The Seven Churches Ages
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- ...What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
- The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
- Revelation 1:11b, 20
Where did William Branham say he got his teaching from?
William Branham told his followers that he received his revelation of the seven church ages from God:
- Now, then, when we got finished with the book of the revelation of the church, what God did to those seven churches, which were then in their infancy, or their shadow, in Asia Minor. Then the Holy Spirit revealed and opened to us all the mysteries in There, of how He has brought His Church through history. And if you don’t have The Seven Church Ages on tape, it would be good if you listened to them. And soon they’ll be in book form.
Where did he actually get his teaching?
We will prove that William Branham took his teaching on the church ages directly from Clarence Larkin, who wrote a book in 1919 about the Book of Revelation. To see the details of what William Branham plagiarized from Clarence Larkin, please click on this link.
Comparing William Branham's teaching to Clarence Larkin's
William Branham's book "An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages" (which is commonly referred to as the "Church Age Book" or the "CAB") contains all of the plagiarism noted in his sermon series on the Seven Church Ages which were delivered in December, 1960. Most of the references in this article relating to the church ages are primarily to the actual sermons and not to the CAB. While the CAB contains all of the plagiarized text referred to here, some have said that the plagiarism in the CAB was the direct result of the involvement of Lee Vayle and, therefore, cannot be attributed to William Branham himself. The quotes contained below, however, clearly show that William Branham was the one that plagiarized Clarence Larkin's works.
|What William Branham Said||What Clarence Larkin Said|
|Now, the first church age started about A.D. 53, when Paul established the church in--in Ephesus... and the church age lapped over to 170.||The character of the Church at Ephesus is a fair outline of the Church Period from A. D. 70 to A. D. 170|
|...the very name "Ephesus" means "let go, relax, backslidden," called by God, "The backslidden church."||Its character is seen in its very name, for Ephesus means to “let go,” “to relax.” It had become a Backslidden Church.|
|...then started in the Smyrna Church Age which lasted from A.D. 170 until A.D. 312.||...the Smyrna Church...extended from A. D. 170 to Constantine A. D. 312.|
|Then come in the Pergamos Church Age, and the Pergamos Church Age begin at 312 and lasted till A.D. 606.||...Pergamos...extends from the accession of Constantine, A. D. 312 to A. D. 606, when Boniface III was crowned “Universal Bishop.”|
|Then come in the Thyatira Church Age, and the church age of Thyatira begin at 606 and went to 1520, the dark ages.||The Message to the Church at Thyatira. This Period extended from A. D. 606 to the Reformation A. D. 1520.|
|And then the Sardis Church Age begin at 1520 and lasted till 1750, the Lutheran age.||The “Sardis Period” extended from A. D. 1520 to about A. D. 1750.|
|Then from 1750, the next age come in was the Philadelphian, Wesley age; that begin at 1750 and lasted till 1906.||The “Philadelphia Period” covers the time between A. D. 1750 and A. D. 1900.|
|Eyesalve, open your eyes so we can look way back and see where it come from. You’re just looking what the church is today; look back and see where it come from, then keep moving towards God, you’ll get away from it. Yes, sir.||The character of the Church today is Laodicean, and as the Laodicean Period is to continue until the Church of the “New-Born” is taken out, we cannot hope for any great change until the Lord comes back.|
Do the messengers match the ages?
William Branham stated that:
- And, remember, the messenger is always comes at the end of the Message. We know in the church ages there how we got that.
- Remember, Paul come at the end of the age. All the messengers come at the end of the age. It's at the end time, when these things are—are brought forth.
- Each messenger has had his message, and the—the message and the messenger of the age. And it is most remarkable that each messenger… We even found in the church ages (and tonight we'll go back in the Old Testament and find that it's the same thing) that God sends the messenger of that age at the end of the time; always at the end, never at the beginning. At the end!
So did the messengers that William Branham picked meet the criteria of coming at the end of the age?
- Ephesus - 53 - 170 A.D. Messenger - Paul (born circa 5 A.D. - died circa 67 A.D.) - beginning of age
- Smyrna - 170 - 312 A.D. Messenger - Irenaeus (born c. 130 A.D. - died circa 200 A.D.) - beginning of age
- Pergamos - 312 - 606 A.D. Messenger - Martin (born c. 316 A.D. - died 397 A.D.) - beginning of age
- Thyatira - 606 - 1520 A.D. Messenger - Columba (born 521 A.D. - died 597 A.D.) - was not eve born in his "age"
- Sardis - 1520 - 1750 A.D. Messenger - Martin Luther (born 1483 A.D. - died 1546 A.D.) - beginning of age
- Philadelphia - 1750 - 1906 A.D. - Messenger - John Wesley (born 1703 A.D. - died 1791 A.D.) - beginning of age
- Laodicea - 1906 - present - Messenger - William Branham (self- proclaimed) (born circa 1909 A.D. - died 1965 A.D.)
Every one of William Branham's messengers was at the beginning of the age with one exception. Columba, the messenger to Thyatira, was born in the Pergamos age and never even made it to "his age."
William Branham thought he came at the end of the Laodicean age, but it turned out he was wrong.
Messengers Outside Their Ages, Messengers Confronting Heresies
John was told to write to each churches. William Branham said that each church represented an age, and that each age had a messenger. So, you would expect that each messenger would have lived within the correct church age... but this is not the case with William Branham's "messengers".
- Paul the Apostle was martyred between 68 and 73 AD.
- John wrote the Book of Revelation from the Isle of Patmos around 95 AD.
If William Branham was correct, then Paul had been dead for over 20 years when John sent him the letter. So Paul never got the letter sent to him?
Message Believers cringe when people speak against William Branham's doctrines. A common complaint is, "don't judge". What they do not realize is that Irenaeus taught against the Serpent's Seed doctrine. He labeled it a heresy. And William Branham said you had to believe the Messenger for your Age in order to be saved.
- William Branham said the Thyatira Age started in 606 AD.
- William Branham named Columba as the messenger to the Thyatira Age.
- Columba died in 597 A.D., 9 years before the Age was supposed to start.
John Wesley labeled William Branham's understanding on the Godhead as "...Blasphemy, joined with consummate nonsense." We know this because William Branham's doctrine on the Godhead was very close to Emmanuel Swedenborg's doctrine on the Godhead, and John Wesley also concluded the following about Swedenborg's doctrine:
- "O my brethren, let none of you that fear God recommend such a writer any more; much less labor to make the deadly poison palatable, by sweetening it with all care! All his folly and nonsense we may excuse; but not his making God a liar; not his contradicting, in so open and flagrant a manner, the whole oracles of God! True, his tales are often exceeding lively, and as entertaining as the tales of...the fairies! But I dare not give up my Bible for them; and I must give up one or the other. If the preceding extracts are from God, then the Bible is only a fable! But if all Scriptures are given by inspiration of God, then let these dreams sink into the pit from whence they came." 
Did an Angel draw the Church Age diagram on the wall of the Branham Tabernacle?
William Branham stated that after he finished teaching on the Seven Church ages:
- ...that Angel of the Lord, that Light, It come right in before three hundred people, moved Itself right over on the wall, and drawed with that round Light, just the way I drawed the churches, and showed exactly the same depths and everything, as it went through, while three hundred people screaming, and crying, and looking at It on the side of the wall. Why, It stood out here, and reflected Itself on the wall and made that same thing.
If this had actually happened and could be corroborated, it would help to "vindicate" William Branham's teaching on the subject, at least to his followers.
However, multiple sources who were present at the service said what they saw was the reflection of the headlights of a car coming through the window. The light went across the wall as the car turned. There were a couple of people who did scream in the back when it happened, as though it was something supernatural. But almost no one thought it drew the picture of the seven church ages at the time. Brother Branham and a few people just started to say it afterwards.
