The letter Jesus dictated to John, for him to send to the churches which had been established in Asia-Minor, were at the same time indicative of the local bodies of believers specified by the city names given in their salutation, and a foretelling of the future of the life of the Church as a total body of believers. Thus, like all other forms of prophecy, these letters carry with them a duality of meaning concerning time, with one being that of immediacy and the other which could be understood only through an unprejudiced look at history after that portion of prophecy had been fulfilled; since the Prophetic Language generally was not yet understood.
This kind of interpretation is that which is generally acknowledged as accurate by both biblical theologians and scholars throughout Christendom. Roy Allen Anderson, in his book Unfolding the Revelation, explains this duality of meaning in prophecy as thus:
The sequence of these seven letters, as well as the particular messages themselves, is significant, for, taken together, the letters give a perfect picture of the church as seen through the eyes of her Lord. (UTE, pg 28)
This statement about the long term fulfillment of these prophetic letters he made in the midst of describing their immediate, short-term implications.
This dichotomy of meaning is simply an extension of the universal division of reality between that which is physical and that which is spiritual. Those who hold that there is no historical significance to the order in which the letters are presented in The Revelation are more likely to miscomprehend the purpose of both that book which was written in the Prophetic Language and this one which attempts to interpret that language, than is the one who recognized that all scriptures carry a duality of meaning; both physical and spiritual—both literal and figurative. Beyond this, there are at least seven major topical areas of significance which are addressed in both these prophetic letters and prophecy in general. They are listed below beginning with those items most physical and progressing to those most spiritual.
- PHYSICAL—including the things educators would call the physical and/or Earth sciences. Things like the earthquakes, storms, falling stars, and other natural phenomena which are recorded in prophecy are seen to be be listed as signs to be sought after as indications of prophetic fulfillment. Those who hold that this is the only possible understanding of the prophecy, though they be few, do not admit to any form of figurative interpretation of the prophecies as being possible.
- ECONOMIC—just a step away from the all physical point of view is the person who attempts to predict and profit from the prophecies’ predictions for the planet’s economic future. Although this may not be openly apparent as to what is the motivating force for this person’s desire to comprehend the prophecy; the person’s actions, if observed, will reveal it. They usually desire deeply the riches of this world and hope that this knowledge of the future will allow them to obtain them. Undoubtedly large sections of prophecy, especially The Revelation, is devoted to economics; but this is far from the total purpose of the book.
- POLITICAL—the majority of the theologians, especially those who hold the dispensational line of thought of pre-tribulation rapture, or one of the many other denominations in the world today who seek a physical world kingdom where Jesus is the king, emphasize this area of knowledge as the most important revelation contained in prophecy. An uncountable number of books have been published concerning the political implications of the prophecies which are revised repeatedly each time a new uprising in some part of the world presents a new set of circumstances for the theologians to contend. Once again, the prophecies do, undoubtedly deal greatly with the concept area known today as politics, but to limit the knowledge derived from these writings to this one area, as many do, is undoubtedly placing undue limitations upon the Word of Scripture.
- SOCIAL—the way mankind will be able to survive its own insanity is the desire of many who attempt to understand the prophecies. Some desire to build a perfected social order for the Lord to administer on his return. Others do not believe this possible until Jesus returns and establishes this society of perfection himself. The majority, however, believe still that at some future time they will escape this confused, condemned society of mankind and be placed in God’s Kingdom miraculously. Prophecy has much to say about man’s society and the one God is establishing her on Earth; but except believers comprehend the Prophetic Language and discard the interpretations of prophecies which have been derived out of the minds of men they will not understand what God has to say about a person’s relationships to other people.
- PERSONAL—a large number of people have clothed themselves with an understanding of prophecy which personalizes the events and dreams which happened to the prophets in order that they can, hopefully, better understand themselves. These people have recognized the fact that there are mysterious messages hidden behind the figurative language of the prophecies but, once again due to lack of a guide to teach them, have not had the proper prophetic definitions to be able to adequately interpret the prophecies. They recognize that their dreams are valuable tools in their lives, that is if they could learn to understand and use them; and they desire to learn such spiritual methods as mediation, prayer, health improvement, and other holistic methods to draw them into a fuller spiritual life. Although the scriptures in general have much to say about this type of self-knowledge, the prophecies are strangely mostly silent on this subject; at least at this level of interpretation where many personal names and most numbers are not interpreted. It is true that one can learn much by personal application of John’s vision toward one’s own revelation of God in his or he own life; but it does not seem to be the main concern of the majority of the people who are currently reading The Revelation thus that type of interpretation will be withheld for a future publication.
