FROM THE EDITOR IN CHIEF: BOB THIEL
Why this is important to know? What does the Bible teach? How can church history assist in understanding this?
The Book of Revelation is a prophetic book. It begins with, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants–things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1).
In chapters 2 & 3, the Book of Revelation shows a series, in an apparent overlapping succession of seven churches, each with somewhat different strengths and weaknesses (as well as attitudes that exist throughout the church era). Despite the views of certain allegorists and others, the Book of Revelation is clearly a book of prophecy (Revelation 1:3). Since several statements made to the seven churches (e.g. Revelation 1:19; 3:3; 3:10) simply cannot have been intended to be completely fulfilled by the physical churches they were addressed to in the late 1st century, scripture itself proves that many of the messages to those churches were prophetic, with some of those prophecies intended for those in the 21st century.
The Bible clearly shows that Jesus walks in the midst of these seven churches (Revelation 1:9-13), showing that somehow they represent His church for the church age. The fact that there are seven churches addressed and the number seven suggests completion, combined with the fact that the churches are listed in the same order as they would receive mail in the Roman times, is also consistent with the view that these churches were to represent the true church throughout the ages in a type of sequential order of predominance.
The letters to the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 need to be understood in a prophetic context, and they discuss the Church in Philadelphia as well as others.
What Did Jesus Tell the Church at Philadelphia?
Notice what Jesus told the Church in Philadelphia:
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”: 8 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie — indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘
Jesus says here that He “has the key of David,” and He talks about doors. References to the “key of David” and doors are used together in another Bible passage:
20 ‘Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;
21 I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.
22 The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open.
23 I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house. (Isaiah 22:20-23)
This, amongst other things, suggests that the “key of David” has something to do with governance and something to do with a throne. How could that relate to the Philadelphia era of the Church in the 21st century?
When the Philadelphia Era Began
A review of literature on the “Sardis” era of the Church (Revelation 3:1-6) demonstrates that there never was truly effective governance over the body (see also, True History of the True Church by A.N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd). In the Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong (all quotes from the 1973 edition), the late Herbert W. Armstrong wrote:
Ministers were to be employed, and under orders from lay members. This is essentially the concept of what we call democracy: government from the bottom up. Those being governed dictate who shall be their rulers and how their rulers shall rule them. The most perplexing subject in all the Bible to me was this matter of church government. I never did come to clear understanding of the BIBLE teaching on the subject until after Ambassador College was formed (pp. 411-412).
Note that when the Church of God Seventh Day (CG7) split over governance in 1933, Herbert Armstrong did not go with the side that had the most votes, but, at a distance cooperated with the side that lost the vote (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 558, 561). He also wrote:
I continued to work with and fellowship with West Coast members of the Sardis era until 1942, when the rapidly growing work of the fledgling Philadelphia era required my full time. The present era was officially begun in October, 1933. (Worldwide News, June 24, 1985)
Herbert Armstrong left CG7 primarily because of doctrine as well as the fact that to him CG7 did not seem to feel that its top priority should be to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the world as a witness. His autobiography contains a letter one of CG7’s top leaders wrote that CG7 would not teach British Commonwealth and United States peoples were descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, even though that leader believed what Herbert Armstrong had written on that subject was true.
The reality is that the late CG7 president and leader A.N. Dugger had doctrinal problems. According to another former CG7 President, Robert Coulter, A.N. Dugger also had some serious personal integrity issues around this time that Herbert W. Armstrong would have known about. Here is some of what Herbert Armstrong wrote about A.N. Dugger:
He was forced to admit, in plain words, that their teaching on this point was false and in error. But, he explained, he feared that if any attempt was made to correct this false doctrine and publicly confess the truth, many of their members, especially those of older standing and heavy tithe payers, would be unable to accept it. He feared they would lose confidence in the Church if they found it had been in error on any point. He said he feared many would withdraw their financial support, and it might divide the Church. And therefore he felt the Church could do nothing but continue to teach and preach this doctrine which he admitted in writing to be false.
