A Message to Philadelphian Christians in the Laodicean Era
When Herbert W. Armstrong died in January 1986, the Philadelphia era of God's Church came to a close and the “time of the end” began. We can say this because of what we read in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Mr. Herbert Armstrong was called and trained by God to fulfill the commission of the Philadelphia era, which was to make a proclamation to the world of Christ's coming kingdom. This commission as described in Revelation 3 is the work of the sixth era. In Revelation 3 and verse 8, Christ states, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it . . .”
Almost the same phrase was used by the apostle Paul in II Corinthians 2:12, again in the context of Christ's gospel, which was the good news of His coming kingdom (Matt. 4:23). “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord.” Likewise, Mr. Herbert Armstrong proceeded through the open door provided for the Philadelphia era to take the gospel to the world.
The kingdom of God gospel was a message that only Herbert Armstrong proclaimed throughout the twentieth century. This was a unique work, because no other professing Christian organization believed in the Second Coming of Christ to establish on earth His millennial kingdom, which was the message Christ brought. Instead others preached a gospel about Christ Himself, rather than the good news of His coming kingdom.
With the commission of the Philadelphia era completed, the Church entered into the final Laodicean era. This is the era of the end-time.
The word “era” means “a period typified by some special feature” (The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The special feature of the Philadelphia era was, of course, the gospel going out to this society as a proclamation. However, this is not the only feature of the Philadelphia era. There are other positive features regarding the people of this era.
Turning again to Revelation 3, we find in verse 8 that they are described as keeping Christ's Word, and not denying His name. They do not deny Christ's name: everything that He is, represents, and stands for. Mr. Herbert Armstrong was used by God to introduce those God called during the Philadelphia era, to the real Jesus, whose message was orientated to His coming kingdom.
When Philadelphians are commended for keeping Christ's Word (His teaching or doctrine), the English word “keep” does not convey the full meaning of the Greek. The Greek word is tereo and it means “to watch over, give heed to, to observe, preserve, guard, and protect.” Not only are they to keep Christ's Word, but in verse 11 of Revelation, they are commanded to “hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” This crown is a crown of victory for overcoming Satan and qualifying to rule with Christ in His kingdom.
What Philadelphian Christians have to hold fast to is that which God gave them through Mr. Herbert Armstrong. That body of doctrine is what they have to guard, and protect, and hold fast to.
This is very important when we consider what happened to the Worldwide Church of God after Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's death. The new leadership took the Church back into the false Christianity of this society, an event which was prophesied in II Thessalonians 2.
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first . . . (II Thes. 2.:1-3a).
The result of this falling away, led to a scattering of those who left the Worldwide Church of God into a myriad of groups, which have mostly rejected, or lost sight of, many of the teachings God provided for them through Mr. Herbert Armstrong. Such a time is prophesied in Amos 8:11-12,
`Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord God, `That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it.'
In a famine, food is scarce and difficult to find. Here the food referred to is “the words of the Lord!” Some people think this prophecy pertains to the time of the tribulation, but this cannot be; since, for almost the entire tribulation period, the two witnesses will not only be speaking God's Words, but also backing them up with powerful signs and miracles (see Rev. 11). Returning to Amos 8:11, let us consider the word “hearing”. The Hebrew word is shama, which means, to hear and obey, to understand what is heard, to give heed to, to obey, to pay attention and to be aware of something that happened (Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible). This puts a different complexion on the famine of hearing. Now we understand it to be a famine of hearing and obeying. It also has the connotation of a lack of understanding of what is heard; or an inability of perceiving a message communicated and a lack of understanding of what has happened. This pretty well typifies the condition of most people associated with God's Church since Mr. Herbert Armstrong died. A diminishing obedience to the truth they first received and a lack of respect for the man God used to bring it to them has resulted in an inability to grasp the new understanding of end-time chronology, God has given His Church since January 1986.
The phrase “the word of the Lord” in verse 12, is a technical expression for prophetic revelation. So once again, because of disobedience, such people in the last era will lack prophetic understanding. Today, this has led to either a fear of delving into prophecy or a lack of interest in it. In verse 11, the Hebrew word translated “land” can also be translated earth and God's people are scattered all over planet earth today.
