Hold Fast What You Have

Philadelphia receives no correction. She has remained faithful, and therefore, she will be kept from the “hour of trial”Revelation 3:7-13.

Roman Road - Photo by Matt Jones on Unsplash
Philadelphia lay fifty kilometers southeast of Sardis and straddled a major road into the interior, making commerce with the other cities of the province vital to its economy. It was established in 189 B.C. by the king of Pergamos, and later, came under Roman rule when the last king bequeathed the Pergamene kingdom to Rome in 133 B.C. - [
Roman Road - Photo by Matt Jones on Unsplash].

The city was a proud participant in the worship of the emperor and featured a temple to his honor. The coins minted in Philadelphia declared it the ‘Neokoros’ or “temple sweeper” of Asia, the caretaker of Caesar’s temple.

In the letter, Jesus reiterates several of his attributes from the opening vision, but also claims to possess the “key of David” that enables him to “open and shut.”
  • (Revelation 3:7-9) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia, write: The one who is holy is declaring these things, he that is true, he that has the key of David, he that opens, and no one shuts, and shuts, and no one opens. I know your works; behold, I have set before you an open door that no one can shut it, that you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name. Behold, I give them of the synagogue of Satan who are affirming themselves to be Jews and are not, but do lie; behold, I will cause them to come and bow down before your feet and they will get to know that I loved you.”

HOLY AND TRUE

Jesus is “holy and true,” a declaration that expands the earlier description of him as the “faithful witness.” Now, his unwavering character is contrasted with those “who say they are Jews and are not but do lie.” This anticipates the vision of the “rider on the white horse” who is “called faithful and true” - (Revelation 19:11-16).

The “key of David” alludes to the prophecy in Isaiah to replace Shebna with Eliakim as the steward of the royal house of David - (Isaiah 22:22) – “And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder, and he shall open and none shall shut, and shut and none shall open.

Jesus has sole and complete authority over God’s “house.” He controls who may gain entrance. The link to David and the conflict with the “synagogue of Satan” suggest the messianic status of Jesus is in dispute between the church at Philadelphia and the local synagogue.

There is no rebuke given to the congregation. Because of its faithfulness, Jesus has set an “open door” for entry into the household of God, and the terms for doing so. Likewise, he decides and controls who will gain entrance to “New Jerusalem.” In such matters, the synagogue has no say whatsoever.

KEPT MY WORD

The assembly at Philadelphians has “a little strength” has “kept my word” and “not denied my name.” The church has been marginalized and its members are without any social or political influence. Nevertheless, they have sufficient strength to maintain their testimony despite any hostility from the synagogue or local authorities.

Their refusal to deny his name indicates the members of the congregation have experienced hostility, especially from the local synagogue, the “synagogue of Satan,” and the latter consists of “them who say they are Jews but are not.”

Because the Christians of Philadelphia have remained faithful, Jesus will make their opponents from the synagogue prostrate themselves before his saints. The language echoes three passages from Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 60:14) – “And the sons of them that afflicted you shall come bending to you; and all they that despised you shall bow themselves down at the soles of your feet.” - (Also, Isaiah 45:14, 49:23).

In Isaiah, the expectation is that the Gentiles will bow before Israel and acknowledge her election by Yahweh. In Revelation, that promise is applied to the church at Philadelphia. Non-Christian Jews will acknowledge that God had chosen the saints from the church to be His people - (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).

The allusion to Isaiah is fitting. The very ones who afflicted God’s children will pronounce them His people and the “city of the Lord,” that is, “New Jerusalem.” The promise to write the “name of the city of my God” uses language from Isaiah 60:14.

HOUR OF TRIAL

Because of their faithfulness, Jesus will keep the saints of Philadelphia from the “trial” that is coming upon the whole earth.
  • (Revelation 3:10-11) - “Because you kept my word of endurance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable earth to try the inhabitants of the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which you have that no one takes your crown.”

Because you kept my word of perseverance.” “Perseverance” is a key theme of the book. Believers “overcome” by maintaining their testimony in tribulations, not by escaping from trials and persecution - (Revelation 12:11).

Tiny Church - Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash
[Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash]

Because the Philadelphians have suffered already, the promise to be kept “
from the hour of trial” is not a promise of escape from persecution and tribulation. Instead, they will be kept from the hour of “trial.”

The Greek preposition means “from” or “out of,” and it denotes either origin or motion away from something. Here, the latter sense is dominant. Because they have kept his word, they will not endure an event with dire consequences.

In the clause, “hour” or hōra has the definite article or “the,” and that points to a specific and known event. It is not just any hour, but the hour. Whether this “hour” is literal or figurative, it is something sudden, short, and decisive.

The “hour” will be a “trial” or peirasmos. The noun means “test, trial,” and it is used in legal contexts for judicial proceedings. It only occurs here in the book, and it is not the same word used elsewhere for “tribulation” - nowhere is “trial” equated with “tribulation” in Revelation.

And the “trial” will come on the “whole habitable earth.” This translates the Greek clause tés oikumenés holés, the same one that describes the target of Satan’s deceptions, “the whole habitable earth.” It is also used later for the kings of the “whole habitable earth” who ally with the “beast” at the final battle of the “Great Day of God Almighty.” In each case, “whole habitable earth” describes humanity in opposition to God. The “hour of trial” will affect rebellious mankind, not the church at Philadelphia - (Revelation 12:9, 16:12-16).

In contrast to the “hour of trial,” tribulation is something the saints endure for the sake of Jesus. According to John, “the tribulation” is underway already in his day (“fellow-participant in the tribulation”). Moreover, already, several of the “churches of Asia” have experienced persecution, tribulation, and even martyrdom - (Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 2:22, 7:14).

In Revelation, the “hour” is applied several times to an event of great finality at the end of the age:
  • (3:3) - For the unprepared, Jesus arrives at “an hour” they do not expect.
  • (9:15) - Angels are loosed to prepare for the “hour” to slay a third of mankind.
  • (11:13-18) - In the “self-same hour,” the great city will fall, and the seventh trumpet will sound, signaling the “hour” of final judgment.
  • (14:6-20) - Men fear because “the hour of God’s judgment is come.”
  • (14:15) – “The hour to reap has come,” the time of the final harvest.
  • (17:12) - Ten kings receive power with the Beast for only “one hour.”
  • (18:10) - Babylon’s judgment falls in only “one hour.”
  • (19:2-3) – In “one hour” Babylon is laid waste.

The hour of trial is not an extended period of suffering but a time of final judgment. All who oppose the “Lamb” undergo it. The promise of escape is conceptually parallel to the promise that overcomers will avoid the “second death” and not have their names “blotted out of the book of life” - (Revelation 2:11, 3:5).

HE WHO OVERCOMES

Once again, the letter concludes with promises for “overcomers,” and an exhortation by the “Spirit” to all the “churches.”
  • (Revelation 3:12-13) - “He that overcomes, him I will make a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and outside shall he in nowise go forth anymore; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming descending from heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new name. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

The one who overcomes will be made “a pillar in the sanctuary of God” and receive “the name of God and the name of the city of God.” The promises find their fulfillment in the holy city, “New Jerusalem.”  The city will descend to the earth, for the book’s vision concludes with the victorious saints inhabiting it in the “new heavens and the new earth” - (Revelation 21:2-3).



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