Church of Philadelphia

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; Revelation 3: 7

  3:8   I know thy works: 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. 
  3:9   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. 
  3:10  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. 
   3:11   Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 
  3:12   Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name. 
  3:13   He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


Philadelphia was located about twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis. The city was founded in 189 BC by Attalus Philadelphus, for whom it was named. Some believe that it was so named also because of the love and loyalty existing between Philadelphus and his brother, the king of Lydia. The city was also known as Decapolis, because it was one of the ten cities of the plain. It was sometimes called Little Athens because of the magnificence of its public ‘buildings. Its modern Turkish name is Ala Shehr, which means "The City of God" or "The Exalted City." Philadelphia has thus been given a number of new names.

Philadelphia guarded and commanded an important pass through the mountains between the Hermus and Meander valleys. It was thus the keeper of the key to the door, or gateway, to the eastern highlands, with the power to open and close according to the will of the officials. Through this portal passed the mail and trade and commerce of the west to the wide regions of central and eastern Lydia. The introduction of Christ in His epistle therefore had a forceful meaning to the Philadelphians. He reminded them of other and more important doors, to which He alone holds the key, with the power and authority to open and shut.

Philadelphia was subject to frequent and severe earthquakes. Trench (page 181) declared that "no city of Asia Minor suffered more, or so much, from violent and oft-recurring earthquakes," and the historian Strabo, who lived between 64 BC and AD 21, said that Philadelphia was "full of earthquakes." He may have been there at the time of the great earthquake that destroyed the City in AD 17. That was only one of a series of quakes that kept the citizens in a state of fearful expectancy. Strabo wrote: "Philadelphia has no trustworthy walls, but daily in one direction or another they keep tottering and falling apart. The inhabitants, however, pursue their original purpose, ever keeping in mind the writhing pangs of the ground, and building with a view to counteracting them." (Book 12, Chapter 8.)

Strabo was astonished that a city should ever have been founded in such a locality, and he questioned the sanity of the people for re-entering the ruined city and planning to rebuild to withstand the future shocks which were momentarily expected. He felt that when people are driven from a city by earthquakes they ought to be wise enough never to return. He declared that the walls of the houses were incessantly opening, and sometimes one, and sometimes another part of the city was experiencing some damage. The citizens therefore lived in constant dread of quaking earth and falling buildings.

Because of this situation the people often fled to the open country and lived in tents or booths in earthquake seasons in order to keep themselves beyond the range of disaster. Although the city was often shattered and the migrations from its ruins were frequent, so that its citizens lived in constant terror, yet in spite of an ever present sense of danger the brave Philadelphians were determined to make the city realize the aims for which it was founded. This constant fear of the day of trial, when the citizens must flee for their lives, made the language employed by Christ very striking. (Verses 10-12.) He encouraged His people with the promise that if faithful they would one day enter the New Jerusalem, the city of God, where they could dwell safely and "go no more out." When the Tartars captured the city of Philadelphia in 1403 it is said that they built a wall around it with the bodies of their victims.

           The  Philadelphian  Message

This message reveals the best spiritual condition of any of the seven churches. The letter is addressed to a small but exceptional company who had remained faithful in the midst of a large number who had failed. The message indicates a commendable change for the better from the Sardian condition of spiritual deadness. To the Philadelphians had come a renewal of life and love and missionary zeal, a resurrection from spiritual death, a return to the first love of the early Ephesian period. Suffering Smyrna and tried Philadelphia are the only two of the seven churches that received no rebuke, and with Thyatira are the only ones that remain of the original seven. The present city has a population of about 15,000, a third of whom are professed Christians. Philadelphia held out against the conquering Turks long after the other cities of Asia, except Smyrna, had fallen. After being besieged by a powerful Ottoman army till the inhabitants were reduced to the verge of starvation, they held out for eleven years before yielding, in AD 1390, surrendering on excellent terms.

