Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Revelation and have been looking at the seven letters to the churches in Asia. Jesus wrote personal letters to seven churches in Asia. Wouldn’t it be great if your church had a personal letter from Jesus himself? I will pass out a handout to show where all of these churches were located.
Today, we will be looking at the sixth letter Jesus wrote to the Church at Philadelphia, a city located not in Pennsylvania but in modern day Turkey. Jesus walks among the seven churches in Revelation.
He knows what goes on in every church. He goes to church each Sunday and observes our worship service. As Jesus examined each of these churches, he found them to be quite different.
Most of these churches had good and bad qualities. Like most churches today, they had positive and negative traits (so Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira) but Jesus was not satisfies with that. He told each one of these churches to repent or they would be judged. Jesus told the Church of Ephesus if they did not repent, he would remove it as a lampstand and turn the lights out of that church (2:5).
He told the Church of Pergamum that if they did not repent, he would go to war with them with the sword of his mouth (2:16). He told the Church of Thyatira if certain members of the church did not repent of their sin, God would judge them with physical sickness and even death (2:22-23).
Other churches were all bad (Sardis), except for a few faithful members in the church but they were the minority. Two of these churches received an A on their church report card. Jesus examined the Church of Smyrna and the Church of Philadelphia he found nothing wrong with the church.
He does not criticize these churches. He does not tell them to repent of any sin and he does not warn that he will judge any members of the church with sickness or death. Only two of the seven churches received an A on their church report card.
The majority of churches in the first century were not faithful. They did not pass the test (only twenty-eight percent). What percentage of churches would pass the test today? It might even be a smaller percentage two thousand years later.
In fact, the Church of Philadelphia looks even a little better than the Church of Smyrna. It was not a perfect church. No church is perfect. It still needed to be exhorted but it was a good church. This is the kind of church we went to be like. It is a model of a faithful church.
Characteristics of the Church of Philadelphia
What kind of a church was it? We know three things about this church.
1) The Church of Philadelphia was a small church
It was not powerful. Jesus said, “you have little strength”. It was a church of small size and limited resources. It was not a rich church. It was not some mega church. James MacDonald is the pastor of a mega church in Chicago. I used to attend it. He is one the radio throughout the country and has written many books.
He is a great preacher. MacDonald says, “Every church is not supposed to be a big church. Every church is not supposed to have multiple campuses. Every church is not supposed to have ten thousand people in the church. Some churches are small.”
Big churches have a tendency to look down on small churches and to think that they are superior to them. The church that Jesus commends was not a great mega church but a small weak church made up of ordinary people. The world praises strength and power.
It does not praise weakness (cf. II Corinthians 12:7-10). It is much better to be a tiny but obedient church with little money or resources than to be a large wealthy church which is not obedient to Christ.
2) The Church of Philadelphia was a faithful church
Jesus said, “You have not denied my name”. They did not deny his name, like Peter did, even in the midst of persecution. Like the Church of Smyrna and Pergamum, the Church of Philadelphia was a persecuted church and like the church of Smyrna the persecution came from the Jews, not the Romans or the Greeks. Philadelphia was a Greek city. Greek culture totally dominated the area (called “little Athens”).
We do not know what form the persecution took. They were not ashamed to be identified with the name of Jesus. They were not ashamed to exalt Him and allow Him to be the focus of their worship and their lives.
3) The Church of Philadelphia was a biblical church
Jesus says, “You have kept my Word.” (cf. John 14:23) No church is a good church that is not a biblical church. In many churches, there is a far greater emphasis on being contemporary, hip and relevant, rather than biblical. The “Parody of Our Modern Church Service” on YouTube is a funny video about churches that try to be cool, rather than biblical.
Of course, church should not be a place that is dull, boring and puts you to sleep. It should be exciting but it should also be biblical. It should be a place where you meet God (I Corinthians 14:24-25).
What are the Marks of a Biblical Church?
1) This church KNEW what the Bible teaches.
It is not biblically illiterate. A church that does not know the Word is hardly a biblical church.
2) This church BELIEVED what the Bible teaches. It is not a liberal church.
3) This church taught and PREACHED the Word.
It may come as a shock but every church does not teach the Bible. There are some churches you could go to for years and never learn the Word.
4) This church OBEYED the Bible.
They put into practice what Scripture says. We see this in 3:10a (“you have kept my command to endure patiently”).
5) This church made Scripture its FINAL AUTHORITY.
