Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: If you hold the key to your house, you have the authority to let people in. The same is true in God’s kingdom, according to Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: God has given to Jesus, the holy one, the true one, all authority in heaven and on earth. He holds the keys.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Monday, October 9, 2017.

If someone hands you their keys, they’re giving you authority and responsibility. That’s an important concept in God’s kingdom, and Nancy will explain it today. This fall she has taken us through several series on the letters to the churches in Revelation. Today she begins a series on the church in Philadelphia called, "Encouragement to Persevere." Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: We come today to the sixth of the seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation. I’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s the letter to the church in Philadelphia. And being a Philadelphia girl myself, I’m interested in this one in particular.

If you think of the city of Philadelphia here in the United States, you maybe think of William Penn; you think of the Liberty Bell; you think of Independence Hall; and maybe, if you’re a sports fan, you think of the Phillies or the Eagles or the 76ers.

I think of Philly cheese steaks. I was thinking we should have had those for lunch today. That would have been a great way to think about the city of Philadelphia.

One of our staff said to me when I came in today, “I remember the first time I was in Philadelphia. The first night I spent there, there were two murders within six blocks from where we were staying in the city of 'brotherly love.'”

I said, “I don’t know if I should say that on the radio because the Chamber of Commerce might come after us.” But I do enjoy the northeast and am glad to be from the city of Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia we’re going to be looking at today and over these next several days is not the Philadelphia here in the United States, but the city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, where all of these cities are set that received these letters from Jesus there in the latter part of the first century.

Now, for those of you who may be just joining us in this series, let me just reset a moment and remind us that in this part of what is now Turkey there were seven territories or postal districts. Each of those main cities in those districts had a church. We don’t know a lot about the background of most of those churches. We believe that most of them were probably planted as a result of Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus. He had a long and fruitful ministry in Ephesus, and it’s likely that people went out from there and planted these churches.

Ephesus is the first letter. We studied that in chapter 2. The order of the cities, if you were to look at a map . . . If you have maps in the back of your Bible, you might enjoy going and just tracing these cities. They’re in a circular route that a letter carrier might go if he were going from one city to the next.

So we come today to the city of Philadelphia. I want us to keep in mind that these churches in the first century represent seven kinds of churches that you find throughout the history of the church. These were letters given by Jesus to the apostle John, who you remember was in exile on the island of Patmos. He sent these by messengers.

They were letters for real people in real churches in real places. They were people who had real issues in their communities, in their churches, and in their lives. They had doctrinal issues, as we’ve seen. They had to deal with spiritual issues of worldliness and carnality, and they had issues of persecution from the Romans and opposition from some of the Jews who were concerned about Jews converting to Christianity.

The issues that they dealt with (and we’re going to look at those issues that faced the church in Philadelphia) are issues that transcend those local situations. They have application for us today in our churches in our lives and in our situations.

I really believe that these letters are extremely important, and that’s why we’re taking so long to walk through them. We are taking our time to say, “What is the message for us today?” We’re looking at what was the message for those believers in that time, but we also want to take home what the message is for us today. These letters represent Jesus’ heart for His church. If Jesus were to speak, to write a letter to, to give a message to the church in our day, I believe these are the kinds of issues He would address.

So we need to listen carefully. This is His heart, His message for the Church—for your church, for my church. And, not just for our churches corporately but for us a believers in those churches. So this is His message today for you and for my  life as well.

Now, the church in Philadelphia—let me talk just a moment about the background of the city of Philadelphia, because these letters were written to people who lived with real-life circumstances. When you find out something about the history and the geography and the background of these cities, it helps to make these letters come alive.

The city of Philadelphia was about thirty miles southeast of Sardis, which is the last letter that we looked at. Philadelphia, unlike some of these other cities, still exists today as a Turkish town. It goes by a different name, but it is a city that you can still go to today. It’s the youngest of the seven cities. It was started in about 140 B.C., and it was named after its founder.

The founder of the city was a man named Attalus II who at one time was the king of Pergamum (we looked at Pergamum earlier in the series). This king was nicknamed Philadelphus, which means “lover of a brother.” Because he was very fond of his brother, he was loyal to his brother, he was nicknamed Philadelphus. And he named this city in honor of his brother. So lover of a brother, Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, that’s where it gets its name.

