The Book of Revelation is the exclamation point of Christian Scripture. In this episode we take an in-depth look at Revelation’s warning to a specific ancient church. We walk through history and we see how Moravian Revival and The Great Awakening mirror some of the lessons of the ancient church. We also examine the anatomy of a movement and how the warnings and admonitions of Revelation can help serve as guideposts in our ministries today.
Last week, we started going through the seven churches. I proposed to go through them twice: once showing the historical model of the eras that these churches might represent, and then go back again and look at the spiritual applications. And last week, I made it through the first five.
The Historical Model
Just to review, the model I proposed was that the church at Ephesus, which is usually called the loveless church in the headings, it would be better to call it the truth church because they really did do a great job with the truth part. They just started fading on the love part, which was unacceptable to Christ. The Ephesians church represents the time period between Pentecost and the last apostle leaving the earth around 100 AD, so 33-100 is my proposed model.
And then the church at Smyrna. You go into this time of really intense persecution, and Jesus says, “just hang on, I’m asking you to hang in there.” I proposed that this period is from the time of John’s death in 100 AD to 330 when Constantine has legalized Christianity and actually moves the capital, and leaves the western empire largely to the influence of the church.
And then you go into Pergamos, which was the seat of power. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. What happens in this next era, from 330 to 800, when there is the imposition of official Christendom when Charlemagne becomes the Holy Roman Emperor, and there’s an official merging of church power and state power. During this time of Pergamos is when synchronization happens, where the church goes from having been really purified and brings down the Roman Empire, and now it gets infiltrated by the influences of the world and tries to have both, like Balaam did.
And then you have the corrupt church, Thyatira. Of course once you get this power, and then it becomes official in the Charlemagne era, the Holy Roman Empire, so we’re going to reconstitute the Roman Empire, but this time it’s going to be Christianized, and now we have things like the emperor of Spain sending Columbus over to discover the New World and enslaving the local population and saying they’ll make good Christians and good slaves, and their general idea is if you enslave someone you’ve done them a favor because now they’re a slave of the king, and the king is a representative of God; therefore, they’re a servant of God. That was their reasoning. And so this very corrupt church.
This period ends, then you get, the church of Sardis, the dead church, the reformed church. 1517 is usually considered the official start-date of the Reformation. This church has a reputation for being alive, but it’s actually dead. We looked at instances in the reformed church, how it was actually very legalistic. Not a lot changed. The governing structures changed and truth was reintroduced, but there was still this command-and-control orientation.
So you see the emphasis on the desire for truth to be joined with love all the way through this. It starts with Ephesus. You had it, and now you’re losing it. In the persecuted era, God just asked them to hang on. You don’t really have the capacity to love when you’re being persecuted. You just have the capacity to hang on. Then you have the syncretized era. But in most of these churches there is a faithful remnant.
The Philadelphia Church
Now we get to an amazing church, the Philadelphia church. So this is chapter 3 verse 7. And I’m going to propose that this era runs from 1727—and I’ll explain why I picked that date—to 1919. 1727 is the beginning of the Moravian revival. And 1919 is the end of World War 1. So that’s the dates that I propose.
Philadelphia means brotherly love. And I think what we’ll see in this church and why God likes it so much is because it has truth. It’s spreading truth. But it has amazing love. And we’ll see that as we go through.
Revelation 3:7-13 And to the angel—the messenger—of the church in Philadelphia write, “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, ‘He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.’ I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 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. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In the churches previous, other than Smyrna where he says just hold on, we saw this pattern of—you have this good thing, but you have something that you need to correct. Well Philadelphia doesn’t have anything in need of correction. He’s just praising the church of Philadelphia.
Translating The Bible
Well, what happened during this era? The reason I picked 1727 and this Moravian revival is because it really sparked a world-wide mission movement, unlike anything that’s ever happened before.
The Moravians were a persecuted group that came from Czechoslovakia, Bohemia. There was a guy named John Huss there who was influenced by John Wycliffee. Wycliffe translated the Bible into English. It was middle English. He translated it from Latin. So it wasn’t an original language translation, but it was something people could actually read.
That was in the era of the corrupt church, and when the power was vested in these leaders in the church, they began to abuse the power. When you are trying to keep power, you don’t want information to be available. You want to control the information. That’s one of the ways you keep the power. So, what they did is they controlled the Bible. They didn’t want people to read the Bible.
Wycliffe comes along. He translates the Bible into English. That’s very controversial. That was resisted. It was repealed. It was followed by Tyndale who then wanted to translate the Bible from the original languages.
One of the most interesting things that’s happened in history was the Turks came in in the middle ages, in the 1400s, and started driving the Christians out of the eastern empire. They took it over in 1453. When they started driving Christians out of the eastern empire, these Greeks, the eastern church, which was pretty separate from the western church, started fleeing back to the western church; and with them, they brought their Greek manuscripts and their Greek scholarship.
The interesting thing that happens is, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment was really founded by the Turks in large measure when they drove the Greek scholars to the west and there was this huge revival of Greek scholarship.
