To the church in Ephesus, the Lord wrote to rebuke them because their love for him was not what it once was. To the church in Smyrna, a church which was facing persecution, the Lord wrote a message of comfort and encouragement. To the church in Pergamum, the Lord wrote to rebuke them because some of them had compromised their faith by following the sinful practices of their unbelieving neighbours. And to the church in Thyatira, the Lord wrote to rebuke them because they were tolerating a false teacher who was leading many of them astray. And to the church in Sardis, the Lord wrote to rebuke them because — while they had a reputation for being alive — the reality was very different; and they needed to wake up and to strengthen what remained of their spiritual vitality. And, as I’ve said before, though these messages are addressed to specific churches, they’re also for every church in every generation; and every church in every generation needs to ask how these messages from the Lord Jesus apply to us. So, is our love as strong as it once was? Have we compromised the faith by following the sinful practices of their unbelieving neighbours? Have we tolerated for too long someone or something that is not right? Have we become spiritually sleepy? The Lord’s people must have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches; and, with the Lord’s help, we must overcome whatever temptations we face and whatever errors we have fallen into.
But let’s move on now to think about the Lord’s message to the church in Philadelphia. And, as is the case in all the messages, the Lord begins his message by describing himself to his readers. He says in verse 7:
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.
In John’s vision of the Lord Jesus in chapter 1, his face was describing as being like the sun, shining in all its brilliance. It was an image which conveys to us something of the Lord’s holiness and perfect purity. So, the Lord Jesus is the holy one; and he’s also true. Now, ‘true’ can also mean ‘faithful’ and John described the Lord Jesus in chapter 1 as ‘the faithful witness’; and he’s the faithful witness, or the true witness, because he remained faithful and true to his Father throughout his time on earth. So, he’s holy and true and he also holds the key of David. What does that mean? Well, just as David was the king of the Israelites, so the Lord Jesus is the King of all God’s people. And he’s the one who has the power and authority to open the door and to shut the door into God’s kingdom. So, he unlocks the doors and lets in all who trust in him; and he locks the door and shuts out all who do not trust in him. Since he possesses the key, since he possess the power and authority to lock and to unlock the door into his kingdom, when he opens the door to those who believe, the door remains open and no one can shut them out; and when he closes the door to those who don’t believe, the door remains closed and no one can open it up.
In verse 9 the Lord will refer to the Jews in Philadelphia who apparently were giving the believers a hard time. And some of the commentators suggest that perhaps believing Jews — that is, Jews who were converted to faith in Christ — were being shut out of and excluded from the synagogue. And, if someone was brought up in the synagogue, and all their friends and family were there, it would be a devastating thing to be told they were no longer welcome any more. And so, here’s the Lord writing to re-assure his people and to say to them:
The door into the synagogue might be closed to you, but I’ve opened the door into my kingdom for you; and no one will ever be able to shut you out of my heavenly kingdom. So, don’t be upset and don’t be afraid.
This message, like the message to the church in Smyrna, is a message of encouragement. The Lord doesn’t rebuke the church in Philadelphia; instead he’s writing to encourage them and to re-assure them. So, let’s move on to the rest of the message.
And in verse 8 the Lord says:
I know your deeds….
Since the’s the Head and King of the church, and since he walks among the lamp stands, since he walks among the churches, to watch us and to help us, he’s familiar with us and with all our ways. But before going on to describe their works, he adds in parentheses or in brackets:
See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut.
That picks up on the imagery from verse 7 and the picture of the Lord Jesus who holds in his hand the key to open up the kingdom of God to those who believe in him. So, other doors may have been shut to the members of the church in Philadelphia but the most important door, which leads to eternal life in the presence of God, has been opened to them. And, it’s the same for us: other doors may be shut to us because of our faith in the Lord Jesus; other people may not want to know us or have anything to do with us; but if we believe in the Saviour, we know that he’s opened for us the way into his presence. And once he’s opened it to us, no-one will be able to shut it. And so, this idea of the open door which the Lord Jesus has opened to all who believe in him and which no one can shut speaks to us of the security we have in Christ. It reminds us that the place we’re given in God’s kingdom is a permanent place which no-one is able to take from us.
And then the Lord goes to to say what he knows about them. He says:
I know that you have little strength.
