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. 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. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 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.’
In his biography of the late Christian musician Larry Norman, Gregory Thornbury writes about how Larry became indicative of the view of church embraced by many young people in the Jesus people movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Neither the media nor many churchgoers had expected a revolution to take place so far outside the confines of institutional religion on one hand, and the American mainstream on the other. In a television interview Larry Norman took pains to explain the difference. When asked by a reporter if he had been religious before his “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” he replied, “I was religious, but Jesus isn’t a religion. People make up a religion about him, but he’s more than a religion.”
REPORTER: What do you mean “more”?
NORMAN: He’s real. To me religion’s not real, it’s all based on superstition, guilt, and ritual. Jesus isn’t.
REPORTER: Explain that to me.
NORMAN: Well, I don’t have to go to church every day. I go to church in my heart. I don’t have to kneel or bow, [because] my spirit has been humbled and bowed. I’m not afraid of the preachers or approval of the members of the church. I just have to be right before God. I have to read my Bible to stay informed on who man is and who God is…The whole Bible is real to me. It’s accurate. I didn’t used to think that way. I was too intellectual, but now my mind is more cleared up than when I thought I was intellectual. Now it all makes sense.
Writing of Norman’s devaluation of assembling together in church, Thornbury writes:
Suddenly it became plausible to Christian young people that following Jesus and listening to their pastor might be two different, and possibly unrelated, behaviors. The “church of the heart” became the de-facto ecclesiology of the Jesus movement. All of this sort of talk was enough to make the phenomenon suspicious at best and dangerous at worst to what at that time was “the evangelical industrial complex.”
I want to argue that, in point of fact—and I actually write as a fan of the music of Larry Norman—Larry Norman’s idea of the “church of the heart” is dangerous insofar as it is synonymous with “there is no need to gather with other Christians.” On the contrary, I want to argue that the gathered and worshiping and singing and scripture-reading and walking together church is a powerful, beautiful, and needed reality. It was to the churches that Jesus spoke His seven letters in Revelation, not to detached individuals. And in His words to the church of ancient Philadelphia, Jesus reveals not only His great love for His church but also the many ways that He helps and sustains His people together. In this letter, we find many things that Jesus gives His church.
The church of Philadelphia is a good church. There is no rebuke here. There is no judgment. They are small but they are faithful. They are persecuted but they endure. And it is to this church that Jesus offers His presence and His strength.
Jesus gives His church an open door.
First, we find that Jesus gives His church what He calls “an open door.”
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. 8a-c “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.
It is Jesus who can open and shut doors. When He opens a door it cannot be shut and when He shuts a door it cannot be opened. But, in verse 8, Jesus says that it is an “open door” that He has offered the church of Philadelphia. What does this mean?
There are two ways of interpreting “open door” in verse 8.
One way is to see “open door” as a reference to increased mission and ministry. This is how it is often used in scripture. Consider:
And when tey arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27)
for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Corinthians 16:9)
When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord(2 Corinthians 2:12)
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison (Colossians 4:3)
Another way is to see “open door” as a reference to salvation or Christ Himself (John 10:7,9, “So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”)
Scott Duvall takes this position.
While some believe the “open door” refers to an opportunity for further missionary work (cf. Paul’s use in 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12), the immediate context suggests that it refers instead to entrance into God’s kingdom that Christ alone can provide (3:7). Jesus now assures the believers in Philadelphia that he has opened the door of the kingdom to them, and no one—not even the local synagogue rulers or the Roman emperor himself—will be able to keep them from entering…
I will also point out that this idea of an “open door” referring to a relationship with Jesus can be seen just a little later in our own chapter, Revelation 3:
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
But I would like to argue that “open door” need not be a reference to either missions or the presence of Christ. I would like to argue that it can be and likely is a reference to both. The presence of Christ with His people inevitably leads us to greater missions and ministry efforts and opportunities. Furthermore, greater missions and ministry draws us closer into Jesus. This promise of an open door is therefore the great blessing of the ministry/mission-empowering presence of Jesus Christ with His church.
He is telling the Philadelphians that He is not through with them or distant from them.
Jesus gives His church His conquering love.
What is more, Jesus is telling them that He loves them and that His love is stronger than the hatred of the devil.
8d-e 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.
We get a glimpse into the life of this church in the phrase “little power.” They are small. They are not impressive by worldly standards. They are beleaguered. They are being persecuted by the local Jewish population, the “synagogue of Satan.” These Jews were a motley crew and, in fact, were condemned for their worldliness by other more-observant Jews! G.K. Beale makes the interesting observation that “[e]ven latter Rabbinic authorities condemned the Jewish community in Philadelphia for its compromise with the pagan culture.”
They were attacking the church of the living God. They were persecuting God’s people. And against this threat Jesus tells the church two things:
- These persecutors will one day bow before them in defeat and humility.
- These persecutors will know that the church is loved by Jesus.
This love of Christ for His bride is therefore a conquering love, an overcoming love. It is stronger than the hate of the devil or of the devil’s agents of harm. The love of Christ for His church is greater than Satan’s hatred of the church.
The church has suffered in many ways throughout her history. In many parts of the world she suffers even now. But it is the love of Christ that sustains her, that keeps her, that will see her through!
Jesus gives His church endurance and protection.
What is more, Jesus promises to protect the church and see her through tribulation and hardship.
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.
Let us be clear that Jesus never says His followers will not suffer. He promises, however, that He will sustain us through suffering and give us spiritual protection against our enemy.
