The World Tomorrow

The True Church (4)

by Herbert W Armstrong


Now we're ready to get directly to the actual history that will answer; where did the very church go, which Jesus Christ said He would build? Men have searched history for a large, popular, growing, visible, politically-organized body, in endeavoring to compile the history of the church. Now, in preceding programs, we have been going into the matter of what is the church that Jesus Christ founded? He said, "I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18)

He did build His church, and we have seen that it is not a political organization. It is not a visible organization of a group of people you can see, meeting in a certain place, or a combination of them joined together, or anything of the sort.

The Church A Spiritual Organism (PLAY FROM 01:06)

The true Church of God is composed of those individuals, whether they are scattered or whether they're together and organized. It is merely those individuals who have, and are led by the Spirit of God, who have surrendered their way and turned to God. They are the organism, the spiritual organism, not a political organization. They are the spiritual organism in whose actual fleshly human bodies, as a collective body, the Spirit of God is working, carrying on the work of God. And developing them, growing spiritually, continually, so that they shall be born into the very Kingdom of God.

Now Jesus founded His church by sending His promised Holy Spirit, and it was on the very day of Pentecost 31 AD. It wasn't in the year that most people seem to think. The true church, the Church of God, as you read of it in I Corinthians 1:2, is not many divided, quarreling groups or denominations or sects, or anything of the sort. But it is one church, composed of many scattered members.

One church united in spirit, united in mind and attitude of heart, because its members have totally surrendered their wills to God. They have yielded to the correction and reproof of the Word of God. They study the Bible to live by every word of God, to be corrected by it, to grow in grace and in knowledge. They are overcoming. They are enduring. They are growing spiritually and they, collectively, are doing the work of God and they are the instrumentality.

They're the body of Christ, as God did His work through Jesus Christ as an individual when He was here on earth. He said, of myself, I can't do a thing. "Of myself I can do nothing" (John 5:30 paraphrased). So said Jesus. But He explained, He did a lot of things, He said, "...the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." (John 14:10)

How did the Father dwell in Him? The Father was up in heaven while He was here on earth, but it was the power of the Spirit that emanated from the Father. The Father dwelt in Him in spirit, and it was the Spirit of God in that body of Christ that did the work of His ministry for three and a half years.

Now He went to heaven, and He said, "If I go, I will send another Comforter" (John 14:16 paraphrased). And the power of the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost came and got into the collective body, the invisible spiritual organism of human beings of His church, His body. And that now became the body of Christ through whom God was working. And so the true Church is the one that is doing the very work of God.

Now all prophecy, as we've seen, prophesied that church would be persecuted. Jesus said, "If they persecuted me they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). We now, if we're in the true church, are the body of Christ. It was not the large popular political organization. It had NOTHING to do with the political affairs of this world. Jesus called it out of the world to be separate. It is a church of separation, not a church of union with the world or the world's ways.

It is a church that's persecuted by the world. It is a church that actually had to go into hiding for 1260 years in the Middle Ages. It is the church though, that God is using, that has the truth of God. Now then, history hasn't noted that church, not very much about it, because it isn't the one that the world has looked for.

Well we were going into the seventeenth chapter of the book of Revelation where we saw the kind of church that men have looked to. It's called Babylon, and it's a great church, very large, very great. But it's pictured as a fallen church. And then in the twelfth chapter of Revelation we saw the prophecy of the true church; persecuted, despised and hated by the devil who's deceived the whole world. And consequently the world deceived, also despised this church.

And in second Corinthians eleven, we saw that Satan has his ministers and they pose as ministers of righteousness. And Jesus said that they would come, saying that He is the Christ. Actually saying He is the Christ, proclaiming Him and His name, calling themselves by His name, and Christians. So they say they're the ministers of Christ. And as He said, deceiving the many. (Matthew 24:5 paraphrased) That's in your Bible, that's been prophesied.

