In this sermon, Pastor Babij preaches on Jesus’ message to the church at Philadelphia in the book of Revelation. This church is the second of two churches that receives no condemnation from Jesus, only commendation. Pastor Babij explains three key characteristics of this church:
1. They drew their strength from the Lord
2. They kept His Word
3. They did not deny His Name
Pastor Babij urges listeners to hear all that the Lord has said to the seven churches and apply the ancient exhortations today.
Okay let’s take our Bibles this morning and turn to Revelation 3. Today we are looking at the church of Philadelphia. If you’re not that familiar with the Scriptures yet that’s okay, we’ve all been there, but the best thing would be to just open up and join us.
We’ve been looking at seven churches of Revelation and are on the last one now. Five of them had warnings and two of them had no warnings. The Lord is walking among the churches to see how they were doing. The churches are the lampstands, the stars are the leaders or the elders of those churches, and the job of the church is to hold up the light and share it with others, not just to keep it for themselves. The church is an institution that Got has given to the world that holds and shares the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Him being the center of the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. He becomes a very important to the church, One who we shouldn’t just find information about but come to know and love and serve.
So far of the five churches were that the first church was declining love and all these churches in some way diminishes the light of the gospel by the problems and warnings they had. A second church was tolerating bad doctrine or teaching. A third one is compromising sin within the church. A fourth is that of complacency, meaning to be self-satisfied without being aware of any possible danger. The last warning was that of Laodicea, who had spiritual indifference. That kind of attitude is nauseating to the Lord because that is lukewarmness which He wants to vomit out of His mouth.
This Lord’s Day, I would like to take a look at the second of the two churches identified in Revelation that had no warnings and no condemnations. It should be of great interest to us again that if a church has no warnings or condemnations, we should see what’s going on in that church so we can become like that church. Again, Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Head of His church walking among His people. He is personally present and in their midsts. He knows what’s going on and is examining their spiritual condition to see how they are doing. He does that so that these messages are impertinent in Revelation to our own examination and evaluation.
Now before I look at the text, Philadelphis is located approximately southeast of Sardis in the are of Asia Minor. It was founded by Atalis, who called it Philadelphios, which meant brother lover. Philadelphia meant the city of brotherly love, and it was a city of tremendous potential. Its mission in earlier days had been to spread helenism to the area beyond. It was referred to with a door of opportunity to promote the Greek culture over the Hebrew culture. Helenism is actually the name we give to the manifold achievements of the Greeks in social, political institutions and in the various arts in sciences, philosophy, in morals, and religion.
That was the mission of this city to have its own culture, and this is what their job was. There was some tension between the Hebrews and the Greeks in this city, as well as between the Christians in this city. It was famous for its vineyards and its hot springs and the city was destroyed during the reign of Tiberius in AD 17 and earthquakes were actually frequent in this area, making it very unstable. Many people lived in the rural areas around Philadelphia instead of the actual city itself. People called it Little Athens because of the prevalence of idols and pagan gods within the city. Dionysus was the god of wine that was the main deity of that city. So the church of Philadelphia had enjoyed freedom of pagan persecution and heresies within the church. But as was true in the church of Smyrna, the Jews had created difficulties for the Christians in Philadelphia, which is the background as we look in the text this morning.
The church first needs to know the character of Christ. Christ is the center and He is not only evaluating them but giving back who He is in His character. This is what we see in Revelation 3:7. But before I read that, let’s pray.
Lord, I thank You this morning for bringing us here together. I pray that as we open up the Word, which we are thankful to be able to do, and look at the Scriptures that have been protected all these years by the Holy Spirit, that we can depend and rely on them. They come from a God who tells us the truth and who cannot lie. So Lord we can rely completely upon them and what it says. I pray that as we look at this text this morning, it would press upon Your own heart and who You are, and how these Christians were not at all given a warning because of what they were carrying out in their small location in that part of the world. Help us to become like them and take on their character because we know it pleases You Lord and honors Your Name. It also keeps the light of the gospel shining brightly no matter what evil is going on around. And I pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.
So the first thing we see is the character of Jesus in verse 7:
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia 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.
So the Lord’s character in verse 7 is put before the evaluation of the Church. Christ’s attributes have something to do with the evaluation of the church. So the center of the church’s life is Christ, and He is holy. Jesus Christ is linked with the Old Testament designation of God, which reminds us of God’s crowning attributes, that He is the Holy One of Israel. This word means separated from what is common. God is not like us and He is separated from what is pure, holy, divine, merciful, loving and gracious character. None but God is absolutely holy.
