A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia
by Al Maxey

(Revelation 3:7-13)

Philadelphia was the youngest of all the seven cities of Asia Minor addressed in Revelation. It was founded by colonists from Pergamum during the reign of King Attalus II of Pergamum (159-138 B.C.). This king was given the nickname "Philadelphos" (Greek for "brother-lover") because of his great love for his brother King Eumenes II of Lydia. It was after King Attalus II, and this quality of brotherly love that he possessed, that this city was named.

Jesus finds nothing to condemn in this congregation, but offers only praise. "The letter to Philadelphia, like that to Smyrna, contains no word of blame. The Philadelphian church, though small and weak, has maintained its Christian allegiance in spite of the hostility of the synagogue" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1686).


ONE --- "I know your deeds" (NASB, NWT, NIV, NAB) ..... "works" (KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV) ..... "I know all your ways" (NEB) ..... "I know you well" (LB) ....." I know what you have done" (Phillips, SEB) ..... "I know what you do" (TEV) ..... "I know your record of works and what you are doing" (Amplified). This was a congregation which was active for its Lord, and the Lord knew well what it was doing and accomplishing for Him.

The city of Philadelphia was established to serve a specific purpose: "To be a mission city for disseminating Greco-Asiatic culture and language in the eastern part of Lydia and Phrygia" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 451). It was somewhat successful in this effort as is evidenced by the fact that the Lydian language ceased to be spoken in Lydia by 19 A.D., and the Greek language took over.

Like the city, the congregation also seems to have been very "missionary-minded." It is possible that among the "deeds" being performed were numerous efforts to spread the gospel to those about them. Jesus seems to be assuring them that this "open door" of opportunity will continue for them: "Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut" (Rev. 3:8). Although there are numerous theories as to what Jesus means by this "open door" (the avenue of prayer to the Father --- Jesus, the "door" of the sheepfold --- the "door" of admission into the Messianic community --- etc.), most scholars feel it refers to the door of missionary opportunity.

Although the Christians would be opposed in their efforts to evangelize (primarily by the Jews, referred to by Christ as a "synagogue of Satan" -- Rev. 3:9), yet Jesus assures them that HE controls the opportunities that are sent their way, and that they cannot be thwarted. Jesus is the One who "has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens" (Rev. 3:7).

(This is a reference to Isaiah 22:22 where the same statement is made of Eliakim.) This whole figure is one which "symbolizes a door of usefulness and an assurance of success" (James M. Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 65). Acts 16:6-7 shows that the Lord does at times shut doors of opportunity unto the preaching of the gospel. However, a great many more He also opens wide! -- Acts 14:27; I Cor. 16:9; II Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3. "Here is the place to note that missionary work can be done only where the Lord opens the door. We cannot take the gospel where we please but only where the Lord opens the door. He has the key" (R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 140).

"No greater sign of divine approval can come to a church than the opening before it of larger and wider possibilities of usefulness, such as the Lord gave Philadelphia. It is evident that this congregation had been so zealously engaged in good works and in preaching the gospel that it was in the position to do more than ever in the Lord's service" (James M. Tolle, p. 65). "For unto everyone who has shall more be given" (Matt. 25:29).

TWO --- "You have a little power" (NASB, RSV, NWT, ASV, TEV, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "a little strength" (KJV, NKJV, NIV) ..... "you aren't strong" (LB) ..... "your strength, I know, is small" (NEB) ..... "you don't have much strength" (SEB) ..... "your strength is limited" (NAB).

This is the Greek word dunamis which means "strength, power, might." It is from this word that we get such words as "dynamite" & "dynamic" & "dynamo." This may refer to a number of things in Philadelphia: It may not have had a large membership; it may have been an economically poor congregation; it may not have had members of high social standing, or with political clout.

This "cannot refer to weak spiritual strength. The Lord does not open the door for work to those who are able only to limp through, and able only to do little" (R.C.H. Lenski, p. 141). A scholar by the name of Bengal suggests this probably means that "the bishop cuts no especial figure" -- i.e.: the congregation was great in spite of the fact that they did not have dynamic leadership. Neither of these theories is very likely!

Just because a congregation is not "powerful" or "strong" in regard to numbers, finances or social clout, does not mean that it cannot still accomplish great things for the Lord. Their weakness merely caused them to rely all the more on the strength of the Lord! "My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is perfected in weakness" (II Cor. 12:9). "He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power" (Isaiah 40:29). In speaking of the faithful ones in Hebrews 11, verse 34 says "from weakness they were made strong."