Naturally, this shook my confidence considerably. This church leader, if not the church itself, was looking to people as the SOURCE of belief, instead of to God! (Autobiography, pp. 315-316)
Thus, it was because of doctrinal and integrity issues that Herbert W. Armstrong left CG7 and formed a group he named the Radio Church of God to do the Philadelphian work. Interestingly the same type of issues many decades later resulted in the formation of the Continuing Church of God which needed to continue and finish that work (cf. Matthew 24:14).
Once he understood God’s form of governance Herbert Armstrong wrote:
The Church is organized under theocratic government, hierarchical in form (Mystery of the Ages, p. 246).
From the year 1931…this small remnant of the original true Church of God began to take on new life as the Philadelphia era… This era of the Church was to produce fruit… (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 289-290).
Then, he also wrote:
after 3 1/2 years of intensive study and training, Christ ordained me to preach this same Gospel of the Kingdom in all the world as a witness to all nations (Matthew 24:14). This ordination took place at, or very near, the Day of Pentecost, 1931 (Autobiography, p. 428).
Herbert Armstrong had preached before then, but “by this time my whole heart was in it” and he was able to do his first extended campaign (Autobiography, pp. 426, 430). In 1933, he refused to accept any salary from the Oregon Conference of CG7, and on October 9, 1933 he began proclaiming the gospel over radio, which he considered to be a door opened by God and “the start of the present work” (Autobiography, pp. 506, 507, 525, 529, 530).
He felt “though we did not know it then, that a new era of the Church was dawning” (Autobiography, p. 526).
He later wrote:
Jesus Christ started the Philadelphia era of God’s Church through me… August 1933. (What Is a Liberal? The Worldwide News, Feb. 19, 1979)
Herbert Armstrong found that since God promised David: “Your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16) and “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 33:17), that this had been partially fulfilled throughout history through what became the British throne.
Herbert Armstrong considered this identity to be part of the “key of David.” By 1937, because of his writings on the biblical Holy Days and the identity of the U.S. and British Commonwealth in prophecy, CG7 rejected Herbert Armstrong—so it appears that from sometime between 1933 and 1937 the Philadelphia era of the Church became completely separate from CG7 (though Herbert Armstrong still spoke to one of their congregations until 1942).
An Open Door
Although some Protestant theologians feel that the Revelation 3:8 open door has to do with the entrance to the New Jerusalem (see Nelson’s Study Bible, p. 2,170), Herbert Armstrong saw that it referred to public proclamation of the Gospel. “God had set before it [the Philadelphia era] 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 and preach the gospel” (Mystery of the Ages, p. 290). Paul used a similar analogy when he wrote:
Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ (Colossians 4:3).
Interestingly, right after Jesus declares to the Philadelphians, “I know your works,” He says: “See, I have set before you an open door” (Revelation 3:8). Thus, Jesus ties the works of the Philadelphian Church to “an open door.”
Also, a door was to be opened for the Philadelphians to fulfill Matthew 24:14: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come’ (cf. Mystery of the Ages, pp. 290-291).
What Are the Traits of a Philadelphian?
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance shows that Philadelphia means “love of brethren” or “fond of brethren.”
When Jesus used the term phileo with Simon Peter (translated as “love”), what was Peter to do to show this type of love?
Peter was to do the work:
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:17).
A trait of Philadelphians is that they love the brethren and will sacrifice to do so. While some may argue that this only means taking care of those already in the Church, this is inconsistent with Matthew 28:18-19 as well as Jesus’ words in John 10:16:
16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
Philadelphians love others, not just themselves.
As Herbert Armstrong wrote:
… the Philadelphia era…This era of the Church was to produce fruit (Mystery of the Ages, p. 290).
As Jesus taught:
35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).
Philadelphians will give their all to proclaim the Gospel.
Philadelphians have “a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). They are not part of an especially strong church (or a large church by the world’s standards). They have kept God’s word without watering it down. They have not denied Christ’s authority (which is essentially how Strong’s defines the word translated as “name”).
The loving Philadelphians accept that “Christ is head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23), and accept authority within the Church:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16).
