The Church of Philadelphia

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

June 19, 2022 – Revelation 3:7-13

            We have been working our way through the seven churches that Jesus spoke to in Revelation; This morning, we come to the church in Philadelphia. Like the other churches, Philadelphia was located in modern-day Turkey. About 60 years before this letter was written, the city experienced an earthquake that levelled a large portion of the city. Building codes were a little different then.

            As a result of that earthquake, a number of people moved out into the countryside. So, the city itself was not that big. In fact, calling it a city, at least from our perspective, may be a misnomer. It was probably closer to the size of Perth. The church of Philadelphia was the only one of the seven churches not to be located in a major city.

            The church itself was small. Life as a Christian in this town was challenging. This letter was written about 50 years after Jesus ascended into heaven.

 Now in the eyes of the Romans, Christians were just a sect of Judaism. The Romans really didn’t care what religion you were, as long as you were willing to say Caesar is Lord – which of course, the Christians were not. So, the Romans persecuted the Christians.

            The people belonging to the Jewish synagogue made life difficult for the small Christian church. It is into this situation that Jesus, through the apostle John, speaks.


            I know that some of you have been through some challenging times. There are a few of you who seem to be kindred spirits with Job. Life has been exceptionally challenging. There are others of you who seem to be living a life that is about 120% of your capacity. You keep on thinking to yourself – I should be able to do more – I used to be able to do more. But what life requires of you and your mental and physical energy are not matching up at this time.

            I know that there are others of you where life is just hard. You keep on plodding forward. But it is just hard.

            If that is you, I want you to know that Jesus sees you. Jesus knows what you are going through. I am hoping that you will hear words of encouragement today.

            I know that there are some of you are walking through green pastures and beside still waters. Life is good right now. Give thanks for those times of life. Enjoy them. I hope you will come away encouraged today as well.


            Jesus starts his letter to the church in Philadelphia by saying.

Revelation 3:7 (NIV)

 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

            If you have been following our series, you will know that Jesus has introduced himself to the different churches with elements of the vision that John saw about who Jesus was in the first chapter. This is the first time he does not do that.

            He says, “These are words of him who is holy and true.”

            When you are small and struggling to survive and you are concerned about the future, it is important to know the one who is speaking into your life.

            Jesus says I am the holy one. That is another name for God. All the way through the Old Testament, God used that title to refer to himself. Jesus is making his claim to deity. We as Christians believe that Jesus is God.

Jesus wanted to emphasize that to Philadelphians. I was there at the creation of the world. I was there when people of God walked through the wilderness. I am here with you, and I have the power to deal with what you are dealing with.

He then goes on to say, “I am the true one.” There are two words for “true” in Greek. One is true as opposed to false. But the one that is used here is true as opposed to fake. He is saying I am the genuine one, the authentic one. Many people will try to sell you a messiah or a god, but I am the one who is true and genuine.

            The area around Philadelphia was wine country. So, the Roman god Bacchus was the god of the city. The Romans and Greeks had a lot of gods. We don’t encounter a lot of explicit gods like you would have in a Roman city. We tend to encounter implicit gods. You see, a god is what we hold to as our highest good. It is what we give our lives to. It is what we order our lives around.

            Some give themselves to the pursuit of money or pleasure or comfort or relationships or power or fame or, if things go really off the rails, addictions of various kinds. We think these gods will bring us life and joy, and peace. Or in the case of addictions, we know they won’t, but the sole focus is on getting the next hit because the addiction has come to govern our life.

            Jesus would say that if you make any of those things your highest good – you will not get what you are looking for. Jesus says, I am the one who is true, who is authentic. I am the one from whom real life, abundant life springs. I am the one in whom you will find peace and comfort, forgiveness and grace. I am the one in whom you will find joy and love.


            Jesus goes on to say.

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens, no one can shut, and what he shuts, no one can open.

I hold the key of David.   Let me tell you the story that is found in Isaiah 22.

            Isaiah the prophet was sent to a man named Shebna. Shebna was the palace administrator. As such, he had control of a significant portion of the kingdom’s purse strings. He was a man of power.

            Having power is not wrong. Abusing power is problematic. That is precisely what Shebna was doing. He thought he was so important that he was directing significant funds to have an incredible monument and tomb built high up in the mountains in honor of himself. He was misusing the funds of the kingdom for his own personal benefit.        

            The Lord sends Isaiah to deliver this message to Shebna.

