The Message to the Church in Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia is now known as Alashehir. It was established in 189 B.C. by the king of Pergamon, Eumenes II. He named it as a memorial for the love he had for his brother. It stands on the slope of Mount Tmolus in an extensive plain. Unfortunately, it is also close to an active volcanic region, and thus is prone to many earthquakes. It is located on the same trade route as Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea. Writings indicate that the church at Philadelphia lasted longer than any of the other seven cities.
Jesus describes himself as the one who is holy and true (I John 5:20). This stands in contrast to the Jews described later. He also holds the key of David. As prophesied in Isaiah 9:6-7, the Messiah rules from the throne of David. Though he descends from David, he is greater than David (Matthew 22:41-46; Ephesians 1:20-22). The key symbolizes Jesus’ right to control entrance into and exit from his kingdom (Isaiah 22:22). Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Notice this is in the present tense and is not referring to a future event.
Jesus opens doors that no one can shut and shuts doors that no one can open. Opportunities to teach the gospel are referred to as open doors (Acts 14:27; I Corinthians 16:8-9; II Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:2-4). Some commentators speculate that the Jews had shut Christians out from their synagogue and society. If so, Jesus is stating that no man or group of men can close out the Gospel. Jesus has full control over the membership in his kingdom, it is not in the hands of men. Jesus sets the terms for who is admitted and who is excluded.
An open opportunity has been placed before the brethren in Philadelphia to teach the Gospel. He has taken this step because the church has little power but regardless has remained faithful. This could refer to a church that is relatively new and, thus, not spiritually mature, or it can refer to a church that is small in numbers. Yet, Christ’s power is better displayed through the weakness of those who serve him (II Corinthians 12:9-10; I Corinthians 1:26-29). Therefore, Christ has chosen to give them extra opportunities.
Despite their weakness, their faith is strong. They have held onto the word of truth (John 14:23-24). Nor have they denied the Christ despite opposition (Luke 10:16).
The church’s problems were not internal but external. There was a synagogue of Jews in Philadelphia that was causing problems. Jesus states that they are lying when they call themselves Jews. The true Jewish people today are Christians (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:2-3). These false Jews will be forced to bow at the feet of the Christians. One possible meaning is that continued conversions of the Jews to Christianity will eventually force the remainder to admit defeat. Another possibility is that seeing Jesus’ blessings upon the Christian community will force them to acknowledge that the Christians were right and they were wrong
Because they have preserved under opposition and kept Jesus’ teachings they would be preserved from the trials that are coming on the rest of the world. He is not promising that they won’t face these trials, but that Jesus would strengthen them to meet and overcome this trial. In other words, the persecutions would be less severe in Philadelphia than in the rest of the world.
They had obtained so much. Now was not the time to let go of their faith (I Corinthians 10:12; Hebrews 4:1). Those who hold fast will retain their victor’s crown.
The individuals who overcome will become pillars in God’s house, never to leave (Psalm 27:4; 84:10-12). A pillar is a permanent part of a structure. It endures as long as the structure it is holding up. Christians are God’s temple (I Corinthians 3:16; II Corinthians 6:16). Together we form the temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-22). The church’s role is to uphold and support the truth (I Timothy 3:15). One day, this spiritual temple will be in heaven (Revelation 7:15-17).
These pillars in the church, the individuals who overcome, will be inscribed with a series of names: the name of God, the name of God’s city (the new Jerusalem), and Jesus’ new name. In Roman days, slaves were marked with the name of their owners. These faithful Christians would proudly wear the names of whom they belong. They belong to God (Revelation 7:2). They belong to the church (Revelation 21:2-3; Ephesians 5:22-24). And they would be marked as belonging to Jesus by bearing his new name (I Corinthians 3:23; Revelation 19:12-13). We know Jesus as he appeared on earth, but we have not fully seen his true nature (I John 3:2).