Let’s recall the depth of the seven letters in Rev 2-3. I’ve mentioned that our visit to these ancient sites was orchestrated to emphasize their prophetic nature, but in the 1st century, these seven cities contained living viable congregations experiencing the very circumstances the Lord referenced in His letters. The fact that each letter was also meant for all seven congregations and each of their members; and that all are also applicable to every congregation and believer throughout the church age gives you an indication of their importance. You will want to review Part 1 and Part 2 before reading this one.
The Letter to Philadelphia
The letter to Philadelphia, (Rev 3:7-13) is indicative of the evangelical church that with Pentecostal, Fundamentalist and Charismatic variations began appearing in the middle 19th century. It was a time called “the Great Awakening” by church historians and included a renewal of Messianic hope. For centuries scholars had taught an allegorical interpretation of scripture, especially prophecy, but in the mid-1800s the rank and file was energized by a return to the literal interpretation. The pre-tribulation rapture and 1000 year reign of the Lord on Earth, views that were prevalent during the 1st century but abandoned with the allegorical interpretation were once again popular.
Then came the re-emergence of Spiritual Gifts, supposedly withdrawn with the canonization of Scripture centuries earlier. The body was torn apart by two forces; the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit for those who experienced it, and the cries of heresy by those who didn’t. Slowly at first but then in droves believers left the mainline denominations that with their documentary hypothesis and modern rationalism had denied the inspiration of Scripture, the miraculous power and even the deity of Jesus, and the validity of predictive prophecy. The true church was born again.
The Incomparable Riches of His Grace
There is no criticism of the church in Philadelphia, symbolic of the fact that for those saved by grace through faith, it’s as if no sin was ever committed. Also, the clearest promise in all of Scripture that true believers would not experience the Great Tribulation, but would dwell in the House of the Lord forever is given in Rev 3:10- 12.
It was a clear and beautiful day when we arrived in Philadelphia, modern Alashehir, just after lunch. Perfect timing, I thought, since historical sites in Turkey often close at 3:00 PM. We spotted the signs pointing the way and arrived without difficulty about 1:30. It was a quiet neighborhood, and the site itself was like a park, neat and clean. The sign on the gate told us we were there during visiting hours and, as at the other sites we had visited, there was a little office for collecting fees and distributing literature. But unlike every other place, though we stayed for almost an hour, we saw neither visitor nor employee. It was as if everyone had vanished, just like the Lord promised (Isa 26:20-21).
The Letter to Laodicea
The 7th letter (Rev 3:14-22) was written to Laodicea—today called Pamukkale. Laodicea represents the post rapture church at the end of the age. Wait a minute you say, doesn’t the church disappear in the rapture? The true church yes, but there is a group calling itself the church at the end of the age and described as the great harlot in Rev 17:3-6.
As we saw in the letters to Thyatira and Sardis, not all who claim to be saved really are (Matt 7:21). In those two letters, believers are distinguished from unbelievers and receive different admonitions. But from the Church in Philadelphia, all are promised rescue while in Laodicea all are warned of rebuke and discipline. Individuals who hear the Lord’s call and respond will gain fellowship with Him and receive eternal rewards, but none will escape the coming Tribulation.
And the First Shall be Last
The church in Laodicea has everything backward. They think they’re rich but are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. That’s certainly true of the big liberal denominations of today and will become more so as the true believers are separated out and taken in the rapture, further proof that salvation is individual, not corporate. It doesn’t matter what the sign on the church door says. What matters is the spiritual condition of the hearts of those inside.
Pamukkale boasts beautiful thermal springs surrounded by impressive Greek and Roman ruins. It’s a famous resort, clean and prosperous, with a great selection of luxury spas and hotels and visitors from all over Europe and the Middle East. Across a small valley, at the other end of the aqueduct that brought water from the hot springs and totally ignored today is what’s left of Laodicea. With a little effort, the ruins of Laodicea will be a major attraction, but today they lie untouched in a large pasture.
As we stood beside the Greek amphitheater there and looked across the valley at Pamukkale, the contrast was striking. Like most resorts, Pamukkale is a celebration of hedonistic wealth and pleasure, its inhabitants outwardly lacking for nothing, while the Church at Laodicea is an abandoned and forgotten pile of rocks.