Commentary on Revelation 3:7-13

Notes (NET Translation)

7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Holy One, the True One, who holds the key of David, who opens doors no one can shut, and shuts doors no one can open:

In calling himself “the Holy One” and “the True One” Christ is using divine titles (Ps 16:10; Isa 1:4; 37:23; 40:25; Hab 3:3; Mk 1:24; Jn 6:69; Rev 6:10; 1 Clem 23:5). The language of the keys and doors alludes to 1:18 (“I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades!”) and Isaiah 22:22 (“I will place the key to the house of David on his shoulder. When he opens the door, no one can close it; when he closes the door, no one can open it.”). Christ is not only sovereign over death and judgment but also over those entering the kingdom of God (3:12).

8 ‘I know your deeds. (Look! I have put in front of you an open door that no one can shut.) I know that you have little strength, but you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name.

The door leads into the city and temple of God (3:12), both of which can be taken as images for the kingdom of God. In what sense the Philadelphians had “little strength” is not stated but, in light of the next phrase, it probably refers to earthly strength as opposed to spiritual strength. What is clear is that they have obeyed the gospel and not denied Christ’s name.

9 Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan – who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying – Look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

The Jews in Philadelphia were probably called a synagogue of Satan because they were persecuting Christians in some fashion. They were not true Jews because they rejected Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. The phrase “I will make them come and bow down at your feet” alludes to various OT passages where the Gentiles are prophesied as bowing down at the feet of Israel and Israel’s God (Ps 86:9; Isa 45:14; 49:23; 60:13-14). The phrase “acknowledge that I have loved you” alludes to Isaiah 43:4 where “you” refers to Israel. Ironically it will be Jews who bow down to Gentiles instead of the other way around.

The force of the Isaiah allusions shows that this is not to be a begrudging recognition by the Jews. Rather, it will be an acknowledgment that leads to the very salvation of the ethnic Jews themselves. The focus on salvation derives from the Isaiah prophecies, which refer not only to the judgment of some Gentiles but also to the salvation of many others, who acknowledge Israel as God’s true people. The conclusion is also apparent from the fact that the similar Isa. 60:11 prophecy is understood in Rev. 21:25–26 as referring to redemption; indeed, the context in Isaiah 60 refers to redeemed Gentiles offering voluntary worship (see below on 21:24–26).

That the salvation of the Jews is in mind is also apparent from the still present connection with the salvific key and door imagery continued in v 9a from vv. 7–8a, and ultimately from 1:18b (this view of the Jews’ salvation is also suggested by the striking similarity of language between v 9b and 1 Cor. 14:25). The notion of voluntary worship of God is also underscored by recognizing that all the other uses of προσκυνέω in Revelation refer to voluntary “worship” of either God (10 occurrences) or of the beast and idols (11 occurrences). In particular, the almost identical phrase “worship (προσκυνέω) before the feet” is used elsewhere of voluntary reverence on the part of a Christian believer (22:8, which is virtually the same as 19:10). The Isaiah prophecies are to be fulfilled imminently in the church’s own experience, though not exclusively, since the letter is also addressed to all the churches. (Beale 288)

10 Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

The nature of the coming testing/tribulation is not stated. Whatever it is the Philadelphians will be protected from it spiritually (Jn 17:15; Rev 3:12). The phrase “whole world” (oikoumenes holes) could refer to the entire planet (Rev 12:9; 16:14), the Roman Empire (Lk 2:1), or a smaller part of the Empire (Acts 11:28; 17:6; 19:27; 24:5). The phrase “those who live on the earth” is used by Revelation to denote enemies of the church (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown.

This “coming” is linked to the tribulation mentioned in 3:10.

Although this [“Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown”] is perfectly understandable English, just as is the Greek itself, the final clause of this sentence is especially puzzling. Had the Lord said, “so that you will not lose your crown,” that would have made good sense in the context; but what it would mean for “no one to take your crown” is not at all clear—although it is very likely that the former is what John intended, despite the actual wording. Most likely this is a kind of shorthand for the fact that the divine giver is also the divine taker; or in the language of the KJV on which I was raised, God is the one who “giveth” and “taketh away” (Job 1:21). Finally, as throughout the New Testament, the “crown” the victor receives is not the diadem worn by kings or queens, but the wreath given the victor in the games. (Fee 55)

The crown symbolizes salvation.

12 The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well.

This verse uses a number of images to make the same point: the one who conquers is promised end-time fellowship and identification with Christ. Fellowship is signified by the pillar in the temple of God (21:22-22:5). “This pillar is firmly established, unlike the pillars of so many Philadelphian temples and other buildings which collapsed in the various earthquakes and tremors that afflicted the city” (Boxall 74). Note that the “temple” is symbolic imagery since the New Jerusalem will not have a literal temple (21:16, 22). “John is not the slightest concerned to keep the details of one vision consistent with those of another. In each he is making a point with emphasis, and we should not try to dovetail one vision into the details of another. Apocalyptic imagery is sufficiently fluid to allove the figure of a temple in one vision and to dismiss it in another” (Metzger 42). Identification is signified by the name of God, the name of the new Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name.

There is also local imagery involved. Philadelphia had changed its name to Neocaesarea and then to Flavia in honor of its relationship to the emperor. Now the believer’s name is changed to that of his or her God. Yet there are two differences. For the city the relationship was patronage. For the Christian it is sonship. Also, the emperor betrayed his promises when he made the city destroy half its vine production. God will never betray his trust. (Osborne 198)

13 The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Brown, Raymond Edward, ed. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Pearson P T R, 1991.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Koester, Craig R. Revelation and the End of All Things. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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