Some people suffer from an identity crisis. They question who they are and what their purpose is. They don’t have any roots or tradition.
God’s Church often suffers from the same affliction. Members often ask: Who are we? What is our purpose? There is a way to avoid this identity crisis. God’s people should never suffer from this problem.
Christ Built His Church
Many people suffered from an identity crisis when Christ was on the Earth. “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15). People were confused about who Christ was. But not His true disciples. “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (verses 16-17). This is a profound understanding. Peter knew that Christ was the Son of the living God. Then Christ reminded Peter that His Father had revealed that magnificent truth to him. Flesh and blood, or men, do not understand this deep truth. God’s truth is revealed knowledge.
So we have the Father, Son and then the Church—God’s spiritual Family. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (verse 18). The Greek word for Peter is petros, and means a pebble or little stone. Rock should be capitalized because it refers to Christ. The Church is built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. Christ said He would build His Church and that it wouldNEVER DIE!So it has to be on this Earth somewhere, or Christ is a liar!
But you will be very confused and never find this Church, unless the Father reveals it to you. However, God only reveals it to one with a humble, childlike attitude (Matthew 11:25; 18:1-3). The Church would never be rich, affluent or overpowering in politics. It would be a “little flock” (Luke 12:32), and often persecuted.
The book of Revelation is the only book of the Bible that gives us the time sequence of when a prophecy is to occur. Revelation 2 and 3 tell us the true Church history from the time of Christ’s first coming to His Second Coming. The critics sometimes challenge this belief. But even common sense tells us this account is in the book of Revelation because it is prophecy for that 2,000-year period. There were to be seven Church eras in that 2,000 years. Most eras would turn away from God. Each time that happened, He would raise up another era, or Church.
The “Rock,” or Foundation, of all those eras is Jesus Christ. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 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” (Revelation 1:10-11). Here we see the name of each era. Christ started the New Testament Church—the Ephesus era. “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks” (verse 12). The seven eras were symbolized by golden candlesticks, or lamps—lamps is a more accurate translation. The lamp would be the only light in a very dark world. God’s people clearly see this glorious light. The world is often oblivious to it.
“And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (verses 16-20).
God placed an angel over each Church era. The angels are called stars. Jesus Christ is in the “midst” of each era (verse 13). That means each era would be doing the dynamic Work of God, in proportion to how much it relied on this powerful Christ! Christ laid the foundation for the Ephesus era. It had a strong beginning but a deplorable ending.
This era began very small. Acts 1:15 shows that right after Christ died there were only about 120 converts.
Christ led them for 31/2 years. Still, they numbered only 120. Then the world killed Jesus Christ. Most of the persecution came from false religion.
If Christ physically headed a little group today, people would kill Him again! The chief culprit would again be false religion.
The Ephesus era began to grow. There were 3,000 added during the Pentecost season (Acts 2:1, 41).
The Church grew to 5,000 by the time of Acts 4:4. This growth brought some serious persecution. Stephen’s message of truth enraged the Jews. “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 [whose name was later changed to Paul]. 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” (Acts 7:57-60). They stoned Stephen to death. His only “crime” was preaching God’s truth! Let’s remember, these were religions that talked much about love! May God protect us from such “loving” religions!
Paul had been persecuting true Christians to death. He was present at Stephen’s stoning. It must have had a deep impact on Paul. Shortly afterward, Paul was converted. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event for God to get our attention. It’s not easy to convert a killer of Christians into a zealot for God! So we see Stephen’s stoning served a purpose in several ways.
Stephen’s death only launched more persecution. True Christians were driven from their homes and towns all over Judah and Samaria. They fled for their lives!
This caused a strange phenomenon. As the Church was scattered, the message spread. “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 why 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.
The disciples were driven out of the Jewish community. As a result, they began to preach the gospel to the world! Peter was over Israel and was the chief apostle. Paul was over the Gentiles. James, the Lord’s brother, stayed in the Jerusalem area. Andrew went to northern Asia Minor—the Black Sea and the Crimea. Phillip was assigned to Scythia. Bartholomew travelled to Armenia and the Caspian Sea area. Thomas preached in the Iranian plateau, even into India. Matthew preached in Scythia and Ethiopia. Thadeaus was sent to upper Mesopotamia and Assyria. Matthias entered Macedonia and Central Europe. James Alphaeus covered Spain, Britain and Ireland. Simon the Canaanite spread the word in Africa and also in Britain.
The New Testament Church was founded on these men, with Christ being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). They preached the gospel to the known world! God’s great Work was effectively growing around the world. But then, that era committed a fatal blunder!
Lost First Love
The New Testament Church officially began June 17, a.d. 31, on the day of Pentecost. That is when the Ephesus Church, or the first era, began. In the early ’60s, the Church began to decline. Persecution intensified. Rome was burned and the Christians were blamed. God’s people were accused of trying to overthrow the government.
