Gray-Haired Perspective

What is the Open Door
Promised to the Church at Philadelphia?


I could say that a few more gray hairs have allowed me to trace a thread that runs through chapters 1–4 of Revelation. I could say that. But I should say that the thread was right in front of me all the time, and I was just slow to spot it.

Revelation 3:8 says "Behold I have set before thee an open door." What is that open door? Some have said it is a door of opportunity, a missionary door. It is true that Paul asks the church to pray for a door of utterance in Colossians 4:3, but the context in Revelation points to a different door.

As you well know, chapters 2 and 3 allude to chapter 1 over and over again. Chapter 1 contains a vision of Christ. Chapters 2 and 3 contain letters to the seven churches. As John writes to the church at Ephesus, he alludes back to the seven stars and the seven candlesticks he saw in the vision. The pattern repeats. As he addresses each church, he alludes to a relevant aspect of the vision.

The only exception is the last church, Laodicea. There the reference is to the "faithful witness," which we find, not in the vision itself, but in verse 5 of chapter 1. But even for this exception we find an allusion back to chapter 1. This is the pattern.

The pattern for the other churches leads us to expect likewise for the church at Philadelphia.



In the letter to the church at Philadelphia, what is the allusion to chapter 1? The phrase "the key of David" (3:7) alludes back to the phrase "the keys of hell and of death" (1:18).

Yes, there are some differences between the two references. One reference says "key," singular, while the other says "keys," plural, and the keys are named differently. But this is the closest allusion to chapter 1, and if this is not the intended allusion, then the letter to the church at Philadelphia is the only one without an allusion. Based on the pattern set by the other churches, we can safely trust that the Holy Spirit who inspired these words is guiding us to examine these keys more closely.

If the Holy Spirit intended us to link the two "key" references, then it must be that the variations in the second one are to expand upon the first one, adding meaning to it. The two together make a powerful picture. Let's follow the thread.

Revelation 3:7 calls it the "key of David." The "key of David" alludes to Isaiah 22:22. Isaiah's main point is that when the key opens, no man can shut, and when the key closes, no man can open. Revelation 3:7 reaffirms the same point.

Revelation 1:18 calls it the "keys of hell and of death." The "keys of hell and of death" emphasize an opening rather than a closing, because the context is Jesus' resurrection. "I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." This is a key out of death. What door does this key open? The resurrection door.

Most keys operate from the outside, letting one in or locking one in. But this key operates from the inside, letting one out. Out of hell and out of death. Only Jesus has this key.

By the way, this stands in contrast to another door that only you and I can open. Can you picture Jesus standing outside of a door knocking? Why does Jesus knock? He waits for you and I to open the door of our heart (Revelation 3:20). If I give Him the keys to the door of my heart, He will give me the keys out of death. Shall I trade keys?

Getting back to the key of the Philadelphian church, this key unlocks a door. The key of verse 7 unlocks the door of verse 8. "Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it" (Revelation 3:8). The key and the door go together. How do we know that? Look at the words. "And no man can shut it" (verse 8) parallels "and no man shutteth" (verse 7). These phrases link verses 7 and 8, telling us that the "key" of verse 7 unlocks the "door" in verse 8.


Verse 7

Verse 8



"no man shutteth"

"no man can shut it"


The key opens what door? In chapter one, remember, it was a resurrection door. If we can trust the allusion back to chapter one, then the open door in chapter three is also a resurrection door. The keys in 1:18 open the door out of death, and so the key in 3:7 opens the door out of death.



Let's follow the thread a little further. God grants the open door for these reasons: "For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Revelation 3:8).

Verse 10 repeats one of these reasons. "Because you have kept the word of my patience."

Therefore, we see a link between verses 8 and 10, as the thread continues. Each verse contains a promise and a reason for that promise. The word "for" introduces the reason in verse 8, while the word "because" introduces the reason in verse 10 (same word in Greek). Verse 10 says, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience," paralleling verse 8, "hast kept my word." Therefore, both verses share the same reason. Is the promise in both verses also the same?

