The Seven Churches of Revelation 2 & 3

By COGwriter

Churches of Revelation 2 & 3: Approximate Timeline of Predominance
Pentecost:
31 A.D.
135 450 1050 1600 1933 1986  to  present
Ephesus Smyrna Pergamos Thyatira Sardis Philadelphia Laodicea

Tracing the history of the Christian church through the churches of Revelation 2 & 3 gives strong indications of who the descendants of the true church are today. This tracing provides information that demonstrates that the true Church of God (COG) is neither Protestant nor Eastern Orthodox nor Roman Catholic, but is truly the church that holds the same beliefs as the original apostles.

The Continuing Church of God and certain others claiming to be in the Church of God trace their history from the Book of Acts and through the churches eras of Revelation 2 & 3.

Yet, the prevailing attitude among many in the sabbatarian Churches of God (COGs) seems to be that this is not a particularly important issue. Is this correct or do churches of Revelation 2 & 3 matter?

Now everyone truly part of the COG would agree that the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 must to some degree matter (as do serious professing Christian people outside the COGs). But while many will point out that the term "church era" is not mentioned in the Bible, they often forget to mention that the Church will have factions (1 Corinthians 11:19), hence it will not entirely be uniform. Many now seem to teach that the messages to the seven churches were only for the time that John penned the Book of Revelation. And even more appear to act that the messages to the Churches in Revelation does not matter much.

Is the teaching that God had a predominant Church with identifiable characteristics throughout the history of the New Testament Church valid? Could those messages truly been only for that time? Do the messages matter today? What does history show? (A related YouTube video would be The Seven Church Eras of Revelation; here is a link to a pdf booklet titled Continuing History of the Church of God.)

The Seven Churches of Revelation

The Book of Revelation is a prophetic book, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants--things which must shortly take place" (Revelation 1:1). Therefore, the letters to the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 need to be understood in a prophetic context. Also, as will be discussed later, several elements of those letters HAD to be for the future and not just for the time that John wrote the messages down.

One of the many unique aspects of the Book of Revelation is that it is the only book of the Bible that with this type of blessing, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (1:3). Therefore it is very important to read and try to keep what is written in it.

The seventh day Sabbath completed God's week of creation (Exodus 20:11), thus seven appears to be God's number for completion. Seven times related to the seven Churches of Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus states, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (2:7,11,17,29;3:6,13,22). Those seven admonitions, tied with the way Jesus Christ is pictured as dwelling among the seven churches in Revelation 1:12-20 supports the position that they are a type of the entire New Testament Church:

I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man...The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches (Revelation 1:10-13,20).

There are several important ramifications of those verses. Since this vision pictures Jesus dwelling only in seven churches, it would seem that those seven churches represent the entire church. Jesus is announcing that He is the beginning and the end at the same time He lists the seven churches in the order they appear in Revelation 2 & 3; this suggests that there may be a beginning and an ending connection with those churches. He also states the message of the Book of Revelation is sent to those seven churches.

The fact that there are seven churches addressed and the number seven suggests completion, combined with the fact that the churches are listed in the same order as they would receive mail in the Roman times, is also consistent with the view that these churches were to represent the true church throughout the ages in a type of sequential order of predominance.

Revelation 22:18-19 makes it clear that the message is NOT only for those who happen to have been alive in those seven physical churches when John was alive,

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The early Christians have been claimed to use a seven lamped lampstand as a symbol as the Catholic scholar and priest Bagatti reported:

In reality for many centuries the candelabrum has been a symbol of the Jewish people. But in ancient times it was common also among the Judaeo-Christians. (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Circumcision.  Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, p. 202).

It may be because there were seven lampstands, with apparently seven lamps each, is that part of the message to the seven churches of Revelation is that in each 'era', there would be some with characteristics of other eras. Others believe that despite the seven lamped lampstand being mentioned in Zechariah 4:2, that Revelation 1:12 is referring to seven individual lampstands as the Greek does not distinguish (see Pulpit Commentary).

That being said, an important difference between the Continuing Church of God and the Eastern Orthodox is how each defines itself with the term seven. An Orthodox bishop wrote:

Orthodox often call themselves 'the Church of the Seven Councils'...Nicea was the first of the seven general councils; and these...occupy a central position in the history of Orthodoxy...next to the Bible, it is the seven councils which the Orthodox Church takes as its standard and guide" (Ware T. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, London, 1997, pp.19,35).

In contrast, the Continuing Church of God defines itself as part of the seven Christian churches that Jesus spoke of in Revelation 1-3, and does not consider that the Greco-Roman councils were inspired by God to define doctrines of the true Christian church.

Different Cities and Different Names

Revelation 2 & 3 shows a series, in an apparent overlapping succession of seven churches, each with somewhat different strengths and weaknesses (as well as attitudes that exist throughout the church era). Despite the views of certain allegorists and others, the Book of Revelation is clearly a book of prophecy (Revelation 1:3). Since several statements made to the seven churches (e.g. Revelation 1:19; 2:22; 3:3; 3:10) simply could not have been intended to be completely fulfilled by the physical churches they were addressed to in the late 1st century, scripture itself proves that many of the messages to those churches were prophetic, with some of those prophecies intended for those in the 21st century. The Bible clearly shows that Jesus walks in the midst of these seven churches (Revelation 1:9-13), showing that somehow they represent His church for the church age.  The fact that there are seven churches addressed and the number seven suggests completion, combined with the fact that the churches are listed in the same order as they would receive mail in the Roman times, is also consistent with the view that these churches were to represent the true church throughout the ages in a type of sequential order of predominance.

It is also of interest to note that the Book of Revelation was written to seven churches that were in seven different cities.

While groups such as the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox suggest that they are the true church because they both claim successions of bishops from certain single cities from the time of the original apostles to present, they seem to not understand that the Book of Revelation shows that there would be a succession of churches in different locations.

Jesus also prophesied this Himself in the Book of Matthew:

And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Matthew 10:22-23).

Jesus seems to be clearly prophesying that it would not be possible that the headquarters of the true church could permanently remain in any one city for hundreds or nearly two thousand years. These statements from Jesus would suggest that only a church whose headquarters moved relatively often could possibly be the true church. And that is consistent with the messages in Revelation 2 & 3.

It should also be understood that Jesus taught that the true church would have to be quite small as He stated:

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

This statement from Jesus also strongly suggests that we should not be afraid of the fact that the true church would be a little flock. It was not God’s purpose that His true Church grow into a great, powerful organization in this age that would “Christianize” the world per se. His true Church was to remain a “little flock” (Luke 12:32) as a “witness” (Matthew 24:14) until the time of “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:17-21) as God will save most of humankind (all spiritual “Israel”, Romans 11:26-32) (for more details see the article Hope of Salvation). The continuity of the Church of God in this age, could not occur through a succession of proud, powerful, presiding bishops in a particular city (cf. Hebrews 13:14), but would occur through a succession of faithful, converted people who, though scattered and persecuted, continued to worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24).

It should be noted that while the Bible in twelve places describes the true church by the name "Church of God," the detractors of the true church have tended to call those in it by different names. One historian noted:

Dissenters who kept the Sabbath, existed under different names from the time of the Pope to the Reformation. They were either the descendants of those who fled from the heathen persecutions previous to the time of Constantine, or else those who, when he began to rule the church and force false practices upon it, refused submission, and sought seclusion and freedom to obey God. In their earlier history they were known as Nazarenes, Cerinthians and Hypsistarii, and later, as Vaudois, Cathari, Toulousians, Albigenses, Petrobrusians, Passagii, and Waldenses...These widely scattered Sabbath reformers were our denominational ancestors (Lewis A.H. THE SABBATH FROM THE TIME OF CHRIST TO ITS APPEARANCE IN ENGLAND. Reprinted from "Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Volume 1, 1910 pp 11-18).

It should also be noted that the Roman Catholic church freely admits that there were Sabbath-keepers within many of those groups--though all within most of them were not.

It needs, however, to be clearly understood that just because the Roman Catholics (or others) tended to use a particular name in order to label their opponents, this does not mean that all with that designation had the same beliefs or that most were specifically in the Church of God. But the above quote does show the fact that various writers understand that within the groups that the Romans have considered to be heretical, there were Sabbath-keepers throughout history.