Perhaps this was a small church and the members often worried that it was weak and small; and how could the church possibly survive? But despite being a small and weak church, nevertheless the Lord praises them for their faithfulness. He said of them:
I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
Think of Peter who denied knowing the Lord Jesus because he was afraid of what might happen to him. Well, unlike Peter, the members of this church have remained faithful to the Lord and they have not denied knowing him.
And isn’t that interesting? Churches today are always concerned with how big they are. Are they attracting a lot of new members? Are they growing? Are they strong in numbers? The first thing someone will want to know about a church is how large it is. But the thing that impresses the Lord about this church is that they have remained faithful to him and they’ve kept his word and have not denied his name. And, of course, one of the sad things about the modern church is that so often they Lord’s people give up being faithful in order to become large. In order to appeal to outsiders, they change what they teach and they introduce new ideas which will make the church attractive to crowds. And we forget that what the Lord is really looking for from his people is faithfulness to his word and to his name.
I’ve said that the Jews in Philadelphia were giving the believers a hard time. And that’s implied in what we read in verse 9 and in the Lord’s promise to the members of the church that he will make the members of the Jewish synagogue come and bow down before them and acknowledge that the Lord loves them. Perhaps the Jews — and the Lord says they’re not really Jews, but really they’re members of the synagogue of Satan — perhaps the Jews were claiming that they alone were God’s chosen people. Perhaps the Jews were saying that they alone were loved by God. Perhaps the Jews were saying that the Christians weren’t loved by God, but were under his curse, because they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, here’s the Lord, re-assuring the members of the church, and saying to them that one day the Jews will see how wrong they were and they will acknowledge that the Christians were right to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, in order to encourage his suffering people to persevere and to remain faithful to him, he promised that one day they will be vindicated before their enemies. So, don’t give in and don’t give up, but keep going.
And there’s another promise in verse 10. Because they remained faithful, and have kept his command to endure, he will keep them from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world.
Now, what is this hour of trial? Some commentators think the Lord is referring to a time of tribulation which will happen just before the Lord comes again. In other words, he’s referring in this letter to something that hasn’t happened yet and it won’t happen until near the end of time.
Other commentators think he’s referring to present day troubles and trials and tribulations. So, throughout these, the last days, people face all kinds of troubles and trials. Our life here on earth is a troubled life; and everyone faces trials and tribulations and sorrow and suffering.
That’s the interpretation I prefer. The Lord is not talking about something that will happen only in the future, but he’s talking about the kind of trials which happen throughout these, the last days in which we’re living. And, of course, while we live in lockdown and suffer because of the coronavirus, we know what the Lord is talking about, because aren’t we going through a trial right now which has come upon the whole earth?
So, the Lord is referring to present day troubles. But what does it mean when the Lord says he will keep the members of the church in Philadelphia from the hour of trial? Well, we tend to assume it means he will keep his people from pain and suffering during the hour of trial. While others will suffer during these times, believers will be shielded from it. That’s what we tend to assume. However, it’s more likely, it’s more likely that what he means is that he will keep us from giving up the faith during the hour of trial. He will keep us from apostasy during the hour of trial. Whenever times of trial and testing comes, he will strengthen his people and enable his people to persevere through it.
You see, the Lord never promises to shield his people from suffering; but he promises to shield our faith so that we will keep trusting in him no matter what happens to us. And so, take heart and be encouraged. Though we’re going through a time of trial right now, when we can’t meet together as a church, and when our faith is tested, we can look to the Lord to keep us from giving up the faith. We can look to him for the strength we need to remain faithful to him right to the end.
Verses 11 to 13
Let me try to summarise the final verses. Firstly, to encourage his suffering people, he reassures them that he is coming soon. So, he’s saying to them that the end is in sight. And since the end is in sight, don’t give up and don’t give in, but hold on to the faith, because if you continue to endure and to remain faithful, in the end you’ll wear the victor’s crown.
Secondly, the Lord promises that he will make his faithful people pillars in the temple of the Lord. So, our place in God’s presence in heaven is as permanent and secure as a pillar which cannot be moved.
Thirdly, the Lord promises that will write on his faithful people three names: the name of God; the name of the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and the name of the Lord Jesus. Well, we write our name on our possessions to show that they belong to us. And so, the Lord promises to write these names on us to show that we belong to God, and to heaven and to Jesus Christ the Saviour.
So, this is a message to encourage God’s faithful people in Philadelphia and in every church. He encourages his people who have been faithful to remain faithful and to persevere. And to those who remain faithful and who persevere, he promises a permanent place in the presence of God.