In many churches Scripture is not the final authority. You do not have to turn to Roman Catholics. There are many Protestant Churches which do not have Scripture as its final authority. The pastor of the church is the final authority or church tradition is the final authority (“This is the way we have always done things”).
Should We Worship The Bible?
Many preachers warn against the dangers of worshiping the Bible. There is even a term for this. It is called bibliolatry. It is actually true that we are to worship God, not the Bible.
However, the problem is that this is a complete straw man argument. No one actually worships the Bible. No one prays to the Bible. No church actually does this.
The problem in the church today is not that people have to high a view of the Bible. The problem is that people have too low a view of the Bible. There are many who think that the Bible is full of errors and myths.
Many, even within the church, think that the Bible contains scientific and historical errors. Whole denominations of professing Christians hold to this viewpoint.
Biblically, we cannot think too highly of the Bible. God says that He exalts his Word above EVERYTHING (Psalm 138:2). The Bible is described as holy (Romans 7:12), righteous (Psalm 119:172), pure (Psalm 12:6), flawless (Psalm 18:30; Proverbs 30:5), perfect (James 1:25), true (John 17:17) and eternal (Psalm 119:89).
Paul says that, not only is the Bible inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16-17), he says that “ALL SCRIPTURE is inspired”. All of it is inspired (not some of it, or even most of it). In fact, Jesus said that it is inspired down to the smallest details of the text (Matthew 5:17-18).
Some have the idea that if you spend too much time studying the Bible, you are worshiping the Bible but that is not possible because we are commanded to mediate on God’s Word day and night (Psalm 1:2; Joshua 1:8).
Promises to the Church of Philadelphia
1. The promise of an open door of ministry (3:8)
This church had an open door of ministry because of where it was located geographically. Not every church is strategically located. This church was. It was on the main trade route from Rome.
Apparently, this church had an open door of ministry was with the Jews. God was going to open the door of salvation to unbelieving Jews in the community who were behind some of the persecution of the Church of Philadelphia.
Jesus said, “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you”. That is a quotation from the OT (cf. Isaiah 60:12-14).
The OT predicted that one day Gentile nations would come and bow down before Israel in the last days. Jesus says that here the Jews are going to come and bow down before the church and get saved. Believers will one day be vindicated before their persecutors.
- God is sovereign over our life.
He opens the doors and He closes the doors as it pleases Him. Jesus is the one with the keys. He has the key of David (3:7). He holds the keys of life. He also holds the keys of death. He has the keys of death and hades (1:18).
Understand that the Lord is behind the doors of your life and he is in control of the church. Since He has the keys, He is has the power to open and close doors as He sees fit.
- God is the one who opens doors for us.
We should look for God’s open door. We do not have to break doors down or force them open. He does not always open doors when we want him to. Sometimes we have to wait. God told King David that he would be king but he had to wait until King Saul died.
In order for me to move to North Carolina, I had to have a door opened for me. I was living in Chicago in 2006 and was unemployed. God opened the door for me to move to North Carolina. What doors has he opened for our church? What doors has God opened for you? What stories could you share about how God has worked in your life?
- God is the one who closes doors.
Sometimes we try to get through doors that God has shut. What we should be doing is getting through doors that God has opened. When God closes a door, it can be discouraging.
It means that we have to wait on God but closed doors can be a blessing. You have all heard the line “When God closes a door, He opens a window”. I prefer saying, “When God closes one door, He opens another”.
There is an example in the Bible of this happening. In Acts 16, the Apostle Paul had some plans. He wanted to visit some of the churches he planted to see how they were doing but God closed the door (16:6-7).
The Holy Spirit slammed the door on their Jewish noses. He did not allow Paul and his companions to do that. Instead God wanted them to preach the gospel in Europe and start a church there, so that is what he did.
- God does not force us to walk through doors.
He opens doors but does not force us to walk through them. It is possible to have an open door and not walk through it. Jesus said, “I am the door by me if any one walk in he will be saved”. Sometimes God opens a door of ministry or evangelism or even salvation and we do not walk through it.
2. The promise of Protection (3:10)
Jesus says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth”. God told the good church of Smyrna that they would experience TRIBULATION (2:10).
He promised the bad church of Thyatira if they did not repent, they would experience GREAT TRIBULATION (2:22) but to the Church of Philadelphia was promised protection from tribulation. What kind of Tribulation was he talking about and what kind of protection will the church have?
The Nature of the Tribulation
Revelation 3:10 also tells us four interesting things about the Tribulation Period.
1) This tribulation is specific, not general.
