Of The Seven, the letter to the church in Philadelphia is the most vitally important because it reveals more about the heart of Y’shua (Jesus) than all of the rest. As you will no doubtless know, the name Philadelphia, literally, means the love of a brother, or brotherly love. Before we start to look at the contents of the letter and what separated this particular church from the other six, I would like to discuss the subject of love, briefly.
It is possible that our concept of love, or rather or understanding of it here in the western world is skewed. We understand love in terms of how someone or something makes us feel. For example, if I tell you that I love my wife, Caz, (and I do love her), your mind might well process that in terms of how she makes me feel. This makes love entirely a feeling or emotion. And it also internalises it in me. When we say that we love someone, or something, we say it entirely upon what it gives to us. It tells any listener nothing of what we give to the person or thing, only what we get from them.
However, the Hebrew understanding of love is quite different. To love someone else, in Hebrew terms, is to show them love – to externalise it by demonstrating our love for someone else. This perspective is much more practical. It is never dependent upon how the recipient of our love makes us feel, but entirely upon the way we treat the people we love.
Throughout the Bible, if we look through the Hebrew perspective, we can see this in action. And Y’shua, Himself, promoted it throughout His ministry. In fact, because God is love, He demonstrated His love for mankind (even when they didn’t love Him in return) by giving His Son, so that we could be reconciled to God.
When Y’shua said that we should love our neighbours, as we do ourselves, it is easy to misunderstand Him. To avoid facing the fact that we don’t ‘feel’ love towards our neighbours, we start to question the semantics of the word neighbours. In truth, however, Y’shua was telling us to practice love towards one another, just as we would like to have real love to be practiced towards us.
So, from a Hebrew perspective, and from God’s perspective, love isn’t a warm fuzzy feeling. It can’t be because Y’shua left us with a command to love one another. How is it ever possible to command a feeling? No, it is a state of mind. Nor is love the same as lust, which is entirely a desire of the flesh, and one that is full of empty promises. Love is a place where we don’t rely upon how we feel about the object of our love, or how they make us feel. Love is independent of all influence. I hope this will go some way to a deeper understanding of why the church at Philadelphia is so very special.
Just how relevant the historical background to Philadelphia is, I am unsure, and so I have decided to leave that to you to discover more if you wish. It is clear from the text of the letter, that we have more than enough information to be going on with in understanding the true message that Y’shua had, not only for that first century church, but also for us today, and for those who follow after us.
You will be familiar with the format of Y’shua’s letters by now – each one is addressed to the actual angel, not pastor, of the seven churches of Asia Minor, which is a province in modern day Turkey. How do we know the letters are written to actual angels, rather than individuals who oversaw each church? Because of the text that follows the opening address. Only a being who could see into the spirit realm could verify the author. We gladly accept that Y’shua is who He says He is. Angels, however, know this to be true because they stand before the throne of God, where Y’shua resides.
“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.” [Revelation 3:7a NIV]
In saying to the angel that these words are from ‘He who is holy and true‘ we see an emphasis that is important to note. To be holy is to be true. You cannot be holy and untruthful. So the emphasis is important because Y’shua is reminding the angel exactly who He is. It is clear, throughout scripture, that God the Father and His Son both have many names. In Revelation chapter 20 we learn that two such names of Y’shua are Faithful and True. Here, He empathises that He is also called Holy.
It has been noted that these particular details of showing the angel exactly who He is, unlike the preceding five letters, are not mentioned in chapter one of the Revelation. Here, Y’shua hasn’t used what He has already revealed about Himself to John to verify who is speaking. He uses two of His names given by God, and then makes a reference to the Key of David, which He holds.
The Key of David is often attributed mysterious meaning and significance. It is true that the meaning is unclear, or rather, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of meaning we would expect. Many in the modern church lay claim to this key, as if it possess some olde magik quality that will ensure revival or answered prayer. If it does, then God has chosen, for now, for its significance to remain hidden. Perhaps the easiest way of understanding what significance it has to us, rather than the angel Y’shua was addressing, can be seen in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, for that is where we can find the only other mention of it.