The same is the case today. When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, I was essentially taught that all who professed Christ, but who were not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, were Protestant. However, as everyone knows, there are so many doctrinal differences within Protestantism (even among those that consider themselves to be Protestant), that to truly define all Protestants by the same statements of doctrine is simply inaccurate.

Also, as most realize, there are many groups amongst those that profess Christ, such as the Church of God that are not Protestant (please see the article Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differ from most Protestants). Hence, just because Roman or other historians tend to lump opposition groups together, this does not change the fact that there were (in accordance with Christ's promises in Matthew 10:23 and 16:18) true Christians throughout history. And that they would often be hated and persecuted (Matthew 10:16-22).

The Churches and History

As mentioned before, the Book of Revelation is clearly intended to be prophetic.

Note what Revelation 1:19 & 22:10 state:

Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this...

And he said to me, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand..."

These verses clearly show some parts of Revelation were to happen soon, yet other parts of the Book were clearly intended for a much later time. Does secular history provide any possible verification of the concept that a certain Church of God was predominant at a given time? Does the Bible support the idea that history confirms prophecy?

The answer to both is yes. Peter wrote, "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" Why? "but were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (II Peter 1:16). "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (vs.19). Thus it is good to see history confirming prophecy (many fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies are confirmed as history in the Gospel accounts).

Also, as will be shown below, some of the comments and warnings to the churches in Revelation 2 & 3 are not logically contemporaneous and the historical record bears this out.

The Seven Churches of Revelation 2 & 3: A Priestly Puzzle?

The emphasis on Asia Minor in Revelation has long puzzled certain Catholic scholars. Instead of accepting that perhaps Asia Minor was the emphasis of the early church, notice one “explanation” by a deceased Roman Catholic priest H. B. Kramer:

The seven cities named were situated in the west and center of proconsular Asia…

And why not send copies to the most important churches of all, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome? Surely those cities needed to be warned as much as proconsular Asia. The Apocalypse itself being inspired and written at the command of Christ states positively that the Lord chose those churches and dictated each letter…

The following explanation is therefore ventured, because our Lord would more probably select the churches most suitable to receive his message for supernatural than for natural reasons. These seven churches and bishops may have been guilty to such a marked degree of the defects, faults and vices stated in the letters, that they would most likely admit their wrong doing if their attention was called to them. Such faults would court spiritual disaster in any persecution. (Kramer, Herman Bernard.  The Book of Destiny.  Nihil Obstat: J.S. Considine, O.P., Censor Deputatus.  Imprimatur: +Joseph M. Mueller, D.D., Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, January 26, 1956.  Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 1975, pp. 52-53 )

Priest Kramer was biblically wrong on several of his points.

First, as nearly all scholars seem to recognize, most Christians had left Jerusalem decades before Revelation was written, so it was not then quite as important a location for many early Christians.

Second, other than Paul being imprisoned there, there is no evidence that Rome had become important to Christians in any major way in the late 1st century.

Third, it is difficult to determine how important Antioch of Syria, a city without any late apostles (though it undoubtedly had some faithful Christians), was during the latter portion of the 1st century as a location for Christians as opposed to Asia Minor. Asia Minor is the area where the Apostles John and Philip were in the latter portion of the 1st century and there is no evidence that any of the other Apostles were in Antioch that late into the 1st century.

But fourth (and perhaps biblically most important), two of the seven churches of Revelation (Smyrna and Philadelphia) received no condemnation in the letters. Suggesting that the seven churches were chosen because they were guilty of “defects, faults and vices” that were in the letters to them is simply wrong. And of course, perhaps Priest Kramer and others should simply accept the fact that Christ Himself chose those cities. And there simply is no biblical support that Christ Himself ever chose Rome for leadership purposes.

Thus, from the point of view of the New Testament, it appears that Asia Minor, not Rome, was a major focus of the Christian community in the late 1st century.

The apostles, or their disciples, did go to many lands, and there are indications that at least some version of Christianity touched much of the Eastern Hemisphere. However, Asia Minor seems to have been the focus for many of the original apostles.

Church Eras, Ephesus, and Smyrna

The late Herbert W. Armstrong wrote:

Seven Church Eras The book of Revelation records seven messages to seven churches that existed is Asia Minor toward the end of the first century A.D. These churches--Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea--were located along one of the mail routes of the old Roman Empire. Riders would follow the route--carrying messages from town to town. The messages to the seven churches have words of both encouragement and correction and they clearly show the dominant characteristics of each of the congregations at that time. But these messages were intended for a wider audience than the Christians in these small towns. They are a series of remarkable prophecies, by which the future of the true Church was foretold in outline form, from the day it began on Pentecost, A.D. 31, until the Second Coming of Christ. The history of the Church would fall into seven distinct eras--each with its own strengths and weaknesses and its own special trials and problems. Just as a message could pass along the mail route from Ephesus to Laodicea, so would the truth of God be passed from era to era. It was like a relay race--in which the baton is passed from runner to runner, each one doing his part, until the finish line is reached. Some time during the early decades of the second century, the baton was passed from the Ephesian era to the people that God had called to the Smyrna era of his Church. (Armstrong HW. Mystery of the Ages, 1985, pp. 282-283).

Although the original New Testament church began in Jerusalem on the Feast of Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection (ca. 31 A.D. thus beginning the Ephesian era), Christians spread to many lands, with many ending up in Asia Minor in the first two centuries A.D. (more details of the earliest times is included in the article The Ephesus Church Era), with the last of the original apostles (John) settling in Ephesus.

"Ephesus was the most important city in Asia minor when Revelation was written" (The Nelson Study Bible, 1997, p. 2166). But it did not stay that way. Nor did the Ephesus Church remain predominant. The city of Ephesus was the first stop of a consecutive mail run that ran through Laodicea (in the order that Jesus listed the Churches).

And the Catholic Encyclopedia notes who its leader for a time was,

...the Apostle and Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province.

It is logical that the first, predominant church would be listed first, in a listing of seven churches. And it is logical that John, the last of the original apostles, was the last known apostolic leader of the Ephesus church. Remember it was John who Jesus had write to Ephesus "you have left your first love" (Revelation 2:4). It is well known that John had a reputation in his last years of always teaching about love. This admonition in Revelation that Ephesus had lost its first love would perhaps explain why its last apostolic leader felt the need to always teach the church about love.

According to Catholic sources, such as the "Venerable Bede":

"John...literally observed the decrees of the Mosaic law…So John, in accordance with the custom of the law, began the celebration of" Passover "in the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month, regardless of whether it fell on the sabbath or any other day...(Bede (Monk). Edited by Judith McClure and Roger Collins. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford University Press, NY, 1999, pp. 156-157).

Jesus, in Revelation 2:5, warned Ephesus,

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.

Apparently Ephesus did not repent sufficiently. An interesting historical note about Ephesus is that its physical 'lampstand' was also removed. Ephesus originally was a port city, but a local river kept pouring so much silt at the end, that Ephesus is no longer on the coast but is now inland (my family actually visited it twice)--that silt totally devastated it from being an important city.

Some place the end of the Ephesus era around 135 A.D. when Jerusalem ceased having Jewish bishops and when Polycarp of Symrna became the dominant leader in the true Church. (More on the Ephesus portion of the true church can be found in the article The Ephesus Church Era. Also you can see Photos of Ephesus.)

The Smyrna Church became predominant after Ephesus c. 135. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul wrote many letters to those of Asia Minor (including one to those in Ephesus). According to something from a 2nd/3rd century document (that was probably altered in places in the 4th century), titled The Life of Polycarp, the Apostle Paul endorsed keeping the  Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost:

In the days of unleavened bread Paul, coming down from Galatia, arrived in Asia, considering the repose among the faithful in Smyrna to be a great refreshment in Christ Jesus after his severe toil, and intending afterwards to depart to Jerusalem. So in Smyrna he went to visit Strataeas, who had been his hearer in Pamphylia, being a son of Eunice the daughter of Lois. These are they of whom he makes mention when writing to Timothy, saying; Of the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and in thy mother Eunice; whence we find that Strataeas was a brother of Timothy. Paul then, entering his house and gathering together the faithful there, speaks to them concerning the Passover and the Pentecost, reminding them of the New Covenant of the offering of bread and the cup; how that they ought most assuredly to celebrate it during the days of unleavened bread, but to hold fast the new mystery of the Passion and Resurrection. For here the Apostle plainly teaches that we ought neither to keep it outside the season of unleavened bread, as the heretics do, especially the Phrygians...but named the days of unleavened bread, the Passover, and the Pentecost, thus ratifying the Gospel (Pionius. Life of Polycarp, Chapter 2. Translated by J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp.488-506).