Other Problems with William Branham's interpretation
There are a number of problems with William Branham's interpretation of the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation. Here are a few of them which are dealt with below:
- As seen above, William Branham plagiarized the concept of the seven church ages from Clarence Larkin (see link for detail or brief discussion below)
- The Bible does not talk about church ages and this interpretation of Revelation 2 & 3 is clearly wrong on the basis of church history and current events.
- A map shows that Revelation addresses the seven churches in the very sequence that a messenger from John, arriving first in Ephesus near the sea, would travel to each of the cities listed, presumably along the main roads of Asia (see the Introduction). The average distance between each city was about thirty to forty-five miles.
- Only a forced reading of church history (regularly revised with the passing of time) has allowed this interpretation.
- We are not in the Laodicean church age. Less than 20% of evangelical Christians live in North America or Europe where lukewarm churches abound. Today, more evangelicals live in Asia than any other continent. 60% of evangelicals live in Asia or Africa. The churches in the third world… particularly in countries where the church is persecuted… are anything but lukewarm.
- If Revelation requires the completion of seven church ages before Jesus’ return, then in most centuries of church history Christians had no right to expect the imminent return of the Lord! This would be a curious conclusion for advocates of the seven church ages view, most of whom vehemently emphasize the imminence of Christ’s return.
- The whole point of William Branham's interpretation was to point to himself.
Is this also a Jehovah's Witness doctrine?
The preface to the book, "The Finished Mystery", published by the International Bible Students Association and said to be the posthumous work of Charles Taze Russell, states the following:
- Through St. John the Lord Jesus revealed the fact that the Church would be developed during seven distinct periods, or epochs; and that for each of these epochs Ho would have a special angel, or messenger, to serve the other members of the Body. It follows, then, that the messenger to the last, or Laodicean, epoch would declare the Presence of the Lord and the time of the Harvest of the Gospel Age. The great Master laid special emphasis on the importance of the messenger to the seventh, or Laodicean, period of the Church, saying that such an one would be "a faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord would make ruler over all His Household, to give them meat in due season."
- Those consecrated Christians who have read and fully appreciated the Truth as contained in the preceding six volumes of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES readily sea and agree that Charles Taze Russell was the messenger of the Church of Laodicea. In the mind of every one who believes the Bible the evidence set forth in this volume will establish that fact beyond the question of a doubt.
Seven Church Ages?
Its a small word. It seems harmless enough. But it's extra.
Revelation 1:11 is addressed from the "Alpha and Omega" to "the seven churches which are in Asia."
The problem with William Branham's doctrine on the Church Ages is that:
- Only two of the William Branham's "Church Age Messengers" set foot in Asia.
- Revelation 22:18 says, "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book." The word "Ages" is extra. Its not found at all in Revelation 1:11. So Ages may be a small word, but it's scary. Go there at your own risk.
- He copied this doctrine from Clarence Larkin.
John Wesley, who William Branham said was the sixth Church Messenger, said this about the word "Ages":
- "The seven churches with their angels represent the whole Christian church, dispersed throughout the whole world, as it subsists, not, as some have imagined, in one age after another, but in every age. This is a point of deep importance, and always necessary to be remembered: that these seven churches are, as it were, a sample of the whole church of Christ, as it was then, as it is now, and as it will be in all ages." - John Wesley
It is easy for people in the First World (North America, Europe, etc.) to look at the state of the church and to see the parallels between the modern church and the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. However, this parallel does not hold true in third world countries and, is as far as one can get from the truth in countries where Christians are openly persecuted for their faith (for example, Islamic countries).
Where is Asia?
Asia Minor is located in the country of Turkey.
- Paul grew up in Asia Minor, and established the church in Ephesus.
- Irenaeus was born in Smyrna, then moved to France.
- Martin was born in Hungary, then moved to France.
