You’ve probably been so tired you can’t properly function, perhaps by being woken (repeatedly) in the middle of the night by young children, or by intense busyness at work. I was so tired a few weeks ago that I fell asleep on my commute home and missed my stop, which just made the day longer. Maybe you are experiencing a different kind of tiredness; a spiritual weariness where you are in a daily trial and aren’t sure how you will keep going as a Christian.
The letter to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) is a letter to a weary church. Jesus himself says they have ‘little strength’. They may have been small, Sundays may have been a struggle and they were definitely facing persecution. Unsuccessful in the world’s eyes and possibly unsuccessful by the flawed criteria of many in the modern church. Wonderfully, Jesus’ letter to those Christians is the warmest of the seven letters. It contains no rebuke, only encouragement. It was written to sinners, but in this moment Jesus chooses to give them encouragement after encouragement, more than I can include here. If you are spiritually weary today, these encouragements are for you too.
He knows what they are going through
‘I know’ (v8).
Jesus knows them as a church and individually; what they’ve done and what they’re doing. In some ways that’s terrifying. All the warnings to the other churches over false teaching, immorality and half-heartedness have come from Jesus’ complete knowledge of all things. Yet, if Jesus is your Saviour and King, the truth that he knows is hugely encouraging. Wouldn’t it be terrible if he didn’t? If he didn’t know what was going on at work or in your family, how you’re feeling or even what sins you are battling with? Imagine if Jesus was oblivious and only aware of the details we chose to disclose in prayer. Jesus knows everything about your situation today – in fact, much more than you do.
He has already given them grace to keep going
‘Since you have kept my command to endure patiently’ (v10).
The Philadelphians didn’t have much strength, but they had enough to keep going. Not to be obviously successful or to have an easy life, but Jesus had given them enough grace to be faithful to him in the midst of opposition and to live as he was calling them to live.
Verse 10 suggests that Jesus may shield them from a future persecution whereas the church in Smyrna, in contrast, was told to be ready to face persecution (Rev. 2:10). We don’t know why they would face something the Philadelphians wouldn’t, but we know that Jesus knows and that his majestic plan is perfect. Jesus knows us and gives us enough grace to be faithful through the things he has chosen that we will face.
Take a moment to look back over the last few years and write down occasions where God has brought you through the toughest times. Looking at God’s past graces will fill your heart with thankfulness and encouragement as you look to the future.
The door to our eternal life is locked open by Jesus
‘…who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open’ (v7).
As is usual with Revelation there is debate about this image, but I think it refers to the door to salvation and eternal life (see 4:1). Jesus has the key to that door (Is. 22:22); he’s opened the door and will keep it open for the Philadelphian Christians.
Where I work, one gate is electronically controlled and when first installed it was a bit temperamental. It wouldn’t always open and when it did, it could close on you without warning so you had to keep pushing against it, but this isn’t Jesus’ message. He isn’t saying that if you’ve not only read the church prayer news but also prayed for it and you’re cheerfully on at least two rotas at church, preferably three, and you’ve genuinely shown love to everyone you’ve met, then when you push the door you should be able to squeeze through – but keep an eye on it, because it might suddenly close when you’re not looking. Instead Jesus says that he’s keeping the door open. It is all dependent on him: his life, death, resurrection and sovereign rule.
I recently read a prayer from the Valley of Vision which included the line, ‘Pardon all my sins, known and unknown, felt and unfelt.’ It was a solemn reminder that there are sins I’ve committed I’m not even aware of, but in the weariness of my battle with sin I also need to remember that Jesus holds the door of salvation open, not me.
He will make them into pillars
‘I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it’ (v12).
In Roman cities, it appears that the wealthy would build temples and write their names on the pillars. However, Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes; the temples would be reduced to rubble and everyone would have to leave. They would return and rebuild, only for another earthquake to knock down the temples a few years later.
Jesus says that the Philadelphian Christians, fragile as they are, will be permanent pillars in his eternal temple. If you are a weary Christian, struggling and unimpressive by the world’s standards, Jesus says he will make you a permanent part of God’s eternal kingdom, made significant by him forever and nothing will force you to leave his eternal city.
He gives them a new name
‘I will also write on them my new name’ (v12).
If you’re like me you constantly feel your inadequacy, and with good reason. We feel weak because we are weak, but Jesus gives the Philadelphian Christians – and us – a new identity, one that is actually our original calling as God’s creations. Weak and inadequate as we are, we can be encouraged since it is Jesus that gives us our new name. It’s not about us proving ourselves or taking part in a self-esteem programme that will tell us we‘re great. That’s doomed to fail because we just can’t live up to it. We can be encouraged because we can look at who we are in Christ.
Jesus’ command, in light of all these encouragements, is simple. Hold on.
‘I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown’ (v11).
Hold on, but hold on with your eyes fixed on him, the certain hope for weary and weak Christians.