Thus, the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13), taught Gentile Christians in Asia Minor (such as Smyrna) to keep the Holy Days. Days many now consider to be Jewish and not Christian--but apparently Paul considered them important for all Christians to keep (see also 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 where he told the Gentiles in Corinth to keep them as well).

It is of historical note that Polycarp of Smyrna, who was trained by the Apostle John and who for a long while was the physical head of the Smyrnaean Church (under Jesus), was known as the Bishop of Smyrna. Hence there was a historically relevant transition from Ephesus under John to Smyrna under Polycarp.

Polycarp is unique among any claimed to be a direct successor to any of the apostles. Polycarp had a letter written to him while he was alive, clearly wrote a letter himself that still exists, and had a letter written about his death right after he died. None of that information exists for any of the so-called Bishops of Rome (there is a letter claimed to have been written by Clement of Rome, however, it does not say that he wrote it, nor is Clement considered to be the direct successor of any apostle--the Roman Catholic Church claims that Linus was Peter's direct successor; there are also letters written by Ignatius of Antioch, but the two Antiochian Churches I am aware of claim that Evodius, not Ignatius, was Peter's direct successor).

Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians contains a lot of information about what he believed and taught. There was also a letter written about his martyrdom by the Smyrnaeans which gives some insight into him. He is also discussed in writing by such early writers as Ignatius who write an entire letter to him (circa 108 A.D.), Irenaeus who claimed Polycarp was faithful (circa 170 A.D.), Polycrates who claimed that Polycarp was faithful (circa 190 A.D.), Tertullian who claimed that the true Christian church could be traced through Polycarp (circa 200 A.D.), and later Eusebius who wrote that Polycarp was faithful to the apostolic traditions (circa 330 A.D.).

Polycarp refused to change Passover from the 14th of Nisan to Sunday as the Roman Bishop Anicetus insisted on keeping. Polycarp was the one who went to Rome and denounced the gnostic heretics Marcion and Valentinus. He and the other Smyrna leaders continued to accept scripture above Roman pronouncements.

The Catholic writer Eusebius recorded that Polycrates of Ephesus, around 195 A.D. wrote the following to the Roman Bishop Victor who wanted all who professed Christ to change Passover from the 14th of Nisan to Sunday:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man' (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 24. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Hence it is clear that throughout the second century, that Polycarp and the churches in Asia Minor continued to observe the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, unlike the Romans. Various second century writers reported that the Smyrnaeans observed the Passover on Nisan 14 and refused to accept the Roman observance on Easter Sunday. The only ones that history records that were faithful to apostolic tradition that stood up to the Roman Bishops in the second century and refused to accept their authority were the leaders of Smyrna era of the Church!

Regarding the true church, the historian Tertullian wrote:

The real question is, 'To whom does the Faith belong? Whose are the Scriptures? By whom, through whom, when and to whom has been handed down the discipline by which we are Christians? The answer is plain: Christ sent His apostles, who founded churches in each city, from which the others have borrowed the tradition of the Faith and the seed of doctrine and daily borrow in order to become churches; so that they also are Apostolic in that they are the offspring of the Apostolic churches (Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, circa 200 A.D.).

To further answer those questions, Tertullian then concluded that there were only two possibilities at the time (around 200 A.D.), "the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter"--he claimed no other group could prove they were the church started by the apostles. And of course, those of us in the Churches of God do not believe that the true church could have been the one of the Romans, hence we agree that the after John died, his leading follower in Smyrna, Polycarp, took the lead.

According to the letter The Martyrdom of Polycarp by the Smyrnaeans, "on the day of the preparation, at the hour of dinner, there came out pursuers and horsemen" and the Polycarp was killed "on the day of the great Sabbath" (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole's 1885 translation. © 2001 Peter Kirby). The use of these two expressions ("day of the preparation" and "the day of the great Sabbath") strongly indicates that those in Polycarp's area were still keeping the Sabbath in the latter portion of the 2nd century.

Even the Roman Catholic supporter Irenaeus recorded that Polycarp kept the Passover as he learned from the apostles, including John (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc)..

These historical accounts clearly demonstrate that those in Smyrna (an area of Asia Minor not part of Israel, hence a Gentile filled area) were still keeping the Sabbath and the Holy Days around 156 A.D. (The Martyrdom of Polycarp. Transcribed from Kirsopp Lake's The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. II, pp. 309-311) (Note other years have also been proposed). (Here is a link to The Martyrdom of Polycarp).

Regarding the second century church in Asia Minor, the German historian W. Bauer wrote:

Asian Jewish Christianity received in turn the knowledge that henceforth the "church" would be open without hesitation to the Jewish influence mediated by Christians, coming not only from the apocalyptic traditions, but also from the synagogue with its practices concerning worship, which led to the appropriation of the Jewish passover observance. Even the observance of the sabbath by Christians appears to have found some favor in Asia...we find that in postapolstolic times, in the period of the formation of ecclesiastical structure, the Jewish Christians in these regions come into prominence (Bauer W. Kraft RA, Krodel G, editors. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd edition. Sigler Press, Mifflintown (PA), 1996, pp.87-89).

Roman Emperors often persecuted those of Smyrna, with perhaps the first notable persecution being under the reigns of Decius and Gallus (249-253). After this, we no longer clearly see any of the true Smyrna leaders in the "succession lists" that the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church refer to in Asia Minor or Antioch. This was due to scattering (as many left were they were), apostasy, and later Roman and Orthodox influence (for example, the third century Roman Emperor Aurelian told the Bishop of Rome that he could appoint a replacement for the Bishop of Antioch).

The time of Smyrna is when the first "Marian" apparition claimed to be seen (Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions). The one who made this claim (Gregory the Wonder Worker), and who had been trained by the allegorist Origin, apparently had mystic powers and had influence that likely scared many away from the faith. And many of the faithful themselves had to go into hiding because of various persecutions.

In the latter portion of the third century and even into the fourth century, many Smyrnaeans (especially those with a Jewish heritage) in the Asia Minor area were known as Nazarenes (for more information, please see the article Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes?).

The Smyrna Church was told that,

...you will have been tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10).

A major ten year persecution from 303-313 A.D., unleashed by Roman Emperor Diocletian, resulted in many deaths, and we in the Church of God tend to believe this occurred during the time the Smyrna Church predominated. It does not appear that something like this happened to Smyrna around 95 A.D. when this message was written--hence this helps demonstrate the future historically prophetic sequence foretold in Revelation 2 and 3.

(More on this portion of the true church can be found in the article The Smyrna Church Era. Also you can see Photos of Smyrna.)

And More Persecution

In the latter portion of the Smyrna era, Constantine became emperor. He decreed circa March 7, 321,

Let all judges, the people of cities, and those employed in all trades, remain quiet on the Holy Day of Sunday. Persons residing in the country, however, can freely and lawfully proceed with the cultivation of the fields; as it frequently happens that the sowing of grain or the planting of vines cannot be deferred to a more suitable day, and by making concessions to Heaven the advantage of the time may be lost (Code of Justinian, Book III, Title XII, III. THE JUSTINIAN CODE FROM THE CORPUS JURIS CIVILIS. Translated from the original Latin by Samuel P. Scott. Central Trust Company, Cincinnati, 1932).

This was followed by the famous Council of Nicea, which took place in 325 A.D. This council decided that Sunday was to be the day of worship and that Passover was to be observed on Sunday (and that eventually became what is known as Easter). After that council, those in the Church of God who kept the Sabbath were considered to be heretics and outcasts and had to flee in the wilderness.

