To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. [Revelation 3:7-13]
Some thirty miles southeast of Sardis lay the city of Philadelphia. Its strategic location at the junction of several important trade routes earned it the nickname, “the gateway to the east.” The city’s name—meaning “brotherly love”—was named after Attalus II, who founded the city. He was given the nickname “Philadelphus” after he refused the advice from his advisors to try and overthrow his older brother, who was king before him.
What stands out in this letter is the way Jesus introduces Himself. Gone are the stars and the lampstands, and in come words like holy and true – words which speak of a more Jewish setting. Jesus introduces Himself in thoroughly Jewish ways. As Wiersbe puts it: “He is also the One who is true—that is, genuine. He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days (1 Cor. 8:5–6), but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God.”
The themes used by Jesus to introduce Himself are terms used in Revelation 6:9-10 of him: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'”
The question the martyrs ask, “How long before you avenge?” is not answered in the letter but the vindication of the faithful is a definite theme. Remembering that the letters introduce words each congregation needed to here, and chapters 4 through 21 contain materials all needed to hear, vindication of the faithful is a clear theme. The book of Revelation will show that precisely because Jesus is holy, he judges sin, and precisely because He is true, all falsehood will be brought to light. This judging activity will serve to vindicate the faithful being wronged at the hands of those claiming to be God’s people, but who are not.
Since Jesus is true and holy, he has the authority to open doors.
The Open Door
This could mean:
1.The Door to the Kingdom (John 10:7,9; Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 15:17; Rev. 3:20; 4:1)
In the New Testament the open door signifies admission to a place or state. Jesus refers to himself in the Gospel of John as the door or gate. It refers the opening and shutting of the door into the Kingdom of God which comes through Jesus alone. The open door would lead to a New Jerusalem and a bright future for a church experiencing opposition.
2.The Door for Effective Ministry (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3).
The phrase is used this way by Paul of opportunities for ministry that opened to him. The reality of conflict with those from the synagogue of Satan clearly supposes a sharp disagreement based on the person of Jesus which the church has therefore clearly communicated.
It has been pointed out that Philadelphia was a city created as a base for what we might call ‘secular evangelism.’ The city was known as ‘Little Athens’ due to the way the city embraced Greek culture in general and the various Greek cults in particular. The city functioned as a platform from which Greek civilization could be spread into nearby areas. In the first century it remained a door to the east: the imperial post road that began in Rome ran through Troas, Pergamon, Sardis, and then Philadelphia before proceeding east. Just as Philadelphia consciously and intentionally championed Greek culture in the region, this view says that Philadelphian church was being given the opportunity to bring Christ into that culture.
Both of these views can work together. In His letter, Jesus says that he knows their deeds, words which speak to both their present ministry and their present struggle with Jews. The phrase, ‘the synagogue of Satan,’ is also used in the letter to the church at Smyrna. In both places Jews in the city claimed to be spiritual descendants of Abraham but were only his physical descendants. Common to both Philadelphia and Smyrna is this question: those who say they are Jews and are not.
In his introduction to Philadelphia, Jesus departs from the cosmic way He has described himself in previous letters and reverts to familiar Jewish terms. Jesus quotes directly from Isaiah 22 in verse 1. Isaiah 22 describes how Shebna, the prime minister for King Hezekiah, would be replaced by Eliakim. Eliakim’s temporary control of the kingdom as “prime minister” to the king of Israel was a prophetic historical pattern pointing forward to Jesus Christ’s greater and eternal sovereignty over a greater kingdom.
The prophet denounces Shebna due to his pride in his position and because he displayed arrogance in building a flamboyant tomb for himself. Precisely because of this, Shebna would be replaced.
By referring to Isaiah 22, Jesus points to himself as the steward of the House of David. He’s the one who has been given the keys to the Davidic kingdom. In Revelation 1:18 he says that he’s been given the keys to Death and Hades, words that echo Jesus’s words to Peter in Matthew 16:18 and to the Twelve in John 20:21-23. He, not the Jewish leaders, is the true steward of God’s household. Those Jews who look forward to the time when Gentiles will pay homage to the Jews, as Isaiah said, will be shocked to discover that it is they who will prostrate themselves to the largely Gentile church. And these Jews will do it because Jesus, the Holy and True One, has loved and chosen the Philadelphian church. To a church that is responsive and ready to be used, the Lord will use his power to "open and shut" to make their enemies respect them and openly acknowledge God's blessing upon them.
