This letter maintains the same structure that we've seen in the previous 5 letters to the churches, but in this letter, we'll also see how Jesus uses 3 house related metaphors in His writing to this church in Philadelphia.
(A) Doors open and shut: Jesus is at work in our day, can you see it? (Rev 3:7-8)
Let us review the pictures of Jesus we have seen in these ‘letters from Jesus’. We've seen Jesus presented as:
- One who holds the 7 stars (i.e. angels or messengers) and walks among the 7 golden lampstands (i.e. churches) (Rev 2:1). He is one who is sovereign over the church and her leaders. He is the head of the church.
- The first and the last, the one who died and came to life (Rev 2:8). How interesting it is that the one without beginning and end actually died and came to life. He is eternal, resurrected, sovereign over life and time.
- One who has a sharp two-edged sword (Rev 2:12). He has sovereign words of Scriptural truth.
- The Son God who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet like burnished bronze (Rev 2:18). He knows, is divine and has authority.
- The one who has the 7 spirits and 7 stars (Rev 3:1), sovereign over the spirits.
In this letter, Jesus is presented as holy and true, who possesses the key of David (Rev 3:7). The door He opens and no one will shut, and the door He shuts, no one opens. He is sovereign over the door to the kingdom. What we see from here is how the book of Revelation goes to great lengths to remind us that this Jesus is not just any ordinary man. He is worthy of more than the attention we pay to a smart man, or a great teacher. He is divine and sovereign over all things, and has the power and authority to judge and rule.
In Rev 3:7-8, we read of a key, and Jesus uses this key to set before them an open door. There are 2 interpretive possibilities for this. In the first, this open door could refer to entry into the kingdom of God or salvation. In Isa 22:20-23, God gives the keys and authority to the king in the line of David. Jesus, coming as the promised King in the line of David brings salvation and the Kingdom of God. The keys to the kingdom are also given to the disciples in Matt 16:19. This is what is being sung of in the Christmas hymn "O come O come Emmanuel" -- "O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery." Jesus unlocks the door of salvation for all the peoples, including Gentiles!
In the second interpretation, the open door could refer to ministry opportunities. In numerous places in Paul's epistles, he speaks of the various ministry opportunities to do God's work. We might be more familiar with this usage, because we often speak of God opening and closing doors in our life.
Whatever it is, there are some things that are true about both interpretation. Both are about the word of God (Rev 3:8) and Jesus is sovereign over whatever it is. Jesus provides salvation for both Jew and Gentile, for you and me. At the same time, in our ministry, our good intentions do not make ministry happens and it is the work of Jesus. In Matt 13:31-33 relevant. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed and starts out small, but eventually grows into something big. What God is doing in this world may seem so small and insignificant, but it will grow and eventually be something great.
What this means is that Jesus is at work in our day, and He is doing something even if it looks like He is doing nothing. He is probably doing it through His Word, even if it looks unimpressive and maybe it doesn't wow the modern mind. He is doing it himself. If you teach children's Sunday school and wonder if anything God comes out of it, take heart! God is at work. Even if you come to a small Bible study and no one really attends, or maybe no fruit happens, take heart, Jesus is also at work.
At the same time, are you too upset, angry, tired to see all the ways that God is at work, be it for salvation or ministry? No matter how your sin seems to mar things or how people try to close that door, this door that He opened will remain open. He is at work doing His thing! Can you see kingdom work around you? Be in the business of spotting mustard seeds growing! This may sound ridiculous and only those that understand the Psalmist's prayer in Ps 131 -- humbled, bent over -- with eyes open and ready to spot the ways that God is at work.God is doing His work in your life and it may not be impressive, or it may not earn you money, but dear friends, do you see how our greatest joy is in watching seeds grow?
(B) Synagogue of Satan: Jesus promises vindication, will you endure? (Rev 3:9-10)
Jesus uses the word "behold" twice in Rev 3:9 for emphasis. He says it the first time to command attention. He repeats it a second time to press out the assurance of what He is about to do. It is not a passing statement or an afterthought. He tells the church of Philadelphia that He will make those that are "of the synagogue of Satan" come and bow down before their feet.
