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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 BC. Philadelphos is the Greek for one who loves his brother. Such was the love of Attalus for his brother Eumenes that he was called Philadelphos, and it was after him that Philadelphia was named.


It was founded for a special purpose. It was situated where the borders of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia met. But it was not as a garrison town that Philadelphia was founded, for there was little danger there. It was founded with the deliberate intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and language to Lydia and Phrygia. The city so well did its work that by AD 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own language and were all but Greeks. Ramsay says of Philadelphia that it was "the center for the diffusion of Greek language and Greek letters in a peaceful land and by peaceful means." That is what the Risen Christ means when he speaks of the open door that is set before Philadelphia. Three centuries before, Philadelphia had been given an open door to spread Greek ideas 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 that has left its mark upon this letter. It was on the edge of a great plain called the Katakekaumene that means the Burned Land. The Katakekaurnene 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 center of a great grape-growing area and a famous producer of wines. But that situation had its perils, and these perils had left their mark more deeply on Philadelphia than on any other city. In AD 17 there came a great earthquake that destroyed Sardis and ten other cities. In Philadelphia the tremors went on for years. Ancient historian, Strabo describes it as a "city full of earth-quakes."


It often happens that, when a great earthquake comes, people meet it with courage and self-possession, but ever-recurring minor shocks drive them to sheer panic. That is what happened in Philadelphia. Strabo describes the scene. Shocks 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 falling masonry. Those who still dared to live in the city were reckoned to be crazy; they spent their time shoring 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. People in Philadelphia well knew what security lay in a promise that "they would go out no more."


But there is more of Philadelphia's history than that in this letter. When this earthquake devastated it, Tiberius was as generous to Philadelphia as he had been to Sardis. In gratitude it changed its name to Neocaesarea--the New City of Caesar. In the time of Vespasian, Philadelphia out of gratitude again changed its name to Flavia, for Flavius was the Emperor's family name. It is true that neither of these new names lasted and "Philadelphia" was restored. But the people of Philadelphia well knew what it was to receive "a new name."


Of all the cities Philadelphia receives the greatest praise and it was to show that it deserved it.


In later days it became a very great city. When the Turks and Mohammedanism flooded across Asia Minor and every other town had fallen, Philadelphia stood erect. For centuries it was a free Greek Christian city amidst a pagan people. It was the last bastion of Asian Christianity. It was not till midway through the fourteenth century that it fell; and to this day there is a Christian bishop and a thousand Christians in it. With the exception of Smyrna the other Churches are in ruins but Philadelphia still holds aloft the banner of the Christian faith.




3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;


In the introduction to this letter the Risen Christ is called by three great titles, each of which implies a tremendous claim.


  1. He is He who is holy. Holy is the description of God himself. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts," was the song of the seraphs which Isaiah heard (Isaiah 6:3). "To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:25). "I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King" (Isaiah 43:15). All through the Old Testament God is the Holy One; and now that title is given to the Risen Christ. We must remember that holy means different, separate from. God is holy because He is different from men; He has that quality of being which belongs to Him alone. To say that Jesus Christ is holy is to say that He is God.

  3. He is He who is true. In Jesus is reality. When we are confronted with Him, we are confronted with no shadowy outline of the truth but with the truth itself.

  5. He is He who has the key of David, who opens and no man will shut, who shuts and no man opens. We may first note that the key is the symbol of authority. Here is the picture of Jesus Christ as the one who has the final authority that no one can question.


Behind this there is an Old Testament picture. Hezekiah had a faithful steward called Eliakim, who was over his entire house and who alone could admit to the presence of the king. Isaiah heard God say of this faithful Eliakim: "and I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isaiah 22:22). It is this picture which is in John's mind. Jesus alone has authority to admit to the New Jerusalem, the new city of David. He is the new and living way into the presence of God.


The Philadelphia period of the church is represented by that period of history found between 1500-1900, when Protestant Biblical Christianity reaches its peak, and then goes back into total apostasy which is represented by the next church Laodicea. We will find the church in the same condition it was in during the Pergamos period, in 325 AD.


