The letters to the seven churches

vi] Philadelphia


The letter to the church at Philadelphia, like the letter to Smyrna, adopts a positive tone. This is a church enduring patiently, keeping Christ's word and not denying him. Yet, at the same time, they are not a strong church, small in number and facing increasing difficulties from without. Yet, Christ promises to support them and so for their part they must keep on keeping on. In the present age they may have little strength, but in the age to come they will be like a mighty pillar in the heavenly temple.


i] Context: See 2:1-7.


ii] Background: See 1:1-8. Philadelphia, today known as Alashehir, is situated some thirty miles southeast of Sardis, in the Cogamis river valley, a river which leads to the Hermus river. The city sat on a natural defensive hill, linked to a main Roman road, and so had become a major trading center with the East. The city was founded in 189BC, Greek in culture and language. Not only did the city gain wealth through trade, but the surrounding valley was rich in volcanic soil and was renowned for its vineyards. It is for this reason that the favored pagan God in Philadelphia was Dionysus, the god of wine. Like Sardis, it was devastated by the earthquake of AD17. The Roman government waved tribute for five years to allow the city to redevelop. This prompted strong allegiance to Rome and an expansion of the emperor cult until AD92 when the emperor, Domition, ordered the removal of half the grape vines in order to grow grain for the empire. This caused serious economic harm and an ongoing antagonism with Roman authority. By the fifth century AD it was known as "Little Athens" due to the many temples found in the city. There is no record of when the church was founded, but the city was most probably evangelized by members of Paul's missionary team. Ignatius records his own visit in AD110 and mentions that the church has a bishop with elders and deacons.


iii] Structure: The letter to the church in Philadelphia:


to whom, v7a;

"to the angel of the church in Philadelphia."

from whom, v7b.

"Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David."

Analysis of the church:

strengths, v8-10:

"you have kept my word and have not denied my name."

weaknesses, ???.


"hold on to what you have", v11;


the one who endures is blessed, v12-13.


iv] Interpretation:

In the seven letters to the churches, 2:1-3:2, John reveals the not yet reality of the kingdom of God, a kingdom inaugurated, yet to be realized. He lets us see the Christian fellowship warts and all. As it was for the church in the first century, so it is for us. We stand at the crossroads of history, of God's now / not yet reign, compromised in the face of a hostile environment. We have survived to this moment in time between the cross and Christ's return, and if we are to share in God's promised reward we must repent, we must turn around to Christ and renew our faith in him, and then we must press forward in faith, we must endure, persevere, conquer.


Christ's words to the church serve as an encouragement in the face of coming tribulation. Like Smyrna, no particular failings are identified, no criticism made. Yet, although this is a small church facing tribulation, it is a church "with opportunities", Phillips.

The tribulation, "the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world." Although couched in the language of the coming Great Day of the Lord, a more immediate trouble facing the church is in mind. In the eye of the prophet, the end is always crashing into the present, such that a present tribulation is but a paradigm of the end. So, John sees trouble ahead, trouble which merges into the tribulations of the last day; See introductory notes, "Interpretation". These tribulations, like Smyrna, are generated by "the synagogue of Satan", 2:9. The reference is to the Jewish community in Philadelphia who are causing the trouble for the church. They are not in any way true Israelites, they are not the children of God, not God's holy people, but rather, they follow another Lord, Satan.

Although the church in Philadelphia faces difficult times, it will not be left to suffer alone, the Lord will keep them, he will preserve them. They have Christ's support because they are a church loyal to Christ, they have kept his command, enduring patiently in faith and love. Given the opposition they face from the synagogue of Satan, they are also obviously a church which is loyal to Christ's missionary charge; they are an evangelistic church. So, this little church will, in the age to come, be an immovable pillar in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the meantime they are to keep on keeping on.

Text - 3:7

Philadelphia - a church with opportunities: i] Introduction, v7: The letter is again addressed to the "angel of the church" which, as already noted, virtually means the church itself. John gives us another fulsome description of Christ. The divine attributes of holiness and truthfulness are applied to Christ, along with the statement that Christ holds "the key of David." The reference is to the key that opens the doors of the house of David, opens the gates to the messianic kingdom of God, the gates of heaven. So, this is the key that provides entry into the presence of God and thus access to eternal life. This key is held by the messiah, and thus is held by Jesus, the Davidic messiah. See Isa.22:22, "I will place the key of David's palace on his shoulder; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts, no one can open." Some have suggested that the key represents the authority to enforce the laws of the kingdom, but this is unlikely. As Isaiah in 26:2 states, the gates are opened "that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in", along with the "nations / Gentiles", 60:11. On earth, Israel served as God's doorkeeper, but they failed by making law, rather than faith, the requirement for entry. Thus the church now serves as Christ's doorkeeper, holding "the keys of the kingdom of heaven", Matt.16:19.

tw/ aggelw/ thV en ... ekklhsiaV grafon. Tade legei "to the angel of the church in [Philadelphia] write: These are the words ..." See 2:1.

oJ alhqinoV adj. "[holy and] true" - [the holy], the true, [the one having the key of david .......... says these things]. The adjective serves as a substantive, "the true one", standing in apposition to "the holy one", the nominative subject of the verb "to say." The terms "him who is holy" and "him who is truth", are used both of God the Father, and in the NT of Jesus, ie., Jesus is "the embodiment of absolute sanctity and truth", Smalley.

oJ ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "who holds" - the one having. The participle serves as a substantive.

