Revelation 3:7-13
EV 3:7-13{The study of the addresses to the Seven Churches leads to the conclusion that the last four Churches, in contrast to the first three, set forth conditions that continue to the end of the Church period. Further, it will be found that in the last four Churches, there is a general distinction between the first two and the last two.
In reference to Thyatira and Sardis, we see prophetically set forth conditions that are publicly represented before the world by the two great ecclesiastical systems known, respectively, as the Papacy and Protestantism. When, however, we come to the last two Churches, it is clear that the conditions we find therein do not correspond to any definite ecclesiastical systems which can be recognized in, or by, the world. These Churches set forth certain conditions of which the Lord takes account, either as having His approval, as in the Church of Philadelphia or, as being utterly nauseous to Him, as in the Church of Laodicea.
Thus in Thyatira and Sardis we have great ecclesiastical systems which have a large, place in the eyes of the world, and, in each of these systems, a godly remnant under the eye of Christ. In Philadelphia we see set forth a godly remnant, not in, but, apart from Thyatira and Sardis, having certain, moral traits approved by the Lord, who wait for the coming of the Lord, and who make no pretension to a humanly devised ecclesiastical system of which the world can take account.
It is the greatest encouragement to those who desire to be true to the Lord, in a day of ruin, to see that these addresses present the great fact that when the condition of the Christian profession has become utterly corrupt and dead, there will be found under the eye of Christ those who are apart from the corruption and have His approval, and that such will be found until the end. Thus from the address to Philadelphia it is our high privilege to learn what has the Lord's approval in a day of ruin, so that we may seek grace to answer to His mind.
EV 3:7{(V. 7). Christ is presented to this Church as " The holy and the true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." No longer does the Lord present Himself in His official capacity in relation to the Churches, as holding the seven stars and walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, but in His moral perfections as the One who is " the holy " and " the true." Not only is He absolutely holy, but He is true to His holy character, true to God, and true to His own word. If, however, He thus presents Himself to His people it is in order that they should exhibit a character in keeping with Himself. If He presents Himself in a moral way it is that they should be morally like Him He does not ask them to set up an ecclesiastical organization, or attempt to make a model Church in the midst of the ruin, but He does desire that, amidst the increasing gloom of Christendom, there should be found a people who set forth the excellencies of His character as the holy and the true. This will surely involve, on the one hand, separation from the corruptions of Christendom, and, on the other, the maintenance of the whole truth.
Moreover, the Lord is presented as having the key of David. The allusion is to Isa. 22:21,2221And 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. 22And 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. (Isaiah 22:21‑22). The Prophet, using Eliakim as a type, speaks of the government of this world being given to Christ, for Jehovah says, " the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder." There are two symbols of government, the sword and the key. The sword speaks of the government dealing with, and restraining evil: the key speaks rather of government opening a way for right to prevail. The key hardly expresses administration in the Church, but rather government in the world—a government that no man can resist, producing conditions even in a hostile world, and in spite of the state of the Church, in which the Philadelphian can act according to the Lord's mind. The time has not yet come for the Lord to use the sword, but does He not exercise His governmental power, in as far as it is necessary, to open a door to those who seek to answer to His mind, in order that they may carry out His service? If they are seeking to wear the character of Christ, will they not have the support of Christ, and find that He will direct their steps, opening a door here or closing a door there, as He in His perfect wisdom decides? It is theirs to see that by separation from vessels to dishonor, and the cultivation of a character suited to Christ, they are fit and meet for the Master's use. Then will they not find that He will open a door to carry out His service? And He assures such that no man, however powerful in this world, or however much opposed to the truth, will be able to close the door that He has opened. What a comfort to know that the Lord holds the key and that, in spite of corruption within the Christian circle or opposition from without, He can make a way for His people that nothing can resist.
EV 3:8{(V. 8). Following upon the Lord's presentation of Himself we have the Lord's commendation of the Philadelphian Church. There is nothing that meets with the Lord's condemnation. There are three characteristics that have His approval.
First, the Lord says, " Thou hast a little strength." This Church is not marked by any display of power that would attract the notice of the world. In the beginning of the Church's history there had indeed been a display of power that arrested the world. The gift of tongues had confounded the multitude; mighty works had amazed the world, and the power of the gospel had turned the world upside down. Apparently all the sign gifts, so impressive in the eyes of the world, were entirely absent in Philadelphia, so that we may judge miraculous, display will not be found among those who have the Lord's approval in a day of ruin. " A little strength " is not a quality that appeals to the flesh, or attracts the world. The world delights in a strong man; God delights to carry out His work through weak vessels. Thus, in Philadelphia the Lord associates Himself with, and uses those, who have but a little strength. He says,.!` I have set before thee "-the one with a little strength" an open door." Their wisdom then is not to assume power that they do not possess, nor covet gifts that have passed away, but rather own their true condition-that they have but a little strength-and thus find the support of the Lord, the One who has all power, who holds the key, and whom no man can resist.
Thyatira represents a system that arrogates to itself a power that would rule the world: Sardis a system that bids for the power and resources of the world. Philadelphia represents a little remnant apart from the world having but a little strength, though behind their weakness there is the mighty power and support of the Lord.
Secondly, the Lord can say of Philadelphia, " Thou... hast kept My word." Not simply the Word as a whole, however true that may be of the Philadelphians, but Christ's word. Is not Christ's word the whole revelation of Christianity communicated to us by Christ Himself when He was on earth, and after-wards through the revelations made to the Apostles from Christ in the glory? His word covers the whole circle of Christian truth and suggests that, in Philadelphia, there is, not merely the recovery of certain truths, as in Sardis, but the recovery of all Christian truth. Further, " keeping " the word implies that it is treasured in the heart and obeyed in the life. The Lord does not say thou hast expounded or taught the word, though this may be true; but He lays emphasis on the great fact that His word is kept. Those with little strength may have little gift, but they can be marked by that which is of far higher value in the eyes of the Lord-obedience to His word. Surrounded by a great profession that has abandoned the Word for the traditions of men, or science falsely so called, or ingenious handlings and applications of the Word to support their fanciful ideas, there are those who, shaking off the shackles of tradition, get back to Christ's Word, treasure that Word in their hearts, and seek to carry it out in their lives.
Thirdly, the Lord says of this Church, " Thou hast not denied My Name." Name in Scripture sets forth a Person's renown. Christ's Name is the perfect expression of all that He is in His glorious PERSON, as well as all that He has done in His mighty work. His name JESUS speaks of His saving work: His name EMMANUEL speaks of His glorious Person. Thyatira represents a system that arrogates to itself the place and power that belongs alone to Christ the Head of His Church, and thus usurps the renown that belongs to Christ. Sardis assumes that Name to make a fair profession before the world, and thus degrades the Name of Christ to add luster to herself. In Philadelphia there are those who may not be able to unfold all the glories of that Name, nor refute and answer the unceasing attacks upon His Name, but this at least can be said of them, that, in the midst of all the attacks of the enemy upon the renown of Christ, they have refused to deny that Name. They have not denied the glory of His Person, not the greatness of His work.
It might not appear that there is much commendation in not denying His Name. There is nothing of a directly positive character in such testimony: nevertheless, it is precious in the eyes of the Lord to find in a day of ruin that there are some who refuse to deny His Name. Even so in the dark and apostate days when Ahab reigned in Israel, and Elijah stood for the glory of the Lord, it might seem a small thing that seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal, but it has the Lord's commendation.
EV 3:9{(V. 9). We are next warned that those who are drawn together in brotherly love, in separation from the corruptions of Christendom, in obedience to the Word of Christ, will meet with opposition. Keeping the Word of Christ would suggest that this godly remnant had returned to the principles of the Church as unfolded in that Word. This would naturally arouse the hostility of those who had departed from the Word and sought to mold the Church into a Jewish form.
This opposition, however outwardly religious, would appear to be satanic in its origin. If there are those who have been brought back to the truth of Christ's words, and thus walk in the light of the Church as revealed in those words, Satan will oppose such, not by persecution as in Smyrna, but, by raising up those who claim to be the true Church, with an hereditary priesthood after the Jewish pattern. Such may look with unconcealed contempt upon a feeble company who seek to obey Christ's Word, but the time will come when they will be compelled to recognize that the love and approval of Christ rests upon those that they despise.
Thus in this Philadelphian remnant there is a complete absence of everything that makes a show in the eyes of the world; while there is that which is exceedingly precious in the eyes of the Lord-" I have loved thee." In connection with this Church there is no mention of any great labor as in Ephesus; no mention of charity, and service, as in Thyatira; there is no great ecclesiastical system that men can take account of, as in Sardis. In the sight of men all is weakness that calls forth their contempt. Nevertheless, the very weakness that men deride secures the support of the Lord; and the moral traits of Christ, that raise the opposition of Satan, makes this little remnant very precious in the sight of Christ and very dear to His heart.
EV 3:10{(V. 10). Furthermore, if this feeble remnant is preserved from the present opposition of Satan, they will also be kept out of the hour of trial that will come upon all the world. The fact that the Lord can say to Philadelphia, " Thou hast kept the word of My patience," would suggest that with the recovery of the full truth of the Church there had been a revival of the hope of the Church -the coming of the Lord to reign in glory. In the present time the form that the coming Kingdom takes is " the Kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." Such wait for the Kingdom and manifestation of Jesus Christ; and Christ waits, seated on His Father's throne, until His enemies are made His footstool. Those who keep the word of His patience enter into the truth of Christ's present waiting attitude. They know this is the waiting time, they look forward to the reigning time.
Between the waiting, and the reigning, there has to come the hour of trial that will over-take the habitable world. These saints who keep the word of Christ's patience, are taught that the Church will be kept out of the hour of trial. How this will be we learn from other Scriptures. The word of Christ by revelation to the Apostle Paul tells of the rapture, by which the Church will be taken out of the scene of the trial to be with Christ, and thus come with Him when He appears to reign.
While it is specially said, in connection with these saints, that they will be kept from the hour of trial, it is equally true that every saint of the present time, will be kept from the coming world-wide judgments. In the same way it is surely true that no saint will be hurt of the second death, and yet this promise is only stated in connection with the overcomer in Smyrna. The fact being these promises are true for all believers; yet particular saints are especially reminded of certain promises that are suitable for their comfort and encouragement in their peculiar circumstances.
EV 3:11{(V. 11). There follows a further word of encouragement and warning. " Behold,' says the Lord, " I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." In the presence of those who oppose, the Lord encourages this remnant with the thought of His near coming. It will not be long that they will have to face opposition and endure conflict—He is coming quickly. The time is short; let them see to it that they hold fast and do not surrender that which has been recovered to them, nor give up in the conflict, in the last moments before the Lord returns.
The very warning to hold fast, implies that an effort will be made to induce them to let go that which they have. They must not be surprised if they are tempted in different ways to surrender the truths of Christ's word recovered to them, and to abandon the place of separation from the corruptions of Thyatira and Sardis.
Further, the warning indicates that they are faced with the grave danger of not holding fast, and thus of losing their crown. It is not simply " a crown," that they are in danger of losing, but "thy crown "-that is, their own distinguishing crown. The distinction of the Philadelphians is, that they cherish the truths concerning Christ and the Church in a day when, on every hand, these truths are denied. Having returned to the apprehension and practice of the truths concerning Christ and the Church, their ever present danger is, that they may surrender these truths and be drawn aside into the surrounding corruption, unreality, and self-sufficiency of Christendom. Hence the exhortation is, " Hold fast." Every effort of Satan will be made to lead the Philadelphian to give up what has been so blessedly revived to him. The enemy will gladly plead the help of saints, and the need of sinners, if by so doing he can get the Philadelphian to abandon what he has. He will argue, " There are a few saints in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and there are needy sinners in Laodicea who are poor, and blind, and naked. Go into Sardis to help those saints; go into Laodicea to reach those sinners." Nevertheless, to go back under any plea to that which the Lord condemns, is to abandon that which the Lord approves. All the seductions of the enemy are met by the Lord's warning words, " Hold fast." If the Philadelphian " holds fast," the Lord will doubtless open doors to help His people wherever they may be, and meet the need of sinners wherever found. Does not the exhortation to " hold fast " suggest that times of revival may be followed by times of declension in which many may drift and lose their crown. Blessed indeed, to be a Philadelphian, but Philadelphia is no haven of refuge where saints can settle down, but rather a company blessed with the approval of Christ, and for this reason, the special object of the enemy's attacks, and hence there is the constant need to contend for the faith, and " hold fast " that which has been received.
EV 3:12{ (V. 12) In common with the other Churches there is in Philadelphia a promise to the overcomer. The mention of an overcomer might seem remarkable, seeing that in this Church the Lord finds nothing to condemn. There is, however, opposition to overcome, and the necessity of holding fast would imply overcoming the temptation to give up.
Very precious are the promises to the overcomer. The one who remains true to Christ in the dark days of the Church's history; who is content to remain in obscurity, with but a little strength, in the day when the Church is growing unto an holy temple in the Lord, will become a pillar in the Church when the temple of God is complete. If, in a day when the Christian profession is competing for the power and approval of the world, any are content with the secret approval of the Lord; if they keep His word when religious profession is making everything of man's word; if in such a day they set His Name above every name, then in the day of glory He will put upon them the name of His God, the name of the city of His God, and His own new Name. If they do not deny that Name in the day when men only profess the Name to dishonor it, they will wear His Name in the day of glory when all the world will have to bow the knee at the name of Jesus.
EV 3:13{(V. 13). The address closes with the usual exhortation to the one that hath an ear to hear, to heed what the Spirit says to the Churches. There may be nothing to condemn in this Church, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the Philadelphians to hear what the Spirit has to say to the other, Churches as well as to themselves. If they are to have the mind of the Lord they must heed the message of the Lord to each of the Churches. No attention to what the Spirit has to say in one particular Assembly can absolve from responsibility to hear and act upon His ministry and administration in other Assemblies.