The Emperor authorized persecution. Around 332, Constantine issued what is known as the Edict Against the Heretics which stated:

Victor Constantinus, Maximus Augustus, to the heretics. “Understand now, by this present statute, ye Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulians, ye who are called Cataphrygians, and all ye who devise and support heresies by means of your private assemblies, with what a tissue of falsehood and vanity, with what destructive and venomous errors, your doctrines are inseparably interwoven; so that through you the healthy soul is stricken with disease, and the living becomes the prey of everlasting death. Ye haters and enemies of truth and life, in league with destruction! All your counsels are opposed to the truth, but familiar with deeds of baseness; full of absurdities and fictions: and by these ye frame falsehoods, oppress the innocent, and withhold the light from them that believe. Ever trespassing under the mask of godliness, ye fill all things with defilement: ye pierce the pure and guileless conscience with deadly wounds, while ye withdraw, one may almost say, the very light of day from the eyes of men. But why should I particularize, when to speak of your criminality as it deserves demands more time and leisure than I can give? For so long and unmeasured is the catalogue of your offenses, so hateful and altogether atrocious are they, that a single day would not suffice to recount them all. And, indeed, it is well to turn one’s ears and eyes from such a subject, lest by a description of each particular evil, the pure sincerity and freshness of one’s own faith be impaired. Why then do I still bear with such abounding evil; especially since this protracted clemency is the cause that some who were sound are become tainted with this pestilent disease? Why not at once strike, as it were, at the root of so great a mischief by a public manifestation of displeasure?" (Chapter LXIV.—Constantine’s Edict against the Heretics. This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College).

But this did not stop the Smyrnaeans. But it did ensure that true Christianity would remain outside of the mainstream of those that professed Christ. The historian Bart Ehrman noted:

By the early fourth century, Christianity had almost completely separated from Judaism, the religion of Jesus and his apostles...By early fourth century, non-Jewish Christianity had become a major world religion (Ehrman B. From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Part 2. The Teaching Company, Chantilly (VA), 2004, p. 47).

Even The Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledged that the Roman and Orthodox Churches got the emperors to persecute those who did not accept what became beliefs of mainstream "Christianity":

When Constantine had taken upon himself the office of lay bishop, episcopus externus, and put the secular arm at the service of the Church, the laws against heretics became more and more rigorous. Under the purely ecclesiastical discipline no temporal punishment could be inflicted on the obstinate heretic, except the damage which might arise to his personal dignity through being deprived of all intercourse with his former brethren. But under the Christian emperors rigorous measures were enforced against the goods and persons of heretics. From the time of Constantine to Theodosius...Theodosius is said to be the first who pronounced heresy a capital crime; this law was passed in 382 (Wilhelm J. Transcribed by Mary Ann Grelinger. Heresy. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

To the reign of Theodosius belonged the glory or the infamy of establishing Inquisitors of Faith, who seem to have been specially enjoined to look after the crime of the Quartodecimans (Smith W. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology : Oarses-Zygia. J. Murray, 1890 Item notes: v. 3 Original from Harvard University Digitized Jul 8, 2008, p. 1064).

But of course, if these emperors were truly Christian, they would not have killed and persecuted those faithful to apostolic teachings, nor endorsed carnal warfare (please see the article on Military Service and the Churches of God). It is astounding that the "Inquisitor" office was established originally to persecute those that kept Passover on its original date (which is what the Quartodecimans did).

In the latter portion of the third century and even into the fourth century, many Smyrnaeans (especially those with a Jewish heritage) in the Asia Minor area were known as Nazarenes (those who practiced the true, so-called Jewish, form of Christianity).

Samuel Bacchiocchi observed:

Nazarenes were the direct descendants of the Christian community of Jerusalem which migrated to Pella prior to the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem…Nazarenes…according to Epiphanius…"fulfill till now such Jewish rites as…the Sabbath" (Bacchiocchi S. The Sabbath in the New Testament. Biblical Perspectives, Berrian Springs (MI), 1985, pp.90-91).

Around 404 A.D. Jerome noted:

...the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law, i.e....keeping the Jewish Sabbath…there exists a sect among… the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of , the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe (Jerome. Translated by J.G. Cunningham, M.A. From Jerome to Augustine (A.D. 404); LETTER 75 (AUGUSTINE) OR 112 (JEROME). Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. American Edition, 1887. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

It should be noted that Jerome considered these Sabbath-keepers to be part of “a most pestilential heresy” (ibid)--in other words descendants of the original church continued to exist for a long time and those that ended up supporting Roman Christianity were opposed to them. Note that Jerome means within Asia Minor (where all seven of the churches of Revelation 2 & 3 were when John penned the Revelation) when he refers to “the synagogues of the East.”

Around 450 the “Nazarenes” seemed to be harder to find and the Smyrna era ceased to be predominant as the compromising Pergamos era began to rise.

Pergamos and More Persecution

Persecution of true believers was not limited to Constantine--subsequent Roman Emperors issued various edicts of persecution, as did various pontiffs.

And after the Smyrna era, the Pergamos era, which included some known as Paulicians became dominant. The true Christians among the Paulicians were pacifists and against the use of idols, including the cross.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes this about the Paulicians:

Leo V, though an Iconoclast, tried to refute the accusation that he was a Paulician by persecuting them furiously. A great number of them at this time rebelled and fled to the Saracens. Sergius was killed in 835. Theodora, regent for her son Michael III, continued the persecution...

We hear continually of wars against the Saracens, Armenians, and Paulicians...

This eliminated the sect as a military power. Meanwhile other Paulicians, heretics but not rebels, lived in groups throughout the empire (Fortesque A. Transcribed by Richard L. George. Paulicians. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

In other words, since the Paulicians and Emperor Leo V were against idols, Leo decided he had to persecute them because he was accused of being a bit like them in that area. And additional persecution followed Leo's. The above quote also shows that there were Paulicians, who even though persecuted, would not fight back. This is because those truly in the Church of God were opposed to military participation (please see article Military Service and the COGs).

In the introduction to his English translation of The Key of Truth, F.C. Conybeare provides this quote on the practices of some associated with the Paulicians:

John of Otzun’s language perhaps implies that the old believers in Armenia during the seventh century were Quartodecimans, as we should expect them to be (Conybeare F.C. The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1898, p. clii).

They are accused by their Armenian opponents of setting at naught all the feasts and fasts of the Church, especially Sunday...The Sabbath was perhaps kept (Conybeare F.C. The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1898, pp. clii, cxciii).

...they were probably the remnant of an old Judeo-Christian Church, which had spread up through Edessa into Siuniq and Albania" (ibid, p. clxii).

Quartodeciman means 14th. In church writings, the term Quartodecimans normally refers to those who kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan--the original biblical date.

We also know from a notice preserved by Ananias of Shirak that the Paulini, who were the same people at an earlier date called Quartodecimans, and kept Passover at the Jewish date:

But the Paulini also keep the feast of the Pascha on the same day (as the Jews), whatever be the day of the full moon, they call it Kuriaki, as the Jews call it Sabbath, even though it be not a Sabbath (Conybeare F.C. The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1898, p. clii).

The following is from the Catholic Priest Basil Sarkisean's work Manichaean Paulician Heresy and is from a 987 A.D. letter written by Gregory of Narek against the Paulicians (note I have left out additions by the editor/translator F. Conybeare):

Then among the observances which we know to have been repudiated by them as neither apostolic or divine the mysterious prayers of genuflexion...

The Font is denied by them...

the communion of immortality...is denied...

We know that they deny the adored sign, which God, made man, raised and carried on his shoulders (Conybeare F.C. Addend ix I in: The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1898, p. 127).

Thus, there was a group that kept Passover on the 14th, refused idols (including the cross), refused to accept Sunday, refused to accept "the mysterious prayers of genuflexion", refused to observe Christmas or Easter (those were among the most important feast days of the Catholic Church at that time), and the true ones refused military action.

Pergamos was told "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is" (Revelation 2:13, literal).

Pergamos was the capital of the Roman province of Asia in Asia Minor. Just as the initial local Church at Pergamos was situated in a city where Satan swayed human politics, this work of God's church occurred within the bounds of the government of Satan's Eastern Roman Empire.

The Pergamos Church appears to be a part of the church portrayed by the woman in the wilderness hidden for apparently 1260 years (Revelation 12:6); with the last portion of Smyrna and the beginning of portion of Thyatira being the other parts (the 1260 years began in the fourth century after Emperor Contstantine's edict against heretics, or possibly after Emperor Theodosius' anti-Passover edit).

History shows that God had people in Pergamos and in various hidden areas, with many of them referred to as 'Paulicians', 'Bogomils', 'Cathars', 'Patarenes', and 'Albigensians' (although not all peoples referred by those names were in the true Church). The last statement in to the Church in Pergamos in Revelation 12:17, about "hidden manna to eat" and Christ giving them "a new name," is consistent with a Church of God that would be hidden.