The Philadelphia period is by far the most interesting period of church history. This is the church of the open door. This is the church that has all the great soul-winners, all the great evangelists, all of the great missionaries. Consequently, this is the part of church history that people always refer to when they want to prove that God is still the God of revival. But this is the church that believed that the Bible was the word of God.


This period begins in 1500. Christopher Columbus discovers America in 1492. At this time, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael (in the Renaissance) painted beautiful pictures that we still enjoy. There were the great discoverers; Balboa, Magellan, Cortez, and Henry Hudson. There is the great painter, Rembrandt. There are the first scientists, Copernicus and Gallileo. There were the Napoleonic Wars and the greatest musicians who ever lived - Bach (1750), Brahms (1897), Beethoven (1827), Wagner (1893). We have, in this period, all the great revolutions in art, science, music, industry, travel, and discovery. This was the day of the "open Bible," and every blessing this world had in these 400 years came from the fact that there were Bibles in the common language of the people. Martin Luther's Bible and the Authorized Version (1611) were all over the world, with multitudes being "born-again."


In this same period there is the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. In this period are all the great discoveries, and all the great inventions. Also in this period is the most overwhelming wave of atheism, Communism, and Christ-rejecting scholarship that the world has ever seen.


When Martin Luther, Storch, Stubncr, Munzer, Staupitz, Melancthon, Hubmaier, Peter Bohler, Spener, and Zinzendorf cut through the papacy (1500-1600), they tore the country up for God.


Martin Luther was a son of a German coal miner, born in 1483. He was raised in a little town in Germany, and was a coal miner himself. As a boy he sang hymns on the street, and later became a monk. He went to the University of Erfurt to study law, and then entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. When Luther went to Rome, he saw what mess things were in. In 1512, he received his Doctor of Theology Degree, succeeded Staupitz as Professor of Theology, and held this position until 1546. He nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses on the church door at Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, in protest against the sale of Indulgences. Printed copies of this Thesis went out all over Europe, and Luther even sent a copy of it to Rome. Subsequently, Luther was hauled up before a Mafia of priests, popes, and bishops at the Diet of Worms (1512), and there he told the entire group of Bible-rejecting Roman Catholics, "I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor honest to act against one's conscience. My conscience is bound by the word of God, and so, God help me, here I stand."


After this Martin Luther and his followers turned the world into an uproar. (Luther was a popular, dynamic leader in an age that looked for leadership. He could sing, write music, and was a great preacher; he could preach in German or Latin. Martin Luther's translation of the Bible is a monument in the German language. Martin Luther addressed the pope as "Your Hellishness," and called him "Most Hellish Father," instead of "Most Holy Father."


Martin Luther's follower took over, and there follows the "Peasant's War" under men like Zwingli, who was a little more radical than Martin Luther. Hoffman, Munzer, and some of the radicals went out and burned monasteries, killed a few priests and monks, took a few nuns and tore up their clothes, burned up their candles, and busted their beads. (Martin Luther didn't approve of all this, but it went on.)


Ulrich Zwingli, 1484-1531, had a part in the Reformation in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (He studied in Bern, Vienna, and Basel.) Zwingli was "born-again," and he began to preach the word of God. He broke with the pope, got married, and preached openly against celibacy. Gradually, the Reformation that he started triumphed, and John Calvin picked up his work in 1509-1564.


John Calvin is often called the "Protestant Pope." He was a dead-orthodox theologian, and had some pretty wild theological ideas. He was A-Millennial- as are all Roman Catholics. However, Calvin was fairly fundamental in some beliefs.


Along with this Continental Reformation, the Church of England moved to "mend its ways." It produced some great preachers. The Reformation proceeded in Scotland under the work of John Knox. Farel was a great preacher. Bernadino, a converted Roman Catholic, preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Menno Simons, who founded the Mennonites, was a great preacher. Storch, Stubncr, Munzer were great German preachers. Staupitz, Grebel, Hubmaier, were sound in their preaching. Peter Bohler (a German) led John Wesley to Jesus Christ. Zinzendorf (a German) founded an orphanage (Halle, Prussia), and took care of a group called Moravians, who went out all over India, China, and Japan preaching the Gospel. Franke (a German) preached the Gospel and aided Pietists and Moravians in their missionary enterprises.


