Series on Revelation, I The Vision, D The Perseverance, 6 The Trembling Church, Text: 3:7-13, Title: Don’t Lose the Keys


I grew up in Philadelphia and still cheer for the Eagles and the Phillies. I think it is a great city. Center city is shadowed by a great statue atop its city hall celebrating its Christian founder, He is responsible for the name which means in the Greek language, city of brotherly love. I can assure you that it is not filled with brotherly love today and neither was this ancient city in Asia Minor. The founder, Attalus Philadelphus the Second out of love for his brother Eumenes called the city Philadelphia, city of brotherly love. However, it was later renamed first to honor the emperor Tiberius “Neocaesarea,” the city of the new Caesar, because he helped rebuild the city after a devastating earthquake. Then it was renamed again 30 years later “Flavia” in honor of the Emperor Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus, and a temple for emperor worship was built. As the story unfolds it will become clear why the name plays an important role. Philadelphia is in a situation similar to Smyrna. These are the only two churches for which Christ has no condemnation. They are both being subjected to persecution by the Jewish element in the city which regards them as Jewish apostates. In both cases Jesus will reverse the situation either in this life or in the next. He will demonstrate that these churches are His people and not the biological descendants of Abraham who are not true Jews and are a synagogue of Satan. This is a trembling church because it is promised trouble. The church in Smyrna was cast into a period of persecution, so the church in Philadelphia experiences its hour of trial. But Christ will protect them in these trials either in death or life. “The hour of trial” is not limited to one particular event but gives a telescoped picture of the entire range of trials. It concerns not merely Philadelphia but refers to all the trials that precede the return of Christ including yours. Furthermore, it encompasses the whole earth, so that the entire church at one time or another before Christ’s return endures severe tribulation. In the end all are triumphantly promised a crown of life. In looking at the letter to the church in Philadelphia we shall see Jesus through their eyes. They see Jesus as the One who determines, delivers, and denominates.

I Jesus Determines

The determination  by Jesus is made clear in verses 7 and 8, To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. Obviously the purpose of a key is to lock and unlock a door. In Chapter 1 Christ told all of the churches that He had the keys of death and the grave. Here the key is called the key of David which has a specific meaning, so let us look at the implications of the key Christ holds. It is a key of providence, a key of prophecy, and a key of protection. Christ is the key of each of these.

A The Key of Providence

Philadelphia was founded for a special purpose and with the deliberate intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and the Greek language to Lydia and Phrygia; and so well did it to its work that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own Lydian language and were all but Greeks. That is what the Risen Christ means when he speaks of the open door that is set before Philadelphia. Three centuries before, Philadelphia had been given an open door to spread Greek ideas in the lands beyond; and now there has come to it another great missionary opportunity, an open door to carry to men who never knew it the message of the love of Jesus Christ. This is part of the providence of God that is exercised by the Son of God who has all power in heaven and earth.

B The Key of Prophecy

The reference to the “key of David” reminds us that, as Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:20, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Yes, Christ unlocks all of the Bible and all of its prophecies. That is what Jesus means when he says he is holy and true. Truth in the New Testament means real as opposed to false and it applies to all the fulfillments of Old Testament types, symbols, and prophecies. For example we are told that God will shepherd His people with a servant. Jesus is the true shepherd. It is deeply satisfying to see how fully Jesus accomplished the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and hope. The promises through Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi, promises made to Abraham, and David, realization of types in the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, to name a few were all accomplished by Jesus. And in addition to that all that our Savior once and for all accomplished for our forgiveness in his death and resurrection.