The Seven Eras of The True Church (PLAY FROM 05:32)

Now, also in this book of Revelation is an amazing prophecy of the true church and its course in history. Now if you want to find it in history, you must first see what God said would happen in this actual prophecy, and it's in the second and the third chapters of the book of Revelation. As I've said, usually most people, in studying the book of Revelation, skip over these two very important chapters; the second and the third.

Well they're not a part of the general prophecy of Revelation, which is a prophecy mostly of this world. But here is the prophecy of God's church. Now my friends, the true Church of God is not perfect. The true Church of God is not as holy as God. It is composed of people, however, who have really repented and who have surrendered their lives to God and are led by God, but they still have human nature. They're still making some mistakes and they are far from perfect.

And so you find that even in the course of this true church, as you find it pictured in Revelation two and three, where seven churches are pictured; now literally, they were seven literal churches in Asia. They were on a mail route as a mail carrier would go from Ephesus and then up to Smyrna, and then to Pergamos, and then Thyatira and then he'd start coming down here to Sardis and Philadelphia and finally to Laodicea.

As he goes around a circle there and that's where those towns, if you get a map in the back of your Bible, you will probably find a map of the time of the apostle Paul and over there in Asia Minor, it's Turkey today. The nation of Turkey occupies that territory today, and there you will find those cities and they go right around the circle. It isn't an awful lot of territory, it's a mail route. I don't think a man made it in an hour or so of course, but they carried mail around that way.

And those churches were there. Now it so happened, and the reason that Jesus took those churches as the type of the entire church through its seven successive eras, or stages, of different generations from that time up until now, until the second coming of Christ. The reason He took them was because, for instance, the church at Ephesus was typical of the way the church was when it started out. And the very next one at this town of Smyrna there in Asia Minor, the condition in that church at that time, was absolutely typical of the way Jesus knew the church would be a little later on.

And then when you come up to Pergamos, the way they were there, was exactly the way the church would be after a few hundred years a little later on. And then after that you come to another stage in history and Jesus knew how it would be. And it was just exactly like they were there in that town of Thyatira at the time when John wrote in 90 AD, so he took them as a type.

Now here we find - well it's pictured as seven churches, it's really seven stages of the one true church, it's seven successive times. Also you'll find every one of these seven conditions in the church at all times, but in the early years the Ephesus condition dominated, and the tail end of it the Laodicean condition is to dominate on the earth. And there you are.

Now in Revelation 1:12-13, as we saw near the end of the preceding program, Jesus is pictured, in vision, in the middle of seven candlesticks. Now the Bible is using symbols there, but it interprets its own symbols, and it says that these candlesticks are, or mean, the seven particular church congregations in the seven places of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira and Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

Christ Is The Head Of His Church (PLAY FROM 09:26)

But Christ was in the midst of them. That shows Christ is in the midst of His church. And even though the people are not always perfect, even though the church falls away from a lot of the truth part of the time, they are the only people on earth that are Christ's people, the only ones that have His Holy Spirit. Even though we have the Holy Spirit my friends, we do have the Holy Spirit by measure. Christ had it without measure.

And even though we have the Holy Spirit, we've got a lot of human nature in us and we're not praying as much as Jesus did. We're not as close to God as He was and we perhaps do a lot of things He didn't do. Now, it is a type then of the entire church through the entire age. So Jesus dwells in the entire church, it is His body through whom He carries on His work. And He is the head of this church. Now we're getting into the church that Jesus is the head of, not a political organization, not one that elevates men to a position of leadership, but the one where Christ is the head, and where Christ calls the ones He can use and carries out His government through them.

Alright now, Jesus chose these seven churches because they form this pattern that I have just explained. Now, why have all Bible students until now, been unable to identify these churches? You don't find in the average history these churches that you find in Revelation two and three; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira and so on. You don't find them identified in the average book of history, and why is it?

Let me tell you why. I have to explain that before we go ahead with it. It's due to the fact that everyone has assumed, erroneously, that these seven churches picture the seven stages of what they thought was the Church of God, the visible, political, organized group that have been regarded by mankind as the church of Christ, or the church of God.

