Revelation 1—5

 

Seven Sevens

Photo from page 53 of Lost in Translation vol 2 by John Klein and Adam Spears

 

 

Revelation 1—5

Monday, December 1, Revelation Chapter 1

The common assumption today is that Revelation is intentionally written is such a way that outsiders could not understand it.  By the time John wrote, the Romans were persecuting Christians, so the sections referring to Rome had to be hidden.  That is probably not the case.

John, at the time he wrote Revelation about 95 AD (when he was in his 90’s), was a prisoner on the island of Patmos.  It is a small island near Ephesus with small settlements, mostly for fishing.  He was free to roam the island and do as he liked, but he could not leave.  As the last surviving Apostle, every Christian who could afford it went to visit.

John received a vision of Heaven that is very like the ones received by both Ezekiel and Daniel.  He received messages dealing with the end times that have much in common with both the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.  What is found in Revelation would not cause Christians or Jews any more trouble with Rome than they already had.

We have a problem in this short study.  To fully understand the Message from God to us, we need a basic understanding of how God has been communicating his Message to us since the beginning of time.  I will point the way, but much more study will be needed to understand all of the points.  Therefore, I recommend the three volume Lost in Translation books by John Klein and Adam Spears.  They are pastor and Congregational Leader of a Messianic Hebrew congregation in Bend, Oregon.

Chapter 1 of Revelation is an introduction of the first major section, the 7 letters.  We will see the number seven many times in Revelation.  Most of us know it is the number most closely associated with God, being one of the numbers of perfection.  It is perfection in part because it is the number of completion.

Verses 1-2:  This is the revelation which God gave to Yeshua the Messiah, so that he could show his servants what must happen very soon. He communicated it by sending his angel to his servant Yochanan [John], who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah, as much as he sawCJB  We learn first that the message is from God to Jesus, second that Jesus had his personal angel deliver the message to John and third that the message was the Word of God.  Far from being a nearly irrelevant book until the end times, it is a book for us in the here and now.  It is the Word of God.  How more relevant can it get?

In verse 3 we learn that the time is near.  However, the Greek word is kairos which is more accurately a season of time, which fits with the images of Ezekiel and Daniel.

Verse 8 I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the AlmightyNIV  In Hebrew it is Aleph and Tâv and in English A & Z.  Biblically, God created the universe and He will supervise the ending of the universe.  God is First and Last.  And He is in control of the Last.

Verses 17-18:  When I saw him, I fell down at his feet like a dead man. He placed his right hand upon me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, but look! — I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys to Death and Sh’olCJB  Jesus is the First and the Last.  And he is in control of the Last because he now has the keys to both Death and Sh’ol (Hades, Hell).  The game is over, the Great Liar cannot win.

As pointed out above, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet are Aleph and Tâv.  Every letter in the alphabet has a meaning because they began as pictographs.  Aleph means “first, strong,” and Tâv means “sign of the cross or tree.”  The first five books of the Bible are called by God, Torah.  Those letters ‘read’ “Behold the man nailed to the sign of the covenant.”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earthCJB  Ten words, but in Hebrew it is seven words.  Seven at the beginning.  The middle word, word four, is the letters Aleph Tâv.  There is no English word for it, so it is never translated, yet it appears throughout the Hebrew Bible.  Every appearance is to remind us that the First and the Last is in the center of everything.

The first sentence of the Bible is perfect because it contains seven words.  It is perfect because it places God in the center of those seven words, therefore, in the center of everything.  It is perfect because it gives us our first look at the menorah.

We Gentiles consider the menorah an odd symbol for Israel and, oh yes, it was used in the Temple.  Actually, the menorah is woven into the Bible in countless ways.  It is important for us in this study because it is one of the keys to understanding the Revelation.

I turned around to see who was speaking to me; and when I had turned, I saw seven gold menorahs. CJB  Seven menorahs.  The menorah is a lampstand with seven separate lights.  So we have 49 lights total.  Each of the seven menorahs has a center lamp, designed to hold all the oil for all seven lamps.  It feeds the oil through tubes to the other lamps.  In the Temple, the center lamp was always the source for lighting the other lamps.  That center lamp is number four, counting from right to left (as in reading Hebrew) and represents the Aleph Tâv, the First and the Last, the center of all Light and all Life.

John saw seven menorahs with one being the center, or number four menorah.  In Revelation the center light of the center menorah will turn out to be the Messiah.  In verse 13, we read and among the menorahs was someone like a Son of ManCJB  Son of Man was Jesus’ favorite title for himself, but John uses it here and in only one other place (14:14).  The term stresses the humanity of the Messiah.  The description of that special human is, however, of the Godly nature of the Messiah.

The description is like those in Ezekiel and Daniel when describing God or the coming Messiah.  We also see him holding seven stars, typical symbols for angels, but sometimes for saints.  Each of the seven congregations to ‘receive’ a letter has its own angel, but each has its saints as well.

Tuesday, December 2, Revelation Chapter 2

Chapters 2 and 3 should be taken as one chapter, for they cover the seven letters which make up a unit.  Each letter contains 1) a description of Jesus, 2) congratulations (except Sardis and Laodicea), 3) rebuke (except Smyrna and Philadelphia) 4) exhortation, and 5) a promise.

We generally speak of these letters as going to churches, but the Greek word used is ecclesia, meaning congregation.  Cirice is the oldest English word for ‘meeting place’.  Over the centuries it morphed into church.  Because the early church well into the second century met in synagogues, this is probably the best reading of verse 1:  To the angel of the Messianic Community in EphesusCJB  More accurate but more difficult for most of us is To the malach of the Kehillah in EphesusOJB

More important than ecclesia is the message that the angel had some work to do in Ephesus.  It had been the rock star of early Christianity and was Paul’s favorite.  He sent Timothy to spend the rest of his life helping them.  He is not mentioned in this writing and may have died by then.  It does not matter for the Ephesians were losing their luster.

We learn the following in this letter:

Jesus holds seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven menorahs.

The congregation is commended for doing good deeds, toiling, persevering and being unwilling to tolerate evil men, the Nicolaitans, a group of pagan priests leading the people away from God.  They have not grown weary.

The congregation is rebuked for having left their first love.

The congregation is exhorted to remember where they have fallen, repent and return to their good deeds.

The congregation will be rewarded with the fruit of the tree of life and eternity in Paradise.

There is another layer to the menorah image that leads us to a more complete understanding of the role of the Messiah in the Bible.  Adam (mankind) sinned and was banned from Paradise.  God immediately placed His salvation plan into operation.  Step one was to cover them.  Adonai, God, made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed themCJB  But this covering was more than mere leather, it included, and includes, the protective covering of the Holy Spirit.

Where did the leather come from?  Not a question I had ever thought of.  The obvious answer leads us to the first blood sacrifice.  God killed animals to cloth his humans.  Their blood sealed the first covenant between God and man (Adam).  Adam sinned but was sorry; he repented and tried to stay as close to God as he could.  He represents the blood sacrifice which is the symbol for the lowest level of covenant relationship: service.  That is why Paul always referred to himself as a servant of Jesus.

Every single human who has ever lived, or ever will live, will be a slave-servant; either to Jesus or to Satan.  There are no other possibilities.  If I refuse to make a choice, Satan is the default master.  Salvation can only come by choosing Jesus.

Ephesus clearly chose to serve Jesus and their reward will be great.

Smyrna also chose Jesus.

From their letter, we learn that Jesus is the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life.

The congregation may live in earthly poverty, but they are rich.  They are blasphemed by those who falsely claim to be Jews. (Actually Greek philosophers who were Gnostics.)

God had no rebuke for this congregation.

The congregation need not fear the coming suffering of ten days.  The suffering is still going on.  Be faithful, even to death.  In the Bible, the number 10 is used 242 times. The designation “10th” is used 79 times. Ten is also viewed as a complete and perfect number, as is 3, 7 and 12. It is made up of 4, the number of the physical creation, and 6, the number of man. As such, it signifies testimony, law, responsibility and the completeness of order.  In Genesis 1 we find the phrase “God said” 10 times, which is a testimony of His creative power. God gave the 10 Commandments to man. Ten therefore represents man’s responsibility to keep the commandments. A tithe is a 10th of our earnings and is a testimony of our faith in the Lord.  The Passover lamb was selected on the 10th day of the 1st month (Exodus 12:3), as was Jesus, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world (John 12:28 – 29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). The 10th day of the 7th month is the Holy Day known as the Day of Atonement. From biblestudy.org

The congregation will receive the crown of life and exemption from the second death when Satan receives his final ‘reward’.

