Revelation 3:7-13 How to Persevere During Difficult Times
When you think of Philadelphia, you may think about many things. For many of you, Philadelphia is the town in Pennsylvania, founded by William Penn in 1682. Philadelphia played an instrumental role in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. Philadelphia was one of the nation’s capitals in the Revolutionary War, and served as temporary U.S. capital while Washington, D.C., was under construction. In the 19th century, Philadelphia became a major industrial center and railroad hub that grew from an influx of European immigrants. It became a prime destination for African-Americans in the Great Migration and surpassed two million occupants by 1950. Philadelphia is the birthplace of theUnited States Marine Corps, and is also the home of many U.S.firsts, including the first library (1731), first hospital (1751) and medical school (1765), first Capitol (1777), first stock exchange (1790), first zoo (1874), and first business school (1881). Philadelphia is the only World Heritage City in the United States.
But for me, the town will always remind me of Rocky Balboa. Through the series of movies, Rocky perseveres as an underdog. He fails in the first fight in the 1978 movie Rocky. In Rocky II, he returns and wins against Apollo Creed. In the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son Robert: to succeed in life, “it ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
Philadelphia was situated on a major Roman road that led from Troas in the west through Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis, and then to Philadelphia in the east. The city derives its name from the loyalty between the two brothers who were influential in founding the city: Eumenes II and his younger brother, Attalus II. The younger brother resisted pressure from Rome to turn against his older sibling, earning him the nickname “Philadelphus” (“brotherly love”).1
So Philadelphia represents perseverance in the midst of difficulty. This is confirmed when we look at the structure of the letter:
SEVEN PARTS OF THE LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA
1. Address – to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7)
“Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia…” (Revelation 3:7, HCSB)
2. Depiction of Jesus – The Holy One, The True One, the One Who Has the Key of David (Revelation 3:7)
“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:” (Revelation 3:7, HCSB)
There are three qualities that define Jesus in this verse:
Jesus is holy. Holy means to be separate, or unique. Jesus is unique. Unlike the other gods that the people trusted, Jesus is not made of stone or wood.
Because Jesus is unique, He is dependable. Unlike the other gods that are made of stone or wood, Jesus is real and He can be trusted to help you.
- Power over opportunities
Whereas the keys in 1:18b are called the “keys of death and of Hades,” in 3:7b a quotation from Isa. 22:22 is substituted for “of death and of Hades”: “the one having the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, and who shuts and no one opens.” The substitution is meant to amplify the idea of the original phrase in 1:18b by underscoring the sovereignty that Christ holds over the sphere “of death and Hades.” Thus, Eliakim’s temporary control of the kingdom as “prime minister” to the king of Israel was a prophetic historical pattern pointing forward to Jesus Christ’s greater and eternal sovereignty over a greater kingdom.2
In particular, since Jesus has the power over death, He also has the power over opportunities in my life. I can choose to take these opportunities or not. When a Christian is seeking God’s will, we have freedom, but we also have guidance. We pray and ask God to show us the direction we should go or how we should endure the situation we are in presently. Sometimes, He closes the door to opportunities in our lives. But if He closes one door, He opens another door. God has the power to show us opportunities in our lives. He won’t open a door until He first shuts another door. It is as if God works things out to help me see what He wants me to do. This can relieve much stress in my life, if I will trust God. So God is unique, He is dependable, and because of first two traits, I can trust Him to show me opportunities which I can seize upon in my life.
This has importance in decisions about my life: where I will work, where I will live, who I will associate, and who I will share the Gospel. God prevented the Gospel from going to Asia, but opened the door for the Gospel to go to Europe in Paul’s missionary journey. God will also reveal to you and me who I should share the Gospel. The only requirement He gives us is to walk through the door and share.
3. Commendation or Praise – They have kept My word, and not denied My name (Revelation 3:8)
“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.” (Revelation 3:8, HCSB)Rocky Balboa fought only with his hands. He wasn’t very strong. Yet he had power when he hit. The same is true for you and me. God has given us just enough to persevere, if we know how to use what God has given us. He has told us how to use power to persevere in these verses.
POWER TO HELP ME PERSEVERE
1. Personal strength
God has given us limited strength. My strength can only help me go so far. My limited strength reminds me that I need to lean on God’s strength. Jesus reminded Paul of this when He said:
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, HCSB)
2. God’s Word
3. Commitment to Christ
It is not the size or strength of a church that determines its ministry, but faith in the call and command of the Lord. “God’s commandments are God’s enablements.”3
This particular church passed the test of endurance. Philadelphia is the only church to receive a praise. The praise is because the church is enduring persecution. Persecution grows the church. It is a quality of endurance. When things are tough, the church learns to get innovative. We learn how to reach out to others.4
4. Condemnation or Rebuke – To the liars, but not the church (Revelation 3:9)
“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.” (Revelation 3:9, HCSB)
We can catch the flavor of the Greek word for ‘lie’ by thinking of these people as ‘pseudo-Jews’. They claim, falsely, to be the holy people of God. In contrast, Christ speaks as the true Holy One (verses 9, 7).5 The point here is that if you are going to persevere, you have to real. You can be a fake and try to make in the Christian life.
5. Exhortation – Take Note! (Revelation 3:8-9)
“…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.” (Revelation 3:8–9, HCSB)
One of the important doctrinal features of this sixth letter is found in its very basic and forthright theology of evangelism. Notice the main features of that theology. It is Jesus Christ who opens and shuts. He holds the decisive key in His hand. It is this same Lord who has set the Christians in this outpost city before an open door which no one is able to shut.6
6. Promise to the overcoming Christian – My Perseverance Leads to My Protection (Revelation 3:10-12)
“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.” (Revelation 3:10–12, HCSB)
If I continue to endure and persevere, God will protect me. He may do it in a variety of ways. Jesus can take you out of the situation. He can also come quickly to help you through your situation. In both ways, Jesus can protect you. He can take you away from the danger. Many of us want to be taken out of the situation. However, oftentimes, Jesus wants to teach us through a life experience in which we have to endure.
7. Call to pay attention to the Holy Spirit (Revelation 3:13)
““Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:13, HCSB)
What is the difficult time I am experiencing? How is the Holy Spirit speaking to me during my time of trial? What door is God closing in my life? What door is God opening in my life? How should I follow Him?
1 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 70–71.
2 G. K. Beale and Sean M McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1096–1097.
3 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 578.
4Jim Erwin, “Revelation 2:1-3:22 Seven Tests of a Healthy Church,” sermon, Internet, 31 January 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2016/01/31/revelation-21-322-seven-tests-of-a-healthy-church/, accessed on 17 March 2016.
5 Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation: I Saw Heaven Opened, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 54.
6 Earl F. Palmer and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation, vol. 35, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 143.