by Roger McCay
20 June 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 3:7-13
Link to Audio Version
You may have heard of the band called Skillet. They’re pretty unusual in that they are a distinctly Christian rock band who have been making headways in mainstream music for a decade. The lead singer, John L. Cooper recently came out with a book called Awake & Alive to Truth, which is a quick but powerful read. In the first chapter, called “Pre-Show,” he relates a story from when the band was on the cusp of success in the rock world.
A bigwig agent had called John over at an after-show party, where Skillet had opened. He said,
“You guys are hot right now, and everybody knows it. You’ve got the songs. You’ve got the sound. You’ve got the look … in fact your WHOLE BAND has the look. You’ve got the show. You’ve got this uber positivity, and rock radio is starting to look for positivity. Bands are trying to fake it, but you already have it. You’ve got the personality. You’ve got the spiritual thing going, and rock fans are starting to crave that too! This is your moment and it’s time to strike.”
This was sounding good. But then he said,
“Bro, I’m just gonna say it, ‘cause you need to hear it. Skillet could be the biggest rock band in the world. But dude, you’ve got to stp talking about Jesus.” …
He went on,
“The spiritual thing, the positive thing, that’s really powerful stuff. But the Jesus stuff hurts your brand. I’m just telling you bro.”
That’s the challenge. Be positive, even spiritual, but don’t talk about Jesus. You can make a positive impact through caring for others, living an upright life, doing the right thing, being a pillar in the community, without talking about Jesus. Talking about Jesus can make things awkward. There’s always that person that has to throw Jesus into casual conversation … sheesh. Or that person at work who makes things awkward with the constant Jesus talk. Why do that? It just makes people uncomfortable. You know what I’m talking about. The temptation is always there. Talk wholesome and positive, but why make it awkward with Jesus talk? It’s safer to not mention the name of Jesus. It hurts your brand.
But, my friends, such reasoning is a lie. Avoiding the name of Jesus is to deny the name of Jesus. And it becomes habit, relegating the name of Jesus to be uttered only in church and in curses. Embracing such a lie is to embrace loosey-goosey Christianity, giving a semblance of spirituality and power but divesting your life and witness of the true power of Christ.
How so? Why is it important to speak about Jesus? Why is it important to be bold about Jesus? Well, our passage today gives us an idea. In Jesus, refusing to deny his name while striving to keep his Word, those with little power find themselves upheld by infinite power, given entrance to his eternal, unshakeable Kingdom, secured by his protection, and wrapped up in his true and holy identity. Whereas, downplaying the name of Jesus is to embrace a lie and the unholy—to not go through the open door.
You have probably heard that the name “Philadelphia” means the city of brotherly love. The origin of this name comes from its founding, which was by either Eumenes II (king of Pergamum from 197-159 B.C.) or his brother, Attalus II (who reigned from 159-138). Attalus II was nicknamed “Philadelphus” due to his proved devotion, loyalty, and love for his brother, Eumenes. So, when the city was founded, it received Attalus’ honorific. Thus, Philadelphia.
Much later, in A.D. 17 (about fifty years prior to the writing of Revelation), Philadelphia suffered, along with Sardis, the devastation of a great earthquake. Emperor Tiberius then helped them recover, so the people honored Tiberius by renaming the city Neocaesarea (although they dropped the name “about A.D. 42-50”). But, as a result of the earthquake, and the repeated tremors that followed, the people were a bit shellshocked. Most of the city actually moved out of the city for a good period of time, living out in the fields for safety. And as William Ramsay comments, “People lived amid ever threatening danger, in dread always of a new disaster; and the habit of going out to the open country had probably not disappeared when the Seven Letters were written.” Despite the fallout from the earthquake, the city was prosperous, known for its vineyards and wines, and was also called “the gateway to the east,” as it sat on an important east-west road to and from Aegean Sea.
And typical of its time, Philadelphia hosted numerous pagan religions, including worship of Dionysos, Athena, Asklepios, and a sun-god. They had a cult to Germanicus (a popular Roman general adopted as a son by Tiberius and the father of Caligula). Also, as our passage today highlights, there was an influential Jewish presence in Philadelphia, including a synagogue.