- SPIRITUAL—another, smaller group of believers, attempt to spiritualize all parts of the Scriptures proclaiming that none of the records in them have or are to occur in the physical world at all. They are mostly concerned with a warfare between good and evil forces; between angels and demons; between God and Satan. These people attempt to spiritualize everything which is recorded in the prophecies; sometimes even those which Gabriel, himself, said were not to be spiritualized (REV 10:4) There is no doubt that prophecy records a great deal about the hosts of angels and demons—spirits, but to attempt to deduce something concerning them out of each verse or phrase in the prophecies is nothing less than ludicrous. It is something similar to saying that since several of Shakespeare’s plays were about Rome that there is something said about Rome in all of his works. Most certainly prophecies say something about spiritual things; but even as not all of Shakespeare’s works were about Rome, neither are all of the prophecies about only spiritual things.
- THOECRATIC—there are many today who have become nothing more nor less than simply observers of prophecies due to the confusion surrounding them. They find it more convenient to allow other scriptures to overshadow their prophetic sayings for fear of later having their interpretation of the prophecies proven wrong. They delight in proclaiming what little knowledge they have about the prophecies and declare that, regardless the meanings, they all point to the eventual kingships of God over both the Earth and the universe. Proclaiming the prophecies as too complex for the mind of man they discourage those scriptures from being studied. In reality the prophecies do record the eventual lordship of God over all; but to proclaim them as incomprehensible by the mind of man puts a limitation on God unparalleled by any other statement possible. If God created people in his image: if he understands the prophecies; how could it then be possible for his image to not be able to comprehend them?
The fact is that all of these various points are partially correct. But as long as people insists on listening to interpreters who have not delved into the figurative language of the Bible they will not be able to realize the prophecies’ true meanings. No one of the major theories are, in and of themselves, wrong; but none of them, by themselves, are totally right. Without the conjoining of these bits of knowledge they all flounder in the dark like a fish which has gone too far into a cave and cannot find its way out.
Simply put, one must be able to recognize bits of all of these different types of knowledge as they appear in the prophecies if the full understanding of them is to be obtained. Therefore, with this in mind when turning to the letter Jesus dictated to John, one should attempt to discover if these areas can be found in them, and which areas seem to stand out as being the more prevalent.
4.2.1 TO THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS
Ephesus was one of the original twelve churches which the ministry of the followers of Christ was first established. Paul visited there to some length a second time on his third missionary journey after evidently finding some poorly instructed disciples there when passing through on his way to Antioch. His suspicions of poor scriptural knowledge were confirmed and he stayed there for two years where he used greatly the gift of healing. However, when evil books began to be burned and the people were confounded by Paul’s doctrine, the silversmiths arose against him because they feared that their business of idol making would be destroyed. Paul finally left there, with several of the silversmith’s fears soon to evidently materialize, and the apostle visited the churches of Macedonia (ACT 18:3; 20:2).
Beside Ephesus which was in Asia-Minor there were eleven other countries which had major church centers (Fig. 4.2.1). Admittedly there are some presumptions in this scenario, but the fact remains that in every major Roman colony Paul visited churches which he either assisted in establishing or which were already established when he arrived. The only place where this may not have been true was Sicily; yet why else did he spend three days there (ACT 28:12)?
From this basic structure of establishing an early Church in every major territory of the Roman
Empire each church then subdivided the territory into seven smaller regions even as was shown to be done at Jerusalem when the work of the territory became too burdensome for the disciples to perform alone (ADT 6:1-7). This is the reason for the seven churches Jesus addressed his letters to through the Apostle John. Evidently the churches in Asia-Minor were under the authority of John because the historian of early church history, Eusebius, spoke of “Elder John” as being the head of the Ephesian School and well known in Ephesus (TRJ, pg 17) which coincides with John’s self-entitlement of “the elder” in both the second and third of his epistles (1JO 1:1; 2JO 1:1).