In Isaiah chapter 22, where we can find mention of the Key of David, or rather the Key of the House of David, it comes as part of a prophecy against Jerusalem. It appears that a man named Shebna had appointed himself in charge of the palace of the king, despite it not being God’s will. Isaiah’s prophecy states that God will overthrow Shebna and replace him with Eliakim. Here’s the text, itself:
“In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten you 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 NIV]
Clothing and what people wore about their person, in those days, symbolised their actual roles in society. It is clear that the robe, the sash, and the key (which was like a seal worn draped over the shoulder and symbolised the authority of the office held), are all highly visible parts of the whole ensemble. Throughout the palace of the king, guards would have been stationed at each door. When the saw the seal, the key, draped on the shoulder of the bearer, they would have immediately yielded and opened the door. The seal could open or close any door in the palace. Including the treasury. In other words, the holder of the key, controlled everything that happened in the palace. Only the king himself could over rule the holder of the key.
So, when Y’shua tells us that He holds the Key of David, He is telling us that His Father has given Him authority over everything in the kingdom. If He chooses to open a door, it stays open. If He chooses to close a door, it stays closed. I think it is pertinent to accept that this key means that Y’shua has the authority to open the doors of heaven so that blessings of all kinds can fall upon His servants. The theme of open doors continues in the letter to the Philadelphians:
“What He opens no-one can shut, 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.” [Verses 7b – 8a]
By quoting directly from Isaiah, Y’shua is capturing the attention of the readers of the letter, who would have been mainly messianic Hebrews and Proselytes. They would have been familiar with the scripture, and it would have been understood amongst the congregation that their Lord, Y’shua, had been given all authority. That He told them He had opened a door before them that no-one could close would have been of great encouragement to them. The apostle Paul talks in two separate letters about doors that had been opened to great works of ministry for him (1st Corinthians 16:9, 2nd Corinthians 2:12), and this may have been seen in the same light by the church in Philadelphia. It may have been evangelistic in nature, or practicing love towards all people. But, it would have told them something else to; that if God opens a door for them, then nothing can shut it. As a builder of faith, this is second to none. It was a true endorsement that whatever they were doing, Y’shua approved. He was telling them to continue, and that, as the holder of the Key of David, whatever resources they required for this work, He would see to it that they got it.
Y’shua continues with His encouragement of this humble church:
“I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” [Verse 8b]
This is important. Very important. Despite having little strength could imply that they were few in number. With God, we know that numbers don’t mean anything. Just review the story of Gideon to see that in action. And Paul speaks of his weakness that makes him strong in Christ. So, even though they appeared to have little strength, they maintained the word of God and didn’t deny His name. What does this really mean in practice?
Well, in John chapter 14, Y’shua says this:
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.
He who does not love Me does not keep my words.” [John 14:23b-24a NKJV]
Please allow me to paraphrase that a little. If we love Y’shua then that will manifest in our lives by us obeying all of His commandments. If we don’t love Him truly, as we should, then we have already failed to keep His word. But those at Philadelphia had remained faithful and true to His words, and in doing so, they had not denied His name. This means that they must have been facing persecution from some and, despite that persecution, they had found the way to allow God’s love to flow through them. There is a lesson for all of us today. Even if we are few in number; even if everything is stacked against us, if we remain true to God’s words, He will be right there with us. And, in the next verse we see who might be persecuting them:
“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.” [Verse 9]
Now, at this point, I think it prudent to expand just who this letter is written to and about. Yes, we understand fully that the church in Philadelphia was a real church from the first century AD. But, Philadelphia is also seen to represent a certain period of time in church history. This is generally referred to as the Missionary Age and lasted approximately one hundred years from the early 1800s. If you take a look back through that period at some of the names of people who displayed God’s love, regardless of their situation, the you will see what I mean. It was an age when the established and legalistic religious approach was abandoned by men and women whom God raised up with the express purpose of leading lives led by His Holy Spirit. These men and women broke away from the Catholic and Protestant organisations and formed their own churches, based more upon the idea of community than the all empowered state.
Not only do we find that Y’shua is addressing His people in that particular age, but we find that Philadelphia also represents a type of church still found today, although you might never know that they are there. What I am talking of you could very easily call the Invisible Church, or the True Church. What does membership look like in the True Church? Keeping His word and not denying His name. There are such churches out there, but you won’t find them advertising themselves on websites or social media. These churches are humble, not self-promoting, simply getting on with the commands of Y’shua. You will know them as soon as you see them, for they love one another. They care for each other, and they see everyone who they encounter through the very same spiritual eyes that Y’shua sees them. And, as we shall see shortly, they are the only part of the church who will be spared the Great Tribulation and will be caught up in the air to meet with Y’shua, along with all those who have fallen asleep in Christ. I shall explain all shortly. Before that, however, I should also make it known that not only is this letter addressed to a type of church, but also to a certain kind of Christian who can be found in any of the types of End Times churches.
