The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

by Mike Ratliff

[7] “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. (Revelation 3:7 ESV)

One of the big errors of our time in the visible Church of the 21st Century is the misguided concept that truth is subjective. In other words, truth is what you want it be. This concept is, of course, simply borrowed from the world, which loves it. While I do not contend that I know when our Lord will return, I do know that it will be at the end of this age prior to the age to come. I know that He has been given a people for Himself from the Father. I know that His blood purchased them at the cross. I know that those whom He saves must live in this sin-sick world in order to be sanctified, to mature in Christ, and for their lives to glorify God. These truths, and so many more from God’s Word, are not subjective.

We do best when we take God’s Word at face value, keep it in context, and use scripture to interpret scripture instead of subjectivism. We should also understand that the Bible is God’s gift to His people to reveal Him and His truth to them for their edification and His glory.

When our Lord Jesus Christ gave John the book of Revelation, He was told to write what he saw in a book and send that to the seven churches, to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. He was told specifically what to write.

[19] Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
(Revelation 1:19 ESV)

In this post, we will look at the letter to the church in Philadelphia. The first verse in this letter is at the top of this post. Our Lord Jesus Christ is dictating this letter. He is the holy one, the true one, and he has the key of David. He opens and no one will shut. He shuts and no one opens. This is a statement of authority. Our Lord has all authority.

[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
(Matthew 28:18 ESV)

Only God can give this authority. It has been given by God to our Lord Jesus Christ who is both God and man. He is both. This authority is given to Him because He completed His mission to live a sinless life as a man then go to the cross willingly so that He could fulfill His role as the Lamb of God. He was the propititiation for the sins of His people, those given to Him by the Father. He rose from the dead on the third day. He won a tremendous victory at the cross. He released the captives. All those who belonged to Him have been given the gift of being free from the power of sin. Because of His obedience, the Father has given Him all authority in heaven and on earth. Our Lord Jesus Christ has the authority to admit to or exclude people from God’s Kingdom and this cannot be reversed.

[8] “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8 ESV)

Keeping in mind what we learned about our Lord’s authority in v7 let us carefully read what He tells this church. First, our Lord knows their works. He is God and knows everything. He is omniscient. His telling this church that He knows their deeds or works is spoken to make it clear to these people that there are no excuses. They cannot contend that they are doing what they are not doing or not doing what they are doing. No excuses. Then He says “Behold!” This word in Greek simply means, “Look!” What is this “open door?” He had just told these people that it is by His authority that doors are open for those who belong to Him to go through in obedience. That is the sense here. He is calling these people, even though they are weak, they do belong to Him so they are being exhorted to walk in obedience in service to Him. They are being exhorted to walk by faith, not by sight. Our Lord has all authority so they should respond in boldness instead of self-focused fear. This seems so much like many Christians I know personally. They do belong to the Saviour, but they are timid and self-conscious so instead of walking through the door of obedience, they become fixed in non-involvement and self-protection. They have not denied the name of Christ, and they have kept the Word of Christ, but they are spiritually weak.

[9] Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. (Revelation 3:9 ESV)

The synagogue of Satan is mentioned here and in 2:9.

[9] “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 ESV) 

Much of the persecution of the early Church came from the Jews. The synagogue of Satan refers to religious Jews by birth or genealogy, however, our Lord tell us here that, even though they are Jews by birth, they are not Jews by faith. The children of Abraham are his by faith (Romans 4). Therefore, these references to the synagogue of Satan in these two passages in Revelation are referring to those 1st Century Jews who were not children of Abraham by faith, but were enemies of the Church and all who belonged to our Lord Jesus Christ. This bowing down before these believers by these “Jews” must refer to the age to come when all accounts are settled after the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[10] Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. [11] I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. [12] The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. [13] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:10-13 ESV)

What does our Lord mean here about keeping those with patient endurance from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world? Never forget my brethren, God’s Word no where promises to spare believers from suffering or martyrdom, but instead, to shield them from His wrath and to transform martyrdom into triumph (Revelation 6:10-11; Revelation 12:11). This promise to keep those with patience and endurance from the hour of trial is God’s promise to safeguard and remain faithful to believers who endure patiently in the midst of “that trial that is coming on the whole world.” In other words, this passage does not imply that God will take believers out of the world at that time, but instead, they will be protected and kept from the outpouring of His wrath upon the wicked.

