The Letter to the church in Philadelphia is unique within the seven letters in Revelation. It’s almost entirely filled with promises to the faithful in this church. Jesus has only good things to say to this church. Therefore, the examination will obviously be about them. What did they do right? How might they have achieved such good news from Jesus? And what can we learn for us today? That is, both for our churches and for us as individuals?
The NKJV calls the church in Philadelphia “the faithful church”. No wonder there’s so much good news. Being called the faithful church tells us that the Letter to the Angel of the Church in Philadelphia is going to be very different than anything we’ve seen so far. The fact that I called it unique tells you the seventh and final letter won’t be like this one either.
Truly, this is a church we want to emulate. And as individuals, we want to strive to live in a manner that creates that type of environment.
As with each of the letters, let’s start with something David wrote. An excerpt from Psalm 139. Something we should do often. Something that will help us learn what the message in these letters might be for each of us – even as individuals.
lead me in the way everlasting
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Ps 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
God already knows more about us than we know of ourselves. So if our goal is to have a life like the people in the church in Philadelphia, why not use Psalm 139 as a prayer? A prayer where we ask God to help us. Lead us not just away from temptation, but into a life where we on the path to life everlasting with Jesus.
Now, with that in mind and with open hearts, let’s invite the Holy Spirit to be with us as we examine the letter to the faithful church in Philadelphia.
Rev 3:7 “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. 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. 9 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. 10 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.
Rev 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
It feels weird to ask, but since this question comes up in each letter, what’s your initial impression here? Good news or bad news for this church?
As usual, before we get into any details, let’s take a look at the graph we built in parts 1 and 2 of the series. Based on what we just read, where would you put the church of Sardis on the graph? Why there? Don’t worry if you don’t know anything beyond the verses we just read. Part of the study will be to see how your placement might change as we go through more about the church in Sardis. Context and culture are usually important. So is what it might mean to us today, in our context and our culture.
Some Philadelphia history
I’m including more history for Philadelphia than usual. That’s because of the city getting only good news from Jesus. We may think they got good news because there was little opposition to the church here. But we’ll see that there was quite a bit of pagan activity and the Philadelphia church did not allow it to affect their beliefs.
This is good news for us today. If … If we are willing to turn to God for the strength, patience, perseverance, and a host of other things, that we need to not only survive, but to thrive in the hostile world we live in. However, if we try to do it on our own, without God’s help, we will fail. If we fail as an individual, we’ll be, spiritually speaking, in one of the other six churches in Revelation. If we fail as a unit, in other words the entire church, well, that’s the final letter.
Philadelphia is about thirty miles from Sardis, the previous church on the likely delivery path. The final one, Laodicea, is another 60 miles away.
Philadelphia lay along the imperial road constructed in 129 BC by the Roman governor Manius Aquillius that started in Pergamum, then at Laodicea merged with a branch coming from Ephesus. The final five of the seven churches listed in Revelation 1:11 are given in an order that tracks this route, which suggests the messenger delivering the Apocalypse would have used it. Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
Once again, we see evidence of the likely path taken to deliver the letters to the churches.
The city was the newest among the seven churches and was established by Attalus II king of Pergamum (reigned 159–138 BC) probably as a garrison town in reaction to the invasion of the Gauls in 168 BC. Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
It’s tempting to look at this as a young church, and then give its newness as the “excuse” for them being so faithful. But remember, it’s not the age of the city that matters. It’s the age of the church. And every one of these churches was, by definition, “new”. Christianity, “The Way” as it was known back then, was relatively new to all of them!
