Jon Paulien’s view of the Seven Churches
2010/09/17 Leave a comment
Dr Jon Paulien presented a series of lectures in Zatonie (Poland) titled The Final Events (1995). In the lecture titled How to Study the Book of Revelation he undertook to present some basic tools or principles of studying the book so that people could study it more effectively.
One can prove anything
In his other lecture The Principles of Bible Study Dr Paulien makes a statement warning that “one can prove just about anything from the Bible”; then he commences teaching how to study the Bible. In the light of this statement, one may wonder whether what he is about to teach is genuine or just another attempt at ‘proving his own point from the Bible.’ As a safeguard from going astray Dr Paulien suggests a study group as a frame of reference, but again—who knows whether the study group itself would refrain from ‘just proving their own point from the Bible.’ As this vicious circle contracts, no one can be sure whether it is possible to find the truth, because as was stated by Dr Paulien: ‘just about anything can be proven from the Bible.’ I wonder where Dr Paulien got his assurance that what he teaches is true. Is he aware that making such a statement undermines his own position in teaching principles of bible study?
I agree that we may be impressed by some false teachings. We may believe they are genuine and even refuse to question their status, but it does not necessarily mean that such teachings are genuine or true. Even in cases where we are not able to demonstrate that some teachings are false, does not necessarily mean that they are genuine or true. As I see it, in the majority of cases, sufficient knowledge of the Bible with appropriate tools will show flaws in arguments that support false teachings. Of course, the leading of the Holy Spirit plays the most important role in any such endeavour, but His work is invisible to others unless an analysis is presented which leads to clear conclusions. This is exactly what I attempt to do with some teachings presented by Dr Paulien. I hope to show that the range of things ‘one may prove from the Bible’ is a little narrower than he might be suggesting.
Introduction in conclusion
Dr Paulien introduces a break-through idea that was discovered only recently (about 10 years before his presentation in 1995) where “some people began to notice that John “ “puts his introduction in the conclusion of the previous section.” He then claims that following the above principle, Revelation3:21 belongs to the conclusion of the letters to the seven churches (he calls it “the climax of the 7 churches” ), which then introduces the next section, namely Revelation4–7. In this sequence he points to the father’s throne in Rv4, Jesus receiving the throne in Rv5, and God’s people sitting with Jesus on his throne in Rv7. He does not demonstrate how he arrived at this interpretation, he just assumes that everyone will accept his view. Next, he argues that (1) the words “the things which you have seen” Rv1:19 refer to all visions that John saw, (2) the book of Revelation was not closed as the book of Daniel therefore it had to be relevant to John’s contemporaries, hence the book of Revelation was primarily written for the churches in western Turkey, and (3) the scene of heaven in Rv4,5 refers to the Day of Pentecost in 31ad.
However, when I analyse the above notions, I find it hard to confirm his suppositions. In Rv5 I see the image of all creatures giving glory “to Him sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever.” Rv5:13 Obviously the Lamb is not on the throne. It is God who sits on the throne and the Lamb is where the four living creatures and the 24 elders are. How can then one argue that in Rv5 Jesus is described as receiving the throne? Likewise, in Rv7 I see a great congregation of the redeemed who are “before the throne of God,” Rv7:15 but they are not on the throne as Dr Paulien argues. In addition, the one who is “sitting on the throne will dwell among them,” Rv7:15 not take them to where He is. It seems to me that Dr Jon Paulien has to ‘interpret’ certain events in Rv4–7 to achieve his goal of finding the introduction to the subsequent section in the concluding verses of the previous section. But then I wonder how he came to the conclusion that ‘the concluding verses of one section contain the introduction to the next section’ (did he develop both ideas concurrently?). On this point I note that the Bible text does not support Dr Paulien’s interpretation.
