Philadelphia (The church with Opportunity)
After the harsh words Jesus had for Sardis, it’s a relief to see the contrast between it and Philadelphia. Being the 6th of the seven churches we have not seen a single one yet that was doing everything right. Every single one of them so far were condemned for at least one transgression and were warned to repent or suffer the consequences. It is a sobering thought when one considers the state of the Lord’s church today and compares it with the fact that all but one of the churches addressed in Revelation had problems which threatened their standing with Jesus Christ. This is not enough of a model to build a worldwide comparison by any means but it is significant enough to give any Christian sufficient reason for some serious reflection of their own standing with God. It is truly an encouragement at this point to see that it is possible to please Jesus Christ with faithful and diligent service.
Philadelphia was the youngest of the seven cities of Revelation. It was founded by colonists from Pergamos in honor of, and named after, Attalus II Philadelphos of Pergamos during the reign of his elder brother, Eumenes II, king of Lydia. The word “Philadelphos” literally means “brother lover” so the name Philadelphia came to mean the city of brotherly love.
According to history, Attalus reigned over Philadelphia during the years of 159 to 138 B.C. Philadelphia was established for a specific purpose. It was a Lydian border town built where Mysia and Phrygia joined with Lydia. It is located about 105 miles from Smyrna near the Cogamus River and on one of the main highways which led to the interior of Asia Minor. The intent was to encourage the spread of the Greek language and culture into Lydia and Phrygia and this strategy was successful so that by A.D. 19 both of them had abandoned their native languages and spoke primarily Greek.
Pagan Worship in Philadelphia:
Philadelphia had a nickname of “Little Athens” because of its many temples and festivals to pagan gods. Philadelphia also preached loyalty to Hellenism. The word, Hellenistic, is derived from the word, Hellene, which was the Greek word for the Greeks. The principal meaning of Hellenism is the propagation of culture and religion from classical Greece to the rest of the world, with classical Greek culture and beliefs either replacing or joining with local culture and ideas. So Philadelphia was in reality a missionary city with the intended purpose being to spread Greek culture to the rest of the region.
The soil of the plain near Philadelphia was particularly fertile and was used for vineyards. Wine was the chief source of revenue for this city. Baachus (the god of wine) was worshipped in Philadelphia.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth”
Jesus makes some statements here about Himself to the Christians in Philadelphia. First, He declares His holiness. In several New Testament passages holiness is applied to Christ (Mark 1:24; Acts 3:14; 4:30). Holiness is a characteristic which sets Jesus apart from mankind. Jesus is without sin, guile or deception, in every way holy. He is to be reverenced and obeyed. This characteristic of Jesus is seen also in God the Father. “Holy holy holy is the Lord of hosts” was the song of the seraphs heard and recorded by Isaiah in 6:3. “To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal (to him)? saith the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25). Throughout the Bible God is portrayed as the “holy one”. The combination of words “God” and “Holy” occur 247 times in the King James translation. Here we see this title claimed by Jesus Christ which positively identifies Him as sharing the attributes of God the Father. John teaches us in chapter 1 of the Gospel account bearing his name that Jesus Christ was God in the beginning and took on flesh to live amongst man.
“He that is true”
This statement refers to the nature of Jesus Christ. In the Greek the word here for “true” is “Alethinos” which is similar to the word “Alethes”. The latter carrying the meaning of a statement which is true, while the former refers more to the relation of the originator of the statement. In simple terms “Alethes” is something that can be believed without question. Jesus Christ who is here described as “Alethinos” is the originator of truth and can be believed without question. Jesus Christ doesn’t just make statements that are true. He is the source from which truth comes. Not only can we trust and believe what Jesus said and taught as the truth, we can trust and believe in Him because of His nature.