It is interesting that it is God who sends this end-time famine of hearing and obeying His Word. Why would God do this? As noted, after the death of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, the man God raised up to proclaim the Kingdom Gospel to the world, the ministry and brethren largely rejected him. Others changed the form of government established in the Church, while others refused to accept that Mr. Herbert Armstrong completed the commission he alone had been trained to accomplish.
In general there has been a move into Protestantism, where the gospel is construed as a tool to save millions in this age.
For these reasons, God has sent this spiritual famine on the majority who have failed to honor and respect His servant. These people are in a blind condition, unaware that they are now in the final era of God's Church, an era that greatly displeases Him.
Only those who have held fast to the truth and hold Mr. Herbert Armstrong in proper regard will continue to grow in Biblical understanding in the final era of the Church. The importance of holding fast to the truth and the positive result for so doing are highlighted in I John 2:24-25,
Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us eternal life.
So let me emphasize, only those who hold fast to what they initially received from Mr. Herbert Armstrong, fully recognizing that he was a man sent from God, can be considered Philadelphian Christians. This along with other important qualities, to be covered later, will ensure their physical protection during the coming tribulation.
Remember that Philadelphian Christians are warned to let no one take their victory crowns (Rev. 3:11). Since there will only be 144,000 saints in the first resurrection, those foolish enough to give up their crowns will need to be replaced.
As we look at the visible remnant of God's Church today, seventeen years after Mr. Herbert Armstrong completed his commission, we are confronted with the following reality. The visible Church in the Laodicean era, the last era, is composed of Christians, those with a Laodicean attitude, who displease Christ; those with a Philadelphian attitude, who hold fast in the final era, who please Him; and the unconverted.
In what kind of condition are Laodicean Christians today? In Revelation 3, we are told that their spiritual condition is so disgusting that Christ is at the point of vomiting them out of His mouth. What have they done to anger Him so greatly? The answer is in Revelation 3.
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 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. 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. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent (Rev. 3:15-19).
They think they are spiritually rich, yet in Christ's view they are spiritually poor, wretched, blind and naked. To be spiritually naked is tantamount to being virtually unconverted. The mind, almost devoid of God's Spirit, cannot be obedient!
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life (II Cor. 5:1-4).
The clothing of the Christian is righteousness and spirituality. Note how the bride of Christ is described in Revelation 19:7-8. “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
Christ demands unity within the body of His Church; but sadly that is not what we find today. To the contrary, the various scattered and divided groups which have cropped up over the last seventeen years, ostensibly in support of Mr. Armstrong, refuse to unite to finish the work they claim he did not complete. Initially the leaders of these groups used Mr. Herbert Armstrong's name as a way to gather support for themselves, while at the same time watering down, undermining or discarding much of what he taught for some fifty-two years.
The irony is that their “riches” or superiority over false Christianity derive from what Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong taught them. Yet they show him no respect, nor Jesus Christ who sent him, when they, both, water down doctrine and say he did not complete his commission of taking the true gospel to the world.
These are some of the reasons Laodicean Christians are scattered today and why they will have to endure the tribulation to secure their eternal lives and a position in Christ's government on earth. Along with the scattering into various groups has come the inevitable cooling of God's love between ministers and laity. This too is a fulfillment of prophecy. “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Lawlessness, or a hatred of government in God's Church is prevalent in this last era. The apostle Paul in his last letter (II Timothy) prophesied about the end time divisions in God's Church. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:” (II Tim. 3:1); “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (II Tim 4:3-4). Such fables would include, the nature of God and the Trinity.
The Bible gives other clear examples of why God allows His people to be scattered.
For example in Nehemiah 1:7-8, Nehemiah reminds the Jews of what Moses told them and all Israel. Namely that they would be scattered among the nations if they did not keep God's commandments and statutes.
We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, `If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations' (Neh. 1:7-8).