Dauid gen. "[the key] of David" - The proper genitive is adjectival, possessive. See above.

oJ anoigwn (anoigw) "what he opens" - [and] the one opening, unlocking [no one will shut, close, and the one shutting no one will open]. The participle is usually taken as substantival, "he who opens", usually taken with the connective kai, "and", as "who opens and no one will shut", ESV. Cassirer takes kai as consecutive, "so that", and the participle as adverbial, temporal; "so that, when he opens none can close, when he closes none can open."


ii] Analysis of the church - strengths, v8-10. Although the church at Philadelphia is small and facing aggressive opposition, it is made up of genuinely saved believers who rest firmly on Christ's word, and do so with fortitude, v8. Given the faithfulness of the congregation, their enemies, the assembly of Satan, will be brought low and ultimately forced to recognize the followers of Christ as God's beloved family, v9. The murderous plots against the apostle Paul give some idea of the hatred that can be generated within the Jewish community against the sect of The Way, and obviously the Philadelphian believers have been on the receiving end of this hatred. Yet, the truth will out, such that a day will come, and in a sense is already here (the constant flow of Jewish converts), when God's historic people will recognize Christ's messianic credentials. In v10 Christ promises to aid the Philadelphian believers in their time of tribulation, and this because they have "kept the word", they have believed the gospel. The promised aid is couched in the imagery of the eschatological tribulation that will engulf the whole world at the return of Christ. The Philadelphian believers, as with all believers throughout the ages, face tribulation, and just as Christ will shorten the tribulation in the last day, for the sake of the elect, so he stays the full rush of evil today, such that, although singed by fire, the church will survive.

ta erga (on) "[I know your] deeds" - [i know] the works [of you]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to know." The genitive "of you" may be taken as adjectival, possessive, or verbal, subjective; note how it has been brought forward for emphasis. It looks as if this statement stands in its own right, although most commentators (Smalley, Mounce, ...) argue that the oJti clause found later in the verse introduces a dependent statement of perception expressing what Christ knows, "I know your works ........ that you have little strength, ....", with "behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut", serving as a parenthesis. Yet, given the clauses in v8-9 beginning with idou, "behold", it does seem more likely that "I know your deeds" stands on its own, and that oJti introduces a causal clause, "because"; "I am aware of the works you have accomplished. Look out then (idou); I have thrown open before you a door which no one has the power of closing. And this I have done because (oJti), although you have indeed little power, you have held fast to what I have commanded and have not repudiated my name", Cassirer.

hnewgmenhn (anoigw) perf. mid./pas. part. "[an] open [door]" - [behold, i have given before you a door] having been unlocked, opened. The participle is adjectival, attributive, as NIV. Usually taken to refer to an open door into the kingdom of God, but Caird suggests missionary opportunities, Kiddle opts for martyrdom, Barclay prayer, and Moffatt salvation.

kleisai (kleiw) aor. inf. "[no one can] shut" - [which no one is able] to shut. Complementary infinitive completing the action of the verb "is able."

authn pro. "-" - it. Given the presence of the verb to-be h}n, this pronoun, serving as the object of "able to shut", is redundant. The construction occurs a number of times in Revelation indicating that is probably a Semitic.

oJti "I know that" - that. Here probably causal, "because"; see "I know your deeds" above.

dunamin (iV ewV) "[you have little] strength" - Usually taken as a reference to little spiritual power and therefore Christ is identifying a weakness. Yet, it seems more likely that the size and / or social standing of the congregation is in mind; "I know you don't have much prestige", TH. Smalley notes that after the earthquake in 17AD the population of the city was greatly reduced; "the church lacked size and stature in the community", Osborne.

kai "yet" - and. Here usually taken as an adversative, as NIV; "and yet ...."

mou gen. pro. "[you have kept] my [word]" - [you have kept the word] of me. The genitive may be taken as verbal, subjective, or adjectival, possessive, or ablative, source / origin. "Though they were a small church, they were faithful and persevered", Osborne. Presumably "word" = "the word of God", which in Revelation often means "the gospel". If "the gospel" is intended then to keep the gospel simply means to believe in it. So, "you have believed in the (my) gospel and you have acknowledged me before your neighbors."

