To ensure continued attention of the present generation, whose attention span is just a few seconds, great plans are made in the church about all activities. During the sermon also grand promises of healing, of all aspects of life, are made. A congregation that is fed what they desire and not what God desires, will never be stable and spiritually mature. But are not all those coming in to the church sent by and belong to God? Then will He not help and ensure that they stay?
The open door for Philadelphia church – The letters to the seven churches in the second and third chapter of the Book of Revelation is to tell them about their strengths and weaknesses and their future course of action. These letters reveal that the Lord has His eyes on all who seek to go for His work despite the evil all around to distract. He desires their focus on the fact that Lord Jesus is everything and in all while everything else is totally rejected.
Philadelphia was the border town of joining of three country borders, Marcia, Lydia and Phrygia and was set up as an outpost for Greek culture and language for the region. Most of the residents had forgotten their own language and culture and adapted to the Greek way of life. The city was prone to earthquakes and this was a perpetual fear of the people with no sense of security. The Savior Lord recognized the fact of ‘little strength’ of the church and in such a place and situation it is easier to go with the flow than swim against it (Revelation 3:8). The option for them was to either develop the required strength, stamina and endurance or perish. The church at Smyrna was the only other church with Philadelphia, against whom the Lord had nothing to admonish.
Lord Jesus’ self introduction to Apostle John about His new role as the Judge of the world, is about His right to be that (Revelation 1:18). His revealed identity is, ‘He who lives, and He who was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore’. And then He adds, as if it is not important but would be understood, ‘And I have the keys of Hades and of Death’ for He has conquered both through His resurrection. To each church He has presented a different aspect of Himself and to the Philadelphian church, the Lord’s introduction of Himself is not as per Chapter 1 but in four ways that has Old Testament features. First, ‘He who is Holy’, thus emphasizing on His deity for only God is holy and He declares Himself to be God, that is His person and not some office in heaven. He who was ‘made sin’ at Calvary for all sinners of the world, has dealt with that perfectly and now is seen as ‘the Holy One’ in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the earth, He was God’s Holy One but here He is not revealed as He was then, but is set apart from all that is corrupt and sinful, after having dealt with that on the cross and having removed all that from God’s sight forever.
Second, He describes Himself as ‘He who is True’. The Greek word ‘alethinos’ means ‘true, genuine, real’. He is the genuine and real truth as opposed to the fake gods of the Greek culture, filled with lies and perversions, all around. He will never lie nor ever deceive you and He is genuine and true as God, as also as Man. He is the true Light (John 1:9); the true Bread (John 6:32); the true Vine (John 15:1); the true God (John 5:20) and the true Witness (Revelation 3:14). Everything that God has in mind about man is exactly revealed in Him and He has revealed the Truth about God in Himself to perfection.
Third, He describes Himself as ‘the Sovereign, Who has the key of David’. David represents the Messianic throne and the holder of the key exercises control and authority. He alone has the Godly authority to decide who enters His kingdom, for the control is with Him. He represents all the glory of the house of David, having died, having risen from the dead and ascending into heaven, has secured everything for God’s glory.
Fourth, ‘He who is Omnipotent’ as ‘He who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens’. He is all powerful and no one can stop what He intends to do and none can reverse what He has done. We have in Shebna all that was offensive to God and discarded and in Eliakim, who represents, what would be to God’s glory, holding on his shoulder ‘the key of the house of David’ with authority to open and shut (Isaiah 22:17-22).
Philadelphia, as a city had succeeded in the spread of Greek language and culture and Lord Jesus blessed the church there with ‘an open door, and no one can shut it’, a door of great opportunity to witness for His name. This open door is a reward for seizing and using every chance that came their way through God’s mercy. The church at Philadelphia had ‘little strength’ and the door opened by the Lord cannot be afflicted or shut by the devil and on the other hand will need little human support to maintain the momentum. The fierce opposition that they faced will not be able to stop them from being the ‘beacon of light’ to the darkness all around to bring others into the glorious light of the Living God and into eternal life.
The assurance to this weak but faithful church is about the special privileged status in gospel witness and mission to both Jews and gentiles. Like that church, we also need not resort to developing strategies to lead people to the Lord but listen carefully and obey His command to witness joyfully and faithfully.
