Summary: The sixth of the seven churches - what might it have to say to us today?
And so we come to the sixth of the seven letters to seven churches, the letter to the church in Philadelphia, which is of course in Asia, not the USA.
What do we know about the city? Philadelphia was a strong fortress city, strategically located on the road from Rome to the east. It was a city of major influence in the area and was located on the edge of a great volcanic plain which was fertile as a result and perfect for grape growing. It was the centre of worship of the Greek god Dionysius, the god of wine – not surprising, given the grapes grown in the area. It’s proximity to active volcanoes was a constant threat and the people in the most part lived outside the city because of the threat from falling buildings within the city walls.
In Philadelphia, there was a small group of Christians who were faithful to the task. They were neither large in number, powerful, or influential, but they were sufficiently significant to be one of seven churches to receive a letter.
In verse eight John, the author, says 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.
Philadelphia was a blessed city. They were living in the land of opportunity, and this verse explains why they were so blessed, with three main reasons:
They were weak - This was a small church with no prestige. The Christians in Philadelphia regularly got beaten up by the local Jews who had condemned them. But because they were weak, they relied upon God. They knew they were God’s people doing his work, and were fully aware of God’s authority.
They were a people of the Word – They were fascinated with God’s Word, devoted to it, and thriving on it.
They didn’t waver in their faith – Here was a church who no matter what they were faced with, refused to give up on their faith. The ridicule, the peer pressure, the opposition or even the persecution they faced could not make them waver. Instead they were faithful to the end.
This is why God gave an open door – the opportunity to preach the gospel to their neighbours, to their friends, to people passing through the city.
In verse nine we read, “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.”
The first opponents of the church were hostile Jews. This was the continuation of the tension we see between the early church and the Jewish community, who believed that they were the people of God by birth and religious heritage. Nowadays we have quite cordial relations, on the whole, between Christians and Jews, but in the days of the early church there was better recrimination and fighting between the Jews and the Christians.
In verse 10, we read that, “because you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
The Christians in Philadelphia have been faithful to God, and so God will reward them by looking after them, caring for them, loving them as a parent.
In verses eleven and twelve, we read, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.”
We need to remember that Philadelphia was a volcanic area. Often the only parts of the city left standing after a severe eruption were the huge stone temple columns. When you visit ancient ruins you notice that often all that is left standing are the pillars. Pillars were synonymous with strength and permanence. Here is a promise from God to his followers in Philadelphia to set them up in such a secure fashion that they can never be moved. This promise to never go out again is a reference to the experience of these Philadelphians who had frequently to flee the city because of the volcanic eruptions that came. It is a picture of security, permanence and strength.
And at the end of verse twelve we read, “I will write on him 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 him my new name.”