“he that hath the key of David”
A key is a symbol of authority. Keys are used to open locks and doors which protect things of value. Those who possess the keys have the authority and the right to grant access to that which is protected by locks or doors. Jesus Christ said He would build His church in Matthew 16:18-19 and to Peter He gave the keys to the kingdom. Peter and the others were given the authority and the right to grant access to the kingdom of Heaven. Peter and the rest of the apostles would open the door of opportunity to all who would believe and obey. There were no literal keys being exchanged, neither should we visualize a literal physical key in the possession of Jesus Christ. These word pictures are meant to convey an idea to the reader of someone who has the authority to grant access to things which are concealed from general view.
“he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth”
This statement of Jesus is a direct reference back to Eliakim in Isaiah 22:22, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” Shebna was an evil officer of King Hezekiah who was driven from office by God. Eliakim was entrusted with the power of the key of David. He was given the power to open doors of opportunity and duty to which no other could close and doors he closed remained closed. Jesus claimed for himself the authority of the key of David.
The key of the house of David is a reference to the promise God made to David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:16, “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” Jesus Christ in the flesh was a direct descendant through the lineage of David. The house of David here is therefore a reference to the everlasting kingdom that was to be established in the future before him. The “new Jerusalem” mentioned in verse 12 of this same letter is the spiritual kingdom that Jesus rules from the right hand side of God the Father in Heaven.
Jesus likewise opens and shuts doors. Doors represent the means by which something worthwhile is obtained or just opportunity in general. When Jesus opens the doors to anything, no man can shut them. And when He shuts those doors, no man can open them. The doors to everlasting life have been opened by Jesus Christ. And they will remain open until He shuts them. And when they have been shut, opportunity to gain access to salvation will forever cease.
“I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name.”
As we learned earlier, Philadelphia was built for the purpose of assimilating Greek culture and language into the heart of Asia Minor. It was built on a major highway that was used as one of the postal routes of the Roman Empire. The church at Philadelphia had the same opportunity to spread the gospel as the original Philadelphians did to spread the Greek culture and language eastward into the interior of Asia Minor. Jesus is telling them that this door of opportunity is open to them and that He put it there and it will not be shut by any man. They were strong, they had been obedient to His will and they have not denied His name no matter what persecution they faced. There was no shortage of Pagan worship in Philadelphia. Christian persecution naturally arose in the presence of pagan worship due to the fact that Christians utterly reject any association whatsoever with pagan gods or the worship thereof.
Jesus praised the church at Philadelphia for not denying His name. This would be a great comfort to them in light of the fact that Jesus made this promise earlier in His teachings while still on earth. “And I say unto you, Every one who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me in the presence of men shall be denied in the presence of the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9). The church in Philadelphia had not denied His name and were praised for it.
It is interesting to note here that the reward for faithful service to God is more work to do. Philadelphia had proven to be faithful and her reward for this was the open door of opportunity for more work to do. The life of the Christian is never one to set back and be at ease, rather it is the life of high endeavor and self sacrifice in service to God. “…behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” John 4:35. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
“Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”
The Jews who rejected Christ were bitter enemies of the Christians in the first and second century. There were a lot of Jews living in Philadelphia They had a Jewish synagogue there and all Jews made the claim that God entrusted them with the key of David. They claimed that as God’s children they were the only rightful recipients of God’s heavenly kingdom and because of this, any member of the synagogue that dared to confess Christ as Savior or Lord was cast out (John 9:22; 12:42).
What happened to Shebna, the servant of king Hezekiah, also happened to the Jews. The power of the key of David was stripped from them and given to others. The power of the key of David entrusted to the Israelite nation was taken from them and given to the saints of the church. The Christians in Philadelphia who were given the open door were able to take advantage of the opportunities associated with being the true Jews who were the “the children of God”.
