Philadelphia Unpacked

Christ’s message to this church is rich in doctrine, hope, and promise. Today, let’s unpack a little of what we find in Revelation 3.

Philadelphia does not receive a rebuke, condemnation of an exhortation to repentance. Instead, this church receives the praise of the Lord Jesus.

Using the same expression as He has done with other churches, Jesus says, “I know your works…” but it is not followed with anything derogatory.

Some commentators believe there may have been a large Jewish community in this city based on the number of allusions Christ makes to the Old Testament. These references back to the Jewish Scriptures begin with the very first line: The One that is Holy, True, and has the Key of David is speaking.

The One that is Holy – the Holy One – is a familiar title in the Old Testament for the coming Messiah. David uses this title prophetically in Psalm 16.10 where the holy one will not see corruption. Habakkuk 3.3 tells us that the holy one came from Mount Paran, and the phrase holy one is used often in Isaiah (e.g., Isaiah 40.25). The name is drawn from what the Jews already knew about the Messiah (or, at least what they should have known).

This Messiah is the “True One” – the one presenting this message is the authentic, genuine Messiah who loved the Church and gave Himself for it. This title also stresses that He is reliable, trustworthy, and faithful.

There is a third description in Revelation 3.7 of the One addressing the church: He is the one who has the key of David. This is a quotation from Isaiah 22.22 and is related to the Davidic Covenant of 2 Samuel 7.

This quotation is similar to the words John recorded in his gospel: “I am the door.” The idea behind it is that no one will get to enter the millennial (Davidic) kingdom except through Jesus. Again, consider what John has recorded in His gospel (I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me – John 14.6). Christ has all authority to invite to or exclude from His kingdom. The One with this ultimate authority is the One addressing His church now.

In Revelation 3.8, Jesus knows their works. Even though they are small in number (have a little strength), they can rest assured because the One who opens the door into the Kingdom has opened that door for them. They belong to Him; and He will reward their faithfulness.

In verse nine, the True One is calling out the Jews in the city who lie. He promises this church that their faithful witness will not be ineffective. Unlike Isaiah who was told to preach and not to expect “fruit” (Isaiah 6), this church is promised that even some from the “Synagogue of Satan” will come and join their assembly (that is, they will come and worship with the true assembly).

In verse ten, there is a promise that this church will be kept from (not “kept through” – but “from) the hour of temptation. This short period (hour) of human history will be on a global scale and most see this as a reference to a period commonly called “the Tribulation.” Others refer to this as the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 9). What is significant here is that the church is specifically promised an “out” – they will be kept from this event (a confirmation for those who believe the Bible teaches a pre-tribulational rapture of the Church).

The Lord is coming quickly; in light of this the church then (and by extension, us today) is told to hold fast, don’t quit, finish strong. There is much doctrine embedded in this section – doctrine that we could only survey at best. But now, armed with an understanding of the background for the city and the context of the church, it’s time to understand the promise to the overcomers in our next post.

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