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. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
The “key” is the symbol of authority, the ability to open and shut, to go where others cannot go, and to do what others cannot do. In 1:18 Jesus had the keys to death and Hades; He can open the grave, to open the door of death and release people from its grip. John calls the key the “key of David”, a phrase taken from Isaiah 22:22, because it is held by the Messiah, the “son of David”. Jesus of course is the ultimate King of Israel and carries with Him the ultimate kingly authority.
Historical Prologue (3:8-9)
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 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.
The church in Philadelphia may not have been big, rich and powerful in the earthly sense, but even when tested they have remained faithful to the Lord; in this they are an example for us to follow. They have been opposed by the Jews in their city, those who refuse to follow God’s Son, their Messiah, and God will deal with the situation in due course.
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. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
For the sake of clarity, I have included verse 9 again here as it is both historical context and blessing. Verse 10 is taken in various ways by various commentators based upon their view of the entire book of Revelation, and as always, you are free to choose which view you prefer. I will offer my thoughts after verse 12.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Jesus’ stipulation for Philadelphia is just as relevant for us today as it was in the late first century: Hold on to what you have in Christ so that no one can take your (victor’s) crown.
The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.
This letter is unique; it has no criticism of the church, it has no curse, and it has two blessings. Many commentators over the years have attributed this to the notion that Philadelphia is “the city of brotherly love”. Maybe so, but the text doesn’t say it. In fact, the whole brotherly love connection has to do with the relationship of the pagan king who established the city and his brother almost 200 years before this. As I see it, the reason for the success of this church is simply that they were faithful to Christ. Looking at the blessings, I would offer these thoughts:
First, the church at Philadelphia will triumph over its accusers, the Jews of the city who oppose them. This may take place as their oppressors come to accept Christ in the future, and it may come when the great Day arrives and they see the enormity of their error. In either case, the church in Philadelphia will hold to the truth, come what may. Second, it will be kept safe through the hour of trial. Third, they will become pillars in God’s temple. In this, they will be forever in
God’s presence, since the temple represents God’s dwelling place. Remember, David desired to build God’s earthly temple in Jerusalem, but he was prevented from doing so by his sin. The overcomers in Philadelphia will be a part of God’s heavenly temple. Finally, Christ will write upon the conquerors the name of God and the name of the new city of God, the New Jerusalem; they will receive the gift of eternal life in the household of God.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.