The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 24

The Church of the Open Door

     Only two of the seven churches were living and serving in such a way as to receive no explicit rebuke from the Lord, and both of these were small and weak churches in the eyes of the world.  The first was Smyrna, a church undergoing terrible persecutions for its testimony; the last was Philadelphia, a church which was maintaining a faithful witness in the midst of general apostasy and unbelief.

Revelation 3:7.   And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.

     As is well known, the name Philadelphia means “brotherly love,” and the word is used (in slightly different form) seven other times in the New Testament to refer to this beautiful Christian attribute (as in Romans 12:10).  The city was so named by its founder (King Attalus of Pergamum) in honor of his brother, and was located about twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis.  It still survives today as the town of Alasehir.

     For the first time, the salutation of Christ to the church does not refer back to the introductory description in Revelation 1.  This suggests a distinctively new message to this particular church on the basis of distinctively appropriate attributes of the Head of the church.  First, He emphasizes His own unique attributes of absolute holiness and truth.  What He does is right, and what He says is true – by definition!  “For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth” (Psalm 33:4).  This doctrine of the sovereign God is the basis of all genuine witness for Christ, and the Philadelphia church had acknowledged this.

     With such a concept of the nature of Christ, the church was well prepared to have an effective testimony, since truth and holiness must go together.  Sound doctrine always generates godly practice; conversely, “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  Therefore, Christ also assures them that it is He alone who can open and shut doors of witness and service.

     The reference is to Isaiah 22:22: “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”  In the Old Testament, this promise was given specifically to Eliakim, who was a high official and faithful servant under King Hezekiah.  His predecessor, Shebna, had proved unfaithful in his service, so God was promising to give his position to Eliakim.  The “key of the house of David” specifically referred to the keys to the treasuries of the kings of Judah, but figuratively it also refers to all the great responsibilities of government which would thereby be resting upon him in an office essentially equivalent to that of prime minister.  Eliakim alone, under the king, would be responsible – the government, like the heavy key-chain hanging from his shoulder, was to be upon him.  The same prophetic promise had been made to the coming Savior in Isaiah 9:6, 7.  The government was to be upon His shoulder and He would occupy the throne of the house of David forever.

     Thus, Eliakim was presented to the people in Hezekiah’s Jerusalem as an actual visible type of the coming Messiah upon whose shoulders someday God would place eternally the kingdoms of all the world.  To the church at Philadelphia, Christ now claims to be the antitype, the fulfillment of the typological promise made over 800 years before through Eliakim (whose very name means “God raising up”).  He already has the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) and here claims the keys to the kingdoms of the earth as well.  He possesses all the keys, and so He alone has the ability and prerogative of  opening and shutting doors.

Revelation 3:8.   I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 

     The Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the key to every door, has chosen to maintain an open door for those in the Philadelphia church, one that cannot be shut by men however hard they try.  The church doors cannot be shut, prison doors cannot hold them, the gates of hell can’t prevail against them, and God’s treasure-house itself is open to them.  Certainly a door of witness and ministry is open to them as long as they are faithful.

     The reason for this expansive promise is: “I know thy works.”  In this epistle alone, the works are not described in any way; it is evident that, whatever they are, they please the Lord.  And the reason they please the Lord is that they proceed from an attitude of heart and life that finds its strength only in Christ, its faith only in His Word, and its very basis for existence only in His name.

     “A little strength” actually conveys the thought in the original of “but little strength.”  It is not that the church still has a little strength and thus can still function to some degree.  Rather, the very fact that it has but little strength is itself the source of its power for this means it must depend wholly on the Lord.  “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” says the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Neither wealth nor influence, neither promotional schemes nor the eloquence of its pulpit, nor the harmonies of its musicians can give it an effective ministry.  The Lord alone has opened the door; the Lord alone “giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

     A Philadelphia-like church, furthermore, keeps God’s Word!  The pressures to repudiate His Word, to distort the Word, to dilute the Word, to allegorize the Word, or just to ignore God’s Word, have always been great, and multitudes of believers have compromised their witness throughout the centuries by yielding to these pressures.  The modern scene is saturated with innumerable compromise-generating pressures, and most churches today have yielded in one way or another.  The Scriptures are filled with warnings: “Keep that which is committed to thy trust” (1 Timothy 6:20); “Hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13); “Earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3).  “Continue in the faith grounded and settled” (Colossians 1:23).

     When a church begins to deal loosely with the word of Christ, it will sooner or later deny the name of Christ.  The name of a person stands for his character, his position, his work – all that he is and does.  The concept of the name of Christ is, therefore, vital.  There are at least 125 references to His name, as such, in the New Testament alone.

     His formal name could be said to be “the Lord Jesus Christ” (note Acts 2:36).  The name “Jesus” means “salvation,” and one who honors this name accepts the great salvation provided by His substitutionary atonement and justifying resurrection (Acts 4:12).  One who honors the name “Christ” (that is, “the anointed one”) acknowledges His person – His threefold eminence as God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king.  One who honors Him as “Lord” believes and obeys His Word.