Although Pergamum was the provincial capital of Asia-Minor, as William Barclay points out in his Bible studies, “in actual fact Ephesus was by far the greatest city in the province…. Ephesus, as it was said, was Asia” (TRJ, pg70). What with its harbors, political distinction of being free, and alters (to false gods) it was the economic leader in its country much as New York has been for the United States. According to Roy A. Anderson, the meaning of the name Ephesus is “Desirable” (UTR, pg 15).
Being the economic entrance into the territory it was the best way into the province to establish a new faith. Just as the citizens living in a metropolis which is an economic leader must have worked hard to gain its leadership, the early Church must also have earned its position through untiring toil. The early Church was the inroad to a new land—its “Ephesus”.
The early Church was strict, unable to permit discord among the believers as was shown by the abrupt deaths of Ananias and Sapphira when they withheld their goods from the Church’s coffers as they had promised to give (ACT 5:1-11). False prophets were excommunicated from believer’s congregations (1TI 6:3-5). Throughout their early years they endured inexplicable hardships, even to the extent of being driven from their homes in Jerusalem as it was destroyed in 70 A.D., and being martyred by the hundreds—thousands. Does this paragraph not bring a close parallel to the first paragraph Jesus dedicated to the spirit of Ephesus (REV 1:1-3)?
But, he said to this church, he was not totally pleased with it. Why? Because “you have forsaken your first love” (REV 1:1-3). Even during the time which Paul was yet alive he had to continually reprimand the various churches to whom he wrote, even Ephesus, of things they were doing wrong. They had left their first love of the Messiah who had brought them out of bondage, and had willfully returned to it by placing upon themselves a law even more harsh than that from which they had been saved. What he said, simply, is to remember that which was once theirs and to return to it, for if they did not the body of believers would be removed from the way for those who would believe and carry on the purpose originally set forth.
Thus, even though they hated immorality (the Nicolaitans, as defined by Anderson—UTR, pg 17), which gave some hope that the city could redeem itself, he tells her plainly that only those who overcome this temptation to backslide into past unbelief could ever be granted eternal life. Not doing so opened the gate to the next church age. (Click to see Figure 4.2.1)
4.2.2 TO THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
In the circular, clockwise direction which this expose’ took when it was delivered to the cities listed, Smyrna was the next to receive its message. In today’s highly technological world one finds it difficult to conceive of a letter going from one destination to another by one or more carriers until all of the locations listed have had the opportunity to read, and if desired to copy it. But when looking at the facts that there was no telephone, telegraph, or other mass communication system: and when recognizing that, if there were a mail system, it was surely made unavailable to John by those hoping to cause those he lead to forget him through the exile he was suffering, it becomes much more understandable why one letter had to suffice for all seven recipients.
However John evidently had one person whom he either trusted or hoped would get this message to the churches which had been given to his care. Whatever the case, Jesus’ next personal letter concerning the things which “were then” (REV 1:9) was dictated to the church in the city north by northeast on Asia-Minor’s coastline, Smyrna.
Anderson defines the name Smyrna as meaning “sweet smelling” (UTR. Pg 19) as is incense when it is burned. During the latter part of the early Church’s history she went through a period of about ten years of severe retribution by the Jewish traditionalists and the Romans during which most of the original apostles were slaughtered and the Church went into absolute poverty. Yet their faith grew stronger daily by this persecution and Christ promised that those Jews who were so only by physical birth were not ones to fear (REV 2:9-10; ROM 2:17-19). Rather they, as believers, were the true Jews who were to receive the blessings God had prepared for his children. Thus the promise that even if they were martyred, they would receive eternal life through their faithfulness.
4.2.3 TO THE CHURCH AT PERGAMUM
Next The Revelation goes to the provincial capital of Asia-Minor, Pergamum (of Pergamos as it is called on the map in Fig. 4.2.3). It is Anderson’s presumption that Pergamos was for some time the “headquarters” of a mystery cult which sprang from the Noahtic flood which “grew out of the unbelief of God’s promise” never to flood the whole of planet Earth again (UTR pg 22-24). The early Church, needless to say, had a very difficult time in such an atmosphere but nevertheless, received high commendation from the Lord
To understand the historical significance of this letter one must first recognize that, evidently, a large number of the believers which were in the cities of Asia-Minor had been emigrants from Jerusalem. This is made evident by the fact that Jesus proclaims that Antipas had been “among” them! (REV 12:13—KJV; NAS; LOP;LOT; FTT, pg 696-697) when he was put to death. This did not occur in Pergamum, however, as seems to be stated by those unaware of history; but rather Josephus reported that it occurred while they were still in Jerusalem:
There were, besides these, other robbers that came out of the country, and came into the city (Jerusalem) and joining to them those that were worse than themselves, omitted no kind of barbarity; for they did not measure their courage by their rapines and plunderings (sic) only, but proceeded as far as murdering men…and began with the most eminent persons in the city; for the man they meddled with was Antipas, one of the royal lineage (Herod’s son), and the most potent man in the whole city, insomuch that the public treasures were committed to his care… (JCW: woj 4:3:4).
Because so many were being slaughtered for their faith in Christ, and since they had to flee Jerusalem for safety when it was being destroyed, it would have been quite easy during this time to have lost faith. But they did not.
Even though they ended up in a city renowned for its worship of Baal they retained their faith in Jesus, their Christ. Yet they became too lenient and the doctrines of Baalism began to creep into their midst due to their admitting the false teachers to enter their worship centers. And the Nicolaitans, the ones without morality, were also being welcomed by some in the church.
In the history of the Church this marked the beginning of a rapid slide into paganism. Though the date is unknown when the churches began admitting the paganist to teach in the gatherings, it caused a slide down a slippery hill into a very dark age for the Church. Jesus stated plainly that this slide must be stopped or he would have to return and “fight with them” with the Word of God. But for anyone who overcame this temptation to go into paganism, this “two-edged sword” would become the bread of life; and that person would become a part of a pure tribe of believers who would bear the Lord’s name.
4.2.4 TO THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA
Although various scholars and theologians have placed different dates as to when the Dark Ages began, the most logical time was when Pope Justinian declared the bishop of Rome to be the “corrector of heretics” in 538 A.D. (UTR, pg 31). This gave this church the power of judgement over all religious matters with political power which had been given by Constantine 188 years earlier to the bishop of Rome. Therefore the history of the Church could be charted as shown in Figure 4.2.4.
The church at Thyratira well describes this church age of “the paganized church” as Merrill F. Unger titled it in his Bible handbook (UBH. Pg 653). The paganization of the Church was simply an extension of the leniency toward Baalism during the previous church age of Pergamum. Anderson recorded this transfer of Baalism from Pergamos to Rome as such:
Pergamos was for some time the headquarters of this mystery cult. But when the king of Pegamos bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans, this whole cult was transferred to Rome, which has since been the headquarters of this false system. The “title,” the “keys,” and the “vestments,” have all been absorbed into apostate Christianity. Pergamos thus became a link between ancient Babylon and Rome. It seemed natural for the deification of the emperors to begin in this city (Smyrna). (UTR, pg 24)
Those who remained true to their original faith in Christ grew ever stronger and more sincere as time progressed. But it was a time of solemn remorse because of the harsh apostasy which was begun by a man named Simon in 33 A.D. which had made himself know as a sorcerer and warlock in Samaria. The citizens of Samaria believed that the things he did were done through the power of God and respected him because he had duped them so long. It was after Philip preached the good news of Christ in Samaria that the citizens there, including Simon, believed in the Lord and were baptized into the faith. Whether Simon was converted to Christianity out of true faith or from greed by seeing and hearing about the miracles Philip performed through Christ is not for man to judge; however the Scriptures do tell of an indicative incident which seems to show the way Simon was headed.
When Peter and John came to Samaria and began to pray that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit, Simon stood by and watched intently. When he saw that this power was transferred from one believer to another through the “laying on of the apostles’ hands” he offered to buy the power (or the knowledge of it) from them. To this Peter quickly replied, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with your money? You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that your full of bitterness and captive to sin” (ACT 8:4-23).
But Simon Would not humble himself to pray to God, pleading instead to the apostles to do so for him (ACT 8:24). In a commentary concerning this Simon, the editor of The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course states that:
Desiring to exalt himself among the people, Simon proclaimed himself an apostle. He appropriated the name of Christ and began calling his pagan Babylonian mystery religion “Christianity”. He accepted the doctrine of “grace: for the forgiveness of sine (which the pagan religions never taught), but then turned grace into license to disobey God (Jude 4). He planned to turn his pagan religion, now under the name “Christianity,” into a universal religion, and to use this as a means of eventually gaining political rule of the world! (ABC, Lesson 13, pg 7)
That this was truly the case is implied by the fact that Luke describes an event several years later in the court of Caesarea, when Paul was on trial there, showing an event which Simon had caused. After several attempts to get Paul to admit to treason Felix, the procurator walked in with one whom Luke identified as “His wife, Drusilla, which was a Jewss” (ACT 24:24). Why did Luke consider Drusilla important enough to specifically identify her in this history of this account of Paul’s trials in Ceasarea during a time when women were just beginning to gain respect in a world controlled by men? Josephus answers that when he explains that Drusilla had been married to Azizus when Simon, the Jewish man who was born in Cyprus “who pretended to be a magician”, took it upon himself to persuade her to leave her husband and to marry the procurator of Judea. By this Simon gained for himself favor with Felix and the political powers (JCW:aoj20:7:2).
That Simon had taken up residence in Asia-Minor then becomes evident by the statement made by Paul who spoke of “some Jews from the Province of Asia” who should have appeared before Anaias to “bring charges if they have anything against” him (ACT24:19). Some believe that this was a plea to the court to get the testimony of the Asian churches, but the surrounding circumstances state rather that Paul was challenging even that renegade group who had followed Simon to present their testimony against him.
John was fully aware of this one who he, indirectly in his first epistle, called an antichrist when he gives his expose’ against the willful commitment of sin. He is quite bold in his statement going to far as to say that the one who accepts the grace of God and yet abuses it (takes license with it) is “a liar and the truth is not in him” (1JO 2:4). What an indictment this is. If one should accept the grace of God unto salvation then eternal life belongs to that person; but if that person should attempt to take advantage of that grace, saying that it does away with the law, then the truth was not really known by that person at all. Nor was known the grace. What did Jesus say? “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (MAT 5:17).
In fact, the whole of the letters John wrote to his area’s churches were a warning, in general against this apostate church in its earliest beginnings. Doesn’t this statement from his first letter sound vaguely familiar to Simon’s description by Luke in The Acts of the Apostles as being on who “boasted that he was someone great, and all the people both high and low, gave him their attention” (ACT 8:10). John said, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world’’ the cravings of the sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1JO 2:15-16).
Simon was in actuality saying to Peter, “Look at me! I have all of this power and wealth among the people here. Give me the power I desire to give forth this Holy Spirit and I will give you all of the wealth this world can afford.” A very similar temptation as what Christ had suffered when he was alone in the wilderness (MAT 4:3). Wisely Peter said, “no!”
It was this apostate church which had begun proclaiming another gospel besides the pure Gospel of Christ which was transferred to Rome which Jesus identified by the name of Jezebel. While the name “Thyatira” is defined by Anderson as meaning a “sacrifice of contrition” and the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary says it means “burning incense” which is itself a form of sacrifice; the name “Jezebel” Prophet’s Dictionary defines as “adulterous”, “unproductive”, and “without husband” (UTR, pg 29; MBD. Pgs 352, 654). This was the church which had developed out of the Babylonian doctrines which Simon had originally introduced into a section of the church.
It becomes obvious that this does truly speak of the mysterious cults of Satanic Babylonianism when Jesus stated that, even though she would become very powerful, she would become evidence among all Church ages that God is just. The job of hanging onto the Truth and rejecting “Satan’s so called deep secrets” of magic and sorcery was considered by Jesus to be enough of a burden so as not to “impose any other burden on” them at that time (REV 2:24).
During the time that this Jezebel church reigned she mislead the Lord’s servants. Later in The Revelation it is identified that she rules for a total of 1260 years; but the ones who overcame and refused to hollow her were promised to be given authority over her and over all nations. As Anderson states; “It was a sad day when professing Christianity exchanged contrition of heart for dead ‘works’; when the simple ‘faith of Jesus’ was replaced by the elaborate ritual of the mass” of the Catholic Church (UTR, pg 29).
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