Is There a Laodicean Age?

by Dr. Rick Flanders

O“Be zealous therefore, and repent.”

(Revelation 20:19)

In response to a little article I wrote entitled, “What the Spirit is saying to the Churches,” a brother argued that I was mistaken about the messages of Christ to the churches of Asia.  These messages are found in the second and third chapters of Revelation.  My assertion was that the idea that these passages are prophetic descriptions of seven eras in the Church Age is wrong.  The point of view that the words of Christ to each church has a meaning beyond the direct admonition we can all understand, and that it is a prediction about a certain phase of church history, which will culminate after the final section (the Laodicean Age) with the Rapture of the Church, is very popular among Bible believers.  However it has led many to conclude that we are now in the Laodicean Age, which is necessarily characterized by spiritual lethargy and apostasy, and that because we live in that time, we can no longer expect God to send revival.  This was the reason I wrote the article.  The mistake many are making about Revelation 2 and 3 is contributing to the despair and unbelief among fundamentalists about revival.

In the article I pointed out that the historical view of the messages to the seven churches seems to have arisen with dispensationalism in the late nineteenth century, and spread with the coming of the twentieth century.  I suggested that the feelings of good people in regard to what seemed to be happening at that time may have contributed to the widespread acceptance of a view with no real scriptural foundation.  I could find little evidence of it in writings before the late 1800s.  The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw great revivals and great awakenings in the Christian family and around the world, but the close of that period saw the growing influence of liberal theology in the evangelical denominations.  It seemed as if an era of spiritual victory and advance was yielding to a time of decline and apostasy.  So I gathered  that this unhappy change may have influenced some Bible students to think that they were leaving the Philadelphian Age of the “open door” (Revelation 3:7-13) and moving into the Laodicean Age of the “lukewarm.”  The brother who disagreed with me found some references to this interpretation in the writings of commentators quite a bit before that time.  I was interested to get this information, and to have a chance to adjust my thinking about the development of the theory.

However, the critical questions this issue raises, which also decide the issue, have clear scriptural answers.  Those questions are, “Is the coming of Christ imminent?” and “Are the revival promises still good?”  If the Bible teaches that the return of Jesus for His own has been imminent (could happen any moment) since Pentecost, then why would the Lord lay out seven eras of the church age which would have to occur before He came again, and how could He do it and be consistent with Himself?  If the promises of revival are permanent because they are based on the very nature of God, how could they expire at the beginning of a Laodicean Age?  Answering these two questions from the Bible will clear up the most important matters in the discussion.

1.     Is the coming of Christ imminent?

The coming of Christ for His people is without doubt imminent.  Review what Jesus said about it.  Notice that His main point was the any-moment, unexpected nature of that coming.

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”  (Matthew 24:42)

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”  (Matthew 24:44)

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 25:13)

“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding…Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching…Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”  (Luke 12:35-40)

In accordance with the teaching of the Lord, writers of the New Testament scriptures expected Him to come in their lifetimes.

“…the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air…”

(First Thessalonians 4:15-17)

“For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.”

(Hebrews 10:37)

“Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.  Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.”

(James 5:8-9)

“…we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

(First John 3:2-3)

Even the book of Revelation, which records the messages to the churches, teaches that the coming of Christ is imminent.  It will “shortly come to pass,” according to Revelation 1:1.  “The time is at hand,” declares Revelation 1:3.  The Greek word for “shortly” is tachos, and means speedily or fast.  It appears also in Revelation 22:6, where we read, “the things which must shortly [tachos] be done.”  The next verse, Revelation 22:7 has the words, “Behold, I come quickly,” with “quickly” being a translation of the word tachu which is a form of tachos, and means “suddenly.”  It is also found in the other places where the book of Revelation says Christ is coming quickly.   The term “at hand” comes from the Greek eggus in Revelation 1:4 and 22:10, and carries the idea of “near” or “nearby.”  These terms speak of imminence.  He is coming suddenly, shortly, speedily, quickly.  His coming is at hand, nearby.  Again we are warned, even in the chapter before the seven messages to the churches that He will return unexpectedly, at any moment.

The New Testament teaches that an important part of the Christian life is expecting Christ to come any day.  We are to be waiting and watching for Him.

“…ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”  (First Corinthians 1:7)

“…ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven…”  (First Thessalonians 1:9-10)

“And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.”  (Second Thessalonians 3:5)

We are to be waiting for Christ, not for the fulfillment of seven long eras of church history, not for the Antichrist, and not for the passing of the Laodicean Age.  It is part of the Christian life to purify ourselves by anticipating the Lord’s any-moment return for us (remember First John 3:2-3).

In the Bible, the “last days” began with the first coming of the Lord and extend to His second coming.  They did not begin in 1948 or at some other point in twentieth century, and do not refer to a Laodicean Age.

“…in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves…from such turn away.”  (Second Timothy 3:1-6, Paul speaking to Timothy of their own times)

“God…hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…”  (Hebrews 1:1)

“Little children, it is the last time…”  (First John 2:18)

Christ’s return has been imminent since the Holy Spirit came after Christ went away at the end of His first coming.  We are told to watch for Him because He will come as a thief in the night; we have no clue when.  We will not even know the times or the seasons leading up to His coming (read Matthew 24:42-44, Acts 1:6-8, and First Thessalonians 4:16-5:10).  Since His coming is a surprise, He did not give us hints of the time by laying out the history of the period between His comings.  The messages to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 do not even hint that they are prophecy.  As a matter of fact, the messages themselves speak of the imminence of the Lord’s return.  The church in Sardis is warned in such terms.

