Faithful Philadelphia

Philadelphia was located fifty kilometers southeast of Sardis and straddled a major road into the interior, making commerce and trade with the other cities of the province vital to its economy. It was established in 189 B.C. by the king of Pergamos and came under Roman rule when the last Pergamene king bequeathed the kingdom to Rome in 133 B.C.

In John’s time, the city was a proud participant in the worship of the emperor and featured a temple to his honor. The coins minted in Philadelphia declared that the city was the ‘Neokoros’ or “temple sweeper” of Asia - the caretaker of Caesar’s temple.

Acropolis Arch - Photo by Visual Stories Micheile on Unsplash
[Photo by Visual Stories Micheile on Unsplash]

In his letter to the church’s “
messenger,” Jesus reiterates several of the attributes described in the book’s opening vision, but he also claims to possess the “key of David” that enables him to “open and shut.”

  • (Revelation 3:7-9) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia, write: The one who is holy is declaring these things, 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 do lie; behold, I will cause them to come and bow down before your feet and they will get to know that I loved you.”


Jesus is “holy and true,” a declaration that expands the earlier description of him as the “faithful witness.” His unwavering character is contrasted with those “who say they are Jews and are not but do lie.” And this designation anticipates the vision of the “rider on the white horse” who is “called faithful and true” - (Revelation 19:11-16).

The “key of David” alludes to the prophecy in the Book of Isaiah that predicted the replacement of Shebna with Eliakim as the steward of the royal house of David – “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” - (Isaiah 22:22).

Jesus has sole and complete authority over God’s “house.” He controls who may gain entrance. The link to David and the conflict with the “Synagogue of Satan” suggest the messianic status of Jesus is in dispute between the church and the local synagogue.

There is no rebuke in this letter. Because of its faithfulness, Jesus has placed an “open door” before the congregation for entry into the household of God, and the terms for doing so. Likewise, he controls who will gain entrance to the holy city of “New Jerusalem.” In such matters, the synagogue has no say whatsoever.


The assembly in this city has “a little strength.” It has “kept my word” and “not denied my name.” It has been marginalized, and it is without any social or political influence. Nevertheless, the church has sufficient strength to maintain its testimony despite the hostility from the synagogue and local authorities.

The church’s refusal to deny his name indicates that members of the congregation have experienced hostility, at least from the leadership of the local synagogue, which is comprised of “those who say they are Jews but are not.”

Because the saints of Philadelphia have remained faithful, Jesus will make their synagogue opponents prostrate themselves before them. This promise echoes three passages in Isaiah, including:

  • (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.” - (Also, Isaiah 45:14, 49:23).

In Isaiah, the expectation was that the Gentiles would bow before Israel and acknowledge her election by Yahweh. In Revelation, that promise is applied to the church in Philadelphia. Jews will acknowledge that God had chosen the followers of Jesus to be His people - (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).

The allusion to Isaiah is fitting. The very ones who afflict Christ’s brethren will pronounce that they are God’s people. The promise to write the “name of the city of my God” uses language from Isaiah 60:14.


Because of their faithfulness, Jesus will keep the Philadelphian saints safe from the “trial” that is coming upon all humanity - “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” - (Revelation 3:10-11).

In the clause, “because you kept my word of perseverance,” the Greek term rendered “perseverance” is a key theme of the book. Believers “overcome” by maintaining their testimony and persevering in tribulations, not by escaping from trials and persecution - (Revelation 12:11).

Because the Philadelphians have suffered already, the promise to keep them “from the hour” is not a prediction of escape from tribulation. Instead, they will be kept from the hour of “trial.”

The Greek preposition means “from” or “out of,” and it denotes either origin or motion away from something. Here, the latter sense is dominant. Because they have kept his word, they will not endure an event with dire consequences.

In the clause, “hour” or hōra has the definite article or “the,” and that points to a specific and known event. It is not just any hour, but THE hour. Whether this “hour” is literal or figurative, it is something sudden, short, and decisive.

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

This “trial” will come on the “whole habitable earth.” This translates the Greek clause tés oikumenés holés, the same one used to describe the target of Satan’s deceptions, “the whole habitable earth.” It is also used later for the kings of the “whole habitable earth” who ally with the “Beast” at the battle on the “Great Day of God Almighty.”

And in each case, the “whole habitable earth” describes humanity in opposition to God. Thus, the “hour of trial” will affect rebellious mankind, not the church at Philadelphia - (Revelation 12:9, 16:12-16).

In contrast to the “hour of trial,” tribulation is something the saints endure for the sake of Jesus. According to John, “the tribulation” is underway already in his day (“fellow participant in the tribulation”). Moreover, several of the “churches of Asia” were experiencing persecution, tribulation, and even martyrdom - (Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 2:22, 7:14).

In Revelation, the “hour” is applied several times to an event of great finality at the end of the age:

  • (3:3) - For the unprepared, Jesus arrives at “AN HOUR” they do not expect.
  • (9:15) - Angels are loosed to prepare for the “HOUR” to slay a third of mankind.
  • (11:13-18) - In the “SELF-SAME HOUR,” the great city will fall, and the seventh trumpet will sound, signaling 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.

Hence, the hour of trial is not an extended period of suffering for the church or the world but a time of final judgment. All who oppose the “Lamb” undergo it. In other words, the term refers to the final judgment before the “Great White Throne of Judgment” when the wicked are cast into the “Lake of Fire.”

The promise of escape is conceptually parallel to the promise that overcomers will avoid the “second death” and not have their names “blotted out of the book of life” - (Revelation 2:11, 3:5).


Once again, the letter concludes with promises to “overcomers,” and an exhortation by the “Spirit” to all the “churches.”

  • (Revelation 3:12-13) - “He that overcomes, him 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.”

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.” The promise finds its fulfillment in the holy city, “New Jerusalem.”

The Greek noun rendered “sanctuary” is naos, and in the Greek scriptures, it refers to the inner sanctum of the temple complex, the place where God’s holy presence and glory dwell. Thus, the “overcomers” from Philadelphia will be in a most intimate relationship with Jesus and the Creator of all things.

And in “New Jerusalem,” there will be no “sanctuary” structure since God and the Lamb will be the “temple.” And this “sanctuary” will know no bounds - its “walls” will be coterminous with the “new heavens and the new earth.”

The entire city will be a temple, and in it, the “nations will walk amidst its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it,” including the “overcoming” saints from Philadelphia – (Revelation 21:1-8, 21:22-27).


Destruction of Babylon

The Little Horn