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What the Bible says about Philadelphia, Church of
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Isaiah 22:20-25

After God rebukes and demotes Shebna the steward (verses 15-19), He then fills his office with His servant, Eliakim. Eliakim means “whom God will raise up” or “the resurrection of God,” both of which apply to Jesus Christ. God gives Eliakim the substantial authority and responsibility that Shebna had. Verse 21 says he “shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah,” much as Joseph said, God “has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). For both Eliakim and Joseph, their authority was exceeded by only one other person.

Take note of Isaiah 22:22, as Christ quotes it in the letter to the church at Philadelphia: “The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Eliakim's authority to “open . . . and shut” results from “the key of the house of David” being put “on his shoulder.” We can compare this with Isaiah 9:6-7, another Messianic prophecy:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Emphasis ours throughout.)

The key of the house of David, then, represents God's governance, specifically His governance over Israel. The Bible even names the royal throne—the throne on which David and Solomon sat—as “the throne of the LORD” (I Chronicles 29:23; see II Chronicles 9:8)! God has sworn that David would always have an heir to sit on that throne (Jeremiah 33:17).

Thus, the key on Eliakim's shoulder represents the power of the government that would ultimately rest on the Messiah's shoulder. It involves the royal line of David and all the authority that resulted from God's covenant and promises to him. The Messiah would come from that same line, and He will sit on that throne when He returns and establishes His Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7).

In his position as second-in-command, Eliakim served as the ultimate gatekeeper, granting or denying access to the house of David at his discretion. He could open the door, and no one could shut it. Having the door opened meant access to the king's presence, and thus to the God-given authority and blessings of the royal line, as well as to all the resources of the treasury and storehouse. But if the steward shut the door, he blocked all of that access, and no one could overrule his decision.

It was a significant position. It is no wonder that God would not tolerate the likes of Shebna in it, who was more interested in his legacy and earthly pomp than fulfilling his office with gravity and faithfulness.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Ezekiel 5:1-4

The hair represents the people of the nations of Israel. Most of the church is in the nations of Israel, primarily the United States and Canada. The church is represented in the "small number"—represented by the hair that he puts into his pocket—taken from the third group, which goes into captivity and is thrown to the "four winds," showing a measure of protection. However, he then takes a part from that group and throws it into the fire. Now hair is the most flammable part of the body, and surely, the fire must indicate death.

This can be connected with the fifth seal of Revelation 6: the martyrdom of the saints. One can also connect it with Revelation 3:10 and the "Philadelphians" who are kept from the hour of trial that comes upon the whole earth. The group that he took out of his pocket and threw into the fire (and are therefore consumed in the fires of tribulation) represents the Laodicean church. It surely seems to indicate that very few, if any, of them will survive through the Tribulation. Five separations are indicated here in Ezekiel 5, but only one very small amount is protected in the fold of his skirt.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 1)

Hebrews 10:23

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope - This is Paul's reason for writing the epistle. They were enduring great pressure to relax their standards. Some were beginning to return to their former beliefs and to the world. Apostasy had begun to set in.

Today in the confusion of the times, we can allow our foundations to be chipped away by listening to the myriad of differing opinions and beliefs. So many voices babble incessantly, each one trying to get our attention, that they can nearly drive us mad with confusion! Confusion not only affects what we believe but also our zeal for God's way of life. It is imperative we "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

Jesus gives us this warning in His messages to the Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia churches:

But hold fast what you have till I come. . . . Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. . . . Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 2:25; 3:3, 11).

It is of paramount importance to keep a firm grip on the true teachings of God's Word.

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Contend Earnestly

Revelation 2:7

The sense is that these messages for each church—for all Christians. This means that the attitudes and conduct described dominate the group accused or complimented by Christ, but they also exist in the other groups as well. Otherwise, the advice to whoever hears would not apply.

In other words, the Ephesian attitude might also be in Smyrna, Pergamos, Laodicea, Philadelphia, etc., but it dominated the church in Ephesus. The attitude that dominated in Smyrna would also describe, though with less accuracy, one or more of the other groups. The same would be true of Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

All the messages apply to all of the churches. All the messages apply to each of us as individuals, and it is a matter of "if the shoes fits, wear it." That is God's approach here. We are to live by every word of God. It is only under this principle that we can apply these messages.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)

Revelation 3:7-8

Christ quotes Isaiah 22:22 in the preamble of His letter to the church at Philadelphia. In identifying Himself to the church, He quotes what He said through Isaiah concerning Eliakim. If we want to understand the letter to Philadelphia, we must begin with this reference. Jesus clarifies that Eliakim's role was a type of the stewardship role that He Himself now fills. In quoting Isaiah, Jesus declares that He is the ultimate fulfillment of Eliakim's position as steward of the house.

In verse 8, Christ announces that He has set an open door before this church and tells them why.

