Philadelphia is an ancient city southeast from Sardis; it too was a city of commercial importance and was conveniently located as the gateway to the eastern areas of the Asia Minor. Philadelphia means brotherly love; it was named after the loyalty and devotion of two Greek brothers that ruled in 220 BC. The church in Philadelphia stands in stark contrast to the church in Sardis, while Sardis surrendered to the culture Philadelphia remained faithful and true to Christ.
Jesus addresses the church as the “Holy and True One who holds the key to David”. God himself with Christ as the promised Messiah from the house of David, who has the authority to open doors and shut doors to the kingdom of God. The key of David refers to the role of the steward of the household who was given authority to control who was admitted and who was excluded from the king’s presence. This position was second only to the king, a position of prominence and control. Jesus is the one with the key, to open doors to the kingdom of God.
Jesus says “I know you have little strength left, you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name”. Notice the difference between Sardis and Philadelphia; Sardis was active, busy about their plans in their own strength – Philadelphia had little strength left, they were relying on God alone. We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness….for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Because of Philadelphia’s faithfulness, Jesus says, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” This phrase open door can be understood as either the door of opportunity to spread the gospel or the door into the kingdom – or both together. The context of Jesus, as the holder of the key to David, favors a reference to the door into the kingdom of God – that He holds open and no one can shut. Praise God!
Jesus names the people harassing the church as the synagogue of Satan these were the unbelieving and hostile Jews that were persecuting the church. These words are familiar to us, they remind of the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, they came asking for signs all the while they were plotting Jesus’ murder. Jesus says they are not Abraham’s descendants but they are the descendants of their Father Satan, the author of lies and a murderer. Satan desires that all creation be separated permanently from God – that results in death, to die in our sins and not able to stand in the presence of the Holy God.
Jesus gives the church in Philadelphia hope to endure, stating that in the end the unbelieving hostile people will bow down before Jesus and acknowledge that the ones they persecuted were right, Jesus claims them as his own and protects them. Jesus assures them that He is coming soon; continue to endure for a little longer, so that you can claim the victor’s crown. Jesus commends the church for their obedience, for remaining true to Jesus’ name and therefore they will have an open door in front of them that no one can shut. To those who overcome, who endure to the end, who continue to in the Truth they will get a new name, a victor’s crown as a reward and will stand with confidence in the presence of God in His Holy Temple.