As Herbert Armstrong wrote:
The government of the kingdom of God is of necessity government from the top down. It cannot be ‘government by the consent of those being governed’… Revelation 3:12 indicates that those of the ‘Philadelphia era’ will be pillars in the Headquarters Church… What I am showing you here is that Christ’s gospel of the kingdom actually includes all this knowledge here revealed-even the whole universe will be ruled by us, who, with God the Father and Christ, become the kingdom of God” (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 49, 347, 362).
Philadelphians were also given a warning: “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11). Herbert Armstrong wrote that he restored to the Church of God at least 18 truths that the previous era had lost (Mystery of the Ages, p. 251). Philadelphians are the ones who hold to those truths (as well as all other biblical truths)-including governance-and will be able to have a crown and to rule!
Jesus taught that Philadelphians have “kept My command to persevere” (Revelation 3:10). Holding fast to truth, while putting a priority on proclaiming the Gospel, is what sets the Philadelphian Church apart.
What About the Laodiceans?
The letter to the Laodiceans is the last one of the seven to the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation:
14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘” (Revelation 3:14-22).
Unlike the letters to the other six churches, this particular one is addressed to the plural. This seems to be is telling us that there will be more Laodicean groups than any previous era of the Church of God.
Do we not know see this in the 21st century?
Many have wondered in near disbelief why there could be so many Church of God groups, yet multiple groups were clearly prophesied to exist in the time that Laodicea would predominate.
As the last, it is the one that will be the most dominant at the time of the end.
The word “Laodicea” can be rendered “the people rule,” “judgment of the people,” or the “people decide.” Laodicea is characterized by a rejection of the faithful governance accepted by the Philadelphians and by a general lukewarm attitude towards the truth. Laodicea places emphasis on self (as opposed to finishing the work of Matthew 24:14), thus it also waters down the truth-and so is “rebuked and chastened” (Revelation 3:18).
From an outside perspective (only God truly looks at the heart) it appears that most remaining outside of the Continuing Church of God do not seem to feel that they truly need “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), while getting the gospel out as top priority, while practicing Philadelphia love, and properly understanding prophecy. Others who claim to do this, sadly, often rely more on traditions of men than the word of God for that last point (and some others). The multiple prophetic misunderstandings will cause the Laodiceans problems and they will have to go through the Great Tribulation if they live long enough.
Why Is There a Philadelphian Remnant in the 21st Century?
Because Laodicea is dominant at the end of the age, Philadelphia cannot be predominant then. However, a remnant of Philadelphia must still exist.
Notice something from the Book of Hebrews:
1 Let brotherly love continue (Hebrews 13:1, NKJV)
1 Let Philadelphia continue (Hebrews 13:1, Semi-literal translation)
Some portion of Philadelphia was to continue into the 21st century.
We also know that Philadelphians would be around in the 21st century because Jesus told those part of that church:
10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. (Revelation 3:10-11).
The Philadelphians are the only ones promised protection from the coming hour of trial known as the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord!
Just before the start of the Great Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:15-21), the remnant of the Philadelphians are “given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14). Based upon what happened to the children of Israel coming out of Egypt (Exodus 19:3-4) it would not appear that this are literally eagles’ wings, but that God would lead His people out in His manner (cf. Exodus 13:21-22; Daniel 12:1).
Regarding the Philadelphia work, Herbert Armstrong wrote:
But Christ said to His Philadelphia era Church, that because we have but little strength, He would OPEN THOSE DOORS TO US (Revelation 3:8) (Letter, Nov. 19, 1976).
