The Seven Churches, Part IX: The Church of Philadelphia

Verses 7 and 8 of Revelation 3 introduce the message to the church of Philadelphia: “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.’ ”

In this study, we are coming to a time when God, immediately preceding the Second Coming, is going to open a door. We read, in verses 10 and 11, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

When speaking to this church, God refers specifically to a certain period of time. It is that time period shortly before Jesus’ Second Coming. The open door was the door that was opened into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. The opening of this door is also predicted in Revelation 11:19. We see then that the message to the church of Philadelphia is anchored in the opening of this door, which actually occurred on October 22, 1844.

Of this, Ellen White wrote: “I was shown that the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ relating to the shut door could not be separated, and that the time for the commandments of God to shine out with all their importance, and for God’s people to be tried on the Sabbath truth, was when the door was opened in the most holy place in the heavenly sanctuary, where the ark is, in which are contained the ten commandments. This door was not opened until the mediation of Jesus was finished in the holy place of the sanctuary in 1844. Then Jesus rose up and shut the door of the holy place, and opened the door into the most holy, and passed within the second veil, where He now stands by the ark, and where the faith of Israel now reaches.

“I saw that Jesus had shut the door of the holy place, and no man can open it; and that He had opened the door into the most holy, and no man can shut it (Revelation 3:7, 8); and that since Jesus has opened the door into the most holy place, which contains the ark, the commandments have been shining out to God’s people, and they are being tested on the Sabbath question.” Early Writings, 42.

Let us review the seven churches, to help put the church of Philadelphia in perspective. The Lord, when returning to heaven, had left the church on a sure and solid foundation. It was in such a pure state that God poured out His Holy Spirit upon it. Before Jesus comes, the church will again be in a pure state, just as when He left it. We have two, great, anchor points for the church—when Jesus left the church, it was pure, and when He comes again, it will be pure.

The Wedding Garment

“They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage: and the door was shut.” [Matthew 25:10.] They were not to be present in person at the marriage; for it takes place in heaven, while they are upon the earth. The followers of Christ are to ‘wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding.’ Luke 12:36. But they are to understand His work, and to follow Him by faith as He goes in before God. It is in this sense that they are said to go in to the marriage.

“In the parable it was those that had oil in their vessels with their lamps that went in to the marriage. Those who, with a knowledge of the truth from the Scriptures, had also the Spirit and grace of God, and who, in the night of their bitter trial, had patiently waited, searching the Bible for clearer light—these saw the truth concerning the sanctuary in heaven and the Saviour’s change in ministration, and by faith they followed Him in His work in the sanctuary above. And all who through the testimony of the Scriptures accept the same truths, following Christ by faith as He enters in before God to perform the last work of mediation, and at its close to receive His kingdom—all these are represented as going in to the marriage. . . .

“Previous to the wedding the king comes in to see the guests, to see if all are attired in the wedding garment, the spotless robe of character washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Matthew 22:11; Revelation 7:14. He who is found wanting is cast out, but all who upon examination are seen to have the wedding garment on are accepted of God and accounted worthy of a share in His kingdom and a seat upon His throne. This work of examination of character, of determining who are prepared for the kingdom of God, is that of the investigative judgment, the closing of work in the sanctuary above.

“When the work of investigation shall be ended, when the cases of those who in all ages have professed to be followers of Christ have been examined and decided, then, and not till then, probation will close, and the door of mercy will be shut. Thus in the one short sentence, ‘They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage: and the door was shut,’ we are carried down through the Saviour’s final ministration, to the time when the great work for man’s salvation shall be completed. . . .

“This subject was not understood by Adventists in 1844. After the passing of the time when the Saviour was expected, they still believed His coming to be near; they held that they had reached an important crisis and that the work of Christ as man’s intercessor before God had ceased. It appeared to them to be taught in the Bible that man’s probation would close a short time before the actual coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven. This seemed evident from those scriptures which point to a time when men will seek, knock, and cry at the door of mercy, and it will not be opened. And it was a question with them whether the date to which they had looked for the coming of Christ might not rather mark the beginning of this period which was immediately to precede His coming. Having given the warning of the judgment near, they felt that their work for the world was done, and they lost their burden of soul for the salvation of sinners, while the bold and blasphemous scoffing of the ungodly seemed to them another evidence that the Spirit of God had been withdrawn from the rejecters of His mercy. All this confirmed them in the belief that probation had ended, or, as they then expressed it, ‘the door of mercy was shut.’

“But clearer light came with the investigation of the sanctuary question. They now saw that they were correct in believing that the end of the 2300 days in 1844 marked an important crisis. But while it was true that that door of hope and mercy by which men had for eighteen hundred years found access to God, was closed, another door was opened, and forgiveness of sins was offered to men through the intercession of Christ in the most holy. One part of His ministration had closed, only to give place to another. There was still an ‘open door’ to the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ was ministering in the sinner’s behalf.

