We often speak about the imminent return of Christ, as if it could have happened at any point in these last two millennia, without really considering if that were really possible. Could Christ have returned at any point in the past 2,000 years? Or is there a specific time when God the Father will send His Son, Jesus Christ, to return and receive His Bride the Church?
Why wasn’t Christ’s First Coming in 165 BC, during the Maccabean Revolt? Rome had yet to rise as a great world power and Christ could have easily claimed His throne right then and there with little trouble…so why the wait? Maybe the Jews were just as divided on when they thought the Messiah would come then, as we are divided today? Maybe this is why the Jews weren’t expecting Yeshua Hamashiach when He did arrive around 4 BC. All we know is that by the time Christ did come…no one but a handful of people was still eagerly anticipating Him. (The first and most surprising of which, were Gentiles from the East!)
I’m continually drawn back to the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches found in Revelation 2-3. If these letters do speak to the unfolding ages of the Church, then surely, one of them would be identified as the time when Christ would return a second time to claim His Bride the Church. And if that is the case, the issue isn’t so much with the Imminent return of Christ throughout the last 2,000 years, but the Imminent return during one specific time period during the last 2,000 years.
Understanding that not only were these literal churches in John’s day but because of the order they are placed in and how this has played out over the centuries, we can be fairly certain that these seven (out of the thousands of churches then in John’s day) were chosen for a more specific reason than just the problems they were having back then in the 1st century. So lets look specifically at Christ’s promise of return and how they applied to each of these churches.
Ephesus: There is no promise to return and remove these Believers from the earth, only to remove their candlestick, which is to remove them from being a church for leaving their first love.
Smyrna: The letter to the beloved Smyrnan church offers no promise of escape; only to endure, and suffer through with patience, and their reward would be the Crown of Life.
Pergamos: The promise to return here is not a good promise, but a threat, that if they don’t repent, the Lord Himself would come and fight against them. What had been the deeds of the Nicolaitan’s in Ephesus became to Pergamos, their doctrine.
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Thyatira: To the Church of Thyatira, Jesus spent most of this letter criticizing them for many things. The promise to return is limited to only those within this church, who do not hold to the Jezebel doctrine nor have sought out the depths of Satan.
Sardis: The promise to return to the church at Sardis was a warning. They no longer watched for His return. That has as much to do with its historical background as it does with the theological reality of today. Most orthodox churches today do not teach pre-millennial eschatology. IF they do teach it, it becomes corrupted by centuries of false teaching that either all the prophecies have already been fulfilled, or that we have to take ‘dominion’ of the world before Christ ‘can’ return.
Philadelphia: Out of all the letters, only this one has a promise to remove the Church altogether from this world. The rest of the letters, when taken in context, offer no such promise.
Laodicea: No promise is made by Christ to come, only a severe rebuke and chastening to repent. Christ stands outside this church knocking on the door.
[The dividing line above delineates that the last four churches would in fact overlap each other.]
The Eventuality of Apostasy
If history is any guide, every denomination ultimately ends up in the theological gutter. The key issue always involves a turning away from the literal understanding of the Word of God, and a turning towards embracing the world. Church services went from heartfelt worship to loud, gaudy, theatrical worship productions followed by a sugary message to comfort the masses. The preachers went from preaching the Word to preaching about Social Justice. A growing number of churches have become Seeker Sensitive services trying their very best to please everyone, and not trying to offend anyone.
Mainline churches are bending in all areas of contention with respect to where the biblical standards and modern society clash. The culture war has been heating up on every level of society, and churches all across the fruited plain are falling left and right in order to avoid receiving the heavy-handed media criticism and political abuse that comes to those who take a stand for biblical standards.
Would this have been applicable even 50 years ago? American’s then, was a lot more respectful to God’s Word than they are today. While there was still sin back then, (as in every Age) there wasn’t this wholesale embracing of the cultural toilet bowl of decadence that we see today.
It’s really only been the last 40 years, that we’ve seen a relentless, systematic assault on all things Christian beginning with the late, angry-atheist Madelyn Murray O’ Hare's attack of God in the public schools. Then it was on to the “Sexual Revolution” followed quickly by the war on the unborn. The race is now on in redefining terminology with political correctness in such words as fundamentalist, hate, bigot, and choice.
