Chapter 3

Successive Church Eras

From the booklet Unveiled at Last: The Royal Book of Revelation
By Gerald Flurry

Most of God’s Laodicean churches now say that the seven Church eras are only history. Smyrna and Ephesus were 50 miles apart. One is in tribulation (Revelation 2:10)—one 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 (Revelation 3:7-12). It doesn’t make sense if this is only history.

One of the Laodicean groups says “the seven churches could also represent the progressive state of God’s Church through the centuries.” “Could.” But they don’t know. They should know, because Herbert Armstrong taught and proved this subject forcefully.

Here is a quote from Mystery of the Ages: “The book of Revelation records seven messages to seven churches that existed in Asia Minor toward the end of the first century a.d.

“These churches—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea—were located along one of the mail routes of the old Roman Empire.

“Riders would follow the route—carrying messages from town to town.

“The messages to the seven churches have words of both encouragement and correction, and they clearly show the dominant characteristics of each of the congregations at the time.

“But these messages were intended for a wider audience than the Christians in these small towns.

“They are a series of remarkable prophecies, by which the future of the true Church was foretold in outline form, from the day it began on Pentecost, a.d. 31, until the Second Coming of Christ.

“The history of the Church would fall into seven distinct eras—each with its own strengths and weaknesses and its own special trials and problems.

“Just as a message could pass along the mail route from Ephesus to Laodicea, so would the truth of God be passed from era to era.

“It was like a relay race—in which the baton is passed from runner to runner, each one doing his part, until the finish line is reached.

“Some time during the early decades of the second century, the baton was passed from the Ephesian era to the people that God had called to the Smyrna era of His Church.”

This progression continued down to the present.

Church Eras Are Prophetic

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1). This was revealed to “show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” That is, PROPHECY of the future.

Christ says Church eras are to show us the future. It is not just for history, as the Laodiceans say it “could” mean. Church eras are to reveal the future to us, from the time of Christ to His Second Coming. Otherwise, why is this included in the book of Revelation?

The purpose of this book is to put prophecy into a time frame. The seven seals unfold from Christ’s first coming to the Second Coming. We see the seven successive resurrections of the Holy Roman Empire. Seven different times a political beast and the great false church emerge to bring savage destruction on the world. The final beast is forming right now! We can see that because of the time frame in the book of Revelation.

The history and prophecy of the great false church is included. Then doesn’t it seem logical that God would also reveal the far more important history and prophecy of His true Church in this book?

The book of Revelation is prophetic. Church eras are discussed because they are prophetic. God puts the eras of His true Church into a time frame too.

We can only understand the book of Daniel, Matthew 24 and many other Bible prophecies because of the time sequence in the book of Revelation.

The subject of the seven churches would not be in this book of Revelation if it weren’t prophetic! This is a book of prophecy! That’s what the 22 chapters are all about.

Revelation is a book of revealing. Those who fail to understand don’t have God revealing truth to them. They are in the dark.

They talk about could be because they lack faith.

Seven Equals Completion

“The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).

The magnificent and powerful God is in the midst of the churches (verse 13). So we ought to have faith and should not deal in could be’s. We ought to know whether or not the Church eras are successive if this great and powerful God is in our midst! If we don’t, isn’t that an indication God is not in our midst? God reveals our own history and prophecy! God intends that we know! Not wallow around in the darkness of could be!

This vision also shows that Christ is only in the midst of seven churches. There were many more when John wrote this history. Why only seven? Because these seven represent the entire Church of God from the time of Christ’s first coming to His Second Coming. These churches were located in successive order on a long mail route. Each church had its own particular characteristics. It is true that all seven churches were typical of general conditions among God’s people everywhere, and at any time. However, in each era one characteristic dominates—even though all seven characteristics are extant.

The number seven means completion. So the seven churches are the seven eras from the time of Christ to the end. That is the complete picture.

This truth has been revealed to the Laodiceans. It isn’t that they couldn’t know—God revealed it to them through Mr. Armstrong. But since they have become the last Laodicean era, they try to wish away this ugly condition. As if that could be done.

Satan wants to destroy the truth about the Church eras so that he may destroy the meaning of Revelation chapters 1 through 3. Then we are blinded and can’t see the complete picture.

Modern History

Herbert Armstrong gave the information contained within The United States and Britain in Prophecy to the Sardis, or fifth, era. This revealed truth was prophesied (Revelation 3:7). The key of David reveals who modern Israel is; it discusses David, king of Israel, and shows that Christ is to rule over the world from David’s throne in the World Tomorrow.

The Sardis Church rejected this truth. That is one big reason it is “dead.” Now the Laodicean era is rejecting the same truth. If you don’t understand fully who Israel is, then you can’t understand the one third of the Bible which is prophecy. God says the Laodiceans are blind (verse 18). Rejecting The United States and Britain in Prophecy is one big reason why.

Both Sardis and Laodicea said The United States and Britain in Prophecy was in error. Both reject it. Soon everybody shall know that the God of Revelation 1:13-18 is the author of this inspiring truth!

Have we seen the “open door” of Revelation 3:8? Yes—it was the gospel preached around the world by Herbert W. Armstrong and the Philadelphia era (Matthew 24:14). The “fruits” tell us that.

Now, read for yourself what Mr. Armstrong did when confronted with an “off the track” Sardis ministry in the 1930s: “As long as I was employed by men who were over me, and who had proved to be susceptible of being influenced and swayed by false ministers, into acting contrary to God’s Word, I was not yet free to rely on God alone, and to be completely faithful to His Word! …

“I was now free! This final crucial test had proved that I would be faithful to God and His Word, even at the cost of giving up everything!

“I know of evangelists who probably are sincere in supposing they are serving God—and who would like to be free to proclaim many truths they now hold back. They reason something like this: ‘If I go farther, and preach those things, I’ll lose all my support. I’d be cut off from the ministry altogether. Then I could preach nothing. Better serve God by preaching as much of the biblical truth as possible, than to be prevented from preaching anything.’

“They are relying on the financial support of men, or of organizations of men. Anyone in that predicament is the servant of men, and not of God, whether he realizes it or not” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Volume 1).

The Laodiceans say the seven churches could be successive. Unless they repent of that sin (Romans 14:23), they are going into the Great Tribulation (Revelation 3:20). Their faith in this area is going to grow enormously in the Tribulation. Then they shall know that the eras are successive and that they are definitely Laodicean. Such a hard way to learn!

Fifty percent of them will never learn (Matthew 25:1-10).

Satan tried to destroy the precious truth about Church eras in the 1970s. This time he has succeeded in the Laodicean Church. We in the Philadelphia Church must hold fast to our revealed truth (Revelation 3:11).

Continue Reading: Chapter 4: The Mystery of God