What does success look like for a local church? How should a church market itself? Or should a should market itself? Is success determined by the leadership of a denomination, the local newspaper or the pastor? Must a successful church have a lot of programs for its members? Must a successful have the proper signage and a spacious, well-lit parking lot? Do the Sunday School teachers have to have seminary degrees? How do you measure the success of a local church? How does God measure the success of local church?
I get asked the question all the time, “How are things going at the church?” The question could easily be re-phrased, “Is the church going well? Is it successful?” Everyone has their own idea of success. Whether it is your physical health or your business, your family’s budget or your local church, we all have ideas what we consider successful. Unfortunately, we may not realize how easily our definition is not determined by God’s word, but our culture. America values bigness. American success usually is connected to growth in the number of people, money and programs. Therefore, a church is successful if it has more people, more money and more activities than the year before. But it that success?
I measure success by our love for God, his people and the lost. Are we growing in our love for God? I want to see a greater love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a desire to grow in the Word, and a desire to grow in holiness. We want our lives marked by a holy love of God. Are we growing in our love for each other? I want to see a greater familial love between each other. I want to see self-sacrifice and concern for each other, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing one anothers joys. We want our lives marked by a holy love for one another. Are we growing in our love for the lost? I want to see a regular sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers. I want us to hold fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. There is one way to God and that is through repenting and believing in the gospel of His Son. Jesus Christ is the door that leads to heaven. We want our lives marked by a holy love for the lost.
The church of Philadelphia was a failure in the eyes of the world. They were small in number and had little impact on the culture. They were ridiculed and maligned by the religious elite in the community, but they were faithful to Jesus Christ. Philadelphia, along with Smyrna, were the only two churches that were not rebuked by Jesus. I pray that we learn true biblical success by seeing what the Lord Jesus Christ values in his church.
The One Who Holds the Keys
The great question that Israel was concerned with in the Old Testament is, “How can one be right with God?” How is someone righteous? Or how can one enter God’s kingdom? Jesus establishes with his opening words that He is the one who holds the key. Revelation 3:7,
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of 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.
Jesus is holy and set apart from the world. He is the true and genuine Lord. He holds the key of David.
The key of David is only used one time in the Old Testament in Isaiah 22:22-23 referring to Eliakim. Isaiah of Eliakim,
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. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.
Eliakim was going to be given the key to the sanctuary of God. He was going to determine who was able to enter into God’s house i.e. who would be able to enter his kingdom and be saved. There were Jews in Philadelphia who were claiming that right and Jesus wanted to make clear that it was not these false Jews who were representing the synagogue of Satan, but him and him alone. This reference to Eliakim would have been clear to the audience as the rabbis taught Eliakim was a messianic prophecy. Here are 5 reasons why Eliakim was a messianic prophecy.
• The house of David is almost always a reference to the Messiah
• Eliakim is called “my servant” which would have been heard in light of Isaiah 40-53 where “my servant” is used 13 times of the Messiah
• Eliakim is given the administrative responsibility of the house with very similar language of Isaiah 9:6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
• Lastly, according to G.K, Beale, “main typological correspondence between Eliakim and Christ is that Christ, like Eliakim, was to have absolute power over the Davidic throne as king. Whereas Eliakim’s control was primarily political, Christ’s was to be primarily spiritual, as well as ultimately universal in all aspects; whereas Eliakim was to rule over Jerusalem, Judah, and the house of David, Christ’s sovereignty was to extend over all peoples. ”
Here is the point, the people are being reminded to judge their existence in relation to the only one who holds the key. Jesus is the only entrance into the kingdom.
The One Who Honors the Weak
After establishing that he is the one who allows entrance into his holy sanctuary, Jesus goes not to explicitly states that he has opened the door for them. Revelation 3:8,
“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Again, Jesus knows the works of the saints at Philadelphia. And he reassures them that have been given access to his kingdom for He has set before them an open door. And no one, even the powerful religious elite, can shut it.
The church has little power. They weak in the eyes of the wall. They are small. They are apparently insignificant and yet, they have kept the word of Christ and not denied his name. Here we see one of the most important determiners of success of Christ’s church: faithfulness to God’s Word. Are we faithful to the Word of God? We must determine our success not from the benchmarks given by a denomination or the local newspaper, but on our obedience and faithfulness to the Word of God. What does that look like? Let me offer two ways.
First, we hold fast to the gospel. We believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, God’s sanctuary. There is salvation in no other name. No one is justified by their works. People are only saved by repenting of their sins and trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our only hope for salvation.
Friend, if you are not a Christian this may seem oppressive, narrow, and close-minded. But I want you to consider how beautiful, humbling and glorious this idea truly is. We all know how sinful we are in our hearts. We know our pride, our jealousy, our anger, our lust, our greed, and our self-centeredness. We cannot deny we have done wrong. Now, our world wants you to believe that God will overlook those sins, but he can’t. God cannot allow evil into his holy sanctuary. He stands at the door guarding the purity of his kingdom. We know we are impure so how can we enter through door? Thanks be to God; Jesus Christ has set before you an open door. Jesus came and lived a pure life. He perfectly obeyed God in every way. And although he was pure and innocent, he chose to die as a criminal on the cross. Jesus chose to pay for the treason and the impurity of all who would turn and trust in him. He died for sinners. And God raised him from the dead. The resurrection is our proof that the door of salvation is now open for all who trust in Christ.
Friend, we live in a world that wants to believe all will be saved, but we know deep down that this is not true. Salvation is only open to those who know Jesus. You may look at this as narrow and oppressive, but how beautiful and glorious is it that God has made a way for impure, wretched sinners to enter his presence. Friend, Jesus has set before you an open door. You only have to walk through it. Will you trust in Christ?
Beloved, we must continue to be faithful to this gospel. There is no other way to heaven, but through Christ. We must be diverted from our mission to proclaim the goodness and glory of the gospel of grace. We may be the biggest church in the United States, but if we are not faithful to the gospel we are failures in the eyes. Let us judge our success by the One who holds the key.
Secondly, we hold fast to entire counsel of God’s word. Are we trusting what God’s word says about a holy life, marriage, entertainment, church order, the poor, friendship, money, etc.? We have to get the gospel right, but if we have been transformed by the gospel our lives will look radically different than the world. It is easy to say we love God, but it is harder to love God’s people. We can test our own love for God, but testing our love for God’s people. How are we loving God’s church? Are we willing to lay down our preferences for others? Are we willing to lay down our time to serve others? Are we willing to give of our resources or open our homes to those in need? Are we willing to show we have been transformed by the gospel of grace? We may be small in number, but we can make an eternal impact by holding fast to Christ and His Word.
The One Who Protects His People
Our labor for Christ is never in vain. The Lord holds out promises for us. He promises that if we hold fast to him he will vindicate from our enemies and protecting during the day of trial. Revelation 3:9-10,
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 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.
Here again, we see Jews are called the synagogue of Satan. They claimed to be Jews, but they are not. Paul spends significant time in Romans explaining that a true Jew is one who has experience not an outward circumcision by one of the heart. A true is one inwardly not outwardly.
These Jews in Philadelphia were claiming that held the key into entrance of the sanctuary. They were trusting in one’s ability to keep the law, but we know that no one is justified by the works of the law. Jesus promises that one day these Jews will bow at the feet of the Gentile believers and they will know that God has extended his love to them in the Messiah. The faithful saints will participate in the judgment of God’s enemies. These Jews claimed to know God, but they will be proven wrong. A side note, remember that it was John, a Jew, who was writing this book, and Jesus, a Jew, who gave the revelation. These are not anti-Semitic statements, but helping to show how true Jews trust in the Messiah, the long awaited one who will hold the key of the house of David.
God will not only vindicate his people, but he will also protect his people from the day of trial. Revelation 3:10 has some of the most commentary on the entire book of Revelation. Let us read it again, “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.” There are several times we will encounter specific verses that teach specific view of eschatology or the end times. The interpretation of this verse has many implications on one’s view of the millennium or the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There are three main views: premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism. We will spend more time on this in the coming months, but this verse has helped promote a modification of historic premillennialism that taught a post-tribulation rapture to one that taught a pre-tribulation rapture. This view was proposed in a theological system called dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was first taught by John Darby in the mid-1800s and was later popularized by the Scofield study bible at the beginning of the 20th century.
The key question is regarding verse 10 is what does Jesus mean by, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” Does Jesus mean he will protect them from the trial by removing them from the trial or by providing safe-keeping through the trial? As I said before there are is much commentary on this verse that I do not have time to dive into, but would happy to find a time to discuss it. I believe from the context this letter and the rest of Scripture that Jesus is teaching that he will keep his people safe from the trial that is coming on the world. The church in Philadelphia has kept God’s word during trial so God will keep them amid trial. Jesus says in his high priestly prayer, also written by the Apostle John, John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” A biblical theme is throughout the Bible is God’s sustaining and growing his people through trial rather than removing them from it. I interpret this verse as a reference to God sustaining his saints during the trial that is coming upon the earth, spiritually protecting them in their pursuit of Christ. God will keep his people in Him. Revelation shows that God will protect them from the wrath of God as they experience the wrath of the dragon. Grant Osborne summarizes this well,
It is certainly true that the saints are the focus of intense persecution (indeed, martyrdom) from the dragon and his followers (6:9–11; 12:12–13, 17; 13:7; 16:6; 20:4). There is a great difference, however, between the wrath of God and the wrath of the dragon. Throughout the NT, persecution is seen as the believers’ lot, indeed their great privilege (e.g., Mark 10:29–30; John 15:18–16:4; Phil 3:10; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 3:13–14). In Revelation martyrdom is seen as a victory over Satan, not a defeat (6:9–11; 7:14–17; 12:11). As when he put Christ on the cross, Satan defeats himself whenever he takes the life of one of the saints. Therefore, the point is that the Philadelphia church (identified with all faithful believers here) will be protected from the wrath of God against the unbelievers but not from the wrath of Satan, and that this protection is within and not a removal from (as in a pretribulation rapture) that wrath.
Jesus continues to encourage this weak, but faithful church in saying, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Jesus is again encouraging the church to hold fast to Him and his promises. He wants them to remain steadfast in the midst of trials so that they will receive the crown of life. Philadelphia was known for its games and festivals, so this imagery of an athlete’s crown would have been especially relevant.
Friends, persevere in Christ. Hold fast to him. Where else can you turn? He is the only one who holds the key to the kingdom of God. He has set before us an open door. We must walk through it. Forget what is behind and press on towards the door of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Where are you being tempted to waver? Friend, wherever you are tempted to turn, it’s not worth it. Remain with Christ.
The One Who Promises His Name
Jesus is full of promises. We should look often at what he has promised to those who love him. Hear the promises of the One who is holy and true,
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The church was threatened to be expelled from the sanctuary of God, but here they are promised to be a pillar in the temple of God. This is like the language of Isaiah 22 when Eliakim was to be fastened like a peg in a secure place. Philadelphia was a city on a major fault line. In AD 17, there was a devastating earthquake that crippled the city so bad that the emperor accepted no taxes for the next five years to aid in the recover. A church that knows the devastating shaking of earthquakes and the vindictive exclusive from the sanctuary by the Jews, this promise to be a pillar in the temple of God would have been immensely encouraging. Jesus speaks to us uniquely to encourage to follow him. Even the next line that they shall never leave the sanctuary would have been powerful for a people who often had to retreat to the hillside for protection against the earthquakes and its aftershocks.
The saints will also be given the name of God, the name of the city of God, and the new name of Christ. To have the name of God, is to belong to him. We do not belong to this world, but belong God and his kingdom. The name of New Jerusalem is significant as it symbolizes our citizenship belongs there. We are not of this world, but our citizenship is in heaven as is the promise of this verse. We are also given the new name of Christ. The most incredible idea of this passage is not what the names specifically mean, but that we have the Name at all. We are sinners deserving of eternal wrath, but God shows us mercy by giving us his name. We are no longer slaves, but we are sons. We are no longer seen as sinners, but as saints belonging to the new Jerusalem.
Beloved, what is true success? A nice home? A nice car? A nice retirement? True success is being faithful to God. True success is to hold fast to One who holds the key to the kingdom. True success is loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. True success is loving your neighbor as yourself. Do not be deceived by the culture of temporary success, but let live for the forever King who promises us a forever place in his forever kingdom to experience his forever glory. Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.