We are looking at the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. This article will look at the church of Philadelphia. We are looking at these seven letters through two sets of lenses. The first lens is that all of the words of these letters have application to individual believers and churches in today’s world and in times past. We also are looking at this through the lens that these seven letters speak prophetically of seven distinct church ages. It is astounding how the truth brought out in scripture strategically lines up with what we know happened in church history.
The study of the last three church ages has been somewhat discouraging as the church really did not obey Christ and follow through as He would have had them do.
- The Indulged Church Age – 312 A.D. to 606 A.D. (letter to Pergamum) This church age showed a church that became married to the government, and as it was elevated in society, that church age allowed many pagan influences in.
- The Pagan Church Age – 606 A.D. and will continue into the Tribulation Period (letter to Thyatira) This church age dominated by the Roman Catholic Church continued to allow many pagan practices into the church and denied the finished work of Christ with continual sacrifice.
- The Dead Church Age – 1520 A.D. and will continue into the Tribulation Period (letter to Sardis) This church age was a group of churches that “escaped” and “came out” of the Church at Rome. This movement started by Martin Luther began well, but failed and Christ found their deeds unfinished.
All of that leaves one to believe that the church would continually lose influence and godliness in our world. But Jesus made a promise in Matthew 16:18 NIV, He said, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” God apparently had a plan for just as the church of Sardis came out of the church of Thyatira, even so the church of Philadelphia sprang from the church of Sardis. And we will discover that this church was a wonderful faithful church.
THE LETTER OF CHRIST TO PHILADELPHIA.
“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. 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. 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. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him 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 him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA
The local church that Christ wrote to was found in the city of Philadelphia. This was as center of Greek civilization for that area. This city had a great deal of influence in the surrounding area. The local church that was there must have been a strong church as the city of Philadelphia remained a Christian city until it was conquered by the Turks at the close of the fourteenth century.
Christ must have loved this church, and he loves this church age as this is known as a Faithful Persevering Church Age. Many know the meaning of the word “Philadelphia” due to the city in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia means brother love. The Faithful Church Age began around 1750 A.D. and will continue to the Tribulation. The Reformation churches became dead and cold when they sought to become state churches. But God began a work in men’s hearts that spurred many revivals in Europe, some of which reached the United States.
To love your brother is to be concerned for their soul. This church age has a huge burden for lost souls. One of the key verses for that describes this church age is found in Revelation 3:8, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” If you know the truth of the gospel and do nothing to reach those around you with the gospel, how can you say that you really love? The good news is that this church and this Faithful Church age walked through that open door and began what is known as the Modern Missionary Movement. Among the leaders of this group and among the most famous is an English shoe cobbler who became so burdened for the lost in India that he became one of the first foreign missionaries. Thousands of others have followed his example in walking through the open doors that God has given and taking the gospel around the world. I served as a missionary for a season in the nation of Costa Rica and in Colombia and can relate to the desire to win people to the Lord Jesus Christ. This modern missionary movement that first began in Europe and then moved to the United States can now be seen in dozens of countries that are sending our missionaries of there own around the world.
WHAT MOTIVATED THE FAITHFUL CHURCH AGE?
Someone might ask, how all of this got started. I believe that that the Faithful church age started around 1750 A.D. and it will continue all the way until the rapture of the church of Jesus Christ. By the time this church age began, the Bible had been translated in many languages and found its way into the hands of the common person. People simply read the word of God and answered God’s call to go to the place of open doors where God had called them.
Another strong factor that contributed to this passion to share the gospel is that around the year 1800 many people began to teach and preach the doctrine of the Premillennial Return of Christ. This is the doctrine of the Rapture of the church and then later the Second Coming or Glorious Appearing of Christ. This teaching that comes right out of God’s word had almost been completely ignored since around the third century. When people began to realize that Jesus was coming soon, this contributed to a consecrated and separated church. The zeal for evangelism and missions took over as many thousands sacrificed both to send missionaries and to go themselves.
It is interesting that wherever the doctrine of the Second Coming is taught or preached, an evangelistic fervor follows. I believe that is why the New Testament ends in Revelation 22:20 “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” This final reminder by Jesus at the end of the precious revealed Word of God is a powerful motivator to do what we can in the harvest fields. The Assemblies of God, of which I am a part, is about 3 million here in the USA, but about 60 million overseas. 1 in 110 people in the world are Assembly of God.
