The Seven Churches of Asia: The Church of Philadelphia

wvAnd to the angel of the church inPhiladelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this  ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

The church of Philadelphia was situation approximately 25 miles from Sardis. The city was said to have derived its name from Attalus II, 159-138 BC, whose loyalty to his brother Eumenes won him the epithet “brother-lover”.[i] Philadelphia has rich soil due to being near a volcano and it became famous for growing vineyards and exporting wine. The trade guilds were well established in this city also and the god of this trade guild was none other than Dionysus, the god of wine. An earthquake and multiple aftershocks had levelled the city in 17 A.D. which hurt the city tremendously and Philadelphia became economically depend on Rome due to difficulties in recuperating from the earthquakes devastation.

The opening description of the Lord Jesus with respects to this particular church begins with the words “holy and true”. This is speaking of the very character of the Lord Jesus who is set apart in holiness and the very essence of truth itself. Christ was referred to in several different accounts as the Holy One of God and even demons recognized this (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; John 6:69) The Lord of the Church also addresses Himself as “true”. What we should remark is that He is true in opposite to those who professed to be Jews but who lied (v.9). The Lord Jesus is the truth (John 14:6) and it is only through the power of Christ that we may know Him who is true (1 John 5:20) The Lord Jesus is the very essence of truth itself. This title will be repeated in a later chapter (6:10) by the martyrs!

The 2nd description, “who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens” is a quotation of Isaiah 22:22. The authority and responsibility of the city of David was taken away from Shebna and given to Eliakim. The identification of the authority of Eliakim was that God will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, When he opens no one will shut, When he shuts no one will open. The one who possessed the key of David was the one who possessed the keys to the Kingdom of God. This text is brought in to establish the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ in that He holds the key to the kingdom. Entrance into the kingdom is found solely through Him. Those of Jewish descent who had converted to Christ would have been excommunicated from the synagogues which, in their minds, meant that they had been expelled from the covenant promises and the Messianic Kingdom. The synagogues were closed to these Philadelphian believers period however they had no authority over the kingdom which the Son of David[ii] had the sovereign authority and power to open up to them and no one could shut it. There is a parallel to this in 1:18 to which Christ is said to have the keys of death and hades hence the Lord Jesus also exhibits authority over salvation  and judgment.


The first address in regards to their current situation was a commendation whereas they were praised by the Lord of the Church. The Lord begins with stating that He has placed before them a door that no one can shut. We must firstly state that this “door” is probably speaking of a reward for their faithfulness because they had little power yet persevered by keeping the Lord’s word and not denying His Name. There have been different interpretations of this particular door.  I would see the door continuing the thought of v.7 in that no matter how much their enemies of the synagogue of Satan had desired to shut them out of the kingdom, the Lord of the Kingdom had placed a door that no one could shut and they have been granted access to the Kingdom.

As we have suggested, the reason for this reward is due to their faithfulness in persevering love for the Lord of the Church. The expression “you had little power” demonstrates that their perseverance was a real feet. The expression most likely means that they were small in numbers and some commentators even suggest that they were probably very impoverished. They were faithful witnesses and even in their weakness they obeyed the word and never denied the Name of their Lord.


We come to a controversial passage in scripture that employs strong language against the Jews in the city of Philadelphia. There is an encouragement given for those faithful brethren in Philadelphia  especially in regards to the suffering they had experiences at the hands of their oppressors. These ethic Jews would have seen themselves as the true covenant people of God but the Lord states that they were not authentic at all but they “lie”. The scripture is clear that For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)  The next phrase “I will make them come and bow down  at your feet and make them know that I have loved you” would have been absolutely shocking to those of the synagogue of Satan. These individuals would have expected to have all Gentile Nations come and bow down before them but, in fact, it was these individuals who would do the bowing before primarily Gentiles. The expectation was that They will walk behind you, they will come over in chains
And will bow down to you; They will make supplication to you:‘ Surely, God is with you, and there is none else, No other God.’”
(Isaiah 45:14)[iii] The tables would be turned and Yahweh’s covenant love was placed upon the true Israel which was the Church. [iv]


