There is something very frustrating about being on the outside of a door that is locked and you need to be on the other side. One summer when I was about 9 years old, I climbed in through the windows in two neighborhood houses because the owners had been locked out. Once a four-year-old deliberately locked his mother out and refused to unlock the door. I climbed through a basement window and unlocked the door so that the mother could get back inside. If you have ever locked yourself out of your house, you know that sinking feeling of being locked out.
The Christians in the church in Philadelphia were facing a closed door that was very difficult for them to accept. Christ assures them that there is another door that is far more important, which is in fact open because they have been faithful to him. The message to this church, and to us, is that even if others may close doors to us, if we are faithful in serving Christ, the door to the kingdom of God will be open for us. Let’s read Revelation 3:7-13.
I. Let’s first look briefly at the setting of the church in Philadelphia.
Again, as we look at how Christ identifies himself to this church, remember that the way Jesus identifies himself reflects the problems that the church was facing. Here Jesus identifies himself as holy and true. Holy is a term that identifies him as the uniquely holy and Almighty God. True means that he is faithful and will always do all what he has promised to do. Moreover, Christ is the one who holds the “key of David.” Jesus is the promised King who fulfills God’s promise to David that someone in his line would reign forever over God’s people.
And here is the key point: as such he has full authority over the door to the kingdom. If he chooses to shut the door, no one else can open it. If he chooses to open the door, no one else can shut it. Throughout history many have tried to control who is in or out of the church. Church leaders thought that they held control of the door to the kingdom. Other world leaders have tried to close the door of heaven. Soviet Union president and atheist Nikita Khrushchev once boasted that he would exhibit the last Soviet Christian on TV by 1965. Khrushchev, of course, has since died and the church in Russia continues to grow. Regardless of what others may think, Christ controls the door to the church.
II. As such, Christ offers this church words of comfort and strength in verses 8-10.
Quite likely, when a Jew became a Christian in Philadelphia, the Jews would excommunicate them and shut the door of the synagogue in Philadelphia to the convert. As with the situation in Smyrna, Jesus makes it clear that even though the Jews may call themselves Jews, they really are not. They are actually a synagogue or a people who belong to Satan. Nevertheless, the Christians were being shut out from fellowshipping with family and friends when they became Christians.
And so Christ comforts them in verse 8 by saying, “I know your deeds.” He knows that they are being faithful to the Word and have not denied Christ’s name. But Christ also knows that they are facing closed doors. And so Christ places before them an open door to the kingdom of God. Christ here is telling them that he is doing this because of their faithfulness. Moreover, the Jews thought they were closing the door on these Christians. They have closed the door thinking that they were keeping outsiders out, but in fact they have closed themselves off from God. Someday, however, they will have to acknowledge that those who believe in Christ are God’s true people and that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Then Christ encourages them by saying that he will keep them in their hour of trial. In this period of time the world will be the object of great testing. This is the period of time when God will try to awaken the non-believers in the world from their spiritual sleeping but it will be a time of suffering and turmoil. Christ assures them that he will keep them during this hour of trial. This does not mean that the church will be insulated from suffering. But it does mean they will survive the test even if they too must suffer.
You see, there is no promise here of being insulated from suffering. As human beings, we can expect to suffer and experience trials simply because we are living in a sinful world and Jesus said we should expect it. However, God will not allow the trials of the world to overwhelm us.
III. Third, Christ also offers words of reward and promise in verses 11-12.
Christ is coming soon to this church to reward the people for their faithfulness. In the meantime, the requirement is to hold on to what they have. They should not let up now or they may yet lose their crown. When I was in college, I took a physical education course in handball. At the end of the course, there was a tournament for the class. My first game was against a friend of mine, Rick, who was very good and I knew I would have to play very well to have any chance at beating him. As it turned out, I did play very well and Rick played horrendously. I was ahead of him 13 to 2; I needed only 2 more points to win. I felt sorry for him and so let up bit to make it closer. I coasted; he built momentum and he went on to beat me 15-13. If I had not let up, if I had persisted to the end, I would have won. The warning for the church in Philadelphia is to actively press on to the end when Christ returns or they too may slip away.