The key phrase here is, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” This would appear to be a reference to the tribulation. The Greek phrase tereo ek, “keep you from,” is most interesting. What does Jesus mean when He says He will “keep us from the hour of trial”?
Leon Morris observes that “[k]eep you from (ek) the hour of trial might mean ‘keep you from undergoing the trial’ or ‘keep you right through the trial’. The Greek is capable of either meaning.” This is true, but the latter meaning—“keep you right through the trial”—is the preferred meaning here.
The point of Revelation 3:10 is not the rapture of the church out of the world but rather the protection of the church in the world.
Robert Gundry argues that Revelation 3:10 and the phrase “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” is “[p]robably the most debated verse in the whole discussion about the time of the Church’s rapture…” He argues, however, that it does not refer to the Church being raptured out of the world before the tribulation but rather being protected through the events of the tribulation while still in the world. His arguments include:
- The Greek word ek (from) almost never means “a stationary position outside its object” and only does so “in exceptional cases in classical Greek.” It usually means “emergence from within” and this “would therefore seem to thwart a pretribulational interpretation of the verse” since it “could only mean that the Church had been within the hour of testing.”
- Of the 336 times that ek appears in John’s writings “[t]here is not a single instance where the primary thought of emergence, or origin, cannot fit, indeed, does not best fit the thought of the context.”
- If ek is taken to mean “exit” then the word “keep” in “I will keep you from the hour of trial” has no meaning. As Gundry puts it: “It would be sheer sophistry to say that the Church will be removed immediately upon entrance into the hour, for then the keeping will last only for an instant and the promise becomes devoid of real meaning.”
- The only other time the phrase tereo ek, “keep you from,” is used in the New Testament is John 17:15 (“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”), but here the phrase is used in deliberate and clear contrast to “take them out of the world.” Meaning, to Jesus, whatever tereo ek means it means the opposite of taking someone out of the world, which is the very idea of the rapture of the church.
These are powerful and persuasive arguments. I agree with Scott Duvall when he writes:
The book of Revelation as a whole makes little sense if we say that Christians will never experience suffering and persecution. We need to abandon the “exemption theology” made popular by end-time novels in favor of “endurance theology” made clear by Jesus himself.
No, Jesus does not say in Revelation 3:10 that the church will be absent when suffering and tribulation comes. He says rather that He will protect us and keep us through it. A good parallel here would be Israel in Egypt during the plagues. The Lord God did not remove them until after the plagues had come, but He did protect and keep them in and through the plagues.
This is an important point, for many Christians for two thousand years have suffered and suffered greatly. The message to the suffering church is this: no matter how much you might physically suffer, your Savior is with you and will keep you and guard you. Your heart and soul is in His hands and even your body will be resurrected one day. We can endure not by escaping hardship, but by not being alone in and through hardship.
Christ is with His church!
Jesus gives His church a forever home.
But there is even more. Jesus also promises His people a home. In a beautiful passage Jesus encourages the church by saying:
11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 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.’
To understand this we must know that one of the most painful events to happen to Jewish followers of Jesus was being put out of their synagogues and basically disowned by the wider Jewish world. They were told, upon accepting Jesus, that they were now on the outside and had no home among their people. It is to these followers that Jesus makes the astonishing promise, ‘I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” This is not only a home. This is a forever home. For a pillar in the temple of God is a solid reality indeed!
But there is another historical reality this is playing on and it has to do with the instability of the region in which the Philadelphian Christians lived. Gordon Fee says of “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” that this language “anticipates a stability of the kind Philadelphians knew but little.” This is at least in part because of the constant earthquakes that the Philadelphians experienced. Fee explains:
The most important feature of the town, however, was its location almost atop the fault responsible for the severe earthquake noted above regarding Sardis (17 CE), of which Strabo writes just a few years later, “Philadelphia has not even its walls secure, but they are daily shaken and split in some degree. The people continually pay attention to earth-tremors and plan their buildings with this factor in mind.” And later,
beyond the Lydians are the Mysians and the city of Philadelphia, full of earthquakes, for the walls never cease being cracked, and different parts of the city are constantly suffering damage. That is why the actual town has few inhabitants, but the majority live as farmers in the countryside, as they have fertile land. But one is surprised even at the few, that they are so fond of the place when they have such insecure dwellings. And one would be even more amazed at those who founded it.
The result was that the emperor Tiberius actually let them off paying taxes for one five-year period, until they could recover adequately from earthquake damage.
Imagine this: a people accustomed to unstable ground and to a convulsing earth are promised by the Lord God that He will give them a position of eternal stability and eternal belonging.
12 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.’
He will give us a place and He will give us a name. In fact, Jesus says “I will write on him” the following:
- the name of my God;
- the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…;
- and My own new name.
How beautiful! How amazing!
Do you feel that the earth is quaking beneath you? Is your world constantly shaking and uncertain and in some state of upheaval? Do you feel like you have not felt solid ground for years and years? Take heart! Take heart! Jesus Himself will make you a pillar in the temple of God and write His very name on you!
The conquering Christ has conquered for you!
The risen Christ will raise you up as well!
Take heart! Do not quit! Do not give up! Do not lose hope! He is with you! He is doing a great and mighty work in your life!
 Thornbury, Gregory. Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock (p. 76). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (p. 77). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Beale, G. K.,Campbell, David. Revelation (p. 100). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
 Morris, Leon L.. Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 82). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Gundry, Robert Horton. Church and the Tribulation (Kindle Location 822-966). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
 Duvall, J. Scott, p.79.
 Fee, Gordon D.. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series Book 3) (p. 62). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, Gordon D., p.58-59.