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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Weak but Faithful
Text:Revelation 3:7-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faithfulness rewarded

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,5                                                                                

Ps 85:1,2        

Reading – Isaiah 22:15-25; Revelation 21:1-8

Ps 48:1,3,4

Sermon – Revelation 3:7-13

Hy 73:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 26:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, the letter of Jesus in Revelation 3:7-13 is addressed to a church that was small. Philadelphia wasn’t an Ephesus or a Smyrna, prominent places in Asia Minor. No, the city was never very big—and the church was similar: on the small side. And sometimes a smaller church can wonder how it’ll go with the smaller numbers. Will it survive? Will there be enough people to do the work? Will we grow?

In this letter to Philadelphia, the Lord has a message for us. No, our 21st century church won’t fit the exact profile of a Philadelphia. Each local church will have its own character. Each congregation of Christ, all around the world, has unique strengths and weaknesses and opportunities. We’re not Philadelphia, yet Christ speaks to our congregation too in this letter.

And we know that from how He introduces himself as the letter-writer. “These things says He who is holy, He who is true” (v 7). The Lord of the church is holy: He’s set apart from all sin, and from all this world’s change and decay. He’s eternal in his rule, timeless in his wisdom. And the one who speaks is “true,” says Christ. Unlike the Jews in Philadelphia who were lying and deceiving, and unlike so many people in this world who want to project a certain image about themselves, Christ Jesus is true. He doesn’t deceive, but He’s all that He claims to be. So we can read his words with confidence. It’s a true and a timeless message, for the church in every place. This is our theme from Revelation 3:7-13,

                  The holy and true One writes to the faithful in Philadelphia:

1)     they had endured Satan’s synagogue

2)     they can enter through Christ’s door

3)     they will become pillars in God’s temple


1. they had endured Satan’s synagogue: Jesus knows all his churches, the believers in Philadelphia too, so He addresses their circumstances very directly. And what’s notable is that He writes them no words of criticism, nor any rebuke. “I know your works” He says (v 8), and then goes on to assure them with his good promises. These Philadelphians were faithful. 

That didn’t mean, of course, that there were no concerns. There was one big concern, but it was more external than anything internal like false teaching, or the temptations to immorality. In Philadelphia, they’d been getting persecuted. And the persecution was from a group well-known to them, the Jews. The church in Smyrna had been troubled by them too. The Jews there were blaspheming, Jesus said, and maybe using economic pressure to make life difficult for the believers.

Now also in Philadelphia, we see their hostility against the church. And the sad thing about it is how these are the very people who should know better! Jesus says they’re claiming that “they are Jews and are not, but lie” (v 9). Just like in Smyrna, these are false Jews. False, because Scripture says that being a Jew isn’t an outward thing, but a matter of the heart. By family descent a person might be Jewish, and they might be convinced that their religious heritage is all-important—even a kind of security. They had the law, circumcision, the covenant.

But if these Jews really believed the Old Testament, then they’d also believe in the Messiah, the one whom God promised for centuries, whom He sent in the fullness of time. These ones didn’t believe in Christ, and were oppressing those who did. So when these Jews claim that they follow in Abraham’s footsteps, they lie. It’s the church who is the family of Abraham, the church who is (what Paul calls) the “Israel of God.”

What kind of pressure did the Jews put on the church? Maybe it was economic, where you could lose your job if you openly confessed the name of Christ. Or social pressure, when you got excluded from the neighbourhood—they found ways to let you know that you didn’t belong. Maybe they were falsely accusing the Christians, and getting them thrown into jail. Whatever form it took, this was a real and a painful persecution.

We don’t have Jewish enemies like Philadelphia did. If anything, today we probably tend to be sympathetic towards Jews and Israel. But the persecution behind our text show that Christ remains a dividing line; He is someone who cuts right through all humanity. For either you believe in the One whom God sent, or you don’t. Either you’re serving Christ today, or you’re not serving him. There’s only one way to the Father, and that is through the Son.

