13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
7 To the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write: “These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.”
Of the seven Churches in Revelation 2 and 3, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no words of condemnation. And it’s no coincidence that both these Churches faced strong opposition and persecution because of their bold witness to the truth of God.
The name Philadelphia comes from two Greek words: phileo, which means ‘love’ and the word adelphos, which means ‘brother.’ In Biblical times names meant something, and here, just in their name, we are given a glimpse into the kind of people that made up this body of believers. It was a Church characterised by brotherly love.
Church historians tell us that the Church in Philadelphia was the youngest and smallest of the seven Churches that Jesus wrote to in Revelation. Though small in size, He had much praise for this faithful congregation.
As with each of the letters to the Churches in Revelation, Jesus refers to His appearance to the apostle John in Revelation 1 as He dictates each letter. In this case, He is “Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”
There is only one other place where the key of David is referred to in the Bible, and that is in the book of Isaiah.
“In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” (Isaiah 22:20–22)
To us, all these years later, this seems a rather strange passage of Scripture and rather cryptic, but to those in Israel who had grown up reading the writings of the prophets, there was no mistaking what this meant, and they would easily have made the connection between Eliakim and what Jesus said to the Philadelphian Church.
Eliakim is named in the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. He is an ancestor of Jesus, and he was given the key to the house of David during the reign of King Hezekiah. The key to the house of David was a real key which Eliakim carried on a cord draped over his shoulder. This key unlocked the house of David which contained all the treasures of the kings of Judah and also housed the government. So Eliakim controlled who could come into the house of David and also who could not. He had the authority to do so.
This, of course, points us directly to Jesus. He holds the key to the New Jerusalem that is coming when He returns. He is the fulfilment of the Davidic covenant. Jesus holds the key, and He controls who gets in and who does not. There is no one else who can open or close this door.
It is Jesus, and Jesus alone who is the head of the Church.
In His conversation with His disciples in Matthew 16, Jesus says in response to Peter’s confession that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
This statement by Jesus has caused much confusion, and has been dreadfully misinterpreted to mean that Jesus announced Peter as the head of the Church. Contrary to the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, Peter was not given this role. He was not the first pope. The whole concept of the papacy is man-made and unscriptural.
The name “Peter” means a small stone, and Jesus is using a play on words here. In the New Testament it is clear that Jesus is both the foundation and the head of the Church. It is a mistake to think that He is giving either of those roles to Peter.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:19-22, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
The apostles played a foundational role in the building of the Church, but the role of King and head of the Church is reserved for Jesus Christ alone, not Peter.
John MacArthur writes that Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 can best be understood as a “simple play on words in that a boulder-like truth came from the mouth of one who was called a small stone.”
When Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus, in reply, is saying in essence, “That confession that you just gave Peter, on that rock I will build my Church.”
Jesus holds the keys to eternity. In the days of Isaiah, Eliakim is a picture or a type of the Messiah to come, the one who holds the key to the house of David. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus is the one who holds “the keys of death and Hades,” and in Revelation 3:7 He is the one “who holds the key of David.”
Jesus Christ, and He alone has the authority to say who will enter the kingdom of God. His words in John 14:6 offend many people, but instead of being offended, we should be grateful that He does open the door for those who put their faith in Him. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus continues in verse 8, “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Jesus wanted them to remember just who they were and who it is they served. They were the Church of the living God. They were a small Church (this is what He meant when He said they had little strength), but they were faithful.
They may not have had the political or financial influence of other Churches, but God still used them for His glory.
It’s not about the size of the Church or how many members are in a congregation. It is never about the numbers, but rather what God is doing in and through the Churches which are faithful to Him. Simply put, God does extraordinary things with ordinary people. He opens doors that the world can’t close.
Sometimes small Churches think there is little they can do for the Lord, but there is a bigger picture which we cannot see. Our task is to remain faithful to Him.
The Church at Philadelphia had little strength. This probably meant they didn’t have much money or many influential people in their ranks, but they had great faith.
The Church in Philadelphia was encouraged by Jesus to reflect the true character of Christ in their day and generation, and that is what set them apart as a faithful Church. And nothing has changed in our day. We must do the same. We are to be clear on what we believe and why we believe it.
Going back to verse 7 for a moment, Jesus says He is both holy and true. Truth is linked with holiness. What this means for the Church is that true doctrine and holy living go together. That is how we witness effectively to the lost - by being holy and true, understanding of course, that our holiness comes from Christ, not from ourselves.
Jesus says about the Church in Philadelphia: “You kept my word. You have not denied my name.”
The first involves holding onto the words of Jesus, and the second means not being embarrassed by the first. Some people are almost ashamed of their faith. They’re quite happy to follow Jesus but they keep it to themselves. You sometimes hear people say that their faith is very personal, but we tend to get confused between personal and private faith. Our faith in Jesus is very personal, but it is never meant to be private.
Acts 17 records when Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica, but those opposed to the Gospel were not happy and tried to have them arrested. “They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’” (Acts 17:5-7)
The ESV translates their complaint, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
This was meant to be an accusation, but it is really a compliment. Imagine being accused of turning the world upside down for the sake of the Gospel, yet this is precisely what we are to do - faithfully proclaim to lost sinners that Jesus Christ is their only hope.
The question is often asked, yes, but how? How do we correctly and faithfully proclaim the Gospel? These are important questions.
The Gospel is good news, but before it is good news it is bad news, and unless we tell the bad news first, the good news won’t seem very good.
What this means is that before people understand that Jesus saves, they need to first understand just what it is He saves them from. They have to see their need if they are ever to understand the answer to that need.