When John Wesley got saved, England was having a social upheaval. George Whitefield and John Wesley pitched into it, preaching the gospel, and turning England upside down. John Wesley would pray two to four hours a day. (He was preaching three hours at a time when he was in his seventies.) He and Whitefield preached in the open fields. They preached the new birth, and they preached repentance. They preached that the Roman "Catholic" Church was pagan, unholy, anti-Christian, archaic, and worthless. Wesley even broke with the Episcopal Church because it was too formal and too much like the Catholic Church. He said to his Episcopal priest, "The world is my parish," and began to preach outdoors. George Whitefield did the same thing. These two men were persecuted, shot at, and threatened. Both of them lived to a ripe old age, and preached right on up to their dying day.


Whitefield had some messages that were three hours long, and he would often preach until his throat bled. Wesley preached in Dublin, Ireland. When the Catholics tried to stone him there and push him down from a statue he was standing by - a ten foot statue of the Virgin Mary - one Catholic fell and broke his leg, another one got hit in the mouth with a stone thrown at Wesley. Another man got his hand split open across the knuckles, when he tried to muzzle Wesley's mouth.


Once George Whitefield had a gun pointed at him about two feet behind his back by a man who said, "If you don't shut up, I'm going to blow your head off." Whitefield kept on preaching, and the man walked around him for ten minutes, putting the gun against his nose, then in his ear, then on his eyes, then in his stomach, saying, "You blankety-blank, I'm going to blow your head off." Finally, the man stopped about ten feet behind Whitefield, pulled the trigger, and the gun exploded and blew the fellow's hands off, and just blew Whitefield's shirt off his back.


Whitefield came to America and preached in Georgia. The "old time religion" went right up through the Carolinas, and on up to Boston with him. When Whitefield got to Boston Common, Professor Stidger of Boston University met him "on the green" in Boston, and said, "I'm sorry to see you here, Brother Whitefield." Whitefield said, "So's the Devil," and began to preach. (Wesley and Whitefield probably led over two million men to Christ during their time.)


1500-1900 is the great period of the "open door," when Roger Williams came to America and became a Baptist missionary among the Indians. Williams taught "separation of Church and State," contrary to Roman Catholic Church doctrine.


At this time, around the 1700's, Jonathan Edwards was preaching. We also have Thomas Webb and William Strawbridge, great Methodist preachers. We have Darby a little later, in 1800. We have Phillip Embry, a great Methodist preacher. We have Munhall and Culpepper in the 1800's. We have great missionaries in this period like William Carey who went to India, David Brainerd who went to the Indians, Judson who went to Burma, Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Missions, C.T. Studd, Livingstone, Gordon. All the great missionary activities in China, Japan, and India take place in this period, between 1800-1900.


One will hear great pulpit preachers in this period. We have Talmadge, Baxter, Payson, Culpepper, Jacob Knapp (a traveling evangelist), Peter Cartwright (the Methodist circuit rider), who would knock a man down, sit on him, and tell him to trust Christ or he would bust his teeth out! We have James McGready, a backwoods preacher in Tennessee, and Lorenzo Dow, a half-breed Seminole Indian, who preached in Alabama and Georgia. We have Sheldon Jackson, Billy Bray, and Charles Guthrie, and the great Methodist Welsh preachers.


This is the period that saw Charles G. Finney's great revivals, and the revivals under Spurgeon and Dwight L. Moody. Moody, who led millions to Christ, talked so fast it took two shorthand stenographers to write down what he said. Once a man came up after Moody had finished a message and said, "I counted eighty-four grammatical errors in your message." Moody stuck out his tongue and said, "You see that," pointing to his tongue. The man said, "Yes." Moody said, "I'm using that for the glory of God, what are you using yours for?"


