The First Seal: The First Horseman

Revelation 6:1-2
The End Times

In my last post, we concluded our study of Revelation 5.  In this post, we begin our journey in Revelation 6 as the first six of the seven seals are opened.  As you can quickly see, we will be taking each seal individually as the Four View interpreters have much to say about each.

Chapter 6 begins the account of the events that take place on the earth during the seven years of tribulation.  Futurist interpreters believe that these events begin immediately after the rapture of the church in chapter 4.  The sequence of seals marks a progression during the tribulation period.  It is interesting to note that these signs follow in the exact same order as the signs that Yeshua speaks of in Matthew 24, where He is responding to His talmidim questions regarding the signs that will foretell His return and the end of the age. (These parallel verses from Matthew 24 will be included as we explore each seal.)

The First Seal

Next I watched as the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living beings say in a thundering voice, “Go!” 2 I looked, and there in front of me was a white horse; its rider had a bow and was given a crown; and he rode off as a conqueror to conquer.” ~ Revelation 6:1-2 (CJB) Continue reading ” The First Seal: The First Horseman”

The Worship of the Lamb

Revelation 5:8-14
The End Times

In my last post, we began to explore Revelation 5.  In this post, we conclude our journey in Revelation 5 joining it with the worship of the Lamb of God.

 8 When He took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down in front of the Lamb. Each one held a harp and gold bowls filled with pieces of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people; 9 and they sang a new song, “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 nation.  10 You made them into a kingdom for God to rule, cohanim to serve him; and they will rule over the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard the sound of a vast number of angels — thousands and thousands, millions and millions! They were all around the throne, the living beings and the elders; 12 and they shouted out, “Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength,  honor, glory and praise!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth and on the sea — yes, everything in them — saying,  “To the One sitting on the throne  and to the Lamb  belong praise, honor, glory and power  forever and ever!” 14 The four living beings said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped.” ~ Revelation 5:8-14 (CJB)

 In Revelation 4:8-11 the songs of praise were sung to the Creator.  Here, the first two are to the Redeemer, and the third one to both the Creator and the Redeemer.  A new song (v. 9): the song of redemption relative to the song of Creation.  It is a scene of transcendent grandeur: the living creatures, the elders, million angels, and the whole created universe, in ecstasy over the redemption of humanity.  The prayers of God’s people (v. 8) are part of this grand doxology!  It is at this point that Philippians 2:9-11 will be fulfilled: “Therefore God raised him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow — in heaven, on earth and under the earth — 11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai —  to the glory of God the Father.”
When he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down in front of the Lamb. Each one held a harp and gold bowls filled with pieces of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.  Oliver Greene writes about prayer:

In verse 8, all the beasts and the elders fell down before the Lamb (that term “Lamb” is used 28 times in Revelation, the term ‘Lion’ is used only once).  The beasts and the elders all have harps and golden vials full of precious odors which are the prayers of the saints.  Did you know, dear Christian, that God bottles up prayers, and these prayers are sweet perfume in God’s nostrils?  Did you know that true prayers are sweet odors to the nostrils of God?  According to this verse in Revelation, the prayers of the saints will be used in worshiping the Lamb after He is declared worthy to open the seals on the scroll.

And they sang a new song, “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 nation.  10 You made them into a kingdom for God to rule, cohanim to serve him; and they will rule over the earth.  The redeemed sing a new song.  In this verse, they sing a song of redemption, directed toward the Lamb; Yeshua our Redeemer.  Yochanan very carefully points out the reason for this melodic response: Yeshua has redeemed us to God by His own blood (see Romans 5:11; Hebrews 9:22; and 1 Yochanan 1:7).  The scope of His salvation is universal: every tribe, language, people and nation.   Add to this, the fact that we will one day rule over the earth (during the millennium). Warren Wiersbe writes this concerning the new song:

To begin with, it was a worship hymn, for they said, “Thou art worthy!” But this song was also a gospel song! “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” This song was also a missionary song. Sinners were redeemed “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” This heavenly hymn was also a devotional hymn, for it announced our unique position in Christ as “a kingdom of priests.” Finally, this song was a prophetic hymn: “We shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard the sound of a vast number of angels — thousands and thousands, millions and millions!  I do not believe that in our wildest imagination we can begin to capture the praise, the singing, the jubilation that will characterize that moment in heaven.  The angels who apparently cannot sing still join in:  and they shouted out, “Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and praise!”

And I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth and on the sea — yes, everything in them — saying, “To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb belong praise, honor, glory and power forever and ever!”  There was a time in the past when many churches opened every Sunday morning worship service with the singing of the Doxology. It is interesting to compare the doxologies in this text and to note their progression. In Revelation 1:6 we find a twofold doxology: … to him be glory and rulership forever and ever.” In chapter 4:11 there is a three-fold doxology: You are worthy, Adonai Eloheinu, to have glory, honor and power…” Then in Chapter 5:13 we find a four-fold doxology: “To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb belong praise, honor, glory and power forever and ever!”  Finally, in Chapter 7:12 (which we will study later), it appears an apex of worship is reached in a seven-fold doxology: Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever!  William Newell explains the difference between a confession for salvation and a confession of worship:

No creature will be left out. This great universal confession will not be for salvation, but it will be the fulfilling of Philippians 2:9-11: “therefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name, which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The four living beings said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.  Worship will be our eternal delight. One day we will join all the saints of all times and these four living creatures and the elders and we will pronounce our own doxologies of praise!

As you read through the Four Views below, I would highly encourage you to listen this song based on this passage.  Every time I listen to it, I am transported into the heavenlies.  By the way, the guitarist is none other than Lincoln Brewster.

Blessing and Honor Lyrics

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 5:8-14 [1]

 Historicist Approach:

Adam Clarke writes that “the whole Church of God…acknowledges that Jesus Christ is alone worthy and able to unfold and execute all the mysteries and counsels of God.”  The celebration of redemption is linked with the celebration of those redeemed.  The phrase rule over the earth is taken either in the post-millennial sense to mean an ascendancy of Christianity in this world prior to the Second Coming or in the amillennial sense of a spiritual reign of the saints over their own spirits now.  Clarke further observes that Christ receives the same praise as does God, which would be idolatry if He were not God Himself.

Preterist Approach:

By and large, Preterists agree with the observations made above in the commentary on this passage.

Futurist Approach:

Most Futurists view the appearance of the Lamb to open the scroll as the beginning of the end of the present age.  The breaking of the seals paves the way for the fulfillment of our prayers to see the Kingdom of God established.  The saints rule over the earth is a reference to the millennial reign of the saints with Yeshua after His return to earth to establish His Kingdom.  Per dispensational expectations, any unsaved people will live on earth during the Millennium and the saints will reign over these people from the headquarters in Jerusalem.  With respect to the head count in the choir, thousands and thousands, millions and millions simply means countless or innumerable.  The language recalls Daniel 7:10 and Psalm 68:17.

