Summary: We remain faithful to Jesus by holding fast to Him regardless of circumstances.
[Show video - “Be Like Mike” commercial]
I guess, like many of you, I’m really dating myself when I admit that I actually remember that commercial, which made its debut in 1992. But even today, young aspiring basketball players still want to “be like Mike” because Michael Jordan is the standard against whom all other basketball players are measured.
As we near the end of our journey through the messages to the seven churches in Asia, we come to the church in Philadelphia. And there is little doubt that if I could pick one of the seven churches that I would want our church to emulate, it would be the one at Philadelphia. In a sense, it is the standard against whom all other churches are to be measured. So my challenge to us today is this - “Be like Philadelphia”. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter 3 and follow along as I read Jesus’ words to the church there and we’ll see why this church is one we can all aspire to.
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
By now, we should all be familiar with the outline that we’ll use to examine the words of Jesus to the church in Philadelphia.
1. Church – Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia was established in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamum who named the city for the love of his brother, Attalus II. Attalus, who eventually succeeded his brother, earned the nickname “Philadelphos” because of his loyalty to his brother.
Located in a broad volcanic plain about thirty miles southwest of Sardis, it was a city of commercial importance which was known as the “Gateway to the East.” Under the rule of the kings of Pergamum, it was developed as a missionary city for the purpose of expanding Greek culture to the recently captured areas to the east.
Although the volcanic plain provided rich soil for agriculture, it also meant that the city was subject to frequent earthquakes. In fact, the city had been completed destroyed by a major earthquake in AD17 and when it was rebuilt with the help of the Roman government, it took the name Neoceasarea for a period of time in appreciation for that assistance.
Like most of the other churches, we know very little about how the church was established there, but it likely occurred during Paul’s extended stay in Ephesus.
…the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
This is the first description of Christ that doesn’t have a direct tie back to John’s vision of Jesus in chapter 1, although, as we’ll see, there is a connection to that description.
Jesus begins by describing Himself as the holy one and the true one – both titles that are used to describe God the Father in numerous Old Testament passages. So once again, we find a confirmation of the deity of Jesus here. He is completely holy – which means that he is set apart. He is not just a good man, but he is indeed God in the flesh. And as the true one, He not only embodies truth, He is genuine. That is an important distinction to the Jews there in Philadelphia who rejected Him as Messiah. He is countering their claims by proclaiming that He is indeed the genuine Messiah.