In verse 9, Nehemiah tells the Jews that the solution to their scattered condition is to repent and get back to diligently keeping the commandments. This is the way to spiritual and physical unity; and is just as true today as it was then. “But if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.” That place is Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Another reason scattering takes place is found in Luke 1:50-51. Here a contrast is made between those who fear or greatly respect God, and those who are full of pride in respect to their thoughts and ideas apart from God. They are proud of their human reasoning. Such are scattered from God, rather than united to and with Him.
Today, Laodicean Christians regard themselves as rich, yet clearly they are in a scattered condition. Through human reasoning they think they can discard much of what God brought to the Church through Mr. Herbert Armstrong, without incurring the Almighty's wrath! They are too blind to see that Christ is about to vomit them out of His mouth into the soon-coming tribulation. Yet, in reality, He is! Indeed in verse 20 of Revelation 3, Christ describes Himself standing outside the Laodicean congregation knocking at the door, asking if anyone hears His voice. “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.” This is a startling contrast with what is found in Revelation 1:12-13, where Christ is depicted as standing in the midst of the seven church eras. Laodiceans, by their attitude of self-complacency and unwarranted pride, have caused Christ to move away-from inside to outside the door. By way of contrast, Philadelphian Christians are not scattered even though living in the Laodicean era.
Under Mr. Herbert Armstrong, in the Philadelphia era, there was one organized body, not many groups in conflict with one another. There was one leader, not many and one headquarters, and that headquarters was in the United States of America. This is the Philadelphia model, as Christ inspired Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong to set it up. This is still the model for the Philadelphia Church living in the Laodicean era.
Since Philadelphian Christians recognize Herbert W. Armstrong as the man called and trained by Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, to fulfill the gospel commission; they know He finished that aspect of the work. As a consequence they also know the goal now is to prepare the bride for Christ's Second Coming.
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, `Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, `Write: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”' And he said to me, `These are the true sayings of God' (Rev. 19:6-9).
What does that preparation involve? It must involve deeper unity through adherence to the truth once delivered, an increasing outgoing, outflowing concern for one another and growth in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That knowledge includes a greater understanding of the chronological order of end-time prophetic events. After all, Christ told His disciples that once they received the Holy Spirit it would guide them into all truth (Jn. 16:13). This applies throughout the Church eras and continues in the final era of the Church. Christians must always grow in grace and truth (Jn 17:20; II Pet 3:18). What God's Church, Worldwide knows today was unknown to any other era or prophet of old, proving the point.
When Mr. Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, prophetic understanding did not and should not have come to a halt (Dan 12:9-10; Amos 3:7). The faithful Philadelphian remnant living into the last era should continue to grow in prophetic understanding. Why? Because the Bible says the Philadelphian remnant please God through their faithfulness. They have been faithful to what they initially received, recognizing where it came from and who brought it to them. Understanding prophecy and seeing prophesied events fall into place, both motivates and encourages God's faithful servants, which is especially necessary considering the times they are living in. Prophecy gives a time line of events for God's faithful to watch as the return of Christ approaches. Such servants are told to watch and be more fervent as they see that day approaching (Heb 10:25b; Matt. 24:37-51; I Cor. 16:13-14, 16; Rev. 3:3).
Faithfulness is an essential quality required by God in Christians. Those who rise to meet Christ at His return, to rule with Him, are so described in Revelation 17:14.
By being faithful to the “Armstrong legacy”, Philadelphians are counted as faithful to Christ and God the Father. We find this principle in John 12:26, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” and John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
Today, for all the reasons given above, Philadelphian and Laodicean Christians cannot unite. As Mr. Herbert Armstrong often stated, “We were not called merely for salvation, but to qualify to rule and teach under Christ in the Kingdom.” Christ selects His governmental team based on specific qualities, and no one can force their way into it. Laodicean Christians qualify to rule with Christ and secure their eternal lives by giving up their physical lives in the tribulation (Rev. 6:9, 11; 12:17). Whereas, Philadelphians are promised protection during that terrible three and one-half years (Rev. 3:10; 12:14). They must prove worthy before the tribulation (Lk. 21:36). Nevertheless, both will be unified at Christ's return. Both will have fulfilled their calling and qualified to rule with Christ in His Kingdom
Since only Philadelphian Christians are pleasing God at this time, by holding fast faithfully, Satan's goal is to create disunity in their ranks. As of now, he has the Laodiceans where he wants them and thus directs his main efforts toward Philadelphians. Only by being close to God in prayer, study, fasting and service to others can he be withstood.