C The Key of Protection

If you want to keep the enemy out of your dwelling you lock the door. If you want to keep him away from the people he can hurt, you lock him in prison. Maybe you have heard someone say, “Lock him up and throw away the key.” I can assure you when Christ acts it has the same effect. In this case he is locking out the unbelieving Jews and opening the door to the true children of Abraham. The Jews in Philadelphia claimed that they were the true people of God who held the key to the Kingdom of God. Jesus contradicts this claim by asserting that the key to the kingdom which had belonged to Israel really belongs to Him as the Davidic messiah, and had been forfeited by Israel because she had rejected her Messiah. These Jews will ultimately have to acknowledge that Christ loves the church. They will recognize that the church is composed of the true people of God, Jew and Gentile, rather than the Jews as a nation.

II Jesus Delivers

We see the deliverance Jesus brings in verses 8-10, I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. The first thing we should observe is that Jesus helps the weak. In a broken world the spoils may go to the strong, but in the kingdom of God this is not so. We all qualify for help, but of course we must go to the right place to get that help and the place is Jesus, so He is helping those who have kept His Word and not  denied His name. They know where the real deliverance is but Israel did not. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah in 30:15, This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. And now these first century Jews still will not trust in the Lord. In this situation the deliverance is from the Jews who actively persecuted the Christian brothers. The local Jewish community of Philadelphia may claim that the kingdom belongs to their members. But they "are liars,"  and a synagogue of Satan who was a liar from the beginning. Christ has used the key of David to set an open door before the church, not the synagogue. The door to the synagogue may be closed to the Christian; the door to Christ’s heavenly kingdom is wide open. The background for verse 9, I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you, is in the Old Testament, but with an unexpected twist. Isaiah who pictures the victory of Israel over its enemies, says Gentile nations would do homage to Israel in 45:14, They will bow down before you and plead with you, saying, “Surely God is with you.” But a stunning reversal of fortune has occurred. What the Jews hoped to gain from the Gentiles, they themselves must render to the Christians. The Jews in Philadelphia must play the part of the heathen and concede that the church contains the community of God’s people. Jesus here underscores the notion that the Jews are no longer His people as a national or ethnic entity, since they have rejected Him. The new Israel, the church, has taken their place as God has moved forward to fulfill his promise of grace. The Church is the true "Israel of God."  This is the way Jesus always delivers His own from all those who will pursue and persecute them. He shuts the door on unbelief, and opens it to faith. Scott O'Grady was an Air force pilot who was shot down over Bosnia. He was terrified his story was going to be embarrassingly glamorized when it, inevitably, was turned into a made-for-TV movie.  He told TV's Extra, "This is no Stallone or Schwarzenegger action story.  I didn't take on the Bosnian and Croatian armies. I was hiding." As Corrie Ten Boom Memorialized in her writing, the Lord is a “hiding place.” As the Psalmist writes in 17:8, Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, and again in 27:5, For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Thus, as we read, He will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world. He has the keys to defend, deliver and protect you.

III Jesus Denominates

In verses 11-13 we see how Jesus denominates his own in Philadelphia, and also where you are, I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The crown and the temple are given to people who lived through almost daily earthquakes and instability. Pillars speak of permanency. Those who ‘overcome’ are promised the ultimate stability of being rewarded with special privileges in the temple of God. And they are denominated as citizens of the eternal city. The Jews were proud of Jerusalem below, but these believers like Father Abraham are headed for the Jerusalem above and they bear its name. I am sure you have seen those sweatshirts or tee shirts advertising the “Big Apple.” Nice to be from one of the great cities on earth,  like New York, but much better to be a citizen inscribed with the name of the New Jerusalem. The saints in Philadelphia are told that on them will be written the name of God, of the new Jerusalem, and of Jesus. These names serve them as a passport for entrance into God’s presence and as a sign of citizenship in the Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. Their own city had had many names besides Philadelphia but here was a name that would bring assurance, stability and peace. Jesus elaborates this thought by saying that the names of the Lamb and of the Father are written on the foreheads of the saints. There is a recurring antithesis in the Apocalypse: the saints receive the names of God and the Lamb, while the unbelievers bear the name and the number of the beast. Which name do you want on your person: New York, Philadelphia, or God and Jesus. Is it the name of the city of destruction or the name of the eternal city?