Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rightly Dividing Revelation 2-3

The majority of dispensational Bible commentators tell us that Revelation 2-3 is written to the church in this present age. There are four common applications, all of which are said to be for the body of Christ. The following note from the Scofield Reference Bible summarizes this view:

The messages to the seven churches have a fourfold application: (1) Local, to the churches actually addressed; (2) admonitory, to all churches in all time as tests by which they may discern their true spiritual state in the sight of God; (3) personal, in the exhortations to him "that hath an ear," and in the promise "to him that overcometh"; (4) prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say, A.D. 96 to the end. It is incredible that in a prophecy covering the church period, there should be no such foreview. These messages must contain that foreview if it is in the book at all, for the church does not appear after Revelation 3:22, these messages by their very terms go beyond the local assemblies mentioned. Most conclusively of all, these messages do present an exact foreview of the spiritual history of the church, and in this precise order. Ephesus gives the general state at the date of the writing; Smyrna, the period of the great persecutions; Pergamos, the church settled down in the world, "where Satan's throne is," after the conversion of Constantine, say A.D. 316. Thyatira is the Papacy, developed out of the Pergamos state: Balaamism (worldliness) and Nicolaitanism (priestly assumption) having conquered. As Jezebel brought idolatry into Israel, so Romanism weds Christian doctrine to pagan ceremonies. Sardis is the Protestant Reformation, whose works were not "fulfilled." Philadelphia is whatever bears clear testimony to the Word and the Name in the time of self-satisfied profession represented by Laodicea. (Old Scofield Bible, 1917, pg. 1331-1332)

A true Bible believer that seeks to rightly divide the word of truth will eventually realize that to be orthodox or traditional does not always make you SCRIPTURAL. Most Christians today are very quick to accept the traditional interpretation of a passage from the teachers they respect without truly searching the scriptures for themselves. Of course, God uses faithful men to teach the scriptures (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 2:2) and we can be helped by their writings and teachings, but they are not our final authority! When the teachings of godly men contradict the plain teaching of scripture (and this DOES occur) we must stand with God’s perfect word. Where are the believers today that are willing to follow the example of the Bereans? 

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

We should never accept the teaching of anybody without searching the scriptures for ourselves (1 Thess. 5:21). We do not need “theological training” in order to know God’s word. We must not look to the “scholars” who vainly try to correct the scriptures and want the “laity” to look to them as the authority. So, while I greatly respect and appreciate men like C.I. Scofield, I must say that through a consistent right division of scripture I have come to the conclusion that Revelation 2-3 is a TRIBULATION passage that was not written doctrinally to the body of Christ.

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter: (Rev. 1:19)

Based on this verse, the standard outline of Revelation found in most dispensational commentaries looks something like this:

I. The Vision of Christ (1) – “thou hast seen”
II. The Church Age (2-3) – “which are”
III. The Tribulation, Kingdom, New Heaven and Earth (4-22) – “which shall be hereafter”

But I recommend the following outline:

I. The things which thou hast seen (1)
II. The things which are (2-20)
III. The things which shall be hereafter (21-22)

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; (Rev. 1:10-11a)

It is a misinterpretation of v.10 that will start you off on the wrong foot and lead you to some wrong conclusions about chapters two and three. The common interpretation of this verse is that John got happy on Sunday. Not understanding that John was transported by the Spirit into the future day of the Lord and that the whole book was written from that standpoint, will lead you to the faulty conclusion that “the things which are” refers to the present age. After all, if the word “church” is used it must refer to the “church age”, right? Wrong. The word “church” in the Scripture does not always refer to the body of Christ or a local church in this present dispensation. There was a “church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). There is a kingdom church that is the subject of prophecy (Ps. 22:22-28; Heb. 2:12). The church which is the body of Christ was a mystery HID from the prophets (Eph. 3:9).

Revelation is a book of prophecy (1:3) and therefore John writes as a prophet. We must compare scripture with scripture (1 Cor. 2:13) to understand what it means for a prophet to be “in the Spirit”. Every believer is in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) but that is not what is being referred to here. John was in the Spirit in the same sense that this phrase is used throughout the book of Revelation (4:2; 17:3; 21:10). Consider an example of the experience of the prophet Ezekiel.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out IN THE SPIRIT of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:1-2)

This reference confirms that the Spirit can literally MOVE a prophet to another location (see also Ezek. 3:14, Acts 8:39). Since the Spirit is eternal, and is omnipresent, is it not possible that the Spirit moved John into the future day of the Lord to be an eyewitness of the things he wrote? This is not speculation or far-fetched because the scripture records that others had a similar experience! Ezekiel saw and described the future millennial temple (Ezek. 40-48). Isaiah saw Christ in the millennial temple when “the whole earth is full of his glory”(Isa. 6). Peter, James, and John were “eyewitnesses” of the majesty of Christ in His kingdom glory (2 Pet. 1:16-18).