The courage and heroism of the Christian defenders of the city aroused the admiration of the historian Gibbon, who wrote: "In the loss of Ephesus the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick, of the Revelation; the destruction is complete. The circus and three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes; Sardes is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Mahomet, without a rival or a son, is evoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos. . . . Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy or courage. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above fourscore years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect-a column in the scene of ruins-a pleasing example that the paths of honor and safety may sometimes be the same." (Gibbon, Volume 2, Chapter 64.) Gibbon doubtless refers to the lone pillar that for so many years stood like a sentinel amid the ruins of the ancient city. I will make you "a pillar in the temple of My God" is the divine promise to the Christian victor.

         The  Philadelphian  Period

The era of brotherly love came as the result of a great revival in Protestantism. The period covers the latter part of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, until the beginning of the Laodicean state. In 1865 Joseph A. Seiss declared that "the Philadelphian era was marked by a closer adherence to the written word, and more fraternity among Christians, but is now rapidly giving place to Laodicean half warmness." (Page 143.)

The Philadelphian condition of brotherly love and missionary zeal must again prevail in the remnant who are to be translated when Christ returns. The message shows clearly that this period reaches to the end. It began with the great foreign missions movement, which sent a revival through Protestantism and ushered in an era of love for both God and man such as had not been known since apostolic days. Love for the Elder Brother always leads to love for the other brothers. This is the love that was lost during the Ephesian period. It is not fully regained till just before Jesus returns. Its return to the church will bring a repetition of Pentecostal power.

Those who escaped from the dominion of Jezebel and the spiritual deadness of Sardis, began to remember how they had "received and heard," and repented. The arrested Reformation was started again. Dead Christendom was mightily stirred ‘by great spiritual revivals bringing renewed life and love and unity. The church entered upon a program of world evangelism to fulfill the great commission. May 31, 1792, William Carey preached his memorable sermon on foreign missions from Isaiah 54:2, 3. This date is reckoned as the birth of modern missions, and if an exact date can be chosen it may also mark the beginning of the Philadelphian period of the universal church.

The revival movement spread through all denominations and broke down many of the barriers that had hitherto separated the different religious sects. The Wesleys and Whitefield had an important part in this great movement that ushered in the era of brotherly love. Of this movement one writer said: "Thus early the prophetic hope was expressed that this uprising for the world’s redemption ‘will spread to every Christian bosom, to the Dutch, German, American, and all Protestant churches, till the whole professing world shall burn with fervent love, and labor to spread in every heathen land the sweet savor of the Redeemer’s name.’ " -Quoted by D. L Leonard, A Hundred Years of Missions, Page 87. On page 86 he quotes Dr. Bogue as saying: "This will be ever remembered by us as the era of Christian benevolence."

In speaking again of the dawn of this new day, the same author said: "In January, 1797, it could be affirmed concerning the religious fervor resulting far and wide: Christians in every corner of the land are meeting in a regular manner, and pouring out their souls for God’s blessing on the world. And again: The efforts most successfully made to introduce the Gospel to the South Seas have had a most powerful tendency to unite the devoted servants of Christ of every denomination in the bonds of brotherly love, and to awaken zeal to help the perishing multitudes in our own country, and also the Jews. Inspiring letters came too from Basle, which since 1771 had been the seat of a wide-spread movement to maintain evangelical doctrine and piety. Certain devout German brethren sent their congratulations couched in these glowing words: "It is like the dawn promising the beautiful day after the dark night. It is the beginning of a new epoch for the kingdom of God on earth." - Ibid., Page 89-91.

In 1797 the first missionaries landed in Tahiti in the South Pacific. Robert Morrison went to China in 1807, and Robert Moffat to Africa in 1817. In the same year John Williams began the work of exploring and Christianizing the South Sea Island races. In 1840 David Livingstone began his missionary explorations of Africa. The British and Foreign Bible Society was organized in 1804, and the American Bible Society in 1816. The multiplication of Bibles in various languages was an essential part of the program of world evangelism that began with the Philadelphian era.

