6B.   Letter To The Angel Of The Church In Philadelphia (3.7-13)


(3.7)    And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;


1.   The writing of five previous letters to the angels of churches has been commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the sixth letter that is written to an angel of a church in Asia. To remind you, there are three facts which need to be kept in mind to ensure understanding:


a.   First, an “angel,” at least in the context of Revelation chapters 1, 2, and 3, refers to a human messenger, almost certainly a church pastor.


b.   Second, the “church.” The word “church” means many things to many different people. But in the context of the New Testament, and struggling to maintain the meaning of the Greek word “ekklhsia,” while trying to ignore the meaning attached to the word by 20th century Christians, a “church” is a local assembly of believers in Jesus Christ who are genuinely saved and Scripturally baptized following their conversion experience.


c.   And third, Asia. To modern readers, Asia almost always refers to the largest of the seven continents on the surface of the earth. But in the Bible Asia is the name of a Roman province that roughly equals what is now the country of Turkey.


2.   “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write


a.   The village of Philadelphia was “located on a hillside about 30 mi. SE of Sardis, the city (modern Alashehir) was founded around 190 B. C. by Attalus II, king of Pergamos. His unusual devotion to his brother earned the city its name, “brotherly love.” The city was an important commercial stop on a major trade route called the Imperial Post Road, a first century mail route. Although scripture does not mention this church elsewhere, it was probably the fruit of Paul’s extended ministry in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:10).”[1]


b.   You will notice as we examine this letter that the pastor of this church, along with the pastor of the church in Smyrna, holds the distinction of receiving from the Lord Jesus Christ a letter having the unusual characteristic of being almost entirely a word of praise, in sharp contrast to those letters received by the angels to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea.[2]


3.   Take note of the phrases which the Lord Jesus Christ uses to describe Himself to this pastor of the church of Philadelphia. He uses these phrases to highlight and emphasize those aspects of His Person and office which He wants to impress upon this man.


These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth


4.   “These things saith he that is holy


a.   “Christ reminds them that He is holy – holy at His birth (Luke 1:35), holy at His death (Acts 2:27) and holy in His present priestly office (Hebrews 7:26).”[3]


b.   In Acts chapter 3, Simon Peter, after healing an impotent man on Solomon’s porch at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem, began to preach to the surrounding crowd of observers and onlookers. Listen to what Peter said to those witnesses, in Acts 3.11-21:


11   And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon's, greatly wondering.

12   And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?

13   The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.

14   But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;

15   And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

16   And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

17   And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.

18   But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.

19   Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

20   And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:

21   Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.


c.   Simon Peter certainly knew that Jesus is “the holy One.” But you might wonder if, 60 or 70 years later, during the time of John’s revelation, the holiness of the Son of God might have been relegated to relative unimportance as a doctrinal truth. My friends, the holiness, the sinlessness, the fact that Jesus did not and could not sin, is an extremely important Bible truth.


5.   The verse continues “he that is true.”


a.   Again, a statement that speaks to the character of the Lord Jesus. Though not mentioned at all in this verse, compare the last phrase and this one to what we know of Satan. Jesus is holy, while Satan is defiled and unclean, the most foul of spirits. While Jesus is true (indeed, He is the way, the truth, and the life), Satan, by comparison, is a liar and the father of lies. Were folks who claimed to be Christians beginning to think that Jesus was not always truthful, perhaps that He was a moral relativist? No. He Who is the truth must always be true.


b.   “As the One who is true, Christ is the Author of truth in contrast to all error or false doctrine.”[4]


5.   “he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth, and no man openeth


a.   In ancient times the key was the symbol of power and authority. Even today the remnant of that view is seen when someone is presented the key to the city.  And since David was the greatest of Israel’s kings, the sweet psalmist of Israel, this reference to the key of David has prophetic significance. Remember, the promise was made to David that one of his descendants would be         Israel’s Messiah and would preside over the Messianic kingdom.


b.   As with so many allusions in the Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ seems here to be hearkening back to Isaiah 22.22, where the key of authority was removed from an unfaithful steward and given to a faithful steward, a type of Jesus Christ:


And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.


Thus, “The key to the house of David is His by legal right and by lineage. He is sole Heir to the throne of David, and until He comes again to reign, the Jews can have no true sovereign. The key is the symbol of His authority, and this authority was given to Him over Heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).”[5]


6.   As the Lord Jesus speaks to this pastor in Philadelphia, He is reminding His servant that He is the Davidic heir. He possesses all the power and might relative to the kingdom. It will be He who opens and who shuts the entrance to the kingdom, and no one else.


(3.8)    I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.


1.   “I know thy works


a.   After reminding the man of God of His great and omnipotent power and His limitless authority, Jesus then acknowledges the man’s works. How it must have encouraged him to be reminded that the Savior knows what he is doing.


b.   Why would this be such an encouragement? Because the place where this man served the Savior was a very hard place. The duty there was both very difficult and potentially discouraging. Perhaps the pastor had labored without acknowledgement, had toiled without anyone noticing, or had received any expressions of appreciation from those he had guided to Christ.


c.   There could be any number of reasons leading up to the Savior saying to this man, “I know thy works.” I am reminded of Mark 9.41, where Jesus said, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” This pastor is being reminded that, at the judgment seat of Christ he will be remembered.