Philadelphia was at the time one of the most strategic sites in the world. It was a border town where three countries met. It was located on an important trade route. It was the Gateway to the East; it was where one continent moved to another. So Philadelphia was actually founded to be, in a sense, a missionary city. Now I don’t mean that in the Christian sense, but it was founded to take the Greek culture and the Greek language to the wild regions beyond.

That’s going to become important as Jesus speaks to the church in Philadelphia. He’s going to pick up on that concept and say to them, “Not only was your city founded to be a city to evangelize for Greek civilization, but you’re a church that I have called to be a missionary church. I’ve given you an open door into the regions beyond who don’t know about Christ.”

It was a prosperous city. It was on the edge of a region that is highly volcanic, and the volcanic soil is very fertile. It’s ideal for vineyards. This area and the city were famous for growing grapes and, therefore, famous for their wine.

It was also rich in hot springs. Those who were infirmed would come from distances to bathe in the medicinal waters. They would come searching for health and for healing, and we’ll see how some of this comes to bear in the letter to the church in Philadelphia.

Now, in spite of being a prosperous city, Philadelphia was a dangerous place to live. It was located on a geological fault, and it was prone to earthquakes. In fact, in 17 A.D., not too many decades before this letter would have been written, at the end of the first century, there was a massive earthquake in the whole region. It devastated the city of Sardis, which we’ve already looked at, and ten other cities in the region, but it almost completely demolished Philadelphia.

The emperor at the time, Emperor Tiberius, gave a lot of aid to help rebuild the city. But there were frequent after shocks in the following years, so the people were often having to evacuate the city. Now, we’ll come back to that thought later in the series when we see that Jesus says, “If you are my follower, you are going to have a permanent place. You’re not going to have to be afraid of running in and out of the city or being thrown out of your home or evacuating.” So keep that in mind as we get into this letter.

The city was sometimes called “a little Athens” because of its numerous temples and festivals. So the church in this little Athens, the city of Philadelphia had to contend, as did all the churches in that area, with a pagan, idolatrous environment and with a colony of hostile Jews. So they were caught between two secular worlds.

This little church was struggling to survive with unbelievers—those who were Roman and Gentile unbelievers, idol worshipers, but also the Jewish unbelievers. They often got caught between, and you'll see some of that come out in this letter.

Now, we don’t know anything about the church in Philadelphia except for what is told to us in this letter. We do know that it’s one of two churches out of the seven for which Jesus had not one word of rebuke, no criticism, and in a sense that makes it a refreshing letter to read. In the next letter we’ll come to, the letter to the church in Laodicea, we’re going to see severe criticism, but in this letter, there is no rebuke.

Now, that doesn’t mean it was a perfect church—there’s no such thing as a perfect church. If you’re looking for one, give up, because this side of heaven there won’t be one. But it was a church that was pleasing to the Lord. It was a faithful church, even in the midst of opposition and challenges. For this church, Jesus had nothing but words of encouragement and promise and reward.

As with the other letters, there’s a template, a format that Jesus uses in these letters. We’ll see that as we walk through it. We’ll start today with Jesus’ identification of Himself. He tells them who it is that is writing this letter, and we’ll look at that. Then He gives them a commendation, and He gives counsel. The fact that they’re a faithful church doesn’t mean that there isn’t any counsel for them, there is. Then He talks to them about the rewards for faithfulness, the rewards for overcoming.

So let me read, beginning in Revelation chapter 3, verse 7. I’ll read through the entire letter, and then we’ll take it, over these next days, just one phrase at a time. Jesus says:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: "The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

"Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

"I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:7–13).

Oh Father, we've heard those words several times over these last weeks as we have studied these other letters. But I pray afresh today that You would give us ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches and what Your Spirit would say to us. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Now, in each of the other letters, Jesus’ description of Himself at the beginning of the letter is drawn from the vision that was given to John in chapter 1, the vision of Jesus. He would take a part of that, “the one who has eyes like a flame of fire, whose feet are like burnished bronze,” etc. In this letter, His description is not drawn directly from that vision in chapter 1. There are three phrases: “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David.” Three phrases that Christ uses to describe Himself, and each of these highlights Jesus as the true Messiah.

