Behold, I am giving up those of the synagogue of Satan, those who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie. Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.
Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out from it anymore. And I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:9-13)
Apparently, there was a local synagogue in Philadelphia occupied by Jews who said they were Jews, but were not.
They may have been Jews genetically, legally, and ceremonially, but they were not Jews spiritually. They were not true sons of God. And the church was being hit by their hostility.
This church is on the receiving end of persecution from Jewish people who hate the gospel. And the Lord makes an amazing promise: “I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.”
That’s the posture of a humbled and defeated enemy. And I think it means salvation came to Jews in Philadelphia. I think the church was preaching the gospel, and God graciously saved the very people that persecuted it.
There is more in verse 10, a promise that is really remarkable: “Because you have obeyed My command to endure patiently and faithfully — through the persecution, through the deprivation, through the difficulty — I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.”
We don’t know what that “hour of testing” is, specifically. It could be a historical allusion to some natural disaster, some war, or some elevated persecution. If it does refer to a historical event, they were kept from the devastation of that event.
But there may be something more here because the language is very, very sweeping. It could also refer to the tribulation described later in Revelation.
Let’s just look at verse 10 and take it as a general principle. It basically says, “If you are a true believer and you have maintained obedience to the Word of God, the evidence of new life, I also will keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.” The verse ends with the phrase “those who dwell on the earth,” which is repeated in the book of Revelation about half a dozen times or more, and always refers to unbelievers.
So what is this? It doesn’t sound like a simple present distress in the city of Philadelphia. It comes on everybody on the earth, all the unbelievers, but not the faithful church.
Is this the Holy Spirit giving us a look down to the end of the history of redemption when a time of severe judgment comes on the earth, a time that the Bible calls the great tribulation, a time that is described to us starting in Revelation 6 through Revelation 18? It’s about to come, not in the sense that it’s coming in days or weeks, but it’s next, it’s imminent, it’s nearer every day.
What, then, does Jesus tell the church they must do? In verse 11, He says, “Hold fast what you have so that no one will take your crown.”
You can’t lose your salvation, but you can lose your reward. You can accumulate heavenly reward as a faithful believer, and you can also lose it.
So, this is a little church with power, loyalty, obedience, endurance, and faithfulness. The Lord threw the doors open and heaven was made accessible — the riches of the kingdom available. And this little church was used by God to bring people to those open doors, and the Spirit of God ushered them into the kingdom.
This church had such an evangelistic impact that even its Jewish persecutors bowed down and embraced the gospel they once persecuted; and for folks like this, the promise is that they will escape the testing that lies ahead — testing that may have been of a temporal nature.
But going even further, we know that those who are faithful will escape that final tribulation that comes on the whole world. And when the Lord comes, He will come to reward them: to give them a pillar with their name on it in the heavenly temple, to write His own name on them, and the name of the city of God, and even the name that belongs to Christ.
We faithful believers are God’s. We are Christ’s. We are citizens of heaven. We will be forever honored there.
This is a comfort beyond imagination. This is a message that any church would want to hear: “I’m coming to honor you. I’m coming to protect you. I’m coming to bless you.” So verse 13 says, like all the rest, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The holy, true, sovereign, mighty Lord knew everything about this church. And they were not perfect, but they were faithful. And He poured out heaven’s privileges on them. He gave them an opportunity to be the open door for the gospel. He promised to deliver them from the hour of testing. And he promised to come quickly, take them to heaven, and give them everlasting privileges. This is the blessedness of being a faithful church.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2015, titled “The Lord’s Word to His Church: Philadelphia.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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