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Lowell Brueckner

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Revelation 3:7-13


The Church in Philadelphia

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.

A history of Philadelphia

Alașehir, Turkey on the site of ancient Philadelphia
Before we consider the historical city of Philadelphia, the message to this church, and what it means to church history, first I want to write of what is pressing upon my heart. Just this morning, I watched while our granddaughter, Jessica, signed to the contemporary Christmas carol, “Noel”, and I was captured by the simple line, “Come and see what God has done!” Yes, look down upon that new-born infant in a manger in a cave for animals by Bethlehem’s inn. See in that little body, Someone that the world had never seen before... Something only God could do: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Is.7:14).

Immediately after watching Jessica, I opened my Bible to Isaiah 64 to prepare to tape a radio program with expository studies from that great, inspired prophet. The week before we had studied the last verses of chapter 63: “Our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. We have become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name” (Is.63:18, 19).

Now, the prophet cries out with a passionate and desperate, “Oh!” “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Is.64:1, 2). It is a call for revival, for a heavenly visitation upon earth, for days of heaven on earth. When I finished, I texted the radio technician at the station, “Pedro, it seems to me that the word for the church today is revival. At least, that is what I am feeling.”

The city of brotherly love… that is the meaning of the name Philadelphia. The city was established in 189 B.C. by King Eumenes II of Pergamos. He named the city for the love of his brother and successor, Attalus II, whose loyalty earned him the nickname “Philadelphos”, literally meaning, “one who loves his brother”. A descendant gave the kingdom to his Roman allies in 133 B.C. Rome established the province of Asia in 129 B.C. by combining Ionia and the Kingdom of Pergamos. Philadelphia stands above a fertile plain of the ancient Hermus River about 30 miles southeast of Sardis.

Ruins of Roman ampitheater in Philadelphia
Early in its history, Jewish families moved into this region and were well established at the time of the apostles. Philadelphia was under the administrative district of Sardis and in A.D. 17, the city suffered a devastating earthquake that left it impoverished. Rome even relieved it from paying taxes. In gratitude, Philadelphia established the cult of worshiping Caesar and coins from that period were engraved with the word, “temple-sweeper”.

Christianity had a powerful effect upon the city, Ignatius sent a letter to this church and actually visited it, before his martyrdom in Rome. However it was evident that it was not entirely converted, at least at the time of the 6th Century. It was called “little Athens”, because of its festivals and temples. Around 600 A.D. the Basilica of St. John was built and its ruins are visible today. Philadelphia resisted an Ottoman takeover for several centuries until 1390, after all the other cities of Asia Minor had surrendered. Today, the only ruins that remain from John’s time is a small roman theater. The city of Alashehir is on the site and in 1990 its population was 36,649 and had 45 mosques.

The unmovable open door

The first detail that must be considered in the study of any church, past or present, is its relationship with Christ, and this must be from His point of view and not man’s. That is exactly what we have at the beginning of each of the seven messages to the churches. In Philadelphia, He is the holy one, the true one, the one with the key of David, and the one, who opens and shuts with unchallengeable authority.

First, He is the Holy One, the One who is uniquely set apart by God over all else. From this point, we could do a study from Paul’s letter to the Colossians or from the book of Hebrews, as well as many other portions of Scripture. We will limit ourselves to a few comments, concerning the writings in Colossians.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col.1:15). The firstborn indicates rank, not time, and this clause could read “the firstborn over all creation.” He stands far above anything that has been created and is the exact image of God, coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn.14:9).

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col.1:17). Before anything was created, He was there, and created all things (v.16). Why does the atom hold together? The scientist has no answer to this question, for there is no scientific explanation or reason to explain why all of creation holds together. However, the Bible gives us the declaration that He is the divine glue, who prevents cosmic chaos. In the end, He will release His hold and the heavens and earth will fall apart.

“He is the head of the body, the church” and no human being can ever hold this position in even a limited fashion. “He is the firstborn from the dead”, that again means that He holds rank over it, assuring resurrection for every believer. “It was not possible for him to be held by it” (Ac.2:24). “That in everything he might be preeminent” (Col.1:18), meaning that He holds priority over everything. That sums up the position of the Holy One, set apart and unique by Himself, over everything. He is the Holy One and Head over Philadelphia and “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died, more than that - who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Ro.8:34, 35).   

Then, He is the True One. He is the embodiment of all truth; He said, “I am the truth” (Jn.14:6). He is the fullness of truth, to the extent that no one need look in any other direction. He is authentic and nothing synthetic is added. We return to Colossians for Paul’s excellent, inspired conclusion: “In whom (in Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col.2:3,8). The Philadelphia church has completeness and all-sufficiency in Christ.

He has the key of David (v.7). This is based on the prophecy of Isaiah, which Christ freely quotes as having complete authority, because it is the inspired word of the Holy Spirit. In the time of Isaiah, the palace steward, Shebna, had the highest position before the king, but he was demoted and displaced by Eliakim, God’s choice to take his place. “I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Is.22:22).

