BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITHFULNESS (DESPITE NOT BEING OUTWARDLY IMPRESSIVE), THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA IS PROMISED SPECIAL PROTECTION FROM THE GREAT TRIBULATION
Buist Fanning: Jesus commends the church in Philadelphia for fidelity despite weakness, and he pledges to vindicate them against their enemies and protect them from the unprecedented testing that will fall on the whole world.
John MacArthur: Occasionally I am asked by young men seeking a church to pastor if I know of a church without any problems. My response to them is “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you; you’d go there and spoil it.” The point is that there are no perfect churches. Churches struggle because all are made up of imperfect, sinning people. The church is not a place for people with no weaknesses; it is a fellowship of those who are aware of their weaknesses and long for the strength and grace of God to fill their lives. It is a kind of hospital for those who know they are sick and needy.
Like all churches, the one in Philadelphia had its imperfections. Yet the Lord commended its members for their faithfulness and loyalty. They and the congregation at Smyrna were the only two of the seven that received no rebuke from the Lord of the church. In spite of their fleshly struggles, the Christians at Philadelphia were faithful and obedient, serving and worshiping the Lord. They provide a good model of a loyal church.
Kendell Easley: Christ encourages the congregation of Philadelphia to take heart that the open door to heaven is theirs despite human and satanic hostility and to “hold on” as Christ promises to protect them in the face of a coming worldwide trial.
(:7) PROLOGUE – JESUS CONTROLS KINGDOM ACCESS
A. Command to Write to the Church at Philadelphia
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:”
Robert Thomas: The city of Philadelphia, now the site of the modern town of Alasehir, was located in Lydia about twenty-five miles southeast of Sardis. It lay in the valley of the Cogamis River, which was a tributary of the Hermus. At some point after 189 B.C., it had been founded by a Pergamenian king, either Eumenes II or his brother Attalus II, who correctly thought this to be an excellent site for a city. The long Cogamis Valley extends southeast from the Hermus Valley and connects into the side of the central plateau. It affords the best path for ascending from the Hermus Valley, about 500 feet above sea level, to the main plateau about 1,500 feet higher. Though the climb was steep, this was the path along which trade and communication from the harbor at Smyrna and from Lydia and the northwest regions were maintained with Phrygia and the east. It rivaled the road east from Ephesus in importance as a trade route. It also served as the imperial postal road during the first century A.D. Communications from Rome moved to Troas, whence they continued overland to Pergamum, Sardis, and then to Philadelphia and on to the east. Philadelphia was thus a stage on the main line of Imperial communication. In later Byzantine times, it became the greatest trade route of the whole country.
Grant Osborne: It was the most recent of the seven cities, founded sometime after 189 B.C. by either Eumenes II, king of Pergamum, or his younger brother Attalus Philadelphus, so-called because of his love and loyalty for his older sibling. He lent his name to the city, which became known as the city of “brotherly love” and was proud of its origins. As a Pergamene city, Philadelphia was labeled by Ramsay “the missionary city.” Situated at the head of the trade and military road to Phrygia, the monarchs expected Philadelphia to introduce both Lydia and Phrygia (which had oriental customs) to Greek ways and to make them loyal subjects. The efforts were successful, and by the first century, Greek was the language spoken in those lands. .
As in all the letters, the letter is sent to the guardian angel of the church to add eschatological power to its message and to remind them of the seriousness of these issues. Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only two churches with no rebuke, and it is interesting that both were under severe threat from a powerful Jewish presence in the city. Therefore, the names of Christ chosen here reflect that situation and reassure the beleaguered Philadelphia Christians that the Messiah is indeed on their side, not on the side of the “synagogue of Satan” (3:9).
Warren Wiersbe: Philadelphia was situated in a strategic place on the main route of the Imperial Post from Rome to the East, and thus was called “the gateway to the East.” It was also called “little Athens” because of the many temples in the city. The church was certainly located in a place of tremendous opportunity.
