To the Angel Of the Church Of Philadelphia
Key verse 3:8
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
The words: “The hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” seem like a line from a fairy tale. But as surely as the son rises every morning and sets every evening, so shall these words of our Lord come true. That the world is heading towards the great end, the culmination of all history is an absolute truth, if we consider the Bible to be the final authority in prophesy. But before the end comes, the Lord Jesus has often given signs and instructions on what his people ought to do as they wait for the end to come. In Mark’s gospel our Lord tells us that the “gospel must first be preached to all nations.” The preaching of the gospel should then be the priority of all Christians before, during and towards the end of the last days. In his letters to the churches, the Lord Jesus alludes to this particular will of God especially in his words to the letter we are looking at today, the letter to the church of Philadelphia. In his words we find the will of God not only to this church, but to the church of all time, and especially to the churches of the end times. We do not know when the end times would come, since the Lord himself said that such knowledge belongs only to God. But we know that we are living in post modern times, where the gospel is more urgently needed than any other time in history. May the words of the Lord convict our hearts to capture God’s will, and to put it into practice.
Read verse 7. “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The city of Philadelphia was the gateway to Asia Minor. It was an influential city of Greek culture and language. But in 17 A.D. Philadelphia was destroyed by an earthquake and after that, only brave people dared resettle in it. Among them were a handful of Christians who came to embrace the Christian faith and who built a growing church in the heart of the city. It is remarkable to see the courage of a few who trusted God and settled in a geographically unstable city. To these Christians, the Lord sent a letter through the apostle John. To them the Lord had many encouraging things to say.
First, Jesus identifies himself to the Christians of Philadelphia as “Him who is Holy and True”. Jesus is Holy; means that he is separated from all things and set apart and above all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus is also the True One, in him there is nothing false. Jesus is himself the Truth. In him all things in heaven and on earth derive their meaning and purpose. His words therefore, are sure to come to pass for he is Holy and True. We wonder why Jesus identifies himself to this particular church as the Holy and True One. Perhaps the words of the prophesy delivered to this particular church are difficult to comprehend or difficult to embrace. But no matter, these are trustworthy words. In them a church or a man or a woman can take refuge; in them one can be assured of truth. Anyone who listens to his words can stand on them as on solid rock, and will never be shaken. Look at verses 8-9. Apparently the church in Philadelphia suffered much from Satan’s persecution. Throughout their struggle with evil people who rejected the cross of Jesus and denied Jesus’ name, the members of the church at Philadelphia lost their strength and became weak. But they were not defeated. However, in times of weakness, all kinds of doubts and temptations come to torment God’s people. In such times, it is easy to let weakness turn to defeat, and to let faith turn to fear. But Jesus reminded them that he is Holy and True, that he is still sovereign, that they have nothing to fear, and that all his words will surely come to pass. What words did Jesus give them then?
Second, Jesus also identifies himself to the Christians at Philadelphia as the One “who holds the key of David”. What is the “key of David”? The “key of David” is the Key to Christ the Savior. It is the key to eternal life. Ultimately, it is the key to the Kingdom of God. This key is so powerful and secure that Jesus gives them a promise that “What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open”. The Holy and True Lord of all assured the Christians of all time that he surely holds the key to eternal life and the Kingdom Of God. An once the door had been opened to these promises, no thing and no one can ever close those doors, until the time come for them to be closed. This is the assurance of salvation to all who put their faith in Jesus. He suffered and died for the sins of the world. He was buried and rose again from the dead. Ever since then, the promise of eternal life came to pass for all whose faith is in this gospel of his death and resurrection. Ever since Jesus died and rose again, the gates to the Kingdom Of God had been flung open to receive the countless souls who have trusted his words of truth, and have followed him in the way of holiness. For those who trust the words of our Lord, and who follow in the way of holiness set apart for us to follow in the gospel, there is eternal life and the kingdom of God to which all souls long to have. But not all will receive eternal life and the kingdom of God. Just as Jesus opens a door that no one can shut, so also when the time comes for him to return and shut the door to these promises, no one can ever open the door again. Jesus gave the Christians of Philadelphia these eternal promises. They were a comfort to those whose faith rests in Jesus, and a warning to those who resist the call of our Lord— the call to repentance and to faith. The Key of David has already opened the doorway to life and to heaven. And the Bible says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Heb.3:15)
The “Key of David” is the key of faith into the Savior’s grace. Salvation is the free gift of God to all who believe. But we must believe! We must have faith in what he has done in order to secure for us the salvation. We must have faith that he has opened the way to salvation and to eternal life through his death and resurrection. No one should miss out on the salvation which Jesus provided through his gospel. No one should exchange the gift of eternal life for the perishing things of the world. The world will come to an end some day. Even the pain of persecution and of suffering Christians go through will on that day fade into a faint memory when the door is finally shut and we are finally in the arms of our Father God and our Savior Jesus.
Third, Jesus encouraged the Christians of Philadelphia to serve the great commission without reserve or fear. Read verse 8-9. “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” What is the main message of the Lord Jesus? Jesus forever said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near”.