         The  Second  Advent  Movement

This great revival of Christian love resulting in a burden for world evangelism naturally culminated in the Great Second Advent Movement. Church leaders around the world began the study of the prophetic word, and almost simultaneously came to the unanimous conclusion that the end of the reign of sin was near and that Jesus would soon return in fulfillment of His promise. In fact no other conclusion is possible from the study of Bible prophecy. This prophetic investigation centered on the books of Daniel and the Revelation, and the great sermon of Christ in answer to the question of the disciples, "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

 On May 19, 1780, the sun was supernaturally darkened in fulfillment of prophecy, and the predicted shower of falling meteors followed on the night of November 13, 1833. Thousands of ministers of many denominations began to proclaim the message of the Second Advent, and all Christendom was stirred. Based on the 2300-year time prophecy of Daniel 8 and 9, many came to the conclusion that Christ would return in 1843, and, later, in 1844. There swept over the Christian world the greatest revival since Pentecost and early apostolic times. The believers in the Advent hope were brought into a state of brotherly love and unity and godliness such as had not been known since the beginning of the Christian Era. It has been suggested that the Philadelphian period began in 1798 with the close of the 1260 years of papal dominion, and reached to the close of the 2300-year time prophecy in 1844, when the investigative judgment began in heaven and the Laodicean state of the church was ushered in by the disappointment.

 To the holiest of the seven churches Christ introduces Himself as "He that is holy" and "He that is true." "The Holy One of Israel" is speaking to His people. The Head of the church lays claim to divinity, and every word He speaks is true and dependable. His divinity is also proved by the fact that He has "the key of David" because He is the "Son of David," with the right to occupy his throne. Christ holds the key to the house of David, which is the kingdom of heaven. He has the authority to open and close the heavenly kingdom and decide who can and who cannot enter. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Citizenship is possible only through Him.

The declaration that Christ has possession of the key of David, with the authority to open and shut, is a quotation of a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 22:22. "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." (See also Luke 1:32, 33.) A key is the means of locking and unlocking doors, and is therefore a symbol of power and authority. Since the year 605 BC, when Israel’s last independent king, Jehoiakim, was dethroned by Nebuchadnezzar, the house and throne room of David have been closed and locked. The throne of David will remain vacant "until He come whose right it is." (See Ezekiel 21:23-27.) The Philadelphian message indicates that the time is near when Christ, the Son of David, is about to take His rightful place on the long-unoccupied throne of Adam and David. We are told that this will take place at His Second Advent. (Matthew 25:31-34.)

There are several other doors that Christ alone can open and shut.

1. The door of the tomb.  The keys of death and the grave are in the keeping of Him who is "the resurrection, and the life." (Revelation 1:18.) When the Philadelphian message applies to the church, the time of the resurrection of the righteous is drawing near.
2. The door into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, which was opened in 1844, at the close of the 2300 years. This door into the final phase of the mediatorial ministry of Christ is mentioned in Revelation 4:1; 11:18, 19.
3. The doors of missionary opportunity. Paul said that when he visited Troas "to preach Christ’s gospel a door was opened unto me of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 2:12.) Paul and Barnabas related to the church of Antioch how God "had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." (Acts 14:27.)
   Philadelphia had the power to open and close the door through the mountains reaching to the cities of the great tablelands of Asia. The Philadelphian period of Christendom is that of the open door to foreign missions. It was the beginning of the modern missionary age, when the door of the kingdom of heaven is to be open wide to all nations. During this period a divine hand began to open the hitherto closed mission fields of the world so that the gospel commission could be finished and the prophecy of Revelation 14:6-14 fulfilled.
4. The door of probation, which will be closed when Christ completes His priestly mission and becomes the Lord of lords and King of kings. Christ alone through His atoning death has the authority to open and close the gates of Paradise. Jesus said: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." Luke 13:24.

                          Faithful  Remnant

Some believe that Philadelphia not only means "brotherly love" but also "faithful remnant." The Philadelphians constitute the faithful remnant of the universal church, 9 who will be translated when Jesus comes. The statement ‘ ‘For thou has a little strength," has been rather difficult to explain. It seems that the open door of missionary opportunity was set before them because they had a little strength, the only spiritual strength left in Christendom. The Sardians were wholly dead and powerless. Now God had found a people with a little strength for missionary endeavor. They had responded to the appeal to "be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain." They were doubtless also conscious of their weakness, and therefore qualified to do service for Christ. They were not overconfident, like the Sardians, or self satisfied, like the Laodiceans. Their "little strength" led them to rely on the Word and power of God. Others take the position that the reference has to do with their small numbers and material weakness. Trench declares that they were "a little flock, poor in worldly goods, and of small account in the eyes of men." (Page 187.) The former seems the more probable explanation. The first qualification for service in the cause of Christ is a recognition of our spiritual poverty.