Of course we affirm that, yet there’s always the temptation to minimize Christ. Even in the church, there can be eagerness to hear about many things besides Jesus: “Tell us about what we need to do. Give us ways to improve our life. Tell inspiring stories about people who came to faith.” Any church—even a Reformed church—can fall for the subtle pressure to hear less and less about Christ, and more about us. And the result can be “A Christ-less Christianity.” The gospel’s beating heart is removed, and we’re left with rules and advice and stories. But we’re nothing without Christ—the preaching and our faith is nothing without Christ.

No, the Jews on the attack in Philadelphia didn’t want to hear about Christ. That’s because they were “a synagogue of Satan” (v 9). Just like in the letter to Smyrna, that puts it starkly. Those who oppose the church are actually on Satan’s side. Those who deny Christ aren’t just exercising their personal freedom, but they’re on the side of the devil.

And reality was, this assault came against a church that wasn’t very strong: “You have a little strength,” Jesus says (v 8). By any human measure, the Philadelphians weren’t powerful. Not numerous, not wealthy, nor well-known. Philadelphia had little strength. So no one would expect them to survive that hostile climate. So how striking to see the way they’ve held on! Jesus says, “[You] have kept My word, and have not denied my name” (v 8). In the midst of trouble, they’d been faithful. They’d kept talking about Christ, even when told to be quiet. They’d been ridiculed and excluded, but stayed true. How does that make sense? They had little strength, yet they hadn’t crumbled or given in. They’d persevered! They were weak, yet so strong.

Beloved, we know this is one of the marvelous ways our God works. He uses the weak. He employs the poor and lowly. He lifts up those who were once voted “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” Because that gives God the glory! Our weak lives become a showcase for his almighty power and his perfect wisdom. Then there can be no doubt, but that God has accomplished this! It means we don’t have to depend on ourselves anymore, but we have every reason to look to God. Let every one of your personal failings remind you of this, that you should expect great things, not from yourself, not from other imperfect humans, but from Almighty God alone!

In life we’re so often focused on our own abilities and talents. We’re keenly aware of what we can and cannot accomplish: whether that’s working in the church, or being a parent, or figuring out a challenge in business, or enduring a season of hardship. “Can I do it?” we ask, “What if I just dig a little deeper? Do I have it in me somewhere?” Beloved, we can’t do it. We can keep digging, but we’re not going to find anything. And when we finally acknowledge that we’re not able, it’s then that God’s grace becomes most obvious. And He shows his presence in a new and surprising way. It’s true for an individual believer, and it’s true for an entire church. Only if we rely on God—if we’re strong with God’s strength—will He use us for his glory. So depend on him! Depend on him in prayer, in a spirit of humble trust.

Don’t regret being weak, or being small, or being limited, or even being persecuted and oppressed for the sake of Christ. But in that, delight to rely ever more on the Lord. Like Paul said, “I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9). Through that almighty power the weak Philadelphians had endured Satan’s synagogue. Through that same power we can endure, and by it we can serve.


2. they can enter through Christ’s door: The next words of Jesus can sound a bit odd, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” (v 8). What’s the message here? For a persecuted church, how does an open door offer any reassurance or help? To understand this image, see how Jesus introduces himself in the verse before: Jesus is “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (v 7). This “key of David” brings us back again to the Old Testament, and to the days of the kings.

Earlier we read from Isaiah 25, about the steward named Shebna. Now, this was a man who held great power. Because there was too much for the king to do alone, a steward helped him exercise his rule. Kind of like a cabinet minister today, who helps the prime minister manage the country. But in Israel, the king’s steward decided much more than one area of business. He decided who could go in to see the king. He paid out revenue, and collected it. He made decisions about building projects at home, and diplomacy abroad. The king was on the throne, but the steward held all the keys.

If you have such a high position, you have to use it wisely. But Shebna didn’t. The LORD says he was out for his own glory, spending money on himself and driving around his “glorious chariots.” So God will remove this unfaithful steward from office. He’ll put the robes of office on Eliakim instead. And then listen to how God describes this new steward’s authority: “The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open” (Is 25:22). He’ll be a worthy representative.

Christ says that’s the high position He holds. And He’s not just the steward of the house, but the Son of David himself, one robed with authority and power. He’s the exalted Lord who sits in power and glory. Christ the King holds the keys, with all things in the universe under his feet, and under his command.

What kind of hope did that give the Philadelphians? Well, it meant their opponents really had no authority at all. Oh, maybe they were influential in the community, and they could hassle the church. Excluded from business. Locked out of their buildings, or pushed to the fringes of society. The believers might’ve been shut out by all the earthly keyholders, but that didn’t matter. For these were all as disposable as Shebna—God could remove them in an instant. Meanwhile, Christ is the one who holds the key. He closes and opens. He includes and excludes, welcomes and rejects. It’s his judgment that matters, not anyone else’s.

Consider how powerful a truth that is for our day. Christ is King, He is Lord of all, even over the most hostile enemies of the church. They don’t approve of our views on marriage or life or truth; they scorn us as hateful, they’ll try to push us out. But He is Lord even over those who seem to have all the influence. They’re not running things, He is. He’s got the keys!

So Christ promises that his and our enemies won’t last. They won’t be high and mighty forever: “Indeed,” says the Lord, “I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (v 9). While they might have the upper hand right now, their domination won’t last forever. In fact, the Jews who don’t believe in Christ, and the Muslims, and the Hindus and the Buddhists, and those of every other false religion, and every atheist and agnostic, will one day finally have to acknowledge it: Christ is the one who is holy and true! Jesus says they’ll even worship at the feet of his believers. Not worshiping us, but honouring the great King whom we’ve served and trusted. Christ foresees a day when everyone in all the world will admit it: “Truly, Jesus is Lord. And these are his people, loved by him.”

And with his keys the Lord has done something great for his people in Philadelphia, and for his people here: “See I have set before you an open door.” This could mean that Jesus has “opened a door” for them to spread the gospel, like Paul speaks about in his letters. It’s even been said that Philadelphia’s location was ideal for mission work. It was situated near the borders of a few different provinces, and at a juncture of trade routes. From there, you could go to spread the gospel in many places.

Is that the open door Jesus sets before the church? Certainly mission is important, and any church must seize the opportunities that God gives it. But it seems likely that Jesus speaks of something else. In Philadelphia, doors had been slammed in the believers’ faces. Heavy prison doors had closed behind them. But Christ’s door is open. Even if his believers are thrown out, or if we’re locked away, the gateway into his kingdom is always secure, always accessible. And we can enter there by faith. Whatever our earthly circumstances and trouble, in Christ we know where we’re going.

So even as the persecution gets worse, the Lord gives a rich assurance, “I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (v 10). More suffering is coming—that much is clear. We know it from the later chapters of Revelation, how there will come days of severe trouble on the earth: sword, famine and plague. God’s wrath is ready to be poured out. The world will undergo trial, yet it won’t afflict the people of Christ.

No, God doesn’t promise to take us out of the world. We don’t get an escape pod. But Christ does promise to preserve us in the midst of the trial, to keep us from falling. Once more, we’re pointed to the source of our strength. It’s not in us, but in the one who preserves. For in verse 11, Jesus says what He says so often in these letters: “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (v 11). Because He repeats it, it’s obvious that we need to hear those words. It’s a warning for us, if we’re living in sin: Christ is coming quickly! And it’s an encouragement for us, if we’re living by faith: He is coming quickly!