Well anyway, Tyndale started a translation in the 1400s from the original languages, and he was murdered for it.
This same spark started in Czechoslovakia with John Huss. And his followers became a sect that hung on; and a couple of centuries later, they were still hanging in there, but still persecuted.
So, in 1722, a guy showed up on the doorstep of a count in Germany named Count Zinzendorf. This Holy Roman Empire was, again, an attempt to reconstitute the Roman Empire, but this time it was Christianized, invest the authority of God in these kings.
In the Roman Empire, we had the dictators that said, “I am God myself. Worship me. And I’m a god along with these pagan gods, and that’s how I’m legitimized.” So that falls. And then you have all this fractionation that takes place.
Then Charlemagne ascends the throne, and he says, “OK, now I am ruling on behalf of God.” So it’s kind of a recasting of emperor worship. This time, however, there is a shared authority. It’s not all vested in one man. There is authority shared with the church. There is authority shared with other nobles.
Count Zinzendorf was one of those nobles. He was in the court of the Holy Roman Empire. The seat of the Holy Roman Empire was in Germany, the Franks. He was raised to that end.
However, he was raised by a godly grandmother and aunt who really instilled in him a biblical orientation. And he, from his earliest youth, was really devoted to Christ.
And when he was finishing his studies, he was traveling through Europe, and he saw this painting in this particular spot of Jesus, and on it it says, “I’ve done this for you. What have you done for me?” And he was really smitten of heart to say what have I done for Christ? What have I really done? And he devoted his life then to say, “I’m going to do everything I can for Christ.”
One of the things he decided to do was to help the poor. So, on his doorstep comes this Moravian from Czechoslovakia, and he says, “I’m persecuted. Can I settle on your land?” Because in this era, the era of serfdom, there were only a handful of landowners, so they would allow you to fence a part of the property, but the nobleman would retain title to the land. He said yes you can have a settlement on my land. He did this as a way of helping this poor person.
So he told his friends, and there were a little group of houses, and Zinzendorf didn’t pay much attention to them at first, and then he began to visit them. On his first visit, he got to know them and sensed, “hey these people have the same kind of spiritual orientation I have.” So he began to disciple these guys. Again, Zinzendorf was very well educated, both in a secular sense as well as in a biblical sense, so he began to disciple these people.
And they started spreading the word back in Czechoslovakia, “hey there’s a place where we can have freedom!” So pretty soon there were about 300 Moravians that had come to this little settlement that Zinzendorf is sponsoring.
However, they brought with them schisms. It didn’t take but 300 people to create schisms in the church, right? It doesn’t take but about 20. Maybe ten! Maybe two!
So they started having fractionation in their church, and Zinzendorf started going from door to door counseling these people on how to love others.
The Moravian Revival
In 1727, there was a revival that broke out among this small group of people. And they started loving one another. And as part of that outgrowth, they started a 24-hour prayer initiative. Three hundred people, so someone’s praying 24 hours a day. That prayer revival lasted for a hundred years.
Let me just read you something about the Moravians from this Christian History Magazine. This is where I get most of my history. It’s lots of scholars that have put stuff into one article that I can understand.
This was the very first issue of Christian History. In their very first issue they covered the Moravians because of the immense impact that these guys had.
“The golden decade of 1732”—so this revival started in 1727, so 1732-1742. “—stands unparalleled in Christian history, in so far as missionary expansion is concerned. More than 70 Moravian missionaries from a community of not more than 600 inhabitants had answered the call by 1742.” So they’ve got 600 people, and they send out 70 missionaries!
Now, where did they send these missionaries to? Zinzendorf went to Copenhagen as part of his duties on the court, and he met a black man. This black man had been in the East Indies as a slave, and he had come to Christ. And he begged Zinzendorf to send someone back to these Caribbean Islands to spread the gospel there. Zinzendorf felt like this was the call.
So he came back, and he presented this to the congregation, and a couple of guys said, “I’ll go.”
Bear in mind here that the slaves were considered subhuman. The idea that you would go and take the gospel to people like this was unthinkable. When this started getting discussed, they were laughed at and ridiculed.
They prepared for about a year, and then two of them went.
And in order to actually communicate with the slaves, in some instances, some of the people actually lived alongside them. And if you read the accounts of what it was actually like to be a slave in the East Indies, it was worse than being a donkey on a farm. They were just absolutely treated horribly. In fact, there was an enormous contrast between the ways the slaves were treated in America and how they were treated in the East Indies.
In America they were treated as valuable assets; and by the time of this 1700s, slave importation had been outlawed, and almost all the slaves were native born in the US.
But in the Caribbean, there was not enough nutrition for hardly any babies to be born, so it continued to rely on importation. So they would just churn these people and kill them, basically. It was really horrific.
So the Moravians went there and many of them died. It was extremely difficult, but they persevered. And they went to other places in the area. Some of the most difficult places.
