The Seven Churches: Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia was said to have been built at the instigation of two brothers, Eumenes and Attalus. The name itself means “brotherly love.” The city became a prosperous commercial center famed for its wine production. It was also known for its Greek culture and veneration of Dionysius, the god of wine, whose ritual worship often descended into drunkenness and debauchery. The general area was geologically unstable and prone to earthquakes, one of which in A.D. 17 was particularly devastating. However, the hot springs became a favorite site for those seeking relief from various ailments. There was a sizable community of Jews in the city who were openly opposed to the Christians and sought to persecute them.

Christ’s Authority

He described Himself as the Holy One. His holy character is unchanging. In every age His people can only make progress when they too seek to follow their Lord in this respect and give themselves to holiness (1Pe 1:15-16). His truth is an expression of the same, contrasting sharply with the deceitfulness of the world around. The “key of David” suggests His right to rule and His power to open or close doors of blessing and opportunity as He wills (Isa 22:22). We have already seen His prerogative to remove a lampstand of testimony should a church not repent (Rev 2:5).

Christ’s Assessment

The all-seeing gaze of Christ identified the needs of the church, particularly in its state of spiritual weakness. He described them as having “a little strength,” but what strength they had was wisely applied in seeking to be obedient to His Word and not denying His Name. Even though they lived in a hostile environment as far as their faith was concerned, the doors of opportunity for service were still open. The report of Paul and Barnabas is pertinent, when after their first missionary journey they related “all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Act 14:27).[1] Later, Paul could write to the Corinthian believers and remind them that “a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1Co 16:9). When he wrote to the Colossians, he requested their prayer support “that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3).

The Jewish opposition would certainly have been included in Paul’s description of “many adversaries.” Once again in these letters they are described as “the synagogue of Satan.” They were well organized and fanatical, using every underhanded method at their disposal to hound the followers of Christ and make their lives a misery. They had succeeded, so they thought, in putting an end to Christ, and in like manner they planned to obliterate those who were bold enough to follow Him. These opponents were motivated by the arch-enemy of souls, Satan himself. The Lord spoke of a future day when these aggressive and troubling enemies of Christ and His Church would come to acknowledge that they had been wrong all along. They would bow to acknowledge the authority of the Lord and the authenticity of His people. They would also understand how the Lord and His children are linked inextricably with bonds of love. Finally, they would not escape His righteous and eternal judgment.

The struggling company of believers at Philadelphia had sought to keep the Word of God, patiently enduring persecution and resisting the pressure to give up. In turn, the Lord promised that He would undertake to keep them from the tribulation and trials that will come to afflict this world after the Church is raptured home to heaven. In other words, they would not see the tribulation at all!

Christ’s Appeal

He further promised that His return for the Church would be sudden and be followed by rewards, described as crowns, for the faithful. In light of His imminent return, they should hold on to the spiritual blessings they had and not forfeit their eternal recompense. The matter of rewards is not a competitive one such as one sees in the world of international sport. This is not the Olympic games where only a few mount the podium and the others are quickly forgotten. Every faithful athlete in the Christian race will win a “gold medal” and receive a crown! Nothing done for Christ goes unseen or will be forgotten (Heb 6:10).

The language concerning the overcomer being a pillar and having God’s Name written on him is figurative. He will have a permanent place of glory in the coming heavenly kingdom and the New Jerusalem. His location will never change; he will be eternally secure. Furthermore, he will share in the glory of the Lord as those associated with His Name. It is probable that these honors will be on display throughout the millennium as well as the eternal state.

An Application for Today

Those who are weak will often appreciate the strength of the Lord in a special way. They are more dependent upon Him and are less prone to feel that they can manage using their own talents and capabilities. Of course, there is no virtue in any spiritual weakness that we bring upon ourselves by our waywardness and disobedience.

God delights to use “little” things to reveal His greatness. He will take up the weak, and through them, demonstrate His strength. The word of the Lord to Paul, permanently burdened with physical infirmity, was this: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2Co 12:9). And in the spiritual battle against unseen forces and powers, we can only be victorious in the measure that we put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:13). “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2Co 10:4).

It is not a fault to feel our personal weakness, physical or spiritual, but we should encourage ourselves in the Lord and not make our weakness an excuse for inactivity. There is divine help available. The apostle Paul struck a confident note when he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Php 4:13).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.