Then, to the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia write, “These things says the Holy One, the Trustworthy and Truthful One, the One Who has the key of David, the One Who opens and no one closes, and Who closes and no one opens:
“I have perceived your works: Behold, I have given before you a portal which has been opened, one that no one is able to close, because you have little ability, yet you kept and heeded My word and did not deny My name.
“Behold, I will make from the Synagogue of the Adversary [Satan], of the ones saying of themselves ‘we are Jewish,’ but they are not but rather are speaking falsely—Behold, I will make them so that they will be present before you and they will prostrate themselves in homage before your feet, and they will know that I loved you.
“Because you kept and heeded My word of patient endurance, I likewise will guard and keep you from the time of the trials about to come upon the whole earth, to test and prove the ones dwelling upon the earth.
“I am coming swiftly: Seize possession of what you have, in order that no one will take your crown.
“The one who prevails and gets the victory I will make that one a pillar in the temple of My God, and never will that one go outside again, and I will write upon that one the Name of My God and the Name of the City of My God—of the New Jerusalem, the one descending out of heaven from My God—and My New Name.
“The one who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies.”Revelation 3:7-13
This city’s name literally means Beloved Brother, from the koine Greek words φίλος | phílos meaning beloved, dear, or loving, and ἀδελφός | adelphós meaning brother.
Established by King Eumenes II of Pergamon in 189 BCE, it too sat at the foot of Mount Tmolus, but in the Valley of Cogamus. The king named his new city for his brother, Attalus II, who had earned the nickname “Philadelphos” because of his love for and loyalty to his brother the king, and who would one day succeed Attalus II.
Evidently, Philadelphia was also famous for its wine, and the god of wine was worshipped here under both his Greek and Latin names, Dionysus and Bacchus.
By the first century BCE, Philadelphia had become a Roman province. In 17 CE Emperor Tiberius allowed them extended tax relief as the city attempted to rebuild after a devastating earthquake. In fact, Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes, and this one had nearly completely leveled the city. Many inhabitants feared returning, so chose to live out on the countryside instead.
Later, emperors Caligula and Vespasian also helped the city, and in response, Philadelphia granted these emperors special honors. But the city itself remained relatively small.
As Sardis was the capital of the region of Lydia, the city of Philadelphia was Sardis’s administrative center. Later, Philadelphia became and remained a strong Christian center—even through all the upheavals in what is now Turkey—until about a hundred years ago.
Holy and True
For the first time, Jesus did not refer to revelation of Himself given to John. Instead, the Lord identified Himself as the Holy One, the Trustworthy and Truthful One, using a word whose meaning held within it the sense of purity, of integrity and reliability. Jesus could be counted upon no matter what.
It was a theme carried through the rest of John’s Revelation.
- The martyrs call out to Jesus, “The Sovereign One, the Holy One, and The Trustworthy/Truthful/True One.”
- All the company of the redeemed arrayed around Jesus sing the Song of Moses, and the Song of Lamb, that Jesus’s ways are true, and Jesus alone is holy.
- Towards the end of Revelation, John saw a great multitude worshipping Jesus, and heaven open to reveal a rider on a white horse, one called Faithful and True, with images of purity and glory.
Key of David
When John first saw Jesus, the Lord was standing among seven lampstands, and He held in His hand seven stars. But now, Jesus revealed He held something else—the Key of David.
In King Hezekiah’s day, the prophet Isaiah delivered an oracle against the king’s steward Shebna, master of the household, saying God would thrust him from office for being a disgrace. Instead,
“On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiahand will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him.
I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.God’s word to Shebna, Isaiah 22:20-22 (NRSV)
All offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons would be Eliakim’s responsibility. He was the doorkeeper to the King’s palace, so he would take a keen interest in whoever it was he chose to allow to enter.
The true Key of David belongs to Jesus, Who stands at the gates of heaven, the holy house of God.
I have opened a portal
Jesus now showed the beleaguered assembly in the city of the Beloved Brother that the portal to heaven was opened to them by Jesus Himself. They had little ability, yet they had remained true to Jesus, the Faithful, Trustworthy, and True, they had kept themselves holy for the Holy One. When others, such as many in Sardis, were Christians in name only, the Philadelphian Christians never denied the Name of Christ.
Synagogue of Satan
The assembly in Smyrna had faced similar persecution from those who had positioned themselves as seemingly for God but were really against God, particularly on the issue of salvation to the Gentiles. Jesus had cried out against such in Matthew’s Gospel.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in you stop them.”Jesus, Matthew 23:13 (NRSV)
Jesus declared that though the members of the Synagogue of Satan claimed they were Jewish, which is to say, they considered themselves the descendants of Abraham and members of God’s special covenantal relationship with the tribes of Israel, Jesus did not consider them so. According to the Lord, They are speaking falsely.
Jesus had said these very things to those who opposed Him during His ministry.
Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God, and now I am here.
“You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
“Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”Jesus, John 8:39-40, 42, 47 (NRSV)
The apostle Paul had also faced great peril, persecution, and even death from this same quarter.
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out;
they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the gentiles so that they may be saved.
Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins, but wrath has overtaken them at last.Apostle Paul, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (NRSV)
Jesus would not permit God’s adversaries from preventing God’s beloved entering God’s holy house. Jesus had opened the portal, and no one could shut it.
And there was more …