The lesson for us is that it is not about show of great power that will create emotional waves, but a spiritual power in rejoicing in all that is precious to the Lord. This open door is about use of spiritual and moral witnessing of the Holy and the True Messiah. The message to the church is very clear, it is not your strength but the Lord’s, who is seated at the right hand of God the Father with all power and authority. A Latin phrase ‘Carpe diem’ meaning ‘seize the day’ is the essence of the open door. Make the most of whatever opportunity God places in our path to evangelism, be prepared always without caring for your age, status or time.
A pastor while dining in a restaurant was urged by the Holy Spirit to speak to one of the young men serving there but he was reluctant. After repeated coaxing, he spoke to the man who was facing a lot of difficulties in life and the talk extended longer than expected. The young man accepted Lord Jesus as his Redeemer and agreed to receive the Holy Bible after two days. When the pastor visited the place again to hand over the Bible, he was shocked to learn of the young man’s death in an accident a few hours after their talk. Carpe diem, for you may never get the chance to reach out to a soul and you be without an answer before the Lord on His day about the lost chance and the soul.
The Open Door blessing to Philadelphia Church – The other seven churches were more powerful, yet why did God bestow this special favor to this specific church only. First, The LORD God has warned us that, My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’ for His thought and ways are higher like heaven and beyond comprehension with our worldly knowledge (Isaiah 55:8-9). The only way for us to understand is through His Spirit revealing the deep secrets of God. Second, the letters to the seven churches are as much for every church today as was for the congregations and leaders of those churches. The conditions described in those churches are seen today in most of the churches otherwise so many buildings would not be sold out and used by various other religions as their places of worship.
Then He informs the church about knowing ‘your works’ and about their faithfulness. Lord Jesus praised the church of Philadelphia for they, despite little strength, ‘have kept My word, and have not denied My name’ (Revelation 3:8). His word not only reveals God the Father but also Himself as the Son, sent by God for this mission of revealing the Father to mankind. The revelation of the son is His equality with the Father who as Man is capable to reveal the Father to us and to open the door to His Divine presence in heaven. Not denying His name is about holding fast to all the blessings we have, forgiveness of sins, being justified and sanctified before God to know Him, fellowship with Him and being dependent on Him being part of His heavenly family. His name is about His being raised from the dead and that every knee must bow before Him recognizing His Divine status.
Lord Jesus’ promises and blessings to the church – First, about those who claim to be descendents of Abraham (the synagogue) and are persecuting you, will realize their mistake. This is vindication before self righteous spiritual police where God had promised about the Gentiles. But in this blessing the Jews will be like the Gentiles, recognizing ‘the church being the Israel of God’ (Isaiah 45:14).
Second, ‘And to know that I have loved you’ – The persecuted seek vengeance but the persecutors will not only worship alongside you but will realize God’s love in and for them (Revelation 6:10). Our prayers should be to destroy the enemies of our witnessing by changing their hearts and making them partners in worship.
Third, ‘I will keep you from the time of trial’ which is to protect them from the Great Tribulation preceding His kingdom on earth, for at present it is in our hearts. This trial is to ‘test those who dwell on the earth’, those who reject the message of salvation in the Lord and will face God’s wrath. This protection is not about ‘rapture’ but as Apostle Paul has declared that nothing in the material or spiritual realm that is opposing us ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). Once we remain steadfast in Him, He is more than ready to never ‘leave us nor forsake us’, whatever be the circumstances.
Then a word of advice to the church – Protect your crown and hold fast to what you have for ‘I am coming quickly’, where quickly is about suddenness and unexpected coming rather than about time. In the meanwhile the church was to hold fast to their evangelistic opportunities and dependence on God for more strength. The more real danger to the loss of crown is from within than from others. The peculiar location of the church would have caused tremendous pressure of different cultures and belief in local deities but this church could stand firm in their testimony to be rewarded with various blessings. The church in Philadelphia had been counted worthy of these blessings for God saw and found all within them as ‘good’ and acceptable. We also must look unto the Lord for guidance and strengthening by the Holy Spirit to overcome our ‘little strength’ and be bold in reaching out against the forces of darkness to save the lost.
