The Seven Churches in Revelation – Christian or Jewish Assemblies? Part 1

Maybe it’s just my naivety, but it never occurred to me that anyone might see these Churches as anything but, well.. Christian Churches. However, I have recently become aware that there is indeed an alternate view; held by the minority to be sure, but one that deserves to be studied and reconciled nonetheless.

Some might wonder, why is this important? The book says what it says either way, right? Yes.. and no. The book says what it says, to be sure. But to whom? The book of Revelation is addressed to the Seven Churches; not just Chapters 2 and 3, but the entire book. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we understand to whom this book is addressed, so that we may also understand what will befall whom.

An Overview of Supporting Arguments Contending for Non-Christian Jewish Assemblies

The supporting arguments presented by those contending that these entities are non-Christian, Jewish assemblies rather than Christian churches, are as follows:

  1. The word translated as church in actuality means assembly; specifically, a non-Christian Jewish assembly.
  2. The verbiage used when addressing each assembly indicates that these are not Christians, but Jewish unbelievers, mainly due to the absence of salvation indicators.
  3. The book of Revelation concerns Israel and non-believers, and not the Church.

I’d like to address each of these points individually in three separate posts. But before we move on to the First Argument, let’s read the introduction to the Churches in Revelation 1:9-20:

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book 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.’

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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.’


First Argument: “The word translated as Church, in actuality, means Assembly; specifically, a Jewish Assembly”

The word translated Church in the passage above, is ekklesia (1577). It is used 111 times within the New Testament (NASB). Out of those 111 times, 110 occurrences have been interpreted and translated in a Christian sense. As with most biblical words, the full meaning is determined by the context in which the word is used. In other words, it has been determined by the context of the passage to mean a public gathering of Christians or the worldwide body of Christians throughout the earth.

The one exception to this is Acts 7:37-38, where Stephen is presenting his defense and quotes Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses says, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren”; and explains that this Moses was in the congregation (or ekklesia) in the wilderness with the Angel of the Lord, and the fathers of Israel. Clearly, this is a reference to an entirely Jewish assembly of people.

Origin and Meaning of Ekklesia

Ekklesia was “a common term for a congregation of the ekkletoi, the called people, or those called out or assembled in the public affairs of a free state, the body of free citizens called together by a herald (kerux [2783]) which constituted the ekklesia. In the New Testament, the word is applied to the congregation of the people of Israel”. Ekklesia was not initially used in reference to Jewish or Christian religious assemblies. This is why, in Acts 7:37-38 above, Stephen uses the word ekklesia to identify the congregation of the people of Israel.

Origin and Meaning of Sunagoge

When translating the OT, translators used the word sunagoge (4864) in what seems to have been an attempt “to designate the people from Israel in distinction from all other nations”. As the Church began to rise, the term Episunagoge (1997) was initially used in order to differentiate them from the Jewish community; i.e. “when a gathering of Christians is referred to”. Not long after, the Christian community, making full use of the ‘called people’ epithet, was designated for the first time as the ekklesia to differentiate it from the Jewish community or sunagoge.

Concluding Thoughts on The First Argument

Interestingly, out of the 56 uses of the word sunagoge in the New Testament, all refer to a Jewish assembly or Synagogue; without exception. When you compare that with the uses of ekklesia, in which 110 times out of 111 uses refers to the Church, it becomes clear that the authors did not unwittingly choose these words; rather, they were clearly intentional in the messages they presented.

Next week, we’ll explore the second supporting argument presented by those believing these entities to be non-Christian, Jewish assemblies rather than Christian churches; to determine if this seeming intentionality is also present in the letters written directly to the Seven Churches.

Until then: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26 ESV


References:
Complete Word Study Dictionary NT 1992 Edited by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

25 thoughts on “The Seven Churches in Revelation – Christian or Jewish Assemblies? Part 1

  1. Messianic Jews are technically Christians since they follow Jesus, but to most Jews especially the unconverted, when you say Christian, they immediately think Catholicism with ties to Hitler, the holocaust and all the past evils done to the Jewish people by this pseudo-Christian system. I can understand their preference of being called Messianic than Christian – what is mainly attributed to gentile believers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. I don’t think I made it clear in this post, but will update if not, that those who believe they are Jewish assemblies do not think they are Christians or Messianic Jews, but non-believers holding to Judaism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Non-believers holding to Judaism will realize who they’re dealing with is a false messiah a.k.a. “Man of Lawlessness” after the temple sacrifices are halted spoken of in Daniel 9:27, “And he will confirm a covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.”

        Preterists believe this temple has long been destroyed but as we speak, you know they are making plans for the third temple.

        Enter 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”

        Then to Matthew 24:15-16, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination of desolation,’ described by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16 then let those in Judea flee to the mountains. ”

        Having to go through a time of tribulation of this magnitude, they will truly seek God like they cried out for deliverance in their time of captivity. One Jewish rabbi even went as far to say if Jesus did come again, he would believe.

        Liked by 1 person

        • All very true. I’m so curious to see how the next few years are going to play out. Especially the building of the temple and where exactly they are planning to put it. By the way, I did watch that video of Pompeo, the temple model, and the signing of a mysterious document. Very thought-provoking, don’t you think?

