Each of the churches addressed in Revelation 2–3 faced a unique set of circumstances. Some of the churches, such as the congregations in Thyatira and Sardis, do not seem to have faced much opposition from the culture (2:18–3:6). They may even have been embraced, more or less, by those cities. Other churches, however, had a contentious relationship with the culture. The church in Philadelphia, for example, had little power and faced much hostility.
In Philadelphia, the chief threat to the church apparently came from the Jewish community, “those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie” (3:8–9). This statement reflects the New Testament affirmation that those who are truly Jewish in a spiritual sense—who are the true people of God—are not those who are Jewish merely by physical descent but who believe in Christ alone for salvation (see Rom. 2:12–29; Gal. 6:16). Those who have Jewish heritage but reject Christ are not the children of God but, like other non-Christians, are outside the kingdom of God in Jesus. In Philadelphia, these Jews caused problems for the church, and commentators suggest that it may be that the non-Christian Jews kicked the Philadelphian Christians out of the synagogue. The early Christians, particularly those of Jewish heritage, met in the synagogues and eventually the non-Christian Jews expelled them, which led to their losing the religious protections Rome gave to the Jews.
The believers in Philadelphia had not denied Jesus in the face of such trouble; rather, they remained true to Christ, and He promised to keep them from the coming trial (v. 10). Since “conquering” in Revelation 2–3 usually means staying true to Jesus in the face of persecution, the promise to the one who conquers in the church in Philadelphia (3:11) probably shows that Jesus’ preservation of the Philadelphian church does not mean He would let suffering pass them by. Most likely, keeping them from the trial to come meant His preservation of them while they suffered for His name.
Besides preservation, Jesus promises the Philadelphian Christians that those who endure will be made a pillar in God’s temple (v. 12). This means that they will be made a permanent part of God’s people, as God’s eternal temple is His people, united to Him in Christ (1 Peter 2:4–8; Rev. 21:22). We might lose everything in this world for remaining true to Jesus, but we will be a part of God’s everlasting house.