- Columba was born in Ireland, then moved to Scotland.
- Martin Luther lived in Germany.
- John Wesley lived in England.
- William Branham lived in the United States.
Other than Irenaeus and Paul, none of these individuals set foot in Asia.
Messengers were prophets. Or maybe not?
William Branham stated that all of the messengers were prophets, which he then used to make himself a prophet. Why was William Branham constantly pointing to himself?
- and… see the plummet in the hands of Zerubbabel with whose—with those seven; these are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth. The seven eyes—eyes mean seeing. Seeing means prophets, seers. This Lamb had seven horns, and on each horn had an eye: seven eyes. What is it? Christ and His Bride. Seven Church Ages, out of there was seven prophets that went forth, seven seers, eyes. So the last one must be a seer. All right.
But the very next day he said that some of them weren't prophets (but he again makes it clear that he thinks he is a prophet):
- The reformers came to reform the last fallen church age preceding them. And then after the reformers come and reform the—the church age from where it was and is went back into the world, then they start a new church age: always done it, always. Now, we went through that. See? In other words, here'd been a Catholic church age, of the Roman Catholic church. Along come Luther, a reformer. He's called a reformer. And what does he do? He starts right out there a-hammering away, and when he does, he protests the church, and the first thing you know, what does he do? He builds the same thing that he come to drive out of: another church. Then they have another church age. Then the first thing you know, here comes… The church age is in such a mess, along comes John Wesley, another reformer (See?), builds another church age. Get what I mean? Another church age is built up. They're all reformers.
- Notice. This last message of the last church age is not a reformer; he is a prophet, not a reformer. Show me where one prophet ever started a church age. He's not a reformer; he is a prophet. Others was reformers but not prophets. If they would've been, the Word of the Lord comes to the prophet; that's the reason they continued on in the baptism in Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and all these other things, because they were reformers and not prophets. But yet they were great men of God and saw the need of the day that they lived in, and God anointed them, and they sent out there and tore those things to pieces. But the full Word of God never come to them, because they was not prophets. They were reformers. 194 But in the last days it'll have to be a prophet to take up the mysteries of God, bring it back, because the mysteries was only re—known by prophets. So it has to be this fellow come. See what I mean now? He can't be a reformer; it's got to be a prophet, because it's got to be somebody that's gifted and set there that catches the Word.
The Value of History
If there are no Church Ages as William Branham talked about, is there any value to learning about Paul, Irenaeus, Martin, Columba, Luther, or Wesley? Yes! There is great value in knowing the history of the Christian Church! When you approach their lives to learn, you will find much to gain from their wisdom and experiences.
However, we have found that most Message Believers and Message Ministers have not studied the lives of any their "Messengers" outside of William Branham's sermons. This means that great books like:
- Irenaeus' writings Against Heresies,
- The biography of St. Martin written by his friend,
- The life story of Columba of Iona, written by Adomnan of Iona,
- Martin Luther's Preface to Romans, or
- John Wesley's sermon on Money
sit collecting dust on Message shelves... if they even get there in the first place. We challenge you to take a step and learn what these men had to say for yourself.
What is the proper interpretation?
Most scholars and biblical commentators understand the letters to the seven churches to be addressed to the actual, historic churches named in them, and by extension to any churches that may find themselves in similar circumstances to theirs. Beyond this, they seek no additional, hidden meaning behind them.
Some commentators in the past have called attention to certain parallels between the individual letters and successive periods of church history, from John’s day until the end. They conclude that the seven letters present a panorama of the age of the church. Clarence Larkin, as well as other dispensational commentators, was in this group.
However, virtually all commentators today generally ignore this application altogether, or critique it on the grounds that nothing in the text of Revelation would in any sense suggest that the letters to contemporary Christian congregations should be given this secondary meaning, and that it violates the commitment to literal interpretation espoused by many.<refr>Steve Gregg, Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers, 1997), 62.</ref>
William Branham taught that the description of the seven churches referenced seven successive periods of the church are prophetically delineated. But this does not agree with the division made in Revelation 1:19:
- Write, then, the things you see, both the things that are now and the things that will happen afterwards.
