Thursday, April 7, 2011

A GREETING TO SEVEN CHURCHES

Today's note may seem like OBVIOUS information, but as we dig deep into the Revelation, every little detail of the book matters.  With an eagerness to learn, let us be ready to receive what the Holy Spirit so generously delivers.


ADDRESSING THE SEVEN CHURCHES

Today, we'll look at another verse which is loaded with rich phrases, items that will take two blogs to cover.  The emphasis in this post will be the salutation to the SEVEN CHURCHES.

Revelation 1:4--“John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne.”

In the New Testament epistles (letters) written by the Apostle Paul (and other disciples) to a collection of early Churches and Christian brothers, we discover that the authors always began their writing with a salutation (a blessing).  The epistles' blessings were directed to the particular Churches (and individuals) to whom they were addressed.  So also, the salutation in the book of Revelation brings GRACE and PEACE to the SEVEN CHURCHES which existed in Asia Minor at the time that the Apostle John recorded it.

"GRACE AND PEACE" is the blessing.


What is GRACE?

This is such a fantastic word, so wondrous and powerful!   It's a word which shows HOW the AGE OF THE CHURCH is a time of GRACE from God.

I've heard it explained in this way:  "Mercy is NOT GETTING what we really deserve from the hand of God."  Mankind, CAUGHT IN THEIR SIN AND REBELLION, deserve God’s wrath and punishment.  But God is MERCIFUL.  In His MERCY, people do NOT get the wrath and punishment they rightfully deserve.

"Grace is GETTING what we really do NOT deserve."  In our sin, we do NOT deserve God doing something good for us.  To receive GRACE is to get SOMETHING from God that CANNOT BE EARNED OR MERITED.  GRACE is GIFT that's FREELY GIVEN.  This gift CANNOT be worked for by being good enough.  This gift CANNOT be earned by following all the commandments or rules.  This gift is FREELY GIVEN to us by God.

GRACE can ONLY be received through FAITH.  Such FAITH is grounded in absolute BELIEF in what Jesus Christ DID by His LIFE, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.  When we put our TOTAL CONFIDENCE upon WHAT JESUS DID FOR US--that IS the exercise of PURE BELIEF, the ACTION OF FAITH.  Through the operation of FAITH, God’s GRACE--His FREE GIFT, is ours.  All praise be to His most awesome name!

Furthermore, we cannot "drum up faith" (the ability to believe) through our own efforts.  Caught in our sin, we have no desire for God or His Word.  Then how did FAITH arrive?  Through the DRAWING POWER of the Holy Spirit--active and incorporated within the Word of God.  "Faith comes by HEARING, and hearing by THE WORD OF GOD."  Romans 10:17.  Even our FAITH is through GRACE--and is a GIFT OF GOD.

God’s GIFT is His Son, Jesus Christ, Who by His FREE CHOICE, became a man and LIVED, DIED and ROSE FROM THE DEAD--so that we may KNOW abundant earthly life, experience ETERNAL LIFE, and the RESURRECTION of our bodies.

"For by GRACE you are SAVED through FAITH; and that NOT of yourselves: it is the GIFT of God:  NOT of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9.

THE AGE OF GRACE is the AGE OF THE CHURCH--because ALL who place their faith in Jesus, during this AGE, enter a spiritual BODY known as the CHURCH.

(Remember, too, that the Church is NOT a denomination--NOR is it a building, where Christians gather.)

The Church IS a living organism, a SPIRITUAL ENTITY, which is comprised of ALL BELIEVERS who have put their FAITH in Jesus Christ.  Each individual CHRISTIAN BELIEVER is a “building block” in a LIVING ORGANISM--that WHEN UNITED together, these believers are THE BODY OF CHRIST.  This is a SPIRITUAL reality, something that many people fail to understand when they think--"What is a Church?"


The salutation also contains PEACE.

(1.)  Through FAITH in Jesus, we experience PEACE with God.  We are NO longer AFRAID of God, no longer AFRAID of His wrath and judgment, because Jesus paid the price to free us.

(2.)  We also experience PEACE with other people--we see others through the eyes of Jesus, offering MERCY when we see them fall, offering prayers for them (even for our enemies), and we share the Gospel with them.

(3.)  Best of all, we have PEACE with ourselves.  We are no longer under a weight of guilt, but know the freedom of being truly set free.

(4.)  Another level of PEACE is to experience the PEACE WHICH PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING, because our hearts and minds are focused upon Jesus.  No matter what trouble, trial or worry might beset us, we take these things to Jesus in prayer.  Then the wonderful blessing of PEACE lifts us above the obstacle, and we are filled with strength and courage.


NOW, TO FURTHER UNDERSTAND THE SEVEN CHURCHES....

The Apostle John addresses SEVEN specific Churches in the salutation.  I'll offer only a brief glimpse of them here (further insight about these Churches will be seen when we get to Revelation 2 and 3).

First of all, I want to point out, that some controversy has occurred in THE PAST about whether or not these SEVEN Churches really existed at the time of John.  Some scholars argued that the letters to the SEVEN Churches were JUST allegorical, totally fabricated, made-up-- like examples--to SYMBOLIZE the qualities that each Church contained.

Archeological excavations and discoveries, made by Sir William Ramsey, put AN END to the ALLEGORICAL IDEA.  The SEVEN Churches INDEED existed, and furthermore, there’s evidence which shows that EACH of these Churches DID HAVE the qualities and problems which Jesus addressed in those SEVEN letters.

“The seven Churches which were in Asia…”  These Churches were NOT found in the vast continent of Asia.  They were located in a ROMAN PROVINCE which was CALLED Asia Minor--now known as TURKEY.  Geographically, the Churches’ location created a small circle--with a radius of about 80 miles.