It is of historical interest to note the following admissions in the Paulicians article in The Catholic Encyclopedia:

They honoured not the Cross, but only the book of the Gospel. They were Iconoclasts, rejecting all pictures...

The whole ecclesiastical hierarchy is bad, as also all Sacraments and ritual. They had a special aversion to monks...

Since Gibbon the Paulicians have often been described as a survival of early and pure Christianity, godly folk who clung to the Gospel, rejecting later superstitions, who were grossly calumniated by their opponents...

In Armenia the sect continued in the "Thonraketzi" founded by a certain Smbat in the ninth century. Conybeare attributes to this Smbat a work, "The Key of Truth", which he has edited. It accepts the Old Testament and the Sacraments of Baptism. Penance, and the Eucharist. This work especially has persuaded many writers that the Paulicians were much maligned people. But in any case it represents a very late stage of their history, and it is disputed whether it is really Paulician at all.

Edward Gibbon was a British historian who was not in any Church of God. Yet apparently because of his historical research, even outsiders have concluded that some of the Paulicians (not all, however, held true doctrine) were a remnant of the true church.

Perhaps it should be pointed out that the book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma also states that the Paulicians were amongst the most vocal against the Roman teaching on purgatory.

Interestingly, The Catholic Encyclopedia article also admits:

The emperor Alexius Comnenus is credited with having put an end to the heresy. During a residence at Philippopolis, he argued with them and converted all, or nearly all, back to the Church (so his daughter: "Alexias", XV, 9). From this time the Paulicians practically disappear from history. But they left traces of their heresy. In Bulgaria the Bogomile sect, which lasted through the Middle Ages and spread to the West in the form of Cathari, Albigenses, and other Manichaean heresies, is a continuation of Paulicianism. In Armenia, too, similar sects, derived from them, continue till our own time.

Thus, even Roman Catholic scholars know that it is possible that the Paulicians were the survivors of an early and pure Christianity and that they had spiritual descendants that continued into the future (such as those within the Thyatira era), as well into modern times!

There were also true Christians in other regions that developed from the Ephesian and Smyrnaean eras.

According to A.N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd, Dr. T.V. Moore noted:

"The type of Christianity which first was favored, then raised to leadership by Constantine was that of the Roman Papacy. But this was not the type of Christianity that first penetrated Syria, northern Italy, southern France, and Great Britain. The ancient records of the first believers in Christ in those parts, disclose a Christianity which is not Roman but apostolic. These lands were first penetrated by missionaries, not from Rome, but from Palestine and Asia Minor. And the Greek New Testament, the Received Text, they brought with them, or its translation, was of the type from which the Protestant Bibles, as the King James in the English, and the Lutheran in German, were translated." -- Dr. T. V. Moore, The Culdee Church, chapters 3 and 4, and Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, pp. 25, 26 (Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day). 1990 reprint, pp. 90-91).

These Christians were also against purgatory, a Roman papacy, the Roman Easter, clerical celibacy, and the sacramental liturgies that the Romans promoted (Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1997. According to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998).

(More on this portion of the true church can be found in the article The Pergamos Church Era. Also you can see Photos of Pergamos.)

Around 1050 the Pergamos era tended to fade and the Thyatira era began to rise up.

Thyatira

Various persecutions and killings occurred throughout this era and into the Thyatira era.

However, a later Roman Catholic Pope Leo, decided that killing those associated with the Church of God was not appropriate. This was confirmed by the Third Lateran Council in 1179, which apparently decided that economic blackmail was better:

As St. Leo says, though the discipline of the church should be satisfied with the judgment of the priest and should not cause the shedding of blood, yet it is helped by the laws of catholic princes so that people often seek a salutary remedy when they fear that a corporal punishment will overtake them. For this reason, since in Gascony and the regions of Albi and Toulouse and in other places the loathsome heresy of those whom some call the Cathars, others the Patarenes, others the Publicani, and others by different names, has grown so strong that they no longer practise their wickedness in secret, as others do, but proclaim their error publicly and draw the simple and weak to join them, we declare that they and their defenders and those who receive them are under anathema, and we forbid under pain of anathema that anyone should keep or support them in their houses or lands or should trade with them. If anyone dies in this sin, then neither under cover of our privileges granted to anyone, nor for any other reason, is mass to be offered for them or are they to receive burial among Christians. With regard to the Brabanters, Aragonese, Navarrese, Basques, Coterelli and Triaverdini {17 }, who practise such cruelty upon Christians that they respect neither churches nor monasteries, and spare neither widows, orphans, old or young nor any age or sex, but like pagans destroy and lay everything waste, we likewise decree that those who hire, keep or support them, in the districts where they rage around, should be denounced publicly on Sundays and other solemn days in the churches, that they should be subject in every way to the same sentence and penalty as the above-mentioned heretics and that they should not be received into the communion of the church, unless they abjure their pernicious society and heresy(Third Lateran Council, Canon 27. 1179 A.D. Translation taken from Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner).

The Third Lateran Council took place under Pope Alexander III, Frederick I being emperor. There were 302 bishops present. It condemned the Albigenses and Waldenses (The 21 Ecumenical Councils. Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/library/almanac_14388a.htm 02/12/06).

Notice that it specifically condemned those of Albi including those named Coterelli (spelled Cottrell when Anglicized).

But economic boycotting and shunning was not enough.

One Protestant scholar noted:

The next major step in the establishment of the Inquistion was taken by Innocent III...In the West, the same pope launched a "Crusade" against the Cathars, or Albigenses, of Southern France in 1208...In the second century of the Christian Era, most Christians refused to take up arms at all.. One millenium later, Christians were not only fighting for the church against "infidels" who had conquered ancient biblical lands, but against other Christians, heretical ones, who only asked to be able to live in peace on their ancestral soil...No matter how dreadful the use of violenc against the dualistic Albigneses was, it must be acknowledged that their heresy is incompatible with Christianity, indeed with biblical religion as such...Perhaps for medieval popes the crucial factor that caused them to condemn dissidents was really the dissidents' rejection of papal authority (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 260-261).

Notice that the Protestant scholar seems to feel that murdering Cathars and Albigenses who simply wanted to live in peace (but were not trinitarian) is more compatible with Catholic/Protestant "Christianity" than being faithful to the teachings of Christ and the early Christians who were against warfare. Are the real heretics those who were faithful to New Testament teachings against warfare or those who changed those teachings and killed?

Later, the famous inquisition also in southern France, began in earnest in 1233 when Pope Gregory IX charged the Dominican order with wiping out Cathari (their name mean Puritan, and that is where the Puritan developed from) and others they considered to be heretics. There is a long history of European church leaders attempting to eliminate those part of, or sympathetic to, the Church of God (some of this is discussed in the article Europa, the Beast, and Revelation).

One of the reasons that the Thyatirans were so hated, was that they considered that the Vatican represented a form of the antichrist. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

The Papal-Antichrist theory was gradually developed by three historical bodies: the Albigenses, the Waldenses, and the Fraticelli, between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries: are these the expositors from whom the Church of Christ is to receive the true interpretation of the prophecies? (Mass A.J. Antichrist. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Actually, those of Thyatira simply looked at the Bible and facts of history, and concluded what earlier ones understood about the great beast of Revelation representing a Roman empire, and that it was ridden by a woman representing a false church (Revelation 17) (an article of related interest may be Europa and the Beast of Revelation).

If there were some faithful true Christians among the Albigenses and the Waldenses (which is what I am claiming), then certainly they would be able to provide some true prophetic interpretation. (It should be noted that the Apostle John, and then his disciple Polycarp, were those that first identified the antichrist with Rome--thus it occurred prior to the 11th century--though it may have been a more direct public theory by then, especially because of the persecution authorized by papal authority).

Thyatira was the fourth of the seven Churches. It has been reported that one possibly Thyatira related congregation had a coat of arms containing seven candles with seven stars, with the fourth (reportedly to represent itself) as the largest; the coat of arms stated, "Lux Lucet in Tenebris"- meaning a light shines in the darkness. Thus, it may have known that it was the fourth candle/church of Revelation. Furthermore,

The Lutheran historian Mosheim admits that the congregations of the Church in the twelfth century held "a notion that the observance of the law of Moses, in everything except the offerings of sacrifices, was obligatory upon Christians ... they abstained from those meats the use of which was prohibited under the Mosaic economy, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath. The second tenet which distinguished this sect was advanced in opposition to the doctrine of three persons in the divine nature" (Hoeh, H. A True History of the True Church, 1959).