Mention of the synagogue of Satan appears also in the letter to the church at Smyrna, who were also suffering persecution. It is likely that Y’shua was referring to hard-line Hebrews who practiced a very legalistic form of Judaism. In denying them as Jews, Y’shua could well have been saying that despite their claim via a bloodline to be Jews, the fact that they were persecuting anyone at all, excludes them from that name. The word Jew truly only refers to those of the tribe of Judah, and not to all Hebrews everywhere. The word Hebrew is better for describing all of God’s chosen nation. It is likely that they had heard the gospel but, because of allowing themselves to be deceived by religion, they rejected that Y’shua was, in fact, their promised Mashiyach (Messiah). We will be judged upon our response to the gospel, just as those who heard but didn’t accept will. These at this particular synagogue would have claimed the monopoly on God, despite rejecting His salvation in the person of Y’shua. Their persecution would have been aggressive towards anyone else laying claim to God, especially those who followed The Way.
That Y’shua told the Philadelphians that He would cause them to acknowledge that He loved them is hard to understand what practical outworking there would have been. It might have been that the open door that Y’shua talks of early on in His letter was about ministry to the synagogues, and perhaps the Holy Spirit blessed that work by opening their eyes to the person of Y’shua. Perhaps this is what Y’shua is referring to. But there is one thing there for the future too, which involves what is often referred to as the Rapture, which we will deal with shortly.
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” [Verse 10]
This is a very interesting verse of scripture. It leads into our discussion on the Rapture. We know from our discussion on the letter to the church in Smyrna, that a period of persecution was suffered by the church from the end of the first century AD, until Constantine’s Edict of Tolerance in AD 313. Here Y’shua promises the church at Philadelphia that He will keep them from that hour, because of their faithfulness to Him. That was then. But this is also a foreshadowing of the End of Days – a look forward to what is to come. As you will remember from the introduction to the Revelation, there are many theories about the sequence of events in the End of Days. I am just going to take you through what the Bible says. I don’t see this as being complicated. There are many whom claim it to be so. Perhaps that is simply in order for them to appear more spiritual than they truly are. If we stick with God’s word there can be no confusion.
The word Rapture doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. It is a Latin word used to describe the action of ‘being caught up’. There are several examples in the Bible of this happening to individuals, but what is described for the End of Days is a collective catching up of both the living and the dead. The apostle Paul clearly had revelation on the subject and, from his letters to the church in Thessalonica, we came see that he taught widely on these events. Let me take you through the sequence of events.
As we approach the End of Days several key events are prophesied to take place. All of God’s prophecies are true and so will come to pass. We have no reason to dispute any that have already been fulfilled and therefore, should have no reason to dispute that what is promised for the future, will also come to pass.
We know from the book of Daniel that God had determined long ago that the punishment for Isra’el for their unfaithfulness to Him would be 70 weeks, that is 70 x 7 years. 490 years. We know that the angel Gabri’el explained to Daniel that there would be three sections to these years, which are also known as Jacob’s Trouble. The first section is of ‘seven weeks’, or rather 49 years. This was fulfilled between 445 to 396 BC when Artaxerxes issued Nehemiah instructions to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, until the renewal of the covenant at Jerusalem.
The next section was to last ‘sixty-two sevens’, that is 434 years which ran between the dedication of the second temple until Christ rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt. This leaves one ‘seven, that is 7 years, yet to be fulfilled. The Seventy Weeks prophecy can be found in Daniel chapter 9.
This final section of seven years will be the last seven years before Christ comes to reign on the earth and His kingdom becomes the only kingdom. However, before that seven year stint can commence there is a highly significant event that must take place. For that we must turn to Pauls’ first letter to the Thessalonians.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” [1st Thessalonians 4: 13-17a NKJV]
Context. Paul was writing to a young church who had heard rumours that Christ had already returned. They had worried themselves stupid by this false rumour and so Paul had to explain again what he had already taught them in person. The sequence of events is this:
Christ will descend from heaven, but not onto the earth itself. He will remain in the clouds. The sound of an archangel and God’s trumpet will wake those who believed in Christ and have since died. Their graves will open and they will rise up into the air to be with the Christ. Then, and only then, will the faithful who are still alive and remain be also caught up into the clouds to be with Christ. This is what is known as the Rapture. This is echoed in 1st Corinthians 15.