The only major problem with the location was that the area was prone to earthquakes. Philadelphia sat on a geological fault, and in 17 BC it was destroyed by a severe earthquake that also destroyed Sardis and ten other cities. Afterward, some of the citizens refused to move back into the city and remained in the surrounding countryside, which they called “the burnt land.” There did not seem to be much security in the city of brotherly love!
B. Characterization of Christ as Worthy of Trust = Holy, Genuine and Sovereign
- Uniquely Set Apart to God
“He who is holy,”
John MacArthur: The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine author of the seven letters, always introduces Himself with a description reflecting His character. In the previous five letters, those descriptions had come from the vision recorded in 1:12–17. But this description of Him is unique and not drawn from that earlier vision. It has distinctly Old Testament features.
Robert Thomas: Hagios characterizes Jesus, not so much as the sinless one, but as one especially set apart, belonging exclusively to God. Though opposed and rejected by the synagogue of Satan (cf. 3:9), Christ remains characteristically holy. Hence, His words are also holy, carrying with them a mandate for obedience.
Gordon Fee: Thus Christ is here designated as “the Holy One” and “the True One.” The significance of these referents is that, in the first case, it reflects Old Testament language about God, who is frequently designated as “the Holy One” (see e.g., Isaiah 40:25; Habakkuk 3:3). Later, in Revelation 6:10, this is the very language used of God the Father—“the Holy and True One”—while in 19:11 Christ is called “Faithful and True.” All of this again reflects John’s assumed high Christology, where titles elsewhere used for God the Father are without note or argumentation used for the Son.
“who is true,”
Robert Thomas: Ho alēthinos (“the true one”) emphasizes Christ’s genuineness. He is the real as opposed to the unreal. A cognate word, ληθής (alēthēs, “true”), speaks of what is true as fact, the opposite of spurious or imperfect. This term has to do with reality, however. When confronted by Christ, we are confronted by no shadowy outline of the truth, but with the truth itself.
James Hamilton: The fact that he is “true” speaks to his reliability. He can be trusted.
Warren Wiersbe: It is worth noting that when the martyrs in heaven addressed the Lord, they called Him “holy and true” (Rev. 6:10). Their argument was that, because He was holy, He had to judge sin, and because He was true, He had to vindicate His people who had been wickedly slain.
- Sovereign over Access to His Kingdom
“who has the key of David,
who opens and no one will shut,
and who shuts and no one opens,”
Buist Fanning: The next description, “the one who has the key of David” harks back to 1:18 (“I have the keys of Death and of Hades”) and seems to carry a sense complementary to it. In 3:7b this “key” relates to opening and closing in a context that speaks of “an open door” (v. 8b) and access to the new Jerusalem (v. 12), and so it refers to Christ’s control over the eternal destiny of humans (cf. Matt 16:19: “keys of the kingdom of heaven”). The connection with David is drawn directly from Isaiah 22:22 (with allusions to Isa 9:7; 16:5; 55:3).
Warren Wiersbe: The background of this imagery is Isaiah 22:15–25. Assyria had invaded Judah (as Isaiah had warned), but the Jewish leaders were trusting Egypt, not God, to deliver the nation. One of the treacherous leaders was a man named Shebna who had used his office, not for the good of the people, but for his own private gain. God saw to it that Shebna was removed from office and that a faithful man, Eliakim, was put in his place and given the keys of authority. Eliakim was a picture of Jesus Christ, a dependable administrator of the affairs of God’s people. Jesus Christ also has the keys of hades and of death (Rev. 1:18).
Van Parunak: (cf. Is. 36:2-3) — By claiming to have the key of David, the Lord is presenting himself as the chief steward of the kingdom of heaven. He has the keys to every door in the heavenly palace. It would be consistent with this image for him to control access to death and hades, comparable to the steward having the keys to the dungeon. Furthermore, the allusion to the story of Shebna and Eliakim suggests that the Lord has taken the keys from a prior but unworthy custodian, those “which say they are Jews, and are not” (3:9).