Consider therefore the apostle Peter's advice in I Peter 5:6-11. Note that this is addressed specifically to the elders of the Church (v.1). Satan knows that if he can destroy them, he can more easily vanquish the brethren. This is why it is important for Philadelphians to pray for their elders and appreciate them for the work they do. This contributes to the unity God and Christ demand.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Along the same lines, pay heed to what Paul says in his letter to the Philippians.
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 1:27-2:4).
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain (Phil. 2:12-16).
Mr. Herbert Armstrong was prescient when he said that government would be a problem in the Laodicean era. This has proved to be so, with some groups operating without any ministers and others conforming to a form of democracy.
God's government is from the top down and is the form of government established in the Church by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. That is still God's form of government and if accepted and adhered to by Philadelphians will also play a major factor in obtaining and securing unity as Christ demands. Probably the greatest problem associated with government in the Church today is that only a tiny minority of people in the last era are willing to be subject to ministerial authority. Most refuse to submit when what they wish to do is in conflict with Biblically based directives from God's ministers. Such people will never, unless they repent, rule in Christ's government. A sign of a Philadelphian Christian is his willingness to submit to God's government in the Church.
Let's conclude this study with Christ's Words in John 17.
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. . . . I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. . . . I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. . . . I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me (Jn. 17:6, 9-11, 15-17, 20-21).
Philadelphians must fight for that unity as they hold fast in the lackluster Laodicean era.
Philadelphian Reactions and Traits
With the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, Philadelphian Christians know they do not need to look for a new Church. They understand that, through baptism and the laying on of hands, they are already in the True Church of God and what they need is a true minister or ministers who refuse to teach false doctrine and who honor and respect Mr. Armstrong as the man God called and trained to take the announcement of Christ's millennial kingdom on earth to the world.
Philadelphians also recognize that outside of his specific commission, Mr. Herbert Armstrong, to a degree, speculated on some aspects of end-time chronology.
Philadelphians also recognize, because of their proper respect for God's apostle, that Christ, the Head of the Church of God, will add to their understanding of end-time chronology.
Since the true gospel has gone to all the world and been rejected, Philadelphians know they are now living in the end times and that the main thrust of God's work is to prepare the bride for Christ's soon coming.
Preparation of the bride involves an active effort to produce greater unity through the power of God's spirit, to engender more of God's love in the ministry and brethren. Mr. Herbert Armstrong defined this type of love as “an outgoing, outflowing, concern for others.”
Philadelphians understand that unity is also based on correct doctrine, which includes having God's government. God's government is from the top down. It is not a democracy. Having God's form of government and being subject to it produces unity and insures we all speak the same thing (I Cor. 1:10).
Philadelphians recognize that their ministry is human and therefore subject to error. They also comprehend that Christ, as Head of the Church, will correct and redirect His ministry for the good of His people. Sometimes patience is required here, because Christ may not act immediately and may be using the situation to test everyone to see if they are prepared to wait without slipping into rebellion.
Philadelphian Christians will always go directly to anyone (ministers included) they believe has wronged them, rather than talk about the perceived problem to others (Matt. 18:15-17).
A Philadelphian, minister or lay member, must be able to admit when he is wrong.
Philadelphians grasp that Christ is so upset with Laodiceans that He will vomit them into the tribulation, so
Philadelphians do not want to be like Laodiceans anyway.
Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” Therefore, Philadelphians will be eager and enthusiastic and deeply concerned for one another, quick to forgive, and always ready to support, and encourage others.
Philadelphians living in the Laodicean era are the link between Mr. Herbert Armstrong and the two witnesses. Philadelphians understand that the great work ahead is that of the two witnesses.
Philadelphians will reject ministers who have accepted or taught false doctrine.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:22-25).
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: `For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Heb 10:35-39).
Be encouraged. Hold fast to the end. He that endures in the truth to the end shall be saved!
Other Important Articles:
A Message to Philadelphian Christians in the Laodicean Era
God's Church, Worldwide