Revelation 3:7

Sermon preached on January 22, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, a woman once came to C. H. Spurgeon at the end of a service. "She was accompanied," says Spurgeon, "by two of her neighbors and entered my vestry in deep distress. Her husband had fled the country; and, in her sorrow, she had gone to the house of God, and something I said in the sermon made her think that I was personally familiar with her case. Of course, I had really known nothing about her; I had made use of a general illustration which just fitted her particular case. She told me her story, and a very sad one it was. I said,

'There is nothing that we can do but kneel down, and cry to the Lord for the immediate conversion of your husband.'

We knelt down, and I prayed that the Lord would touch the heart of the deserter, convert his soul and bring him back to his home. When we rose from our knees, I said to the poor woman,

'Do not fret about the matter. I feel sure your husband will come home; and that he will yet become connected with our church.'

She went away, and I forgot all about her. Some months afterwards, she reappeared, with her neighbors, and a man, whom she introduced to me as her husband. He had indeed come back, and he had returned a converted man. On making inquiry, and comparing notes, we found that, the very day on which we had prayed for his conversion, he, being at that time board a ship far away on the sea, stumbled most unexpectedly upon a stray copy of one of my sermons. He read it; the truth went to his heart; he repented, and sought the Lord; and, as soon as possible, he came back to his wife and to his daily calling. He was admitted as a member at the Tabernacle, and his wife who up to that time had not joined the church, was also received into fellowship with us."

Spurgeon concluded, (From Whitecross, The Shorter Catechism Illustrated, p. 155)

"That woman does not doubt the power of prayer. All the infidels in the world could not shake her conviction that there is a God that heareth and answereth the supplications of his people."

I have no reason to doubt the truth of that story. It illustrates the power of prayer. But it also shows God's power and sovereignty regarding salvation. God heard the prayers for that woman's husband and God opened his heart and brought him to Christ.

That is also what our text teaches. We read,

"To the angel of the church
in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him
who is holy and true,
who holds the key of David.
What he opens no one can shut,
and what he shuts no one can open."

Our text tells us that

Jesus holds the key of David.

This is a quote from Isaiah 22:22. It reads,

"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."

In Isaiah God said that He was going to dispose wicked Shebna, King Hezekiah's chief steward, and replace him with faithful Eliakim. Eliakim was going to be given the key to the house of David. Robert H. Mounce tell us that this key of David was,

"a metaphorical expression indicating complete control over the royal household."

It signified access to the king and his palace. (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, p. 187) Eliakim was a type of Christ and He pointed to the role that Jesus would play with regard to the New Jerusalem. Robert H. Mounce tells us that it means that Christ has, (Revelation, NICNT, p. 100)

"undisputed authority to admit or exclude from the New Jerusalem… The language of Isaiah is used to present Christ as the Davidic Messiah with absolute power to control entrance to the heavenly kingdom."

Or, to put it another way, possessing the key of David refers to having, (Dennis E. Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb, p. 87)

"unchallengeable authority, so that what he opens none can lock and what he locks none can open."

The thrust of this is that

Jesus holds power over salvation.

He determines who will be admitted to the New Jerusalem. As I have noted before, the words of introduction to each of the churches goes back to the description of Jesus in chapter 1. Verse 18 of chapter 1 has Jesus saying,

"I am the Living One; I was dead,
and behold I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

Jesus there declared that He held power over the sphere of death and Hades. In our text Jesus amplifies this idea. He has the key of David. He holds the power of salvation.

Many Christians today believe that by coming to earth and dying
Jesus made salvation possible. When they're evangelizing they will say things like,

"God has done everything He can do, He has made salvation possible. Now it's all up to you. You have to believe. The ultimate decision on whether you will be admitted to heaven rests with you. You have to decide."

But most of that is just not true. It is true that people have to believe in Jesus. They have to exercise faith. But Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that faith is a gift of God.

The picture that we have of Jesus here is not someone who has merely made salvation possible, but of one who sovereignly dispenses salvation. He holds the key of salvation.