Even the Lutherans decided to collectively condemn them:

Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting...They condemn all heresies which have sprung up against this article, as the Manichaeans, who assumed two principles... (The Confession of Faith: Which Was Submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V. At the Diet of Augsburg in the Year 1530. by Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560. Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, pp. 37-95.)

Some of Thyatira seemed to have lived in the area of Transylvania and were persecuted for their beliefs:

And finally, the tragic “Accord of Deés” or Complanatio Deesiana in July 1638 definitely disjoined Sabbatarians from Unitarians. Unitarians were ordered to worship Jesus, baptize in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and to allow their publications censured--a coerced “complanatio.” The “Judaizers” and those who rejected and cursed Jesus, however, were excluded even from the new amnesty. Sabbatarians were easy target of the new discriminatory law: they observed the Sabbath, therefore they farmed on Sundays, abstained from eating pork and blood, celebrated the Passover with unleavened bread, and refused baptism of their children--the very sign of their expected conversion...The Court of Deés sentenced more than 1,000 Sabbatarians to prison and confiscation of their properties" (Gellérd, Judit. Spiritual Jews of Szekler Jerusalem A Four-Centuries History of Transylvanian Szekler (Székely) Sabbatarianism. In Literature of Memory VI: Hope and Despair STH TS 870, Fall 2000 Professor Elie Wiesel. http://w3.enternet.hu/sandor64/cffr/papers/sabbat.htm--04/13/06).

Carefully note that the "Judaizers" are separate from "those who rejected and cursed Jesus". In this region, there were both true Christians (the "Judaizers" who celebrated the Passover, etc.) and those who rejected Christ as Messiah. At least the above accounts distinguish between the two (often, we are lumped together by historians, which makes tracing the true Church of God difficult at times).

(For more information about why the true COG was not unitarian, please read the article, Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning.)

(More on this portion of the true church can be found in the article The Thyatira Church Era.)

Around 1600 the Thyatira era began to fade, and the Sardia era began to rise up.

Sardis

Jesus told the Sardis Church,

...you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:1-4).

It probably needs to be emphasize that since Jesus taught that the gates of the grave would not prevail against the true church, that the true church never actually died out, even though names associated with it changed. The Sardis era seemed to be the first in 1260 years to be back more publicly with less persecution than the Pergamos and Thyatira eras faced.

One interesting story tying the time of Thyatira to Sardis involves the Cottrell family. Although the pronouncement by the Third Lateran Council in 1179 was intended to eliminate heretics, it did not destroy them all, nor did the inquisition that followed it. One family, which was specifically named in the Third Lateran Council, the Cottrells (the Coterelli), had one member who did not die in the waves of persecution. One of his descendants left a Sabbath-keeping church in the UK in the 1600s and came to the USA where he attended a related Church of God. And one of his descendants, in the mid-late 1800s, was still a part, for a time, of a sabbath-keeping Church of God (the part that became Church of God, Seventh Day)--specifically he wrote that the name of the church needed to be the Church of God and he was opposed to the immortality doctrine that many who professed Christianity claimed. Thus, we may have an unbroken line of Church of God members, in the same family, for around 700 years. (Plus we do have the admission from The Catholic Encyclopedia that descendants of the Paulicians existed until the 20th century.)

It is reported that there was a sabbath-keeping church that apparently became established in the United Kingdom in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century known as the Mill Yard Church--this is approximately 1260 years after the Smyrnaeans fled because of the persecuting edicts of fourth century Roman Emperors:

MILL YARD, LONDON. 1617.

Origin. Some have supposed that this church owes its origin to the labors of John James, who was martyred Oct. 19, 1661. President Daland goes back as far as about 1580 (THE SABBATH IN ENGLAND (A.) BRIEF HISTORY OF KNOWN CHURCHES. Reprinted from "Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Volume 1, 1910 pp 39-63).

According to A.N. Dugger (who visited those in the Mill Yard Church for months) the Mill Yard Church and the Church of God, Seventh Day had the same doctrines in the 1930s (Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day), 1990 reprint, p.273).

In the 1600s there were numerous, but small, Sabbath-keeping congregations in England. As well as one or two established in the Americas (with the first one in Newport, Rhode Island in 1671).

A.N. Dugger, who was an important leader in a CG7 faction, also wrote:

Many historical statements have been printed...proving beyond doubt that the Cathari, Puritans, and Waldenses were the same people, and that they observed the seventh day of the week, held the Lord's Supper on the 14th of Abib, immersed for baptism, accepted the Bible name for the church, and, in general, held the truth as now taught by the Church of God (Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day). 1990 reprint, pp. 266-267).

John Ogwyn reported:

By the end of the 1500s, congregations that the world labeled "Sabbatarian Anabaptists" had emerged from remnants of the Waldensians and were growing in Central Europe, Germany and England. They were termed Sabbatarian because they taught and observed the seventh-day Sabbath. They were called Anabaptists, meaning "re-baptizers," because they refused to accept as Christians those who had merely been sprinkled as babies. They taught that baptism was only for adults who had come to believe the Gospel and had repented of their sins (cf. Acts 2:38) (Ogwyn, J. God's Church Through the Ages. LCG Booklet. 2003).

It may be of interest to note that the Anabaptists were condemned by the Lutherans:

Article IX: Of Baptism. Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God's grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children...Article XII:...They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. (The Confession of Faith: Which Was Submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V. At the Diet of Augsburg in the Year 1530. by Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560. Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, pp. 37-95.)

Here is a report about the Rhode Island church:

The church in Rhode Island was founded the year 1671, and Ephreta, Pennsylvania, May, 1725, with numerous other congregations throughout the eastern states as previously mentioned in this work. During these early colonial days congregations were at first isolated because of distance and a lack of means of travel with no roads between them. Thus being isolated from fellowship with one another, we find companies in one place called the Church of Christ, and the Church of God, while in other communities they were simply called "Sabbatarian Congregations," but the belief was practically the same. They stood for the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, observing the true Sabbath, keeping the Lord's Supper yearly on the 14th of the first month, with other tenets of faith in harmony with the true faith today. Owing to the isolation of these scattered companies they were known by different names which evidently gives rise to the Scriptural statement relative to the Sardis period, "I know thy works, that thou hast a NAME," Revelation 3:1 (Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day). 1990 reprint, pp. 252-253).

Notice that A.N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd considered the above church to be part of the Sardis Church of Revelation 3:1.

Regarding one of those early English Sabbath-keeping congregations:

An interesting article appeared, April 13. 1901, in the Birmingham Weekly Post, from which the following is an extract:

...at Natton, in the parish of Ashchurch. There the congregation meets on Saturday mornings when all their neighbors are about their secular occupations...The existence of the sect is known to but few people, and rarely does a stranger make an addition to the regular congregation of half a dozen or eight persons. But it is certainly an interesting fact that such a body should have existed for two centuries and a half. The curious in such matters would do well to store up a record of the sect before it passes out of existence altogether. There appears to be little attempt to propagate the faith, and without such effort the number of adherents is not likely to increase. The tiny congregation -- the only meeting of the kind out of London -- is one of the oddest things in the ecclesiastical world. Not merely is the gathering inconvenient, one would think, but the place of assemblage is a remote corner -- in a farmyard."

How could there be anything but decline under the circumstances...? (THE SABBATH IN ENGLAND (A.) BRIEF HISTORY OF KNOWN CHURCHES. Reprinted from "Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Volume 1, 1910 pp 39-63).

Herbert Armstrong as well as G.G. Rupert felt that what Christ said regarding Sardis described the Church of God, Seventh Day (CG7) (Nickels R.C. Six Paper on the History of the Church of God. Giving & Sharing, Neck City (MO), 1993, p.196).

In 1929, Herbert Armstrong had written A.N. Dugger about certain points that A.N. Dugger (then CG7 president) admitted in writing were correct (see the actual letter in the article Who Was Herbert W. Armstrong? How is He Viewed Today?). Later Herbert Armstrong wrote the following about it:

The only Church I had so far found which "kept the commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ," and at the same time bore the NAME of the original true Church, was this almost unknown little Church of God with its small publishing house in Stanberry, Missouri" (Autobiography 1973 ed., page 312).