Grant Osborne: The Jews had probably excommunicated the Christians in Philadelphia from the synagogue (as throughout the Jewish world), but this declares unequivocally that only Christ, not they, has that authority. He alone can “open” and “shut” the gates to heaven. Moreover, the Jews excluded the believers from the synagogue, but Christ will exclude these Jews from God’s eternal kingdom. His decision will be final. When he “opens” the New Jerusalem (to the Gentiles), no one can change that decision. When he “closes” the door (to these Jews), this decision also cannot be altered.
C. Communication from the Sovereign Head of the Church
I. (:8-10) COMMENDATION FOR FAITHFULNESS WITH CORRESPONDING PROMISES
A. (:8) Promise of Open Door for Faithfulness
- Orientation of Christian Ministry
“I know your deeds.”
- Open Door for Kingdom Entrance
“Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut,”
Buist Fanning: Bible students might readily think of Paul’s “open door” as a metaphor for wider ministry opportunities, especially in evangelism (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Cor 2:12; Col 4:3; cf. Acts 14:27) and understand that same sense here. But related images in this context (Christ’s authority over the eternal destiny of people in v. 7b and indications in vv. 9 and 11 that these Christians truly belong to him) make it more likely that this “open door” assures their own access to God rather than success at leading others to him. Christ’s own divine authority guarantees that their access will never be taken away (“no one is able to close” it; v. 8b).
Grant Osborne: Many scholars (Swete, R. Charles, Hort, Ramsay, Caird, Walvoord, Hemer, P. Hughes, Harrington) take this as a reference to missionary opportunity, fitting Paul’s use of the “wide door” to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; cf. Acts 14:27) and the situation of Philadelphia as a “missionary city” spreading Hellenistic culture. Others have seen this as referring to martyrdom as the “door” to God (Kiddle 1940: 49), prayer as the “door” (Barclay 1960: 1.164), or Christ as the “door” to salvation (Moffatt 1983: 366; Sweet 1979: 103, on the basis of John 10:7–9, “the door of the sheep”). However, the most common view today (Beckwith, Lohmeyer, Ladd, Mounce, Johnson, Prigent, Krodel, Thomas, Fekkes, Giesen, Aune, Beale) is to see this as the “door” to the kingdom. While the church has been excommunicated from the synagogue, Christ has the “keys” to the kingdom. He has opened he “door,” and “no one could shut it.” This is certainly more in keeping with 3:7.
Robert Thomas: Overwhelming evidence points to a third explanation of the “opened door” as the correct one. It speaks of a sure entrance into the messianic kingdom, promised to this church as a reward for their faithfulness. No one, not even those of “the synagogue of Satan,” can shut them out. Jewish opponents would seek to deny Gentiles, such as Christians in this city, entrance into the messianic kingdom (Beckwith). This meaning is clear from the immediate context of the message. The use of David’s name just before recalls the Messiah’s prerogative of admitting to or turning away from David’s future kingdom (Rev. 5:5; 22:16; cf. Luke 1:32) (Johnson). David is always the type of the supreme ruler of the theocracy (cf. Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23; 37:24; Hos. 3:5) (Lee). Furthermore, ēne gmenēn (“opened”) is a form of νoίγω (anoigō, “I open”), which is used twice at the end of v. 7 in describing Jesus’ administration of His messianic office. If He who controls the opening and closing of access to the Davidic kingdom speaks of an opened door in the same breath as describing messianic prerogative, the inevitable conclusion is to see a reference to admission to that kingdom (Johnson). It is natural to refer to this final reward for fidelity immediately after “I know your works,” because these works amounted to the church’s faithful stand for Christ (Beckwith). The words hēn oudeis dynatai kleisai autēn (“which no one can shut,” 3:8) recall the words oudeis kleisei (“no one will shut”) from v. 7 and come into play in connection with v. 9. This promise amounts to a promise of deliverance from their Jewish adversaries, a deliverance that will come at Christ’s second advent (cf. 3:11). Added affirmation of this solution comes in noting that it makes this idou clause a promise, thus paralleling the two idou clauses of v. 9. It also matches the distinctly eschatological tone of this message to Philadelphia.
