The Seven Churches in Revelation – Christian or Jewish Assemblies? Part 2

–From Part 1 of this Series–

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 in the days to come.

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.

In Part 1 of this series, we addressed the First Argument above. Today we will be discussing the Second Argument:

“The verbiage used when addressing each assembly indicates that these are not Christians, but Jewish unbelievers, mainly due to the absence of salvation indicators”

Since the Letters to the Seven Churches span two chapters in Revelation, I will not be including them in their entirety within this post, but I would encourage you to read them on your own. Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the purpose and intended audience for which the Book of Revelation was written.


What is the purpose of the book of Revelation and to whom was it written?

Revelation 1:1, 4, 9-11

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”

“John, to the seven churches that are in Asia:”

“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.’

In these verses, we see the following:

  • The Revelation of Jesus Christ was given to show His bond-servants the things that must soon take place.
  • The Revelation was given to John, a bond-servant.
  • The Revelation is addressed to the Seven Churches that are in Asia.
  • These churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea

Based on these facts, we can reasonably conclude the following: The Revelation of Jesus Christ was given for His bond-servants, it was witnessed by John, his bond-servant, who was instructed by Jesus Himself to record, address, and deliver all that he saw to Jesus’ bond-servants, who are identified as the Seven Churches in Asia.

Make sense? Now let’s move on to the Seven Letters themselves. I will only be including excerpts from these letters to show verbiage indicating that these letters are indeed written to believers.


“Write what you see in a book and send it to the Seven Churches”

Revelation 2:2 – “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.’

Who is it that puts to test those who call themselves Apostles and finds them to be false; or who perseveres and endures for His name’s sake, if not believers? “But this I have against you” – this would be a great time to bring up the fact that they are not saved, don’t you think? But what does He say? “You have left your first love”; remember and repent. If He was not their first love to begin with, why would He hold that against them and demand they repent?

Revelation 2:8 – “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.’

“A synagogue of Satan” – Here we see the use of the word sunagoge (synagogue). If you remember from Part 1, sunagoge is indicative of a Jewish (non-christian) assembly. We also see the use of the word ekklesia (church) in this same letter. This is a strong implication that both Jesus and John knew the difference between these two words, and therefore were not unintentional in their ascription. Also, we are told that Smyrna is about to be tested and Jesus tells them to be faithful until death to receive the crown of life – but, faithful to what or whom? Judaism? Jesus? Yes, to Jesus.

Revelation 2:12 – “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.’

“And you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas”. Here we see Jesus identifying with this church through His name and their faith. Again, He says “I have a few things against you” – another opportunity to acknowledge their lack of salvation, if that were true. But we know it isn’t, because He has just defended their allegiance to Him even in the midst of severe persecution.

Revelation 2:18 – “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.’

“Your deeds of late are greater than at first – what deeds? Love, faith, service, perseverance. And again He passes up the opportunity to tell them they are not saved, as He says, “But, I have this against you”. Some there have been led astray, but for those who have not He says, “I place no other burden you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come”. Hold fast to what? Judaism? Since He places no other burden on them, it appears He is not speaking of Judaism, or He would have pointed out their need for salvation. Instead, He is again encouraging them in their love, faith, service, and perseverance in Him.

Revelation 3:1 – “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.’

Wake up! Strengthen what remains! Remember what you have received and heard; keep it, repent! What remains? Their deeds. What did they receive and hear? The gospel; Yeshua Hamashiach; Jesus the Messiah. For those who have not soiled their garments, He will not erase their name from the book of life. You cannot erase what was never there.

Revelation 3:7 – “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.’

“You have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing.” I could stop here, but I will also point out that there is a conspicuous lack of any correction from Jesus. If they were unbelievers and therefore without salvation, I have no doubt He would have taken the opportunity to share this with them.

Revelation 3:14 – “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.’

This church is lukewarm; neither cold nor hot. Neither dead nor alive. He has not given up on them, nor has he already spit them out of His mouth. Instead, in His rich mercy He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent”.

[Addition to Original Post]:

This church is quite complicated. At some point, they were a true planting of the Lord. How do I know that? First, because Jesus validates them as such by including them in the letters to the seven churches, as well as addressing them as the Church in Laodicea. Secondly, Paul endorses them as brethren and as the Church of the Laodiceans in Colossians 2:1, 4:13, and 4:15-16.

However, at some point this body of believers began to turn away from the true gospel. There are many speculations as to the cause, but the fact remains they have become ineffectual and lukewarm by the time this letter is written. So much so, that Jesus is about to vomit them out of his mouth. Does this mean there are no true believers in this church? I think it’s important to remember that Jesus is addressing the church, the ekklesia, and not the individual members of the church, in His assessment of their condition and standing before Him. Having said that, if there are any true believers left in this church, He does not mention them, as He has in some of the other letters.