...So, as the first step in this test, I wrote up an exposition of some 16 typewritten pages proving clearly, plainly, and beyond contradiction that a certain minor point of doctrine proclaimed by this church, based on an erroneous interpretation of a certain verse of Scripture, was in error. This was mailed to the Stanberry, Missouri, headquarters to see whether their leaders would confess error and change. The answer came back from their head man, editor of their paper and president of their "General Conference." He was forced to admit, in plain words, that their teaching on this point was false and in error. But, he explained, he feared that if any attempt was made to correct this false doctrine and publicly confess the truth, many of their members, especially those of older standing and heavy tithe payers, would be unable to accept it. He feared they would lose confidence in the Church if they found it had been in error on any point. He said he feared many would withdraw their financial support, and it might divide the Church. And therefore he felt the Church could do nothing but continue to teach and preach this doctrine which he admitted in writing to be false. Naturally, this shook my confidence considerably. This church leader, if not the church itself, was looking to people as the SOURCE of belief, instead of to God! Yet, here was the only Church holding to the one greatest basic truth of the Commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, kept in the NAME of God, and in spite of this and a few other erroneous teachings, nevertheless being closer to the whole truth than any church I had found. If this was not the true Church of God, then where was it? (pages 315-316).

A.N. Dugger, who would not change because he feared a split, however, still ended up with a split church. Four years after he admitted that Herbert Armstrong was right in writing, CG7 divided into two parts in 1933. And that is the year that Herbert Armstrong felt that the Philadelphia era began.

Since Herbert Armstrong's death in 1986, CG7 has more and more failed to 'hold fast' (even though as of 2014, it still observes the Passover on the 14th of Nisan).

In October 2003, CG7-Denver's president urged its members to celebrate Reformation Month and to meditate on Martin Luther's accomplishments. CG7 is heading further towards Protestantism and is warned that its most of its members will not notice when Jesus will come, but a few may. CG7 no longer teaches Church eras, though it once did (see A. Dugger's A History of the True Religion, 1990 reprint). So, it does seem to fulfill the prophesy to it that it has "a name that you are alive, but you are dead." While this may also been true of the Church in Sardis in the late 1st Century, it is true of CG7 in the 21st century (more information can be found in the article Church of God, Seventh Day).

(More on this portion of the true church can be found in the article The Sardis Church Era.)

Philadelphia

Hear are the words of Jesus to the Philadelphians:

7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write,

'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens": 8 "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie — indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 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. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.

13 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."' (Revelation 3:7-13)

The Philadelphians do not deny Christ's words and truly put the Bible above traditions of men.

Herbert Armstrong taught that the Sardis era ended in 1933 and that was the year that the Philadelphia era began. In a special edition of the Worldwide News dated June 24, 1985, he wrote:

“I continued to work with and fellowship with West Coast members of the Sardis era until 1942, when the rapidly growing work of the fledgling Philadelphia era required my full time. The present era was officially begun in October, 1933.”

Like the other eras of the true Church, those in Philadelphia (the pre-1986 Worldwide Church of God and now the faithful remnant) observe the seventh day Sabbath, keep the ten commandments, teach against the immortality of the soul, and observe Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

Although all the messages to the Churches state, "I know your works", it is only to Philadelphia that Jesus says, "See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it."

It was not until the 20th century that the technology of automated transportation and electronic media (such as radio and television) came forth to allow the COG to have much international impact. Herbert Armstrong's ministry was the most effective COG minister in post-Apostolic history when it came to numbers reached with Christ's Gospel of the Kingdom. This makes the work of the Philadelphia Church highly significant. For a short time, The World Tomorrow was the number one rated religious television program in the USA--a major accomplishment for such a 'little flock.' For a while its radio broadcast was also one of the most listened to. Millions also received the Plain Truth magazine. And the "gospel of the kingdom" was "preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations" (Matthew 24:14), through various media as well as through Herbert Armstrong's personal visits. However, since the remainder of the verse is "and then the end will come," this makes it clear that this preaching of the Gospel is to occur until the end.

Another item of significance is this statement from Jesus to the Church of Philadelphia:

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 (Revelation 3:10).

This is the same time Christ warned about in Matthew 24:21:

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Since this has NOT happened yet, and could NOT have happened during the Apostle John's time, this is further proof that the letters to the Churches in Revelation 2 & 3 are prophetic and were NOT simply intended to be contemporary (those who discount the idea of "church eras" need to really mediate and pray about what these verses actually mean).

Additionally, the proclamation of the gospel and the timing of the tribulation is part of what is important about the Churches in Revelation 2 & 3.

It is so important, that at the time of the end, it is only those that are protected, the Philadelphians represented by a woman, that are considered to represent the true church. The other believers at the end are simply considered to be part of "the rest of her offspring":

But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:14-17).

Unlike the Philadelphians, the rest of her offspring are not promised protection from "from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10). And Revelation 12:17 shows that Satan the dragon will make war against them.

(More on this portion of the true church can be found in the article The Philadelphia Church Era.) The church that best represents the Philadelphia remnant in these end times is the Continuing Church of God.

Laodicea

The next church is Laodicea. Like the other eras of the true Church, those in Laodicea observe the seventh day Sabbath, keep the ten commandments, teach against the immortality of the soul, have the testimony of Jesus Christ, and observe Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

After Herbert Armstrong died in January 1986, his designated successor, Joseph Tkach, Sr. claimed that while he could not fill Herbert Armstrong's shoes, he would walk in his footsteps and not change biblical doctrines. However, he did not keep his word but compromised with doctrine, advocated lawlessness, etc. This caused many to fall away, and others to scatter. Many Laodicean groups later formed.

Laodicea is last and is the predominant state of those in the COG at the time of the end (but not the only one).

Laodicea is made of Greek words which basically mean "the people decide."

Jesus told the Church of the Laodiceans:

14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore 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 dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame 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."'" (Revelation 3:14-22).

Jesus is not pleased with the works of this church, thus it does not seem to be the one to fulfill Matthew 24:14. Laodicea also is made up of various ones who put their own (sometimes new) traditions above the word of God. Jesus tells them to repent.

Years prior to its arrival, the following was written about Laodicea:

Just as the remnants of the Sardis era of the Church exist side by side with the Philadelphia era, SO WE WILL CONTINUE OUR WORK to the very "end time" when another group will appear -- a group not accounted worthy to escape the coming tribulation. Another separate work is yet to arise -- made up of begotten individuals who are spiritually lukewarm! WOE BE TO ANY OF US IF WE TAKE PART IN SUCH A WORK! Here is a work, yet to arise because of our preaching" (True History of the True Church, 1959).

That is correct, the Laodiceans rose because of the preaching of Philadelphia. They are the rest of our "offspring" and even though they are those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ," they are not protected in a place in the wilderness (Revelation 12:14-17).

The Laodiceans, because of their misorientation towards the work and building character, have latched on to many errors in prophetic understanding that will prevent them from knowing when the Great Tribulation will be unless they repent sufficiently prior to its start. More on this portion of the church can be found in the article The Laodicea Church Era.

But Why Specifically Protect the Philadelphians?

Although throughout the Herbert Armstrong years, many speculated about what would happen to those who escaped while they were at the 'place of safety,' few focused on what their later purpose would be.

Look at what God's people will be doing,

I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations: to Tarshish and Pul and Lud, who draw the bow, and Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off who have not heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles (Isaiah 66:19).

Those that go to the place will have participated in God's fame and His glory. Doesn't Isaiah indicate that those that escape to this place will preach the Gospel once they leave it? Is it not then logical that those that were allowed to escape and go to this place were those that placed their top emphasis on getting the Gospel out prior to escaping?

Wouldn't that be the group that Jesus set before an open door? Wouldn't it more specifically be the group that continued to go through that open door?

Yes.

And who is that? The remnant of the Philadelphia Church! Best represented in these end times by the Continuing Church of God.

Unity?

In an ad in the Connections' section of The Journal Stedfast's Arlen Berkey mentions a theme that others have also addressed when he wrote, "The Church is the house of God (Ephesians 2:19). It is supposed to be united and compacted together (Ephesians 4:11-16). Jesus Christ tells us: “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). Division in the Church today is not of God. He wants unity."