WHY did Jesus select these SPECIFIC seven Churches?

There were many influential and important Church bodies in those early Apostolic times--Jerusalem, Antioch, Lystra, Thessalonica, Colossae, and so forth.  Yet Jesus picked a SPECIFIC SEVEN to address in the Revelation, and He had a SPECIFIC REASON for doing so.

These SEVEN Churches SHOW the COMPLETE CHURCH (seven means “completion”).  These SEVEN Churches contain qualities which EMERGE as the Church LIVED through its WHOLE HISTORY.  Therefore, the SEVEN Churches in the Revelation are a PROPHECY of what would happen to the Church during its time on earth.  (And HOW PERFECTLY these qualities INDEED fit Church history!)

Taken in ANY OTHER ORDER, they DO NOT fit actual history.  But in the order in which they’re addressed, THEY FIT CHURCH HISTORY LIKE A GLOVE!

Jesus did NOT address Pergamos first, Philadelphia second, then Ephesus, Sardis, Laodecia, Smyrna, and finally Thyatira.  Listed like that, Church history is NOT pictured.  This is an IMPORTANT FACT to remember!

So WHAT order did Jesus use?

They are addressed like this:  Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and finally, Laodecia.  It's in THIS order, AND ONLY IN THIS ORDER, that these Churches show an ACCURATE PICTURE of history.  REMEMBER THAT PROPHECY IS HISTORY WRITTEN IN ADVANCE.  The letters to the Churches were INDEED history written in advance--at the VERY START of what would become a long 2000 year history.

Even this brief SALUTATION, we see the UNMISTAKABLE signature of the Holy Spirit.  When we arrive at Revelation 2 and 3, we'll explore Church history through THE DETAILS found in those SEVEN letters--and to much greater depth.

We'll also cover other APPLICATIONS in the messages to these Churches:

We’ll discover that the letters offer encouragement and warnings to EVERY Church congregation in EVERY era of the Church’s long history.  Plus, those seven letters are full of rich insight for EVERY INDIVIDUAL in the Church--in whatever part of history that they lived--and continue to live!

Here, in chapter one, I only offer a PREVIEW, like a provocative movie trailer.

I hope you’re eager--ready to learn so much more.


BEFORE I end today's blog, I'll ADD another facet of God's wondrous truth--LORD GOD, THE ETERNAL ONE:

The phrase--“Him which is, and which was, and which is to come” has a particular meaning and impact.  We can carefully SEARCH from Matthew’s Gospel to the letter of Jude, and discover that this SPECIAL phrase--this reference to God, the Almighty--is found NO WHERE else in the New Testament, EXCEPT IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION.

The phrase is a Hebrew construction, JHVH (or JHWH) and it’s used extensively throughout the Old Testament.  Why do we find a Hebrew connotation here?  Why is Revelation the ONLY New Testament book to use this phrase?

I’ll point out this fact--the BULK of the Revelation focuses upon Israel, the Jews, those who speak the Hebrew language, because IN the FULFILLMENT of End Time events, Abraham’s descendants RECEIVE their complete inheritance, something that God promised them long ago.  God will ALWAYS fulfill His promises, and many promises to Israel have NOT YET come into their fruition.  God will FINISH His plan for the Jews.

Remember, the Church is in view in Revelation 2 and 3.  We previewed prophecy concerning the Church in the SALUTATION contained in verse 4, the focus of the previous paragraphs. Now, AFTER MENTIONING THE CHURCHES, the emphasis, EVEN HERE, in verse 4, SWITCHES to a Jewish picture.  The Revelation STARTS as a PROPHECY to the Church, and then it segues into a PROPHECY which FULFILLS God's promises to Israel.  We see that truth--even in one small verse:  Revelation 1:4.

JHVH (or JHWH) is technically called a TETRAGRAMMATON, a word with FOUR LETTERS.  The Hebrew language uses consonants only--no vowels.  In English, JHVH is “Jehovah,” a common Hebrew name for God.

In Exodus 3:14, the tetragrammaton, JHVH (Jehovah), is translated as “I AM Who I AM and what I AM and I WILL BE what I WILL BE.”

This unique Hebrew construction is the SAME ONE, used again, here in Revelation as “He Who is, Who was, and Who is to come.”  The exact wording of this phrase shows God as ETERNAL--present, past and future. GOD IS ALWAYS, HAS ALWAYS BEEN ALWAYS, AND ALWAYS WILL BE ALWAYS!

If you wish to trace this Hebrew construction throughout the Old Testament, you’ll need an EXHAUSTIVE concordance, because the search will require VERY MUCH TIME AND PATIENCE. In Strong’s Concordance, look for what’s translated as LORD in English.  In the Hebrew dictionary, “Lord” is defined as “Jehovah,” the English spelling of JHVH.  This is FURTHER DEFINED as “the self-existent or the eternal.”

I counted the number of references in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, and found 20 PAGES for the Hebrew JHVH, defined as LORD!  I averaged the TOTAL per page, and discovered HOW MANY TIMES the word appears in the Old Testament--about 7000 times!  (I said it was EXHAUSTIVE, and it IS!!!)

God says (with booming authority):  I AM. I HAVE BEEN. AND I WILL BE.  This usage is THREE TENSES of the VERB, “to be”--past, present and future--the POWERFUL expression of ALL that GOD IS--FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER.

God, the Almighty, the eternal, the ever-existing One--as Revelation 1:4 states--“Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.”

As I complete today's blog, be BLESSED in this day that the Lord has made.  May you rejoice and be glad in it!  We SERVE and LOVE a MOST AWESOME GOD!

And, WOW, this is FOREVER--and we've just BARELY BEGUN!

Jesus is the same:  yesterday, today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8.  Jesus is God!

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