The city’s name comes from a curious incident regarding Rome’s dealings with the Attalids. When Attalus II traveled to Rome in 167 BC, the Roman Senate attempted to turn him against his older brother Eumenes II (reigned 197–159 BC). Livy describes the outcome: “after disappointing the hopes of those who had supposed that he [Attalus II] would accuse his brother and seek a division of the kingdom, he left the senate-house” (45.20.3 LCL; see also Polybius 30:1–3). For remaining loyal, he earned the nickname “Philadelphus,” so Philadelphia reflects the love between the two brothers. Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
Lots of Americans know of Philadelphia as the city of brotherly love. I was born not far from there, so that’s how I knew it. But it actually goes back to the ancient city of Philadelphia, situated in what is now modern-day Turkey. It had to do with two actual brothers, not brothers in Christ as we might think of it today, coming from the state of Pennsylvania founded by William Penn who was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers), and founder of the English North American colony the Province of Pennsylvania.
A stadium that opened east toward the city was built into the northern end of the acropolis. In it games were held honoring Zeus Helios and Anaitis, a Persian goddess who was assimilated to Cybele and Artemis in Lydia. An alliance (ὁμόνοια, homonoia) coin of Domitian (reigned AD 81–96) shows the city goddesses of Ephesus and Philadelphia crowned and shaking hands. That of Ephesus holds a scepter while the Philadelphian goddess holds a small statue of Artemis Anaitis. Architectural elements now resting atop the southern end of the acropolis once belonged to a temple of Zeus or Dionysus, but its foundation is now covered by a park. Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
There was influence from those who worshipped Greek gods, including the city goddesses of Ephesus and Philadelphia crowned and shaking hands. Given the warning to the Ephesus church to return to their first love, we’ll see quite a difference in where the Philadelphia church is compared to Ephesus.
Again, this offers great hope for us today. Up to this point, things are pretty depressing as far as the conditions in the five churches whose letters we studied. True. there were ways to overcome. And while the overcomer will receive rich rewards, there is still the issue of a life less fruitful than if major overcoming wasn’t necessary!
But here in the Letter to the Church in Philadelphia, they are already in good shape spiritually. No warnings were needed. The natural assumption, I believe correctly, is that this church has born more fruit than if even some of the people needed pruning or refining fire from God to be overcomers.
In AD 17 a damaging earthquake struck twelve Lydian cities including Philadelphia. The emperor Tiberius granted tax relief for five years and also gave ten million sesterces to rebuild the cities (Tacitus, Annals 2.47). Strabo’s description of the city as abandoned because of earthquakes seems overstated. Otherwise, why would the emperor appropriate money to rebuild Philadelphia if it were largely deserted? Rome’s mint in AD 22–23 issued a coin depicting Tiberius as a god wearing a laurel wreath to celebrate the restoration of these cities. In thanks, Philadelphia along with the other eleven cities erected a monument in AD 30 in Rome’s Forum of Julius Caesar. A personification of Philadelphia was among those representing each city depicted on a base upon which a statue of Tiberius stood. Sardis and Magnesia ad Sipylum flanked the dedicatory inscription on its front with Philadelphia on the right side in the third position. This monument was apparently destroyed in the fire of AD 80. Fortunately, a copy with dedication was made by the Augustales of Puteoli, and this base is now displayed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Philadelphia received a new name twice: after AD 17 it was called “Philadelphia Neocaesarea” in gratitude to Tiberius, and later named “Flavia Philadelphia” after the wife of Vespasian (reigned 69–79) when the emperor gave financial assistance following another earthquake. Under Elagabalus it was given the right to call itself a metropolis. Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
Worship of Roman gods also existed here. There seems to be plenty of sources for animosity against the Christian church here. For those of you who have lived in small towns, it can be a more brutal scenario than large cities, since everyone often knows everyone else.
The city’s religious traditions are reflected on its coins. In the first century BC these featured Artemis, Zeus, Dionysus, and the Dioscuri. In the first century AD additional deities such as Hecate, Apollo Kitharoidos, Asclepius, Cybele, and Nike began to appear. An inscription (SIG 3.985) dating around 100 BC mentions a shrine erected by Dionysius at the direction of the goddess Agdistis in a dream from Zeus. In it were cultic altars for at least ten gods and goddesses. Men and women, slave and free were required to take an oath to live within strict ethical guidelines in the context of their sacrificial offerings. Inscriptions indicate that the city had a priest of Rome and Augustus as early as 27/26 BC, but no imperial cult temple was built until AD 214 when Caracalla visited the city and granted permission for Philadelphia to call itself neōkoros (νεωκόρος, “temple warden”; IGR 4.1619).