In this context, it actually speaks of the Messiah. Holiness here is not emphasizing Christ’s sinless nature as much as it is emphasizing the role of God’s servant who is specifically set apart by the Father for the sake of the establishment of the church. It’s like in the book of Acts where it says in Acts 4:27:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus.
It mentions that Jesus is not only holy but a servant. Then it says in Acts 4:30 it says:
While You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.
This holy thought of Jesus being separate from humanity and yet God Himself. He comes the first time as a servant and this is vital to our thinking as Christians. When Jesus preached on the real cost of believing and following in Him in the gospel of John and the rest of the crowd left Him after preaching a real clear cost of being a believer, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked if they also will leave. Of course we get Simon Peter’s famous saying in John 6:68-69:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.
That becomes very significant in the minds and hearts of all believers that God is holy and because He is holy, He is just. And because He is holy and just, He must hold people responsible for their sin because of God’s character. A second thing in Revelation 3 is that He is also holy and true. Christ is the real deal and absolutely faithful to His Word and to His Father and to the plan of God. The terms hope and true apply to Christ and in Revelation 6:10 they are used to describe God when the passage is talking about the fifth seal. There was a cry for vengeance from the martyred saints that triggered the outpouring of God’s wrath to vindicate the ones who died for Christ. This is a call to begin the catastrophic judgment from God upon the earth. Revelation 6:10 says:
They cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Those were the martyrs who believed in Christ and killed for their faith during the time of God’s wrath being poured on the earth. So the fifth seal doesn’t really delineate the large scale persecution of the followers of Christ during the tribulation period. This prepares us for what comes next that is followed suddenly by the great catastrophe that leads the world to recognize this judgment of God. They are persecuted because they persecuted the followers of the Lamb.
So these two characteristics together may suggest that because God is holy, He is a God of wrath. Holiness implies purity, moral perfection, and absolute uprightness therefore God is against impurity and immortality and all unrighteousness. Because God is true, He said He would do something about all these evils and judge and avenge as He needs to. Also His Name answers to Him being true when we think of the Thessalonians. They turned away from idols to serve the living God. Living not only means that He is alive but also active, involved, and personal. He is the God who orders all things in Heaven and on earth.
The characteristic of living is given to contrast with the dead idols of the regions who neither can be alive or active or present. They’re just dead and can do nothing. That’s when you go back into the Old Testament like Psalms, you’re going to find that when you’re reading through it the Bible is always bringing up the character of idols. This is whether an idol is carved out of wood or stone or in your own imagination. It doesn’t matter because you’re worshipping something that is not the true and living God.
Let’s turn now to Psalm 115 and just notice what it says there about people who call these idols gods. In fact Psalm 96:5 says:
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
The Lord did something that the idols could never do. In Psalm 115:4-8 notice what it says:
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.
It’s really irony here where these people make these things and actually have some mystical thing that is connected to them where they worship, bow down, serve food, and pray to them and they are just nothing. In fact in the New Testament it says that all idolatry is satanic because Satan wants to rob God of worship and glory. And any way he can do it, he will do it. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 it says:
For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.
The false idols are contrasted with the true God because He is true and genuine. Jeremiah 10:10 says:
But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.
This further means that as we even consider the Thessalonians that they turn to the true and living God and it affected the totality of their religious life. It totally moved their social construct to a different place and changed them to give up their idols and religious system. In the present, they were able to worship God and had a hope for the future which they never understood or could have experienced with pagan idolatry or an imaginary god.
Back in Revelation 3:7 it says:
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:
Anyone who holds keys to something also has the ability to open or close something. Jesus’ faithfulness is described in relationship to possessing the key of David. The key in King David’s time had been given to Eliakim and it was a symbol of authority. Eliakim was over the house of David in fact Eliakim’s authority was transferred from Sheebna who was removed as an unworthy office of chamberlain and treasurer. In Isaiah 22:20-22 it says:
Then it will come about in that day, that I will summon My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah. And I will clothe him with your tunic and tie your sash securely about him. I will entrust him with your authority, and he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Then I 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.
So Eliakim was the son of Hilkiah who succeeded Sheebna as
the governor of the palace and grand visor under Hezekiah the king. The function of his office was that he was the manager and steward over everything. If he opened or shut something that was his authority. He opened and shut the door that led to the king’s treasurer. It’s mentioned like three times in Isaiah that Eliakim was over the household.
