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And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Revelation 3:7-13

Throughout history we observe a general trend toward decay in the church on this earth. But God preserves His church and gives exceptions to that trend toward apostasy. In the letters to the seven churches, Smyrna was the first exception, a church poor and persecuted, but spiritually rich. Then followed three more letters in which were spoken strong words of warning, even sharp rebukes, pointing out dangerous evils that had infiltrated the churches. So it comes as a relief once again when we find in this sixth letter another congregation, the church in Philadelphia, that reveals no reason for reprimand.

 

A church commendable

The congregation received the warm approval of her Savior and Lord. Her commendation had nothing to do with outward appearance. She was small in number, had little influence and few financial resources, and therefore had “little strength.” The congregation had labored faithfully and diligently in the preaching of the gospel and in its Christian witness. But their labors appeared to be without any positive fruit.

Part of the problem, it seems from verse 9, was that they were troubled by the Jews, the same kind of Jews that troubled the church in Smyrna—Jews that were the natural children of Abraham but which spiritually were “of the synagogue of Satan.” They were adversaries of Christ and His cause, doing all in their power to stifle the witness of the church and to harm her cause.

Christ’s church will always face opposition in the world. But when a congregation is small and the opposition is strong, life can be very difficult and even discouraging. After all, the church desires to grow. When the love of God thrills our souls, we would like others to come to the same understanding and experience what we enjoy in the riches of God’s fellowship. When we live with a heartfelt desire for Christ’s return, we long for the gathering of the church. That has to take place before Christ will come again. When a congregation is small and stays small, seeing no fruit upon its labor, that is a trying situation. There is even the temptation to forsake the church’s biblical calling, and to use worldly means and methods to attract people to come to church. The temptation is to begin to speak the world’s language and to cast aside the truths of God’s Word. Growth by any means! That is often the motto of the church in our day.

But this church in Philadelphia was faithful to her Redeemer. “Thou hast kept my word,” Christ says. His word is the gospel, in which Christ testifies to us of His perfect righteousness and His obedience to the Father for our salvation. Contrary to the teaching of those “which say they are Jews,” Christ’s word reveals to us that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes.

But He also goes on to refer to that word as “the word of my patience.” Patience, or endurance, presupposes opposition. Christ Himself laid hold of the promises of God and endured the cross, receiving the victory (Heb. 12:1, 2). When He says concerning the church in Philadelphia that they had kept the word of His patience, the idea is that they had faithfully maintained the truth of the gospel and thus had also received strength to endure in the face of the opposition they experienced.

The church had kept the word of Christ. There is a very beautiful idea expressed here. The members of the church in Philadelphia had wrapped the living arms of their earnest faith around that word, and with fervent love held it fast. That presupposes, of course, that they knew the word. That knowledge was important to them. This congregation had doctrinal soundness and sensitivity. They defended God’s truth, they confessed it, they preached it and taught it without corrupting it or watering it down. On the first day of the week, every week, this word was sounded forth clearly from their pulpit. The children were faithfully instructed in this word. The word had the central place in the home and in the education of the children.

Because they loved the word, they had not denied the name of their Redeemer. Here is another instance where a positive truth is put in a negative form: “You have not denied my name.” The emphasis is on the fact that they had faced the temptation to deny the name of Jesus, but they had not. They had confessed His name faithfully. Within their own homes and in their daily walk, this truth was their life and confession. They loved their Lord and served Him with all their hearts. Their lives were in harmony with the word of Christ.

We ought to pause here and examine ourselves. Certainly that is the purpose of this letter for us. Is this beautiful characteristic of the church in Philadelphia true also of your life, of your congregation? I can give that testimony of the PR congregation in Loveland, Colorado. Can you bear that testimony of the congregation where you have your membership? You cannot be neutral with respect to Christ. It was not the case that the church in Philadelphia was perfect. That shall be true only of the church in heaven. The admonitions and exhortations found throughout Scripture had to be preached and applied also within the church in Philadelphia. But the congregation found refuge in the blood of the Lamb and looked for acceptance in Christ’s righteousness rather than their own. Out of a passion for God and His cause, for Christ and His word, they not only attended to the preaching of the gospel, but they lived in thankfulness for that gospel, showing others by their walk and talk that they were the children of God. Do you?

 

A comfort for the present

The Lord comes to His church with words of comfort: “Thou hast little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” In other words, “You didn’t compromise my truth, in the attempt to gain numbers.” The Lord emphasizes a truth seen throughout the Bible. The church at any given time and in any given place is Christ’s little flock. But the Lord of the church promises His congregation in Philadelphia an open door: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” “These things saith he that is holy; he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” The King of the church is the Holy One, jealously consecrated to His own glory. He is also true. The word that He speaks is true and therefore authoritative. Also the promise that He speaks will surely come to pass.

