Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
The Fate of Empires
What with the state of global mayhem on multiple fronts, these days, and having largely to do (particularly in the United States) with an urge to destroy the artifacts and actors who shaped this “empire” based on the philosophy called Western Civilization, many people are wondering if it is coming to its end.
Some wonder if we’ve been heading there for some time, now.
Prophecy scholars point to many indications we are near an “end” of sorts in the spiritual realm as well, considering the signs of the times. This is an issue separate from the secular empires, of course, but concurrent with at least this one.
Historians argue the same point from their vantage.
One such historian, Sir John Bagot Glubb (1897-1986), British soldier, scholar, and author is one of them. His view, however, expands to one of the whole of human history, not just the history of one nation which he feels is essential because, “Our piecemeal historical work is still mainly dominated by emotion and prejudice.” This thought is parallel to the famous claim that history is most often written by the victors who embed it with their own biases and prejudices.
In his work, “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival,” Glubb compares 13 empires (treating Rome in two epochs) starting with the Assyrian and ending with the British and covering approximately 2500 years of history.
In his study, he saw a similar pattern of growth and decline in each, from which, he says, we can learn important lessons. I would add, we can also be forewarned. As he put it,
In spite of the accidents of fortune, and the apparent circumstances of the human race at different epochs, the periods of duration of different empires at varied epochs show a remarkable similarity. (p. 3)
Glubb identified and detailed six “ages” in the lifespan of an empire that might be summarized very briefly, thus:
- The age of outburst: “Again and again in history,” he writes, “we find a small nation, treated as insignificant by its contemporaries, suddenly emerging from its homeland and overrunning large areas of the world.”
- The age of pioneering: this stage is marked by expansion either to other lands or within one’s own land (e.g., the United States).
- The age of conquest: once a military is established, this age features the acquisition of other lands and access to their natural and manufactured goods, which leads to
- The age of commerce: in this phase the emphasis is on creating wealth to enhance both the living conditions on the home front as well as to enhance personal bank accounts.
- The age of affluence: here, according to Glubb, is where the empire begins its decline. “There does not appear to be any doubt that money is the agent which causes the decline of this strong, brave and self-confident people,” he writes. “The decline in courage, enterprise and a sense of duty is, however, gradual.”
- The age of the intellect: Now that “(the) great wealth of the nation is no longer
needed to supply the mere necessities, or even the luxuries of life,” writes Glubb, “(ample) funds are available also for the pursuit of knowledge.” However, he writes, although the “cultivation of the human intellect seems to be a magnificent ideal,” it is only “on condition that it does not weaken unselfishness and human dedication
to service. Yet this, judging by historical precedent, seems to be exactly what it does
do. Perhaps it is not the intellectualism which destroys the spirit of self-sacrifice—the
least we can say is that the two, intellectualism and the loss of a sense of duty, appear simultaneously in the life-story.” Glubb credits self-sacrifice and a sense of duty, among other virtues, as what made all the empires great and sustained them through their prior ages.
On the last, intellectual, age of an empire, Glubb concludes, “Indeed it often appears in individuals, that the head and the heart are natural rivals. The brilliant but cynical intellectual appears at the opposite end of the spectrum from the emotional self-sacrifice of the hero or the martyr. Yet there are times when the perhaps unsophisticated self-dedication of the hero is more essential than the sarcasms of the clever.”
And what follows for yet another grand empire, whether of lands or of ideas, is the gradual or sometimes relatively quick decline into cynicism, pessimism, class and political hatreds, and a loss of the unity that made the empire great.
As to the loss also of leadership, a hero or heroes that might resurrect greatness from the fading embers of glory, Glubb writes, “The heroes of declining nations are always
the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to
designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary
And the flame of yet another empire sputters, then dies.
Does any of this sound like the conditions in the West, particularly the United States, today?
I think many will answer yes.
And now what?
If Glubb’s analysis is true (and his greatly detailed evidence from the historical pattern seems so), what’s next, particularly in an age when nuclear as well as ideological bombs may well bring the entire planet, let alone one empire, to its knees–or to its complete demise?
Whatever politicians, scholars, or high-powered think tank personnel might come up with (if there is time) to save the empire of this historical era, as believers I think we may have a survival plan–if not for the temporal, for the eternal–with some help along the way while we still abide here on terra firma.
However, it will take a dedicated awareness of where we may well be prophetically, and a renewed commitment to following Jesus Christ Who, Himself, gave us the plan.
A Survival Plan Based on an Analysis of the “Last Church”
I’m not a prophesy scholar, but for the purposes of this next section, I am in agreement with those who have done the research that indicates we are also at a certain point of conclusion in the so-called “Church Age,” the church being a kind of “spiritual empire,” if you will, but more of mind than of matter, spirit than of spoils.
If so, I believe Jesus dealt with our kind of church in his address to John concerning the last church He analyzed in the book of Revelation, chapters 3: the Church in Laodicea. I believe His comments tell us how to proceed in this era that seems an age of both temporal and spiritual decline.
Last Chance (but also Hope) Laodicea
From the “letter to Laodicea,” in the prophetic book of Revelation that included a total of seven letters written to the churches of that day and, metphorically, through time, Jesus said this:
To the Church in Laodicea
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.15 ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The Sad State of Laodicea–and the Last Church Today?
- The people of this church located in a wealthy city were, in a word, hypocrites.
- They saw themselves as rich, blessed, and in need of nothing.
- Jesus saw them as “lukewarm,” tepid, apathetic–ambivalent about spiritual things–so much so, He would “spew them out”!
- He also told them they were in fact wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
- Worse, they didn’t even know it!
The Salvation of Laodicea–and the Church Today: JESUS!
- By way of metaphor, Jesus advised them to come to Him for spiritual riches (“refined gold”), salvation (“white robes” of righteousness to cover their shame), and spiritual “salve” for their eyes to see/discern true spirituality, and to…
- repent (turn from error and back to Jesus–personal and corporate revival, as it were, re-dedication to the author and finisher of their faith: Him).
In the end:
The spiritual empire of the New Testament Church (aka the Gentile Church) seems to have been following along its own “ages,” its own pattern, too, like secular empires, to the point of decline.
Only Church decline is not with shouts and bombs and revolutions like historical ends (and pieces), but with lukewarm laxness, self-satisfied smugness, a gospel of “gain=godliness” while the spiritual brick and mortar crumbles.
But just as for the people in the church of the Laodicean era, Jesus is our hope of revival, renewal, salvation–and eternal survival–should we, the living breathing church of this era, find ourselves in such a state of spiritual stupor–and danger.
And just as He did for the people of Laodicea, Jesus knocks on our door, too, bidding us, as He did them, to allow Him in.
Image of Christ at the door from Wikimedia Commons