The second and third chapters of the book of Revelation contain "the things that are now", while the remainder of the book contains " the things that will happen afterwards." 
Quotes of William Branham
For as soon as I come down, and not knowing what to draw these church ages on a blackboard, showing just how much of the Holy Spirit come in the Ephesus Church Age, then on down to the Smyrna, and Pergamos, and Thyatira, and on out, and if that Angel of the Lord, that Light, It come right in before three hundred people, moved Itself right over on the wall, and drawed with that round Light, just the way I drawed the churches, and showed exactly the same depths and everything, as it went through, while three hundred people screaming, and crying, and looking at It on the side of the wall. Why, It stood out here, and reflected Itself on the wall and made that same thing.
And we took each church age, each time, each thing that happened, each star, each messenger, their nature, what they done, and brought it right down through history until the very last one, drawed right there on the picture, on the side of the wall. And when we got finished, the Holy Spirit come in and made a circle of the same thing on the wall, and revealed it by Himself right here to all of us.
Did any of you see the paper where they took the pictures of the moon? I have it here. If it ain’t a perfect image, leaving out the seventh age which is not yet, exactly the way I drawed by the Holy Spirit, the Church Ages. There’s the six of them, the seventh is not finished yet. The six conditions of the moon, how in its brightness in the first church age; dark in the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth; just the way the Holy Spirit let me draw them on the board, and then identified them with Hisself on the wall of the tabernacle, two years ago. The moon reflects itself, and science again picks up the picture of the, Church Ages, just as they picked up that Light yonder and put it in Life Magazine, of the opening of the Seals, of the revealing in the age of the seventh angel. In the days of his ministry, the seventh messenger, the mysteries of God, which all the mysteries has been along the ages, should be revealed, made manifest, it should be at that time.
Remember, up at the tabernacle, when them…You got tapes. I guess, all of you take them. How that the Lord showed there that day, in the tabernacle, exactly where those church ages would be and how they would be! I had them drawed out on the board up there, them church ages which you see here drawed out in a book. And if that Holy Spirit didn’t come down in a big Pillar of Fire, and went right back there on that wall and drawed them out, Hisself, while three or four hundred people setting, looking at It!
Links to other articles in the series
This article is one in a series of studies on the Seven Church Ages - you are currently on the topic that is in bold:
William Branham told his followers that he received his revelation of the seven church ages directly from God:
- ...when we got finished with the book of the revelation of the church, what God did to those seven churches, which were then in their infancy, or their shadow, in Asia Minor. Then the Holy Spirit revealed and opened to us all the mysteries in There, of how He has brought His Church through history.
The problem is that William Branham stole significant parts of his “revelation” from Clarence Larkin’s book, “Dispensational Truth, or God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages“ which was published in 1918.
Now I do understand that William Branham referred to Clarence Larkin but the first time he did so was over seven months after preaching his series on the church ages. Specifically, he refers to Larkin in relation to research he was doing on the seventy weeks of Daniel:
- I've been reading Dr. Larkin's book, Dr. Smith's book, Dr. Scofield's notes, different commentaries from men everywhere, and yet I cannot put theirs together to make it come out right. See?
He never mentions Larkin in connection with his sermons on the seven church ages or the seven seals. And when he does mention Clarence Larkin, it seems as though he disagrees with him.
But the truth is that the amount of material that William Branham copied from Larkin in the seven church age series is so significant that it goes beyond the scope of a video presentation. If you wish to see the extent of the theft, please refer to the details on our website and in the information below this video.
Here are dates of the church ages according to Clarence Larkin. William Branham copied Clarence Larkin’s dates for each of the ages almost verbatim.