     To these who have little strength, but keep His Word and acknowledge His name, Christ gives the marvelous assurance of the open door, which no man can close.  Conversely, to those who rely on their own power, their own intelligence, their own influence – thereby denying His strength, His Word and His name – the doors which they manage to force open will soon be shut, for there are always other men with greater power and wit and importance than theirs.

Revelation 3:9.   Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

     Another common experience to the faithful churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, was opposition from the false Jews of the so-called synagogue of Satan (see comments on Revelation 2:9).  Apparently the false apostles and other false prophets who plagued the other churches had been unable to get any hearing in these two churches, but the Judaizers and would-be priests and ritualists were a problem.  The true believers would be vindicated, however, when these legalists, who desired spiritual worship for themselves (when not even angels would allow men to worship before their feet – note Revelation 22:8, 9) would be forced to bow down in their presence – certainly not to worship them, but rather to worship Christ in His redeeming grace.  Since this promise is not one of salvation to such pseudo-Jews, but of condemnation, its fulfillment probably is the great judgment assembly as expounded in Philippians 2:10, 11.

Revelation 3:10.   Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

     This is an important and somewhat controversial verse, one of the key verses supporting the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture of the believing church, as exemplified at Philadelphia.  It is somewhat parallel to the promise to Smyrna: “Ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).  Both speak of a coming time of trouble, and both stress its brevity compared to the glory that follows.  The one, however, is caused by the devil, and is suffered by the church; the other is sent by the Lord and suffered by men who dwell on the earth.

     Both churches represent all those churches who are true to the Lord, keeping His Word, patient in tribulation.  All their members will be called to endure suffering in some degree, many even to death.  “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippiams 1:29).  This is because of the age-long opposition of the world and the devil to Christ and His followers (John 15:20; 16:33).

     But there is also a time of judgmental suffering coming on the earth whose purpose is not to try the church but to try them that dwell on the earth.  This is nothing less than the seven-year period described here in Revelation, whose judgments come when the Lamb opens the seals (Revelation 6:1) and His angels sound the trumpets (Revelation 8:2) and pour out the vials of God’s wrath upon the earth (Revelation 16:1).  The purpose of these judgments is neither to allow Satan to test the church nor for Christ to judge the church (the latter will be done at His judgment seat, not on earth).

     Therefore, this promise seems clearly to promise a deliverance of the Philadelphians from this coming time of judgment.  There is no suggestion that this promised deliverance will be by death, as at Smyrna, and it would be redundant to say that they would be delivered “through” it.

     There will be multitudes of men and women who will become believers during this great tribulation (Revelation 7:14), as a result of this last great “trial” of those who dwell on the earth.  However, great numbers of these will be martyred as a result (Revelation 13:15), so that it could hardly be said that they would be delivered “out of” the tribulation.

     The only legitimate conclusion from this verse, therefore, is that genuine believers will be delivered from this coming hour of judgment of the earth by Christ Himself, as He returns to take them by resurrection and rapture to be with Him, in fulfillment of His age-long promise (John 14:2, 3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; etc.).

     Posttribulationists reject this conclusion, contending there is no reason why Christians in the last generation deserve to escape the great tribulation.  The fact is, however, that Christians in every other generation have escaped the great tribulation, so there is no reason why the last should be singled out for participation in it.  No generation of the Christian church has ever escaped satanic tribulation, including the last, but none will be judged with the world in Christ’s coming purging of the earth.  Even those who are saved during the tribulation, while they will suffer persecution and, in some cases, death because of Satan and his followers, will not be the objects of the wrath of God as will others during this time.

Revelation 3:11.   Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 

     The Lord promises to return while Philadelphia-type churches are still functioning, just as He had in the cases of Thyatira and Sardis.  The Thyatira profligates, however, would be cast into the great tribulation (Revelation 2:22) and Sardis would be caught unawares (3:3), while Philadelphia, faithfully watching and serving, would be kept from the coming hour of temptation.

     Although the Philadelphians were faithful, there is always the danger of backsliding, especially in the face of sustained opposition: hence, the admonition to hold fast.  The “crown of life” had been promised to those who are faithful unto death (2:10), but there is always the possibility of losing one’s reward (1 Corinthians 3:14, 15), though not of losing one’s salvation (John 10:28, 29).

Revelation 3:12.   Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

     In the spiritual temple now being erected, each new believer is a living stone (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5).  In the new Jerusalem, however, “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Revelation 21:22), and overcoming Christians will be the eternal pillars of it.  Upon their apparel will be emblazoned three marks of glorious identification: (1) the name of his Savior God; (2) his heavenly citizenship; (3) his own distinctive new name, selected and awarded him by Christ Himself (Revelation 2:17). 

Revelation 3:13.   He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. 

     Note the remarkable sequence of revelation to each of the churches.  The Lord speaks to John, John writes to the church’s angel, and the angel somehow communicates it to the church (note the implications in the phrase “tongues of angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1, and in the phrase “the spirits of the prophets” in 1 Corinthians 14:32).  And all of this information was incorporated in John’s all-inclusive letter to the seven churches (Revelation 1:4; 22:16, 21).  But, however the information finally reached the churches, it was none other than the Holy Spirit Himself speaking to the churches.

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