Idealist Approach:

Idealists view this passage as fulfillment of Daniel 7:9-14, where the One like the Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days to receive dominion and a Kingdom.  The new song is the response of the redeemed to God’s new redemptive acts in Christ in establishing the New Covenant as the older song of Moses was in the establishment of the Tanakh.

In my next post, the Seals are broken beginning in Chapter 6.

 Click here for PDF version.

[1] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

The Sealed Scroll, The Lion & The Lamb

Revelation 5:1-7
The End Times

In my last post, we finished exploring Revelation 4.  In this post, we begin our journey in Revelation 5.

The theme of chapter 4 is the creative power of God; of chapter 5, the redemptive power of Yeshua. Yochanan continues to describe the scene in heaven.

Sealed Scroll


(Image courtesy of Google)

The scroll contains the secrets of the future, the final stage of Yeshua’s redemptive work.  All creation wants to know the outcome, but the only way to open the scroll is to break the seven seals.  And only one Person in all of creation can do this, not because He is strong, but because He is worthythat person, of course, is Yeshua.

As the seven seals are broken by Yeshua, one by one, there comes into Yochanan’s vision a panorama of the future.  The opening of each of the seven seals results in terrible happenings on earth.  It is not until all the seals have been broken that the ultimate future becomes clear:  the New Heaven and the New EarthGod living with His redeemed and restored creation.

The last seal was the most terrible of the seven.  When it was opened, it turned out to contain seven trumpets, each of which heralded more disasters.  And some interpreters see the seventh trumpet as containing the seven-bowls filled with plagues that are poured on the earth before the end. Thus, we see seven seals (6:1-8:1), seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), and seven bowls (15-16).

Halley’s Bible Handbook has this to say about the outline of the Book of Revelation from this point forward:

Many interpreters, however, see the seven seals and the seven trumpets in chapters 6-11 as the complete sequence of judgments. In this interpretation, it is assumed that the seven bowl judgments occur concurrently with the seven trumpet judgments. (However, the bowl judgments are not shown to Yochanan until the visions in chapters 15 and 16.) The same event takes place at both the sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:15-19) and after an angel pours out the seventh bowl (16:17-18): all heaven reverberates with the glad hallelujahs of final victory (11:15) as God’s wrath is showered on the earth in the form of lightning, thunder, an earthquake, and a great hailstorm. Chapters 12-20 are, then, a retelling of the events of the preceding chapters.

The seven seals and the seven trumpets together form the main framework of Revelation and carry the story swiftly forward to the end. Then the writer, following a common literary method of Scripture, returns to the beginning and, starting with chapter 12, begins over again with additional or explanatory details.

1 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; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven, on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look inside it. 4 I cried and cried, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside it. 5 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.’  6 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 seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.  7 He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One sitting on the throne.” ~ Revelation 5:1-7 (CJB)

 
(Image courtesy of Google)

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.  It is very important that we understand the nature of this scroll and what it contains.  We need to understand that this contains the legal requirement for the redemption of this planet. What was lost in Adam through the Fall is about to be redeemed and reclaimed through the Lamb of God. It would be helpful to read Leviticus 25; Jeremiah 32:6-15; and all four chapters of the Book of Ruth to gain a better understanding of the laws of redemption.  In the Tanakh, we actually have the law concerning the redemption of three things:

  1. Redemption concerning a slave.
  2. Redemption concerning a wife.
  3. Redemption concerning property.

 As we begin Chapter 5, the rapture has taken place and the Messianic Community, represented by Yochanan, is in the presence of God in heaven.  Therefore, the first two kinds of redemption have already taken place. When we come to Yeshua and experience salvation, we are redeemed from the slave market of sin. Then, when Yeshua appears and the rapture occurs, we, as His bride, experience a second kind of redemption. Thus, there remains only the redemption of land (this earth) at this time. M. R. DeHaan explains:

The earth and the creatures of the earth, both vegetable and animal, are still under the curse. The earth itself is still groaning under the curse of man’s sin. These also must be redeemed, for Yeshua is a perfect Redeemer, and every realm which came under the curse of Adam’s sin must also be delivered by the redemption of the Last Adam.

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”   Since this is the title deed to this planet and requires one worthy, that is, one qualified to redeem it, a search is made for such a person. Keep in mind that there are three requirements that one must meet in order to qualify as a kinsman-redeemer:

  1. He must be a kinsman (a close relative).
  2. He must be willing to act as a redeemer.
  3. He must have the necessary resources to make it all happen.

Again, as we review the Book of Ruth we can find all the qualifications for the redemption of both property and a wife.

  1. Boaz is a kinsman. Ruth 2:20; 3:9; 4:3, 6, 14.
  2. Boaz is willing. Ruth 4:4-6.
  3. Boaz is able. Ruth 2:1

But no one in heaven, on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look inside it. This search touched all the bases, left no stone unturned.  It seems as if every attempt to find somebody worthy came up short.

The emotional response of Yochanan indicates his knowledge that this book was the key to all that was to happen hereafter, thus, everything seems to have come to an apprehensive standstill.

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.’  6 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 seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.  7 He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One sitting on the throne.”

Is Yeshua really qualified?  Does He meet the requirements of a redeemer?  There are three titles provided in the text to assist in identifying the one who takes the scroll. The first name supplied is the Lion of the tribe of Y’hudah.   In Genesis 49:8-10, Ya’akov gathers his sons about him and tells them that out of Y’hudah would come the promised Messiah.  The second name to appear in the text is the Root of David.  The text does not say the root was in David, but that He was the root of David. This implies Yeshua existed before David.

In Revelation 22:16 Yeshua declares, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David…”  As the offspring of David, His humanity is revealed. Yeshua was a descendant of David and therefore could qualify as a near relative (kinsman) of the human race.  He became a kinsman when He was born into humanity through the virgin birth.  As the root of David, we see the deity of Yeshua, and thus He is fully able to function as a kinsman-redeemer. The third name to appear in our text is the Lamb that appeared to have been slaughtered.  The word Lamb is a direct reference to Yeshua and is used twenty-eight times in this book alone.

There can be no doubt as to His willingness to act as our kinsman-redeemer; that is the sole reason He came to earth as a man. He paid the sum total of our sin debt on the cross with His own blood.  There He satisfied the righteous demands of a holy God. When Yeshua said, “It is finished”, He could have as easily said, “Paid in full.”

