PHILADELPHIA AND THE OPEN DOOR
A Study in Revelation 3.7-13. (Part 2)
K. W. H. Howard
We are in the course of making our way through this series of seven letters to the Churches in Asia, letters from the Lord Jesus Christ and written by the hand and pen of the Apostle John towards the end of the first century. We understand these letters as being written originally to actual Churches in actual places, but also to all Churches in all places, in all ages, for their guidance, for their encouragement, for their rebuke if need be, and for their instruction.
In the previous sermon we began to consider this letter to the Church at Philadelphia: a letter written by one who describes Himself as the Holy One, the true One, and the holder of the key of David. The dominant impression we get, from what is written here, is that this church at Philadelphia was a small, but faithful Church. The Lord utters not a single word of complaint, censure, or criticism against them, but He very kindly commends them and encourages them. In every way, it seems the Church at Philadelphia was just the apposite to the previous Church addressed in this series, the Church it Sardis in the first six verses of this third chapter. The two are in almost every conceivable way opposite; there is only contrast between them. Sardis prospered, Philadelphia languished. Sardis has a great name, Philadelphia had no name at all. Sardis had influence and repute, but Philadelphia was weak; they had only a little strength whether in numbers, resources, or influence. At the same time, while Sardis rested on her name to live, her false reputation, Philadelphia truly lived. The Lord set before her open doors, and she went through them; she went through the doors of gospel opportunity, faithful to His Word and not denying His lame. Sardis was a Church that rested on her many, but hollow works, Philadelphia for all her smallness, kept Christ’s Word, and never denied His Name. Sardis was a Church that flourished in the eyes of men; Philadelphia was a Church that was faithful in the eyes of God. Of Sardis the famous, the Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Thou art dead’, but of Philadelphia, the faithful, Christ said, (verse 9) ‘I have loved thee’. We see a very great contrast between these two churches.
We previously considered the commendation that the Lord made
of this Church at Philadelphia. He commended her, He approved her. He approved her for two things, on two grounds. First, her faithfulness in a given situation – He opened the door of Gospel opportunity, and she was faithful in that situation which He had created for her.
Second, her faithfulness in the face of difficulties – she had internal difficulties, and she had external difficulties. There were difficulties in the Church that held her back. There were difficulties outside that she had to overcome, but in spite of all, she went on.
The other thing we have to consider now is the counsel that Jesus offers to this weak, but faithful Church.
‘Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.’ (verse 10-13)
Here is the counsel or the advice that the Lord gives to this small, struggling, but faithful Church. It has, I submit, two forms ,m two types; there are two forms of counsel here. The one is the counsel of encouragement, the other is counsel of promise.
struggling, but faithful Church. It has, I submit, two forms, two types; there are two forms of counsel here. The one is the counsel of encouragement, the other the counsel of promise.
1. The Counsel of Encouragement
Just as the devil’s work is constantly a ministry of discouragement to Christian servants, to Christian churches, and to the service of Christ, so, so much of Christ’s ministry is a ministry of encouragement. We have seen in these letters, that even when He censures, and He does not censure in the case of Philadelphia, but even when He censures, He encourages. He will not break the bruised reed; He will not quench the smoking flax. He is the lifter up of our heads. Here, the Lord encourages this Church, concerning which He says, ‘Thou hast a little strength.’ He does not write a lot .saying, ‘Well, you are not very strong, you will not be much use to me.’ He does not write to them, ‘You have not much influence, therefore I cannot expect to do much with you.’ He does no such thing; rather. He offers them encouragement.
He offers them encouragement in two respects. The first is in respect of their opponents. Those satanically influenced apostate Jews mentioned in verse 9, concerning which we had something to say earlier. What He says there is this, ‘I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not, and do lie;
behold, I will make them to come out and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.’
Now, here is the Lord’s reward for the entrance of the Philadelphian Christians through that open door that He set before them. They witnessed for Christ to those Jews, but with what hope of success, and with what hope of response? Everyone knows how hard it is to witness for Jesus Christ to Jews, especially to apostate Jews who have not the respect for the law that an orthodox Jew would have? What hope of response did these Philadelphian Christians have? Well, we are provided with no details, but what the Lord says here in verse 9 is this, ‘You will yet see some of those apostate Jews come and worship with you at My feet; they are going to leave their synagogue, they are going to join My Church, they are going to do it among you, and they are going to know what I think of you, that I love you.’ What an encouragement for all minority Churches and congregations, here showing us that with God all things are possible. Here is an impossible situation – Jewish evangelism, not even God-fearing Jews, but God-hating Jews, even the conversion of apostate Jews, bringing them into submission, not simply to the law of God, but also to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The weak but faithful Church at Philadelphia, when it received this letter – for it was read to them in the Church Meeting – was encouraged where they might least expect it regarding their worst opponents, for the worst opponents to the Christians in Philadelphia were not the pagans, but rather, the apostate Jews. They were encouraged regarding their worst opponents.