The promise that those who claimed to be Jews but were rather of the synagogue of Satan would be made to worship at the feet of the true Israelites and to know that God had loved them, was an even better promise than a similar one made to Smyrna. In the Smyrnean letter an assurance was given that the enemies of Christ would not prevail against the church. But here the promise is that the church would prevail against her enemies who made hypocritical pretensions of being God’s chosen people. It is a solemn warning against apostasy.

The Jews bitterly persecuted those of their nation who became Christians, and treated them as the outcasts of Israel. They were put out of the synagogue and excluded from the temple and its services and even from the city of Jerusalem, which had long been the city of God. Now the true Messiah, who has the authority to open and close the door into the fold of the true Israel, admits genuine Christians as the only true Jews, and excludes their opponents. He promises the persecuted Christians an entrance into the New Jerusalem, which He calls "the city of My God," and from which they will "go no more out." All will someday acknowledge that the love of Christ is centered on those who are Israelites indeed, the faithful of all nations.

Verse 10 pictures a world crisis: "Because in spite of suffering you have guarded My word, I in turn will guard you from the hour of trial which is soon coming upon the whole world, to put to the test the inhabitants of the earth." (Weymouth.) It is evident that this is still future, which fact is proof that the Philadelphian condition will be revived and continue to the very end. It seems that the last four of the seven churches continue in some respects till the coming of Christ. Just before the end the church and the world must pass through the crucible so as to separate the dross from the gold. Before Christ returns there must be a clear distinction between the church and the world, and this is made possible by a great crisis.

The distinction between true and false professors of religion is not always apparent at the present time. Malachi 3:2, 3 pictures Christ as a silversmith refining and testing His people. The fiery trials of the furnace burn out the dross till He can see in them the reflection of His own image. "The word of My patience" doubtless includes the whole gospel, which is the teaching which finds its central truth in the patience of Christ. True Christians will be kept from falling, because they have kept His word. In Deuteronomy 4:34 the plagues of Egypt are called "temptations." Those who keep the Word of Christ’s patience during the last crisis will be kept from the seven last plagues. The language indicates that pressure will be used to compel God’s faithful remnant to let go their hold on His truth. It is to this time that Revelation 12:17 applies.

                The Return of Christ is Near

The statement "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou has, that no man take thy crown" indicates that the Second Advent of Christ is at hand. Beckwith declares that this is "the keynote of the book," and Trench says that "the speedy coming of the Lord" is "the ever-recurring keynote of this book." (Page 191.) The language indicates that the severe test will not be of long duration. The patient endurance of the saints will soon ‘be rewarded, and in the brief interval they must "hold that fast" which they had received, till deliverance comes. The crowns of victory depend on the keeping of the Word of Christ’s patience to the very end. There is no reward for the quitter.

The admonition does not mean that one person gains the crown that another loses, as in an athletic contest. "That your wreath of victory be not taken away from you" is the Weymouth translation. Paul wrote: "Let no man beguile you of your reward." Colossians 2:18. The person who deceives another so that he loses his crown of eternal life and righteousness does not himself get the lost reward. The Greek and Roman athletes who gained crowns, or wreaths, of victory made every effort to keep others from taking them away from them in subsequent contests. The Christian must maintain his spiritual experience or lose his eternal reward.

The language of our text seems to indicate a delay of the Second Advent beyond the expectation of the church. Christ’s Advent was indeed very near at the close of the Philadelphian period proper, when the faithful of Christendom were expecting that great event and had made preparation for it. But His coming has been delayed by the entrance of the church into the terrible Laodicean condition of half warmness in affection and flagging missionary zeal. In the parable the ten virgins, who represent the people of God who are expecting the coming of the Bridegroom, "all slumbered and slept" while "the ‘bridegroom tarried." (Matthew 25:1-5.)