While that may be God's desire, it is not the reality from the Bible (and Mr. Berkey did correctly point that out). "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (I Corinthians 11:19). The term translated 'factions' is translated as 'sect' 6 times in the Book of Act and is "properly, a choice, i.e. (specially) a party or (abstractly) disunion" (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.).

In other words, there must be groups of differences within the true Church! Revelation 2 & 3 mention 7 main COG factions (some of which have sub-factions), plus one non-COG faction in almost all of them. Interestingly, this non-COG faction consists of those who claim to be part of the Church or its leadership, but are not (Revelation 2:2,9,14,20;3:9).

The Bible does not teach of full faithful unity happening until after the return of Jesus Christ (see Revelation 19-21; Zechariah 2:10-11). See also the article Unity: Which COG for You?

The Work of Proclaiming the Gospel until the End

Whether or not one accepts that the churches in Revelation 2 & 3 are also successive (there is no doubt that they were initially contemporaneous and that some of those spiritual conditions have existed to some degree throughout Church history), it is abundantly clear that there are at least eight factions mentioned in Revelation. However, it is only to the Church at Philadelphia that Jesus set an open door.

The Bible is quite clear that the open door is the door to proclaim the Gospel (II Corinthians 2:12; I Corinthians 16:8-9; Colossians 4:2-4; Acts 14:27). No other Church in Revelation 2 & 3 is given an open door. It should be obvious that the dead Church (Sardis) and the one whose works Jesus vomits out of His mouth (Laodicea) will NOT be the faction that is fulfilling Matthew 24:14.

The Philadelphia era of the Church has long taught (and still believes),

God will set before us an open door and no man can shut it. God can shut it, and He will when the work is finished and the Philadelphia Church has gone to the place of safety...Philadelphia has little strength to do this great work which God has given it to do...It is the Church of Laodicea who had no vital part in the work of God today even though they live today and are part of the generation which will see Christ return" (What is the Laodicean Church? Good News, August 1959, p.10).

To learn some of how, despite our imperfections, the Continuing Church of God is fulfilling this, please check out: Letter to the Brethren: April 5, 2013. See also The Final Phase of the Work (here is a related YouTube video sermon titled The Final Phase of the Work;the written article has been into Spanish La Fase Final de la Obra.

Jesus Warns the Churches

Recall that Jesus warns people who were part of Philadelphia, "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. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:10-11).

Apparently there are many who do not did not 'hold fast' or Jesus would not have needed to make that warning. Those people are not Philadelphians, or who were but did not keep Jesus' command to persevere, will not be protected from the hour of trial. Jesus also provides warnings to those part of Sardis and Laodicea to repent or face the consequences (Revelation 3:3,19). As Revelation 3:10 and 12:17 makes clear, one must hold fast to more than keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus Christ to be protected.

Herbert Armstrong

Herbert Armstrong taught:

I want to speak on the mission of the Philadelphia Era of the Church...It's been seeming more and more to me, as the years go by, that the Bible was written primarily for the Philadelphia Era of the Church...Today's mission of the Church you will find in Matthew 24:14. And this gospel of the kingdom…that is the same gospel that Jesus preached…shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Mission of the Philadelphia Church Era. Sermon, December 17, 1983).

He then listed 18 restored truths and continued with, "Well, brethren, all those things have been restored and there is a mission for this Church that never applied, and has never been done by any other Church."

Most in the COG used to believe this mission and those 18 truths.

Those in the Continuing Church of God clearly teach and believe the actual 18 truths that Herbert Armstrong claimed God used him to restore to the Philadelphia Church. They also place the same financial priority on proclaiming the Gospel to the world as a witness that WCG did under HWA's leadership.

These are the same criteria that Jesus established for the Philadelphia Church--the criteria of the open the door (which by deduction the Philadelphia Church was to utilize), continuing to do so through perseverance (many these days have reasoned around this), and holding fast to what was restored to that Church. If God raised HWA up to lead the main Philadelphia Church and he taught that the 18 truths were restored specifically to that Church (which he did, see Mystery of the Ages, p.251), then it is logical to conclude that this is what Jesus was teaching in Revelation 3:11 to hold fast too!

The Philadelphia Church Holds Fast

Since Laodicea means 'the people decide' it is logical that it is split into many groups (though all together, including independents, would constitute Laodicea). But this is not so with Philadelphia,

God does not have two organizations carrying out His work of preaching the gospel to the world at one time. The {Philadelphia} Church is not a divided work competing with itself...It is the Church of Laodicea who had no vital part in the work of God today even though they live today and are part of the generation which will see Christ return" (What is the Laodicean Church? Good News, August 1959, p.9-10).

Jesus warns those who were once part of the Philadelphia era to 'hold fast'--perhaps to keep them from scattering and being part of Laodicea--and so they will be protected from peril. These messages MUST have relevance today, and simply COULD NOT have only been intended for the people who were alive when John penned the Revelation he received from Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Not all of the statements to the original seven churches in Asia Minor could have been contemporaneous as some of them still have yet to come to pass. Both the lessons of the Bible and secular history demonstrate that understanding about the Churches in Revelation 2 & 3 can aid true believers in determining what does (as well as what does not), constitute the true Christian Church today.

Throughout history, there have been relatively small groups of believers (it should be noted that only the Church of God can properly explain how and why the Bible teaches that most will be saved even though only a minority of Christians have thus far existed throughout history--this is documented in the article Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differs from most Protestants). These groups had various characteristics described by Jesus in the Book of Revelation. And the the church that strives to be the most faithful remnant in these end times is the Continuing Church of God.

Now the some may ask themselves, do not other groups claim that they can trace their histories from the beginning?

Certainly.

However, even Roman Catholic scholars admit that they had no clear succession of bishops until the mid-second century (this is documented in the article What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History?). And most Protestants claim to have descended from the Roman dominated church, hence they have a similar history. And while the Orthodox Church claims that it can trace its history, it clearly does not hold beliefs that its declared saints such as Polycarp and Melito believed (this is clearly documented in the article Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Churches of God).

As documented earlier in this article, it was the second century Smyrna church leaders, that from the earliest known time, protested against the Roman Church.

If the Roman Catholic Church is not the true church, then it is logical that the true church would be traced through those known leaders who originally refused to accept Roman authority AND who still holds to the same teachings that those leaders protested about. Specifically, for two examples, they taught that they had to rely on scripture above human tradition and that they would observe Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

So why are the messages to the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 important?

Because they contain promises and warnings that we need to hear and heed. They give clues on how to trace the true church throughout history from the Book of Acts to the present day.

At the time of the end, a major difference between the Philadelphians and the Laodiceans is that the Laodiceans rely on their own understandings or statements from their leaders that they seem to consider to be more important than those of the Bible. Philadelphians, according to Jesus, "have a little strength, have kept My word" (Revelation 3:8). In these end times, this is important to realize as the attitude of the Laodiceans predominates.

As this article has documented, what Jesus said would come to pass has either so far come to pass or is about to come to pass with the churches. And this occurred with those that are part of the true Church of God. Neither the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, or other churches can trace their history through Revelation 2 & 3.

Seven times Jesus said so. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29;3:6,13,22).

Will you?

Back to home page

Thiel, B. Ph.D. The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2004/2006/2007/2008/2009/2010/2012/2013/2014 0714

Articles of further interest may include:

Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?

Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.

Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim "saints" from both? "Saints" that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?

The Seven Church Eras of Revelation This is a YouTube video. A summary of the history of the Christian church's history is included in chapters 2 & 3 of the Book of Revelation. Do you know what happened to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia? What are some signs of Laodicea? Who is keeping the word of God and who is holding to traditions of men above the Bible?

Continuing Church of God The group striving to be most faithful amongst all real Christian groups to the word of God.

The Ephesus Church Era predominant from 31 A.D. to circa 135 A.D.
The Smyrna Church Era predominant circa 135 A.D. to circa 450 A.D.
The Pergamos Church Era predominant circa 450 A.D. to circa 1050 A.D.
The Thyatira Church Era predominant circa 1050 A.D. to circa 1600 A.D.
The Sardis Church Era predominant circa 1600 A.D. to circa 1933 A.D.
The Philadelphia Church Era predominant circa 1933 A.D. to 1986 A.D. The remnant of which is now best represented by the Continuing Church of God.
The Laodicean Church Era predominant circa 1986 A.D. to present.

Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from 31 A.D. to 2014.