“Now was seen the application of those words of Christ in the Revelation, addressed to the church at this very time: ‘These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.’ Revelation 3:7, 8.” The Great Controversy, 427–430.


We have, then, two great periods of time. When Jesus left this earth, the church was on a sure foundation. It was pure. It did not remain in that state long. The first church (Ephesus) left their first love. When Jesus comes again, the church will be on the same pure, solid foundation. Between these two events, there is a great chasm of sin, but God has spanned this gulf of sin and fastened into two great foundation points—times when He has a pure people on earth.

During the second and third centuries after Christ (the church of Smyrna), many true followers of the Lord were tortured and killed by the power and authority of paganism exercised through the pagan Roman Empire. In the fourth to sixth centuries, the pure church of Smyrna, was followed by the compromising church (the church of Pergamos).

The Middle Ages

Jezebel was allowed into the church during the Middle Ages (the church of Thyatira). She killed the true prophets of God and put Baal prophets in their places. The priesthood of the Middle Ages did not descend from the Jewish priesthood; it descended from the pagan priesthood.

I have only read about priests in the Old Testament, so those people who only read their Bibles—not truly study them—might be inclined to think that the priesthood originated from there. But you have never heard a Catholic priest claim to have come from the Jewish priesthood. They do not claim to come from that origin at all. Their rites and ceremonies are completely different from that of the Jewish priesthood. All their rites and ceremonies are almost exactly the same—except for a little Christian flavor thrown in—as the pagan priesthood.

The Surprise Church

At the lowest point of the church, God began to bring the church back up again to His secure foundation. He brought reformers (the church of Sardis), great men such as Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale. The whole face of Europe was changed during that time of Reformation. Catholicism was checked, and Protestantism flourished. The reformers were ready to give their lives so that the Bible could again be given to the people. We may think it a wonderful time, but I call the church of that period the “Surprise Church.” As we read the histories of Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Zwingli, Tyndale, Huss and Jerome, and all those others, we think that they are some of the greatest men that have ever lived. When we go to the Bible, we expect only good things to be said about this church, but lo and behold, only bad things are said.

The Bible says, about that church, “I will give you the bright morning star.” (Revelation 2:28.) That is how the period of the church of Thyatira ended, looking forward to the church of Sardis. Wycliffe was the “morning star of the Reformation.” The Great Controversy, 80. Other stars followed. These leaders were wonderful individuals, but the people did not follow them. The Bible says they had a name that they were alive, because they were following these leaders, but they were dead. (Revelation 3:1.)

The Reformation did not succeed in its fullest sense, and it certainly did not succeed at all the way God wanted. The Reformation was cut short, and the Bible tells us that the deadly wound was healed. It was healed so well that eventually, “all the world will wonder after the beast.” Revelation 13:3.

The Protestant church took in the message of Martin Luther, which states that we are saved by faith. You see, in Luther’s day, people thought they were saved by doing penance, by paying money, and by earning forgiveness. If they did not have enough money to pay for their sins, they could perform certain tasks to “pay” penance. Sometimes this involved killing a Huguenot or a Mohammedan or a Waldensian. If an individual committed such a killing, then his or her sins were all forgiven, and he or she could go to heaven without having to pay money for penance. I am glad that Martin Luther brought the message that we do not have to murder people in order to gain forgiveness!

I am thankful for the message that we are saved by faith, but Luther’s followers began to interpret that to mean that we do not have to do anything to be saved—all we have to do is claim to believe in Jesus Christ, and then we are saved.

Wesley came along and preached on Romans 3:31: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” In fact, the only way we can keep the law is by faith. If we do not have faith, the law does not do us any good at all except to condemn us. It is only by faith that we establish the law.


God had little good to say about Sardis. He had to bring about another reformation to try to finish the work. When God commissions a work and it is not done right the first time, it never gets done as well as it could have been, had it been done right the first time. If the reformers, in the time of Sardis, had been true to the reformation, the deadly wound would never have been healed. But as time went on, it was healed, and the Protestant church was in a terribly decrepit situation, so God raised up some people to carry on the Reformation. They could not make up for all that had transpired, but they could bring new life into the church; they could bring a new reformation.

He raised up people such as Wesley, Whitefield, and Livingstone, and other great giants to carry on and finish the work that had been started 200 years earlier by Martin Luther and the other reformers.

The Bible has nothing but good to say regarding the church of Philadelphia. It did not have all the light that we have, but they lived up to all of it. God held them accountable for only the light they had.

God brought about a great reformation to prepare the world for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days and for the giving of the message of Revelation 14 that must go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

I Am Holy

With this brief historical background, let us look at the message given, in Revelation 3, to the church of Philadelphia. “And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy.’ ” Verse 7.

