Today we are going to look at the sixth letter of the Apocalypse written to the Church of Philadelphia.
The City Philadelphia
I am sure you are all aware that this in not the US city that prides itself on cheese steak hoagies, Rocky Balboa and the Liberty bell. The Philadelphia I speak of today is a small town located in Asia Minor. Today it is known as Alaşehir located in Turkey. To this day it remains a relatively small town and there is still actually a small Christian community in this area. One of the main reasons it was a small town was because it was located near a fault line. It was an unstable area and people were afraid to live there because earthquakes were somewhat common. In 17 A.D. one leveled the city (and 11 surrounding cities) and it faced a long series of tremors that followed. This was also the same quake that destroyed Sardis. The city was named after Attalus II because of his strong affection and devotion to his brother (Philadelphus means lover of his brother). Mounce p.115
Philadelphia was a prosperous city due mostly to agriculture and industry (dyeing). Grapes were one of the main resources in the area, so it is not surprising that the worship of Dionysus (the god of wine) was prevalent.
Around the 6th Century it was known as “Little Athens” as it had many pagan temples and religious festivals. The earthquakes have destroyed much of the historical artifacts of the area but there are still some remains from the later centuries standing today.
Letter to The Church of Philadelphia
I have heard literally dozens of sermons on the letter to the church in Philadelphia and I have come to a conclusion… Every Church either wants to be or thinks they are the Church of Philadelphia today and for good read. Jesus has nothing but good things to say and many comforting promises as well. It is believed that this church was probably a small church in a small town (not unlike ours) that didn’t really have a huge impact on society and the city, yet it was significant enough to Jesus to speak to them and commend them for their works.
Verse 7: This is the first letter that does not have a description of Jesus taken from John’s vision of chapter one. The whole letter is dominated by the sure and certain prospect of life in the kingdom of God. Jesus declares himself the one who is “The holy one, the true one and the one who holds the key of David.” It is his way of declaring his authority, his trustworthiness and power over life and death.
The key of David: Is a reference to Isaiah 22:22 and indicates ownership over the house of David (this points to the Messiah). Jesus is the only one who has the authority to posses the key to both life and death (Rev. 1:18). He is the one who allows or forbids admittance into the eternal Kingdom of God. It is only through Jesus Christ that one can enter into life eternal.
The door which no one opens or shuts: (The door has two possible meanings… 1) The opportunity for effective evangelism [1 Cor. 16:9 & 2 Cor. 2:12] and 2) the door represents the admittance to the Kingdom of God). It is most commonly held that the door represents the entrance to the Kingdom due to the fact of the promises Jesus makes later in the letter. This door can only be opened and closed by Jesus and no one else.
Verse 8: I know your works… You have but little power. I noted earlier that this was probably a Small church in a small town that had little impact on the city. However, this was not a deterrent instead they hold fast to the Word of God and remained faithful to Jesus’ name.
Verse 9: We are introduced to the term’s synagogue of Satan in the letter to Smyrna. This term is believed to represent the Jews who were persecuting Christians. The Jews still believed they were God’s chosen people; but had since forfeited that right because of their disbelief. The Church of Jesus Christ has now become the chosen avenue of God’s grace to the nations. In their persecution of the Church they thus became known as the synagogue of Satan. These Jews thought they were true Jews doing God’s work, but they were in fact a synagogue to Satan. They were not working for the God Israel; in fact, they were doing the work of the devil.
Bow down before your feet: Why will these people bow to the feet of the church? According to Isaiah 60:14, the Jews believed that the Gentile nations (their enemies) would one day bow or bend the knee before them and thus humbly acknowledge them as God’s chosen people. Now Jesus is declaring that there will in fact be a day when even the Jews humble themselves as they acknowledge that Jesus is the true Messiah and his Church is His chosen people. They will bow not in worship but in respect to the fact that the Church is the people Jesus loves.
Verse 10: The hour of trial: Since the Church of Philadelphia has patiently endured during their trials and tribulations Jesus is promising them protection from judgment. This promise is certainly consistent with Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. Many hold this hour of trial to be a reference to the Great Tribulation spoken of later in Revelation that is believed to occur before or after the rapture of the Church or even before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The major question is whether Christ is promising deliverance from the period of trial or safekeeping through the trial? This is an argument that has been debated for years and I am not going to settle it today. However, if we use the high priestly prayer of Jesus as our guide then we can note that Jesus prays that believers would not be taken out of the world (physically taken away) but that we would be protected (preserved through judgment). One could deduce that Jesus actually prays for preservation and protection for believers during the time of great judgment.
The early church is expecting trials which precede the return of Jesus Christ. “The idea of this ‘ordeal’ (trial) was inherited and transposed from early Judaism, in which it was anticipated that a period of intense distress and suffering would immediately precede the eschatological victory of God (his return and judgment) … The fact that God’s people will be ‘kept safe from the time of ordeal’ cannot mean they will escape it physically. The ‘testing’ process will affect the whole living world, but the faithful will not be hurt by it spiritually.”
Verse 11: I am coming soon… There is a sense of urgency in Jesus’ words here (Jesus mentions this three times in Revelation). He is coming back. When? Nobody knows. So, what is the Church of Philadelphia to do? Hold fast to what they have in the coming days of trials and judgment. They have the Word of God; the truth of the Gospel. They are called to remain faithful so that no one can seize or snatch away their crown (N.T. describes three kinds of crowns life, glory and righteousness). The believer can have assurance that their salvation is secure if they remain faithful to Jesus Christ and obedient to His Word.
Verse 12: The one who conquers Jesus will make him a pillar in the temple. A pillar would be symbolic of stability or immovability. Because of faith in Jesus Christ the believer will remain sturdy and immovable. This was probably comforting to the people who lived in an unstable town. He will remain in this eternal city forever. Jesus will also write on the believer the name of God, the name of the city of my God and my own new name. What does this mean? Ultimately the one who overcomes will overcome and will become a citizen of the eternal city (the New Jerusalem) not because of his/her deeds but because He is a son of God and belongs to Jesus.
The Church of Philadelphia For Us Today
It’s no wonder every Church either claims or wants to be the modern-day version of Philadelphia. There are some wonderful promises and commendations in this letter. I take comfort in knowing this great letter was written to a small congregation that seemingly had little impact in their earthy dwelling… However, God was pleased with them and acknowledged the good works (remaining faithful to Jesus and His word). This is one of the greatest commendations a small church can receive and pursue. I have stated before that we live in an ever-changing culture where truth is relative. We certainly live in a society that has mixed up its priorities and even the Church (i.e. larger denominations) seem to be following suit of mixed up priorities. Now, more than ever it is important for the TRUE Church of Jesus Christ to hold to the truths of God’s Word and remain faithful to the name and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us the promise of entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God when we remain faithful to him and his word.
We must also be ready for he is coming soon. I wish I could tell you when this will happen, but nobody knows the day, hour, minute or year. Since we do not know we are to hold fast to what has been given to us; namely the Gospel message, the Great Commission and the Great Commandments and live our lives with these as our foundation.
Finally, for those of us who are overcomers we need to continually keep in focus the prize that awaits us. Take comfort in knowing that whatever difficulties or judgments we may face God will preserve us and give us the strength to endure in the last day. We need to live as victors and be reminded that we are children of the Living God and we have a secure place in the Kingdom of God (the City of God) and His name is written on us so we belong to him and him alone.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Re 3:7–13). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Smalley, Stephen S. (2005). The Revelation to Johns: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse. Downers Grove, IL: IVP.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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