I quote from my commentary on the book of Isaiah: Once again after His ascension and glorification, Jesus proves His doctrine is not His own, but the Father’s. The church with “a little power” and which has kept His word is granted “an open door”. What a rich example Isaiah brings to us here! Eliakim was a fore-type of Christ; Philadelphia followed in Christ’s footsteps.

Whether it involves an individual or a church, may the Lord grant to us the privilege of faithfully representing Him. Father, may Christ live within us with His attributes. Give us holiness, that is, set us totally apart for Yourself and cause us to walk in purity. Make us true, that is, faithful and genuine, without a hypocritical bone in our body. May we walk into doors that you open that we might thereby be involved in eternal things.

There is no let-down in Isaiah 22:23… it only gets better. “I will drive him like a peg in a firm place, and he will become a throne of glory to his father’s house.” The almighty hand of God will drive the peg in! You can be sure that this peg will stay in place, because it hangs on the power of the Omnipotent. The writer of Hebrews writes of a “great salvation”. Don’t cheapen it or weaken it by putting it into the hands of men. Peter infers that the peg is fastened to an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pt.1:4,5).

Verse 24 continues to define this God-given, Philadelphia position: “They will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons.” You can hang any amount of weight on this peg; it will stay firmly in its place. The weight is what Paul called “a weight of glory” (2 Co.4:17) in the Father’s house in the land beyond compare. The Father hangs all the riches of His house upon it, from the least to the greatest. There is only glory bye and bye, for the God-called Eliakims in the timelessness of eternity. His Father has placed him there.

At the end of the chapter, verse 25, the Lord refers again to Shebna: “The peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way.” The man-appointed position is unstable and weak and, although it is driven in a firm place, it was not done by the hand of the Almighty. It will give way, it will break and fall. Whatever depends upon it will be disappointed. This is the word of the Lord, conveying to us the future of that which is placed by men and that which is God’s appointment.”

God in His sovereignty has placed the Church of Brotherly Love within the City of Brotherly Love, certainly referring to a higher form of love than that, which was secular in the city. Philadelphia is probably not a large church, but is weak enough to depend upon God. They are looking to Him for their strength and their works are done in the power of the Holy Spirit. It puts them into a position, in which it is absolutely impossible to fail. In this way, they keep His word and are faithful to His name. They are seeking His guidance in order to find the open door and it leads to the eternal will of God (v.8). 

An open door speaks of opportunity for successful ministry (see Ac.14:27; 1 Co.16:9; 2 Co.2:12; Col.4:3). A true servant of God knows that, although there is much resistance, the door that God opens cannot close. Many Christians are held back, because they are looking at and listening to the obstacles in their way.

Opposition comes again from the religious world of the Jews. Jesus has perfect discernment and clear insight into the object of their worship. It is not the work of God at all, but they are being inspired by the enemy. How does He see the churches and organizations that oppose revival, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the manifestation of His gifts? Paul saw that to be a true Jew, one had to depend on more than bloodlines: “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring… So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Ro.9:8,16).

The same principle applies to true Christians. The denomination or church does not determine the genuineness of the individual leaders or laymen, but the calling of God and His mercy and love towards them. “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn.14:21, 23). God’s approval will be so evident that even the enemies will notice it (v.9, see Phil.2:10-11). God will deal with the enemies, but the church must concentrate on keeping His word.

Kept from the world-wide hour of trial

There is little room for doubt in my mind that “the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” in verse 10, is a reference to the Great Tribulation, of which He spoke in Matthew 24:15-21. Daniel also wrote of it in Daniel 12:1 and Jeremiah prophesied, “Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it” (Jer.30:7). We will study this day of distress for Jacob in chapter 12.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “This is surely a reference to the time of Tribulation… ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble’. This is not speaking about some local trial, because it involves ‘them that dwell on the earth’.” Jamieson-Fausset-Brown adds: “The word of My endurance, which teaches patient endurance in expectation of my coming… Hence, in Rev.3:11, follows, ‘Behold I come quickly.’ The hour of temptation is literally, ‘the temptation’, the sore temptation which is coming on: the time of great tribulation before Christ’s second coming.” John MacArthur says similarly: “This period is described throughout chapters 6-19. The latter half is called, ‘The Great Tribulation’.

We have before us one of the great proofs that Jesus, in speaking to the seven churches in Asia Minor, is pointing beyond them to the church in the last days. The word from in the phrase “I will keep you from” is the Greek word ek, which is found as a prefix in the word ekklesia, or church. It means out of and not in, and in the case of the church, it signifies a people called out of the world. It means that the last-day church will not be kept in the tribulation, but will be called out of it.