So let’s look at those phrases and see who it is who is writing these words to the church.

First of all, “the holy one.” If you’re familiar with your Old Testament, you know that is a title for God. Throughout the Old Testament, many times you will see God referred to as the holy one.

Isaiah 40, verse 25, for example: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy one."

So when Jesus calls Himself the holy one, what is He claiming? He’s claiming to be God.

Now, the holy one is also used in the New Testament as a Messianic title for Christ. He is the holy one, the one who was promised, the sent one, the Messiah, the one that the Jews had been waiting for all these years. This is going to be important in this letter because the Jews in this city who had not believed in Christ were claiming to be Jews, and they were claiming that these Christians had defected from the faith. Jesus is saying, “No, I am the Messiah, the one that they’ve been waiting for; the one they’ve been looking for.” This is a Messianic title for Christ.

In Luke chapter 1, for example, when the angel came to Mary and told her that she was going to have a child, the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born shall be called the Son of God”—the holy one, the promised Messiah (v. 35).

In Mark chapter 1, we see that even the demons recognize that Jesus is the holy one, the sent one of God. “In their synagogue there was a man with an unclean spirit,” Mark 1 tells us, “and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God’” (vv. 23–24). Even the demons recognize he is the sent one, the Messiah, the holy one.

Peter said to Jesus in John chapter 6, "We have come to believe and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (v. 69). The sent one, the Messiah, the promised one. So He is God; he is the Messiah sent from God; He is the holy one.

Then Jesus said not only is He the holy one, He is “the true one.”

There are two words in the Greek language that can be translated true. The one word means “true as opposed to false.” That is not the word that is used here. The word that is used here means “true as opposed to fake.” It means He is real; He is genuine; He is authentic.

This is a word that John uses often in his gospel. John who is being given this letter now to send to the church in Philadelphia, but in John chapter 1, verse 35, John the apostle calls Jesus “the true light”—genuine, authentic, real.

In John 6 He calls Jesus “the true bread” (v. 32), and in John 15, Jesus identifies Himself as “the true vine” (v. 1).

So we see this concept that Jesus is the true one.

Again, it’s going to be significant in this letter because there are those who claim to be Jews and are not, but lie. They are not true Jews, we’re going to see later in this passage, but Jesus is the true one. There’s nothing fake about Him. He is real. He is authentic. He is genuine.

He is genuine as opposed to the false gods that were worshiped by the heathen, the pagans in this area. They had temples and gods galore, but those were false gods, and Jesus says, “I am the true one, the holy one.”

Then, “the one who has the key of David”—I’ve come to love this phrase as I’ve studied it, and I think you will, too.

The concept of a key: A key represents authority. It represents control.

In Revelation chapter 1, verse 18, we’re told that Jesus has the keys of death and Hades. He has control over the grave and death. He locks and unlocks the door to death.

But here we’re talking about a different key in Revelation chapter 3—the key of David. This is a reference to Isaiah chapter 22, a fascinating passage that the Jews who knew their Old Testament would have thought of when Jesus said, “I have the key of David.”

In Isaiah 22 there’s a prophecy—now hang on here for a minute. I’m going to give you a little history lesson. It may be one that’s not real familiar to you, as it wasn’t to me until I got into this passage. There’s a prophecy about a man named Shebna. He was a steward in King Hezekiah’s palace, a manager of the royal household—equivalent to the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State. He had a very responsible position, but this man Shebna became corrupt. He used his power for personal gain, and as a result, he was removed from his position.

Isaiah 22, verse 19, the prophecy says, “I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station.” You’re going to be removed. Then it was prophesied that a replacement would be appointed.

Verse 20, of Isaiah 22: “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand.”

So, Shebna, you had the key, you had the robe, you had the authority, but it was all going to be taken from you, and it's going to be put on this man named Eliakim. 

Verse 22: “And I will place on his shoulder [Eliakim] the key of the house of David.” That’s the phrase we’re seeing here in Revelation 3. "He shall open, and none shall shut" . . . this key to the house of David. "And he shall shut, and none shall open." It's a very similar phrase to what is used here in Revelation chapter 3.

So what happens? Eliakim is a godly man; he’s a faithful servant, and he is appointed as a steward, a manager over the king’s household to replace the man who was unfaithful. The king gives to Eliakim a key to the door of the palace, a key to the house of David.

This is the Davidic royal line, Hezekiah, Ezra, the other kings of Judah were descended from the royal line of David that would lead all the way to King Jesus. So it was called “the house of David.” The king gave to this faithful servant Eliakim the key to the palace, and with that key came the delegation of authority to control and use the key. In possessing the key to the house of David, that meant that Eliakim had control. He had authority over the house of David.

Now, what did that mean?

Well, three things at least come to mind. These three things you’ll see are true of Christ who has the key of the house of David.

First of all, Eliakim determined who could be admitted into the palace and the king’s presence and who was to be kept out.

Second, he had control, because he had this key, over the royal treasuries. He could open the door and dispense the treasure to people, or he could lock it up and keep people from having access.

Thirdly, he determined, as this faithful servant with the key, who could serve the king.

As I thought about this passage, I thought about a friend who years ago want to go work in the Reagan administration, back in the early eighties. She was very conservative ideologically. She loved President Reagan, loved what he stood for. She really, really, really wanted to go work for him. She had credentials. She had background. She had training. But she found it was not easy to get a position in a presidential administration.

You had to know people who could connect you. You had to go through a lot of hoops and a lot of vetting to be able to get a position. Though there were a lot of jobs open, you couldn't just walk in and say, "I'd like to work for the president." You had to go through the process—which she ultimately did.

I thought of that when I thought of the steward, manager, who has the key that determines who can serve the king, who can serve the one in charge.

So the key of David is a symbol of sovereign authority. The house of David was a type of the house of God.

Eliakim in the Old Testament was over the house of David in the earthly realm. Christ is over the house of David in the spiritual realm. God has given to Jesus, the holy one, the true one, all authority in heaven and on earth. He holds the keys.

In Revelation chapter 3, and speaking to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus is claiming control of the household of God, control of the church, and as a faithful Servant—capital “S”—and head over the household of God. Jesus controls who is admitted into the kingdom of God and who is excluded.

The Jewish Christians in Philadelphia had been excluded from the synagogue by those who claimed that they were not true Jews. They had been thrown out of the synagogue. But Jesus wanted them to know that He was the one who held the key. He was the one who rightly ruled the house of David, and He was acknowledging that they belonged to Him; they were welcome into His house.

He was telling them that He has complete and full access to the blessings from God’s treasury. He dispenses gifts, and He withholds them. He is the only person who is able to give us access to the presence and the riches of God.

And Jesus was telling them that the world may oppose you, the world may put restraints on your freedom to proclaim the gospel, but it’s Jesus who determines what opportunities we have to serve Him. He’s the one who decides who can serve His Heavenly Father. He holds the key, and when He opens the door, no one and nothing can withstand Him.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You are the holy one, the true one, the one who has the key of David. We worship You, amen.

Leslie: We carry keys around all the time. A key is a pretty common tool, but it also gives us a profound picture of the Savior we worship. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been explaining this. You know, next month we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving and it will be here before you know it. We’d like to help you prepare for the Thanksgiving season by inviting you to a new level of thankfulness.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount, we’ll show our thanks by sending you Nancy’s book, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. Developing a daily choice of gratitude will truly transform your life. As you read these pages and develop a more grateful heart, it will deeply affect the way you worship.

I hope you’ll get a copy right away since the book will help you savor the Thanksgiving holiday in a new way. Ask for Choosing Gratitude when you call 1–800–569–5959 with a gift of any size, or you can take advantage of this offer at

Who carries the keys to your church? The pastor? The custodian? Is it the person who arrives early to make coffee? That question, "Who holds the keys to your church?" is a very important one which Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will address next time on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to spark a new sense of worship in your life. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.


*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Support the Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Darkness. Fear. Uncertainty. Women around the world wake up hopeless every day. You can play a part in bringing them freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness instead. Your gift ensures that we can continue to spread gospel hope! Donate now.

Donate Now

About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.