Philadelphia

OVERVIEW - Philadelphia received no correction, for she remained faithful, therefore, she would be kept from the hour of trial – Revelation 3:7-13

Roman Columns - Photo by Dim 7 on Unsplash
The city of 
Philadelphia lay fifty kilometers southeast of Sardis, between it and Laodicea. It straddled a major road into the interior, so trade with the other towns and cities of the province was vital to its economic life. Philadelphia was established as a city in 189 B.C. by the king of Pergamos. It came under Roman rule when the last king bequeathed the kingdom to Rome - (133 B.C.). The city was a proud participant in the imperial cult. It featured a temple to the emperor, and its coins declared it ‘Neokoros’ or “temple sweeper,” the caretaker for the temple of the emperor. - [Photo by Dim 7 on Unsplash].
  • (Revelation 3:7-13) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia, write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David, he that opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens. I know your works; Behold, I have set before you an open door that no one can shut it, that you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name. Behold, I give them of the synagogue of Satan, who are affirming themselves to be Jews and are not, but say what is false; Behold, I will cause them that they shall come and bow down before your feet and shall get to know that I loved you. Because you kept my word of endurance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable earth to try the inhabitants of the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which you have that no one takes your crown. He that overcomes I will make a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and outside shall he in nowise go forth anymore; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming descending from heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
Jesus is the one “who is holy and true.” This builds on the earlier description of him as the “faithful witness,” which he bore true faithful endurance even unto death. His status is contrasted with those “who say they are Jews and are not but do lie.” The description also anticipates the vision of the “rider on the white horse” who was “called faithful and true” - (Revelation 1:4-519:11-16).

He possesses the “key of David,” which enables him to “open and shut.” This alludes to the book of Isaiah - a prophecy to replace Shebna with Eliakim as the steward of the royal house of David:
  • (Isaiah 22:22) – “And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder, and he shall open and none shall shut, and shut and none shall open.
Thus, Jesus has the sole and complete authority over God’s “house”; he controls who may gain entry to it. The link to the line of David, and the conflict with the “synagogue of Satan” indicate that the messianic status of Jesus was in dispute between the church and the synagogue in Philadelphia.

There is no condemnation or correction of the congregation at Philadelphia. Because of its faithfulness, Jesus has set an “opened door” before it which no one can shut” - entrance into the household of God. The one who overcomes “shall certainly not go forth any longer.” Instead, he or she will become “a pillar in the sanctuary of my God in the city of my God.” Christ controls entry into “New Jerusalem,” not the synagogue.

The Philadelphians have “a little strength.” They have “kept his word” and “not denied his name.” From a human perspective, this group was marginalized and without any social, political, or economic influence. Nevertheless, the church had sufficient strength to maintain its testimony, despite any hostility from the synagogue or local authorities.

Rather than compromise, it “kept Christ’s word.” Refusal to deny his name indicates the church had experienced hostility, perhaps even persecution, although primarily in view is the conflict with the local synagogue. There was a “synagogue of Satan,” a group consisting of “them who say they are Jews but are not.”

Because the Philadelphian Christians remained faithful, Jesus would make them of the “liars” from the “synagogue of Satan come and bow down at your feet.” The language echoes three passages from the book of Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 45:14) – “The labor of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia and the Sabeans, men of stature shall come over to you and they shall be yours…And they shall fall down to you, they shall make supplication to you, saying, Surely God is in you.
  • (Isaiah 49:23) – “And kings shall be your nursing fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their faces to the earth, and lick the dust of your feet…And they that wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
  • (Isaiah 60:14) – “And the sons of them that afflicted you shall come bending to you; and all they that despised you shall bow themselves down at the soles of your feet.”

In Isaiah, the expectation was for Gentile nations to bow before Israel and acknowledge her election by Yahweh. However, Revelation applies the promise to the church at Philadelphia, although in a paradoxical way. Non-Christian Jews will prostrate themselves before Christians to acknowledge that God had chosen them to be His people - (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).


The allusion to Isaiah is especially fitting. God would cause the very ones who afflicted His children to pronounce them His people and “the city of the Lord,” New Jerusalem. The promise to write the “name of the city of my God” on overcoming believers was not coincidental - It drew on language from Isaiah 60:14.


Boy Worshipping - Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


Because you kept my word of perseverance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial.” “Perseverance” or hupomonés is a key theme in the book. Believers “overcome” by maintaining their testimony in tribulations, not by escaping from them - (Revelation 12:11).


Because the Philadelphians had suffered already, the promise to be kept “from the hour of trial” could not be a promise of escape from persecution and tribulation. They would be kept from the hour of trial. The Greek preposition means “from” or “out of,” and denotes origin or motion away from something. Here, the latter sense is dominant. This was a promise to keep them from something - to avoid it altogether. Because they had kept Christ’s word, they would not endure a specific event, one with dire consequences.


This fearful event was “the hour of trial.” “Hour” or hōra has a definite article or “the,” which indicates a specific and known event. It was not just any hour, but the hour. Whether “hour” is literal or figurative, it indicates a sudden, short, and decisive event.


The “hour” will be a “trial” or peirasmos. The Greek noun means “test, trial.” It was used in legal contexts for judicial proceedings. It only occurs here in Revelation and is not the same word used elsewhere for “tribulation.” The book nowhere equates “trial” with “tribulation.”


The “trial” was to come upon the “whole habitable earth.” This translates the Greek clause, tés oikumenés holés, the same clause that describes the target of Satan’s deceptions - “the whole habitable earth.” It also describes the kings of the “whole habitable earth” who were allied with the “beast” and gathered to the final battle of the “Great Day of God Almighty.” In each case, “whole habitable earth” described humanity in opposition to God. The “hour of trial” would affect rebellious mankind, not the church - (Revelation 12:9, 16:12-16).


In contrast to the “hour of trial,” tribulation is something that God’s people endure for the sake of Jesus. “The tribulation” was already underway in John’s day - (“fellow-participant in the tribulation”), and several of the churches already had seen persecution, tribulation, and even martyrdom - (Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 2:22, 7:14).

The “hour of trial” refers to God’s judicial response to the plea of the martyrs under the altar in the “fifth seal opening.” They pleaded for God to vindicate and avenge their blood on “those who dwell upon the earth” - (Revelation 6:9-11).

The period of an “hour” occurs several times in Revelation for an event of finality that is to occur at the end of the age:

  • (3:3) - For the unprepared, Jesus arrives at “an hour” they do not expect.
  • (9:15) - Four angels are loosed to prepare for a specific “hour” to slay a third of mankind.
  • (11:13-18) - In the “self-same hour,” the great city falls and the seventh trumpet sounds, the two witnesses ascend to heaven; the “hour” of final judgment.
  • (14:6-20) - Men fear because “the hour of God’s judgment is come.”
  • (14:15) – “The hour to reap has come,” the time of the final harvest.
  • (17:12) - Ten kings receive power with the Beast for only “one hour.”
  • (18:10) - Babylon’s judgment falls in only “one hour.”
  • (19:2-3) – In “one hour” Babylon is laid waste.

The hour of trial is not an extended period of suffering but a time of final overthrow and judgment. All who oppose the “Lamb” will undergo this “trial.” The promise of escape is conceptually parallel with promises of escape from “the Second Death,” and from having one’s name “blotted out of the book of life” - (Revelation 2:11, 3:5).


The one who overcomes will be made “a pillar in the sanctuary of God” and receive “the name of God and the name of the city of God.” These promises find their fulfillment in the holy city, “New Jerusalem” - (Revelation 21:2-3).


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