Before getting into the Four Views on this passage, please enjoy:

The Lion and the Lamb – Big Daddy Weave – Lyric Video

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 5:1-7 [1]

Historicist Approach:

Most Historicists see this vision as showing that no other than Yeshua can disclose the future dealings of God in history.  According to the flesh, He is of the tribe of Y’hudah, as to His divine nature, He is the Root of David.  Interpreters agree that the seven horns and seven eyes represent “all power” and “all knowledge and wisdom.”  Most view the seven-fold Spirit of God as the Ruach, while Clarke as angels of providence.

Preterist Approach:

 Jay Adams’ view of the scroll is the sentence handed down by the judge (God) against Jerusalem for the shedding of the blood of the martyrs.  Although He was the sacrificial Lamb, as the Lion, He is avenging the righteous blood that was shed by the Tribulation Saints.

Futurist Approach:

Most Futurists view the scroll as the title deed to the earth.  Roman law required a will to be sealed seven times.  The opening of the document is part of God reclaiming for Himself the control of earth which was forfeited to Satan by the Fall.  Ryrie believes that the seven eyes represent the fullness of the Spirit of God.  Morris sees the seven horns as a reminder of the invasion of Jericho.

Idealist Approach:

According to Morey, the scroll is the “redemptive plan of God” seen as “God’s Last Will and Testament.”  There is no question that Yeshua fully meets the qualifications for the Messiah.  The seven eyes are seen as an emblem of omniscience and the seven horns suggest omnipotence.  Therefore, Yeshua is the ideal judge, prosecutor and executioner.

In my next post, we will conclude our exploration of Revelation Chapter 5.

Click here for PDF version.

 

[1] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

The Four Living Beings

Revelation 4:6-11
The End Times

In my last post, we continued exploring Revelation 4.  In this post, we complete our journey in Revelation 4.

The Four Living Beings

Who or what are these living beings?  God identifies them as both living beings and symbolic entities with the use of “like a” and “as a.”  These beings are commonly understood to be cherubim [k’ruvim in Hebrew], actual beings of an angelic order.  They seem to be identical with those spoken of in Ezekiel 1 and 10, where Ezekiel says, “I knew they were cherubim.”

6 In front of the throne was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living beings covered with eyes in front and behind. 7 The first living being was like a lion, the second living being was like an ox, the third living being had a face that looked human, and the fourth living being was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living beings had six wings and was covered with eyes inside and out; and day and night they never stop saying,  “Holy, holy, holy is Adonai, God of heaven’s armies the One who was, who is and who is coming!” 9 And whenever the living beings give glory, honor and thanks to the One sitting on the throne, to the One who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before the One sitting on the throne, who lives forever and ever, and worship him. They throw their crowns in front of the throne and say, 11 “You are worthy, Adonai Eloheinu, to have glory, honor and power, because you created all things — yes, because of your will they were created and came into being!’” ~ Revelation 4:6-11 (CJB)

Cherubim were present at the fall of humanity (Genesis 3:24) and afterward guarded the Tree of Life.  Here they join in the celebration of humanity’s redemption.  We will see them worshiping God again in Revelation 19:4.  There are, however, many varieties of opinion about these living beings.  Whatever their specific identity, they, along with all of heaven, worship the One on the throne, in a crescendo of praise to God the Creator of all.

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary states:

The cherubim from their position at the gate of Eden, upon the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, and in Rev. 4 are evidently connected with vindicating the holiness of God against the presumptuous pride of fallen man, who despite his sin, would “stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life” (Genesis 3:22). Upon the Ark of the Covenant they looked down upon the sprinkled blood that symbolizes the perfect maintenance of God’s righteousness by the sacrifice of Christ (Exodus 25:17-20; Romans 3:24-26). The cherubim seem to be actual beings of the angelic order. They do not seem to be identical with the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2). The cherubim apparently have to do with the holiness of God as violated by sin; the seraphim with uncleanness in the people of God.

In front of the throne was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.  The sea of glass represents that which is presently off limits.  Later God permits it to be inhabited (Revelation 15:2), and, finally, it is done away with altogether (Revelation 21:1).

Around the throne, were four living beings covered with eyes in front and behind.  These four living beings were created by God to serve as guardians.  Genesis 3:24 describes them as cherubim guarding the Tree of Life and in Exodus 25:10-22, they are again referred to as cherubim guarding the Mercy Seat.

The first living being was like a lion, the second living being was like an ox, the third living being had a face that looked human, and the fourth living being was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living beings had six wings and was covered with eyes inside and out; and day and night they never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is Adonai, God of heaven’s armies the One who was, who is and who is coming!”  The first actual description of the living creatures is in Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:1-22. Please note the similarities between what Ezekiel and Yochanan saw. There are some differences; however, these can be explained simply on the assumption that there are different orders of Living Beings.  Yet, they are serving the same function, that of guardians.  Oliver Greene clarifies:

These living creatures were full of eyes before and behind, and John describes them as resembling a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle. This lion denotes majesty and power among the animal kingdom – he is king of all the beasts (Gen. 49:9, Dan. 7:4, Amos 3:8). The second beast John saw was like a calf or an ox. The cow, whether a calf or an ox, denotes humility and patience, and is a beast of labor (read I Cor. 9:9, 10; Prov. 14:4). The third beast John saw had the face of a man-and man is the highest of God’s creation, denoting wisdom, reason and intelligence (Isaiah 1:18, Job 9:24, Ezra 9:6, 2 Cor. 2:11). The fourth beast was a flying eagle. The eagle is the wisest of all birds. He flies the highest, is keenest of sight and is swift of action (Deut.28:49, Job 9:26, Heb. 1:8, Job 39:27-30). These characteristics combined express the character of God’s throne in relation to earth.

The Worship of the Lord

And whenever the living beings give glory, honor and thanks to the One sitting on the throne, to the One who lives forever and ever.  When the four living beings begin praising God, it brings about spontaneous praise and worship on the part of the twenty-four elders.

The twenty-four elders fall down before the One sitting on the throne, who lives forever and ever, and worship him. They throw their crowns in front of the throne and say, “You are worthy, Adonai Eloheinu, to have glory, honor and power, because you created all things — yes, because of your will they were created and came into being!’”  Finis Dake writes of this event:

Here we have worship from the living creatures and the elders because of God’s creation and the purpose of it. The living creatures are first seen giving glory to God who sits on the throne, who liveth “to the ages of ages.” After this the elders cast their crowns before the throne and fall prostrate in worship to God. The purpose of creation is given here as being for God’s pleasure and for His will and desire.

