Q: #488. What do we know about the city of Philadelphia in the Bible?
A: Last week at the Bible study I teach, we (randomly) ended up talking about the church in Philadelphia (Gr. = “Philadelphos“), which is mentioned by name twice in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:11)(Rev 3:7). It occurred to us that we really didn’t know anything about this church. It is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. Therefore, I sought to find out what I could about this church, and the following is what I have found.
***Note: While I can’t completely confirm that each thing which follows is fact, most are confirmed by at least several sources.
The city of Philadelphia was founded in 189 B.C. by King Attalus II Philadelphus, a king of Pergamon. He named it “Philadelphia,” which in Greek means “brotherly love,” because of the great love he had for his older brother, who was named Eumenes II, and preceded him as king of Pergamon (Attalus was previously the general of his army). This same Greek word (“Philadelphia“) is translated as “brotherly love” in (Rom 12:10)(1 Th 4:9)(Heb 13:1).
It was located in the region of Lydia in Asia Minor, about 25 miles SE of Sardis, and a little over 100 miles east of Smyrna and the coast (both are also part of the “Seven Churches Of Revelation”). It was situated in a valley, near the Cogamus River. Apparently, the city was plagued by earthquakes, and almost completely destroyed by a giant one which occurred in 17 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. However, after the great quake, Tiberius (and a few others) provided funds to help them to rebuild.
As mentioned above, Philadelphia is mentioned by name only twice in the Bible, both in Revelation. However, in (Rev 3:7-13), we can see Jesus speaking about this church. He says they:
“have an open door, and no one can shut it” (likely either for evangelism, or to gain entrance into God’s Kingdom)
“have a little strength” (perhaps because of all the earthquakes)
“have kept My word, and have not denied My name”
“have kept My command to persevere”
The “church in Philadelphia,” along with the “church in Smyrna,” are the only two churches (of the seven mentioned) about which Jesus had nothing negative to say.
How the church actually got started is unknown. John MacArthur speculates in his study Bible that it was: “probably the fruit of Paul’s extended ministry in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:10).”
This city still exists today, but it is now named “Allah-shehr,” meaning “the city of God.” It is sparsely populated, with several thousand houses and about 10,000 people. A few remnants of ancient Philadelphia can still be seen there: i.e. a wall, 4 columns, and at least part of one church.