We’ve been looking at the history of the church based on the seven letters dictated by Jesus to the seven churches in Asia Minor. When viewed in the order written, these churches seem to outline the entirety of Church history in advance.
The last four of the seven are given explicit promises regarding the return of Christ, so it’s assumed that these four will be around in some form at the end of the 6th Dispensation.
We’ve just looked at the last two – Thyatira, the age where the Mystics ruled the church, and Sardis, the dead church. Both of these churches were shown to be in pretty bad shape. If fact, just about every church we’ve examined had issues.
Its beginning to look like Jesus will have a tougher time finding a decent bride than a contestant on The Bachelor.
Fortunately, we have the letter to the Church in Philadelphia (no, not THAT Philadelphia).
Jesus has nothing but effusive praise for this church and He makes His desire for them pretty clear. He tells them that they have an open door that no one can close. Since he references the key of the King (David) in his title of Himself in the salutation, the open door is an invitation to the throne upon which Jesus will rule!
He also says that He will write His name and the Father’s name on them (as the Bride, they get the family name), and the name of God’s city, the New Jerusalem which will house the Bride!
Why is Philadelphia so well thought of?
Jesus praises the Philadelphian church because they kept His Word and didn’t deny His name. The “Word” is obviously the Bible. Jesus’ “name” correlates to his character and His nature. So this church adhered to sound biblical doctrine (unlike the Mystics of Catholicism who corrupted doctrine and elevated the traditions they invented to scripture). And they fully embraced who Jesus was – always and completely right and just (in contrast to the Calvinists who created a doctrine antithetical to God’s nature).
Basically, Philadelphia represents the Church that remains faithful to the mission and message of Jesus. They strove to choose God over themselves!
Historically Philadelphia correlates to the church of 18th and 19th centuries. A period marked by “revivals” in the western church.
Waking the dead
In the mid 1700’s as the Catholic Church connived to hold on to their fading empire, and the mainline denominations fell deeper into their dead theology, a stirring was beginning to rise from the Protestant malaise.
Grace led Christians began to think contrastively! They started rejecting the religion and contradictions of the Mystics and Calvinists, and sought to know God and His plan.
Lead by men such as James Davenport, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent and George Whitefield Christendom experienced a series of revivals that would come to be known as the “Great Awakenings”. Stale legalistic sermons and the mindless repetition of religious liturgy were replaced by preachers who delivered their messages with passion and conviction that could not be ignored.
These revivals abandoned the somnolent cathedrals and sterile sanctuaries of the previous churches. The Great Awakening flourished in tents and barns, engaging every segment of society. Theology was brought to the masses without regard to education, profession, or class.
The message of the Great Awakenings was repentance (repair) growth through Biblical doctrine (life) and living out God’s righteousness in life (sanctification led by grace). Basically, everything Jesus asked of the Church in the New Testament (hey, it only took a couple thousand years to get it right).
What was the result of this focus on righteousness?
There were at least three Great Awakenings during the 18th and 19th centuries, and their impact reverberated throughout the west and beyond. From a theological standpoint, the grassroots structure encouraged Christians to become active participants in their faith, instead of relying solely on a “church leader” to be their conduit to God. It reflected the apostolic era more than any other time in history.
Socially, the revivals led to the abolition of chattel slavery, missionary movements that spread the gospel and improved living conditions throughout the world, individual liberty that lead to an explosion of ingenuity and prosperity, and a prevailing world view that advocated honesty, integrity, and justice in legal and social relationships.
Importantly, the worldview of the Great Awakening was highly influential in the founding of America – which despite current educational indoctrination to the contrary, was founded and established by brilliant and devout followers of Christ. America became a beacon on freedom, liberty and prosperity for over 100 years after its founding.
The importance of liberty on a governmental level can’t be understated and contrasts sharply with the structure and purpose of all previous human governments – the suppression of uniqueness. Liberty not only encourages uniqueness, but relies on it for success and growth.
So the Philadelphia church was so great, why are we still here?
The situation described above definitely begs that question. If the purpose of the Dispensations is to give man the opportunity to choose God over themselves, and this Church seemed to do just that, then why wasn’t the 6th Dispensation pronounced a success? Why didn’t Jesus come down and collect His bride?
A couple of reasons.
First, as mentioned previously, the last four churches Jesus sent letter to will ALL exist when He returns. Meaning that even in the midst of the revivals, the dead and mystic driven churches were still going strong. How could Jesus return for His bride under these conditions? (I’ll actually answer that question in the next post).
Secondly, the revivals were never sustainable! The reason that there were multiple “Great Awakenings” was because the Christians could never fully uphold the righteousness they initially embraced.
Why? Because it’s difficult and it’s not in our nature to sustain difficult endeavors! We prefer comfort. Although the Awakenings led to freedom, liberty, and prosperity, over time the fire of the revival would fade as Christians migrated back toward the comfort of religion and the self-reliance that comes from material comforts. Thus they would need to be “re-awakened” periodically. But subsequent Great Awakenings produced diminishing returns.
This coincides with the warning Jesus gave to Philadelphia to hold on to what they have so that no one takes their crown. The crown, linguistically, is the reward for performance, and rewards are tied to righteousness. If the church does not hold on to the righteousness of the revivals, they might lose their reward in Heaven, not to mention the social and material rewards of liberty on earth.
The America of today sadly bears little resemblance to the America founded in the shadows of the Great Awakenings.
A promise of rescue
As with each of the last four churches, Jesus made the Philadelphians a promise related to His return and the coming apocalyptic judgments. And for those in Philadelphia who persevere in righteousness, it’s a pretty spectacular promise. He tells them that He will keep them from the Tribulation that is coming upon the earth! The word translated “from” is the Greek “ek”, which means “physically separated from”. The Philadelphian church is promised to be taken from the earth to keep them from the Tribulation! We’ll discuss this in detail two posts from now.
Saving the worst for last
Obviously the Philadelphian church has great things promised to them if they remain faithful. But what if the church begins to let go of faithfulness, does not persevere, strays from God’s word, and denies Jesus’ name (nature and character) what happens to them?
They become the worst church of them all! A church in such bad shape that Jesus deems it beyond redemption!Unfortunately, it happens to be the church of our current era.
In the next post we’ll look at how we got into this predicament, and the end of the 6th Dispensation.