Letter to the Church at Philadelphia
Philadelphia was established in 189 B.C. by King Eumenes II of Pergamon. He named the city for the love of his brother and successor, Attalus II.
Philadelphia was greatly damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 17. The Roman emperor Tiberius aided the city by relieving it of its annual tribute. In gratitude, the city erected a monument to Tiberius and renamed the city “Neocaesarea”.
Jesus described himself to this church as the holy and true one. He took the title of the Father in the Old Testament: the Holy One of Israel. He has the key of David and has the power to open doors which no one may shut. The Jews would have told the converts that they were locked out of the kingdom of God as long as they followed Jesus. One of the benedictions recited in the synagogue each Sabbath said “For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and may the Nazarenes perish and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed.” Jesus says he, not the Jews, decides who enters the kingdom and no one can undo his decision. The “open door” is the door to the kingdom. Only Jesus has the key. No one comes to the Father except through him. (John 14:6)
This is the second church that receives no admonition, only praise and encouragement. Jesus acknowledged that the church had little power. (8) They had not denied his name. It must have been a church of Jews who believed in Jesus and became the target of Jewish persecution. That is why Jesus referred to the Jews as the synagogue of Satan. (9)
Despite its lack of power, this church remained faithful. They kept God’s word and did not deny him. (8) This was likely in the face of pressure from the Jews to coerce Jewish converts to come back to Judaism. The fact that Jesus refers to it as the synagogue of Satan again indicates he views his followers as the true people of God and not the Jews. We know this because Jesus said they say they are Jews but are not. This is in line with Paul’s teaching that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”. (Galatians 3:29)
As Jesus promises vindication to all believers, he promised it to this church. He said the Jews who persecuted them would come and bow down before them and know that Jesus loved them. (9) This is a picture of our vindication, and a picture of believers reigning with Christ. It refers also to Isaiah 60:14, where God promised that the oppressors of God’s people will bow at their feet and acknowledge that they are the city of the Holy One of Israel. Paul said that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, even those who do not confess it on earth. (Philippians 2:10-11)
Jesus also promised the would keep them from the “hour of trial” coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth. (10) This usually means to protect them in the time of trial rather than to remove them from it.
It is a sort of side note, but I am impressed with the similarity of the messages to the 7 churches with the message of the book of Hebrews. The two major admonitions in Hebrews are for faithfulness and endurance. Chapter 11 is often called the faith chapter, for it lists Old Testament believers who were known for their faith. Believers in the churches to whom Hebrews was written were encouraged to be like the Old Testament heroes of faith as the looked forward to the final fulfillment of God’s promises for the deliverance of the saints into eternal glory.
To what “hour of trial” does he refer? He could mean Roman persecution. Especially if you accept the early date for the writing of Revelation, you could see this as Nero’s persecution of Christians that the Lord would protect this church from. It could mean the destruction of Jerusalem as described in Mark 13. That would not really affect them in Asia, though. It could mean the final, intense period of tribulation before the end of the world. If the latter, means they would not experience judgment. The problem with this view is Jesus says he is coming soon. (11) Since we still await the tribulation and judgment, he hardly came soon in that sense. So, it appears to mean a time of trial this church will experience. Jesus’ coming soon may mean he will increase his presence and power with them to keep them from falling from the faith during the trial.
Jesus also promised they would become a pillar in the temple of God if they held fast to their faith and conquered. This is a sign of permanence. Since Philadelphia experienced many earthquakes that caused buildings to fall, this is a relevant promise to them. God’s temple is where his presence is. In this age, it is in the church. In the age to come, it will encompass the new earth.
Other signs of permanence are that the believer will never go out of it, will have God’s name written on them, and the name of the New Jerusalem from heaven. They are God’s in Christ, sealed by the Spirit, and no one takes them out of his hand.
Jesus taught this before, in John 10. He used the metaphor of the sheep and the shepherd. He said “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
1 Peter 1:4 says believers have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in seven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Believers are preserved for eternal life.
Believers will be vindicated.