It is blessed to see in the verses we have read that, in spite of all the failure and breakdown recorded in these chapters, there is in the church in Philadelphia that in which the Lord can find peculiar pleasure, and that He has no word of judgment to speak to this assembly.
In the first chapter the glories of the Son of Man are presented to us. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters He walks in the midst of the churches in the character of judge; and in Ephesus He touches the mainspring of the church’s failure when He says, “Thou hast left thy first love.”
The apostle Paul, in writing to the saints at Thessalonica, remembered their “work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3), but while these same things are noted by the Lord in regard to Ephesus, there is no mention of the springs of action found in the Thessalonians: faith, love and hope; instead, He calls attention to the decline of love. All the failure recorded in these chapters results from the giving up of first love, as does also the removal of the candlestick of testimony for Christ.
In the first three churches, which give prophetically the successive stages of the public history of the church, the address to the overcomer follows the exhortation, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” This order is reversed in the last four churches, and in each of these four is found a mention of the coming of the Lord, surely signifying that the conditions depicted in them will continue until the end. The corruptions of Romanism, the deadness of Protestantism, the faithfulness of Philadelphia, and the lukewarmness of Laodicea will all be found in the professing church when the Lord comes.
When the Lord comes, the professing church, which He will spue out of His mouth, will come under divine judgment, as shown later in this book. Do we not see the church in its Laodicean condition today, marked by lukewarmness and indifference to Christ? Christ is found knocking outside the door of the professing church, but His word to the individual is, “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” In spite of the corruption of the church, the faithful individual can have communion with the Lord and all the blessedness that this speaks of to our hearts.
The meaning of Philadelphia is love of the brethren, and their regard for the word and the Name of the Lord as the Holy and the True manifested not only brotherly love, but affection for the Lord Jesus Himself. How great is the contrast with Ephesus, where first love had been given up. That address is to the angel of the church, the representative of authority in the assembly, the responsible element.
As in each address, the Lord presents Himself in some distinctive way; here we read, “These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth: and shutteth, and no man openeth.” The value of the word, and its authority, take character from the One who speaks. In presenting Himself as “The Holy,” the Lord reveals that He expects His own to bear the same character in testimony before the world, even as Peter shows that God ever sought this from His people when He said, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” What God required from His people of old can be secured in the saints today because God has given to us His Holy Spirit as the power for holiness.
Jesus is also “The True.” When here upon earth He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” On earth He was the perfect expression of all God’s thoughts and nature, the One in whom the Father was fully revealed. But as “The True” the Lord is the One who is thoroughly reliable, who has answered perfectly to every divine test as Man, and who is the divine standard of perfection for men. In such a day as this where all around is in confusion, where we have learned to have no confidence in the flesh, we can rest with implicit confidence in Him who is “The True,” knowing Him to be constant in His faithfulness and that we can trust Him for everything at all times.
Having “The key of David,” the Blessed Lord speaks with divine authority and has the authority to open the way into the treasures of divine revelation and to open the door for testimony regarding Himself as The Holy and The True. If we are living in a world of which Satan is the god and prince, it is good for us to realize that not all the power of the enemy can shut the door that Christ has opened for His saints in these last days. Everything concerning the things of God is secure in the hands of the Lord Jesus; if He opens doors, none can shut; when He shuts, none can open. The testimony is not ours, it is His, so that we look to Him to order all for His own pleasure and the glory of God.
His words regarding their works are the same as those to Ephesus, “I know thy works”; but what follows enables us to see His thoughts of them. He does not find fault with their affections, but sets before them an open door, which no man can shut. Their works were not the great works of Pentecost, which all could take notice of; they had but “a little strength,” but He took notice of that which had been wrought in conscious weakness for His eye, not for the approbation of the great religious profession around.
Christ tells us what He approves in such a day as this, “Thou…hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” Theirs was a path of simple obedience to the desires of Christ; what He had spoken was enough for them. His commandments are specific requirements, but His word is the whole scope of His thoughts and desires for His own. In a day when the religious world that professes His Name has turned its back upon Him and ignores His word, how delightful it must be to the heart of Christ to see those who care for His word and seek to do it.
The Philadelphians had not denied the Name of Christ. Although this is a negative trait, how powerfully it speaks of the grave departure of the mass in the professing Church, who had denied His Name. How very few there are who are really concerned with the reputation of Christ’s Name. Everyone who professes to be a Christian bear upon him the Name of Christ, and their every action reflects upon His Name. Those who are careless and indifferent to the honor of that glorious and precious Name, who deny it in their walk and ways, are guilty of grave dishonor to Him. They may be indifferent: He is not. Nor is He unmindful of those who think of His name, and endeavor to honor it in the details of everyday life as they pass through this world.
We are not only to care for the word and Name of Christ in our individual lives but also in our gatherings. He has said, “This do for a remembrance of me,” and those who value His word delight to come together to partake of the Lord’s Supper in the way He has Himself instituted, so as to answer to His word. In relation to our gatherings, we also remember His word, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” At such gatherings, all is to be carried out according to His word, and in the consciousness that it is to His Name that we are gathered: the honor of His Name is bound up with the conduct of the saints in their gatherings.