Philadelphia and Laodicea
What is the relationship between the Philadelphia Church and the Laodicean Church? If we examine the relationship between the other five church we see that each church comes out of the previous church. The seven churches are a history of God’s Church from its foundation to its end. Just as a plant grows through different stages, so too, does the Church. Just as the plant grows and changes and morphs into its next stage of development, so too, does the Church. In the case of the Church, we are informed by Scripture that, it goes through seven distinct stages of development. As one stage ends the next starts, the new stage of development emerges from the previous stage.
We recognize this pattern to be true and correct, from the study of church history. The foundation of the Church is represented by Ephesus. Out of Ephesus came Smyrna – the historical period of persecution. Out of Smyrna came the period of Pergamos – when paganism started making inroads into the Church. Out of Pergamos came the founding of the Roman Catholic Church, symbolized by the period of Thyatira. The Thyatira Church represents the end of a period of spiritual descent. Out of Thyatira came a period of revival and reformation, represented by Sardis – the Protestant Reformation. However, as the original impetus and enthusiasm for revival died in the Protestant Churches, it was necessary to bring out of Sardis, a new church to carry on the Reformation – Philadelphia. Therefore, in order for the harmonious continuation of the pattern to be completed, Laodicea must come out of Philadelphia.
When did Philadelphia come out of Sardis?
In America, the Millerite movement preached the first angel’s message about the coming judgment and the second coming of Christ. For a time, the Protestant Churches, listened to the message and bore with the enthusiasm this message generated. But eventually they literally closed their doors to the Millerites and the message. This ‘shut door’ resulted in the preaching of the second angel’s message – “Babylon has fallen, come out of her my people” – this is when God’s people came out of Sardis, and formed the Philadelphia Church:
What is the relationship between the Philadelphia Church and the Laodicean Church? If we examine the relationship between the other five church we see that each church comes out of the previous church. The seven churches are a history of God’s Church from its foundation to its end. Just as a plant grows through different stages, so too, does the Church. Just as the plant grows and changes and morphs into its next stage of development, so too, does the Church. In the case of the Church, we are informed by Scripture that, it goes through seven distinct stages of development. As one stage ends the next starts, the new stage of development emerges from the previous stage. We recognize this pattern to be true and correct, from the study of church history. The foundation of the Church is represented by Ephesus. Out of Ephesus came Smyrna – the historical period of persecution. Out of Smyrna came the period of Pergamos – when paganism started making inroads into the Church. Out of Pergamos came the founding of the Roman Catholic Church, symbolized by the period of Thyatira. The Thyatira Church represents the end of a period of spiritual descent. Out of Thyatira came a period of revival and reformation, represented by Sardis – the Protestant Reformation. However, as the original impetus and enthusiasm for revival died in the Protestant Churches, it was necessary to bring out of Sardis, a new church to carry on the Reformation – Philadelphia. Therefore, in order for the harmonious continuation of the pattern to be completed, Laodicea must come out of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, Laodicea and the Parable of the Ten Virgins
After the Philadelphia Church was created by the preaching of the second angel’s message, George Morse goes on to reveal, that the next prophetic component to be fulfilled, by the Philadelphia Church, was the ‘midnight cry’ of the parable of the ten virgins:
When Jesus finished giving His Olivert discourse, about the signs of His second coming, He continued by speaking about the condition of the Church at that time:
Grammatically, the word ‘then’ is a conjunction. A conjunction joins two things together. This indicates that, the parable of the ten virgins would be fulfilled, when the prophetic signs of Christ’s return are completed and finished. In other words, at that time (just before Christ’s return), the Church will be made up of ten virgins – five wise and five foolish. This parable is an illustration of how the Laodiceans come out of the Philadelphia Church – the wise virgins are the Philadelphians and the Laodiceans are the foolish virgins. Ellen White is very clear that the parable of the ten virgins was fulfilled in 1844, and the study of the parable contributed to the explanation as to why the ‘great disappointment’ happened:
Jesus taught several times, that His Church would always be made up of two classes – the converted and the unconverted – illustrated by; the wheat and the tares (see Matt. 13:36-43); the good fish and the bad fish (see Matt. 13:47-52); and the sheep and the goats (see Matt.25:31-46). The wise virgins and the foolish virgins and the Philadelphians and the Laodiceans are just a repeat and enlargement of what Jesus stated before. The narrative around the sheep and the goats; the wise virgins and the foolish virgins; the Philadelphians and the Laodiceans are all telling the same story. They are telling us what the final outcome of this division in the Church will be – that one class will be saved and the other will be lost.