In the letter to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus touches on several important themes that resonate throughout the whole book of Revelation. In particular, he speaks to his judgment on apostate Judaism and the exaltation of his church, which are seen in a series of contrasts.
Jesus, in v. 7, identifies himself as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” In the OT, “the holy one” is a reference to Yahweh, the Lord (Isa. 1:4, Hab. 3:3), and the Messiah (Ps. 16:10, quoted in Acts 2:25-28). Jesus, the Christ, is making a point as to his identity, which is confessed by the Christians, in contrast to his rejection by the Jews. Jesus then hones in on his messianic role by referencing Isa. 22:22, which says, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” There, the context is the Lord’s raising Eliakim, Hezekiah’s servant, to the role of steward of the kingdom. Jesus, as the one who sits on the eternal throne of David, is saying he is the fulfillment of the one who controls entry into the Kingdom. Whereas Eliakim ultimately was brought down, Jesus is eternal, with supreme authority and power. Jesus alone has the authority to admit or bar entrance into the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. As the “the holy one” his decisions are perfect and righteous. As the “true one,” he is absolute. Anything or anyone opposing him is false, and he is unquestionably reliable and unassailably final in his decisions of office, for “He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
Contending against Jesus and his people are those who reject him. The Jewish persecution of Christians is well documented, as we’ve seen repeatedly in our study of Acts and as we’ve moved along here in Revelation. In a nutshell, the Jews denied the Christian faith as being the fulfillment of Judaism, denying that Christians (both Jew and Gentile) are heirs to the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Historically, too, we know the Jews’ denial of Jesus brought down persecution upon the Christians from the Romans, as they lost the protections afforded to the Jews.
However, Jesus puts the lie to the Jews’ claim to even being Jews. Those who rejected Christ were (and are) not true Jews. In their rejection of Jesus, they rejected Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In rejecting Jesus, they rejected their heritage and all the promises of God, so were thus apostate. The true Jews, in fact, were (and are) the Christians (Gal. 3:29). Thus, in v. 9 (like in his letter to Smyrna), Jesus calls the apostate Jews “those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie.” This is the authoritative pronouncement of the one who controls entry into the Kingdom of God. In their rejection of the Messiah, in their denial of the name of Jesus, the apostate Jews have been denied entry. No longer can they be called Jews in truth. Their lot is with the pagans. In their rejection of Jesus, they voided their place in his Kingdom. They rejected his name, thus Jesus removed the name of the Lord from them, for they proved their lord was not Yahweh, but Satan. Their father was not Abraham, but the devil (John 8:44). By rejecting Christ and persecuting his people, they proved to be an unfaithful bride. Therefore God had divorced them from himself, and the wrath of his judgment is their fate.
Thus, vv. 10-11:
10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
Twice already in Revelation, the nearness of Jesus’ return (in judgment upon apostate Judaism) has been referenced, which we discussed when we looked at those passages (Rev. 1:1, 3, also Matt. 24:30, 34 in the Olivet Discourse). Jesus was not referring here to some coming thousands of years later, which would have been a pointless pronouncement to the harrowed church in Philadelphia. No, Jesus here refers to the calamities that were coming in the very near future.
The coming trial (which involved great tribulation) would encompass “the whole world,” a designation that typically references the expanse of the Roman Empire (e.g. Rom. 10:18). And the term “those who dwell on the earth” is a typical term in Revelation referring to unbelievers, “enemies of the church,” here referring not only to apostate Judaism centered in the land of Israel, but unbelievers across the Roman Empire. History proves Jesus’ prophecy, in that, after Emperor Nero (who vigorously and horrifically persecuted Christians) … after Nero committed suicide in AD 68, the empire went through the turmoil of civil war, indeed having four emperor’s in one year (AD 69), settled only when Vespasian took power. The Jewish War had also continued to carry on from AD 67, bringing great tribulation upon the land of Israel and Jerusalem, until it was finally settled with the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, in AD 70 leaving the nation of Israel utterly destroyed, by the time the Romans finished mopping up at Masada in AD 73.
