The problem with “church eras” is that it hides the truth.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
~ Mt 24:12
Dinosaurs once roamed the earth. We see the fossils that have been found over the years in many museums. However, where are they today? They died out. The era of the dinosaurs came to an end.
It truly is hypocritical to believe in church eras and believe you somehow have time warped back and are part of one that has ended. To believe in church eras requires you to believe we are already living in the Laodicean era, and there is ample evidence that the Laodicean spirit is the predominant attitude, both in the world and in the Church.
Another sign of the age:
11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
~ Mt 24:11
After Herbert W Armstrong died, there was a change in doctrine, and now there are a few hundred competing and squabbling groups. Does anyone truly believe the Philadelphian spirit is alive and well within the Church?
I started reading a site that claims that the death of HWA was the end of the Philadelphian era. It was a compelling argument, but then the author, as so many do, took such a sharp left turn as to discredit most of what was on the site. I’d suggest the author was only partly correct about this.
The death of HWA did not mean, however, that all people of a particular era had died out. Some believe the dinosaurs died when a giant meteor struck the earth. However, this did not happen immediately. It took time. Not all of them died out at the same time.
In the end, most believe either the seven churches represent eras or they represent seven churches down through the ages. Many point to verses in each section that seemingly indicates each church will exist at Christ’s return. The problem is that some are quite clear in this but not all.
The truth, then, is somewhere in between.
Executive summary: The Church has been allowed to be deceived on this point to separate those who actually want to develop godly love from those who want to gain a following. It separates those who really do want to show brotherly love from those who want to beat others over the head with a doctrinal club, thus proving they actually are not Philadelphian at all.
Verses Pointing to Existence of Seven Churches at Christ’s Return
According to Revelation 2 – 3 (NKJV):
1. To Ephesus
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.
The above makes it sound like they will be there when He returns, and He states “I will come to you” which indicates it is not just in a general sense. However, the fact that He states the purpose of coming is to remove the candlestick implies the opposite meaning.
In short, this passage is not clear.
2. To Smyrna
…and you will have tribulation ten days.
The fact that they will be in tribulation a short time indicates the possiblity of them surviving until the end. Having said that, Christ does not say “great tribulation” (Cf. Mt 24:21). It is quite questionable that He is talking about the end times.
In short, this is even less likely to refer to its existence at Christ’s return.
3. To Pergamos
16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
This actually is imagery that Christ uses throughout the Book of Revelation, but particularly to His second coming (Rev 19:15,21).
In short, this is definitely referring to Christ’s return.
4. To Thyratira
22 Indeed I will cast [Jezebel] into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
25 But hold fast what you have till I come.
The above reference is to the great tribulation, and therefore is referring to the time leading up to Christ’s return.
I believe furthermore that Jezebel pictures a false prophetess known in the end times. There is a Sabbatarian group that split away from the Church of God just prior to the modern age that followed a false prophetess named Ellen G White.
5. To Sardis
…I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Christ gave many parables about not knowing the hour of His return, and how it would be like a thief in the night.
This is a reference to His return.
6. To Philadelphia
10 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. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
The “hour of trial” obviously is a reference to the Great Tribulation, for it will “come upon the whole world”. Many have taken this to mean the existence of the Philadelphian group at Christ’s return, and He does say He is “coming quickly”.
Is that what it really says? We’ll look at that in more detail, but the odd thing is that Christ never says “return unto you”! Since He states this to some other churches, this stands out.
Believing that this group exists at Christ’s return requires soem reading into the text.
7. To Laodicea
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 dine with him, and he with Me.
Knocking on a door requires one’s presence, not to mention coming in to eat with someone. Of course, this might be purely spiritual, but His rather hands-on phrases on correcting those He loves indicates it might be more than spiritual in nature.
The first two of these are very speculative as to whether or not they will exist when Christ returns. The last one is likely to exist at Christ’s return, but the wording is so symbolic as to allow it might not. Philadelphia, in spite of what many say, does not really say whether or not they will be around at Christ’s return! All others make it clear that they will exist at Christ’s return.