Firstly, the open door is a door to the kingdom of God. Time and again during his earthly ministry, he emphasized the critical message regarding the Kingdom Of God. On the cross, Jesus promised the repentant thief “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. Paradise was ever on Jesus’ heart and mind. Jesus knew how difficult it is to live in this world, full of temptations. He knew how difficult it is to pry our eyes off this world and to look at the kingdom. But he never failed to direct our hearts and minds to the kingdom, to the Paradise promised to the faithful from the beginning of time. What then was Jesus commission to the church? He commissioned his disciples on various occasions to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, till the end of time. That was on Jesus’ heart, to bring the message of life to all people. Jesus forever desired that all men believe and receive eternal life and the promise of the kingdom. For this he came. For this he suffered. For this he died. And for this he rose from the dead.
What then were the commendable deeds of the Christian church in Philadelphia? Jesus says to them: “I know your deeds”. “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut”. How great they were. They took advantage of the open door that the Lord placed before them, and they preached the gospel of life to all people as the Lord had commanded all Christians to do. Jesus knew they were not exceptionally strong people, with remarkable anilities to do the work of God. They were men and women of little strength. But they did not complain about their lack of strength, or lack of ability to serve God and his purpose. Rather they obediently served the gospel of life as much as they were able to. With the little strength that they had, they taught the Bible, and spread the gospel and prayed and encouraged all people to put their faith in Jesus. Obedience to Jesus’ world mission command, and to the great commission is not a matter of ability or inability, not a matter of strength or of weakness. It is a matter of heart. For those whose love for the Lord is more than their love for their own selves, for them the gospel and preaching the gospel is a matter of heart, a commitment, a joy because it was the Lord who said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36) We should know that the greatest deed one can accomplish in his or her life is obedience to the will of God, for the will of God is that all people enter through the open door before it is forever shut.
Secondly, the open door is a door to world mission.
Thirdly, the open door is a witness to the love of God.
Fourth, Jesus identified with and understood their suffering in preaching the gospel to all people. Look at verses 8-9 again. Jesus assures them: “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Jesus also assures them that those who made them suffer for preaching the gospel will not go unpunished. He says: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars— I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” Once again in verse 10, Jesus commends them saying: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” What was their virtue as they preached the gospel? They kept his words. They did not deny his name. They kept his command. They endured patiently. All these things were the glorious virtue of the Christians of Philadelphia. How could they keep his words, and not deny his name when persecution and suffering were unbearable? How could they keep his commands and endure patiently when all the forces of evil conspired against them to instill fear and doubt in their hearts? Jesus clearly knows that they had little strength, that they were not strong world-wise? Faith! Faith is that which defies and overcomes all things in heaven and on earth. When a man or woman has faith, it does not matter if they are weak or strong, if they have strength or not, if the persecution is severe or not. When a man or woman has faith, they have the power of God in their hearts to defeat all things.
In the book of Hebrews, a number of people of faith are mentioned. After naming them one by one, the author says these words of them: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:32-40) They all held the key of faith in their hands, through which they overcame all things. It is truly remarkable what faith does to the strong and the weak, to the frail or the mighty. We are human beings We are by nature weak and helpless. We are also unable to lift a finger to the do the work of God. But God has given those who would listen to him and receive his gift, the gift of faith. And with faith we can keep his word and command. By faith we can endure patiently. By faith we can also do what God intended us to do which is to bring the gospel of life to all people. As much as Jesus holds the key to David, to eternal life and the Kingdom Of God, so also we have been given the key to pioneer the world with the gospel, to bring life to the dead, to rise above the worldly temptations and to soar on wings like eagles.
Look at verse 10 again. Jesus promised the Philadelphia Christians that he will keep them from the hour that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. Amazingly, they were kept from it, for that hour had not yet come. But the promise is also true to all Christians of all time. God does not promise to prevent our suffering. He does not promise to take out of the world when troubles come. But he does promise to keep our faith alive and active and by that faith to also help us pass through the tests that come upon the world then and now and in the future as well. Jesus made the same promise to his disciples of all time when he said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So also he is with all whose faith rests on him.
Read verses 11-13. “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” What a glorious plea and promise Jesus makes to us who believe. “I am coming soon” We long for his return. It is a promise that is eternally true for he is the Holy and True One and his words will surely come to pass. Surely the Lord will return some day just as he said. “Amen come Lord Jesus.” Jesus also commanded them to hold on to what they had. What did they have? They had the gospel of life. They had the love of God. They had faith. They had love for one another. They had hope for themselves and for others. They also had the eternal words of life— the Bible to keep their hearts fixed on Jesus and on his command.
We too have much. For when we have Christ we have all things. As Peter once said: “Where shall we go Lord, you have the words of eternal life.” In Jesus and with Jesus we are safe in a world of trouble. We are safe from the onslaught of the devil who wants to fell us at every corner of life. We are also content in Jesus and with him— content that we have all things, especially we have the Lord’s grace and eternal life and the kingdom of God. Surely Jesus’ words to the church at Philadelphia was glorious. So he bid them overcome. A Christian is called to overcome all things— not by virtue of his or her own strength, but by faith in God and in his strength to deliver that soul from all things. And Jesus promises that those who overcome would eventually be with him forever, and never be separated from him, neither by life nor by death. They would carry his name forever, and they will all live in the New Jerusalem, in the Paradise of God, in the kingdom of God forever and ever. So we must overcome. We must daily overcome through repentance and through faith. We must overcome that we might carry out our responsibility before God to bring the gospel to all men of all nations. The door that Jesus has opened is still open. We must grab this opportunity and bring all people to the gospel of life, to eternal life and to the kingdom of God. Amen.