It is interesting how God identifies Himself with each church. Each time He states who He is, and it is something unique for that church. To the church of Smyrna, He said, “I am the One who died and rose.” (Revelation 2:8.) To the church of Ephesus, that thought it was built on the apostles, God said, “I am the One who holds the seven stars; you do not own them.” (Revelation 2:1.) He told that church He would “remove your candlestick out of its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5.) For every church, God gave a message that was just for that church, and always the message was found in who God said He was.

Here it says, “I am Holy.” You see, the Christian church had entered a time, as just mentioned, when they thought that they did not have to be holy to be saved, because they were saved by faith. They thought that all they had to do was to believe on Jesus. They had accepted salvation by faith alone as though that did away with the law. They did not consider Romans 3:31 or 1 John 3:4–7, which says, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins,” or our lawbreaking, “and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you.”

The descendants of the sixteenth century reformers came to a place where they believed that a person did not have to keep the law, and, by their preaching, they deceived many people. This passage says, “Let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous,”—not he who declares righteousness, who thinks he has been forgiven apart from the law.

Wesley’s Message

God calls Himself holy, when addressing the church of Philadelphia, and that was the message that John Wesley came to preach to the world. The first religious organization that John Wesley established, while he was yet in college, was one that would be ridiculed today. Some people made fun of it then too. He called this organization The Holiness Club, and Wesley preached holiness. His followers were called Methodists, because they believed in methods, in doing things. They believed that there were such things as rules in the Christian life, and an individual had to do something to be saved—not just believe.

I have acquired and read a copy of Wesley’s diary. On October 30, 1743, he wrote the following about the sermon he had preached that day: “I showed in the plainest words I could devise that mere outward religion would not bring us to heaven, that no one could go thither without inward holiness which was only to be obtained by faith.” Almost 17 years later, on November 17, 1760, he entered: “The fundamental doctrine of the people called Methodist is this, ‘Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith. The faith which works by love, which, by means of the love of God and our neighbor, produces both inward and outward holiness. He that thus believes is regenerate or born again.’ ” That is what it means to be born again, John Wesley says.

Wesley states that to be born again means that you are made holy by God’s indwelling Spirit. This holiness, this belief in methods, this belief in making one’s life holy, translated itself into areas of dress, diet, and witnessing. I found it fascinating to read that, in December 1746, he taught his followers to quit drinking tea in order to preserve health and to keep their bodies holy to the Lord. Wesley was ahead of his time! In fact, he, for quite a period of time, was a vegetarian! On December 29, 1746, he wrote in his diary: “I resumed my vegetable diet, which I had now discarded for several years and found it of use both to my soul and body.” He did not have all the health reform knowledge, but he did recognize that such a diet helped him spiritually, and it translated itself into many other areas of life.

Preparation for Canaan

Wesley’s message was similar to the message that God gave to the children of Israel before taking them into Canaan. Wesley came with a message for us, before we enter the heavenly Canaan.

God sent a message of holiness to the church of Philadelphia. “These things says He who is holy.” Before a message of holiness can be given to the world, we must recognize that God is holy, and the reason that we are to be holy is because we are to be His people. “You [are] a chosen generation . . . a holy nation,” it says, in 1 Peter 2:9.

The message Moses gave to the children of Israel before entering Canaan is found in Leviticus 19. “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God [am] holy.’ ” Verse 2. We are to be holy because God is holy.

This one phrase gives so much to contemplate. It includes the nature of Jesus and a number of other things. Jesus came to earth in our nature and developed a holy character so that we can develop a holy character too. We are to be holy, because Jesus is holy. We can be holy, because Jesus is holy. This is the message in the Old Testament. We are to be holy as He is holy. We are to be His children. We are to have His character written in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls. We are to be like Him. As we are told, in 1 John 3:2, we are to be children of God. That is the message of the Bible. Because God is holy, we, too, are to be holy.

The Pattern

In order to preach a message of holiness, we have to preach a message of God’s holiness, because we are to pattern after Him. He is our Pattern, dear friend, not one another, not some philosopher’s maxim. We are to pattern after the Great Standard. We are to pattern our characters after the character of God, and so the Bible says that we are to be holy, because He is holy.

Leviticus 19:3 tells us, “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I [am] the Lord your God.” I am holy, and I show reverence, so you are to do the same that I do. I kept the Sabbath; you are to keep the Sabbath. “Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I [am] the Lord your God.” “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I [am] the Lord.” God is telling us that He is our Lord, and this is His character. We are to have His character—He is holy, so we are to be holy. “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God.” Why? Because we are to be like Him, and that is His character. “I [am] the Lord.” He is holy, and we are to be like Him. Verses 4, 11, 12, 14.

In verse 18, we read: “You shall not take vengeance . . . .” Oh, if only the world could learn this verse! When Jesus came to this earth, He did not take vengeance. His accusers spat in His face, and He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Matthew 26:67; Luke 23:34. To us, He says, “Be like Me”; do “not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people.”

What a happy people we would be, if we were holy!

To be continued . . .

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.