Moody founded the Moody Bible Institute, which is still fairly fundamental today after one hundred years, and has perhaps stayed true to the word of God longer than any other institution on the face of the earth. Moody was succeeded in his preaching by R.A. Torrey, a great evangelist, and militant theologian. Torrey was true to the word of God, and was a Pre-Millennial, fundamental, hell-fire-and-damnation, new-birth preacher.


We have Joseph Parker and Simpson (Missionary Alliance) at this time, putting out the word of God; they were both great preachers and great souls.


As we come nearer to the 1900's, we find Sam Jones, a circuit riding Methodist preacher, who was born in Alabama. (He had a circuit in Cartersville, Georgia, and his preaching salary for a year was $80.00.) Sam Jones was a drunken lawyer, and he was saved at his father's deathbed. He preached all Over Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Texas, the Carolinas, Mississippi, and Arkansas, as a circuit riding Methodist preacher. He later became a great evangelist, another truly great soul. (Half of what Will Rogers and Dave Gardner knew, they got from the cracks and side remarks that Sam Jones made.) He was a great wit and he led thousands of people to Jesus Christ.


We have in this period the great George Mueller, who founded the orphanage in Bristol, England, and prayed in more than four million dollars. We have the Haldane brothers, converted from Godless sea privateers and pirates to great men of God. We have David Livingstone, who died out in Africa, and had his heart cut out of his body and buried in Africa. (They found him dead by his bed, kneeling in prayer for the heathen.) We have also C.T. Studd, Gordon, and A.J. Cronin and the great Presbyterian preacher Earle, who traveled up and down across the western seaboard. We have Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) a writer of great hymns and devotionals, very conservative in doctrine and theologically sound. He wrote such classics as:

"As If I Mocked Alone"

'Twas I that shed the sacred blood;

I nailed him to the tree;

I crucified the Christ of God;

I joined the mockery.


Of all that shouting multitude

I feel that I am one;

And in that din of voices rude

I recognize my own.


Around the cross the throng I see,

Mocking the Sufferer's groan;

Yet still my voice it seems to be,

As if I mocked alone.


In the Philadelphia period are Taylor, Morgan, Go-forth, Judson, Fiske, General Booth, Captain Bliss, Fannie Crosby (the great hymn writer), Havergal, the great woman missionary, Payson, Andrew Murray, who wrote books on holiness, Baxter McClendon (Cyclone Mac), a circuit riding Methodist preacher, H.C. Morrison, a great Methodist preacher and a great soul, and Wilbur Chapman, who was in a measure responsible for the success of Billy Sunday.


As we come up toward 1900, we see the tremendous impact of the Methodist Church that preached, "Ye must be born again." (Before the Methodist Church went modernistic, it won literally thousands of people to Jesus Christ in the United States and England.)


During this time (Philadelphia), we run into Billy Sunday, a converted baseball player (who still holds the fastest base running record of any man in the American League - Billy Sunday ran it in his bare feet!). He got saved outside Mel Trotter's Rescue Mission in Chicago, while two of his "buddies" laughed at him. Yet, Billy Sunday led more than a million souls to Christ. In response to the last sermon he preached before he died, eighteen grown men walked the aisles for Jesus Christ and were converted. (Billy Sunday is the evangelist whom Sinclair Lewis makes fun of in his book, Elmer Gantry. Lewis was a chronic alcoholic and he hated Billy Sunday's "guts" because Billy preached about liquor. So Lewis wrote a book, and from this came a movie called "Elmer Gantry," which was voted an "Academy Award" winner a few years ago in the United States.) Billy Sunday was a clean, honest man. Homer Rodehearer knew him for twenty years and said, "I never heard Billy Sunday tell a dirty joke offstage or on stage. He lived what he preached - one of the cleanest men that ever lived." He was a hard-hitting evangelist, and a great soul, who won literally thousands, perhaps millions, to Jesus Christ,


This is the period in which Mordecai Ham was born, the man who led Billy Graham to Jesus Christ. Mordecai Ham was raised in Kentucky and Arkansas. He was a great soul, and a great soul-winner. He was an iron man of God. Catholics threatened him: thugs threatened to kidnap his son, and on one occasion they knocked Mordecai down in the street with a car, and dragged him a good ways on the bumper. Once a man stopped Mordecai Ham outside of his hotel, put a .45 pistol in his stomach, and told him to get in a cab, and that "they" were driving him out of town. Ham said, "I'11 give you five seconds to put up that gun or I'll call a cop." The man put up the gun, and left himself.


