evidence of a Jewish community within the city. Taken all together, we witness a city in the Roman Empire with worshipful appreciation for the emperors, polytheistic practices, Jewish residents, and a Christian community. In effect, the church was a minority of a minority within the city. Into this context, the Lord described Himself to His followers in a way that would bring about immense confidence. The Lord began by saying that He was the Holy One and the true one. Such descriptors create tension. The titles Jesus attributed to Himself stand in direct contrast to the Roman emperor cult worship and the polytheistic culture of the city. Jesus claimed perfect character and nature by calling Himself holy. He claimed to be the standard for what is true. It was a claim that He is the real deal. Jesus’ genuine character would depose any other powers that claimed to hold a position of authority.
Further, Jesus’ self-description is that He is the one who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and who closes and no one opens. The declaration connects to the account in Isaiah 22 where God placed Eliakim as the steward over King Hezekiah’s household. God said of Eliakim, “I will place the key of the house of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one can close; what he closes, no one can open” (Isa. 22:22). In essence, Eliakim had total power over the comings and goings from the king’s house. For a Jew, the imagery associated with David was the pinnacle of ruling power. The Christ is from the lineage of the house of David. Despite his failings, David was declared to be a man after God’s own heart. His household represents the house of God. The key of David is the authority for opening and closing a door, not just to an earthly palace but to the heavenly home of God.
Jesus claimed the messianic power that accompanied the key into David’s home. It was for Him to decide who entered God’s kingdom; not the emperor or Dionysus or any other power. After the many years of change, tragedy, and dependency that characterized the city of Philadelphia, the believers within its walls were personally hearing from the One who held the true power for entrance into the eternal city of God. Jesus addressed them from the position of divine authority. If this were the only line in the message, it would have been worth it to those who suffered under the ever-shifting allegiance of the city to the emperor of the moment. The eternal and true God had sent the reliable Christ to open the true doorway into His kingdom.
Keeping Your Word (3:8-9)
With the background of Philadelphia’s culture, Jesus then delivered an encouraging word to the Philadelphian believers. Among the seven letters, it is in the minority in that there is no criticism delivered for some sinful posture or behavior. In similar form that He had said in other places, the Lord said I know your works. The church had operated in somewhat obscurity as it is not mentioned in the rest of the New Testament. But even when we are obscure to the world, God has still taken notice of us. Not operating in a major center of the Christian faith did not mean the Philadelphian believers had fallen from God’s mindfulness.
Jesus’ next statement related to His own introduction when He said Look, I have placed before you an open door that no one can close because you have but little power. Some take the door imagery as a doorway into the missionary enterprise to outer parts of the empire’s lands. That certainly fits the city’s history, which had been founded in part to serve as a missionary center for spreading Greek culture and language into the surrounding region, a role it had very successfully accomplished.
A second understanding should also be seen, that of Christ’s opening the way into His kingdom. This understanding aligns with the messianic understanding of Isaiah 22 and how Revelation 3:7 reflects the idea of Christ’s stewardship over who enters God’s household. It is