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 4:6-11 [1]

Historicist Approach:

Albert Barnes points out that “it was not unusual for the thrones of monarchs to be supported by carved animals of various forms, which were designed undoubtedly to be somehow emblematic of government – either its stability, vigilance, boldness or firmness. Thus, Solomon had twelve lions carved on each side of his throne.”  On God’s Throne they were not carved, but living beings.  The rabbis said that the lion was chief of the wild beasts; the ox the chief of domestic beasts; the eagle the chief of the birds; and the human the chief of all intellectual creatures.

When they throw their crowns in front of the throne they were acknowledging God’s authority as the source of their own.

Preterist Approach:

Preterists do not appear to be unified on whether the living beings are cherubim, angels or archangels.  Though they do appear to acknowledge that the imagery is taken from Ezekiel’s cherubim, but acknowledge that Ezekiel’s cherubim have sixteen total faces.  Clifton compares the four faces of Yochanan’s vision to the middle signs in the four quarters of the Zodiac; Leo the lion, Taurus the bull, Aquarius the human, and Scorpio the eagle.

Futurist Approach:

The sea of glass is the heavenly model for the laver in Solomon’s Temple.  The laver was used for cleansing by the priests. Like the Preterists, there is similar divergence between the Futurists as to the identity of the living beings. They seem to focus more on what they represent than on who or what they are.

Walvoord says the represent the “attributes of God” presented to John here as living entities.  Ironside agrees and Ryrie gives that as one possible option.  Ladd follows the rabbinic interpretation discuss above by the Historicists and suggests two possible interpretations: (1) they represent the praise and adoration extended to the Creator by the totality of His creation and (2) they are angelic beings used by the Creator in executing His rule and divine will.

Lindsay thinks they are angels who represent the four portraits of Christ in the Gospels:  Christ as King (Matthew); Servant (Mark); Son of Man (Luke); and, Son of God (John).

Idealist Approach:

Idealists recall the description of four living beings as the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and the seraphim in Isaiah 6 combined into one image.

From my perspective, I can see the rational with each of these interpretations with the obvious objection to Clifton’s dealing with the Zodiac.  I do believe that the four living beings were cherubim.

In my next post, we will begin to explore Revelation Chapter 5.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

The Twenty-Four Elders

Revelation 4:4-5
The End Times

In my last post, we began our journey into the heavenly visions that Yochanan recorded beginning in Revelation 4.  In this post, we continue to examine Yochanan’s vision of the Twenty-Four Elders.

4 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 heads. 5 From the throne came forth lightnings, voices and thunderings; and before the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God.” ~ Revelation 4:4-5 (CJB)

Most interpreters consider the Twenty-Four Elders represent all of God’s people glorified: the twelve Patriarchs of the tribes of Judah and the twelve Apostles, signifying the union of God’s people in the Tanakh and Brit Hadashah.  (Personally, this is what I accept as the proper interpretation.)  Others see the elders as heavenly counterparts of the earthly church.  Still other Bible students regard them, like the living creatures in the following verses, as a distinct class of heavenly beings rather than redeemed human beings, because in the doxologies that follow they seem to be separate from, rather than a part of, the multitudes of redeemed saints.  This latter view is thought to be least likely, as elders always represent humans everywhere else in the Bible.

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 heads. The reference to thrones would better translated as stately seats as suggested by Strong’s because these thrones are subordinate to God’s Throne.

They have crowns that are given for reward of faithful service.  The occupants are dressed in white clothing and they have gold crowns on their heads.  G. E. Jones writes:

John said these elders had crowns of gold on their heads. The saints of God will not receive their crowns until Jesus comes. In writing to the elders of the church Peter said to them, “and when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” See 22 Peter 5:1-4. When nearing the end of his life the Apostle Paul said, “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (II Tim. 4:7-8).

God’s reward for our faithfulness will no doubt be presented at the Judgment Seat of Yeshua. The following is a list of the various crowns mentioned in the Bible.

  1. An imperishable wreath or an incorruptible crown, which has been referred to as a victor’s crown (1 Cor. 9:25-27).
  2. The crown of life, which is the martyr’s crown (Rev. 2:10).
  3. The crown of glory, which seems to be for preachers (1 Peter 5:2-4).
  4. The crown of righteousness for those who love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).
  5. The crown of boasting (or rejoicing) reserved for the soul-winners (1 Thess. 2:19-20).

From the throne came forth lightnings, voices and thunderings; and before the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God.  Roy B. Hilton cites:

The throne of grace is about to become a throne of judgment, for these symbols are used in connection with judgment as can be seen in Revelation 8:5; 10:3; 11:19; 16:18. The lightning, thundering, and voices are but the prelude to the approaching storm.

Again in Revelation 1:4; 3:1, we find mention of “the seven spirits of God,” and in chapter 5, verse 6, they are spoken of as “seven eyes.” All of these are descriptive images of the all-seeing, all-knowing, ever-present Spirit of God. The judgment about to fall will not be based on hear-say.

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 4:4-5 [1]

Historicist Approach:

Historicist interpreters appear fairly divided on this passage.  Adam Clarke likens the Twenty-Four Elders to the smaller Sanhedrin in Jerusalem which was comprised of twenty-three elders.  Barnes speaks for many when he recognizes in the twenty-four the Church triumphant-redeemed-saved-as rendering praise and honor to God.

Preterist Approach:

Preterist interpreters seem to be divided as well not identifying the Twenty-Four Elders as representing any particular group other than to carry forward the story that John is writing.  They do associate the lighting, thunder and voice to Moshe’s experience with God on Mount Sinai when he received God’s law.

Futurist Approach:

Futurist interpreters also seem to be divided as well not identifying the Twenty-Four Elders.  Henry Morris suggests they represent the Yeshua’s ancestors from Adam to Pharez as recorded in Genesis 5 and 11.  Ladd and Mounce identify the elders as angels.  The majority of dispensationalists identify the elders as New Testament saints who were raptured into heaven.

Idealist Approach:

Idealist interpreters appear to be more unified.  The Twenty-Four Elders are celestial representatives of all the redeemed, glorified and enthroned, who worship continuously.  Their robes symbolize purity and their crowns victory and joy.  The number twenty-four is also reminiscent of the twenty-four divisions of the priesthood (see 1 Chronicles 24) to attend to the duties in Temple.

In my next post, we will conclude our examination of Revelation Chapter 4.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

The Throne Room Vision

Revelation 4:1-3
The End Times

In my last post, we examined a summary of the Four Views of all Seven Letters and begin to look at the Four Views of the Seven Sealed Scroll.  In this post, we begin our journey into the heavenly visions that Yochanan recorded beginning in Revelation 4.