“Remember therefore how thou has received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.  If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”  (Revelation 3:3)

The Scofield Reference Bible, which popularized the church-history theory, assigned the message to Sardis to “The period of the Reformations.”  This is strange for several reasons.  First, the church at Sardis has departed from the faith and is dead.  Would this be the characteristic of the Reformation?  Secondly the coming of Christ is said to be imminent, and when you accept the church-history theory, the second coming was not imminent in the period of the Reformation.  The imminence of Christ’s return is also taught in the message to the church in Philadelphia.  Revelation 3:11 tells them, “Behold, I come quickly.”  The messages are clearly directed to local congregations that existed at the time of their writing, and through them to churches throughout the Church Age.

2.     Are the revival promises still good?

The main harm done by the church-history interpretation of Revelation 2 and 3 is the way it is often applied to the present-day situation.  Often preachers and ordinary believers have concluded that, because we live in the Laodicean Age, we cannot expect to see revivals and awakenings such as were experienced in the past.  But there is absolutely no scriptural reason to think that such a thing is true.

God has promised to revive His people whenever they acknowledge their need for revival and seek Him for the revival they need.  Furthermore, the principle behind the revival promises can be found all over the Bible, and is based upon the unchangeable mercy of God.  Here is that principle:

“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you…”

(Zechariah 1:3)

This principle, so clearly and simply articulated by the prophet Zechariah inspired by the Holy Spirit, is found everywhere in scripture, and is the most basic principle in man’s dealing with God.  When men turn to God, God turns to them.  He responds to their response to Him.  Men who humble themselves before God will have Him give them grace (James 4:6-7).  Men who confess their sins to God will be forgiven by God (First John 1:9).  Those who call upon the name of the Lord for their salvation will be saved by Him (Romans 10:13).  People who repent toward God will have Him repent toward them (read Jonah 3).  God does these things and acts this way because He is ever merciful (read with amazement the account in Judges 10:6-16).  Revival is the work of God in which He brings His people back (or up) to the state of spiritual health where He can bless them.  And He always revives His people when they humble themselves and seek His face (Second Chronicles 7:14, James 4:1-10).

Just what happens when God’s people are revived has varied according to the dispensation in which they lived and the covenant under which God dealt with them.  In the Old Testament period, the covenant people of God were the nation Israel, and the covenant that governed their relationship with Him was the Old Covenant.  The provisions of the Old Covenant are reviewed in the Book of Deuteronomy, especially in the final chapters.  These chapters are also full of revival promises.  If Israel would be faithful and obedient to their God, He would send them success in the field and in battle.  They would be both healthy and wealthy.  Blessings of physical and material prosperity would doubtless be theirs.  But if they turned away from Him, worshipping other gods and neglecting the laws and ordinances He gave them by Moses, their blessings would be turned into curses.  However, if they saw the error of their ways and under chastisement repented and turned back to God, He would doubtless turn back to them with all the promised blessings of the Old Covenant.  This was an Old Testament revival.

In the New Testament age, believers in Christ and their churches are the people of God and they operate under the New Covenant.  The New Covenant was predicted in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and is expounded in Hebrews 8, 9, and 10.  It was applied by the Lord Jesus in a talk He had will His disciples the night before He died.  That talk is recorded in John 13-17.  In it He promised that, as the New Testament age dawns, as a result of His going back to the Father, He will begin the work of intercession for us at God’s right hand, and will send us another Comforter (Helper) who would stay with us forever, the Holy Spirit.  As a result of these changes, believers can expect remarkable answers to prayer, the supernatural help of the Spirit in obeying the commands of Christ, the experience of Christ’s peace and love and joy, illumination of the truth, manifestation of God’s presence, much fruit, and persecution.  When believers are not living at a level where they are experiencing these New Testament blessings (the level of faith and submission which Jesus described with the phrase, “Abide in Me”), they are in need of a revival.  And they get a revival the same way anybody in any age has gotten one: by humbling themselves and seeking the face of God.  We see them do this in Acts 1-2, Acts 4, and in Acts 6, and in other places.  The promise for such a revival is found in James 4, and in other New Testament passages.  There is no deadline or cut-off point for the promise of revival.  Even in the Tribulation Period, according to the Book of Revelation, there will be a revival and a great awakening, resulting in a great harvest of souls.  There is no prediction in any scripture of a period when God will not revive His people in answer to their earnest prayers.  Even the church of Laodicea is given hope for revival.

Look again at the message to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:14-22.  They are rebuked strongly for their lukewarmness, but then urged to repent of it.  They are instructed to look to Christ for the supply of their spiritual needs (spiritual gold tried in the fire, white raiment, the anointing with divine eye salve).  They are told to pay a price for these things (“buy of Me”).  They are encouraged that what they need, Jesus will supply.  They are promised that if they heed the voice of Christ, He will respond by coming in to fellowship and bless them.  The Laodicean church was promised revival on the condition that they repent and seek it.  Yet some good people see in this very message a dark era when God will no longer revive His people and bring back the New Testament blessings.   But there is no such thing in the message.  And there is no reason for God’s churches not to seek the Lord today for a return of Book-of-Acts, John 13-17, revival-level, Christianity in all its glory and power.

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