John Ritenbaugh, revisiting Herman Hoeh’s brilliantly reasoned, through highly speculative, doctrine about Church eras, takes a hard look at the biblical evidence and concludes that the notion of eras is based on some fundamental errors. Because Revelation 1:1 uses the adverb shortly (NKJV)—quickly and soon in other translation, describing the quickness of prophetic events, we cannot find a shred of evidence for lengthy, drawn-out eras. Christ’s promise to Peter in that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church refers more to our private battle against sin than a physical battle against a church organization. Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan. Our collective fellowship has speculated that seven eras of the church spanned the time since 95 AD to the present, in which a dominant attitude would prevail sequentially, corresponding to the commendations and charges of the letters delivered on the postal route between Ephesus and Laodicea in western Turkey. Even though the mail route was spatially sequential, the churches were contemporaneous. Like the many splinters in the greater Church of God, these churches had different strengths and different weaknesses. Jesus Christ, standing in the midst of these contemporaneous churches, comments on each one, indicating that He considers them all to be part of the His Body, The command to “hold fast,” issued five times, indicates that all seven of these attitudes (that is, strengths and weaknesses) will be extant at His Second Coming. Constantly, we should be wary about browbeating lukewarm Laodicea or dead Sardis because these are all attitudes every called-out one exhibits to one degree or another. Jesus Christ expects that all of us learn from all seven letters, applying the correction which applies to each of us individually.
John Ritenbaugh, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the concept of church eras prevalent throughout the Worldwide Church of God, asserts that Herman Hoeh in his historical studies found a common link in doctrines and practices of groups from the apostolic times to the present, attempting to define specific characteristics of the seven churches along the mail route in Revelation 2-3. In five of these churches, there is an indication that Christ's return was imminent. In the first century, all of these churches were extant. When this letter was circulated, all seven churches were recipients of this same message. In the prophetic Day of the Lord, Christ stands in the midst of all seven churches. All seven churches are extant right now. The seven attitudes are extant right now. We are to learn from the lessons from all seven of the churches, yielding to the instructions and responding to the appropriate correction.
David C. Grabbe: In Revelation 10:3-4, the apostle John tells of seven thunders—seven distinct, sequential reverberations of God's message to mankind, delivered by His church during the seven church eras described in Revelation 2 and 3. ...
The concept of power brings many different ideas to mind, any and all of which may certainly be valid. David Grabbe, however, concentrates on the 'little strength' of the church of the Philadelphians, suggesting that Christ commends them for being 'faithful in little' and will reward them with much.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
John Ritenbaugh explains the seven thunders and the little book of Revelation 10. This chapter serves as an inset, not following the time sequence of Revelation, but explaining in detail events necessary to understand more fully what is happening within it. The thunders (symbolic of God's voice) are the messages of the seven churches (end-time organizations typified by seven first-century organizations), occurring before the Tribulation, before the Two Witnesses preach, and before the seals are opened in chapter 6. The little book is God's Word, having both sweet and bitter aspects to those who are nourished by it. The seventh thunder, weak as it is, rumbles in the distance, typifying the Laodicean era, badly in need of oil (Matthew 25:3), gold (Revelation 3:18), and water (Isaiah 55:1-2)'all costly but necessary items for spiritual warfare.
The church of the Laodiceans is today's prevalent attitude. Is there hope? Can a Laodicean be in God's Kingdom?
Historically, the modern church of God has believed that the seven churches are types of seven eras from apostolic times to Christ's return. Is this a valid belief?
The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 have intrigued Bible students for centuries. Where they simply seven churches in Asia, or do they have more immediate relevance to us today?
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the breakup of our former fellowship into hundreds of pieces, examines the prospects for future unity. God gave His approval for the destruction of our prior fellowship into myriad splinter groups, allowing heresies to emerge enabling God to see who really loves Him. God has authorized and ordained the splitting for the best interests of everyone at this time. Historically splitting has eventually allowed a wider geographical spreading of the message wherever the house of Israel was forced to flee from persecution. When we understand that the churches in Revelation 2-3 will be all extant at the end-time gathering, we can see God's plan of providing special instruction for the individual groups, all having different personalities and different focuses, for specialized uses in the regathering when Christ, the son of David, having the key of David, will put all these pieces back together, assigning the roles which best fit the specialized training.
What do Christ's messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 describe? Are these churches eras between the church's founding and Christ's return? Are they dominant attitudes within the church? Could they be both?
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
Receive Biblical truth in your inbox—spam-free! This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving.