David Jeremiah - The Faithful Church
The letter that was written to the church in Philadelphia was totally positive. All of the other letters, you know, the Lord said, "I have this against you, and you have done this, and you know, here's some good things about you, and here's some bad things". But the church in Philadelphia, there's no negative report given. The Lord commends the church. First of all, the destination of the letter was to the city of Philadelphia, known today as Alysr, A-L-Y-S-R. That's the name of the city today that was once Philadelphia. Philadelphia was named after Pergamus Attalus Philadelphus.
The word Philadelphia means "brotherly love". And that's the name of the city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. It's a real stretch if you've ever been through a sporting event in that city to believe that it could possibly be the city of brotherly love. The word "Philadelphia" occurs in the New Testament seven times besides when it is used to name the city. It's used twice in the book of Revelation for the city of Philadelphia. But the word "philadelphia," brotherly love, also is found seven other times in the Bible. It's made up of two words, "phile," which means love, and "delphos," which means brother, brother love.
And so, in the New Testament, quite often we are encouraged to love as brothers. We're encouraged to have brotherly love. That's the word "philadelphia" used in its normal, natural way. And the word "philadelphia" is also the name of a city in Asia Minor to which one of the letters was written. Each of these letters represents a period of church history. The letter that was written to the church of Philadelphia represents the period from the beginning of the 19th century to the Rapture of the church. It overlaps with the church of Laodicea at the end of the age. And that's important because it was during that time as we study history that we have the great missionary outreach, the great revivals that have taken place, the expansion of the church worldwide.
That all has taken place during the Philadelphian history period, as we look back over our shoulders. And the Bible tells us that the church of Philadelphia will in many respects still be present in some form when Jesus Christ returns, though it is obvious to us that the church of Laodicea characterizes the age before Christ comes back. Now, as you know, if you have your Bibles open to the third chapter of Revelation, in each of the letters, the Lord Jesus gives himself some names, he gives himself some descriptions. It's interesting how he describes himself to the church in Philadelphia.
In Revelation 3:7, we are told, "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things says he who is holy, and he who is true.'" First of all, we are told that Jesus is holy. He wants the people in Philadelphia to be reminded of his holiness. As the preeminent God, he is the holy one. He's the one who embodies the characteristics which God alone possesses. He is a holy God. He reminds the believers in Philadelphia of his holiness. Such a person alone is qualified to call the Christians of Philadelphia to a life of faith in him. We are told in 1 Peter 1:15, "But as he who has called you is holy, you also be holy in all of your conduct". Before someone can require us to live a life of holiness, he himself must be holy.
And so, this letter is written by the holy one. This letter is written by the holy Jesus to the church of Philadelphia. Then notice he's not only, but he's genuine, he's true, "He who is true". And this is a reference to being genuine, or having reality, or being the real thing, the essence of who you claim to be. And the Bible says Jesus is not only holy, and that is perfectly righteous, without any essence of sin, but he's genuine, he's real. He's the pure, living Jesus. He's not a hypocrite, he's not spinning his holiness. He's who he claims to be. When you understand who Jesus is, and when you understand his character, then you can begin to understand how he is both genuine and holy, and he calls us to such a combination. He wants us to be holy, and he wants us to be real, he wants us to be genuine.
You know, you can put on holiness like you spin something, but the Bible says Jesus is not just holy, he's genuinely holy. That's how we should be as well. And then the Bible says he is sovereign. Verse 7 says, "He who has the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens". Now, in the letter that he wrote to the church of Philadelphia, he calls himself the one who has the keys of David. I don't know if you've ever traced that noun and asked yourself, why did he call himself that? Well, it goes back to an Old Testament passage, and it relates to a man whose name was Eliakim, who was the son of Hilkiah. And it is recorded that this man carried the keys for the kingdom.
Isaiah 22:22 says, "The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open". Eliakim had the keys of the kingdom in that particular time. And he had the keys to all the treasures of the king. And when he opened the door, it was open. And when he closed the door, it was closed. That's what the Lord Jesus Christ does. He opens doors, and he closes doors. And how many of you know when the Lord Jesus opens a door, it's flat open? And when he closes the door, how many have ever faced a closed door when Jesus closed the door? You know, his action on our behalf is a sovereign action.
And this church, the church of Philadelphia, has been called the church of the open door, and we're going to see why in just a moment. But we cannot forget that the reason the door was open for the church of Philadelphia is because Jesus carried the keys, and he opens the doors, and he closes the doors. Now, we come to the eighth verse of the third chapter. And here's the diagnosis that the Lord gives of this church. This church is described in four or five different ways that, if you were trying to figure out what makes a church the kind of church God wants it to be, what are the characteristics of it, here's a pretty good run at that.
If we want to be the kind of church that God wants us to be, here are some characteristics that we should emulate. And I wrote these down three or four different ways, and then I just decided to write them down as plainly as possible, whether they rhyme, or whether they're alliterated, no matter what. This is what the Bible says this church was about. First of all, it was a church that had a door of opportunity that was opened by God. Notice what it says in verse 8, "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it".
