What happens when a church is small and weak? When it seems too tiny to survive? What would Jesus say to such a church? You don’t have to wonder, for Revelation 3:7-13 quotes him! The congregation at Philadelphia (the city in Asia Minor, not the one in Pennsylvania) is a church that has little strength. Apparently it does not have the respect of the shakers and movers in the city. It is suffering opposition, and perhaps persecution from the local synagogue. Certainly the pagan idol worshipers were no supporters of the church.
Trust the one who holds the key of David. Your Lord holds the key of David. He identifies himself as the one who is holy and true. Think of the holiness of God seen in Isaiah 6. Remember how often the prophets called Israel away from idols to the true God. Jesus properly takes to himself those divine characteristics. He also speaks of himself as holding the key of David. In Revelation 1:18 he proclaims his sovereignty as he claims to hold the keys of death and Hades. Here he also holds a key, but it is the key to the house of David. Isaiah 22:20–25 identifies Eliakim and the position with which he was entrusted (in contrast with the self-serving official, Shebna). See 2 Kings 18:26 for his activity during the Assyrian seige. His role is defined, not just with respect to King Hezekiah, but his oversight extends to the Davidic dynasty. Here is the fulfillment of that Old Testament anticipation. “Just as the master possesses the key to that house, and has complete authority with respect to permitting anyone to enter or leave, and so entire authority over the house, so God will give to Eliakim a key to the house or dynasty of David. This key will be placed upon his shoulder, an expression which means that the responsibility of of the Davidic government is is to rest as a burden on Eliakim’s shoulder. The importance of the position is seen in that this same description is applied to the risen Christ in Revelation 3:7.” (E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, p. 114). “Christ’s authority is a surpassing fulfillment of the ‘key of David’ prophecy in Isaiah 22:20-25. What neither Eliakim nor any other saint of the Old Testament could do, Christ has done. His reliability and strength are such that one can rest on him all the weight of the redeemed people and their destiny.” (Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King, p. 91).
Christ has placed an open door before his weak church. Although the church is weak, Jesus has found her faithful. She may not have been successful by the standards of the world, or even by the standards of the church growth experts, but, despite weakness, they have not denied the name of Christ. To this church, he says, “I have placed before you an open door.” What is the door? Paul uses the expression to describe an opportunity for evangelistic service, 1 Corinthians 16:9. But, especially given the background of Eliakim’s key to the house of David, Jesus probably does not have evangelism in view, at least not at the forefront. The key of the house of David is the key to the kingdom, not just of David, but of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. Notice what door is standing open in Revelation 4:1. Entrance into the kingdom of God does not rest on success as measured by the world. And when the Lord opens that door, no one can slam it shut.
Give thanks for your King’s sovereign protection. The Messiah brings even some from the synagogue of Satan to the feet of his church. Jesus knows the opposition this struggling church faces. Some of the fiercest opposition comes from the synagogue. But instead of being a place where God is worshiped in truth, many of the synagogues, both during Jesus’s earthly ministry and during the period covered by Acts, some of the synagogues rejected the promised Messiah and persecuted his followers. Thus Jesus can use the expression “of Satan” to describe the synagogue in Philadelphia. But notice what Jesus does. He draws some (apparently not all) from that synagogue to come and fall at the feet of his church, acknowledging that the church is loved by him. Look at this against the background of Isaiah 48. Following a description of the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, as a light to the Gentiles, the Lord speaks of drawing his people back from captivity. In Isaiah 48:22–23 he has the Gentiles, who had taken his people captive, carry them back to the promised land and bow to the ground before them, acknowledging that the Lord is the one in whom you can safely hope. What was prophesied here you see unfolding at and after Pentecost. Against that background, notice the rich, salvific irony: some who had been part of this false synagogue will come and fall in the dust before the church, acknowledging that Jesus is the true Messiah sent by God, and that this insignificant seeming church is indeed the beloved of the Lord!
As you endure, trust your Lord to keep you from the hour of trial. Jesus promises to keep his enduring church from the hour of trial. Probably don’t think of his second, final coming in this description. “I am coming” was a warning to some of the churches. But here he is protecting this church. Remember that Jesus’ protection does not necessarily mean a trouble-free life. He specifically prayed for his Father, not to take his followers out of the world, but to keep them safe. That means trusting in and resting on the Savior, even in the midst of turmoil and suffering.
Live as a pillar in God’s temple. You have a permanent place in God’s house. No criticism is addressed to this weak church. But, though having little strength, they do overcome. And to those who overcome, Jesus promises that they will be made a pillar in the temple. Philadelphia had suffered from major earthquakes in 17 A.D. and gain in 60 A.D., so the idea of an unshakeable pillar communicated to the church. Being in the temple of God means that his presence will never leave you. “Though the true church is a spiritually inviolable temple, it suffers presently in its physical form…. [A]t the final consummation no form of physical or spiritual suffering will harm the church because of the full manifestation of God’s presence in its midst.” (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, p. 294).
Christ writes his name on you. Don’t try to distinguish too much among the different references to name being written on them, verse 12b. These are different ways of God showing that you truly belong to him. His name is on you, identifying you as truly belonging to him. That is tied together with the believer’s identity as part of the new Jerusalem (notice that it comes from heaven), and as having the name of the triumphant Savior.
Large or small, strong or weak, rich or poor—those contrasts fade in comparison to the real question: does the name of God, and the new name of his victorious Son belong to you? If so, don’t be discouraged. Continue to persevere. He will never leave you.