What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
In the larger context of end-time events, "the holy people" refers to God's chosen nation, Israel. The church, however, can also be alluded to here in antitype: Peter calls the church "a holy nation, His own special people" (I Peter 2:9). Both of these groups, Israel and the church, seem to be in the process of having their power "completely shattered."
This expression in the Hebrew has the primary meaning of "broken in pieces," "scattered," or "dispersed by force." It can mean something akin to "explode." When an object explodes, its pieces fly apart, and it can no longer do what it was made to do. The individual pieces are powerless to accomplish what the whole object did. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This must be part of the meaning of the verse because the word power is really the Hebrew word for "hand." The hand symbolizes a person's ability to do work, to accomplish, to act. The translators have taken it to mean the more abstract "might" or "power," but they could have rendered it as "ability," "strength," or "effectiveness."
If this is so, we can expect the church's ability to do an effective work to decline still further because our power is not yet completely shattered. That is why it is so important that we make use of the abilities still left to us: to prepare ourselves for God's Kingdom. As an encouraging Jewish proverb reminds us, "When God shuts a door, He opens a window." We can take other avenues in the meantime while the road ahead is blocked for doing a public work.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jesus Christ tells the Philadelphians that they have only a little strength, a little power (dunamis). They have a small, effective capability for wonderful works and mighty deeds, a limited ability to get things done. If they are dynamic, it is only on a small scale. This has some implications about the letter to Philadelphia that we may not have considered before.
There are at least four applications or audiences to the Letters to the Seven Churches: They are written to 1) seven literal, first-century churches in Asia Minor; 2) seven end-time churches; 3) seven historical church eras; and/or 4) individuals Christians. In each letter, Christ gives the admonition, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The seven letters can represent attitudes or conditions as well as organizational units and periods. Looking through the lens of the fourth application gives the letter to Philadelphia meaning regardless of the era or corporate organization one may be part of.
Christ's statement that the Philadelphian has only a little strength is not necessarily a criticism. The overall tenor of the letter is extremely positive. However, He is giving a statement of fact: Philadelphians have only a small effective capability for miraculous work, a little physical or spiritual aptitude, a small measure of effectiveness. Dunamis is not entirely lacking, but it is present in only a small amount.
The Philadelphian, by this accounting, will probably not be the one healing people when his shadow passes by, or the one moving mountains. Nor will He be prophesying of future events or speaking in unfamiliar languages. He may not have great speaking ability or a dynamic personality. This is not to say that power and effectiveness are entirely lacking, just that the Philadelphian will probably not have the same dramatic outworking we observe in other biblical figures.
Why is this dunamis lacking? From the rest of the letter to Philadelphia, it does not appear that the lack of dunamis is because of a great failing or negligence in duties to God. On the contrary, the letter is a commendation because of faithfulness. Perhaps part of the reason, seen in one of Jesus' parables, is that not much natural ability is there for God to enhance. Perhaps also, mighty deeds are lacking because there is no need for such works to be done. Remember, if God has ordained that something be done, He will give the power for it to be accomplished. If He has not given that power, it is because it is His will that a thing not be accomplished.
The Parable of the Talents adds to the picture:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. (Matthew 25:14-15)
The word ability in verse 15 is also dunamis. These verses affirm that 1) talents are given by God, and 2) apparently the bestowing of talents depends somewhat on the effective capability the person already possesses. Along the same lines, it is interesting to note that Christ Himself was limited in the works—dunamis—He could perform because of the unbelief in some areas (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5-6)!
The two faithful servants double what is given to them. The amounts are not as important as the growth. Both give Christ a 100% increase on what He bestowed on them. The unfaithful servant produces nothing at all.
In this example, we can see the Philadelphian as the servant who receives only two talents rather than five. He does not have the same natural ability. However, even though he may have fewer responsibilities, or the scope of what he controls is much smaller, he is just as faithful as the servant who receives more. The Philadelphian may have only a little ability, but with that ability he is able to keep God's word and not deny His name (Revelation 3:8). His power enables him to keep God's command to persevere (verse 10).
We have been given a measure of dunamis. If we have God's Spirit, we have ability, talent, effectiveness, and strength in some measure, in some area. It does not matter how much is given, or in what area our strength resides, but that we remain faithful in what God has given to us and that we make use of the power we have to further God's purpose.
David C. Grabbe
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
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.