And so they've tried to fit the history of what happened in the church of this world, in the world church, they've tried to fit it to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Philadelphia, and so on, and Sardis and Laodicea. And it's been a total misfit, my friends. In other words, it has been assumed that the churches of this world, the world churches - of this world - are pictured in Revelation two and three as continuous of the true church and apostolic days.

And what a lot of people seem to think today is, that the church itself went completely bad, and that it's had a revival in, more or less, recent times. The true Church of God never went bad. Of course it's always been filled with human beings that were not wholly good, but nevertheless, they've been people that primarily were yielded to Christ and to God, and in and through whom He could work.

Now everyone, it seems though, has supposed that following the apostolic church, these seven churches picture the course of the history of the churches in this world that were organized, and going into the politics of this world. And that is not true.

These two chapters in the book of Revelation picture, and they convey God's message to the true Church of God, the one that was kicked out, the one that was dispersed, the one that was scattered, the one that was despised by the world. And by the organized groups of political organizations in this world, the one that was persecuted, the church which Christ lives and works in, the church which is His body, His instrumentality, the church He uses.

It is the church that was scattered, persecuted, unorganized, many of whose members have been martyred. In other words, this is the church pictured in Revelation twelve, NOT the church pictured in Revelation seventeen. Now nearly all historians have thought that these churches, these seven in Revelation two and three, are picturing the same church that you find in Revelation seventeen. That is not true. So this church is composed of members who, even though they are begotten by and led by the Holy Spirit, yet are human. And therefore they have not ever been perfect.

The Message To The Seven Churches (PLAY FROM 13:46)

In the message to each of these seven churches, Jesus has a word of correction. First He starts out and He says, "I know thy works" and He knows good about them, He tells them the good. Then He'll, nearly always He'll say, "But I have a few things against thee." Now here to Ephesus He says, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee." (Revelation 2:4)

To Smyrna He says, "...I know thy works" (Revelation 2:9), and so on. Well He doesn't have quite so much against them, but later He comes on to some things like that. Then in verse fourteen of Revelation two, to the church at Pergamos, He says, "But I have a few things against thee" (Revelation 2:14), after He had said, "I know thy works" (Revelation 2:13), and how good they were.

And so it goes, Thyatira, "I know thy works and charity and service, and faith" (Revelation 2:19). He says "I know all those good things about you." But the next verse, "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee" (Revelation 2:20). That's what Christ is saying in His own church!

Sardis, "...I know thy works, ...thou hast a name that thou livest, and are dead [He has a lot against them]. Be watchful [He says], and strengthen the things [that] remain" (Revelation 3:1-2). But that church didn't do it. Now my friends, we know just who each of these churches are, but you have to know what to look for to look into history and to find them.

So Christ points out the things that they need to overcome. They are His churches that He is correcting, and you'll find in Revelation two and three He corrects His churches. But they are the people that have and are led by His Spirit and who put themselves under God's government instead of human traditions and self desire. And who have, in the main, the true gospel, even though they actually, in history, often lost large portions of it, even vital portions of it.

Now, chapter two verse one. Let's read a little of it.

"These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars [that is the seven stars are explained in the last of the first chapter as being the angels of the true Church of God, that holdeth these stars, or, that's symbolic of angels] in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Revelation 2;1).

That is in these churches, Christ is in their midst. Jesus Christ is IN these churches, they are HIS churches, they're not the devil's churches that falsely call themselves by the name of Christ. And now remember, the true church, not a politically organized body at all, is seldom noticed by the world.

Alright, now let's understand who they are one by one. Let's take this first one, the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus pictured the apostolic church, the church in the days of the apostles as it started out in its splendor, its purity, its holiness, filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The church that patiently labored in the gospel, which met many false apostles but remained nearly steadfast to the truth.