It was, in this destruction, particularly of the temple and Jerusalem, that Jesus the King was vindicated, as he brought his judgment down upon apostate Judaism (Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Rev. 1:7). The Jews that were persecuting the church in Philadelphia would likewise be thrown in turmoil, as the very heart of their religion was gutted. They would wail and mourn along with all the tribes of the land (which included all the tribes of Israel dispersed throughout the world), their laments mingled with the laments of the Romans who had suffered in the civil war (Zech. 12:10-14; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7). In particular, with his specific reference to the apostate Jews and the contrasts he lays out, Jesus assures the church in Philadelphia that he was coming soon, bringing judgment upon the Jews who were not Jews. Apostate Judaism would prove false. But the church, those who existed in the name of the true one, those who conquered, his people would be proven true and, like Jesus, vindicated.
When this letter was written, it was a tough time for the Christians. Nero’s persecution was ongoing in the empire, and the Jews were riding on the back of the beast, bringing war against the elect (Rev. 17:3-6). In the midst of this, the church in Philadelphia, seemingly, had little power, and Jesus states this flat out, in v. 8. The church in Philadelphia was a small group with little legal power and likely poor due to economic fallout from the persecutions and other reasons. But what they did have was each other, in fellowship, united by the Word of God and the name of Jesus. And there lay their power. They had Jesus (1 John 1:3). To the world it seemed they had little power, but in reality, they were empowered by the ultimate power—the Living and True God, Jesus the King. They were invincible, as, in his power, they faithfully kept the Lord’s Word and did not deny his name, keeping “the word of his endurance”—the gospel and the Lord’s calling to persevere in him (Rev. 3:10 & Heb. 12:1-2). So, Jesus spells out what he, out of love, gives his people in contrast to what the apostate Jews think they have, but are lacking in reality.
First off, Jesus gives his people entrance into the Messianic Kingdom via his open door. Verse 8: “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” The Jews thought that it was through their heritage, traditions, worship, and law that one would enter the Kingdom of God (while denying that Jesus was the Christ). And, as some suggest, they may have barred Christians from entry through excommunication. But the fact is that only Jesus has the authority and power to give and bar entry to the Kingdom. The Philadelphian Christians (both Jew and Gentile) entered the Kingdom through Jesus Christ by grace through faith—as he is the only way (John 14:6). Those who reject Jesus stand before a shut door. Only by Jesus may the door be opened, and no-one has the power to bar entry to what Christ has opened.
Even more, not only will Jesus give his people, the faithful, who conqueror in his power, entry into the Kingdom, he also makes us pillars in the Temple of God (v. 12), a symbolic representation of the solidity of place in God’s Kingdom household. Believers are not just visitors to the place of God’s dwelling; believers make up its very structure. Even now, we are God’s dwelling and the Spirit dwells within us (1 Cor. 3:16). This is in utter contrast to what was coming for the apostate Jews, whose temple (what Jesus called “your house” in contrast to God’s house—a “desolate” house—Matt. 23:38) … whose temple, despite its magnificent structure, was just a building that would soon be utterly destroyed, as Jesus brought down his judgment (Matt. 24:2, 30). The contrast the Lord is making here could not be clearer. The Christians have all the benefits of the eternal, heavenly Temple of God, and are incorporated into its very structure and purpose, whereas the Jews (whose religion was tied up with OT temple Judaism) would lose even the God-abandoned temple in Jerusalem very soon, leaving them like chaff in the wind.
Secondly, Jesus gives his people protection in the Messianic Kingdom. In v. 10, Jesus says, “I will keep you from the hour of trial.” He promises to protect them and preserve them through the coming tribulations. Like Jesus prayed in John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” They will be spiritually protected, secure in Jesus, in his light, while the world thrashed around in darkness, with all security thrown to the wind, with their foundations shaken and destroyed (much like the earthquakes that had brought so much turmoil upon Philadelphia). This is not to say that the persecutions and trials of the Christian life would cease, as such things will continue until the Lord’s final coming at the end (2 Tim. 3:12). But in this particular hour of trial, the enemies of Christ would be tried and found wanting, while his church would be found true in him. As Sam Storms puts it, “Jesus is assuring his people that he will provide sufficient sustenance to preserve them in their faith, no matter what they face.” Jesus would be in control in the midst of the trials and tribulations brought upon the world, perfectly carrying out his judgment upon his enemies and his preservation of his people, until the end of that time of trial, as long as it would take (Matt. 24:13).
And while his wrath upon the “earth-dwellers” would be terrible, the hour of trial would come to an end, even for the enemies of Christ, but only for the sake of the elect. As Jesus said in Matt. 24:22: “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” Thus the tribulation was only an “hour” of trial, indicating a relatively short period of time (a few years), in contrast to 1000 years, for example. The end of the world would come at a much later time.
The Lord’s protection and preservation of his people was (and is) unshakeable, and it extended to their eternal destiny. As Jesus promises in Rev. 3:12, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it.” This is very much as he had said, in Matt. 24:13: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” In this case, Jesus touches on the people of God being incorporated into the eternal Temple of God’s very structure and purpose. It was an eternally secure existence: “Never shall he go out of it.” This, of course, in contrast to the Jews who were not Jews, the apostate Jews, who, in their rejection of Jesus, lost the protection the Lord gives his people. Removed from his protection, they were subject to his wrath, and they would experience it terribly in the coming “hour of trial.” And unless they repented, and turned to Jesus in faith, they would never enter the eternal temple of God, the Messianic Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
Third, Jesus gives his people identity with the Messianic Kingdom. We’ve discussed before how the one who conquers are the true Christians, and like we looked at last week in Rom. 8, we are “more than conquerors,” who will never to be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For the true Christians of Philadelphia (and as v. 13 lets us know, the promises of this letter are ultimately for all true Christians), Jesus promises, in v. 12, to “write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” This is about identity. To have the name of God, the name of the city of God (new Jerusalem), and the new name of Jesus written upon them, was to identify Christians with those realities. Christians now and into eternity have the mark of God upon them, as his people (Rev. 7:3-4; 7:9; 22:4). We are identified by the name of the Lord, Yahweh, as the Lord’s people, marked with the very name of Christ. We are the new Jerusalem, the people of the city of God, which will be ultimately revealed in glory at the Lord’s final return (Heb. 12:12; Rev. 22:2). Our identity is in the Lord. And our identity in him is eternal.
And once again, consider the contrast Jesus makes. While the Lord puts his name on the true Christians, he removes his name from the apostate Jews—any Jew who rejects Jesus. The name of the Lord would no longer to be associated with them, and he now associates them with the name of Satan (v. 9). Further, Jerusalem was no longer the city of God. “New Jerusalem” was now the city of God (v. 12). God revoked it all from them, in their denial of Jesus. He took away his name from them, their very identity as God’s people. He took away their holy city. He took away their temple. He made a definitive break with OT Judaism and the Harlot bride.
Hence, the true people of God, the faithful bride of Christ, would be vindicated. The Lord symbolically describes this vindication in v. 9, “Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” While the monoliths of Jewish identity and religion would be utterly destroyed: Jerusalem; the Temple; the whole nation annihilated in war, leading to death and slavery of its populace … while these foundations of Judaism would be obliterated, God’s true people would be made evident by the security afforded them by the Lord’s love. Secure in Christ’s grace and peace (no matter the troubles of the world), the love of the Lord for his people would be plain to see. Perhaps it would be as Paul hoped in Rom. 11:14, that the Jews would be made “jealous,” and thus some of them would believe and be saved.
And so, Christ’s call (v. 11) is to “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” In the strength, power, and love of Christ, his people would hold fast in the midst of persecution and the troubles of the world. They would patiently endure to the end, faithfully living according to his word, his gospel, openly confessing his name. The promise to the faithful is a victor’s crown and, as we’ve seen, so much more.
My friends, the Lord has put a door before you. Through Jesus you enter that door, into the Messianic Kingdom, receiving eternal security and an eternal identity in the Lord. Trust in Jesus and follow him on the path of faith. He’s right here before you now. Do you trust in him?
Brothers and sisters, let us not fall to the pressures of the world and suppress the name of Jesus. If you are a true believer, his name is upon you—your identity is grounded in him. Let us thus proclaim his name with our very lives, boldly professing the name of Jesus to his glory, in both word and in deed. Let us stand fast in his mighty power, holding fast to what he has given us. And may it be that the world will see his love displayed in us and be drawn to him by our faithful confession of his name.