The Jews of the synagogue claimed to be the children of God but they were not. Paul taught that those who were Jews outwardly were not, rather those who were inwardly spiritual were true Jews (Romans 2:28-29). Paul was drawing a contrast between those who claimed to be Jews through the flesh from those who were true Jews of the heart. All who believe and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and the Son of God, and who serve Him obediently, are spiritual Jews. The Jews in Philadelphia falsely claimed something they did not have the authority to claim. Jesus called them liars and identified their synagogue as being of Satan. Certainly this bodes ill for them and in all their haughtiness and self important pride Jesus said they were ultimately going to be the ones who would come and worship before the feet of the spiritual Jews and know for a certainty that it was true children of God that He loves and not them. The application for us today is that all who serve Christ are of the spiritual “Israel of God”, and who are the true “children of God” and these are the ones who God truly loves.
“Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that (hour) which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
They had kept the word. This means they had been obedient to the words and will of Jesus Christ through hard times. Harder times were on the horizon for them. The first sentence of Revelation indicates that the hardships described in the letter are in the not too distant future. God promised the Christians at Philadelphia that because of their faith and obedience thus far, they would receive help from God in the trials yet to come upon them. This is a promise made to all faithful Christians who keep the words of Christ and remain faithful during times of difficulty:
1 Corinthians 10:13
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.”
All Christians are tried by the things that happen in the world. The door of opportunity is ever open to all mankind to repent and to come to God and find salvation. Unfortunately, it is the cross which Christians must bear to live with the consequences of sin in the world and with the consequences of the activities of the sinful. Throughout history, the children of God have suffered because of the sinful activities of the Godless. Our God is truly just and fair and every accountable living person on earth has the same opportunity that followers of Christ took advantage of. God desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, therefore the Godless are allowed to wreak persecution on the God fearing and it is the duty of the saved to shine the way to the door of opportunity in the face of it all, even unto death.
“I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown.”
Jesus says He is coming quickly. The Greek word for quickly also means suddenly and abruptly. Scripture teaches that His coming will be like “a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10), suddenly and swiftly.
Jesus admonished them to hold on to what they had. Jesus had only praise for the works of the Christians at Philadelphia but they were warned here that they could lose it if they failed to remain faithful and persevere. All of the churches of Asia started out on the right path and none of the other six were told they had a crown. This crown could either be the crown of life or a crown of glory, either of which, if removed, put them into the same category as the others. In danger of judgment and eternal loss.
The entire core theme of Revelation is for the Christians to persevere, to remain faithful and never give in to the world around them, to overcome it, even to the point of death. And this warning was given even to the one group that was doing everything right. The importance of this cannot be overstated. If the Christians living under the horrific persecution of the first century had to remain faithful unto death in order to receive eternal life, we can be assured today that it is no different. Let us learn from the examples of the faithful Christians who went before us to glory and likewise strive to remain ever “faithful unto death”.
“He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more: 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 mine own new name.”
Here again we see Jesus use the words “He that overcometh” All of the churches of Asia were exhorted to overcome. All of the churches of Asia in Revelation had to remain faithful. God was working against the Roman Empire from Heaven, but the Christians on earth had their part to play in it as well. It was their responsibility to stay faithful and overcome all opposition against them while God worked His will on their oppressors. The application for us today is no different. Nothing about God’s will as expressed in the New Covenant under which we live has changed in the last 2000 years. The principle of obedience and perseverance that applied to the first century Christians is likewise applicable to us today. If they had to remain faithful and overcome, then so do we.
“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more”
Philadelphia was built on the edge of plain called the Katakekaumen?, which means The Burned Land. There was a volcano nearby and the ash deposits from it made the ground in that area particularly fertile for agriculture. While Philadelphia enjoyed a thriving agricultural benefit from this, there were also perils associated with living this close to a volcano. The same earthquake that destroyed Sardis in 17 A.D. also destroyed Philadelphia along with ten other cities in the region. In the other cities, the earthquake was over and done with, but in Philadelphia the aftershocks and tremors continued for years afterward. The citizens of Philadelphia would leave the city and go out into the plains and live in huts during these prolonged events when they would become severe enough to threaten their lives. Some of the citizens lived in the city during this, but were sometimes driven out to safety during the worst of these earthquakes. Eventually the earthquakes subsided but the memory of this lived on in the minds of the citizens of Philadelphia. People in Philadelphia were well aware of what Jesus was referring to when He told them they “shall go out thence no more”. This promise of Jesus assured them of the ultimate peace and security that awaited those who “overcome”.
