Bible Passage: Revelation 3:7-13
7 'To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
10 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.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar 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.
13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (NIV)
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
Adam and Eve in the garden, were people who doubted God’s word (“Did God really say…”, Genesis 3:1). Abraham, however, was someone who took God at his word (“Abram believed the LORD…”, Genesis. 15:6). Right from the start of biblical account, then, trust in God’s word become the key element of saving faith, and holding onto that word become the foundation of discipleship (for example, 1 Kings 13:21, 2 Chronicles 34:21).
In Isaiah 22, Jerusalem is under threat, and God promises that Eliakim will replace Shebna as the steward in charge of the palace (Isaiah 22:15-22). He will have the key to the royal palace, and admittance is only through him. Later, Jesus says that he is the one with the keys to the kingdom, (Matthew 16:19), and he sends his apostles to all nations.
What becomes clear in Rev 3:7-15, is that God’s weak and struggling church in Philadelphia has held onto God’s word. Jesus holds the keys to the kingdom, and holds open the door of salvation. The name of the new Jerusalem is written on them because they will one day join Jesus there (Rev 21:2).
Brief note on key themes of book
The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.
Structure of the passage
The letter to Philadelphia begins in a similar way to the other letters, with Jesus’ description of himself, and his knowledge of the church’s situation. What is noticeable is that there is only commendation for this church with little strength. Among huge encouragements, the reason given for Jesus’ reassuring promises both centre around the word to ‘keep’. Jesus is looking for…
A church which keeps Jesus’ word… and so won’t deny his name (7-9)
The church in Philadelphia has kept hold of Jesus’ word, and not denied his name (compare Matt 10:32-33). Despite being a small and weak church, in a town which was little-known, and which had little strength left, Jesus’ words are full of reassurance. The ‘synagogue of Satan’ (the Jewish group in the city) seem to have been denying that the church there was loved by Jesus, but one day they will fall at the feet of Christians (an ironic twist on Isaiah 49:23). Jesus, the holy and true one, has opened the door of salvation for these exhausted Christians, and has guaranteed access to his kingdom.
A church which keeps Jesus’ command… and so endures patiently (10-11)
The church in Philadelphia has also kept hold of Jesus’ command to endure patiently (literally, Jesus says ‘you have kept the word of my perseverance’, v.10). In the light of that, Jesus will keep them through the hour of trial (the emphasis is more on perseverance in the present than preservation from end-time judgement). In the future, they will have crowns to wear (compare 2 Timothy 4:8) at the time of Jesus’ return. They will be like pillars (a sign of a permanent place in God’s presence). And three names will be written on them – the names of their God, and their destination, and their saviour (v.12).
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
What’s all this about opening and shutting doors? (vv.7-8)
The passage is picking up on a promise made to Eliakim in Isaiah 22:15-22, the royal steward. There, he had the keys to the royal household, and could control who went in and out of the palace. Here, Jesus is similarly the one given control over who enters the kingdom. If he opens the door and gives someone access to salvation, no-one can stop them from coming in.
What is the synagogue of Satan? (v.9)
Jesus is very aware of the activity of Satan in the places where these churches are situated. In both Smyrna and Philadelphia, it seems that the Jewish population were excluding and persecuting the Christians there, and so siding with Satan’s purposes (compare John 8:44-47, Acts 13:10).
Is it a good thing to be a pillar? Why can’t they leave the temple? (v.12)
The picture of the pillar is one of solidity and permanence. In this city which had suffered a huge earthquake in 17AD, it was a very desirable thing to be part of solid building – one which wouldn’t collapse or become dangerous. What is on offer here is a built-in place in God’s presence which is lasting and unshakeable.
Summary of author’s main point
The church at Philadelphia, though weak, has kept Jesus’ word, and is offered an undeniable and unshakeable place in his kingdom.
Aim/purpose for original audience
Hold onto what you have, because even a weak church that keeps Jesus’ words will be offered an undeniable and unshakeable place in Jesus’ kingdom.
Aim/purpose for us today
For us to hold onto what you have, knowing that even a weak church that keeps Jesus’ words will be offered an undeniable and unshakeable place in Jesus’ kingdom.
Key area of application
Jesus gives his strongest word of encouragement to the weakest and least well-known church. Those congregations that will one day be most honoured will not be ones that we will have heard of. To those that are weakest, Jesus shows an uncloseable door. We have everything we need – in brutal times, we simply have to hold onto what we have.