After affirming their salvation, Jesus promised the assembly in Philadelphia that others would know He loved them.
Jesus also promised protection from what was about to come, but though that promise seems straightforward, commentators have puzzled over what it really means.
Summary of Views on Promised Protection
There are several categories to sift through.
- First, either the Lord meant to physically remove them from the trials to come, or Jesus meant to shelter them once the trials were underway.
- Second, either the trials are still future to us, or they have already occurred.
- Third, Jesus was indicating either global crisis or local upheaval.
- Fourth, Jesus was speaking symbolically to all believers, or Jesus was speaking specifically to the assembly of Philadelphia, or Jesus’s message was for believers of a particular time period.
Those who read Revelation as prophecy see the assembly of Philadelphia representing the church during the time of the Great Awakening, taking place from the early eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. The “open portal” represents the many conversions that happened during tent meetings, and also from the massive missionary outreach across the whole world.
Theologians from this point of view see Jesus meaning to lift all believers up into heaven in an event called The Rapture before, during, or just after the Great Tribulation (a period of three years). If Jesus does not remove Christians, than God will provide divine spiritual protection, giving all believers the courage, fortitude, and perseverance they will need to stand firm in their faith.
Those who consider the Book of Revelation as already having been fulfilled, point to the siege and sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and Jesus’s prophetic description of that event. Among the many details Jesus gave, He said,
So when you see the desolating sacrilege, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;
the one on the housetop must not go down to take things from the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat.Jesus, Matthew 24:15-18 (NRSV)
When Titus and his soldiers entered the temple, the Holy of Holies, to loot it, they were an abomination that brought desolation.
But Josephus added that though the slaughter was a veritable bloodbath when the Romans took Jerusalem, Jewish Christians were spared. Why? Because every believer at that time took literally Jesus’s warning to head for the hills. As soon as they saw Roman troops begin circling the city to commence with their siege, Christians fled in the manner Jesus commanded.
They were the only ones saved from this disaster.
It has been two thousand years since Jesus gave John his Revelation. During that time, nations around the world have experienced all the things Jesus spoke of in His prophecy recorded in the Gospels, and alluded to in His message to the assembly in Philadelphia. Through each era, there have always remained faithful Christians. Sometimes entire areas have experienced persecution and martyrdom to such severity there are no Christians left living in that region.
Because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.Jesus, Matthew 24:12-14 (NRSV)
This is a similar assurance to what Jesus promised the Philadelphian Christians: they would be protected from the tribulation, so their faithfulness and sanctification would hold firm to the end. All believers have clung to this promise throughout the history of the church, particularly during brutal persecution.
Take Hold of What You Have
Whatever horror lay ahead, the believers in Philadelphia would get through it with Jesus.
I am coming swiftly: Seize possession of what you have, in order that no one will take your crown.Jesus, Revelation 3:11
This would have been familiar teaching to every Christian who had ever hear Jesus preach, particular for those who, like the Philadelphians, had little ability. Jesus had once explained,
For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.Jesus, Matthew 13:12 (NRSV)
What Jesus meant had to do with being receptive to God’s word. Again and again, Jesus compared those who were not receptive at all with those who were receptive, who listened and heeded—the parable of the foolish and wise bridesmaids is one of several examples.
But Jesus also compared those who had much, some, and only a little understanding with each other. In the parable of the talents, one servant had much, one servant had some, and one servant had only a little. The first two servants took hold of what they had been given and invested it. Though the first one was able to garner twice as much of a return as the second one, both servants were rewarded in exactly the same way by the master.
Jesus’s point—as He gave it in other, similar parables—was clear. Regardless of our ability, or our understanding, if we grab hard onto what we do have, we will each receive the same victor’s crown.
Even the servant who had only a little could have received that -same- reward from the master. But, the servant did not seize possession of what he had. Instead, he forfeited it all.
A Pillar in God’s Temple
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.Jesus, Revelation 3:12-13
To the Christians living in Philadelphia, this was a particularly poignant promise from their Lord. Nothing in Philadelphia ever stood for long, being as that city was in the heart of earthquake country. Temblors and tremors hove through their region, buckling the ground and knocking stones and bricks together. By the time they received Jesus’s message, many had been driven from their homes dozens of times by the numerous dangerous seismic convulsions.
But, Jesus promised them, not only will you be a pillar in God’s holy habitation, you will never ever have to run for your lives again. You will be established, you will have permanence and prominence.
The Name of My God
In that day, most vessels bore a mark to disclose what the vessel contained. Many amphorae handles recovered from archaeological excavations bear the seal of the manufacturer, and the seal of the intended purchaser. By the Final Judgment, all people would be sealed with a mark of their loyalty, either to God or to God’s adversary.
The apostle Paul spoke of this seal in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus.
When you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.
… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.Apostle Paul, Ephesians 1:13, 4:30 (NRSV)
The New Jerusalem
This, too, was a reference to what first century believers would have learned from scripture, for those who belonged to a city were registered as its citizens.
And of Zion it shall be said,Psalm 87:5-6 (NRSV)
“This one and that one were born in it,”
for the Most High himself will establish it.
The Lord records, as he registers the peoples,
“This one was born there.” Selah
My New Name
Every believer in Philadelphia bore the name of Christ, for having been born anew from above, they were recreated from within, bearing the very life and Spirit of God within them. Now, resurrected to new life, they would also live into eternity in the glory and splendor of Christ’s resurrection.
And that promise is for every believer.