The way to overcome – To overcome is an individual effort and one who has Lord Jesus alone before him and regulates everything in his life to be approved by Him, will succeed. But what should they overcome? The open door has three components; first, those who oppose will come in to repent and worship; second, from inside we go out to reach others in power and strength of the Lord and third, fulfillment of promise of the LORD that ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze (the strong opposition) and cut the bars of iron’ (Isaiah 45:2). God is not only providing new areas of evangelism but also straightening the route. In addition He breaks our self imposed restrictions (iron bars) due to fear, actual or perceived lack of resources (both material and personnel) and lack of knowledge.
This is an individual as well as a collective effort to seize the day. This is done by, firstly, overcoming hesitation and discouragement by focusing on opportunities rather than on obstacles. The church received the blessing to share the Gospel and win souls and as they had done before, they were to continue in the same way, depending on the Lord.
Second, overcoming their ‘little strength’ or powerlessness and be like Joshua and Caleb and not like the other ten spies. Apostle Paul received the solution from the Lord, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Seek His Divine help, for nobody can, in his own strength.
Third, overcome the obstacle of persecution for a branch of the ‘Synagogue of Satan’ is in every place where some believers are. Faith recognizes and seizes the opportunity and fear sees only obstacles like fear of change or fear of the unknown. The general chant is we have always done it this way, why change.
Four, overcome fatigue and persevere – It takes perseverance to develop character and to hope, which ‘does not disappoint’ (Romans 5:3-4). Lord Jesus has promised to keep such ‘from the hour of testing’ and assures of His coming soon (Revelation 3:10-11).
Five, overcome by ‘looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2) and then aim for the eternal rewards while ignoring the material.
Promised rewards to those who overcome – Lord Jesus has promised great rewards to those who overcome, not only to the church of Philadelphia but to all the seven churches. These rewards are different for each church.
First, will make him a pillar in the Temple of My God – The residents of a frequent earthquake prone area would know the importance of a pillar, for all else may fall but the pillar will stand and they were secure in the Lord, both here and till eternity in heaven. Two pillars were set up in the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon; one was named ‘Jachin’ meaning ‘He (God) will establish’ and the other ‘Boaz’ meaning In Him is strength’ (1 Kings 7:21). This is the promised blessing of the one who overcomes and they will be set up in one place in God’s holy presence.
Second, ‘I will write on him the name of My God’ thus declaring His Sovereign ownership and honoring the recipient. In this way then we become His very own and personal, ‘the epistles of Christ, written on our hearts, known and read by all men’ (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
Third, ‘I will write on him the name of the city of God, the New Jerusalem’, thus granting permanent and eternal citizenship. The choice is between the mark of the devil or the Lord, eternal life or eternal damnation and to those who overcome, God is assuring eternal life in and with Him where there are no tears and no pain (Revelation 22:4-5).
Fourth, Lord Jesus promises to write His new name on the victorious – This new name represents the fullness of His character that was never fully revealed here on earth for this new name will be entirely new in line with His Divine role of Intercessor, Judge and King. Apostle Paul gives a glimpse that this is about His exaltation above every other name and He considers me worthy of displaying that name eternally (Philippians 2:9).
The letter reveals that the Lord expects to find believers of the Philadelphian character right till the end and our desire should be to be counted worthy of this. These letters to the seven churches are applicable to each individual who is a member of any church of any denomination. In these letters, Lord Jesus has not dictated to His beloved disciple church history but opened His heart to reveal the moral traits that please Him. As we read these letters we need to self examine and then seek His help to course correct where necessary, for the door is open for each one of us.
According to legend, after Moses had stretched out his staff on the Fred Sea, nothing happened but Nahshon, son of Aminadab, of the tribe of Judah, walked in. When the water reached his chin level, it suddenly parted and all of them crossed over on dry ground. God opens a door for us but many times though it is open, we are unable to see it and only when we move forward in faith, we find it. The blessing of salvation available to all believers must become our witness to others and when the devil stands in the way, we resist, persist and win in the power and authority of our Lord. For the open door is right there all over the world!