Remember, he holds the keys, the keys that open the door, and no one can shut it; and shuts the door, and no one can open it. And the Lord Jesus presents himself to this church, and he says to this church in Philadelphia, "You are a church with a great opportunity. You have an open door". And you know, it's interesting as you work in the ministry, and I've been doing this now for 4 decades, you begin to realize that some doors are open and some aren't. And I remember not long ago, I was reading, and I came across this statement by Sir William Ramsey, who explains the reference to the door as arising for these people out of their geographical location. Why was there such an open door for the church in Philadelphia?
Listen to these words. "The situation of the city fully explains this saying. Philadelphia was at the upper extremity of a long valley, which opened back from the sea. After passing Philadelphia, the road along this valley ascends to the Phrygian land, and the great central plateau, and the main mass of Asia Minor. This road was the one which led from the harbor of Smyrna to the northeastern parts of Asia Minor, and the east in general, and one rival to the great route connecting Ephesus to the east, and the great Asian trade route of medieval times. Philadelphia, therefore, was the keeper of the gateway to the plateau".
In other words, Philadelphia stood at the very edge of this. All of these other things that I've read about were behind. You couldn't get there unless you came through Philadelphia. Philadelphia was the door that you went through to get to all of these other places. And so, because of that, they had become a very strategic city. You know, there's some places you can't get unless you go through Philadelphia. And because of that, the Lord Jesus said to this church, "I've put you in a strategic place. They can't get where they want to go unless they come through here. I've given you a great opportunity, an open door".
That's why this church is such a wonderful picture of that time in church history when so much was happening, when great missionary ventures were starting, when the gospel was being spread, and when evangelism was the focus of the church, and churches were being planted and growing, and they were a focus of what was happening in culture. That was the Philadelphian age, the age of the open door. Notice a very strange word here in the third chapter about another quality of this church. Here's what it says. It says, "You have an open door," but then it says in verse 8 in the end of the verse, "for you have little strength".
Now, that is a strange thing to say. I mean, they are commended secondly for a very strange thing. The writer of this letter says, "I want to commend you because you don't have much strength". That sounds like a backward compliment, doesn't it? I mean, you don't usually feel complimented if somebody says you have little strength. But here is what the Lord says to this church, "You have a great opportunity, you have a great open door, and let me tell you something else that I really like about you as a church: you have little strength". The term in the original language carries the thought of "but little strength".
In other words, it is not that the church still has a little strength and thus can function to some degree. Rather, what the Lord is saying is it has but little strength in itself, so that the source of its power must ultimately depend upon the Lord. In other words, they understand where the strength comes from. This is a church that's got a great and open door, but they also understand that they are not capable, nor do they have the ability to walk through that door if they do it in their own strength. There's a sense of divine humility here.
2 Corinthians 12:9 says, "My strength is made perfect in weakness". Neither wealth nor influence, nor promotional schemes, nor the eloquence of the pulpit, nor harmonies of musicians can give an effective ministry. The Lord alone opens the door, and the Lord alone gives the increase. And if you have a little strength, it's okay because if you have a little strength, you're going to depend on his strength. Sometimes we see a church just blow up and become huge overnight, and then it goes away? What happens if we're not careful is if God blesses a church and you think it's because of you. And you forget that God is the sovereign one of the church, that he's the one who blesses, he's the one who opens the door and shuts the door.
And oftentimes, when God opens the door and we walk through that door, if we don't know who we are in Christ, we begin to think it's about us, and that it's all our doing and not his. So, the second thing that was true of this church, it was a door of opportunity opened by God, a sense of powerlessness without God. Thirdly, it had a commitment to the Word of God. Notice verse 8, "You have kept my word". The church believed the Bible to be authoritative, and they kept the Word of God.
And one question that I've been asked more than any other question was, "Pastor Jeremiah, what do you think is the most significant thing that's caused the erosion of the church and the erosion of marriage"? And I've not had to think about it for 1 minute because I believe I know the answer to that. When the Word of God is taken out of the center place in the church, everything else goes away. When was the last time the Word of God was opened and somebody said, "Thus saith the Lord"? So you see, if you take the Word of God out of the center, all these other things, they all are a part of the fallout. When the Word of God is gone, you don't have the right attitude toward Israel because you don't know what the Bible says about Israel.
You'd be surprised how many people I've run into in these last weeks who didn't even know there was anything in the Bible about how we should treat Israel. And when you don't know what the Bible says about marriage, it goes south. When you don't know anything about what the Bible says concerning the church, it loses its influence. So, the interesting thing about this church that's so critical, and I found it to be so important because of what I've been living through, the Bible says one of the reasons why this church was blessed of God was they kept the Word. That means they kept it at the center. Not only did they keep it in the church, they kept it in their own lives. They followed the Word of God. And then there was a deep loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Once again, "And have not denied my name". There was much controversy toward the end of the Philadelphian period about the deity of Christ. But the Christians in Philadelphia stood strong in their belief as to who Jesus was. They believed that he was God in the flesh, the Lord and Savior of mankind. They said, "We believe Jesus Christ is the Lord God, and we will not deny his name". You remember in the Roman Empire, they were to go and say, "Caesar is lord," remember that? They were to go to the altar with a pinch of incense, and they were asked to deny Jesus by saying, "Caesar is lord". And the people in Philadelphia wouldn't do that. They would not deny their Lord. They stood for the Lord.
