For questions on this post please email: Matt@expedition44.com
Matt and I lean towards an early dating for the authorship of Revelation. We are both partial preterists and see the majority of the book of Revelation being directly applied to the first century. We would agree that some of the things in the book may be foreshadows of events that will also happen later, but we aren’t looking for any of them to “need” to happen. The only thing we would squarely put as primarily future are the last two chapters in the book.
We go early largely because of (Syriac) evidence but also on 8-9 other points regarding the transmission of Revelation. Essentially, we see Revelation being written on the Island of Patmos around 64-68 AD by John and being handed off to a messenger to be delivered to a scribe. Some scholars believe that the letter was held up or lost for many years. Eventually it was delivered to a scribe who I think made notes before he would have presented it to the 7 churches mentioned in the “mail order.” He was essentially preaching the message to them, and I think because of the elements of 70 AD had already happened some of the content was slightly edited to better fit the message. Over the years the scribes notes often get mixed in with the text (Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, John 21, Luke 22:17-21, Luke 22:43-44, 1 John 5:7-8, etc) When the scribe preached the content, he likely stayed a bit at each location to make sure the church received the message and answered any questions. He likely then also left a copy of the text which also would have taken some time to do. This would answer why some parts of the letter would seem to address not only persecution under Nero but also be applied to Domitian later. Statements like this often shock evangelicals to learn that the scripture may have been slightly altered by a scribe, but it was commonplace to the messengers of the time. We don’t have any of the complete original manuscripts. Matt and I will do a video on inspiration and the canon later this year.
The following points to show why we would date the writing of Revelation from 64-68 AD
#1: The Syriac
The witness of one of the most ancient versions of the New Testament is called The Syriac and the title page of the fourth-century Syriac Version, called the Peshitto, says this: “Again the revelation, which was upon the holy John the Evangelist from God when he was on the island of Patmos where he was thrown by the emperor Nero.” As we alluded to above, Nero ruled over the Roman Empire from AD 54 to AD 68.
In Revelation 17:10 we read “They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while.” This passage, which speaks of the line of rulers in Rome and tells us exactly how many rulers had already come, which one was currently in power, and that the next one would only last a short while. “Five have fallen…” Julius Caesar (49–44 BC) Augustus (27 BC–AD 14) Tiberius (AD 14–37) Caligula (AD 37–41) Claudius (AD 41–54) “One is…” Nero (AD 54–68) “the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while.” Galba (June AD 68–January AD 69, a six-month rule) Of the first seven kings, five had come (Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, and Claudius), one was currently in power (Nero), and one had not yet come (Galba), but would only remain for a short time (six months). From this we can clearly see that the current Caesar at the time of John’s writing was the sixth Caesar, Nero.
#3: Near language
In the Introduction (rev 1:3) we read because the time is near. This would have meant very soon to those the letter was written to, not 2000 years later. The same Greek word eggus is used to describe summer coming in Matthew 24:32. There is also a Hebrew idiom in the text that goes this way, “coming on clouds” in Revelation 1:7 gives us more insight. “Lo, he doth come with the clouds, and see him shall every eye, even those who did pierce him, and wail because of him shall all the tribes of the land.” Taking the correct context of these verses according to their Hebraic meaning multiple places in the Old Testamant we would interpret “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven” and all of the allusions to ‘clouds of heaven’ as simply the symbolic power and might of God. Here, the phrase “those who did pierce him” refers to the people of the first century. At any later time in history, these people would be deceased. Yet, according to this passage, they were expected to be alive at the time of this verse’s fulfillment. This tells us that the prophecy of Revelation 1:7 had to be fulfilled within a short time after Jesus’ death, while His accusers were still alive on earth. In other words, it was fulfilled in the destruction of. In Revelation 1:1 and 1:3, as well as 22:10 and 22:20, we find internal time indicators that declare “the time is near,” it is “shortly to come to pass,” “he is coming quickly,” and “behold, he comes speedily.” John clearly wrote that the time of judgment was close. These only fits if the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and likely immediately before which would also explain the delay of the delivery. Lastly, Temple language in Revelation 11 suggests that the book was written before the destruction of AD 70.
