Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Letter to the Rapture-Ready Church, Part I

In the message Jesus sent to the church in Philadelphia, we see one of only two purely positive messages of those he sent to the seven churches. Although the deeds of the Philadelphians are known by him, no correction ensues and no threat follows, only a hopeful promise. Taken together, I think the commendations and rebukes in the Letters to the Churches demonstrate that works do make a difference in how Christ reacts to those who are known by his name. We can infer, thereby, that grace is not something that ignores evidence that reveals that a heart has faith in name only (see James 2:14-26).

For those whose faith is true, Jesus promises to use his key authority to their benefit. He gives a two-fold metric to understand his judgment in the matter: 1) the faithful guard (in the sense that they observe or keep) his word, and 2) the faithful do not deny (disavow or repudiate) his name. In the case of the Philadelphians, both are done in spite of the lack of great ability (dunamis). For the non-charismatic that would probably be taken another way, but for those of us who are charismatic, we could see this as referring to a relative lack of miraculous, spiritual power. Perhaps that is encouraging news to those living in an age where our affirmation for fabulous signs and wonders far outstrips their actual occurrence.

The open door cannot refer to opportunities for gospel work (as so many commentators aver), for that would be a far too pedestrian use of Jesus' keys--particularly since the benefactors experience a lack of power and opposition in this world. The open door, therefore, must refer to something in regard to which Christ has unique authority (since none can close what he opens by it). Since these letters have been filled with so many warnings about the things of Christ being closed off to some, context would demand (it seems to me), to see this in regard to all that Christ has been promising by his authority in the midst of these letters. What others written to are shut out from, the Philadelphians are allowed in to.

It is implied in Christ's message to their church, that the faithful Philadelphians were taking some kind of flak from the so-called Synogogue of Satan. That, along with the reference to the Key of David, puts a markedly Jewish spin on this message. That does not make much sense to me historically or in terms of historic epochs, but it must be significant nonetheless. It is ironic that those of that persuasion (call them Judaizers, if you wish) were the ones in fact, who will find themselves ostracized by the one who has the Davidic key.

Admittedly, this is an apparent stretch, but this could be referring to a revival of Jewish resistance to the spread of Christianity occurring near the time of the Rapture. We are seeing something akin to that in our own day in the continuing efforts being made in Israel to quell proselytizing among the Jewish population, particularly by Messianic Jews. If so, it will prove to be merely a last ditch effort that will be overwhelmed by the turn of events at the Rapture and God's subsequent redemptive turn toward Israel. I think that could reasonably be described in the terms of the message: "I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you."

Despite that, and whatever other trials they had to get through, the Philadelphians kept Jesus' word of perseverance. The thought conveyed is waiting patiently under command, like the person asked to stay behind for a straggler when the youth group heads out to an event. That Jesus' command to endure (as recorded elsewhere) has eschatological implications cannot be denied--the reference in this letter in conjunction with the promise of escape (rapture) can only underscore the end-times emphasis. The letter to the church in Philadelphia is in particular a message to the end-times Church, though its message would have been inspirational to any church at any time being stretched by the need to endure under pressure.


USVI said...

What do you think about the Mormon Church?

SLW said...

Namely that it's not a true church, that it's members hope for eternity is not the Christian hope.