The True History of God’s True Church
Preface: A History Not Fully Told
In days gone by in the Worldwide Church of God (wcg), I always loved reading A True History of the True Church, by Herman Hoeh. It is a very inspiring booklet.
However, that booklet was discontinued. I am certain that Herbert W. Armstrong, pastor general of the wcg until his death in 1986, was behind that decision, and I always wondered why he did that. During Mr. Armstrong’s lifetime, the history of God’s true Church was always well reported—but there must have been something he didn’t like about that booklet. I recently decided to read it again to see if I could determine what it was.
I believe of all the writers in the wcg, after Mr. Armstrong, the man who wrote the most stirring, effective and helpful articles was Dr. Hoeh. He came to Ambassador College as a young man. Mr. Armstrong taught him how to write and to teach, and he became one of the outstanding scholars in the Work. Mr. Armstrong really nurtured him and helped him grow into the evangelist he became. Dr. Hoeh wrote profusely. He gave excellent classes, and at Ambassador College, I took every class he taught that I could because I felt they were so valuable. Few people were given more opportunities in the wcg than Dr. Hoeh.
But in A True History of the True Church, I discovered that Dr. Hoeh made one deadly error that led to other mistakes in his booklet. Other writers committed the same error.
For this reason, I have come to realize that the full story of the Church’s history has never been properly told.
The book you are reading corrects that error.
The mindset that led to those mistakes in the Church history booklet ended up being fully exposed after Mr. Armstrong died. When you understand the prophecies about God’s true Church in this end time, you can understand why that would be the case.
Mr. Armstrong did a masterful job of explaining Church history, especially the first era. He gave the overview that helps us understand all Church history. However, Dr. Hoeh and other writers failed to value the instruction Mr. Armstrong gave on the subject! That is because they were harboring spiritually lukewarm traits and tendencies—even while Mr. Armstrong was alive. That was the main problem with what they wrote.
This book contains a lot of material on the first era of the Church, Ephesus, in an effort to fully document the outstanding truth Mr. Armstrong taught about it. If you fail to deeply understand that first era as he taught it, you cannot see the whole picture.
And as this book will also show, if you understand what those other writers did by neglecting what Mr. Armstrong taught about Church history, you get a clear picture of the spiritual problems within the Church that produced the last era of the Church—the Laodicean era.
It wasn’t until that Laodicean era unfolded that we could have a complete understanding of Church history.
When you recognize what has happened to God’s Church in this end time, it makes the importance and relevance of the history contained in this book many times greater for us today! It is my hope and prayer that you will take much instruction, correction and inspiration from this, the true history of two millennia of the Spirit-begotten saints of God.
Chapter 1: A Prophecy About God’s Church
The book of Revelation is all about world news! What God gave in the Bible’s most important book of prophecy is a description of world events that carry this world to the time of Jesus Christ’s Second Coming!
The Apostle John recorded the prophecy, but he didn’t understand most of it. It is for this time right now, and it is mostly about the chaotic present. The terrible events besieging our world were all prophesied in Revelation. We can see it as never before: The events it describes are beginning to unfold before our eyes!
Revelation gives us a time sequence of major events. It supplies the story flow. Every gigantic step in world events is described in that book, where we can read and study it.
God gives His Church a great responsibility, and He expects a lot from us. He charges us to deliver a message of hope and good news. But that message also includes a strong warning about the worst suffering ever to strike this Earth, just before Christ’s Second Coming. God commands that we do all we can to broadcast this message to the whole world.
A lot of insight about the Church’s commission can be found in the earliest chapters of the book of Revelation.
Prophecy From the Father
Consider what is revealed in just the first few words of the book of Revelation: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God [the Father] gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass …” (Revelation 1:1). These words introduce God the Father and Jesus Christ. The first verse of Revelation demonstrates God’s royal family government. The Father is the Head of His Family.
The Apostle John recorded this prophetic message, but this book came from God the Father. He structured everything precisely and carefully. He wants us to know that all this revelation came from Him—not from Christ, not from an angel, certainly not from John—never from a man!
This book contains the Father’s prophecies about future events, which He gave to Jesus Christ to share with His servants. The Father is the originator of prophecy. This reveals the Father’s thinking about His coming Family, the Kingdom of God—the good news that is the gospel.
Verse 7 describes the event that will introduce that Kingdom to the world—Christ’s return: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him ….” The book of Revelation is all about the Second Coming. Our lives must revolve around that great cause—to the extent that, if necessary, we would die for it.
Prophecy also reveals the terrible events that will precede Christ’s return, including the dreadful Day of the Lord. Revelation depicts this in detail, starting in verse 10, where John wrote: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day ….” The Day of the Lord is the theme of this book. So much of Revelation describes the events that occur right before the Second Coming. Zephaniah called it the day of God’s wrath (Zephaniah 1:15, 18). The book of Revelation reveals God’s wrath on the people of this world. It foretells the time when God will send plagues upon plagues.
Then, at the end of that day of wrath, events will climax with Jesus Christ returning to Earth! Revelation shows the exact sequence of events that will lead to that grand-smash event.
Regarding His Second Coming, Jesus Himself said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Only the Father knows “that day and hour.” The book of Revelation is about “things which shall be hereafter” (Revelation 1:19). It is a book of prophecy that must come to pass! God the Father will see to it!
In Revelation 1:4, John addressed this book “to the seven churches which are in Asia.” Why seven churches?
Verse 10 concludes with John hearing “a great voice, as of a trumpet”—and then notice what immediately follows: “Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea” (verse 11). Again we see seven churches, and here they are specifically listed.
These were literal congregations that existed in the region of modern-day Turkey during the first century a.d. These churches, Herbert W. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages, “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.”
However, as Mr. Armstrong went on to write, these messages to the seven churches—recorded in detail throughout chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation—were intended for a much larger audience than those dwelling in Asia Minor.
“I will build my church,” Jesus Christ said, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Christ promised and prophesied that He would build His very own Church and that it would never die! It would remain in existence until His Second Coming. So that Church has to be on this Earth somewhere, or Christ is a liar!
But Christ didn’t tell us how to identify His Church in Matthew 16. God does that in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation.
These seven churches in Revelation 1 through 3 are, prophetically, seven eras of the New Testament Church! These messages are actually a series of remarkable prophecies about the future of God’s true Church. They describe seven successive Church eras, beginning with the first-century Ephesus era started by Jesus Christ when He was on Earth and continuing to the seventh and final era in these latter days—Laodicea.
Mr. Armstrong wrote, “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” (ibid; emphasis mine throughout).
Many people say that these seven churches are only history. But think on this. Remember what it says in Revelation 1:1: This book of Revelation is meant to show God’s servants “things which must shortly come to pass.” Revelation is a book of prophecy. It puts all prophecy into a time frame—a chronological order. That is why this book is so critical!
The seven eras became history only after their prophecy was fulfilled.
Smyrna and Ephesus were only about 35 miles apart, yet one is in tribulation (Revelation 2:10), and the other is not. Why, if this is only history? The Sardis Church is dead (Revelation 3:1). A few miles down the road is Philadelphia, one of the best churches (verses 7-12). This wouldn’t make sense if it were only history.
But there is a much greater proof that those churches refer to more than just history. The sixth era, Philadelphia, was fulfilled under Herbert W. Armstrong, who died in 1986. He left a superabundance of history and prophecy of the Philadelphia era and how it tied to the five eras preceding it.
Now we are in the last hour of the seventh and final era—the Laodicean era. There is abundant proof of this era being fulfilled now and how it is connected to the other six eras of God’s true Church—and, more importantly, to the prophetic Second Coming of Christ!
The greatest proof that these seven eras are not just history is found in the published messages of the last two eras. All of these messages are freely available in books, booklets, magazines and a 36-lesson correspondence course. They are also available on the Internet.
The world has never understood these messages. Christ addresses them specifically to the seven eras of His Church. They give the all-important overview of the history and prophecy of God’s true Church.
In the Midst of the Churches
In Revelation 1:12, John turns toward the powerful voice he heard and sees “seven golden candlesticks,” or lamps. These golden lamps symbolize the seven successive Church eras (verse 20). Each lamp would be the only source of spiritual light in a very dark world. God’s saints clearly see this glorious light. The world in general, however, is oblivious to it.
In the rest of the chapter, John describes a vision of the glorified Jesus Christ. “And in the midst of the seven [lamps] one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle” (verse 13). Read the next verses to get the vision of this spectacular Being! John was so moved that “when I saw him,” he wrote, “I fell at his feet as dead”! (verse 17).
Take note that this fiery God is standing “in the midst of the seven candlesticks“—the seven eras of God’s Church. The glorious Jesus Christ is right in the midst of the seven churches, deeply involved in them! That is how each era does a dynamic work for God. It all depends on Christ dwelling in the middle of God’s Work. Christ personally and powerfully guides and directs His true Church, era by era. He explains our responsibilities and provides guidance to help us fulfill them. The power and dynamism of each era exists in direct proportion to how much it relies on Jesus Christ!
This vision shows us that Christ dwells only in the midst of these seven churches. Obviously, there were many other church congregations when John recorded this vision. So why would God direct him to focus on just seven? Because these seven represent the entire Church of God from the time of Christ’s first coming to His Second Coming. Seven is the biblical number of completion. So the seven churches are the seven eras from the time of Christ’s first coming to the end of this age. That is the complete picture.
The first three chapters of Revelation provide the foundation for the whole book. Chapter 1 starts with the Father and Son (Revelation 1:1). Then it gives us a picture of these fiery Beings and their power. Chapters 2 and 3 describe the Church, which is Christ’s Bride, and the work she is to do. Church eras give us a God Family context. Along with the prophets, this is the foundational governmental structure of the World Tomorrow!
The Head of God’s Church is described in the first chapter of Revelation. Satan’s first area of attack and number one goal is to get the minds of God’s people off the fiery God who is our Head!
The second area Satan attacks is Church eras. The devil has enacted a great plot over the centuries to cover up the history of God’s Church. We need to understand this plot because it is a warning to God’s people today. Satan has worked feverishly to destroy the truth about these eras. If Satan destroys this knowledge, we become confused and blind about who we are. Our commission becomes vague or lost. Understanding Church eras gives us context as to who we are and what we should be doing!
Throughout history, God’s people have had to battle to hang on to the truth.
God the Father gave the book of Revelation to Christ, and Christ then distributed it (Revelation 1:1). But if you’ll notice, some Bibles print a portion of the book in red letters, which denotes Christ’s own words. This shows that Christ added to the book of Revelation (verse 2) as God the Father directed Him. What He added, you and I really need to understand in this end time.
In Revelation 1, you can see that parts of verses 8 and 11 are red-letter, for example. All of Revelation 2 and 3 is red-letter. It is what Christ inspired John to write for His Church! This is a message we must understand if we are going to be able to serve Him and do His and the Father’s Work. That is why Christ added it.
Christ has an important message for each of these seven eras. In his booklet The Key to the Book of Revelation, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The second and third chapters contain the messages to the seven churches. These represent the Church in its seven successive stages through the age, and also the seven characteristics to be found in the Church all through the age—the Ephesian condition dominating at the beginning, the Laodicean condition at the end.”
He then wrote, “You should study, and apply to yourself, these messages.” Each of us should take that advice to heart.
In a World Tomorrow broadcast, Mr. Armstrong said that the seven churches, which anciently were congregations that lay along a single mail route, “formed a perfect … pattern.” In addition to being a prophecy of seven successive eras of the Church, they were also “typical of the general conditions among God’s people anywhere and at any time.” That means we should be very attuned to all seven of these messages.
Here Christ gives His people encouragement and praise, as well as some profound correction. Yes, Christ does correct His people—and sometimes it can become extremely difficult to do God’s Work! But all these challenges lead to the Second Coming, and that should keep us inspired forever!
Christ sends this message to the seven Church eras. He uses those seven churches to deliver His message throughout those eras.
God has given us the greatest commission He has ever given to man! In a time of increasing global crisis, we are here to deliver this message for God to this world.
Jesus Christ prepared the foundation for the Ephesus era, so there is a lot we need to study about that era in particular and the example it set.
Much of this history is prophetic. For example, there are many striking parallels between the first-century and last-century churches of God. In fact, many of the first-century examples are prophecies about the end time. It is clear that much of what happened to the first-century Church is happening again before our eyes today. Our booklet Colossians: First-Century Parallels gives you a powerful example of this prophetic duality. (We will send you a copy upon request. All of our literature is free.)
God’s Church in the first century preached the gospel around the known world. That was only a type of what would happen in the end time just before Christ’s Second Coming. The gospel was not preached around the world again until the last century, by Herbert W. Armstrong. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). Christ could not have made that event a sign of the end (verse 3) if this were not true.
Around a.d. 100, the Ephesus era came to a sad ending. The Church had lost its first love (Revelation 2:4). Facing intense persecution, the people were no longer excited about preaching the gospel around the world. They grew “weary in well doing.”
Though Mr. Armstrong preached God’s gospel around the world in this end time, the church he founded also lost its first love (Matthew 24:12). The people stopped loving God and His Work above their own lives. Like the Ephesian church, they grew “weary in well doing.” The Philadelphia era became the Laodicean, or lukewarm, era (Revelation 3:7-21).
A Vision of the Church
The prophecies in Revelation concerning the Church get even more detailed than what is covered in Revelation 2 and 3. In addition to correlating critical end-time prophetic events that lead up to Christ’s return, large portions of the book of Revelation deal with events concerning the Church in the last days. It unveils some dreadful prophecies concerning the true people of God living in this end time.
Revelation 12 covers a pivotal period in the history of God’s Church—and of another church, ruled by Satan.
God’s Church is “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12:1). That is a picture of the tremendous power God gives to His Church, which is being prepared to rule with Christ over the entire universe.
Verse 2 shows that the subject here begins with Christ’s birth.
But then, there is also “another wonder in heaven”: “a great red dragon,” or Satan (verse 3). He is pictured here with “seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” These heads, horns and crowns picture world-ruling empires in human history—empires that were governed by Satan himself! You can match this with other biblical prophecies, particularly in the book of Daniel, and the record of history to learn what these empires were. The last of them—the Roman Empire—has 10 horns, meaning that there would be 10 resurrections of that empire. The last of these resurrections is prophesied to occur just before the Second Coming, and it is happening on the world scene right now!
In this vision, Satan was ready to devour the Christ-child, but God protected His Son (verse 5). This child was born to rule the world and to replace Satan, who rules this world now (verse 9; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4).
The whole world has been deceived. That includes all religions of this world except the true Church of God. But that does not mean the deceived people are lost forever. God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). God will save most people in these deceived religions. However, He is going to do it according to His master plan and in His time frame. This is explained in our free booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?
Satan eagerly longed to devour Christ. Today, he longs to devour God’s Church, the people of God. Over the centuries, he has been very consistent in using one particularly potent weapon—and it has done tremendous damage to the true Church of God!
Martyrdom of the Saints
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (Revelation 13:7). This scripture refers to this satanic weapon: It is a “beast” (verses 1-5)—a powerful political empire. God says He will allow this power to make war with many of His saints and overcome them, or kill them! As we will see, many prophecies show that most of God’s own people in this final Church era, Laodicea, will be killed! God’s lukewarm Church must be warned! God does not protect these rebellious Laodiceans, but He does protect His very elect.
Here is a related passage that gives us additional important details—and is even more chilling: “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration” (Revelation 17:3-6).
These verses refer to the same Satan-inspired empire described in Revelation 13 (verses 1-10). However, the beast in Revelation 17 only pictures the last seven resurrections of that empire. It adds the knowledge that a woman rides or guides the last seven heads of the beast. This woman, named “Mystery, Babylon the Great,” is drunk with the blood of the saints.
The Bible teaches that a woman is the symbol for a church. The woman depicted in Revelation 17 is a great false church that worships the devil and guides a mighty political power.
This passage is speaking of Satan’s counterfeit of the true Church. This counterfeit church was prophesied to grow large in numbers and to exert political influence over the nations. And these verses also show that it will lead a future martyrdom of God’s saints!
The Apostle John marveled at this spectacular vision (Revelation 17:6). He wanted to understand it. Do you understand these incredible prophecies? God strongly desires that each one of His Church members know what they mean.
Which modern church represents the great whore of Revelation 17? What political power does this church rule over? It is vital to know the answers to these questions. The end-time martyrdom of the saints is about to begin. We must be sure we do not fall into the death trap of this great false church and the beast power.
John did not understand what he saw because it was not time to understand. The Prophet Daniel experienced a similar situation (Daniel 12:8-9). However, the last book of the Bible was intended to be a revealing in this end time, not a concealing. We are living in the time of the end. God wants us to understand these amazing prophecies.
John wrote, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3). God gave His Church the prophecies in the book of Revelation and other books as a blessing. Understanding and keeping these prophecies will help us escape what is coming.
As we will prove in this book, this prophesied church-state combine is the Holy Roman Empire. Putting several prophecies together shows that this empire is resurrected seven times.
This empire rising up seven times is the primary weapon the devil uses to attack and kill God’s saints repeatedly through the centuries!
Jesus Christ called His Church a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). The word little in the original Greek means small in number, size or quantity. Christ revealed here that God’s true Church would not be a large organization. It would be small in size. Christ promised that the Church would never die, but He never said it would enjoy a large following.
However, it would have a powerful message in the last two eras.
Jesus Christ explained why the Church would be small. He said, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). During His earthly ministry, Jesus suffered intense persecution culminating in His crucifixion! He warned the Church that it would be persecuted too.
This is another lesson we can learn from first-century events surrounding the Church. The Ephesus era suffered intense persecution (Acts 8:1). Prophecy shows that the saints in the Laodicean era will also suffer intense persecution.
As we will see, much of the early Church persecution came as a result of the actions of a man named Simon Magus. Early Church history concerning Simon Magus gives us insight into what will happen in this end of the end time. Hidden within the book of Acts is also the history of the beginning of the great false church discussed in the book of Revelation.
Most of the events recorded in Acts took place west and northwest of Jerusalem in the regions of Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. Why did God only include the history related to this geography? Because the false system—both religious and political—also rose in this same geographic location.
All other events in God’s true Church at that time slipped into relative unimportance because the real trouble it would face was not going to come from Jerusalem and areas east of the city. Yes, the Jewish persecution on the Church was a serious affliction; many people were imprisoned and martyred. But God knew that the major persecution against the Church would come from Rome and adjacent areas. This is also why Acts concerns itself primarily with the Apostle Paul. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. He dealt personally with the government in Rome and with the ministers of the great false religious system.
Many people fail to recognize that the incredible history of Simon Magus’s church and Europe has shaped our Western world.
War Between Two Churches
Recognizing how the devil uses his counterfeit church in order to attack God’s true Church, look again at the vision in Revelation 12. Verse 6 describes the true Church having to flee into the wilderness. This too is a prophecy. For 1,260 years (described prophetically as “days”), God’s people were on the run from persecution, having to escape the confines of the Holy Roman Empire or face death. This book will explain this remarkable history.
Those events were quite tragic—except for the fact that, because of that trouble, God prepared many people to become part of the Bride of Jesus Christ! Because of what those saints of God endured, when God establishes His Kingdom, they will have the highest positions anybody could ever have!
Nothing could shake these people—not even the threat of losing their lives! They were relentless in their obedience to God. What kept them going? They had a vision of their magnificent future with God! If you have this vision, it will make a big difference in the way you face life and endure trials. Getting this vision into your mind makes life thrilling and exciting! And when trials come, you will know how to face them.
This is critical for us to remember, considering the prophecies of what is just ahead of us. Verse 9 depicts Satan being cast down and confined to Earth. That event occurred at the very beginning of the last era of God’s Church. Remember this vital revelation from God: Verses 7-17 are all about the Laodicean era—the last era, which we are living in right now. It is during this period that the seventh and last head of the Holy Roman Empire rises as a superpower and martyrs many thousands of God’s saints.
These prophecies are sobering, but they also give us the perspective we need. They show that the last horn of that prophetic beast leads directly to the Second Coming of Christ and His destruction of this evil empire forever!
The United States, Britain and Europe today stand at a consequential crossroads. Events taking place soon will dramatically reshape life as we know it. The European Union will renew an unholy alliance with Simon Magus’s church and plunge this world into the Great Tribulation. God’s true Church will again make history during this coming conflict.
In order to understand the prophecies of the near future—to fully understand what lies ahead for the United States, Great Britain, Europe, the great false church and God’s true Church—we must have a good grasp of history. We must especially become students of Church history. The story of God’s true Church through the centuries has much to teach us in this urgent, dangerous time immediately before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!
Chapter 2: The Origin of the Great False Church
God’s New Testament Church officially began on the day of Pentecost, June 17, a.d. 31. Revelation 2 calls this first era of the Church the Ephesus era. This era could not have had a better beginning. Jesus Christ personally laid its foundation.
Luke is the unquestioned author of the book of Acts. He wrote it around a.d. 62, thirty-one years after the true Church began. It was written to a man named Theophilus as a companion book to Luke’s gospel account (Acts 1:1).
Bible scholars agree that the book of Acts contains important early Church history. But a close study of this book reveals that its history is quite selective. Luke’s account is best known as the Acts of the Apostles. However, the book is silent on the acts of at least 10 of the original apostles. Does that mean these apostles did not do an important work? Absolutely not! They did many mighty works.
In this book, Luke records only those events that affected the early Church in a major way. His exclusion of certain events shows that God canonized only those events that were vital for God’s Church of the future to know.
The Ephesus era began very small. Jesus Christ led His disciples for 3½ years, and then the world killed Him. Verse 15 reveals that even after all of Christ’s preaching and miracles, there were only 120 disciples!
Most of the persecution against God’s people came from false religion. If Christ physically headed a little group today, this world would kill Him again! The chief culprit would be false religion.
On the day of Pentecost after Christ’s death, the original disciples and new converts were given the Holy Spirit and inflamed with a passion to proclaim Christ’s gospel. The newly Spirit-begotten Church had a significant impact on the people and society, beginning at Jerusalem. The Ephesus era began to grow. Three thousand members were added during the Pentecost season (Acts 2:1, 41).
The fantastic events of Pentecost in a.d. 31 began to create a stir within the Jewish community and among Jewish leaders (Acts 2). Then came a dramatic healing of a man just outside the temple gate called Beautiful (Acts 3). This man was well known as having been lame from birth. Many had given him alms before entering the temple grounds. Not many days after Pentecost, Peter and John were entering the temple. When this man begged for money, they healed him instead. Peter and John were immediately summoned before the Jewish high council. They were threatened—yet they were undaunted!
The preaching of Christ’s gospel gained momentum. The Church experienced rapid growth from 120 to about 5,000 members by the time of Acts 4:4. This growth provoked serious persecution. Jewish leaders became incensed and fearful. The apostles were thrown into prison (Acts 5:18). An angel released them and told them to return to the temple and preach. When they obeyed, the Work grew even more.
Jewish leaders wanted to stop this new, overzealous faction. Their persecution became far more intense—and deadly. Men, women and even whole families were slaughtered.
Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, was a man of faith and zeal. God was able to work many miracles through him—and his work was noticed. Stephen was arrested and brought before the Jewish council. At his trial, in his own defense, Stephen preached a convicting and condemning sermon (Acts 7). His message of truth enraged the Jews. The high priest and council went mad.
“Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (verses 57-60).
These religious leaders stoned Stephen to death. His only “crime” was preaching God’s truth! Remember, these men represented a religion that talked much about love! May God protect us from such “loving” religions!
Notice that Luke mentioned Saul in that account (Acts 7:58). Acts 8:1 shows that he consented to Stephen’s murder: “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” The persecution against the fledgling Church was so severe that all the brethren—except the apostles—were scattered from Jerusalem. True Christians were driven from their homes to towns all over Judah and Samaria. They fled for their lives!
“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (verses 2-3). Saul led the Jewish persecution against the Church. He had the backing of Jewish leaders to stamp out the followers of Christ. He personally imprisoned many people. Many men, women and families were destroyed because of Saul.
Verse 4 shows that the Church persecution did not stop the preaching of the gospel. Although the Church was gone from Jerusalem, in the long run, these early efforts to stamp out the Church failed. This scattering of God’s people actually furthered the gospel, causing it to spread throughout the known world.
Saul had been persecuting true Christians to death, but Stephen’s stoning must have had a deep impact on him. Shortly afterward, Saul was on his way to Damascus to harm more of the brethren living there. But Christ miraculously intervened and stopped Saul’s reign of terror—by personally calling him! (1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 26:14). Saul was converted and renamed Paul, which means “small.”
Sometimes it takes a dramatic event for God to get our attention. God the Father and Jesus Christ planned to use Paul powerfully and in a way that was to be very different from the other apostles. It’s not easy to convert a killer of Christians into a zealot for God! So we see Stephen’s stoning served several good purposes.
However, within a short time, persecution against the Church took on a new twist.
Samaria’s Unsavory History
One of the most defining aspects of the first-century Church was its encounter with Simon Magus. This is the earliest record of the conflict between God’s true Church and the great false church that was to rage through the centuries. It is extremely important history for us to understand.
Mr. Armstrong set the stage in his book The Incredible Human Potential: “In Samaria, north of Jerusalem, lived a Gentile people whom the Jews of Christ’s day spurned, calling them ‘dogs.’ They had been moved there from areas of the Babylonian Empire about 700 b.c. by various kings, including Shalmaneser of Assyria (2 Kings 17:18, 21-24, etc).” The people of Samaria were not Israelites; they were largely Babylonian by birth. After Israel was taken into captivity, people from five Babylonian tribes were moved into Samaria. They brought their Babylonian and Assyrian gods and their pagan practices with them.
Study 2 Kings 17. It is quite a revealing story. Soon after possessing the land, these Babylonians were attacked by lions (verse 25). The new colonists superstitiously believed that the lion attacks were coming upon them because they had failed to honor the god of the new land (verse 26). They failed to recognize that God had sent Israel into captivity because of their idol (calf) worship.
The newly settled Samaritans asked the Assyrian king to send back a priest from Israel to teach them how to worship the God of the land. The king complied (verse 27), but what they received was a priest who taught them the pagan practices of northern Israel. Thus, they were taught a religion of Old Testament teaching mixed with paganism.
The Samaritans began to worship Israel’s God using the false teachings of the evil King Jeroboam. Remember, Jeroboam was an outright rebel. He formed his own religion. He forced true priests of God to flee to Jerusalem and Judea (2 Chronicles 11:14). He established calf worship at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-30). He changed the fall holy days from the seventh to the eighth month. He made priests of the lowest of the people, those who were not of the tribe of Levi (verse 31).
So the Samaritans were deeply deceived by an Israelite priest who taught them pagan practices while showing them God’s name. They began to refer to themselves as the people of God, but essentially they remained Babylonian idolaters (2 Kings 17:41).
Now notice what Mr. Armstrong said about the Samaritans during the time of the apostles: “They had brought with them into the land of Samaria their own Babylonian mystery religion. In the eighth chapter of Acts you’ll read of their religious leader in the time of Christ, Simon Magus the sorcerer” (ibid; emphasis mine throughout).
Exposing Simon Magus
Acts 8 says that Simon “used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God” (verses 9-10). These verses reflect more than just an ordinary encounter with a man converting to Christianity.
Luke gives more detail about this man than about many of the apostles!
Why? For a profound and vital reason!
Simon was the greatest religious figure in Samaria. He was an impressive man. He relied greatly on demonic powers in his religious life. He used sorcery and magic to bewitch the people of Samaria. He believed he was “some great one.” This man wanted the people to look to him in an extraordinary way.
A true minister directs people to look to the living God—not to some puny man!
The whole population of Samaria gave earnest heed to Simon. All those in Samaria, from the least to the greatest, believed him! In fact, the people worshiped him as the “great power of God.” They believed he was God in the flesh.
This man is known in secular history as Simon Magus. The surname “Magus” reveals that he was a member of the priestly caste of ancient Persia. (See any encyclopedia or dictionary for the definition of magus.) In other words, this Simon was a priest of the Babylonian mystery religion.
This account actually reveals the beginning of the great false church described in the book of Revelation as “the great whore” and “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”! Simon Magus was going to play an earthshaking, foundational role in the history of that church!
Satan used this man to begin building that church. It all began right here. Christ raised up His Church in a.d. 31—and Simon Magus immediately came on the scene in a.d. 33! That is not difficult to prove. Even Catholics will tell you today that their church began in a.d. 33!
Wherever God’s Church is, you will always find a counterfeit religion.
It is staggering how quickly this church began to grow on the world scene. This was Satan’s special church—a tool he has used mightily throughout the ages! It has committed many violent crimes—especially against God’s true Church (e.g. Revelation 17:1-6). The Bible describes how that church grew—though a lot of that history has been blotted out, as we will see.
When Mr. Armstrong revealed this understanding, it was stunning! There was a certain electricity in the air among God’s people as he talked about this.
Mr. Armstrong’s explanation was simple and understandable. As I study the history the way he wrote about it, I marvel at how plain it is. It is simple if we don’t trust too much in worldly scholarship. If you follow Mr. Armstrong step-by-step, it all becomes clear and easy to understand.
I have read other Church writers in the Philadelphia era and the Laodicean era who wrote about true Church history, where it wasn’t as focused and as clear as it should have been—because they didn’t stick closely enough to Mr. Armstrong’s very accurate Bible script! They trusted too much in their own scholarly ability.
Philip, another of the original seven deacons, carried the gospel into Samaria—right where Simon Magus was headquartered—and started working with the people there. Notice what he faced: “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits [demons], crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8). A lot of people there were bothered by demons that were trying to attack and plague God’s Church from its very beginning. God used Philip to drive those demons away.
These verses ought to electrify and sober any believer of the Bible! This is about Satan and his demons possessing people in the great false church.
Today, ministers in most churches rarely discuss Satan and demonic possession! They hardly even mention Satan and his powerful demons! No wonder this world is so easy to deceive (Revelation 12:9). It is high time this world woke up to its worship of Satan the devil! (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Satan and those demons that plagued Samaria are still on Earth to this day! They are still working to harass and deceive the people of God. We had better know that. Those same evil spirits are doing a mighty work. God tells His people that we must publish His message in spite of their activity.
Simon Magus was there, and he brought a large legion of those demons himself. Acts 8:11 says, “[O]f long time [Simon] had bewitched them with sorceries.” Simon had been at this job for some time. Satan was inspiring this impressive man, and demons were very active in his ministry and in the area.
Look at the impact Simon Magus had on the Samaritans. Do you really understand the power Satan has? This is why it is so important that we stay on our knees, trying to get as close to God as possible: We have a powerful enemy!
Satan and these demons have deceived most of God’s people during this Laodicean era—and nearly all of God’s ministers! So many of the most exalted ministers in the Church, who knew so much of God’s truth and were such effective educators, shamefully lost that precious knowledge! When someone begins to show contempt for God’s apostle, you can be sure those demons are going to be close at hand! They recognize vulnerability, and they will be knocking at the door.
The Power of the Spirit
The people of Samaria were deeply impressed when they heard Philip preaching. Many believed and were baptized. Simon was also fascinated. “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done” (Acts 8:12-13).
Though Simon was baptized, his conversion was false. He was mostly impressed with the spiritual power Philip displayed. He spent most of his time “beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” Luke makes it clear that Simon only professed Christianity.
Reports of Philip’s success in Samaria soon reached Jerusalem. It was incredible news, especially considering Samaria’s dubious past. Peter and John quickly journeyed to the region. Once there, they prayed over those who had been baptized so the people could receive the Holy Spirit (verses 15-17).
When Simon Magus saw that the Spirit of power came with these apostles’ laying on of hands, he was impressed. He decided that he wanted to take Christ’s name; he wanted to call his perverse religion Christianity. The Church had the Spirit of God, and Simon Magus tried to buy that Spirit and the office of an apostle.
Peter perceived the reality of the situation immediately. “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (verse 20).
Notice that: Peter called the Holy Spirit “the gift of God.” God’s people possess this wonderful gift!
God gives us that power because we need it to do the job He gives us to do and prepare for the Kingdom of God! We must have that power!
Simon Magus wanted the power of the Holy Spirit. Even this carnal-minded man could recognize there was power in that Spirit! And indeed there is. God’s people do not lack for power. We all have human nature to overcome, but God gives us the power to overcome it. He does not leave us without power. The problem is that we too often fail to use it. The large majority of God’s people today have shamefully lost most or all of that power!
Simon Magus revealed his true intentions. He had wielded considerable power over the people. Now he recognized that the apostles held even greater power. So he wanted to buy an office, an apostleship. Peter told him he would perish with his money. You cannot buy an office of God! God’s ministers are placed in those offices by God! It is an exalted calling, and no office is for sale!
The Gall of Bitterness
Peter blistered Simon Magus with what is surely one of the greatest rebukes in the Bible.
“Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter,” he said, “for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21). You have absolutely no part with us! he said with extreme emphasis.
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (verse 22). Peter wasn’t sure that Simon could even be forgiven! This false prophet might have already gone beyond ever repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness. He was the epitome of evil, and Peter recognized it. He knew something terrible was happening.
These words had to cut Simon Magus to the bone. Yet Peter continued, “For I perceive that thou art in [into, it should read] the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity [or lawlessness]” (verse 23). Simon Magus was captured and in the bonds of Satan!
The Greek word translated “gall” appears in only one other scripture: Matthew 27:34. Vincent’s Word Study says that “the gall of bitterness is bitter enmity against the gospel.” It is “the gall of bitterness”—not a gall of bitterness. The gospel is the good news of the coming Family of God! How could someone hate that? Well, Satan does—and Simon had also gotten into that gall of bitterness. He was absorbed in it. He had a bad attitude like you have never seen in anybody—and it was against God and God’s message!
A similar expression is found in the Old Testament. “(For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by; And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:) Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood [bitterness]” (Deuteronomy 29:16-18). The phrase “gall of bitterness” in ancient Israel referred to a person who attempted to introduce pagan practices into the nation’s religion. Peter knew Simon would do this in the future. Peter’s rebuke of Simon was a grave prophetic warning.
The Bond of Lawlessness
The word “bond” means a close, firm bond together. It refers to that which holds together, like a bond of the ligaments by which the members of the human body are united together.
Simon was completely bound up in lawlessness!
The word carries this sense: “that in which all the virtues are so bound together that perfection is the result, and not one of them is lacking to that perfection” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Simon had perfect lawlessness!
This is what Satan is all about! He is bitter, hateful against God, and perfectly lawless. His false religion preaches that doctrine of lawlessness—though he does a remarkable job of masking it as righteousness. That is a fundamental teaching of the Babylonian mystery religion that emerged from Simon: that the law is done away. You see that teaching in the mother church as well as in her Protestant daughters.
The epistle of Jude speaks of these followers of Simon Magus: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Mr. Armstrong explained that these “certain men … ungodly men” were Simon’s disciples, who, as we will later see, by that point were infiltrating the true Church of God! Their doctrine was to turn God’s grace into lawlessness!
Realize: We desperately need God’s grace, which includes the unmerited pardon from sin that only God can give. It is wonderful that Christ came to this Earth and suffered and sacrificed Himself and bled to death so that, when we repent, God can forgive us for our sins and we don’t have to die forever!
However, Satan has deceived an enormous number of religious people—including Catholics, Protestants and, in far too many cases, even those in God’s true Church—into turning that spectacular grace into a license to disobey. They teach that we don’t need to keep “that old law”! That doctrine of lawlessness is what that great false church is all about. That was its beginning, and that is the way it is and will be to the end! And that lie is precisely what Simon Magus preached! He was bound up in lawlessness!
Jesus Christ came to Earth and died for our sins—and you can be sure that Satan is going to counterfeit something so important.
Simon was Satan incarnate. Again, who is really in the bond of lawlessness? Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 show that this is Satan’s lifestyle; it is the way he lives! He hates the law! He turned away from God, turned a third of the angels away from God, turned this world away from God—and in this end time, even turned most of God’s own people away from God. He is in the bond of lawlessness! And he has frightening power to deceive and destroy!
A Momentous Prophecy
Simon did not repent of this extremely wicked sin. “Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24). Simon displayed no hint of repentance. Spiritually, his mind was filled with bitter poison. How can you reason with a mind like that, someone with a bitter gall against what you try to teach him from God’s inspired Word, the Bible? Only God can open his mind to the truth and give him repentance.
Simon Magus craved power. He wanted to be a leader with a large following—but he wanted even more. He wanted to have his own organization, and he wanted political power to implement his message and force it on people—even to kill them if they didn’t submit!
History shows that Simon became a great antagonist of the early Church. Here is what the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language states about him: “Rebuked by Peter, he begged him to intercede with God on his behalf, and appears no more in Acts. Later literature shows him reappearing in Rome in the time of Claudius in a new movement of his own, curiously combining Christian and pagan elements, and in which he figures as a god.”