The Great Disappointment
Therefore, we can see that Laodicea was always with Philadelphia. It was always in Philadelphia but it was never part of Philadelphia. It required a ‘great disappointment’ to flush it out. When God moves upon the world, there is always a transition period. This is always a time of great testing and most people fail the test. For example, when God took Israel out of Egypt and sought to plant them in the Promised Land, this was a transition from slavery to freedom. And God tested them before entry (see Exodus 16), and nearly all of them failed the test. When Jesus came, this heralded a transition from Judaism to Christianity – the majority of the Jews failed the test.
When the Advent movement began, this also heralded a transition period from Sardis to Philadelphia – the majority in Sardis failed the test. And now Philadelphia itself would be tested. Their hopes and desires would be dashed by the great disappointment and the majority would fail the test. However, the test would separate Laodicea from Philadelphia. Just as God, in the case of Gideon, could only work with a faithful remnant to carry His kingdom forward. So too, God, after the great disappointment had a faithful remnant to carry His kingdom forward.
The Open and Shut Doors
After the great disappointment, there was much soul searching and Bible study to find a solution to the disappointment and confusion. This is when the Laodiceans separated from the Philadelphians and formed their own church. The precise issue that caused the separation was the divergent views over the ‘open and shut doors:’
This subject (the open and shut doors), was not understood by Adventists in 1844. After the passing of the time when the Saviour was expected, they still believed His coming to be near; they held that they had reached an important crisis and that the work of Christ as man’s intercessor before God had ceased. It appeared to them to be taught in the Bible that man’s probation would close a short time before the actual coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven. This seemed evident from those scriptures which point to a time when men will seek, knock, and cry at door the door of mercy, and it will not be opened. And it was a question with them whether the date to which they had looked for the coming of Christ might not rather mark the beginning of this period which was immediately to precede His coming. Having given the warning of the judgment near, they felt that their work for the world was done, and they lost their burden of soul for the salvation of sinners, while the bold and blasphemous scoffing of the ungodly seemed to them another evidence that the Spirit of God had been withdrawn from the rejecters of His mercy. All this confirmed them in the belief that, probation had ended, or, as they then expressed it, “the door of mercy was shut.” GC 429; EW 47.
In the message to the Philadelphian Church we are presented with a shut door and an open door. Because of the diligence of the pioneers, we now know that the open door is the door into the most holy place, which was opened in 1844, for Jesus to begin the next phase of His ministry – the Investigative Judgment. But what is represented by the ‘shut door?’
The Shut Door Principle and the Full Cup Principle
Initially, the faithful Philadelphian remnant, thought that the shut door represented, that probation had closed for the whole world. However, further Bible study revealed that the ‘shut door’ is a reference to a principle that has been applied by God throughout the history of the world. This principle is also known as the ‘Full Cup Principle.’ It is a principle that applies to nations and individuals.
Jesus said there is only one sin that cannot be forgiven – the sin against the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 12: 30-32). God has always appealed to people to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit. If we refuse, God does not desert us immediately, on the contrary He says: “My Spirit shall not always strive with men” (Gen. 6:3). Meaning that, God’s Spirit does strive with men, and the striving of the Spirit goes on for a long time. But if there is no reaction, no acknowledgment of the Spirit’s presence, eventually the striving will cease. However, that ‘still small voice’ that everyone hears, does not leave the hard-hearted voluntarily, the hard-hearted force the Spirit to leave. This occurs when their hearts have become so hardened, that the Spirit’s voice can no longer be heard. It is a natural process, each time the Spirit appeals to a reluctant sinner, the power of the Spirit can only be resisted by the sinner hardening his own heart against the Spirit. The Egyptian Pharaoh, in the time of Moses, is a classic example. Eventually, the Spirit will be forced to leave – this is the sin against the Holy Spirit – and this is why it cannot be forgiven, because the sinner himself, has decided to drive away his only opportunity to be saved. Thus, the sinner ‘shuts the door’ to God’s invitation to be saved and his time of probation is over.