We learn that Jesus has a two-edged sword (for judgment).

The congregation dwells in Satan’s throne, yet holds to Jesus and the faith.

Yet some in their midst follow Baal and the Nicolaitans.

The congregation is exhorted to repent.

The congregation will receive the reward of manna and a white stone on which is written a new name that nobody knows except the one receiving itCJB

The white stone was used in ancient courts.  When a case had been heard against the accused, the judge would place a stone on the table, black for conviction or white for exoneration.  We can add that white stands for purity.

This white stone for Smyrna also represents a renaming of the faithful.  Abraham received that name at the age of 99 when God told him Abraham and Sarai, whom he should now call Sarah, would have a son who would provide Abraham the promised multitude of descendants.  Each of us who remain true to the faith will receive our new names in Paradise, written in Hebrew on white stones.

The letter to Thyatira describes Jesus as having eyes like flames and feet of polished bronze.

With those eyes, Jesus knows the congregation’s love and faithful service, even greater now than when they began.

His rebuke is that they follow Jezebel into immorality.

Jesus exhorts the congregation to hold fast, do his work to the end.

Their reward will be authority over nations with the morning star; they shall rule with an iron rod.

That last comes from Numbers 24:17:  I see him, but not now;   I behold him, but not near.  A star will come out of Jacob;   a scepter will rise out of IsraelCJB  The scepter is the iron rod and the star is the Morning Star, another name for the Messiah.  It was not a common name until the writings between the Testaments when the Bright Morning Star, the Messiah, was looked forward to.

Remember that the center lamp of each menorah serves as the source of oil for the other six lamps; it is the servant lamp.  As such, it is also the very symbol of the Messiah, in both Judaism and Christianity.  Jesus both serves us and provides us what we need to live.

As the Morning Star, we are reminded that Jesus is the light of the world.  But also notice in the passage in Numbers that Jesus shares with Jacob.  The image is of Jacob, like his father and grandfather, being the forerunner of the Messiah.  At the same time Jacob represents the Bride of the Messiah.  The idea of Jesus taking his followers as his Bride is not new in the New Testament.  It has its roots as far back as chapter 3 of Genesis.  Jacob is the Bride in that he represents all those who choose God over Satan.

Wednesday, December 3, Revelation Chapter 3

This is the only reference to Sardis in the Bible.  The city was a major military city in Roman days and was the city that invented and produced electrum, a laminate of gold and silver used by pagan priests to divine the intentions of the gods.

Jesus is said to be the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven starsCJB  or the seven Spirits of GodPhillips  Those seven Spirits are represented by the seven congregations.

The congregation is commended for having a few worthy to walk in Heaven dressed in white.

The congregation is rebuked for doing very little.  They are dead in deeds.

The congregation is encouraged to hold fast to what they know and keep watch for when Jesus returns.

The congregation will be rewarded with white clothing and the promise that their names will never be removed from the Book of Life.  Jesus will personally speak their names to God.

Sardis, more than the other six, is a congregation most like the US.  They find it difficult to remain faithful in a land of plenty.  It is difficult to identify with the poor when one is rich.

Remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and turn from your sin! CJB  Very much the message Moses delivered to the stiff-necked people in the desert.

Philadelphia is next on the list of letters.

They are said to possess the key of David.  This is actually a statement about the Messiah having the keys of death and Hades.

The congregation is commended for keeping the Word even with little power.

The congregation is not rebuked.

The congregation is encouraged to hold fast to what they know and keep watch for when Jesus returns.

The promise is that the congregation will become a pillar in the Temple of God and that Jesus will write the true Name of God on them.

The city is linked to David by the reference to the city of my God, the new JerusalemNIV  David founded the earthly city of Jerusalem with the promise that the Messiah would usher us to the Heavenly City of Jerusalem.

In spite of the fact that the city is identified with evil, See how I deal with those of Satan’s synagogue, Phillips God still promises a marriage relationship by giving them, and us, His name.

The letter to Laodicea closes this first major section of Revelation.

Jesus is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Ruler of God’s creationCJB

There is no commendation.