This is the great heyday of the true church, 1500-1900. Wherever the Bible went, educational standards came up. Wherever the Bible went, God blessed with material wealth and health. What is happening today?


3:8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.



It is the great promise of the Risen Christ that he has set before the Christians of Philadelphia an open door that no man can ever shut. What is the meaning of this open door?


It may be the door of missionary opportunity. Writing to the Corinthians of the work that lies ahead of him, Paul says, "For a wide door for effective work has opened to me" (1 Corinthians 16:9). When he came to Troas, a door was opened to him by the Lord (2 Corinthians 2:12). He asks the Colossians to pray that a door of utterance may be opened for him (Colossians 4:3). When he came back to Antioch he told how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).


This meaning is particularly appropriate for Philadelphia. We have seen how it was a border town, standing where the boundaries of Lydia, Mysia and Phrygia met, and founded to be a missionary of Greek language and culture to the barbarous peoples beyond. It was on the road of the imperial postal service, which left the coast at Troas, came to Philadelphia via Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis, and joined the great road out to Phrygia. The armies of Caesar traveled that road; the caravans of the merchantmen traveled it; and now it was beckoning the missionaries of Christ.


Two things emerge here.

  1. There is a door of missionary opportunity before every man and he need not go overseas to find it. Within the home, within the circle in which we move, within the community in which we reside, there are those to be won for Christ. To use that door of opportunity is at once our privilege and our responsibility.
  2. In the way of Christ the reward of work well done is more work to do. Philadelphia had proved faithful and the reward for her fidelity was still more work to do for Christ.


It may be that the door that is set before the Philadelphians is none other than Jesus himself. "I am the door," said Jesus (John 10:7 - 9).


It may be a Kingdom message to the Jews. With Jesus Christ the New Kingdom of David was inaugurated. Just as in the ancient kingdom Eliakim had the keys to admit to the royal presence, so Jesus is the door to admit Jews to the kingdom of God that He had been sent to set up on His First Advent.


Apart from all these things, for any man the door of prayer is always open. That is a door which no man can ever shut and it is one which Jesus opened when he assured men of the seeking love of God the Father.


In the sentence, "You have kept my word, and have not denied my name," there is the implication that there had been some time of trial out of which the Philadelphian Church had emerged triumphant.

3:9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.


In verse 9 the promise of the Risen Christ is that some day the Jews who slander the Christians will kneel before them. This is an echo of an expectation of the Jews, which finds frequent expression in the Old Testament.


This was that in the new age, all nations would do humble homage to the Jews. This promise recurs again and again in Isaiah. "The sons of those who oppressed you shall come bending low to you; and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet" (Isaiah 60:14). "The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours, they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you" (Isaiah 45:14). "Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; with their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet" (Isaiah 49:23). Zechariah has a vision of the day when all men of all nations and languages shall turn to Jerusalem, "they shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you" (Zechariah 8:22 - 23).


Misreading this verse, some Christians believed that the Jewish nation had lost its place in the plan of God and that that place had passed to the Church. They thought that a Jew in God's sense of the term was not one who could claim racial descent from Abraham but one of any nation who had made the same venture of faith as he had (Romans 9:6-9). They said that the Church was the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) and, therefore, the Church had inherited that all the promises which had been made to Israel. It was to her, the church, that that one day all men would humbly make their submission. These claimed that they replace Israel, when they in reality have done nothing but try to steal from Israel. These are the people who claim that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are the same when they are different. These are the Post-Millennialists!


This promise in verse nine is a reversal of all that the Jews had expected; they had expected that all nations would kneel before them; but the day was to come when they with all nations would kneel before Christ.


3:10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.