An example of the Shut Door/Full Cup Principle is when God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, but Abrahams descendants had to wait, another 400 years before they inherited the land. The reason they had to wait, is because the people living there had not filled up their cup of iniquity (see Gen. 15:16). The Israelites could only dispossess the Canaanites after their time of probation was over and their hearts were so hardened, that God could not save any of them.
There was a ‘shut door’ in the time of Noah. The people hardened their hearts against Noah’s preaching. In this case, a literal door was closed, symbolizing probation had closed for the anti-diluvian world.
There was a shut door to the inhabitants of Sodom when God destroyed the ‘Cities of the Plain:’
There was a shut door to the Jews, when they rejected Christ and chose Barabbas and Caesar instead:
In the same manner, there was a shut door in the time of the Advent movement. This is why there is a shut door in the parable of the ten virgins. The foolish virgins have the door shut to them. They were invited to the wedding but they lacked the necessary preparation needed to gain entrance:
Thus, the Shut Door Principle is intimately entwined with another Biblical principle – ‘the Progressive Principle.’ God’s Kingdom is not a static immobile place – it develops and grows and changes (see Mk. 4:26-29). At crucial times in the Kingdom’s history, major events transpire. These events are often transition periods when the Kingdom ‘upgrades’ from one phase to another (such as, closing one door and opening another). God often raises up prophets to proclaim the significance of these events. All those who listen and act are saved. All those who refuse to listen and refuse to act are lost – the shut door is only closed to that generation that hears the ‘present truth’ for their time and rejects it.
Philadelphia and Laodicea exist Simultaneously
Therefore, if the Laodicean Church came out of Philadelphia after the great disappointment, this must mean that Laodicea and Philadelphia exist simultaneously and contemporaneously. Those who experienced these events, believed that Laodicea came out of Philadelphia and thereafter, both churches existed at the same time:
Another pioneer, who lived through the 1844 period of transition, Joseph Bates, wrote an article entitled ‘Our Labor in the Philadelphia and Laodicean Churches.’ The title reveals what all the pioneers believed, namely, that after the great disappointment in 1844, the Philadelphian Church and the Laodicean Church existed simultaneously. In this article, Joseph Bates states, that the Laodiceans disagreed with the Philadelphians and therefore left the Philadelphia Church and formed themselves into the Laodicean Church:
Thus, we learn that the Laodicean Church was formed, because they refused to acknowledge the vital truth that Jesus had moved from the holy place to the most holy place in 1844. The consequences of this refusal, is that they still believed the door into the holy place remained open and that their salvation was still to be found there. But the source of life and salvation, Jesus Christ, was no longer there. Therefore, they were beguiled into preaching a false gospel and trusting in a false assurance of salvation (see EW 55, 56).
Thus, the Laodicean Church was identified, by Joseph Bates, as those people who were originally part of the post 1844 Advent movement, but who quickly left “the true Israel of God” and congregated together as the Laodicean Church. He also appealed to the Philadelphia Church to diligently work to save the Laodiceans. However, as events transpired it was the Philadelphians who succumbed to spiritual malaise and joined the Laodicean Church.
Philadelphia becomes Laodicea
The early Adventists still expected, that Jesus would soon return. But as time went by the zeal and enthusiasm began to wane. Hiram Edson was, in all probability, the first to publish the notion that Philadelphia was slipping into the Laodicean condition:
James White’s first article on this subject was published in the October 9, 1856 edition of the Review and Herald. The Trustees of the Ellen G. White Publications, in their introduction to the first volume of the Testimonies for the Church, comment on the effect, this application of the Laodicean message, to the Advent people had:
Ellen White confirmed her husband’s observation as being correct when she wrote the following in 1856:
The following year, Ellen White wrote a testimony entitled ‘Be Zealous and Repent’ [a direct reference to the Laodicean message]. The contents and Bible references used by Ellen White are all drawn from the Laodicean message (see 1T 141-146).
The emphasis on the Laodicean message at this time and the realization that it was relevant to their own spiritual condition, stirred the Advent people. They were deeply grieved. Out of a membership of 2000 people, over 350 wrote to the Review and Herald, expressing their grief that the church had slipped into the Laodicean condition. But the revival did not progress very far or last very long – later that same year Ellen White wrote:
By 1859, the Laodicean condition of the Advent movement was confirmed. Ellen White wrote:
She went on to explain that the people thought the revival, caused by the testimony of the “faithful and true witness” would usher in the expected end time events. When this did not happen, the Advent people fell away again. She further explained that the Laodicean message has yet to accomplish the desired result, and that it would take longer than a few short months.