William Branham repeatedly stressed that the messenger to each church age came at the end of their particular age: God sends the messenger of that age at the end of the time; always at the end, never at the beginning. At the end! (63-0116 - The Evening Messenger, para. 79-80)
But this is completely nonsense. Let’s look at each age:
Most scholars put Paul’s death in either 64 or 65 AD. This is only 12 years after William Branham said the age started. He did change the start of the Ephesian church age from A.D. 70 to A.D. 53 to coincide with the writing of Paul first epistle. The problem with this change is that the letter to the Ephesian church, as contained in Chapter 2 of the book of revelation was not written until after Paul’s death. So Paul never got the letter that William Branham said was addressed to him. How does that make sense?
Irenaeus was at the start of the age and so was Martin.
William Branham really messed up with Columba as he was born in the Pergamos age and never even made it to the age of Thyatira. How could he be the messenger to that age?
Luther and Wesley were both ministering at the beginning of their respective ages.
Finally , William Branham was convinced he was at the end of the Laodicean age but as time moves on it is clear he was born at the beginning of the age.
William Branham’s church age doctrine is outdated and obsolete. While it was at one time accepted by pre-millenial dispensationalists like Clarence Larkin, the continued study of church history has shown that the doctrine was based on poor research and certainly does not fit the current state of the church.
The clearest example of this is the Laodicean age. On a cursory examination it does appears that our current age is one of excess riches and lukewarmness. But that comparison disappears as soon as one looks outside of the first world.
Less than 20% of evangelical Christians live in North America or Europe where lukewarm churches abound. Today, more evangelicals live in Asia than any other continent. 60% of evangelicals are in Asia or Africa. The churches in the third world… particularly in countries where the church is persecuted… are anything but lukewarm.
In fact, according to current research, “More Christians have died for their faith in this current century than all other centuries of church history combined.” (Christianity.com)
The only reason William Branham preached the church ages was to point to himself. It is now over 60 years since he initially preached the church age series, and the only thing about his ministry that is clear, is the failure of his claims as a prophet.
- William Branham, 64-0719M - The Feast Of The Trumpets, para. 38
- All quotes of William Branham below, except the last one, are from his sermon, THE EPHESIAN CHURCH AGE (60-1205)
- All of the Clarence Larkin quotes below are from his book - Dispensational Truth, or “God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages“, 128 (Philadelphia, PA: Clarence Larkin, 1918).
- 60-1211E - The Laodicean Church Age
- William Branham, 62-0909M - Countdown, para. 60
- William Branham, 62-1230E - Is This The Sign Of The End, Sir?, para. 271
- William Branham, 63-0116 - The Evening Messenger, para. 79-80
- ~ Thoughts on the writings of Baron Swedenborg, by John Wesley, Wakefield, May 8, 1782.
- ~ Thoughts on the writings of Baron Swedenborg, by John Wesley, Wakefield, May 8, 1782.
- William Branham, 61-0208 - Sirs, We Would See Jesus, para. 11
- Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 75.
- Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 75.
- It was later established that this book was largely written and compiled by two of Russell's associates, Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher, and edited by Russell's successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford
- 63-0317E - The Breach Between The Seven Church Ages And The Seven Seals
- 63-0318 - The First Seal, para. 191-192
- American Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1992), Re 1:19.
- John Chappel Woodhouse, The Apocalypse, Or, Revelation of Saint John, Translated; With Notes, Critical and Explanatory, vol. 2 (London: J. Hatchard; J. Brettell, 1805), 40–41.
- William Branham, 61-0208 - Sirs, We Would See Jesus, [ara. 11
- William Branham, 61-0730M - Gabriel's Instructions To Daniel, para. 43
- William Branham, 64-0112 - Shalom, para. 80
- William Branham, 65-1204 - The Rapture, para. 61
- 64-0719M - The Feast Of The Trumpets, para. 38
- 61-0730M, Gabriel's Instructions to Daniel, para. 33