There are many accounts of Simon traveling to Rome and becoming one of the great gods to the city and to the people of Rome. Records show that Simon “prophesies that Rome will be the scene of his crowning glory, when he will be adored as a god” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 11). In Simon’s case, this was a monumental problem for this world! He wanted a following of other deceived men to delude themselves into thinking he was a god!
The most transcendent truth of the Bible is the wonderful future God has planned for human beings. God is trying to get us to see that He is re-creating Himself in mankind! That is our mind-staggering human potential! God is creating sons of God! And yet the most these men can think about is to gain a following! When a person descends into that attitude, there is no end to it. He just wants more power, and more, and more. We should never even start thinking that way! We should simply try to serve God any way we can, or we can get ourselves in serious trouble.
Simon did not accomplish his goal during his lifetime. But later, the church he founded, being headquartered in Rome, did gain guiding power over the Roman Empire. When you look at the history of that church, you see what happened. It has been a murderous affair! That church is the most violent church ever, yet it appears to be the most righteous, and people believe it is.
If you have a Catholic background, I am not trying to offend you. But I do challenge you to look at the history! It is available for anyone to study—yet the vast majority of people ignore it and pretend it does not exist. Most people are shallow and ignorant about their Bibles and about history. They are totally deceived about their religion.
God is going to save Catholics, Protestants and people from all religions. But He is going to do it His way and in His time frame. All of those billions of people who have died not knowing God are going to be resurrected and get to know God! So the truth of this history, condemning as it is, must be viewed in that spectacular context.
Do not forget verse 23: “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”
The King James translation of Peter’s words to Simon Magus is not the best. What Peter said was very prophetic! The sense of his words conveys what would happen to Simon if he did not repent. “In” may be used to express destination; in other words, “You are destined for bitter anger, that is, to experience the wrath of God (on the assumption that you do not repent)” (International Critical Commentary, Acts: Vol. 1:1-14). That is what the book of Revelation shows will happen to Simon’s church! Really, Acts 8:23 contains the seed of the prophecy in Revelation 17 about what that false church does on this Earth!
According to Lange’s Commentary, Peter’s words literally mean, “I regard you as a man whose influence will be like that of bitter gall and of a bond of unrighteousness, or, as a man who has reached such a state.”
This is a prophecy about that church—that old Babylonian religion—coming on the world scene. God revealed a lot to Peter and showed him a lot about the gall of bitterness that permeates that church. Peter saw it all in a prophetic vision!
And who does that church hate most of all? Who has it fought throughout history? History reveals a battle between two Christian churches, and one is false. It claims the title Christianity. Revelation 12 is about two churches—both claim that Christ is leading them, but one is lying.
This is why Luke recorded so much for us concerning Simon Magus. Remember, Luke wrote Acts around a.d. 62. Simon by this time had caused the true Church of God serious trouble. The letters of Paul reflect much of the trouble Simon and his ministers caused the true Church of God. Luke had to show the people that Simon was not part of the Christian Church as he claimed to be. Most scholars recognize that Luke gives us so many details about Simon because of his fame and danger to the Church.
Luke also recorded the fantastic prophecy that Simon Magus was to become the founder of Mystery, Babylon the Great—the great false church of Revelation 17! Simon formed a unique league with the government in Rome. This relationship proved to be deadly for many of God’s true people throughout history.
That church does everything it can to blot out God’s message. And when it sees that it cannot succeed, then it tries to blot out the people who deliver that message! That is what that church has done throughout the ages—so don’t expect it to stop now! God’s faithful people should not fear it, but we do have to recognize what we are dealing with.
That church has killed more of God’s own people—by far—than any other church on Earth!
Peter saw the magnitude of what this man would do and what his work would accomplish. God gave him great insight into that. And Luke recorded it here in Acts because he knew this would be a continual threat to God’s Church. Peter’s scathing rebuke marked the beginning of what has been a continual war between these two churches from that time until today! That war is going to get much worse in this end time.
Here is an explosive comment from Mr. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy: “And where, today, are the ancient Babylonians—the Chaldeans? They migrated west and settled in Italy. Their religion was the Assyrian-Babylonian mystery religion. It is going to come as a breathtaking, awesome, shocking surprise when the world learns that one Simon, the sorcerer of Samaria in the time of the original apostles, leader of the Babylonian mystery religion having the title of Pater or Peter, meaning papa, actually appropriated the name of Christ and the Christian principle of grace, which he turned into license, doing away with God’s law (Jude 4), and started what is today called ‘Christianity.’ How astonished the world will be to discover that it is not, and never was, the outgrowth of the Church of God, founded by Jesus Christ and His apostles!
“This knowledge will soon burst on an incredulous world as a bombshell! People will be shocked to learn how they have been deceived! When God’s time comes, the ‘news-bomb’ will be exploded!”
Chapter 3: First-Century Apostasy
Although titled the Acts of the Apostles, the book of Acts essentially deals with events surrounding the ministry of one apostle: Paul. Paul was specially called to carry the gospel to the Gentiles (Romans 15:16). Most of the history in Acts deals with the episodes surrounding the Gentile churches Paul raised up. Geographically, the majority of the events take place north and northwest of Jerusalem. This geography included the territory conquered by the Roman Empire.
These facts are necessary to understand why Luke wrote this book. Acts was intended to expose a growing religious movement prophesied to threaten God’s Church. This religious system, begun by Simon Magus and calling itself Christian, was a remake of the ancient Babylonian mystery religion. This counterfeit movement eventually formed an ungodly political-religious alliance centered in Rome. Its ultimate goal was to snuff out God’s truth, stamp out His people, and become the only “Christian” church in the world!
No other false Christian church came close to the size and power of the one Simon Magus raised up.
Jesus Christ had warned the disciples, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20). Jesus Christ’s words became all too true—immediately!
Persecution Furthers the Work
God used the persecution of His people for an important purpose. “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21). God used these scattered Christians to convert “a great number.” The disciples became more fervent. They knew they were being persecuted for obeying our God of love! This made them realize more deeply how evil this world is. Then they plunged more urgently into helping God’s Work. In this way, the persecution caused the gospel to be taken north and west into Europe.
This history holds an encouraging lesson for us today: God often furthers His Work in the face of persecution.
The disciples were driven out of the Jewish community. As a result, they began to preach the gospel to the world! Under the direction of the apostles, the Work and Church gradually moved to the outer reaches of the Roman Empire.
God commissioned Peter, the chief apostle, to oversee carrying the gospel to the 10 lost tribes of the house of Israel and the Jews. This commission took Peter north and west of Jerusalem, even to the British Isles. The other 11 apostles assisted Peter in taking the gospel to the 10 tribes (Matthew 10:5-6).
Secular history and tradition tell us that Andrew went to northern Asia Minor and worked in the area of the Black Sea and Crimea. John worked in the eastern Mediterranean region. John’s brother James stayed in Jerusalem and was martyred by Herod there (Acts 12:1-2). Philip worked in Scythia and in Gaul (France). Matthew also worked in Scythia and Ethiopia. Bartholomew went into Silesia, Armenia and around the Caspian Sea. Thomas went into the Iranian plateau and possibly as far as India. Thaddeus went into the upper Mesopotamian regions and Assyria. Matthias went into Macedonia, Dacia and central Europe. James Alphaeus went into Spain, Britain and Ireland. Simon the Zealot went into North Africa and Britain.
Paul had a special calling, separate from the other 12 apostles. Paul’s primary commission was to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. Jesus Christ told him directly he could not work in Jerusalem (Acts 22:18-21). In many ways, this was a very practical decision. Paul could not be used effectively in Jerusalem or in Judah for two reasons. First, because he had done so much damage to the Church, it would have been difficult for the brethren to accept him. His conversion was initially received with mixed emotion. Could the man committed to destroying God’s fledgling Church become one of its trusted leaders? Second, his conversion thoroughly incensed the high priest and Jewish council; it made a mockery out of them and their plans to stop God’s Work.
Christ also told Paul that he would be brought before kings and would also carry the gospel to the children of Israel (Acts 9:15). When He spoke concerning Israel, Christ did not mean just the Jews. The lost 10 tribes by this time had been scattered north and northwest of Jerusalem. (For proof, request our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.) In other words, most of Paul’s work to the Gentiles and the children of Israel would take him to the outer reaches of the Roman Empire (inset: “The First-Century Apostles’ Work in the British Isles,” page 52).
The book of Acts and Paul’s letters provide a great deal of history concerning the early Church. Because the book of Acts focuses on Paul’s ministry, we know more about him than about the other apostles.
Gospel to the Gentiles
What Christ accomplished through Paul is astounding. Even the early Church was amazed. “Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them” (Acts 15:12). Paul and those who worked with him fulfilled some of the most amazing prophecies in the Bible concerning the Gentiles. A great light was brought to the Gentiles through them (see Isaiah 11:10). Through Paul, Christ established churches throughout the Gentile world.
Paul shows that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21). The work of the apostles and other leading ministers spread the gospel to the known world at that time. Paul attests to this fact. He wrote to the Colossians, “[B]e not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (Colossians 1:23). The work of the apostles did bear considerable fruit. Churches of God were established throughout the known world. The book of Acts shows us the geographic locations for many of the churches Paul established.
Yet as positive as these developments were, the growth of the first-century Church stopped within 30 years of its beginning.
Repent—Do the First Works
This is incredible history! The first-century Church could not have had a better beginning. Jesus Christ and the men who knew Him personally provided the Church with everything it needed in order to flourish. But the Church developed a fatal flaw.
We read about this flaw in Christ’s message to the Church in Revelation 2:1-5: “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
The biggest problem in this era was that the people of God had lost their first love. That is a common problem among God’s people even to this day. It applies to every one of us. Long-time members must ask themselves: Do I really still have that first love—and more—for God’s truth, the living Word of God? Am I still in that first-love spirit, yearning for more and more of God’s truth and God’s understanding, hungering for righteousness? The people in the Ephesus era lost that. They began to think, Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I already get that. But they didn’t really get it at all.
Remember, this is a message for all eras of the Church. We all can lose our first love. If we are not careful, we will lose it! In this end time, 95 percent of God’s people—and 99 percent of the ministers—definitely lost that first love! What a searing message! What a colossal warning! How important it is that we keep our first love! It is extremely critical that God’s true ministers provide a strong example to the people of vibrant, zealous, godly love!
The Ephesus era began with great power. Fueling its power was the love of the truth. This love assisted the members in disproving false apostles and false leaders. However, the Ephesus era lost its first love. Soon, the Church fell prey to many false ministers.
While completing his commission, Paul had to work against intense persecution. He personally had to fight against angry Jews and the Roman government. And, what most people do not realize is that Paul also struggled against Simon’s growing counterfeit “Christian” movement.
Simon’s Evil Influence
Let’s pick up our story on Simon Magus. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Eusebius are the three main secular historians who recorded Simon Magus’s activities after Luke’s account in Acts 8. You can verify the following information in any good biblical or secular encyclopedia.
In a.d. 45, Simon Magus appeared in Rome. This was during the reign of Claudius Caesar. Peter’s rejection of him did not stop his efforts to gain influence within the new Jewish movement—first called Christian in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Between a.d. 33 and the time of his arrival in Rome, Simon used the name Christian for his own movement. First-century writers, however, still referred to his people as Simonians. Simon captured the name of Christ, and through the philosophy of syncretism he worked hard to blend religious concepts from the Old Testament and the new Christianity with the Babylonian mystery religion. Simon also developed a group of leaders and gained followers. One of his most famous leaders was a man named Menander, also a magician from Samaria.
Irenaeus stated that after Peter rejected him, Simon teamed up with a prostitute named Helen. Simon borrowed a “Christian” vocabulary. He taught that he was the Son of God to the Jews and Father to the Samaritans. He also taught that Helen was the mother of all things. Simon taught that he had created the angels.
During this same time period, Paul’s ministry was making strong inroads into Asia Minor and west through Europe. Churches had been formed at Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Colosse, Thessalonica, Philippi, Crete and even Rome, to name a few. This growth in the Church was happening without much notice from the Roman Empire, but Simon Magus was aware of it. Bitter that he could not be part of the true Church, he devised a plan to take control of these congregations.
When in Rome, Simon Magus won the awe and respect of Claudius, the Roman Senate and the people through his magic. He began to be worshiped as a god. Claudius honored him with a statue. He became known as “Simon Peter.” In the pagan religion of Rome, the name “peter” was used for certain gods and idolatrous objects of worship.
Simon Magus became a confusing counterfeit of the Apostle Simon Peter whom Christ put in charge of the Church He founded (Matthew 16:16-19; Mark 3:16). The Bible makes clear that Christ placed Peter in the office of highest authority within His Church. This is the form of governmental organization God uses. (You can prove this truth for yourself by ordering a free copy of our article “Was Peter the Chief Apostle?” or reading it online.) Satan used Simon Magus to set up a counterfeit version of that governmental structure within his false church.
Simon Magus is the so-called Simon Peter of the Catholic Church.
Among early Christian writers, Simon Magus became known as the “father of heresy.” He taught a licentious religion full of sexual promiscuity. His movement grew in numbers and popularity. Using his new influence gained at Rome, he wanted to infiltrate and gain power over the true Church of God.
Paul Exposes Another Gospel
In His Olivet prophecy (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Jesus Christ had given warning signs to His disciples. He had described events that would lead up to His dramatic Second Coming, including great troubles that would befall the world and God’s Church. In this prophecy, Christ had warned the disciples of the “deceit of men,” saying, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
This important end-time prophecy has come to pass in very recent times. However, there was also a fulfillment in the first-century Church of God. Simon Magus worked to infiltrate the Ephesus-era Church with people who came in the name of Christ yet spread terribly destructive deceits. Sadly, their work was all too successful.
During the last 10 to 20 years of Paul’s ministry, several severe doctrinal problems began to plague God’s Church. Heresies concerning “law and grace” and the gospel were being sown stealthily among God’s people. In Acts, Luke revealed that the one responsible for the heresy was Simon Magus.
In his writings, Paul also exposed Simon’s lies. He wrote the Romans, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1‑2).
One of the most destructive doctrines of deceit that Simon Magus and his followers introduced was that of a false gospel. They locked in on the person of Jesus Christ and appropriated His name—while ignoring what Christ taught. These false ministers began to plague the true Church, deceitfully sowing their heretical ideas. Because of their efforts, a controversy arose about the gospel. Church history shows that people came to violently disagree over whether the Church would proclaim a message about Jesus—or proclaim the very same gospel message Christ Himself proclaimed.
Paul gave us insight into the heresies spread through his church regions. He repeatedly warned God’s people against turning to another gospel—a gospel of men rather than the gospel of God.
About 20 years after the Church was founded, the Apostle Paul—inspired by Christ—wrote his epistle to the Galatians. Look what was happening in the Church. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:6: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” Paul was writing to people who had been called into God’s Church and who had the Spirit of God—yet in just a short period of time, they had been turned from “the grace of Christ unto another gospel”!
Verse 7 shows that there were people—“some that trouble you”—who were working to “pervert the gospel of Christ.” False ministers were troubling the Church by perverting Christ’s gospel of the coming Kingdom of God, turning it into a message about Christ. This false gospel destroyed the knowledge that God is a Family—the good news, or gospel, of the coming Kingdom, or Family, of God. It destroyed the knowledge that God planned to bring all humanity into His Family through the faith of Jesus Christ.
What is a message about Christ compared to the very message of Christ?
The living God instructs His people to broadcast Christ’s gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world. The message focused on the person of Christ is a monstrous counterfeit.
Paul pronounced a double curse on these false ministers. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (verses 8-9). Paul was an expert warrior when it came to men preaching false doctrine. He dealt in reality. He told the brethren that any man who preaches lies in the name of God is accursed. To pervert the true gospel is worthy of a double curse.
Paul exhorted the brethren to stand up and fight for the truth. He wanted them to follow his example. Why did Paul fight so hard to preserve the gospel? Because he knew it came by revelation from Almighty God! (verses 10-12). Paul also knew that this gospel must be proclaimed to the world by God’s very elect.
Gospel means good news. It is the only good news this world has!
When Jesus Christ reveals truth, we must give our lives, even unto death, to preserve it. This is the same great lesson we must learn in this last era of God’s Church. Jesus Christ gave Mr. Armstrong incredible revelation. The true gospel was a large part of that revelation. Then many ministers even in the true Church came preaching another gospel and another Jesus. We should not be fooled by names or familiar faces. If any man comes preaching another Jesus or a different gospel, we should flee from that person. We must fight to preserve what Jesus Christ has given us!
At the same time, any minister who preaches a false gospel must be warned. The Laodicean ministers must be given a grave warning! They are cursed men if they do not repent of teaching false doctrine (Malachi 2:1-4).
The Apostle Paul foretold this great first-century apostasy. He labored intensively against these false ministers. Still, over time, confusion arose about which ministers were true ministers. Even Paul was put on the defensive.
A counterfeit ministry was gaining a stronghold within God’s Church. Even worse, some of God’s true ministers were beginning to join forces with it!
Paul wrote the Colossians, “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh …. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:1, 8). God’s own ministers were “spoiling” the brethren through deceit. (Request our free booklet Colossians for more information on this subject.) Paul also wrote them, “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Colossians 4:17).
At a ministerial conference in Ephesus, Paul warned the Ephesian ministers, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
Paul knew, through revelation, that much of the work of the apostles was to be undone even though he worked night and day to prevent it.
We must never forget that God’s very elect are always in a raging war with the devil!
Warnings From Other Apostles
Paul was not the only apostle battling these Church-destroying problems. The Apostle Peter also warned the churches, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
Two of Christ’s leading apostles spoke dire prophecies. The Church was to suffer the crippling attack of false ministers spreading heresy. Yet the most incredible aspect of these revelations was that these false ministers were going to come from within the Church!
Herbert W. Armstrong showed how these problems in the Church at that time were largely Simon Magus’s doing. Mr. Armstrong proved that Simon Magus was at work in the Corinthian church, and showed how Paul’s and Peter’s writings—as well as those of Jude and, as we will see in detail, John—reveal that all these apostles had to battle this man’s work and influence.
In a letter to the ministry dated February 22, 1974, Mr. Armstrong talked about the different biblical books where you can obviously see Simon Magus and his followers: 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Peter, John’s epistles and Jude.
There was a pattern: It was the same group of people causing all the problems. This powerful Simon Magus kept right on coming, and the rebels kept growing and multiplying and continually causing problems in God’s Church.
A lot of people have been confused, thinking there were several different religious or “Christian” groups causing those problems, when in reality it was primarily that old Babylonian mystery religion trying to blot out God’s Church and take it over!
We need to understand this because it makes what God’s Church is dealing with today so much clearer.
Mr. Armstrong’s instruction in this history is really critical. When he got into subjects like this, he was almost always 100 percent right (of course, he wrote little about the Laodicean era, which came on the scene after his death). We must realize how God used Mr. Armstrong and keep ourselves grounded in what he taught! When you find the person through whom Christ restored all things (Matthew 17:10-11), you want to cling to that truth. If you look at the really critical subjects—and the record of what happened in the New Testament Church is definitely one of those—you’ll find that Mr. Armstrong covered them extremely well. We have that wonderful history to draw from, and God help us if we don’t use it!
But while Mr. Armstrong kept following through on making that point, many of the wcg ministers and people failed to do so.
Letter to the Corinthians
As Mr. Armstrong said, the book of 2 Corinthians also reveals Paul battling this satanic attack against the Church. The Corinthian Church was one of the first churches Paul had established; historians set the date around a.d. 50 as its beginning. His letters to this congregation, written around a.d. 55, reflect some serious problems within the Church.
Paul wrote, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost [or perishing]: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Much of the Church was turning away from the true gospel. Paul revealed the real criminal behind the spreading of the false gospel. The “god of this world,” Satan the devil, was the one blinding people to the truth. He is the same culprit at work against God’s Church today.
This was a dark time in the history of God’s Church. As Edward Gibbon wrote, “The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). Satan was doing everything he could to destroy the Work of God, and in little more than two decades, God’s people were turning to another gospel! That is an utterly condemning and frightening reality!
There was really only one group that wanted true Christianity. But those rebels hated the message that Christ proclaimed. They wanted the label of Christianity, and they wanted the name of Christ, and they were doing all they could to destroy the true Church.
In The Incredible Human Potential, Mr. Armstrong wrote about how Paul discussed this falling away. He quoted 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, which say, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he [here, Mr. Armstrong put in brackets, ‘a minister of Simon Magus’] that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit [Mr. Armstrong put in brackets, ‘of rebellion and disobedience’], which ye have not received, or another gospel ….”
Simon Magus’s followers were teaching about another Jesus, another gospel, another spirit. That is total destruction of what God gave them! How could that happen to so many of God’s people? How has it happened to so many of God’s people today?
The first-century history of God’s Church is a type of the last-century history. For example, many of God’s people became Laodicean, or lukewarm, in the first century, as they have in this last, or Laodicean, era of God’s Church. (You can prove that by studying our booklet Colossians. It is free upon request.)
I don’t think any of our writings in the past have emphasized the book of Corinthians enough in talking about Simon Magus—at least not the way Mr. Armstrong used it here. A little common sense would tell you that the same very powerful group was causing most of the problems for God’s people. But you will not find any real reference to that in Herman Hoeh’s booklet A True History of the True Church.
Why didn’t these men stay close to what Mr. Armstrong taught? Didn’t they realize that God was using him to guide us and give us thoughts right out of the Bible and the mind of Christ? Some of these ministers were more interested in exalting themselves than exalting God’s truth and God’s apostle. In too many cases, those men got off into their own reasoning and the reasoning of worldly scholars, as if that automatically carried a lot of weight. Worldly scholars can sometimes be helpful, but they can also lead you astray if you are not very careful.
This is a problem God’s ministers must really be aware of in our speaking and writing. If we are going to educate God’s people and give them a true picture of what has happened in the past and the present, we must really know what we are talking about and stand on solid ground. Where God has prepared the ground and the soil, we must follow through on that.
We are commissioned by God to expose the great false church. This Babylonian mystery religion has been used by the devil to pollute the whole world! (Revelation 17:15). It has frightening power over the kings of the Earth.
Transformed as Angels of Light
Paul continued by warning about “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness …” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul was dealing with this in the first century a.d. Most of the Corinthians turned away so quickly.
Should we marvel that people deceitfully transformed themselves into the apostles of Christ? It is the same old story God’s people have had to battle all along. You see it all the time. People try to creep into the Church simply to cause us problems. God’s ministers have to really know that those who seek to come into the Church are of the right spirit—and we can if we go to God on our knees and pray for direction! They come as angels of light. People can act like they really believe what we are saying, but maybe they don’t; maybe they are just lying. Satan comes as an angel of light—but he lies.
If we use God’s Holy Spirit, we will discern who these liars are! It is a battle to cling to what God has given us.
Paul knew Satan’s ministers were going to ravage the flock. However, he didn’t just let it happen. He challenged them and their doctrines. He put the word out that they were coming. He told the brethren they were going to have to be spiritually astute in order to discern who the false ministers were. On the surface these men would appear righteous, but inside they would be plundering wolves.
Every human being is subject to deceit. Paul realized that there was only so much he could do for the people of God. Each individual Church member must be responsible to protect himself from deceit.
Countdown to A.D. 70
This situation in God’s Church grew worse. Paul personally faced mounting opposition from the Jews, leaders in the empire, and Simon’s false ministers.
Tragically, whole groups of people began to reject Paul. Eventually, he was arrested in the temple and sent to Rome. There Paul continued to preach the gospel.
Even worse days lay ahead for God’s Church. Storm clouds were also building over Judah and Rome at this time. The years a.d. 60 through 70 proved to be volatile. Nero ascended to power in Rome at age 17. He was the fifth emperor. It is believed that his mother, Agrippina, poisoned Claudius so her son could rule the empire. When she complained about her son’s mistress, Nero killed Agrippina in turn.
Nero was an inhuman, insane egomaniac. In a.d. 64, Rome burned to the ground. For six days and nights, a great fire raced through the capital city. Thousands of terror-stricken Romans were left homeless. The fire reduced the most heavily populated areas of the city to rubble and ash.
Historical traditions say Nero watched this incredible sight from his balcony. Why was he so fascinated? Because he desired to rebuild the city to an even greater glory. A rebuilt, more glorious Rome would immortalize the name of Nero. The rumor that Nero had burned Rome spread through the shaken city. In fear of his life, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians. The Romans believed him. Christians were already mistrusted and despised because of their beliefs. To a Roman, Christians were different. They would not worship the old Roman gods. They refused to worship the emperor as divine, which was interpreted as treason. The Christian teaching of Jesus Christ returning as King of kings sounded like revolt. It was easy for Nero to plant the idea that the fire could be the beginning of a revolution. The mad emperor ordered the punishment of Christians for burning Rome.
A full-scale persecution began. Nero personally devised some horrible tortures and executions for the falsely accused Christians. Some Christians were crucified, some were torn apart by wild dogs in the Circus Maximus, and others were set ablaze for Nero’s garden parties. That is the way it is in this wicked world sometimes.
The persecution raged for years. Paul was executed during this period. In the early summer of a.d. 68, Nero beheaded Paul and buried his body on the Ostian Way in Rome.
Nero met his own tragic end that same year as well. The Gallic and Spanish legions and the Praetorian Guards rose against him. Nero fled the city. The Senate declared him a public enemy. Nero committed suicide on June 9, a.d. 68, just outside Rome.
God’s leading Church elders in Rome were also imprisoned and slaughtered. In the following years, most of the other apostles were also martyred. Tradition states that the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down in the same year as Paul. This began to create a huge void in the upper level of leadership of the Church. One by one, the original disciples who had witnessed Christ’s life were martyred.
Destruction of the Temple
The Jerusalem church could do very little to help the congregation at Rome. Jerusalem was in disarray. In a.d. 66, Jewish rebels defied the Roman government in Palestine. A general revolt erupted. In the spring of a.d. 69, the Roman general Titus swept from east of Jordan into Judea. Jerusalem was surrounded by armies. Heeding Christ’s warning (Luke 21:20-21), the Church fled northeast to the city of Pella. Located in the Gilead mountains east of the Jordan River, Pella was a safe haven for God’s little flock.
In a.d. 70, Titus conquered Jerusalem. His siege of the city, described in detail by Josephus and Eusebius, was barbaric. Many people died of starvation. Before the siege was over, cannibalism was rife among the inhabitants. Once inside the city, Titus oversaw the slaughter of many people. He burned the temple to the ground. Titus laid waste to the city. In all, some 600,000 people were butchered!
Historians date the epistle of Jude close to a.d. 70. He wrote the Church about the same danger that Paul and Peter had identified. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness,” or lawlessness (Jude 3-4). Men who were not converted were creeping into the Church and causing serious problems.
The early Church had been infiltrated and virtually destroyed by these false ministers, men who did not know God the Father or Jesus Christ.
However, Christ had not forsaken His Church. The Apostle John, the last survivor of the original 12 apostles, was still alive. Through all that persecution, John kept right on working. He was well known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:7, 20).
These men had been trained by Jesus Himself. Christ had an important job for them. And He spent a lot of time with John in particular, night after night, preparing him for a very special work—a critical role in the Church at the end of the first century.
Sidebar: The First-Century Apostles’ Work in the British Isles
By Ryan Malone
In Matthew 10, Jesus commissioned His 12 apostles to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 6). (Christ also called the lost tribes of Israel “lost sheep” in Matthew 15:24.)
These tribes of Israel were “lost”—the world had lost sight of them. But of course, the disciples had to know their location in order to fulfill this commission.
Christ forewarned these men that wherever they traveled, there would be many—even whole cities—who would not receive their words (Matthew 10:8-14) and would even persecute them (verse 23). Christ instructed them how to handle this trouble and commanded them not to be afraid.
Verses 40-42 also indicate that some people would support their work. Surely, given the apostles’ work within those cities of “lost” Israel, God would have called certain individuals there! Some of these apostles went into the British Isles. (You can read more about this in our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. Our free reprint “Where Did Christ’s Apostles Go?” gives more details and scriptures as proof.)
Some erroneously believe Peter was bishop of Rome. The New Testament conclusively proves otherwise—after all, he was sent to the “lost sheep” of Israel.
Early Greek historians agree that Peter spent a substantial amount of time in Britain. These historians also record that other notable men who brought the gospel to Britain included the Apostle Paul, Aristobulus (see Romans 16:10; this man was martyred and buried in Glastonbury), Simon the Zealot (who was crucified and buried there), and Joseph of Arimathea. Spanish writers show that after Stephen’s martyrdom, James Alphaeus came into Spain and then to Britain and Ireland. Irish historian James Ussher says the Church in Ireland was established soon after the death of Christ by disciples from the Asian churches.
Christ had commanded that the gospel be taken to “the uttermost part of the earth” and “unto the ends of the world” (Acts 1:8; Romans 10:18). At that time, Britain was the farthest western boundary of the Roman Empire.
The Ecclesiastical Annals of one Vatican cardinal describe a document of considerable antiquity in the Vatican archives: “The manuscript related that in the year a.d. 35, a group of Christians including Lazarus, Mary …, Martha, Joseph of Arimathea, and several others were cast adrift in a boat from the coast of the Holy Land by persecuting Jews. … The vessel drifted finally to Marseilles and they were saved. From Marseilles Joseph and his company passed into Britain, and after preaching the gospel there, died.”
One church building of special note exists in the small English town of Glastonbury. Seventeenth-century English antiquary Sir Henry Spelman wrote, “It is certain that Britain received the faith in the first age from the first sowers of the word. Of all the churches whose origin I have investigated in Britain, the church [building] of Glastonbury is the most ancient” (Concilia). Of this building, Fuller stated: “If credit be given to ancient authors, this church of Glastonbury is the senior church of the world.”
In 1921, a pillar was discovered that had been erected on the grounds. On it a brass tablet bore the inscription: “The first ground of God, the first ground of the saints in Britain, and the burial place of the saints.”
Early records indicate there was a college or school there during the first half of the second century a.d. This was a small-scale operation, as we would expect of God’s Work wherever it was.
Records exist of a scholar of that college named Elvanus Avalonius—“a disciple to those who were the disciples of the apostles” (Edward Stillingfleet, Antiquities of the British Churches). He is the only student of the church in Glastonbury of whom any record has survived. In a.d. 180, he wrote a document titled “Concerning the Origin of the British Church.” This was well over a century after the original apostles had begun working there, and he was trying to keep this knowledge alive.
Elvanus’s preaching of the gospel brought a strong reaction from the Druids, however. After he was gone, the early pure apostolic faith all but disappeared from the British Isles.
In The Ecclesiastical History of Britain (1708–1714), Jeremy Collier wrote: “[I]t is evident Christianity got footing in the apostolic age, but what progress was made upon infidels, in what parts the Church was settled, and under whom; what successes or discouragements; what revolutions happened in the ecclesiastical history of this island, from the apostles to King Lucius, is altogether uncertain.”
Though true Christianity attained some footing due to the original apostles’ evangelism, it soon died out. King Lucius, who ruled in the second century, is said to have blended Christianity with Druidism.
In The United States and Britain in Prophecy, under the subhead “Apostles to Britain?” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Yes, the British Isles heard Christ’s gospel! But they accepted, instead, the idolatry of the Druids, pagan worship, and the counterfeit ‘Christianity’ of the Roman Babylonian mystery religion, and even spawned the devil’s religion of the evolutionary concept.”
Eventually, Britons rejected what the apostles brought, and the apostles’ work died out there. Ultimately Roman Catholicism took over.
Chapter 4: John Battles Satan’s Church
In The Incredible Human Potential, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Thereupon this Simon appropriated the name of Christ, calling his Babylonian mystery religion ‘Christianity.’ Satan moved this man and used him as his instrument to persecute and all but destroy the true Church of God. Before the end of the first century—probably by a.d. 70—he managed to suppress the message Christ had brought from God.
“There ensued ‘the lost century’ in the history of the true Church of God. There was a well-organized conspiracy to blot out all record of Church history during that period. A hundred years later, history reveals a ‘Christianity’ utterly unlike the Church Christ founded.
“It had taken the name of Christ and applied it to the Babylonian mystery religion. It had replaced the message Jesus brought from God with a ‘gospel’ about the person of Christ—proclaiming the Messenger but suppressing the entire missing dimension from His message.
“And for at least 18½ centuries the true gospel was not proclaimed to the world”! (emphasis mine throughout). Then came a man by the name of Herbert W. Armstrong who relied on God’s power and preached the gospel to the whole world.
Mr. Armstrong coined the phrase “lost century,” referring to the period from around a.d. 70 to around a.d. 170. (At other times, he used the dates a.d. 50 to 150. These dates are approximate.) It is a period where the history of God’s Church is blotted out, as far as books in the world go. That shows Satan’s tremendous power—much of it administered through the great false church. Mr. Armstrong called this “Satan’s great conspiracy.”
In his June 24, 1983, sermon, “From Sardis to Laodicea,” Mr. Armstrong read a statement from a German theological school that spoke about an “obscure century” in Church history. During that time, a “‘violent contest was going on between two gospels. Some wanted the gospel of Christ,’ which means the same gospel Christ preached, the gospel of the Kingdom, ‘and others wanted a gospel about Christ.’” Which one do you think won?
Mr. Armstrong electrified the whole Church when he first explained about that lost century. I heard it—and I specifically remember him saying that although secular history didn’t record anything, God did. God ensured it was recorded in several different biblical books—but mostly in the Apostle John’s writings, and specifically in the epistles of John.
That was one of the most memorable and important statements Mr. Armstrong ever made about God’s true Church and its battle with the great false church!
I went searching for a quote from Mr. Armstrong about this, but I couldn’t find it. I had others searching for it. I found one statement from Ernest Martin, another wcg minister who worked under Mr. Armstrong, that said something very similar; he must have gotten it from Mr. Armstrong.
I looked in my file on Church history, and I found a sermon that I gave on November 13, 1986, the year Mr. Armstrong died—and it said exactly what I remembered. Here is what I said about a.d. 70—and I know I got it from Mr. Armstrong or I wouldn’t have said it: “The Church history in the world just disappeared. Because the Catholic Church destroyed all records in the world, one place John records it is in his three letters.”
That is what Mr. Armstrong said, and I just relayed it to the people. I know that I never would have said that unless Mr. Armstrong had said something like that. You have to realize how it would impact the Church and how it would be impressed on your memory when something like that is discussed. That is why I was frustrated that I couldn’t find the quote, even in the pcg’s literature. That was puzzling to me. I did find statements that were close to that, but they didn’t state it like I thought they should. I was certain I was right about that, and I was.
Here is another statement I found that Dr. Martin wrote at least one or two decades before Mr. Armstrong died: “The period from a.d. 70 to 170 has become known as the lost century, as far as New Testament history goes. God has preserved the central history in the pages of the Bible.” That is a dynamite statement. But he said nothing about the Catholic Church destroying that history! He also did not give Mr. Armstrong credit for the above statement!
That “lost century” is an essential, vitally critical piece of history to understand. Why did I find it extremely difficult to find in God’s Church after Mr. Armstrong’s death—even though it had electrified the Church only a few years before?
During the Philadelphia era of God’s true Church there was a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 3:9). Satan’s synagogue almost blotted out “the lost century” revealed truth inside God’s own Church!
Please read that paragraph again.
In this end time, God’s Church is dangerously unaware of Satan’s deadly power. That is why the synagogue of Satan became the Laodicean era.
Mr. Armstrong had to fight and restrain this synagogue of Satan for most of his ministry (2 Thessalonians 2:1-9; this prophecy is fully explained in my free book Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today).
When Did John Write?
Mr. Armstrong wrote a member letter on February 21, 1974, that, in a way, gives the heart of Church history. It is a good formula to follow to keep yourself grounded in the truth Mr. Armstrong taught.
“Before the end of the first century, the persecution had reduced the true Church,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “Many members had gone out of the true Church by the a.d. 90s (1 John 2:19). John was warning the brethren against the false ministers (1 John 2:4; 2 John 7, 10, etc). Soon the false counterfeit church greatly outnumbered them.”
There Mr. Armstrong established the time frame: the a.d. 90s.
Mr. Armstrong talked about all of John’s books—his Gospel, his epistles, and the book of Revelation—being written around a.d. 85 to 90.
People were blotting out the history of God’s Church, and John was working feverishly to preserve that history—mostly in his epistles, but also, to a more general degree, in his Gospel and in Revelation. All of John’s books tell us a lot about what was going on, but we can really peg it all to the epistles, which makes it far more meaningful.
John was battling that great satanic conspiracy. People rose up in the Church and began kicking out those who were loyal to John and truly following God. These people not only were trying to blot out the history, but they were even murdering God’s people! They did kill a lot of them.