The Lord now returns to define what he meant by keeping His word and not denying His name which was that they persevered. Their obedience to Christ’s word was what pleased Him. They were loyal to Him even with little power and against great opposition. The reward for their endurance would be that they would be kept from the hour of testing which would come upon all the earth and all those who dwell on the earth. The common interpretation of this text especially by futurists is that the expression is referring to an event over 2000 years in the future. Beale points out that the expression “those dwelling on the earth” is used in 6:10 and elsewhere[v] as unbelieving idolaters. Beale writes:

Οιχουμένη (“inhabited world”) can have a universal reference as in 12:9 and 16:14, or more limited scope with respect to only the inhabitants of the Roman Empire as in Luke 2:1, or even some of its inhabitants in a part of the empire, as in Acts 11:28; 17:6; 19:27 and 24:5. Note that despite the limited reference in view, Luke 2:1 has “all (πασαν) the inhabited world” and even the likely more limited geographical references have “the whole (όλην or όλη) inhabited world”…A particularly interesting parallel is Acts 11:28, according to which Agabus prophesied that “there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this came about in the time of Claudius”.[vi]

What this hour of testing is we cannot be sure. We must remember that the Lord stated that this church in Philadelphia would be kept from it hence whatever this testing is, it is relevant to them.

Another issue that is raised is how the church will be kept from the hour of testing. Futurists, especially of the Dispensational persuasion, will argue that the means by which Christ protects the church from this testing is through rapturing the church prior to the great tribulation. We do not believe that this is the case especially in light of the greek parallel found in John 17:15 which demonstrated quite the opposite. In Christ’s High Priestly prayer, the Lord prays that: I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. The idea here is not to take the believers out of testing or tribulation but to preserve them through it.[vii]


The Lord of the Church proclaims to the Philadelphians that He will keep them from this hour of testing yet, in the very next verse, He commands them to “hold fast what you have”. This command is significant firstly because He is coming quickly. The imminence of His coming would have made the warning to keep far more serious. The Lord of the church is also giving them a reason as to why they need to hold fast in so they might not lose their crown. In Isaiah 22, Shebna had lost his crown to Eliakim because he would not repent and unfaithfulness. This is exactly what the Lord is warning against. They would be given the ability to endure this testing through the power of the Spirit and they were to hold fast as their pursuit to glory.


The promise for those of the Philadelphians who overcome is a fourfold reward that really stresses the importance of bearing the “name”. In other words, their identification with God and His promised blessings.

The idea of being made a pillar in God’s temple has a parallel in 1 Kings 7:21 where we read Thus he set up the pillars at the porch of the nave; and he set up the right pillar and named it Jachin, and he set up the left pillar and named it Boaz. The context in which this is stated is during the rebuilding of the temple. I believe that being made a pillar is very similar to bearing that pillar’s name as a means to honour the faithful ones. We believe however that it should be seen also as communicating something that is permanent as we can see from the expression “he will not go out from it anymore”. This was the very desire of King David whereas he proclaimed “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.(Psalm 27:4) What King David sought, the overcomers would receive.

The name they will bear are threefold mainly the name of their God, the name of their city, the New Jerusalem and the new name of their Lord. This is the promises that we find in the New heavens and New Earths (Revelation 22:3-4) and the identity of the 144,000 (Revelation 14:1-4). Beale sees this as a fulfilment of Isaiah 62:2 & 65:15.[viii] The new name in these contexts however was to be given to Israel yet, as we have already suggested, the blessings that were promised were given to both Jews & Gentiles in the Philadelphian Church and not to those of the Synag

[i] More Than Conquerors, W. Hendricksen, Page 74

[ii] Matthew 1:1; 22:42-25; Luke 1:32; 20:41-44; John 7:42; Acts 2:30-36; 13:34; Romans 1:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:8

[iii] Also see Isaiah 49:23; 60:14)

[iv] Beale and other commentators feel that this was to provoke jealousy among them which would in return prompt a massive coming to Christ by the Jews (Romans 11:11-31)

[v] Rev. 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8,12; 14:6; 17:2,8

[vi] The Book of Revelation, New International Greek New Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, G.K. Beale, Page 290

[vii] For an excellent discussion of the parallel see The Church and the Tribulation, Zondervan, Robert H. Gundry pages 54-61

[viii] More parallels might be suggested in the texts of Ezekiel 48:35 & Revelation 7:14-17


One thought on “The Seven Churches of Asia: The Church of Philadelphia

  1. Enjoyed this entry very much. Your comment on verse 12 was particularly encouraging to “fight the good fight of faith”

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