Letters to the Churches: Philadelphia
The church at Philadelphia, together with the church at Smyrna, are the two churches which receive no rebuke from the Lord. And they have this in common: They were weak by worldly standards but strong in the Lord. It seems that this is an axiom of church life no matter when or where—the church is always strongest when it is weakest. Did not the Apostle say, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10)? Thus, it is a spiritual law for individuals as well as churches.
Christ introduces himself as the holy and true one—fitting since these words describe the believers in Philadelphia who derive their fidelity and holiness from their Lord. The “key of [King] David” speaks to our Lord having the key of the Kingdom, including the power to allow some in and shut others out, without appeal. That door is open for the church in Philadelphia to enter, for though they have little power they “have kept [his] word and have not denied [his] name.” Unlike those in Sardis, Thyatira, and Pergamum, they refused to compromise with the lordly powers of this world, and rejoiced in suffering for it. It appears that they especially suffered at the hands of some Jews in the city who perhaps informed the authorities, insinuating seditious intent. But they are assured that these ethnic Jews will one day bow before the feet of the new Israel of God composed of Jew and Gentile, learning that God loved them while those hated them (Galatians 6:16).
The Lord will reward their patient endurance by keeping them “from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth.” We see believers experiencing tribulation throughout this Book, and Paul plainly tells us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). On the other hand, if God so desires to spare some that trial, who are we to question His wisdom? Even so, Christ encourages them to “hold fast.” Hear the rewards for those who “conquer”—the word that Christ continuously employs for faithful and patient endurance: “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” and “never shall he go out of it” (see Psalm 27:4; 84:10); “I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God,…and my own new name” (see 2:17). In Eastern monasticism, the monks receive a new name upon their entry into the monastery. To be named by one means to belong to that one and be changed by that one often reflected in the meaning of the name. I like the name my parents chose for me, but I’d rather have the name he has chosen for me. How special will that be!