It is imperative to catch the way Jesus says this. The reason they have an open door is because they have a little strength, have kept His Word, and have not denied His name. Thus, He mentions the open door in response to their condition coupled with their faithfulness. We need to grasp this to recognize what the open door is. The Holman Christian Standard Bible captures this aspect well: “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”

What is this open door? The conventional interpretation among those who have come out of the Worldwide Church of God is that Christ has given the Philadelphians an open door to preach the gospel, an idea that is not without merit. In three of Paul's epistles, he uses an open door as a metaphor for an opportunity to preach (I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). But this metaphor has no connection at all to Christ's quotation of Isaiah 22:22. Even so, we will follow the rabbit hole to see where this typically leads us.

Christ promises to keep the Philadelphians from the hour of trial, boosting the importance of being a Philadelphian because it involves protection during the Tribulation. Consequently, it then becomes imperative to determine which church group appears to have the open door to preach the gospel, because—the reasoning goes—God will protect that group.

Suddenly, a tremendous interest then arises in accumulating “proof” of an open door, since it will apparently establish that a group is Philadelphian and guaranteed protection. The “proof” is then held up as the reason all church members should join that group instead of another. But when this is the primary approach, what people usually focus on are not the things that truly matter but numbers—like how many radio or television stations the group is on, how many new people are attending services, how many subscribers or website hits it receives, or what percentage of its income a group spends on preaching the gospel.

We can add to this heady mix the incongruity of boasting about preaching the gospel with great strength. Remember, Christ identifies the Philadelphians as having only “a little strength”! It cannot be both ways.

The idea has been that, if we want to be protected and to “escape all these things which will come to pass” (Luke 21:36), we have to be with the group whose door to preach the gospel is open just a little wider than the rest. Yet, if our motivation is nothing more than self-preservation, something is dreadfully wrong. Christ specifically warns of this approach when He says that he who seeks to save his life will lose it (Luke 9:24; 17:33).

When the open door is interpreted to mean an opportunity to preach the gospel, the fruit has been exclusivity, comparing ourselves among ourselves (II Corinthians 10:12), division, competition, and a pitiful supply of love—works of the flesh rather than fruit of the Spirit. This occurs largely because people keep pushing God and all He is doing out of the picture. It is easy to focus on the works of men—which harkens back to God's controversy with Shebna the scribe, who was replaced by Eliakim because of ostentation and presumption, focusing on his own affairs and his place in history rather than in simply doing his job (Isaiah 22:15-20).

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Revelation 3:7-8

What is this open door? The conventional interpretation among those who have come out of the Worldwide Church of God is that Christ has given the Philadelphians an open door to preach the gospel, an idea that is not without merit. In three of Paul's epistles, he uses an open door as a metaphor for an opportunity to preach (I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). But this metaphor has no connection at all to Christ's quotation of Isaiah 22:22. Moreover, the fruit of this interpretation has been exclusivity, comparing ourselves among ourselves, division, competition, and a pitiful supply of love—works of the flesh rather than fruit of the Spirit. This occurs largely because people keep pushing God and all He is doing out of the picture and focusing on the works of men.

When we understand Christ's reference to Eliakim, that He is now fulfilling that role, we can understand the open door without having to force anything. Consider the access He grants, saying in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Through Christ's blood, we have access to the Almighty, the Most High God.

After the seven letters, in Revelation 4:1, John is shown an open door in heaven. To see what is behind the open door, we must read and meditate on the rest of the chapter. It is profound, describing where we approach in spirit when we pray. Far from suggesting that the Philadelphians are going to heaven, the chapter reiterates the fact of their access to the One in heaven. Through Christ, we have entrance into the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of the Great God, which we may enter with boldness (Hebrews 10:19).

Notice what Jesus says in Luke 11:9-10, 13:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. . . . If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

If we knock and keep knocking (as the Greek indicates), God opens the door. The Philadelphians have had to knock because they have only a little strength, and they know it. But they also know that the only way to endure courageously (Revelation 3:10) is to seek the strength of God. Thus, the One they seek responds, giving more of His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the means by which the Father and the Son dwell within the adopted sons of God. By giving the Spirit, He gives more of Himself. No one can shut that open door, though we can certainly ignore it and “neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).

The letter to Philadelphia is not about the mighty works of powerful men. It begins with the tremendous help available to those who are weak, but who keep God's Word, who do not deny His name, and who persevere in faith. Because they consistently knock, Christ reminds them of His pivotal position as second-in-command to the Absolute Deity and that through Him as Steward, they have access to the throne of God.

The Philadelphians' strength is small, but God's is without limit. They are not those who seek after earthly glory, like Shebna, but they are faithful in their responsibilities to the Most High God, like Eliakim—and like Jesus Christ.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Revelation 3:8

There is criticism or maybe it is simply a statement of fact. They are weak. They do have good characteristics, but they are weak. They have "a little strength."

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)

Revelation 3:8

We tend to think of the Philadelphians as being without fault because Christ does not make a pointed and detailed listing of their sins. Notice, however, that they have "a little strength"—they are weak. This is not a put-down but an honest appraisal. He is in fact commending them for doing as well as they have.

We need to consider this in terms of our recent lives in the church. The evidence shows that the Philadelphia group lacks the spiritual strength of the beginning of the Ephesian group. We have not seen many mountains moving out of their places.

