We now come to the church that is called the model church and that for very good reason. This is the type of church every church should try to emulate. The city of Philadelphia was about twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis. It was by no means a metropolis. It was a small city with no real great claim to fame but it had something that was rare and beautiful; it had genuine Christian people there living out genuine Christian lives. Those who take a dispensational view would say that this church is the church of the Great Awakening and the great revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They say that it corresponds to the great love of souls that spawned the modern missionary movement. While this is somewhat compelling it ignores the great problems with liberalism that existed during this era as well as some of the same eschatological issues that are involved with such a view. I would also say that biggest problem with such a view is that is that it denies the local visible nature of the church; but I digress. The name Philadelphia is well known to us and gives a clue to the character of this church. The name Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” Ephesus had done many mighty works but had left their first love. This church is defined by its love. This church had gone beyond faith and reached to the greater elements of brotherly love and charity. Only Philadelphia and Smyrna were spoken of in purely positive terms while the other five churches were called to repentance. Smyrna was the subject of grace for they endured the fires of persecution. Philadelphia was the subject praise for they were aflame with love. They will know that we are disciples by our love for one another. As we shall see, God can really use a church that knows how to love.
The first thing that we note is that Christ is known to the model church in the beauty of His character and work. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth….” First, the holiness of God when preached in most churches is a fearful subject that reveals sin and wilts away the thin covering of pride. It is a stinging message to those who are not right with God in their lives. The holiness of God is threatening to the unrepentant for it shows them a God that is pure and perfect, that hates sin, and that musts judge sinners. The holiness of God is a comfort for those who are right with God. The holiness of Christ is the beauty of Christ; the Scriptures speak of the beauty of holiness. It endears Christ to this church and causes them to give themselves more fully to Him. Yes, the holiness of God caused Isaiah to cry out “Woe is me” but when he knew the reality of his sins being purged he, still yet in the presence of the holy God, cried out “Here am I.” Christ speaks to this church and declares that He is the one that is holy. He is the one that dwells in the light which no man can approach and He walks with them in the light. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another….” He is holy and He is true. These two words sum up the character of Christ. Christ equals holiness. Christ equals truth. This is also a comfort to His church. He is, what Schaffer called, true truth. He is someone that we can rely on; He is solid rock upon which we may build.
Not only is He holy and true but He also is totally sovereign. He has the keys of David. He opens and no man shuts; He shuts and no man opens! What does this mean? First of all the last clauses tell us that what Christ does no man has the power to contradict. He is on the throne. If He opens a door for the church let man rage if he will they cannot shut it. If He closes a door for men let men do what they will for the door may never be opened. Before we can understand what is meant by the door in this context we must decipher the first clause. He has the keys of David. We have seen already that He has keys of Hell and Death and we saw in that context that He alone holds the authority over the souls of men. Here the term keys are meant to show us authority over some thing. What was the authority of David? David was the King of the Jews; the one to whom the promise was given that his seed would forever have the throne. Christ has the keys of David. He is the promised King of the Jews. He is the Messiah. He is salvation itself. The promise is quoted to a descendant of David in the book of Isaiah. : “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house” (Isa. 22). This promise found its fulfillment in Christ alone. The keys of David then are the full authority of Kingdom. He is the father to the inhabitants of that Kingdom. This is nothing short of the gospel: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” for the King is here. Gill pointed out that this is either speaking of the key of knowledge or the key of power. To say that He has the keys of knowledge is to say that He alone can reveal truth to men. He is the truth and men must turn to Him. Or it is expressive of the divine power of Christ. “Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening” (Job 12:14). Jamieson said this: “Christ, the Heir of the throne of David, shall supplant all the less worthy stewards who have abused their trust in God’s spiritual house, and “shall reign over the house of Jacob,” literal and spiritual (Luke 1:32,33), “for ever,” “as a Son over His own house” (Hebrews 3:2-6). It rests with Christ to open or shut the heavenly palace, deciding who is, and who is not, to be admitted: as He also opens, or shuts, the prison, having the keys of hell (the grave) and death (Revelation 1:18). The power of the keys was given to Peter and the other apostles, only when, and in so far as, Christ made him and them infallible. Whatever degrees of this power may have been committed to ministers, the supreme power belongs to Christ alone. Thus Peter rightly opened the Gospel door to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48, 11:17,18; especially Acts 14:27, end). But he wrongly tried to shut the door in part again (Galatians 2:11-18). Eliakim had “the key of the house of David laid upon his shoulder”: Christ, as the antitypical David, Himself has the key of the supreme “government upon His shoulder.” His attribute here, as in the former addresses, accords with His promise.” The keys which Christ has for this church are the keys of His full authority to save. The door which He opens and shuts is the door of opportunity for His gospel to be preached. He opens the door for us to preach His gospel. Paul said this: “when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord” (II Cor. 2:12). God gives his faithful opportunity to win souls. Christ ultimately is the one that shuts the door as well. “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are…” (Luke 13:25). When God opens the doors of revival the wicked cannot close it and when God closes the door opportunity is gone forever. Henry summed it up well: “Learn here, (1.) Christ is to be acknowledged as the author of all the liberty and opportunity his churches enjoy. (2.) He takes notice and keeps account, how long he has preserved their spiritual liberties and privileges for them. (3.) Wicked men envy the people of God their door of liberty, and would be glad to shut it against them. (4.) If we do not provoke Christ to shut this door against us, men cannot do it.”
