Revelation 3:7-13

Philadelphia was sited where the modern city of Alashehir stands today. This city was regarded as commercially important and was located as the gateway to the high central plateau of the Roman province of "Asia" in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey. The word "philadelphia" in Greek means "brotherly love". The city was given that name in honour of its founders - two brothers, Attalus II and Eumenes II - who came from Pergamum and whose goal was to spread and establish Greek culture, far and wide. Philadelphia became known as "The Gateway to the East", because it stood on the "Silk Road" that carried goods between the two great civilisations of Rome and China.

It was a prosperous city, partly due to the trade from the Silk Road and partly due to its own wine-making industry. It was located in a volcanic area where the soil was particularly good for producing wine. However, the area was also subject to regular earthquakes and had suffered from a serious tremor in AD 17. Much of its wealth was devoted to the building and upkeep of temples to various gods: Dioynsius (god of wine-making, fertility, festivity, insanity and ritual madness) and many others - as a result of which it had been called "Little Athens".

The key of David

Philadelphia may have held the key to the entrance of the province of Asia, but Jesus reminds His readers that He also holds some important keys. The reference to "the key of David" can be traced back to Eliakim, the chief steward of king Hezekiah, who would have held the heavy key to the palace, providing access to the king. The prophet, Isaiah, said that God was going to "place on his [Eliakim's] shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no-one can shut and what he shuts no-one can open." (Isaiah 22:22) Jesus, of course, could trace His own ancestry back to king David and says that He now holds "the key of David". This key opens several doors, including the gateways to eternal death (hell) and eternal life (heaven).

All of us have probably held keys for a number of places, treasured possessions or places to be guarded, but God holds the key to things that matter for eternity. When the apostle, Peter, made his great declaration at Caesarea Philippi (that Jesus was the Messiah - the Son of the living God), Jesus promised him: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19) Similarly, Jesus tells His followers at Philadelphia that He has placed before them an "open door". He knew that they were not well matched against the opposition they faced on all sides, but they had kept Jesus' word and not denied His name (His essential character and authority).

Christians always have constant and immediate access to the kingdom of heaven around the clock. No one can prevent us from living in heaven on earth. It is our right - indeed, our duty - to do so and the believers in Philadelphia were taking part to the full. Jesus saw their willingness and so He opened doors of opportunity for them, which no power on earth could shut. This is so encouraging! Whenever we feel weak, we can just hold onto His word and stand by His Name.

Keeping God's word

Every Christian should have a good working knowledge of the word of God obtained by prayerful study. It is their birthright and their duty to know their master’s voice. It is vital to know the word of God. It gives the believer security against false teaching and many so-called prophecies, visions and dreams that purport to be the truth but are, in reality, little more than the product of human minds. Of course, God Himself does give prophecies and dreams and good and faithful teaching still abounds, but only our knowledge of the word of God will help us to rightly distinguish the true from the false.

When God originally prompted various people to create written records of His words and deeds, most people were unable to either read or write. Such things were passed down from one generation to another in the form of poetry and song which were memorised and then spoken or sung aloud, whenever people gathered together for family meals, regular worship or bigger, social events. Nowadays, the Bible is widely available, in many different translations, all around the world and many people are able to access it and read it, either in written form or on their 'phones or other electronic devices.

However, there is still considerable value in learning passages of scripture and either reading or reciting them aloud on occasion. This exercise gets our minds thinking about what it is that we are reading. It also helps to "make it real" for us, even to the point of thinking about how we should pronounce an unfamiliar name. Getting someone's name right is always important when we're talking to them and helps us to recognise them as a distinct, unique individual. We can also learn to "meditate" on God's word. This English word is taken from an old word ("mete") meaning to "measure"; for example, "to mete out rewards or punishments". It describes the process of assessing what we have (or what we're looking at) so that we can divide it up into equal portions. The apostle, Paul, used a similar idea when he said to Timothy: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15 - "King James" version)

The synagogue of Satan

The church at Philadelphia faced opposition from several sources, one of which was a Jewish synagogue. They rejected the thought that Jesus had been given "the key of David" because God has chosen the Jewish people and His promises were only to them. For example, Isaiah had promised them that: "the children of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you 'the city of the LORD'". (Isaiah 60:14) Jesus turns this around and says: "I will make them [those who claim to be Jewish] come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you." (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will confound all Satanic opposition to His church, making our opponents fall down at our feet to acknowledge that Jesus loves us. There is nothing that Satan hates more than a person who knows and understands the word of God. Such a person cannot be duped and confounded by the "father of lies". Do we know and apply His word or are we lazy about it? Are we challenged to learn more about Jesus’ instructions to us? These believers in the Philadelphian church had obeyed Jesus’ command to endure with patience. They had measured themselves and lined up their lives with the instructions of the living God. In this letter, Jesus gives them a promise that is truly remarkable and revealing: "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth." (Revelation 3:10-11)

The hour of trial

The "hour of trial" refers to the period of tribulation which the whole earth will experience after Jesus' return. Jesus says that He will preserve these believers during that time. The "'hour' of trial" is best translated as the "'time' of trial" rather than "sixty minutes of trial". (We shall have a look later at the passage in the book of Daniel - chapter nine - which also talks about this "hour" and is understood by many Christians as referring to a seven-year time period which is coming to test those still on the earth.) There are many different opinions about the precise meaning of the different passages in scripture that refer to this time of trial or tribulation. In particular, a concept known as "The Rapture" was only developed in the nineteenth century but seeks to bring together the different passages (such as Revelation 3:10) where Jesus promises to protect His church from the period of tribulation under one defined heading.