That is reality in this world. God’s people must not be naive about that as we proclaim God’s truth. We can’t sneak off into the dark and hide. God wants us to do the opposite: boldly put His message out there! Whatever happens, happens—but we must know that God is with us and will empower us!
God revealed new truth from John’s epistles to me beginning on May 5, 2001. I gave that first sermon about the “last hour” (which John refers to in 1 John 2:18) on that date, which was well into the Laodicean era. John wrote his epistles well into the Ephesus era as well.
Why did God ensure that John recorded this history? He gave His people this truth so we could combat anything that Simon Magus or any other heretic might say!
At this time Peter had been martyred and John was in charge of the Church.
I think we can appreciate this more when we realize what was on John’s mind. He was answering all the questions God’s people had, and it is some of the most inspiring material in the Bible! I am sure this is what Christ talked to him about when they had those long sessions during His earthly ministry, talking to each other so much. Jesus Christ was telling him what was coming and what he would have to do to help God’s people. Christ didn’t just do that to enjoy Himself socially: He was educating John to get this message to the people to save as many of them as He possibly could.
Even more importantly, it was prophecy for the last era of God’s Church—that is, for God’s people right now. You will see that even more in the latter chapters of this book.
Around a.d. 90, amid intense persecution against the Church, Roman Emperor Domitian imprisoned the Apostle John on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. Tradition tells us about events concerning John’s banishment to Patmos. John was arrested and exiled there because he preached that Jesus Christ would eventually overthrow the Roman government. He received the visions for the book of Revelation on this tiny island.
In Revelation 1:9, John reveals that he was writing from prison. Why? “[F]or the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” He was imprisoned for preaching God’s message! The word testimony is from the Greek word marturia, which comes from martus, which relates to our English word martyr. All the other apostles had been killed for the same reason!
Revelation 6:9 prophesies about saints of God who are about to be killed for what they believe. The language is the same as in Revelation 1:9: They will be “slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” These servants of God will prove themselves loyal unto death. Thayer’s Lexicon defines marturia, “to hold the testimony, to persevere steadfastly in bearing it.” In explaining martus it says that those who held the testimony “after [Christ’s] example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death.”
The Roman Catholic Church had a lot of power in those days, and it grew. Look again at the description of that false church in Revelation 17. Besides being called “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth,” it is also described as being “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (verses 5-6). That is reality! And this prophecy tells us that an even bloodier scene will happen again. Anywhere you see God’s true Church, you know that old Babylonian mystery religion is going to come knocking! That is the truth of history. Satan really has tremendous power.
Think about it: Why would God allow His apostles to die? Surely, amid all the persecution, the people thought they needed those men! But God responded, No—you need me! You need to know that I am with you! In too many cases, the people of God didn’t understand that.
We have all the power we need. Jesus Christ Himself is leading His Church! But look what happened after Mr. Armstrong died. The people didn’t see and follow Christ, and everything fell apart.
God really does want to know if we truly love His law and government. He wants to see if we can stand alone with Him—and without another man.
John’s Writings Unique
While on Patmos, John tried to maintain care of the churches in the absence of Peter and Paul. It was difficult. The only way he could communicate was by personal messenger or by letter.
John’s writings were invaluable for a Church struggling to survive. Amid that persecution, John kept reminding people, We actually spent time with the Word of God! We looked upon Him and touched Him! (1 John 1:1). People must have been questioning that, and John brought it right back to their attention, emphasizing that God Himself had come in the flesh! With all the turmoil going on around them, John knew they needed that truth stamped in their memories! Stand up for God! Don’t be afraid of these people. Don’t run from them. Don’t join them. We have God leading this Church!
Trying to encourage the brethren, John wrote, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). In a later message he warned, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 7‑9). John wanted the people to deal with stark reality.
John wrote his Gospel account to help the people ward off deception. It is unique among the Gospels. It gives great insight into Jesus Christ’s many private conversations with John, who would live much longer than the other leaders for a special work. It reveals His deepest thoughts, prayers and emotions. It explains Christ’s prior history as the Logos, or Spokesman, of the supreme Godhead.
Despite John’s efforts, however, God’s Church was in grave danger. Only a few loyal ministers could be trusted. In a third letter, John revealed that one apostate minister was even casting true Christians out of the Church (3 John 9-10). Certain ministers had rejected John’s authority. Those who did want John to be in authority were put out of the Church. God’s people, loyal to the truth and the original apostles, were now cast out.
Why No ‘Amen’?
John’s third epistle does not end with “Amen.” In my old Bible notes from Ambassador College, I wrote that the reason John cut the letter short was that God didn’t want the church conspiracy revealed at that time; He didn’t want John to go on and write that the great whore was rising in Rome. This also shows that Mr. Armstrong was talking about this conspiracy and how John was battling it in these epistles.
Again, Mr. Armstrong explaining about that great conspiracy made a huge impression on many of us. He knew how to convey his message. He spelled it all out and told us how it was revealed in John’s epistles. It galvanized the Church. It was so stark and striking that I vividly remember it to this day.
In his article “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”, Dr. Hoeh wrote: “And why was the short letter of 3 John missing an ‘Amen’? Let John himself tell us, ‘I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee’ (verse 13). John reveals, in the letter, a pagan conspiracy. It was a diabolical attempt by Simon Magus and his false apostles to seize the name of Christ, gain control of the true Church, and masquerade as ‘Christianity.’ God did not permit John to make known, in plain language, the names of the leaders of that conspiracy and the city of their operation. That is why John cut his letter short. The missing ‘Amen’ is to tell us to look elsewhere in the Bible for the answer. It is described, if you have eyes to see, in Revelation 17, Acts 8 and many other chapters of the Bible” (Plain Truth, May 1964).
He was talking about what Mr. Armstrong said about the epistles of John. Isn’t the truth about what happened during that lost century electrifying? Shouldn’t that be something the ministers of the Church talked about a lot?
Sadly, Dr. Hoeh and the other ministers didn’t properly follow up on what Mr. Armstrong said as they should have. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but they almost caused that truth to be lost! Dr. Hoeh did not even write about it in his booklet A True History of the True Church. Now we can look back and see what happened.
Exposing Simon Magus
Ernest Martin wrote about Simon Magus in a way that reinforced what Mr. Armstrong said. In a September 1964 Good News article, he wrote, “While the book of Acts gives us the key which shows the beginnings of the false religious system under Simon Magus, it does not describe its activities in any great detail. The Acts, however, performs its purpose in exposing who started the whole mess. God leaves it to the epistles, Revelation and also the Gospel of John to describe the heresy in detail. We are certainly not left in doubt concerning its abominable teachings.”
Notice this remarkable statement: “There is hardly an epistle that does not mention the religion of Simon Magus. Even the scholars who have studied Church history have clearly seen that almost all of the references in the New Testament epistles exposing the errors in the first age of the Church are directed exclusively to Simon Magus or his immediate followers.”
Dr. Martin quoted church historian Philip Schaff, who wrote: Simon Magus “unquestionably adulterated Christianity with pagan ideas and practices, and gave himself out … for an emanation of God.” Earlier, Schaff wrote, “Plain traces of this error appear in the later epistles of Paul (to the Colossians, to Timothy, and to Titus), the second epistle of Peter, the first two epistles of John, the epistle of Jude, and the messages of the Apocalypse to the seven churches.
“This heresy, in the second century, spread over the whole church, east and west, in the various schools of Gnosticism” (Apostolic Christianity: History of the Christian Church).
Then Dr. Martin wrote, “But to single out the one apostle who seems to have made the most deliberate and planned attack on the false Christianity of Simon Magus—we must look to John.”
“Take [John’s] Gospel for instance,” Dr. Martin continued. “While he records a history of Christ’s ministry, he has an entirely different approach to the subject than the other three.
“John wrote late. Times had changed. John knew that the teachings of Christ were being corrupted by a well-known plot to destroy the truth. To understand John’s approach to his Gospel we must be aware of his endeavor to expose this false system which had arisen and was gaining momentum.
“Notice how John constantly hits at the necessity of keeping the commandments of God. Why? Because the false system was preaching libertine doctrines.” Libertine typically means just sexually promiscuous. But in reality, that false system was preaching many lawless doctrines. (Ernest Martin also got off into such thinking, and later ended up leaving the Church many years before Mr. Armstrong died! He started his own church, trying to get people to look to him.)
He continued, “Also, John’s epistles are jam-packed with specific information regarding the conspiracy to overthrow the truth. But yet, none of these works of John mentioned above represent his last efforts to warn the Church of that conspiracy which was very much present. John’s last witness to God’s Church before his death was the book of Revelation.
“Christ gave His last written message of warning of this system through John in Revelation! He tells us specifically the very names of the system to watch in a remarkable and hidden way. Hidden, and yet so plain once the keys are understood. God certainly does not leave His Church in the dark.”
This is all true. Dr. Martin showed how each of these biblical books supplies a different piece of the puzzle regarding this false church. “While Acts describes the beginning of the false system; the epistles nail down its doctrines and describe its activities; the book of Revelation next comes to the foreground showing the false system’s prophetic history through all eras of the Church. We must remember that Revelation intends to show us ‘things which shall be hereafter.’ This is its duty—and it marvelously performs what it was intended to do.” This is foundational truth that was revealed to Mr. Armstrong. But Ernest Martin never gave Mr. Armstrong any credit!
Let’s look more intently at some of John’s writings to see how he directly confronted the false teachings of Simon Magus’s counterfeit Christianity.
Battling the Trinity Doctrine
Satan introduced the false concept of a trinity within the old Babylonian religion, with Semiramis, Nimrod and Horus. That is where Simon Magus got that doctrine.
John was the only biblical writer who talked about Christ, the Son of God, being the Word. Jesus Christ had given John special instruction; surely John’s statements about the history of the Word, or Logos, came from those conversations.
The Word is mentioned in John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. This is a wonderful vision, inspiring from beginning to end. There was God and the Word, then the Word came to Earth and became the Son, and God became the Father, and we have the Family of God. This is the gospel of God, and it is all about family!
If you look closely, you will see that the discussion of this truth was a direct assault by the Apostle John on the great false church.
The trinity doctrine destroys the gospel. It destroys the truth about the God Family. Simon Magus and his satanic trinity doctrine claim that the Godhead is a little triangle, and it is closed—not open to anybody. But the truth of the Bible is that God is opening up His Family to all mankind! God wants Family—and eventually, billions and billions of people will become sons of God! Every person who has ever lived will be given an opportunity to be in God’s Family. Those who have never known God will rise up again in a physical resurrection (e.g. Revelation 20:5, 11-12; Ezekiel 37:1-14; for more information, request our free reprint “The Three Resurrections”). This truth is incredibly inspiring. But Satan doesn’t want this future opened up to us. He hates this because he never had the chance to become a begotten son. And so, the great satanic conspiracy to cover up this mind-staggering truth began with Simon Magus in a.d. 33.
I am convinced that John’s understanding of the Logos came as a result of his talking directly to Christ. Jesus spent a lot of time with John because He knew the rough time John would face throughout his long life. He wanted John to understand this truth so he could combat everything that Simon Magus would throw at him.
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Here John is talking about this vision again. He clearly says there are just two God Beings. There is no third one there—no trinity. John was making it very simple and clear.
Verse 14 continues, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Again, there is the Father and the Son: family—not trinity. John said this over and over: Father, Son—Father, Son. It is a mind-staggering, awe-inspiring message.
Verse 18 says that Christ came and declared the Father. It is all about family! The gospel is the good news of the coming Family of God that will administer the government of God. It reveals that man is here to become born sons of God into that Family. God the Father and Jesus Christ have invested just about everything in making that possible!
John devastated the trinity doctrine of Simon Magus. John says Father and Son over and over again. He also talks in great depth about the Holy Spirit being a power—not a person—and how it empowers us. How could anyone read what John has written about these subjects and still believe something like the trinity doctrine?
Here is another reference from John about the Word: “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). God in the flesh came to Earth and spilled His blood so we might be in the Family of God. That proves how serious God is about opening up the Family of God to human beings! God the Father paid a great price for us to be here. Jesus Christ had to suffer to make all this possible! So when we suffer, that is OK. It is what we need in order to build a godly mind and godly character—and even so, we don’t have to sacrifice to nearly the extent that they did.
Christ even died for those who were deceived by Simon Magus’s bitterness and lawlessness. He will still give them an opportunity to be a part of His Family. Romans 11:31-32 say that God in His mercy concluded them in unbelief. That means they didn’t understand and can be forgiven. God did that in His mercy—even though this world scorns and scoffs and spits on Him! He has mercy on them in spite of what they have done, in spite of how they worship the devil. This is our God of love!
The Samaritan Woman
Before the disciples received God’s Holy Spirit, they received some hard correction at Jacob’s well in Samaria, recorded in John 4. None of the other Gospel writers mentioned this, probably because they didn’t understand it. But Christ made sure John remembered and understood this event.
When Jesus came into the area, He spoke to a Samaritan woman—something the Jews would not do. She recognized that He was a Jew, and she was startled. “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” she asked (verse 9). Her reaction gives an idea of the poor spiritual condition of the Jews! Even Christ’s disciples, who were steeped in that education, had to be straightened out. When they saw Christ talking with this woman, they marveled. Why was Jesus talking to that woman—that dog? they wondered in their hearts.
Mr. Armstrong gave some marvelous insight into this incident in the October-November 1978 Plain Truth. He went back to the origins of the Samaritan people: the fact that when Assyria conquered Israel and exiled the Israelites from this region, it placed people of the Babylonian mystery religion there. “In the time of Christ these Samaritan people were still there. Their religious leader was Simon the sorcerer,” Mr. Armstrong explained—“the ‘Peter’ (or pater, father, papa, leader) of the Babylonian mystery religion.”
He then wrote, “I gave you this incident at the well in Samaria because there is some reason to believe that this woman was at the time living with Simon the sorcerer, founder of the world’s largest religion. (If there were not some special significance attached to her, why would God have mentioned her in the Bible?)”
I believe Mr. Armstrong’s deduction is correct. Simon Magus was a lawless man and probably lived in a lawless relationship with this Samaritan woman! If you know anything about God, you know He carefully plans everything. It wasn’t just happenstance that Jesus Christ started to talk with this woman. This is God! He doesn’t plan like we do—He plans like God!
I don’t think you even need a lot of proof here to make a strong case that this lady, if she wasn’t living with Simon, must have known him (Acts 8:10). God used this woman to give a warning to Simon and all his followers. The woman tried to prove to Christ that their religion was the true religion. Christ told her, “Ye worship ye know not what”! (John 4:22). Christ’s discussion with this woman shows how wrong their religion was. He said it was worthless!
But still Christ worked with this woman because most of the Samaritans will be in God’s Family in the future. The Jews called these people dogs—yet we are all “dogs” until we come into the Family of God!
Christ gave this woman a lot of time and a lot of instruction. He talked to her about the Holy Spirit, calling it “living water.” Christ told the Samaritan woman that if we drink of the living water, it will be “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (verse 14). He wanted all of us to understand that with this living water, we can face anything. He said, “If thou knewest the gift of God,” referring to the Spirit (verse 10). Here is the Son of God talking to this carnal-minded woman about the Holy Spirit, not the spirit of the devil. Why would He say that when He knew the Holy Spirit was not yet given? It probably had something to do with the later incident when Simon Magus tried to connive to somehow get that power in his life. Simon observed that there was real power in the Holy Spirit. Maybe this Samaritan woman recognized this power in Jesus Christ and told Simon about it.
Christ knew that Simon Magus’s church would kill more people than any other organization—and that it would repeatedly kill God’s own saints! He wanted to warn the followers of that religion!
Jesus Christ told the Samaritan woman, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (verse 23). He told her to worship the Father in spirit and truth. The truth is the Bible, yet this false church says its traditions come first, before the Bible. Such traditions are a lot of human reasoning that will always lead you into Satan’s deceptions.
“The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he” (verses 25-26). This lady must have received the shock of her life! She was talking to the Messiah. The prophesied Messiah was right in front of her, and He told her that she was not worshiping in truth. Surely she would have discussed these things with Simon.
Christ was talking to this woman in order to fight the great satanic conspiracy that was about to take root through the work of Simon. And John recorded it in his Gospel to ensure it was preserved as that conspiracy unfolded.
John’s Focus on the Law
John kept emphasizing the law in his epistles because he was dealing with lawless people, in the Church and out! “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).
Bible commentators are agitated by John because he was into “legal law.” They recognize that John was very legal-minded. Of course he was! Simon Magus and his followers were teaching that the law was done away and that people no longer had to keep it. John countered that by teaching that you had better be ready to die before you break that law! That is the level we all have to achieve spiritually.
1 John 3:1 states, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God ….” Behold, take note! We are sons of God! And a son honors his Father by obeying His law and walking the way Christ walked.
There is a Father, and if we have the Holy Spirit, we are His begotten sons and will be born into the Family of God! What else could possibly matter?
Simon Magus came along and tried to destroy that beautiful truth with the trinity doctrine. That is what John was battling. We have that same fight today, even with some of God’s own people. But soon we are going to dispense with the trinity doctrine forever!
There really is a Father, and there really are sons! We really are going to be born into the Family of God. Forget the satanic nonsense of being “born again” in this world—we are going to be born again into the Family of God! We must never treat that casually.
Do you think John—who laid his head on the bosom of Christ, who talked to Him for many hours and got to know Him deeply—would let some twisted pervert full of bitter gall take this truth away from him?
If we really get to know what John knew in all of its depth, we almost certainly will never let anyone take us away from our Father!
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (verse 4). John gives this wonderful vision about sons of God—“we shall be like him” (verses 1-3)—and then starts to talk about the law. God knows that we will not purify ourselves and follow His law and government unless we have that vision about the God Family in our minds. But if we have that in our minds, we will purify ourselves and be thankful to God that we have the opportunity to do so.
We must get this vision across to people, and then they will say, Oh, yes, I see. I understand what I have to do.
“And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (verse 22). God will answer our prayers in the smallest of ways. Whatever you ask, if it is good for you, your Father is going to give it. But notice: We receive of Him because we keep His commandments.
God’s true Church is the only place on Earth with God’s government that truthfully teaches the law. What a blessing to be here!
Love in the Truth
Simon Magus and his followers said they were motivated by love, and they talked often of love. But they didn’t love “in the truth”! (2 John 1). They had another love, which wasn’t agape—God’s love. That history is also prophecy for today’s false religion: People out there speak of love, but they do not understand love in the truth.
John 17:17 says God’s Word is truth. If people will look deeply into God’s Word, they will not fall for the sloppy counterfeit taught by men of Simon Magus’s ilk.
You see false love in politics all the time. Politicians promise to undertake initiatives for poor people, for example. They will promise people anything in order to get elected. They often hijack the tax system in a way that encourages lawlessness and sloth. People believe these short-sighted leaders and cast their votes accordingly—and it wrecks the nation! Such misguided thinking also motivates soft-headed foreign policy, fruitless negotiation and appeasement of dangerous regimes. Because of such thinking, this world is about to explode before our eyes!
The Bible is a book about God’s love. God is love. So don’t we have to know what love is? If God is love and we know God, we have to know what love in the truth means. If you do not have that love, you are wasting your life.
God’s Church has the truth. We are telling the world not only that World War iii will happen, but also why, and what an individual has to change in his life if he wants to be part of leading the new world to come at Christ’s return. What a wonderful and epic calling this is!
“For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever” (2 John 2). The truth dwells in God’s people. The Bible dwells in us and will remain in us forever if we let God work with us.
John continues: “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father” (verses 3-4).
What a beautiful scripture. It contains another of John’s trinity-destroying statements about the Father and the Son. Then John, exuding God’s love, says, I rejoiced greatly that I found your children walking in truth. This was God speaking through John! John loved those people, and he loved God. He knew the Father rejoiced greatly every time a son walked in His truth, and John thought just like God in this respect. The thing that made John happiest was to see God’s people walking in truth. What a powerful example of loving in truth!
3 John 3 also says John “rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.” Does this resonate with you? That is real spiritual depth. This was John’s life. The Bible was alive to John. God’s Family was John’s family.
Try the Spirits
Christ really prepared the Ephesus era through the ministry and the writings of the Apostle John. But we need to remember that His end-time message is primarily for God’s very elect today. God revealed this new truth from John’s epistles to me for us! We need this information to deal with the trials ahead. (We would be happy to send you a free copy of The Last Hour, my booklet about John’s epistles.)
We have to let the Apostle John prepare us to survive during this last hour. John prepared the Ephesus era for intense persecution, but keep in mind that his writings are designed primarily to prepare us for what is ahead in this end time.
John wrote, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
How do we “try the spirits”? John continues: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is [coming] in the flesh is of God” (verse 2). The Spirit of God is active—it is coming in the flesh of God’s true servants. Jesus Christ is manifest in them. God says that is the monumental difference between false prophets and true prophets.
How can you tell the difference? We have to be spiritually sharp to recognize it. The people of God know when Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. We understand it, and we are continually learning to understand it more profoundly.
In John’s day, people had started talking about the “holy father” on this Earth. They were saying that there is now a man in the place of Christ. No there is not—not then and not now! The Head of this spiritual organism is Christ, and it always has been! Satan was (and is) trying to put a man in the place of Christ.
What a battle John had on his hands! “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (verse 6). What a profound statement!
Those are the two ways of life. We have to go beyond just knowing truth and error, and learn to identify the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. The world cannot discern that. For example, the great false church of the world looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon (Revelation 13:11)—yet over a billion people follow it.
John was trying to get the people of his day to see and understand it, but it is mainly a prophecy for you and me today!
God always gives us what we need if we are receptive to it. He always looks after His Family if they are obedient and loyal. Through John, God was going after His Family in the face of satanic deception. Even in a physical family, if you have a child in serious trouble, you take care of him. You do everything you can to the point of sometimes even giving your life. How much more does God the Father love His Family? John’s epistles prove the depth of God’s love for His wayward people.
3 John 9 shows what damage a false minister can do. There John says, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.” Here was a minister—apparently a regional director—who loved to be “number one.” Diotrephes, like Simon Magus, wanted to be in the spotlight instead of putting Christ and God the Father there. We have seen such men in God’s Church in the end time as well.
“Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words …” (verse 10). Even though he wasn’t there at the time, John discerned that this leading minister had come under the influence of another spirit.
John said Diotrephes was “not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (verse 10). This man’s decision to cast members loyal to the truth out of the Church parallels what happened to us in this end time. That was a prophecy for us. We were cast out of the Church because we looked to the elder who built the Philadelphia era. Diotrephes was a type of an end-time antichrist inside God’s own Church!
John was God’s last original apostle—Church enemies had killed all the others—and Diotrephes hated the people who followed him. John had been instructed directly by the Word, yet Diotrephes still thought he knew so much more. But he was traveling straight toward eternal death.
John said he would set things straight if he came. This indicates that John may have been in prison when he wrote this letter. All the trials and persecution John was enduring at this time would leave almost any person somewhat shaken. Yet he had such a wonderful, extremely inspiring attitude. In the midst of such a severe Church crisis, it would surely have taken something like being in prison to keep John away.
Maybe he was on Patmos even while writing these epistles. You know the loyal members were praying for John to come and help them. But God said, No, I’m not going to send John. It’s time for you to stand with me. It’s time to see if you can follow the real leader of God’s true Church—Christ—when the Apostle John is not there with you!
Peter and the other apostles were not around to help. This remaining apostle was somehow tied up and couldn’t get to the people. And God essentially said to each member, You’ve had all this precious knowledge that John has given you—depth on top of depth on top of depth. Now apply it, and everything will work out! Will you stand with me?
Although John was undergoing extreme trials, he wrote marvelously uplifting letters. He was facing enormous problems, and God wouldn’t even allow him to go where many of the brethren were, who were also being severely tested. Why not? Because He didn’t know how many of them would ultimately choose life. Instead of allowing John to go jolt them out of their confusion, God essentially said to the individual Church members, It’s time that you understand and follow me! I want you to take a stand for me! God is in the business of building more than just one leader—He is building an entire Family of leaders!
Do you have enough depth and enough character to remain loyal to the truth even in the midst of fiery persecution? Does the vision of God’s plan burn in you so brightly that you can stand with God even if a minister is not around to guide you? Do you deeply understand that if Christ lives in you, you have nothing to worry about—and that you have life? (1 John 5:12).
John gave them truth—and he has given it to us—to answer any of the critics. Nobody should be deceived by the teachings of Simon Magus. If you are able to discern the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6), then you will not follow after arrogant, deceived men who love to be in the spotlight.
Why did God allow Mr. Armstrong to die? Because He wanted to know how each individual member would respond. He has chosen not to peer into the future to know our ultimate outcomes. We thought people were committed to God, but after Mr. Armstrong died we found out that they didn’t deeply believe much of what he taught. God wanted to know what each of us really believed.
God wants to know what you believe. He wants to know what is in your mind and how much you know about Him. He wants to measure the depth of your understanding. He wants to know if each of us trembles at His word.
John’s Final Days
John was released from Patmos around a.d. 96. He finished his final years at Ephesus. Near the end of his life, John worked hard to strengthen the members and encourage them to remain steadfast in the truth. John saw to the training of some very effective leaders. He and the others soon understood that Christ would not return in their lifetime.
Tradition tells us that John lived to be an old man. When he died, the Ephesus era ended. But the Church did not die. It survived as Christ had promised (Matthew 16:18). The faithful men whom John trained kept the truth alive. Revelation 2 and 3 reveal that the Church would endure through six more eras.
Chapter 5: Fighting to Save the Truth
Just a few decades after Christ’s death, a dark curtain fell on the history of God’s Church. Concerning this time period, Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages, “Already the curtain was rung down on the history of the true Church. You read of it in the book of Acts, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. But the curtain seems to lift, and we begin to get a little bit of the history in about a.d. 150. There we see a church calling itself Christian, but it’s a totally different church, as different as night is from day, down from up, or black from white. But it called itself Christian.”
Notice what Gibbon recorded in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The scanty and suspicious materials on ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church.” Mr. Armstrong often referred to this time period as “the lost century” because in secular history, as he wrote, “the history of that Church was lost.”
The book of Acts ends abruptly, several years before Paul’s death. John wrote his epistles and the book of Revelation around a.d. 85 to 90.
Continuing from Mystery of the Ages: “Scholars and church historians recognize that events in the early Christian Church between a.d. 50 and 150 can only be seen in vague outline—as if obscured by a thick mist.” (This is the same “lost century” he referred to in The Incredible Human Potential as occurring from a.d. 70 to 170.) Some Bible authors who wrote after a.d. 50, such as Peter, Jude and John, provided some details of the a.d. 50 to 90 period of Church history. But the primary purpose of their writings was not to chronicle events of the day, so the history of that period remains obscure. And the obscurity grows far thicker after a.d. 90.
Mr. Armstrong quoted from a book titled A Handbook of Church History, by Samuel G. Green: “The 30 years which followed the close of the New Testament canon and the destruction of Jerusalem are in truth the most obscure in the history of the Church. When we emerge in the second century we are, to a great extent, in a changed world” (emphasis mine throughout).
We do have some insight into this obscure time from secular sources. However, an element of caution must be used when studying secular history regarding the first- and early second-century Church. It is extremely difficult to tell who was a true Christian and who was false. As historian Edward Burton wrote, “The fugitives from Jerusalem … while some became true disciples of Jesus, others, as in the case in spreading of new opinions, may have imperfectly learnt, or ignorantly perverted, the real doctrines of Christianity” (Lectures Upon the Ecclesiastical History of the First Three Centuries). From secular history, the one measure we can safely use to determine which people were part of God’s true Church and which were not is the doctrines they taught.
Changing Doctrines, Traditions
This much we know for sure: The main protectors of the “faith once delivered” resided in Asia Minor—not in Rome.
The churches in the west, led by Rome, began to hold doctrines different from those of the true believers in Asia Minor. The leaders of the church in the west began to introduce the worship of Mary. They changed the day of worship to Sunday under the guise of honoring the resurrection of Jesus, even though there is abundant scriptural proof that the resurrection did not take place on Sunday. (You can prove this for yourself by requesting a free copy of our reprint article “When Was Christ Crucified and Resurrected?”) They rejected Passover and instead began to observe Easter. They began to question the holy days and all things “Jewish.” The leaders in the west also began to develop theories concerning the nature of God. They asked questions such as who and what was Jesus—was He God and man? A lot of controversy developed over doctrinal issues.
Though Rome was the capital of the western empire and eventually the capital of “Christianity,” the religion it promoted was far different from the one established by Christ. The continuation of what Christ established could be found further east, in Asia Minor.
There, from the city of Smyrna, presided the human leader of the true Church at the time—Polycarp.
We gain insight into the history of the Church after the Apostle John’s death through the scant history that remains of his successor. Tradition tells us that Polycarp was born of Christian parents around the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. He became a disciple of John’s after John was released from Patmos and he set up his base of operations at Ephesus. There, John canonized the New Testament as we know it today. He also trained young Polycarp, probably at the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus where the Apostle Paul had taught years earlier (Acts 19:9).
John prepared Polycarp to lead the Church into the second century, and Polycarp fought faithfully to preserve “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Fighting to Save the Truth
This time period is described in Revelation 2:8-11 as the Smyrna era of God’s Church.
We examined the transition from the Ephesus era to the Smyrna era in the last chapter. When John was in prison, trouble grew in the Church (3 John 9-10). Evil Diotrephes gained power, and John’s faithful followers were kicked out! This is how the Smyrna era began. The Ephesus era began with a blaze of glory, but it ended in a cesspool of shame! The people of that era lost their first love. Then God had to move His lamp to the Smyrna era.
John’s death around a.d. 100 symbolized the death of the Ephesus era.
Polycarp, who was serving as a minister in Smyrna, took John’s place as physical head of the Church under Christ. Polycarp presided over God’s Church for about half a century after John’s death. His apostleship, based out of Smyrna, represented the early years of the Smyrna era, though there were other small congregations of God’s true Church scattered throughout Asia Minor, Syria and Judea.
Under Polycarp’s direction, God’s Church in the east strove to faithfully follow the commandments and traditions as taught by Jesus Christ. They kept the seventh-day Sabbath, the holy days, and the Passover on Nisan 14.
The writer Eusebius (a.d. 260–340) gives us accounts of Polycarp’s fight to save the truth. Perhaps the most important event in Polycarp’s ministry was his battle to preserve the Passover. The churches in the west had established Easter Sunday as the memorial for Christ’s resurrection. They stopped keeping the Passover. God’s Church in the east continued the custom of observing the Passover at night using the new symbols of bread and wine. The controversy that developed became known as the Quartodeciman Controversy. Quartodeciman is Latin for 14th. The 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica says this about the controversy: “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. … The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed. Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb and the first fruits from the dead, continued to be observed ….”
Even the name of this controversy shows where God’s true Church was. Those fighting to preserve the keeping of the 14th would only be the true Church. The Jews, by this time, were keeping the 15th of the first Hebrew month as the Passover. The church in the west was keeping Easter. The true Church was alone in holding to the doctrine of setting apart the only date that commemorates the primary act in God’s plan of redemption for mankind—the beating and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Savior.
Encyclopedia Britannica continues: “Generally speaking, the western churches kept Easter on the first day of the week, while the eastern churches … kept [Passover] on the 14th day. St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that see [area], on the subject; and urged the tradition, which he had received from the apostle, of observing the 14th day. … About 40 years later (197) the question was discussed in a very different spirit between Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycrates, metropolitan of proconsular Asia. … Victor demanded that all should adopt the usage prevailing at Rome. … The few who afterwards separated themselves from the unity of the church, and continued to keep the 14th day, were named Quartodecimani, and the dispute itself is known as the Quartodeciman controversy.”
Tradition tells us that Polycarp was more than 80 years old when he confronted Anicetus. He returned to Smyrna, where he endured continued persecution from the Roman government. He suffered continual isolation from the churches in Rome, but he would not change doctrine. Though he was an old man, he fought vigorously against doctrinal heresy. Polycarp was arrested shortly after this confrontation and burned alive for failing to worship Caesar. (Eusebius described the miracles surrounding this event in great detail.)
After Polycarp’s death, the apostolic mantle—and the work of protecting the truth—fell to his disciple, Polycrates.
As we read in Encyclopedia Britannica, Polycrates also had to deal with a corrupt bishop at Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire. By the time Polycrates went to Rome, Victor occupied a seat of great religious and political influence. He demanded that the true Church and other worldly Christian churches in the east submit to the power and authority of the bishop at Rome.
Victor wanted to enforce Easter worship. Polycrates refused to give in and held firm to Passover observance. He wrote, “We, for our part, keep the day [Passover] scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s advent, when He is coming with glory from heaven and shall search out all His saints ….” He listed several of God’s people who had already died, including Philip, the Apostle John and Polycarp. “All of these kept the 14th day of the month … in accordance with the gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of the faith.”
Polycrates concluded by stating his determination to follow the same pattern. “So I, my friends, after spending 65 years in the Lord’s service and conversing with Christians from all parts of the world, and going carefully through all Holy Scripture, am not scared of threats. Better people than I have said: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”
This has always been the policy of God’s Church and His true apostles. In the first century, the Jewish high council commanded Christ’s apostles to stop their work. “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19‑20). They knew they had to obey God and not worry about human opposition. Later, Peter and the other apostles were brought before the high council a second time. The council tried even harder to intimidate them. “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). These were the words Polycrates boldly used in his letter to Victor i.
According to tradition, Polycrates lived through most of the second century, dying at an old age. During the next several centuries, the struggle to preserve the truth became even more intense. Persecution and martyrdom were rampant.
Synagogue of Satan
It is interesting that Christ uses the phrase “synagogue of Satan” in His message to the Smyrna era (Revelation 2:9). He also mentions it to the Philadelphia era (Revelation 3:9).
Remember, during the later years of the Ephesus era, God’s Church developed some serious spiritual problems. Paul warned the Thessalonians, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work …” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul understood that some unscrupulous men had crept into the Church. These men attempted to draw disciples after them. Paul specifically warned the Ephesian ministry to beware what they did and taught (Acts 20:29-31). Paul could well see what was about to strike God’s Church: Many ministers and members were going to turn away from God.
The “mystery of iniquity” that formed during the Ephesus era eventually led to the formation of the apostate church. These false leaders and brethren claimed to be Jews, but they were not. They claimed to be led by Christ, but they were led by Satan. This “synagogue of Satan” caused considerable trouble to the people of God during the Smyrna era.
In this end time, the “mystery of iniquity” was also at work within the Church while Mr. Armstrong was alive. His authority held it back until he was taken out of the way. The end-time “synagogue of Satan” developed into the Laodicean era. The Laodicean era came after the Philadelphia era (Revelation 3:14-22). The Laodiceans turned away from God. But there were serious problems in the 1970s before the Laodicean era began. This was a sign that the Laodicean problem was extant before Mr. Armstrong died. The synagogue of Satan was the Laodicean era in embryo! Once Mr. Armstrong died, the Laodicean era was born; the rebellious Laodiceans became very active. Once they turned away from God, they came under Satan’s rule, and disastrous things resulted. We will study into this subject in much greater depth in Chapter 10.
Characteristics of Smyrna
Attributes of the cities in Asia Minor that Christ designated to typify the seven eras of God’s Church give us insight into those eras. For instance, some characteristics of the city of Laodicea match the spiritual attributes prevailing in the Laodicean era. The same is true of Smyrna. Just as Christ described Himself to the Smyrna brethren as He “which was dead, and is alive,” so the city itself, once in ruins, was later rebuilt and is a living city today (Izmir, Turkey).
Smyrna stands with Philadelphia as one of only two Church eras that Jesus Christ did not directly correct. The other eras succumbed to division, but these two eras kept God’s government and remained faithful.
The recent history of God’s Church shares many similarities with the Smyrna era. Those who hold fast to the Philadelphian standard in this Laodicean era are much like those within Smyrna who, despite their limited strength, kept doing the Work after the Ephesus era lost its first love and stopped preaching the gospel.
The Smyrna era was characterized by persecution aimed at Christians. It is important to realize that not all those killed were necessarily faithful Christians. A false Christian movement, contrary to the “faith once delivered,” had been growing. Rome’s persecution did not discriminate between true and false Christianity.
In a.d. 98, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, better known as Trajan, was elected emperor by the Roman Senate. He viewed Christianity as a sacrilegious threat to the state-supported religion and deserving of punishment. He began a significant persecution against believers, and his successors, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, continued the carnage. It was under Antoninus Pius that Polycarp was martyred. The violence continued under Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Maximinus Thrax and Valerian. Christians were hunted down as outlaws and either burned at the stake, beheaded or crucified.
When Diocletian ruled as emperor (a.d. 284–305), he initiated a persecution that surpassed all the previous emperors. He issued an edict in a.d. 303 requiring uniformity of worship: Any individual who refused to worship pagan Roman gods or the image of the emperor was declared an outlaw of the empire. He enforced this edict with an iron fist.