2.   “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door


a.   “Behold”  


After encouraging this pastor, after lifting his spirits, the Lord Jesus grabs his attention. There is an announcement to be heeded. There is a pronouncement to be attentively received.


b.   “I have set before thee an open door


i)    This is a most interesting announcement. Let us consider some background information and then draw some spiritual insights from what we learn from history.


ii)   John Walvoord quotes W. M. Ramsay, in The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia: “The situation of the city fully explains this saying. Philadelphia lay at the upper extremity of a long valley, which opens back from the sea. After passing Philadelphia the road along this valley ascends to the Phrygian land and the great Central Plateau, the main mass of Asia Minor. This road was the one which led from the harbour of Smyrna to the north-eastern parts of Asia Minor and the East in general, the one rival to the great route connecting Ephesus with the East, and the greatest Asian trade-route of Mediaeval times. .. . Philadelphia, therefore, was the keeper of the gateway to the plateau.[6]


iii)   So, what Jesus said to this pastor would be especially meaningful to those who knew the terrain surrounding the city. But this geographical insight also suggests a spiritual truth. Jesus likened Himself as the door to salvation.[7] Paul’s references to a door in his epistles were always related to evangelistic opportunities.[8] And of the two other mentions of a door in the Revelation, one of them has to do with conversion.[9] So, it is almost certain that Jesus is here promising to the pastor success in his efforts to bring the lost to saving faith.


iv)  But there is more to this phrase that is encouraging. The phrase “I have set” translates the perfect tense of the Greek word meaning “to give.” “The perf. tense indicates the continuing condition, i.e., ‘a door standing open.’ The metaphor of the ‘open door’ indicated the opportunity for preaching the gospel.”[10]


v)   Think of it! This man has just been told by the Lord Jesus Christ that he will have an open door of opportunity to bring the lost to the Savior. What more could any Christian want?


3.   “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it


It would seem quite obvious that if the Lord Jesus Christ opened a door of opportunity for this man, and indicated that the door would stay open, no one would be able to close the door.


4.   “for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name


Here, it would seem, are the reasons why the Lord Jesus Christ made such promises to that preacher.


a.   First, because he is a man of “little strength.”


i)    I can think of no greater guarantor of success in the Gospel ministry than this qualification. So many young men shudder at the thought that God might call them into the ministry because they think themselves incompetent, weak, ill-suited. But remember the exchange between Paul and the Lord Jesus in Second Corinthians 12.7-10:


7     And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8     For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9     And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10   Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.


Notice how Paul’s posture changed once he realized that Christ’s “strength is made perfect in weakness.” Suddenly, his own inadequacies became insignificant beside his Savior’s adequacies.


ii)   As well, does this not fit in with what Paul had already written to the Corinthians, in 1.27-29?


27   But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28   And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29   That no flesh should glory in his presence.


iii)   This is the great paradox of the Christian faith. Strength from weakness. Ability from inability. Success despite personal failings. How is this possible? Galatians 2.20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.


b.   The next reason he is promised success: “and hast kept my word.


i)    Look back to verse 3. Do you see the two words, “hold fast”? They translate the same word that is here translated “hast kept.” What the Lord Jesus wanted the pastor in Sardis to do the pastor in Philadelphia has done. He did keep, he did watch, he did guard. He was a vigilant shepherd over the flock the Holy Spirit assigned him to care for.


ii)   My friends, is it any wonder that a pastor who is faithful to keep Christ’s word will be promised success? It is no surprise to me. But success should not be thought of in terms of worldly measures of success, such as great riches or great crowds or popular acclaim. Some have erroneously mistaken the praise of men for spiritual success. Others mistake great numbers for spiritual success. And we need to recognize that none of us is immune from the great error of mistaking something other than faithfulness to God as success. Success has always been and can only be defined as pleasing the Master.


iii)   This man kept His Word. What praise from the Master!


c.   The final reason we are given for our Lord’s promise of success to this pastor: “for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name


i)    Something happened to this man, something that greatly tested him. But through the experience he remained loyal to Jesus Christ, he was steadfast, he persevered.


ii)   Paul once urged the Corinthians to “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”[11] This man had apparently done that. He was not loyal to a cause, or an issue, or a doctrine, but he was loyal to Jesus Christ. Because he had been loyal in the past, he would be rewarded with a door of opportunity in the future. It was a door that Jesus would open and no one would be able to close.


[1] See footnote for Revelation 3.7 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1996.

[2] John Walvoord, The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966), page 84.

[3] J. Vernon McGee, Reveling Through Revelation, Part I, (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Books, 1979), page 31.

[4] Walvoord, page 84.

[5] Lehman Strauss, The Book Of The Revelation, (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1963), page 81.

[6] John Walvoord, The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966), page 85.

[7] John 10.7, 9

[8] First Corinthians 16.9; Second Corinthians 2.12; Colossians 4.3

[9] Revelation 3.20

[10] Rienecker, page 820.

[11] First Corinthians 16.13

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