The city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor was founded in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamon. He named the city after his brother Attalus II, who was known for his loyalty and was nicknamed Philadelphos, meaning “lover of his brother.”
Philadelphia was located on an important trade route and quickly became a prosperous city. It was also a center of learning and culture and was home to a number of philosophers and artists.
Philadelphia was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 AD. The earthquake was one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history and caused widespread damage throughout the region. The city of Sardis, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, was the most severely affected, but Philadelphia was also heavily damaged. Philadelphia was rebuilt by the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was known for his generosity and his willingness to help those in need. He provided financial assistance to the city and sent engineers and architects to help with the reconstruction. The city of Philadelphia was grateful for Tiberius’ help and was renamed Neocaesarea, which means “New Caesar.” This was a way for the city’s residents to show their gratitude to Tiberius and express their loyalty to the Roman Empire.
In the first century AD, Philadelphia was one of the seven churches in Asia Minor receiving letters from Jesus in connection with the Book of Revelation. The church in Philadelphia was known for its faithfulness to Christ, even in the face of persecution.
In the 4th century AD, Philadelphia became part of the Byzantine Empire. It remained a prosperous city for several centuries but began to decline in the 11th century as a result of Turkish invasions. In 1390, it was captured by the Ottoman Turks and remained under Ottoman rule for more than 500 years. In the 19th century, the city was renamed Alaşehir. Some of the ruins of the ancient city can still be seen in Alaşehir.
The church in Philadelphia, known by Jesus for its faithfulness even though it was small and persecuted, was encouraged to stand fast. In His letter, Jesus commended the believers there for their faithfulness and promised to bless them.
He said, “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” (Rev. 3:8). Jesus also promised to protect the church from the coming testing and to make the believers pillars in His temple (Rev. 3:10-12).
From Jesus’ letter to the church in Philadelphia, we see that He values faithfulness and rewards those who persevere in the true and saving faith even in the face of persecution. Though the church in Philadelphia was small and weak, the believers there were faithful to Christ, and He promised to bless them — even to give them an opportunity to bear witness to Christ and the Gospel.
This letter is a message of hope and encouragement for Christians, even if their numbers are few and they are weak.
Jesus’ letter to the church in Philadelphia – Revelation 3:7-13
7 “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”: 8 “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. 9 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. 10 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. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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.
13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’
[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]