We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord” (1 Th.4:17). Paul states, ‘we who are left’, and yet Paul died. How do we explain this? Paul is speaking by the Spirit for the last-day church. In verse 11, Christ is speaking specifically to that same church and we will find much of it in the book of Revelation. In fact, the same language is used in the Gospels and we have just cited a word from Paul, which is specifically for the last-day people. This is prophecy and to those, who will need and receive this prophetic word in that day, they will hear, “I am coming soon”, as they see the storm clouds of tribulation gathering on the horizon.

As we have seen before, Christ’s command, once again, is not for outstanding achievement, but for simple faithfulness. In light of the future events that we have been considering, this crown may be the reigning crown of the queen church: “If we endure, we will also reign with him,” Paul promised Timothy (2 T.2:12). Around the throne of Christ, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down and sang, “They shall reign on the earth!” (ch.5:10). In Revelation 20:4, John foresees this happening: “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed.” There is no criticism at all for this church, something very significant, because He is referring to something as dark as the last days.

We are learning to look for a word to the individual member at the end of each message to the churches. It is to the one who conquers. We have learned also that there was no reason for the individual to go down with the ship (if the church failed). Here we learn, that the victory of the church was not necessarily for each member. He must conquer! It is an individual responsibility (v.12).

To those who find no security or stability in this world, there is given a promise of heavenly assurance. He himself, who puts his trust in the Almighty and deposits and abandons himself fully to His care, will stand like a pillar in God’s temple. He will be identified with God and bear His name (see comment on 2:17). Revelation 22:4 states, “His name will be on their foreheads.” His citizenship is in the New Jerusalem, which we will study, beginning in 21:2. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil.3:20). He will belong wholly to Christ, but concerning Christ’s new name, we can only speculate, for it is reserved until the time of the new heaven and the new earth.

The member of the Philadelphian church was been blessed to learn from the beginning of his new birth what it means to hear what the Holy Spirit says (v.13). This is a relatively small church, which has relied on the power and teaching of the Spirit. It ministers by the Spirit and walks through doors that the Spirit of God has opened. In the will of God, they have found abundant usefulness.

Because the message to Philadelphia was so evidently geared to the future church, we have already given several paragraphs to the theme, as it concerns not only the church, but the individual. Here, we will add some more detail, concerning Philadelphia’s place in church history. Philadelphia is a church, which recovered from the deadness of the former period, represented by Sardis. In its weakness, it turned to God for strength and therein was its power. It was a revived church (living anew)… the church of revival.

The church of Sardis, as Shebna, the state official in Hezekiah’s time, was not worthy of the Key of David. Christ possesses the key and opens a door before the church, represented by Philadelphia. Spiritual men among the Anabaptist movement, greatly persecuted by the Reformists and Catholics, carried the light of the seven candlesticks forward. They were later called simply, Baptists, but also the Mennonite movement evolved from them. They believed in the separation of church and state.

Revivals have been characteristic of this period of the church, from John Wesley and George Whitefield, to Charles Finney, to D. L. Moody. It began around the middle of the 18th Century. This is a period, when small, insignificant people were raised up by God to do exploits in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Moravian Church was one that was revived. It began through the teaching of a converted Catholic priest, Jan Hus, who was martyred by the Roman Church in 1415 A.D., a hundred years before the Reformation. He was certainly a forerunner to the Reformation and his name came up often during the Reformation. His followers established a church in Bohemia, outside the Catholic Church.

They survived as an underground movement until in 1722, they found refuge in Germany on the land of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. In Zinzendorf, God had a prepared vessel, who found new birth in Christ. He welcomed refugees from Hus’ followers in Moravia and with them, began to seek God to move by His Spirit. They began a prayer chain, 24-hours-a-day, which is famous for having endured for 100 years in the far eastern part of Germany, which they called Herrnhut (The Lord’s Watch).

On August 13, 1727, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers, as they worshiped in a Lutheran Church, built by the grandmother of Zinzendorf. I was privileged to visit this place many years ago and was instructed by Leonard Ravenhill to take photos. This moving of the Spirit brought Philadelphia love upon the believers, who previously had been seriously divided by doctrinal disputes. Herrnhut, we might say, became the City of Brotherly Love. The church revived, the Lord opened a door to the world and Herrnhut missionaries went out to the world. It was the beginning of the modern missionary movement, of which much could be said, but I cannot take the space to write more extensively. Please study this interesting and vital story yourself.

Through the Moravians, John Wesley was born again and, along with George Whitefield brought revival to England, which extended into America. (Please notice how the plan of God evolves methodically and without human supervision.) In 1793, William Carey sailed for India, which opened a door to China, Japan, Korea, Africa, and islands of the sea. In America, revival continued through Jonathan Edwards. Later an apprentice lawyer, Charles Finney, was greatly used of God, in the eastern United States. D. L. Moody, a largely uneducated shoe salesman turned the United States ablaze and crossed the Atlantic to revive England. The churches of Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia are still in existence, but much of the brightness and power of the Philadelphia candlestick has been lost. At the same time, another church has come into existence, the seventh candlestick, and we will need to study it in the next article.


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