About 99.5% of the time when COG pundits write about the seven churches of Revelation, all you ever really hear about is two of them. Usually, one group asserts it is the “Philadelphian” church and all the others are “Laodicean”.
That’s one reason I don’t care much for the unprovable theory of church eras. In this pet theory of many, including HWA, the seven churches represent a chain of churches down through time that exhibit different characteristics of that “era” or time period.
In the COGWriter blog Church of God News, Dr Robert Thiel wrote something in “UCG President Asks ‘What’s Ahead for the Church of God’?” that was somewhat surprising in that he did not just concentrate on the last two churches.
The Book of Revelation shows that there will be remnant parts of four Churches of God at the time of the end. These are Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. It would biblically seem that those that are actually part of the Church of God, but are not actually Philadelphian, are almost all in the Thyatira, Sardis, and/or Laodicea churches. Those Laodiceans are essentially the offspring that came out of the Philadelphia Church.
I have said for some time that almost all of the churches in Revelation will be existent at the end-time. There are one or two where that is arguable.
However, I will state that the idea of the Laodiceans coming “out of the Philadelphia Church” is not what Revelation says. Have their never been Christians who were materialistic and lacking in zeal? Did none of the churches practice brotherly love nor spread the Gospel until the Philadelphians came on the scene?
Another thing that has always annoyed me is whenever people read into Scripture that the Philadelphians will flee to Petra (or some other place of safety) and everyone else will not. Oh, and let’s not forget that whoever is telling you this is always a Philadelphian!
Just prior to the actual start of the Great Tribulation, when its time to flee, the Christians that are not Philadelphian will not go to a place of safety for various reasons. Yet, the Philadelphians will, as they will be kept from the hour of trial (Revelation 3:10).
Well, let’s look at it just to get grounded in God’s words and not someone else’s.
10Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (Revelation 3:10, King James Version)
All this says is that the Philadelphians will be kept “from the hour of temptation”. “Temptation”, of course, is the wrong word. Most translations use either “trial” or “testing” in its place. There is no doubt that this is talking about the Great Tribulation. However, it does not say how, and it does not say where.
13O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! (Job 14:13, King James Version)
Could it be that the Philadelphians will be kept from the Great Tribulation because they are no longer around?
Notice what Jesus says to each church:
- Ephesus – "I will come unto thee quickly" (2:5)
- Smyrna – "ye shall have tribulation ten days" (v 10; could be a reference to Rev 6:9-11)
- Pergamos – "I will come unto thee quickly" (v 16)
- Thyatira – "hold fast till I come" not hold fast to death (v 25)
- Sardis – "thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (3:3)
- Philadelphia – "Behold, I come quickly" (v 11)
- Laodicea – "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock" (v 20; cf. Mt 24:33)
At very least, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea must be in existence at His return, or the messages make no sense.
Ephesus was threatened with the removal of its candlestick, so it may or may not be around at Christ’s second coming. However, ponder what it means that its candlestick is going to be removed. That means it would no longer exist. However, what if Jesus did not remove it? Does that mean that the church eras stop?
All of the candlesticks were lit, all were existing at the same time, Jesus over and over again said that the Spirit was speaking to the churches (plural) and to remove one means that it doesn’t exist going forward in time but that the others, which would even include Laodicea, would!
To Pergamos, Jesus not only affirms He would “come … quickly” but that He would fight against those who do not repent. Sounds to me like they will also exist at His return.
However, to Philadelphia, He only says He will come quickly. He tells them to hold fast so that no one takes their crown. Is this an indication that they will all be dead before the Great Tribulation?
I don’t know that it has to occur this way. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean Philadelphia has to flee to Petra, either.
To me the story of the Revelation churches has a number of legitimate meanings. Clearly there were historical churches. Also, I think they each contain warnings we all need to take to heart. However, I do also see a progression in them. I think all attitudes do exist in the church, but one particular attribute dominates at a particular time. This brings me to Laodicea.
The language to Laodicea is different to the others. The others refer to Christ’s return in the future with words such as “I come”. For Laodicea he doesn’t say he is coming, rather he says, “I stand at the door and knock”, that is, he is already there knocking, not coming at some future time. To me this indicates that Laodicea attitude will be the dominate attitude, but not the only one at the end.
I also support the notion that Laodicea comes from Philadelphia. This is due to similarities in their attributes. One of the things that I have observed in life is that a person’s or group’s greatest strength, taken to extreme, can become their greatest weakness. A simple example – a detailed minded person has a great strength in always checking the facts. However, taken to extreme this can lead to indecision as there are always more facts to find. So much preoccupation with detail, that the big picture is missed. Apply this principle to Philadelphia and Laodicea. Philadelphia strength is their ability to see through deception. In spite of little strength they kept the word and did not deny God. They were not like those that appeared as Jews, but were really of Satan. They saw through deception and kept true. What then could be the weakness in this if taken to extreme? Self-reliance! Instead of recognizing their little strength and seeing that it is first most God’s Spirit that gave them the knowledge to keep his word and remain true, they become self-reliant. “I saw through Tkatch and his deception”. Rather than “God lead me to see his deception.” The Laodicea’s are self-reliant. They see themselves as spiritually rich and need nothing, they have forgotten that it is God who supplies their riches. Lukewarm is an effect of an underlying cause, self-reliance. They even have their door shut to Christ, he has to knock on it.
To me all of us survivors of Tkatch need to always give praise to God, not our own intelligence, in seeing through deception.
Interesting comments Bureaucat.
"A simple example – a detailed minded person has a great strength in always checking the facts. However, taken to extreme this can lead to indecision as there are always more facts to find"
When growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, answering questions "may" lead to more questions. Of that there is little doubt in some cases, such as in this topic, where is the place of safety? Much like science, when a question is answered it opens up several more questions.
I don't doubt there is a prophetic significance to the seven churches through near 2000 years of time span. What I do doubt is another voice trying to creep in unawares and trying to create divisions over it. Such a voice can be totally right and completely wrong at the same time.
Basically I would hope those who are called on either side of the issue and follow Christ understand it is another gospel to proclaim, "unless you believe in church eras, you cannot be saved". However the idea, "unless you believe in church eras, you cannot be a Philadelphian", is rather controversial in my opinion.(Titus 3:9, in principle "the law" can = the new testament)
As you mentioned, "Philadelphia strength is their ability to see through deception." In my opinion I would be rather wary in teachings that proclaim such and such an organization is Philadelphian and others are not. It just may be no more than an idea creeping in unawares even to the person expressing it and trying to steal some crowns on 'both sides' of different organized churches.
Is it anymore sinful or watering down scripture not to believe in church eras than it is to believe in church eras? Does not believing in church eras automatically consign a person to being something other than Philadelphian in some peoples mind?
When a person looks into the scriptures to see if these things are so, then should they not be very aware of the difference between reading out of the scriptures more than what is in the scriptures to begin with? There is rather a dangerous thin line between revelation and speculation within church era teachings.
I believe it could be said that despising a brother who is fighting the same spiritual fight we are all battling may also be despising the same prophecy that a person is trying to convey to him to begin with.
1 Thess 5:20 "Despise not prophesyings".