Christ Attends the Needs of His Church – Revelation 3:7-13 (Philadelphia)

We have been working our way through the seven letters to the 7 churches in the first vision of the book of Revelation.  Since we began with the last letter – the one to Laodicea, we are ending this morning with the letter to PhiladelphiaLast week we concluded by talking about the absolute necessity of continuing to be a Christ-centered church in a world that has many other agendas for us.  In the letter to Philadelphia we hear the living, resurrected, glorious Christ speaking to and attending to the needs of his church – in this case one that had little strength in itself.  Philadelphia was the smallest of the cities and the smallest church addressed in these letters.


In order to organize our thoughts around this message I would like to use the statements about who the Lord is, and relate that description to the situation in Philadelphia, to the opposition they were receiving, and to the realities of their faithfulness and Jesus’ promises.  This is a wonderful way to end our series – seeing the Christ who attended to the needs of Philadelphia and who attends to our needs.

1.         “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true.”  Who do we serve?  The Lord who is God: absolutely pure throughout, righteous, consistent, trustworthy, without deceit, and with perfect integrity.  Holy and true.  He is the one who knows us.  He knows our deeds.  He knew that the small church in Philadelphia hadlittle strength.   He sees reality clearly and without distortion.  This is the Jesus we are called to follow, to love, and to obey.

If you watch NFL football (and you may not this year), you may have seen a quarterback after a play has been run, standing with his finger in his ear hole of his helmet.  That may look a little strange, like many other things in football, until you understand that there’s a little speaker in his helmet.  An offensive coordinator is talking with him.  He sits high up in the press box where he can see the whole field and what everyone is doing.  He can see things people can’t see from the sidelines.  He can see everything the other team is doing.  All the quarterback has to do is listen to the voice in his helmet and follow it.  This picture of Jesus reminds me of that.  He is the one who sees it all.  He, as we shall see in a moment is the one who opens and closes doors.  He is truth and holiness.  He is the beginning and the end – Alpha and Omega.

That description stands in stark contrast to the people opposing this small church, people Jesus called “the synagogue of Satan.”   Philadelphia was like Smyrna in that they had to face opposition from the local Jewish population.  Of course “Satan” is the father of lies.  Unlike Christ, who is the truth, these people claim a lie; they claim falsely to be the holy and only people of God.  But they in fact were pseudo Jews.  Jesus promised that the people who were persecuting his church would be made to see the truth: that God loves his church. That truth will bring these people who claim God as their own to their knees.

2.         Who is this Christ who attends to his church?  He opens or shuts the doors of opportunity for this small but faithful church.  Let’s look closely at this intriguing passage about who our Lord is.  “These are the words of him who holds the key of David.  What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open… See I have placed before you an open door.”

These words come from Isaiah 22:22 where Isaiah prophecies for God that Eliakim, a faithful servant who exhausted himself for God’s people, will be given strength and authority.   He is the doorkeeper for God.  The verse says, “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David, what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”  He goes on to promise to make him a safe and secure person to hang on to.  This idea continues to grow throughout the rest of the book of Isaiah – the keys to the house of David – eventually come to mean offering entry into the kingdom, the city and the temple of God.  As it is picked up in the New Testament it is, of course, having the door opened for us to enter the kingdom of God.  The doorkeeper with the keys is the one who opens the door for us, or shuts us out.  The keys of the kingdom were taken from the priests and Jewish leaders and given by Jesus to his disciples.  (Mt. 16:19)  So Peter and his associates have the privilege of first admitting not only Jews, but also Samaritans and Gentiles, to permanent membership in the kingdom.

As we translate the whole history of the idea, as it developed in the Bible, the Lord we serve is the one who for Philadelphia and for us opens doors of opportunity for building his kingdom.  Jesus said to Philadelphia, “See, I have placed before you an open door.”  We sense that this church may be small and have very little influence and be seen as weak, but there was an opportunity that Jesus wass giving them.  He responded to the fact that they had little strength, but yet they had kept the faith, had not denied his name, have followed his word.

3.         This Christ who we serve will take this church and make it strong and secureThat promise flows through this letter.  Christ is going to bring the synagogue of Satan to its knees before this church as they recognize that Christ loves his church.  In verse 12 he says that he promises those who overcome that they will be “a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will he leave it.”  The promise of security, stability, and permanence must have touched these people deeply.  Not only were they a small minority and subject to persecution from others, but Philadelphia was an insecure place to live.  It was the youngest of the cities.  People had to run from the city on the occasion of several earthquakes – and the one in 17AD totally destroyed it.

