And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith He that is holy, 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 little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Rev. 3:7, 8
To each of the seven churches in Asia, John, in the name of Christ, sends a message addressed directly to the pastor. The message to the church in Philadelphia is free from rebuke and censure. This indicates not perfection but a remarkable degree of purity, a rare devotion to calling. Yet this church had but little strength. This cannot mean that its power to endure tribulation, to stand in the evil day was small. The notice must be made to apply to the numerical strength of this church. It was small as to number. And there were found in this church few, if any, wise men after the flesh, few mighty, few nobles. Yet it formed an ideal brotherhood. It was a church filled with spiritual vigor and with a life unmarred by sin. “Thou,” said Christ to the pastor of this church, “hast kept my word and hast not denied my name.” To keep Christ’s word is the positive side, is the other side of not denying His name. Christ’s names reveal Him to us; and likewise His word.
Christ comforts and encourages this brotherhood, in His love, “And to the church in Philadelphia write. . . . Behold I have set before thee an open door. The door of the church is Christ, the truth concerning Him. This brotherhood had not forsaken the truth. It was keeping Christ’s word. The door was thus still in place, shutting out those who showed by their walk and confession that they were not of Christ’s sheep. This church had, as a result, not grown in numbers. Several perhaps were held back from join themselves to this church on account of its insistence on purity of doctrine and walk of life. But this was not the only grief, if a grief it was, that this church was bearing. Its members, having kept Christ’s word, must have suffered the loss of worldly possessions, name and social position. Men may have been reviling them and saying all manner of evil against them falsely. It is certain that they who were of the synagogue of Satan did so. Christ’s message contains a statement that clearly points in this direction, “Behold I will make them (of the synagogue of Satan) to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” Of this these children of Satan were willingly ignorant. This they denied. And though the brethren of this church of little strength bore and had patience, it could be expected that they would have their moments of despondency. To fortify them in their good fight, Christ speaks to them His word such as they were in need of hearing—a word designed to dispel any gloom that may have settled upon their spirits by reason of the circumstance that they formed a brotherhood of little strength, “these things saith He that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the keys of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth: I know thy works: behold, T have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” Christ is holy and true. He is this as God, being, as He is, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with whom He is of one and the same essence, separated from sin and holy devoted to Himself in all His working. He is all that a being must be in order to be God. He stands opposed to falseness, unrealness, and vanity. As to His being, He is the true, eternal, simple, immutable essence, the highest essence, truth, good.
He possesses not but is truth, righteousness, love, wisdom, might, power. Between His being and the revelation of it in word and deed, there is perfect agreement, so that to know His word is to know Him. Being true, the true and holy God, He is the rock, the eternal support of His people, whom He loved unto death, their defense and fortress, the faithful One, keeping covenant trust, the faithful and dependable refuge of His people. And on the side of the assumed nature, which is human, He is holy, and thus the undefiled one, separate from sinners, who needed not daily to offer up sacrifices; for this He did once, when in perfect love He offered up Himself. Thus He, being holy and true, is the obedient servant, consumed by the zeal of God’s house. And being made higher than the heavens, He, in His office of Mediator hath the key of David, and this in fulfillment of a prediction made centuries previous and found at Isa. 22:22, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: and I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” It is plain that these words, in the final instance, concern Christ. He is the David, the Eliakim. Him God has clothed with the robe of salvation, and strengthened with the girdle of truth. In His hand, and this everlastingly, is the government of the church, whose head He is, and of the kingdom of heaven, which He established in righteousness through His sufferings and death, and of which He is king eternal. Thus upon His shoulder lies the key of the church, which He opens or closes to whomsoever He wills. And he opens and no man shutteth. And He shutteth and no man openeth.
Christ opens the kingdom to His elect. For He has the key. All fullness dwells in Him. He is the righteousness and the redemption of His people. And He opens the kingdom for them through His actually saving them on the grounds of His merits, thus through His reclaiming them from death, pouring His love in their hearts, testifying with their spirits that He robes them in His righteousness, has sprinkled them with His blood, and that thus they are His sheep, co-heirs with Him and children and heirs of God. So does He open to His people by the gospel as proclaimed by His servants and as applied to their hearts by His Spirit, the kingdom, the church, heaven. And as standing in their faith, the believers, with a conviction ever taking on new strength, say, “The kingdom is opened to us. We have right to enter His sanctuary by a new and living way, which He dedicated, and that leadeth through the veil, which is His flesh.” Now this work of Christ reposes upon another work of His,—a work that consisted in His legally opening the kingdom to His people through His atoning their sins upon the cross.