The Old Guard Is Dying
There is no denying it. The generation that founded the modern Church is dying out. It isn’t even that many are dead at this stage, as most are now dead. The ones that are alive are in their 70s or more.
If these are Church eras, then it is obvious that the way that God keeps the Philadelphians from the Great Tribulation is by hiding them in the grave.
13 “If only you would hide me in the grave
and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
and then remember me!
14 If someone dies, will they live again?
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come.
15 You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Job wanted to be “hid” from trials in the grave until Christ returned!
The Shut Door
In a very real sense, a door was shut when HWA died. The Church right now has at its fingertips the greatest resource that ever existed in human history: The Internet. However, where are the 7 – 8 million people being reached by all of the COG groups combined, as it was during HWA’s lifetime?
I am not saying we should stop preaching the Gospel. I’m not saying we have to do it in the same way. However, am I really the only one who finds this situation ironic?
Part of the problem is organized size. WCG had the size to put its resources to work, and it had the reach because of its organization to do so.
However, WCG had the zeal to do the work, didn’t it? It had the momentum because, at least on a surface level, it was united. If zeal is the measurement, then all COG organizations are obviously Laodicean!
However, is it? You ever notice how people assume that the lukewarmness of Laodicea is zeal? Where does zeal come from, anyhow?
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
~ Mt 24:12
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
~ Jn 13:35
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
~ Rev 2:4
Can you have zeal without love? Perhaps. Can you have Christian zeal without love? Not really. Even if you could, would the result be what you expect? Of course not.
So, what’s the point? Those who beat their chests claiming to be Philadelphian are liars on various levels.
First of all, love is not proud or boastful (1Co 13:4). It’s a bit sad, but it seems that those who beat their chests yelling, “I am Philadelphian!” really aren’t fooling anyone but themselves. Furthermore, the only ones foolish enough to follow them are those who want to get something from the relationship, which is by definition the opposite of love.
The insistence upon eras makes no sense because the natural carnal tendency is to pretend you and your organization are Philadelphian when the theory itself shows you to be Laodicean. Oh, there might be a smattering here and there that acknowledge that in fact the world overall is awash in materialism, and the Church is awash in the sense that the physical riches show God’s approval, but most prefer to talk smoothly to salve those itching ears.
The ridiculous concept that there will be a “Philadelphian remnant” ignores the fact that an entire generation has almost died out and that people with zeal and character are needed to step up to the plate. It ignores the fact that there is more to Christianity than to pay and pray. It sweeps very real problems under the rug because, after all, we are “Philadelphian” and in need of nothing! Which attitude does that really portray?
Not everyone is infected with this attitude, and in fact Jesus’ words to the seven churches shows that there are individuals and groups within each that stood out for better or for worse. All of them had attitudes, which include idolatry and heavy-handed dictatorial tendencies, that all must be on the lookout for!
Frankly, to not be humble enough to think that any one of us or any one of our particular organizations could not be overrun with any of these negative attitudes is about as non-Philadelphian as it gets!
Worse, how is it always presented? “They” are Laodicean, but “we” are Philadelphian! “We” are going to a Place of Safety (an assertion that is not provable, S. Rev 3:10), but “they” will go into the Great Tribulation! How much pride oozes out of such statements? What type of follower will go after such a promise? Not one filled with love! Neither are the leaders who spout such things filled with love other than for love of self.
Love is not about spreading fear over every detail that comes along in the news. Love isn’t about spreading lies and slander for Jesus. Love doesn’t twist Scripture or the words of dead men for gain, to gain attention or somehow be special. Love does not rail against the helpless, including the dead who will receive their just rewards already. Love doesn’t take on unseemly titles, either.
Love wants to help. Love compels someone to beg someone to stop sinning so that the consequences will stop. Love compels someone to point out there is a better way that God intended. Love stops and helps the wounded man by the side of the road, gives the helpless a drink of water, visits those in prison and clothes the destitute. Love speaks the truth, but it often waits for the appropriate moment to state it in love rather than retribution.
After all, the biggest thing that gets lost in all of this is that “Philadelphian” means “brotherly love“!
So, Christian, how are you doing?