In recent articles, we’ve focused on the prophetic nature of the seven letters of Revelation 2-3. Now let’s shift to another level of application. I’ve offered the opinion that all the letters are applicable to all congregations throughout the church age and to each member of those congregations. The challenges and promises that end the letters are to individuals, so the criticism found in the letters is meant to be taken personally, not just corporately.
On the congregational level, it’s necessary to view the churches symbolically and focus on the 4 “children” Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. I’ve made general comparisons of these churches with the Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and Liberal, or “new age” church, but we can’t stop there. If each letter is meant for all congregations, and if the challenge and promise are always intended for individuals, then these modern groups must contain members of all four symbolic churches.
What Religion Are You?
It’s too easy for us to label people, automatically condemning them because of their affiliation. But in the letter to Thyatira, the Lord described Himself as “He who searches hearts and minds” criticizing the practices of some, while encouraging others to “hold on to what you have until I come.” This means He found the hearts of some in Thyatira to be given over to pagan ritual, while others remained faithful and true. He and only He can look into the hearts of individuals and determine if they’re His or not (1 Cor 4:5, Hebr 4:12).
He made the same distinction in the letter to Sardis, saying that among those He was warning to wake up and obey what they had received and heard, there were a few people who had not “soiled their clothes” but were worthy to walk with Him, dressed in white. In both letters He distinguished non-believers from believers, warning some of tribulation and promising others escape. Today there are many we would label Catholic or Protestant that God calls His.
The church in Laodicea didn’t think they needed a Savior and that’s why the Lord called them luke-warm and spit them out. Even so, some liberals today hear His knock on the door to their hearts and invite Him in. The rest remain after the rapture because they worship a God they don’t believe in, lending His name to imposters. A few will repent and be saved during the Tribulation.
The Deciding Factor
But Philadelphia received no criticism and no threat of punishment, only encouragement to “hold on to what you have.” There’s just one thing that differentiates believers from non-believers, and that one thing is central to the teaching of the evangelical church. It’s the passage from John 3:3-18. It means that we’re all sinners, hopelessly estranged from God, powerless to redeem our selves, and condemned to eternal death. But by believing that His death on the cross paid the full penalty for all our sins, we are born again and inherit eternal life.
We’re Not Perfect, Just Forgiven
You’ll see just about every departure from Christian Doctrine ever practiced in today’s evangelical church. The extreme legalism of some Fundamentalists, the Pharisaical demand for signs and prideful exhibitionism found among Charismatics and Pentecostals, and the stubborn refusal by most to believe the Lord’s prophecies about our time are just a few examples. You’ll also discover every kind of sin; broken marriages, illicit sex, greed, substance abuse, racial and religious intolerance, you name it. But all that is irrelevant when placed alongside the one and only condition imposed by the Lord for salvation. “For my father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:40).”
Let’s Get Personal
As you sat in your pew this morning, regardless of the sign on the church door, you were joined by folks from Thyatira. They’re the ones who add to the Gospel: Jesus plus someone or something else, grace plus works, scripture plus tradition. There were also some from Sardis. They subtract from the Gospel. “You don’t need to be born again, just join the church, give some time and money, you’ll be fine.” And then there’s the group from Laodicea. “Jesus was a great man and teacher, and lived a life of such gentleness and grace that it’s ALMOST as if he was God. Just love everybody like he did. The good life you live is an obvious sign of your favor with God, and everyone knows there’s no real heaven, I mean come on.”
But if you know you’re a sinner and have given your heart to Jesus because He gave His life for you, then you’re from Philadelphia. There may be some others there with you, but you’ll never really know for sure how many till you all vanish together someday soon. And don’t be surprised when you’re joined by some who were Catholic, some who were Protestant, some conservatives and some liberals and even some who didn’t appear to belong to any church at all.