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The Message to Philadelphia: Remain Faithful

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The Message to Philadelphia

Remain Faithful

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Jesus Christ's words to the congregation at Philadelphia are an inspiring message of hope and encouragement. It is distinct from the other messages of Revelation 2 and 3 in that to them, Jesus offered no correction, only an admonition to continue what they were already doing. He was intimately aware of their circumstances and promised them great rewards for their faithful perseverance.

Jesus offers the same promises to us today if we also remain faithful until our deaths or His return. To more deeply appreciate this timeless instruction, let's once again begin with some historical background about this city.

Historical Background

Philadelphia sat in an important location. Expositor's Bible Commentary says, "About twenty-five miles southeast of Sardis, along the Hermus River valley, lay the important high plateau city of Philadelphia, modern Alasehir. A main highway that ran through the city connected Smyrna (about a hundred miles due west) to northwest Asia, Phrygia, and the east. Furthermore, the imperial post road of the first century A.D., which came from Rome via Troas, Adramyttium, Pergamum, and Sardis, passed through this valley and Philadelphia on the way to the east. So situated, Philadelphia became a strong fortress city. To the northeast was a great vine-growing district, which, along with textile and leather industries, contributed greatly to the city's prosperity."

The name Philadelphia came from the founder of the city, "Attalus II (159-138 B.C.), who had been given the epithet 'Philadelphus' (brother lover)" because of his love for his brother (Expositor's Bible Commentary). But this was not the city's only name.

"Still another name of the city was Decapolis, because it was considered as one of the ten cities of the plain. A third name which it bore during the 1st cent. AD was Neo-kaisaria; it appears upon the coins struck during that period. During the reign of Vespasian, it was called Flavia. Its modern name, Ala-shehir, is considered by some to be a corruption of the Turkish words Allah-shehir, 'the city of God,' but more likely it is a name given it from the reddish color of the soil.

"In addition to all of these names it sometimes bore the title of 'Little Athens' because of the magnificence of the temples and other public buildings which adorned it. Philadelphia quickly became an important and wealthy trade center, for as the coast cities declined, it grew in power, and retained its importance even until late Byzantine times" (International Standard Bible Encylopaedia, Electronic Database, 1996, article "Philadelphia").

"According to Strabo, the whole region was earthquake prone (Geography 12.579; 13.628). In A.D. 17 an earthquake that destroyed Sardis and ten other cities also destroyed Philadelphia. Consequently, many people preferred to live in the rural area surrounding the city. The fear of earthquakes caused those who continued to live in the city to leave it at the slightest sign of a tremor.

"After the devastating earthquake, Tiberius came to the peoples' aid and had the city rebuilt. In gratitude the citizens renamed it Neocaesarea ('New Caesar'). Later the name was changed to Flavia (A.D. 70-79), and this, along with Philadelphia, continued to be its name through the second and third centuries A.D…" (Expositor's Bible Commentary).

Christ's Message

Jesus' message to Philadelphia begins in Revelation 3:7 Revelation 3:7And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things said he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David, he that opens, and no man shuts; and shuts, and no man opens;
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and continues through verse 13. In the same style as the previous messages, Jesus began by identifying Himself as the author of the message. This time He refers to Himself as "He who is holy, He who is true, 'He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens'" (verse 7).

Just as we use keys and locks today to control access to secured places, keys were used in ancient times to control gates to cities and represented governmental control. The "key of David" is used in this sense in Isaiah 22:20-23 Isaiah 22:20-23 [20] And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: [21] And I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle, and I will commit your government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. [22] And the key of the house of David will I lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. [23] And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house.
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where Eliakim replaces the unfaithful Shebna as secretary of state in Judah. Speaking of this change to Shebna, God said, "I will commit your responsibility into his hand… The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open" (verses 21-22).

When Jesus described Himself as having this "key of David," He was saying that He was of David's lineage and that He controls access to the Kingdom of God. Other passages explain that God the Father has given Jesus all power in heaven and earth, including the judgment of mankind (Matthew 28:18 Matthew 28:18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
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; John 5:22 John 5:22For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son:
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, 27; 17:2).

Works and an "Open Door"

In Revelation 3:8 Revelation 3:8I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name.
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, Jesus then explained to Philadelphia that He knew this congregation's works and that He had set before them "an open door." Jesus Christ, at the end of the first century A.D., almost 70 years after His death and inauguration of the New Covenant, still expected His followers to be doing works (Revelation 2:5 Revelation 2:5Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent.
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, 9, 13, 19, 23, 26; 3:1-2).

Many today, in opposition to Jesus' clear statements, mistakenly believe works are no longer important. While our works cannot save us, Jesus expects us to be doing works in conjunction with the grace He extends to us that makes salvation possible. Grace and works are not opposites; they are compatible concepts that God expects His followers to jointly embrace. In other words, it is grace and works, not grace or works.

The apostle Paul beautifully combined both concepts in Ephesians 2:8-10 Ephesians 2:8-10 [8] For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: [9] Not of works, lest any man should boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
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(NIV): "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." God's grace inspires His followers to actively practice His commands.