And yet, even as Paul said in his time in that church, that "Even of your own selves [he said] are men going to arise to lead away a following after themselves" (Acts 20:30 paraphrased). Paul talked to this "mystery of iniquity [he said that] even now it already worked" (II Thessalonians 2:7 paraphrased). Yes it did, even then.

The Nineteen Year Time Cycles (PLAY FROM 16:59)

Well, there were two, now listen to this carefully, there were two nineteen year time cycles in the history of the apostolic church, during which the gospel was carried to the Old World, all of it in the continent that we now call Asia. Well much of it in Asia Minor, Palestine and around in that part of the world. Well the Old World, it got into Europe too and even into Rome, yes, but not in the New World or in America, of course.

Two nineteen year time cycles that that first church, called the one at Ephesus, remained. And it was organized, more or less, there was a scattering at times, and they carried the true gospel of Christ at that time. Now a time cycle is nineteen years. God has made it that way. God set the sun, the moon in the heavens and caused the earth to turn on its axis for days and months and years, and to segregate time. And a day is a revolution of the earth, which looks like the sun rising and setting in each day. And God's way of calculating ends when the sun sets.

But a month is one revolution of the moon around the earth, about twenty-nine and a half days. A year is one revolution of the earth around the sun, approximately three hundred sixty-five and a fourth days. Now, the earth turning on its axis in relation to the moon and to the sun, all come into direct relation with each other at the same split second, once every nineteen years. God set it that way. He set the sun and the moon in the heavens and the earth turning on its axis so that there is an actual time cycle every nineteen years.

This first church lasted exactly two of those time cycles. Now that's not an accident, this is the true Church of God. Alright listen, it was exactly nineteen years from 31 AD when the church was founded, that's the date that very few people seem to have correctly, to the very time when Paul received the vision to go into Europe, when the gospel went from Asia over to Europe. The first nineteen years it stayed in Asia.

Exactly at the end of nineteen years, Paul had a vision and God opened the door for Paul to carry the gospel to Europe. Now in Acts 16:9 Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia, which is in Greece. And, oh lets see it's just up above Greece, over in that same neighborhood, which is in Europe, who shouted "Help us." Well Paul described that event in second Corinthians the second chapter, twelfth and thirteenth verses.

And there he wrote of it as a door that was "opened unto me of the Lord" (II Corinthians 2:12). When he was called to Europe the door was opened by which he could carry the gospel into Europe. Now that is more significant my friends, than you can possibly realize. So listen. "And was opened to him of the Lord." God opened that door, by which he meant the way was opened to preach the gospel in Europe.

Now Paul went into Europe in the late spring of 50 AD, exactly nineteen years after the church started in 31 AD. And after a few months of preaching, he arrived in Corinth in the fall of that year. You find that in Acts 18, verse one. Acts 18:1, where Paul remained for a year and six months, you read in verse eleven.

Now it was now the beginning of 52 AD, an insurrection broke out against Paul when Gallio was deputy, or proconsul of Achaia. You read that in verse twelve. A recently discovered inscription in Greece, states that Gallio held this position during 52 AD. Now that is checked up in modern history by a recently discovered inscription dug up in archaeology, which proves that the gospel went to Europe in 50 AD, just nineteen years after the church was founded.

Now from 50 AD it was another nineteen years until the fleeing of the real mother-church at Jerusalem. And all of those in the original church in Palestine, when that city was surrounded for the first time by Roman armies under the General Cestius, it was in the year 67 AD. Now Jesus had warned them in Matthew twenty-four.

"When you see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then flee to the mountains. Let him which is on the housetop not come down..." (Matthew 24:15-17 paraphrased).

The Church at Jerusalem Scattered (PLAY FROM 21:57)

Now actually, literally that warning applies primarily to an event that is coming in our time now. But you know there is a duality in all of the things in prophecy, in all of the things in God's Word. And it had a literal significance and a literal application at that time. Cestius and his Roman army came down and began to come toward Jerusalem, and in a sense they were surrounding it, at least on the north. And those true Christians there did flee at that time from 50 AD, it was another nineteen years until that time in 69 AD when they fled.