"Weak though Philadelphia was in itself, yet it utilized the power of the Lord to accomplish great things in His service. Its weakness was not a liability but an asset" (James M. Tolle, p. 66).

"Christ had promised to open doors as these believers sought to reach the lost world with His message of salvation. They were smart enough to realize that they had only 'a little strength,' and so they relied on Christ to open the way. He faithfully does just that for those who trust Him. But when there's human maneuvering to do God's work, things never work out right!" (Hal Lindsey, There's A New World Coming, p. 64).

THREE --- "You have kept My word" (NASB, NWT, ASV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, RSV) ..... "kept My word and guarded My message" (Amplified) ..... "have held fast to My word" (NAB) ..... "observed My commands" (NEB) ..... "obeyed My teaching" (SEB) ..... "have followed My teaching" (TEV) ..... "have been faithful to My message" (Phillips). The Greek is: tereo which means "to keep watch upon; to guard; to heed, observe, keep strictly."

This word appears in the Aorist Tense which indicates that the Lord has in mind here a specific event which occurred at some point in this congregation's past. "The aorist shows that a definite past event is meant; some experience of trial brought upon the church, probably through the Jews, as the context would suggest" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 481). This congregation "kept the Lord's Word in its heart and in its preaching and teaching, none of the members losing it by carelessness, deadness, heresy, and lax living" (R.C.H. Lenski, p. 141).

"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (I John 14:23-24). "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me" (John 14:21). "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love" (John 15:10). "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:2-3).

"Under some unrecorded trial of faith the church had kept His Word, standing fast, being 'true' as was their Lord. The keeping of His Word is a test of love for Him and His Father, while to deny His Word is to reject Him, and to reject Him is to reject His Father" (Homer Hailey, p. 151).

FOUR --- "You have not denied My name" (NASB, ASV, LB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, RSV, SEB, NAB, Phillips) ..... "renounced or denied My name" (Amplified) ..... "disowned My name" (NEB) ..... "did not prove false to My name" (NWT) ..... "you have been faithful to Me" (TEV). This is the Greek word arneomia which means "to disown, deny, disclaim, renounce, repudiate." "To deny by way of disowning a person; to deny the Father and the Son by apostatizing and by disseminating pernicious teachings" (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

This word also appears in the Aorist Tense, thus, in all probability, linking it with the same incident alluded to in #3 above.

"In the sentence, 'You have kept My word, and have not denied My name,' both the verbs are in the aorist tense, which describes one definite act in past time; and the implication is that there had been some time of trial out of which the Philadelphian Church had emerged triumphantly true. They may have only a little strength; their resources may be small; but, if they are faithful, they will see the dawn of the triumph of Christ" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 131).

"If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us" (II Tim. 2:12).

FIVE --- "You have kept (same Greek word as #3 above) the word of My perseverance" (NASB) ..... "kept My command to persevere" (NKJV) ..... "guarded and kept My word of patient endurance" (Amplified, RSV) ..... "kept the word about My endurance" (NWT) ..... "kept the word of My patience" (ASV, KJV) ..... "obeyed My teaching about endurance" (SEB) ..... "kept My command to endure patiently" (NIV) ..... "obeyed My call to patient endurance" (Phillips) ..... "kept My order to be patient" (TEV) ..... "patiently obeyed Me despite the persecution" (LB) ..... "kept My plea to stand fast" (NAB) ..... "you have kept My command and stood fast" (NEB).

This is the Greek word hupomone which means "to remain under, to bear up under; patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance." "To patiently endure; to remain in the face of toil, suffering, trouble, affliction, persecution instead of fleeing" (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 845 - 846). For more discussion of this word, see the Evaluation of Ephesus.

There are two major ways of interpreting this passage:

  1. Some take it to mean a command issued by Christ to endure patiently the difficulties, trials and sufferings of life. "And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved" (Matt. 10:22; 24:13). See also: Luke 21:12-19.

  2. Others feel it refers to the endurance of Jesus Himself, which is to be an example and encouragement to us. "...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:2-3). "The Greek text slightly favors the latter translation, though the former is also possible" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 453).

"In vs. 10 in the Greek the phrase is highly concentrated; literally, it is 'the word of My endurance.' 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: (1) It supplies us with an example. (2) It supplies us with an inspiration. (3) It is the guarantee of His sympathy with us when we are called upon to endure -- Heb. 2:18" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 131-132).

Sardis Laodicea

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