to onoma (a atoV) "[not denied my] name" - [and not denied] the name [of me]. "The name" of a person represents the person, so "you have not denied my name" = "you have not denied me." To not deny is to acknowledge; "whoever will acknowledge me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven", Matt.10:32. So, this is a church which seeks to communicate the gospel to its local community - "you have spread the good news far and wide."


idou "-" - behold. See "I know your deeds."

didw (didwmi) pres. "I will make [....... come and fall down]" - I am giving = I will make [the ones from the synagogue of satan, the ones saying themselves to be jews, and are not, but lie, behold, I will make them]. Probably a futuristic present, "I will give", given poihsw, "I will make", in the second clause. When used with an acc. + infinitive, here the verb to-be einai, "[I will give .... the Jews] to be", can mean "I will cause / make"; see BDF #392e. Yet, here "I will give" may just mean "I will hand over ........ and I will make them come and fall down ......" Smalley argues that "handed over" means to become subject to the church at Philadelphia. John's perspective is always eschatological, so in line with the Queen of Sheba coming to Solomon and bowing before him, or the prophetic image of the Gentile recognition of Israel, or the nations bowing before Christ, so we see Israel "given" to bowing in homage before the church. This eschatological last-days image (not yet) may have a present realization (now) in the conversion of some members of the assembly of Satan. It is interesting how many Jews, even today, become believers. I personally know of a number of clergy who have Jewish ancestry.

ek + gen. "those who are of [the synagogue]" - Possibly source / origin, "the ones from", "those who belong to the synagogue of Satan", or standing in for a partitive genitive, "some (tinaV) of the synagogue of Satan"; "some of you", TNT.

tou satana (a aV) gen. "of Satan" - The proper genitive is adjectival, possessive; this synagogue belongs to Satan. Although the Jews were God's historic people, their rejection of the gospel places them outside God's family. They are no longer God's family, but the family of Satan. By claiming what they do not possess they make themselves out to be "liars".

twn legontwn (legw) gen. pres. part. "who claim" - the ones saying. The participle serves as a substantive.

alla "but [are liars]" - but [lie]. Adversative, as NIV.

iJna + fut. "-" - [i will make them] that. This is a somewhat irregular construction, but in Revelation the future tense is used ten times with hina instead of the subjunctive. In the second clause controlled by iJna, John uses a subjunctive gnwsin, "[and] they would know ...." The hina construction here is probably being used to introduce an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech, expressing the content of what Jesus is going to make them do, ie., the content of his command, namely that they "fall down before your feet and learn that I have loved you", so Mckay Gk. Some commentators argue that the infinitive here is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "I will make", so Osborne, Mathewson, ..., and others that it is adverbial, final or consecutive, "in order that / so that", so Beale.

enwpion + gen. "at [your feet]" - [they will come and worship] before [the feet of you]. Spacial. A gesture of submission in the face of defeat, a gesture of homage, even possibly a gesture of pleading, but not of obeisance / worship.

oJti "[and acknowledge] that" - [and would know, understand, recognize] that [i have loved you]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they will know. The sense is "I have loved you over them", so without the "over them" it is best translated "I love you."


oJti "since" - because. Here causal, as NIV.

thV uJpomonhV (oV) gen. "[my command] to endure patiently" - [because you kept the word] of patience, endurance [of me]. The genitive is usually taken here as verbal, objective, "my word about patient endurance", ESV, but other possibilities present themselves. Often "word of" in Revelation = "word from", ie., ablative, source / origin, although adjectival, idiomatic, my well be how John thinks of the genitive (Semitic), "the word which originates from / comes from / is revealed by Christ." Taking "word" to mean "command" is not uncommon in translations, eg., REB, and certainly logoV can mean "a teaching, command, instruction", but often in Revelation it seems to be shorthand for "the Word of God", 1:2, 9, 6:9, ..., specifically "the gospel." Certainly the gospel stems from God's patience. The NIV takes the genitive as recitative, so also REB, but that is somewhat of a stretch. Note Phillips' verbal, subjective, "you have obeyed my call to patient obedience." Possibly adjectival, attributive, "my patient / enduring word / gospel."

ek + gen. "[keep you] from" - [i also will keep you] from [the hour of trial]. Expressing separation, "away from."

tou peirasmou (oV) gen. "[the hour] of trial" - [the hour] of trial, tribulation / temptation, test. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / temporal; "the hour when testing takes place", Mathewson. "Trial" seems likely, so suffering, distress, tribulation. Again, with the eye of the prophet, John is probably referring to a present day easing of the church's suffering, but doing so in the imagery of the eschatological tribulation in the last day, which world-wide tribulation Christ has promised to shorten for the sake of the elect.

