Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Church Age - Part 3

Continuing from Part 2 we are now going to study the remaining three of the seven Churches, prophetically covering the period 1517 to the beginning of the Great Tribulation. The three Churches are the Church in Sardis, the Church in Philadelphia and the Church in Laodicea.

The Church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1 - 6)

1. Name of the recipient Church

Sardis was a city that flourished some five hundred years before John (who wrote Revelation) was born. Later the city was conquered by Cyrus of Persia, then by Alexander the Great. Through those conquests Sardis was reduced to ruins. This city worshipped the goddess Cybele.

2. Christ's spiritual evaluation of the Church

The Church in Sardis signifies the period from 1517 to 1750. The name "Sardis" means "those escaping" - the people who left what became the Roman Catholic Church. In the light of Church history, the Church in Sardis refers to the Protestant Church founded by Luther, a priest who led the Reformation beginning in 1517, on the Biblical principle that we are justified by faith alone, not by good works and adherence to tradition.

Jesus appeared to the Church in Sardis as One who had the seven Spirit of God and the seven stars (Rev. 3:1). The seven stars signify the servants of God, and the seven Spirits of God signify that God gives the fullness of the Holy Spirit to the servants whom He has restored.

Jesus said, "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Rev. 3:1).

Even though the Reformation was achieved, it had political as well as spiritual motives behind it. The Church was still bound by form and ritual. And the Church was actually still in the state of death, even though it had the appearance of being alive. That is the reason why many Bible teachers called the Church in Sardis a dead Church.

3. Christ's Commendation

Jesus commended the few clothed in white robes in the Church of Sardis (read Rev. 3:4). They were the ones who were justified before God by their faith, as were the leaders of the Reformation, who also retained pure faith. Because they believed in the precious blood of Jesus and His grace, He washed them clean and clothed them with white robes.

4. Christ's Rebuke

As mentioned earlier in Rev. 3:1, Jesus said that even though the Church had a name that they were alive, but they were dead spiritually. He meant that in the past the Church had been growing and was alive, but little by little their enthusiasm disappeared and their faith became cold. Only a memory of the past was left.

5. Christ's Exhortation

Jesus exhorted the Church in Sardis to be awakened to life from the dead state, to remember His graces received, to hold fast to the faith and repent (read Rev. 3:3).

6. Christ's Promise

Jesus promised that He would clothe with white robes those who were thus quickened to life and record their names in the book of life, that they might live forever (read Rev. 3:5). He would also vouch for those names before God and His angels.

The Church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7 - 13)

1. Name of the recipient Church

Philadelphia was located thirty miles southeast of Sardis. It was destroyed by the great earthquake of A.D. 17 and rebuilt by Tiberius. It was known for its wine, and drinking was a major problem.

2. Christ's spiritual evaluation of the Church

The Church in Philadelphia foretold the Church age between 1750 and 1905. "Philadelphia" means "brotherly love," and the Church there preached the gospel with such love. Indeed, proclaiming the gospel is impossible unless we have compassion for our fellow men and women. When we do, Jesus opens the door of revival.

The Lord appeared to the Church in Philadelphia as the One who had the key of David (Rev. 3:7). When He opens, no one can shut, and when He shuts, no one can open. This signified that the Lord would cause a great revival in the Philadelphia Church.

For a century and a half (from 1750 to 1905), Churches experienced wonderful revival movements, and the fire spread to various parts of the world. A Society for China Inland Mission was formed in Great Britain, and through its efforts the gospel was preached to the inner parts of China. The Student Volunteer Movement, also arising in Great Britain, became a great mission society.

Also during this period, the Methodist movement, the Salvation Army and the Holiness Church arose. George Whitefield shook England, America and Europe with the gospel. Following him, numerous evangelical revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon and Dwight Moody set America and Europe on fire.

Jesus' prophecy came true during the Church age of Philadelphia. He also forewarned the Church of the coming Great Tribulation, but He promised He would cause the Church to miss that Tribulation (Rev. 3:10).

3. Christ's Commendation

Jesus commended the Philadelphian Church for doing many activities with little ability and behaving sincerely, causing no shame to His name (Rev. 3:10).

4. Christ's Rebuke

The Lord did not rebuke the Philadelphian Church, a faithful and missionary Church. He never rebukes a gospel-proclaiming and mission-sending Church. Neither He rebuked a persecuted Church (Smyrna).