They went way up north to a town called Pella on the other side of the River Jordan of course. Now from that time forward, the united power of the Church of God to spread the gospel of the kingdom, ceased. Now for some reason, when you read history, Cestius was – he stopped there and he was called back, and his army waited, they didn't invade Jerusalem.

In 70 AD another General, Titus, came down and led the army in the invasion, and that terrible siege against the Jews in Jerusalem. But that was after the real Christians and the true church had fled. Now in history, you find the real invasion occurred in 70 AD of course. Now no longer was there a mother church at Jerusalem to whom all the other churches could look as a standard of truth. And I've shown you in history, and even in Gibbons history, how the Gentile churches always appealed to the church at Jerusalem for leadership, because they knew it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. And to settle all disputes about what was truth or the true gospel.

Well it now became a struggle to strive ...for the faith once delivered" (Jude 3), or for the truth, as you read in Jude three. And the church had left its first love, and you read that about the church at Ephesus, how it had left its first love. Well soon after John finished the book of Revelation, the remnant of the true church which did keep the Commandments of God, they believed the gospel of the Kingdom, they had their faith in Christ and the faith of Christ, well they were cast out and they were scattered over the length and breadth of the whole Roman Empire.

Now that fulfilled Jesus' warning when He said, Revelation 2:5, to this church He said, "...I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place..." (Revelation 2:5)

And that candlestick was removed out of its place. Jesus removed, He took out the true church, the light-giving candlestick from the unrepentant local congregations where they had assembled. Now, congregations carried on. Visible organization of the church carried on, but the true Christians were finally removed.

They were persecuted and they were cast out, so the real church, the real candlestick that was these people that did follow the true gospel and the word of Christ, they were cast out. So, that's what Jesus meant here when He said, "I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place" (Revelation 2:5). Jesus took it away. That's Revelation 2:5.

After He had told them that He knew their labor, their patience, how they could not bear them that are evil and all of that kind of thing. "Nevertheless [He said] I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou are fallen, repent, and do [thy] first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (Revelation 2:3-5)

Well now the majority that had been in the church fell away, they didn't repent. And the real candlestick, those that remained true and faithful, the real church, was taken out - those individuals that were persecuted and taken out of the political, or the visible organization.

The Church At Smyrna (PLAY FROM 26:00)

Now, my friends, we come to the church at Smyrna, the next one. But at the ending of that time it ended the apostolic age which was typified by this church at Ephesus, which is the real apostolic church. Now, perhaps we have time to begin a little in this program on the next church, the one at Smyrna. The church at Smyrna arises up next and followed the apostolic church. It appeared to be dead, nonexistent, and yet it was alive, suffering persecution. Let me read about it.

"...unto the angel of the church [at] Smyrna [beginning with verse eight, in Revelation two] write; [and this is what John was to write to this church] These things saith the first and the last which was dead, and is alive; [that's Christ] I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) [rich spiritually he meant, and in the truth] and I know the blasphemy of them [that] say they are Jews and are not, but are [of] the synagogue of Satan." (Revelation 2:8-9)

Why, almost nobody knows who that is or what that means.

"Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)

Here's the prophesied history of the true church, my friends, not the churches of this world, not the apostate churches, the real church.

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith [to] the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." (Revelation 2:11)

Now I think I'll have to break off there, and I will begin there and explain that about the church of Smyrna and give you the actual history of it and who it was and where they were, and what happened after the days of the apostles to the true church.

I've been giving you a little of the history of what happened to the visible church in the world that was persecuting those individuals, first within it that were the true Christians until they kicked them clear out altogether. Now we're going to see where is that true church and how it comes on down to today. Now I want to get to prophecy very soon, and I also want to get to some other subjects but I do want to finish this about the church first. And I tell you, my friends, you've never heard this anywhere before, I know. Most of you have never heard it before.