“I love you,” Jesus promises

The first entry in this series can be found here.
The previous entry can be found here.

If we’re honest, we all want to be encouraged. Encouragement is more efficient than any energy drink when it comes to motivating us to get up and go rather than sit on the sidelines watching and complaining.

At the same time, though, we recognize that not all encouragement is created equal. The higher a person’s position, the more highly we will value his/her encouragement.

  • It’s more encouraging to be complimented on a job well done by your boss than by a coworker.
  • It’s more encouraging to be told you look good by your significant other than by your sibling.
  • It’s more encouraging to be told are valued by your spouse than by your children.

Now certainly, all six can be encouraging, but i hope you see my point. How much more meaningful than all of these must it be to receive encouragement from Jesus Christ, our God and Savior?

This is precisely what we see in the letter to the church at Philadelphia.

We are still within the first main section of Revelation. The letters to the churches. While all seven letters are addressed to literal, first-century churches, we must not miss that there are seven of them. It was said above that Jesus walks amongst the seven churches. Jesus did not only walk among these seven churches. Instead, He walks amongst THE church. These seven churches represent the seven primary places in which the church as a whole, or any given local church, might find itself during its history.

With that, we turn to Revelation 3:7-13.

Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia: “The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: 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. Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown. The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The Author and the Addressee

Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia: The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says:

The city of Philadelphia in the ancient world can be translated as “The city of brotherly love,” much like the Philadelphia in Pennsylvania in the United States. This ancient city may well have been named in memory of two brothers’ undying love for each other: Eumenes and Attalus. Some sources give Attalus credit for founding the city. The city was founded in a location that was susceptible to both volcanic and seismic activity. An earthquake was centered in Philadelphia in AD 17, and another earthquake struck Laodicea, about twenty miles south of Philadelphia, in AD 60. The city was literally weak because of its geographic location.
(Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Revelation, [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2009], WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 80; Paige Patterson, New American Commentary – Volume 39: Revelation, [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012], WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 125.)

Jesus describes Himself here with three phrases. We will look at each of these three descriptions in turn. It is necessary to note that these descriptions do not immediately flow out of John’s vision of Jesus in 1:12-20.

The Holy One

This is a direct claim of divinity. Isaiah quoted Yahweh in Isaiah 43:3, “For I Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior, give Egypt as a ransom for you, Cush and Seba in your place” (emphasis added). By Jesus describing Himself as the Holy One, He is claiming unequivocally that He is God. The holiness of Jesus is alluded to in John’s vision of 1:12-20. When Isaiah saw God exalted on the throne in Isaiah 6, the angels were shouting, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (6:6), and Isaiah fell to the ground in worship and fear. John’s response to seeing the risen, glorified Christ is exactly the same response (Revelation 1:17). Jesus’ response to John similarly parallels the letter to the church at Philadelphia. “He laid His right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades’” (1:17-18). Jesus has nothing negative to tell the church at Philadelphia, and instead, He encourages them throughout. This is how our holy God interacts with His redeemed ones.

The True One

This refers to Jesus being authentic. And when i say authentic, i don’t mean it in the way people in the twenty-first century use the word. I mean that Jesus is the fulfillment, the reality, the authentic image of God (cf. Colossians 1:15). Others may claim similar things, but only Jesus is true. Also, as the True One, Jesus’ words can be trusted. So when this message reaches the church at Philadelphia, they can trust its contents and look forward to the promises awaiting them.

The One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens

The key of David is mentioned in Isaiah 22:22. There it is promised to a man named Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. It is safe to say that the key of David refers to the office of Messiah. Eliakim was a temporary stand-in at a time when Israel needed a Messiah-figure. But Jesus is the True One, the one who forever holds the office of Messiah, and as the Holy One, is the sovereign God of the world. His acts cannot be fought against successfully. And if He opens the door of salvation to someone, no one can close it; and if He closes the door of salvation to someone, no one can open it. Jesus is in control, and John pens this letter as an encouragement to the church in Philadelphia.

The Announcement

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. Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.

