Special series: The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Seventh in a series of eight
Philadelphia: The church in possession of special promises
By James K. Bridges
The spiritual condition of the church in Philadelphia indicated that the pastoral leadership had served the church well, keeping the congregation aware of its responsibility to evangelize the lost, to honor the Word of God and the name of Christ, and to live in the light of Christ’s return.
We have no historical record of the church in Philadelphia, outside this account, with the exception of knowing that some Christians from Philadelphia were martyred in Smyrna at the same time that Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred. This lets us know that the outreach of this church had spread to different areas of the province of Asia and that the threat of persecution had not dampened their zeal to witness concerning their faith in Christ Jesus.
Located on one of the greatest highways in the world, Philadelphia was considered a gateway from Europe to the East, one continent to another. The city’s name was derived from the name of King Attulus II Philadelphos, meaning one who loves his brother.
In A.D. 17, Philadelphia was destroyed by an earthquake, along with Sardis and 10 other cities. The Lord’s promise that heaven will be a permanent place in which believers will never have to leave for fear of destruction (3:12) was no doubt a very meaningful promise to those citizens of Philadelphia who experienced the earthquake and the unending tremors.
The identificationof the Author
“These things says He who is holy, He who is true” (3:7, NKJV).
In all the previous letters, the Lord vividly identified himself using the symbols from the first Revelation of Christ given to John. His letter to the church in Philadelphia is an exception. He does not present himself as the apocalyptic Christ who is inspecting the church, for this church was not in need of correction or judgment. Smyrna and Philadelphia are the two churches among the seven that received unqualified commendation from the Lord.
As “He who is Holy,” Christ is morally perfect, separate from sin and flawless in character. This Holy One is also “He who is true” (3:7). The Greek word translated “true” means “real or genuine.” Jesus is no imitation. Jesus himself is Truth. This is who He is!
“He who has the key of David” (3:7).
Jesus not only has the key to open doors of opportunity on earth, He also has “the keys of Hades and of Death” (1:18), to open doors beyond the realm of earth. This is what He does!
The evaluation of the church
“I know your works” (3:8).
The churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only congregations whose deeds passed inspection. Though they had “little strength” (a fact, not a criticism), it did not stop them from serving God, keeping His Word and unashamedly confessing His holy name.
“I have set before you an open door” (3:8).
Christ promised the Philadelphian believers an open door that no man can shut. The door of missionary opportunity was opened for them to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they were prepared to step through it. To the church or denomination that will obediently follow the Spirit of Christ today, doors of missionary opportunity will continue to open. Any door that is divinely opened by Christ will not be closed by any human agency.
“Those of the synagogue of Satan” (3:9).
The hostility and persecution that Christians faced from unbelieving Jews in Philadelphia were similar to that which had occurred in Smyrna (2:9). Christ would eventually make these evil workers to humble themselves before the church and acknowledge God’s love for the church (3:9). This may have occurred in Philadelphia as Christ predicted, but the complete fulfillment of the prophecy for the church as a whole will most likely require the change of attitude and understanding that will come to Israel through the period of the Great Tribulation.
The solution to the existing condition
“You have kept My command to persevere” (3:10).
Those who love and live by the Word of God, and emulate the same kind of perseverance that Jesus displayed in His earthly life and ministry, will receive the reward that Christ has promised. The model of the Philadelphia church is needed in the churches of the 21st century. Disregard and neglect of the Word of God today has left the modern church without a compass to guide it. By failing to read faithfully and live in obedience to the Word of God, Christians risk facing the coming hour of trial. The Word of God is inspired, inerrant, infallible and authoritative for doctrine and conduct. The church must hear again Martin Luther as he stood firmly upon the Scripture: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. … Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”
“The hour of trial which shall come” (3:10).
The period of time referred to as the Tribulation, also known as Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:25-27) and as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), is the subject of chapters 6-19 in the Book of Revelation. The glorious promise to the church in Philadelphia is that, because it had faithfully kept Christ’s Word and command, the church would be kept from the hour of testing about to come upon the whole world.
The Assemblies of God has traditionally held that the Tribulation is yet future, that it will occur over a period of seven years following the Rapture of the church, that it will be worldwide in its scope, and that it will be a time of judgment upon Israel’s unbelief and a time of wrath upon all who have rejected the grace and mercy of God shown to all men through the Lord Jesus Christ. Understanding the purpose of the Tribulation helps us to understand why the church will be kept from the hour of trial (3:10). The Greek words translated “kept from” mean “out from” or “away from” and not “kept in or through.”
“Behold, I come quickly” (3:11).
The Lord’s coming in the Rapture will be to gather His church and to commence the “hour of testing.” When the Tribulation has run its course, Christ will return to bring an end to all evil and rebellion (Revelation 19:11-16). The return of Christ is referred to in Scripture as the “blessed hope” of the church (Titus 2:13). In the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths, it is stated: “The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to reign on the earth.” There are no Tribulation events to occur before the Rapture of the church. All believers in every age must live in the light of Christ’s imminent return!
“Hold fast what you have” (3:11).
Right doctrine produces right experience. Christ finds the church in Philadelphia faithful to the Word and the Spirit and encourages them to take a firm grip on the truth. The same encouragement holds true for every believer today “lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).
Truth can be lost, even to committed believers. Historically, the Reformation is testimony to this fact. The church had drifted away from the truth of “justification by faith” until reformers, like Martin Luther, were used of God to recover the truth to the church. The church has drifted from the doctrine and experience of Spirit baptism with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4), but the exalted Lord has used the Pentecostal movement to restore this truth to the church. Christ still urges His people to hold to the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit so as not to drift away from that which Christ has given to His church. Believers must live aggressively for Christ, seeing each day as an opportunity to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3) so that nothing and no one robs us of our crown of life (cf. Revelation 2:10).
The consolation promised to the overcomers
“I will make him a pillar in the temple” (3:12).
We know that the temple of which Christ spoke is not a literal temple, for John noted that he “saw no temple in it [the New Jerusalem], for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). Paul spoke of the household of God “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20), which is growing into a holy (spiritual) temple in the Lord (v. 21). In God’s house we are not only members, but pillars. Pillars are symbols of strength, stability and permanence. Overcomers are promised a place in the household of God for eternity.
“I will write on him My new name” (3:12).
Christ promised to write three things in this verse. First, to show that the individual belongs to God, the overcomer is promised to have “the name of My God” written on him. Jesus paid an incalculable price to redeem us unto himself. We truly are not our own. Second, to show that the believer’s citizenship is in the New Jerusalem and in the new Kingdom, the overcomer is promised to have “the name of the city of My God” written on him. Finally, to show identification with and dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ throughout eternity, He has promised to personally write on the overcomer “My new name” (3:12). This new name represents a full disclosure of the “exceeding riches of His grace” extended to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7). The Holy Spirit is speaking to the church about the things of Christ even now. Let us ask the Spirit to give us ears to hear the voice of God. If the church will listen, the Spirit will speak (3:13).
James K. Bridges is general treasurer of the Assemblies of God.
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This material will be found in expanded form in an upcoming book to be published by Gospel Publishing House.
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