Now many will say that this could take place during or after the Great Tribulation – the final seven years of Jacob’s Trouble. And it is true from that text, it could be said that the event could happen at any time. Except, what Paul follows up with in his second letter to the Thessalonians shows us that it must happen before the final seven years. Why? Because Daniel references the man who makes peace with Isra’el at the start of the final seven years and allows them to rebuild the temple. He is revealed as the anti-Christ, or the Man of Lawlessness. Until he is revealed in person, the final seven years cannot start, and he can’t be revealed until the thing that is holding him back is removed. It is the true church who is holding him back. Whilst the true church remains on the earth, the anti-Christ cannot commence his final plan. But once the church is removed, the End of days will begin. Here’s what Paul says:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.
And then the lawless one will be revealed…” [2nd Thessalonians 2:1-8a NKJV]
Take good note of the phrase ‘He who now restrains‘. Many have claimed this to be the Holy Spirit because of the capital H. However, we know from the events described during the final seven years in the Revelation, that the Holy Spirit is still on earth. This He can only refer to the body of Christ, the true church.
The rapture will take place and the anti-Christ will be released upon the world. He will make peace with Isra’el for three and a half years, before abolishing the daily sacrifice in the newly built temple and setting himself up in that very same temple and declaring himself to be God. What follows will be the worst time ever known for mankind and will culminate in Y’shua returning to the earth with His saints in what is known as the Second Coming, when He will rescue Isra’el and Satan will be bound for a thousand years.
To be honest, this subject could be a book all on its own, but many have already done that. I might not be saying anything new. But I am just trying to give you what the Bible tells us without ‘reaching’ for maybes.
So, what’s this got to do with Philadelphia?
Philadelphia represents a type of church and kind of believer who will be spared the tribulation of the last seven years. It is the presence of true believers who remain faithful to His word and don’t deny His name who keep the anti-Christ at bay. Y’shua has promised to keep them from the hour of trouble. This can only refer to the group of believers who will be caught up in the clouds with the dead in Christ and the Lord Himself. Of the Seven, only those who fit the bill of the church at Philadelphia will be kept from the tribulation. The rest will have to pass through the tribulation AND remain faithful to be saved. Spare a thought now for the type of church that is Smyrna. They will have to remain faithful, even until death. The other five have all come up short in the balancing scales of Y’shua, and will have to persevere and overcome through the final seven years. For them there will be no rapture, no rescue. They have had time enough already to repent and haven’t done so.
I think it is important to dwell for a moment on the reason why God might choose to act in this way; to allow the persecuted church to continue being persecuted; to remove the faithful and true church from the earth to be with Christ; to raise the dead who heard Christ’s message and believed it. There is a simple explanation:
As we get further into our explanation of the Revelation, we will see exactly what role Isra’el plays and how they finally accept Y’shua to be the Mashiyach. But just imagine, for a moment, what it will be like when the graves open and the dead in Christ rise. Open graves right across the globe. National news in every country. And then, in the twinkiling of an eye, the faithful to Christ all vaporise from the face of the earth, caught up in the air with the Lord. Is it possible that at this point Isra’el’s spiritual eyes and ears will be opened? Will this be the thing that makes them finally believe? Well, perhaps not all of them to begin with, but the Revelation certainly shows that the Holy Spirit will seal a considerable amount who will become God’s witnesses to their own kind. But, more of that later. For now, we must return to the letter to the Philadelphians, for Y’shua is not yet finished with His praise of them and His message.
“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown. He 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, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him a new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [Verses 11-13]
This is the first of several times that the phrase, ‘I am coming soon‘ appears. I feel that soon is an inadequate translation of the Greek word tachy. The King James renders the word as quickly, and that doesn’t seem right either. I think the true translation is and should be suddenly, or without warning. That is consistent with everything that Y’shua Himself says on the subject. Like a thief in the night. He urges them, therefore, to hold tightly to what they have. We should take that advice now.
I will deal with the overcomers part of the letter in a separate paper shortly, except to say, once again, that these promises for the overcomers are addressed to all of the churches, plural, and are not exclusive to the individual churches.
Philadelphia offers us a chance to see what God actually expects from the people who lay claim to following Him. It is a choice to remain faithful and true to His word, regardless of the situation. The promise and reward is that we will be spared the hour that is to come upon the world. That has got to be the best motivation that I have ever heard .