Monday, 28 March 2011 09:58

Pt. 20 - The Church at Philadelphia

The sixth letter to the churches went to those at Philadelphia, which as you may already know means “brotherly love”. This word comes from two separate Greek words, the first being phileo, which means ‘to love’, and the second being adelphos, which means ‘brother’.

Eumenes_IIPhiladelphia was founded in 189 B.C. by King Eumenes II of Pergamum during the time of the Attilid Empire. According to history, Eumenes II was quite fond of his brother, Attalus II, who had been very loyal and dedicated to his brother. Because of this loyalty, he gave him the nickname ‘Philadelphos’, which meant ‘one who loves his brother’, and he also named this city ’Philadelphia’ in his honor. 

When we view the chronology of the seven churches through history, most commentators believe that the Philadelphia phase began around 1750. The letter makes it plain that this was a ‘revived’ church, and history demonstrates that the period of the greatest evangelical outreach world-wide began around that time. While most commentators believe that this period then ended around 1900, I think the internal evidence contained in the letter suggests Ketubah_modernthat we will be in this Philadelphia period right up until Christ returns.  But we’ll examine that a bit more as we progress through the letter.   

The 6th signatory on God’s ketubah (wedding contract) with man is clearly King David. Not only is he mentioned openly in the letter, but many dynamics of his life are also referenced, making it clear that HE and ONLY HE can be the patriarch of this church. 


“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:7-13)


Known as Alasehir today, Philadelphia was the youngest of the seven cities in the 'letters' portion of Revelation, and it was located in the most remote region as well. The Lydian language was originally spoken in Philadelphia, however it was replaced by the Greek language by the time of the Apostles. In ancient times the Greeks thought of this Vinyardarea as barbaric since it was located on the edge of civilization, serving as an outpost that protected the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. This region was very fertile due to it’s rich alluvial soil and well watered plain, and it became known for it’s lush vinyards and tremendous wines.

Even though Philadelphia was located on several large hills that were elevated above this plain, it did not have the natural fortress environment of many of the surrounding cities, and therefore fell in battle many times throughout history. On more than one occasion the pagan invaders slaughtered every last person in the city, and the original population ultimately abandoned it because of the constant warfare.

Philadelphia_Zeus_TempleIn addition to the warfare, this region was prone to great earthquakes that would occasionally destroy most of it’s buildings. In 17 A.D. a great earthquake destroyed Philadelphia and Sardis, as well as several other nearby cities, and Tiberius Caesar was forced to allocate large sums of money to rebuild them. When the city of Philadelphia was rebuilt, it was renamed 'Neocaesaria', which meant "The New City of Caesar'. But repeated earthquakes led to additional desolations of the city, and when coupled with the constant warfare, it appears that it was a very risky place to live. 

But there was good news for Philadelphia in the spiritual department. The city was located in a rural area that served as a crossroads for many of the pagan areas to the east, providing access to a large mission field for the evangelical efforts of the early church. While five of the other seven ’church’ cities ceased to exist after apostolic times, Philadelphia survived until the 14 Century A.D., no doubt because they were bringing a harvest for God. But with the rise of the Turkish Empire that eventually surrounded them, Philadelphia was forced to stand alone as a Christian community. The Seljuk Turks eventually besieged the city and brutally killed every Christian within it’s walls.  


“These are the words of him who is holy and true..” 

As Christians we accept that God is holy and true, and that no lie is found within him. But perhaps there is a specific reason that He includes this statement in this particular letter. When you consider that the last stand of Philadelphia came at the hands of the Muslim Turks, we can point out a direct contrast. The god of the Turks is ’Allah’, who by the Koran’s own admission is called the greatest deceiver (’makr’) that there is;

“But they (the Jews) were deceptive, and Allah was deceptive, for Allah is the best of deceivers (S. 3:54; cf. 8:30)

In contrast to being a liar and deceiver, no lie is found within Jesus, who was holy in life (Luke 1:35) and holy in death (Acts 2:25-27), earning the right to rule the earth as ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Lord of Lords’ (Revelation 19:16).  And in the end, He will confine the one who masquerades as ‘Allah’ to a fiery prison for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3).

“..who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, what he shuts no one can open”

Key_of_DavidWhat was the key that David had during his life? Was it his throne? His following? Was it anything worldly at all? No. It was his faith and the Spirit of God that he had within him that served as his ‘key’ to life. In other words, the ‘Key of David’ is the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is what opens the door to heaven.  Without Him, the door is shut, and we cannot enter.

There is only one place in scripture where the ‘Key of David’ is specifically mentioned, and the setting was around 701 B.C., where Eliakim was given the honor of holding the key;

“In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isaiah 22:20-22)

In this role, Eliakim became a ‘type’ for the Messiah, just as many other historic figures served as ‘types’ for some facet of Jesus’ life.


