Viewed from the standpoint of Christian history, the church at Philadelphia symbolizes a very rich and shining era: the Great Awakening of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, following the decline of the Reformation church.

It was during this "Philadelphia" stage of history that the Moravian Brethren began meeting in small groups for prayer, catching the vision for what God could do in the world, and eventually sending Moravian missionaries throughout the world.

In England the Awakening began with the Puritan Movement. The Puritans included John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, and John Newton, writer of so many great hymns of the faith, including "Amazing Grace." The Awakening also encompasses the great Wesleyan Revival and George Whitefield's preaching throughout England and in America.
In America the Great Awakening was characterized by men like Jonathan Edwards, the American Puritan theologian who strongly advocated Christian missionary activity. It included the Methodist circuit riders, who rode horseback from church to church, preaching the gospel up and down the eastern seaboard and eventually moving out across the western plains.

I am personally indebted to a circuit rider named Brother Van who came to the territory of Montana soon after it became populated in the Montana gold rush. He went into the saloons and mining camps, preaching the gospel, winning hundreds to Christ, planting churches throughout the state, many of which are still there. I was for a while a member of a church founded by Brother Van and knew people who knew him well.

The Great Awakening was a time of tremendous missionary activity. During this time, William Carey in England got a vision of the desperate spiritual need in India. He went there and planted the gospel, and a powerful outreach for Christ was born in India. Also from England, Robert Moffet and his famous son-in-law, David Livingstone, took the gospel into untouched regions of Africa.

The American missionary Adoniram Judson pioneered a major outreach into Burma. Hudson Taylor took the gospel into inland China. David Brainerd gave his life on the American mission field at the age of 29, living, caring, and witnessing among native Americans.

This was the time when so many of the great evangelists of church history emerged: George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles Finney, and Dwight L. Moody. Out of the ashes of a deteriorating Reformation, God's Spirit brought forth new light and new life, a new and vibrant awakening throughout the Christian church.

All of the great people, events, and movements of the Great Awakening were foreshadowed by the church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor. Even while so many other surrounding churches were sinking into death and decay, the Philadelphia church was coming marvelously alive.

In early 1942, just a few months after the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was suffering another bitter military setback: the Philippines were about to fall into the hands of the Japanese invaders. General Douglas MacArthur, who had led a courageous delaying action for several months, realized that defeat on the field of battle was inevitable. Reluctantly and sadly, he ordered American forces to withdraw.

On March 11 he stood with the Pacific surf lapping at the cuffs of his trousers and made a promise to the Philippine people: "I will return." In 1944, MacArthur kept his promise and liberated the Philippines. Those events are a part of history.

Nearly two thousand years ago, our Lord Jesus left the shores of this planet. He made a promise to return. His promise is a part of our history, and His return is our future hope.
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3:11-13 "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
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What a tremendous promise, so simply stated! "I am coming soon."

Hearing this promise, many people ask, "How can Jesus say that? This letter was written almost 2,000 years ago. The church has been expecting Him ever since. He still has not come. How can He say, 'I am coming soon'?"
The answer is to see this promise in its proper context. The Lord has just referred to "the hour of trial," the Great Tribulation. In His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, He vividly depicts that time as the most terrible upheaval in the history of the planet. He describes a darkened sun, the moon not giving its light, stars seeming to fall from the heavens, and men's hearts failing as they look in fear on the things coming to pass upon the earth. It is in relationship to that event that Jesus says He is coming soon. As that event draws near, His coming will be even sooner.

As world events grow more tense, violent, and climactic, we need to hear again the Lord's promise that He is coming soon. As the attention of the entire world grows continually more focused on events in Israel and the Middle East we should focus our attention on the Lord's reassuring promise. He Himself said, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

In view of the Lord's promise to return soon, a question logically occurs to us: "How should we then live? What should our lives be like as we expectantly wait for the Lord's return?" To this, Jesus replies: "Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." As times get harder, it becomes increasingly more difficult to be a Christian. As the world becomes more and more hostile to Jesus and the people who bear His name, as it casts off Christian values and plunges headlong toward moral and spiritual destruction, there will be increasing pressures on us to compromise. We will find ourselves tempted to let go of what we have, to lose our grip on God's Word, to deny the Lord's name, to yield to worldly desires and ambitions.

Amid these temptations the Lord says, "Hold on to what you have. Don't allow the desire for status, for prestige, for material possessions, for wealth, for self-gratification to become central in your thinking. Don't let anyone take your crown."

Now, the Lord is not referring here to a loss of salvation. The "crown" is a symbol of God's eternal reward although not in the sense that we usually think of a reward. This reward from God is not like a paycheck, a bigger mansion in heaven, a plaque or a trophy, or a pat on the back. This reward is profoundly more than any of our paltry, earthbound conceptions of "rewards" could match. The reward, the crown, is the opportunity for even greater service for God! It is the privilege of knowing God and being given opportunity to serve Him both now and in the eternal ages!

As James I. Packer has said well,

The Christian's reward is not directly earned; it is not a payment proportionate to services rendered; it is a Father's gift of generous grace to His children, far exceeding anything they deserved. Also, we must understand that the promised reward is not something of a different nature tacked on to the activity being rewarded; it is, rather, the activity itself communion with God in worship and service in its consummation.

This is the truth Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. In this passage, Paul speaks of Jesus as the foundation which is laid in the hearts of believers, and adds,

1 Corinthians 3:12-15

12 But if anyone builds upon the Foundation, whether it be with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,

13 The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done.

14 If the work which any person has built on this Foundation [any product of his efforts whatever] survives [this test], he will get his reward.

15 But if any person's work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire. [Job 23:10.] AMP


If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. [Paul is speaking here of the Day of Judgment described in Revelation.] It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Thus, the crown of greater opportunity to serve Jesus might be lost. Perhaps the most painful tragedy of all, in the long view of eternity, would be the loss of the opportunity to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Jesus for all He has done for us. Do not let that opportunity slip away, says the Lord. Do not let anybody take that crown away from you.



The Japanese warlord Hideyoshi who ruled all of Japan in the latter half of the sixteenth century, commissioned a massive statue of Buddha for a shrine in the city of Kyoto. It took five years and thousands of laborers to construct the statue and the great temple which housed it.

In 1596, just a few months after the statue and temple were completed, a powerful earthquake toppled the structure. Great chunks of stone rained down upon the impassive Buddha, grinding the statue into fragments, chips, and dust. As soon as the ground had ceased its rumbling, Hideyoshi ran to the temple and found it in ruins. Enraged, he snatched a bow and