They were encouraged also in the next place concerning themselves. Here they are, struggling on, keeping Christ’s Word, not denying His name, responding to the open doors, and what does He say to them? ‘Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown’ (verse 11). What is the encouragement? Well, surely, just this. This is a struggle that will not go on for ever. This is a struggle which will come to an end, because I will come. It will soon be over, and be over for good; the victory will be won, and it will be a final victory, and the victory will be yours. I come quickly. Now that was encouragement for a struggling Church.
The expression, ‘I come quickly,’ may be understood in various ways. It may be understood in the obvious sense of the second coming of Christ. It may be understood in other senses, in the sense
that He would come with power by His Spirit and bless their witness. Having opened doors for them to enter in, He would bless them in their faithfulness in entering in, and so in these ways, they were encouraged. But, first things first. Before He came again, at least in terms of the second advent, He says, ‘Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.’ He is still saying, ‘Hold fast.’ Hold fast to what? Well, to what they were already holding fast to as indicated in verse 8: ‘Thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.’ Until I come, hold fast your faithfulness to my word, and to my person, and do not be deterred by your little strength. If you hold fast, no man will take your crown; no one will disqualify you from your reward when I come.
Is He not arguing with them and with us, that a Christian Church that is faithful will never lose out by holding fast to the truth as it is in Jesus. Jesus Himself will see to it that the final issue is right and to His glory. If that be the case, that is good enough for us. That is the encouragement that these believers at Philadelphia are given, that their labours will not be in vain in the Lord, however vain they may appear to be in the eyes of men. ‘Yes, and when they are downcast, however vain they may appear to be in their own eyes, I will come, and My reward is with Me, and no man shall take your crown.’ The Lord has great encouragement for little, but faithful Churches. He says, ‘Go on, watch the open doors, go through them, hold fast My Word, My name, My Person, and leave the results with Me.’ Places with a name to live can multiply themselves, and they do, by their worldly and human methods. That is all they have. ‘Places that are faithful unto the end’, says Christ, ‘I will honour with a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Hold fast that no man take thy crown.’ There I submit, is counsel of encouragement to little, but faithful Churches.
2. The Counsel of Promise
In addition to the counsel of encouragement, there is counsel of promise as there is so often in these letters. Indeed, there is a whole cluster of promises here. There is, in verses 10 and 12, a series of three ‘I wills’. The ‘I wills’ of Christ are always weighty. In verse 10, there is a promise of future safety. ‘I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, and try them that dwell on the earth’.
In the beginning of verse 12, there is a promise of permanence, ‘Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.’ In the end of verse 12, a promise of identification, ‘I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God,….. and I will write upon him my new name.’ Here is a triple promise introduced by three ‘I wills.’ Future
safety, permanency, identification. Here is the promise of the risen Christ to this weak, poor, struggling, but faithful Church.
Let us look at these three ‘I wills’ one by one.
First, there is the promise of future safety. Verse 10: ‘I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.’ Now, this could refer to some particular trial that was going to come upon the church at Philadelphia, some local trial. It could refer to that; we are not told. Whether it referred to that or not, it certainly referred back to Mark 13 and the abominations and desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, concerning the hour of temptation and the hour of trial. It certainly indicates that there would be earthquakes, amines and sorrows and deceptions, all of which were to precede the second coming of Christ. Why I say it definitely refers to that is because the statement here is that it shall come, not simply upon Philadelphia, but it shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Concerning that, the risen Christ says to His struggling, but faithful Church, ‘I will keep thee from the hour of temptation.’ Not even the great tribulation, the end of the age, will overthrow the faithful Church, but it will sift and sort the professing church. Sardis would not fare very well in the great tribulation; she will be sifted, she will be sorted. Philadelphia with her faithfulness, the Saviour says to her, ‘I will keep thee.’ He says in the same verse, Because thou hast kept my word, I also will keep thee. Thou hast lot denied my name; I will keep you in the great tribulation which shall come upon all the world.’ There is promise of future safety.