It is the promise of the Risen Christ that he who keeps will be kept. "You have kept my commandment," he says, "therefore, I will keep you. The real meaning is that the promise is to those who have practiced the same kind of endurance as Jesus displayed in his earthly life.


When we are called upon to show endurance, the endurance of Jesus Christ supplies us with three things.

First, it supplies us with an example.

Second, it supplies us with an inspiration. We must walk looking to him, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame (Hebrews 12:1 - 2).

Third, the endurance of Jesus Christ is the guarantee of his sympathy with us when we are called upon to endure. "Because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).


In verse 10 we are back again amidst beliefs that are characteristically Jewish. As we have so often seen, the Jews divided time into two ages, the present age which is wholly bad, and the age to come, which is wholly good with an "in-between" the terrible time of destruction when judgment will fall upon the world. It is to that terrible time that John refers. Even when time comes to an end, and the world, as we know it ceases to exist, he who is faithful to Christ will still be safe in his keeping.

3:11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.



In verse 11 there is promise and warning combined.


The Risen Christ tells them that he is coming quickly. It has been said that in the New Testament the Coming of Christ is continually used for two purposes.


  1. It is used as a warning to the heedless. Jesus himself tells of the wicked servant, who took advantage of his master's absence to conduct himself evilly and to whom the master made a sudden return that brought judgment. (Matthew 24: 48 - 51). Paul warns the Thessalonians of the terrible fate that awaits the disobedient and the unbelieving when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven and shall take swift and final vengeance on his enemies (2 Thessalonians 1:29). Peter warns his people that they will give account for their deeds to him who comes to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5).

  3. It is used as a comfort to the oppressed. James urges patient endurance on his people because the coming of the Lord is drawing near (James 5: 8): soon their distresses will be at an end. The writer to the Hebrews urges patience for soon he that shall come will come (Hebrews 10:37).


In the New Testament men used the idea of the Coming of Christ as a warning to the heedless and as a comfort to the oppressed. It is quite true that, in the literal sense, Jesus Christ did not come back to those who were so warned and exhorted. But no man knows when eternity will invade his life and God will bid him rise and come; and that must warn the careless to prepare to meet his God and cheer the oppressed with the thought of the coming glory of the faithful soul.


There is another warning here. The Risen Christ bids the Philadelphians hold to what they have that no one may take their crown (verse 11). It is not a question of someone stealing their crown but of God taking it from them and giving it to someone else, because they were not worthy to wear it.


Trench makes a list of people in the Bible who lost their place to someone else because they had shown that they were not fit to hold it.

  • Esau lost his place to Jacob (Genesis 25:34; 27:36).
  • Reuben, unstable as water, lost his place to Judah (Genesis 49:4,8).
  • Saul lost his place to David (1 Samuel 16:1,13).
  • Shebna lost his place to Eliakim (Isaiah 22:15-25).
  • Joab and Abiathar lost their places to Benaiah and Zadok (1 Kings 2:25).
  • Judas lost his place to Matthias (Acts 1:25 - 26).
  • Jews lost their place to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11).


There is tragedy here. It sometimes happens that a man is given a task to do and goes towards it with the highest hopes; but it begins to be seen that he is too small for the task and he is removed from the task and it is given to someone else. That can happen with the tasks of God. God has a task for every man; but it may be that the man proves himself unfit for the task and it is given to another.


It is blessedly true that even out of failure a man can redeem himself--but only if he casts himself upon the grace of Jesus Christ.

3:12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 3:13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.



In verse 12 we come to the promises of the Risen Christ to those who are faithful. They are many and most would paint pictures that would be vivid and real to the people of Philadelphia.


The faithful Christian will be a pillar in the Temple of God. A pillar of the Church is a great and honored support. Peter and James and John were the pillars of the early church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2: 9). Abraham, said the Jewish Rabbis, was the pillar of the world.


The faithful Christian will go out no more. There may be something of two meanings here.


This may be a promise of security. We have seen how for years Philadelphia was terrorized by recurring earthquakes of the earth and how, when such times came, its citizens fled into the open country to escape and, when the tremors ended, came uncertainly back. Life was lived in an atmosphere of insecurity. There is for the faithful Christian the promise of a settled serenity in the peace that Jesus Christ can give.


