“And to the Church in Philadelphia write: ‘These things saith the Holy One, the True One, the One having the key of David, the One opening and no one shall close, and closing and no one shall open” (Rev. 3:7).
The Lord Jesus Christ is True God. He is the only standard of Truth in the world. Outside of Him there is only falsehood. As God, He is master of history. His authority is over all things. This is symbolized in the “keys of David.”
Elsewhere in Revelation it is written, “The kingdom of the world did become that of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign to the ages of the ages” (Rev. 11:15). All things are inescapably flowing towards one reality, that is the Kingdom of God. Men may strive against it but the end is inevitable. The “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of, the compass of the world and all that dwell therein” (Ps. 23/24:1). Those who pursue evil on earth have but fleeting and seeming power. They will fade away like the grass of the field.
The Lord’s Providence over human history and life is supreme. Thus, that which He opens, none shall close and that which He closes none shall open.
Elder Athanasios comments, “So, the entire meaning of this verse is: I am the Holy and True God, and having taken flesh, having become man, I have complete authority over human history. Can you imagine all this depth, all this theology in these few words of the introductory lines of this epistle?”
As Christians we must hold this close to our hearts. All that happens is allowed by the Lord and even the seeming evil, as powerful as it may appear, is powerless to stop the Kingdom of Christ the Lord. The Lord permits evil to the free will, as St. John Damascus teaches. Evil is a rejection of the Good, it has no true substance of its own. Yet, even though evil is errant, it cannot obstruct the providence of God.
“I know thy works. Behold, I give before thee a door which hath been opened, and no one is able to shut it; for thou hast a little strength and didst keep My word and didst not deny My name” (Rev. 3:8).
As in all seven of the epistles, the Churches are weighed and judged according to their works.
“An open door” is given to the Philadelphians because of their faithfulness in holding and witnessing to the Truth of Christ. In Revelation 4:1 St. John sees “a door which had been opened to the heavens.” The open door symbolizes entry into heavenly life, to which Christians are called. When the Lord makes a way, no man can hinder or stand in the way. The only hindrance is when those to whom the door has been open fail to enter of their own will.
What a great encouragement to us in our weakness in these sick times, “you have a little strength,” indeed the Lord’s strength is made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). Even in weakness, the faithful of Philadelphia held on to the word of the Lord. We are surrounded, at current, by many temptations to compromise the word of the Lord so as to placate the spirit of the world. Yet, if we hold on, ever so weakly, to the word of the Lord and do not deny His name, then we will be preserved from this “wicked and perverse generation” (cf. Matt. 16:4). For when we sense deeply our human powerlessness, then we may turn with full faith to the Lord alone for our help.
Elder Athanasios says that “little strength” could also refer to the fact that the church in Philadelphia was small in number and worldly means. They seemed insignificant, surrounded by a sea of pagans. This indicates that those who are faithful to the word of the Lord are indeed small in number. As the Lord Himself says, “Cease being afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many are they who enter through it. For narrow is the gate and straitened is the way that leadeth away to life, and few are they who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14)
May we indeed fear nothing for “God is with us,” feeble and small though we be. “Cursed be the man who puts his hope in man … But blessed is the man who puts his trust in the Lord, for the Lord shall be his hope” (Jer. 17:1, 3. LXX).
“Behold, I will give out of the synagogue of Satan those who count themselves to be Jews and are not, but do lie. Behold, I will make them that they should come and shall make obeisance before thy feet, and should come to know that I loved thee” (Rev. 3:9).
The Book of Revelation reveals true underlying reality. The persecution that the Church of Philadelphia was suffering from unbelieving Jews (keep in mind many Jews also believed in Christ) was ultimately inspired by Satan. Satan is behind all persecution. “They will put you out of the synagogues; yea moreover, there cometh an hour that everyone who killeth you should think that he offereth God a service” (Jn. 16:2).
All those who persecute the Truth are ultimately just an assembly of Satan. They are deluded to believe a lie, a lie that they take as “truth.” They then think themselves “correct” in persecuting those who follow after Christ. For they perceive the Truth of Christ to be an enemy. Thus, they believe that the eradication of Christ and His followers is a beneficial service to the “god” of this fallen age, who ultimately is, as the Scripture reveals, Satan.
“The Savior warned His disciples ahead of time that they would not only be driven away from fellowship with their fellow citizens, but that they would also suffer death at their hands” (St. Bede).
Yet, on the last day Christ the Lord will reveal his servants and all will know that He has loved them. Let us guard our hearts! Let us hold fast the word of the Lord, that we may be found with the Lord on that last day.
“Because thou dost keep the word of Mine endurance, I also shall keep thee from the hour of temptation which is about to come upon the whole inhabited world, to try them who dwell upon the earth. Behold I am coming quickly. Keep on holding fast that which thou hast, in order that no one should take thy crown” (Rev. 3:10-11).
If we are faithful to Christ and His word, then we shall be preserved from the apostasy of the world. “He who endures to the end, this one shall be saved … In patience win your souls” (Matt. 24:13 ; Lk. 21:19). “Here is the patience of the saints, the ones keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
To compromise the word of the Lord, the commandments, so to appease this fallen world leads only to the loss of the soul. God allows tribulation to come so to test the hearts of men. “Beloved, cease being astonished by the strangeness of the proving fire which is taking place among you, in order to test you, as if a strange thing were happening to you … If any suffer as a Christian, let him cease being ashamed, but keep on glorifying God in respect to this. For it is the time for the judgment to begin in the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:12, 16-17).
Archbp. Averky (Taushev) teaches, “Especially understandable is the exhortation ‘Behold I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.’ At that time, there will be an increased danger of losing faith because of the multitude of temptations, but thereby the reward for faithfulness will be, so to speak, right at hand, and therefore, we must be especially vigilant lest, out of light-mindedness, we lose the possibility of salvation – as, for example, the wife of Lot.”
“Many shall choose to be made white and refined through fire; but the lawless shall act lawlessly. None of the lawless shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10).
“Brethren, be standing firm and holding fast the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
This “holding fast,” Elder Athanasios instructs, is essentially holding to the Person of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our roots of faith must grow deep into the rock of our salvation (cf. Matt. 7:24ff).
“The one overcoming, I will make him pillar in the temple of My God, and in no wise shall he go out any longer; I will write upon him the name of My God and the name of the City of My God, the New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heave from My God, and My name, the new one. The one who hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches” (Rev. 3:12-13).
Pillar symbolizes, says Archbp. Averky, that “the one who overcomes temptations belongs to the Church of Christ inviolably; that is he has a most solid position in the Kingdom of Heaven.” A pillar is a vital architectural support. It is a fundamental part of a building. So will be the one who remains faithful to the Lord through the temptations of this earthly life.
For momentary tribulation and suffering on the behalf of the word of Truth, the faithful one shall receive the unshakable eternal Kingdom of God (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17; Heb. 12:22-28).
Elder Athanasios comments, “When Christ says that He imprints these names on the faithful, it means that the faithful belong to God.” The bearing of the three names is simply a revelation of what already was. In this world, for a person to remain faithful to Christ, he must be bearing in his heart the name of God, and he knows that he is a citizen of the heavenlies, a “kingdom not of this world” (Cf. Jn 18:36). This will be manifest clearly in the Kingdom of God.
May we indeed have ears to hear and eyes to see.
– This article is part of a series on the seven churches of Revelation. For the previous articles please click here.