Note: I traveled this past weekend to Yacuiba, which is a large, commercial city, near the Argentine border. That is why I was unable to give the “daily devotional”. God is good and a good time was had with the believers in Yacuiba, as I gave three intensive messages on “Islam and It’s Eschatology”.
Today’s Reading: Revelation 2-3.
Revelation 2 and 3 give a very strange and mysterious introduction to the book, perhaps even more perplexing than the book’s later riddles. This passage is hard to place, as it speaks of 7 churches, all from the Southeastern part of modern Turkey. Was this simply a reference to the literal churches of that literal time? Yes, but not entirely. The Bible doesn’t include “throw-away” passages, not even useless verses (shockingly distinct from the “bibles” of all other major religions). The answer to this riddle lies in a double, or even triple, interpretation, as is used so commonly with Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.
What is the second interpretation, then?
Many prominent scholars attempt to interpret the “seven churches” as the seven ages of the church, and there is some weight to such an argument. Most commentaries will include a long, drawn-out explanation for such an understanding. The churches seem to line-up well with specific periods in Church History, including comparing the early Church’s persecution (33-313 AD) to the Church in Ephesus & Smyrna, the age of Heresies (350-600+) being compared to the Church in Pergamum, and the Rise of Protestantism (1517-today) being comparable to the Church in Thyatira.
The question then becomes, what of the last 3 churches? Let me leave the normal interpretation a bit, in an attempt to decipher the last three churches:
The Church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6): I believe this church may best resemble today’s church, our main worldwide stereotype being typified in American church, in that it is still the main missionary sender of the modern world.
I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. (v. 1b, ESV)
Not exactly what one likes to hear from the pulpit, but more and more such messages are being given by God-fearing preachers (although they may be fewer and fewer). The Western church prides itself in sending missionaries, helping in relief projects, and with being Republicans that can “fix the world”. In many cases missions has turned into “short term mission trips” that accomplish nearly nothing for those involved. Few are those who would lay their life down for the lost, as we prefer instead to lay the lost down to get the comfort and relaxation in some exotic foreign country. Most arrive and can’t speak the language, blunder about breaking all the cultural norms, and end up wasting more money than any native onlooker could ever imagine! What happened to Hudson Taylor? Jim Eliot?
Our relief projects and our “fix the world” mentality has only led to increased dependence and socialist-style poverty in Africa. Our Gospel, the one preached by “mainstream America” is no longer a salvation by faith that leads to Christ-likeness, but instead to a “social Gospel”, “social reform”, and the increasingly popular “prosperity Gospel”.
What’s the warning Jesus gives us, today’s “Christian” church?
Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.
Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you. (Revelation 3:2-3)
Here is a call to return to God in repentance, to realize the world’s need for a Savior and to do works that teach such. Our good works should not be “social Gospel” works, unless they lead to teach others the Gospel. Our good deeds must be in line with “what you received and heard”, which is none other than salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Christ’s final warning is to be watchful, because He is soon to return to bear us away, as a “thief”. Such language seen in this passage is clearly similar to that of the Rapture.
The Church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13): This church would therefore be the Tribulation Church, running for their lives.
I know that you have little strength, but you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name. (v. 8)
Those who will survive the Tribulation must be those who do not worship the Antichrist or follow his plan for worldwide dominion.
Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. (Rev. 3:10-11)
Many Premillennial scholars key in on the phrase “from the hour of testing”, saying it is a clear indication that the Church will not go through the Tribulation. Perhaps this does refer to that, but the rest of the admonition to the church doesn’t seem to line-up with the current church. Also, there are strong mentions of Jews in this passage, which would accord with the 144,000 that our saved from the Antichrist during the Tribulation. The call is for Christians in the Tribulation to stand fast and to await the “coming” of Jesus. They will then enter the Millennium and reign with Christ, as saved yet still earthly (unlike those who come in the 2nd coming). The word “coming” is also necessarily distinct from the word “rapture”, since Jesus isn’t actually coming to earth in the Rapture.
The Church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22): Although many would take this church to be the one I referred to as the “Church of Sardis”, I think that is a mistake. It doesn’t follow the chronology correctly. The though came into my mind that this church may actually be referring to the earthly Christians during the Millennium, whose children call themselves Christians, yet later rebel in the last stand of “Gog and Magog” (Rev. 20:8). This speaks to those who have all the pleasures of God, yet do not honor Him as God. In the Millennium people will be living “high on the hog”, and many will not know just how terrible the world is without Jesus. They will clamor to have Satan back, and his godless Kingdom, and they will have him and die with him.
What do you think? Am I totally off here?