On the ship of one of their journeys, a fellow named John Wesley bumped into these Moravians. He called them “the Germans.” And there was a particular incident that John Wesley wrote in his diaries. And he said, “We had this terrible storm, and people were screaming, and all the English people were beside themselves because we thought we were going to die. The mast broke. Water was swamping the boat. And these Germans were over there singing hymns.”
And so afterwards, when the storm had passed, we went to the Germans and said, “Weren’t you afraid?” And they said, “No, thankfully, we’re not afraid. We’re not afraid to die.” “Well, were your women and children afraid?” “No, they’re not afraid to die.”
These people had so embraced the notion that our lives count when we lay them down that they just literally were not afraid to die if they were in the Lord’s service.
This was the event, this interaction with the Germans, that led to John Wesley’s conversion. So the Moravians sparked Protestant missions.
One of the things that Zinzendorf was persecuted with was the idea that you’re intruding on God’s sovereignty by going out and converting the heathen. If God wants to convert the heathen, he’ll do it himself. That was the Calvinist position at the time. And, it sparked the whole Wesleyan revival, which had an immense impact in America.
The Great Awakening
In America, you had something called the Great Awakening, and it was roughly 1730s-1740s. So roughly in this same era and, in part, sparked by the Moravians.
Let me read this little diary entry about a farmer from Connecticut in 1740. He says, “I was in my field at work. I dropped my tool that I had in my hand and ran home to my wife.” This was after he heard that George Whitfield was going to preach. George Whitfield was the main guy that was the preacher of this Great Awakening.
“I told her to make ready quickly to go hear Mr. Whitfield preach at Middletown. Then run to my pasture for my horse with all my might fearing I should be too late. As I came nearer the road, I heard a noise, something like low rumbling thunder and presently found it was the thunder of horses’ feet coming down the road. Every horse seemed to go with all his might to carry his rider to hear news from heaven for the saving of souls. It made me tremble. I turned and looked towards the great river (Connecticut river) and saw the ferry boats running swift, backwards and forwards, bringing over loads of people. The land and banks over the river looked black with people and horses. All along the twelve miles, I saw no man at work in his field, but all seemed to be gone.
When I saw Mr. Whitfield come upon the scaffold, he looked almost angelical. A young, slim, slender youth before some thousands of people with a bold, undaunted countenance. In my hearing how God was with him everywhere as he came along. It solemnized my mind and put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach, for he looked as if he were clothed with authority from the great God. And a sweet solemnity sat upon his brow. And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. By God’s blessing, my old foundation was broken up and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.”
That’s what happened in this Great Awakening. Out of this Great Awakening came the United States. There was the preaching from the pulpit of the black-robed regiment is really what underlay the American Revolution, which was really not a revolution, it was a defensive action to prevent an invasion.
After hearing Mr. Whitfield preach in 1750, John Thorpe and three friends went to a tavern and began mimicking Whitfield. At Thorpe’s turn, he grabbed the Bible and jumped on the table and shouted, “I will beat you all.” But then he fell on “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish.” And Thorpe was suddenly struck by his sinfulness. He stopped the charade and began preaching in earnest, and two years later became one of John Wesley’s itinerant preachers.
Part of what happened in the Great Awakening was people were commissioned to go out and preach the gospel just as they were. And there was this mass expansion of lay ministers, Methodists and Baptists predominantly, and they swept the American territories.
And this all started with a little group of people, 300 people that came together and one rich, young ruler who said yes. Count Zinzendorf.
The missionary movement
And then, of course, there was the China mission, the most famous of which was Hudson Taylor. It started in the mid 1800s. They actually took an approach of nondenominational, and they took an approach of engaging the Chinese so that they could do it for themselves. But then, of course, with the advent of communism, we didn’t hear about that church for some time.
And it wasn’t that long ago before all of us learned for the first time there was a massive house church in China, unquestionably, the largest church in all of human history. Now in China, a hundred million people by many estimates. And it started because a handful of people went to China. They didn’t have many resources. They were underfunded.
These Moravian missionaries, one of their tenants had no support from home. You have to earn your own keep while you’re on the mission field. Be a carpenter. Be a tentmaker of some sort.
And they did. They took their little strength and were faithful with it, and it changed the world. And that’s what Jesus says in this area. You have a little strength, and you’ve persevered.
There was also William Carey. William Carey, in the 1800s, took missions to India, and he spread the gospel. And there’s a vibrant church in India today.
This missions movement was quite incredible. Had a little strength, but they persevered.
When I was a child, one of the things we would say to one another is, “God, I’ll do anything you want me to do, but please don’t make me a missionary to Africa.” If you’re old enough, you remember that. The reason why we would say that is because the generation before us, when you accepted the call to Africa, which many, many people did, you had a 1 percent survival rate. 99 percent of the initial missionaries going to Africa were either killed or died of disease. And they went in waves. They went in droves anyway. They had a little strength, and they did what they could with it.
Unbelievable world wide impact during this Philadelphia period. Absolutely incredible.