So at his installation, he is clothed with a robe and girdle, and the insignia of his office. And he has the government committed to his hand as the father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the house of Judah. Now that is directly connected to Christ. The key of the house of David is laid on His shoulder and He alone has the power to open and shut. This is symbolic of the king’s absolute authority as the king’s representative. Christ is the heir of the throne of David and He will replace all the less worthy stewards who have abused the trust of God’s spiritual house He will, as it says in the gospel of Luke, reign over Israel forever.
This is what it says in Luke 1:32:
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.
So in other words, Jesus keeps the keys of the Kingdom of God, both the earthly and Heavenly and He opens and shuts according to His will. Now that’s what it is saying in Revelation 3:7 where you notice there that there is one of the characteristics about who has the key of David. In other words, Jesus has the sole authority to open things and close doors to the Kingdom. He decides who is and who is not to be admitted. This power is described in Revelation 1:17-18 where it already said the statement with Jesus who has the keys of hell and death.
An open door means a sure entrance into the Messianic Kingdom. Despite the Jewish opposition that wants to close the door of the gospel and any opposition that wants to come against the church and snuff the light out of the testimony of Jesus Christ. But the bottom line is that Christ, the True David, has the key of the supreme government upon Him. He has the absolute authority to open and close the Kingdom and no one has the ability to counter Him.
In fact when you read other passages of Scriptures like in the book of Hebrews, it also communicates a truth that the Old Testament priests could not open the door of the Holy Place permanently. The Holy Spirit is to signify that the way into the Holy Place has not yet been opened because the blood of calves and goats could only temporarily bring someone in to the presence of God as they had their sins cleansed. The only One who is going to open the way completely to the Holy Place is Christ Himself. In Hebrews 9:13-14 it says:
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
So who opens the door of the gospel of the Kingdom? It is Jesus Christ who does it by the sacrifice of His own body on the cross. He sheds His blood and fulfills all the types and shadows of the Old Testament. He tears away the veil between the sanctuary and the inner sanctuary. People have access to God through Jesus Christ to be forgiven of their sins.
Another thing that Christ does is to open doors for us providentially. He is the Providence of our lives. He is our Lord and Master and Savior. What we call chances are not really chances. The opportunities that come to us are God given opportunities. The door He opens before us are those that He swings open. The doors He keeps shut are ones we cannot open ourselves. God providentially works within our lives. The Apostle Paul asked the Colossian church to pray for Him. It says in Colossians 4:3:
praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.
The Lord is about to evaluate the church and before He does that He lets them know who He is. He has the keys that opens and shuts. He is the One who is the True God and the Holy God. In other words, because of who He is you ought to listen. It comes to the next point and that is the condemnation and there is none. Jesus is the One who evaluates and does not condemn the church for anything. His skillful eye finds no criticism for this church. In Revelation 3:8 it says:
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.
What is interesting about this passage of Scripture is that this church is being described for us by the Lord as a church that really is not large. It is a small group of believers. It says in verse 8 that He knows their deeds and what is going on in their hearts and congregation. He gives three characteristics of their faithfulness.
The crowning attribute of every Christian is to just be faithful. In fact, that’s what this church is. This is a patient, faithful church. Look what it says in verse 8. He identifies their faithfulness as dependence. This probably means that the church had little influence in their area. The members probably were of the lower classes. They actually drew their strength from the Lord Himself. They learned that when they are weak, God is strong. And God’s power is perfected in their weakness. When you think you’re strong, God is not usually working, you are and you get caught in the flesh.
We also can draw out the observation that to bear quietly may just as be a divine calling as having a large hope on grand things that are happening. Christians are comforted with the assurance that the design of their enemies would not be permitted to succeed. But the confidence wasn’t based on their power, but on God’s power only. Many from that city would enter the Redeemer’s fold because God opened the door to the gospel. People you would never expect would come into the Kingdom and be a part of the family.
The second thing Jesus commends them of is their devotion. They kept the Word. Obedience in spite of being little is shown here. They would not let go of what they learned of the Lord’s Word. They were not interested in entertaining new beliefs or in the idolatry all around them. The strength of the church does not consist of worldly wealth or wisdom and power, but only faithfulness to the Word of God. This is what God commends them for, being little but also faithful.
The little power of this kind can have great effects on the united powers of earth and hell. This kind of little strength is usually exercised with full faith and prayer and that’s what Christ prized with them. They were a church that were not only fully dependent on Christ because they did not have a lot of power themselves. But they also were faithfully devoted to the Word of God.