All those claiming to be Christians were in immediate danger: Christians suffered the loss of personal property; places of worship were burned to the ground; copies of sacred writings were destroyed. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands suffered torture and death. Diocletian even had a commemorative coin minted to memorialize the eradication of Christians.
Diocletian’s persecution, again, did not differentiate between false and true Christians. Many of the bishops at Rome, though not true believers, had their lives taken from them.
Then, on October 28, a.d. 312, an incredible change took place. On this date, Constantine defeated his chief rival and brother-in-law Maxentius (son of the old western Emperor Maximian) at the Battle of Milvian Bridge near Rome. This victory ensured Constantine’s sole rule over the empire in the west.
In an unprecedented move, Constantine sought a meeting with Miltiades, who was in charge of the local Christian groups in Rome. By this time, the bishop at Rome was generally accepted as the leader of Christianity in the western portion of the empire. The Roman bishop had also become unofficially known as the pope.
During this meeting, Constantine explained to the wary bishop of Rome that he was victorious because of divine inspiration. Just prior to battle, Constantine had seen a vision of a flaming cross in the sky. Above the cross were written the words “in hoc signo vinces” (“in this sign conquer”). Moved by the vision, Constantine had a cross imprinted on the standards and shields of his army. He fought the battle in the name of the Christian God. He believed this brought him victory over Maxentius.
In front of Miltiades, Constantine professed his newfound faith: “Christianity”! In a.d. 313, he issued the Edict of Milan, granting all Christians full freedom to practice their religion. Constantine encouraged all Roman citizens to follow his example and become Christian—although pagan worship continued to be tolerated until the end of the century. Constantine moved the bishop of Rome into the luxurious Lateran Palace.
Miltiades died in January 314. His successor, Silvester, was crowned as an earthly prince and regally dressed in imperial robes. Constantine also appointed many so-called Christians into high government offices. He also funded the construction of many new church buildings.
Although he was not baptized until days before his death in a.d. 337, Constantine recognized and gave his blessing to this false version of Christianity. He devoted state support to this church in a way that began to increase its power significantly. This was an incredible, history-making event. Christians from prior centuries would never have believed it.
The White Horse
The emperor had become a “Christian”! The government that had so viciously persecuted the church was now its ally. The age of persecution was officially over. Or was it?
The original apostles had taught that Rome would fall and that Jesus Christ would return to set up God’s Kingdom. It had been nearly 300 years since Christ walked the Earth. People asked, why hasn’t He returned? Many Christians knew that the Scriptures stated the Church would be small and persecuted. The persecution had ended. The false Christians—specifically the Catholic Church—were given prosperity and political power. No Bible prophecy stated that the Church of God would become a great and powerful political force. The Bible states that it would be a “little flock.” What could all of this mean? Christianity was thrown into deep confusion. Many began to question their beliefs.
Some few faithful Christians began to understand that prophecy was being fulfilled. Faithful ministers warned their flocks to beware of deception. Jesus Christ had said, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:5). Just because Constantine claimed Christianity, that did not make him a true Christian.
Jesus Christ had also revealed to John in the book of Revelation that a war-making religious power would come on the scene. “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Revelation 6:1-2). These verses about the first horseman of the apocalypse aptly describe Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and what he later did with religion throughout the empire. History shows that Constantine laid a foundation for succeeding years of false Christianity, particularly its role within the Holy Roman Empire. Many people were put to death at the hands of the war-making rider on the white horse—the actual symbol Christ used to prophesy of the rise of false Christianity!
The Trinity Controversy
In a.d. 321, Constantine issued an edict forbidding work on “the venerable day of the sun [Sunday].” The churches in the west had begun to worship on Sunday instead of the seventh day of the week, Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
In 324, Constantine defeated Licinius, emperor of the eastern empire. He pronounced himself sole emperor, effectively making Christianity the dominant religion of the entire empire.
In 325, Emperor Constantine called together a conclave of bishops from throughout the empire. This meeting became known as the Council of Nicaea. Constantine called the council together to promote unity and uniformity within Christendom.
For all this time, there had been controversy over the truth about God because of the introduction of false Babylonish ideas. In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong wrote about this controversy “between a Dr. Arius, of Alexandria, a Christian leader who died a.d. 336, and other bishops, over calling God a trinity. Dr. Arius stoutly opposed the trinity doctrine, but introduced errors of his own.”
This debate was “settled” by the Council of Nicaea. “Constantine was not then yet a ‘Christian,’ but as political ruler he assumed control. The [Nicene] Council approved both the Easter-Sunday doctrine and the trinity. Constantine, then civil ruler, made it a law. But he was not able to make it truth!” Mr. Armstrong concluded.
Imagine a political ruler establishing law and doctrine in the Church. There is no way such a satanic work could be done in God’s true Church!
It was from this discussion that the doctrine of the trinity as many churches understand it today was finally formalized—three centuries after Jesus Christ’s ministry!
In the midst of this controversy, Satan tried to inject the trinity doctrine into the Apostle John’s writings. Read 1 John 5:7-8: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy [Spirit]: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” Of the italicized text in these two verses, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “They were added to the Latin Vulgate during the heat of the controversy between Rome and Dr. Arius and God’s people” (ibid).
Note this: John mentions the Father 16 times and the Son 24 times just in his epistles. He wrote those at the same time that Simon Magus was teaching the trinity! All the way through his epistles, his Gospel and in Revelation, John refers over and over to the Father and the Son—except when you get to this scripture, where there are three! Something is not right! Imagine the power of the devil to somehow insert that doctrine into this sacred text and, later, even into the royal King James Version!
“There was a real reason why the archdeceiver Satan wanted that spurious verse added in the Latin Vulgate from which it crept into the Authorized Version,” Mr. Armstrong continued. “The trinity doctrine completely does away with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That’s what was being destroyed and blotted out during John’s time—and sadly, the same thing happened in God’s Church in modern times as well.
That satanic deception confused people. That is the way Satan works: Once he takes away someone’s understanding of the gospel and the Family of God, he can deceive them all the more. Here he injected a false doctrine that destroys the gospel!
Do you vividly see the power of Satan the devil? This world does not know the devil, or it wouldn’t be deceived by him (Revelation 12:9).
Here is more that Mr. Armstrong wrote on this important subject in Mystery of the Ages: “The word trinity is not used anywhere in the Bible. … The very first idea or teaching about God being a trinity began in the latter half of the second century—a hundred years after most of the New Testament had been written. The counterfeit Christianity spawned by Simon the sorcerer was promoting it vigorously along with the pagan Easter. But the true Church of God vigorously resisted it. The controversy became so violent it threatened the peace of the world.”
“The trinity doctrine limits God to a supposed three persons. It destroys the very gospel of Jesus Christ! His gospel is the good news of the now soon-coming Kingdom of God—the only hope of this world and its mixed-up mankind!” he wrote. “The trinity doctrine, by contrast, is the doctrine of the great false religion called in Revelation 17:5: ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.’
“By that doctrine, along with others, Satan has deceived all traditional Christianity.” All of it!
Persecution Aimed at True Church
The second major decision made by the Nicene Council dealt with when to keep the Passover. Many people in Asia Minor still commemorated Christ’s death on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Nisan. This was viewed as a “Jewish” day (even though the Jews kept the 15th). Rome and the churches in the west focused on Christ’s resurrection, not His death. They held a “Passover” celebration at sunrise, Sunday morning. The Council of Nicaea ruled that the ancient Christian Passover remembering the death of Jesus was no longer to be kept. Those who kept Passover would be killed! The western custom was to be observed throughout the empire. This custom became known as Easter.
Most “Christians” accepted the outcome of this council. However, a minority of true Christians held fast to the original Passover ceremony. Constantine took swift action against all those who held to the truth. A new age of persecution began: false Christians killing true Christians.
Notice what Constantine wrote to all the churches after the Nicene Council closed: “At this meeting the question concerning … Easter was discussed …. First of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this … feast we should follow the practice of the Jews …. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd. … [I]t has been determined by the common judgment of all, that the … feast of Easter should be kept on one and the same day.” Thus, by Constantine’s authority, it was decreed that Easter must be celebrated on Sunday—and that Passover was forbidden!
This was a turning point in the history of the world! And it all began with Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.
To those who ignored the decrees of the council in order to follow God’s truth, Constantine wrote the following official letter: “[T]o speak of your criminality as it deserves demands more time and leisure than I can give …. Why not at once strike, as it were, at the root of so great a mischief [referring to the truth of God] by a public manifestation of displeasure?
“Forasmuch, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and [we] forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever …. [T]ake the far better course of entering the Catholic Church …. [W]e have commanded … that you be positively deprived of every gathering point for your superstitious meetings, I mean all the houses of prayer … and that these be made over without delay to the Catholic Church; that any other places be confiscated to the public service, and no facility whatever be left for any future gathering; in order that from this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place. Let this edict be made public” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Book 3).
Constantine personally and actively championed the military operation to eradicate Passover-keepers, whether they were in God’s true Church or worldly churches.
Constantine’s goal was to force everyone to join the Catholic Church. Many of those who refused to surrender to the doctrine and worship of the Catholic Church were slaughtered. Those who had formerly been oppressed—now having the power of Constantine’s state behind them—became oppressors. “Those of the true Church who dared to disagree with their doctrine were branded as heretics, worthy of punishment,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages.
This was, in embryo, the spiritual war discussed in Revelation 12 between God’s true Church and Catholicism.
This wave of persecution specifically fulfilled a prophecy given to the Smyrna era of God’s Church, found in Revelation 2:10: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” In Bible prophecy, a day often symbolizes a year in prophetic fulfillment (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6). This day-for-a-year principle applied to Constantine’s persecution, which began after the Council of Nicaea and lasted for the next 10 years. Many perished during this decade.
Persecution preceded this time, and persecution followed it, but Christ draws particular attention to this especially brutal period in the midst of the Smyrna era. The reason is surely because of its connection with the great false church. The Council of Nicaea had freed Catholics from persecution and, for the first time, enabled them to begin directing the persecution that followed. The tribulation was aimed far more directly at the true Church.
The name Smyrna comes from the root word myrrh. Myrrh is a sweet-smelling herb that has a bitter taste. Anciently it was used while embalming the dead. The Smyrna era truly was a bitter time for God’s true Church, but its works were sweet-smelling before God. God highly praised this era (Revelation 2:9).
Christ commanded the people of Smyrna, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer ….” Do you sometimes fear? Do you fear to face the challenges of doing God’s Work? Christ tells us not to fear what is coming. We don’t have to fear anybody but God.
The persecution during these 10 years was the most brutal and sustained of the Smyrna era—but it wasn’t the end. It actually set the stage for even worse persecutions to follow!
Though Constantine died in a.d. 337, the church he supported, which claimed to be the one that Christ founded, remained strong—and an enemy of the true people of God. Around a.d. 365, the Catholic Council of Laodicea wrote this in a famous canon: “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather, honoring the Lord’s Day [referring to Sunday]. … But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.”
“This decree of a.d. 365 definitely shows that there were true Christians observing the Sabbath,” Mr. Armstrong wrote (op cit).
A little over a decade later, in a.d. 378, Emperor Gratian granted the title of “high priest” to the bishop of Rome, the pope. It was also during this era that the city of Constantinople—which Constantine had founded in a.d. 330 to control the commerce, politics and religion of southeastern Europe—reached its height of influence.
During this time, faithful Christians were continually forced to flee from their homes and property. “The small remnant of Christians of the Smyrna era fled once more—to seek the religious freedom they needed to practice their beliefs,” Mr. Armstrong continued. “They left few records. Occasionally they appear as a footnote of history, rejected as heretics, ridiculed, and hounded by their enemies. But their strongest testimony comes from Jesus Himself, in His words of encouragement to the Church that was at Smyrna”—recorded in Revelation 2:8-11. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) …” (verse 9). The world called these people Ebionites, meaning poor or destitute. They lived lives of poverty, but they were rich in faith and truth!
Rome was removing any Christian opposition to Catholicism, but the true Church would never die (Matthew 16:18). To survive, Church members who were faithful to the apostolic traditions moved out of the major population centers and territories of the Roman Empire, scattering to the furthest bounds of the empire’s influence.
Details are sketchy, but we can trace the trail of the Church as the people wandered through Europe, fleeing to the east, to the west and to the north. They settled in the mountains and valleys across Europe and Asia Minor, from the British Isles, across northern and western Europe all the way to Cappadocia and Armenia in the east. William Jones’s The History of the Christian Church records, “Multitudes … fled like innocent and defenseless sheep from these devouring wolves. They crossed the Alps; and traveled in every direction … into Germany, England, France, Italy and other countries.” A History of the True Religion, by Andrew Dugger and Clarence Dodd, states: “We shall now trace the general dispersion of the Church of God as she was scattered throughout the various countries of Europe and Asia …. We find the identification of the true Church, both by the name and doctrine, scattered from Palestine to Spain, and from the Piedmont valley of Italy to Scotland, Ireland and England.”
There is not much documentation recording the lives or the work of God’s people during this time. One reason is the fact that life was difficult. No doubt there was some leadership, but there is nothing recorded, or at least preserved, that we can rely on to document leadership or accomplishments during the next 200 to 250 years. Even if records were kept, history shows that the civil and religious authorities of the time were aggressively suppressing and destroying such documents.
In addition, the known world was descending into chaos during this period of history. The world had known relative stability for about 400 years under the Pax Romana provided by the empire. However, by the end of the fourth century, Rome was in serious decline. When Emperor Theodosius died in 395, the empire was divided between his two sons. It would not be united again for over 150 years.
During those years, the Roman world became overrun by barbaric, militaristic peoples. The Gothic and Germanic tribes came from Northern Europe. Some attacked from Northern Africa. Even Attila the Hun came from Asia and invaded Europe, appearing in Italy in a.d. 452.
The former Roman Empire was dominated by the Vandals under King Genseric during the middle of the fifth century. The Vandals sacked and looted Rome. They brought great destruction and defaced the city. Our modern word vandalism comes from this very history!
Following the Vandals, another Germanic tribe took over Rome: the Heruli. They were led by Odoacer, who became known as the first king of Italy in a.d. 476.
Theodoric was king of another European tribe, the Germanic Ostrogoths. He invaded Italy and, after a three-year war, killed Odoacer with his own hands in 493. He moved more than 100,000 people into the area and ruled Rome until his death in 526.
This overview of history gives insight into the conditions under which God’s people were trying to survive during the fifth and sixth centuries. Can you imagine doing a work amid all this warfare and barbarism? Can you imagine much documentation surviving? No wonder God’s people rarely appear during this time—and when they do, only as a footnote of history.
‘Judaizing’ in Britain
For refuge from persecution, some of these people migrated to the British Isles, an area on the edge of the Roman Empire. Britain ceased to be a Roman colony in a.d. 410, as Rome was consumed with fending off the Goths. Even further west, Ireland—an island that Rome never conquered—also allowed a measure of religious freedom from an empire that had essentially outlawed Sabbath-keeping. History records a migration of colonists from Asia Minor to Ireland around this time.
In a.d. 430, Pope Celestine sent Palladius to the Irish “already believing in Christ.” He only stayed a short time, apparently because he was not well received. Later, in a.d. 598, Pope Gregory sent Augustine to take “Christianity” to this region. When Augustine arrived, “[H]e found the inhabitants were already professing Christians!” (Herman Hoeh, “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”).
Though these people in this area just beyond Rome’s reach had already been practicing a form of Christianity, it was not what the bishop of Rome had in mind! Their form of Christianity was different from Catholicism. Among them were a small group of people, scattered throughout Ireland and Scotland, who kept the Sabbath and observed Passover on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar. They believed in the supreme authority of the Bible and a literal interpretation of it. They adhered to all of the Ten Commandments—believing God’s law defined sin and that God’s grace established the law. They abstained from unclean meats as outlined in Leviticus 11. There is also evidence that they practiced foot washing (John 13) and the blessing of children (e.g. Matthew 19:13-15)—not infant baptism. They taught repentance and faith as prerequisites for baptism. They looked forward to the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the firstfruits at His coming. They taught that unrepentant sinners would be punished with the second death in the lake of fire, not live forever in a fictional hellfire.
So among a minority of people living in the Celtic Isles, we find the “doctrine of Christ” as outlined in Hebrews 6:1-2: “… repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” They also opposed the trinity doctrine, celibacy for priests, repetitive prayers, prayers to saints and angels, and the idea of “original sin.”
When Augustine visited the area on orders from the pope, he spoke of encountering people who believed “grievous and intolerable heresies” and were “given to Judaizing.”
In his 1850 book A General History of Ireland, Sylvester O’Halloran noted: “The constant enmity between Ireland and ancient Rome prevented any kind of friendly intercourse. The doctrine of Christ came not from thence [Rome] here, but from the churches in Asia.” He wrote that in the sixth century, “Christianity was in the most flourishing condition in Ireland. They had … received [it] from the Asiatics”—that is, from Asia Minor, not from Rome.
These people were ridiculed and persecuted by those wanting religious affiliation with Rome. Wilfrid, one famous Romanizer, said, “[D]o you imagine that they, a few men in a corner of a remote island, are to be preferred before the universal church?” Much of the understanding we have of what these people believe comes from the persecution launched against them from the Romanizing forces that eventually held sway over the area (i.e., the Synod of Whitby in a.d. 664; Queen Margaret of Scotland’s well-documented and publicly declared mission to rid her country of Sabbath keepers and those observing Passover instead of Easter).
This area was eventually overtaken by the Catholic Church. The blending of Catholic tradition with the already entrenched Druidism of the region created a poisonous combination of false religion that prevented any significant existence of true believers there until centuries later. Many of these true believers compromised with false religion and fell away. But by then, God’s Church was more firmly planted in the eastern borders of the Roman Empire and somewhat on the European mainland.
Faithful Unto Death
Christ’s final words to the Smyrna era read: “[B]e thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11). Jesus Christ told these saints—and us—not to fear what is coming. We do not have to fear anybody but God.
Look at the trials the Smyrna brethren experienced. What a challenge—but what an end! The first part of verse 10 says, “[B]ehold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison”; it was not men who cast them into prison, but the devil! Men are used by Satan. He orchestrates all of the serious persecution against God’s loyal saints. Many people scoff at Satan because they don’t know him or understand his power! That power has them in abject bondage. John, who transcribed these messages to the churches, knew both God and the devil. Satan was very real to him. John knew that Satan is our great adversary. If we get thrown into jail or killed, it is the devil empowering such evil. He is the real source of our persecution. Satan’s primary goal is to destroy God’s Work and His people.
God promised the people of Smyrna, however, that they would not be hurt by the second death. The second death hurts, and it hurts forever, because that person is dead forever! It is the greatest hurt we could suffer. You can die the first death for God, however, and the next waking moment you will rise into majestic splendor forever! You will receive a crown of eternal glory.
Chapter 6: Her Place in the Wilderness
About 300 years after the Council of Nicaea, we find the Church in the eastern bounds of the Roman Empire, in the area now known as Armenia. These true Christians became known as “Paulicians” in secular history. Secular scholars cannot agree on the origin of that name. In Armenian, the word for Paulician is literally translated as “the followers of wretched, little Paul.” Some authorities believe this name is based on their reaction to the western churches putting an inordinate emphasis on Peter. Anyone who rejected the followers of Simon Magus’s emphasis on Peter was accused of following Paul, who was considered to have an inferior theology. Other scholars think the name Paulician may have come from a third-century Church leader.
A. H. Newman described where the Paulicians resided: “It was the ‘huge recess or circular dam’ formed by the Taurus mountain range that furnished a comparatively secure abiding place for this ancient form of Christianity” (A Manual of Church History). Although these Christians were organized while hiding in the early fourth century, they did not become known again to the world until the seventh century.
This group in Armenia perfectly fits the description of the third era of God’s Church: Pergamos.
‘Satan’s Seat’ in the East
Note that Jesus Christ’s message to this era begins: “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” (Revelation 2:12-13).
Remember, there is duality in these messages to the seven churches. There are often types and antitypes between the literal cities in which the original first-century churches were found and their prophetic counterparts. The descriptions of the first-century churches also applied to their greater prophetic fulfillment as Church eras to come much later (in the case of Laodicea, over 1,900 years later). This is true of Pergamos.
Verse 13 tells us that the brethren during this era dwelled right where Satan dwelled. The first-century city of Pergamos was the seat of the Roman government in the province of Turkey. It was also the home of a large college for the Chaldean mystery religion. Cappadocia, Mesopotamia and Armenia had long been right at the heart of Nimrod’s religion. This area had been a stronghold of Satan’s for millennia. The city of Pergamos was the literal seat of Satan’s government and religion!
The Bible Knowledge Commentary says this about this ancient city: “Like Ephesus and Smyrna it was a wealthy city, but it was wicked. People in its pagan cults worshiped Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus and Zeus. Pergamum [or Pergamos] was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes and for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena. The atmosphere of this city was adverse to any effective Christian life and testimony” (emphasis mine throughout).
It was in this adverse atmosphere that God’s people dwelled during the middle of the seventh century. Indeed, the entire era was adverse to an effective Christian life. During the Pergamos era, Satan’s government and religion took firm hold over the known world—especially in the east, where many of God’s people resided. Several examples from secular history prove this point.
This brings us to one of the most important aspects of the Church’s history—and one of the most stunning prophecies of the Bible.
Look again at the prophecy of Revelation 12 regarding God’s true Church and the great false church. Satan himself is described in this passage as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads” (verse 3; he is also described as a dragon in verses 9, 13; Revelation 20:2). The Bible itself explains this symbolism. As Mr. Armstrong showed in his booklet Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast? (which we will send you a free copy of upon request), the “seven heads and ten horns” is prophetic language for four world-ruling Gentile empires. Daniel described four beasts, representing four world-ruling empires (Daniel 7:1-7). One of the beasts had four heads (making a total of seven heads). Revelation 12:3 shows that Satan has ruled over all these empires. The devil has tremendous power in this world.
The fourth beast of Daniel 7 represents the Roman Empire. The head of this beast has 10 horns, representing 10 kings (verses 7, 24). The 10 horns represent the 10 resurrections of the Roman Empire. The last seven of those horns represent the Holy Roman Empire, when the empire is guided by Satan’s great false church!
Revelation 12:6 shows that Satan persecuted God’s Church, forcing it to flee: “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” Again, in the Bible, prophecies that mention “days” often mean years (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6). Because of intense persecution from Satan’s agents on Earth, God’s true Church was forced to flee into the wilderness for 1,260 years.
This is a reality of Church history. It shows what a fierce trial it can be for God’s people in Satan’s world!
When did this period occur? History tells.
‘Deadly Wound’ Healed
Revelation 13 talks about a beast. This corresponds with the fourth beast of Daniel 7. “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads [these are the seven heads of the four beasts in Daniel 7, which the Roman Empire absorbed; Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast? explains this] and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy” (Revelation 13:1). This beast, representing the Roman Empire, is characterized by blasphemy against God! It is empowered by “the dragon,” Satan the devil (verse 2).
“And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast” (verse 3). What is this mortal wound? In Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast?, Mr. Armstrong explained how this wound was dealt to the seventh head—“the head out of which 10 horns grew. The 10 horns, as Daniel interprets, represent 10 successive governments out of the Roman Empire, which were to continue until the setting up of the Kingdom of God at the Second Coming of Christ.
“The deadly wound, then, was the one administered to the Roman Empire, when, in its last decaying stages, the barbarians overran it, ending its government in a.d. 476.” That wound was inflicted over a century after Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. At that point, the Roman Empire was about to die. But it was revived. How?
Mr. Armstrong showed that the first three of those 10 successive governments did not heal that wound. They were the foreign barbarian reigns of the Vandals, the Heruli and the Ostrogoths—peoples who reigned in Rome but were not actually Roman. But then something changed. As Daniel 7:8 records, those first three horns were “plucked up by the roots” before a “little horn” that came up among them. “That leaves seven horns to come,” Mr. Armstrong explained. “And of the little horn, Daniel 7 says his look was ‘more stout than his fellows’ (verse 20). The papacy dominated completely all the horns to follow.”
The wound dealt to the Roman Empire was healed because of the Roman Catholic Church!
In a.d. 527, Justinian assumed the eastern throne in Constantinople (now Istanbul). It was his personal dream to restore the Roman Empire to its full former glory—under his rule, of course. Justinian saw himself as the rightful ruler of the Roman world. He successfully smashed the barbarian hold on the western empire. He then quickly reunited the empire: Both east and west came under his control. History immortalized Justinian’s achievement, calling it the “Imperial Restoration.” Just as God prophesied in Revelation 13:3, the Roman Empire was revived! The deadly wound was healed!
Justinian fully understood that you cannot have a united empire without a united religion. He worked to unify Christianity into the Roman Catholic version throughout the empire. In 554, Justinian issued a Pragmatic Sanction, a document that increased the pope’s power and laid down specific guidelines for affairs of both church and state in Rome and Italy.
Through Justinian’s Imperial Restoration in a.d. 554, the Catholic Church revived the empire! That church then guided all the resurrections of that empire that followed.
This was one of the most crucial phases of world history! Satan’s seat of government and religion was thoroughly and completely established. (You can read more about this period in secular history in our free book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy.)
Notice what God says about it: “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast …” (verse 4). The beast has power and destroys—but that power comes from a dragon that is being worshiped! There is a great false church behind it! That church guides this power. It dominates the Holy Roman Empire. Verse 5 says it has “a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies.” Where do you see that? Only one church is led by a “vicar of Christ”—a man in place of Christ, who issues “infallible” pronouncements.
Verse 4 concludes, “[A]nd they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” People are worshiping a war machine!
The Holy Roman Empire, beginning with Justinian, especially reveals the mind of the devil. This is how Satan actually thinks. He wants people to worship him! He will do anything to make them worship him—even killing anybody who doesn’t! As Christ prophesied in John 16:2, “[T]he time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”
Constantine laid the groundwork for the fusion of the great false church and the Roman Empire. But Scripture points to Justinian beginning the 1,260 years. Constantine came well before the deadly wound. And only after the deadly wound was inflicted did the Roman Empire form this unholy union with the Catholic Church. Beginning with Justinian, the so-called Holy Roman Empire really started persecuting and pursuing God’s people!
It is important to understand the distinction the Bible makes between the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. In Daniel 2 and 7, as well as in Revelation 13, the two are portrayed in symbol as one. And the Holy Roman Empire, which began in 554 with Justinian, was definitely a continuation of the Roman Empire. It grew out of that empire. However, it had the added dimension of Roman Catholic influence that surpassed even what occurred during the time of Constantine. In Revelation 17, the Holy Roman Empire is depicted as a woman riding a beast—a symbol of the Catholic Church controlling the political beast of this European empire! In verse 11 it is described as being so different from all the kingdoms before (pictured in this passage as “seven heads”) that it is called “the eighth.” It is different from all of those other heads—and far deadlier! There has never been a system like it among these other world-ruling empires.
One big reason it is so different from the seven heads is that it is guided by a false church that had more people killed than any other church ever on Earth! And the worst is yet to come!
As bad as the earlier resurrections of the Roman Empire were, they paled in comparison to the distinctive power of the empire once it was guided by a religion. For example, Lesson 50 of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course says, “Eusebius, always a supporter of Constantine, explicitly states that Constantine put every other church out of the Roman Empire or exterminated them …. Constantine forced everyone, pagan or Christian, either into conformity—or exile!”
Constantine definitely persecuted those who disagreed with the Catholic Church—some people were even killed. But he was not nearly as brutal as those who followed him in what later became the Holy Roman Empire. He was not even baptized by the bishops until a hasty ceremony just before his death.
In describing the threat against God’s people, the Bible puts far more emphasis on the Holy Roman Empire than it does the Roman Empire. Verse 6 says this woman is “drunken with the blood of the saints”! And as we will see, it is a resurrected Holy Roman Empire that is prophesied once again to come after the Church in this end time!
Constantine and the Roman Empire exiled people. But try to find one scripture or historical example in which the Holy Roman Empire punished someone by merely exiling him. History shows that it killed the saints of God! That “holy” empire doesn’t exile people—it kills them! That is what it has done throughout its history. For centuries and throughout the Dark Ages, wherever the Holy Roman Empire had great control, it killed God’s people!
We have to recognize the full impact of the Holy Roman Empire. Many historians have tried to estimate the number of people killed by Roman Catholics over the centuries. Conservative calculations put the figure at 50 million! For example, in his 1871 book The History of Romanism, author John Dowling wrote, “From the birth of popery in 606 to the present time, it is estimated by careful and credible historians, that more than 50 millions of the human family have been slaughtered for the crime of heresy by popish persecutors, an average of more than 40,000 religious murders for every year of the existence of popery.” Halley’s Bible Handbook agrees: “Historians estimate that, in the Middle Ages and Early Reformation Era, more than 50 million martyrs perished.”
Fifty million victims! This is not something to be ignorant of, but most people are ignorant of it. Many are going to pay for their ignorance by becoming victims of that empire! This is deadly dangerous for every human being, especially those in the sights of this organization: God’s people and the descendants of Israel, especially Britain, the United States and the Jewish state in the Middle East.
God is emphasizing the profound evil of this work. He has to—because Satan has deceived the world into believing this beast is pious and holy, even though it is rather easy to prove otherwise. It looks so good and appears so righteous! Watch it operate—what a spectacle, what a show! The world loves it, even though this same beast killed 50 million people. Even though it has never repented of centuries of bloodshed in its past—and is quite capable of more bloodshed.
This final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire is going to kill exceedingly more than 50 million people overall!
Notice Revelation 13:5: “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.” Once again we see this time period: 42 months. Forty-two 30-day months equals 1,260 days, which means 1,260 years in prophetic fulfillment. And what is the context? The Holy Roman Empire.
Mr. Armstrong always taught that the 1,260 years of Revelation 13:5 apply solely to the Holy Roman Empire. In Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast?, for example, he wrote, “Following the healing [of the deadly wound discussed in verse 3], in 554, came the Frankish kingdom (French), the Holy Roman Empire (German, then the Austrian Habsburgs) and Napoleon’s kingdom (French). But when Napoleon was crushed in 1814, the healed beast continued no longer. ‘So closed,’ says West’s Modern History, ‘a government that dated from Augustus Caesar’ (from 31 b.c.). It went into an abyss!
“And from 554 to 1814, the duration of the ‘healed beast,’ was exactly 1,260 years!”
The 1,260 years of Revelation 12:6 are the same as the 1,260 years of Revelation 13:5. That period began with the Imperial Restoration of 554. It is the Holy Roman Empire that made God’s people flee, and with far more hatred and destructive power than Constantine ever had. This connection between the 1,260 years and the Holy Roman Empire is consistent through both Revelation 12 and 13.
The Holy Roman Empire persecuted God’s Church from 554 to 1814. The Church had to flee for 1,260 years. Through John, Jesus Christ and God the Father specifically tie this 1,260-day period of persecution to the great false church. Even Lange’s Commentary tells you it is referring to the Roman Catholic Church.
In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong wrote about the people of God during this period: “These had been called to carry the truth through one of history’s most difficult periods—the Dark Ages.
“The power and influence of the great universal church spread far and wide, driving those who clung to the truth of God ever further into the wilderness. But they were never far from threat of persecution and martyrdom.” The “Holy” Roman Empire was continually waging war against God’s true Church!
Many if not most of those who remained faithful to the teachings of the Bible during this time were forced to live as other saints of God had lived in the past. They endured “trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).
Christ had prophesied that many of His followers would suffer this type of persecution—just as He had! (John 15:20). He even said true believers would have to flee from one city to another because of persecution (Matthew 10:23). The book of Revelation points out that many of God’s people were slaughtered by this evil, false church (Revelation 17:6; 20:4).
Antipas—My Faithful Martyr
The true Church during this era was continually and severely persecuted—so much so that it had to hide to survive! The Roman Empire, restored and strong, now possessed the added power of the Roman religion. The power and prestige of the papacy had grown mightily! The pope held real sway over the people and the government!
However, even in such difficult times, this era did accomplish a great work for God, at least at its beginning. Christ says, “[T]hou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith.” He specifically says this era remained faithful in the days of Antipas, His “faithful martyr” (Revelation 2:13).
The name Antipas is interesting. It is a combination of the words anti and pater. Pater in the Greek means father. Antipas is a shortened form of Antipater, or literally, Antifather. When we understand what was happening inside the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church during this Church era, it is not hard to realize that Antipas really means anti-papal.
Who was Antipas? Because of a concerted effort to conceal the truth, the biggest handicap in studying true Church history is the lack of documentation. One historical figure, however, does appear to fulfill the role or title of Antipas. History records him as Constantine of Mananali, who began preaching around a.d. 650. By the time he was on the scene, the church-state combine of the Holy Roman Empire had been fully united and cementing its power for 100 years. You can read his story in Chapter 54 of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The city of Mananali was part of a district of Anatolia, a geographically small area of Armenia.
The details about Constantine of Mananali’s conversion follow along these lines. He received a returning resident who had been held captive in Syria. This man had obtained a manuscript of the New Testament, which they studied together. Convicted by his study, Constantine taught the basic tenets of commandment observance. He taught that the Sabbath must be observed. His enemies went on record that he taught specifically against papal authority. Constantine spread the word about these biblically inspired doctrines.
The Paulician Work
Constantine and his supporters appear to have had a particular affinity for the Apostle Paul. Some scholars think this was the origin of the name Paulician. Many people in Constantine’s locality became believers. They took on biblical names from Paul’s ministers such as Timothy and Silvanus, and they nicknamed their congregations after those Paul had served. They were highly motivated to live by the teachings they had discovered. History records that their numbers grew rapidly.
The Roman emperor, then stationed at Byzantium, sent a warrior named Simeon to crush the new movement. Simeon gathered several of Constantine’s followers and ordered them, under penalty of death if they failed to collaborate, to stone Constantine to death. Constantine’s followers were shocked at the request. At least one of his followers weakened and stoned him.
It is estimated that Constantine’s ministry lasted from about a.d. 650 to 684. Constantine is considered one of the most colorful personalities of the Pergamos era.
Some positive results came about after Constantine’s death. Simeon was so moved by Constantine’s faith that he also became a convert! Similar to the Apostle Paul, Simeon embraced the faith that he was supposed to stamp out. History tells us that he renounced his former life, took the name Titus, and went on to become a leading minister of the Paulicians. Simeon preached from 684 to 687. He was martyred by Justinian ii.
We know of other Paulician leaders as well. There was a man named Paul the Armenian about whom history tells us little. Around 702, Gegnesius, his son, became a leading minister under the name Timothy. He led the Church from about 717 to 745. Gegnesius managed to convince Emperor Leo iii that the Paulician doctrine was not heresy. There is also record of a man named Joseph who evangelized the provinces of Armenia under the name Epaphroditus.
One of the most well known of the later Paulician preachers is a man named Sergius. His ministry, under the name Tychicus, lasted from about 801 to 835. He labored diligently those 34 years to set things right in a Church that was beginning to compromise with false religion. He worked tirelessly, uttering this famous quote: “I have run from east to west, from north to south, until my knees are weary, preaching the gospel of Christ.”
God provided a strong succession of leaders for this time period in this region. Edward Gibbon wrote this about the Paulicians: “From the blood and ashes of the first victims, a succession of teachers and congregations repeatedly arose” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). Even though hidden in Armenia for several centuries, God’s people had more than occasional impact on the world. These were real soldiers for the living God!
The Key of Truth
A remarkable literary discovery was made concerning the Paulicians in the late 19th century. British scholar and theologian Fred C. Conybeare discovered seventh- or eighth-century Paulician manuscripts that had been stored in an Armenian monastery. This incredible set of documents was known as The Key of Truth. These documents give us great insight into Paulician customs and beliefs. Here is a summary of some of the Paulicians’ major beliefs. You can read about these beliefs in Conybeare’s The Key of Truth and the Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition).
- They did not baptize children—only adults. They cited Christ’s life as an example; He was 30 years old when He was baptized.
- They baptized by immersion.
- They believed that true repentance was a prerequisite for baptism.
- They believed that the Church was a body of people, not a building.
- They believed a true Christian is one who knows Christ and keeps the Ten Commandments.
- They believed that although Christ was crucified for man, He did not command adoration of the cross.
- They did not believe that Mary, Jesus’s mother, remained a virgin all of her life. They did not consider Mary to be a female mediator.
- They rejected the Catholic mass, communion and confession.
Conybeare wrote this of the Paulicians: “The Sabbath was perhaps kept, and there were no special Sunday observances …. Wednesday and Friday were not kept as fast-days. Of the modern Christmas and of the Annunciation, and of the other feasts connected with the life of Jesus prior to His 30th year, this phase of the Church knew nothing. The general impression which the study of it leaves on us is that in it we have before us a form of Church not very remote from the primitive Jewish Christianity of Palestine.”
