The church is not a building, but it is people. So when we talk about Jesus Christ inspecting the church, He is really inspecting the lives of individuals who make up that church.
The believers at Philadelphia had been faithful to God’s Word. In the past, they had maintained a faithful testimony in word and deed, so Jesus rewarded them with increasing opportunities for ministry in the future, along with making them five promises.
1. Christians will be acknowledged as the true followers of Messiah. (Revelation 3:9)
Jews in Philadelphia persecuted Christians. Jewish believers who placed their trust in Jesus as Messiah were excommunicated from the synagogue and may have had difficulty doing business in the city. But because the believers in Philadelphia, whether Jew or Gentile, remained faithful to the teaching of Christ, Jesus promised that He would “cause those of the synagogue of Satan . . . [to] bow down” at their feet (3:9). Jews believed they made up the true congregation of the Lord, but as they were an assembly of Satan, because they followed the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and had rejected Jesus as God’s Messiah.
Jesus didn’t specify when these Jewish unbelievers would bow down before the Philadelphian believers. It could refer to a time before the great white throne judgment, when the Lord will judge all unbelievers (Isaiah 45:23; 60:14; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11), but if not before then, it will certain happen at that time of final judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).
2. Christians will escape the coming Tribulation. (Revelation 3:10)
Jesus promised the believers at Philadelphia to “keep [them] from the hour of testing which is about to come on the whole world” (3:10). Keep in mind that these letters were written to specific, historical churches. But what is written is also universal. Jesus’s admonitions, warnings, and promises equally apply to us in the twenty-first century as they did to the seven churches in the first century. This is important to remember because this promise is one of the most comforting verses found in all of Scripture.
The promise to “keep us from the hour of testing” has become controversial among theologians, but it shouldn’t be. There are three interpretations of Revelation 3:10. Some theologians believe Jesus only promised to “remove” us during the tribulation, somewhere near the midway point. This is called the “mid-tribulation view.” Other theologians say Jesus’s promise is to “preserve” us through the entire tribulation. This is the “post-tribulation view.”
Neither of these positions is what Jesus meant. The Greek combination of the verb “keep” and the proposition “from” clearly means that Jesus will keep us out of “the hour of testing.” In other words, you and I will not experience the seven-year, worldwide tribulation described in chapters 6-19. This is the “pre-tribulation view,” the one the Bible teaches.
This view is strengthened by the fact that we are saved out of that “hour,” which refers to the time in the future when these trials will begin. In other words, we will be kept from even experiencing a millisecond of the tribulation. Jesus will make sure, so to speak, that not even a toe will be dipped in the tribulation waters.
But how will Jesus fulfill His promise? He will remove the church at the rapture—the next great event on God’s prophetic calendar—as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
3. Christians will soon see the Lord. (Revelation 3:11)
In Revelation 3:11 Jesus said, “I am coming quickly.” The Greek word is tache, which refers to a sudden, unexpected appearance. This will happen at the rapture.
This must have been a comfort to the Philadelphian believers who were oppressed. We continue to press on because the Lord’s appearance is drawing near (James 5:8). And when He appears—even if it is one thousand years from now—our suffering in this life will be nothing compared to the glory that will be ours in the life to come (Romans 8:18).
The command to “hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Revelation 3:11) doesn’t refer to someone stealing your reward. Rather, it concerns God giving your reward to someone else. In the parable of the talents Jesus says that the faithless steward will lose what he has and it will be given to a faithful steward (Mathew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). Esau lost his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:34; 27:36). Saul lost his kingdom to David (1 Samuel 16:1,13). Judas lost his apostleship to Matthias (Acts 1:25-26). Jesus was encouraging the Philadelphian believers—and us—to remain faithful in this life, He is coming—and coming soon.
4. Christians will be established in God’s Temple. (Revelation 3:12-13)
The fourth promise for those who “overcome” is to be made a “pillar in the temple [of] God and he will not go out from it anymore” (Revelation 3:12).
The city of Philadelphia was in an earthquake zone. Because the city had been destroyed and rebuilt many times, a large segment of the population lived in the suburbs or rural areas instead of the city for fear that another earthquake might put them in danger of falling marble and brick. Those who did live in the city fled to open spaces whenever an earthquake hit.
So when Jesus said to the believers in Philadelphia, “He who overcomes . . . will not go out from [the temple of God]” He was speaking of their eternal security (3:12). They will occupy a city that can never be destroyed—the “new Jerusalem.”
A day is coming when nothing and no one can harm you ever again. When “He will wipe away ever tear . . . and there will no longer be any death . . . [or] mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
5. Christians will forever be identified with Christ. (Revelation 3:12)
Finally, Jesus promises to be identified with His people. He said, “I will write on him [who overcomes] the name of My God . . . and My new name” (3:12).
Writing your name on something indicates ownership. Andy, in the animated Pixar Toy Story movies, wrote his name on Woody and Buzz Lightyear’s boots. They belonged to him. And in the same way Jesus Christ has written His name on every true believer, meaning we belong to Him. But what is the NEW name for Jesus that He will write on each of us?
In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage I have overcome the world.” When Jesus came to earth, He came as the Savior. But only after He defeated death could He be called the Overcomer. And when you are “in Christ Jesus,” you can be assured that one day You will experience the same victory over the sin, sorrow, and death that are part of this world. When you pass from this life into the next one, you will experience what it means to be named an “Overcomer.”