There is an abrupt shift in setting between chapters 3 and 4, from the Seven Messianic Communities in Asia Minor to God’s Throne Room in heaven.  At the beginning of the vision of the horrible disasters to come, God reassures His people through Yochanan that He is still on the throne and in control.  Regardless of what terrible things are about to happen, the final stage is set for the redemptive work of Yeshua.

1 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.” 2 Instantly I was in the Spirit, and there before me in heaven stood a throne, and on the throne Someone was sitting. 3 The One sitting there gleamed like diamonds and rubies [1], and a rainbow shining like emerald encircled the throne.” ~ Revelation 4:1-3 (CJB)

Chapters 4 and 5 seem to detail the events that occur in heaven after the Rapture, and chapters 6-18 the events that occur on the earth after the Rapture.  It is the same event told from two different vantage points.

After these things takes us into the third section of the Revelation, as outlined by Yochanan in chapter 1.  19 So write down what you see, both what is now, and what will happen afterwards.” Revelation 1:19 (CJB) Write down what you see chapter one; what is now chapters two and three; what will happen afterwards chapter four through the remainder of the book.

In this new division of the Book of Revelation, something most dramatic is transpiring:  the Rapture, the removal from the earth of all true Believers, The Bride of Messiah!  It is interesting that the Messianic communities are mentioned nineteen times in the first three chapters and then is completely omitted and not mentioned again until chapter 22.  16 “I, Yeshua, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the Messianic communities. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the bright Morning Star. ~ Revelation 22:16 (CJB).  Therefore, now one of two things must have happened: either the body of Believers has been completely wiped out by Satan, or God has taken it from the world in an act that is known as the Rapture.  This is the pre-tribulation viewpoint to which I personally subscribe.

These words of Yeshua assure us:18 I also tell you this: you are Kefa,” [which means ‘Rock,’] “and on this rock I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it.” ~ Matthew 16:18 (CJB emphasis added).  Therefore, we cannot conclude that Satan has overcome it, and indeed must conclude that the Messianic Communities have been taken from the earth by God.

In deliberating the Rapture question, it would be good to consider briefly the other two views of the Second Coming of Yeshua held by some theologians. One is the mid-tribulational view and the second is the post-tribulational view. The interesting thing about these two views is that they differ only as to the time placement of the final shofar. The mid-tribulationalists place the sounding of the seventh trumpet in the middle of the tribulation, whereas the post-tribulationalists place it at the end.

Both groups make the claim that the final shofar mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the shofar of Revelation 11:15 are synonymous.  The shofars of Revelation are different from those of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The shofars of Revelation are clearly identified with judgment, whereas the shofars of 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 signal a call to the elect of God. The shofars of Revelation are sounded by angels, but in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 it is called the God’s shofar.  John Walvoord (a Futurist) explains why understanding that these are two different shofars is so important.  Understanding this one concept alone greatly undermines the positions taken by mid-tribulationalists and post-tribulationalists:

The most damaging fact in the whole argument, however, is that the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is, after all, not the last trumpet of Scripture.  According to Matthew 24:31, the elect will be gathered at the coming of Jesus to establish His earthly kingdom “with a great sound of a trumpet.” While post-tribulationalists hold that this is identical with the seventh trumpet, mid-tribulationalists cannot do so. In fact, it is not too much to say that this one reference alone spells the doom of mid-tribulationalists.

Note that the open door in heaven Revelation 4:1 contrasts with a closed door on earth Revelation 3:20.

Instantly I was in the Spirit, and there before me in heaven stood a throne.  As you read this, your attentions immediately drawn to the throne.  The throne is mentioned nine times in the first six verses and a total of seventeen times in chapters four and five.  It appears forty-six times throughout the book of Revelation.  The activity around the throne is one of the key themes in Revelation.

The One sitting there gleamed like diamonds and rubies, and a rainbow shining like emerald encircled the throne.  The one sitting upon the throne is God the Father.  Later, the Son approaches the throne in Revelation 5:6, and the Spirit is pictured before the throne in Revelation 4:5. A rainbow is a real event that appears even in earthly skies.  Warren Wiersbe adds to this:

The rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant with Noach (Gen. 9:11-17), symbolic of His promise that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood.  God’s covenant, as we shall see, was not only with Noach, but with all of His creation. Usually, a rainbow appears after the storm; but here, we see it before the storm.

Ask yourself, how could you even begin to imagine how you would describe God’s physical appearance?  My head hurts just asking the question.  Does He even have a physical appearance or is He a spiritual entity?  Based on B’resheet 1:26 (CJB), God must have a physical appearance as He said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves…”.

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 4:1-3 [2]

Historicist and Preterist Approach:

Historicist and Preterist interpreters see in chapters 4 and 5 an interlude before the appearance of the first rider (on the white horse) in chapter 6, which is the victorious Roman army on its way to Jerusalem in 67 CE.

Preterist interpreters also point out that Yochanan’s vision is very like Ezekiel’s vision in the first-half of his book.  The only major difference being the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE (Ezekiel) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE (Yochanan).  In addition, they interpret the repeat of after these things at the end of the first verse to imply a first century fulfillment.  The Seven-Seale Scroll beginning in chapter 5 is God’s judgment against Jerusalem and the subsequent breaking of the first seal depicts the war between Israel and Rome from 66-70 CE.

Futurist Approach:
Futurist interpreters believe that at the end of chapter 3, the Rapture of Believers takes place: Come up here. (4:1). The period that follows, beginning with chapter 4 and ending with the Battle of Armageddon (19:19) and the 1000-year reign of Yeshua on earth (the Millennium; chap. 20), covers a terrible seven-year period at the time of the end referred to as the Great Tribulation (see 7:14and Matthew 24:21). These seven years are the same as the 70th set of seven years the prophet Daniel spoke about (see Daniel 9:27).

Idealist Approach:

After these things, does not mean this is what will happen next, but this is the vision I saw next to the Idealist interpreters. The entire church age depicted in chapters 1-3 from an earthly standpoint will now be viewed again from a heavenly viewpoint.

In my next post, we will continue to explore Revelation Chapter 4.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Other translations frequently use “jasper and carnelian or rubies.”

[2] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

Summary of the Four Views of the Seven Letters and Sealed Scroll

The End Times

In my last post, we completed the seven letters to the Messianic Communities in chapters 2 & 3.    In this post, we will examine a summary of the Four Views of all Seven Letters and begin to look at the Four Views of the Seven Sealed Scroll.

Before we get started on the Four Views, I wanted to share a crib chart produced by the ESV Study Bible.  Due to the limitations of WordPress in handling large charts, you need to download the PDF version here.

Special Comparative Note on Chapters 2 ~ 3 [1]

Having considered Yeshua’s assessment of the historical state of the seven churches, we are prepared to go on to the prophetic events about which He wished for them and us to be informed.

