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Philadelphia: Powerless, But Persevering (Revelation 3:7-13)

November 9, 2014 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 3:7–3:13

Happy Ever After

Philadelphia: Powerless, But Persevering
Revelation 3:7-13
(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)
November 9th, 2014


I. Introduction (via the Introduction)

Let me begin this morning by reminding you of how this letter, this book of the Revelation, begins: Listen to 1:1-3...

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, [2] who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. [3] Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

As we return this book, I pray those words encourage, sober, humble, captivate, and excite you in light of what we're studying. Turn with me to Revelation 3:7-13.


II. The Passage: “The Church in Philadelphia” (3:7-13)

In this passage we find the sixth letter, or mini-letter, that was dictated by Jesus to John in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. This one is addressed to the church in Philadelphia. And no, I don't mean Pennsylvania. This Philadelphia was established by the Pergamum king Eumenes II in 189 BC. He named it in honor of his brother, Attalus II, who was called Philadelphus, which means, “he who loves his brother”.

So once again, using the basic structure that we find in all of these mini-letters, let's listen to what Jesus tells the disciples in Philadelphia, and then consider what message Jesus is sending to us now through this message from long ago.


A. Description of Jesus (3:7)

Look with me at the description of Jesus that introduces this letter in verse 7...

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.'”

Just as in the other letters, Jesus chooses to introduce himself in this letter in a way that has particular relevance for the Philadelphian church. So there is a uniqueness to this description, but in more ways than one. This description is the only one of the seven letters not to be drawn from chapter one. 1:18 does mention “the keys of Death and Hades”, but here only one key is mentioned, “the key of David”. We'll talk more about what that means in a minute.

But while the description here does not connect with the vision of chapter 1, it does connect with other parts of the book. For example, Jesus is called “holy” in 15:4, “true” in 19:11, and “holy and true” in 6:10. We also see in 5:5 and 22:16 that Jesus is called the “root of David”. But what does He mean when he says he has the “key of David”? Well the language of verse 7 comes right out of Isaiah 22:22, talking about a man named Eliakim...

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:22)

But to understand what the phrase means in this context, we need to look at verse 8-10.


B. Diagnosis of Believers (3:8-10)

Look at the diagnosis of these believers, the assessment of this church, that Jesus announces, beginning in verse 8...

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. [9] Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. [10] Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth."

Once again, Jesus makes it clear to His readers that He is perfectly acquainted with the who, what, how, and why of this church and its ministry. He knows. He knows them. He knows their works. And right away we see a connection to the phrase “key of David” from verse 7. Did you see it there in verse 8? Behold, I have set before you an open door, which...no one is able to shut. Notice how the context helps us make sense of all this “key” and “door” language.

This church is clearly suffering. They are being persecuted. And like the church in Smyrna, the Philadelphian church is being persecuted by Jews in that city. And just like in His message to the Smyrnan church, Jesus refers to these Jews as a “synagogue of Satan”, since they have unwittingly aligned themselves with the devil by positioning themselves against God and God's people.

So how were the Jews persecuting these disciples? Well, if some of these Christians were converted Jews, then there could have been all sorts pressure and slander from friends and family members. They also might have been accused by the Jews before the Romans as being unfriendly to the Emperor, since they confessed this man Jesus as Lord of all and would not worship the Caesar.

But given the language about the “open door” and the “key” it's also safe to assume that these Jews were attempting to discourage the Christians. “You think you are God's people. You are nothing more than dirty Gentiles and unfaithful Jews. We are God's covenant people. We have Moses and the law. We have David. We have the promises. You are nothing but pretenders and corrupters of the truths.”

So I think they were attempting to “shut the door” on these Christians; declaring they were barred, they were prohibited from entering into the favor and presence of God.

Remember what Jesus said to many of the Jewish leaders in Matthew 23:13...“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut [same word in Greek] the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

But remember what Jesus is stating here. Clearly these Christians have very little social capital or political clout. They have no real influence. They are in some sense powerless against the forces which oppose them. But look at how He is reassuring them. “I have the key of David. I am the King of this kingdom. I say who is in and out. I have set before YOU and OPEN door. THEY cannot shut it...behold, I will make THEM come and bow down before YOUR feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.”

And because they have patiently endured in the face of this suffering, Jesus assures them that they will be protected from a more intense and larger scale time of suffering that is coming.


C. Directive to Action (3:11)

And look at how verse 11 continues this encouragement in a directive to action. They have “kept his word” (v. 8), and “not denied [His] name” (v. 8), and “patiently endured” (v. 10), the call of Jesus is simply to continue the race. Verse 11...

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

Remember, Jesus has already told three of the five churches we've studied that He will come to them, but that was in the context of judgment. Here the context is most certainly one of comfort. You may recall Jesus similarly encourged the faithful in Thyatira: Only hold fast what you have until I come. (2:25) So what did Jesus mean when He said He was “coming soon”? Well, this certainly isn't a unique promise in terms of Revelation. Listen again to the beginning of the book:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place...blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (1:1, 3)

And then also at the end of the book:

And behold, I am coming soon.” (22:7) “Behold, I am coming soon...” (22:12) “Surely I am coming soon.” (22:20)

Sounds like Jesus Christ wanted to tell them something very important. The book itself begins and ends with this assurance. I'm not sure we can fully answer all the questions that statement raises about the timing of all these things. But I think we can say that this declaration would have been hugely significant for the first readers, and should be for us as well.

Whatever we might feel or think about God's involvement in our suffering, we cannot say He is distant and distracted. No, He is poised and prepared. He has and will intervene. His purposes will not be delayed. What an encouragement that must have been for the Philadelphian church. Jesus says, “Don't let anyone discourage you by encouraging you to drop out of the race. The crown, the winner's wreath is yours. Keep going! Run!”


D. Danger to Consider

And so, keeping these things in mind, if we move onto the “danger to consider”, we discover that, just like we saw with the letter to the church in Smyrna in 2:8-11, this church is given no warning. Why? Because the diagnosis given by Jesus contains no mention of unhealthiness in the church.


E. Declaration of Reward (3:12, 13)

And if there wasn't already enough encouragement for this struggling church, Jesus heaps on the promises in verses 12 and 13. Listen to this declaration of reward:

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. [13] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Foothold #4 taught us to always take this letter, this book of the Revelation as a whole. And when we do that, we realize that near the end of this book, God will tell these disciples even more about His temple and about His city, the New Jerusalem. And God's possession of them will be sealed forever, as they bear not only the name of God, but also the name of God's city, and Jesus' own new name. Later in the vision, John would record this sight...

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)


III. More Reminders for a Suffering Church

As we think about this beautiful message from Jesus to His followers in ancient Philadelphia, I think we are reminded, just as we were with the letter to Smyrna, that Christ wants to help us through seasons of suffering. Do you remember the three reminders Jesus gave us through His letter to Smyrna? When it comes to suffering...

1) Jesus reminds us of the fact before the fight, 2) Jesus reminds us of the purpose behind the pain, and 3) Jesus reminds us of the crown beyond the cross. I'd encourage you to go to that message online if you want to dig into those ideas a little deeper

But in this letter, I think we find three more reminders for a suffering, reminders that can and should also give us comfort and courage when we face “various trials” (I Peter 1:6) or “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). Consider these principles...

Number one, present feelings of duress can never change future blessings of access.

When you are stuck in the midst of struggle and turmoil and trials, from within or without, it is so easy to feel like you are going nowhere. Like you are and will forever be stuck at a dead end of despair. In those times, Jesus is reminding you: “Don't be afraid. I have opened a door that can never be shut. No person or problem can close it. Peter mentioned this very thing when he said: For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:11)

Number two, present feelings from actual animosity can never change future blessings of affirmed affection.

When we are being slandered or marginalized, or rebuffed and rejected, in whatever way, it is tempting to forgot the love of Jesus in the face of the world's lovelessness. It is tempting to forget who is for us when everything and everyone seems to be against us. But just a Jesus reminded the Philadelphian believers, He reminds us: behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. You are loved now, I am love now, and one day, that love will be confirmed before all creation. Doesn't that excite you and encourage you.

Number three, present feelings of serious danger can never change future blessings of certain delight.

When you are in the midst of a season of suffering, it is a fight to feel safe. Dangers seem very real. From concerns about our health and relationships, to fears about our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, trials can feel so dangerous. But Jesus reminds us that our endurance now will mean protection later from the suffering that will come as a result of God's judgment. All of us will suffer. But it's either suffer for Jesus now, or suffer without Jesus then. And even if we find ourselves in the midst of that “hour of trial”, the prayer of Jesus from John 17 will be answered...

"Holy Father, keep [same word as Revelation 3:10] them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [12] While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost...the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. [15] I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." (John 17:11, 12, 14, 15)

And don't forget that description of what God has promised for the conquerer, the overcomer. We will be firmly established as pillars, as those marked, as citizens of a heavenly city. And no one can take that from us. It is certain. It is as immovable as we will be in His presence.

But our patient endurance now and our realized blessings then both come from the same source: God's grace. In and of ourselves, we don't have the strength to persevere, and therefore we could never earn such blessings. The Philadelphians had little power, but they persevered. How? Because another power was at work within them. The death of Jesus long ago means life for us now, power to live today, and power to live forever. In every case, it is power to live for God. Is that what you want? What you know you need? Then do the only thing that can make it yours: believe. Trust Him today. He has loved us. Let's start living or keep living trusting that's true...because wonderfully, it is! 

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