The church is rebuked for being lukewarm.  You keep saying, ‘I am rich, I have gotten rich, I don’t need a thing!’ CJB

My advice to you is to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich; and white clothing, so that you may be dressed and not have to be ashamed of your nakedness; and eye salve to rub on your eyes, so that you may seeCJB

The reward:  I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.  I will let him who wins the victory sit with me on my throneCJB

Laodicea in ancient times had many natural springs, both hot and cold, where people came to take the healing comfort of the water.  That is good, but God wants his people to be hot, not lukewarm.

Being rich is only about a proper relationship with God through Jesus.  Without that relationship, we are wearing the emperor’s clothes, naked without realizing it.

 Here, I’m standing at the door, knockingCJB  This may be the single most important sentence in Revelation.  We will look later at the process of marriage in ancient Jewish tradition, but here we see the Groom standing at the Bride’s door.  This is the moment of final decision.  The time of courtship and negotiations is over.  Now, let us be married.  But the Bride still has the option of refusing to open the door, even though she has signed the legal document that has been sealed for the wedding. Jesus will not force anyone to be his Bride.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on the first Sunday in Advent, 1928.  When early Christianity spoke about the return of the Lord Jesus, it was thinking first of all about a great day of judgment.  And as alien to Christmas as this thought may seem to us, it derives from early Christianity and should be taken seriously.  When we hear Jesus knocking at our door, the first thing that happens is that our conscience awakens:  Are we properly prepared?  Is our heart capable of becoming his dwelling place?  Hence the time of Advent becomes a time of introspection for us…. It is so peculiar because we so often encounter God’s footprints in the world together with the footprints of human suffering, of the cross on Golgotha.  We have grown so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of the coming at Christmas that we no longer sense the awe that God’s coming should awaken in us.  We have become dulled to the message; we only register what is welcome in it, what is pleasant, forgetting the powerful seriousness of the fact that the God of the worlds is approaching us on our small earth and now makes claims on us.  God’s coming is truly not merely a message of joy, but first of all horrifying news for every person with a conscience.

Thursday, December 4, Revelation Chapter 4

Chapters 4 and 5 prepare us for the next big section of sevens, that of the seals.  Beginning in chapter 4, John is spirited into Heaven to the Throne Room of God.  In thinking of the great wedding in Heaven, God is Father of the Groom.

After these things, I looked; and there before me was a door standing open in heaven; and the voice like a trumpet which I had heard speaking with me before said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things.” Instantly I was in the Spirit, and there before me in heaven stood a throne, and on the throne Someone was sittingCJB

These first two verses have been taken by many as a picture of the rapture.  As can be easily seen, the word rapture does not appear in the Bible.  It was never used in reference to the Bible until 1830 when Edward Irving first suggested it to be a part of the end times.  The basic idea is that all of the faithful followers of Jesus will be instantly taken to Heaven long before Jesus returns to earth.

The command, “Come up here, is the key to the idea of rapture.  God commanded not only John but all his followers.  It is understood that John witnessed the future, that he heard God call every follower on that great day of rapture.

John writes, Instantly I was in the Spirit, which clearly means his body remained on earth.  Further, he wrote, I, not we.  Indeed, he later wrote Revelation while on the island and lived a few more years on earth before being buried like the rest of his fellow Apostles.  It is incredible to me that an entire concept can be built on these two verses.

In the next verse we read, The One sitting there gleamed like diamonds and rubies, and a rainbow shining like emerald encircled the throneCJB  Now, where have we read about a rainbow before?  Genesis chapter 9 for sure, but also Ezekiel 1:28.  This brilliance around him looked like a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was how the appearance of the glory of Adonai looked. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speakingCJB  Color plays an important role throughout the Bible, culminating in Revelation.

The rainbow is more than a sign of the covenant not to destroy humans with water again.  It is built into the essence of God and surrounds him at all times.  As we know from school, a rainbow is made when light is refracted, that is, split up.  We also know it only comes from pure light, that is, white light.

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and on the thrones sat twenty-four elders dressed in white clothing and wearing gold crowns on their headsCJB  Notice first the white.  It is the symbol of purity and also of marriage.  The gold crowns indicate nobility.  There is little disagreement that 12 of them are the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel and the other 12 are the Apostles.  Judas?

