“Philadelphia” is literally translated “love-brother,” or, “brotherly love.” The city was known for its fertile land and for being the gateway to the east. Later in its history it became known as a little Athens. It was a “missionary” city that sought to promote both the Greek language and culture. This missionary spirit of the city’s leaders would naturally filter down to the general population. The Lord’s church would have those within who would likely have adopted such an approach to spreading the message of Christ, which was one of substance and value.
The Lord opens His address to the church with the identification of one who could open and close the door – with no one altering the Lord’s decision. Many years previous to this letter, the Lord said to His apostles that He (Jesus) has the “keys to the kingdom.” This phrase is used in clear association with the church He has since established. Thus, whatever Satan hurls against the Lord’s church will not overcome what the Creator builds (cf. Daniel 2:44).
With such a missionary spirit within the community of Philadelphia, and with such an encouragement toward an open door, it is no wonder why the Lord commended the church within this community the way he did. One will remember that another church of the seven, Smyrna, was also commended in glowing terms.
With the Lord’s authority being what it is, those who serve in His kingdom are charged to do what they can with what they have regardless of how much it is (cf. Luke 19:12-27).
Jesus’ Knowledge (3:8-9)
As Satan continued his effort to devour individual Christians in Philadelphia (cf. 1 Peter 5:8), the Lord encouraged His saints in their work, for He knew what they did. Satan, on the other hand, tried hard to shut off all opportunities that presented themselves before God’s saints (cf. Revelation 12:7-12). Perhaps the saints in Philadelphia were discouraged by these roadblocks they were experiencing.
The Lord, knowing their discouragement, could very easily have said: “You may be small (in your own eyes or in number), but a door is open to you and I will keep it open. And though you may feel like you cannot do much, because of your faithfulness, you already have.”
What is that door? It is unspecified, but with Jesus being the very “door” (John 10:9), surely brother West is correct when he says, “In a very real sense this church was the door by which the citizens of Philadelphia, whether Jew or Gentile, would enter into the Messiah’s Kingdom” (D. Gene West, Avenging His Holy Saints, Apostles and Prophets: A Commentary of the Book of Revelation, p.212).
The idea in these words is that the Lord knew there were people in that area who were ready to hear and willing to submit to his authority (cf. Acts 18:10).
It is likely the church in Philadelphia struggled against the false accusations Satan hurled against them. These false accusations came from none other than those who worshiped and worked at the synagogue of “the father of lies” (cf. John 8:44).
The Lord has knowledge of those who fight against His church. To those of Philadelphia, He reassures them that He is their protective measure. There was nothing that could (or can) be done and there is nothing that could (or can) be planned against them that would (or will) overcome those who belong to Jesus. Paul and Barnabas encouraged the saints to be aware of Satan’s efforts, but they could be sure they would enter God’s kingdom in spite of these afflictions if they stayed faithful to the Lord (Acts 14:22).
Jesus’ Commendation (3:10)
The nature of the trial that the church in Philadelphia was to experience, once again, is unstated. It really does not matter, however, because the persecution afflicted on others by Satan’s synagogue is no match for anything of the Lord. As intense as Satan is in his effort to overcome the Lord’s way, the Lord’s intensity far surpasses anything that a fallen being could sustain.
As Paul encouraged the saints to persevere through the trials they were going to face, the Lord commended the church in Philadelphia for their staying power through all the afflictions they experienced. They kept His word and did not deny His name when they were called upon to do so. Thus, when the hour of trial descends upon the “whole world” the Lord gave an “excused absence” to the Christians in Philadelphia because they have already passed the prerequisite tests given to them.
Jesus’ Exhortation (3:11-13)
Having experienced all that they have, Jesus again exhorts them to hold fast to the pattern of sounds words that delivered them from the bondage of corruption (cf. Romans 6:16-18). As they hold fast, they can be reassured that the Lord will come quickly and render judgment against those who war against His saints.
Whether this referred to some local judgment or to their paying the “ultimate price” is unknown. What is known, however, is that the Lord will reward all them that wait on Him. In either case, there is an eminent aspect to it.
Donald Taylor remarks that the Greek construction can give two different ideas relative to it. First, it can refer to the rapid rate of His coming, that is, fast. Second, it could be understood in the sense of soon. It seems best to understand it in the sense of soon based upon context (Donald R. Taylor, The Apocalypse: A Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 73).
Overcoming trials is always easier said than accomplished; it has always been this way and always will. Nevertheless, the Lord’s exhortation to each of us is to do exactly that.
His exhortation, however, is never accomplished without Him alongside of those He loves. When the Lord’s teachings dwell in our hearts (Colossians 3:16) we have the Lord with us (Ephesians 3:17). For those sanctified in Christ this is no small matter. In fact, it is so powerful that, as Paul asked, what can man do to anyone of us (Romans 8:31-39).
The Spirit of the Lord encourages us, as He did to those in Philadelphia, to hear what is said by God. His words are not for our pleasant reading, but for serious heeding. Only the Lord has authority to remove His candlestick (1:20). He will only do this once the light of Jesus’ life has gone out within the individual and then within the congregation.