Also you see, there is the promise of future permanence. You have got it in the beginning of verse 12. ‘To him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.’ This of course, is the promise to the overcomer. ‘I will make you a pillar.’ A pillar is reckoned to be something permanent. Those who are pillars, are reckoned to be monuments of grace in the church of glory, and it is said of them that they go no more out. In Philadelphia, the pillars of pagan temples were often toppled by earthquakes. Buildings came crashing to the ground, and citizens had quite literally to go out of the city into the countryside for safety and protection. The Saviour says to His struggling, but faithful church, ‘Him that overcometh I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.’ What a wonderful promise for the Christians in Philadelphia! They were to be pillars in a building of God not made by hands. Never again would they have to flee. They shall go no more out. The moving tent of a Christian, daily moving, would have to move no more. Sometimes they had to flee from Philadelphia for protection; now they were bound for a city, and here is their Saviour’s word that it was so: a city that would
never topple; it had foundations, its builder, its maker is God. My friends, that is the motto for the city of God, for all who are within the city of God.
I picture the entrance to that city as having over its doorway on the inside, where only those who are inside can see it, these words, ‘No more out.’ You have been out in the world, you have been out in the fight and the struggle and the battle of life; you have been out in the contention for the Gospel, you have been out amidst the foes and the enemies of Christ and His cross, out in the weariness and the sickness, the trial and the sorrow of life. Once you are on the inside of that door you will go no more out. The motto of the city of God for those within it is, ‘No more out.’Well, here is a promise. There is a future safety, and also a future security. ‘I will keep thee in the tribulation.’ There is safety. ‘I will make thee a pillar in the temple of my God.’ There is security in the new Jerusalem.
In addition to those two things, there is also a promise of future identification. ‘I will write upon him.’ This is most remarkable because there is here, not one writing, but three writings. There is here not one inscription, but three inscriptions; these pillars, to continue the metaphor, these pillars that have inscriptions upon them. These believers are to be marked, stamped, written upon for the purpose of identification. In the latter part of verse twelve, He says, ‘I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name.’
I will write three things. Firstly, ‘the name of my God’. Christ will write His Father’s name upon His people in the end of the day. Secondly, I will write the name of the city of my God. Christ will write the name of the new Jerusalem upon His people in the end of the day. Thirdly, I will write MY new name. Christ will write His own new name upon His people in the end of the day. His people? Yes, these poor persecuted people in this little struggling Church at Philadelphia, and all the other Philadelphians that have existed, and continue to exist in the world – the struggling, but faithful Churches.
Notice precisely what this is. We read elsewhere about believers’ names being engraved on the palms of God’s hands. We read elsewhere in the Book of the Revelation about believers’ names being inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This is something different. This is not believers’ names being inscribed somewhere. This is the inscription of the name of God, and the name of the city of God, and the new name of God’s Son, and all three are to be inscribed upon the overcomer, upon the faithful member of every little Philadelphia Church. Future identification.
Look at these three inscriptions.
What of the first? The first is God’s name. ‘I will write upon him
the name of my God.’ Upon these immovable pillars of the temple of God, Christ will write God’s own name; a name of possession. The overcomer is God’s child and Christ will write His Father’s name upon His Father’s child. In the end of the day, there will be no problem of sorting them out from others. In the end of the day, some will be marked with the mark of the beast, but some will be marked with the name of the living God. ‘I will write upon him.’ Who? That faithful member of that faithful little Christian Church in some backwater of a place that hardly anyone ever heard of, who kept My Word, who went through the open door that I gave him. ‘I will write upon him the name of my God.’ That is the first inscription. ;
The second inscription is this. ‘The name of the city of my God’ is also to be written on faithful Christians. ‘I will write upon him the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God.’ That tells us, surely, that the overcomer already has his citizenship in heaven. He may live in Philadelphia, but his real citizenship is in heaven. He belongs to the new Jerusalem; that is his destination. He belongs now to some little despised company of Christians on the earth. He has none of the name, or the fame, of the flourishing but dead Church of Sardis, but his goal and his end and his destiny is sure. By the promise of the risen Christ, it is to be inscribed upon him where he is going. Philip Henry, the father of Matthew, the commentator, in his young days, fell in love with a young noblewoman who, like himself, was a Christian. Her parents reproved her for wanting to marry a common minister. ‘Where does he come from?’ they said, ‘What is his pedigree, what is his lineage, what is his genealogy, what is his blood?’ She replied, ‘I do not know where he came from, but I know where he is going, and he knows where he is going, and I want to go with him.’ Both had the promise of God’s name written upon them, and so does every faithful Christian believer in every generation. God’s name, and the name of God’s city.