- Prioritizing Faithfulness over Outward Success
a. Power/Influence Limited
“because you have a little power,”
Robert Thomas: Some argue that this alludes to the meager number of believers in the church and consequently the limited influence they exercised (Hort; Beckwith). Support for this theory comes from observing that the members of the church probably came from the lower classes (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-27) in contrast with the wealth of their Jewish adversaries. It is also observed that the church is not blamed for its lack of equipment, a factor beyond its control, but is praised for making good use of the slight resources at its disposal (Moffatt). Others are of the opinion that the church’s “little power” refers to the small spiritual vitality of the believers in the church, noting that the expression obviously falls short of a full commendation (Walvoord). Although neither view has particularly strong support, the latter meets with formidable objections. This could hardly imply a limited spiritual vitality because it is part of the good qualities that constitute the commended works (Lee). It is further disproved by the commendations that are issued to the church in the remaining verses of the message. “Little power” must refer to the church’s limited influence because of its numerical smallness.
James Hamilton: This probably refers to the beleaguered position of the church in Philadelphia—small, seemingly insignificant, with an appearance, perhaps, of ineffectiveness in the eyes of those who look through the lens of the Roman Empire. And yet this is God’s vehicle for advancing his purposes in the world.
b. Priority of Obedience
“and have kept My word,”
c. Priority of Loyalty
“and have not denied My name.”
Grant Osborne: the church lacked size and stature in the community and was looked down upon and persecuted. They had “little authority” or influence. But they were faithful, and that has always been the test of divine blessing rather than success.
John Walvoord: The church will always encounter Satanic opposition when it attempts to faithfully declare the gospel and stand for Christ. Those believers today who are experiencing such affliction and persecution may be assured that however violent the opposition and however direct the efforts to thwart the work of God, in the end there will be victory for the cause of Christ.
B. (:9) Promise of Vindication against Opponents
- Denunciation of Opponents
a. Denounced as Affiliated with Satan
“Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan,”
b. Denounced as Liars – Fake Jews
“who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie—“
John MacArthur: Christians in Philadelphia faced hostility from unbelieving Jews. Ignatius later debated some hostile Jews during his visit to Philadelphia. Because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, they were not at all a synagogue of God, but a synagogue of Satan. Though they claimed that they were Jews, that claim was a lie. Racially, culturally, and ceremonially they were Jews, but spiritually they were not. Paul defines a true Jew in Romans 2:28–29: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (cf. Rom. 9:6–7).
- Dominion over Opponents
a. Submission of Opponents
“behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet,”
Grant Osborne: The passage alludes to Isa. 60:14, “The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet” (cf. also Isa. 2:3; 14:2; 45:14; 49:23; Ezek. 36:23; Zech. 8:20–23). The OT taught that the Gentiles would be forced to pay homage to the Jews at the eschaton, and now this promise is turned on its head: Jewish oppressors would be forced to pay homage to Gentile believers. Christ is promising these persecuted Christians that they would be vindicated by God, and this is a theme that will appear again and again in the book (6:9–11; 16:6; 18:20; 19:2). The telling point in favor of this interpretation is that they (the Jews) will bow “at your (σου, sou) feet” and not “at my (μου, mou) feet.” This is submission, not worship, and parallels 2:26–27, where the faithful saints are promised that they will participate in the judgment of their (and God’s) enemies.
John MacArthur: Bowing at someone’s feet depicts abject, total defeat and submission. The Philadelphia church’s enemies would be utterly vanquished, humbled, and defeated.
b. Status of Believers at Philadelphia = Loved by Jesus
“and to know that I have loved you.”
