apply these truths to our hearts.
This letter is a powerful statement with regard to the mission of the church. First, Jesus is the genuine Messiah who opens the door to the Kingdom of God and to missionary ministry worldwide. Second, there will be a powerful result. Many will come to Christ in faith, and all will ultimately bow before His name. Third, Christ will keep the believers in all circumstances. Fourth, the reward for service is beyond our imagination. We will ever be with God and will be totally identified with Him.
For Further Study
Horton, Stanley M. The Ultimate Victory. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1991.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Willliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.
Newport, John P. The Lion and the Lamb. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986. Ramsay, W. M. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. 1904 Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Tenney, Merrill C. Interpreting Revelation. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.
Copyright © 2005 By George M. Flattery