They were promised to be “kept from the hour of the trial that is going to come on the whole world” (3:10). In Revelation 3:10 in the Greek text, the definite article appears in front of the word “hour” and the word “temptation” (τής ώρας τοϋ πειρασμοϋ). It is very emphatic.
2) This tribulation is universal, not local
It will affect the entire world. Revelation 3:10 says, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world” and not “the hour of trial that is going to come on Jerusalem” or even “on the saints”.
As Charles Ryrie says, “This verse does not refer to the normal trials of Christians but to a special hour of trial which will be worldwide.Even the persecutions which believers have and are suffering at the hands of particular nations do not fulfill this verse since they are not worldwide”.
Since this judgment will be universal it will be the worst period of suffering in human history. Jesus described it as a time of “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matthew 24:21).
3) This tribulation falls on unbelievers, not believers.
Revelation 3:10 says, “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth”. The phrase “inhabitants of the earth” seem like everyone on the planet but in the Book of Revelation that is the technical term for non-Christians (11:10; 13:8; 17:8).
It is used nine times in the book. In the Book of Revelation, this is clearly a reference to the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments and the bowl judgments which take place later in the Book of Revelation.
4) Its purpose is not to test, as well as judge.
The purpose of the Tribulation Period will not just be to punish and judge people but to test them (“I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to TEST the inhabitants of the earth”).
The Nature of the Protection
What kind of protection was this church promised? There are several hints in the text.
1) They were promised protection “from” (εκ) this trial, not “through” (δια) it.
God is capable of preserving his people through tribulation (cf. John 17:15) but the members of the Church of Philadelphia will not be alive during the Tribulation Period. They were protected FROM the Tribulation.
2) This deliverance is from the hours of the trial, not just the trials in the hour.
It is deliverance not just from the trial itself but from the period of time in which the trial exists (so Walvoord). Jesus said, “I will also keep you from THE HOUR OF TRIAL that is going to come on the whole world.”
3) This passage does not specifically mention the rapture.
Revelation 3:10 does NOT mention the rapture, although it may have some implications for the rapture. No member of this church was raptured. In fact, they have all died and will not even be alive when the rapture takes place but they were promised to be spared from this future period of judgment. On the other hand, this verse may have bearing on the rapture question.
The real question is whether this promise should be taken as a universal promise to all of the seven churches. Can this promise to the Church of Philadelphia be generalized to all Christians? If it can, then all Christians would be kept from the Tribulation Period and the only way that could take place is for the rapture to take place before the Tribulation Period.
3. The Promise of a New Identity (3:12)
Here Jesus promises four things to the church:
1) He will make the one who overcomes a pillar in the Temple.
That is an obvious figure of speech (metaphor). He does not become a literal pillar but it is a promise that had direct relevance to this particular church. The city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor was an unstable city.
The city was built on a fault line in an earthquake zone and whenever there was an earthquake they would race outside the city for protection. This is a picture of security, stability and permanence. “I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it.” He also promises three names to the overcomer.
2) He will write on them the name of God.
That is a picture of ownership. We write our name on things that we own. For God to write his name on us shows that we belong to him. We are his.
3) He will write on them the name of the City of God (the New Jerusalem).
That indicates citizenship. They will be tied to the heavenly city. That is where they will live for all eternity (Philippians 3:20). Today, this city of Philadelphia is located in Turkey and is called in Arabic Alaşehir (which literally means “City of God”).
4) He will write on them His new name
People in Philadelphia were familiar with the concept of receiving a new Name. The name of the city changed several times in its history.
Exhortation to the Church of Philadelphia
Does Jesus tell this church to do anything? Does he have an exhortation for this church? His only exhortation is to “hold on to what you have so no one takes your crown” (3:11). That tells me three things:
1) Christians in this church had a crown.
Crowns represent rewards. We know this from Revelation 4:10. It was something that they have right now. They have not received it yet but they already have one waiting for them. The crown of life in 2:10 is future but this crown in 3:11 is present.
2) Christians in this church could lose their crown.
Your crown cannot be stolen by another but it can be given to another. This is not a question of robbery. That is not the Greek word used. It is just a matter of taking what someone else has forfeited. Moses forfeited going into the Promise Land through sin. He still went to heaven but he was disqualified for the Promise Land.
Salvation cannot be lost but rewards can be lost. Salvation is a free gift. Rewards are earned. Salvation is not based on works. Rewards are based on works. Salvation is something that we do not deserve. Rewards are something that we do deserve.
3) They had a choice whether or not they kept their crown.
They did not need to do anything new, just to keep doing what they were doing (“hold on”).