Usually week three is the last full week of readings, but since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, we are only half-way through, which means we have twice as much fun left. We begin the week with Jesus’ letter to the church at Philadelphia.
7. To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write these things: the holy one, the true one, the one holding the key of David, the one who, what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open, says,
8. ‘I know your works. Behold, I have put an open door in front of you. No one will be able to close it. You have very little power, but you kept my word and did not deny my name.
9. Behold, I will bring it about that those people from the synagogue of Satan, liars who claim to be Jews but are not, they will come and fall at your feet; they will know I love you.
10. Because patiently you kept my word, and so I will keep you from the hour of trial about to come upon the entire world, to test those living upon the earth.
11. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so no one can take your crown.
12. I will make those who conquer a pillar in God’s temple. He will never leave it. I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven.
13. Those who have ears should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
Jesus has left a door open for the church at Philadelphia. This is the kind of door nobody can shut. The question seems to be what is the purpose of this door? It seems unlikely this is a door of salvation, as these are already redeemed people. It also seems unlikely this is a door of opportunity (the dreaded open door theology). Likewise, I do not think this is a door to heaven, as in an escape. I think something else is going on here.
The church in Philadelphia is powerless according to the world’s standards, but they they have been faithful. This has afforded them an open door of access, access to God’s protection. There is a play on words in verse 10. The Philadelphians had kept the word of God, therefore he will keep them. Keep them from the trial that is coming. We must assume this trial will not be spared upon the other churches, but just this one.
God loves all, and he loves all his people. But he doesn’t treat all churches equally. He seems to deal with them according to their faithfulness. In our world, we seem to equate God’s special favor with high attendance, big buildings, large bank accounts, flashy worship sets, online clicks, and political influence. Philadelphia had none of these things. They were small and powerless. But they were faithful, and that matters more to the Lord than all of our metrics. Keep that in mind the next time you are seeking a church.
Perhaps there is some kind of connection between what we value and how the Lord relates to us. It does seem to me churches which value the Word of God, in spirit as well as in letter, seem to be blessed with a certain kind of longevity and relevance far greater than their numbers might indicate. Today we might call that influence.
This influence is made a reality when, in an apparent display of love and favoritism, God says he will drag those liars who claim spiritual pedigree before these and make them bow a their feet. The whole point of the display of power from God is so that these fakers will know that God really loves his people.
I am captivated by the blessing for those who conquer. They will be made into a pillar or a pillar will be made representing them — one or the other. I opt for a pillar made representing them in the future temple. And that temple will be, perhaps, like a place of honor in which secret names will be written as a testimony. My suspicion is that if there is such a courtyard of pillars in the temple of the New Jerusalem, it will be inscribed with the names of countless churches and Christ-followers who have been unknown throughout history, but will forever be celebrated in eternity.