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When you’re ready to quit

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Revelation 3:7-13

Philadelphia, the youngest of the seven churches of Revelation, was located 28 miles southeast of Sardis. The city was probably founded by Eumenes II, king of Pergamum (197-160/159 BC), and was named in honor of his younger brother Attalus II, surnamed Philadelphia (“brotherly love”) for his loyalty to his older brother. But some evidence suggests that the official founding of Philadelphia did not occur until 140 BC when Attalus II had succeeded his brother as king of Pergamum (159-138 BC).

From the very beginning, Philadelphia was given a great opportunity to fulfill its name. Located on the great highway which connected Europe with the East, the town stood at the intersection of the three countries of Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia.

As the easternmost frontier of the Hellenistic world, Philadelphia was intended to be a missionary city. Its founders envisioned the Greeks using the city as a beachhead for spreading their language and culture throughout the regions beyond. Philadelphia was literally the gateway from one continent and civilization to another. But such hopes were unfulfilled. The Phrygians to the east stubbornly resisted Greek culture. In time the city decayed into ruins.

It is noteworthy that Jesus says his tiny church in Philadelphia will do what the mighty Greek empire had not been able to accomplish: God would make them an open door to the East and the world. “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut,” he announced (v. 8). Things are not what they seem.

How others must have scoffed at Jesus’ claim! This church had “little strength” (v. 8). The believers here were small in number, perhaps no more than a handful of people. They were small in resources, for it was difficult for Christians to find work in Philadelphia. And they were small in status and significance. Many of them were slaves, street people, or other outcasts. They had no standing in their community whatsoever.

But Jesus’ promise is clear: if they will hold onto the opportunities God has given them, no one will take their crown (v. 11). The same promise is ours as well.

When we’re in Philadelphia

When we find ourselves in Philadelphia, we have three options:

  • We can give up, assuming that we don’t have the strength or resources to go on.
  • We can give in to the culture and pressure which surrounds us.
  • We can go on. Jesus urges us, “Hold on to what you have” (v. 11).

Why go on?

  • God will use us: “What I open no one can shut” (v. 7).
  • God will vindicate us. Jesus says of our enemies, “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (v. 9).
  • God will help us stand: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it” (v. 12a).
  • God will claim us: “I will write on him 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 him my new name” (v. 12b).

We will all spend time in Philadelphia. Perseverance is the key to the power of God.