Summary: This is the sixth message in this series that looks at the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. This message examines the letter to the church at Philadelphia examines the open doors that God so often puts in our path.
Attalus Philadelphia, king of Pergamum, who died in 138 BC, built this city, and it was named after him by his brother Eumenes. The city was located 25 miles southeast of Sardis and about 100 miles due east of Smyrna. This was the youngest of the cities addressed in the seven letters. The city was situated along the fertile volcanic plain of Katakekaumene. This was an area that was well suited for growing grapes and producing wine, both of which the city was well known for. The city’s economic prosperity was also influenced by the large textile and leather industries. In addition to its agricultural success, Philadelphia prospered commercially. It was nestled in the same broad Hermus River Valley as Sardis. Furthermore, the imperial post road of the first century A.D., which came from Rome via Troas, Adramyttium, Pergamum, and Sardis, passed through this valley and Philadelphia on the way to the east. This strategic location at the juncture of the trade routes leading to Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia had helped Philadelphia earn the title “Gateway to the East.” The city was originally intended to serve as center to advance the Greek language and culture throughout this region. In A.D. 17 an earthquake that destroyed Sardis and ten other cities also destroyed Philadelphia. After the devastating earthquake, Tiberius came to the peoples' aid and had the city rebuilt. In gratitude the citizens renamed it Neocaesarea ("New Caesar"). Although nothing is known about the origin of the Philadelphian church, in A.D. 100-160 the church prospered. Long after all the surrounding country had succumbed to Muslim control under Turkey, Philadelphia held out as a Christian populace till 1392. Its Christian challenge saw the city as being very strategic as well. The Christians in Philadelphia had a tremendous opportunity for outreach which could not be ignored. No condemnation is included in this letter, but a challenge for patient endurance and good use of the door that was opened for them. Today I would like us to discover what we can learn from this letter to the church at Philadelphia.
I. The letter begins with a description of Christ.
A. Jesus uses the words of the prophet Isaiah to introduce Himself to the church.
1. Jesus establishes His own identity with three affirmations.
2. He is holy, meaning separate from sin; pure.
3. Holiness is the attribute of God whereby we sense the presence of the "Wholly Other," the one who says, "I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you.”
4. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. (Hosea 11:9—NIV 2011)
5. He is the true One. The Greek word used here for true means real or genuine.
6. He is the "True One" in that he is wholly trustworthy and reliable in his words and actions.
7. He is the sovereign one who holds the key of David.
8. Each of these identifications calls attention to Jesus as the true Messiah.
B. For this congregation for whom Christ has only commendation, these titles would bring encouragement, despite their "little strength" to go on in their faithfulness.
1. Here the knowledge of the speaker and his verdict blend together in untarnished praise as in the letter to Smyrna.
2. The reference to the key of David refers to Isaiah 22:22 where King Hezekiah’s faithful servant Eliakim would be given the high responsibility of carrying the keys to the royal palace instead of the unfaithful Shebna.
3. The "key" signifies the power of the keys that were normally held by the king himself, unless delegated to another.
4. The use of the name "David" points to Christ as the Messiah, who alone determines who will participate in his kingdom and who will be turned away. "He opens, no one can shut; … he shuts, no one can open."
5. This may allude to the false claims of certain Jews at Philadelphia who argued that they, not the heretical Nazarenes, would inherit the kingdom of David and thus excluded the followers of Jesus. But the true Messiah, Jesus, will exclude them!
II. An examination of the character and condition of the church.
A. Unlike the dying church at Sardis the church at Philadelphia was very much alive with quite a few strengths worth noting.
1. This was a church of great opportunity, strategically located where it could help spread the Gospel message throughout Asia.
2. This was a church of little power, possibly referring to its size and the social status of its members.
3. This church was faithful to the Word of God. They remained true and genuine in their obedience to Christ.
4. A church of good reputation, with no compromise because they have stood firm.