John, apostle, exiled to Patmos for the sake of the Gospel; received a message from the exalted Christ: “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Rev. 1:11 Located in western Turkey, situated along major highways, likely that six of the seven were the results of church-planting efforts centered in Ephesus.
In word and prophetic vision, Christ communicated to John:
the promise of Matt. 28:18-20 wasn’t simply words intended to give temporary comfort; he truly was with the Church to the end of the world
his ongoing, active, intimate involvement in the affairs of the Church as her Shepherd
his right of rulership over the Church as her King
Christ’s managing of the Church is not solely from the top-floor office, never to be seen on the shop floor; he is a “hands-on” type of manager, fully informed and actively involved in every detail of the lives of his followers.
he is seen walking among the candlesticks
he speaks through John to seven local churches and thus to the Church at large
he doesn’t use a form letter; each is individually and precisely targeted
specific and non-repeating references to characteristics seen in the vision (1:12-20)
particular commendations and criticisms
culturally relevant message and, in this text, words of encouragement; words perfectly tailored to Christ’s purpose for the hearers
The letter to Philadelphia – one of two with no criticism (the other, Smyrna). Situated near a main trade route through the mountains but on a geologic faultline, on the edge of an area of substantial volcanic activity (called Burntland); destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt AD 17.
“Strabo, the geographer, writing in AD 20, noted the troubled nature of the place, and the continuous visitation of earth tremors.”
“It lay on a frontier of culture, the gateway to central Asia Minor with its non-Greek, non-Roman patterns of life.” Pictorial Encyclopedia, Tenney
A church in a city shaken physically, financially; church shaken by opposition from religious enemies. In need of reassurance, a message of stability and security. Needing encouragement to remain faithful in the face of the turmoil around them and perhaps within their own ranks.
A. The messenger
1. His authority v.7
Pattern typical of each letter: emphasizing characteristic from Chapter 1 vision, 1:18 in particular – “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
A message from:
the holy one – identified throughout Isaiah as “the Holy One of Israel”; by demons as “the Holy One of God” Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34 The one acknowledged by demons but rejected by antagonistic Jews from the local synagogue.
the true one – a necessary consequence of his holiness; not only true, but truth, the true God in spite of what those who claim to know the truth might say.
the sovereign one – absolute authority in and over the church, independent of man and unable to be resisted by him Isa. 22:22 (Eliakim succeeding Shebna) and Isa. 9:6-7
holding the keys: to the kingdom which is of life and death (see 1:18)
having complete access to all of his Kingdom
regulating access into and out of the Kingdom
reminder that not only is Christ with his church, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to” Him Matt 28:18
the exercise of his universal rule and his right to command his church is unquestioned
B. The message
1. Your opportunity v.8
To those who remain faithful, regardless of size or strength, Christ will provide opportunity for service. We know they were faithful because:
you have kept my word v.8c
you have not denied my name c.8d
you have kept my command to persevere v.10
Twice in warning his disciples of impending persecution Jesus declares “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. Matt 10:22; 24:13
I have opened a door
for effective work 1 Cor. 16:9 2 Cor. 2:12-13
Paul spoke of a great or wide and effective door for ministry open to him in Ephesus; he refers to a similar door of opportunity open in Troas, one opened for preaching the Gospel.
It is Christ who sovereignly appoints opportunities for the Gospel work to be done. He gives those opportunities to churches who are faithful. Notice the condition Christ observed is faithful obedience, not size, power, or money. Since it is Christ who opens the door, no earthly power can shut it, can prevent the saints from carrying out their appointed task.
for the word Col. 4:3
Paul requests the church at Colosse: pray for a “door for the word” to be open for him. Christ not only opens doors of opportunity, he also opens the doors of mens’ hearts and minds, to enable them to receive Gospel truth.
Christ declared to the saints in Philadelphia that he had opened the door; he gave them assurance that if they went through it boldly in the strength he would provide, they would be effective witnesses for him – their enemies would learn that he had loved them (v.9).
2. His sovereignty v.9
I will [deal with] them v. 9
God is sovereign over all mankind regardless of spiritual state. He governs not only circumstances but people as well.
there are many adversaries (1 Cor 16:9)
those who claim God (or Abraham) as their Father, who assert they speak for God, for the church yet refuse to acknowledge Christ or obey his commands
Christ will make it obvious who faithfully speaks for him and has his approval, and in the end they and their message will prevail. Not because of their genius but because the exalted Christ has guaranteed it.
The immediate promise was to the Philadelphian church and their Jewish opponents but it has application to the church in all ages. Remember, Christ’s is an everlasting kingdom and he exercises his sovereign authority when he makes his enemies his friends.
“the sense is, that the convinced and converted Jews shall come to the church, and in the most lowly and contrite manner acknowledge their former blindness, furious zeal, and violent hatred of the Christians, and shall profess their faith in Christ; shall join themselves to the church, and partake of the ordinances of the Gospel with them; and shall worship God and Jesus Christ, their Lord and King, in their presence, and at their feet:” Gill
It is the same ascended and exalted King of glory who confronted the apostle Paul on his way to Damascus. The same sovereign authority that conquered Paul’s murderous heart will be exercised to bring other Jewish blasphemers to faith in Christ there in Philadelphia. King Jesus is still opening doors to mens’ hearts today to give entrance to the Gospel.
3. Your stability v.10-12
I will keep you v. 10
I am coming, hang on v. 11
words of encouragement from the one who walks among the lampstands
this life with its trials is of short duration; the best is yet to come Psa. 39:4-7 (David)
4 “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you. ESV
I will make him a pillar v. 12a
a permanent fixture v. 12b
a pillar erected in honor of God’s grace; Christ promises persevering grace to the saints, equipping them for the coming trials and enabling them to remain faithful to their King.
I will write on him v. 12c
the name of my God – ownership
the name of the city of my God – membership
my own name – guardianship
C. The bottom line
Opportunities for ministry are not the results of strategic planning; they are the reward for faithful obedience. That’s not to say we shouldn’t plan; but we must keep the main thing the main thing. Faithful proclamation of the Gospel by word and life will be given opportunities for further expression by Christ, the one whom we are proclaiming and modeling.
Stability in the church depends on Christ, not circumstances. Christ encourages us to look beyond and above our circumstances to the treasure and security we have in him. If God owns our hearts and affections, if we are loyal members of Christ’s kingdom, we can count on his unfailing guardianship to bring us safely home to glory.