When the Lord says that He has the key of David, He refers to Isaiah 22:22. There we find that a certain man named Shebna was found unfaithful, and was replaced by Eliakim, the man of God’s choosing. The office that he occupied was, in general, the supervision over the house of David. He received keys that signified his authority to determine who would and who would not enter the presence of the king. One could never get into the presence of the king, except through Eliakim.

Christ is the fulfillment of that Old Testament picture. He is the One who has the key of the kingdom. He alone determines who shall and who shall not enter His church. When He opens, no man can shut; and when He shuts, no man can open. He executes God’s eternal decree of election, and that on the basis of His own cross upon which He died for His elect. No one and nothing can frustrate His work in gathering them.

That is a comfort to the church that faithfully proclaims His word. This proclamation of the exalted Christ provides Philadelphia and every faithful church a powerful incentive to preach the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel must go forth with urgency and with faithfulness to the word of truth. So He gives her the calling also in verse 11, “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Christ reminds us that when faithful preaching and personal witnessing seem to bear no positive fruit, that is not for us to worry about. “You cannot change the heart,” says Christ. “I open, and I shut,” says the King of the church. “I will turn that key one way or the other through the faithful preaching of the gospel and by the work of my Spirit. But that will be My work.” So Christ reminds us. He is the One who speaks. He speaks efficaciously—saving some and hardening others.

But in this case, He promises an open door for the church in Philadelphia. The figure used here is quite common in the New Testament. In Acts 14:27 the apostle Paul, upon returning from his first missionary journey spoke of the door of faith that the Lord had opened among the Gentiles. During his second journey, Paul labored for a lengthy period of time in Ephesus, explaining his stay this way: “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me” (I Cor. 16:9). The open door, therefore, is an effective entrance into people’s hearts for the preaching of the gospel. The Lord calls His church in Philadelphia to continue preaching, knowing that His purpose is indeed being accomplished. He is giving to them an open door. The Lord is adding to His church such as should be saved.

With the promise of an open door He adds this: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” The reference here is to something profound, which is why the Lord introduces it with, “Behold!” The word worship here is a word used exclusively with reference to true worship, a bowing toward in spiritual reverence and devotion. The idea, therefore, is this: The Lord will reveal the wonder of His grace and will show the power of the gospel in Philadelphia in such a way that even from among their fiercest enemies He will gather His church, adding to the number of believers in Philadelphia.

Not that the church shall look for a huge influx of new converts. But the lost sheep of the true house of Israel, those chosen from eternity in Christ, shall be brought into the fold by means of the church’s faithful labors, as Christ calls His own out of darkness into His marvelous light. Those who once were persecutors of the church will repent and humble themselves in the presence of the redeemed, and will say, “What a sin we committed when we persecuted you! For now we see that the Lord loved you!”

Christ always loved His own. But there is one moment when that love was manifested in a way unmatched by any human love. That was at the cross. When, therefore, these from outside the church in Philadelphia shall be brought by the Spirit under the powerful influence of the gospel, they shall receive an entirely new perspective of Christ and of the cross and of His relationship with His people.

What a tremendous blessing that is when Christ, the King of the church, turns that key to open the door and to gather into His bosom those who were His from eternity. And what a comfort it is to know that even though those fruits often seem so few, our Lord continues to gather His church by means of the preaching of the gospel and the living testimony of His redeemed saints. But there is still more.

 

An encouragement for the future

The Lord also gives His church an encouragement for the future: “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” The faithful witness of the church always results in persecution. But the promise to the church in Philadelphia is this: “I will keep thee.” Therefore, be not discouraged, but maintain your witness no matter the cost.

This promise is crowned with the promises that follow. “Behold, I come quickly,” says He whose word is true. To the struggling church and waiting child of God that is the sum of all promises. The prayer of the waiting church is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” The victory is already ours in Him. But the victory spoils are yet to be enjoyed.

In that light there follow the promises of everlasting blessedness.

In the first place, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.” The reference is to the realization of God’s covenant. God’s temple is realized by the Spirit of Christ taking us into God’s perfect fellowship. A pillar denotes permanence and adornment. The faithful will receive such a place in God’s everlasting fellowship. From that place they shall never be moved.

Christ also promises to His faithful people a threefold name—the name of God, the name of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the name of Christ. These names will be our tokens of identity, marking us as belonging to God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to Christ. And this promise speaks of the final, public adoption that the glorified Christ, on God’s behalf, shall reveal to all who are His. They shall appear as those who have the right of citizenship, the name of the new Jerusalem being written upon them. As citizens of that city, they shall be known as the redeemed in Christ, partakers of His glory.

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Lay hold of the promises given us by our great Redeemer, who irresistibly gathers His church.