CHRIST REFERS BACK TO REVELATION 1
In all of the letters in Revelation, Christ refers back to some aspect of the vision and encounter that John had with Jesus in Revelation 1. The letter to the church of Philadelphia is no exception. Revelation 3:7 “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.” Interestingly, there are four aspects of Christ character that are highlighted to the Faithful Church Age. Christ reminds the church at Philadelphia that…
Revelation 3:7 “These are the words of him who is holy…” This characteristic of his nature may have been singled out to signify the practice of the church of Philadelphia. This church age has been characterized by churches and individuals who wanted to be separate from the world and dedicated to God in holiness. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be holy, because I am holy.” You and I are living in this church age and anyone who has been a Christian for long knows that the world is full of temptations and Satan longs to seduce this church into sin. Thinking about the holiness of Jesus is a motivation for us to live holy as well. Perhaps this is why Jesus referred to this characteristic of Himself.
Revelation 3:7 “…the words of him who is holy and true…” Jesus said that He was the way, the truth, and the life. That was more than just a fun saying for his followers to quote. It was lived out in reality. To be true means to be genuine and perfect and complete. Jesus checks all of those boxes. In John 6:32-35, Jesus compares himself to Moses saying that He is the true bread from heaven: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus is not only genuine, He is the ultimate truth given to those in any age. It is the truth of Jesus that has motivated many in this age to give their lives to the cause of world missions. It is Jesus being true that causes us to stay faithful to His word.
- He holds the key of David.
Revelation 3:7 says, “who holds the key of David.” This is a reference to the authority that Christ holds and brings into the kingdom all of the promises of God that were given to King David. David was promised a kingdom that would rule over the earth and that kingdom will ultimately be seen and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. While Christ allows kings to rule on the earth, it is Christ who is the ultimate ruler. Revelation 1:5 identifies him as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus is also seen as holding keys and we know that keys signify authority. And Jesus Christ holds all authority. As we approach the end of the age we have to recognize who it is that we serve. Sometimes it may look as though Satan is winning, but in the end, it is Christ who will rule.
- He is the One who opens doors.
This is made plain by the next phrase in Revelation 3:7 “What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The commission to preach the gospel was given on the authority of Jesus. Matthew 28:18 plainly states, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given unto me.” Understanding this we know that the doors of opportunity to go and preach are controlled by Jesus. They are not controlled by dictators, leaders of other religions, or any man. Be assured that when we go, we go in his authority. When God is ready to open a door to a people’s group or a nation or a city. We walk in His authority. Knowing that, we should not have to compromise to gain opportunities.
CHRIST’S ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE FAITHFUL CHURCH AGE
My prayer is that everyone who is reading this will be a part of this faithful church age. This is not about a particular denomination. This is about the hearts of men. Jesus commended this age in Revelation 3:8 “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.” There are four things he commends the church for:
In Revelation 3:8 Jesus said, “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Evidently refers to the doors of opportunity that this church age walked through. Paul referred to open doors as missionary opportunity in 1 Corinthians 16:9 “because a great door for effective work has opened to me…” An open door is an invitation and an opportunity to walk through it. God placed before me an open door to Colombia. As I think of my own missionary service, my mind goes back to the hundreds of people who sacrificed to send me, the willingness of my family to support me in going, everyone from my wife to children to parents. All of those are deeds that God has seen. The same is true for all in the faithful church age.
Most of the modern missionary movement has been sponsored by small churches that have a heart for the gospel. Most people are won to Christ to be ordinary people who love Jesus and pray and serve the Lord. While they have little strength in themselves, they have great strength because of the Holy Spirit who empowers them.
- yet you have kept my word
The reformation churches were known for believing the Word, and yet just believing it wasn’t enough. The churches in this church age are obeying the Word of God. They obey his word in marriage and home life. They obey it by going around the world and proclaiming His word.
- and have not denied my name.
