35) Holy Stubbornness (Revelation 3:8)
I’ve mentioned before that one of my spiritual mentors was often heard to say, “Whatever God requires he provides; whomever God chooses, he changes; and whatever God starts, he finishes.” I’d like to add a fourth: “Whatever God promises, he fulfills.”
That’s incredibly reassuring, especially for those who struggle with doubt and uncertainty and the fear that one day, notwithstanding the promises in his Word, God will pull the rug out. Life has taught us, often painfully, that if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is. Why should it be any different with God? Will he really deliver on what he has declared? Can I trust him?
I think those questions echo ever more loudly in our heads when times are tough. It’s a lot easier to believe God when there’s money in the bank and our loved ones are healthy and people like us. Maybe that’s one reason Jesus spoke so pointedly to the Christians in Philadelphia. Life was anything but easy for the church in that city. The fact that Jesus applauds their perseverance (v. 10a) and faithfulness in keeping his word (v. 8) and commends them for not denying his name (v. 8), more than suggests that they were faced with a relentless temptation to quit. The opposition they faced from the Jewish community only made things worse (v. 9).
They may well have asked themselves, “Could all this mean that Jesus has abandoned us? Are his promises vain and empty? How can we know he’s still on our side?”
Jesus speaks directly to such fears with three powerful promises. It is the first one, in Revelation 3:8a, that has caught my attention. Perhaps it’s because at first glance it seems so insignificant. I have to confess that before now I took no notice of it. Not anymore! “Behold,” said Jesus, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”
What is the “open door”? Is it great opportunity for missionary activity (cf. 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). That’s certainly a possibility. But the preceding verse (3:7) spoke of a messianic kingdom, access to which is under the absolute control of Christ. He is the one who possesses the key and can open and shut at his own will. Here in v. 8 he reminds the Christians at Philadelphia who may have been excommunicated from the local synagogue that he has placed before them an open door into the eternal kingdom and no one can shut them out.
I’m captivated by this promise of our Lord to the church at Philadelphia, because it’s a word of assurance to all Christians who face similar threats or assaults from both human and demonic powers in their effort to derail our journey to the celestial city, the New Jerusalem. It’s short but sweet, simple but profound, and gloriously to the point of one of our greatest needs: to be reassured by our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we are forever his and that no amount of hardship in this life can undermine our salvation, that no depth of pain or deprivation can interrupt, disrupt, or counteract his divine determination to bring us safely into our eternal reward.
Think about what this statement says concerning our Lord’s determination concerning you and your relationship to him. His mind is made up. His will is resolute and unchangeable. His goal is clear and the means to its accomplishment are undertaken with an immutable and omnipotent commitment. There is a sense, then, in which we might reverently speak of his holy and righteous stubbornness when it comes to the welfare of his people. He simply won’t allow anyone to slam shut the door that he has opened.
The very existence of this “open door” is ultimately by virtue of his will, not ours. It reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 11:27 - “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (11:27). Or, to use the words of Revelation 3:8, no one knows the Father or will enjoy him forever except those on whose behalf the Son has graciously opened the door to eternal life!
Not all the persecution in the world can reverse his decree. Not all the hatred and animosity of the enemy can tempt him to change his mind. Not all the posturing and strutting of a secular and unbelieving culture can induce him to close the door on those to whom he has decided to open it. Not all the threats, slander, resistance or any other attempt on the part of the people around us to undermine our relationship with Christ will succeed.
“No one is able to shut” this door into eternal relationship and intimacy with Jesus, this entrance into eternal joy and life in his presence. No one. Not your worst enemy. Not even those who mock you for your faith. Not Islamic terrorists or economic collapse or a terminal illness. Nothing. Not the collective power of an entire world, not the combined energy of all demonic beings, neither Satan nor any other created being can overturn the decree of Christ who says: These are my people and shall remain so forever.
Often we fear that Satan has the power or freedom to counteract Christ’s saving work, or that he can orchestrate a scenario that will lead to our ultimate demise. Or perhaps he can put a stumbling block in our path that will ensnare or entangle us in such a way that not even God himself can extricate us or deliver us from his nefarious strategy. Ah, but who is this God? Is he not the one “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24)?
I’m also reminded of what Paul said in Romans 8:31, a precious passage indeed: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” His purpose isn’t to deny that we have enemies. Far from it. Our enemies are numerous and powerful and relentless in their assault against the saints.
His point, rather, is that they will always fail! Yes, they will continue to attack and accuse and adopt an adversarial posture. They can inflict injury, bring disappointment, shatter dreams, and disrupt relationships. But they can never close the door that Christ has opened! Or to use the language of Paul again from Romans 8, they shall never “separate us from the love of Christ” (8:35). Their weapons may include “tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “danger,” and “sword” (8:35). They may even kill us, treating us “as sheep to be slaughtered” (8:36). But in all these things, yes, in all these horrific experiences, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (8:37), through him who opened the door and allows no one to shut!
This glorious truth of God’s sovereignty in our salvation, far from precluding the need for personal holiness, empowers and undergirds it. We must persevere in our commitment to him, and we shall persevere because of his commitment to us.
There is in the heart of our Lord, as I said, a holy stubbornness. He will not be deterred. His purpose will come to pass. His promise will be fulfilled. No one can close the door he has opened. Entrance into the bliss of eternal joy is assured to those who know Jesus. Praise be to God!