Background

  • Name of city = “brotherly love”. In 189BC the city came into the possession of the king of Pergamon, Eumenes, and was named after his brother, Attalus II (159-138BC), whose truth and loyalty won him the title, Philadelphus.
  • Though military fortifications were not neglected at Philadelphia, its chief role was in consolidating, regulating and educating the central regions subject to the kings of Pergamon. It was established as a missionary city, promoting unity of spirit, customs and loyalty within the realm. It was ‘the apostle of Hellenism in an Oriental land’ and succeeded in replacing the Lydian language with Greek by AD19.
  • In AD17, an unusually severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities of the great Lydian Valley including Sardis and Philadelphia. Strabo says that Sardis suffered the most, but Philadelphia the longest, with the tremors continuing to AD20. All that remained were a few standing pillars, and the population had to live outside the city whilst it was rebuilt.
  • The Emperor Tiberius came to the aid of the stricken cities. In gratitude Philadelphia assumed the new name Neokaisareia (the new Caesar), but the new name disappeared from use about AD42-50. Later, under Vespasian, it took another imperial name, Flavia.

Exposition

3:7 These things saith he that is holy: The title is drawn from Psalm 16:10. The Holy One saw that this ecclesia was set apart from worldliness.

he that is true (Gk alethinos): That which is opposite to the counterfeit and fictitious (1 John 5:20). It is a quality in which there is no unrighteousness (John 7:18) unlike the liars of v9. Many had deserted to embrace unholiness and falseness (1 John 2:18-23), but some had remained – Philadelphia was among them.

he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth: Keys were used to control access. This language is derived from Isa 22:22 where Eliakim’s role was to provide or limit access to the royal chambers to meet the king in matters of government. Eliakim stands as a type of Christ who alone has the authority to provide access to God Himself (Acts 4:12). Christ also has the ultimate authority of unlocking the power of the grave (1:18). He controls the destiny of the house of David or David’s true seed (2 Sam 7:13; Zech 12:8) and in connection with this, he has opened a door for them to enter (3:20, 4:1).

Just as in Hezekiah’s day there was a small remnant of faith, so the ecclesia at Philadelphia was described as having “a little strength” (v8).

3:8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door: Open door – a great opportunity for preaching the Word (cp 1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12; Col 4:3; Acts 14:27; 16:14). God provides opportunities to preach when the ecclesia shows great zeal in wanting to do this. No other ecclesia was given this public commission. They had held fast to the Truth and so the Lord gave them an incentive to undertake further gospel proclamation, most likely eastwards where Paul had been unable to go in his journeys.

and no man can shut it: No one can resist the purpose of God when He seeks to bless the work of preaching.

for thou hast a little strength: False brethren had left (v9) leaving only a faithful remnant to continue the work. They were like the few names in Sardis (3:4). Their strength would be in their Lord (2 Cor 12:9). Because they had little strength, Christ would keep the door of opportunity open for them.

and hast kept (Gk tereo – “attend carefully”) my word: v10 speaks of obedience to the word (Luke 8:15), i.e. obedience of faith (contrast to Smyrna). Phrase is used in Psa 119:17,67,101; Luke 8:15; 11:28; John 8:51-52,55; 14:23-24; 17:6; 1 John 2:5; Rev 1:3; 22:7,10.

and hast not denied my name: cp 2:3,13. They were fearless in their proclamation of the name and purpose of God (Matt 10:32-33; Luke 12:9; 2 Tim 2:12; 1 John 2:22-23; Jude v4).

3:9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan: The Judaisers of 2:9 who were not Jews inwardly (Rom 2:29; Gal 6:10).

which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie: Opposite of he that is true (v7).

behold, I will make them to come and worship (Gk – “bow”, “do homage”) before thy feet: Based on the scene of Isa 45:14; 60:14 where the gates will be open day and night (v11) and Israel’s enemies will come and bow before Israel. At the judgment seat, false brethren will be forced to acknowledge that they were wrong and that the remnant they left was in the right. In this way justice will be done.

and to know that I have loved thee: They will acknowledge that the remnant, from whom they separated, is beloved of God ( John 13:34; 15:9; 16:27).

3:10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience: This is the word which sets forth Christ’s patient endurance (1:9). To keep the principles of the Word alive under patient trial is evidence of great faith.

I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation: They kept the Word; He will keep them. The false brethren were not spared from this danger, but the true ecclesia was. Hour of temptation = hour of trial and putting to the test. Bro Thomas indicates that this is different to the tribulation of 2:10, 2:22. There Gk = thlipsis (pressure). Here trial = periasmos (trial).

which shall come upon all the world (Gk oikoumene – Roman habitable world) to try them that dwell upon the earth: Bro Thomas states that the hour of trial also came upon the habitable in AD248 (150 years later) under the emperor Decius. From AD210-247 was a time of peace which produced the first wholesale declension of Christian faith and practice since the first century. Decius unleashed a furious persecution all over the empire in an attempt to exterminate the name of Christ. It lasted for about 12 years. It was not local or intermittent; it was universal and constant. During these times of persecution, many returned to paganism and went back into the world to avoid persecution.

3:11 Behold, I come quickly: In the sense of the previous verse; in the providential testing of persecution.

hold that fast which thou hast: cp 2:25; 3:3; Prov 4:13; 1 Thess 5:21; 2 Tim 1:13; Heb 3:6; 4:14; 10:23

that no man take thy crown (Gk stephanos): They were already wearing the crown!

3:12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God: Pillars represent faithful people who support others ( Jer 1:18-19; Gal 2:9), hewn out by wisdom (Prov 7:1; 1 Tim 3:15). Two pillars in God’s temple – Jachin (“He shall establish”) and Boaz (“strong ones”) – a parable of how God will establish the faithful in great power (1 King 7:21).

and he shall go no more out: Abiding place for ever (Psa 27:4). Language used of the inauguration of priesthood (Lev 8:33,35).

and I will write upon him: Because they had God’s name written on the forehead (14:1) and in their hearts ( Jer 31:33) they will be rewarded accordingly.

the name of my God: They had not denied God’s name (v8), God would therefore write His name upon them. He would enrol them as part of His immortal family (Psa 87:4-6).

and the name of the city of my God: Isa 62:2 – Jerusalem’s new name = new character of righteous- ness (v4: Hephzibah = my delight is in her).which is new

Jerusalem: cp 21:2 = body politic = immortal saints. Contrast to old Jerusalem labouring under old covenant.

which cometh down out of heaven from my God: cp 21:3,10 – of God and in fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant.

and I will write upon him my new name: cp 2:17 – New name “Yahweh our righteousness” ( Jer 23:5-6).