Question: "What did Jesus mean when He said, "I have set before you an open door," to the church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:8)?"
Answer: The church at Philadelphia was one of seven churches addressed in Revelation 2—3. The others are the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. Of the seven only Smyrna and Philadelphia are not rebuked for any shortcomings. Philadelphia is commended most strongly, and Jesus says to the church at Philadelphia, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8, ESV).
The opening to Philadelphia’s letter includes an identification of the Author as holy, true, and having the key of David. He is the One who opens and closes when no one else has that authority (Revelation 3:7). This reference is an affirmation of the Messiah’s identity, first spoken of in Isaiah 22:22, and initially referencing the authority of Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who temporarily had that power. The Messiah would possess the authority permanently. The Messiah says to the church of Philadelphia that He knows their deeds, and He has put before them an open door that no one can shut. Jesus explains why He opens that door: they had a little power, they had kept His word, and they had not denied His name (Revelation 3:8). There is no explanation in the context regarding what door Jesus referenced. But there is biblical precedent for understanding what that open door referred to.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Yahweh granting the authority to open doors (for example, in Isaiah 22:22 to Eliakim and in Isaiah 45:1 to Cyrus). By introducing Himself as the One who opens doors in Revelation 3:7, Jesus affirms His authority. He has the authority to provide the church of Philadelphia the opportunities He desires them to have. The specific door may be a chance for unbelievers in Philadelphia to come to the church and acknowledge that God has loved the believers in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:9). Jesus also references keeping the Philadelphians from the coming hour of testing that was coming to the whole world (Revelation 3:10). Each of these statements presents interpretive challenges, but, in any case, it is evident that the Philadelphian believers’ faithfulness resulted in their receiving some special opportunities given from the One who had the authority to bestow those privileges.
In the New Testament, God provided open doors, as well. In Acts 14:27 the churches gather at Antioch to celebrate God’s opened door of faith for the Gentiles. If the Revelation 3:8 context is related to the Antiochene reference, then perhaps the open door granted was for the proclaiming of the Word of God in Philadelphia.
While we cannot say dogmatically what it means when Jesus says, “I have set before you and open door” to the church at Philadelphia, we can have confidence that the One making the statement has the authority to make it, and that it is likely that the believers in Philadelphia understood the open door before them.
The obvious implication for the believers at Philadelphia was to make the most of the opportunity that open door would provide, and we today ought also to be alert to the stewardships and opportunities that God provides us. We should not waste the open doors that Jesus has opened. We should appreciate that they have come from the One who has authority to provide those opportunities. Because the Lord has provided them, they are important. Let’s make the most of them!