Concluding Thoughts

Let’s look at the Second Argument again:

“The verbiage used when addressing each assembly indicates that these are not Christians, but Jewish unbelievers, mainly due to the absence of salvation indicators”

Now consider this question: Based on what we’ve looked at so far, and the verbiage used in the letters themselves, would you agree with the above statement?


Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

16 thoughts on “The Seven Churches in Revelation – Christian or Jewish Assemblies? Part 2

  1. Extremely interesting study. I disagree with the viewpoint that the seven churches are non-Christian Jewish assemblies, but as you say, it is important to examine this viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks David. I’m finding that many people just do not study the Word of God in its literal sense and believe whatever they’re told. Or, as I believe is the case here, they twist the scripture to support their own desired outcome – i.e. the book of Revelation is only for Israel. Which I will address next week. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice Dee! Though, I would vary on your concluding thoughts about the Lukewarm church specifically in Revelation 3.

    Verse 17 of Revelation 3 gives a clear description of their true spiritual condition, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.“

    Let’s put the emphasis on “But you do not realize- being oblivious to their true condition, hence the lukewarmness.

    Blind means they are NOT in the truth. (John 9:41)
    Naked means they are NOT YET clothed with Christ! (Galatians 3:26-27)

    Though Revelation 3 is addressing the church collectively, it is addressing every single individual within the church who think they are saved to make sure that they are and God implores “in His rich mercy” like you’ve mentioned here, to hear His knock coming by way of correction and discipline. These people claim to be in the truth and are close to the knowledge of the truth but are not quite there yet (think Judas).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dee, Your second blog on this controversial subject of whether or not the churches mentioned in Revelation are Christian or Jewish have garnished a lot of responses reflecting your views. Personally, I have been in much prayer regarding this subject ever since you brought it to my attention. I had not heard of this argument before. In my conversation with the Lord, this is what the Holy Spirit reminded me of.

    While on a mission trip in 2013 to Asia (Hanoi, Vietnam), at first I was allowing my ‘Christian light’ to shine dimly. Mainly because our team was forbidden by the Asian government to apotheosize.
    God wrote me (the church) a letter (figuratively speaking) and said my actions were not good enough. I needed to take a risk for His Kingdom.

    I did. I witnessed to an Asian who was a Buddhist and he tried my God and was blessed. Now, it was time for this new ‘closet’ Christian believer to let his light shine in the midst of his Confucianism and Buddhism community. Perhaps that is the true message of Revelation.

    In the Book of Job, we see this same analogy coming out of the mouth of Elihu. And we also see Job’s response…”I will wait until my change comes.” The ‘Change’ being Salvation. True Christians (and those churches in Revelation) are not to put their light under a bushel. So whether we label our places of worship a ‘church’ or an ‘assembly’ God can present His message of Salvation to both entities. Amen

    Like

    • Amen, Sister Fowler! I completely agree that a rose by any other name is still a rose. 🙂

      The focus for this subject is less about the ‘name and definition’ of these assemblies, as it is about the implications for which the book of Revelation itself was given to begin with.

      If we conclude that these assemblies are not Christian Churches, we must also believe that the book of Revelation does not pertain to the Church at all – as the Revelation of Jesus was given and communicated primarily for the sake of whomever these assemblies might be. If the Jews, then why pay attention if I’m a Christian?

      God does nothing without a reason. If He thought it important enough to give this Revelation to Jesus in order to show His ‘servants’ what must soon come to pass, then we must assign the same importance in defining who exactly those servants are. If we believe they are non-Christian Jewish assemblies, and that the church will not be affected at all, the result will likely be that we fall short of the command to heed the things written therein, and consequently find ourselves unprepared for the time to come.

      “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

      Not only that, there are many warnings within the letters themselves that must also be taken to heart. If we believe they are not applicable to the Church, but pertain only to the issues of non-believers, how seriously do you think most Christians will regard them?

      If, on the other hand, these letters (and the entire book of Revelation) are written to the Church, then we must take to heart and heed all that is written.

      God bless!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Dee. You are blessed with an ability to expound gracefully on God’s word. One last question…is it possible for the Book of Revelation to have been written to both the church and the assemblies. Just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. Thanks. Looking forward to Part 3. Love yah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A simple yes or no? You know me better than that! But I will keep it short. Of course the Book was written for the benefit and blessing of all, but it was addressed specifically to the Church. Love yah back!

      Like

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