Some scholars think that what is here promised is fixity of moral character. In this life even the best of us is sometimes bad. But he who is faithful will in the end come to a time when he is like a pillar fixed in the Temple of God and goodness has become the constant atmosphere of his life. If this is the meaning, this phrase describes the life of untroubled goodness that is lived when, after the battles of earth, we reach the presence of God.


Jesus Christ will write upon the faithful Christian the name of his God. There may be three pictures here.


In the cities of Asia Minor, and in Philadelphia, when a priest died after a lifetime of faithfulness, men honored him, by erecting a new pillar in the temple in which he had served and by inscribing his name and the name of his father upon it. This then would describe the lasting honor that Christ pays to his faithful ones.


It is just possible that there is a reference to the custom of branding a slave with the initials of his owner to show that he belongs to him. Just so God will put his mark upon his faithful ones. Whichever picture is behind this, the sense is that the faithful ones will wear the unmistakable badge of God.


It is just possible that we have an Old Testament picture. When God told Moses the blessing which Aaron and the priests must pronounce over the people, he said, "They shall put my name upon the people of Israel" (Numbers 6:22-27). It is the same idea again; it is as if the mark of God was upon Israel so that all men may know that they are his people.


On the faithful Christian the name of the new Jerusalem is to be written. That stands for the gift of citizenship in the city of God to the faithful Christian. According to Ezekiel the name of the re-created city of God was to be The Lord is there (Ezekiel 48:35). The faithful ones will be citizens of the city where there is always the presence of God.


On the faithful Christian Christ will write his own new name. The people of Philadelphia knew all about taking a new name. When in AD 17 a terrible earthquake devastated their city and Tiberius, the Emperor, dealt kindly with them, remitting taxation and making a generous gift to rebuild it. They in their gratitude, called the city Neocaesarea, the New City of Caesar, and later when Vespasian was kind to them, they called it Flavia, for that was the family name of Vespasian. Jesus Christ will mark his faithful ones with his new name. What that name was we need not even speculate, for no man knows it (Revelation 19:12), but in the time to come, when Christ has conquered all, his faithful ones will bear the badge which shows that they are his and share his triumph.






  1. The Church of Philadelphia was faithful to Christ's teachings. Why does Christ value faithfulness in them and in us?

  3. In what ways was Christ protecting the Church of Philadelphia?

  5. When we are called upon to show endurance, the endurance of Jesus Christ supplies us with three things.
  6. First, it supplies us with an _______.

    Second, it supplies us with an ___________.

    Third, the endurance of Jesus Christ is the guarantee of his ________ with us when we are called upon to endure.


  7. It has been said that in the New Testament the Coming of Christ is continually used for two purposes.
  8. It is used as a warning to the ________.

    It is used as a comfort to the _________.


  9. How was the Church of Philadelphia faithful to Christ?

  11. Christ promised rewards to this church. Does God reward our perseverance today?

  13. Fill in the blanks of the following list of people in the Bible who lost their place to someone else because they had shown that they were not fit to hold it.
  14. Esau lost his place to _____ (Genesis 25:34; 27:36).

    Reuben, unstable as water, lost his place to _____ (Genesis 49:4,8).

    Saul lost his place to _____ (1 Samuel 16:1,13).

    Shebna lost his place to _______ (Isaiah 22:15-25).

    Joab and Abiathar lost their places to _______ and ______ (1 Kings 2:25).

    Judas lost his place to ________ (Acts 1:25 - 26).

    Jews lost their place to the _______ (Romans 11:11).


  15. What motivates you to remain faithful to God? Describe a time when you have struggled to remain faithful to God and maybe found yourself unfit to have the gift of salvation. What helped you preserve in your faithfulness? In what ways has God responded to your faithfulness?

  17. Think of someone you know that is struggling to stay faithful to God. How can you encourage this person?

  19. How can you help someone have a new awareness of Christ and His power?




Is there something our home group can pray with you about?