The summary verse (Rv1:19)
Dr Paulien argues that “one of the interesting strategies that the author of the book takes is to give you [readers/listeners] decisive texts that every so often fill out the whole picture.” Then he presents Rv1:19 and claims that “here we find the summary of the entire book.” Next he suggests that the book of Revelation, unlike the book of Daniel, was an open book, therefore “it made sense in its original context.” What follows, the primary purpose of the messages, although they have meaning for us today, is to describe the condition of the 7 churches in western Turkey in time contemporary with John’s day, (eg. 95ad). These assumptions and findings allow Dr Paulien to make a claim that “the events of Rv5 is the Day of Pentecost where Jesus is placed on the throne in heaven after conquering on earth.”
Again, when I look at the same verses I see them differently. Rv1:19 is an instruction that John received from Jesus about how he was to receive the information, not what he was going to write about. Following his own translation of the book of Revelation from the Greek, he argues that the phrase “have seen” Rv1:19 consists of “the things which are and the things which must happen after these things,” therefore it refers to all visions that John wrote down in the book of Revelation. But this idea is not supported in the Bible. When Jesus told John “write what you have seen” he could not be referring to things that John had not yet been shown. Therefore I disagree with the notion, that Rv1:19 is a summary of the whole book. In addition, it does not mention even one thing that is contained in the book of Revelation; how then can it be a summary?
The climax of the seven churches (Rv3:21)
Another concept I cannot agree with is that Rv3:21 is “the climax of the seven churches.” This verse is clearly taken from the message to the last church; it is not a conclusion to the entire section on the seven churches, as the principle of ‘introduction in conclusion of the previous section’ would demand. A quick look at Rv2,3 reveals that each letter begins with “To the angel of the church in ‘X’ write…” and ends with “He who has an ear… He who overcomes…” plus an appropriate message. These words are dictated by Jesus and even if John did not understand what they meant, Jesus did. Examining these words shows that in Rv2,3 there are 7 sub-sections; substantial introduction is found in chapter one, and there is no ending section (contrary to Dr Paulien’s idea).
In Rv4:1 John explains why there is no ending to the 7 letters of chapters 2 and 3: chapter 4 and 5 are the ending. The first occurrence of words “After these things” found in Rv4:1 refers to the second vision (the scene in heaven) which comes after the first one (dictating the letters), but the second occurrence of exactly the same phrase Rv4:1 explains that the reality described by the first vision (Christian era, 100–2100ad) is followed by the reality described by the second vision (what transpires in heaven during the Millennium and beyond).
We also read that John heard “the first voice which I heard as it were of a trumpet” Rv4:1 that introduced the first vision Rv1:10. We must not ignore both clues which tell us that the second vision is a continuation of the first one. Hence, even if we accept Dr Paulien’s idea that the book was written to the churches in western Turkey, the Day of Pentecost (autumn 31ad) cannot precede the period of churches which began to exist after 50ad.
If “the things which are” Rv1:19 mean “the letters to the seven churches” then “the things happening ‘after this’ are from chapter four on” Rv4:1 cannot take place before the 7 churches as Dr Paulien argues. The seven churches were not in existence at that time!
Make sense to contemporaries
I agree with the idea that the book of Revelation had to make sense to John’s contemporaries, but it does not mean that it was the primary purpose of the book. The primary purpose of the book was to describe how God leads His church throughout centuries from the raising up of the churches (which became the imagery for Jesus to describe future events), all the way until Jesus’s second coming, continue through the throne room scene which takes place in heaven during the Millennium Rv4 (after the first resurrection) and end at the end of the Millennium when the earth recognizes God’s righteousness Rv5:13 (after the second resurrection). The same pattern is followed by the 7 seals and the 7 trumpets, and this is why John kept the churches, the seals, and the trumpets as three interrelated sequences. The last sequence of seven (trumpets) ends abruptly (no embedded introduction to the next section) to break the relationship with the next part of Revelation which begins with Rv12:1.
So, the book of Revelation made sense to those who read it as soon as it had been written, but the primary purpose was not the seven churches in the western Turkey, it was to show how God leads His church throughout the centuries until (almost) the Earth is made new.
Please assess both interpretations
I would like to invite any readers of this article to examine this section of the scriptures and to comment on the ‘principle’ of “introduction in the conclusion” and join this discussion by publishing their views below. Please be prepared to back up your arguments with scriptural references.