Lessons From the Church That Jesus Loved
Revelation 3:7-13 7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
8 “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
1. What is the key of David? Is this a reference to something, specifically? Actually, yes. Verse seven contains a direct quotation from the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 22:20-24 “20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons.”
Eliakim was a servant of the King who lived during the reign of Hezekiah/Isaiah. He was given total and complete control over the Kingdom. He was like a father to the people of Judah and Jerusalem and, as Isaiah says, a throne of honor to his father’s house” (Is 22:23). He was given “the key to the Kingdom,” meaning he had complete control over the Kingdom of Judah on behalf of the king whom he served. He was given rulership, much like Joseph in Egypt. Jesus has been given the same rulership over God’s Kingdom by the Father.
2. What is the “open door” Jesus has “set before” the Church at Philadelphia?
In Revelation 1, Jesus is said to hold “the keys of death and hades” (1:18). Now he is seen as the one who “has the key of David” (3:7) and who opens doors no one can shut. He has placed before the Church at Philadelphia a door. To think that the “key” (v.7) and “the door” (v.8) are not connected would be foolish. He holds the key of David – the key to the everlasting Kingdom of God – and invites the Philadelphians to enter his Kingdom through “patient endurance.” Remember what Jesus said about himself: “I am the door” (John 10:7). What door, exactly? The door which leads to life:
John 10:7-9 “7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
3. Who are those “of the synagogue of Satan” who “say that they are Jews and are not?” What is a “synagogue of Satan,” anyway?
Historical evidence suggests that the believers in Philadelphia had trouble with a group of ethnic Jews who were troubling them and causing them to undergo persecution via the Roman government. The Church father Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the second century to the church in Philadelphia, mentioned an ongoing issue between the believers in Philadelphia and the Jewish people of that city. We must be very careful what we say here and ensure we read only what is written and nothing more. If a group of Jews in the first century were denying their Messiah and causing trouble for his followers, you can see how Jesus might call them a synagogue of Satan. No one, Jews included, can say that they are truly the people of God while denying His Messiah. (Hence Jesus’ words: “they say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (v.9). However, there is nowhere else in Scripture where ethnic Jews, whether Christian or not, are stripped of their ethnicity, by the Lord or anyone else. I believe we are talking about people who are ethnic Jews, but those who have corrupted the religion so much that, from heaven's view, they are no longer even considered Jewish. It’s important to note that a group of Jews who lived in the city of Philadelphia were very well off. Very prosperous. This is noteworthy because everywhere you went in the empire, Jews were limited in their ability to earn because of the strict rules which encompassed their religion and lifestyle. Jews who lived outside Judea were not always well off. They often struggled. So, to see a group of Jews living in a Roman city in Asia, a highly pagan Roman city, who were extraordinarily well-to-do and seemingly fitting right in with the Pagan world suggests that these Jews may have been compromised in their keeping of Judaism. There is no doubt that they were troubling the Christians there when Jesus spoke these words to John. Hence Jesus’ harsh words about them.
4. Jesus mentions his word to the Philadelphians about “patient endurance”? To what was he referring?
The words patient endurance are together translated from a single Greek word: ὑπομονῆς - the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance. It is so much more than only patience or only endurance, which is why the translators of the ESV felt the need to use two English words to try and capture its significance. It is steadfastness, fortitude, the ability to bear up and stand your ground when things get difficult. Jesus had already warned them that they would need to develop this quality, and they had.
5. “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (v.10). Is this verse a promise of the pre-tribulation rapture?
To put it bluntly, no. There is no doubt that we have much to learn from this letter, which is written to a church. You and I today are members of the same Church, but not the same church. The church in Philadelphia no longer exists as it did when this letter was written. There are specific, cultural, and historical aspects to every church epistle that must be kept in time. This is a promise to the church in Philadelphia. It cannot be applied to all believers for all time. How do we know this? Because Jesus says that the reason he was going to keep them from the hour of trial is because of their ὑπομονῆς (patient endurance). The same cannot be said of the other churches he addresses in the Book of Revelation. Furthermore, he was talking about an hour of trial that was coming on them, not the Great Tribulation. To use this verse as a proof text about the Great Tribulation is, to put it plainly, horrendous exegesis.
6. “The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple… tattooed with the name of God, the name of the city of God, and Jesus’ own new name.” What does it mean to conquer? And what are the rewards for those who do?
What is Jesus talking about when he says, “to the one who overcomes?” The word conquer is the Greek word νικάω (to overcome, prevail, triumph, be victorious). The meaning of this is straightforward: to the one who is victorious, who stays true and right until the end, all sorts of good things are waiting for you. So many good things that you can’t even imagine. First, he will make you a pillar in the temple of his God. What does that mean? You’ll be immovable. You will never be taken out. There is such a thing as eternal security, you know. It’s doled out when you meet the Lord face to face after staying faithful to Him throughout your Christian life. At that point, you will become immovable, a pillar in the temple of God. Next, you will be tattooed with the name of God, his city, and the new name of Jesus Christ. Will we have tattoos in heaven? Yes, at least three. I don’t have any tattoos currently; I’m waiting to get mine when I get there.
Lastly, you will receive a crown. Many people like to go through and list all the crowns that are mentioned in the New Testament. I think there is only one crown that goes by many names: the crown of life, the crown of glory, crown of righteousness, to name a few. Jesus said, “hold fast, that no one may seize it…” meaning YOUR (singular) crown. Not your crowns. Paul said that a “crown of righteousness” was reserved for him:
2 Timothy 4:8 “8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Surely, if anyone were to get multiple crowns, it would be Paul. No, there will be one crown given to each person who “holds fast” in this life (v.11). One crown each for those who overcome and conquer.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1039.