So, when you look back at these qualities, what does a church look like if God is blessing it? What does a church look like if it's in the place where God can open the door for many opportunities? Well, first of all, the church realizes that God has opened the door. The church realizes that they are powerless if God doesn't enable them to do what he's called them to do. The church is committed to the Word of God, and they're loyal to Jesus Christ. If a church will do those four things, they put themselves in a position where God can do great things through that church.
Now, here's what Jesus said to this church. Beginning in verse 9, here's his declaration to the church in Philadelphia. First of all, he promises to humiliate their enemies. He says, "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie, indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you". Once again, we run into these troublemaking Jews that were making their rounds to the churches of Asia Minor, coming alongside and saying that they were in apostolic succession, or that they came by the hand of God. And the Lord Jesus says to the church at Philadelphia, "Don't you worry about those people, I'll take care of them".
Revelation 2:9 says, "I know your works, tribulation and poverty, but you are rich, and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan". Now, here in the church in Philadelphia, he mentions them again, but he's no longer talking about tolerating them. Now, he promises this church that he'll humiliate them. He says, "I will make them come and worship before your feet". And someone has pointed out that the Apostle Paul is a good illustration of this truth. He started out persecuting the church, trying to kill or imprison Christians. But during one persecution mission on his way to Damascus, the Lord arrested him, and wouldn't let him arrest the Christians.
And the next thing we know, this persecutor had become a worshiper and a champion for the cause of Jesus Christ. The Lord promises this church that he will humiliate their enemies. Did you know when you're living for the Lord and trying to do the best you can to follow his leadership, he fights your battles for you, doesn't he? It's not you that fights the battle, it's the Lord that fights. The battle is the Lord's. We always are trying to fight the battles, and we think the battles are other people. And then we get into trouble, we fight other people.
And the battles aren't people. We don't fight against flesh and blood, that's what the Scripture says. Our battles are not against other people. Our battles are against the prince of the power of the air, who with his minions comes against the work of God, and we're not capable of fighting those battles. Only the Lord Jesus can fight those battles. He promises to humiliate their enemies. He promises to keep them from the hour of trial. And I want to just focus in on here because this is a really key verse in the New Testament. And it's way beyond just what it means to Philadelphia. Philadelphia is representative of the church. Let me just give you this little picture.
If you study the book of Revelation, the church is mentioned in chapters 1 through 4. After chapter 5, it's never mentioned again in the whole Bible. After that point in time, you never hear the church mentioned again all through the book of Revelation. Why? Because that's all about the tribulation, that's all about what God is doing on the earth. Where's the church, friends? Church is in heaven. So, he writes about the church up until the time of the Rapture, and then the church is in heaven, and the rest of the book of Revelation's all about the tribulation, when the church is not present.
And now, here in this wonderful passage of Revelation 3:10, he gives a promise to the people in Philadelphia, which extends to us, and I want you to see it. "Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth". Please note that even though this is a letter addressed to an individual church, it is not a promise that has to do with regional persecution. It is not saying to the church of Philadelphia, "I'm going to keep you from persecution that's going to come into your vicinity". No, he says, "I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world".
This is not a local thing he's talking about. This is a universal thing. This is not a special hour of trial which is going to come and go away in which there would be safety. No, this is a promise to the church of Philadelphia, and to the church which is represented by this church in history, that the Lord God has a special plan that will keep them from ever experiencing the tribulation. Now, you all know I'm a pre-tribulational preacher. If you don't know what that means, that means I believe that Jesus is going to come back before the tribulation happens on this earth.
Some people believe he's going to come back in the middle of the tribulation. Some people believe he's coming back after the tribulation. Some people think we're already in the tribulation. But the Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come back before the tribulation to take us home. Notice this promise, "I will keep you from the hour of trial". And this promise to the church of Philadelphia, which represents the church of the last age, is an incredible moment because, just before the tribulation starts in the book of Revelation, here in this verse we're given this wonderful promise that Almighty God has made provision to keep us from the hour of testing.
If you read about the tribulation, you can give it but one title. It is a time of condemnation. And the Bible says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus". Now, he promises to humiliate their enemies, to keep them from the hour of trial, and then he promises finally to come quickly. Notice what he says. "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God".
Let me ask you, what does it mean? Jesus said to the people when he wrote the book of Revelation through John on the isle of Patmos, he said, "Behold, I come quickly"! Wouldn't you think that would mean he was going to come immediately? Quickly doesn't mean immediately in the scope of time, it means that when he comes, it's going to happen quickly, in a moment, in a twinkling of the eye. At the last trump says the writer to the book of Corinthians. His coming is going to be momentary. He is going to come quickly.