The Philadelphia Church
In this installment, we’ll continue to look at the seven churches of Revelation.
It was on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther sent his 95 Theses to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz. He may have also posted the Theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany later in November of that year. This was the beginning of the Reformation, and although many things were wrong with the Reformation, it did usher in the next period of church history – a likening to the church in Philadelphia.
It was from 1517 to the early 1900s that we see John’s secondary prophecy fulfilled. The Lord tells the church in Revelation 3:8, “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
There were no negatives mentioned about this church. God simply set before them an open door – a time of great effectiveness of and for the Lord. This time period was perhaps the most powerful period in history for the propagation of the Gospel other than that of the ministry of Jesus and Pentecost.
This was a great time period of mission growth. We see men like William Carey, Jonathan Goforth, David Brainerd, and others. It was a time of great revivals with the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and D. L. Moody preaching and reaching many during this era of church history.
Revival and the Revolution
Whether we want to admit it or not, America was born during a period of spiritual Revival. It was July 8, 1741. Jonathan Edwards had just finished preaching his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The colony of Connecticut was changed from that single message. That single message was largely responsible for The Great Awakening in America. David Brainerd followed and ministered to, among others, the Delaware Indians of New Jersey.
Christian revival was brought to the colonies as the war between the colonies and the crown grew closer. During the war, men looked to God for His favor. According to Christianity Today, “During the Revolutionary era, the pulpit played a key role in encouraging dissent . . . In July 1775, as tensions with the British rose, the Continental Congress called for a day of prayer and fasting. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-50/christianity-and-american-revolution-did-you-know.html)
At this point in time, The USA resembled the Philadelphia church. As years went by, there was a general cooling of religious affairs. It took a second Great Awakening in the mid-1800s to once again bring America back to her foundational religious beliefs. It was during this time that men like Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, and R. A. Torrey preached.
But, alas. America may have gone too far to ever recover. Time will show.
The open door existed until the early 1900s. Next up – the Laodicean Church.
The Pitiful State of the Laodicean Church
Two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, received nothing but commendations from the Lord. Four of the churches, Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis received both commendation and condemnation. Laodicea was the only church to receive only condemnation, and it was brutal.
We read in Revelation 3:14-16, “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
So what is this all about? John is told to write to the angel of the church. If the angel was a heavenly angel, there would have been no need for John to write. Jesus is very capable of communicating in the heavenly realm. The term angel simply means a messenger – probably the pastor of the church. Although this letter was sent to the messenger, he was to deliver the message to the whole church.
This messenger, if indeed he was the pastor, would have been responsible for taking this message to the church. Hebrews 13:17 reminds us of the serious duty of pastors. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
They watch for your souls, in part, because they will answer before God as to their leadership of the church. The pastor may not be directly involved in every program of the church, but he is to oversee everything that takes place in the church. What pastor could possibly justify not relaying this important message to his parishioners? This was indeed a blistering message for the entire church.
So, in history we see the church leaving her first love as persecution comes. The church turns worldly and begins to compromise during the Dark Ages. This leads to the church becoming dead, yet a spurt of growth takes place between 1517 and the early 1900’s.
It is during this time in church history that we see a rise in mission activity as well as great revivals taking place. Unfortunately, this period was short-lived, and the church has fallen into the lukewarmness we know today – the Laodicean Age.
Granted – this is to be the condition of the church when Jesus comes back, but we must look at the complete letter to the Laodiceans. Revelation 3:18-22 continues, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
What lessons can we take away from this? Yes, the church may be lukewarm, but we are encouraged to buy gold from the fire and to put on white raiment. We are to anoint our eyes with eye salve that we might see. Jesus is waiting at the door of the Laodicean church asking permission to enter. This is not a hopeless situation at all. Jesus, Himself is the answer.
It is He from whom we buy the gold. He is the provider of the white raiment and eye salve – and He stands knocking, waiting for us to open the door.
In this Age of Laodicea, we see individual churches resembling the Ephesus church, the Pergamum church, and the church at Smyrna – why not the church at Philadelphia? We only need to open the door. Yes, we are in the last days. Yes, these are cold times in which we live, but God is still on the throne. Revival is up to us. Seeking the presence of God is up to us.