The Lord’s day is not Sunday or any 24 hour day at all. The scriptures in many places speak of the “day of the LORD”. Upon examining these references and comparing them to the contents of the book of Revelation it is obvious that “the Lord’s day” refers to this same prophetic day. The main events included in this prophetic day are: the tribulation period (Jer. 30:7); second advent of Christ (Mal. 4:1-3); millennial kingdom (Isa. 11:10); new heavens and earth (Isa. 65:17). These events and those associated with them are clearly foretold by the PROPHETS. The body of Christ is NOT found in the prophetic scriptures of Israel (Eph. 3:1-12). Seeing that Revelation is a prophecy about the day of the Lord, why would we expect to find the body of Christ in such a book? We are not told to look for the day of the Lord but rather the “blessed hope” of the rapture which will save us from that prophesied day of wrath (1 Thess. 5:9).   

The Lord Jesus Christ told John to write what he was going to see in a book and send it to seven churches in Asia (1:11). The Lord was not just referring to the vision of Himself in chapter one and the letters to the seven churches in chapter two and three, but to the whole book. It is imperative to understand that the whole book applies DIRECTLY to those churches. Believers today should study Revelation just like we would any book in the Old Testament. There are lessons to learn and applications that can be made for us. But, the events of the tribulation period do not apply directly to us. The seven churches are Jewish kingdom churches in the future tribulation period and are representative churches. The letters to the seven churches contain problems that tribulation saints will have to overcome, solutions to those problems, and promises to the overcomers. What Christ says to these seven churches He says to all of the tribulation saints ("hear what the Spirit saith unto the CHURCHES"). The instruction in these letters will help the tribulation saints endure the awful things described in chapters 6-19. The commendations, rebukes, corrections, instructions, and promises that the Lord gives to the seven churches directly correspond with the material that is found throughout the rest of Revelation. The Bible is a complete revelation (nothing will be added). Where is the specific doctrine and instruction written directly to the tribulation saints? It is found in Hebrews through Revelation.
Why seven churches? God uses the number seven (number of completion) many times throughout the book of Revelation because it reveals the completion of the prophetic kingdom program of Israel. Why churches in Asia? The tribulations saints are scattered outside the land of Israel (Jam. 1:1). If the these churches provide a historical representation, it is NOT seven stages of church history but seven stages of Israel’s history: 

In the Wilderness:
1. Ephesus = Israel’s espousals (the exodus, Jer. 2:2)
2. Smyrna = Israel’s testing (tried in the wilderness)
3. Pergamos = Israel’s failure (Balaam and Balac)

In the Land:
4. Thyatira = The day of Israel’s’ kings (Jezebel)
5. Sardis = Israel’s removal ("art dead")
6. Philadelphia = The day of Judah’s kings (key of David)
7. Laodicea = Judah’s removal (spued out, Lev. 18:28)

Every Promise in the Book is NOT Mine

Christians wrongly want to make every promise in scripture apply directly to them. The promises made to the seven churches clearly relate to the future day of the Lord and not the present day of grace. The condition for receiving these promises is to OVERCOME. The tribulation saint will overcome by faith (1 Jn. 5:4-5) but it must be a faith that WORKS (Jam. 2:14-26). The apostle Paul tells the body of Christ that we “are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10). All of our blessings are based on our position in Christ. We are not told to overcome anything in order to obtain blessings. Paul tells us that God already “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Notice that our blessings are spiritual and heavenly not physical and earthly. Let’s briefly consider the promises to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

1. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of paradise of God.” (2:7)
The tree of life was on earth in the beginning and will be once again in the end (Gen. 3:22-24; Rev. 22:2). When Adam fell paradise was lost and the tree of life could not be accessed. When the kingdom of heaven is set up on earth paradise will be restored and once again this tree will be available. The tree of life literally gives life to those that eat of it.  How will they gain right to this tree? By keeping the commandments of God (Rev. 22:14)! The body of Christ does NOT need this tree because we will have a body fashioned like the glorious body of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). Do you think that Christ will need the tree of life? Than neither will we!