As pointed out, no small number of pagan gods. In it were cultic altars for at least ten gods and goddesses. Men and women, slave and free were required to take an oath to live within strict ethical guidelines in the context of their sacrificial offerings.
A Jewish community lived in Philadelphia. Two thousand families were settled in Lydia and Phrygia around 210 BC as military colonists (Josephus, Ant. 12.148–153). So the city’s Jewish population probably came from these settlers. No remains of a synagogue have been found, although a Greek inscription dating to the third century AD and found east of Philadelphia mentions a “synagogue of the Hebrews.” Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
There was a Jewish Synagogue. But while no remains have been found yet, Jesus’ words against them were quite harsh. Undoubtedly, yet another force against the Christian church here.
Christianity likely came to Philadelphia in the latter half of the first century. Luke writes that Jews and Greeks throughout Asia heard the gospel during Paul’s time in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). John’s letter to the church in Philadelphia is rich in local imagery. The “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 3:9), as in Smyrna, seemingly refers to opposition from the local Jewish leadership. The victors in Philadelphia are promised that in God’s heavenly temple they would be columns (Rev 3:12). Columns of limestone, granite, or marble were ubiquitous in ancient temples. Their style could be either monolithic or drum (round blocks), unfluted or fluted (grooved). By design, temples were often the most secure structure in a city, especially in earthquake-prone ones like Philadelphia. The promise of being a column suggests strength and stability. The promise of new Jerusalem (Rev 3:12) was interpreted literally by the Montanists, whose prophetic movement is believed by some to have started around Philadelphia in the late second century AD. However, this “Phrygian heresy” is better localized fifty-three miles (86 km) east of Philadelphia around their center at Pepouza. Nevertheless, Montanism had many followers in and around Philadelphia for centuries. Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through … Continue reading
A “short” statement on Montanism:
Throughout church history, God’s people have endured attacks from people outside the faith. Islamic thinkers have denied the purity of the Bible. Materialistic philosophers have ridiculed the doctrine of creation. Atheistic regimes have tried to stamp out the church within their borders. The greatest need to defend the faith, however, has always been fought within the community of professing believers itself. We might even say that Christian apologists have best served the church in clearly summarizing the orthodox faith and in helping pastors, theologians, and lay people alike recognize the false and destructive sheep in their congregations.
After years of controversy, a gathering of the church condemned a teacher named Montanus in AD 160. Hailing from the region of Phrygia (modern-day Turkey), which was known for being a hotbed of eccentricity, Montanus looked at the church in his day and decided that it was not ready for the return of Jesus. He sought to recover a particular view of the gifts of prophecy and tongues in the church. In so doing, he developed unorthodox teachings about the Holy Spirit: Montanus believed that he himself was the Holy Spirit incarnate.
Clearly, this is a problem. Not Christian at all.
He also led a group of people known for their extreme asceticism and gibbering chants. Appropriately enough, this movement is known as Montanism.
The Montanists believed that true Christianity depended on a mystical experience with the Spirit, and they taught a two-tiered division of believers, distinguishing between ordinary believers and the pneumatakoi, or “spirit-filled” Christians. The pneumatakoi were the “more advanced” group that received a special indwelling (a “baptism”) of the Holy Spirit after conversion. According to the Montanists, a life of true holiness or godliness was not possible if you were not numbered among the pneumatakoi.
Such teaching, the church quickly recognized, flies in the face of the uniform testimony of Scripture that there is but one faith and one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6). God’s Word knows nothing of a Christian who does not possess the Holy Spirit, and there is no warrant for seeking a baptism in the Spirit after conversion.
I’m going to come back to this issue of false teaching in a moment. It’s really important. I feel like it’s one big difference maker as to whether we are spiritually in Philadelphia or one of the other churches.
… though not a large city, called by Ramsay (op. cit., p. 392) “the Missionary City” to promote the spread of the Graeco-Roman civilization and then of Christianity, later offering stubborn resistance to the Turks (1379–90 A.D.) and now called Ala-Sheher (reddish city, Charles, from the red hills behind it). The chief opposition to the faithful little church is from the Jews (cf. Rom. 9–11). There are some 1,000 Christians there today. The holy, he that is true (ὁ ἁγιος, ὁ ἀληθινος [ho hagios, ho alēthinos]). Separate articles (four in all) for each item in this description. “The holy, the genuine.” Asyndeton in the Greek. Latin Vulgate, Sanctus et Verus. ὁ ἁγιος [Ho hagios] is ascribed to God in 4:8; 6:10 (both ἁγιος [hagios] and ἀληθινος [alēthinos] as here), but to Christ in Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; John 6:69; Acts 4:27, 30; 1 John 2:20, a recognized title of the Messiah as the consecrated one set apart. Swete notes that ἀληθινος [alēthinos] is verus as distinguished from verax (ἀληθης [alēthēs]). So it is applied to God in 6:10 and to Christ in 3:14; 19:11 as in John 1:9; 6:32; 15:1. He that hath the key of David (ὁ ἐχων την κλειν Δαυειδ [ho echōn tēn klein Daueid]). This epithet comes from Is. 22:22, where Eliakim as the chief steward of the royal household holds the keys of power. Christ as the Messiah (Rev. 5:5; 22:16) has exclusive power in heaven, on earth, and in Hades (Matt. 16:19; 28:18; Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:9f.; Rev. 1:18). Christ has power to admit and exclude of his own will (Matt. 25:10f.; Eph. 1:22; Rev. 3:21; 19:11–16; 20:4; 22:16). And none shall shut (και οὐδεις κλεισει [kai oudeis kleisei]). Charles calls the structure Hebrew (future active indicative of κλειω [kleiō]), and not Greek because it does not correspond to the present articular participle just before ὁ ἀνοιγων [ho anoigōn] (the one opening), but it occurs often in this book as in the very next clause, “and none openeth” (και οὐδεις ἀνοιγει [kai oudeis anoigei]) over against κλειων [kleiōn] (present active participle, opening) though here some MSS. read κλειει [kleiei] (present active indicative, open). Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 3:7). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
Just because it was a small church in a small city, there’s no reason it can’t have great influence. In spite of – or maybe because of – the things they had going against them. Few trials and temptations can lead to complacency. Many trials and temptations can lead to giving up. But if we keep Jesus in our hearts, it doesn’t have to be that way. The Church in Philadelphia shows that.
As I said, false teachers play a big role in how, or even whether, we develop spiritually. If we follow false teaching we can easily in up in Thyatira, so to speak, who had their false Jezebel. Or Ephesus, because love is driven out by Pharisaic teaching, as might have been the case there. But really, false teaching can lead us astray in so many ways.
Even seemingly minor issues can be just the beginning of what’s called a slippery slope today. We must be careful. And we must periodically evaluate ourselves and those we listen to to be sure we’re on the narrow path Jesus spoke of. As brought up towards the top of this page, we can also pray Psalm 139 and ask God to help us.
Why do I make a big deal of this false teaching issue? This is why:
2Pe 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
2Pe 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9 if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.
Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11 yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12 But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.
2Pe 2:13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
2Pe 2:17 These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
Yes, the false teachers will be paid back by God? But what about us? What if, because we’ve listened to false teachers, we get led so far away that we deny Jesus, turn to another source for our salvation, Etc? We must remember one line we read in every single letter in Revelation.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
We must use the power, wisdom, strength, comfort, and every possible help from the Holy Spirit to ensure that doesn’t happen. These seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation are excellent instructions on doing exactly that. What to watch for. How to overcome. How to be a true disciple of Jesus.
The Letter to the Angel of the Church in Philadelphia
So – let’s break down the letter to the church in Philadelphia. So, here’s what I have for it.
|To||the angel of the church in Philadelphia|
|From||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.|
|Divine Knowledge||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.|
|So -||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. 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. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.|
|Hear||He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. |
|To those who overcome||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.|
As you see, the church in Philadelphia got no bad news. Nothing under “But”. It’s the only church of the seven to receive nothing but good news from Jesus.
The tradition To and From headings are present.
Obviously, it’s to the church in Philadelphia. As we saw in the letter to the Ephesian church, it’s most likely not to an actual Heavenly angel. Rather it’s probably to someone, probably of a high position, within the church. To that end, Young’s Literal Translation says:
‘To the messenger of the Ephesian assembly write:” Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
The letter is from 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.
Since there’s no bad news in this letter, all of those things Jesus uses to represent Himself are obviously good. We’ll see how as we proceed.
There’s something interesting about the way Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia who He is. Unlike the other letters, none of those descriptions appear in the opening doxology.
From – He who is holy and true
In fact, only one of them even appears in the entire book of Revelation outside of this letter. That’s holy and true. By the way, that’s with either the English words or the Greek words, appearing in this manner. The people in the church in Philadelphia certainly knew that Jesus was holy and true.
But while they heard something that was somewhat new, at least in phrasing, that wasn’t the case for the other six churches. It feels like Jesus wanted to remind those who needed to return to the narrow path of something they probably heard before. Even if they didn’t immediately catch the deeper meaning of Jesus’ self-description, the words might get their attention enough for someone to see what they meant and spread the word. Of course, that assumes someone has enough incentive to do that. And enough care for others in their church to let them know what Jesus said to them at that deeper level. Which, finally, means someone has to have enough of the Holy Spirit in their lives to even get it.
That second instance of Holy and True is in Revelation 6.
Rev 6:1 I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
Rev 6:3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
Rev 6:5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
Rev 6:7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
All of that likely sounds really bad. But look at the reference to the one who is holy and true.
Rev 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
So Jesus’ reference to Himself as the one who is holy and true is likely a referral to what’s coming, rather than what’s past. The church in Philadelphia seems to fit in with this passage. Whether it’s the those that have already died, and are represented by those under the altar – or those who are still here on earth – they must still wait a little longer, and hang on.
More on that as we proceed.
We’ll see in the final letter to the church in Laodicea, there is a similar reference, but for a very different reason.
From – the one who holds the key of David
There are a couple references we need to look at to get an idea of where this comes from. Both are in Isaiah. The first comes from a section the NIV titles A prophecy about Jerusalem.
Isa 22:20 “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. 24 All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.
Isa 22:25 “In that day,” declares the LORD Almighty, “the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down.” The LORD has spoken.
There’s the reference to the key to the house of David. Without going into way too much detail, here’s something on what it was about.
22 Not only would Eliakim occupy the position of Shebna, but he would also receive tremendous power and authority from God. In this statement, “I shall give to him,” there may possibly be implied a rebuke to Shebna.
Shebna: Apparently a foreigner, possibly Egyptian; a contemporary of King Hezekiah. in charge of the palace. A position second only to the king.
Eliakim was about to be given that position by God.
The origin of the office, “over the house,” is involved in some obscurity. During Isaiah’s day at any rate, it seems to have grown in great significance; and this growth may well have been due to Shebna himself. There is no record in Scripture of the office’s having been divinely established. Perhaps we are not going too far afield if we assume that without divine warrant and authorization Shebna had arrogated to himself authority and influence that did not rightfully belong to him. Eliakim, however, will possess a power divinely entrusted to him.
So the position of power Shebna had taken for himself was about to be taken away from him and given to Eliakim.
He cannot be regarded as a usurper. Just as the master possesses the key to that house, and has complete authority with respect to permitting anyone to enter or to leave, and so entire authority over the house, so God will give to Eliakim a key to the house or dynasty of David.
Not only is the position being given to Eliakim, but God is also giving him the key to the house of David. A great honor. And, as we see next, responsibility.
