The Lord does not say to the believers in Philadelphia, "You are weak," or, "You are powerless." Rather, He says to them, "You have a little power." He is stressing the fact that the Philadelphian believers have untapped potential for doing good works. This statement of the Lord's underscores the fact that most churches scarcely realize the power they have for ministry. Each of us in the body of Christ has been given spiritual gifts, and the responsibility to use those gifts to bless others and meet human needs. Yet how few of us really exercise our spiritual gifts as God truly intended!

What vast untapped potential resides in a single congregation, or in a single believer, when there is a willingness to utilize the gifts of the Spirit! That is why the Lord suggests to the believers in Philadelphia, "You have a little power not much, but some." He is hoping they will grow in using that potential for ministry.

The presence of the Holy Spirit has been promised to every believer without any conditions whatsoever. But the power of the Spirit is given only to those believers who actively choose to keep His Word and not deny His name. These two dynamics are crucial to the ministry of every believer and every church.

God always plants His Word at the heart of His church. A church that is faithful and pleasing to God is a church that preaches, teaches, studies, knows, and lives out His Word. The Word of God is not just for pastors or elders or Sunday school teachers. Every individual believer in the church is to know and obey God's Word.

Beyond the Word of the Lord stands the Lord Himself. The Word points us to the reality of a relationship with God Himself. That is why Jesus commended the Philadelphians not only for keeping His Word but for being faithful to His name. An old hymn puts it this way:


It is the Word of God that enables us to know the character of Jesus, to have fellowship with Him, to build His character into our own lives. His name is to be the identifying mark upon our lives. As non-Christians watch us live out our faith amid the stress and pressure of the real world, they are to see the imprint of the name of Jesus in all that we do.

When Jesus is present with us throughout each day, and when our lives serve to reflect the life and character of Christ, then doors of ministry open before us. This is true of each believer in an individual sense, and it is true of entire churches.


Some years ago, I was discussing the future of Israel with a rabbi. During our talk, he said something to me I will never forget. "You are a premillennial evangelical," he said, "and I am a Jew." (The word premillennial refers to Christians who believe that Jesus the Messiah will literally return to rule over Israel during the future Millennium in fulfillment of Old Testament promise and prophecy.) "You premillennial Christians," he continued, "are the only Christians we Jews can really talk to."
I was intrigued. "Why is that?" I asked.

"Because," he replied, "you believe there is a future for Israel. That enables us to communicate with you. So many other Christians have just written us off; they have written Israel off, and we have nothing in common with them."

This rabbi's comments underscore the fact that when you truly reflect the love and compassion of Christ, and when you truly understand the promises to Israel in the Old Testament and how they relate to the prophecy of Revelation, you have something in common with Jews anywhere. You can communicate with them, and they will respect what you say and do.
As we come to verse 9, we will see that our Christlike love, together with our reverence for the Word of God, gives us an open door for ministry to the Jews.

3:9 "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."

Here is the Lord's promise that He will use His power to subdue the enemies of the Philadelphian believers. Their enemies will respect the Philadelphian church and openly acknowledge God's blessing upon them.

In this verse a phrase from the letter to Smyrna appears again: the "synagogue of Satan." As in the Smyrna letter, this phrase refers to those Jews who claim to be spiritual descendants of Abraham, yet who persecute Christians and reject the truth. Though they are physically descended from Abraham, their attitude is far removed from Abraham's faith. During His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus repeatedly opposed the "synagogue of Satan," the spiritually arrogant scribes and Pharisees who claimed to be Abraham's children. Jesus' message to them was harsh but true: "You are of your father the devil."

The church in Philadelphia, like most churches of that early era, was composed largely of Jews who had converted to Christianity. So the hostile Jews of the "synagogue of Satan" were actually persecuting other Jews converted Jews because of their beliefs. In His letter, Jesus reassures the mostly-Jewish Christians at Philadelphia, "I will make [those Jews who persecute you] . . . fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you."

How? What will cause the anti-Christian Jews to bow before the believers in Philadelphia and acknowledge God's blessing on the church? Answer: they will see the church respond to their opposition with love, courage, and an intimate knowledge of God a knowledge these nonbelieving Jews do not possess, even though they have the Scriptures. Their hearts will be changed as the Christians of Philadelphia exhibit the results of a special and supernatural relationship with the living Christ.

What was true for the first-century Christians in Philadelphia is true for you and me today. Today, Jews are far more persecuted than persecutors. The plague of anti-Semitism continues to threaten the Jews worldwide, and the nation of Israel continues to survive while encircled by enemies. But though there is no Jewish oppression of the church today as there was in the first century, there are many Jews who harbor deep resentment against Christians. This resentment is rooted in the fact that many past persecutions of Jews were carried out by so-called "Christians."

I have a friend named Tuvya Zaretsky. He is Jewish, and as a child was raised to distrust Christians and to hate the Christian gospel. The name of Jesus was anathema to him. The very subject of Christianity filled him with an intense loathing and anger.

Today, however, Tuvya Zaretsky is a changed man, a devoted Christian who is always eager to share his faith in Jesus Christ. He now works with Jews for Jesus in San Francisco.

What made the difference? His heart was changed by the loving, caring example of genuine Christians, living out the Word of God and the lifestyle of Jesus. At a crucial point in his life he met some Christlike people who were willing to minister to him, listen to him without judging or arguing, and accept him despite his anger and hostility. Gently and gradually they loved my friend Tuvya into the kingdom of God.

As we live out the lifestyle of Jesus under the authority of God's Word the Lord opens doors of ministry even among those who are hostile and unreceptive to our message.


In verse 10, the Lord gives the Philadelphian church a word of amazing encouragement and promise.

3:10 "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."

Here is a clear reference to what Jesus, in Matthew 24, called "the great distress." It will be a time of worldwide upheaval the like of which has never been known in human history. Those who remember such events as World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, or the Desert Storm conflict in Iraq have only barely tasted the uncertainty, the horror, the sorrow, and the fear of the coming Tribulation. There will be slaughter, atrocity, terror, and panic on a scale that beggars our ability to imagine, and we will encounter vivid descriptions of that time in the coming pages of Revelation.

The Great Tribulation is coming, the Lord says, "to test those who live on the earth." This phrase is widely misunderstood to refer to all those who are residents of the planet. But no, "those who live on the earth" are metaphorically those who live as though this life is all there is, who have their minds set upon the things of the earth, who are materialistically minded.

The amazing promise of verse 10 is that the church will be delivered from that hour of trial. "I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world," says the Lord. So the church will be kept from the time of trial, caught up and removed even before the Great Tribulation begins. This is the promise of the departure of the church, which Paul describes so beautifully in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:


For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

And as we shall see, there are many signs which indicate that the fulfillment of this wonderful promise may be very close at hand today.