We are among the generation addressed by Jesus: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). A careful scrutiny of these verses shows something is missing that almost all assume is there: They do not say the church at Philadelphia is full of brotherly love. Philadelphia is the name of the city, and we draw an assumption that Christ calls them "Philadelphians" because they exhibit remarkable love for one another. To be honest, we would have to make the same assumption for each of the groups, and no one has been able to make a significant conclusion in this vein for the Ephesian group in regard to the name "Ephesus," or for the Thyatiran group with "Thyatira," or for the others. Perhaps only one name does fit somewhat: Laodicea, which means "judgment of the people."

The Philadelphians have one fine quality—they are faithful. This is what He compliments them for being, meaning they have a commendable measure of obedience. Nevertheless, the Philadelphians, though faithful, are somewhat weak. The Laodiceans are largely derived from a base that came from the Philadelphians, making them weaker still, due to their lackadaisical inattention to their relationships with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 5)

Revelation 3:8

In Revelation 3:8, the phrase "open door" is being used, not so much as an opportunity, but as a reward. Young's Literal Translation shows this emphasis: "I have known thy works; lo, I have set before thee a door—opened, and no one is able to shut it, because thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name" (emphasis ours). Christ sets before the Philadelphian an "open door" because he has only a little capacity for mighty works, and yet he still keeps God's Word and does not deny God's name by the way he lives his life. He still is able to overcome.

The door Christ opens to the Philadelphian, the door no man can shut, may well be the door to the Kingdom itself! In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the door is open to some of the virgins and closed to others (Matthew 25:10-12). In the description of New Jerusalem, the gate is open only to those whose names are written in the Book of Life (Revelation 21:27; 22:14). Christ opens the door to the Kingdom because of the Philadelphian's faithfulness, just as He promises to keep him from the hour of trial because of his perseverance (Revelation 3:10).

God may have given him only two talents, but He knows that if he is faithful with a small amount of power, in the Kingdom he will faithfully administer all of the responsibility and effectiveness that God bestows upon him. Individually, we may only have a little "power," but if we are faithful with what we have been given, God is pleased, knowing we will also be faithful with great power. As Christ says in Luke 16:10, ". . . faithful also in much. . . ."

David C. Grabbe
Power

Revelation 3:10

Before examining this promise, it may be helpful to understand what it does not say. Note how conventional wisdom would paraphrase this verse:

Because you consider yourself to be a Philadelphian, and because you are with the church organization that is doing the most to preach the gospel to the world, I will keep you from the hour of trial and will take you to the Place of Safety where you will be protected while all those who disagree with you will go through the Tribulation.

"Conventional wisdom" is not actually wisdom! It is what is generally held to be true by many, yet it may, in fact, be fallacious. This rendering of Revelation 3:10 is the conventional wisdom in some circles, illustrating how many take narcissistic liberties with this verse. It also shows why there is such an emphasis today on which church group is the best: because we are averse to pain and tend to try to avoid it. Thus, some convince themselves that they will be safe from what lies ahead because they are with the right church—rather than being right with God. This is extremely dangerous, as it indicates that they trust in the wrong thing.

The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 are written in large part from a perspective of "if the shoe fits, wear it." In each, Jesus concludes with "he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"—plural—meaning we should glean all that we can from each letter rather than focus on our favorite one.

In this light, a way to approach Revelation 3:10 is that perseverance is part of what Christ uses to define who a Philadelphian is. Thus, an individual is a Philadelphian because he keeps His command to persevere, in addition to exemplifying the other things He says, such as keeping His Word and not denying His name (Revelation 3:8). In short, a person cannot conclude that, just because he is fellowshipping with a particularly faithful group, he will be carried along in its positive momentum and benefit from the promise of protection and other blessings. An unfaithful individual in an overall faithful group will reap what he sows, not what the rest of the group sows.

Christ says similar things in other places, as in Matthew 10:22: "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (emphasis ours throughout). He makes no mention of group membership but addresses the enduring individual. Similarly, in Matthew 24:12-13 and Luke 21:36, He emphasizes what we do as individuals—our personal faithfulness and endurance—rather than the merits of a particular group. Just as Laodiceanism can be found in each of us regardless of the church we attend, so each of us can persevere and courageously endure no matter where we fellowship.

David C. Grabbe
Who Will Be Kept from the Hour of Trial?

Revelation 3:11

True Philadelphians have enough doctrinal truth, devotion, obedience, and the grace of God to attain salvation if they hold fast. As an organization and era, Philadelphia has virtually disappeared, but individual Philadelphians can ensure their salvation by guarding the truth God reveals (I Timothy 4:16; II Timothy 1:13-14; 3:14; Jude 1:3).

Staff
The Seven Churches: Philadelphia

Revelation 3:12

Because Christ criticizes Philadelphia very little, opens doors before her, and offers protection from the Tribulation, it is easy to think we "have it made" if we were or are part of Philadelphia. Yet Christ admonishes Philadelphia just as He does the other churches: Overcome! A Christian must never rest on his oars, no matter what his situation or era. We all must overcome the world (I John 5:4), our nature, and Satan to be granted salvation, and if we do, entrance to God's Kingdom is an absolute promise!

Staff
The Seven Churches: Philadelphia


 




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