Then there is the third inscription. What is that? It is at the end of verse 12, ‘I will write upon him my new name.’ What is this? Does Christ need a new name? Is the name ‘Christ’ not lovely enough? Is the name ‘Jesus’ not sweet enough for heaven as well as earth? Is not the name, ‘the Lord Jesus Christ,’ the name that is above every name? Yet we have this statement, ‘I will write upon him my new name’. This is a name that you do not know at the moment, a name that is undisclosed at the moment, a name that is apparently uncommunicable as yet, although He has it and He knows what it is. We read in chapter 19, and verse 12 of Revelation, ‘His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a new name written, that no man knew, but he himself.’ My new name. He
knows what it is. He knows what it means. He knows why He has it. He knows why it is, as yet, undisclosed. He also knows that He has promised to write that new name on His overcoming and faithful people, one by one, at His time, and in His way.
So, you see, the knowledge of this new name has yet to be imparted to the saints of God. It will not be imparted, I think, until He comes again in all His glory, and all His majesty. When we see Him, we shall know even as we are known.
Well, this is the counsel of promise for the Church at Philadelphia, and for every other little struggling Philadelphia throughout the world, throughout the centuries. Little Churches down through the centuries that have been faithful to the truth as it is in Jesus, that have entered the open door of opportunity, that have kept His word, that have not denied His name; here is this promise of a threefold writing, written in the hand of One who is holy and true, that same hand that holds the key of David. ‘I will write upon him the name of my God.’ And His God. ‘I will write upon him the name of the city of My God, the city of his destination.’ I will write upon My own new name, which is not yet disclosed.
O my friends, what is a name to live in Sardis worth to be compared with this? In their error and folly, men said that Sardis had a great name; Christ says in promise to Philadelphia, which men despised, Christ says to them, not once, but thrice that He will give them a name. What name is that? He says, the name of deity will be written on you. The name of deity, of the new Jerusalem will be written upon you, the city of my God. The name of Deity’s incarnate Son in all His final glory will be written on you. ‘My new name’. So does the Lord give message of commendation and of counsel to this Church at Philadelphia.
What are the lessons we are to learn? Well, many, but let me just mention one or two. Surely, we must learn that the Christian minority Church, or minority group in any community, city, village, in any place, should never be downhearted. It is sinful to be downhearted because we are a despised few. The Church at Philadelphia was despised, but she was the Church of Him who had the key of David, and she was the Church that Jesus loved, and she was the Church to which He promised the glorious threefold inscription, because Christ is the King of His Church. He is sovereign, and He is in control, and there is no need for any Christian Church to be downhearted.
Surely, I must also draw this conclusion. It is faithfulness to Christ that is required of us, whatever our strength, or whatever our weakness. Our concern is not to be our name, either in the world, or among other Churches. Our concern is not to be our name, but His
name. ‘Thou hast not denied My name.’ ‘Thou hast not been so concerned with thine own name, that thou hast put it in front of Mine.’ Not our recogniton, but His. There is always much land to be possessed, there are always doors of opportunity being opened. Faithfulness to Christ is what is called for, and faithfulness to Christ is success in Christ’s service.
Surely, I must also draw this conclusion. Christian congregations that are small have the answer to discouragement if they are Faithful. No Church was ever censured by Jesus Christ because it had only a little strength. That is what He had to say to the little Philadelphians, ‘Thou hast a little strength,’ but He never censured them for it. None were censured because they had a little strength, many were censured because they were unfaithful. In fact, five of the seven Churches in this series of letters were censured because in one way or another, they were unfaithful. Philadelphia was faithful. She made use of the open doors; she was not responsible for anything else. Her end, and ours, is the One who has the key of David, and who never yet used that key without good effect. O my Friends, let us hold on to the counsel of Christ in this letter. He gives encouragement; He says, Hold fast, hold fast My word. My name, and then He gives this glorious future promise, a future safety, future permanence, and future identity. The best of all is that Christ is with His faithful Church and He will come quickly to her aid at the time He appoints. It may not be the time we appoint. It may not be in the time that we would like, because we are very ready and very quick to say, ‘Now, Lord; now.’ His ways are not ours, and His times are not ours, and His methods are not ours. He permitted problems at Philadelphia, as He permits in every faithful Church, out He never casts off a faithful Church. He is wisdom, and He is wisdom to the end. ‘He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches’. Amen.