Philadelphia receives no correction, for she has remained faithful, and therefore, she will be kept from the “hour of trial” – Revelation 3:7-13.
Philadelphia lay fifty kilometers southeast of Sardis, where it straddled a major road into the interior, making trade with the other cities of Asia vital to its economy. The city was established in 189 B.C. by the king of Pergamos, and later, came under Roman provincial government when the last king bequeathed his realm to Rome in 133 B.C.
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.
HE WHO HAS THE KEY OF DAVID: 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.”
Jesus is “holy and true,” a declaration that expands his earlier description as the “faithful witness.” Here, his unwavering character is contrasted with them “who say they are Jews and are not but lie.” The description anticipates the vision of the “rider on the white horse” who was “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 entry and who may not. The link to David and the conflict with the “synagogue of Satan” suggest the messianic status of Jesus was in dispute between the church at Philadelphia and the local synagogue.
There is no rebuke or correction of the congregation. Because of its faithfulness, Jesus has set an “open door,” entrance into the household of God. Likewise, he decides and controls who will gain entrance into “New Jerusalem,” and who will not. In such matters, the synagogue has no say whatsoever.
The assembly at Philadelphians has “a little strength” has “kept my word” and “not denied my name.” The church was marginalized, and its members were without any social, political, or economical influence. Nevertheless, they had sufficient strength to maintain their testimony despite any hostility from the synagogue or local authorities.
Rather than compromise, the church has “kept Christ’s word.” Refusal to deny his name indicates it has experienced hostility, especially from the local synagogue, the “synagogue of Satan,” which consists of “them who say they are Jews but are not.”
Because the congregation has remained faithful, Jesus will make them the “liars” 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 was that the Gentiles would bow before Israel and acknowledge her election by Yahweh, but in Revelation the 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.
THE 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 them – (Revelation 12:11).
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 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,” which points to a specific and known event. It is not just any hour, but the hour. Whether this “hour” is literal or figurative, it something sudden, short, and decisive event.
The “hour” will be a “trial” or peirasmos. The noun means “test, trial,” and 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.”
The “trial” will come on the “whole habitable earth,” which translates the Greek clause tés oikumenés holés, the same clause 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” described 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 on Patmos, “the tribulation” is underway already, or at least 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 vision concludes with the victorious saints inhabiting it in the “new heavens and the new earth” – (Revelation 21:2-3).