Never forget my brethren, the one making these promises is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has all authority. No one can stay His hand or open what He shuts or shut what He opens. There is undoubtedly, according to this passage, going to be a trial coming on the whole world. This will probably include a period of intensified persecution for the church along with escalating manifestations of god’s wrath against “those who dwell on the earth.” These trials could be financial and then escalate into ever more terrible things, but throughout it all, our Lord’s people will be persecuted, but will not experience God’s wrath.

Soli Deo Gloria!

10 thoughts on “The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

  1. Thanks for this Mike. I’ve been studying the book of Revelation. It has become clear to me that the church will endure persecution rather than being raptured before it all takes place. The exodus comes to mind in this regard. The Israelites suffered the plagues until a point, then God made a differentiation between them and the Egypttians. They were still present in Egypt but did not suffer any more of the plagues. If we are to let Scripture commentate on Scripture, we must accept what it says rather than what we want to be true. Thanks for doing that in your study.

  2. You are very welcome Debbie. We (true Christians) will never experience God’s Wrath, but Revelation is so clear that believers will be right there in the midst of the suffering until Jesus returns to end everything. All I see throughout the New Testament in this is references to THIS AGE and the The Age to come. We are still in “This Age,” and our Lord’s return begins “The Age to Come.” I can’t really get any more precise than that and I don’t think anyone else can either. Our Lord said that no one knows the day or hour except the Father. What we have to do is live this life in obedience to our Lord and live as though his return is imminent.

  3. Dear Mike,
    Call me crazy, but since the whole New Testament describes the self-sacrificing nature of Christ and how we are supposed to “share” in His sufferings and emulate His life, what’s wrong with planning for the Biblical scenario and then we would be pleasantly surprised if turns out otherwise? (big smile:)

  4. Hi Mike,
    excellent post as always. Thank you.
    I have a question for you though regarding the word “from” in Verse 10. A short while ago I was listening to a CD from another pastor/teacher on the book of Revelations. He says the Greek word (ex) interpreted as “from” means “out of”. I don’t know a single word of Greek but do agree that if we as faithful believers are on this planet during this trial period we will not go into this testing but will be shielded from it. But if the word ex means “out of”, then that means something a bit different than “from”. (like Lot was taken “out of” Sodom) Can you help me out here?

    Peter

  5. Tom, I am Amil, which is based on the New Testament’s teaching of the two-age model, however, I have known Alan Kurschner since he was still working on his first degree. He is also an advocate of the Pre-Wrath Rapture position. We can agree on many of the same things and yet disagree on things that are not rigidly defined in scripture and remain in fellowship as brothers in Christ can’t we? Of course we can! Of course, as you have seen, I am still developing my position so perhaps I need to spend more time with you and Alan. :-)

  6. Peter, ἐκ or ek is a Greek preposition that is translated throughout the New Testament as: “from, of, out, by”. If you think about it, our Lord is making a promise to that particular Church and all other believers who emulate them. If we keep his Word then he will keep us “ἐκ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ πειρασμοῦ τῆς μελλούσης ἔρχεσθαι ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκουμένης ὅλης πειράσαι τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.”, that is, “from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” Isn’t this a promise to not to have to endure the wrath of God? The wrath of God is not for Bride of Christ.

    I do not pretend to know how all this will work out because I don’t know. I just believe these promises. A lot of believers are awaiting for a Rapture that will take the whole Church away then there will be a world wide tribulation, but if you read Revelation there are still believers on the earth during the Tribulation who are being persecuted. When we cannot nail down things to precision, not like we can with the Gospel, then we should simply believe the promises made by our Lord and trust in Him as we obey Him.

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