5. Christ's Exhortation

Jesus exhorted the Philadelphian Church, which fulfilled its missionary role with little ability, to "hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Rev. 3:11). He didn't demand more than that but urged the Church to preserve its enthusiasm for missions and service and to develop them more.

6. Christ's Promise

Jesus promised the Philadelphian Church that if it kept the word of patience, continuing its mission work, He would keep it from the hour of temptation, when God will judge all the people who have lived on the earth (Rev. 3:10) - the Great Tribulation.

To him who overcame, Jesus also gave the promise that He would make him a pillar in the temple (Rev. 3:12). The pillar of the temple or Church supports the house where God dwells.

Jesus also promised He would give the Church a new name (Rev. 3:10). he would write the name of God, the name of New Jerusalem and His own new name to him who overcomes.

The Church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14 - 22)

1. Name of the recipient Church

Being a center of finance, Laodicea was very rich. It was one of the largest cities in Asia Minor. Moreover, it was a city of entertainment, where all the citizens sought continual pleasure. Since the Church had compromise with the world, it became neither cold nor hot (Rev 3:1).

2. Christ's spiritual evaluation of the Church

In terms of Church history, the Laodicean Church signifies the age from the 1900s to the time of the Great Tribulation. This slso describes, prophetically, the state of our Church today. "Laodicea" means, "the right of laity," namely the Church of people's rights. This is a time when the laity have become more "enlightened" than the ministers and when their power is such that they can even hire and fire a pastor at will.

Jesus appeared to the Church in Laodicea as One who was "Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." Accepting the Word of God with "amen" expresses our sincere loyalty to the Lord. The Laodicean Church, howeve, had lost its loyalty to Christ, its true witness and the original purpose of creation. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy and lifeless faith and urged it to repent.

From the beginning of the Laodicean aged in 1905, theology began to criticize the Bible historically, scientifically and philosophically by introducing rationalism and higher criticism. This started in Germany. The Scripture cannot be subjected to higher criticism through science and reasoning, however, for it was written by divine revelation. Nevertheless, the liberal new theology asserted that the Bible is not scientifically or historically correct; its accounts are mostly myth. Therefore all the miracles in it must be removed.

3. Christ's Commendation

Among the six Churches we have seen so far, no Church failed to receive a commendation. However, the Laodicean Church did not receive any commendation, only rebuke. It represents the Church age in which we now live.

4. Christ's Rebuke

Jesus rebuked the Church in Laodicea, saying, " I know your works, that you are neither cold nor ho. I could wish you wer cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:15, 16).

Jesus condemned the lukewarm faith of the Leodicean Church. But, many today's Churches are just the same - neither cold nor hot. The people offer lips service and make social noises when they meet in Church service or cell group meeting. They read the Bible but very often don't do what the Scriptures said.

Jesus hates the Laodicean Church's lukewarm faith. If faith is cold, Jesus can move a person toward repentance. On the other hand, people who vehemently oppose Jesus can easily be converted when their egos are crushed and they become hot with conviction. However, those people who go to Church and give agreeable answers but whose hearts are not in it are the last kind to be converted.

Why was the Church in Laodicea lukewarm in its faith? They had a wrong understanding of themselves. They said, "I am rich have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). But Jesus rebuked their spiritual powerty, "... you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked."

Today many Churches, the world over, also allow their worship services to degenerate into social gatherings. On Sundays they have a short worship service, and then they enjoy eating and drinking under the false name of Christian fellowship.

Paul said, "... the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but reighteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14;17).

5. Christ's Exhortation

Jesus first exhorted the Laodicean Church to seek true richness - spiritual richness that can be obtained only from Jesus through faith (read Rev. 3:18). Then Jesus said the Church should seek from Him white raiment. This is the robe Jesus clothers us with, signifying our righteousness through His precious shed blood.

Finally, Jesus exhorted the Laodicean Church to buy eye salve and anoint its eyes that it might see. This is the eye salve of the Holy Spirit, who opens spiritual eyes. In other words, the Church should look at its material and educational wealth through eyes of right spiritual-understanding. Then it would realize that the wealth of the world in which it put so much trust is only transient.

6. Christ's Promise

Jesus promised the Laodicean Church, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:21).

There is no place to go except the throne of God. This is a wonderful saying, for when we go to the throne of God, the world ends.

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