The United Church of God, the Church of God Worldwide Association, many independent Churches of God, the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, and many individuals, are part of a phase in church history which can be likened to ancient Israel's Second Temple period. For former Worldwide Church of God members, it may seem small in our eyes, but the fact is that this effort to build the Second Spiritual Temple is destined for more glory than the First!
Don't believe me, believe your Bible
If you read my article entitled The Seven Churches of Revelation are American Sabbath-Observing Churches of God, you can see who I think the main characters are in this unfolding end-time drama of God's people. I am sharing my beliefs and opinions, which are subject to error and revision. I do not claim to know it all. But one thing I do know is to do what Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) said to do: "Don't believe me, believe your Bible."
The Radio / Worldwide Church of God was the church at Philadelphia
I have yet to give conclusive evidence of why I think the seven churches of Revelation are who I think they are, and it's kind of a daunting task. But, as usual, I want to focus on former Worldwide Church of God members, because I am one. The key to understanding this layout is that the Radio / Worldwide Church of God was the Philadelphian Church of Revelation Chapter Three. Most of us will be familiar with this concept, because this is what HWA taught, and, I believe, correctly so. Major earthquakes in "Philadelphia" have dispersed the brethren but many of us fled the city and are still alive.
If you backtrack from the WCG, you get the CG7, then the SDA's, then the SDB's
If you know who Philadelphia is, you can work backwards and forwards. Going back, Herbert W. Armstrong also showed us, correctly I believe, that the Church of God Seventh Day (CG7) is the church in Sardis. Regarding the identity of the churches before Sardis, I was clueless until I read the work of John D. Keyser. He showed me that, working further backwards, the church at Thyatira is the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDB), and the church at Pergamum is the Seventh Day Baptist Church (SDB). If you click on those links you can read Keyser's articles. My thanks to him. Coincidentally, as related in his Autobiography, these are the two of the three church organizations HWA considered before joining up with the CG7.
Note: I am not a Sacred Names or a Lunar Sabbath adherent
I very much appreciate Mr. Keyser's work. However, he believes in a lunar Sabbath, with the seven-day count begins fresh at the beginning of each lunar month. I believe this is erroneous and that clearly the Sabbath day occurs every seventh day regardless of the lunar cycle. Mr. Keyser is a Sacred Names adherent, and I think the idea of the need to practice this is dispelled in the letter to Philadelphia, which states that "thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Rev. 3:8). To Sardis, on the other hand, the church from which the Sacred Names movement sprang, our savior says, "thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev 3:1). The Eternal has many names, and they reflect different facets of who he is. I do not believe that entering the Kingdom of God is a matter of pronouncing His name correctly, or having the correct username and password.
The end-time churches emerge in the New World after 1260 years in the "wilderness"
The end time churches begin with Seventh Day Baptists in England, immediately following the "Dark Age" period of 325-1585 AD, after which New World America opened up. The church went into hiding during this 1260 year period: "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Rev. 12:6). There is no major identifiable public Church of God movement in the "Roman" world before them until you go back to the original seven churches in Aisa Minor. During the 1260 years, the churches were forced underground. So to identify the rest of the end time churches, I had to move forward from Philadelphia.
The Laodicean churches are post-WCG fiefdoms
The next issue to tackle was, who are the Laodiceans? Notice that in the King James version, this is the only church that is addressed in the plural: "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans" (Rev. 3:14). After surveying the landscape, I had to conclude that there is more than one church at Laodicea. I believe they are primarily branches of the WCG . But one thing I think they have in common is that they retain the latter-day WCG hierarchical pyramid-style structure of governance. They are like fiefdoms, with a ruler at the top.
The Laodicean is a like a prisoner of war
The letter to the Laodiceans clearly states this fact: "... thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17). The end-time American believed he was prosperous and free, but the reality is dawning upon him that he has been soundly defeated. He is like a prisoner of war. He is a slave to the Babylonian system and is dependent upon it.