This key will be placed upon his shoulder, an expression which means that the responsibility of the Davidic government is to rest as a burden upon Eliakim’s shoulder. The importance of the position is seen in that this same description is applied to the risen Christ in Revelation 3:7.
Revelation 3:7 – which is where we are not in the study.
Eliakim’s position was to manage well the great treasures of grace that were promised to David and to his house. Over this royal house he would have almost unlimited control. Were he to open the door, there would be no one at hand to shut it; and were he to shut it, no one would be present to open it. A man in such exalted position would yield an influence of great power over the king.
And now, with the reference to Were he to open the door, there would be no one at hand to shut it; and were he to shut it, no one would be present to open it, we see that Eliakim has a position that even has influence and great power over the King of Israel.
Why does God give to Eliakim such tremendous power? Is there not involved the danger that Eliakim’s office may constitute a threat to the king and so to the well-being of the theocracy? Has Eliakim entered into the place of Messianic type rather than the king himself? Perhaps these questions cannot be answered as fully as one might desire; the following line of thought, however, may at least point out the way to the correct answer. Although the king in Old Testament times was truly a type of the Christ, he was but a type, and not a complete equivalent of the antitype. Those duties which Christ Himself would exercise-for He alone is the Head and King of His Church-might, in the Old Testament dispensation, be delegated to ministers.
Remember, earlier in the Old Testament, the people wanted an earthly king, just like the other countries. God warned them what would come if their wish was granted. They wanted it anyway. And under the rule of “be careful what you ask for”, they got what they wanted. Sort. They also got what God warned them about.
Here, God is establishing a divinely appointed position over the earthly king. And with Jesus, He will restore Himself as the King.
We are then, first of all, to regard Eliakim as one who is a minister, a fact that is seen in the designation “My servant.” The power of the keys was not actually placed in his hand but upon his shoulder, for final authority resided in the king as God’s representative.
It’s an interesting note here about the shoulder, rather than in his hand. Remember, in Revelation, Jesus is the one who holds the key of David. In other words, it’s in Jesus’ hand. The final authority rests with Jesus, unlike when Eliakim had it on his shoulder. Of course, there’s still the matter of which things the Father has given the Son authority to do. After all, Jesus sits at the right hand of the father.
22:67-71 pp — Mt 26:63-66; Mk 14:61-63; Jn 18:19-21
23:2, 3 pp — Mt 27:11-14; Mk 15:2-5; Jn 18:29-37
23:18-25 pp — Mt 27:15-26; Mk 15:6-15; Jn 18:39—19:16
Lk 22:66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Christ,’” they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
Lk 22:70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”
As a servant or minister the power of the keys was entrusted to Eliakim, as in the New Testament age to Peter. It should be noted, however, that in the Gospels the figure of the keys is dropped and another, namely that of binding and loosing, is introduced. Here, however, as is the case in Revelation, the figure of the keys is carried through.
Well, not really dropped, so much as updated.
16:13-16 pp — Mk 8:27-29; Lk 9:18-20
Mt 16:13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
Mt 16:14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Mt 16:15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Mt 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Mt 16:17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Eliakim was a minister, but he was more; he was a true administrator of the kingdom. Christ Himself had no need of such administrators, but Himself undertook the responsibilities for the absolute administration of the kingdom … Young, E. (1969). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 19–39 (Vol. 2, pp. 114–115). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Summary – The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia
So the letter to the church in Philadelphia is from Jesus, who purifies those who follow Him, avenges those who persecute His followers, and has responsibility for administering God’s Kingdom.
Depending on whether we are followers or persecutors of His followers, two very different outcomes are possible. However, as we read the rest of the letter, it’s clearly addressed to His followers. The persecutors are not within the church.
|↑1||Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (p. 675). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑2, ↑3||Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (p. 676). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑4||Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (pp. 677–678). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑5||Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (pp. 678–679). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑6||Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (pp. 679–680). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑7||Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (pp. 681–682). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.|
|↑8||Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 3:7). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.|
|↑9||Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Re 2:1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.|
|↑10||Young, E. (1969). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 19–39 (Vol. 2, pp. 114–115). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.|