But Christ also shuts the kingdom, through the preaching of the word, to the unbelieving, to such as the Father wills not to save. Such Christ sovereignly hardens, through the lusts of their hearts, so that the word to them is a savior of death unto death. And the token of His hardening them is their persisting in their unbelief, their growing opposition to Christ and the truth, their perishing in their sins.
Christ shuts and no man opens. This must be emphasized in opposition to the lie that man has it in him to sovereignly resolve to be saved (or not to be saved) and that Christ’s ableness to save is limited by this resolve. Were this true, then man opens. But the word of Christ to the church of little strength is: “I open and I shut. . . .I shut and no man openeth.” Let therefore not the human preacher of the word imagine that he, through his eloquence and power of expression and tears, induces men to believe, opens the kingdom to them.
And as to this church of little strength—and the true church of God, the church militant, spread over the whole, is this church—let it, let the servants of Christ know that He shutteth and that no man openeth. Let these servants be mindful of this in the face of the fierce opposition of unbelieving men to the truth. Then they will not be discouraged. And if they see fruit upon their labor, let them rejoice and give glory to Christ. For He openeth, not they. And when He openeth, no man shutteth. No man, however hateful of the truth and by whatever means, can frighten God’s believing people into disallowing Christ, cause their faith to cease, separate them from the love of God. For Christ openeth and no man shutteth. Let these servants, Christ’s little flock, His church of little strength, be ever mindful of this.
In the light of these observations, it is not difficult to see what is to be understood by the promise, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door and no man can shut it.” The statement has reference to Christ’s rendering the preaching of the gospel by the church of little strength fruitful unto the salvation of men’s souls, of the men, given to Christ by the Father before the foundation of the world. Whether we let the door signify the heart and understanding of those to be saved or Christ Himself or both, makes no essential difference. The preaching of the gospel bears fruit in the lives of men as a result of Christ’s rendering them susceptible to His gospel, which He does through His giving them a heart of flesh. Forsaking their sins, these quickened ones turn to Christ and by the mercies of God appropriate Him as their Savior. It is through this doing that they enter through Christ, who is the door, into the kingdom of heaven. And this is of Christ. Through His pouring His life into His people, He renders Himself attractive to them, so that they feel themselves mightily drawn to Him and come to Him and embracing Him, enter, on the ground of His merits, into the presence of the Father. So does He cause Himself to be unto His people the door through which they enter in, set Himself before them as the open door.
Christ, being holy and true, must and will through the ages set before His church, the true church, that keeps His word and denies not His name, an open door, lie is very eager to do this. And lie has both right and might. He has right because He prevailed. The token of this right is the key that God has laid upon His shoulder, His being exalted and glorified, His being given all power in heaven and on earth, His anointing in heaven and thus the dwelling in him of all fullness. He has also the might, He being God. And this right and might He will surely exercise through the ages also in agreement with the command which He gave to all His servants just before His ascension, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world”. So will He through the ages gather His church, make His kingdom to come by His gospel as proclaimed by His church with little strength.
There is, to be sure, an intimate connection between Christ’s setting before His church an open door and the church’s keeping His word and not denying His name. Should this name be denied and the truth forsaken, the church could not be gathered, the elect could not be saved. Should the word be forsaken, and this name denied, there would be no open door to be set before the church. For this door is the very Christ, the doctrine, the word, the truth, about Christ. Thus if the word were not kept, that is, proclaimed and lived, if the truth were not being witnessed for, and if this name were not being confessed, there could be no opening and shutting of the door. But the world will be preached through, the ages by the church of little strength. Christ will see to this. The task of preaching the word, as well as the task of setting before His church an open door, is His, and, rightly considered, solely His. His servants are but His agents whom He calls and constrains by His love. And He will confess His own name through the church of little strength, will preach that word in the hearts of His own. And His people will be gathered. He will open, but He will also shut. Hence, there was in the city of Philadelphia, and there is and will be to the end of time on this earth that synagogue of Satan, the church apostate, the members of which do deny Christ’s name and forsake His word, adulterate the truth, and yet say that God loves them, while reviling the church of little strength. But these, too, eventually, in the day of judgment, will be made to worship at the feet of Christ’s people and to know that Christ loves them, His own.