Open_Door“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”

Deeds were mentioned in several of the prior letters, and in this instance the deeds of this church were apparently spirit driven (James 2:14), leading to the open door before them - the invitation to enter heaven. This dovetails nicely with the description of the ‘key of David’ noted above. 

“I know that you have little strength...”

This statement works on several levels, referring to the ancient city, to the city during apostolic times, to king David, and to the end times church phase as well;

1) Philadelphia was subservient to the royal cities to the west, having ‘little strength’ as an outpost.
2) Philadelphia at the time of this letter also had ‘little strength’ due to the surrounding pagan influence.
3) David was subservient to his older brothers, having ‘little strength’ when he was anointed by Samuel.
4) The end times Philadelphia church will have ‘little strength’ during the persecution of the 'beast'.

“...yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name”

David_and_GoliathKing David can once again be tied to this church in this statement, since David is the one who stood up for God’s  name against the Philistines, slaying Goliath for slandering the name of God. And as noted above, the Christians in Philadelphia faced complete annihilation at the hands of the Turks, but did not deny Christ’s name to escape death. Also, during apostolic times those in Philadelphia did not deny Christ’s name when facing persecution, which is confirmed in this letter. The natural extension of this idea is that those living during the Philadelphia phase of the last days will ALSO not deny Christ’s name to save themselves from death.

MartyrWhile it won’t be a popular message, there is something I believe the church needs to accept about this church phase; persecution is coming. Philadelphia was persecuted heavily in ancient times, and was persecuted heavily in apostolic times, and in the current Philadelphia phase of the church, it will be persecuted heavily again. That’s is simply one of the primary things we can take from the letter, because that was always the reality on the ground for those in Philadelphia. And since there were many martyrs during those earlier instances, wouldn't it make sense that there will be many martyrs in the latter instance, during the end times? I think so, and this is confirmed by the plain text of the 5th seal;

"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained." (Revelation 6:9)

Despite this evidence, most commentators in America continue to teach that the church will be taken up before any of the persecution of the tribulation period begins. But let's be honest; this is NOT the lesson that we learn from the letter to Philadelphia. Instead, what we learn from Philadelphia is to "hold on" through our trials, and not deny the name of Jesus. Ironically, that is exactly what the beast would have us do, in order to send us to hell instead (Revelation 14:11).

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars…”

Most commentators use this sentence to implicate the Jewish people in the persecution of Christians in Philadelphia, but frankly, they didn’t have the power to do that. The Greeks in Philadelphia ran the show, and the Jews were subservient to them. Instead, this passage implicates the Greek reconstructionists of that day who claimed to be spiritual Israel. This is best illustrated by a statement from the Greek Philosopher Ageans, who said;

“We philosophers who embrace this faith, gain the whole of truth, and enter into spiritual Israel.  Thereby we become the true and perfect Israel.”

This is why Jesus said they were NOT Jews. They were Greeks instead. But they believed Israel had forfeited their right to an inheritance in the kingdom of God, and that the promises God made to Israel had been inherited by the church. This line of thinking has sadly endured to our day, and has spawned the Replacement Theology that pervades so much of Christianity.

“I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”

Bowing_DownSeveral of the prophets wrote of the days after Christ’s second coming where the tables would be turned and Israel would rule the nations. It was prophesied that in those days the people of the nations would bow before God's people, serving them in every way during Christ's reign on earth. When we think of this Millennial Age we don’t typically think of slavery, but ironically, those that enslave Israel in the last days will themselves be enslaved as punishment (Psalm 18:45, Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 49:23, Isaiah 60:14) during that time. The following is one of these passages, where God states that the reason is his love for his people, which corresponds to the portion of the letter noted above;

“For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” (Isaiah 43:3-4)

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently…”

The concept of patient endurance is something that was taught by Paul, and was always associated with suffering of some kind (2Corinthians 1:5-7). This makes sense though, since we rarely need to ‘endure’ things when everything is going well, right?  It’s when things are going badly that we have to ‘hang in there’ and endure our circumstances. This is yet another hint that everything may not be rosy during the Philadelphia church phase of the last days.

"..I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world"

More than any other verse, this verse is used as evidence for a pre-tribulation rapture. The ‘hour of trial’ is thought by some to be the entire tribulation period, and therefore the logic is that the church will be taken out of the world before this time period begins. Others believe that only part of the tribulation period is in view, and that the church will be removed before the worst of it takes place. Still others believe that the church will endure the entire period, but be removed only during Christ’s second coming. But there is another alternative that gets no attention, yet qualifies on all levels. It is the destruction of Babylon, which will last precisely ‘one hour’ in the last days;

Ishtar_Gate"Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “ ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!" (Revelation 19:10)

This destruction will take place at the Battle of Armageddon, where the ‘ten kings’ of the antichrist will oppose the Lord along with the beast;

“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast." (Revelation 17:12)

This is the ONLY trial in the Revelation that lasts for one hour, but as we examine this more in future posts, you can draw your own conclusion. 