One of the things we should note is that

this is not a passive activity on the part of Jesus. He's active in it.

We see this in many places is Scripture. For example, in Matthew 11:27 Jesus said,

"All things have been committed
to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father
except the Son and those to whom
the Son chooses to reveal him."

The Son is active in revealing the Father to the ones He chooses. Another example is in Romans 9:15 Paul quotes from what God said to Moses,

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion."

You'll remember what Jesus said to Peter in response to Peter's confession that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus replied, (Matthew 16:18)

"I tell you that you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

He is the One who builds His church. He has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy. We have an example of this in Acts 16. There we read about the visit of Paul and Silas to Philippi. Luke writes,

"On the Sabbath we went
outside the city gate to the river,
where we expected to find a place of prayer.
We sat down and began to speak
to the women who had gathered there.
One of those listening was
a woman named Lydia,
a dealer in purple cloth
from the city of Thyatira,
who was a worshiper of God.
The Lord opened her heart
to respond to Paul's message."

God opened her heart. God brought her to Himself.

One of the great scriptural truths is that

people can't come to Christ on their own.

In Psalm 14:2–3 we read,

"The LORD looks down from heaven
on the sons of men to see
if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned aside,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."

No one seeks God on their own. We can't change on our own. As Jeremiah 13:23 says,

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil."

In John 6:44 Jesus said,

"No one can come to me
unless the Father who sent me draws him,
and I will raise him up at the last day."

And in Mark 10:24–27 Jesus said to His disciples,

"'Children, how hard it is
to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of God.'
The disciples were even more amazed,
and said to each other,
'Who then can be saved?'
Jesus looked at them and said,
'With man this is impossible,
but not with God;
all things are possible with God.'"

We need God to give us spiritual life. We don't have it on our own. It needs to come to us from the Spirit. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, (John 3:3)

"I tell you the truth,
no one can see the kingdom of God
unless he is born again."

We need to be born again, or born 'from above'. Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus that we need to be born of the Spirit. He said, (verse 6)

"Flesh gives birth to flesh,
but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."

We need the birth from above. This is what God talked about in Ezekiel 36:24–29. God said to the Israelites,

"For I will take you out of the nations;
I will gather you from all the countries
and bring you back into your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water on you,
and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your impurities
and from all your idols.
I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit in you
and move you to follow my decrees
and be careful to keep my laws.
You will live in the land
I gave your forefathers;
you will be my people,
and I will be your God.
I will save you from all your uncleanness."

Jesus holds the key of David and He is active in bringing people into the New Jerusalem.

We see God's activity this way in the conversion of the apostle Paul.

God had chosen Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3f) and when the time came for him to be saved we don't read about him seeking Christ or using the means of grace. Quite the contrary, Saul was on his way to Damascus breathing out murderous threats against the Christians there. It was on that road that God stopped him in his tracks and saved him.

That's the way it is with salvation. God brings sinners to Himself. That wasn't just true of Paul but is true of everyone who is saved. For instance, in Ephesians 1:3–6 the apostle Paul praises God for this very fact. He wrote,

"Praise be to the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in the heavenly realms
with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
For he chose us in him before
the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In love he predestined us to be adopted
as his sons through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will
— to the praise of his glorious grace,
which he has freely given us
in the One he loves."

Paul praised God—not for merely making salvation possible—but for actually choosing and predestining people. God's sovereign activity in salvation was the reason that Paul praised God.

We see the same teaching in Acts 2:47 where Luke wrote that after the events of Pentecost, the Christians were,

"praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people.
And the Lord added to their number daily
those who were being saved."

Jesus added to His church. He built it. F. F. Bruce says of that passage, (The Book of the Acts, 75)

"It is the Lord's prerogative to add new members to his own community;"

Jesus, the Head of the church, builds His church. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6,

"I planted the seed,
Apollos watered it,
but God made it grow."