In a radio broadcast about Church history, Herbert W. Armstrong said this about The Key of Truth: “This partially preserved record of God’s people proves that they preached the gospel of the Kingdom, the government of God. And they baptized by immersion—not by sprinkling or anything of the kind.” He noted that they followed New Testament instruction that, prior to baptism, people must “have thoroughly repented, have completely surrendered unconditionally to God and to the will of God, the government of God—surrendered their wills, [and] have come out of the world.” And after people were baptized, these believers “did as the apostles had done: They prayed over them and laid hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. They not only continued to keep the Passover on the 14th of God’s first month, Nisan (which comes along in the spring and not in January at all), but they also observed the Sabbath—the weekly Sabbath, believe it or not—and the festival of Unleavened Bread.”
Please look at that list of beliefs again. It totally disagrees with Catholic doctrines. And every point stated there is biblical!
That is why God’s people had to flee to Armenia in the first place—because of their beliefs.
In secular writings, the members of Pergamos in this area, known as Paulicians to the world, were viciously slandered on several issues. They were referred to as heretics because of their “Judaizing” religion. They rested on the seventh-day Sabbath and kept the Passover and other holy days as outlined in Leviticus 23. They vigorously rejected Sunday and Easter worship. Because of their association with the Apostle Paul, often they were accused of rejecting the Apostle Peter. This accusation was completely untrue. What they really rejected was the newly established papal authority.
They were violently persecuted because they obeyed the Bible. But that is not the end of this story. When Jesus Christ returns, these people of God will be rewarded for what they did—one of the greatest rewards given throughout all eternity!
At the end of this spiritual war, God’s obedient people win.
The Doctrine of Balaam
Although the Pergamos era works were exemplary at times, this Church era was not without serious spiritual problems. Christ warned, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:14-16).
Some had allowed doctrinal errors to creep into the Church. Christ identifies these errors as the “doctrine of Balaam” and the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” Christ warned of “them” who held to these doctrines; in other words, not everyone was doing so. The Greek word for “hold” means “to take hold by strength.” Some from Pergamos embraced these errors wholeheartedly.
If Christ held such strong emotion against these two doctrines, so should all true Christians.
What is the doctrine of Balaam? In verse 14, Christ states that Balaam caused the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. To understand the doctrine of Balaam, remember what Balaam did to ancient Israel historically. These events are found in the book of Numbers, chapters 22 to 24.
The name Balaam comes from the Hebrew word bilam and means ruin. What Balaam caused in ancient Israel certainly was ruin. Christ warned the members in the Pergamos era that if they continued in the error of Balaam, they would also come to ruin. Balaam can also be translated “conqueror of the people.” Nicolaus is the equivalent Greek name.
Balaam was a Mesopotamian soothsayer. Numbers states that he was the son of Beor. He was a well-known magician—a pagan priest—just like Simon Magus. Some scholars believe he was a prophet of God. 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 11 show he was a false prophet. In fact, Mr. Armstrong showed that Balaam was the “Pontifex Maximus of the pagan world—the chief oracle of paganism” (Good News, January 1982).
Balaam was Nimrod’s successor. The names Balaam and Nicolaus were often used to denote the office Nimrod held. Nimrod was one of the first leaders to rebel against God’s government and laws after the Flood. Nimrod established man’s political and religious systems on false principles. Balaam lived at Pethor, near the Euphrates River. This was the seat of the Babylonian mystery religion. As high priest, Balaam used divination and enchantments. Mr. Armstrong believed he may have even been possessed by Satan the devil. Balaam held a position of considerable status and influence with his people.
On their way to the Promised Land, the Israelites had set up tents in the plains of Moab. Balak, king of Moab, became concerned for his nation. He had heard the ghastly news of the destruction of their neighbors, the Amorites. God had punished the grave sins of these people by using the armies of Israel. This great destruction struck intense fear into Balak and the Moabites.
Balak devised a plan to destroy Israel. He sent men of high rank and great wealth to entice Balaam the magician to help them by cursing the Israelites. Balaam was more than willing to curse Israel—he loved money. However, God only had blessings in mind for Israel and would not allow it. Balak’s initial plan failed.
Eventually, though, Balaam did help Balak get to Israel. Greedy for material gain, he counseled Balak to entice the Israelites into idolatry and whoredom. Moses recorded Balaam’s advice to Balak: “Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16). (Note that Balaam lost his life for his counsel to the king of Moab—verse 8.)
The Israelites gave in to their own temptations. They descended into idolatry by worshiping Baal-peor. They committed gross sexual immorality with the Moabite women. Angered by these sins, God ordered Moses to cut off the heads of the leaders of each tribe and hang them before the people until sundown (Numbers 25:1-4). These leaders had led the people into serious national sins. Probably a thousand leaders were executed. God also caused a severe plague to fall upon the Israelites, killing 24,000 people (verse 9).
The doctrine of Balaam is simply Baal worship. Baal worshipers follow the Babylonian mystery religion (Revelation 17:1, 5). They live a life of licentiousness. A follower of the doctrine of Balaam is following Satan and his pagan religious practices.
God warned the ancient Israelites, “When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31). The Israelites did not heed God in the plains of Moab. The entire nation suffered terribly as a result.
Some in the Pergamos era of God’s Church fell into this same error. They followed the doctrine of Balaam by allowing pagan practices and beliefs into their worship of Christ. Jesus warned the people of His day against such practices, saying: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
God expects us to worship Him according to His laws, statutes and judgments. The true people of God worship Him on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:8-11), and keep His holy days as prescribed in Leviticus 23.
By the time of the Pergamos era, the Babylonian mystery religion had taken firm root in the false churches in the west. The church at Rome held authority over all the churches except those hidden in Armenia. Easter had been substituted for the Passover; Sunday worship for Sabbath-keeping. The celebration of Christmas was introduced into the western church in the fourth century. The church at Rome had also gained considerable political power. It skillfully used this power to enforce its religious traditions. To resist the church at Rome often brought death.
No other false Christian church even remotely compared to the power of the Catholic Church. To compare it to any other church would be like comparing a gnat to an elephant.
Many of the Pergamos saints succumbed to that power and compromised with God’s truth by admitting pagan Catholic doctrine.
Doctrine of the Nicolaitans
What is “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans”? Jesus Christ states that He hates, or detests, this doctrine (Revelation 2:15). This is no small issue to Jesus Christ! It should not be a small issue for the true people of God.
Remember, the name Nicolaitans is first mentioned in connection with the Ephesus era. The Ephesians hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans (verse 6). Understanding the deeds of the Nicolaitans sheds some light on their doctrine.
This sect traced its roots to a man named Nicholas. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the Nicolaitans claimed to have derived from Nicholas the doctrine of promiscuity. And what were their deeds? They “led lives of unrestrained indulgence.” The Nicolaitans believed that they could be both religious and promiscuous.
Who was this Nicholas? Some scholars have confused him with one of the original seven deacons listed in Acts 6:5 who was from Antioch. This is a gross error. Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible identifies a Nicholas of Antioch as “Bishop Nicholas of Samaria,” a heretic associate of Simon Magus.
The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states, “But why then was he called Nicholas ‘of Antioch’? Eusebius gives us a clue. Before Simon Magus went to Rome—probably a.d. 42—he was in Antioch for a while. Eusebius tells us that Jesus’s Apostle Peter was sent to Antioch (Galatians 2:11—a.d. 42) to counteract the poison of Simon Magus.
“From [Antioch] he [Simon Magus] went to Rome. It is possible that the two names refer to the same man, and Nicholas of Samaria was Simon himself. Or, Nicholas was Simon’s successor after Simon left for Rome. The Nicolaitans, at any rate, are identified with the counterfeit ‘Christianity’ founded by Simon Magus” (Lesson 50). The Catholic Church’s war against God’s true Church is endless!
“The doctrine of the Nicolaitans, too, was one of no law—‘unrestrained indulgence,’ ‘promiscuity.’ Their doctrine and the doctrine of Balaam sprang from the same source. In fact, as we have already noted, the name ‘Nicolaitans’ might well be translated ‘Balaamites,’ and vice versa, for both Balaam in the days of Moses and Simon Magus in the first century a.d. occupied the ‘office’ of Nimrod” (ibid).
Now it should not be hard for us to understand why Christ detests this doctrine. A true Christian cannot please God and break His laws at the same time.
Let’s not forget that the doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans are prophetic warnings for this end time!
Some may ask, what is the difference between the two doctrines? The doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans are quite similar. Why then did Jesus charge that Pergamos had members holding to both?
The doctrine of Balaam was the original and universally received religion of Asia Minor since the time of Nimrod. Pethor, where Balaam lived (Numbers 22:5), was actually in the region where the true Church existed. Some in the Church were locals who had never entirely given up the false doctrines of their ancestors. They allowed animal sacrifices to idols and at times consumed the sacrificial flesh. Revelation 2:14 is very specific!
The Nicolaitans, on the other hand, represented a more recent version of false religion. This fusion of paganism and “Christianity” labeled pagan practices and traditions with Christian-sounding names.
So inside the church of Pergamos were those who never gave up their old Babylonian mystery religion. And there were those who had begun to embrace the new Christianized form of that same religion. Sadly, both were tolerated.
The Sword of My Mouth
At its beginning, the Pergamos era was made up of the descendants of first-century Christians who had migrated into Armenia from all over the known world. Some of these had fled Greece and Asia Minor over two centuries earlier. Many had preserved the name of their original congregations and referred to themselves as the “church of Macedonia” or the “church of Ephesus.”
Constantine of Mananali’s preaching had revitalized these members of the Church of God. God used him and his successors to draw others into the Church. These were newly converted to the faith. The numbers of converted Paulicians reached into the tens of thousands.
However, there were many who were not truly converted. They were affiliated with, but not really part of, the true Church. Many had come from strong pagan backgrounds. For some, it was only a new form of religion.
Although hidden from the mainstream of society, the Paulicians were noticed and subsequently persecuted. Many were martyred. Whole families were killed.
At some point in their later history, a majority of the Paulician people succumbed to the doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans. Tired of the persecution, they reasoned that they could somehow look Catholic on the outside but be true Christians on the inside. To avoid trouble, many feigned conformity with the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. They believed they would be safe because “in their hearts they knew better.” Many had their infant children baptized. They attended Sabbath services and then went to Sunday mass. Few realized that the highway of compromise always leads to disaster.
Jesus Christ called upon Pergamos to turn back to Him. He warned, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16). Christ would have to punish the sinning members of this era and said He would fight with the sword of His mouth.
This was the second time Christ used the image of the sword with Pergamos: He opened the letter with the fact that He wields a two-edged sword (verse 12). He was speaking spiritually: The Word of God, which Christ embodies, is likened to a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In essence, Christ was calling on the Pergamos people to use the Bible to judge their actions. Paul had admonished the Ephesian brethren to do the same: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
Out of love, Jesus Christ warned the people of Pergamos to get back to the pure doctrine of the Bible. If they would not, then He would send a physical sword after them. They had a choice. They could either faithfully follow the rule of Christ’s sword or else die by the physical sword.
History shows that in the latter years of this era, the people were continually troubled by the sword. Some even resorted to violence—taking up the literal sword and becoming warriors.
From that time forward, the Paulicians became famous as a warrior people. Even the Byzantine Empire used “Paulicians” to defend its European border. The sword never left them.
Summarizing the Pergamos era in Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong wrote of the intense persecution and martyrdom they faced during this dark period in world history. “And so very few of the Pergamos Christians remained faithful,” he concluded. “One thousand years after Jesus had founded His Church, the exhausted remnant of the Pergamos era handed over the baton.”
This “exhausted remnant” was comprised of only a “very few” who remained faithful. There are always some who hold fast. Otherwise, the Church would die!
Who were the faithful ones? They were not those in the larger group who had compromised with false religion. Nor were they the militant “Paulicians” who took up the sword and fought against the Romans.
Here is a magnificent lesson for us today. Jesus Christ has given the Philadelphia Church of God incredible truth through Mr. Armstrong, and a lot of new revelation since his death. We must appreciate and preserve this truth even in the face of intense persecution. A great sword, in the form of the Tribulation, is coming upon the nations of Israel and the Laodiceans. If we believe, preserve and live this truth, we are promised escape from that sword (Malachi 3:16-17; Revelation 3:10).
In a radio broadcast on Church history, Mr. Armstrong said that most of the Pergamos brethren took Christ’s warning in Revelation 2:16 lightly. They were “trusting in their own worldly political alliances with neighboring Arabs instead of relying on Jesus’s protection. They were betrayed. They were slaughtered—100,000 of them. According to history, that’s what happened.”
Christ promised the faithful members of the Pergamos era: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17). God offered them hidden manna—a type of revelation, which is our spiritual sustenance. We need revelation from God to survive!
The phrase “white stone” in Greek means “verdict of acquittal.” If we let God teach us through His government and revelation, and we are corrected by His Word, then we will be found innocent.
Groundwork for a New Era
In one sense, the story of the Church toward the end of the Pergamos era is two stories—much like the Church today. The first is about the vast majority who fell away and gave in to false doctrines. They didn’t let themselves be corrected by the sword of Christ. They lost the revelation. Unless they repented, they will not receive acquittal! The second is about the minority who held fast. They were able to get out of Armenia and escape the physical sword. They moved into Europe and were protected. What is more, they will have spiritual salvation.
History shows that faithful Paulicians migrated with their militant counterparts. We know this because they evangelized as they moved west. Many people from the Balkans became associated with the Paulician religion, but it is unknown exactly how many were converted. In the Slavic tongue, these Balkan Paulicians became known as Bogomils, meaning “friends of God.”
Encyclopedia Britannica wrote, “The Bogomils were without doubt the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East and those of the West.”
Again, what we know about the Bogomils comes largely from their persecutors. According to Cosmas the priest, the movement was started by a man named Bogomil, who worked from about 927 to 969. In his “Sermon Against the Heretics,” which was especially aimed at the Bogomils, Cosmas criticized them for rejecting Catholic beliefs including the veneration of Mary; the use of icons, images of Christ and the cross for worship; infant baptism; and observing “holy” days honoring saints as instituted by the Catholic Church.
During the 10th century a.d., the Bogomils were relatively free of persecution during the reign of a Bulgarian emperor named Samuel. Samuel’s father was a Bulgarian nobleman who had married an Armenian princess. Samuel’s brothers’ names were David, Moses and Aaron. Perhaps these biblical names, and the mother’s Armenian connection, indicate a royal house that was favorable to this small group of true Christians, allowing them to survive.
Later, some time near a.d. 1000, Turkish wars in the Balkans forced the faithful Paulicians and Bogomils to migrate even further west to the valleys of northern Italy and southern France—alpine Europe. This area was a well-known stronghold of resistance to papal authority from the fourth century onward. This was likely due, at least in part, to the influence of true Christians who had fled Rome during the days of Emperor Constantine. This faithful group of believers laid the groundwork for the next era of the Church. It was in these valleys that Jesus Christ began to revitalize His Work. A new era, Thyatira, was ready to burst on the scene.
Chapter 7: The Flame of Thyatira
Jesus Christ had the Apostle John record this message to the fourth era of His true Church: “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:18-19).
Jesus opens His message to this era by reminding them about His glorified body previously described in Revelation 1:14-16. He says His eyes are as a flame of fire and His feet “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace”! Christ mentions these facts for specific reasons.
By a.d. 1000, the church at Rome had finally achieved supreme control over the religious thoughts of the empire. It also wielded considerable political power. The coronation of Charlemagne as “Emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo iii in a.d. 800 was one of the most significant events of the Middle Ages. It set a precedent for the coronation of future Germanic kings of Europe.
During this time, profoundly unscrupulous men assumed control of the papacy. Spiritually, Rome was in chaos. The papal office was bought and sold. Some men obtained it through intrigue and murder. Sexual immorality was so bad that some historians refer to the rule of the popes during this age as “pornocracy.” It was during this period that the infamous “Cadaver Synod” was conducted (a.d. 897). Pope Stephen vi exhumed the body of Pope Formosus (a.d. 891–896) and put it on trial for treason. Formosus was found guilty, and the exhumed body was dragged through the streets past jeering crowds. Pope Stephen vi was later imprisoned and strangled that same year.
Sergius iii, pope from a.d. 904 to 911, obtained the office by murdering his predecessor. He lived openly in sin with a prostitute named Marozia, with whom he had several children. One of his sons from this relationship became Pope John xi. Historians refer to Sergius’s term in office as “the rule of the harlots.”
The Dark Ages
These were the Dark Ages. It was a black time for Europe and the Western world.
Christ’s message to the Church at this time reminds it that His eyes are as a flame of fire. His eyes can pierce any darkness. Christ clearly sees all that men do. He told Thyatira, “[A]nd all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23). Jesus Christ personally tests all Church members to see what is in their hearts. Those willfully disobedient to Him will be thrown into the lake of fire. Christ also reminds them that His feet are like unto molten brass. He has the power to trample His enemies and walk on their ashes (Malachi 4:3).
On the other hand, Christ’s all-seeing eyes should be of great comfort to those who are obedient to Him. Christ never forgets His people’s sufferings and works. He promises to reward all who do well. Those who follow in His footsteps are a light to the world—a candle put on a candlestick (Matthew 5:14-15). We will see that Thyatira was a bright flame in the midst of the Dark Ages.
Burned at the Stake
The reference to flames in relation to Thyatira may also have another meaning. The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states: “Few people are aware that burning to death first became a penalty for heresy about this time. Among Romans, Goths and others, burning was a civil penalty, and for only the most heinous crimes. Mob action such as the burning of Polycarp in the second century was outside the law. Furthermore, the early Catholic ‘church fathers’ taught that for the church to put a heretic to death would be an inexpiable sin. They allowed no more than banishment or imprisonment. But since civil authority had prescribed burning for sorcery, it gradually became the custom to equate sorcery with heresy, which made burning the new official punishment for heretics” (Lesson 51).
Christ called upon Thyatira to work during one of the most difficult times in human history. Civil governments in Europe were often in disarray. Religious leaders stepped into the void—and ruthlessly controlled the people. It was either submit to papal authority or die.
But even in the face of this onslaught of evil, because the Church was empowered by Jesus Christ, it could be a fiery flame of hope.
Jesus Christ praised the people of Thyatira for their works during this extremely difficult time. He said, “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:19). This era’s works included charity, service, faith and patience. These four qualities are very important when doing Christ’s Work.
The word charity comes from the Greek word agape, which refers to the love of God. This miraculous love saturates everything God does, exemplified most of all by the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). God implants that very love within His saints through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and commands that we exercise and demonstrate it (e.g. John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:22-25; 1 John 5:1-3). The entire Work of God is an expression of God’s love for the world and His desire to draw men to Himself (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:1-7).
Service, from the Greek diakonia, is defined by Thayer’s as “service, ministering, especially of those who execute the commands of others … of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men.” This word shows that this era responded successfully to Christ’s commands to do the Work. We will see that Thyatira did have some strong ministers who knew they had a commission from God to proclaim the gospel of Christ. And as a whole, this era did lovingly and faithfully serve the spiritual needs of others. In the Dark Ages, people were spiritually bankrupt. The Thyatirans filled the void for those who would listen. They kept God’s truth vibrantly alive and taught others to follow the truth and their example.
Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is faith in the glorious promises of God that has always enabled God’s people to press forward in His Work despite horrific opposition and persecution (e.g. verses 32-40). This quality was especially needful for the saints of the dangerous Thyatira era.
Thayer’s defines the Greek word for patience as “steadfastness, constancy, endurance.” Strong’s defines it as “cheerful …vendurance.” We must build faith and patience. Patience is needed not only to endure, but to endure cheerfully. God’s people in this era were hassled, persecuted and martyred, but many remained steadfast, constant and true to the Bible and the Work.
Jesus Christ also indicates in Revelation 2:19 that Thyatira’s later works were greater than at its beginning. We will see how their qualities of charity, service, faith and patience produced great growth.
God chose the name Thyatira to describe this era for good reason. The city of Thyatira is first mentioned in the book of Acts. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14). The ancient city of Thyatira was known for its cloth and textile industry. It was a city of merchants and weavers. This city was especially famous for its fine woolen cloth that was dyed purple.
Lydia, a famous convert from Thyatira, sold this purple cloth. Christ had opened her heart to be able to understand Paul and the others while they prayed by the river.
During the Dark Ages, Alpine Europe was also known for its textiles. The Alpine area of southern France, where the Thyatira era began, was the heart of the textile industry of Europe at that time. Historians have speculated that the Paulician and Bogomil missionaries were also in the cloth industry. It is believed that Paulician missionaries carried woven silk from Byzantium and the east to the enthusiastic markets of the west. Although these facts about Thyatira’s textile industry are not mentioned directly in the Bible as one of the spiritual signs of this era, its physical correlation cannot be denied.
Center for Heresy
Alpine Europe was also known as a center of heresy at this time. Remember, the title heretic was applied by the Roman Catholic Church. Like Lydia from ancient Thyatira, this area had been prepared by Christ to receive the knowledge of the truth.
Because of the people’s natural inclination to resent the papacy, their minds were more open to the truth. The Paulicians and Bogomils in Italy were also called Cathars, which meant puritan. In France they were known as Cathars, Publicani, Bulgars and finally Albigenses. In Germany, the Cathars, who settled around the area of Cologne, are described by Encyclopedia Britannica as “the abiding background of medieval heresy.” They are also referred to as “the debris of an earlier Christianity” (11th edition). One of the main occupations listed for the Cathars was weaving.
Not all of the Cathars, Publicani, Bulgars and Albigenses were part of the true Church. Often members of the true Church were mistakenly associated with these groups.
The Encyclopedia Britannica indicates that this area’s history of heresy appears to have had ancient roots. Some histories show that this area was heavily influenced by the original apostles. Remnants of the earliest Christianity remained hidden in this geographical area. J. A. Wylie, in his book History of the Waldenses, wrote: “Behind this rampart of mountains [Alpine Europe], which Providence, foreseeing the approach of evil days, would almost seem to have reared on purpose, did the remnant of the early apostolic Church of Italy kindle their lamp, and here did that lamp continue to burn all through the long night which descended on Christendom …. Their traditions invariably point to an unbroken descent from the earliest times, as regards their religious beliefs.”
The meaning of the name Thyatira is significant. One definition of the Greek word Thyatira is “sacrifice of contrition”—a reference to genuine repentance. History shows that some of the early Thyatiran ministers focused their preaching on real repentance.
In 1096, the pope declared that the Val Louise in Dauphiny, France, was infested with heresy. This declaration was the result of the evangelization of this area by the Paulicians, or God’s true Church. In 1104, we have record of a man named Peter de Bruys, a native of this valley, preaching repentance. He is considered the first Thyatiran minister to do a work.
Peter’s ministry began at Embrun and spread throughout Languedoc and Provence. Peter taught that infant baptism was meaningless. He only baptized adults who had come to a real repentance—who could fully understand what they were doing. “The Thyatiran era got off to a vigorous start, preaching repentance throughout the Alpine Valleys of southern France and northern Italy. Many heard and were converted,” Mystery of the Ages explains.
History also shows that Peter de Bruys rejected the Roman Catholic teaching of the mysteries. He did not accept the teaching that the priest literally changed bread into the flesh of Jesus during mass. He opposed the veneration of crosses, any emphasis on church buildings, and the false teachings concerning purgatory, prayers for the dead, and bribes paid to the religious leadership. Peter preached the continued and perpetual authority of the Ten Commandments.
It is believed that Peter was able to preach the true gospel for nearly 20 years. Converted followers gathered around him. He trained two men, one named Henry and the other named Arnold. Through their preaching, the number of people following the truth multiplied.
The Catholic Church became outraged by Peter de Bruys’s rejection of its authority. When he made a bonfire of crosses—a pagan symbol associated with the Babylonian mystery religion—he so horrified and enraged a mob that it ended up burning him to death.
Here is what Dr. Hoeh wrote concerning these Thyatiran beginnings in his Church history booklet: “As a result of the evangelization of the Alpine regions by the Paulicians and Bogomils of Bulgaria, as God’s people were called, there arose numerous ministers and faithful congregations around a.d. 1000. One of these men was Peter de Bruys who preached the gospel of the Kingdom in the south of France (Jones, Church History). Two other preachers of the time were Arnold and Henry. They were charged by the Catholic Church with remaining faithful to the whole law of God and of observing the Sabbath (Peter Allix, Ecclesiastical History).”
Dr. Hoeh then quoted the Lutheran historian Mosheim, who wrote that these 12th-century believers held “a notion that the observance of the law of Moses, in everything except the offerings of sacrifices, was obligatory upon Christians; in consequence of which they … abstained from those meats, the use of which was prohibited under the Mosaic economy, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath. The second tenet that distinguished this sect was advanced in opposition to the doctrine of three persons in the divine nature ….” They rejected the trinity doctrine—they knew that God is a Family!
While Peter de Bruys was alive, the true Church was known as the Petrobrusians. After Peter’s martyrdom, Henry, from the Laussanne area, took over the leadership of the churches. Henry is most well known for his criticism of Cathar and Catholic error. In his preaching, he exposed the worldly Roman holidays of Christmas and Easter. He taught against infant baptism. He despised the corruption and immorality of the priests. Under Henry, the true people of God became know as Henricians. Under Arnold, Church members became known as Arnoldists.
First Works Stopped
Here is how the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course sums up this phase of Thyatira’s era: “Peter and Henry occupied the office of apostle. ‘Has the whole world been so blinded [that it should] have to wait so long for you and choose Peter of Bruys and Henry, his disciple, as exceeding recent apostles, to correct the long error,’ chided the contemporary Abbot of Clungy, a Catholic. How similar this is to the way some disparage God’s Church today!
“Years passed. Even priests accepted the truth. But persecution increased. Henry was imprisoned in 1135, though later released. Moving his headquarters to the Albi-Toulouse area, he continued to preach for several more years. Again cast into prison, he died there in 1149 ….
“While Peter and Henry were alive, multitudes had been attracted by their preaching. But people then were like today. Many listen and accept parts of the truth. But instead of continuing on to become converted, most either do nothing or they join ‘the church of their choice’” (Lesson 51).
After Henry’s death, Thyatira’s work fell into serious decline. The world nearly lost sight of God’s Church as its work, lacking organization and leadership, went into obscurity for about 12 years.
At this point in Thyatira’s history, it appeared that the Work was over. However, Thyatira’s greatest work was yet to be accomplished. In His message to the Church, Christ had stated, “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:19).
Jesus Christ does not speak any words in vain. There is a reason the word works is repeated: Christ planned to revive the work of Thyatira! He prophesied that Thyatira’s “last” works would be more than its first.
Day of Small Things
Christ’s revival of the Thyatira work began in the smallest way. God and Christ always work that way with human beings (Matthew 13:31-32). We must learn to appreciate the “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10). God consistently develops small things into greater things. This has been true for every Church era. If you want to find God’s Work, take note of the work that begins very humbly.
The world at that time hardly noticed that a work was being revived. Christ revived it in a most unusual way. In 1161, a man named Peter Waldo—a wealthy merchant from Lyons, the weaving capital of Europe—began publicly preaching the truth of God. A notable, organized work began. Though we know little about this man, certain Catholic writers give us some history about his life.
Some 12 to 15 years before he began preaching, Peter Waldo witnessed the sudden death of a friend. This tragic event shocked him into seriously questioning the meaning of life. Waldo came from Dauphiny, the same area of France that Peter de Bruys was from. It is believed that his family came from the Walden district and had direct contact with the Church of God. So Peter Waldo had some knowledge about God when he saw his friend die so suddenly.
Waldo came from an extremely wealthy family of clothing merchants. Believing that money had kept him cut off from God, he gave up his incredible wealth to completely follow Christ. He gave the bulk of his money to the needy. However, he committed a portion of his wealth to have the Scriptures translated into the language of the people. He diligently began a personal study of God’s Word. He was earnest in his search for the truth of God. Jesus Christ opened Waldo’s mind to understand truths he had probably previously rejected.
Poor Men of Lyons
Waldo’s Catholic wife and daughters thought he had lost his mind. They separated from him. History shows that one of his daughters entered a convent. His wife later reconciled with him. She helped him and the Work, using money he had left behind for her.
“Waldo brought the same practical common sense that had made him successful as a businessman to the organization and work of the Church,” the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states. “He had the education and experience which so few in God’s Church had (1 Corinthians 1:26). Jesus Christ had probably guided that experience, unknown to Waldo, long before his conversion.
“As he preached, others united themselves and their efforts to his. They became, as it is said, ‘as many co-workers for him.’ They dedicated their lives and their property to the spread of Christ’s gospel.
“This little group became known as the ‘poor men of Lyons.’ But that was not the name of the Church. They called themselves the Church of God, or simply Christians.
“Little is known of the progress of the Work during the first 19 years. At an unspecified but probably early period, Waldo and a group of co-workers went to Picardy (in north France). When persecution was raised there, some went further to Flanders and the Netherlands—their translation of the Bible always with them. As early as 1182, their doctrine had gained many adherents in Holland. Prominent among these were weavers. Picards, as these Waldenses were called, ultimately spread as far as eastern Germany, Poland and especially Bohemia” (Lesson 51).
Obey God Rather Than Men
The impact Waldo and his co-workers had on central Europe was felt by the church of Rome. The archbishop of Lyon launched a persecution against Waldo and the “poor men of Lyons.” In 1176, he officially forbade them from preaching. Waldo and the Church refused to comply. Waldo responded with the same words uttered by so many courageous saints before him: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Waldo’s persistence in preaching the gospel came to the attention of the pope. At this time, papal authority was reaching its peak. In late 1178, Waldo was summoned to appear before Alexander iii in Rome. The outcome of this meeting was critical: The real issue at hand was whether the Work could continue in central Europe.
During this meeting in Rome, Waldo used great wisdom. He deflected the arguments away from specific doctrine and focused on a more fundamental issue: the use of the Bible. He carried with him a copy of the Scriptures written in the vernacular. He showed the pope how desperately the people needed access to the Scriptures. He showed how these Scriptures had helped people all over southern France and parts of Italy and Spain.
Alexander iii at first appeared to agree with Waldo’s demands. However, he left the final decision to the Lateran Council of 1179. Peter Waldo left two of the “poor men” behind to attend this council. They were condemned. The Lateran Council told Waldo’s co-workers they could preach only if the local priest asked them to. Why? “The Roman church cannot endure your preaching!” Likewise today, God’s people will be told that the land cannot bear their words (Amos 7:10).
Waldo’s associates resisted the decision. It is reported that they replied, “Christ sent us. If you were His Church, you would not hinder us.”
These faithful men continued their work. “It took the archbishop 5½ years, a new pope, and a new bull [papal decree] anathematizing Waldo and all his followers to finally drive them from Lyon,” the Ambassador correspondence course states. “But Waldo had already gone elsewhere. Jesus Christ had opened a door (2 Corinthians 2:12)” (emphasis mine throughout).
The door Christ opened was truly remarkable. At the same Lateran Council that denounced Waldo’s work, representatives of a growing ascetic movement within the Catholic Church also sought the right to preach. They too were denied. Disappointed but undeterred, they did something extraordinary: They defied the Catholic Church and asked Peter Waldo to become their leader.
Driven from France, Waldo crossed the Alps to teach these people. Thus, a second branch of Waldensians was established in Italy.
All these events once again reinforce an important lesson for us today: God’s Church and Work often grow stronger in the face of persecution. And if, because of the severity of the opposition, the Church is unable to grow, Christ moves a remnant of His faithful followers to a place of protection (e.g. Revelation 12:6, 14).
A College Established
When Waldo moved into Italy, the Work grew rapidly. He soon founded a college to train men for the ministry, located in three stone buildings in the Angrogna Valley of the Cottian Alps. The college and the town of La Torre became the new headquarters for the Work and the growing Church of God.
The ministers, college students and Church members produced booklets and articles to support the preaching of the gospel. The printing press had not yet been invented. Any book or other written material had to be carefully, laboriously copied by hand. We can begin to see why Christ praised this second effort of the Thyatira era. The Church’s literature was given freely to all who were interested. Christ taught the disciples, “[F]reely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Peter Waldo and the Church followed Christ’s commands. How was it all paid for? Church members and co-workers paid the cost through their tithes and offerings, which were sent to the college and headquarters.
“For several years in the 12th century, these Waldensians flourished in the Alpine Valleys, preaching what truth they had. Booklets and articles were written and copied by hand. This was still before the days of printing,” Mystery of the Ages says. “As Jesus prophesied of the Thyatiran era, they had faith and they worked hard. Their latter works were greater than the first.”
Since the Work at that time was expanding into several different European countries, the Bible was also translated into several different languages. History shows that these people took the Bible literally. One unique version of the Bible, translated into Low German, was done in rhyme to make memorization easier. The early followers of Waldo were well known for committing entire sections of the Bible to memory.
Young men of about age 25 were chosen as college students. They were expected to attend classes in the winter months for about three or four years. They had to work in the fields and at other occupations during the summer months. Each minister had to learn a trade so he could support himself. Because of the scarcity of Bibles (it was even dangerous to carry one), every potential minister was required to memorize entire sections of the Bible. He also had to learn to explain the Scriptures. Most of the ministers were trained to speak at least three languages. They were also educated in matters of physical health. All were tested and tried. Those who bore the necessary fruits were ordained into the ministry.
The fruits of Peter Waldo’s ministry prove he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. However, he personally refused to be called anything other than the chief elder. Even the Roman Catholic Church referred to Waldo as the “chief elder” in its documents against him and the Church of God.
Many additional elders and deacons were ordained. Some elders directed the work of others. Some served as pastors of churches. Others served as evangelists, carrying the gospel into foreign countries. Through Peter Waldo, Christ restored all the biblically mandated ministerial offices to the Church.
As the Work grew, so did the persecution. Ministers had to conceal their identities to protect themselves. They became known as “barbes,” which meant uncle. Times became extremely dangerous. The ministers were constantly on the move, visiting scattered brethren. Generally the Waldensian ministers traveled in pairs; one was senior, the other junior. Ministers with stationary assignments were rotated every two to three years.
Few of the Waldensian ministers married. This was done not out of religious philosophy, but because of the danger of the office. Their journeys were too treacherous for a wife to accompany them. Paul had set this same example during his ministry (1 Corinthians 7:25-26). Though he could have had a wife, it would have been extremely difficult to support her and a family while doing the job Christ required of him. Still, Waldo and the Thyatiran ministry condemned the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy for priests, just as Paul did (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:2; 4:1, 3).
The Waldensian People of God
“The early Waldenses practiced overcoming and education in every walk of life,” the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states. “They were obedient, clean, honest. Even their enemies acknowledged they could find no fault with their lives. They would not lie or swear (Matthew 5:34), nor do anything to others which they would not have done to themselves (Matthew 7:12). They dressed and acted modestly (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3). They were chaste, temperate in all things, in control of their emotions, diligent, continually keeping busy, founding their whole teaching on the Bible. Their enemies marveled.
“They made no public show of prayer like those who wasted endless hours uselessly repeating meaningless words (Matthew 6:7). But they did teach and practice earnest, believing, fruitful prayer in a private place ….
“Below the college level, a system of elementary schools was later established. Both boys and girls attended. Even small children learned to memorize and recite whole chapters of Scripture. …
“The Waldenses recognized that they were the true successors of the apostolic Church” (Lesson 51).
These believers obeyed the laws of the Old Testament. They observed the weekly Sabbath. They kept Passover each spring. And each fall, they held a large conference at their headquarters, attended by as many as 700 people who traveled in for it. At this conference, ministerial assignments were announced, and new students were chosen. Most importantly, crowds gathered each day to hear sermons. Those in God’s Church today will recognize these practices as the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34).
The correspondence course concludes, “How much more we might have known about these Middle Ages’ Feasts of Tabernacles had not the inquisitors so zealously burned the records!”
Anathema From Christ
In time, serious persecution set in against the Church and the Work. Pope Lucius’s bull of 1184 condemned several rebel religious groups. Among the groups named were the poor men of Lyons, the Arnoldists and the Passagines (another group that observed the whole Old Testament law). The Church of God was targeted for persecution.
Lucius’s decree read: “Wherefore we being supported by the presence and power of our most dear son, Frederick, the most illustrious emperor of the Romans, always increaser of the empire, with the common advice and counsel of our brethren, and other patriarchs, archbishops and many princes, who from several parts of the world are met together, do set ourselves against these heretics, who have got names from the several false doctrines they profess ….
“More particularly, we declare all Catharists, Paterines, and those who call themselves the Poor of Lyons, the Passagines, Josephites, Arnoldists, to lie under a perpetual anathema ….
“[W]hosoever shall be notoriously convicted of these errors, if a clergyman, or one that endeavors to conceal himself under any religious order, he shall be immediately deprived of all prerogative of the church-orders; and so being divested of all office and benefice, be delivered up to the secular power, to be punished according to demerit, unless immediately upon his being detected, he voluntarily returns to the truth of the Catholic faith, and publicly adjures his errors, at the discretion of the bishop of the diocess and makes suitable satisfaction. And for a layman who shall be found guilty, either publicly or privately, of any of the aforesaid crimes, unless by adjuring his heresy, and making satisfaction, he immediately return to the orthodox faith; we decree him to be left to the sentence of the secular judge, to receive condign punishment, according to the quality of the offense ….
“We ordain further, that all earls, barons, governors and consuls of cities … shall promise upon oath, that, in all these particulars, whenever they are required so to do, they will powerfully and effectually assist the church against heretics.”
This bull did not have the effect the pope intended. The Work, especially in southern France, continued to flourish. Many civil rulers actually protected Church members.
However, in 1194, Alphonso ii, king of Aragon and count of Barcelona and Provence, declared that the Waldensians were worthy of punishment. He commanded them to leave his lands immediately. Any person attending a Waldensian meeting risked having his lands seized.
In 1197, the persecution intensified: It was commanded that all Waldensians in these lands be burned at the stake. The Waldensians fled to Castile. But many were mercilessly tracked down and slaughtered.
In 1208, Pope Innocent iii declared the Albigensian Crusade—an attack not only against God’s people, but also against the civil rulers who protected them. Many civil rulers and some disenchanted clergy had become disgusted with the corruption of the power-hungry Roman church. Essentially, the Albigensian Crusade pitted the pope, loyal clergy and civil rulers of northern France against southern France.
“When the war began in 1209, the Provencal civilization was the most brilliant in Europe. When it was over, after 20 bitter years, that civilization had been completely destroyed,” the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states. “South France had become a backward region completely subject to Paris and Rome.
“The infamous Inquisition was then set up to complete the job by eliminating religious objections. Papal bull decreed severe punishment against any person suspected of even sympathizing with ‘heretics.’ Confiscations, imprisonments, burnings and every imaginable form of persecution continued for more than a hundred years. Thousands died. In the city of Montségur alone, 200 persons were burned in one day.”
Seduced by Jezebel
Innocent iii proved to be one of the most notorious popes of all time. He brought a lot of force and energy to his office. He went after the Waldensians on all fronts. He ferreted out church groups that were using the Bible and ensured that their Bibles were burned. In addition, he developed his own form of “poor men” within the Catholic Church. These men were poorly clothed. They lived austerely and were loyal to Rome. The pope sent these men out two by two to counteract the true ministers of God. In 1209, he sponsored a revival of the Waldensian movement within the Catholic Church to draw members away from God’s Church.
Outwardly, these efforts had little effect. Not many joined the Catholic Church. But an internal sickness developed within God’s Church.
Christ warned the Thyatirans: “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23). Many in Thyatira began to believe the false doctrines promoted by the Catholic Church.
Jesus Christ used the Old Testament character of Jezebel to warn the Thyatirans against the errors of this false church. Remember, God uses the symbol of a woman to represent spiritual Israel, or the Church (Revelation 12). Jezebel represents the great false church (Revelation 17). Involvement with this New Testament Jezebel would mean spiritual sickness and death.
Study the history of Jezebel (1 Kings 16 – 2 Kings 9). She was a Gentile who seduced her husband to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31) and follow the sins of Jeroboam. She was extremely wicked—totally selfish, conniving and murderous (you especially see this in 1 Kings 21). She used deceit to serve her own purposes. She usurped her husband’s authority. She practiced sorcery and played the harlot for political favors (2 Kings 9:22, 30). Worst of all, she martyred the prophets of God (1 Kings 18:4; 19:1-2).
Jezebel aptly portrays what the church at Rome was doing during the Middle Ages when it sank to great depths of moral depravity. Reputable scholars and historians have recorded this history. Many “celibate” priests fathered numerous offspring. The papal palace at Rome became a brothel. Political deals were struck. The papal office was often won by murder and intrigue. However, this church called itself a prophetess (Revelation 2:20). It arrogantly believed it could rule over and teach true Christians.
Conditions at Rome became so bad that many loyal Catholics eventually formed the Protestant revolt. In verse 23, the Protestant churches are referred to as Jezebel’s children.
Sadly, some true Christians fell prey to the schemes of the false church. Some Waldensians allowed themselves to be seduced into a religion of compromise. Tired of persecution, some began to allow the Catholic Church to baptize their young, reasoning that the ceremony was meaningless. Some attended Sabbath services and Sunday mass in order to avoid persecution.
Gradually the vibrant truths of the Bible were compromised. The Thyatira era of the Church of God fell into serious decline. By 1532, long after the lamp had been moved to the Sardis era, several of the scattered “Waldensian” groups joined forces with those involved in the Protestant Reformation. They renounced their former biblically based teaching.
Today, the surviving Waldensian groups in Europe appear to be like any other modern “Christian” church.
Space to Repent
Note in Revelation 2:21 where God says He gave this great false church “space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” This is an extraordinary detail in this prophecy!
Yes, God gave the Roman Catholic Church an opportunity to repent—as He will once again in the future. What love God the Father has for all! As the Apostle Peter wrote, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Look at the details of history, and it is possible to discern just what Christ’s statement about a “space to repent” may refer to.
The ministries of Peter de Bruys, Henry and Peter Waldo were all established geographically close to Rome. Henry had even been a Catholic priest and was converted from that false system by the preaching of Peter de Bruys. He denounced his Roman Catholic teachings and declared that he believed in the Bible. This had a tremendous impact on lay members and clergy alike. The ripple effects powerfully impacted Rome itself! Many people—even those who did not become members of God’s true Church—were affected, and they became staunchly opposed to the papal authority and abuses of the time. The pressure they exerted became so strong that it was instrumental in eventually forcing Pope Eugene iii into exile! This incredibly unique event took place in 1146—right in the midst of the Thyatiran era.
In the latter half of the same century, Peter Waldo and his supporters copied and distributed Bibles in the language of the people. This was unprecedented. Common people could actually read for themselves what the Bible said. This forced the Catholic clergy to deal with questions they could not answer. Lay members could see with their own eyes that what is plainly revealed in God’s Word differs greatly from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Again, this presented “Jezebel” a great and unique opportunity to repent!
The work of God’s true people once again had such an impact that its effects reached the highest office in Rome—the pope. When Pope Alexander iii summoned Peter Waldo to Rome in 1178, he received a bold, Bible-based, personal witness that apparently almost convinced him. It appears this was another great opportunity for repentance. But as Revelation 2:21 prophesied, “she repented not.” Alexander left the final decision to the Lateran Council, which condemned Waldo and his followers.
In the end, the Catholics doubled down on their persecution against God’s Church, and that window to repent closed. Near the end of the 12th century, they launched a 10-year inquisition in the area of southern France where God’s Church had made such an impact on so many lives. That was followed by the 20-year Albigensian Crusade—the first military crusade launched within the borders of Europe itself! It was aimed at destroying teachings contrary to those of the Catholic Church—the very teachings that these Thyatiran ministers had established during the previous century.
The Encyclopedia Dictionary of Religion explains, “By the beginning of the 13th century, the Albigenses had become a threat to the very existence of the [Roman Catholic] Church in southern France.” The Catholic Church’s very existence was threatened! What an impact the Work of God had during the 12th century! “During the next 10 years, the [Catholic] army led by Simon de Montfort forced the surrender of the most important heretical strongholds, employing in the process methods that were cruel even by medieval standards. Fighting continued until 1229, but its purpose became political: the incorporation of Languedoc into France. Once deprived of baronial protection, the Albigenses found it necessary to flee or go underground. Their final extirpation was accomplished by the Inquisition established by Gregory ix in 1233. By the end of the 14th century their power was completely broken.”
Indeed, God had given this church “space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.”
The Thyatira era was beset by persecution and apostasy. However, even in the midst of intense trial, a faithful remnant remained true to Christ and the Bible. Christ highly praised these people: “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:24-29).
The Thyatirans who held fast and remained faithful are going to gain a wonderful reward: They will receive power over the nations. They will rule with Christ. Even more, they will receive a significant role in teaching the truths of God to the world. They will be given the “morning star,” which is Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:16). He is the Husband, and the true Church is His wife (Revelation 19:7). Christ will give her His own power and ability to enlighten the world.
Remember, the Thyatirans were a bright light in a dark age. They kept the lamp of Christ burning brightly when Satan violently tried to snuff it out. They were, and in the Kingdom will be, a bright, shining star.
Chapter 8: A Few Names in Sardis
In 1315, a man known as Walter Lollard moved from Holland to England with his brother Raymond. Walter was one of the chief Waldensian ministers. The two worked tirelessly together. Others joined their cause.
It is evident that Lollard’s work had a significant impact on England. In fact, the true Church took deep root for a while—for the first time since the effects of the original apostles had faded. Its members, and other heretics of the time, were called “Lollards.” One man who was branded as such—though never a member of the true Church—was John Wycliffe.
Wycliffe lived from 1320 to 1384. He is credited with translating the Bible into the English language. This was a deeply important development from this time. Historians refer to Wycliffe as an Oxford scholar, theologian and churchman. He held the Bible in the highest esteem. Though he was not part of God’s Church, what he accomplished in translating the Bible certainly helped the true Church.
Some of Wycliffe’s associates were Waldensians—remnants of the true Church—who had moved from the Continent to England. Though Wycliffe’s translation was unfinished when he died in 1384, the scholars he had worked with successfully finished the project. His translation was distributed throughout England over the coming years. This truly benefited the people of God in this part of the world.
It was in this climate that God began raising up the fifth era of His Church: Sardis.
‘A Few Names’
The Sardis era is described in the first six verses of Revelation 3. Verse 1 reads: “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
Christ emphasizes that He has the “seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.” The Bible itself explains the symbolism: “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,” and the “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne … are the seven Spirits of God” (Revelation 1:20; 4:5). This imagery stresses the continuity of the true Church through seven eras.
Christ had promised that the Church would never die—but here He said the Sardis era would eventually die spiritually. Revelation 3:1 shows that, for a while, Sardis had “works.” It had a “name that thou livest”—the name of the “Church of God”—against which the gates of hell would never prevail (Matthew 16:18). Eventually, though, this era did die, and Christ had to raise up a new era.
Thankfully, not all of God’s saints succumbed to the slumbering spirit of this era. Revelation 3:4-5 have this inspiring statement: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.”
Over the centuries—from the time certain Lollards arrived in England in the 14th century all the way to when God would restore all things through an end-time Elijah in the 20th century (Matthew 17:10-11)—a “few names” did not defile their garments. White garments symbolize righteousness and being cleansed by Christ’s shed blood (see Revelation 19:8; 7:14). The name Sardis can mean “red ones,” and red symbolizes sin (Isaiah 1:18). These “few” held to godly righteousness and kept the truth alive.
These “few names” will remain in the book of life, and Christ Himself will profess their names before the Father and angels. Christ said in Matthew 10:32 He would do this for those who “shall confess me before men.”
During the centuries of the Sardis era, some specific names emerge of saints who did an admirable work for God.
Understand the historical context surrounding the beginning of this era. In Italy beginning in the 14th century, a new movement began to shape the thinking of the Western world. People had become highly dissatisfied with the Roman Catholic Church. Many recognized that they had been oppressed economically, educationally and culturally. This movement sparked a new educational interest in philosophy, science, culture, literature, art and new religious thought. It would become known as the Renaissance.
It was an era of academic freedom. This led to many positive developments—but not all this new learning was good. The Renaissance produced a “new” spirit of criticism and skepticism as well. Eventually this led to the development of modern German Rationalism, which questions the very existence of God.
During the 15th century, scholars and clerics alike began to reject the authority and dictates of the Catholic Church. Some religious thinkers recognized the serious moral corruption in the church at Rome. Visitors to Rome were appalled by the sexual immorality and decadence openly displayed at the Lateran Palace.
In 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his now famous “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the court church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther protested the selling of papal indulgences for the forgiveness of sin, among other things. He was excommunicated and ordered to recant. Pope Leo x drafted a papal bull, or decree, denouncing Luther’s teaching, but Luther publicly burned the encyclical. Emperor Charles v planned to stop the new movement with military action but was drawn off by the threat of invasion from the Turks.
Though it was not his original intention, Luther’s act started the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was never a part of God’s true Church. Northern Germany became Lutheran. John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli conducted a similar movement in Switzerland, as did John Knox in Scotland. By 1531, Henry viii established that the main body of the church in England would come under the authority of the Crown. Roman Catholic religious authority and dominance was vigorously questioned.
The winds of change had only begun to blow with the advancement of the Renaissance and Reformation. In 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed for conspiracy to assassinate Queen Elizabeth i. This removed the ongoing threat of Catholicism trying to seize control of the British throne. Then in 1588, the “invincible” Spanish Armada was overwhelmed by a great storm at sea. People all over England and throughout Europe knew this was a great miracle from God. This ensured Britain’s political independence from Europe, and its people believed more firmly than ever in freedom from Catholicism. The lasting effect was a separate, mostly-Protestant Britain.
The Printing Press
One of the most important technological advancements made during this Renaissance age had a significant impact on Church history and even on the world: the invention of the printing press. Few inventions in human history have had greater impact. Remember, the Waldenses had to painstakingly handwrite their copies of Scripture. The process was arduous and slow. Rarely was an entire copy made. Relatively few copies of the Scriptures existed prior to the printing press and were generally not available to the public.
Johannes Gutenberg’s printing process changed that. One of the first books he became famous for printing was the most important book: the Bible. Soon, thousands of copies existed—then millions.
Established religion in Europe had tried to prevent the Word of God from reaching the masses. The Catholic Church had even confiscated and burned Bibles.
Think about that! Jesus Christ commanded us to live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)—what most Christians call the Old and New Testaments. True Christians are those who follow Christ.
The Catholic Church has a long, violent history of burning Bibles and, at times, burning the people who obeyed those Bibles! That is a spiritual abomination that this world must understand. It is the polar opposite of what the true Church of God would do!
The Catholic Church is guided first of all by its traditions. That means the Catholic Church is led by human reasoning—not the Bible, which is Jesus Christ in print.
Spiritually, that is a deadly disaster! It is one of the major ways that Satan deceives the Christian world (Revelation 12:9).
It is time that this world woke up to the true history of the Catholic Church!
Thank God the printing press torpedoed that church’s efforts to limit access to the Bible. The Word of God was out!
However, the worst martyrdom ever by the Catholic Church is just ahead of us—coming only months before the dreadful Day of the Lord and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!
Again, remember this great truth: God is going to save most Catholics and most members of all religions. God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). God is going to save most of humanity who have ever lived, through a mighty last great day resurrection, at the end of the Millennium.
Through true repentance and faith, they will get to know God.
God truly does love the world. He gave the Sardis-era members of His Church the most important piece of communications technology of all time. Not only could the Bible be printed and multiplied, it could also be explained by means of the printed word.
However, the world was still ignorant and evil—it was still Satan’s world. These were still the “wilderness years” (Revelation 12:6), and as we will see, God’s Church faced daunting challenges. But God again called on His people to deliver His message of light! The world’s only hope is to receive that light.
Sabbath Keepers in Europe
Even though the Roman Catholic Church was in decline, life was still difficult for the people of God.
Sabbath-keeping congregations were scattered through mainland Europe. A little known Sabbath-keeping group existed in Russia from about 1470–1503. It was crushed with great cruelty by the government and church.
In Luther’s day, at least one Sabbath keeper was executed (in 1529) in East Friesland (a district of modern Germany).
Around that time, books were published in France defending the Sabbath. There, a group called Picards (after Picardy) fled from city to city or into other regions to avoid military service. Many of them gathered in Austria.
Persecution also drove many who opposed the Catholic Church into Bohemia and Moravia. Moravia contained three groups of people who baptized adults only (therefore called “Anabaptists,” or “rebaptizers”) and one Sabbath-keeping group.
Bohemia was actively rebelling against the state-sponsored religion. Erasmus, a famous Catholic scholar at the time of the Protestant Reformation, speaks of Sabbath keepers there. They were the same people known as Picards, and were descendants of the Waldenses. There is even evidence that Martin Luther—in his attempts to revive congregational singing—found such practices already being preserved in Bohemia under Michael Weiss.
Catholic records in Norway mention Sabbath keepers at Bergen and Oslo about 1435. However, they sat at mass on Sunday but privately kept the true Sabbath—a dangerous compromise.
In Finland, the Swedish King Gustav Vasa i persuaded the common people that hard times were caused by “not observing the seventh day called Saturday.” A letter from the king in 1554 ordered them to “forsake this way leading to damnation at once”!
What was the source of this seventh-day teaching? Lars Anton Anjou’s The History of the Reformation in Sweden speaks of an “antichurch party”—a non-Catholic and non-Lutheran group that taught the truth.
There was another larger group that kept Saturday yet didn’t separate themselves from the Lutheran Church, and they observed Sunday mass too.
These compromises led to Sabbath-keeping being stamped out in Scandinavia around the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, approximately 1618. “It was the same Sabbath-keeping church throughout Scandinavia! But it was involved in spiritual fornication—illicit relationships with Satan’s established churches,” explains the correspondence course (Lesson 52).
The majority of God’s Church was “worn out,” the correspondence course says. “When Luther appeared, only a few scattered Sabbath keepers remained. Even those people not in God’s Church and known only as ‘Anabaptists’ (rebaptizers) were weary with persecution and ready to surrender completely to the Roman Catholic Church. … [W]hen Luther absolutely demanded they give up even their rebaptizing of adults, many complied. The rest found Rome was not the only persecutor. More people were martyred after the success of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin than ever before. … The 16th century was a time of great intolerance and cruelty.”
Some Sabbath keepers scattered toward Brandenburg and Transylvania (Western Romania today, then part of Hungary). One leading man for God’s people in Transylvania was Francis David. One of his followers, Andreas Eössi, taught that the Sabbath foreshadowed the future marriage of Christ and the Church. Even though he and his followers acknowledged that they were physical Gentiles, they knew they could still be part of the “Bride of Christ” and rule with Him during the seventh 1,000-year period in human history. Each Sabbath, they dressed in their best clothes. They kept the Passover and the Feast of Trumpets. They taught that holidays like Christmas and Easter were invented by popes. They also acknowledged the biblical teaching regarding clean and unclean meats.
“About 1600, they compiled—and printed—a hymnbook of 110 paraphrases of psalms and other poetical passages of the Bible. Forty-four relate to the Sabbath, five to the new moon, 11 to Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, six to Pentecost, three to the festival of Trumpets, one to the Day of Atonement, and six to the festival of Tabernacles” (ibid).
Simon Péchi, Eössi’s adopted son, was the next physical leader for these people. He was also a high-ranking official in Transylvania government, and was called to war in 1619, during the Thirty Years’ War. “This was the turning point—and the end of another 19-year cycle—in the history of these people. One cannot be both a part of this world and a true Christian at the same time!” (ibid).
The spiritual condition of the Church in mainland Europe did not recover from this compromise. Laws against Sabbath keepers sent them deeper into hiding or caused them to emigrate.
Sabbath Keepers in England
A similar drama surrounding Sabbatarianism was unfolding in England during these years. Even though Henry viii had seized control of the Church of England from Rome in 1534, England hardly enjoyed true religious freedom. And though Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth i permitted the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots—Elizabeth’s rival and a staunch Catholic who wanted to restore Vatican control to England—doctrinal intolerance remained. Although the Roman church had fallen into decline, a new wave of persecution against God’s Church came through the Protestant movement.
During the first several decades of the 1600s, it was still illegal to hold Sabbath services. Public preaching and worship were life-threatening activities. As a result, details concerning God’s Church at this time are sketchy. We know little about the members or the locations of local congregations.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the earlier work of Walter Lollard and his brother Raymond had acquainted many in Britain with true teachings of the Bible. Hundreds knew that an individual had to be fully immersed in water to be truly baptized. Thousands had learned that the world’s religious holidays came directly from paganism. Many learned that Sunday was not God’s true Sabbath.
Much of Sardis’s early growth came from teaching about the Sabbath. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth i (1558–1603), “many conscientious and independent thinkers” advocated the seventh day (Chambers’ Encyclopedia).
One of these individuals was a minister named John Traske. Around the year 1616, he ordained four evangelists. Their combined labors brought many people to God.
For his preaching, Traske was censured in the Star Chamber. He was publicly whipped and imprisoned. Sadly, under this persecution, he recanted his belief. His wife, however, never did: She died in prison after being held there for 15 years.
Concerning the Sardis congregations in England, the correspondence course says: “We know that one of the London churches goes back at least to the time of Traske and the four evangelists whom he ordained. Evidence is that this ‘Mill Yard’ congregation dates from 1607, or even the 1580s. Positive evidence is extant for the existence of several other congregations in the 1650s” (Lesson 53).
We do know of a couple of other leading men at the time who preached the Sabbath in England. One was Theophilus Barbourne, a former Puritan minister in Norfolk (where many Anabaptists from Holland had migrated). He published books in 1628 and 1632 advocating Sabbath observance, and Robert Cox’s Literature of the Sabbath Questions states that he “may be regarded as the founder in England of the sect at first known as Sabbatarians, but now calling themselves Seventh-Day Baptists.”
Though people from the world referred to them as Sabbatarians or Sabbatarian Baptists, the people who formed these congregations referred to themselves as the Church of God. Only later did a group of Sabbath keepers organize themselves into the Seventh-Day Baptists.
One famous seventh-day minister, Edward Stennett, wrote that by 1668 in England, there were “nine or 10 congregations that keep the Sabbath, besides many scattered disciples.” He was writing to a group of members in Rhode Island that hadn’t yet organized into a congregation—and he addressed them as “the remnant in Rhode Island who keep the commandments of God and the testimonies of Jesus”—a reference to Revelation 12:17 (Cox, op cit).
During this time, the people of God began to make use of the printing press. Books and pamphlets about the Sabbath were circulated widely, and many works were published expounding other biblical truths.
However, though many people recognized the truth about the Sabbath and argued for it, most of these people did not repent and fully surrender to God, and they were not converted. Throughout most of the Sardis era, many people associated with the Church, but only a small number of them were truly converted.
The true Church was still in the midst of its 1,260 wilderness years (Revelation 12:6), years dominated by the Holy Roman Empire, which kept the Church largely in hiding. Protestants are children of the Roman Catholic mother (Isaiah 47:1, 8-9). They retained most Catholic doctrines. They are prophesied to return to the mother church in these last days.
The main thrust of the Protestant persecution came from the Puritans within the established Church of England. The Puritans strongly advocated Sunday worship. The Sabbath controversy was brought before the highest leaders of the land. Laws were passed against Sabbath observance.
A few Sardis ministers in England initially took up the fight. They were imprisoned. Many of the people of God who were bold enough to profess Sabbath-keeping were publicly flogged. Many of these faithful people died in prison. One execution in particular struck fear into the hearts and minds of many. Because he preached to his congregation on the Sabbath day, John James, a minister, was sentenced and hung, had his heart cut out and burned, and was drawn and quartered!
Regrettably, after this period of persecution, only a few stayed true to the faith once delivered. Giving in to their fears, the majority of Sardis believers accepted Protestant doctrine—even the false teaching of the trinity. Even several ministers, when they were confronted with imprisonment by Protestant reformers, gave up the faith. Instead of resisting the Protestant enemies, many began to be influenced by them.
Christ had warned the Sardis era, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:2). The Sardis members kept some of God’s true doctrines. They were God’s people. But they didn’t watch world events. The Greek word translated “be watchful” means to wake up. These people were spiritually drowsy and failed to warn the world of what was to come before the return of Jesus Christ.
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (verse 3). Because of the persecution, the Sardis-era people began to let the truths slip that had been given to them by the Thyatira era. Jesus Christ admonished them to strengthen their beliefs that remained.
The Ambassador correspondence course states, “Yet through fear of persecution—in England and later also in America—many of God’s people continued to fellowship with those who had fallen away and even with some of the churches of this world! Many of the successors of the Waldensians had now become Puritans within the established Church of England. Others, outside that church, had become Baptists.” Some of the Sardis ministers maintained fellowship with these people.
“Jesus Christ was concerned about the inevitable result of this relationship with the world that some of His people maintained. They allowed—even encouraged—the circulation of more and more false doctrine among His people, causing more to fall away. …
“The Sardis era of God’s Church should have profited by the experiences of—and Christ’s messages to—the Thyatira and Pergamos eras of the Church before them. They should not have tolerated the unconverted and unbelievers in their midst!
“However, God’s people throughout the Sardis era felt they must always ‘have love’ for those of differing opinions. They even invited them right into their meetings and asked them to speak! They did not realize that condoning falsehood—which does harm both to the believer and the hearer—is never showing real love. …
“By the later 1700s, these people had so adopted Protestant viewpoints that they began to elect their ministers instead of relying on Jesus Christ to select them” (Lesson 53). Under Sardis leadership, much of the truth in God’s Church was lost.
Although the true Church of God never had a lot of members in England, by 1800 it had become almost extinct. By this time, there were no ministers to pastor the three remaining English congregations. An American minister had to be imported to help these congregations, and he led them to a brief period of prosperity. But these congregations referred to themselves as Seventh-Day Baptists, not as the Church of God.
All was not dead there though. Those who did not give in to persecution went deeper into the “wilderness”—to a place that guaranteed religious freedom from the influence of Catholic Europe and Protestant England. God’s Church was to survive in the New World. The establishment of the American Sardis Church enabled a “few” to remain true during this embattled and weakened fifth era.
A New Life in America
In 1620, Puritan Pilgrims struck out to obtain, among other things, religious freedom. Establishing colonies in the New World inspired the aspirations of many people who disagreed with the unbiblical practices of the Church of England and were disenchanted with the religious situation in England.
A man named Roger Williams had moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. He was enthralled with the potential freedoms of the New World. However, he soon found himself in serious disagreement with the heads of the Puritan government established in the colony. Puritan leaders insisted that the civil government had a divinely ordained right to impose Puritan religious views on its subjects. They strongly rejected the authority of Rome—but replaced it with their own intolerance!
Williams believed that the civil government had the right to enforce public morality but did not have the right to restrain religious conscience. He believed individuals had the right to choose how to worship. He insisted on the separation of church and state.
Eventually, Williams had to flee Massachusetts. In 1636, he formed in Rhode Island a new but small society where total religious freedom was permitted by law and where the majority ruled in all civil affairs. In 1643, he sailed to England to obtain a charter for the new colony, and by 1647, the colony’s unique set of laws was established.
“Rhode Island was the first place in the world to guarantee freedom of religion as a basic tenet of its constitution,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages (emphasis mine). This colony soon became a safe refuge for those expressing differing religious beliefs. Many Baptists and Quakers who had experienced severe religious intolerance in the other colonies migrated to Rhode Island. This colony set a standard that would soon be adopted by the fledgling United States of America.
Rhode Island Headquarters
In 1664, Stephen Mumford was sent from the Bell Lane Church of God in London, England—a Sabbath-keeping church—to Newport, Rhode Island. News of the tiny colony’s religious freedom gave a new burst of hope to the harried Church of God. Not finding any other Sabbath keepers, Mumford and his wife associated for a short while with members of the Baptist Church in Newport. “He did not proselytize, but quietly maintained his own belief. Several members of the Sunday-keeping congregation became convinced that they, too, should observe the Sabbath,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. After seven years, a congregation of fewer than 10 members was formed. It was America’s first Sabbath-keeping congregation.
“At first they met in private homes,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “In the historical museum at Newport, their record book is preserved—containing names—their contributions—even records of their ordination services.”
A pamphlet published by the Newport Historical Society provides these remarkable details about God’s true Church: “The observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath in Newport dates back to 1664, when Stephen Mumford came from London and brought with him the opinion that the whole of the Ten Commandments, as they were delivered from Mount Sinai, were moral and immutable and that it was the anti-Christian power which thought to change times and laws that changed the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week” (Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, No. 158, Spring 1975, Vol. 48, part 2).
These people continued their association with the First Church in Newport for some time. But as the Newport Daily News of May 25, 1870, reported, after a time, “the leading or ministering brethren of the church began to preach against the views of the Sabbatarians concerning the Sabbath, which brought on disputes and dissensions; when finding it would be impossible in that state of things to enjoy themselves, they, on the 7th day of December, 1671, withdrew from the First Church and established a church of the Sabbatarian order under the pastoral care of Mr. William Hiscox.” Among the members of this new church were Samuel Hubbard, Stephen Mumford, Roger Baster, Tacy Hubbard and Rachel Langworthy, seven in all.
“That this new faith brought from England by Stephen Mumford was embraced by some of our best citizens of that period is brought to light in a letter written by Samuel Hubbard of Newport to Dr. Edward Stennett, pastor of Bell Lane Church, London, and dated June 29, 1678, only seven years after the congregation was formed. It says in part; ‘Our governor died the 19th day of June, 1678, buried 20th day; all this island was invited; many others were there, judged near a thousand people; brother Hiscox spoke there excellently led forth; I praise God.’ This was none other than Gov. Benedict Arnold” (Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, op cit).
As this short excerpt shows, although God’s first congregation in America began with fewer than 10 people, it eventually took firm root. Even some of Rhode Island’s governors were Sabbath keepers!
More details of the rich history of this first congregation in America can be found in The Seventh Day Baptist Memorial, Vol. 1. This book records a dramatic confrontation over the Sabbath between the First Baptist Church ministry and five of the original members of the Church of God. In fiery sermons, the Baptist ministers attacked Mumford’s teaching concerning the Ten Commandments, especially the keeping of the Sabbath. One of these ministers was John Clarke, a founding member of Rhode Island and close friend to Roger Williams. These sermons stoked a confrontation.
The Sabbath keepers called a hearing in December 1671 and decided to split from the Baptist Church. Detailed minutes of this meeting are preserved in the First Baptist Church of Newport archives. All five members were given an opportunity to speak. Tacy Hubbard is listed as the first to have spoken. She is also recorded as having been the first to convert to the seventh-day Sabbath. The minutes clearly show the determined resolve of these five members to keep all of the Ten Commandments. None of them feared being expelled for their beliefs.
The Newport Church continued to grow, albeit slowly, for the next 30 years. In the early years of the 18th century, the Church built a simple but elegant meeting house, part of which still stands today as part of the Newport Historical Society.
In 1708, the Church had grown large enough to expand into two congregations. The Westerly, or Hopkinton, congregation became known as the headquarters church. Historical records show that ministers from other congregations were sent to Westerly for ordination.
Congregations in America
Another local congregation was founded at Piscataway, New Jersey, in 1705, with the name “the Church of God.” According to the Seventh Day Baptist Memorial (Vol. 2, No. 3), the minister of this congregation was sent to Westerly to be ordained. So the connection of this local congregation with Rhode Island headquarters is clear.
A subsequent issue of the Seventh Day Baptist Memorial (Vol. 2, No. 4) describes a record in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, that speaks of “the Church of God dwelling at Shrewsbury.” This is corroborated by Corliss Fitz Randolph in his book A History of the Seventh Day Baptists in West Virginia. “Outsiders sometimes spoke of the ‘Sabbatarian’ church of such and such a place. But none of these was the official name,” the correspondence course explains. “Christ shows that His people should be kept through the Father’s name (John 17:11). This is why the official name is ‘the Church of God’” (Lesson 53).
The congregation at Hopkinton “soon became a thriving church of several hundred,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages. “A bridge today marks the spot where their meeting house once stood. Several thousand were baptized here on the banks of the Pawkatuk River.”
The churches in America continued to grow through the 18th century. There is evidence that they kept the annual holy days. Though not specifically recorded, the reason the Newport congregation became two congregations may have been that the Church had outgrown its facilities for keeping the Feast of Tabernacles.
Here is what the Ambassador College course states: “The ‘Westerly,’ or ‘Hopkinton,’ congregation retained the original records—being recognized as the leading or headquarters location.
“The reason for this transfer is most interesting. Previous to this time, the ‘Westerly,’ or Hopkinton,’ site had become the regular meeting place for ‘a yearly meeting’ of members from all over! It was at such a meeting—on September 28 (Gregorian calendar)—that the decision was made to establish the new congregation. Details are lacking, but it is highly significant that this date falls during the Feast of Tabernacles of that year!”
According to The Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, records of their annual meetings show that they consistently fell either during the fall holy day season or near Pentecost. None occurred on Christmas, Easter or during the summer. God’s people were, at least in part, trying to observe the holy days He had ordained.
“In the meantime, a number of other congregations of Sabbath keepers had been formed—mostly of new converts and immigrants from England. And though they recognized their relationship to the mother church in Rhode Island, distance made it necessary for the brethren in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania to gather in annual meetings in their own areas. These assemblies often sent greetings to each other by letters and by delegates. At these times, ‘the Sabbath, with its general communion, was indeed an high day’” (The Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America).
It was not until some time later that many of these people accepted the Protestant idea that God’s holy days had been done away.
Seeds of Heresy
The inherent weakness of the Sardis era was the lack of true spiritual repentance and conversion in the majority of people claiming membership with the Church. Thus they had little conviction to uphold God’s great truths. Jesus Christ stated clearly, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:3-4).
The greatest opportunity the Sardis Church ever had to proclaim God’s message was when it came to America. But the church was a dreadful failure. That is why it died spiritually!
Although God’s faithful ministers established the churches with the truth and good growth occurred, after a period of time the people let it slip away. As Christ stated in verse 4, there were always a few who remained faithful, but the majority forgot what they had heard. The Sardis Church in America fell into the same confusion as its English counterpart. Though many people joined Sabbath-keeping congregations, they did so simply because of the convincing doctrinal argument for the Sabbath, not because they had truly repented.
Among those who came into the Church were some who, like in Jude’s day, “crept in unawares” (Jude 4) specifically to draw away converts for themselves. Many people, being spiritually shallow, succumbed to these heretical ministers.
One such preacher of heresy was William Davis. This man had studied at Oxford to enter the clergy, but then changed his mind and instead became a Quaker. After moving to Pennsylvania, he bickered with other Quakers and switched to the Baptists. Not long after that, he came to believe in Sabbath-keeping. He founded a seventh-day church near Philadelphia.
“Mr. Davis came among the members of the Newport, Rhode Island, Church of God in 1706 and applied for membership. He was turned down on the grounds that he held wrong doctrines!” the Ambassador College course states. “Four years later he tried again at Westerly and was accepted, subject to approval by the annual meeting. Approval was finally granted, though some still objected. In 1713, he was authorized to preach and to baptize.
“But had this man become a true member of God’s Church? His fruits show he had not. He was in trouble with the Church and was ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fellowship for the rest of his life” (Lesson 53).
The true nature of this man and his doctrines can be discerned in a letter he wrote to defend himself and accuse the truth: “Now all this enmity against me among seventh-day men arose against me originally from a noted seventh-day man and soul sleeper in this country,” he wrote, “who above 20 years ago opposed me about my principles of immortality of human souls, and afterward proceeded to differ with me about my faith in Christ and the trinity ….” These beliefs obviously differed sharply from those of God’s true Church. Sadly, however, Davis was not put out, and he did considerable damage!
William Davis’s descendants and followers continued to spread the false doctrine that he brought into the Church. By 1800, the immortality of the soul, trinity and other doctrines of the false church were prevalent within the Sabbath-keeping churches in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Fighting in war was also permitted. Many of his followers began to form a denomination that adopted the name “Seventh-Day Baptist” in 1818.
In recent years, some have erroneously believed that the Seventh-Day Adventist movement came out of the Church of God. The Adventist movement actually began in the Sunday-keeping churches. William Miller misinterpreted Daniel’s prophecy of the “2,300 days” and began to expect the return of Christ in the year 1844. His followers became known as Millerites, and later Adventists, named after the Second Coming.
When Jesus Christ did not return in 1844, the Adventists’ expectations proved to be an illusion. Members of the movement broke into several factions. The biggest group, not wanting to admit that it had been wrong, began to teach that God’s throne was cleansed in 1844. A Seventh-Day Baptist member introduced the Sabbath to this group. By about 1846, the Sabbath was widely publicized among its members.
This group did not join the Seventh-Day Baptist church. They actually affiliated with the small true Church of God. They even gave up their beliefs in a trinity and a human immortal soul. However, these Adventists were never part of the true Church of God. In 1854, they began to put a price on the literature they distributed. By 1860, the majority rejected the name Church of God and officially took the name Seventh-Day Adventists. These followed the teachings of Ellen G. White. Sadly, some of the Church of God members followed along.