Satan always tries to stop anything that the church does that is good. I am sure the enemy does not like the faithful churches of this age and so he has tried to stop them. This period of time has seen a great increase in false Christs, false religions, and cults. Yet this church did not get involved with these false things but stayed true to His name. There is only one name under heaven whereby men can be saved and that is the name of Jesus Christ. We know that if we do not deny him, that he will not deny us.
CHRIST’S PROMISE TO A COMMENDABLE CHURCH
Jesus has a wonderful promise to the churches and people of this age. It really comes in two parts. Christ loves the attitude of this church so more that he promises them vindication and that He will preserve them.
Sometimes it seems like false cults and false teachers of the gospel are going to get away with what they are doing. But the God of justice will see to it that the faithful church is fully vindicated. Revelation 3:9 says, “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.” A synagogue of Satan is any church that doesn’t proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They claim to be right spiritually but are not. There are unfortunately many of these types of false religionist and imposters in this time period. Apparently in the future they will have to acknowledge that Jesus loved the true church vindicating the true church.
No matter what happens if we are going to be a part of the faithful church, we most hold to the truths we have been taught, and cling to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many fundamentalist churches who hold to the views of the inspiration of scripture and hold to biblical views of morality without compromise are laughed at and poked fun of because they are thought to be old fashioned and out of date. And yet Jesus declares His love for them here. And he also promised the church…
Revelation 3:10 is a promise that every born-again believer needs to cling to. It says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon.” The hour of trial refers to the Tribulation period. We know that there have been moments of tribulation in various parts of the world, but the world has never known a time of universal tribulation. Unfortunately, that is what the bible teaches is coming. Matthew 24:21 “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”
Many Christians fear those days. But before we study all of the events of Revelation 6 through 18, and discover the horrors of that period of time. We need to be assured that God is going to take care of us. He did not appoint us to wrath. We will leave the planet in the rapture of the church and miss the test God gives those who live on the earth. This is the promise God gives to the Faithful church. That is why you and I must endeavor to stay faithful to the Lord. It is hard to grasp why so many false teachers want to say that the church will go through the Tribulation Period. This promise of being kept from the hour of trial is clear indication that we will not experience that. This Tribulation period has not happened yet. We know from the book of Daniel that this time will begin when the Antichrist signs a covenant lasting seven years with the nation of Israel. We have not seen that, and so for all who believe the Bible, the rapture is coming soon. This is our great hope. We will be preserved and protected from the hour of trial that is coming on the world.
CHRIST’S ADVICE TO THE FAITHFUL CHURCH
This church age that began around 1750 A.D. will continue up until the rapture. It may very well be one of the shorter church ages. This church age has been characterized by revivals and by a hunger for soul winning and the modern missionary movement. Jesus advice to this age is found in Revelation 3:11 that says, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” The Church at Philadelphia has the real thing! Jesus advice is simply hold on to it. Keep loving people. Keep sharing the gospel! Keep sending missionaries. We need to hold on to what we have! The world system and even your friends could influence you away from your faith. This church stands out among the last three church age. The Dead Church of Sardis has no spiritual life. The Lukewarm church age of Laodicea is found in a compromised position.
There is such an open door for the gospel. Humanistic philosophy has failed mankind. There is an emptiness of real meaning and hope in our world. We must seize the day and do all that we can to win our world.
Every letter ends with a challenge to overcome and this letter also has a power challenge and encouragement to go along with it. Revelation 3:12 says, “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.” A pillar speaks of one that is stable and able to lend support. Our stability comes fro our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The most stable people on earth and in the next age will be those who overcome. While on the outside we may be buffeted and perhaps even persecuted for our faith, on the inside we have an unshakable confidence and stability in God. We are being built into the permanent house of “living stones” as pillars in the temple if we overcome. To overcome means we stay true and holy and moving through the open doors that he shows us.
He goes on to say in Revelation 3:12 “Never again will he leave it.” This speaks to our permanence as part of the kingdom. Then Jesus promised him, “I will write on him 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 him my new name.” The writing of the name of God upon us shows us that believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Whether that name and seal that allows us entrance into the city of God, the New Jerusalem will be written upon us in a visible way is kind of a mystery. I kind of suspect that it will. Revelation 22:3-4 echoes these words “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
I really want to see that face of Jesus the one who loved me and died for me. Revelation 3:13 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”