          Liked by 1 person

            • I’m not sure what I think about that. I’m glad he was re-elected, for sure. I kind of feel like it had to be this way in order to maintain the relationship with the US that has been in place since Trump. Not to mention the volume of fulfilled prophecy due to that’s. I feel pretty certain that a left wing PM wouldn’t be quite so taken with Trump and inclined to trust him the way Bibi does. You?

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yeah, I’m on the same boat. I was hoping for this outcome but considering the Left is willing to do anything and everything, I’m just glad the Israeli people stayed with results. It would be back to square one with the US/Israeli relations (when it comes to the Peace deal) if the other guy did get elected. With all that’s going in Israel and the world today, we can see God’s hand at work and Bible prophecy coming alive.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. I read your post, Dee. But the subject matter is too lofty for me. As you know, only Messianic Jews ascribe to the beliefs concerning Jesus Christ as depicted in the Old AND New Testaments. Whatever the Jewish Assemblies have to say about the Seven Churches in Revelations come as no surprise to me. Who would have thought that group of Jews would have studied the last book of our Bible so thoroughly…particularly since they jumped over the Gospels and Pauline Letters to do so. After all, the Book of Revelation is an Allegory full of symbolisms and imagery, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, my friend! It’s actually not the Jews that are commenting, but Christian’s who believe that these seven churches are not churches at all, but non-Christian Jewish assemblies or synagogues. They say this because they believe that the church is not present at all in the book of Revelation. What are your thoughts about that?

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  3. Honestly Dee, I don’t think that this subject is important. In fact, I know nothing about this particular belief. Most pastors I have sat under don’t even preach from Revelation…mainly because it is an allegory and subject to lots and lots of misinterpretations. But be that as it may. I support you in your ministry but shy away from discussions of this magnitude. I look forward to Part 2 and will try to get an understanding. After all, that is my epitaph…”In all thy getting, get an understanding”. God Bless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for replying. I totally understand your sentiments. The reason I think it’s important is because I don’t believe Revelation is an allegory. I believe it’s very real and carries an extremely important and strong message to the Church for the last days. Both in the letters to the seven churches, as well as what we can expect to see and experience before Christ returns.

      If we are fooled into thinking that the churches in Revelation really are not Christians, then we will miss the message and be caught off guard when these things begin to happen. Hence the great falling away.

      Part 2 will be out next Wednesday. See you then! Figuratively speaking, that is. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sister Fowler, you said something in your comment above that I would like to ask you about.

      “Most pastors I have sat under don’t even preach from Revelation…mainly because it is an allegory and subject to lots and lots of misinterpretations.”

      Is this something you’ve been told? Or something you, yourself have concluded and believe?

      God bless 🙂

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    • Those three terms are synonymous. Getting into the technicality of something is only good if it actually leads one to repentance and to Jesus Christ. They only bring doubt on the veracity of Scripture and as you have stated, confusion.

      For this, we are reminded in 2 Timothy 2:14, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”

      Liked by 2 people

    • Caeli, that is also true. Probably even more so. The main point being that the word Ekklesia did not originally refer to a religious organization at all. It is just a congregation of called out people of a common citizenship or belonging for a common purpose; be it secular, political, or religious. Basically a group of people. But over the years it has come to mean something of a religious nature which is not true in every instance.

      It’s like calling a church a congregation of people. And now the word congregation is related to church in most people’s minds, but it’s just a group of people of common citizenship congregating in one place for a common purpose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see your point, but in my brain, it is translated as a gathering of believers and most of us have come to accept it as so. What is important is that everyone in that gathering is heavenbound.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sorry about that. It gets a little confusing when I use my phone to reply. But, amen! That is my point. Those who believe the word ekklesia doesn’t apply to the Church (or a gathering of believers) are those who look only at the definition of the word itself and not the context in which it is used. When you do this, you can easily come to a wrong conclusion of what the word means in a particular situation. This is why it’s important to take the use of the word in context with what is being said, rather than trying to define it just by the meaning of the word.

          In other words, those who claim that the letters to the seven churches are actually written to unbelieving Jews are not taking the content in context. They rightfully translate this word to mean assembly, but fail to see the markers within the text that indicate it is addressed to believers. Which is the subject of my next post. They do this, seemingly, to support their argument that the church is nowhere to be found in the book of Revelation and therefore we (Christians) are raptured before the book of Revelation even begins. This goes beyond even the pre-tribulation belief that says the church is raptured just after the letters in Revelation. I personally don’t believe the Word supports either position, but that is another post altogether.

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  4. Dee, I just purchased the paperback book entitled STAND FIRM to help me to understand Part 2 of your blog for next week. Sorry to take up so much space, but I pasted below the information.
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    This book provides up to date responses to questions about the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, Jesus and the resurrection, and the problem of evil. It also treats unique topics such as understanding truth, knowledge and faith, the claims of alternate faiths, religious disagreement, etc. Each chapter attempts to connect these considerations with the gospel so that we may stand firm in our faith.

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    Liked by 1 person

  5. What does it mean in John 12:24
    Verily, verily I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth much fruit. I don’t understand. It sounds the same to me (die it abideth alone), (but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment/question. My apologies for the late reply.. I’ve been off WordPress for an extended time.

      The contrast in this verse is the decision to die (lay down the entirety of your life to Christ) or not to die. If you choose not to lay down your life, you will abide alone. In other words, your life will consist of an egocentric, self-focused existence. However, if you choose to lay down your life to Christ, your life will be Christ-centered and will bring forth much fruit.

      Does that make sense?

      Like

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