Summary: Do you feel insignificant in your service to God? You may be more powerful than you thought. Or do you feel pretty secure? You may be more in need and weak than you thought. Take some advice from Philadelphia and Laodicea.
Even as the Philadelphian church doesn’t receive even one rebuke - the church at Laodicea receives not one commendation - the contrast couldn’t be more stark - and that’s not the only contrast we’ll see as we compare these two churches.
-The church at Philadelphia was small in appearance but large in the Lord’s strength.
-The Laodicean church was large in their own eyes but nothing in the Lord’s estimation.
-In Philadelphia it was the Jews who would be reproved for not realizing Christ’s love for the church -
-In Laodicea it was the church that would be reproved for failing to recognize God’s love in Jesus Christ.
-In Philadelphia doors open all by themselves and stay open.
-In Laodicea they are behind closed doors and must open their hearts to Jesus coming in. The Philadelphians are kept from tribulation, the Laodiceans are put right into it.
The differences center around two things: the name of Jesus, and the Word of Jesus. Our response to who the person of Jesus Christ is, and His gospel will determine which church we are in.
Philadelphia - The Strong Church
"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.’
This introduction is different than the others in that we don’t see this description of the Lord in chapter 1. The key of David is a reference to Isaiah 22:22. Here the palace secretary: Shebna, is removed from office and Eliakim is put into his place. The "key" referred to the fact that Eliakim could literally open or close any door he wanted because that was the highest position in the court of David. It speaks of absolute authority - which is what the Root and Offspring of David - Jesus Christ - has. Jesus will call Himself that in Chapter 22 of this book (verse 16).
It’s not a matter of having a great church, but a great God. No matter how small you are - the power of the Lord can accomplish His will. What matters is keeping His Word and His name. The Philadelphian church was small and insignificant. Its members were discouraged because they saw little growth. Neither significance nor growth in numbers are the hallmarks of a successful church in Jesus’ eyes. The successful church in Jesus’ eyes has 1) the evident love of Jesus flowing in it’s midst (verse 9), active in working for the Lord - not based on human standards but God led (verse 8), members who are maturing in their faith ("patient endurance"). So the first thing is to rely on the Lord’s Provision, not man’s plans.
In Smyrna it seemed as if the enemy won for a time - "throw you in prison." Here it is the enemy that comes to bow at their feet. And what will this defeated enemy have to acknowledge? The love of Jesus for His saints. The Jews gave the Philadelphians a really hard time. Jesus told the church of Smyrna that Jews who rejected Jesus would gather, thinking they were a synagogue of God, but really served Satan. In John 8 Jesus told the Jews who rejected Him that they were "of your father the devil."
The Ephesians were also patiently enduring - but they lacked love. Thyatira patiently endured but were compromised by the tolerance of sin.