In view of the Historicists, the letters contain cryptic reference to the conditions in which the whole church would be found at varying times in her history.  The church at Ephesus represents the church in Yochanan’s own day, while the church at Laodicea stands for the church in the End Times.

The Preterists consider the letters to apply to little else than the contemporary situation of the seven churches as they existed in Yochanan’s time.  As with all biblical epistles, however, application to similar churches of any time is acknowledged.

Futurists may side with the Historicists or, alternatively with the Preterists and the Idealists interpreters regarding the application of the letters, though they see the reference to what is now, and what will happen afterwards ~ Revelation 1:19 (CJB) as referring to the end of the present age.

Idealist interpreters see the purpose of the book as communicating to the whole church the facts of God’s sovereignty in history and His vindication of the righteous.  The seven churches symbolize the church of all times, and the letters apply to any churches in which relevant circumstances prevail.

Special Comparative Note on the Seven Sealed Scroll [2]

What events do the mysterious scroll and its unsealing represent?  When do these events occur?

Historicist Approach:

  • Unsealing of the scroll represents the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.
  • The seal-sequences begins the reign of Domitian (who died in 96 CE) and follows the decline of the Empire through the invasions of the Goths and Vandals in the fourth and fifth centuries.
  • Alternative Historicist opinions will be surveyed as we go through the remainder of our study.

Preterist Approach:

  • Unsealing of the scroll represents the judgment of God upon Jerusalem (66-70 CE). 144,000 Judean Believers escape to Pella.
  • The Four Horseman represent the Roman invasion of Israel to quell the Jewish rebellion (66 CE), bringing bloodshed, civil war, famine, death, and ultimately the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Futurist Approach:

  • The scroll and its unsealing represents the Rapture of the church and the beginning of the Great Tribulation (4:1, per the dispensational view). 144,000 Jews of the End Times are saved.
  • In the End Times, the Antichrist rides forth conquering on the white horse; war, famine, and cosmic disturbances (possible nuclear war) follow.

Idealist Approach:

  • The scroll and its unsealing represent God’s dealings with mankind, seen in cycles of war, martyrdom, and judgment recurring repeatedly throughout history.
  • The visions underscore God’s sovereignty in the rise and fall of earthly kingdoms and His protection of the saints in the midst of political upheavals, without tying thee experiences to specific Historicist.

In my next post, we will begin to explore Revelation Chapter 4.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

[2] Ibid.

Revelation 3:14-22

Letter to Laodicea
The End Times

In my last post, we examined the letter to the Messianic Community at Philadelphia.    In this post, Yeshua’s last letter to the Messianic Community at Laodicea will be examined.

Historical Setting [1]

laodecia-map

Click on image to enlarge

laodecia

Click on image to enlarge

Ancient Laodicea
(Pictures Courtesy of Google)

The last church to be designated is in Laodicea.  Laodicea was located in the Lycus Valley of southern Phrygia, midway between Philadelphia and Colossae. The location of Laodicea on one of the main highways of travel enabled it to become wealthy. It was a center for banking, medicine, and was known for its fine textile products. Unfortunately, this economic sufficiency lulled the church to sleep.

Laodicea was a wealthy city in Asia Minor founded by Antiochus II (261-246 BCE). It lay on one of the great Asian trade routes, which ensured its great commercial prosperity (gained, in part, at the expense of Colossae, when traffic was rerouted from that city and through Laodicea instead).  Laodicea was a leading banking center.

It was no doubt the rich banking firms that financed the reconstruction of the city after the great earthquake of 60 CE virtually destroyed it.  Laodicea refused the Roman Senate’s earthquake relief.  For you keep saying, ‘I am rich, I have gotten rich, I don’t need a thing!’  ~ Revelation 3:17.

The Lycus Valley produced a glossy black wool, the source of black cloaks and carpets for which the city was famous.  Laodicea was also the home of a medical school and the manufacture of collyrium, a famous eye-salve (3:17-18). The scornful imagery of the apocalyptic letter to Laodicea is obviously based on these activities.  It also has reference to the emetic [an agent that causes vomiting] qualities of the soda-laden warm water from nearby Hierapolis, whose thermal springs ran into the Maeander River. Laodicea’s water supply came from Hierapolis and most likely arrived lukewarm.  The church of Laodicea was likewise lukewarm church.  Its members were materially prosperous, but God tells them that He sees them as spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

14 “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Laodicea, write: ‘Here is the message from the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Ruler of God’s creation: 15 “I know what you are doing: you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth! 17 For you keep saying, ‘I am rich, I have gotten rich, I don’t need a thing!’ You don’t know that you are the one who is wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked! 18 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 see. 19 As for me, I rebuke and discipline everyone I love; so exert yourselves, and turn from your sins! 20 Here, I’m standing at the door, knocking. If someone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me. 21 I will let him who wins the victory sit with me on my throne, just as I myself also won the victory and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities.”’” ~ Revelation 3:14-22 (CJB)

Here is the message from the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Ruler of God’s creation.  In each address Yeshua tells us something about Himself and, looking carefully, you will note that attribute also to be a characteristic of the Godhead.

  1. Rev. 2:1  ~  Omnipresent
  2. Rev. 2:8  ~  Eternal
  3. Rev. 2:12 ~ Truth
  4. Rev. 2:18 ~ Omniscient
  5. Rev. 3:1  ~  Comforter
  6. Rev. 3:7 ~  Omnipotent
  7. Rev. 3:14 ~ Creator

Each of these attributes, a post within itself, gives us a picture of the basic character of our Lord.  He is the Sovereign God of this universe.  What God must say in each of these seven messages to the churches of Asia Minor must be evaluated carefully, as they set awesome implications not only for the church named, but each and every church on this earth.

“I know what you are doing: you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth! For you keep saying, ‘I am rich, I have gotten rich, I don’t need a thing!’ You don’t know that you are the one who is wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked!  William Newell relates: [2]

Here we have, first, their spiritual state; second, their supreme self-confidence; third, their imminent danger.  The meaning of hot is seen in Romans 12:11 where the same Greek word is used – spiritual fervor.  The word translated cold is used in Matthew 10:42, a cup of cold water; (Like cold water to a person faint from thirst… Proverbs 25:25). Either a hot drink on a cold day, or a cool one on a hot day, is acceptable and refreshing; lukewarm is neither, and disgusts. These Laodiceans were lukewarm: chiaros – a Greek word used only this one time in the Bible.  It is the last stage of the church’s existence recognized by the Lord.