Another thing mentioned in verse 8 is that they did not deny His name. They were faithfully not to deny the name that was not popular in their area. These believers were firm in their will to stick to God’s Word and to keep holding to the correct teaching and message of the gospel, even when under the pressure of the government and the position to denounce Jesus as Lord. They didn’t do it, they just kept faithful.
Sometimes that is all God calls us to do on this side of eternity. And that’s what this church is commended for. They receive no warnings or condemnations. They were just a faithful small group of people who did not deny Christ.
I consider these people special warfare operators. They took the fire and did not budge. That pleases the Lord because they put all their truth in what God says in the Word of God. It’s not just the present but also the future for a believer. We have a hope that no one else has. Remember that this faithfulness has always been the test of divine blessing rather than success. We put so much stock on results and success because we have a corporate business mindset. But this church would flunk every business test, but to the Lord they were faithful not to deny His name. Because He called them, they are not strong, but God is.
This also could be how God’s power is displayed in their weakness by bestowing upon them gifts that only God Himself can give them. What are they? They are actually two bestowals of divine gifts. One is in verse 8 where it says “I’ve put before you an open door which no one can shut.” In other words, they had the gift of undeniable entrance into access to God and His Kingdom. No matter what happened to them, no one could shut the door to the Kingdom of God. Also they proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ that unlocks the promise of the Kingdom to all who repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They had that open door to them. Even in the midst of this wicked culture that they lived in, God opens the door to the gospel and saves people.
A second divine gift is that of vindication in Revelation 3:9 which says:
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.
This is interesting! It’s an incredible statement that the Lord will declare that His children were not to be blamed or guilty of lying but will make the real liars acknowledge that the believers in Jesus Christ were right and that He makes them bow low before them and makes them know whom God really loves. He doesn’t love the Jewish liars who belong to Satan’s gatherings, and that’s anybody who is against Christ. They don’t hold to the Word and the correct view of Christ. They don’t acknowledge Christ as Savior but actually deny Him. That’s the synagogue of Satan and his message. He wants to overthrow what God has established.
What is very interesting about this is that if these Jews, who are not really Jews because they are not covered to Christ, come against the church, Christ will do something. He literally will give some of those members of the synagogue of Satan over as converts to the members of the church! He will save those who hate Him the most. That also happened to the Apostle Paul. He came against the church to destroy the church and kill believers, but God saved Him.
In other words, when God opens a door, don’t ever think that a person won’t get saved or that that person can’t come into the Kingdom of God. The world we live in is in the Age of Grace where the gospel is still going out. That’s why you are sitting here now! The Lord still has a door open and people are still coming even though we think they would never come. The Lord says He is going to save them and they will bow down to Him.
All the things you thought about God and how to be right with Him were all wrong before you were saved. Then God shows you the truth and changes our thinking. Christ also promises that because they have been faithful to endure persecution just as He did, He will be faithful to keep them from the hour of testing which will come upon the whole world.
So this will be the day of humiliation for all religious and nonreligious believers. In other words, God will honor believers before the face of unbelievers and that is said in several places in Scripture. Another divine gift gives them is exemption. And if you notice in Revelation 3:10 it says:
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.
The Lord’s way of delivering those who keep His Word is that He shuts them away from the temptation that comes upon others. They didn’t go beyond what is written in the Word of God or let the world’s system pressure you into what it was thinking. They did not hold to the traditions and commandments of men and because of that, God exempts them from the hour of testing.
Now this refers to the tribulation period that will come upon the world. I believe that the church will not go through this period and will be exempt from the trials of tribulation. But I also know there are others in the Church who will go through the tribulation. The point is that whatever place you land, God provides the protection. He is the One who keeps His people and keeps them from that particular time. I believe that when the day of the Lord comes spoken of in the Old Testament. The first thing that triggers it is the rapture of the saints in the air to be with Him forever. The Lord does not come first to the earth, but we meet Him in the air and go to Heaven with Him. This triggers the start of God’s wrath identified by the apostasy, those who have held to the Bible but not are saying they don’t believe it by their actions. It also reveals the man of sin, Satan, who exalts himself as God. He is revealed in a good way as a political leader and someone who can solve problems without war. He will eventually proclaim himself to be so magnificent that he is God. He will sit on the throne in Jerusalem and get people to worship him.