Was the Message to the Laodicean Church in 1888 Rejected?
The Lord made a major attempt to rescue the Advent people out of the Laodicean condition, when according to Ellen White, God sent a ‘most precious message’ to the people during the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference in 1888. Ellen White has told us that this message was sent to the Laodicean Church:
In her writings Ellen White had many other expressive phrases to describe this 1888 message, such as; ‘Latter rain message’ – ‘the loud cry’ – ‘manifestations of the Holy Spirit’ – ‘matchless charms of Christ’ and many more. She also wrote and spoke about what it meant to reject the ‘the voice of the true Shepherd.’ Unfortunately, this ‘most precious message’ preached by Alonzo Jones and Ellet J. Waggoner, was rejected by the majority of the leaders and delegates of the conference. In 1896, Ellen White wrote to the headquarters of the Church in Battle Creek, a letter entitled, ‘The Danger of Rejecting Truth:’
In her other many writings (testimonies to the church, books, articles, letters etc.). Ellen White wrote extensively about the rejection in 1888, and what a tragedy it was for the Church and its individual members. Some examples include the following:
Other leaders in the Church expressed the same views. Such as Elder A. G. Daniells, and Milton Wilcox:
No Promise of the Second Coming to Laodicea
Laodicea is the last of the seven churches and the period of the Laodicean Church brings the history of God’s kingdom in the world to an end. Therefore, it is logical to reason that Laodicea must witness the second coming of Christ. But there is no such promise given to Laodicea. Even Thyatira, which represents the Catholic Church has a promise of the second coming. Sardis and Philadelphia have promises too – but there is no such promise to Laodicea.
The reason why Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia receive promises of the second coming is because these churches, along with Laodicea all exist simultaneously and contemporaneously. All four churches have had different starting dates, but they all have the same finishing date. They all exist until the end of time – they all witness the second coming.
We should also recognize that God’s people are scattered among them. This is proven by the fact that, just before the end, one of the four churches, announces the call to “come out of Babylon My people” – and all those who ‘hear’ the call coalesce and assemble into one of the four churches. Therefore, we know that God’s people are scattered among these church’s, but eventually they will constitute one church.
Another reason why we know that four of the seven churches exist until the end of time is because there is no promise of the second coming to the first three churches. In other words, the members of these first three churches, of the seven, do not historically carry on to the end of time – all the saved in these churches go into the grave and wait for the second coming to be resurrected. It is only the last four churches that live through the last days events and are still intact and alive at the second coming. Therefore, it is these churches that have the promise of the second coming – except one.
Jesus says to the Thyatira Church: “…hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25).
Jesus says to the Sardis Church: “…I will come on the as a thief” (Rev. 3:3).
Jesus says to the Philadelphia Church: “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 3:11).
One can notice that there is an increase in urgency in these promises. In the first it is an exhortation to remain patiently faithful, the tempo in the second promise increases when Jesus says He will come unexpectedly. It increases yet further when Jesus says He is coming quickly. In other words, the second coming is much closer when the period of the Philadelphia Church started than when the Thyatira Church started.
Therefore, according to this pattern one would expect a message indicating extreme urgency about the second coming in the message to the Laodicean Church. But there is no promise of the second coming to the Laodicean Church. In other words, the Laodicean Church will witness the second coming, but they will not participate in the second coming:
When it comes to end time events Ellen White firmly places the Laodiceans on the ‘found wanting’ side of the ledger. She says that it is the Laodiceans who hear the words “I know you not” (see Matt. 7:21-23):
However, this does not mean that the Laodiceans have no hope. Jesus gives all Laodiceans the solution – they only need to follow His instructions – individual Laodiceans can be saved:
…but the individual who opens the heart door and lets Christ in, who comes into that wonderful communion with the divine Lord will by that very process come into the condition of brotherly love. They will constitute the remnant. M.C. Wilcox, editor-in-chief, Signs of the Times, ST Jan. 17, 1911.
Ellen White confirms Wilcox’s assertion, that rescue out of the Laodicean condition is possible. But it will never happen corporately. It will only happen when individuals take responsibility for their own salvation – “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12):
A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of our needs… Are we hoping to see the whole church revived? That time will never come. There are persons in the church who are not converted, and who will not unite in earnest, prevailing prayer. We must enter upon the work individually. We must pray more, and talk less. 1SM 121, 122.