The Three Conditions
The opening words are distinctively Jewish from the outset. That does not mean that there were no threats from paganism and the Imperial Cult. While it is true that, because of its newness, the city had few religious traditions, inscriptions from around 100 B.C. reveals the presence of cultic altars for at least ten gods and goddesses in the city.
Conflict exists because the Philadelphian Church is unashamedly Christ-centered, and this conviction, together with their faithful ministry, has resulted in them being opposed for their faith.
What follows here are three reasons why Jesus opened such a door for them. The first addresses their ‘little strength.’ The second that they had kept His word. Third, in that decisive moment of trial, they did not deny Jesus’s name.
Back to the first condition – little strength.
I don’t like the way the NIV translates, “I know that you have little strength” because it skews the connection between Jesus opening a door and their actions. The words, “I know” are not present in the Greek text. What it literally says is, “...because you have a little power and have kept my word and have not denied my name.” The church is being given the reasons why Jesus has opened a door for them. They have a little strength, kept His word, and did not deny His name.
Here’s why that is important for us. It tells us that God opens doors for churches when she exemplifies the conditions that allow her to move through that door once it has been opened. God will open a door for you when you live in such a way that shows you will walk through it before He has opened it. It’s called living by faith.
Let’s begin with the opening condition: little strength. God opens doors for a church which puts her “little strength” to use before He’s opened them.
The first condition that resulted in Jesus placing an open door before them was their ‘little strength.’
Little is the word μικρός mikros; small, little:—least(4), less(1), little(13), little ones(6), little while(10), short(1), small(8), smaller(2), smallest(1). It has a number of applications in the NT, with two being relevant here.
1.Small in significance (Rev. 11:18; 13:16; 19:5, 18; 20:12)
Mikron occurs elsewhere in Revelation and four times it is put together with the word ‘great’ (megas). Megas can mean great, abundant, high, huge, large, larger, etc. Mikros and Megas is often left as ‘great’ and ‘small’ but it’s also translated as the ‘important and the unimportant.’ The idea is social inclusivity. In Jesus’s kingdom people of all ages and all stations and welcomed. In this interpretation the believers had little influence or weight in the city. Despite this lack of significance, they faithfully stuck to their task.
2.Small in number (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9; Luke 12:32)
The leaven is small in quantity and the flock is small in number. The talk of amounts should lead us to think of how many not how much. ‘Little’ would refer to the size of the church in comparison to the size of the city and the size of the opposition. If this is the application, then first, it could mean that the Christian community was relatively small in number. We know from Strabo that the population of Philadelphia was relatively small since many chose to live outside the city on farms because of the earthquakes. Second, it could mean that this strength was present in a small number of believers or, for the reformed out there, in true believers. In either case, little refers to the number – how many.
Whichever way we take it, Jesus makes much from the little that He’s given. Scripture makes it clear that how much we have, faith for example, is not as important as whether we allow God to control what we have. Jesus opened a door for them because they gave him their little – in this case, strength or ability.
Strength is the word δύναμις dunamis. The word is used 120 times in the NT. It is translated as power (77 times), mighty work (11), miracle (7), might (4), virtue (3), mighty (2), strength (7 times), and misc. (9). The word means power, especially achieving power. “All the words derived from the stem dúna – have the meaning of being able, capable.”
Strength in the NT speaks of opportunity, even in the face of challenging circumstances, just as the Philadelphians were facing. Here are three examples.
[2 Corinthians 12:9]: And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
[Hebrews 11:11]: By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.
[Revelation 12:10-11]: Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
In all these verses strength was demonstrated in the face of various struggles. Here’s what this means: Jesus is never bound by a local church’s limitations providing that church allows Him to control what they have. When a church does that, their strengths become spiritual power. Jesus tells the Philadelphians that He’s opened a door for them because they demonstrated that if He would open that door, they’d muster everything to walk through it.