“…to test those who live on the earth.”

This term ‘those who live on the earth’, or ‘earth dwellers’ as some translations hold, refers to the portion of mankind who is earth bound rather than heaven bound. If you remember the study on the ‘Tree of Life’, you may recall that the colors of the rainbow in the light spectrum led to the ‘white’ light of life, symbolizing the people of the light (Luke 16:8) that will inherit heaven. In contrast, the colors of the rainbow in the soil spectrum led to the 'black' color of death, symbolizing the people of the world (Luke 16:8) that will suffer eternal torment.

Using this as a guide, you may deduce that there is not a great future in becoming an ‘earth-dweller’ who is bound to the soil. The time of testing is intended for those very people who have shunned God in favor of the things of this world. This is even specifically stated in the account of the '5th Trumpet', where the demons who will be released from the Abyss will only be allowed to torment those who do NOT have the "seal of God" on their foreheads;

“They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (Revelation 9:4)


Philadelphia received no admonshment. They had kept the word of God, and had not denied his name.


“Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown.”

This statement brings up images of David having to vie against his own son Absalom, who wanted to take his crown and replace him as king. But it’s also a good fit for Philadelphia, since they had to endure the persecutions of the pagan cultures that surrounded them. This was true of ancient times and apostolic times, and it will also be true of the end times.  All those that endure will receive the ‘crown of life’, and THIS is the crown that we can’t allow someone to take from us. 


Philadelphia_Pillars“He who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God”

God uses many ‘building’ analogies in scripture, and this one is interesting. Just as buildings were supported by pillars, so God’s kingdom will be supported by the saints, who are called ‘pillars’. And when you look at ancient ruins all around the world, the pillars of buildings are generally the only thing left standing. While the remaining portions of these buildings have generally fallen into ruin, the pillars exhibit great permanence, standing the test of time. Perhaps that is the analogy here, since the overcomer will also exhibit permanence when he/she receives the ‘crown of life’, which will also stand the test of time.

“Never again will he leave it”

This statement has special meaning for David, since David had to leave Jerusalem in order to prevent it from being destroyed in a battle with his son Absalom. He allowed it to be taken in order to preserve it. And the city of Philadelphia was also desolated on several occasions due to earthquakes and warfare. So on both counts, Jesus is telling them that they’ll  never have to worry about that again.

“I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem…”

Although we can’t see it, scripture is clear that those who belong to God receive a seal on their forehead. If you’re a Christian,  you have one right now. And this was, is, and will be true for all of God’s people throughout history, from the Temple period (Ezekiel 9:4) to the tribulation period (Revelation 7:3, 9:4) to the time of the end. This is probably best exemplified by the 144,000;

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1)

Since Satan is well aware of this mark that separates the ‘people of the light’ (Luke 16:8) from the people of this world, he will attempt to take our crowns with his own counterfeit mark, the ‘mark of the beast’ (Revelation 13:16, 14:9-10). During the 3½ years of the beast (Revelation 13:5), those that had missed the rapture will suffer terrible persecution and will have to die for their faith in Jesus (Revelation 20:4). But when all is said and done, they will inherit eternal life, along with the saints of all prior ages;

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:3-4)

“…and I will also write on him my new name.”

As the ‘bride’ of Jesus, it makes sense that we as the church would take on his new name, since a bride has historically taken the sir name of her groom. But I’m not sure that scripture has even concealed what the 'new name' of Jesus will be. And yet, he will receive a new name from God, just as all his saints will receive a new name from God (Revelation 2:17). This would emphasize the humanity of Jesus, who has shared in the outcome of his bride in every way.

Of course, this statement also alludes to the renaming of Philadelphia to 'Neocaesaria' when it was rebuilt by Tiberius Caesar, the self-proclaimed god-king of Rome. In contrast, Christians will receive a new name in honor of the true God and King, Jesus Christ.


The letter to the church at Philadelphia relates to King David in the following ways, confirming that he is the patriarch of this church, and the 6th signatory on the Ketubah;

1) Christ holds the ’key of David’, which is the Holy Spirit
- David held the ‘key of David, which is the Holy Spirit

2) Philadelphia had ‘little strength’ when compared to the older cities to it’s west
- David initially had ‘little strength‘ compared to his older brothers.

3) The Philadelphians kept Christ’s word and did not deny his name
- David kept God’s word and did not deny his name

4) The Philadelphians held on and no one took their crown
- David held on and Absalom did not take his crown

5) The Philadelphians will become pillars in the temple of God
- David is a pillar in the Temple of God, having an heir on the throne permanently

6) The Philadelphians had to leave the city due to warfare
- David had to leave Jerusalem so it wouldn’t be destroyed in battle with Absolom


The letter to the church at Laodicea
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