Consequently, the coming of Christ for the church is followed by an extended period of time in which God releases all the judgments for the tribulation period. God’s children, the church, whom He loves, will be caught up to Himself before the seven year period. That’s what I believer the Scripture teaches. Then Christ will come the second time with the mighty angels and the saints to pronounce and execute judgment. That’s when he actually comes to the earth after the tribulation and sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem. He rules the world, and we do it with Him. That’s before the New Heaven and New Earth.
He is saying to these believers that this is their future and what He will protect them from and what they will be part of. They will not be part of this extreme test that falls on the ungodly world and the judgment that comes with it. They will be with Jesus as He rescues them in salvation and the forgiveness of their sins. He will also rescue them from this severe time of trouble and tribulation. That will come on the whole world, that has not yet happened.
Back in Revelation 3:11 the counsel that Jesus gives is this:
I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Of course the command was for them and for us to remain ready, faithful, and committed. The Philadelphians were told to hold fast what they have until Christ comes. He will take them to a place where no one can take their crown away. Of course, the crown here is not a symbol of royalty but a floral wreath that was placed on the heads of the victors whether winning a race or a conquering general. The crown here is an emblem of victory, festivity, and joy. He promised to them that the one He gives, no one will be able to take away.
He gives them a challenge and a promise in Revelation 3:12-13. It is given to those who overcome and persevere to the end with God’s help. Those who do not deny His Name are provided for. He is the One who is holy and true and keeps His promises. He gives them 3 promises to hold on to while they wait for Him. Revelation 3:12 says:
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore.
Pillars are strong symbols of strength and stability. Historically, earthquakes dispersed these people leaving their home situations unstable. God is saying here that He is going to give them a permanent, stable dwelling they will be a part of. The promise to the overcomer is that they will have a secure and permanent place in the temple of the New Jerusalem. All true believers will enjoy a place in God’s presence forever in which all the saints on earth will be eternally secure with God in the New Heaven and Earth.
The second promise is that of ownership. It says in the rest of Revelation 3:12:
And I will write on him the name of My God.
All true believers will receive a permanent name tag in a sense written in God’s own hand that will include the Name of God. The name tag depicts ownership for His faithful bondservants. They are sealed with the seal of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God will protect those who bear His Name, and don’t deny His Name. God’s Name is written on them, an indication of their eternal relationship with them.
A last promise He gives them in Revelation 3:12 is:
The name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
All true believers will have a permanent residence written with God’s own hand that will include the following information, the city of God, the New Jerusalem. That means they have complete residence and access to this city all the time. Now this all leads to Revelation 21:3, where it says:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.
That’s the promise that we have that God’s presence in the city is the greatest blessing that you and I will receive from God. God is not just a visitor nor are we visitors. But we are permanent occupants. We are there so that God’s people may live in His presence and enjoy Him forever without all the stuff that we deal with here on earth. There will be no death or dying, no sorrow or tears, nor pain.
We are going to enjoy the presence of God without the curse of sin being in our midst. It’s going to be an incredible and an indescribable time. I don’t even have human words to describe it. The conqueror will be given the assurance that he belongs to God, to the New Jerusalem, to Christ, and that He will everlastingly share in all the blessings and privileges of all three forever. That’s what the Lord tells this small church that really had no strength but had the power of God behind them in everything that they did. And how does this passage end? In Revelation 3:13 it says:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
In other words, Christ bids every church to heed what He says in each church and then examine ourselves appropriately based on what the Lord says. I don’t know about you, but this is a great encouragement to believers to keep going and being faithful no matter what issues come into your lives. Things may change in our country or circumstances, but we are to just keep faithful. That’s what the Lord tells them. In doing so, all these promises and privileges of being a citizen of the Kingdom of God, being owned by God and being a permanent residence within the place that God dwells is the greatest promise and blessing that we could ever hear with our ears, think with our minds, and have the privilege of saying that that is my promise. That’s something that will keep us forever faithful, no matter what.
Let’s pray. Lord, this morning, Your Word defines things for us that our minds could have never conceived. We thank You, Lord, that You are a God that tells us the absolute truth and that means we can depend on everything You say. We want to be people just like the churches, like the church at Philadelphia, that hold to Your Word, have a correct understanding of the character of Christ, and also that we do not deny Your Name. Lord, make us faithful like that. And anything else You allow us to do or have, we know that that is solely Your grace and mercy. We want to give You the praise and honor for all that You have done already and all that You are going to do.
We want to honor Your Name and learn how to please You every day. And I pray in Your Name, Amen.