Let me ask you: are you waiting for God to open a door before you mobilize the little that you have to walk through it? Remember, if the Philadelphian example still holds true, and I believe it does, when you exemplify the conditions that show you will move through a door God opens, then He’ll open one for you. That’s called living by faith.
Are you praying for God to open a door for you to share with a neighbor? What if you started to exemplify what was needed to share with your neighbor? Maybe then, God would open a door!
How are you living now? What qualities are you demonstrating BEFORE God opens the door? It is difficult for us come up with opportunities while we are waiting. But maybe, for some of us, looking for opportunities is not our only responsibility while we are waiting. Maybe demonstrating the faith that trusts God with what we have is what He requires to open the door we need opened. My own experience tells me that it sometimes takes a lot longer than I’d like to find the way forward, but knowing a solution exists when I am ready to walk through it, is often all it takes to align my will with God’s and usher in the solution God has. This truth challenges the way we think about opportunities and problems. The life of Christ was clearly working in the favor of the Philadelphian church and Jesus was going to bring opportunities for their eternal good. If that is true for us, then, at very least, our current challenges are God’s way of revealing to us that our thought life is not where it needs to be. If Christ is for us, then positive options will come our way to deal with the problem. Since Jesus is for us, we win in the end. To speed that up, maybe all we need to do in the struggle of today is manifest the traits we’ll need to overcome tomorrow.
The Second and Third Conditions
The second condition is more familiar to us: they have kept His word. This phrase is repeated in verse 10: “you have kept my command” (see also 22:7 and 9). There are a number of ways this could be interpreted but not losing sight of the Word through carelessness, deadness, heresy, and lax living carries the moral requirement and doctrinal faithfulness, especially in the face of persecution and opposition carries the spiritual. Utley points out that the tense is aorist active indicative which implies a particular time of persecution or a decisive act of obedience. They may well only have had a little strength but what they had they used well!
The third condition that they had fulfilled was that they had not “denied my name.” We don’t know what event is being referred to, but we do know that this was a very difficult period for Christians who could not participate in Emperor worship and were rejected by Jews.
Some commentators make a connection between the second and third conditions. They point out that obedience to the Word is obedience to Christ and that would involve not denying Christ. They suppose that the first condition is put positively and the second negatively. There’s some truth to that, of course.
It bears repeating that these three conditions remind us that God opens doors for churches when that church exemplifies the conditions that allow her to move through a door once it has been opened.
Vindicating the Victims
What Jesus will do because they exemplify these three conditions, verse 9, would have shocked them! “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”
Jesus says that He will make their opponents fall down at their feet. Not Jesus’s feet. Their feet. This speaks of Christian vindication not Jewish conversion. Here’s what Jesus says: If a little faith can move mountains, a little strength can vindicate victims!
Those who have never experienced hardship for following Christ, may find the promise of vindication a hard concept to grasp. Vindication means to set free, to deliver, or to avenge. To be vindicated is to be set free from allegation and blame. Those who have been found guilty by accusation often have to wait for a considerable time before they are ever vindicated. If you have ever been around someone who has received vindication you will know how powerful an experience it is.
To be clear, there is a difference between vindication and justification. When we are wrong, we know that we can go to Christ and receive forgiveness for our sin. What we need in the moment our sin comes alive within us, to use Paul’s idea from Romans 5-7, is atonement and justification both of which are received through confession and repentance. But what are we to do when we’ve been wronged? What do we do when we’ve been slandered and falsely accused? What are we do to when we need God to ‘justify us’ not in the sense of bestowing forgiveness upon us but by way of vindication?
What Jesus expected of the Philadelphian Christians is clear from verse 10: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” Jesus expected them to endure patiently. It is pretty clear from Jesus’s words that their vindication has eschatological (future) overtones to it. That’s the way it is for most of us.
As true as that is, as with justification, so vindication is also grounded in the finished work of Christ. Precisely because Jesus died, was buried, rose, and ascended to the Father, He has received ‘keys to the House of David’, and is able to vindicate those who’ve been falsely accused. As we’ll see, the vindication Jesus offers the Philadelphian believers is presented as being both eternal and permanent! That’s how important Jesus saw their vindication.