What a sad commentary on the church of Laodicea as Yeshua offers no praise for this church.  He does not rebuke it for immoral practices or doctrinal error as in the case of others; His rebuke is for being lukewarm. To be lukewarm reflects compromise, loss of zeal and direction; plus love for the Savior is diminished. This church is more interested in convenience and comfort than with commitment and commission. It has gone from a church that has lost the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4), to a church that is in love with itself.

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 see. 19 As for me, I rebuke and discipline everyone I love; so exert yourselves, and turn from your sins!  Yeshua counsels them to make wise spiritual investments before it is too late.  He sets forth corrections that need to be made.  First, He mentions gold refined by fir. This is true unadulterated spiritual riches, eternal wealth.  Second, Yeshua mentions White clothing.  The only thing that can cover spiritual nakedness is the absolute righteousness of God.  Third, Yeshua mentions eye salve.  Only through the work of the Ruach can one’s eyes be opened to see spiritual truths.  God longs for service from His own with a proper motive.  Their testimony was so compromised that there was no difference between them and the lost people of the community.  The church could have had a doctrine of compromise because they were all practicing it. Then added to all this was the fact that they were without direction.  Five words sum it all up, wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked!  

Is Yeshua your Lord and Savior?  If so, He loves you and desires the very best for you.  However, to accomplish this He will discipline you when needed in order to keep you on the straight and narrow path of devoted service (see Hebrews 12:5-11).  If you are guilty of compromise in any area of your walk, the admonition is to repent.

Here, I’m standing at the door, knocking. If someone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.  This is the final action being taken by our Lord prior to His return for His bride (the true Church).  He is pictured on the outside of His own church.  It is a sad picture, but because of the kind of activities, programs, leadership, beliefs and conduct of the people, He is no longer welcome in the church.  Through its lukewarm condition, the church in Laodicea has shut Yeshua out. Since the church might not open the door to Him, He also appeals to individuals within the church to respond personally to Him.  Yeshua is always there to enter a personal relationship with anyone who will open the door of their heart to Him.

This is a strange picture: Yeshua Himself on the outside, asking to be let in to one of His own churches.  In measure, it is true of many churches of today, operating in the name of Yeshua but with Yeshua Himself little in evidence.

I will let him who wins the victory sit with me on my throne, just as I myself also won the victory and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Yeshua promises the true Believer that he will one day (the verb will let is future tense) sit with Yeshua on His throne. Yeshua will sit on the throne of David and we shall rule and reign with Him for one thousand years (see Luke 1:32-33; Matthew 19:28).

Special Comparative Note on Chapters 3:14 ~ 22 [3]

Among Historicist and some Futurists, it is generally argued that Laodicea represents the lukewarm sector of the church in the End Times (possibly beginning near the end of the nineteenth century).  The scholarly assault on the Bible, epitomized and exacerbated by the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), put tremendous pressure on the church to conform to modern thought or lose academic respectability.  Many theologians succumbed to this pressure and began subjecting the Bible to “scientific methods” of analysis. Such analysis, though far from objective or conclusive, became fashionable in many seminaries [now I know why the call them cemeteries, the kill one’s faith] and denominations, resulting in a loss of respect for the Bible as a genuine revelation from God.  In many cases, secular psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and whatever social trend became popular secular thinking (e.g. the breakdown of Biblical models of marriage and sexuality), have displaced the Bible in its authority to dictate norms for the church.

Modern churches that have gone this route are said to be represented by this Laodicean church.  They are lukewarm and Yeshua says that they nauseate Him.  Those applying the seven church letters to eras of church history believe that both the Philadelphia and the Laodicean types of churches will exist together until the Second Coming of Yeshua.

Having considered what the Ruach had to say to each of the seven churches individually, we are prepared to proceed to the main theater, where the pageant of Heavenly scenes of later developments is presented for the edification of all seven of the churches – and, as we think, of the entire church of all times, as their symbolic number doubtless suggests.

In my next post, we will explore a summary of the Four Views of the letters in chapters 2 ~ 3 and the Seven Sealed Scroll contained beginning in chapters 4 ~ 7 of Revelation.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition

[2] “Layman’s Commentary on Revelation” by Don Jones.

[3] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

Revelation 3:7-13

Letter to Philadelphia
The End Times

In my last post, we examined the letter to the Messianic Community at Sardis.    In this post, Yeshua’s letter to the Messianic Community at Philadelphia will be examined.

Historical Setting [1]

philadelphia_satellite
Click on image to enlarge

philadelphia-bassilcia
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Ancient Philadelphia
(Pictures Courtesy of Google)

The city of Philadelphia was twenty-five miles south of Sardis. It was named for its founder, Attalus Philadelphus, who was king of Pergamum. Today the city is named Allah Shehr, meaning City of God, and is populated largely by Greeks. The remains of early Messianic influences are more clearly seen today in this city than in any of the other cities in Asia where the seven churches were located.  The ruins of twenty-five churches can be found there, and marble pillars – the remains of great churches – can be plainly seen.  As most of us know, the name Philadelphia means brotherly love.

The city was an outpost of Hellenism in Anatolia. It lies on a broad, low, easily defended hill, which explains why Philadelphia was the last city of Asia Minor to fall to the Turks in 1390 CE.  The district is disastrously seismic, and the great earthquake of 17 CE that also hit Sardis ruined it completely.  Placed right above the fault, Philadelphia was tormented for 20 years by recurrent quakes after the disaster of 17 CE.  The district was vine-growing and a center, in consequence, of the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine and intoxication.

In 92 CE, their relationship with the emperor reached rock bottom as Domitian ordered Philadelphia’s vineyards destroyed, apparently to encourage production of corn at a time when Asia Minor was suffering from a food shortage.  In this political and economic context, the church has little power and is small and suffering, but Yeshua says they have obeyed my message. That is, they have been faithful to him in practice. They have obeyed Scripture (primarily the Old Testament) and the teachings of Yeshua that would have been handed down to them from the apostles or through the Gospels, which would have been in circulation by this stage. Furthermore, they have not disowned me. They had stood firm for Yeshua throughout.

Smyrna and Philadelphia were the only churches to receive no condemnation or discipline from their Lord.  Other similarities between the two churches are notable. They both suffered persecution at the hands of the Jews.  Both are told that this opposition is of the Adversary.  Both churches are told that they will inherit a crown.  Yet Believers in this church at Philadelphia will need to endure further persecution and so they need encouragement. This is what Yeshua gives them.

