A sermon on Revelation 3:7-13 by Richard Keith on Sunday 26 March 2023
A door has two simple jobs, although it can’t do them both at the same time. Firstly, a door opens to let things in. It gives access to a visitor or to a breeze through the house or to the delivery man bringing a parcel. Or secondly, a door shuts to keep things out, a stranger or the neighbour’s dog or mosquitoes. If added security is need, a door can also be locked, and only someone with the key can open it.
In Revelation chapter 3 the Lord Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.
It’s the promise that he provides them with an access that no one can deny them.
We return this morning to the message of Jesus to the seven churches in Turkey mentioned in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Specifically to his message to the church at Philadelphia in chapter 3. It comes, said Jesus in verse 7,
… from him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
David, of course, was the second king of Israel, and the first of a great line of kings who ruled in Jerusalem for over 400 years. When that dynasty came to an end in 586 BC, the prophets promised that a greater king would come from David’s line, the promised king they called the Messiah. To claim to hold the key of David means, of course, that Jesus claimed to be that promised king. But it also means that he claimed to hold the right to grant access to the kingdom. Not a kingdom on earth, as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate,
My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.
No, not a kingdom on earth, but a spiritual kingdom. And Jesus holds in his own hand the key that unlocks the door to let us into his kingdom. And as he says, what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. He alone is the Lord. No one can resist his will, no one can undo his plans, no one can stand in his way, and no one can do anything against his will. This is the only king and head of the church who says to his people,
I know your deeds …
In each of the messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 the Lord said those words, “I know.” To the church at Smyrna he said,
I know your afflictions and your poverty.
To the church at Pergamum he said,
I know where you live, where Satan has his throne.
To the other five churches he said, “I know your deeds.” He knew them and he knew about them. He knew what they were doing and he knew what they were going through. And just as surely the Lord Jesus knows about us. For he is the Lord who is with his church, who is alive and at work around us, who lives within us through his Spirit, and works through us. He knows where we are. He knows what we are planning. He knows how we are fulfilling his great commission, and how well we are using the gifts and talents he has invested in his church.
To the church at Philadelphia he said,
I know your deeds … I know you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
The church at Philadelphia was not a big church. Not like some today. Some churches these days can take great pride in their size, the mega churches in the capital cities that can afford to tear down their barn like meeting places and build bigger ones. Other churches can brag about their buildings. Others can boast of a shopping mall like variety of church ministries and services. But when the Lord Jesus measures and gauges a church’s spiritual life, he doesn’t look at size, he doesn’t look at the buildings, he doesn’t look at the power and the influence, he doesn’t look at programs, he doesn’t look at the monthly financial statement, he doesn’t count the attendance or the offering, the Lord Jesus goes straight to look at what really matters. He looks at the heart. He looks for spiritual wealth. He looks for growth in Spirit. And when he looked at this small church in Turkey with little power or prestige, he gave them the big thumbs up. For they had kept his word and they had not denied his name.
And verse 9 seems to indicate that they had been through the wringers of persecution and had passed the test. The Lord Jesus said,
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.
There must have been a Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia. Some of the Christians in the church might once have been members. Faithful Jews who had received Jesus as the promised Messiah. But they had been cast out as traitors to the law of Moses, excluded from the synagogue and locked out. The synagogue leaders must have gone on to stir up trouble for the Christians with the local government authorities. They might have been fined. They might have had their possessions confiscated. They might have been put in gaol. They might have had their citizenship revoked. However they had been put on trial, they had been forced to suffer for their Lord.
And they had not denied his name. They had not denied him with their lips as Peter did in the high priest’s courtyard. They had not denied him with their hearts, losing faith and hope in Christ. And they had not denied him with their lives, their mouths confessing Christ, but their actions contradicting his teaching. No, they preached the faith, they confessed the faith, they believed the faith, they lived the faith, and they kept the faith. As verse 10 says
they had kept the Lord’s command to endure patiently.
Not like the sprinter who runs out of puff if he has to go more than 100 m. Not like the quitter who gives up the first time they fail. Or like the person who follows Christ, but gives up on him at the first sign of trouble. The church in Philadelphia lived the faith and kept the faith. If only Jesus would say the same of us. I wonder what would his message be to the angel of the church of Corowa?
The Christians at Philadelphia had been excluded and troubled by the synagogue of those who called themselves Jews. They had been locked out. But the King of the Jews held the key of David and had opened a door in front of them that no one could shut or lock.
This illustration of an open door was particularly appropriate for Philadelphia. Because this city lay about 100 km from the west coast of Turkey along one of the great trade routes that ran from east to west. It had been founded in about 100 BC by the Greek rulers who controlled this part of Turkey at the time to promote Greek culture and language through the region. So in its day Philadelphia was known as the gateway of Greek civilization to the east and as the gateway of trade from Asia to the west. Its main street was like a river of money flowing through the centre of town.
But the Lord Jesus had placed a much more important gateway in front of his believers in the church. They had been excluded from the synagogue, but nothing could exclude them from fellowship with their Lord. They had been locked out by others, but the door to the kingdom had been left open for them. Because Jesus holds the key of David that unlocks the door to the kingdom of God. What he opens no one can shut. And what he shuts no one can open. For he himself is the open door, the stairway to heaven. He said,
I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
This is the blessed assurance that we have as followers of Christ. For without him we have no hope. But if we trust him and love him and live for him, there is nothing anyone can do to stop us walking through that open door to live with Christ forever.
Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia,
I am coming soon.
To those perishing without hope and without God it is a dreadful warning of judgment. For Christ will come without warning and gather his church to himself and there will be no second chance. Only an eternity of regret and shame. But to his faithful people it is not a warning, but a promise.
Just hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Because his blessed assurance isn’t for those who say they believe and then throw it away. His assurance is for those who keep the faith, who live the faith without giving up. But if we have Christ, there is nothing more we need. No special prayer. No secret ritual. No diploma or degree from Bible college. For if we have Christ, we only need to hold on to what we have.
Of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, only two receive an unqualified tick of approval from the Lord. Most of them have both good points and bad points. “I know this … but I hold this against you.” But for small, vulnerable, powerless, but faithful Philadelphia there was only the Lord’s loud and long round of applause. Well done, good and faithful servant.
And of all the seven churches mentioned in these two chapters this is the one that I would like ours to be like. With little strength of our own, but strong in heart and in the Spirit of God. Keeping the faith and living it day to day. Holding on to what we have to walk through the open door into Jesus’ kingdom that no one else can shut against us.
Friends, Jesus is all you need. Hold on to him and no one can take away your crown.