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!