The "door" Jesus said He had opened for Philadelphia was an opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Linkage of the term "door" with preaching the gospel occurs in several other New Testament passages. In Colossians 4:3 Colossians 4:3 With praying also for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:
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, Paul asked the brethren to pray "for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains." In 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 [8] But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. [9] For a great door and effectual is opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
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, he explained that he would remain in Ephesus until Pentecost because "a great and effective door has opened to me." In Ephesus, Paul was able to spend three years preaching the gospel—one of the longest time periods he spent in any location (Acts 20:17-31 Acts 20:17-31 [17] And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. [18] And when they were come to him, he said to them, You know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, [19] Serving the LORD with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: [20] And how I kept back nothing that was profitable to you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, [21] Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. [22] And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: [23] Save that the Holy Ghost witnesses in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. [24] But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. [25] And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. [26] Why I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. [27] For I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God. [28] Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. [29] For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. [30] Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. [31] Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
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). Similar usage of "door" is found in 2 Corinthians 2:12 2 Corinthians 2:12Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me of the Lord,
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and Acts 14:27 Acts 14:27And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
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.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary explains that in the first century, Philadelphia was designated "a mission city for disseminating Greco-Asiatic culture and language in the eastern part of Lydia and in Phrygia. Its success is attested by the fact that the Lydian language ceased to be spoken in Lydia by A.D. 19 and Greek took over (Ramsay, Seven Churches, p. 391)." Just as Philadelphia had successfully accomplished this secular mission, Jesus told the congregation that they now had an opportunity to disseminate the gospel.

Modern Doors

Today many opportunities or "doors" exist for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. These include printed materials, radio, television and the Internet. These are the modern avenues Christians can use to fulfill the commission to the Church to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20 Matthew 28:19-20 [19] Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: [20] Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
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).

Jesus expects modern followers to preach the same gospel that He taught, the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 [14] Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, [15] And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
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). Unfortunately, many today have mistakenly accepted an incomplete gospel—one that focuses upon the person of Christ but omits His teaching about the Kingdom. Our free booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom, provides a more complete explanation.

Jesus' praise of the Philadelphians, "you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name" (Revelation 3:8 Revelation 3:8I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it: for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name.
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), indicates that they took advantage of the opportunities He made available for preaching the gospel. God's people today must do the same.

Protection

After explaining that religious pretenders, ones who often persecuted and tried to deceive Jesus' true followers (Acts 15:1 Acts 15:1And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brothers, and said, Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.
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; 20:30; Jude 4), would eventually be forced to recognize the believers who obeyed Him, Jesus continued: "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10 Revelation 3:10Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
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).

When we understand that Revelation is a prophetic book with its setting being the second coming of Jesus Christ, we see the important magnitude of this wonderful promise for us today. Within it are two concepts worthy of special note. First, the promised protection comes because Jesus' followers have kept His "command to persevere." This phrase literally means "the word of my patience" and is so translated by the King James and American Standard versions. Revelation 14:12 Revelation 14:12Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
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explains what this entails: "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." The recipients of Christ's protective grace will be believers who are obeying God's law.

A second concept deserving our attention is the fact that this "hour of trial," meaning a short period of time, will "come upon the whole world." No one escapes being tested. While Jesus' followers are tested through trials during their lifetimes (2 Timothy 3:12 2 Timothy 3:12Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
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; 1 Peter 1:7 1 Peter 1:7That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
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; 4:12), those who have not known Him or obeyed Him will also face judgment at His return.

In encouraging another first century congregation that had experienced many trials, Paul expressed similar principles:

"We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:4-8 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8 [4] So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure: [5] Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer: [6] Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; [7] And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, [8] In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
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).

Questions arise over how Christ will protect His believers during this time. We do know there is a clear reference to the gathering of many saints in one location ("her place," Revelation 12:14 Revelation 12:14And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
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) and there is another possible reference to individuals being protected in their location (Psalms 91:7 Psalms 91:7A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.
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). Both are within His power to accomplish.

Reward for Holding Fast

Jesus concludes His instruction to Philadelphia with the warning that He is coming "quickly" and that the saints should "hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:11 Revelation 3:11Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown.
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). Next comes the reward for doing so: "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (verse 12).

In offering this reward, Jesus drew some interesting parallels to the events and customs in first century Philadelphia. This city was prone to earthquakes. Huge stone temple columns were often the only parts of the city left standing after a devastating quake. Instead of fleeing the city whenever there was the slightest indication of a tremor, Jesus explained that the reward of the faithful would be a secure, stable place within His spiritual temple—a place where they would never fall or topple. Similarly, faithful city leaders were sometimes honored by having their names inscribed on a special pillar. Christ's terminology reflected knowledge of these practices (Expositor's Bible Commentary).

Finally, Jesus promised His followers a "new name." While the city of Philadelphia has had many names over the years and apparently several at once during the first century, Jesus offered the saints here a new name that would apparently never change—"the name of My God" and "My new name."

Though customs have obviously changed over the centuries since Christ delivered this message, the rewards Jesus offers to those who have the patience of the saints (faith and obedience) remain the same. Jesus implores those who have spiritual discernment—"an ear to hear"—to pay attention to this message (verse 13). Don't forget His message to Philadelphia: keep His word, faithfully go through the doors He opens. UN