This is the divinely indicated reason for the delay in the Second Advent of Christ that makes the admonition of our text necessary. Only those who patiently hold fast through the tarrying time will be saved and crowned with wreaths of victory. According to Hebrews 10:35-37, "the word of my patience" seems to have to do with the attitude of the church during the delay of the Second Advent. It is because of this delay that many cast away their confidence and lose their reward. They do not live and walk by faith but say in their hearts, "My Lord delayed His coming," which leads them to smite their fellow servants and to eat and drink with the drunken. (Matthew 24:48-5l.)

             The   Promised   Reward

The overcomer is to be made a permanent pillar in the temple of God, on which is to be inscribed the new name representing the character of God. The new home of the Christian victor is the New Jerusalem. In the New Testament the chief men in the church are called pillars, and all Christians are called living stones in the church temple. It is the pillars that keep in place and uphold the multitude of lesser stones of a temple. A pillar is symbolic of dignity, beauty, permanence, stability, and strength. In Solomon’s temple were two brazen pillars thirty feet in height, called Jachin, meaning "He shall establish," and Boaz, "In it is strength." The promise to the overcomer is that " ‘he shall be one of the great and beautiful stones on which the others rest,’ but ‘he shall be so placed that he cannot be removed while the whole fabric stands."’ (Cambridge Bible.)

Just as the pillar cannot be moved as long as the building stands, so the Christian victor in the closing crisis shall "go no more out" of the temple of God. His triumph is permanent. "He shall never go out from it again" is the Weymouth translation. Charles declares that "fixity of character is at last achieved." (Page 91.) There will be no more back sliding. God’s faithful remnant reach the highlands of holiness, the plateau of perfection, so that they go triumphantly through the final day of test and trial. They have not been turned aside by the dragon’s roar, or defiled by the corruption of the world. They are clothed in the glorious apparel of Christ’s righteousness, and their names are enrolled among the faithful of all ages in the Lamb’s book of life. Augustine said: "Who would not yearn for that city out of which no friend departs, and into which no enemy enters."

Philadelphia was a city of many new names. When the city was destroyed by the great earthquake of AD 17, Tiberius gave $600,000 to help rebuild. In appreciation the citizens changed the name of the city to Neo-Ceasarea in honor of the donor, but when the emperor became a cruel tyrant, the Philadelphians became ashamed of the new name. During the reign of Vespasian the name was again changed, to Flavia, in his honor, as he was the first of the Flavian family to rule. These changes of name doubtless called for great celebrations of dedication, when the whole city worshiped the emperor in whose honor the new name was given. Such occasions brought an hour of trial to every Christian in the city.

The victors are called pillars, on which the character of God is written. Important writings were engraved on the pillars of the ancient temples, especially the names of the emperors who built them and to whom they were dedicated. MeCarrell declares that "in Apostolic days, pillars were erected to rulers and generals with testimonies of their accomplishments chiseled upon them." (Page 64.) This was also true of the triumphal arches dedicated to victorious generals. The emperor who erected a temple was usually given divine honors and worshiped as a god. This meant persecution for those who like the three Hebrew worthies refused to bow the knee.

A new name is necessary for those who develop a new character. This is a renewal of the promise of Revelation 2:17. When Jacob’s character was changed the Lord changed his name, for the purpose of a name is to describe the character. The New Jerusalem is the capital city of the renewed kingdom, on whose throne will sit the Son of David. The overcomer will be a citizen of that kingdom forever. In that city the names of all its citizens are enrolled. (Heb. 12:22, 23.) With the name of God and the name of the city of God written on the overcomer, "the gates of hell shall not prevail" to keep him from reaching the promised destination.


             Video about Church of Philadelphia - Kenneth Cox

                    Return to  Digging Deeper  page

Related Information

Digging Deeper Article - Saved While Sinning Article - Women's Ordination Article -Signs that your church has become a club Article-Regional Conferences-Segregation in USA Church at Pergamos Church of Ephesus Church of Laodicea Church of Sardis Church of Smyrna Fate of the Apostles and members of early church Nurture, Retention, Reclaimation Our Need for Improvement Prophecies in 5th and 6th Trumpet Shepherd's Rod Apostasy exposed The Church of Thyatira Three Angel's Message - Revelation 14 When was Jesus really Born - Study