Let's look at three main viewpoints:

1) "Pre-Tribulationists"

The apostle, Paul, wrote to the church at Thessalonica about what would happen at Jesus' return: "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) This is understood to be "The Rapture" taking place before the period of tribulation begins.

2) "Mid-Tribulationists"

They believe that the church (all believers) will go through the first part (three and a half years) of the period of tribulation before "The Rapture" takes place.

3) "Post-Tribulationists"

They believe that the church will continue on the earth throughout the entire period of tribulation before being caught up to meet the Lord in the air. They see this period as being designed for the perfection of believers.

Points of agreement

Many Christian churches today believe that neither "The Rapture", nor indeed "The Tribulation", will take place as literal events. It can become a vexed question in churches, but there are some points of agreement that can reassure and encourage us in the midst of uncertainty and confusion.

God is in control

Our Father has ultimate control over all the events that have taken, are taking, or will take place in our world. As many examples throughout the Bible show, it is not always apparent that God is in control and many things happen that make us question whether or not He is in control, but His word constantly assures us that it is so. For example:

  • "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." (Proverbs 16:9)
  • "We know that, in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

The Lord is certainly in control of all believers and over whoever may come to power and defy God’s rule. God’s greatest desire is to find weak Christians who have very little strength left and feel that they can’t go on. He wants to give them reassurance of His love for them and determination to see them win through, so that He can give them the victor’s crown.

God disciplines

We don't find the idea of discipline easy, but God uses His word to help us take measure of ourselves and to keep us on the right path in His kingdom. Paul states in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32) The standard we use to judge ourselves is none other than the word of God. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Everyone will be judged. Our measuring stick is the word of God, which judges the innermost intentions and motives of our hearts. The apostle, Peter, states that: “judgement must begin at the house of God.” (1 Peter 4:17 - "King James" version) God judges us, His children, by having us judge ourselves daily with His word. At the same time, as we stand before God, Jesus speaks for us as our advocate. He is also our saviour and redeemer; He has paid in full the debt each one of us owes, so that we can move on from judgment and mend our ways - which is amazing!

The radiant church

So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Jesus has equipped His church to be a place where we can grow individually as Christians with the help of many different people, all of whom have particular spiritual gifts to support us. Through this ministry (service), the church will become glorious, spiritually mature and ready to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Whatever may happen in the future, we certainly experience tribulation and persecution heere and now, but that - like God's discipline - helps to produce maturity in us. God passionately wants us to learn from His word, walk in His Spirit and be guided by Him every moment. From this, we may understand that the church (all believers) will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air before the tribulation begins.

Pillars of the church

Still today in Alashehir, it is possible to see the ruins of an ancient church building where the thing that immediately strikes visitors is the size of its pillars. They are now broken and no longer stand tall, but it's possible to see their immense girth - built to withstand the shocks and pressures of constant earthquakes. Jesus' final word to the church at Philadelphia is a promise that those who are victorious (against all the opposition that they face) will become pillars in the temple of God.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Those who are victorious, I will make pillars in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them 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 them my new name. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:11-13)

What a goal for us too: to be victorious overcomers - daughters of the King of kings! We can be more than conquerors through Him who loves us and gave Himself for us. Even though we may consider that we have little strength, this is all that God needs to make us pillars in His house - solid symbols of strength, solidarity, grandeur and stability.

“My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Those who are victorious will never again leave God’s presence. What an amazing reward for those who have patiently kept God’s word and have never denied His name. Those whose destination is the kingdom of heaven will be identified by the name of God as a guarantee of His promise. The "overcomers" will receive three markings.

  1. I will write on him the name of my God.” (Revelation 3:12) What could be greater than that?
  2. I will write upon him the name of the city of my God.” The "overcomer" is eternally identified with the "New Jerusalem". Where they come from will be written all over them.
  3. I will write on him my new name.” The "overcomer" will be covered in God’s glory. We shall see what that looks like in John's picture of the "New Jerusalem" (chapters twenty-one and twenty-two).

How will it be with us? Have we got the perseverance and the patience to remain faithful to Jesus through trials and difficulties, opposition and ridicule in our lives? If not, then will we reconsider our position and rely on the promises of Jesus to carry us through? Surely just a little determination and perseverance will be worthwhile as we fix our eyes upon Jesus! What wonderful promises we have here to encourage us. It will all be worth it!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

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