C. (:10) Promise of Protection from Coming Time of Testing in the Great Tribulation
- Faithfulness in the Midst of Adversity
“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance,”
Richard Phillips: Notice that it is Christ who keeps his people safe, and that this safety takes place through a living and persevering faith. Christians are kept eternally secure by God’s sovereign will and power, yet this security is experienced by an active, striving faith by which Christ’s people conquer in this world (see 1 Peter 1:4–5).
Marvin Rosenthal: The word translated patience in Revelation 3:10 occurs twenty-eight times in the New Testament. It consistently conveys the idea of endurance in the midst of adversity. . . cf. Luke 21:16-19 – Believers are admonished to remain faithful in the midst of adversity. (Also 1 Thess. 1:3, 6; 2 Thess. 1:4; Rev. 13:10). . .
Patience is frequently used in the context of the seventieth week of Daniel (Luke 21:19; Rev. 13:10; 14:12). There is a reason for an appeal to patience for believers living during that seventieth week. “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22; also Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 24).
- Free Pass from the Great Tribulation Test
“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 upon the earth.”
From the perspective of the Pre-Wrath Rapture position, I would interpret the “hour of testing” to refer to the Great Tribulation period of Satanic persecution of believers. This occurs just after the mid-point of Daniel’s 70th week and before the Rapture of the church and the pouring out of God’s wrath in the Day of the Lord. God is not promising to remove the believers from that time of testing but rather to protect them in the midst of that suffering as they persevere by His grace.
Gordon Fee: Is this to be understood as a temporal event, soon to take place in the period of this writing? Or is it a more purely eschatological event, a way of describing the days preceding the coming of our Lord? Furthermore, in this particular case the readers are promised they will be to be “kept from” this hour of trial. Does this mean to be delivered from it altogether when it comes? Or does it mean to be kept secure by Christ even during its most intense expression?
Grant Osborne: The debate is whether it means “protect from” or “remove from,” and the issue centers on the significance of ἐκ (ek, out of). Many scholars (Moffatt; Mounce; Beasley-Murray; Brown 1966; Gundry 1973; Hemer 1986: 164–65; Giesen; Beale; Aune) connect this with John 17:15, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from [also τηρέω ἐκ] the evil one” (the same preposition occurs in 2 Pet. 2:9, “rescue from trials”). Gundry (1973: 55–60) argues that ἐκ must have a local force, meaning protection “out from within” the trial. In this sense it connotes not exemption from trials but protection within trials. However, others (Walvoord, Johnson, Townsend, Winfrey, Thomas) argue that John 17:15 has a different context (a present battle with evil rather than the final future battle) and that the preposition does not necessarily have a local sense but could also mean “preservation after removal from the period” (Thomas 1992: 285). It must be admitted that both readings are possible from the language, so context must show which is more likely.
Obviously, a decision on the meaning of τῆς ὥρας τοῦ πειρασμοῦ (tēs hōras tou peirasmou, the hour of trial) is essential to the meaning. The consensus view is that it refers to the final end-time trials that precede the eschaton. This is differentiated from the local “ten-day tribulation” of Smyrna (2:10) by its involvement of “the whole world” (τῆς οἰκουμένης ὅλης, tēs oikoumenēs holēs) and so connotes a worldwide conflagration, the messianic judgments of the rest of this book (cf. Dan. 12:1–2; Matt. 24:21–22; 2 Thess. 2:1–12).
Marvin Rosenthal: Because commentators have not generally understood that there are three sections to the seventieth week – the beginning birth pangs [ first 3 ½ years], the Great Tribulation [starting right after the Abomination of Desolation at the mid point], and the Day of the Lord – they have, in the view of this author, made a fundamental error. . .