thV melloushV (mellw) pres. part. "that is going" - the one being about. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "trial, tribulation", as NIV.

epcesqai (ercomai) pres. inf. "to come" - Complementary infinitive, completing the sense of the participle "being about."

epi + gen. "on" - upon [the whole world]. Spacial.

peirasai (peirazw) aor. inf. "to test" - to test, try. The infinitive is adverbial, final, "in order to test, try."

touV katoikountaV (katoikew) pres. part. "the inhaitants" - the ones dwelling [on the earth].


iii] Instruction, v11: Troubles in the present must always be viewed in the context of the parousia, which, from a heavenly perspective, is already upon us; it is now. To this end, believers must persevere, hang in there and so receive the victor's laurel wreath, "the crown of life", 2:10, cf., 1Cor.9:25 - vindication and reward.

tacu adv. "[I am coming] soon" - Temporal adverb.

o} pro. "what [you have]" - [hold] what [you have]. Introducing a relative clause, object of the imperative verb "to hold."

iJna + subj. "so that [no one will take your crown]" - that [no one may take the crown of you]. Probably introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that ....", or consecutive expressing result, "and then no one will be able to take away your victor's crown", Barclay. Note how the REB virtually treats this hina construction as epexegetic, "hold fast to what you have and let no one rob you of your crown", so also NJB.


iv] Promise, v12-13: The promise to those who endure, those who stay firm in their faith, despite the pressure from without to conform to the ethos of the age, is "a new security and a new name", Osborne. This amounts to security, stability, inclusion and acceptance in God's eternal family. The promise is for "end-time fellowship and identification with Christ", Beale.

oJ nikwn (nikaw) pres. part. "the one who is victorious" - the one conquering, overcoming [i will make him]. The participle serves as a substantive, pendent nominative resumed by the accusative auton, "him". "Everyone who wins the victory", CEV, through perseverance.

stulon (oV) "a pillar" - Accusative complement of the object "him" in a double accusative construction. The imagery is of an essential structural element in the temple which cannot be removed. The "victorious" are such an element in God's household and so will never be discarded.

en + dat. "in [the temple]" - Local, expressing space.

mou gen. pro. "my [God]" - [of the god] of me. The genitive is adjectival, relational, or idiomatic / subordination, "the God over me." The genitive "of God" is possessive. Note how three times in this verse we have tou qeou mou, "my God." The verse stresses our relationship with God, rather than his sovereignty over us, indicating that a relational classification for the genitive is more fitting.

ou mh + subj. "never" - not not = never [may he go out again]. Subjunctive of emphatic negation. "I'll make each conquerer a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, a permanent position of honor", Peterson.

ep (epi) + acc. "[I will write] on [them]" - [and i will write the name of the god of me and the name of the city of the god of me] upon [him]. Spacial. The genitive "of God" is possessive, and mou, "of me", as above.

to onoma (a atoV) "the name" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to write." Those who are victorious will have three names ascribed on them, the name of God, the name of God's city, the new Jerusalem, and Christ's new name. A name is ascribed on something to indicate belonging, so the victorious are ascribed as belonging to God, belonging to / citizens of the city of God, and belonging to Christ.

thV ... Ierousalhm gen. "the [new] Jerusalem" - Genitive standing in apposition to "city". The new Jerusalem is a dominant theme in Revelation where the eschatological reality of a new and eternal community of God replaces the rubble of failed Israel.

hJ katabainousa (katabainw) pres. part. "which is coming down" - the one coming down. The tense of a participle has little force, certainly in time terms, but also aspect, and so is controlled by the surrounding verbs. Caird makes much of the durative aspect of the present tense here, but given the surrounding verbs in the future tense, the sense is probably "which will come down out of heaven." Usually treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "the new Jerusalem", as NIV, but "the new Jerusalem" is genitive, and the participle is nominative. Mathewson suggests it functions as a parenthesis, but we are best to follow Beale who notes that "the irregular lack of agreement is intended generally to attract attention to an OT allusion." John has already used this device a number of times. Here though the allusion is by no means obvious, but Beale thinks Isaiah 62:1-6 is the likely source. The image of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven fulfills "the main biblical promise of life in the presence of God", Osborne, cf., 21:3.

ek + gen. "out of [heaven]" - Expressing source / origin.

apo + gen. "from [my God]" - Expressing source / origin.

kai "and also I will write on them [my new name]" - and [the new name of me]. Adjunctive. Suggestions abound, possibly "the Word", Swete, probably not "Lord". Given 19:12 and the reference to the hidden name of God's messiah, a new name known only to God.


oJ ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "whoever has [ears]" - the one having [ears let him hear what the spirit says to the churches]. See 2:7.


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