The Revived Laodicean
What happens when individual Laodiceans buy from the Faithful and True Witness and open the door to Him? What happens when they experience the revival they need? Do they still remain Laodiceans?
What is the best course of action when one becomes physically lost? The best course of action, is to retrace one’s steps, back to the point where one originally departed the true path. In the same manner, when one gets spiritually lost, one should retrace one’s steps back to the point where one originally departed from the true path. Therefore, in order to go forward, the revived Laodicean needs to go spiritually back to where he/she came from – go back to the Philadelphia Church. This is not a physical journey it is a spiritual journey – it is the process of tares becoming wheat – foolish virgins becoming wise virgins etc. It is the process of individuals experiencing revival and reformation in their lives. It is the process of individuals heeding the counsel of the Faithful and True and Witness. Those who refuse to make the journey from Laodicea to Philadelphia – those who choose to remain Laodicean – they become the synagogue of Satan.
The Synagogue of Satan
The Philadelphians and the Laodiceans remain in the same church until the events of the last days finally separate them. They are the wheat and the tares, growing up together in the same church. Naturally, there is going to be friction between them. As time goes by the friction will increase. The Philadelphians will want to warn the Laodiceans of their condition. The Laodiceans will not be able to endure the critique – they will retaliate with accusations of their own. At some point the ‘straight testimony’ will be preached. The ‘straight testimony’ will be directed at the Laodiceans:
With the preaching of the straight testimony the situation in the Advent movement will become almost intolerable for both parties. There will be intense debate and great arguments – the members will become increasingly polarized into two warring parties. How will it end?
In the message to the Philadelphian Church there is an enigmatic verse that we have not touched upon yet:
This verse is not referring to literal Jews. The literal descendants of Abraham have been replaced by the spiritual descendants of Abraham. A true Jew is now a Christian (see Rom. 2:28, 29). Therefore, the reference to Jews in this verse is referring to people who claim to be the true people of God, when they are not. This is borne out by the fact that Jesus says that He loves the Philadelphians. The synagogue of Satan realize to late, that they were wrong and the Philadelphians were right.
So, the verse is contrasting two groups of people, one who falsely claim to be the people of God and the other, the true people of God. Ellen White clearly identifies the ‘false Jews.’ Ellen White wrote to Eli Curtis (a fellow Adventist), because he was promoting a false understanding of this verse:
Who are the “professed Adventists” that bow at the saint’s feet? They can only be the foolish virgins, the goats, the tares and the Laodiceans. This is how the relationship between the Philadelphians and the Laodiceans ends.
Unfortunately, changing one’s spiritual membership can happen to God’s people. It was not long after the formation of the Philadelphia Church that people began to spiritually drift from the Philadelphian Church to the Laodicean. In so doing they were repeating the pattern of behavior so evident in the Old Testament. In Old Testament times the people repeated a proverb to each other that said, “the days are prolonged and every vision faileth” (Eze. 12:22). This attitude began to be exhibited by the Adventists that had survived the great disappointment. They had fortified themselves with the hope that Jesus would still be coming soon – but the years went by and still He did not come. The days were being prolonged and every vision was failing. They became tired of waiting. Thus, the Laodicean Church was established within the Advent movement and it has flourished ever since.
It is incumbent upon every Christian to heed the warning words of Christ to the Laodiceans. It is better by far that we fall on the Stone and be ‘broken’ than have the Stone fall on us and be “ground to powder” (Matt. 21:44). The reference to falling on the Stone is an invitation from Jesus to have our hard hearts broken by contemplating Calvary (see Jn. 12:32). Once broken, Laodicea needs to join with David and pray for the creation of a new heart: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). God will not refuse such an invitation to revive and renew the repentant Laodicean. However, when God spiritually resurrects the Laodicean to new life, he does not remain a Laodicean. The Laodicean now becomes a Philadelphian. Both churches exist side by side, just as the Thyatira and Sardis churches exist side by side. All four churches exist side by side until the end of the world. Memberships are available to God’s people in all four churches. We choose which church we belong to – but only the Philadelphia Church goes to heaven. If our spiritual membership is currently elsewhere, Christ will be ‘chastising’ to achieve a change of heart and a change in one’s spiritual membership. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 3:22).