3.  they will become pillars in God’s temple: The Philadelphians were faithful, but faithful they had to remain! So Christ exhorts: “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (v 11). They probably didn’t feel much like they had crowns, since crowns are given to champions, like at the Olympic games to those who’d won. Persecuted people don’t feel like winners, yet Christ reminds them—reminds us!—of what’s truly ours. In him, we’re kings and priests, crowned with life, crowned with glory. Christ gives this promise too, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” (v 12). The children have probably learned what the temple looked like, back in the days of Solomon and the kings. At the front of that golden temple, on either side of its entrance into the sanctuary, were two tall pillars. They were secure and strong and beautiful, part of the grandeur of God’s holy house. 

God isn’t worshiped anymore at that temple. For now God has made us his temple, and the church is his dwelling-place through the Spirit. Yes, our relationship with God is so close, so intimate, that Christ says we’re like pillars in his house. Standing constantly in God’s presence, being near him through prayer and worship, and established in him.

“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more” (v 12). In explanation of that: we said before that Philadelphia wasn’t a large city. A reason for that was it’s location in an area known for earthquakes. Philadelphia had been destroyed by a major quake in the year 17, and this drove many people away. Yes, this was a city used to experiencing the tremors and rattling of the earth, when buildings swayed and houses collapsed.

Think then, of how Christ’s promise in verse 12 would speak to them. “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more.” The one who lives by faith won’t  be moved. She won’t be rattled. He’s like a pillar in God’s temple: firm and steadfast. Established in God’s holy presence, we’ll never leave it, because in Christ that’s where we belong. No longer shaking and tottering, we’re secure.

Much in life does make us wobble. Tremors of daily fear and anxiety. Instability in physical health, or mental health. The uncertainty of your finances. Then there’s the tumult of the nations, and their attacks on the church—we could go on. At times we realize how little strength we actually have, and we can seem ready to crumble. Any of us can be rattled to the core. But the pillars in God’s temple stand fast. If you live by faith, if you’re connected to Christ, then you won’t ever give way.

And if that wasn’t a powerful enough promise, Jesus adds to it. Because He also wants to write something on those pillars. Apparently, this was a common thing in ancient architecture, to put inscriptions on temple pillars. It wasn’t graffiti, but an act of devotion. You’d put a dedication there, or a prayer to be remembered. This is what Jesus will do. Each pillar in the sanctuary will be inscribed by his hand with three names: the name of God, the name of the New Jerusalem, and the name of Christ. First, Jesus says, “I will write on him the name of my God” (v 12). To wear the name of God means to be consecrated to him. Think of Aaron the high priest, who wore on his forehead a golden plate with the engraving, “Holy to the LORD” (Ex 28:36). So for every believer; we’re dedicated to the LORD, his possession forever.

Second, Jesus says, “[I will write on him] the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God” (v 12).  We read about that New Jerusalem in chapter 21, a place of peace, beauty, and sinless perfection—where we live with Almighty God himself. To bear the name of that city is to be counted as one of her citizens. By faith in Christ, you belong there.

Third, Jesus says that He’ll write on those pillars—He’ll write on us, “My new name.” Christ’s name is his honour and glory. He’s already majestic, but it’ll become even more obvious on the day of his return, a new name of wonder. That’s what we get to share in. All that is his, becomes ours, by faith.

Beloved, who is all this for? Who gets to be pillar in the very temple of God? The one who perseveres. The one who stands fast. Little Philadelphia was praised, not because they were showy and they had won the approval of many. They were praised, because they were enduring. They weren’t running from the trouble, they weren’t compromising to save their skin, but they were staying true. So they had to continue. And we have to continue.

Though we may be weak and weary, Christ call us to keep going. Whatever has happened before, however long we’ve been going already, Christ calls us to continue: “Hold fast what you have” (v 11). Don’t let his gospel go. Don’t crumble under the pressure, or cave into the devil. Don’t be shaken by the earthquakes of trouble or persecution. But remember what’s already yours in Christ. The Holy and True One promises strength. If we ask him, and if we trust him, He’ll make us stand firm, now and forever!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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