They have to grasp the bad news first. The bad news is that without Christ, people are going to hell when they die, and in case you haven’t noticed, such a statement is deeply offensive to the sinful heart, but we must proclaim the truth - as graciously as we can, but without compromising the reality that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation.
John Wesley once said, “Before I preach love, mercy, and grace, I must preach sin, law, and judgment.”
The theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote, “A negative message is needed before anything positive can begin. People often say to me, ‘What would you do if you met a man on a train and you had just an hour to talk to him about the Gospel?’ I would spend forty-five or fifty minutes on the negative, to show him his real dilemma - to show him that he is more dead than he thinks he is - that he is morally dead because he is separated from God, then I would take ten or fifteen minutes to tell him the Gospel.”
And A.W. Tozer wrote, “The effort of liberal and borderline modernists to woo men to God by presenting the soft side of religion is an unqualified evil because it ignores the very reason for our alienation from God in the first place. Until a man sees the trouble in his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.”
I agree with them. There is far too much emphasis on just how nice God is in some preaching these days. Such wishy-washy “God is just crazy about you” preaching will never bring anyone to repentance.
There is nowhere near enough preaching on the truth that He is a God of justice, and that justice will be done.
Of course we must proclaim that God is a God of love. This is what the Bible teaches, but in our day of tolerance and political correctness, there are far too many “seeker sensitive” Churches that are afraid of offending people, so instead of calling them to repentance, they tell them how wonderful they are. They tell them what they’d like to hear instead of what they need to hear.
Paul told Timothy, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
I’ve mentioned Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church a few times in recent weeks. He is nothing more than a pep-talk motivational speaker masquerading as a man of God. He has said on numerous occasions that he will not preach on hell, which is more than a little strange, because Jesus certainly did.
This is the reason he gave in an interview on television a few years ago: “People already feel guilty enough. So I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up, to say, ‘You know what? I may not be perfect, but I’m moving forward. I’m doing better.’ And I think that motivates you to do better.”
That is not proclaiming the Gospel. People don’t feel guilty enough, which is at the very heart of our deepest problem.
“I’m nice, God’s nice, let’s all just be nice.” That is the mantra of a lost and dying world, and if people aren’t taught about their great need, they will never turn to God, the one who has the answer to our greatest problem.
Our problem is sin and the hell which awaits those who don’t repent, and God’s answer is redemption, forgiveness and salvation in Christ.
I wonder if Osteen has ever read the Great Commission? “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And what did Jesus teach them? “Repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
In Luke 5:32 He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Augustus Toplady wrote the hymn Rock of Ages nearly 250 years ago. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly: Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
Simply to Thy cross I cling. You won’t cling to the cross if you see no need for it.
Have you clung to the cross of Christ? Have you truly repented and turned to Him for grace and mercy?
If not, please speak to me afterwards, or speak to one of our elders. There is no salvation in being a nice person or in trying to be a better person. There is salvation in Christ and in Christ alone.
This is the message that the Church in Philadelphia proclaimed, and it remains the message of a Church which is faithful to Jesus today.
The Philadelphian Church cared enough about the truth that they had made some powerful enemies in the community, but they would not back down. “You have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Of course, such a message is guaranteed to get people’s backs up. It happened in the 1st century, and it happens in the 21st century.
Jesus is fully aware of the persecution we face, but look at how He encouraged the Philadelphian Church: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)
The synagogue of Satan refers to those who persecuted the early believers. To them, Jesus was a threat to their way of life, so they hated Him, they hated all that He stood for, and they hated those who followed Him.
But the day of reckoning is coming. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:9-11, “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
There is a day coming when those who hate Christ will bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Some do it willingly today, but for many, they will do so at the final judgment when it will be too late.
True believers will be protected from the wrath to come. Jesus says in verse 10, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
There are different interpretations as to exactly what Jesus is referring to here. Some commentators say that He is talking about the rapture of the Church which will spare us from the Great Tribulation, while others say this speaks of eternity in heaven, rather than in hell.
Exactly how the end times will unfold is not clear, but one thing we do know: These times of suffering and persecution will not last for those who are faithful to the end. Paul wrote in Romans 8:16-18, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
In verse 11 Jesus say, “I am coming soon.”
These things will pass. That is the hope we have.
To all seven Churches in Revelation 3 and 4 Jesus promises rewards to those who overcome.
And how do we do that? By putting our faith in the promises of God.
He is a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful and He can be trusted to guard and protect His elect.
When we accept Christ as Lord and Saviour our names are written in the Book of Life. We belong to God and nothing can take that away from us.
In the covenant of marriage, the wife takes on the name of her husband, which is one of the signs that they belong to each other. In much the same way, as the bride of Christ, we are wed into the kingdom of God and we take on God’s name.
We are Christians and we belong to Him forever. We will live with Christ forever in the New Jerusalem to come.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Revelation 3:7-13
Jesus had many good things to say about this small body of believers, in particular “you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (verse 8)
Discuss these two virtues of a faithful Church.
How do we see this lived out in practical ways?
How do they complement each other?
How would you describe a faithful Church in one sentence?
Read Matthew 16:13-19
Pay particular attention to Peter’s answer in verse 16, and Jesus’ words in verse 18.
What does this really mean, and why do you think Jesus’ statement has been so badly misunderstood?
John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) once said, “Before I preach love, mercy and grace, I must preach sin, law and judgment.”
What does he mean, and do you agree with him or not?
Close by thanking God for faithful congregations like the Church in Philadelphia who have chosen to remain faithful to His Word.