Isaiah 22:19–22 (NLT)

19 “I will drive you out of office,” says the Lord. “I will pull you down from your high position. 20 And then I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah to replace you. 21 I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. 22 I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them.

            I am going to give Eliakim the key to the house of David. He is going to have the keys to the palace. He is going to be the highest authority in the royal court.

            Come back with me to the book of Revelation. So now Jesus is saying, I hold the key to the house of David. In other words, I am the one with title and authority. So, when Jesus uses the words

Revelation 3:7–8 (NIV)

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.

            Jesus is saying, just like a palace administrator who has authority in the kingdom can open doors and close doors – and cannot be countermanded, I have authority in your city, I have authority in your world. I can open doors, and when I do – no one can close it – that is my authority.

            When life is all roses and butterflies, then that is easy to believe. When you come to a place in life where you are stuck – and we all come to those places – then that becomes a little harder to believe. You may feel stuck relationship-wise, or job-wise or financially. Does Jesus have the authority to open the doors that I need? He does. Keep praying. Keep moving. Keep holding on.

            But I think what is going on in this passage may be a little deeper than those kinds of open doors.

            This isn’t the first time that Jesus has talked about his authority. Just before he ascended into heaven, this is what Jesus said,

Matthew 28:18–20 (NIV)

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus’ authority opened the way for ministry. It is not that he does not have authority in other areas because he does – but in our passage, he seems to be talking about his authority opening the way for ministry.

            Now I know that many of you think that ministry happens inside the church – but ministry is way broader than that. Ministry is way broader than being a Sunday School teacher or serving coffee at Keenagers – as important as those ministries are. When I say, Jesus’ authority opens the way for ministry – that might be at your work, at the hockey rink, on the telephone, or in the church. When you hear about an open door, don’t limit God.

            Jesus’ authority opens the way for ministry. But some of you are saying, Brent, I don’t have time to think about that. I am pushing hard as it is. I really don’t want a ministry opened up as well.

            Here is what Jesus says to the church in Philadelphia.

Revelation 3:8 (NIV)

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

 He says, “I know that you have little strength.” Jesus placed an opportunity in front of them that was not overwhelming. How hard is it to walk through an open door? If you have to bash the door down, then that is one thing. But if it is open and all you have to do is walk through – then that is something else.

            Here is what I believe that Jesus might be saying to us. I have the authority to open doors for ministry – and I am willing to do that for you.

            I don’t know what that ministry is going to look like. It may be that God will lay the name of a friend on your heart and mind, and you will be praying for them to come to know Jesus. He might open the door, so you can share your story of faith.

            It may be that God would open the door for you to join hands with other people and fight for a justice cause, or to alleviate suffering, or to share grace with people. He may open up a prayer ministry in your place of work. He may open up a blogging ministry that can influence thousands. He may allow you to minister here in church in a way that impacts people.

            Here is what you need to know. I do not believe that it is the board’s job or the pastor’s job to control ministry at Asbury. I will have people come to me and say, pastor, I want to start a bible study. Is that ok? Or pastor, I am thinking about starting this kind of ministry is that ok.

            Here is our policy to bless what God is doing in his people. My job is not to give you permission – my job is to bless you to do what God has laid upon your heart.

            How do you know if it is God or not? Well, usually, if he is laying it on your heart, he is laying the ministry on the heart of other people as well. You gather those like-minded people together, and you pray.

            Sometimes what you want to do takes money, or takes time, or takes talents that you don’t have. Remember, Jesus’ authority opens the way for ministry. God can supply that. It is amazing what can be done if you are willing to walk through the open door in front of you.

            There are some of you who are thinking – well, that is ok for those younger people, but I am too old for that. If you can pick up a telephone, you can encourage someone, you can have a ministry. If you can close your eyes you can pray for someone, you can have a ministry. Jesus said that if you give a cup of water in my name – that is ministry. It just might be that God has set in front of you an open door.

            There are all kinds of ministry opportunities. Maybe you could be instrumental in helping the church sponsor a refugee family. Maybe you could help begin a support group for people who are hurting. Maybe you could develop a mentoring program for young people. It is amazing the doors that Jesus can open if you are willing to walk through them.

            Let me tell you a few stories. I had an intern from Carleton University named Stephanie. When she was in High School, she went on a short-term missions trip to Lesotho, which is a small country surrounded by South Africa.

            As she travelled there, she caught a vision to help the people of that country. So, she founded her own organization to help.

            There are possibilities all around for ministry. Will you talk to Jesus about open doors and which one he wants you to walk through?

Sermon questions will resume in September.