If you have been falsely accused, Jesus encourages you to continue to ensure patiently, by putting your little strength to work. Continue to keep God’s Word without denying Christ’s name and he will spare you from hour of trial that is going to come. Evidence of what that a belief in their future vindication looked like is perhaps best provided by these words from Lesslie Newbigin: “The victory of the Church over the power which was embodied in the Roman imperial system was not won by seizing the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt down in the Colosseum and prayed in the name of Jesus for the Emperor.” When you believe in your coming vindication, you can, like Jesus, pray for those who wrong you!
Jesus’s words in verse 9, echo Isaiah 49:23 but in reverse. The prophet Isaiah predicated a day when: “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." Isaiah stated that Gentiles would bow down to Jews. Here Jesus points to a time when Jews will bow down to the church, Jews and Gentiles. Their patient endurance would produce an incredible reversal.
This is another subtle undercurrent in the reference to Isaiah 22. Isaiah not only attacked Shebna’s arrogance, but also the peoples’ priorities. They should have been concerned with their sin, but they were more preoccupied with the strength of their walls, and whether they had water. They became absorbed with themselves and they labored for things that really did not matter. Just as Shebna was replaced, so too God’s people would be humbled. Jesus gives the Philadelphian’s insight into a future that would surprise many.
Like Thyatira, the Philadelphians are also told to hold on to what they have. Two promises are given to those who endure patiently. First, that person will become a pillar in the temple of God. The pillar is a symbol of strength and significance. Jesus promises those believers that they will have a position of permanent importance. “By design, temples were often the most secure structure in a city, especially in earthquake-prone ones like Philadelphia. The promise of being a column suggests strength and stability.”
In Galatians 2:9 Paul says that Peter, James, and John are pillars of the church. In the Jerusalem temple, destroyed in 70A.D., there were two pillars in front of the building, one called Jachin, which means ‘established, permanent’, and the other Boaz, which means ‘strength.’ Pillars are symbols of strength and permanence. Because you have stood faithfully today, Jesus says, you will have standing for eternity.
Second, Jesus says that He will write on them, the pillars, the name of His God and the city of his God. They would have understood the significance of this. On the screen you can see a pillar in the Ephesian city council building that is inscribed with the names of the priests of Artemis. Pillars with names on them are commonly seen at sites throughout western Turkey today. These believers understood this reference. On their pillar would be written three names: God, the heavenly new Jerusalem, and the new name of Jesus. The significance of these three names is developed in Revelation 19-22.
The historical circumstance of Philadelphia is another way Jesus connects to their story. The Philadelphians had lived through multiple name changes and Jesus says that He will write three names on them. The first is, ‘the name of my God.’ The last is the ‘new name of Jesus.’
Before the word became flesh, an angel announced to Joseph that Mary would bear a son and that this boy should receive the name “Jesus because He will save His people from their sins” (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). Jesus means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.”
Here Jesus says that he will write his new name on them. No one knows that name yet, but Revelation 19:12 repeats that idea. “His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” When Jesus appears, He will come with that new name. Now that Jesus has finished that saving, perfecting, vindicating work, He will have a new name and those in him will bear it.
A name symbolizes character. These names make promises to followers of Jesus. These promises assure us that God will finish the work He has started. He’s so committed to it that he signs it, three times! I do not know what you are going through. Maybe you need vindicating. Maybe you need forgiving. Maybe you need healing. Maybe you need comforting.
Today I want you to know that it is in God’s nature to make permanent what He’s started. He has written his name on you. Hold fast to that name and watch God finish what He’s started. It is in His nature.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 578). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 M.E. Boring, K. Berger, and C. Colpe, Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), p771.
 Ray Steadman makes this observation in his sermon, “The Church that Tried.”
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, on NT:1411, p485
 So Lenski, R. C. H. (1935). The interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (p. 141). Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern.
 Dr. Bob Utley (2014), Bible Lessons International, on Revelation 3:8
 So, John Sweet (1979), Revelation, (London: SCM Press), p102
 Wilson, M. (2019). The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7–13). In B. J. Beitzel, J. Parks, & D. Mangum (Eds.), Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation (pp. 681–682). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.