The morning after John Cooper, of Skillet, was challenged to stop talking about Jesus in order to make it big, he discussed it with his wife, Korey. John says, “By noon that day, my decision was made. I could not stop talking about Jesus. I could not stop telling the truth.”
And while Skillet has, since then, sold more than 12 million albums and has toured the world, the band’s success is not on what John dwells. As a consequence of his decision, he does not find his treasure in his success in the music industry. He says this:
“I wonder what my life would be like had I taken his advice. I may have had an even more successful music career. But what would it have cost me? Would I still be married? Would I have raised two young adults who are living for the glory of God? Would I have enjoyed the treasures of the world at the expense of having no treasure in heaven? Even worse, would I have joined the ever-increasing group of ex-Christians who have devolved so far from their faith that it can no longer be recognized as Christianity?”
He goes on to say,
“Considering my decision all those years ago, I was reminded of the words of Jesus: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33). In that moment, I decided I would not deny Christ. Nor would I be ashamed of Him. Not then. Not ever.”
I hope we can say the same my friends.
If you are a true believer, the Lord Jesus has placed his name upon you. Proclaim the name of Jesus. Live it. Rejoice in it. Never be ashamed.Keep his Word. Hold fast to his promises—safe in his Kingdom, his protection, and your identity in him. Because Jesus loves his people, we must hold fast to the Lord.
 Cf. Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Livonia, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Dove Booksellers, 2001), 155. Hemer relates two incidents “of special interest” concerning the two brothers. First, a false rumor of Eumenes’ assassination in Greece once led Attalus to accept the crown, but he relinquished the crown when his brother returned from Greece quite alive (versus fighting to keep it). Second, Attalus steadily resisted Rome’s encouragement for him to overthrow his brother to become king, when suspicion came against Eumenes of corresponding with Rome’s enemy. Under repeated pressures by Rome for him to overthrow his brother, Attalus continued to resist. He was loyal. It was only after Eumenes death that Attalus succeeded him in rule. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 99, explains that Philadelphia likely founded “on the site of some earlier settlement.”.
 W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia and Their Place in the Plan of the Apocalypse (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 398.
 Ibid., 397.
 Mounce, 98.
 David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1997), 240, comments on the term: “The phrase οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, “those who dwell on the earth,” is a favorite of the author’s and occurs eight more times in Revelation (6:10; 8:13; 11:10[2x]; 13:8, 14[2x]; 17:8) and three additional times with varied phraseology (13:12; 14:6; 17:2), always in the negative sense of non-Christian persecutors of Christians. The phrase “inhabitants of the earth” (יושׁב הארץ yôšēb hāʾāreṣ or יושׁבי הארץ yôšbê hāʾāreṣ) occurs with some frequency in the OT, though in the Pentateuch it usually means “native Palestinians” (Lam 4:12; Isa 24:6, 17; 26:9, 18, 21; Jer 1:14; 25:29, 30; 38:11; Ezek 7:7; Dan 4:35[2x]; Zeph 1:18).” Mounce, 103, states: “In the other places in Revelation where the latter phrase occurs (6:10; 8:13; 11:10 [twice]; 13:8, 14; 17:8) the enemies of the church are always in mind.” David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1990), 129, goes with the translation of γῆς as “land” (which is unusual for this passage), thus “those who dwell on the land.” He then applies the statement as a specific reference to “apostate Israel,” saying “In the Greek Old Testament (the version used by the early church), it is a common prophetic expression for rebellious, idolatrous Israel about to be destroyed and driven from the Land (Jer. 1:14; 10:18; Ezek. 7:7; 36:17; Hos. 4:1, 3; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1; Zeph. 1:18), based on its original usage in the historical books of the Bible for rebellious, idolatrous pagans about to be destroyed and driven from the Land (Num. 32:17; 33:52, 55; Josh. 7:9, 9:24; Judg. 1:32; 2 Sam. 5:6; 1 Chron. 11:4; 22:18; Neh. 9:24).”
 Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 59.
 Cooper, 7.
 Ibid., 9.