As many commentators have noted, the Old Testament is full of references to Jesus, Israel's Messiah--the Savior of the world. Beautiful and clear pictures about Messiah spring forth again and again through the book of Isaiah, images and clear descriptors written some 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Some references to Messiah in the Old Testament and his future role in world affairs are less obvious and become clear after a little detective work in the New Testament. For example, the flow of the narrative in Isaiah Chapter 22 is interrupted by the account of one particular public figure, a high government official during the reign of King Hezekiah.
Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts: 'Go, proceed to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the house, and say: What have you here, and whom have you here, That you have hewn a sepulcher here, As he who hews himself a sepulcher on high, Who carves a tomb for himself in a rock? Indeed, the LORD will throw you away violently, O mighty man, And will surely seize you. He will surely turn violently and toss you like a ball Into a large country; There you shall die, and there your glorious chariots Shall be the shame of your master's house. So I will drive you out of your office, And from your position he will pull you down.
The man Shebna, entrusted with faithfully dispensing the king's resources and managing the affairs of government evidently had been quietly growing rich, feathering his own nest, at pubic expense. He had gone so far as to order an expensive private tomb built so he would be well-remembered after his death.
The Lord instructed Isaiah to inform Shebna that his term in office was finished and he would soon be thrown out of public office in disgrace. Next the prophet was told that a better man, an honorable, faithful steward would replace Shebna. The new steward of the house, Eliakim, would also be fatherly in his care of the King Hezekiah's subjects.
The prophet adds that Eliakim would be entrusted with the key to the house of David, (a term first mentioned here in the Bible). He would be secure in his office and future, a man of honor for many generations. But strangely at the end of the age, signified by the words 'In that day,' Eliakim and his lineage would be replaced.
The key of the house of David I will lay on his [Eliakim's] shoulder; So he shall open, and no one shall shut; And he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place, And he will become a glorious throne to his father's house. They will hang on him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the posterity, all vessels of small quantity, from the cups to all the pitchers.
'In that day,' says the LORD of hosts, the peg that is fastened in the secure place will be removed and be cut down and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off; for the LORD has spoken.' (Isaiah 22:15-25 NKJV)
Who could a better ultimate replacement for Eliakim than Messiah himself?
Ultimately Jesus would be the faithful steward over all of Israel, during the coming Millennial Kingdom--possessing the key to the house of David.
If this were the only mention of the key of David in the Bible there would no need to marvel especially that Eliakim was a type of Messiah as faithful steward over Israel.
Since Israel is to be the head of all the nations, and Jesus is to sit on the throne of his father David in Jerusalem, the nations can only be blessed when Israel has been reconciled to their God. And blessings to the gentiles--and to the church--will come through the conduit of believing Israel. We Christians need to always remember the admonition, "if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you." (Romans 11:17-18)sSuddenly out of nowhere the expression "the key to the house of David" reappears in the New Testament in words addressed to one of the Seven Churches in the book of the Revelation. The speaker is the Lord Jesus Himself:
"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. 'Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie--indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. '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. 'He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'" (Revelation 3:7-13)
Ray Stedman comments on the remarkable and unique role Israel's true steward Jesus was to have in the church which Jesus would build. Ray says,
In all the other letters [to the seven churches], our Lord uses symbols to describe himself that come from the vision John had of him, recorded in Chapter 1. In this letter, however, Jesus makes no reference to that vision. He uses other titles to describe himself. He tells them plainly who he is and what he does. Who he is is "the holy one" and "the true one." He is the holy one -- morally perfect. His character is without flaw or blemish. And he is genuine reality. He is the true one, the one behind all that really exists. That is who he is. What he does is: He "holds the key of David." That is a reference to an incident recorded in the 22nd chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah. In the days of Hezekiah the king there was a courtier (we would call him a chief-of-staff, for he was in charge of the palace) whose name was Shebna. He had been caught in a personal scam run for his own benefit, and as a result God says a very unusual, very descriptive thing about him: "I will take him and whirl him around and around (like a discus thrower), and hurl him into a far country," (Isaiah 22:18). It was a prediction that he would be sent into Babylon. He would be replaced by a godly man named Eliakim, of whom God said,
"I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David. What he opens, no one can shut, and what he shuts, no one can open." (Isaiah 22:17 NIV)
Our Lord refers back to that passage in Isaiah and applies it to himself: "I am the one who shuts and no one can open, and opens and no one can shut." His will cannot be opposed. He governs the events of history on earth. He will open some doors; he will close other doors. What he opens no one can shut, what he shuts, no one can open. No human power can contravene what he determines. Now he tells the church, beginning in Verse 8, how he will use this power to open and shut.
"I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no man can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." (Revelation 3:8 NIV)
To a church like the church at Philadelphia the Lord says he will open doors of ministry and service, and no one can shut them. The Apostle Paul uses this analogy about himself. On his second missionary journey he tried to go into the province of Asia to preach the gospel but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit; it was a shut door. Then he tried to go into Bithynia, on the southern shore of the Black Sea, but was not allowed of the Lord -- another shut door. But when he came to Troas he had a vision of a man from Macedonia, and he learned that the Lord had opened a door for him into Europe. Paul's commitment to enter that open door has changed the history of the whole Western world, affecting all of civilization since that time. It was an open door of tremendous significance which the Lord had opened for Paul. But in First Corinthians 16, he says of Ephesus, the capital of Asia, "A great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me," (1 Corinthians 16:9 NIV). So the door which had been closed to him once was opened to him later by the Lord.