Philadelphia was a city with an insecure identity.   It had been named Philadelphia after its founder, then when Tiberius rebuilt it he renamed it Neocaesarea.  Then Nero changed the name back to Philadelphia.  Then Vespasian, the Caesar from 70 -79 named it Flavia.  It is kind of like, “Who are we this year?”  Jesus promised to those who are faithful and overcome, “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.”  They will have a name, an identity and a place that is secure.  This is forever.  They have an identity – a permanent name that identifies them with God.  They are safe.  They are known by their new name.


The Christ we serve is holy and true.  He is the ones who holds the keys of David – opening the kingdom of God and the doors of opportunity for our ministry.   He is the one who makes us secure and gives us an identity.  He is the one who knows us completely and is not offended by our weakness.  (He doesn’t care if we are not a megachurch or if we have great power, he cares about our faithfulness.)  We sense the power of his words as they apply to us as well as Philadelphia 2000 years ago: “I know your deeds.  See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name.”  He is not offended by our smallness or weakness – even though he is the Lord of glory.  We are reminded here of the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Christ calls to you and me through this letter to Philadelphia.  He calls us to patient endurance.  He calls us to the courage to move through the open doors he offers open doors for wholeness and health, for ministry and building his kingdom.   He calls us to faithfulness – to keeping the main thing the main thing!.  I suspect there are more than a few of us here this morning who wonder how it all fits together, wonder how it will all end, who feel weak or confused or insecure.  We might be young parents trying to keep up with small children who sometimes run us ragged and we feel anything but in control.  Some of us struggle economically and we are feeling anything but secure.  We might be in relational pain, feeling anything but confidence and peace.  Some of us are facing serious health crises, and we feel anything but strong.  Some of us feel cultural pressures coming at us from every side – peer pressure, career, the media, political pressure, social pressure – so many things that want our attentions and to pull us away from being Christ-centered.  Some feel like they are in a hopeless and helpless place as we worry about family members who seem spiritually or emotionally lost.  We may be teenagers whose friends wonder why we just don’t give us all this religious stuff.  Some of us face constant temptations to give in to the destructive patterns we have known in our feelings and relationships, or there is constant pressure to give in to addictions that are destructive.  Some of us face moral temptations around our sexuality or fiscal honesty.  Some of us just want to escape or are tempted to be unfaithful to ourselves, to each other, to our mates, or to God.

This morning we need to hear the Christ who says: I know your deeds, your circumstances, your faithfulness.  And he knows when we have failed.  Jesus calls us back to patient endurance, to be faithful to him, to keep the main the main thing.  We are called to understand that in surrender to him when we are weak we are strong.  We need to hear Jesus say it to us very personally: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Do you, do I need to surrender to that grace this morning?

This morning is our time to embrace the Christ who addresses his church, to hear who he is for us:  he is the holy and true one.  He is the one who opens doors.  We prayed about Redwood and Jan shared with us this morning how he has opened doors in ways that are almost shocking to us.  He will open such doors in your life and in mine.  If you are one of us who is feeling weak this morning, look past the weakness now and find that open door.  It is there somewhere.  In the meantime he calls for patient faithfulness.  He is the Lord who makes us secure and gives us a new name – a new eternal identity as the sons and daughters of God who will spend eternity with him.  We have a new name.  We carry the name of God.  We are his people, co-heirs with Christ, ambassadors of the King,  WE HAVE A NEW NAME.   It is the name of God.  It is our eternal status.  Our Lord is the one who gives us security.  He makes us pillars in the temple of our God.


In these letters we have seen the glorious, resurrected, Christ walk among his churches.  In these 7 letters we have heard him bless those who are faithful with promises specifically fitted to their situations and needs.  We take comfort from knowing that he knows us and knows our needs as clearly and completely as he knew theirs.  And we have been challenged – by the luke-warmness of Laodicea, by an Ephesus that had all the theology right but lost their love, by the faithfulness of a suffering people in Smyrna, by the compromises with immorality and idolatry in Pergamum, by the clever rationalizations and justifications and philosophical excuses for unfaithfulness in Thyatira, and by getting lost in culture and politics like Sardis.  We are challenged.

We end today by looking again at the Lord who walks among the candlesticks and knows [the Church] and every one of us completely.  We hear is call to faithfulness, to being Christ-centered, to every one of us to be Christ-followers with patient endurance.  I hope we can take in the comfort and the challenges of these letters.  I would encourage you to read back through these messages on our web site to sense again what it is like to stand in the presence of the Lord we serve.  The holy and true one says, THIS IS IMPORTANT, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”