There Can Only Be One
It is the Philadelphian Church alone who has to endure this rapidly unraveling nature of civilization. While I believe in the Imminency of Christ’s return, logically I can only deduce that it would have to be during this window of time that makes up the Philadelphian Age of the Church. Some believe this began at the First Great Awakening, while others believe it started during the Second. This is when the missionaries were sent out around the world to spread the Gospel. Yet, prophetically, in Christ’s own words, the least receptive of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has always been the Jews. But more and more Jews are coming to recognize that Christ was the Messiah and this was not even possible until 1948 (well into the Philadelphian Age) when Israel became a nation again.
…For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matt 10:23
At no time in western history have more governments worked harder to discredit the Biblical account of creation than today, thanks now to the widely accepted “Theory of Evolution.” At no time in history have governments worked harder to remove any mention of the Biblical God from the public arena of ideas as it has today. At no time in history have more societies worked harder to take the fundamentalism out of Christianity through legislation that it deems as hate speech. At no time in history has more the mass media worked harder than it has now, to silence and belittle the Christian.
At no time in mankind’s history has the pressure ever been greater, in more places, for Christians to compromise their beliefs to appease non-Christian religions. At no time in history, has Christendom been as divided as it is today.
Yet, even this division is not the end for Satan. Satan uses this division to help expedite the corruption of the church. At no time in history has the pressure ever been greater for all of Christianity to embrace ‘ecumenicalism’ under the banner of ‘peace’ and ‘Social Justice.’
Satan is the author of confusion, and he’s been busy doing that for the last 2,000 years. Dividing and then reuniting these organizations under various social justice banners, has the effect of causing the Churches to compromise on their core beliefs. Those who don't compromise, are increasingly pushed out of the mainstream and into the fringe until their opinions and voice are all but ignored.
These are part and parcel of the devil’s tactics, in which he would first cause the Bride of Christ to divide over doctrine and principles. Then, by using cultural flashpoints such as gay marriage and abortion, Satan causes these issues to reunite Christianity to maintain their relevance. Christian organizations often then partner with non-Christian religions, which causes them to water down their core, doctrinal positions (so as not to offend anyone).
For example, homosexual marriage is just a symptom of the underlying cultural rot that is just now starting to bubble up to the surface. This issue is forcing churches to choose a side. On one side of the fence, you stay true to the Biblical principles, but you lose your relevance and voice to the society at large. On the other side of the fence, you abandon your Biblical principles but are given prominence by the media and are viewed as progressive trailblazers worthy of a major platform. There are literally hundreds of issues, but as we've seen churches increasingly embrace the "wokeness" that is tearing this nation (and the world) apart at the seams.
Why would Satan unite the Churches? In order for Christians to come together, they would have to set aside their differences…(ie…the things that make them different). So when you set your principles aside to unite over some cultural battle …over time and repeatedly enough, you blur the lines and water down your message to the point of lukewarm irrelevance so as not to offend those you're working together with. No longer is your focus on evangelism, but on whatever the new decadent injustice of the month is.
If you notice the order of the Churches in Revelation 2-3, you see that after the Gospel began to spread (Ephesus), Satan immediately began to crush it violently through men like Caligula, Nero, Domitian, and Hadrian. That brought in the Smyrnan Age of persecution…and yet they were told to endure. Satan’s lavish use of violence only caused the church to spread more rapidly. He then changed his tactics, and instead of using brute force, he began to corrupt the church through pagan ritualism and false doctrine being merged in with Christianity. Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis all had issues with their doctrine. Philadelphia alone remained faithful in their love of Christ and His Prophetic Word.
For Satan, if you can’t win by divide and conquer, you must unite and corrupt. That is what this Philadelphian Church is commended for…for not taking their eyes off of Christ. It is to them, and them alone that the Promise is made, that they be kept from mankind’s darkest hour. What is left, is the Laodicean dross that will be consumed in the firey test that will come upon the whole world at the hour that is appointed to them.
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 3:10