7 “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Philadelphia, write: ‘Here is the message of HaKodesh [the Spirit], the True One, the one who has the key of David, who, if he opens something, no one else can shut it, and if he closes something, no one else can open it. 8 I know what you are doing. Look, I have put in front of you an open door, and no one can shut it. I know that you have but little power, yet you have obeyed my message and have not disowned me. 9 Here, I will give you some from the synagogue of the Adversary, those who call themselves Jews but aren’t  –  on the contrary, they are lying  –  see, I will cause them to come and prostrate themselves at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. 10 Because you did obey my message about persevering, I will keep you from the time of trial coming upon the whole world to put the people living on earth to the test. 11 I am coming soon; hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12 I will make him who wins the victory a pillar in the Temple of my God, and he will never leave it. Also I will write on him the name of my God and the name of my God’s city, the new Yerushalayim coming down out of heaven from my God, and my own new name. 13 Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities.”’ ~ Revelation 3:7-13 (CJB)

Here is the message of HaKodesh [the Spirit], the True One, the one who has the key of David, who, if he opens something, no one else can shut it, and if he closes something, no one else can open it. Yeshua identifies Himself as being HOLY.  He is imminently qualified to call this church or any church to a life of faithfulness.  He is calling them to be holy as He is HOLY (see 1 Kefa 1:16).  Yeshua further states He is the true one.  He mirrors the characteristics of God in His own life.  He is genuine; He is the same through and through. Genuine Godly conduct is a product of holiness.  The third thing Yeshua mentions about Himself is that He is the one who possesses the key of David.  Yeshua holds the key of David because He is the promised Davidic king whose throne lasts forever.  Isaiah 22 gives rise to the idea of the key.  “I will place the key of David’s house on his shoulder; no one will shut what he opens; no one will open what he shuts” ~ Isaiah 22:22 (CJB).  In that passage Elyakim replaced Shevna as steward of the palace and became the one who controlled entry to the king’s household.  This is who Yeshua is.  He alone can give access to God’s Kingdom and to an inheritance of God’s covenant promises. He can also shut people out: no one else can open it.  This self-description itself is full of encouragement to this suffering but faithful people. Yeshua is the sovereign King and in control whatever may appear to be true at times on the ground in Philadelphia.

In Revelation 1:18, Yeshua declares that He has the keys of Death and She’ol.   As keys have always been a symbol of authority, the important truth to understand is that Yeshua possesses all authority, both in life and in death.  He opens the door of salvation to all who believe, and will one day condemn the unbelievers to hell.

As stated earlier, along with the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), the church in Philadelphia was not told to repent, a charge strongly issued to all the others (Revelation 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). The church in Philadelphia had both right doctrine and right living.

I know what you are doing. Look, I have put in front of you an open door, and no one can shut it. I know that you have but little power, yet you have obeyed my message and have not disowned me. Yeshua has set before them an open door.  We tend to forget that only Yeshua can open the door for ministry.  It is not our plans, our promotions, our revivals, our tracts or our works that opens the door to a community, but our blessed Lord.  It is God, the Ruach HaKodesh, who prepares the hearts of men and women to receive the Besorah.  Note, in the reason for His approval, He mentions two things that should be fundamentally true of any Body of Believers:  the motivation to stand true to the Word of God and absolute commitment to the Son of God.

Here, I will give you some from the synagogue of the Adversary, those who call themselves Jews but aren’t  –  on the contrary, they are lying  –  see, I will cause them to come and prostrate themselves at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you.  The Lord promises to vindicate His people and the truth which they uphold.  It is just a matter of time until the whole world will know who has been preaching the truth and who has been preaching a lie; who is of the household of faith and who is identified with the the synagogue of the Adversary.

Because you did obey my message about persevering, I will keep you from the time of trial coming upon the whole world to put the people living on earth to the test.  Here we are given one of the most precious promises found in all of the Word of God. This verse refers to the “rapture,” the time when Yeshua shall come and remove all true believers from this earth. In this promise to the Philadelphian church God assures them they will not go through the Tribulation. This promise not only concerns the church of Philadelphia but can be applied to all true believers. Oliver Greene writes:

There are many ideas, doctrines and dogmas concerning the church and the Great Tribulation period that shall come upon the earth during the reign of the Antichrist. Some teach that the church will go through the first half of the Tribulation. Some teach that the Church will go through all of the Tribulation. There are those who teach that the Church will be raptured in mid-Tribulation. And then there are those who preach the truth: that the Church will be raptured before the appearing of the Antichrist, before the beginning of the Tribulation, the time of trial coming upon the whole world to put the people living on earth to the test.

The church in Smyrna had been told that they were to suffer persecution (2:10). The church in Philadelphia is given the promise that they will be kept from suffering.  Both were faithful churches.  However, God does not deal with all in the same way, but with each as He Himself knows best, beyond our understanding until we reach the other shore.

I am coming soon; hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. The Second Coming of Yeshua is the theme of the book of Revelation, and to the saints all down through the ages, it is our blessed hope; it is our only hope. There have always been some very difficult hours in the life of the church and during these times of distress the prayers of the saints are raised to God, and among their utterances, like John of old, the words, Come Lord, Yeshua ring out to heaven (Revelation 22:20).  He is coming!!!

I will make him who wins the victory a pillar in the Temple of my God, and he will never leave it. Also I will write on him the name of my God and the name of my God’s city, the new Yerushalayim coming down out of heaven from my God, and my own new name. One needs to notice that there are three prominent symbols in this letter to Philadelphia: a key, a door, and a pillar. The key represents Yeshua’s authority; the door represents the church’s opportunity; and the pillar represents the Believer’s security.  A pillar always represents stability and/or security, as you will see if you study carefully the significance of the pillars in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 7:15-22). This verse (Revelation 3:12) also gives a beautiful example of adherence! Yeshua the Son does nothing outside of the Father’s will (John 8:29). Notice the four times Yeshua refers to the Father, my God.  You get the feeling that Yeshua is totally devoted to the Father and to doing His will.  What we find in Yeshua is a powerful example for us.

The new name.  In 2:17, a new name seemed to refer to unimaginable joys to be realized in heaven.  Here, he who wins the victory will receive God’s own name.  It is a sign of ownership and a mark of citizenship.  In the same way, followers of the beast receive the mark of their master (13:16-17).  Each of us belongs either to the Lord or to the beast.

Special Comparative Note on Chapters 3:7-13 [2]

The Historicist and some Futurists see Philadelphia as representing the church at the time of the Great Awakening (from 1793 and beyond).  This began with the era of Wesley, Whitefield, Finney and Moody whose activities ranged from the early eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries. The “open door” that Yeshua had placed before this church refers to the great opportunity for evangelistic harvesting.  This period will continue until the return of Yeshua, overlapped in the latter days by the Laodicean period.

In my next post, we will look at the letter to the Messianic Community in Laodicea.

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[1] Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition

[2] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg