To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
After some of the stern rebukes we have read, this letter is particularly tender: “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Jesus recognises their “little strength” – but also their faithful endurance. They were not a “strong church” or a “high impact church”. They had “little strength”. They may have been labelled as “a small church”, or “a low impact church”, or “a weak church” – or even “an insignificant church”. But they were a faithful church. Their “little strength” was directed at faithfully following Jesus and holding on to the truth of the Gospel. Jesus applauded that!
Jesus also promised something particularly kind: “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”
This is a beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd! Jesus knew that these sheep had little strength – perhaps being faithful under their present degree of persecution was close to their breaking point – so he promised to shelter them from the greater trials that were coming. This is a very encouraging glimpse of the heart of Jesus towards the weak – we see that he knows us well and shepherds us accordingly – his goal is not to lose us but to get us home!
In their weakness, Jesus encourages this church. He doesn’t focus on their weaknesses and give them “ten tips on how to become stronger sheep”.
He points them to himself.
When we see Jesus clearly, we become instantly stronger!
– Jesus is holy: there is no “dark side” to him, so we can trust him with our lives. He will do us good, not harm!
– Jesus is true: there is no deceit in him, so we can believe everything he said!
– Jesus is Lord of all: what he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open!
– Jesus is our advocate and defender: while others may accuse us and criticise us now, Jesus will vindicate us in the end!
– Jesus is our protector: we may be weak, but he is strong. He is fully able to protect us against any enemy!
– Jesus promises eternal rewards to the faithful: right now, we may feel like we are “the losers” – but Jesus will reward our faithfulness for all eternity!
When we feel weak and weary, we need to look to Jesus and remember who he is: our shepherd, our redeemer, our defender and our king!
Be faithful! He is!!