“and I will write upon him the name of my God”
Those who overcome and keep the faith will have the name of God written on them as opposed to those who succumb to emperor worship and receive the mark of the god they serve. This was not a literal name written on their physical bodies, but a means of identification of ownership. Those who bear the mark of the beast belong to Satan, while those who bear the name of God belong to Him. What a tremendous blessing it is to belong to God. This is most certainly a blessing well worth the trials of life of the first century and any thereafter.
“and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem”
As with the earthquakes we see the history of Philadelphia reflected in the words of Jesus. After the earthquake in 17 A.D. destroyed the city, Tiberius gave them the necessary backing to rebuild the city. Philadelphia was grateful to Tiberius for this so in his honor they renamed the city to Neocaesarea meaning The New City of Caesar. During the reign of Vespasian, the citizens decided to change the name of the city yet again to Flavia, for Flavius was the family name of the Emperor Vespasian and of his two sons Titus and Domitian. Neither one of these names lasted, and the name of the city was restored to Philadelphia. Philadelphia was also nicknamed Little Athens because of all the pagan worship that went on there. The readers of this letter who were citizens of Philadelphia knew what it was to receive “a new name” And the name of the city promised to them was better than any that man could devise and would last forever.
The “new Jerusalem” is the name given to this eternal city with the eternal name. Old Jerusalem was where the Jewish Temple had been and from there worship to God was offered by the Israelite nation. The city had been destroyed by Titus, son of Vespasian and the temple was torn down stone by stone and burned so that the soldiers could get to the gold used in the stonework. Jerusalem represented the city of God in the minds of the first readers of the Revelation. The “new Jerusalem” would therefore represent to the citizens of Philadelphia a city after which they could be named, a holy city, an eternal home with an everlasting name. The application here for us today is that all who believe and obey Jesus Christ have their citizenship in this “New Jerusalem” The new city of God, that will never be destroyed, with a name that will endure long after the Caesars and the rest of the evil rulers of the earth have passed, and on into eternity. What a comfort this must have been for them and likewise what a comfort it should be for us today.
“which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and mine own new name.”
The name of the eternal city being given to the overcomers is not coming from the earth, or from man in any fashion. This name is coming from God, on His throne, in Heaven.
Some in the religious world today who hold to millennial doctrine teach that this passage indicates that God will establish an earthly “New Jerusalem” here on earth some day. The primary subject of this narrative is the “name”, not the “city”. Jesus rules his kingdom from heaven (Ephesians 1:19-22). His authority comes down to us from heaven where He is pictured as being seated on the right hand side of God the Father. Christians on earth are members of His body, the church (Colossians 1:18), which he rules from Heaven; His spiritual kingdom. A literal new city, named Jerusalem, is never going to descend from Heaven and be established upon earth. The city mentioned here is a figurative term describing the church which is the body of Christ, the spiritual kingdom of God, ruled from Heaven, by Christ and already present in the first century and until this day and beyond. “For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
The new name of Christ which will be written on them can be non other than the term “Christian”. As previously stated, the term “written” is not to be taken literally, but is a means by which we are identified. We are identified with and belong to God, as His children, when we live obediently and serve Jesus Christ before the world. The faithful were called Christians by inspiration in the first century, they are likewise identified as Christians today. This name given to us by God is the only name we wear. Coming from God, this name is holy and revered by faithful and true followers of Christ who will utterly reject being associated with any other name. This is the God breathed name given us by inspiration, it is therefore this name and no other that we should wear before the world.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
Every letter to the seven churches closes with this admonition. It is similar to the one Jesus closed the sermon on the mount with:
“Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and if fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof.”
Those who overcome and persevere to the end have listened, heard and obeyed what the Spirit said and therefore have their houses built on the rock.