The next thing we see is that Christ would have His model church to know that their works are known Him. “I know thy works….” Note that there is no litany of works spoken of here and based on what follows we can say that this is no small oversight. There was no need to list the works of this church for they were simply a church that was busy doing. When love rules in a church there are no particular works that may singled out. They had a complete and whole ministry. And because of this God just kept the door open. When love rules in the church they will have an abundance of opportunity to share the gospel with the world.
Lastly, we see three promises or three beholds in our text. First, Christ invites His model church to behold the open door. “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” We are invited to look with eyes of faith first on the fields that are white unto harvest. Behold the open door! It is set before you. You did not have to seek opportunity it was presented to you by God. We have heard the saying that if you do not have liberty you should just take the liberty. That is not the case here. God in His grace had given the precious gift of opportunity to this loving church; a door of utterance through which they may be witnesses for Him. Not only was this door set before them but it was also held open by Christ. No man could shut this door. No amount of persecution, no amount of slander, could shut the door of utterance. Not only was the door set open before them and held open by Christ but they were also aided by Christ to use it. They had little strength. They were not a strong congregation in terms of their numbers or terms of their talents but yet they had opportunity and God would help them to use it. God gives the grace of opportunity and the power of witness (Matt. 28:18-20). In fact, their little strength made up the cause of the open door. They had little that could be used but they gave it to Christ and are now finding that He can do much with it. “Little is much when God is it.” The few loaves were much in the hands of Christ. They were little in strength but they held fast to the word of God and confessed freely the name of Christ. To such a church Christ asks them to behold the open door.
The second thing that Christ would have this church to see is this; the changed enemy. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” The Scriptures declare that if your ways please the Lord He will make your enemies be at peace with you. The Jews, who had vehemently opposed the churches to the point that Christ had called them the synagogue of Satan, were here to be subjects of conversion. They will know that you are Christians by your love. They may have said that they are Jews when they were not part of the covenant but here they would be humbled with contrition before this church. Love will win what arguments cannot. Many persecutors have saw the love of Christ in the persecuted and have bowed in repentance and this is what seems to be the point of our text. They were not worshipping the church but they were brought to a true place of worship before the church. They came to a place where they forsook their lie and embraced the truth of Christ. They came to know that the people that they hated were loved of God. Behold the changed enemy!
Lastly, Christ invites them to behold with the eyes of faith the glorious deliverance of His coming. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Lift up your head your redemption draws nigh. We note first of all the cause of this deliverance. They kept the word of Christ; of His patience, which is the same as His gospel or passion. They took possession of the gospel and made it their own. They kept it in that they did not merely make a profession of it but lived it and possessed it in their lives. This is and should be the description of every true Christian of which this church was full of. To such is this promise; they will be kept back from the hour of temptation. This hour is coming on the whole world of mankind. It shall try all who are on the earth. It will be the meat of what we speak of in this book. There is a judgment which is coming and here we have a direct promise from God that the true Christian will not have to go through it. We will discuss the meaning of this promise at a later point in this book but here we see that we who are truly saved are indeed not appointed to wrath but to obtain salvation. Christ wants this church to behold the blessed hope of His coming for that is what will purify us. It will help us to hold fast so that we will not lose our crown. Note that we may never lose our salvation but we can lose our reward or our crown (II John :8) So He invites this church to behold His coming with eyes of faith and hold on till He comes.