Christ is nothing but encouraging in this letter. As i pointed out above, “if He opens the door of salvation to someone, no one can close it; and if He closes the door of salvation to someone, no one can open it.” But in verse 8, Jesus only uses half of this statement: “I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.” So pleased is He with this church that He doesn’t even hint that anyone in the church might not truly be saved. He gives three reasons for this: 1) they have limited strength [likely a double entendre due to their geographical location], so they are forced to lean wholly on Jesus, 2) they have kept Christ’s word, and 3) they have not denied His name. I pray that my epitaph could say this one day.

After His encouragement as to their standing, Christ promises them something that should lead to even more encouragement. It is very likely that the Philadelphia church kept Christ’s word and did not deny His name in the midst of being persecuted by a Jewish synagogue. This is why Jesus says what He does in verse 9:

Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you.

This is a promise that Christ will vindicate His people. He says nothing here about when they will bow down; it might not be until after Christ returns, but the simple fact is that they will know that Jesus loves His church. This is huge. In fact, apart from translating the city name into English, this is the only time the word “love” occurs in this letter. Notice the grammar of it. It is a letter from Jesus to a church. It is a very positive, encouraging letter from Jesus to a church. But Jesus says, “I have loved you.” He says nothing about their love for Him (apart from His acknowledgments of their obedience in verse 8); the word “love” is only used of Jesus toward His church. It isn’t even used of the church members’ love for one another.

Jesus loves His church! Jesus wants to tell His church that He loves it. This should be a check for us. We can’t forget that Jesus loves His people. We must daily be reminded of Jesus’ love for us. If we fail to keep this in mind, we will have no encouragement to persevere in the faith.

And this is exactly what Jesus refers to next. And it is put in the form of another encouragement.

Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.

Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia that He is going to keep them from the hour of testing that is going to come on the earth. It is necessary to note at this point that nowhere in this text does it say anything about a rapture. If anything, we should see this as a promise of protection in the midst of judgment and tribulation, rather than a promise of removal from judgment and tribulation (cf. Noah in the ark during the flood; Israel was in Goshen with light while Egypt was fumbling around in darkness; the “sealed ones” in Revelation 9 and 16 being exempt from the judgments).

It is also important to note here that it is only an “hour of testing.” This is because of what Jesus says next. “I am coming quickly.” His promise to return—again meaning “imminently” rather than “before long”—should help us to persevere through even the worst tribulation.

Immediately after Jesus’ promise to return quickly, and after His promise to keep them from the hour of testing, and after His statement that they have endured, He gives the only command in the letter: “Hold on.”

Jesus wants His people to persevere forever, so He encourages them to do so. It matters little if you persevered in the past. The question is: are you persevering now?

The Assurance

The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

Jesus makes another set of promises here. They fall into two categories. First, a pillar in God’s sanctuary. Second, a bunch of names.

When Jesus promises to make the victor into a pillar, it is a reference to the temple. The Jews of the synagogue thought they were worshipping God rightly, but Jesus—the True One—is the true temple (cf. John 2:19-20), and all who believe in Him are pillars planted on the cornerstone (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-9). The Jews who persecuted the Christians of Philadelphia thought they were acting out of reverence for God, but Jesus essentially says, “1) you don’t even have a temple, and 2) I’m the foundation of the true temple.”

When Jesus promises a whole bunch of names, the point is that Jesus is claiming ownership of His people. When i write my name in the cover of a book, i am explaining that it belongs to me. Jesus is explaining that the Christians who persevere to the end will finally prove once and for all forever that they are His.

If you don’t know Jesus, i plead with you to place your faith in Him. The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus loves His church. We hear the mantra, “Jesus loves you,” far too often, and it is not necessarily true. What is true is that Jesus loves the church. The church is made up of those who have placed their faith in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

He took your place. Trust Him, or pay for your sin yourself—by dying eternally (Romans 6:23). It’s better to place your faith in Christ, become part of His church, and know that He loves you than to live your life thinking, “Jesus loves everybody, so i’m included.”

Believe in Him today!

I pray that this has been encouraging to you.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Pro Ecclesia

Thanks for reading.

The next entry can be found here.

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