Philadelphia was located in modern-day Turkey and was known for its impressive public buildings, including a theater, a gymnasium, and a stadium.
A temple dedicated to Artemis was a major feature of the city.
Paul ended his letter to the Corinthians with this insight, “a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16.9).
The church has numerous chances to showcase God’s loving nature to the world, but various adversaries stand in the way of our capacity to accomplish this.
This was true for Paul, the church in Philadelphia, and today’s congregations. Jesus has good news for those who want to walk through the open door of effective service.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are 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:
“I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door that no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3.7-8).
I worked with a small mission church in Louisiana during the 1970s, and an old black pastor started attending because he wasn’t welcome at his previous church.
I was friends with another African American pastor who, in addition to being a pastor, was the most popular teacher at the local high school. One day, he told me that the old pastor who had started attending the church where I was serving had been his mentor.
What happened to the old pastor is a picture of Jesus’ message to the church. At every age, God knows the obstacles we face and still makes a way for effective service.
Though we may seem small and insignificant in the eyes of the world, God himself provides us with a service opportunity.
Adversaries in Philadelphia
When Rudy Ross and I discussed the letter to the church of Smyrna (Revelation 1:8-11), I mentioned how the following verse does not permit anti-Semitism.
In my blog, I wrote about how the emergence of what was viewed as a new branch of Judaism caused serious issues for the Jewish community. Consequently, the Jews began to persecute the Christians, at times severely.
The behavior of the Jews in Philadelphia was part of Jesus’ message to the church.
“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you” (Revelation 3.9).
Paul made it clear that alignment with God’s will is crucial to being a member of his family.
For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something external and physical.
Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not the written code (Romans 2.28-29).
Throughout history, God has utilized both Jews and Christians as instruments to bear witness to his existence and his love for humanity. When faced with persecution, their unwavering devotion has provided an opportunity to testify to the reality of God.
Encouragement and Protection
Persecution and oppression will accompany the end-time events. The 3 1/2 reign of the antichrist may be in mind in verse 10.
Because you have kept my word of endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 3.10).
The hour of trial is directed against the whole world, but Jesus will protect his faithful church during this time of intense difficulty.
The key thought to keep in mind is that we must endure and remain faithful under the load of coming troubles.
Jesus has no words of condemnation for the church in Philadelphia. He does encourage the church to hold fast to what Jesus has done for them.
In contrast to the other churches, Jesus did not express any condemnation towards the church in Philadelphia. Instead, he urged them to remain steadfast in their faith and hold onto what he had done for them.
“I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one takes away your crown.
“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.
“I will write on you the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Revelation 3.11-13).
Our goal is to increasingly live a Jesus-kind-of-life. The “new name” is the realization of that goal. People who “hold fast” and “conquer” will have the character of their Lord and Savior.
We do well to practice for life in heaven by endeavoring to live our daily lives like that of Jesus.
Rudy Ross and I talk about this passage today on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.