Philadelphia Pennsylvania is the home of the Liberty Bell, an important symbol of American history. The famously cracked bell was originally installed in the Pennsylvania Statehouse where the Continental Congress met to hammer out the Declaration of Independence. The inscription on the bell reads, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof LEV XXV X” A quote from Leviticus 25:10. Over the years it has often been used as a symbol of hope for those under oppression. It is that feeling of powerlessness and the promise of liberty that connects the Liberty Bell with the ancient city of Philadelphia and Jesus sixth letter to the churches of Asia.
Jesus says, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. ‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:7–13, NASB95) Philadelphia, not to be confused with the city in eastern Pennsylvania, was about 25 miles southeast of Sardis. It was a commercial city and the crossroads of various trade routes and roads. And just in case someone is unaware, Philadelphia literally means brotherly love. Did you also notice that Jesus did not call them to repent? Only two out of the seven letters do not have a condemnation. The first was to the persecuted church at Smyrna. The second is to the church in Philadelphia.
Jesus’ words to the Philadelphians weaves a tapestry as He repeatedly moves between the past, present, and promise. Let me pull and separate those threads for a moment. The church had a history of keeping Jesus’ Word and not denying His name. They had suffered persecution from the local synagogue and persevered. Perhaps those attacks, while not successful, left them feeling weak. Jesus recognized their current day condition and their feelings of powerlessness. In response, Jesus encourages them to “hold fast to what you have” and told them that He has opened a door for them that no one can shut. Jesus’ promise to the Philadelphians for the future was three-fold. Those that mocked them would bow before them, more on that later. That Jesus was coming soon to test the earth and that He would shield them. I believe that the picture woven from all of those pieces is revealed in the promise to the overcomers.
There is a two-fold promise to the overcomers. The first is that they would be forever in God’s presence as a pillar of the temple. While the Philadelphian believers saw themselves as weak, powerless, and not very influential Jesus portrayed them as a symbol of strength. It is very possible that Jesus was reminding them of how the pillars remained standing after a recent earthquake had destroyed parts of the city. But we must remember that Jesus was specific, overcomers will be a pillar in God’s temple, permanently standing in God’s presence. Recall the words of the Psalmist, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.” (Psalm 84:1–4, NLT) What the Psalmist yearned for the Overcomers receive. The second promise is that the overcomers would be inscribed with three names, the name of God, the name of the Kingdom as symbolized by the New Jerusalem, and Jesus’ new name. An inscription can be a lot of things. It can be a declaration of truth, like the Liberty Bell. It can be a memorial. It can be a record of great accomplishment. It can be a mark of ownership like taking a branding iron to a calf. Let’s recall something from earlier in the letter, Jesus promised that He would come and make their bullies and mockers bow at their feet. Remember these words from Paul, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10–11, NLT) The Philadelphian believers may have felt powerless because they were, there’s no shame in that. I think that Jesus was reminding them that true strength and power is only found in Him.
So, what can we gather from this ancient letter for our walk with Jesus today? First of all, true liberty comes from Jesus. He has the keys and can open doors that no one can shut. Even if someone’s reality is a dark prison cell they can experience freedom and liberty in Jesus Christ. No one can shut the door to God’s presence, it is always open to those that desire to enter in. Secondly, true strength comes from Jesus. We all feel weak and powerless at times in the face of our problems and the pain of our circumstances. Notice that Jesus did not condemn the followers at Philadelphia, even for only having a little power. He instead reminded them of their true strength in Him. A common prayer on most of our lips is “Jesus, give me the power, the strength, for this situation in my life.” Could it be that we’re praying all wrong? Perhaps we should change our prayer to – “Jesus, be the power, the strength for this situation in my life.” Do you see the difference? Changing one word impacts our expectations, our focus, our faith, our attitudes, and our outcomes.