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The Book of Revelation – Write Number Three

Rev Willem J.J. Glashouwer - 21 January 2020

“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: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” Revelation 2:1–2 NIV

Revelation 1:11 said:
Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

John was to send everything he saw and heard—the whole book—to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea. Because the whole book had to be sent to these seven churches, together they contain a message for the whole Church of Jesus Christ, i.e. not just seven separate letters that each of the seven churches received individually, as a special encouragement and admonition to them, but the whole book.

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance”

Revelation 1:20 says:
“…the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

John teaches us to see meaning in and look through the pictures and symbols. He himself stated that the pictures point to concrete reality. A picture is much more than just a description of reality. There are stars, light-bearing lampstands, and Jesus in the midst of them. He is the source of the oil, the Holy Spirit, and it is through Him that the stars sparkle and the lampstands spread their light. He is the Heavenly High Priest in His official residence in His church(es). He holds them in His hands, but He also stands opposite them, as the holy, Heavenly Judge, to sanctify His church, to purify them, so that they will obtain resilience and power for their spiritual resistance to endure persecution.

This first appearance of Jesus Christ to John apparently took place on earth—to John at Patmos. Later, in chapter 4:1, John will be allowed to look into—and out of—Heaven. The perspective will change constantly from earth and from Heaven. In chapter 10:1, he again saw an angel coming from Heaven, so John was apparently looking from the earth. This was where he probably remained until chapter 11:13. However, the vision of chapter 11:15–19 was again seen in Heaven. In chapter 12 he seemed to be back on earth again, but chapter 14:17–20 suggests John was in Heaven—although sometimes it is also not clear where the seer found himself as he described what he saw. What happens in Heaven has an effect on earth, and what happens on earth—such as the sending of prayers—has its effect in Heaven. John was permitted to view everything from both sides.

The messages to the seven churches come first, before the seals, trumpets and bowls bring the trials, tribulations, and judgments upon the world. Peter says that judgment begins with God’s household: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
1 Peter 4:17. However, the judgment of the Church, of the true Christian congregation, leads to her purification; whereas the judgment of the world is a verdict, a settling of accounts. “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord”, Romans 12:19.

The Church will receive rewards, according to what Jesus has been able to do through them by His Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

And the Apostle John records in Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from Heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them.”

John says in Revelation 1:20 “…the mystery…” and immediately explains the pictures and symbols. The other things he has recorded so far must be taken and explained as words in their literal sense—like the description of the glorified Christ. The ‘stars’ are the angels, not guardian angels, but ministers, messengers. Just as Malachi 2:7 says: “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”

The ‘lampstands’ are the churches. The Jewish menorah was the symbol of Jewish worship, of Judaism. However, the church met with strong pressure (Revelation 2:9 and 3:9) from Judaism in the early centuries. For Christians, strife and conflict with Judaism meant loss of their legal base for their existence in the Roman Empire. As long as Christians were considered as a sub-division or a sect of Judaism, they were protected and they did not fall under the Roman prohibition against the establishment of new religious communities, new sects. However, conflict with Judaism immediately brought clashes with the state of Rome. So, the temptation to return under the Jewish flag was strong. However, the message of the Heavenly High Priest is to be not afraid: ‘You are the golden lampstands; you are called to be God’s People, His nation, His Kingdom, His priests in the world’, Revelation 1:6. What an encouragement for the Church!

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word used for messenger is ‘angelos, angel, Haggai 1:13 “Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke by the commission of the Lord to the people saying, “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord”; Isaiah 44:26: “Confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers. It is I Who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’ And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’ And I will raise up her ruins again.” And messenger in the Greek New Testament is also called ‘angelos’, angel, Mark 1:2 KJV “” As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”; Matthew 11:7-10 “As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.” James 2:25 “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”

The Septuagint – from the Latin: ‘Septuaginta’ literally “seventy”, often abbreviated as LXX and sometimes called the ‘Greek Old Testament’ – is the earliest extant Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from the original Hebrew. It is estimated that the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or Pentateuch, were translated in the mid-3rd century B.C. and the remaining texts of the Old Testament (‘Tanakh’: the Jewish Scriptures comprising the books of Law/Torah, the prophets/Nevi’im, and collected writings/Ketuvim) were translated in the 2nd century B.C.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible is called ‘Septuagint’ because 70 (or 72) Jewish scholars reportedly took part in the translation process. The scholars worked in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.), according to the Letter of Aristeas to his brother Philocrates. They assembled to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language because Koine Greek began to supplant Hebrew as the language most commonly spoken by the Jewish people during the Hellenistic Period.

Aristeas determined that 72 scholars took part in the Hebrew-to-Greek Bible translation by calculating six elders for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Adding to the legend and symbolism of the number is the idea that the translation was created in 72 days.

Considered the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is quoted a number of times in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline epistles, by the Apostolic Fathers, and later by the Greek Church Fathers.

Jesus addresses the Church via the pastor/priest, the messenger who brings God’s message to the congregation. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1 NIV writes: “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed”. See also 2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

The individual members of the Christian church should act and behave in the same way. Paul says: “Follow my example.” Paul even says: “…just as I follow the example of Christ”, 1 Corinthians 11:1. Can we as Christians likewise also say that to other people? Are we bearers of the image of Christ, Romans 8:29, stars in His hand? Are we readable letters written by Christ Himself, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:2- 3 “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with

ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Are we Light-bearers, Philippians 2:14-16a “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…”

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.”

Ephesians 5:8-11 “…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them…”

The seven letters to the seven churches have a clear pastoral-prophetic character. Christ admonishes, threatens and warns in love. These seven letters can be seen in a three-fold manner: (1) as a message to that local church, there, in Asia, at that time; (2) as typical of periods in church history; (3) as a complete message to the church of all ages and places.

Christ is not only standing among the lampstands, but walking among them as well. He is actively occupying Himself with them, one by one. First, His attention is directed to the church at Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. We are acquainted with this church from Acts 19 and 20, and from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, even though ‘in Ephesus’ in Ephesians 1:1 is missing in some of the best manuscripts.

Ephesus was built by General Lysimachus, one of the four successors to Alexander the Great, and it was full of oriental mysteries. The temple of Artemis—the ‘Diana of the Ephesians’ was very popular in Ephesus.  Acts 19:28 and 34: “When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”… But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”. This temple was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The Seven Wonders of antiquity were:
the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
the Colossus of Rhodes
the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt

The Seven Wonders were first defined as ‘themata’ (Greek for ‘things to be seen’ which, in today’s common English, we would phrase as ‘must-sees’) by Philo of Byzantium in 225 B.C. in his work ‘On The Seven Wonders’. Other writers on the ‘Seven Wonders’ include Herodotus, Callimachus of Cyrene, and Antipater of Sidon. Of the original seven, only the Great Pyramid of Giza exists today.

Ephesus was a stronghold of Greek culture, and was considered to be one of the three holiest cities in antiquity, together with Jerusalem and Athens. Another temple in Ephesus was built in honour of the Emperor of Rome, and games were held there.

Ephesus was struck by an earthquake during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14–37 A.D.) and its importance declined later due to the silting up of its harbour. It was a hub of commerce and transportation, of culture and religion. It was also a centre of immorality. Artemis (Diana) was the patron of prostitutes. Images of Artemis were adorned with multiple female breasts, and also fertility symbols. Black magic and occultism ruled there, but books of magic were burnt when people came to Christ. Acts 19:19-20: “And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So, the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”

Christ lets these Christians know that He knows their works, their labour and perseverance (patience). He proclaims that their faith was expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” The fruit of that faith (Galatians 5:19-24) was visible in their lives, as well as their love for the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6, in contrast with 2 Thessalonians 2:10) which appears from the fact that they had not tolerated evil-doers and had put what all kinds of people preached to them to the test: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

False teachers came as wolves in sheep’s clothing, (Acts 20:29; Matthew 24:11), posing as pillars of the church, as apostles, as preachers, priests, pastors and as angels of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 “For such men are ‘false apostles’, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”

But this Christian church of Ephesus had checked their doctrine and life against the Word. The Apostle John, who as an Apostle had, according to tradition, been the leader of the church in Ephesus, knows about ‘false apostles’. The Lord Jesus warns of false prophets and false christs no less than three times in His discourse about the last days, Matthew 24:5, 11 and 24.

That will only increase in the last days, with people having a form of godliness, but denying its power. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”

The first weapon these false teachers wield is denial of the truth and the authority of the Word of God

2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths…”

2 Peter 3:3-4 “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His Coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of Creation.”

James 5:3 “Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!”

And the first weapon these false teachers wield is denial of the truth and the authority of the Word of God, the Bible, being the Word of God. Such teachers are liars, they said in the church of Ephesus – and Jesus gives them praise for that.

‘Higher Bible criticism’ has been practised at universities for centuries now. Holy Scripture is subjected to the rationalistic ideas of ‘objective scientific research’, with scholars concluding that it is a pious book, but historically unreliable. Time and again however, these scientific ‘proofs’ are shown to be unsound.

This kind of ‘Higher Bible Criticism’ should not be confused with ‘Critical Textual Research’ that occupies itself with establishing the original text of the Bible. They do so by examining and comparing many ancient Bible manuscripts: ‘textual criticism’. ‘Textual Criticism’ is the science of studying ancient manuscripts to determine the authentic text of the Bible. It is sometimes called ‘Lower Criticism’. It is necessary because we no longer possess the original manuscripts of Moses, Paul and the other authors of the books of the Bible, written inspired by the Holy Spirit.

‘Textual Criticism’ deals with Hebrew and Greek, not English or other translations.

This science of studying ancient manuscripts to determine the authentic text of the Bible has produced wonderful results, and a very reliable Bible text of the Old and the New Testament.

‘That Word above all earthly powers abideth,’ truly says Luther’s hymn.

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