God wants us to be freed from Babylon so we can restore Jerusalem
Now for the good news. God is calling his people out of Babylon. That is where I believe we are now in the history of the end-time Churches of God. He is calling us back to Spiritual Jerusalem to restore the Second Spiriual Temple. I'm not going to pretend that I fully understand exactly what's going on, but I know the guidelines are laid out in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
The church at Ephesus is called to remember, return, and repent
So going forward from Laodicea, there are two churches left: Ephesus and Smyrna. I believe they are on the scene now. But just like the initial waves of captives migrated from Babylon to Jerusalem and then were diverted from focusing on the task at hand, so the Church at Ephesus has done likewise. God is calling each one of us to "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Rev 2:5). This verse is a reflection of the call to repentance which opens up the book of Zechariah:
In the eighth month of the second year [of the reign] of Darius [the king of Persia], the word of the Lord came to Zechariah (the Lord remembers) the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, the prophet, saying, “The Lord was extremely angry with your fathers. Therefore say to the Jews, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts (armies), “Return to Me,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and I shall return to you. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Repent [that is, change your way of thinking] and return now from your evil way [of life] and from your evil deeds.”’ But they did not listen or pay attention to Me,” declares the Lord. “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not My words (warnings) and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, ‘As the Lord of hosts planned to do to us [in discipline and punishment], in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so has He dealt with us.’”’” (Zech. 1:1-6; Amplified Bible)
The Radio / Worldwide Church of God was analogous to Solomon's Temple
There is a lot of information here, but let me give you an overall look at what I think is happening. The Radio/WCG was analogous to Jerusalem at the time of Solomon's Temple. HWA and his son, Garner Ted Armstrong, ruled the church like King David or King Solomon in a time of relative freedom and prosperity. If you examine the time chart in my Seven Churches post, it shows that HWA began his work in 1934-1935 AD, precisely 2520 years after the siege and captivity of Jerusalem in 587-586 BC. When HWA died, the bulk of the WCG were carried captive to Babylon. This is the full-blown Laodicean diaspora.
The Internet was a game-changer that leveled the playing field of God's work
The emergence of the Internet was a game-changer that made the Laodicean church structure somewhat obsolete. You no longer needed a centralized corporate effort to publish God's truth. Anyone with a personal computer and an Internet connection could be a David among corporate Goliaths!
As the Second Temple movement was plagued by discouragement, so is the church at Ephesus
The captive Jews who returned to rebuild the Temple experienced opposition. Their work was frustrated, and as documented by the prophet Haggai, the people became preoccupied with building their own houses instead of rebuilding God's house. I think the real groundbreaking work in getting the truth out has been performed by the army of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to publish their findings online, many of which are incredibly insightful and revelatory.
Smryna may not be a corporate entity, but a loose network of post-WCG Philadelphians
I have not figured out exactly who the church at Smyrna is, but I believe it may be made up of the loose network of congregations and individuals like this. This was verified for me recently when I noticed something interesting about the history of ancient Smyrna. After an invasion, Smyrna had ceased to be a city, "yet lived on as a state composed of villages scattered over the plain and the hillsides around" (The Letters to the Seven Churches, Sir William Mitchell Ramsay; Pg. 270).
There is a clear parallel between Philadelphia and Smyrna
Jesus addresses the letter to the church at Smyrna thusly: "And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive" (Rev 2:8). Likewise, as a city, Smyrna had died, and yet lived. This is why it's hard to put to pinpoint who the end-time church at Smyrna is, because it's a loose network of small post-WCG congregations and individuals. There are many parallels between the churches at Philadelphia and Smyrna. Neither church receives any rebuke from our Savior. Both contend with a "Synagogue of Satan," and a "crown" are mentioned in both letters.
Stars and candles are clues to UCG's identity as the church at Ephesus
There are clues about the Church at Ephesus being the UCG, and they are a little obscure, but here it is. UCG is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Names of cities and of individuals are the keys to identifying the seven end-time churches. Cincinnati is famous for Proctor and Gamble. Back in the nineteenth century P&G were known for "Star Candles." Jesus addresses this church like this: "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (Rev. 2:1). I would say that is more than just a coincidence. You may think I'm grasping at straws here, but if you read it, the entire letter fits UCG.
"Keys" and "crowns" are clues to the Radio/WCG's identity as the church at Philadelphia
Likewise, a key to identifying the Radio/WCG as Philadelphia is focusing on the headquarters city, Pasadena, California. Pasadena, which overlooks the San Gabriel Valley, can mean "key of the valley" or "crown of the valley." The clues in the letter are, "These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David" (Rev 3:7), and, "hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Rev 3:11).
This Second Temple is destined to be more glorious than the Philadelphian Temple
I am attempting to establish that we are in a period in Church of God history which is analogous to the Second Temple period. The "house in it's former glory," cited in the passage below, must certainly be a reference to the Worldwide Church of God of Pasadena, and I am sure I'm not the first to state this. It may be encouraging to point out that although this present work may be small in our eyes, it is the temple that Jesus Christ will return to!
‘Who is left among you who saw this house (temple) in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now be courageous, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord, ‘be courageous also, Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and be courageous, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made with you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit stands [firm and immovable] and continues with you; do not fear!’ “For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more, in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the desirable and precious things of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory and splendor,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the Lord of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and in this place I shall give [the ultimate] peace and prosperity,’ declares the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:3-9; Amplified Bible)