Our Work in the hands of Christ is NOT YET FINISHED, and He will not allow the Work to stop until it is finished! And when will that be? … no definite date can, of course, be set. But when Daniel writes, in verse 7, “all these things shall be finished,” he refers back to the subject of this 12th chapter mentioned at the beginning–when the archangel Michael shall stand up (verse 1, as also mentioned in Revelation 12:7) and Satan shall be cast down–and the GREAT TRIBULATION (Verse 1 and Matthew 24:21-22, Mark 13:19-20, Luke 21:22) from the beginning will be 3 1/2 years…Never before have we understood these periods of 1260, 1290, and 1335 days. But it seems evident, now, a blessing is pronounced on us– GOD’S CHURCH–who wait and endure until the 1335 days–approximately 1335 days prior to Christ’s coming. But since no one can know the day or the hour of His coming, we probably shall not be able to know the exact day that this 1335 days begins. But apparently that is the time when OUR WORK SHALL END. That will be a time when the UNITED EUROPE shall appear –the revival of the medieval “Holy Roman Empire.” We shall then be warned, and readied to be taken to a place of refuge and safety from the Great Tribulation. Forty-five days later “the beast’s” armies will surround Jerusalem. Thirty days later tho Great Tribulation will probably start with a nuclear attack on London and Britain–and possibly the same day or immediately after, on United States and Canadian cities. The GREAT TRIBULATION, we shall then fully realize, is the time of “Jacob’s Trouble,” spoken of in Jeremiah 30:7. (Armstrong HW. The Time We Are In, Now. Pastor General’s Report-Vol 1, No. 15, November 20, 1979, p. 1)
Philadelphians need to keep preaching to the world until the end comes, since they will be around until the end comes.
Philadelphians must lead the final phase of the work.
How to Determine Who the Remnant Is (or Is Not)
By attempting to heed Jude’s admonition “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), the remnant of the Philadelphian Church will hold fast to the Truth that was restored in that era. The remnant of the Philadelphian Church will understand and teach that original faith, and will continue to attempt to go through whatever doors are open in order to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom as a witness. They will also proclaim the Ezekiel warning to the physical descendants of Israel.
It will keep the biblical form of authority within the Church-the same form of governance that will be used in the Kingdom of God. Remember, though: just calling oneself (or one’s church) “Philadelphian” does not guarantee that one actually is Philadelphian. Some who claim to be Philadelphian are not.
The Continuing Church of God does not claim that all its members are Philadelphian, but we do believe we are a uniquely Philadelphian remnant. Can one find a more faithful or more effective “corporate body” which retains the truth as taught by Bible and Herbert Armstrong, without adding non-biblical “revelations,” relying on traditions above the Bible, or diverting its members from making their top priority the Great Commission of proclaiming the Gospel as established by Jesus Christ?
One can expect that Philadelphians, who care about doing an effective Work, fulfilling Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20, and holding fast to the Truth, will ultimately be led by God to support the Continuing Church of God. Of course, simply attending and/or supporting the Continuing Church of God does not make one a Philadelphian; individual members must do their part, and must not allow their lives to be cluttered by the cares of this world so that they themselves become lukewarm (Laodicean).
With all the confusion and misreporting that has occurred in the last several years, we can appreciate that there are Philadelphians outside the Continuing Church of God. However, this is not an excuse for zealous Christians to become “independent.” Herbert Armstrong wrote that the first “purpose of the Church” was to proclaim:
the coming kingdom of God to the world… The ‘loner’-the ‘individual Christian’ who wants to climb up into the kingdom some other way than by Christ and His way through His Church-is not being trained in Christ’s manner of training, to rule and reign with Christ in his kingdom!… The person who says, ‘I will get my salvation alone, outside of the Church’ is totally deceived (Mystery of the Ages, p. 270).
Why Is This Important to Know?
Some say that knowledge of Church eras is unimportant, and believe that it makes no difference in how Christians live or act. Is this the correct attitude? It is not coincidental that many who de-emphasize Church eras also water down key truths restored by Herbert Armstrong—in some cases no longer even considering it their top priority to proclaim the full Gospel as a witness. This may help explain such an attitude-but does it excuse it?
Seven times (in Revelation 2 & 3) Jesus warned:
13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (e.g. Revelation 3:13).
Why would Jesus repeatedly say this if these messages were not important?
Jesus promised the Philadelphians more than just physical protection. He also said:
12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name (Revelation 3:12).
Who in God’s Church does not want to receive these promises?
Those God has called can decide whether or not to accept and teach the truths restored to the Philadelphian Church. It is up to them-but the spiritual and physical costs of not accepting and teaching the Truth appear quite high. We in the Continuing Church of God “have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed” (2 Peter 1:19, KJV; cf. Amos 3:7).
A Philadelphian holds fast to true doctrine, does not deny Christ’s authority, keeps His word, truly loves the Truth, goes through those doors that Christ opens and perseveres to the end. A Philadelphian hears “what the Spirit says to the churches.”