Why does Jesus insist on this, even using the word "behold" twice for emphasis? It is proof that He loves us and is a vindication of His love for us. As the people in Philadelphia are clinging on to the word, there is another group that claims to be the true one. Jesus takes offense at their blasphemy, for Jesus has set His love on the church. When Jesus comes again, it will be settled who is real and who is not. Our faithfulness is not about us, but it is also about Jesus. In Jn 8:31-47 Jesus has strong words for those that claim to be Abraham's children but are not actually so. Matt 23:13-15, Jesus condemns the Pharisees who converts a man to their legalism but condemns him even more. We don't really care about this most of the time, because we just want to be known to Jesus and feel loved. But what this verse is saying is that the true nature of our faith is what confirms Jesus' love for us. It's not about me being found faithful, but about His love for me being found to be true!
In Rev 3:10, Jesus also says that He will keep them "from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world". Does this mean that they will escape tribulation? In Jn 17:15, Jesus also prays that God the Father will keep the disciples from the evil one. This is the other instance when the phrase "tereo ek" is used. Jesus is not talking about escapism. Jn 17 tells us that the disciples will still be in the world, but will be protected and kept from the evil one. Therefore, in Rev 3:10, it probably speaks of practical persecution but the promise will be protection and perseverance even when the persecution intensifies and they are tempted to give up.
How can we apply this practically? What is this text calling you and me to do? There are 5 ways to live intentionally in response to this:
- Clarity. Know what you believe and are about. Be clear about Scripture! Clarity precedes conviction for you cannot have conviction about what you do not believe. Many of us have theological gaps, where we are unable to clearly articulate specific truths and where to find them in the Bible.
- Depth. It doesn't matter how long you've been attending Bible studies or been in church, because you can surely go deeper still. Depth is a commodity in this world. Don't just hang out in your shallow side of the pool. Is someone else mature, or are you shallow? Make this the year that you go deep, not matter how long you've been a Christian.
- Breadth. Don't live in the small Christian bubble. Are all your friends like you, and not necessarily in a good way? Have friends that are non-Christian, of different nationalities, and of different churches.
- Focus. We spend a lot of time running after a lot of things and people that don't love us back and we are such busy people. Pursue the One who will love you back. And if you go deep, you will never be bored. If you're in university, make full use of your time and freedom! This is a unique opportunity in this period of life before work and other life commitments weigh you down.
- Faithfulness. Keep the main things at the centre and keep doing it. You will find that you will go deeper and deeper over time.
What is God saying to you today? How can you press on and endure?
(C) Pillars in the temple: Jesus will comfort us, can you picture it? (Rev 3:11-13)
Jesus offers some comfort in his promises in Rev 3:11-13. Yet the whole series of actions is only possible and makes sense only because Jesus is coming soon (Rev 3:11). Everything that He has said before and after this serves as a comfort and rebuke to each party Jesus is really going to come. But many will not be ready to face Him. Will you? Do you have your affairs in order? Do you think about seeing Him? Do you actually believe He is coming again? If you do, it will shape the way you live, just as Peter wrote in 2 Pet 3:1-14.
The church was told that they could look forward to 2 things if they conquer. They will be a "pillar in the temple of my God" and "never shall he go out of it" (Rev 3:12a). They will also have the name of God written and specifically 3 types of names written -- the name of God, the city and Jesus' own new name (Rev 3:12b). This picture of pillars in a temple might seem strange, but it is drawn from 1 Kings 7:13-22 when Solomon built the temple. This passage described the work on the pillars, and the work on the pillars were not done until he named and set them up (1 Kings 7:21). What this mean in Rev is that Jesus names the pillars when He finishes His work. This means that all that God has been doing in all our lives from all the ages will finally reach an end. When the faithful go to see Him, they, the people, will be the completion of His temple! They will be the named bronze pillars and this means that those who are faithful and persevere to the end will complete God's temple! The prayer and desire of the Psalmist in Ps 27:4 is the promised reward for the one who conquers. How amazing.
We don't have time to talk about the names, but imagine this -- those in the church who persevere will have unspeakable name of God written on them! The name of the city refers to the new Jerusalem with the new Holy of Holies and new Heaven and new Earth! In Rev 19, we also learn that Jesus has 3 names (c.f. Rev 19:11,13,16). We don't know which name this is specifically referring to but whatever it is, it is this name that is given to the one who conquers! What an honor!
These are the wonderful promises given to those in the church that stand firm and persevere to the end. This letter reminds us that Jesus is at work. Jesus does not merely call us to do great things, but to do small things for a long period of time. This world has too many people who are trying to climb to the top. This text puts in our heart another ambition, that lasts beyond this world. The call for Christians is not to strive to be top of our game, but to be faithful to the end. He doesn't call us to prove anything, or to be good at things, but that we will hold fast to His Word. This is all He calls us to do. How many of us will endure and last to the end? How can we do so?