Jesus makes it grow. Our labors at evangelism depend totally on Him blessing our work. He grows His church. As the prophet Jonah so aptly summed it up in the belly of the fish, (Jonah 2:9)

"Salvation comes from the LORD."

But there's more than a positive side to this. There's also a negative side. Our text says,

"and what he shuts no one can open."

Jesus also has the right to close the door on salvation.

God doesn't choose everybody. He truly is sovereign over salvation. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9:11–18,

"Yet, before the twins were born
or had done anything good or bad
—in order that God's purpose
in election might stand:
not by works but by him who calls
—she was told,
'The older will serve the younger.'
Just as it is written:
'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'
What then shall we say?
Is God unjust? Not at all!
For he says to Moses,
'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion.'
It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
'I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed
in all the earth.'
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Jesus talked about this concept as well. In Matthew 11:20–26 we read,

"Then Jesus began to denounce
the cities in which most of his miracles
had been performed,
because they did not repent.
'Woe to you, Korazin!
Woe to you, Bethsaida!
If the miracles that were performed
in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon,
they would have repented long ago
in sackcloth and ashes.
But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon
on the day of judgment than for you.
And you, Capernaum,
will you be lifted up to the skies?
No, you will go down to the depths.
If the miracles that were performed
in you had been performed in Sodom,
it would have remained to this day.
But I tell you that it will be more bearable
for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.'"

Those are amazing statements. Jesus tells us that if the miracles that He performed had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. But those miracles were not done there—so they didn't repent.

At that time Jesus said,

"I praise you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and learned,
and revealed them to little children.
Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. "

We see much the same teaching in Matthew 13. The disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables. Jesus answered, (verses 11-15)

"The knowledge of the secrets
of the kingdom of heaven has been
given to you, but not to them.
Whoever has will be given more,
and he will have an abundance.
Whoever does not have,
even what he has will be taken from him.
This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing,
they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
You will be ever hearing
but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn,
and I would heal them."

Thus Scripture makes it very clear that salvation rests in God's hand. He is sovereign regarding salvation. He can open and no one can shut and He can shut and no one can open.

Now what does this mean in practical terms?

First of all, if you're not a Christian the first thing this means for you is that

you shouldn't focus on this and spend any time wondering whether you're one of the chosen or not.

Right now, you can't know the answer to that question. Only God knows and He hasn't revealed it to anyone. So there's no point in speculating about it. Don't spend any time on it because it would be a total waste of time and could be very disheartening. Nowhere in the book of Acts do we see Christians urging unbelievers to think about their election, or lack thereof.

Rather than thinking about election, you are to focus on the gospel promises, on the call that God extends to you. Jesus loves sinners. He invites you to Himself. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said,

"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest."

Focus on Jesus, on His love for sinners, on His call to you. He also tells you in John 6:37

"All that the Father gives me
will come to me,
and whoever comes to me
I will never drive away."

Go to Jesus now.

For you who are Christians, this means that

you should acknowledge that our salvation comes from the Lord and give Him all the praise and glory for it.

Why did you believe? Why did you come to faith in Jesus? It's because He chose you before the foundation of the world. It's because He gave you faith. It's because He gave you a new heart. It's because He kept you. We should

Thirdly, this means that

all our efforts at evangelism must rest on His power.

Without Jesus we can do nothing. He opens doors. He opens hearts. He changes lives. Let us go forth with our evangelism resting on His power, on His good pleasure, on His love, giving Him all the praise and glory.

Lastly, this means that

we shouldn't pay attention to what the world says about our status.

One of the reasons Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia this is probably because some of their number had been excommunicated from the synagogue by the synagogue rulers. (Mounce, p. 100) But that was of no consequence. Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia that they are His. Even though they only have a little strength and were looked down on by most people in Philadelphia—He has no words of rebuke or criticism for them. He is going to make them pillars in His temple. We must always evaluate ourselves on the basis of what the Lord thinks of us, using His infallible Word.

May God give us grace to do so.