The Little Church that Could!

We are almost done with our study of the churches of Revelation. This is our next to the last stop in this tour. Today, we will study the message to the church in Philadelphia.

No, not that Philadelphia! The Philadelphia of Asia Minor.

Philadelphia was established in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamon (197-160 BC). Eumenes II named the city for the love of his brother, who would be his successor, Attalus II (159-138 BC), whose loyalty earned him the nickname, “Philadelphos”, literally meaning “one who loves his brother”. Lacking an heir, Attalus III Philometer, the last of the Attalid kings of Pergamum, bequeathed his kingdom, including Philadelphia, to his Roman allies when he died in 133 BC. Rome established the province of Asia in 129 BC by combining Ionia and the former Kingdom of Pergamum.

The city was located on an Imperial Postal Road. In AD 17, the city suffered badly in an earthquake, and the Roman emperor Tiberius relieved it of having to pay taxes. In response, the city granted honors to Tiberius. Evidence from coinage reveals that Caligula helped the city. Under Vespasian, Philadelphia received his nickname, Flavia. Under Caracalla, Philadelphia housed an imperial cult; its coins bore the word Neokoron (literally, “temple-sweeper”—caretaker of the temple). A small theater located at the northern edge of Toptepe Hill is all that remains of Roman Philadelphia.

As Jesus does in each message, He introduces Himself to the church. In the message to Philadelphia, Jesus introduces Himself using a scripture found in Isaiah 22:22:

He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.

The original message given through Isaiah was for Eliakim, the gatekeeper of the king’s palace in Jerusalem. Eliakim was steward of the key that opened the door to the palace of the king in Jerusalem. Eliakim’s name means “resurrection of God.” He was the master of the king’s house in the days of Hezekiah. He served during a season in which Judah was under a godly descendant of David. He was present when the military leaders of Assyria threatened Jerusalem and blasphemed the name of Jehovah (2 Kings 18:17). God sent an angel to defend Jerusalem who put to death 185,000 soldiers causing the withdrawal of the Assyrian troops. God described the ministry of the house of Hezekiah as a “secure peg” which supported the glory of the house of David.

Using this scripture, Jesus tells the minister of the church in Philadelphia that the One who holds the Messianic key to the house of David has opened a door before the church that no one can shut.

Once again, this is a church that may not have been impressive. The term “little strength” is translated from the word, “dunamis” which we understand to be used in scripture as “ability” – spiritual or physical. This reveals to us the grace of our Savior; the church in Philadelphia may not have been working on “full power” yet Jesus still opened a door before the church because of their faithfulness. The door was opened through the authority of the Lord Jesus. It was a door of ministry and victory.

A 3rd century description carved in stone described the existence of a Hebrew synagogue in Philadelphia. Jesus mentions the presence of a “synagogue of Satan” in Philadelphia, just as He did in Smyrna. Apparently, the church in Philadelphia had been persecuted by the people of this “synagogue”. Jesus states that the enemies of the church in Philadelphia will come and worship before their feet and acknowledge that Jesus loves the church.


This is the dream of every congregation: to be seen as loved by Jesus and to see its enemies worship the one true God!

Throughout all history, the church of Jesus Christ has had to learn to be patient through God’s dealings with the world. The church in Philadelphia reflected that patience and perseverance. Jesus promises that, because they have kept His command, He will keep them from the hour of trial that is to try the whole world.

Do we know what trial this is referring to? Not sure, but it is world wide. Each one of the messages to the churches of Revelation also contain a message for the church today. For us:

This is a clear reference to what our Lord himself calls in Matthew 24 “the great tribulation” — a time of distress that will come upon the whole world, the like of which has never been known before in human history, no, nor ever will be again. This will be the worst time of distress and bloodshed that the world has ever seen. We will find vivid descriptions of it as we go on in Revelation. But the promise to the church is specifically that it is to be delivered from the hour of trial. Actually the word is not “from,” but “out of” — to be delivered out of — not just the trial but out of the very time of the trial! This is one of the clearest promises in the Bible of the catching away of the church before the great tribulation begins. It is a promise of the departure of the church, which Paul describes so vividly:

The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV)


Jesus reminds us: Behold, I am coming quickly! We are not to sleep and begin to live selfishly and fleshly as we wait for His promise. Perseverance is the key here. Jesus commanded the church to persevere. Those who do will be kept from the unimaginable. Your crown is yours forever. Don’t let sin and selfishness take it from you!

To him who overcomes:

Jesus will make a pillar in the temple of My God. There was no temple in Jerusalem at this point. Jesus says that overcomers will be a pillar in the temple in the New Jerusalem. The poor people in Philadelphia lived in an earthquake ravaged area. They knew what is was like to see their buildings fall. They knew what it was like to have to flee the area to avoid the danger of falling debris.

Jesus promised that there would come a day in which they would no longer have to flee but would worship in a temple supported by people who are “pillars” of the faith like James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:9).

Jesus promised the overcomers a new name.

The city of Philadelphia had changed its name several times in gratitude to some benevolent ruler. Jesus stated that the overcomers will have His name upon them and will be identified as residents of His city.

He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.



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