“Instead of the true gospel, the Kingdom of God, they substituted doctrines of Ellen G. White, called ‘the shut-door policy,’ ‘the investigative judgment,’ a ‘2,300 day’ doctrine and ‘the spirit of prophecy,’ identifying Mrs. White as the church’s prophet who actually set the church’s doctrine,” Mr. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages. “They adopted the name Seventh-Day Adventists, by which name they are known to this day.”
All of this happened during the Sardis era, and some of God’s people were seduced by it.
There were some faithful few, however—mostly in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Missouri—who refused to go along with the false teachings of the Adventists and who “restored certain truths that had fallen into neglect in the previous century,” Mr. Armstrong continued. “They moved their headquarters to Marion, Iowa, and then to Stanberry, Missouri.”
Of this time period in Sardis, the Ambassador College course states: “The printing plant and the magazine formerly published in the name of the Church of God were taken over by the Adventists. But a group of faithful in 1861 began the publication of a new monthly paper called The Remnant of Israel, later changed to the Sabbath Advocate, and finally the Bible Advocate” (Lesson 53).
For the next 70 years, after the departure of the Adventists, the efforts of the Church of God did not bear much fruit. Although the people retained the knowledge of the Sabbath and Ten Commandments, they lost God’s form of government completely. The Church was organized into a democratic-like general conference where votes were counted. A great deal of God’s precious truth was lost.
Through the remainder of the 19th century, their numbers slowly increased. A missionary work was done in Mexico, Chile, Argentina and the Philippines. Descendants of these churches can still be found in Latin America today. A few strong family groups in America provided a certain weak continuity for the Church. These families were located mainly in Missouri, Oklahoma and Oregon.
“And so it was that some time in the 19th century, a small congregation of the true Church of God was established in the peaceful Willamette Valley in Oregon,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “They were farmers, without formal education. They lacked trained ministers to teach and guide them. But they had the name, Church of God, and they faithfully kept the Sabbath day.
“God’s Church had come a long way across the turbulent centuries since the day of Pentecost.
“It was weak, and lacked influence. Years of persecution and compromise had taken their toll. Much truth had been lost. But they had stayed the course.
“In the Willamette Valley, they waited. It was nearly time for the baton to change again—into the hands of those God would call to do His end-time Work” (Mystery of the Ages).
Realize the tragic mistakes of this era. The people forgot from whom they received the truth. They failed to remember the history of the men and women who willingly died to preserve the truth. When persecution struck, many failed to hold fast! “Much was lacking in the doctrine and practice [Sardis] received from the latter end of the Thyatira era. Proper organization and government in the Church were in great need of strengthening. And they desperately needed a school for the training of a qualified ministry,” the correspondence course says (Lesson 53). They desperately needed a school—a college—for the Work to grow!
In addition to these problems, as we will see, the Sardis era also committed a serious sin in that when shown their errors, its leaders failed to repent.
From the decline of Ephesus through Sardis, most of the incredible truth revealed to the Church by Jesus Christ had become lost. By the 1930s, the Church had become ineffective in preaching the true gospel. But Christ was preparing one individual to restore the gospel and then take it into all the world.
Chapter 9: Philadelphia’s Open Door
Although Sardis proved to be dead spiritually, God the Father and Christ planned to rejuvenate and fully refresh the Work. John records, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (Revelation 3:7-8). Jesus promised the Philadelphia era of God’s Church an open door to do the Work.
After a.d. 70, the Church was widely scattered. Harried by intense persecution for over 18 centuries, the Church was no longer the well-organized, compacted body it had been at its inception. From the close of the first century until modern times, the Church could not reach the world with the gospel—“they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). But during the Philadelphia era, Christ changed that.
Christ’s plan to renew His Work began with one man: Herbert W. Armstrong. The Sardis era had fallen into deadly decline, but Christ fulfilled His promise to never let the Church be snuffed out. Mr. Armstrong’s contact with the Sardis people of God is more than just the history of a man: It is the inspiring record of how God works through men. This knowledge is sadly lacking in most religious circles today.
All men will eventually learn that when God the Father and Christ begin a work, they operate through one man and begin in a small and humble way. Look at Bible history. When God first created human beings, He began with one man: Adam. When He began the nation of Israel, He worked through one man: Abraham. When He led the children of Israel out of Egypt, He worked through one man: Moses. These men and what God accomplished through them represent just a few examples of this important principle of God’s government.
God the Father and Christ also educate and prepare those they work through. Mr. Armstrong was educated and prepared as no other religious leader in this end time.
The Early Years
Herbert Armstrong was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 31, 1892. He was born into a prosperous, relatively peaceful world that would change very rapidly during the tumultuous 20th century.
Young Herbert grew up like most young boys of his time—carefree, and then gradually taking on jobs of greater responsibility in his early teen years. During the summer that he was 16 years old, he got his first real job away from home, waiting tables at a semi-resort hotel. The hotel owner was impressed by his work ethic. The man encouraged him to develop his talents and to work to fulfill his potential for success in life.
This man’s confidence in him sparked his ambition for the first time. Now this teenager had “the desire to climb the ladder of success—to become an important somebody,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in his autobiography. Guided by the hotel owner, he knew he would need to study, work hard and be diligent in his goal, not caving in to short-term whims and desires that would take him off track. While he had no clear goal to work toward other than success in general, that ambition and will to succeed guided his life. “This was the turning point of my life,” Mr. Armstrong later wrote.
At age 18, he discovered a book in the public library titled Choosing a Vocation. Using this book, he put himself through an intensive self-analysis. The results indicated he was best suited for a job in journalism or advertising. He went on to develop a successful career in the advertising business, guided by his uncle, Frank Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong also decided to complete a self-study of journalism and advertising rather than go to college.
Many experiences of Mr. Armstrong’s early years, his willingness to complete self-study and his career in advertising all prepared him for an important life’s work yet to come.
Mr. Armstrong did not become interested in religion by choice. “I was born of stable and upright parents with an ancestry in the Quaker faith that had emigrated from England to Pennsylvania with William Penn, a hundred years before the United States became a nation,” he wrote. “At age 18 I dropped all but the most passive interest in religion” (Good News, Nov. 20, 1978). For years, he was increasingly absorbed in his successful business life.
But by 1926, Mr. Armstrong had suffered several business reversals. In his autobiography, he referred to his Chicago business failure as a nightmare. Around this time, he moved his family from the Midwest to Oregon.
Then Mr. Armstrong’s wife of nine years, Loma, began keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Although he wasn’t interested in religion, Mr. Armstrong felt seventh-day Sabbath-keeping was “religious fanaticism.” Dreading the ridicule this would bring from business associates and friends, he tried to talk her out of it. She remained firm, however, and told him her belief was based on the Bible. He argued that the Bible taught, “Thou shalt observe Sunday”—after all, all the churches kept Sundays. She agreed that if he could show her the Bible’s command for Sunday observance, she would return to it. Believing his marriage depended on it, Mr. Armstrong took the challenge.
Around the same time, his college-educated sister-in-law derided him for not believing in the theory of evolution. She claimed he was ignorant and said that every educated person knows human life came from evolution.
With time on his hands due to business failures, Mr. Armstrong took on this dual challenge on the Sabbath and evolution. He spent most days at the Portland Public Library until closing time, then continued his studies at home long into the night. After six months of this intensive study, he finally proved the answers to these challenges in the spring of 1927.
While unsuccessfully trying to prove that Sunday observance was biblical, he came to realize that many traditional “Christian” beliefs were not based on the Bible. With this understanding came the puzzling question: If none of these churches base their beliefs on the Bible, where is the Church that Christ founded?
Mr. Armstrong later came to realize the great purpose in his business failures and his move to the Northwest. God was preparing him to take on a more important business. God used this six-month, night-and-day study to force him to prove the truth, replacing assumptions and beliefs passed down through generations.
Mr. Armstrong had to admit that his wife was right. This came on the heels of multiple business failures that crushed his ego. Finally seeing his “inadequacy” and “nothingness,” Mr. Armstrong was led by God to true repentance and an enthusiasm for Bible study. “What I once hated I now loved,” he wrote. “I found the greatest and most absorbing joy of my life in continuing to dig out those gold nuggets of truth from God’s Word” (ibid).
God revealed one truth at a time to Mr. Armstrong. The first truth was the knowledge of the Sabbath. Slowly, more truths were added. Understanding each truth took diligent Bible study, work and effort.
As we look back on this history, we can see that one of the most significant prophecies in the New Testament was being fulfilled. “And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias [Elijah] must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias [Elijah] truly shall first come, and restore all things” (Matthew 17:10-11). The subject of this chapter in Matthew is the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus prophesied that just before His Second Coming, a man in the spirit and power of Elijah would “restore all things.” Through Mr. Armstrong, Christ restored the truths lost to the Church over the centuries.
But where was the true Church? The answer to this question led Herbert Armstrong on a God-inspired adventure.
Herbert W. Armstrong and Sardis
After his conversion, Mr. Armstrong began to search for the true Church through the process of elimination. The true Church had to keep the Ten Commandments—as revealed in Revelation 12:17 (and many other scriptures). He understood that observing the seventh-day Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. All Sunday-keeping churches were immediately scratched from the list. He narrowed his search down to three church groups.
He fully reviewed and proved wrong the teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists. But there was one other church that did meet certain elements of proof. Mr. Armstrong wrote: “But of these three churches to which the search had been narrowed, only one had the right name for the true Church. This was the small, little-heard-of Church of God whose headquarters was at Stanberry, Missouri.
“Twelve times in the New Testament, I found the name of the Church which Christ established plainly stated as ‘the Church of God.’ …
“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.
“But this left me quite confused. For this was a little church, especially compared to the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran or other large churches numbering millions of members. Then I saw where Jesus called His Church the ‘little flock’ [Luke 12:32].
“But still I was not completely satisfied. I was deeply concerned. I prayed a great deal over it. For here was a church, which, compared to the large-scale activities of the Catholic and big Protestant bodies, was ineffective. I could see that it was imperfect. It wielded no great power. … Here was a little church, with scattered members probably numbering less than 2,000—mostly in rural areas. Apparently, as nearly as I could learn, it had only a very limited number of local churches, none as large as 100 members.
“As I began to come in contact with some of its leaders, they seemed to be men of little education—no college degrees—its ministry could hardly be described as an educated ministry. Their preaching had a certain fire, yet seemed totally to lack the power that attracts sizable audiences, that moves people, stirs hearts and changes lives. I could see no visible results.
“Could this be God’s one and only true Church on Earth? The very question seemed preposterous! …
“Meanwhile, what was I to do? I was not at all convinced this was the one and only true Church. Yet, if it was not, which one was? This one came closer to the Bible qualifications than any I knew. Therefore, I began to fellowship with their scattered and few members in Oregon, while at the same time refraining from acknowledging membership” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong).
Ordained to Christ’s Ministry
While in association with this tiny group of people, God began to prepare Mr. Armstrong for the ministry. Earlier in his life, he proved he had the drive, ambition and self-discipline to educate himself. Now Christ used that same attitude and ability to educate Mr. Armstrong for the ministry. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “And so it was, in this detached fellowship, that Mrs. Armstrong and I continued the first 3½ years of my ceaseless night-and-day study of the Bible—of history, especially as connected with biblical history and prophecy—and of pertinent allied subjects.
“These, too, were years of much and earnest prayer. Much of the Bible study done at home was done on my knees, combining study with prayer. Much time was spent during these years, as it had been that first six months, at the public library” (ibid).
Mr. Armstrong wrote up many of those studies into article form for his own personal benefit. At the suggestion of his wife and other Church of God ladies who knew the Armstrongs, Mr. Armstrong sent in these articles to the Bible Advocate in Stanberry, Missouri. The editor of the magazine and leader of the Church at that time was Andrew Nugget Dugger.
Mr. Armstrong had some important interactions with Mr. Dugger. One of Mr. Armstrong’s studies revealed how the Church had been mistaken on a minor point of doctrine. So he sent a 16-page manuscript to Stanberry to see if the Church would rectify the error. In his Autobiography, he tells how he got a reply from Mr. Dugger admitting Mr. Armstrong was right but explaining that the membership would not react favorably to such a change. Later, he sent a 300-page manuscript to Stanberry, showing the location of the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Mr. Dugger wrote Mr. Armstrong back about six months later, agreeing with him but yet saying he didn’t know how the truth was relevant to the Church’s commission.
God was sending a message directly to the physical leader of Sardis at the time, and he refused to be corrected!
In November 1930, Mr. Armstrong was invited to attend a business meeting of the Church of God in Oregon. The meeting soon developed into a heated discussion concerning whether the Oregon membership would remain associated with Stanberry. Members in Oregon did not like Mr. Dugger or some of the “politics” rumored to be happening in Stanberry. The Oregon membership wanted to organize its own state conference and keep God’s tithes in Oregon. Using public prayer, Mr. Armstrong was instrumental in calming the meeting down. The result of the meeting was the foundation of the Oregon Conference.
In 1931, the Oregon Conference wanted to stimulate growth in the church. They decided to conduct evangelistic campaigns using Herbert Armstrong. This required that he be ordained into the ministry. Mr. Armstrong wrote: “Being ordained and entering the ministry full time meant a complete change in my life. In former years the idea of becoming a minister was the very last thing I should have wanted to do. But by June 1931, I had been preaching a great deal for 3½ years. By this time my whole heart was in it. …
“I shall never forget that moment of my ordination.
“The meeting was being held outdoors. I do not remember where—except it was in the general rural area of Jefferson. … But I do remember the ordination itself. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences like being married and being baptized. Only this seemed to me to be the most momentous event of my entire life.
“All the brethren—as many as could get their hands through to my head—laid their hands on me—on my head, my shoulders, my chest and my back [like Acts 13:1-3].
“I am sure it was the weight of the experience, from a spiritual and emotional standpoint, rather than the physical weight of hands and arms—but it seemed I was entirely weighted down with the heaviest load I had ever stood up under.
“To me this was symbolic of the tremendous responsibility that now came down on my head and shoulders” (ibid).
His experience should enlighten and inspire every single one of us! Please pay close attention to his words.
Mr. Armstrong conducted many evangelistic campaigns, several over multiple nights for weeks at a time. All of the energy and drive he once devoted to the advertising business was now poured into the Work of God. Almost immediately the Oregon membership began to experience growth. Fruit was being produced.
Eventually, however, there was a separation between Sardis and Philadelphia. Once God ordained Mr. Armstrong, the efforts of the Stanberry work (and that later reorganized in Salem, West Virginia) stopped bearing fruit. The Autobiography details how, whenever a “Sardis” minister went with Mr. Armstrong on an evangelistic campaign, there were no positive results. But when Mr. Armstrong went by himself, there were conversions!
Notice: “[S]till in my search for the one true Church, still questioning whether this could be that church, still not having found it elsewhere, I asked Mrs. Runcorn (whom Mrs. Armstrong and I looked upon as our ‘spiritual mother’) if she could point out a single real bona fide convert, brought in from the outside, resulting from the ministry of any of the preachers affiliated with ‘Stanberry.’ She thought seriously for quite a while. Then she slowly shook her head. She knew of none. I asked several others who had been in the church for years. Their answers were the same” (ibid). How shameful!
They had rejected truth as had been revealed by God through Mr. Armstrong. Even in the case of the summer of 1927, when a “man of God” anointed Loma Armstrong of multiple health afflictions, this man’s prayers ceased to be answered just a couple of weeks after he rejected truth Mr. Armstrong had shown him about when the resurrection of Jesus occurred. He stopped bearing fruit!
Then, later in his ministry (around May or June 1936), Mr. Armstrong borrowed a large 400-capacity tent from the Sardis brethren. Just as his campaigns began producing results, the Church members wanted it back. They gave him a 50-seater tent as a replacement. However, his campaigns overflowed in that smaller tent, while their 400-seater was filled with only two to four people each night! “This was just another of the many experiences trying to cooperate with these people,” Mr. Armstrong recalled (ibid).
In a November 6, 1978, Good News article, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “When one of their ministers held a small ‘evangelistic effort’ it was always fruitless. … But whenever I preached alone, there were conversions. I did not realize then, as I do now, that it is God who ‘adds to the Church.’ God was adding wherever I went.
“Then I discovered that they are described by Christ Himself in Revelation 3:1-6. They had been, a couple of generations or more before my time, a Church of more vitality and larger membership. But they had dwindled to the state of Revelation 3:1—still having the name of the true Church but spiritually dead. Apparently a generation or two before my time, they had not been so spiritually dead.”
The Greek word for “dead” in Revelation 3:1 is nekros. Thayer’s defines this word physically as “one that has breathed his last.” Defining this word spiritually, Thayer’s states, “destitute of a life that recognizes and is devoted to God, because given up to trespasses and sins; inactive as respects doing right.”
What caused this spiritual failure during the Sardis era?
The Bible discusses how one can be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). We can be dead while we live—if we live in the wrong kind of pleasure (1 Timothy 5:6). Ephesians 5:14 equates being spiritually dead with being spiritually asleep. No wonder Christ told Sardis to “Be watchful”—or as some translations render it, “Wake up!” (Revelation 3:2).
Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography gives his firsthand account of this era: “[H]ere was the church which appeared to have more truth, and less error, than any other. It did ‘profess’ the commandments of God and have ‘the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ It did have the true name of the Church Christ built. Its members did love what truth they had and sacrificed for it! In spite of the fact this church did not appear to be dynamically alive spiritually—in spite of its little or no accomplishment—still it came closer to the biblical characteristics of Christ’s true Church than any I knew!” (emphasis mine).
In one of his Bible Advocate articles, Mr. Armstrong wrote how the people of God at that time were in a coma! “Folks, let’s come to life! Let’s awake from this state of coma. Let’s tear away from the inertia that holds us” (Oct. 16, 1928). He said they weren’t having the impact on the world they should be having.
Later, in the last evangelistic campaign he held in conjunction with “Sardis” ministers—held in Cabin City, where they tried to discredit and seduce people away from Mr. Armstrong—he stated this: “All of us at Eugene church, and half the members at Jefferson, severed all connection and effort at cooperation with those who had proved themselves willing to serve Satan and their own personal greed and to injure the very Work of God! I am going to end all comment about that group here, with the epitaph that—like a dead tree—they have since split and re-split into so many little tiny groups, all hating one another, that no one seems to know where all of them are.”
In his 1978 Good News article regarding this period in Church history, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “But now, I knew that what God had led me into was, truly, God’s Work! It had vitality. It was bearing rich fruit. And after finding the identification in Revelation 3:1-6 and verses 7‑11, I finally came to realize where God’s true Church was! These people at Stanberry and Salem [West Virginia], originally, had been truly the Church of God—of the Sardis era. But their era was over, and by the fruits, looking at them, I came to realize God was raising up the Philadelphia era of His Church.
“And as we grew, God was showing me His Bible form of Church organization” (op cit).
For a time, Mr. Armstrong continued to cooperate with the Sardis members. However, certain ministers became jealous of the fruits of his ministry. Some said he did not properly baptize new converts because he did not require that the doctrine concerning unclean meats be taught prior to baptism. Studying Acts 2, Mr. Armstrong knew the Bible required no such thing.
At a special meeting of the Oregon Conference, he was brought before the people and charged with wrongdoing. Two sermons, morning and afternoon, were given by two ministers, outlining his wrongs. Mr. Armstrong asked permission to defend himself. At first, the accusing ministers protested. But Mr. Armstrong read a prepared statement that only took 15 minutes. Over half of the members in attendance supported Mr. Armstrong.
An evening evangelistic meeting required Mr. Armstrong to leave what he called “the all-day wrangle.” He asked that no resolution be made until another meeting could be called. All agreed. But as soon as Mr. Armstrong left the meeting, a resolution was passed requiring Mr. Armstrong to teach about unclean meats prior to baptism or resign from the conference. Mr. Armstrong refused to follow the resolution. He also did not resign from the conference, though he did refuse to accept the $3-a-week salary supplied by the conference. Just after this event, the Philadelphia work burst forward.
World Tomorrow Broadcast
Huge doors began opening to the tiny membership that accepted what God revealed through Mr. Armstrong. “In September —very soon after rejecting a salary and being controlled and muzzled by men, the living Christ began opening doors for the mass-proclaiming of His gospel,” he wrote in his Autobiography. “It was then that someone brought to my attention the fact that the local radio station at Eugene, kore, then the very smallest minimum-power of 100 watts, had a morning devotional program scheduled, but that they were having difficulty getting local ministers to conduct the program. It was free time, carried by the station as a public service sustaining program of 15 minutes, 7:45 to 8 a.m.
“Immediately I went to the radio station. A woman secretary told me she felt sure they would be glad to have me take the program for a week. I was to call back later for the exact date.
“On my second call I was assigned the week of October 9.
“October 9 was surely a great big day in my life—the day of my very first experience before a microphone, on the air!
“I took this opportunity very seriously. It was an opportunity to speak to several hundred people at once! I had never spoken to that many before.
“I spent the preceding week preparing rather extensive notes and script. I might never again have such an opportunity, so I decided to strike directly at the very heart of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Since the Kingdom of God is based on the promises made to Abraham, I began, on Monday morning’s program, with the promises made to Abraham ….
“It must have been about Thursday morning that the announcer told me the station owner, Mr. Frank Hill, wanted to see me in his office later in the morning.
“He had received several letters and telephone calls from listeners, requesting copies of my talks. I had offered no literature of any kind. I had invited no mail response.
“‘This is rather surprising,’ said Mr. Hill. ‘We never had any response of any kind, before, from this morning devotional program. They told me you had not invited any. Yet it has been coming. I listened in on you this morning to see what was causing it. You have an excellent radio voice, and a way of delivering your message that arouses interest and holds an audience.’
“‘Now, Mr. Armstrong,’ he continued, ‘I want to suggest that you work out a regular Sunday morning church service, condensed into a half hour. I’d like to put that on as a regular sustaining program—free time—but I can’t do that without offering equal time to every church in town. However, I will sell you the time at less than bare cost of operation, $2.50 per half hour.’
“And that suggestion from Mr. Frank Hill is what put the idea of the World Tomorrow program in my mind! …
“God had opened the door of mass evangelism! I knew He wanted us to walk through that door. I knew He would somehow supply that $2.50 every week. I knew also that we had to do our part, not lie down, do nothing, and expect God to do it without any effort from us.”
Mr. Armstrong scheduled the new half-hour program to begin in January 1934. But he also realized that literature would be necessary to support the new radio program. A new magazine, nearly seven years in the planning stage, now needed to be published.
The Plain Truth
Mr. Armstrong realized that the radio program represented an incredible opportunity to preach and disseminate the truth of God. He developed a three-point program to do the Work. In addition to the new radio program, he planned to continue the personal public meetings he had been conducting for over five years. But he also planned to publish the Plain Truth. In time, the Plain Truth would prove to be unique in the magazine and publishing world.
His excitement and enthusiasm about this magazine is vividly apparent in the Autobiography. He wrote: “Not only did I set out with a will to produce the radio program, but I realized there must be follow-up (and I do not mean a money-soliciting follow-up) if this new effort were to be resultful.
“Immediately the idea came of realizing, at last, the dream I had cherished since 1927—the publication of a magazine, to be called the Plain Truth. Back in 1927 I had made up an entire ‘dummy’ of this proposed magazine. I had even written articles for it. I even had a professional letter artist design a front cover idea in 1927—and I had tried designing one myself. But we had never had the ‘wherewithal’ to start publishing a magazine.
“This ambition to publish the Plain Truth was the natural outgrowth of earlier business experience. Much of my 20 years of advertising experience had been spent in the class magazine field.
“Now, at last, I realized that this magazine was a ‘must’ as a follow-up for the radio broadcast. Yet we were no more able, financially, than we had been in 1927.
“Necessity is the mother of invention. If we could not afford to publish a high-quality, professional-appearing magazine, I would simply convert the mimeographed Bulletin I had been issuing for our scattered Church brethren in the Willamette Valley into the Plain Truth.
“My idea for this magazine, from the start, had been to publish a magazine, not for Church members, but for the general public—the unconverted and unchurched—an evangelistic-type publication to bring to the world God’s truth—making it plain!
“So now, even if it had to start with about 250 copies done by hand on a mimeograph, I would start it! Like the grain of mustard seed, it started, very possibly, the smallest of magazines. But it has grown into a professional-appearing 32-page magazine of over 8 million circulation.”
The Plain Truth could not have had a humbler beginning. But it was God’s magazine. It was destined to grow. So was the World Tomorrow broadcast. It went on radio the first Sunday in 1934 and aired every week, without missing a single week until some years after Mr. Armstrong’s death. The World Tomorrow television program was added later in 1955. Both the broadcast and the Plain Truth were instrumental in changing multiple thousands of lives.
But the Work Mr. Armstrong was called to do did not stop with radio and a magazine. The Church of God was raised up and strengthened to support Mr. Armstrong in preaching the gospel.
Worldwide Church of God
The first radio programs produced good fruit. The original broadcast was more like a church service. In that sense, originally, the program only attracted a “churchgoing”-type audience.
Growth in membership warranted that the organization Mr. Armstrong was overseeing be incorporated—as the Radio Church of God. Over the years, the program was changed to target more of the non-churchgoing public. But the Radio Church of God still grew. Eventually, as the gospel message went around the world, the name Radio Church of God was changed to Worldwide Church of God (wcg).
Mr. Armstrong came to recognize the importance of the Church in doing the Work. He wrote, “It was in August 1933 that the present Worldwide Church of God was formed in Eugene, Oregon. It resulted from an evangelistic campaign of six days a week for six weeks, which I held just outside of Eugene. God had called me as pastor—a fact never questioned. As proved ‘by the fruits’ of the past 45 years, God had committed to me the great commission—to take Christ’s gospel message of the Kingdom of God to all the world.
“But though God had called and chosen me as His apostle, I was nevertheless human, and, as I said above, I did not learn all of God’s truth at once. I had, before this, come to understand the basic ‘roots and trunk of the tree’ of truth, but God has continued, through the years, to reveal more of His truth, even up to the present. …
“As to Church organization and government, I appointed, in Eugene, Oregon, under me, an elder and two deacons; this was strictly according to God’s biblical form.
“The Work of God, which the Church had been added to back up and assist, was started by myself, with only my wife as full-time assistant. I started the radio broadcasting program in January 1934, and the Plain Truth in February 1934. The Good News, as the organ for our members, had started earlier in 1933.
“The Work grew. God continued to add to His Church such as He called to back up the great commission, and to develop the godly, holy and righteous character to qualify them to be made kings and priests under Christ, after His return to Earth as King of kings at the beginning of the millennial rule.
“For 35 years the Work of God grew steadily at the rate of approximately 30 percent a year. I do not know of any organization, secular or of God, that has shown so remarkable growth, starting from nothing financially (though we started with something greater—faith in the living Christ, Head of the Church and the Work). This Work was built literally on faith. The living Christ blessed it richly, even though there was carnal opposition and persecution from the beginning” (Good News, June 5, 1978).
By the time of his death on January 16, 1986, the Worldwide Church of God had grown from 19 to some 140,000 members. Though still small by the world’s standards, that number reflects the largest number of Church members ever to function simultaneously together, and be centrally organized, in the history of the true Church.
Mr. Armstrong explained, “After calling, giving His apostle the initial teaching, having him ordained, God added 19 members that started His Church of this Philadelphia era. Then, as one ‘sent forth’ with the gospel message, Christ had opened before His apostle the means of mass communication of the printed word, radio and later television.
“With such vast mass communication facilities, one apostle could reach many times more people with the gospel message than the original 12, plus the Apostle Paul and others sent to Gentile nations. I soon saw the need, as God’s Word sets forth for the Church, of evangelists, pastors, other elders and teachers—as well as people trained in administrative responsibilities.
“So God raised up Ambassador College to provide training for the supportive functions behind the apostle, in the great commission. …
“The operation of the great commission, especially in this 20th century, requires, as the New Testament clearly states, organization.
“So God set His government in His Church. And God’s government is authority from the top down. God the Father is in supreme authority over all. Next in authority under Him is Jesus Christ, living Head of the Church. On the human and earthly level, next in authority under Christ is His chosen apostle. God organized ancient Israel, under Moses ….
“God’s Church is not a worldly organization—it is a spiritual organism, called out of this world and its ways by Christ. Yet it is well organized—must be to function. The Church consists of the begotten children of God—the divine Family to be!” (Good News, Dec. 4, 1978).
God used Mr. Armstrong not only to raise up the Church, but also to explain the purpose of the Church. Herbert Armstrong also fully understood and explained why the Church came to such heights in this end time. The government of God gave the Church its strength and allowed the Church to blossom in its collective talents, capability and power.
Ambassador for World Peace
The scriptures describing the Philadelphia era in Revelation 3:7-13 are some of the most positive in the Bible. It is clear that God the Father and Jesus Christ were pleased with this era. Jesus Christ said, “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (verse 8). Christ provided an open door for this era to work. The “open door” spoken of by Christ was that of mass evangelism made possible by radio, printing and television. Mr. Armstrong and the Work under him fully utilized these media to promulgate the true gospel of Jesus Christ—the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Mr. Armstrong walked through the doors Christ opened to him. As prophesied in Matthew 24:14, he successfully carried the gospel of the Kingdom to all the world.
Herbert W. Armstrong warned continually about the coming of the Holy Roman Empire, led by Germany and guided by the Catholic Church. He lived through World War ii and the sixth of seven prophesied resurrections of that empire. Then he warned that the Holy Roman Empire would start World War iii.
Mr. Armstrong always marveled at the unusual favor he received from world leaders. Here is what he wrote to the ministry on February 22, 1974: “The living God has moved these past four years to give me, as your fellow minister whom you call God’s apostle, and as God’s chosen servant for getting His true gospel into all the world, for a witness to all nations just before the end of this age, almost unbelievable prestige, favor and stature in the eyes of many kings, emperors, presidents, prime ministers and other high leaders of many nations. I am now, by God’s grace, received in many world capitals as an ambassador for world peace. I can assure, with authority and confidence, world leaders and heads of state that world peace not only is possible, but is definitely coming in our time. And this in spite of the fact that the efforts of world leaders for 6,000 years have brought no peace but repeated wars.”
While preaching the gospel, Mr. Armstrong became personal friends with many of the world leaders he visited. He met Menachem Begin, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Prince Charles of Britain, Indira Gandhi, King Hussein of Jordan, Leopold iii of Belgium, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Margaret Thatcher, to name a few. Why would such powerful world leaders welcome a religious leader of a little church, let alone one from outside mainstream religion, for personal audiences? The only explanation is that Christ opened those doors.
In addition, as Christ states in Revelation 3:8, Mr. Armstrong and the Church kept Christ’s word and did not deny His name. This is great praise. The Church that Christ established through him kept, obeyed and taught the message and doctrines that Christ taught.
But keeping Christ’s word did bring on a certain amount of persecution. After all, his teaching the truth through mass evangelism disproved the teaching of the majority of churches and other evangelists. Jesus Christ had warned the Church, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:19-21). Keeping Christ’s word was a difficult task from the day it was given. The same has been true in this end time. Naturally, there were those outside the Church who wanted to discredit Mr. Armstrong, the Church and the Work.
Nevertheless, Mr. Armstrong, the Church and the Work endured all persecution from without, never denying God’s name. While Mr. Armstrong led the Church, he never compromised. Jesus Christ praised the Philadelphia era for this.
By Their Fruits
Here is how Mr. Armstrong summarized the Philadelphia era in Mystery of the Ages: “This era of the Church was to produce fruit. To this era—or to its human leader—God had set before it an open door. It is recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:12 and also Acts 14:27 how Christ opened the door for Paul to go into other countries to preach the gospel. This Church and/or its leader had but little strength. Neither were of great and powerful stature in Satan’s world, but those of this era were faithful to the Word of God. Though much of the original gospel truth, imparted to the original apostles by Jesus in person, had been lost, it was restored through the Bible to this era of God’s Church who were faithful in keeping it.
“It is revealed in Malachi 3:1-5 and 4:5-6 that God would raise up one in the power and spirit of Elijah, shortly prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew 17:11 Jesus said, even after John the Baptist had completed his mission, that this prophesied Elijah ‘truly shall first come, and restore all things.’ Although it is plainly revealed that John the Baptist had come in the power and spirit of Elijah, he did not restore anything. The human leader to be raised up somewhat shortly prior to Christ’s Second Coming was to prepare the way—prepare the Church—for Christ’s coming, and restore the truth that had been lost through the preceding eras of the Church. Also a door was to be opened for this leader and/or the Philadelphia era of the Church to fulfill Matthew 24:14: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.’
“It was to be at a time when, for the first time in the history of mankind, the weapons of mass destruction were produced that could erase all humanity from the Earth (Matthew 24:21‑22). This also was to occur just before the Second Coming of Christ (verses 29-30).
“These prophecies have now definitely been fulfilled. The true gospel has been restored and has now gone in power into every nation on the face of the Earth.
“The Church has taken on a new Spirit-empowered life.”
Mr. Armstrong began his Autobiography by writing, “From beginnings humble and small without parallel, to the magnitude of today’s enterprises and worldwide impact is the story of growth unbelievable! It is the incredible story of something never done before—never done this way—a seemingly impossible achievement utterly unique in the world!”
He witnessed the world pass through incredible changes. In less than 100 years, he watched advances in education and science catapult human society from the horse-and-buggy age into the space age. In conjunction with the advances in education and science, he watched as the world plunged into appalling evils. He witnessed the immense devastation caused by two world wars. He saw the atomic age provide men with grotesque weapons that can destroy all life on this planet.
Herbert Armstrong recognized that world wars caused the foundation of human society to begin to crumble. Christianity degenerated into a ritual. Intellectuals claimed God was dead. The theory of evolution replaced God in higher education. Society as a whole began to reject the foundation of the family. He saw firsthand the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution. In the United States, he watched racial tension produce devastating race riots.
He was “the voice” speaking out amid all this confusion. He always sought to give God’s perspective to the people of the world. After receiving his call into the ministry, he faithfully discharged his duties to God, the Church and the people of this world. God used him to have a major impact on many world leaders.
But remarkably, even amid all that unparalleled spiritual success, there was a mysterious lawlessness building inside that Church era. It was an ominous sign of things to come.
Chapter 10: Laodicea’s Shame
The Church and the Work, including Ambassador College, grew at an unprecedented rate until 1969. Then serious trouble began. Not everyone in the Church was loyal to the doctrine restored to the Church. During the 1970s, rebellions against Mr. Armstrong and the truth were launched—one in 1974, another in 1979.
These rebellions were prophesied to happen. Jesus Christ warned the Philadelphia era, “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Revelation 3:9). These are Christ’s own words, printed in red letters.
What is this synagogue of Satan? In the past, many believed it referred to worldly churches counterfeiting themselves as the one true Church. But the truth is, this verse is revelation concerning the Laodicean rebellions that took place during the Philadelphia era of God’s own Church.
God inspired the word synagogue in Revelation 3:9 because the rebels He is identifying claim to be spiritual Jews, but they lie. The word synagogue implies they are God’s people—but they have been led astray by Satan. Even Lange’s Commentary says Revelation 3:9 is discussing God’s Church. The context tells us there are two synagogues, or two of God’s Churches. One is led by God and the other by Satan—but the latter was restrained by God’s government through Mr. Armstrong. For a time, they coexisted side by side within the same organization.
Claiming ‘Special Authority’
Dr. Herman Hoeh was perhaps the most brilliant, highly educated minister in the Worldwide Church of God. He probably had more knowledge than anyone other than Mr. Armstrong. He wrote and preached God’s truth in a uniquely powerful manner. But he allowed Satan to deceive him in a fundamental way. I have gone back and looked at some of his writings—including what he wrote on the crucial subject of Church history—and I see something dangerously wrong, even in his earlier years. He sat right at Mr. Armstrong’s feet—but there was something about Mr. Armstrong’s writings he didn’t like, and it got him into deep trouble spiritually.
In A True History of the True Church, which he wrote in 1959, Dr. Hoeh made a serious error. This led to other mistakes in the booklet.
You can begin to detect that mistake in the following statement regarding the first-century Church: “The Church of God which had been at Jerusalem was a ‘headquarters church,’ to whom all looked for truth! Other local churches often became confused. Controversies and disputes on certain points entered. It was to the Jerusalem church, now moved to Pella, which had God’s authority, that they all turned” (emphasis his).
In reality, God’s authority wasn’t really in the Jerusalem church. We have to get specific: It was the Apostle Peter who had the authority. Christ made that very clear. Later it was with John at Ephesus. God never said authority was vested in the Jerusalem church. We have to make sure we follow Christ’s structure of government, or we are going to get in serious trouble.
