What does the Church teach about Church Eras?


The concept of “Church Eras” is derived from the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, reporting messages of Jesus Christ to the “seven angels” of the “seven churches.” Although these churches were quite literal congregations, they have also been understood as representing seven Church eras, beginning at the time of the early apostles and leading to the time of the return of Jesus Christ.

Note, for example, the following comments from the Ryrie Study Bible: “The 7 churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3 were actual churches of John’s day. But they also represent types of churches in all generations. This idea is supported… by the statement at the close of each letter that the Spirit was speaking to the churches.” This means, that all seven letters are warnings to every church in every age.

In addition, the Nelson Study Bible states: “The seven churches were congregations in Asia Minor in John’s day. Sometimes they are interpreted as representing seven stages of church history.” This commentary continues to state that this interpretation is “unlikely, since there is disagreement among interpreters about what part of Revelation represents which period in history.” It should be obvious, however, that this uncertainty cannot negate the possibility, per se, that those seven churches represent seven stages of history, or “Church Eras.”

The Church, under the direction of Herbert W. Armstrong, has been consistent in its teaching on this subject. Mr. Armstrong wrote in the Pastor’s Report, volume 2, number 23, dated June 26, 1978: “Let me tell you what I have always said for fifty years. Fifty years ago I was writing that the message to the seven angels of the seven churches in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation has a dual interpretation and meaning. Number one, it is telling of the seven successive eras or stages of time in the 1900-2000 year existence of the church. And number two, it is telling of the spiritual condition in the church during those eras. The account starts out with the Church of Ephesus and the predominant situation in the first and second century during and right after the days of the original Apostles.

“Laodicea had what will be the prevailing condition in the final church era: drowsy or asleep and lukewarm. And Christ is going to spue most of them out of His mouth.”

Later in this article, Mr. Armstrong said: “…I have said that the spiritual condition of which Laodicea is a type will dominate at the tail end, but I have also said that all of these conditions — all the way from Ephesus up to Laodicea, all seven — are present at all times in the church. But now [at the time he is writing this article] we in the Philadelphia era have the Laodicean condition… but we’re not Laodicea…”

“We also have the condition of Ephesus — we have lost our first love, and it’s time to get back to it. Every one of these conditions are in this church…”

“You know that this church (Philadelphia) is the only one of the seven that God doesn’t attribute any fault to. And yet, we are full of faults.”

Five full lessons of the 58 lesson Bible Correspondence Course were devoted to this subject of church eras. And in 1985, Mr. Armstrong published the book entitled “Mystery of the Ages.” In chapter 6, covering the “Mystery of the Church,” beginning on page 282, he begins the discussion of Revelation 2 & 3 relative to the seven church eras, and after discussing, briefly, the seven churches that existed in Asia Minor toward the end of the first century A.D., he begins showing that these seven messages to the churches were intended for a much wider audience than just the people of that day.

Mr. Armstrong then takes the next ten pages, from page 283 to the end of the chapter, discussing church history relative to the first six of the seven church eras, describing their history in some detail. In this chapter, Mr. Armstrong gives the name of the man God had put over each of these eras of the Church, and describes the weaknesses, the strengths, the accomplishments, and the failures of each era, in light of the prophecies of Revelation 2 & 3, as revealed by Jesus Christ to John, one of Christ’s apostles.

He explains that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, the name of the Church and the gospel of the Kingdom would be recognizable by those God is dealing with as these doctrines are handed down through the ages from one era to the next; beginning with the time of Christ right down to the time of the end.

He shows, in the time of the end, it is the Philadelphia era, primarily, and all who have the attitude of Philadelphia, that will be supernaturally protected during the time of the tribulation. And he shows that the Laodicean era, and all who have the attitude of Laodicea will have to suffer the wrath of Satan during that time period.

Mr. Armstrong pointed out in the Pastor’s Report noted above, on page 6, that “The Laodicean Church will be keeping the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus or they couldn’t be the Church of God. But they will be lukewarm and asleep.” It is for this reason that God will spew them out of His mouth, unless they repent!

This condition is also the condition we find in the world, today, relative to the Truth of God. That is one reason why God is going to intervene in the affairs of men. He is going to remove Satan as the ruler of this world and put Jesus Christ at the Head for one thousand years; and the Church at that time will be incorporated into and become a part of the very Government of God on the earth. It will literally become a part of the Family of God. And today, God is calling whom He will to be a part of the Family.

Interestingly, we know that those who have been called to this Way, who have been faithful, and who held fast to what was given to them until death, have been chosen by God to be in that Family. But the Scriptures in Revelation, chapters 2 & 3; particularly, Revelation 2:25 (“But hold fast what you have till I come”); Revelation 3:3 (“… you will not know what hour I will come upon you”); Revelation 3:10 (“I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world”); and Revelation 3:20 (“I stand at the door and knock.”) indicate that some members of these four eras will still be living on the earth at the time of Christ’s return. They must continue to “hold fast” till He comes. This too was taught in the Church under Mr. Armstrong’s leadership.

It is our understanding that the messages to the seven angels of the seven churches, in Revelation 2 and 3, address literal churches at the time of John; seven successive Church Eras, leading to the return of Christ; and spiritual attitudes and conditions in existence in the church at all times, and especially during those Church Eras.

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