John sees In the center, around the throne, were four living beings covered with eyes in front and behindCJB  These must be the four cherubim we generally call archangels; Michael (Warrior of God), Gabriel (Redeemer of God), Raphael (Healer of God), and Uriel (Light of God).  The second two names are found in the teachings of the rabbis called the Oral Tradition.  Some rabbis included Raguel, Remiel and Soraqael for a total of seven cherubim.  I think four is the correct number, but I would not be shocked to learn that God has millions of cherubim.

When these cherubim are not praising God, they are sent by God on special missions to deal with Satan, as well as with you and me.  God created three orders of angels; cherubim, seraphim and teraphim.

Seraphim are the middle order of angels and do most of the messenger work for God.  They would have been the ones singing to the shepherds of the birth of the Messiah.

The teraphim are the lowest order, but are the only ones that are capable of taking human form.  Every person on earth is said to have a guardian angel, but their mission is not to prevent us from sinning or protect us from being abused.  They encourage us to “run the good race.”

We do need to know two other cherubim, though we may never know their true names.  The one we call Satan (Lucifer) lead a rebellion against God and was cast out of Heaven for it.  He teamed up with another cherub now called Abaddon, the angel of death, to lead one-third of all angels with them.  That angel had been the Angel of Life.  All those angels had their names stripped from them so completely that they do not remember them.  Only God knows Satan’s name.

Satan’s sin is the greatest because he was the cherub charged with protecting humans.  Instead, he led them away from God.

The scene ending this chapter is a visionary description of the constant worship of God.  Some who read this and similar passages conclude that Heaven will be boring, having to bow before God without ceasing.

We cannot forget that John records images of visions in poetic form.  Yes we will worship God, doing it as we talk, run, play, sing, eat, in short, in all we do in our new bodies in the New Jerusalem.

Friday, December 5, Revelation Chapter 5

Next I saw in the right hand of the One sitting on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” CJB

John enters the room to find weeping because no one is able to open the scroll with seven seals.  Clearly, God could open the scroll in his right hand, but that is not the point.  It is not for Him to open.  As we will soon learn, only the Messiah, God’s Son, is supposed to open it.  Think for example of a private in the army delivering a sealed envelope to the office of the general.  Neither the private nor the secretary would dare to open the envelope.

As to the scroll, it is important that it has writing on both sides.  We find this same image in Exodus 32:15.   Moshe turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets inscribed on both sides, on the front and on the backCJB  We need to know that this unusual form of writing on two sides was generally reserved for the marriage contract.

We often misunderstand the Exodus passage to mean that Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain (think Charlton Heston).  Actually, what he carried was the first five books of the Bible, the Torah.  God writes small.

When John realized that the book (which is not the Book of Life as if often claimed) cannot be read by anyone there, I cried and cried, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.  One of the elders said to me, “Don’t cry. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Y’hudah, the Root of David, has won the right to open the scroll and its seven seals.” CJB  Only the Messiah could open the scroll legally because he is the Groom and the scroll is the Marriage Contract.

All ancient Jewish marriage contracts were signed by seven people, but only the groom was allowed to open it once it was signed.  The reason is that the contract contains information about the bride and even though the bride and groom helped write the contract and know what is in it, it is opened in public as a part of the wedding and read by the groom who then announces his bride to be pure and ready for marriage.

The marriage contract was generally written and signed a year before the marriage.  Thus it was that Joseph was faced with a difficult problem when he learned his bride was already pregnant.  In Matthew 1:19 we read,   Her husband-to-be, Yosef, was a man who did what was right; so he made plans to break the engagement quietly, rather than put her to public shameCJB  After an angel explained the details, he made a different choice.  Instead of simply canceling the engagement, suggesting he had a change of heart, he chose to open the contract and tell those gathered that he found Mary to be pure and ready for marriage, but only after he had paid a price equal to what she would have to pay for promiscuity.

At Christmas time, we slide right past this all important event.  Like Joseph, Jesus will stand in Heaven and read from the contract that you and I are pure and ready for The Marriage, even knowing our sins because he has already paid the price for those sins.  From our standpoint, reading the contract includes naming the Bride.  If my name is not there, I have a problem.

Then I saw standing there with the throne and the four living beings, in the circle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been slaughtered. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.  He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One sitting on the throneCJB  Our Groom come to read our Marriage Contract.

The angels said, You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals; because you were slaughtered; at the cost of blood you ransomed for God  persons from every tribe, language, people and nationCJB

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

 

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