Of all the churches we’ve journeyed through, I get most excited about the church of Philadelphia. Hands down! Why? It’s the one other church (besides the persecuted church of Smyrna) that receives no rebuke from Jesus, only affirmation! This church “gets it,” and, as a result, there’s much that we can learn from this little group of believers.
In Revelation 3:7-13, Jesus opens His letter to the Philadelphia church by making an important claim: “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (vs. 7, NKJV). Jesus’ words become extremely meaningful when we understand the background to the Philadelphian story. Verse 9 clues us in to the fact that this church has undergone vicious persecutory attacks from fellow religious brothers and sisters. This persecution arose either from the Jewish synagogue community from where the church grew out of, or from false Christians who have driven the faithful Philadelphian believers out of a larger congregation body. These false believers have essentially slammed the door in the face of this church of Philadelphia. In a sense, they’ve attempted to restrict access to God’s spiritual “temple.” But Jesus says, I alone have the key of David… “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Jesus assures His faithful followers that He will publicly affirm them one day and that the false believers will be forced to “acknowledge that you are the ones I love” (NLT).
When it comes to what this church is doing right, verses 8 and 10 give us the outline: “for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name… you have kept My command to persevere…” (NLT) I think we can break this down into four points, four areas which we can model our own church after:
- For you have a little strength… This is a church that first and foremost recognizes its own weakness. The congregation depends not on their own strength but on the strength of Jesus Christ!
- Have kept My word… This is a church that has immersed itself in the Word of God! The believers have dug their roots deeply down into Scripture, where they draw their strength and spiritual nourishment.
- Have not denied My name… This church centers its identity in Christ Jesus – His name, His character, His mission!
- You have kept My command… This church obeys the Word of God! (Enough said!)
Because of their faithfulness, Jesus gives wonderful words of promise for the Philadelphian church: “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God” (vs. 12, NLT). Did you catch the additional references to the temple? Despite being excluded from the “temple” community of their false brethren, Jesus promises to make the Philadelphians pillars in His real temple. Jesus is promising the believers full, unhindered access to His very own eternal Presence! He also promises to write His name—His character and identity—on them. When Solomon constructed the first temple, he erected two principal pillars and he named them Jakin and Boaz. Jakin means “He establishes,” and Boaz means “in Him is strength.” This church recognizes its own weaknesses, but now Jesus promises to establish them in HIS strength!
I pray that our own church can be modeled after the faithfulness of the Philadelphians. But it all starts with individuals. It all starts when we each depend on Christ for our strength, immerse ourselves in Scripture, center our purpose in Jesus Christ, and obey His Word!