We are seeing something unusual in this line today . Without any announcement, the Lord has, to everyone's surprise, opened doors in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary; doors which had been closed for decades. It is wonderful to see how the people are responding to that open door. Yet not far away from these countries is a closed door. Albania, on the shores of the Adriatic, is the most closed country in the world to the gospel. Christians are forbidden to practice their faith there. No churches are allowed. It is a tightly closed door. There are other countries of Eastern Europe that remain closed as well. We are encouraged to pray for these, but it takes the One who "opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens" for those prayers to succeed.
I must make a correction to the NIV text at this point. The words, "I know that you have little strength," is not what the Greek text says. I am sometimes amazed at these modern translations. There is no word in Greek for "I know." What it literally says is, "...because you have a little power and have kept my word and have not denied my name." The church is being given the reasons why the Lord opened a door for them. What the text actually says is, "I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut because you have a little power and have kept my word and not denied my name."
That teaches us something very important. It says that an open door is given when a church fulfills the conditions that will allow it to move through that door once it has been opened. Chief among those conditions is that it have discovered the power of the Spirit. It is spiritual power the Lord is talking about. It is not so much strength as it is power -- power obtained by faith, i.e., by expecting God to act. Individuals in the church sense that God can do something. They look for an opportunity, a need to appear, and when they respond, a door opens for continued service which may grow even wider so others may enter with them.
I believe Ephesians 2:10 is in some ways the most exciting verse in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul says, "We are his workmanship [this word poiema has also been translated "masterpiece"] created in Christ Jesus unto good works." That is why you have been made a Christian -- that you might do good works -- deeds of help, mercy, kindness, witness, love, comfort, counsel and strength. That is what each member of the church is capable of doing. We are "created unto good works." And then comes the exciting part: "which God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in them." When you are confronted with a need it may appear rather insignificant at first. Perhaps it is a neighbor with a heavy heart; perhaps it is a family member who has what may appear to be a fairly minor problem. When you respond to that, however, it becomes an open door.
Ministry may grow out of it which will challenge and encourage and bless you as you go on. Notice that the Lord says to this church at Philadelphia, "you have a little power." That realistically stresses the fact that most, if not all, churches hardly realize the potential they have for ministry. I have often thought that it applies to us. Twice this morning I have had the privilege of addressing a large congregation. Each one of you who know Christ has been given spiritual gifts and has been commissioned by him to use those gifts to bless people and meet their needs. Yet how few of us enter into this!
What vast potential resides in a single congregation if everyone would exercise the ministry that has been given you to utilize the spiritual gifts that have been given to each! That is why the Lord says of this church at Philadelphia, "You have some power, but not much." He is hoping they will increase that potential for ministry.
We need to remember that the presence of the Spirit is promised to each church without any condition whatsoever. When we know Christ the Spirit comes to live within our hearts and to reside there. But the power of the Spirit is given only to those churches who learn to keep his word and to not deny his name! Those two things are central in the ministry of every church. First, there must be the Word. Always God plants his Word at the heart of his church. We must preach it, teach it, study it, and truly know it. And it is not just for the leadership, but everybody in the church is to know God's Word. The Bible is the most amazing book the world has ever seen. It conveys insights into life that you will find in no other place. No great university in the land can give you an understanding of life that this Book will give you. Therefore we must keep it, know it, walk in it and love it. We must soak ourselves in the Word! But beyond the Word is the Lord himself. One of our old hymns puts it this way,
Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord.
My spirit pants for Thee, O Living Word.
It is the Word which enables us to know the character of Jesus, to have fellowship with him, and to not deny that character in our lives. We are to reflect in our lives all that his name stands for. We are to know him as present with us at all times, and seek to conform our behavior to his life. Those are the qualities it takes to enter into the open doors which the Lord gives to a church and to the individuals in it. (Ray C. Stedman, The Little Church That Tried
Seven Representative Churches are described for us in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. They have been sequential in history as each type of church has had its day in history.
The Church of Philadelphia has a special rapport with Israel.
When a given individual in the world today enters into a personal relationship with Jesus, that individual should seek fellowship in a local church where the Bible has centrality. He or she will find himself in an imperfect assembly of all ages and stages. Special attention is given to “overcomers” in each church In the Seven Letters.
It is true that the general state of the church of Jesus Christ today is today Laodicean. But as an individual Christian today attending a particular local church (which you may personally be attending), you may have some different beliefs compared to the status beliefs of your church. Your core beliefs define which of the seven churches you identify with the most. If you have never belonged to a local church, read the descriptors of each of the seven churches and see which group best fits what you now! Pay special attention to the “overcomers” in each church and aim for that place in heaven. Why settle for second (or third) best?
The Overcomers in Each Group
If any one of us moves on beyond kindergarten Christianity—as the Bereans in Ancient Greece did—we may well be Philadelphians without knowing it.
Ephesus: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
Smyrna: “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’
Pergamos: “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
Thyatira: “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Sardis: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Philadelphia: "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—
as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Laodicea: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.“ (Acts 17:11)
The True Church, which Jesus Christ has been building for two thousand years, is embedded in the various cultures of the world and is presently invisible.
Since Jesus the Lord of the churches is himself a steward, it is a high calling for all of us Christians to serve our Lord as under-stewards.
The Apostle Paul recognized this when he reminded the church at Corinth of his calling as an apostle,
"Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and Stewards of the Mysteries of God.
Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful."
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. Original version, 7/2007. March 6, 2020. October 30, 2023.