The promise in verse 8 is the open door, the resurrection door. The promise in verse 10 is, "I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."


Verse 8

Verse 10

kept my word

kept the word of my patience

open door

keep thee from the hour


This leads us to suspect that the promise of verse 8 corresponds to the promise of verse 10. In other words, the open door is the exit door from the hour of temptation. When God says, "I will keep you from the hour," how will He do it? He provides an open door.



Can we verify this? We can verify it by answering the question, how are the first-generation Philadelphians kept from the hour? Application to our generation will come later, but we must first ask the question, what is the literal meaning for the literal first-generation church to whom this was written?

Assuming that the hour of temptation is that time described in Revelation 6–19, the time just preceding Christ's return to earth, let's ask the following questions. Are the first-generation Philadelphians kept from the hour by being preserved through it? No, they did not live until the tribulation. Are they kept from the hour by being raptured before it? No, they did not live until the rapture. Are they kept from the hour by death prior to the beginning of the hour? They did die, all of them, but so did all the unbelievers of that generation. So it doesn't seem likely that death is the special promise here.

So if it's not A, B, or C, then what about D? The only remaining possibility is resurrection. Resurrection is how they are kept from the hour. Resurrection is their open door. This verifies what we already learned from the context in chapter one.

When is the resurrection? The resurrection happens at the same time as the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). By application, then, the final generation is kept from the hour by rapture. That is our open door.

Just as the keys in chapter one unlocked death for Jesus so also the open door in chapter three guarantees resurrection for first-generation believers and rapture for last-generation believers.

I hope you noticed that the context itself has led us this far by forging strong links between verses. There's the link between 1:18 and 3:7 ("key" and "keys"), the link between 3:7 and 3:8 ("no man shutteth"), and the link between 3:8 and 3:10 ("kept my word"). So if being kept from the hour has nothing to do with the preceding context, if resurrection is not the open door, then which link will you break? Take your pick.



Did I say thread? No, it's a chain with strong links.

The context is so rich. How far does this chain continue? The context following backs up the conclusion derived from the context preceding. Verse 11 promises a crown. Where is the very next place we find crowns mentioned? Is that not a fulfillment of the promise in verse 11?

Verse 12 promises, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God." When and where do we find the temple later in this book? Not during the millennium. Not on earth. But the temple is a prominent part of the scenery in heaven during the tribulation. Does that tell you where the Philadelphian church will be during the tribulation? And by application, where will you and I be?

Notice the parallel between 2:8–10 and 3:8–10. Both verse 8s refer to the same part of the vision in chapter one, the resurrected Christ. Both verse 9s refer to "them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." Both verse 10s refer to tribulation, one passage warning of a persecution of limited scope and the other passage promising exemption from a testing of worldwide scope. Though not in the same verse, both letters refer to a "crown." The first letter implies a resurrection by saying "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." Does the second letter also imply a resurrection?

The context surrounding verse 10 is so rich, do I have any need to remind you of pertinent points in verse 10 itself? Need I remind you that the word combination "keep from" is the strongest possible statement of prevention before the fact? (As opposed to "take out" or "came out" which happen after the fact, or "keep in" which is happens during the fact.) Need I remind you that "temptation" and "tribulation" elsewhere include persecution (Acts 20:19, 1 Peter 1:6, Revelation 1:9) and that the context of this verse also includes persecution? Need I remind you that saints during the tribulation are persecuted—they are killed, not kept? Need I remind you that the purpose of the "hour of testing" is "to test," such a test already passed by the church ("because you have kept the word of my patience")?

Verse 10 is plain language embedded in a book of symbolism. At the outset, John told us that this book is communicated by symbols (Revelation 1:1). Therefore, we expect to see meaning in symbols like "key" and "door."

Which reminds me, where is the next reference to an "open door"?