God’s authority in Pasadena was not in the headquarters church—it was in Mr. Armstrong. He was the one sent to do the Work of God. God called others to support him, and they worked under him. But if Mr. Armstrong went to Britain or Ethiopia, that is where the top level of God’s government was. The authority was in the apostle, not in the headquarters church—otherwise, you could go to Pasadena for the final word even if Mr. Armstrong was out of town. We know that is not the way it worked.
Looking again at statements like these from the Church history booklet, I can see now that Dr. Hoeh and some other men in Pasadena were beginning to exalt themselves to Mr. Armstrong’s level.
Dr. Hoeh continued: “In Acts 15:1-2, we read of a dispute that arose in the local churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. In their midst were Paul and Barnabas, both of great authority in the Church. Yet to whom did the brethren turn in order to settle the dispute? To the headquarters church—Jerusalem—where the other apostles and elders were gathered!” Again, that overlooks the office of Peter—and the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ!
“At Jerusalem the question would be considered and decided—why?“ Dr. Hoeh continued. “Because the brethren knew that Jesus had given special authority to His ministers who were at the headquarters church—Jerusalem” (emphasis his). The way he wrote that is not really true. At times I send ministers out from headquarters and give them some special authority to do a particular job. They have the authority God has given to them in their rank and office. But the way Dr. Hoeh wrote this makes it look like all the ministers have special authority if they are from headquarters. That is not what God says or the Bible says!
Anyone who follows the trajectory Dr. Hoeh was on will end up in trouble similar to what he did. It did not end well for him. We must get it right and follow our Head, Jesus Christ!
The Keys to the Kingdom
Dr. Hoeh made his error worse with this reasoning: “Jesus conferred upon His representatives [plural] the keys of the Kingdom of God and authority to guide the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” That is not true, as we will see.
He continued, “They could ‘bind,’ or forbid certain things; and they could ‘loose,’ or permit certain things.” That part is true if you understand it in the right context. But in Matthew 16:18‑19, Christ said to Peter, specifically, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this [R]ock [Christ] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou [Peter] shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou [Peter] shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Christ said that Peter was like a pebble (Greek: petros), and He, Christ, was the Rock (Greek: Petra). Nevertheless, Christ clearly gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom of God and the authority to bind and loose over all the Work around the world at that time. Only Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom and the authority to enforce them. Christ didn’t say He gave the “representatives” that authority, or the ministers and the elders and the other apostles that authority. Peter was over the whole Church; Christ made that clear.
The keys of the Kingdom are God’s knowledge (e.g. Luke 11:52; Hosea 4:6). The foundational keys are the Sabbath—which pictures 1,000 years of rest after 6,000 years of unrest—and the festivals, or God’s plan of salvation. The keys unlock God’s master plan for the salvation of mankind.
The keys are of no value unless you have the government or authority to implement the truth after God reveals it to the one man He is using—in this case, Peter. All the new revelation for God’s Church was given to Peter (Matthew 16:18-19).
For Dr. Hoeh to talk about “representatives” having the keys of the Kingdom is like Korah saying, We’re all on the same level. We’re all holy. Why do you take all this authority upon yourself, Moses? (Numbers 16:1-3).
Dr. Hoeh went on to say, “In Matthew 18:18, Jesus gives His ministers the authority to make binding decisions, based on the revelation of God [which is given only to His apostle, Ephesians 3:5] and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in order to preserve the unity of the Church in love and truth.” You can see in Matthew 18 that the other ministers do have a certain authority to make major decisions—but it is on a different level, on the local level. In the Church today, for example, local ministers occasionally have to put extremely sinful members out of the Church, and then bring them back upon their repentance, and they have the authority to make those decisions in their church areas (that is the context of Matthew 18:15-18). But even those decisions are closely monitored and supervised by the physical head of God’s Church. God’s ministers have to make some major decisions, obviously. But they don’t have the authority over the entire Church that God gave Peter! And the Bible doesn’t say they had the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Those keys were revealed only to Peter.
Why do you suppose Dr. Hoeh didn’t mention the passage in Matthew 16 about Peter? Was it because he didn’t know it was there? Or do you suppose he knew it was there and just didn’t like what it expressly stated? God is his judge. But whatever the reason, that is a dangerous mistake. We can see that by the fruits.
‘Somebody From Headquarters’
Dr. Hoeh continued, “The church at Jerusalem was kept pure by the constant admonition and correction of the elders and apostles so that it might be the example to all other churches.” Truly, headquarters should strive to set that example. But notice what Dr. Hoeh added to that statement: “Christians, like all human beings, need to learn by example. … The congregation at Jerusalem, later at Pella, recognizing this responsibility, acted in her capacity. The apostles and elders made the decisions, and they were binding on all other churches ….” Not true! Such thinking ended up destroying the church that Herbert W. Armstrong founded! That is not what Mr. Armstrong taught them.
Peter made the decisions that were binding on all the churches. That is the way God’s government works. It has always worked that way! The apostles and the elders at Jerusalem did not make the decisions for all the other churches unless they were commissioned to do so by the chief apostle, under Christ’s leadership.
Such thinking later fully emerged when the Church moved into its final era, Laodicea, after Mr. Armstrong died. Another prominent wcg minister through the years was Roderick Meredith. The fruits prove that he held many of the same wrong views that Dr. Hoeh did.
When God moved His lamp, or His presence, from the Worldwide Church of God and started the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg), Dr. Meredith rejected that because he could not accept me personally. He said, “If God is going to use someone to succeed Mr. Armstrong, He would use somebody from the headquarters church.” Where does God say that in the Bible? He doesn’t say that at all! But Dr. Meredith clung to that idea, and it is the same thinking Dr. Hoeh had.
I believe those two ministers—Dr. Meredith and Dr. Hoeh—had a major responsibility for that entire church going astray (except the pcg). Herman Hoeh was the number one scholar, and for years, Rod Meredith was over the ministers. Mr. Armstrong later realized that this actually put Dr. Meredith over the Church—that is, those who lead the ministers also direct the Church. The members picked up on that thinking. Satan had another man that he wanted to rule the Church, and succeeded in using him. Those two headquarters ministers helped condition the minds of the members for this evil takeover.
Mr. Armstrong later wrote, “But I made the mistake, unrealizing that mistake, of allowing an office of authority to be injected between me and the ministry and Church!” He was speaking about the office held by Rod Meredith. That did not work; it caused terrible problems in the 1970s. “I knew that God’s form of organization is from the top down. I did not realize that allowing an office of authority to be interjected between me and the Church was contrary to God’s form of human organization” (Good News, June 5, 1978). This is a lesson we must understand deeply. If a man gets between God’s apostle and the Church or the ministry, that cuts Christ off!
Christ rules the apostle and the evangelists and all of us! Christ rules! Christ establishes the government of God! Men do not. God does it, and that is the only way it can ever work!
Lying Spiritual Jews
Dr. Hoeh called Mr. Armstrong an apostle long before Mr. Armstrong called himself one. He called him that for so long, yet he did not submit to God’s apostle! That shows the deceitfulness of human nature. Mr. Armstrong practically reared him spiritually in the Church! What a lack of gratitude toward a man who was his spiritual father and, in many ways, much like a physical father!
Dr. Hoeh’s booklet A True History of the True Church does not teach the true history of the true Church! I see now why Mr. Armstrong rejected it: He saw the basic government problem and a few other problems that flowed from that.
Later, Dr. Hoeh wanted to continue work on his massive doctoral dissertation, Compendium of World History, and Mr. Armstrong said no. But as soon as Mr. Armstrong’s successor, Joseph Tkach, assumed control after Mr. Armstrong’s death, he told Dr. Hoeh to continue it. Even early on, those men were pretty blatant in their rebellion. But as far as I know, the Compendium was never distributed for public consumption. Maybe Christ was behind that—effectively enforcing Mr. Armstrong’s decision.
When Christ speaks of the “synagogue of Satan” in the Philadelphia era, He is talking about people who lie! They came to be led by the father of liars (John 8:44). They lie about the Bible. That will destroy any person spiritually—very quickly!
These “scholarly” men were in the synagogue of Satan, inside the largest Church of God ever. They had so much knowledge, but they were duped by the devil! They were not childlike and teachable. They lost the knowledge of God. This rebellion ended up leading 95 percent of God’s people away from God!
Satan has terrifying power to deceive. We must understand this and stay close to our loving Father for His protection.
Eternal lives are at stake. We must keep ourselves humble so God can correct His beloved sons and keep us on the right path. Then Christ will lead us to conquer the devil as He did (Revelation 3:21).
The Foundation Was Laid
Dr. Hoeh’s writings and actions clearly show that he wanted all the ministers to be on the same level. He reasoned, Yes, Mr. Armstrong has the leading position, but God is revealing truth to all of us to teach to God’s Church. But that is not what Scripture says!
Mr. Armstrong taught the correct structure of God’s government. Yet many of the leading ministers didn’t really love that government, and they didn’t love God’s apostle. They kidded themselves that everything they were doing was right, but there was something deadly wrong.
Herman Hoeh taught us a lot. He taught us from the very Word of God. But amazingly, before he died, Dr. Hoeh was talking about the “born again” doctrine the same way that born again “Christians” do today—a teaching that Mr. Armstrong (and Dr. Hoeh) had disproved decades before! Once Dr. Hoeh started caving in, Satan forced his ideas on his mind. Satan kept pushing and intimidating and pressuring until he deceived Dr. Hoeh! Once you start caving in to Satan, you start accepting dangerous ideas.
These men had so much knowledge, yet now they dare to simply parrot the doctrines of Satan the devil! What a shameful tragedy!
In studying Church history, I just follow Mr. Armstrong’s reasoning and thinking, based on the Bible. It is critical that we build on the foundation Mr. Armstrong laid for us and that we are in sync with what he said. We do build on that, and God has given us an exciting, wonderful work on top of that—but realize: This man restored all things! Let’s not treat him like he was merely a deacon in the Church! God used him to restore all things! (Matthew 17:10-11). God could use Mr. Armstrong to restore all things only because he was so submissive to the government and law of God.
Looking more closely at what God’s Church wrote about Church history in the wcg and even in the early days of the pcg, I have realized that in writing and speaking on this subject, we have not stuck closely enough to what Mr. Armstrong taught. We have at times veered away by getting too much into worldly scholars, or by just not keeping it focused and simple like Mr. Armstrong did. You just have to get back to what God said this man did: He restored all things. We cannot afford not to use what he restored. This was a magnificent accomplishment on this Earth in the end time!
We do not worship Mr. Armstrong; we worship God—the God who restored all things through him. But unlike Dr. Hoeh and Dr. Meredith, we try to give him the respect that God gave him. Mr. Armstrong made some mistakes, and he repented of them. But he was God’s end-time type of Elijah. He restored the truth. A truly spiritual person can easily recognize that. And that truth should be built upon, not torn down.
Look at what happens when you don’t honor God’s Elijah. The vile fruits are out there for everybody to see.
The Laodicean Root
In 1974, the synagogue of Satan manifested itself in a major rebellion. Misunderstandings about divorce and remarriage and other doctrines caused serious problems. Accusers also said Mr. Armstrong and others at headquarters mishandled funds. Several regional directors, ministers and deacons defected from the Church.
Then, between 1977 and 1979, there was an even larger and more extensive rebellion. After Mr. Armstrong suffered a major heart attack in August 1977, a power struggle began at headquarters in Pasadena. Some wondered who would take Mr. Armstrong’s place if he died.
About this time, ministers with liberal tendencies joined together under a Pasadena executive and began to water down Church doctrine. A “Systematic Theology Project” began without Mr. Armstrong’s knowledge. This project was designed to gradually move the Church into false doctrine. Amid this power struggle, ministers allowed Satan to inject false doctrine into the Church. This damaged the Church tremendously. Christ no longer blessed the Church and the Work. Both stopped growing.
Mr. Armstrong’s heart attack, however, proved very beneficial. It forced him to stop and take stock of the state of the Church and the Work. After recovering, Mr. Armstrong worked for the rest of his life to put and keep the Church “on track.” He courageously reestablished the Church on God’s form of organization. He vigorously attacked the Systematic Theology Project and corrected the Church doctrinally. He fired a number of ministers, including his own son, Garner Ted Armstrong. A few thousand members rallied around the fired ministers. Splinter groups formed. But the Church and the Work began to grow again.
In this robust effort to repair the damage, Mr. Armstrong gave a series of sermons and articles in which he diagnosed the cause of the problem. He confronted the Laodicean root that had entered the Church through liberal ministers vying for power.
“As long as this Church believed and spoke the same thing Christ put in it through His apostle, He blessed it, and it grew 30 percent a year for 35 years,” Mr. Armstrong explained in 1979. “But when my son Garner Ted came to take over more authority than had been delegated to him, surrounding himself with a group of liberals who led him and misled him into watering down God’s doctrines—under their false influence and a Laodicean lukewarmness and indifference, losing the love of God’s truth, found root in the Church. Christ built this Church through His chosen apostle! We did, perhaps imperfectly, but certainly in general, speak the same thing! We grew in Christ’s knowledge and truth as well as in size and scope of Work” (Worldwide News, Feb. 19, 1979).
Mr. Armstrong warned strongly against the Church becoming Laodicean. In a Worldwide News article later that year, he warned, “Today the living Christ, Head of the Church, is setting it back on God’s track, yet these dissidents would have you think Christ’s apostle and even the Church has gone sour—and, like vultures of the sky, they figuratively hover over it, waiting for this, that and the other member to die spiritually, so they may gobble up the remains! They no longer seek to build—they seek to destroy!
“Well, brethren, just where do we stand at the moment? During the past year this Church of the living God has been at least 75 percent set back on God’s track. We are getting frighteningly close to the end of this age. This Church was drifting into a Laodicean condition. Incidentally, both the Sardis and Laodicean eras of the Church were God’s Churches—not Satan’s!
“Someone spread the false rumor that I have said these others were or will be Satan’s churches. The Sardis era in the main had become spiritually dead—had rejected too much of God’s truth—was accomplishing virtually nothing in spreading the true gospel to the world (indeed had no clear conception of what that gospel is). The Laodicean Church will be characterized by spiritual lukewarmness—half of its membership (Matthew 25:1-13) will be shut out of the Kingdom of God.
“But the bad news, as it appears today, my dear brethren, is that we, undoubtedly of the Philadelphia era—my son’s ridicule notwithstanding—are in serious danger of becoming also the Laodicean era. I am personally much concerned about that. If you are not concerned, then indeed we are in mortal danger!
“Satan is pulling out all stops now to destroy this Church of God!” (June 25, 1979).
While Herbert Armstrong was alive, the Church remained on track. The root of Laodiceanism—the synagogue of Satan—was held in check, or restrained (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7). He put the Church on red alert against liberalism and lukewarmness. But events were soon to bring drastic and tragic changes into the Work.
Mr. Armstrong Dies
Herbert W. Armstrong died on January 16, 1986. This day will long be remembered by those of a true Philadelphian spirit.
Six days earlier, on January 10, he wrote to the Church: “This is my first letter to you in 1986, and could very well be my last. Now in my 94th year I am in a very physically weakened state, enduring severe pain and with virtually no strength whatsoever. …
“After much counsel and prayer over the past months God has led me in announcing a decision last week to appoint Mr. Joseph W. Tkach, director of Church Administration, to the office of deputy pastor general, to assist me while I am in a weakened state, and should God choose to take my life, to place himself totally in Christ’s hands to lead God’s Church under Christ, succeeding me as pastor general, in the difficult times ahead. …
“Remember, brethren, this is not the work of Herbert W. Armstrong, nor will it be the work of Mr. Tkach, or any man. It is the Work of the living Creator, God.”
When Mr. Armstrong died, many wondered what would become of the Church and the Work. Mr. Tkach’s initial letters to the Church members were full of encouragement. Church members believed that the Church Christ established through Mr. Armstrong would continue in the same spirit. Mr. Tkach was full of high praise for Mr. Armstrong. On January 16, he informed the Church about Mr. Armstrong’s death by letter, and wrote: “God granted Mr. Armstrong 93½ dynamic years, the last 53 of which were fully immersed in doing the Work of God, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God to a world blinded by the deception of the god of this world, Satan the devil (Revelation 12:9).
“Even in the last year of his life, with declining strength, he completed with God’s help, his most powerful and effective book Mystery of the Ages. This after half a century of articles, letters, booklets, books, sermons and broadcasts, preaching and teaching the truth of God’s Word, of His plan for mankind, of the glorious and radiant future that is the ultimate destiny of humanity. …
“Let us persevere. Let us carry on, redoubling our efforts to draw closer to God in prayer and Bible study, fasting often, and striving to overcome, as well as putting our hearts into doing the Work of God! As Mr. Armstrong so often stated, ‘When our ways please God, He will bless us.’”
On January 19, headquarters sent a transcript of Mr. Armstrong’s funeral service to all Church members. The service was conducted by Herman Hoeh. At the end of this service he stated, “It is our purpose in this January of 1986 to continue Mr. Armstrong’s work, to assure our representatives who are here from many countries around the world that we will continue in our relationship and offer our services, as well as to reach those people whom God may directly call to be trained, to be subject to Christ and to His will, to be imbued with His Spirit and to overcome themselves and to master themselves.”
Mr. Tkach gave the committal prayer at the end of the service. He said, “And now as we close another chapter in the book of Acts and begin a new one, we readily admit and acknowledge that there is no man who can fill his shoes, but, Father, we aim to follow in his footsteps. We realize that of ourselves we’re helpless in all of these matters and endeavors. And we look to you as our source of strength and our power, the one who will guide and direct as you did your late servant.”
By all appearances, the Work Mr. Armstrong had started seemed poised to carry on uninterrupted. But this would soon change dramatically.
‘A Falling Away’
The Apostle Paul prophesied a tragic event that would happen to the Church just prior to the return of Jesus Christ. He warned, “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
Many deceivers were disrupting the Church at Paul’s time, attempting to confuse the people concerning the Second Coming. The one key event Paul described indicating the return of Jesus Christ was a “falling away” from the truth. These verses applied to Paul’s lifetime, but they are recorded for us because they are more applicable today, just before Christ’s return!
This “falling away” happens within God’s Church—not any worldly church. It is no small event. It is a very visible sign—to the Church—of Christ’s imminent return. The Williams translation records the “falling away” as the “great revolt.” Weymouth translates it as the “apostasy”; the New English Bible as the “final rebellion.”
This rebellion became visible within the Worldwide Church of God quite soon after Mr. Armstrong’s death. The leaders at headquarters in Pasadena began departing from the biblical truths Mr. Armstrong had taught. They introduced changes in the Church’s position on a rapidly growing list of important issues.
Soon the growth in God’s Work stopped. As in so many Church eras before, God’s people had allowed themselves to drift away from God and to fail in fulfilling the very purpose for which God had founded the Church.
The prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 was fulfilled before our eyes! Tragically, the revolt against God’s truth and doctrine was led by the very men Mr. Armstrong entrusted to keep watch over the Church.
Paul’s warning about this “man of sin” continued: “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. … And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [or restrains] will let [restrain], until he be taken out of the way” (verses 4, 6-7).
This is a direct prophecy of a man of sin rising within God’s Church and leading the people to revolt against God and His truth. In the 1970s, while Mr. Armstrong was alive, he “restrained” the mystery of iniquity (lawlessness is a better translation) that was working behind the scenes. When he died (or was “taken out of the way”), the restraint was removed.
Mr. Armstrong spent the last years of his life writing, warning and speaking about holding fast to the truth. He warned the Church not to let the history of the ’70s repeat itself. After he died, history repeated itself on a grand scale. He had specifically warned the Church against becoming Laodicean. Sadly, that is exactly what happened.
Change After Change
The Philadelphia Church of God started on December 7, 1989, in the smallest of ways: with just 12 people. From the beginning, we sought to preserve the doctrines, practices and legacy that God had inspired Mr. Armstrong to implement.
But we had to do more than just hang on to the truth. As He always does, God had an important job for His faithful saints.
The first book we published was Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today. It provided a detailed, biblical explanation of exactly what was taking place within the wcg. In this book, God revealed the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Malachi’s Message explains several prophecies of this great falling away from God’s truth in this end time. It provided answers and hope to many thousands of God’s people who were disturbed and confused by what occurred in the Church. (We would be happy to send you a free copy of this vital book; I encourage you to study it carefully and prayerfully.)
God charged us with the responsibility of warning the members of His Church who had allowed themselves to become lukewarm. We worked diligently, using the truth in Malachi’s Message as a major tool, to alert those still in the wcg that the Church of God was now in the Laodicean era.
We watched with astonishment as the truths restored to the Church through Mr. Armstrong were systematically removed. In the early years, the wcg administration and ministers were actually shrouding these changes in deception and outright lying about their existence. Many members were asleep to them. We documented and exposed these changes, hoping to awaken as many people to them as possible.
For just one example, take the Church’s teaching about the identity of modern Israel. Herbert Armstrong considered this one of the most important doctrines established in the Church. It was also a doctrine that came under intense attack during the 1970s rebellion. When Mr. Armstrong later confronted that attack, he explained, “The most resultful booklet of all, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, was attacked, greatly deleted and later put out of circulation—the same with a number of other basic and important booklets written by Christ’s apostle.
“This group of liberals assumed the authority of setting Church doctrine. The one who primarily wrote the Systematic Theology Project later wrote, ‘My only goal in coordinating the project was to bring doctrinal consistency, stability and unity to the ministry’—that is, unity in watered-down doctrines that older loyal ministers did not and never would accept! That was not unity—it was division!” (Good News, March 1979). Mr. Armstrong often stated that the removal of The United States and Britain in Prophecy represented one of the biggest problems during the 1970s rebellion.
Unsurprisingly, after Mr. Armstrong’s death, The United States and Britain in Prophecy was again attacked. Criticisms began to emerge from headquarters.
Michael Snyder, a former spokesman for the wcg, was interviewed by Watchman Fellowship, a Protestant “cult-watching” ministry. In 1991, Mr. Snyder was quoted as saying, “The Church’s beliefs concerning the modern identity of ancient Israel is currently under review. A two-year research project is underway, which will produce either 1) a summary of historical and theological evidence confirming the belief; … 2) a major clarification of the belief; or 3) a statement in which the belief is completely withdrawn” (Watchman Expositor, “What in the Worldwide Church of God Is Going On?”, Vol. 8, No. 5-sp).
Meanwhile, in a letter dated August 10, 1992, Mr. Tkach Jr. instructed a local minister to “not preach on the topic of Israel in end-time prophecy.” He wrote, “When you stop and consider the significance of Acts 4:12, the teaching of the us&bc [The United States and Britain in Prophecy] has no significance. … In light of the New Testament, and the centrality of Christ in God’s plan of salvation, much of the relevance of our teaching on us&bc is reduced to—so what?’”
But at the same time, Pasadena was giving the impression to its members that nothing had changed. The wcg personal correspondence department produced a letter in May 1993 refuting the pcg’s reporting on the wcg’s doctrinal changes. It said this: “The Church has not announced any change in belief about the identity of the United States and Britain as being populated partly by people descended from the ancient tribes of Israel.”
Such jarring contradictions were happening all the time, regarding doctrine after doctrine, change after change. Though the wcg’s leadership continued to make public statements to members downplaying the changes they were making, the truth was becoming increasingly obvious.
Truth by truth, the biblical teachings that Mr. Armstrong had established in the wcg were systematically dismantled. That Watchman Expositor article made this statement: “Incredibly, in the midst of this doctrinal turmoil, the Worldwide Church of God now considers it to be a ‘misrepresentation’ to quote its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, as a spokesman for the beliefs of its current membership” (emphasis mine).
This was the end-time type of Elijah who restored all things (Matthew 17:10-11). The leaders were calling God’s prophet a false prophet!
At the same time, the fantastic Work that God had built through Mr. Armstrong was also being destroyed. Church membership and income declined dramatically. The television program was replaced by 30-second advertisements and then discontinued altogether. Circulation of the church’s publications plummeted.
In 1996, I came to realize that God expected the pcg to resume printing and distributing Mr. Armstrong’s most important literature, especially Mystery of the Ages. We published that book and began offering it freely to the public. Soon after, we started printing and distributing more of Mr. Armstrong’s works.
The wcg took us to court for copyright infringement. This exposed the leaders’ true intentions: Not only had they abandoned Mr. Armstrong’s teachings—they wanted to prevent anyone else from accessing them as well! Joseph Tkach Jr. wrote that he considered it his “Christian duty” to eliminate these books from circulation entirely.
Our court battle with the wcg over Mr. Armstrong’s writings lasted six long years. It put us in direct confrontation with the men who had destroyed the Church of God! We came face to face with the people who cast God’s truth to the ground.
One of Christ’s condemnations of the “synagogue of Satan” is that they lie (Revelation 3:9). Now that this “synagogue” had become the Laodicean era, it was even worse. In our court case with the wcg, those leaders told literally thousands of lies! They knew they were lying—and to them it was OK. It frustrated us to no end! (We offer abundant proof of their lies in Stephen Flurry’s full-size book Raising the Ruins. All our literature is free.)
In the deposition process, all the wcg administrators’ lies became a matter of record. Even though the wcg won the case at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, wcg officials didn’t want to go back and have another session in the courts, which would have determined how much we had to pay them. They knew we would drag that information right back out and prove where they were lying! So they decided to settle. They agreed to sell us the rights to all Mr. Armstrong’s works that we were seeking—on one condition: that we give back or destroy all the documents we had accumulated in our court case, which chronicled their blatant deceit. We refused. Eventually they decided to sell us all the copyrights anyway. You can read about the specifics of this miraculous sequence of events in my free booklet Habakkuk.
In the end, God gave us victory. The Philadelphia Church of God gained ownership of the copyrights to Mystery of the Ages and 18 other works by Mr. Armstrong. Going into the court case, we never expected to win the copyrights. Now, we offer the 19 works free of charge to everyone who asks for them!
The court case over Mystery of the Ages was a watershed event that condemned those who were fighting us as antichrists! (1 John 2:18). The Apostle John dealt with antichrists in his day in the first century: There were antichrists both outside and inside the Church. Diotrephes himself was in the Church—and he was kicking the true people of God out of the Church. The same pattern unfolded in our day, during the Laodicean era.
Verse 19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us ….” These people who went out from us were not really with us! We won the copyright battle just a few months after God revealed this antichrist truth to us. That event showed who really was of us and who were the antichrists!
A Call to Repentance
The transition from the Philadelphia era to the Laodicean era of God’s Church was a fiercely painful experience. It shattered people’s faith. It separated families. It destroyed spiritual lives.
In the context of 2,000 years of Church history, it was probably the greatest spiritual disaster that has ever happened to God’s New Testament people. The Church enjoyed its greatest global reach and highest peak of spiritual power! But then Satan the devil took over and decimated the spiritual lives of almost all the dozens of thousands of Spirit-begotten people of God. At the same time, he wiped out the powerful, positive impact on millions of people in the world that God’s Work was having.
Though the number of lives affected by this disaster was greater than probably at any time in the Church’s past, the basic elements of what happened are really a sad repetition of history. As we have seen throughout this book, God’s people have repeatedly succumbed to spiritual timidity, compromise, worldliness and other carnal thinking—and failed to carry out the job Jesus Christ has given them.
Read the powerful message Christ thunders to His Laodicean people: “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:14-16).
This is a living, vibrant message for today! Here the great Christ calls on His people to return to their past faithfulness. They have been deceived and are now led by Satan. They have fallen away from obeying God. He wants them to recognize their spiritual lukewarmness. If the Laodiceans don’t repent soon, Christ will spew them out of His mouth into the Great Tribulation, a time of unimaginable suffering that will immediately precede Christ’s Second Coming.
Sadly, the Laodiceans don’t see their critically degenerate spiritual state. Christ continues, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (verses 17-18). The Laodiceans believe they are just fine spiritually. But the great God of the universe says they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked”—spiritually.
The more you think about it, the more you realize how much the Laodiceans destroyed! The Church had 140,000 or more people attending when Mr. Armstrong died. The World Tomorrow program never missed airing for one week from the time it began in 1934 until after Mr. Armstrong’s death. Now this program no longer exists. The Plain Truth has been discontinued. God’s Work was destroyed by those Laodicean ministers. The Living and United churches—the two biggest splinters of the wcg—both reject God’s government taught through Mr. Armstrong. Both of these churches continue to suffer split after split. God is not using them to do His Work.
Look at the work of the Laodicean groups today. Prophetic events are exploding around us—and they have little or nothing to say! They are virtually silent. Meanwhile, our editorial department is producing an enormous amount of material explaining hugely important prophetic events—and yet these events are happening so fast we can barely keep up! Events are unfolding before our eyes that we have been warning about since the pcg began!
The Laodiceans are blind. They do not comprehend what is happening in the Middle East or in Europe. Circumstances are rapidly building toward the clash that will trigger World War iii! Those events are going to lead to the battle of Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ, just as God revealed to Mr. Armstrong—and the Laodiceans don’t even know it!
No wonder Christ is going to spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). He cannot use people like that! God says they are like dumb watchdogs—even as beasts surround the house, they just lie there and never bark! (Isaiah 56:9-10).
In the Laodicean era, God has given new revelation only to the Philadelphia Church of God. We have more than 50 books to prove it. Christ speaks to His Church today through new revelation.
Why are the Laodiceans so blind? It stems back to their attitude toward government. They have not kept God’s word, and they have denied His authority, unlike the Philadelphians (Revelation 3:8).
A Loyal Remnant
Read this powerful statement within Jesus Christ’s message to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:19: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
Sometimes God has to correct His people very severely. First, He sends messages of warning, or “rebuke.” If that fails, He begins to “chasten”—using increasingly stronger methods. All of this is motivated by love.
Christ warns that there is great punishment coming for all who do not repent and get back to the Philadelphia standard. Some have criticized the pcg for being too harsh in our criticism of the Laodicean groups. Do they realize how critical Christ is of these groups? He plans to punish them severely.
Christ says to all of His Laodicean people in this end time, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (verse 20). Christ was kicked out of the Laodicean Church. Yet through the pcg, He is knocking on each individual member’s door. He passionately wants to reunite His Family! Christ has always worked through men. The Philadelphia Church has been commissioned to knock for Christ and tell the Laodiceans that they are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked”! That is God’s loving rebuke. Hearing that rebuke is the Laodiceans’ only hope to escape the Tribulation. Any Laodicean who hears and responds to Christ’s knock and voice can be back in close communion with Him!
Even in this Laodicean era, a Philadelphia work still exists. It is being accomplished by the Philadelphia Church of God. Through the pcg, God has revived every major program and project that thrived under Mr. Armstrong—from the magazines and other publications, to the colleges and schools, to the cultural foundation, auditorium, concert series and other initiatives.
God prophesies that there will only be 10,000 saints by the end of this Laodicean era (Deuteronomy 33:2; Jude 14). This remnant work will be small at best. Still, God does tremendous things through us when we submit to His government! Even though the pcg is a little flock, Christ gives us an open door to deliver His message. The pcg is knocking and speaking for Christ. We have an open door to tell the Laodiceans what is happening. Christ wants them to know! He wants the whole world to know!
Besides warning the Laodiceans, God’s people are also expected to warn this entire world about the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord that are about to descend upon them. The political-religious system that Satan has raised up time after time throughout history—the system that has been the number one enemy of the true Church of God over the centuries, the Holy Roman Empire—could burst on the scene in months! Prophecy shows that it is going to plunge this world into the worst period of suffering it has ever endured! (e.g. Matthew 24:21-22; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1). And just as has been the case so many times before, Satan is going to use that great false church to come after God’s true Church one last time.
Christ warned us about all of this well in advance. We know it is going to happen.
If we heed His warning, we can turn to Him and be protected from it. Just before the Great Tribulation begins, God will deliver His very elect, those doing His Work today, to a place of safety (Revelation 12:14). Just the physical reward for doing God’s Work is enormous.
Satan has battled God’s true Church throughout its history. This persecution is prophesied to intensify to unparalleled levels. Even today, God’s people experience trials as we do God’s Work in Satan’s world. It can seem quite negative. Yet God is using those trials and tests to motivate us and to drive us forward spiritually!
Beginning of a New World
Mr. Armstrong once said, “This is not just a church. It’s the beginning of a new world!” God is building a new world, and that nation is going to spring up suddenly. People are going to marvel at this wonderful spiritual nation of God’s very elect—the Bride of Christ! (Isaiah 66:8).
God has been building a major part of the foundation of that new world for 2,000 years through His true Church. For those who understand this, it makes a vast difference in their lives and the way they conduct themselves. Anyone who truly grasps that this is the beginning of a new world will have the spiritual strength to endure quite a lot of suffering.
At the end of that period of intense tribulation, Jesus Christ will return. He will assume rulership of the whole world, establishing His headquarters in Jerusalem. The loyal remnant will rule at God’s headquarters forever. Revelation 3:12 says God will place His loyal people from the pcg at headquarters, and they will “go no more out.” We are going to be right there, from where Christ leads the world!
If you repent and become loyal to God, you are going to be a headquarters ruler forever! What a vision! What a reward!
Those who have become casual about this future will lose that reward unless they repent quickly. The Laodiceans who repent during the Great Tribulation will not be near Christ at headquarters because they are not qualifying for that position. The time to qualify is now.
Why are 95 percent of God’s people failing to qualify for that reward? Because what they have is just a church. It is not the beginning of a new world!
Most of the headquarters rulers in the World Tomorrow will come from the three Church eras that taught the gospel around the world: Ephesus, Philadelphia and Laodicea, with the last group consisting of loyal Philadelphians in the Laodicean era. Their efforts to spread God’s message around the world prepared them for headquarters positions. Why? Because they had a world vision. They had global scope! They realized we were here to help change the world and that this is the beginning of a new world! They were thinking about the whole world, not just themselves and their tiny domain. The world vision really motivated them.
The greatest commission God ever gives to men is to take His message around the world and teach people about this new world!
Rewards for the Conquerors
Christ added chapters 2 and 3 to Revelation, along with a few other words scattered in the first and last chapters, to show us how to get ready, how to serve Him and His Father, and how to follow Him and finish this Work. We only have a small percentage of God’s people here to do it right now. But Christ tells us, Just follow me, and we’ll do the Work. This is a once-in-an-eternity opportunity! There will never be another opportunity like this!
Revelation 2:7 says, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” God really has a reward for His people who conquer the devil, remain faithful to Him, and do His Work! You can see His other rewards throughout this passage: I’ll give you the hidden manna, and I’ll give you the morning star—Jesus Christ. You’ll be able to marry Him! (verses 17, 28). In Revelation 3:5, God promises, “He that overcometh … I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” He tells the Philadelphians that they have a crown waiting for them (verse 11). What stupendous rewards!
God’s people need this vision! When Paul was in jail and about to die, the people were sitting around feeling sorry for Paul and moping. But Paul wasn’t moaning and whining. He was thrilled because he had a crown laid up for him in a new world that is about to come! (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul may have been the only one who wasn’t sad. This vision was real to Paul! That was the only way he could withstand the multitude of trials that he had to go through. He was stoned to the point of death, and he came right back the next day, preaching the gospel! That is phenomenal! Something is very different about a man who does that. Nobody in his right mind would stay with a religion while experiencing what Paul had to endure unless he was moved by it and thankful to God that he could be a part of it. Something really motivated him—and what a work he did for God!
Satan knows what this vision can do to a human mind that is converted because he had to deal with Paul and others who had it.
It really is not easy to get people to see this vision. And unless God tries and tests them, they will throw it all away. God is continually asking, Can I get these people in my Family? Could I make them a part of the Bride today? This vision is full of wonder—and when people truly understand it, in just about 100 percent of the cases, 20,000 armies of demons could never stop them! They are 100 percent committed to it because they know it is worth every struggle and trial they have to experience.
For 2,000 years, God has been shaping and preparing a whole host of such passionately committed saints, using the institution of His Church. And very soon, the whole world will be able to see the wonderful fruits of all His efforts!
Christ’s Final Words
Right at the end of the book of Revelation—His Father’s book—Christ added a few more words. He wants His people to understand this red-letter message! “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). Christ is coming quickly!
He repeats that in verse 12—red-letter: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” He is coming quickly, and He will give everybody an individual reward based on his or her work. Every man and woman in the pcg will receive a reward according to his or her effort. Christ is going to put us on a throne with that reward!
Think about how important your work is today! What kind of passion do you do God’s Work with? What kind of passion do you have for this Work and for Jesus Christ, our Head and Ruler?
In verse 20, only four words are Christ’s. He says, “Surely I come quickly.” Three times in this chapter, Christ says He is coming quickly! We are getting extremely close to when our Husband, the Head of the Church of God, comes quickly!
Time is short. The Tribulation is roaring toward us. The Second Coming of Christ will happen in this generation. True Church history is about to open a new chapter with the spiritual birth of the Kingdom of God. Will you be there? You will if you have learned these vital lessons of the true history of God’s true Church!