#4: Influence of the Jews and Judaizing Heretics
let’s consider the activity of the Jewish leaders and Judaizers in the Church as mentioned in the letters to the churches in Revelation. Jesus speaks of “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). This was a clear reference to the Jewish leaders who persecuted the Christians. Also, among the Christians existed a group called the Judiazers, who tried to turn Christians back to the old covenant Jewish Law. This was a major heresy in the first century church, and Paul wrote quite a bit against it. Prior to AD 70, both the Jewish leaders outside the church and the Judiazers within the church had a strong negative impact upon believers. About them, Jesus says: I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you (Revelation 3:9). Before the AD 70 destruction, it was advantageous to be a Jew. The Jewish people had a favored relationship with Rome. They were allowed to have their own police force and follow their own Temple system, so long as they continued in subservience to the empire. But all that changed in AD 70, when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and killed more than a million Jews. Ever since that time, history has not been particularly kind to the Jewish people, and I think it is safe to say that after AD 70 people were not touting their status as Jews. These verses about people who falsely claimed to be Jews only makes sense in the pre–AD 70 context. Since the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, it has not been advantageous to claim to be Jewish. In this way, these verses point to an earlier dating of the letter. The first century Jews and Judaizers lost a great deal of influence after the destruction of AD 70, because the Jewish religious system had been destroyed and the Jewish population significantly diminished. Only if we give the Book of Revelation an early date of authorship does the significant presence and threat of the Jews and Judiazers make sense.
#5: John’s Appearance in AD 96
John appeared old in AD 96. Jerome noted in his writings that John was seen in AD 96, and he was so old and infirm that “he was with difficulty carried to the church, and could speak only a few words to the people.”8 We must put this fact together with Revelation 10:11, which says John must “prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” It is difficult to imagine John would be able to speak to many nations and many kings at any date after AD 96 since he was already elderly and feeble.
#6: Timetable Comparison with Daniel/Revelation
In Daniel’s prophesy about events that would happen hundreds of years later, he was told to “roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end,” because it was a long way off (Dan. 12:4ff). By contrast, John was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). This contrast is intentional and important to the text. While Daniel was told to seal the prophecy up because it was a long way off (but still ONLY about 500 years), John was told not to seal it up because it was about to come to pass. In other words, the prophetic events were closer than 500 years.
#7: Only Seven Churches
There are only seven churches. This tells us that the book was written before the greater expansion of Christianity into that region, which occurred after the fall of Jerusalem. After 70 AD
Some of this information is gathered or adapted from “Raptureless” by Jonathan Welton. It is a very good work on preterism but, probably needless to say to most of our audience, I don’t agree with a lot of the authors take on “full preterism.”
We’re both early date guys but can see some evidence of the late date in the manuscripts
Ryan-I go early primarily because of (Syriac) evidence but also on 8-9 other points regarding the transmission of Revelation. Essentially, I see Revelation being written on the Island of Patmos around 64-68 AD by John and being handed off to a messenger to be delivered to a scribe. Some scholars believe that the letter was held up or lost for many years. Eventually it was delivered to a scribe who I think made notes before he would have presented it to the 7 churches mentioned in the “mail order.” He was essentially preaching the message to them, and I think because of the elements of 70AD already happening some of the content was slightly edited to better fit the message. Over the years the scribes notes often get mixed in with the text. (Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, John 21, Luke 22:17-21, Luke 22:43-44, 1 John 5:7-8, etc) When the scribe preached the content he likely stayed a bit to make sure the church received the message and answered any questions. He likely then also left a copy of the text which also would have taken some time to do. This would answer why some parts of the letter would seem to address not only persecution under Nero but also be applied to Domitian later. Statements like this often shock evangelicals to learn that the scripture may have been slightly altered by a scribe, but it was commonplace to the messengers of the time. We don’t have any of the complete manuscripts. Matt and I will do a video on inspiration and the canon later this year.
For questions on this post please email: Matt@expedition44.com
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead , and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
The Greek word for witness is martus (We get martyr from this)- It someone who testifies about something they’ve seen and experienced (like a witness in court)
The big idea for these episodes is that if we’ve seen and experienced Jesus in our life it should be reflected in our church.
Remember revelation is about a revelation of Jesus to the churches in Asia minor against the Roman Empire.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
It is interesting that much of our New Testament was written to the church in Ephesus: Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1-3 John, and Revelation. Also, the Gospel of John was likely written by John when he was in Ephesus.
We know that Paul and Timothy also ministered in this church.
Ephesus was the home to many major temples. The patron God of Ephesus was Artemis who was the goddess of food and fertility/childbirth.
Her temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world
The myth was that she fell from heaven and landed on the tree of life in Ephesus. This was where her temple was built, and they also called her temple paradise.
John’s use of these terms in the text- (Falling, tree of life, and paradise) are not only connecting the meaning to the garden of Eden but also as a jab against Ephesian culture.
Ephesus was also the hub of the imperial cult in Asia minor with a temple to the Caesars and worship of the empire. Ephesus was the center of patriotism.
When you traveled by foot or by sea into Ephesus you would have seen a massive 50-foot statue of Caesar outside his temple. This temple was built on a platform and on the base of the platform was the 24 gods of the Greco-Roman Pantheon. It communicated that Caesar stood on the backs of the gods as “most high”. This was the first thing you saw as you traveled into town.
Ephesus was also the center of commerce of the entire world. it was the bridge between the East and the West. It was the city where everyone would come to buy and sell. It was centrally located and easily accessible from both land and sea. (Think New York City or Tokyo)
Ephesus had this huge marketplace called the Agora.
The Agora eventually became so popular, literally the world flocked there, that Caesar’s advisors told him he should implement a tax in order to buy and sell there.
Caesar thought on it and said no because his popularity would be hindered if he raised taxes. Instead, he forced people to make an offering to him… so it’s not a tax (it’s healthcare LOL) …it’s worship.
He built 4 altars, one at each of the 4 corners of the agora. These altars had the names of Caesar on it… “Lord God Almighty”. They would sacrifice a bull on the altars to Caesar every day and to enter the Agora you’d give your financial offering and then offer incense at one of the altars. After this you’d be given a mark made up of the ashes of the bull and paste. It would be put on your right hand or on your forehead so that you could buy and sell. But in order to do this you needed to worship the Caesar as an act of allegiance to the empire.
Many believe this “angel” is the solo pastor of the church, some think it could be a messenger delivering or reading the letter to the church, others think it’s an actual spiritual being.
in Revelation “angel” is mentioned 77 times and always is a spiritual being. The only place people make it ambiguous is in the 7 churches.
Remember Revelation is apocalyptic so the idea of the church having an assigned angel is not out of the question.
I also don’t dismiss the idea of the one who is the letter reader either
The pastor interpretation is not very good. We don’t get this anywhere else in scripture that a pastor can be an “angel/messenger”. People who want to find the single or senior pastor role in the church want to use this as a poor proof text.
Power and Presence
Jesus is described in 2 ways… Power and Presence
Jesus is described as the one who holds the 7 stars. “Holding” was a symbol of power in the Roman world.
Now Caesar had a 10-year-old son that he really loved but he died. He was questioned that if he was “lord god almighty” why he couldn’t raise his son from the dead. So, Caesar went and consulted with himself (the highest authority) and when he returned he said, “I just met with the gods, and they said they needed my son to hold the 7 stars in place.”
They put their news on their money. There was a denarius going around during this time with Caesar’s son (The son of man/god) holding the 7 stars
The text is continually replacing Caesar with Jesus as the true king of the universe, and it calls us to follow his way.
Jesus is depicted as the one that walks among the lampstands. It says he knows what they do… He is present!
The churches are described as lampstands here. This is temple imagery. In the Temple the lampstand was a menorah with 7 candles, representing these 7 churches.
the role of the lampstand in the temple was to shine light on the table of showbread. Jesus is the bread of life!
Our purpose as the church is to shine our light on Jesus, who is our life!
Praise for Ephesus
In verses 2, 3, & 6 of the text Jesus praises the church in Ephesus for their works
During Caesars’ games in the opening ceremony the representatives of the regions of the empire would come forward and meet Caesar. He would say to them “this I find in your favor, but this I hold against you”. He would tell them something that need to change for them to better represent Rome and conquer.
Again, the Ephesians would have heard this as Jesus is King, Caesar is not. And as Jesus telling them how to faithfully represent the Kingdom of God.
Jesus knows their deeds and hard work
The Ephesians worked hard serving the Lord.
“work” in the NT is often tied into the work of the ministry (good works) and spreading the gospel of Jesus as King.
They had discernment and good doctrine
The Ephesians took Paul and Timothy’s instructions on false teachers seriously.
They also took John’s instructions in his epistles on discernment seriously.
1 Timothy is all about false teachers in Ephesus.
The big idea for that letter is found in 1 Tim 1:3-7 where Timothy is warned about people who teach myths and genealogies (this is likely connected to the Artemis cult). He exhorts them to have good doctrine which is directly connected to their ethics, morals, and behavior.
John taught the church to discern in his epistles.
He taught them that if someone denies that Jesus came in the flesh he is a liar and an anti-Christ. (1 John 2:22)
He taught them not to believe every spirit but to test if they came from God by this: If they don’t acknowledge that Jesus came from God they are of the spirit of the anti-Christ (1 John 4:2)
I believe in Revelation, John is likely talking about discernment in the context of those who are coming into Ephesus and claiming Christ, but they are taking the mark to buy and sell in the Agora or worshipping in the temple if Artemis (which I’ll tell you more about here in a minute) and encouraging others to do it out of “Christian freedom”.
They endured hardships for Jesus’ name
My thought is that the Ephesians stood strong against the civil religion of the empire in that day. It would have brought persecution as the Ephesian church would have been seen as unpatriotic, pledging their allegiance to Jesus alone and not to Rome.
They would have avoided the Agora and taking the mark to buy and sell by worshipping the emperor and the empire. Without access to these goods, it would have put many in hardship and they would have to persevere through social persecutions and lack of resources.
They hate the practices of the Nicolaitans
We don’t know of any historical group called the Nicolaitans. This is likely a nickname John made up for certain people.
This group is mentioned again in the church in Pergamum in Rev 2:15 connected to Balaam and sexual immorality.
In Numbers 22-25 the king of Moab hires Balaam to curse Israel but every time Balaam opens his mouth to curse them he blesses Israel. So, Balaam tells the king that if their women seduce the Israelite men and get them to worship other gods, then Yahweh will punish Israel.
Nicolaitan makes sense with the Balaam story as it is 2 Greek words combined into one that means to “conquer the people”. The Nicolaitans were likely encouraging Christians to participate in idolatry and sexual immorality… you know just go along with the culture.
I believe this has Artemis in the background. Remember she was the goddess of food and fertility.
Now her temple was also the bank. Say your plow breaks and you need to buy a new one and have no $. You go to the temple and to appease the goddess you submit yourself to all kinds of sexual indecency and acts of immorality in order to secure the funds to buy your plow.
Also, If you were pregnant you would go there and again submit to indecent acts to gain Artemis’ favor so that you’d live through your childbirth.
I believe this is what Paul is coming against in part in 1 Timothy and false teachings coming in the church.
The Ephesian church in Revelation and Jesus rightly hated these practices.
The Ephesians have a lot going for them… Standing up to the culture and for the truth. This sounds like a great church!!!!
In verse 4Jesus has something against them… They had forsaken the love they had at first.
What is this?
There are 2 ways this can be translated- “Left your first love” (Jesus) or “left the love you had at first” (love for others)
I take the second view, but it connects to the first view too. As we see in 1 John shortly
Ephesus obviously loved Jesus they obeyed his commands to be in the truth and worked hard for his name.
The Ephesian church was rightly focused on some good things but neglected the greatest thing. They were incomplete.
The Ephesians likely had been refuting false teachers and the culture around them for years. This got to them, and they became hard and rigid even towards those in the church.
Jesus warned in Matthew 24 that when lawlessness increases the love of many grows cold.
Remember, Repent, Do
The book of Ephesians if the earliest letter we have written to this church in the Bible and it’s interesting that it’s Paul’s only letter to a church that isn’t in crisis.
It’s also interesting that the only command in the first 4 chapters of the book of Ephesians is to “remember” (Ephesians 2:11) … remember what? Let’s do a tour of Ephesians…
In Ephesians 1 Paul is reminding the Ephesians of their adoption and identity as children of God and all the blessings and promises that come with that status in Christ.
At the beginning of Ephesians 2 Paul reminds the Ephesians of the fact that they were dead and now they are alive because of God’s love as a result they’ve been seated with Christ in heavenly places.
Have the Ephesians fallen from their seat in God’s kingdom and instead taken their seats below among Artemis and Caesar because they have not lived the kingdom ethic of love?
The end of Ephesians 2 talks about how Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of Jews and Gentiles and made them one new man. Bringing unity with God and each other.
Ephesians 3 talks about God’s eternal purpose to have a family and a body that reflects Christ’s love.
Ephesians 4 is about the gifts God has given to each member of the church in order to build up and edify and equip the body of Christ by His example- being built up on love for each other.
Ephesians 4 ends with instruction for Christian living that includes putting off our former way of life in speech and deeds and instead being moved with compassion and forgiveness towards each other.
Ephesians 5 is all about following Jesus’ example and mutual submission and service to each other out of love for Christ.
Ephesians 6 sees all of this as a suit of armor that we should put on to battle the Principalities and Powers of this dark world.
The letter to Ephesians is all about what Christ has done in love for the church and how that should motivate them in love for each other. Now the Ephesians had fallen and forgotten this.
They had fallen from the first deeds and first works which were proactive love and instead they were reactive to the outside and allowed their love for each other to grow cold.
Jesus gives 2 consequences… a negative and a positive.
Negative consequence: Their lampstand will be removed if they don’t turn back to their first works!
I don’t believe Jesus is talking about salvation here… He’s talking about witness. I believe this mean that they will no longer be counted as a faithful gospel witness despite all they had going for them. (THIS IS SCARY!)
Looks like Matthew 7- “Away from me I never knew you.” The Ephesians had great works but lacked love for one another. Their witness was incomplete without love.
Conquering and the Reward
Jesus says that “the conquers” have the right to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God
This is not only a jab at Artemis but a connection to Genesis and the end of Revelation.
The question is: How does Jesus conquer and how does he want us to conquer?
Most of our views of conquering look like winning a bloody battle by destroying our enemies… whether literally or metaphorically.
This word for conquer/victory in Greek is the word nike. Nike was a word used in Roman society to communicate exactly that… to conquer by annihilating your enemy. That is how Rome brought their version of “peace” to the world through violence. Strongs 3528nikáō (from 3529/níkē, “victory”) – properly, conquer (overcome); ” ‘to carry off the victory, come off victorious.’ or nenikēka in John 16:33
Revelation 5 defines conquering for the book of Revelation.
There is a throne scene and a scroll (Caesars carried a scroll with all their divine names and attributes written on both sides as a sign of who rules and how they rule) … holding the scroll is a sign of who’s king.
A question is asked “Who is worthy to take the scroll”?. John wept because no one was found worthy.
But then he hears an angels say “The lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered (same word) and is able to take the scroll”
So, John hears this massive conquering lion… the picture of power and strength and victory… We’re probably thinking – “YA! This lion is going to kick some butt!”
But when John turns and looks what does he see… a lamb that was slain. The Greek word is for a baby lamb, an infant lamb… not exactly the fiercest thing.
Pay attention to hearing and seeing in Revelation
This lamb has been slain and it says that he purchased a people through His blood to be a kingdom and priest for God. (back to the calling of the church to be like Jesus)
Everyone worships saying “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain!
The big picture: It doesn’t look like Rome’s version of victory and conquering. Conquering looks like laying down your life in love. This is Revelation’s definition of conquering! – Lamb Power not Beast Power.
Even when Jesus comes back on the white horse, the sword is in his mouth not his hand… He’s conquering by his word and the truth… by his faithful witness.
the way Jesus was victorious was through cross-shaped love- radical forgiveness and self-giving co-suffering love.
And this is the way we are victorious too.
This is what John means by “we’ve overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony… because they didn’t love their live so much to shrink back” … it’s being a reflection of the faithful witness of the slaughtered lamb.
Winning in God’s kingdom often looks like losing in the eyes of the world. So, conquering in God’s kingdom looks the opposite of conquering in the world.
Positive consequence:If they remember, repent, and take action- they will be rewarded with eternal life in God’s kingdom
All of the rewards to the churches in Revelation are things that do show up in the last 2 chapters of the book.
This is a church that was reactive and defensive towards the outside (The lived in one of the darkest parts of the empire) rather than living the love of Jesus inside the church
Without love for the body, we won’t be counted as a faithful witness.
Jesus tell his disciples that the world would know they are disciples by their love for EACH OTHER, not by pure doctrine or good works done in his name.
We have spent our lives trying to be good Christians that “go to church”. However, you would be hard pressed to find anything that looks like modern day American church anywhere in the pages of the Bible.
We are happy to support anything that seeks after God but what we do here on x44 is look at what is biblical and what Jesus prescribed and then try to align our lives with that.
Where are we going in this series? We have a bunch of topics looking at the church
What is the church?
Jesus’ vision for the church as a kingdom and priests (7 churches in Revelation)
“leadership”, authority, covering
Elders and overseers
Matthew 16:18 in the NASB- “Upon the Rock I will build my church”?
In the greek we usually see the word ekkelsia/ekklésia and in Hebrew the word typically translated as church is qehelah.
In the Old Testament we have Torah. Torah explains how the community of believers might live towards a life that points to holiness and purification and eventually to Jesus. There were 7 festivals that the family attended, 3 of which were pilgrimage large community meetings and then the idea of coming together as a family each sabbath to stay on track with what Yahweh desired of you. It was a great mosaic life picture to stay on track with God as a stop Gap until the Messiah would once and for all act as atonement for sin. But the Torah continually encouraged all of life to surround God.
In the New Testament we get similar pictures of keeping your family on track and functioning in one accord as the body of Christ. But what we have turned this act into, (what we refer to as church), is likely far from what Jesus was asking. Did his disciples regularly attend church as we know it? Was Jesus commissioning Peter to build the modern church brought to us by Catholicism?
We have all heard and probably studied that the word mostly translated as church in the Bible is is ekklēsía, an assembly, but you might find it interesting that this Greek word is more accurately described in Greek as a non-religious assembly. Consider its use in Acts 19:32 and other verses. So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. Acts 19:32 NASB It is described as an angry confused mob. Well that actually might be a pretty good definition for most people’s modern day church experiences.
When we read the word ekklēsía in Greek you find it starts with the Greek word kaléō which means to call or invite, which better translates to Hebrew as qārāʾwhich is the more common word for being called. In Hebrew religious assemblies were synagogues, but this carries a problem in the first century. Synagogues became associated with Greco-Roman pagan connections to the extent that most Jews stopped using the word to describe the place where Yahweh was met. In the Greek it specifically does not mean “a religious assembly.” Synagogue meant any religious assembly; it is used far more in first century literature to describe temples for Athena or Zeus than for Yahweh. As a result, the word synagogue just migrated into a Jewish term just like ekklesia, it wasn’t Jewish to begin with.
In the Greco-Roman context it was also a meeting or a congress. A thing where all members participated in. An example is in Athens, which was a democratic city, when they would gather to discuss the things of the city it was called and ekklesia. They would sit in a circle facing each other and work together and all would participate.
The reason the word ekklēsía is (rightly) used is because it meant “the called-out ones.” It is an invitation, particularly focused on God’s provision of salvation (which in Hebrew is better described as an exodus or rescue). To be part of the body that was summoned and invited by the sovereign God for the purpose of rescue from immediate danger. But Paul repeatedly uses the term such as in 1 Corinthians 1 to take on an exodus motif.
The reason we want to start our series with revelation is that it’s about 7 churches living in the midst of empire (Roman) and the religious (Jewish) world as called out ones. It gives some practical things to watch out for in the churches and also things we need to strive for to be a healthy church body.
Tecnically it is “Revelation”, not revelations. It is the Revelation of Jesus (Rev 1:1)
This is being recorded by John (the same John as 1-3 John and the gospel of John).
John is writing from the island of Patmos.
Oral tradition in the church tell us that John survived a political execution. He was boiled in oil and survived.
Revelation is a prophecy… now a biblical definition for prophecy is calling God’s people back to a covenant relationship with him when they have strayed. Less than 5% of the OT prophecies deal with future predictions and even when it does it’s usually about the punishment to come if the people don’t turn back. Prophecy is about the present!
Revelation is prophetic in that it’s calling the church to action in a dark world. It’s calling the church to be like Jesus.
Revelation is an apocalypse
Apokalypsis- doesn’t mean the end of the world, it mean an uncovering or an unveiling. It’s getting a look behind the curtain into Jesus’ eyes on the church and the world.
Remember this is primarily a revelation of Jesus not a revelation of the end of the world.
John is revealing Christ to the churches
This is written in a Jewish genre of apocalypse which was a way of writing in the first century. We have other writings that use images like this one.
Usually, this style of writing was to critique hostile political powers, almost like a political cartoon we might see in the newspaper.
Michael Gorman in his book READING REVELATION RESPONSIBLY calls Revelation a theopolitical work, meaning that it contrasts God’s way: his upside-down kingdom way of life (the way of the lamb), and the world’s way: the way of the empire (the way of the beast).
Revelation is a *pastoral letter (we hesitate in using the word pastor, but our readers understand)
John is writing to 7 churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey)
Some in history over the last 500 years have tried to make these churches allegorical of 7 church ages leading up to the last days. If you take that view that’s fine but I don’t agree with that interpretation. Mainly because that approach only pays attention to the church in the west and in a European and North American context and ignores the East and the southern hemisphere Church throughout history.
If God’s word is universally applicable this interpretation should give us pause.
We believe these were 7 actual churches living in the Romans empire and Jesus is addressing them because their witness is not reflecting his witness properly. (Rev 1:4-6)
the way the churches are ordered in this book is based on the mail route in Asia Minor.
This letter was written to 7 specific churches but it’s meaning is also for us today. It wasn’t written to us, but it was written for us. The message deals with a choice of following the way of the world or the way of the Kingdom.
Jesus is displayed with an attribute that applied to the Church’s issue
Jesus gives praise to the churches (most the churches- Sardis and Laodicea don’t get praises)
Jesus gives a correction (Most churches- Smyrna and Philadelphia do not get corrected)
Jesus brings an exhortation to change with consequences
A reward to those who “conquer”
Jesus concludes with “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
The purpose of us starting with the 7 churches is that we feel the church (especially the Western) is stuck in a lot of the muck that these 7 churches were. Entangled to the world and its thinking and structures. It would be good to identify certain things that will come up throughout our series.
Note: We’re not trying to throw rocks we’ll just be looking at the texts around certain topics and let the Spirit speak and correct if needed according to Jesus’ words and if he does speak hopefully we have ears to hear it.
How did we get here?
Like most things the church became institutionalized by merging with the world. In the 5th century Christianity became the national religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. This led to a lot of problems.
professional clergy- Instead of the priesthood of all believers and the focus on discipleship, we had a shift to ritual and religion
the divide of clergy and laity- hierarchy (James Dunn says the clergy/laity divide has done more damage to the body of Christ than even the most destructive heresies)
corporate buildings/temples- In the NT we are the temple and they met in houses
the merging of pagan holidays with Jewish/Christian festivals
the sermon- handcuffing the gifts of the body to elevate the gift of one man
The Protestant Reformation had good intentions to fix some of these problems but in reality they kept much from Catholicism but changed some necessary doctrine.
There is still the clergy/laity divide but instead of priest they changed the name to minister or pastor
The kept the need for buildings of worship- seeing the church more as a place than a people
Zwingli removed communion as the center of the meeting and make the sermon the center which introduced more disunity because now the church is not about gathering for a meal around Jesus but about how your pastor interprets the Bible.
In modernity we’ve come to the phenomenon of the mega-church. These are built more like Microsoft or other corporate entities than how the Bible describes the church. We have a CEO pastor and boards of leaders and the church of today looks more like the world than Jesus.
Back to the Start
In the NT we see 2 primary metaphors for the church- a Body and a Family
Wrong ideas: The church is something separate from Jesus Christ himself (Just an institution, meeting, or a building)?
1 Cor 12:12-30- Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (The church is the living expression of Christ)
Jesus to Saul… “why are you persecuting ME?” (Jesus was in heaven on the throne here)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians… “You have divisions among you, is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13)
Just like Eve came out of Adam, so is the relationship of Christ and the church.
why do we have a body? It is to express the personality and the will of the head.
The church exists to express Jesus
Eph1:22-23- And He put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Col 1:24- Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
Family is the chief metaphor for the church that dominates the New Testament.
Wrong ideas: Christianity is an individual solo pursuit? You are saved as an individual. You read the Bible and interpret it as an individual. You apply it to yourself as an individual. This whole concept of the individual was completely foreign to the early church. They were a community and an extended family. They were intentionally corporate and had a corporate mind.
Every New Testament letter with the exception of Philemon was written to a congregation and not an individual. Timothy and Titus were written to church planters and applied to the whole congregation. So, if we are reading our New Testaments for just individual application, we are taking it out of context. Yes, we can glean ways to live more like Christ, but it is impossible to do so without the whole “body of Christ”.
This is why the Christian life doesn’t work for most of us… because we are trying to do it as an individual. This is why in Hebrews we see the call not to forsake the gathering of believers.
God purpose from the beginning has been to have a corporate expression of himself… “let US make man” and “Let THEM…” (Gen 1).
Side note- pretty much every “you” in the New Testament letters are “Ya’ll” 2nd person plural.
God is after a corporate expression of himself.
The church is described as New Birth, Children of God, sons of God, brothers and sisters, fathers, and household in the New Testament: Gal 6:10; Rom 8:29, Eph 2:19, 1 Tim 5:1-2, 1 Tim 3:15, 1 John 2:12-13, 1 John 3:14
How should the church family act?
The Members take care of each other. James 2:14-17, Eph 4:28, Gal 6:2, Rom 12:13
Spend time with each other. Acts 2:42,46
Show affection towards each other.
Grow: internally (spiritually) and externally (in numbers)
Reflect the triune God in their relationships 1 John 1:1-3,
The bulk of responsibility for pastoral care, teaching, and ministry in the ekklesia rests squarely upon the shoulders of all the brothers and sisters.
In fact, the richness of Paul’s vision of the body of Christ stems from his continual emphasis that every member is gifted, has ministry, and is responsible in the body and in the family (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:1ff.; Eph. 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10). As a consequence, ministerial responsibility is never to be closeted among a few.
This explains why the word adelphoi, translated “brethren,” appears 346 times in the New Testament. It appears 134 times in Paul’s epistles all the Christians in a local assembly are alone. In most places, this word is Paul’s shorthand way of referring to all the believers in the church—both women and men. By contrast, the
word “elders” appears only five times in Paul’s letters. “Overseers” appears only four times. And “pastors” appears only once.
The stress of the New Testament, then, is upon corporate responsibility. It’s the believing community that is called to carry out pastoral functions. To be more specific, called to
• be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
• honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
• live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8)
• love one another (Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11)
• edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11b)
• accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
• instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
• greet one another (Rom. 16:16)
• agree with one another (1 Cor. 1:10)
• discipline fallen members (1 Cor. 5:3–5; 6:1–6)
• organize the church’s affairs (1 Cor. 11:33–34; 14:39–40; 16:2–3)
• care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
• prophesy one by one (1 Cor. 14:31)
• abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58)
• serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
• bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
• bear with one another (Eph. 4:2)
• be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
• speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
• submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
• forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
• teach one another (Col. 3:16)
• admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
• encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
• warn the unruly (1 Thess. 5:14)
• comfort the feeble (1 Thess. 5:14)
• support the weak (1 Thess. 5:14)
• exhort one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
• incite one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
• pray for one another (James 5:16)
• confess sins to one another (James 5:16)
• offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
• be humble toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
• fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
The modern corporate institutional structure of the church makes it extremely difficult to live out the “one another’s” of the NT.
The church is corporate and non-hierarchical in nature
Other metaphors for the Church
We are the temple of the Spirit and living stones built on Christ
All of the metaphors are about relationships – with God and each other
The big idea is that the church is not an institution … it’s an organism (it’s organic)!
There was equality- No clergy/laity divide
The giftings of the entire body were active to display Jesus
They met face to face throughout the week in relationships
Unity is based on Christ. People are accepted by God because they have repented and pledged their allegiance to Jesus. Rom 15:7. If a person is accepted by the Lord, he or she is part of the Body of Christ. On that basis alone we are to accept them into the fellowship.
Sectarianism is a problem. 1 Cor 1:11-13. (Is Christ divided?)
John 17:20-23. Are we taking this seriously when we divide over theological beliefs, eschatology, politics, race, bible versions, and other such things?
Phil 1:27-28 says that our unity is proof of our salvation, and it shows the world they are under judgement for destruction.
When we fail to be unified and have infighting the world can’t see Jesus but sees a bunch of hypocrites.
The Better picture we’ll be painting:
Throughout this series we’re going to be looking at what could be a better picture of the church. Invested in relationships rather than rituals, being a living organism rather than an institution, having all the giftings of Christ on display rather than a few gifts by a few people, making disciples rather then converts.
This cannot be done in rows… it must be done in circles, face to face
Church as we know it has become much of what Jesus spoke against. It is big business with a worldwide, organized hierarchy that resembles pharisaical tradition more than anything.
How do we get to a better place? Let me paint a picture.
Every day is completely, wholly given to Jesus and the calling to be a disciple and make a disciple by Jesus’ definition not the worlds
You don’t give your time, treasure, and talents to the world in any way, they are reserved solely for Jesus
You train up your kids as your primary responsibility and your core act of making disciples
You live intimately with Him and present deeper devotion to the king and His kingdom within your family and surround yourself with one accord of a body of believers that think the same way.
Don’t be immersed in the world, let the world find Jesus through you. Offer living water at each and every opportunity. You don’t need to drink the worlds water anymore.
Bring your gifts to and for the body each and every day
Meet regularly as a spiritual family communing with Jesus as a central strand of life together
Your best should be given to Jesus, everything points that way
Work repeatedly and regularly to present yourself completely devoted to Him (a living sacrifice) and your spiritual family of disciples
Get back to God’s ideals, perhaps 7 feasts for 7 days and each sabbath together; or perhaps that was just the beginning of what God wants. Eventually in a recreated heaven and earth we are going to be in fellowship not just 7×7 but completely. That should be the goal today too, not once a week, but wholly given in complete life pursuit. That is the thrust of the New Covenant disciple, not just a tithe, or a first fruit, but all in all the time.
What would it look like if your spiritual family lived this way. Can you imagine it? Could you survive in America? What if you had 10 families that made this commitment. Your gifts enabled housing out of debt. (pipedream, impossible? I think your limiting yourself and God) You shared what was “needed”; you provided for not only your own but the others. You all learned to live this way. I would actually venture to say that it is not only possible but is the ONLY Biblical model and is a recipe for amazing life in Jesus. You might conduct a business but it is surrounded together in Jesus. Maybe the Amish building houses together weren’t too far off from a New Testament picture of working together, they just got hung up on legalism along the way.
In short, whenever the church gathers together, its guiding and functioning principal is simply to incarnate Christ (1 Cor 12:12)