2. “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” and “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (2:10b; 11b)
Faithful tribulation saints will face execution (beheading) for not worshipping the beast. There will be a multitude of martyrs that God promises to avenge and reward (Rev. 6:9-11; 20:4). That the devil will personally persecute these people (Rev. 2:10) proves they are in the great tribulation (Rev. 12:9-13). Commentators spiritualize the ten days to mean anything but ten days (e.g. ten persecutions by Roman emperors). I take it to be ten literal days. They will be tried in prison (tortured) for ten days in an effort to make them decide to take the mark of the beast. If they take the mark they will be damned (Rev. 14:9-12). If they "love not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:11) they will be resurrected and given a crown of life (Matt. 10:16-39; Jam. 1:12; Rev. 20:4; 21:7). The body of Christ will not be “hurt of the second death” but is this is NOT because we overcame the antichrist! In the tribulation, those that do not “endure to the end” will not be saved (Matt. 24:13).

3. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (2:17)
God supernaturally fed His people with manna in the wilderness. In the tribulation they can not buy, sell, or trade without the mark of the Beast. The faithful remnant will not take the mark. They will flee to the wilderness where God will once again supernaturally feed His people for 3 ½ years (Rev. 12:6, 14; Mic. 7:14-15). The “white stone” is also associated with Israel’s wilderness experience. In Exodus we read of stones on the breastplate of the high priest. God will make the whole nation “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6). In Exodus we also read of stones called “Urim and Thummim” of which little is known. We do know they were associated with God hearing and answering His people. Surely the “white stone” is associated with Israel as was the manna.

4. “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.” (2:27-28)
In Numbers 24:17-19 we read about the “Star” and “Sceptre” that shall rise out of Israel, that will have “dominion”, and that will cause Israel to do “valiantly”. The Star and Sceptre is Christ. When He sets up His kingdom Israel will reign with Him over the world with a “rod of iron” (Ps. 2; Rev. 12:5). Christ said to His disciples, “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Lk. 22:28-30)

5. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (3:5)
Later in the book we are clearly told that the white raiment is the “righteousness of the saints” (19:7-8). The body of Christ stands in the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:4-9). Those who overcome will not only be clothed in white but will have their name confessed before the Father. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 10:32-33 and a casual reading of the context will show you it is a tribulation promise. Those blotted out of the book for unfaithfulness and denial of the Son will not enter the kingdom but will be cast into outer darkness.

6. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (3:10; 12)
God promises to protect His faithful remnant through the great tribulation. Some will be raptured (144,000 in Rev. 12:5) and others will be protected on the earth (12:13-17). The promise of v.10 is similar to the one found in Zeph. 2:3 and Isa. 26:20. The overcomers are promised a special position in the temple (pillar = display). They had “little strength” but will be a strong and secure pillar in God’s temple. We are not going to be a pillar in the temple, we are the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). Those that worship the beast receive his name. The overcomers will be totally identified with the true and living God by having His name (22:4), the name of His city, and a new name written upon them (2:17; Isa. 62:2). The new Jerusalem which comes down from heaven following the millennial kingdom is totally identified with ISRAEL (check the names on the 12 gates!). Of course the temple in v.12 refers to the millennial temple of the kingdom. The Jews will be able to serve the Lord continually in it as the nations flow into Jerusalem to worship the King (Zech. 14:16).

7. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (3:21)
It is when Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth that He will sit on the throne of His father David (Lk. 1:32) and the throne of His glory (Matt. 25:31). Between His ascension and second coming He is seated with His Father in His Father’s throne (Ps. 110:1). This proves that the covenants are not being fulfilled "spiritually" today through the church. The overcomers will reign with Christ in the kingdom (Rev. 2:26-27; 5:10; 20:4). Christ overcame Satan by the word of God and by being obedient unto death (Phil. 2:8). The tribulation saints must overcome Satan the same way (12:11).

We by no means fully expounded the promises in Revelation 2-3. Our purpose was to simply show that they were not given to the body of Christ. There are CLEAR doctrinal differences between these seven letters and the seven church epistles of Paul. For example, compare the importance of being a genuine “Jew” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9) with the fact there are no Jews in the body of Christ (Col. 3:10-11). The language and setting of Revelation 1-3 is the same as 4-22. Therefore, many other points can be made to prove that the subject of the WHOLE book is the day of the Lord and that no part of it is about this present dispensation.

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