And if they remain faithful, Christ promises four rewards to them in verse 12. First, they will be made a pillar in the church. A pillar in the church means you are a vitally important part of it. They will always be a part of God’s temple, the people of God, and so don’t have to worry about being kicked out like they were kicked out of the synagogue. Second, Christ will write God’s name on their heads, which is a sign of ownership. There will be no doubt that these people really do belong to God.
Third, Christ will write their names on the city of God, the new Jerusalem. On the official record of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven will be listed that “John lives here” and “Suzie lives here.” They will have a place in heaven to live forever in eternity. Finally, Jesus will write on them Christ’s new name which only the faithful will know. It is like a personal name that only your spouse may know and use. They will enjoy intimate and close fellowship with Christ himself. Now they feel abandoned and out of fellowship. The fact is that they were in close fellowship with God. They had, and will have, far more than what they realized.
IV. Now what is the message of comfort for the church today?
Obviously some parts of Christ’s church need this comforting message very badly. In countries where there is severe persecution, Christians need to know that they truly belong to Christ no matter what the circumstances are. Certainly individual Christians need messages of comfort and encouragement. Some are in families where they are the only Christian and that is very difficult. Others may feel friendless or pressured in their work because of their faith. These people can know that if they remain faithful, Christ will reward them. Faith Church as a body may at times feel small and of little consequence but don’t forget that this church belongs to Christ and is very important to him and the kingdom!
And so first hear a call to remain faithful to Christ to the end. Don’t let the promise of the open door, of salvation in Christ, cause you to let up, to relax in your Christian lives. Continually ask yourselves: “Are we being faithful to Christ?” It is very easy to put ourselves and our needs first rather than the kingdom and mission of Christ’s church. That is true in the time and money that we give to serve the church. We must be very careful of the attitude that says, “I will give of my time, but only after my own needs are fully met.” “I will give my money but only after I have the things that I want to have first.” Will you be faithful by enduring and pressing on as Jesus commands?
If we do so, then the beautiful promises that are given here will be true for you. Remember that we will belong to God in every possible way. God’s name will be written on our heads. And our names will be inscribed in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. Moreover, we will be able to endure whatever trials we may have. God will protect us and keep us throughout these trials. We won’t be insulated from them, but we won’t be overcome by them either. The door of salvation has been opened for us by Christ. I hope that this promise may stimulate you to press on serving faithfully even when it seems at times that you are not able to do much.
Reformed pastor David Pettit described an elderly woman named Evelyn who had recently died and who was a member of his church in Denver. Evelyn was born prematurely in the early 1900's, survived the 1919 great influenza, although her older sister did not, and had suffered many trials. But she loved playing the piano and went to a music school for it until her failing eyes meant she had to withdraw from the school. Even then she learned to play beautifully by ear. Evelyn was stubborn and strong and would not let her physical limitations of blindness limit her in her life and in her strong faith in Jesus.
She moved to Denver in her last years but did not have her own piano. Her daughter saw one at an estate sale and Evelyn started playing it while there. Her daughter offered the owner $250 for it, which was firmly rejected. Meanwhile, Evelyn continued to play the piano at the estate sale. People stopped shopping and went over to listen to this blind woman playing so beautifully. Soon she was taking requests from the customers until finally the estate salesman himself asked if she could play When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, his mother’s favorite. Evelyn complied and played it beautifully. After that, the man grunted to the daughter, “Fine, take the stupid piano.” Here was a blind woman, knocked down repeatedly but driven by her faith, she persevered and kept on playing the piano amid it all, and using what God gave her.
People, we belong to Christ who has opened the door to the Kingdom of Heaven through his death and resurrection. Sometimes we may feel like we have been knocked down. But if you believe that Jesus is your Savior, press on and keep on playing whatever God has given you to do. Get up and go through the open door that Christ has opened for you. Jesus urges us to keep going and hold on to what we have so that we may receive our beautiful reward in heaven. Will you continue in faithfulness?