Summary: The church with the "open doors"
The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia
Ancient Philadelphia is now called Alesihir in modern day Turkey. Philadelphia was the youngest of all the seven cities. It was founded by colonists from Pergamum under the reign of Attalus the Second, who ruled in Pergamum from 159 to 138 B.C. It was never to attain greatness in worldly terms as it was off the normal trade routes, although it was on the road to the Eastern cities of Asia Minor. The city was often seen as an outpost of the Empire of the time - being dubbed a ‘missionary city’ with “open doors that would never be shut”.
This message, along with the message to Smyrna, are the only two in which there are no rebukes and there does not seem to be anything that is not pleasing to God. But there are warnings: this small community would not be immune from the persecution coming on Christians throughout the Roman Empire. But members of this little fellowship were not to be fearful as they would be kept through these days – they would not be spared the trials and times of suffering and persecution, but would be given the strength to hold firm – no-one would be able to take the crown of life away from them.
So who was this church? Well, Philadelphia was a strategically located trade town in Asia. It stood between Rome and the eastern world and was known as “little Athens” because of it’s many gods and idols. But though it was filled with idolatry, the church remained faithful to Jesus. They had little power, as Jesus mentions in the letter, but they “have kept My word, and have not denied My name” - Rev 3: 8 . They also faced persecution from the Jews, which we see in verse 9. But despite weakness and opposition, they trusted His word and remained faithful to Him. In a city filled with idolatry, they listened to Jesus alone, and that was their greatest achievement. That’s our call today—listen to and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures must be the centering point of every church.
The ciy was situated where the borders of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia met. It was founded with the deliberate intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and language to Lydia and Phrygia; and so well did it do its work by peaceful means that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own language and were all but Greeks.. Later on the Risen Christ speaks of the “open door” that is set before Philadelphia. Earlier Philadelphia was founded as an open door to spread Greek language and culture in the lands beyond; and now there has come to it another great missionary opportunity, to carry to men who never knew it the message of the love of Jesus Christ.
Philadelphia had a great characteristic which has left its mark upon this letter. It was on the edge of a great plain called the Katakekaumene (Greek #2618), which means the Burned Land. The Katakekaumene was a great volcanic plain bearing the marks of the lava and the ashes of volcanoes then extinct. Such land is fertile; and Philadelphia was the centre of a great grape-growing area and a producer of wines. . In A.D. 17 there came a great earthquake which destroyed Sardis and other cities. In Philadelphia the tremors went on for years;
It often happens that, when a great earthquake comes, people meet it with courage and self-possession, but recurring minor shocks drive them to sheer panic. That is what happened in Philadelphia. Aftershocks were an everyday occurrence. Gaping cracks appeared in the walls of the houses. Now one part of the city was in ruins, now another. Most of the population lived outside the city in huts and feared even to go on the city streets lest they should be killed by failing masonry. Those who still dared to live in the city were reckoned mad; they spent their time patching up the shaking buildings and every now and then fleeing to the open spaces for safety. These terrible days in Philadelphia were never wholly forgotten, and people in it ever waited subconsciously for the ominous tremors of the ground, ready to flee for their lives to the open spaces. They well knew what security lay in a promise that "they would go out no more." Rev. 3:12 - " Extract from William Barclay's Daily Study Bible"
The opening salutation in the letter differs from the others – as it does not come using words from John’s opening chapter of Revelation with its powerful description of God. It comes instead from 1 John 5:20 where Jesus is described as the One who is true and who also has the ‘key of David’ (Isa 22:22). Keys are symbolic in opening up hidden secrets in our understanding - whether they are mysteries of God (Job 11:7), or mysteries that have been entrusted to us as servants of Christ (1 Cor. 4:1), or mysteries requiring further revelation, as in the deep truths of the Kingdom taught by Jesus.