Those who keep the word of His patience are those who, under the stress and pressure of the first three and one-half years of the seventieth week, stay steadfast and true in the face of adversity. They will be the overcomers. As a result, they will be kept “from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” The “hour of temptation” (a specifically appointed time) is the Great Tribulation. It begins in the middle of the seventieth week but will be “cut short” before the end of the seventieth week. Some men will be kept from that hour in two ways. They will be kept “from the hour” by physical removal (perhaps men of faith and patience who are watchful will flee Jerusalem, as history records a believed remnant did before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70), and others will be kept “through the hour of temptation” by direct, divine protection. Both concepts, removal from and protection from the hour of testing, are correct. , ,
This phrase has nothing whatever to do with the timing of the Rapture. It deals with the Great Tribulation and holds out the promise – the glorious promise – that a remnant who have stayed true to the Lord during the first three and one-half years will be kept from the temptation of the Great Tribulation which will try the souls of men under the barbaric reign of the Antichrist. It is following the Great Tribulation that the Rapture and the Day of the Lord will occur.
Kendell Easley: The hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world is the first specific reference to a coming time of trouble for the whole world—“the Great Tribulation”—initiated by God. (This is distinct from the Christians of Smyrna being tested by the devil, Rev. 2:10.) This will be a terrible time for those who live on the earth, a phrase meaning “the body of unbelievers.” In one obvious sense, the first-century Philadelphians were kept from this time, for this final trial did not happen in their lifetime. However, the meaning must be broader: “If the worldwide time of trial comes in your day, you will be kept from it.”
II. (:11) EXHORTATION TO HOLD FIRM UNTIL CHRIST RETURNS
A. The Future Is Secure – Christ Is Coming Quickly
“I am coming quickly;”
There is not only divine help but deliverance that will keep believers secure for all eternity as Christ returns.
B. The Present Demands Perseverance
“hold fast what you have,”
Craig Keener: Despite Jesus’ praises for the Philadelphian Christians’ perseverance to this point, however, “it’s not over till it’s over.” They must continue to hold fast what they have (3:11), that is, to continue to keep the message that demands their perseverance (3:10), lest their persecutors seize from them their crown (3:11; cf. 2:25). The “crown” is a victor’s wreath appropriate to overcomers (see comments on 2:10, where the crown of life contrasts with the second death in 2:11), and losing it means roughly the same as the warning to the preceding church: exclusion from the kingdom (3:5).
John MacArthur: It is true that believers are eternally secure because of the power of God. Yet the means by which He secures them is by providing believers with a persevering faith. Christians are saved by God’s power, but not apart from their constant, undying faith. Paul writes in Colossians 1:22–23 that “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach–if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard.” According to 1 John 2:19, those who abandon the faith reveal that they were never truly saved to begin with: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
C. The Reward Will Be Glorious
“in order that no one take your crown.”
This is the crown of eternal life – not some temporal reward that only is applied to an elite class of believers.
(:12-13) EPILOGUE – BLESSING FOR THOSE WHO OVERCOME
A. (:12) Persevere to Receive Blessing
- Condition of Overcoming
“He who overcomes,”
- Promise of Blessing
a. Assurance of Secure Status in the Kingdom
1) Prominent Status
“I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,”
Robert Thomas: The stable relationship to God is guaranteed by poiēsō auton stylon en t na tou theou mou, kai exō ou mē exelth eti (“I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not possibly go outside any longer”). The language is clearly metaphorical, as is evident from stylon (“pillar”). Because the person is likened to a pillar, na (“temple”) must be metaphorical also (Charles). Hence, this promise is not inconsistent with the later statement that there is no temple in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22). The Jerusalem that comes down from heaven is all temple, and Christ’s victorious ones are its living stones and pillars. The Philadelphian Christians will be permanent, like a pillar in the Temple, and will stand when all else has fallen. They are assured of continuance in God’s presence throughout all eternity (Walvoord).
John MacArthur: A pillar represents stability, permanence, and immovability. Pillars can also represent honor; in pagan temples they were often carved in such a way as to honor a particular deity. The marvelous promise Christ makes to believers is that they will have an eternal place of honor in the temple of God (heaven). To people used to fleeing their city because of earthquakes and enemies, the promise that they will not go out from heaven was understood as security in eternal glory.
2) Permanent Status
“and he will not go out from it anymore;”
John Walvoord: The promise “Never shall he go out of it” seems to mean that they will no longer be exposed to the temptations and trials of this life and will have their permanent residence in the very presence of God.
b. Assurance of Belonging to God
1) Identity as Belonging to God
“and I will write upon him the name of My God,”
Robert Thomas: The threefold occurrence of onoma (“name”) is impressive and amounts to a threefold assurance of his identity with God. To have “the name of My God” was equivalent to belonging to God, being endowed with divine power (Moffatt). This sets the overcomer in utter contrast with the assumptions of his present Jewish persecutors (Beckwith).
2) Inclusion as Citizen of God’s Kingdom
“and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem,
which comes down out of heaven from My God,”
Robert Thomas: To have “the name of the city of My God” meant the right of citizenship in the new Jerusalem (Charles). This is “the new Jerusalem” that descends from God after the white throne judgment and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (cf. 21:10 ff.). Like the holy city of 21:2, 10, this one is described as descending out of heaven, “from My God” as Christ describes it. It is the successor to the old Jerusalem with which John was familiar (Swete). Citizenship in this city is yet another mark of assurance for the overcomer.
Gordon Fee: Thus these believers in earthquake-prone Philadelphia will inherit a city that will endure—and will exist without the tremors!
3) Intimate Knowledge of God
“and My new name.”
William Barclay: Philadelphia had one particular characteristic which has left its mark upon this letter. It was on the edge of a great plain called the Katakekaumenē, which means the Burned Land. The Katakekaumenē was a great volcanic plain bearing the marks of the lava and the ashes of volcanoes then extinct. Such land is fertile; and Philadelphia was the centre of a great grape-growing area and a famous producer of wines. But that situation had its perils, and these perils had left their mark more deeply on Philadelphia than on any other city. In AD 17, there was a great earthquake which destroyed Sardis and ten other cities. In Philadelphia, the tremors went on for years; Strabo describes it as a ‘city full of earthquakes’. . .
When this earthquake devastated it, Tiberius was as generous to Philadelphia as he had been to Sardis. In gratitude, it changed its name to Neocaesarea – the New City of Caesar. In the time of Vespasian, Philadelphia was to change its name, again out of gratitude, to Flavia, for Flavius was the emperor’s family name. It is true that neither of these new names lasted and ‘Philadelphia’ was restored. But the people of Philadelphia knew what it was to receive ‘a new name’.
Grant Osborne: Most likely this is a name hidden until the eschaton. The most amazing thing is not the meaning of the “new name” but the fact that we will share it.
Robert Thomas: Christ’s “new name” symbolizes the full revelation of His character promised to the overcomer at Christ’s second advent. Currently, man is incapable of grasping the full theological significance of the incarnation, but that will change. When He comes, the victors will not only appreciate fully who Christ is, but they will bear His new name with Him (Charles; Mounce). Herein is further assurance.
John MacArthur: Christ’s name represents the fullness of His person. In heaven, believers will “see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2), and whatever we may have known of Him will pale in the reality in which we will then see Him. The new name by which we will be privileged to call Him will reflect that glorious revelation of His person.
Gordon Fee: First, the writing of Christ’s name on their foreheads is the ultimate sign of ownership, but an ownership not of enslavement but of ultimate and glorious freedom. Second, the “new name” is almost certainly an intentional foreshadowing of the vision in 19:11–21, where Christ the heavenly warrior defeats and thus destroys the beast. There Christ’s “new name” is “King of kings and Lord of lords”; and now in anticipation of that scene the victors in Philadelphia are promised to have that name written on them as well (but with location unmentioned, since it is a name of divine ownership, not of personal gain).
B. (:13) Pay Attention
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
G.K. Beale: The saints are given the concluding exhortation hear what the Spirit says because they need spiritual discernment in the midst of the affliction which they are about to endure in order not to deny Christ’s name (cf. 3:8b; cf. v. 10a) and thus inherit the final reward. If they are not heavenly-minded and focusing on their final reward, they will be tempted to conform themselves to earthly circumstances around them, which includes compromising their faith because of persecution.