In the early ’60s, a Laodicean condition developed in one of Paul’s churches. (For more information write for our free booklet on Colossians.)
“And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Paul was correcting them for letting down spiritually. The Laodicean condition then was only a type of a much bigger Laodicean problem to come in the end time—or the last era (Revelation 3:14-19). “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Colossians 4:17). There is strong indication that Archippus was a Laodicean or lukewarm minister.
In the spring of a.d. 66, Paul wrote a warning and encouraging message to Timothy. “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:5-6). This was a strong warning for Timothy to stir up God’s Holy Spirit! The persecution was intensifying again.
2 Timothy was the 14th book Paul wrote. It was during his final imprisonment. Probably one of the charges against him was trying to burn Rome.
According to the historian Eusebius, this was the 14th year of Nero. The vile, corrupt Nero was ruling when Paul got his head cut off. That’s the way it often is in this evil world!
Even the evangelist Timothy had obviously been shaken by these trials. The only way he could survive was to “stir up” God’s Holy Spirit.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (verse 7). Was Timothy becoming afraid? Apparently so. Paul reminded him there was a solution to such problems. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (verse 8). Many were becoming ashamed of their prisoner-leader, Paul! This undoubtedly affected Timothy.
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia” (2 Timothy 4:10). Demas decided he didn’t likebeing in a Church where the apostle was in jail, and his life was in danger! He loved this present evil world more!
“Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (verse 11). It appears that in the one area, everybody but Luke had left Paul!
“The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (verse 13). Paul was concerned about some of his books. These were probably the books of the Bible which God later had canonized. Paul was concerned more about God’s Work than his own life!
“At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (verse 16). In one particular area, “all men” forsook Paul!
Here is the most remarkable event of all. Most of the Church members were leaving Paul. They had lost their first love (Revelation 2:4). Paul sat in jail, and was soon to die. Yet this was when he wrote 2 Timothy—which I believe to be the most inspiring book in the Bible!
How did he do it? That is the big question. “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (verse 17). God was with Jeremiah in the dungeon. And God was with Paul in jail!
God will never forsake us!
A Monumental Change
In a.d. 66 Judea revolted against Rome. Vespasian was the Roman ruler in Jerusalem. In a.d. 69 he was called home to rule Rome. Titus, his son, replaced him.
In a.d. 68 or 69 Peter was killed. God’s men of renown were being slaughtered! The historian Josephus wrote about a supernatural voice saying to God’s Church, Get out of Jerusalem. So the Church fled in a.d. 69, just before the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.
God’s Work was carried on from Pella. At this point there was a great change in God’s Work. The Ephesus Church stopped preaching the gospel to the world! The gospel would not be preached again to the world until the end time—almost 1,900 years later! “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). It is a sign of when the end discussed in Matthew 24 arrives (verse 3).
Most so-called Christians think the gospel has been preached around the world throughout the ages. Christ’s prophecy says just the opposite. If the gospel had been preached around the world after the first century and before this century, then that would have been the sign of the end of the world!
The history that occurred around a.d. 70 in Jerusalem was a type of what is to happen in the end time. The destruction of Jerusalem was a type of what happens to all Israel in the end time. Prophecy is dual.
I also believe that what happened to God’s Church in the first century is a type of what is happening to God’s Church in the last century. The first-century Church preached the gospel around the world and then went to sleep. The end-time Church of God preached the gospel around the world and also went to sleep!
There was a “son of perdition” traitor to God’s Church in the first century, and there is one in the last century (2 Thessalonians 2). Write for a free copy of Malachi’s Message for more information. This book also explains the seventh and last era of God’s Church.
In a.d. 69 God’s Ephesus era Church collectively stopped preaching the gospel to the world. But the decline began before that time. Still, there were some strong members in God’s true Church.
Apostle John Imprisoned
Around a.d. 90 Domitian was the Roman ruler. He enacted a great persecution. The Apostle John was taken prisoner. He was exiled to the island of Patmos. There he had the time to write the book of Revelation. That completed the New Testament.
When John was in prison, trouble grew in the Ephesus era Church. “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 9-10). Evil Diotrephes took over much of God’s Church. The followers of John were kicked out! This is how the Smyrna era began!
God tested His people to see if they would follow Christ when John was in exile! There were many high-powered leaders who seemed so righteous—until they had a chance to take over the rule of God’s Church! Then they suddenly forgot how to submit to God’s government.
The same tragedy has occurred in God’s end-time Church. Those who continued in the God-revealed instructions of Herbert W. Armstrong were disfellowshiped. God is always testing His people to see if they can follow their true Leader—Jesus Christ.
“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” (Revelation 2:1-5). The Ephesus era began with a blaze of glory! 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.
The Apostle John was released from prison during the a.d. 90s. He returned to Ephesus and died. Perhaps his death symbolized the death of the Ephesian era, around a.d. 100.