The seven churches (1)

Church of the Seven ApostlesIt is sad that some Bible scholars imply God’s anger, judgement, and punishment where others see God’s love. Bible translators forever insist that the signs and wonders God performed in Egypt are plagues that God used to punish stubborn Egyptians. It is beyond me how Jesus’s letters to the 7 churches dictated to His beloved disciple are construed as judgements or punishments. Even worse, the following events presented as the 7 seals and the 7 trumpets are sometimes claimed to be more severe judgements than the 7 churches.

It is also strange to me that some scholars decide on the chiastic structure of the book of Revelation, sign posts, or other devices, and only then begin to interpret it. Does the Bible have anything to say before it is decided what structure John used? Why some important thoughts are ignored in deciding whether the scene in heaven takes place 19 centuries ago or it is still in the future?

I will attempt to show that some ignored concepts play an important part in interpreting the book of Revelation, and that John leaves some hints as to how the book should be understood. In this article I assume that the reader has some basic knowledge of the SDA theology, therefore I will focus primarily on the outline. Because complex trends are easier to comprehend when presented graphically, I will use boxes, arrows and abbreviations to keep the topic as one picture that can be easily grasped and analyzed (no more floating ideas that are somehow connected in the air).

After the introduction to the book (Rv1:1–10) John briefly describes the Author of the book and begins to explain how he received the vision. First he heard “a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet,”[1] that told him to write the book (scroll) to the 7 churches[2] in Turkey that John personally knew.

For the Jew to hear the voice like the sound of a trumpet is of great significance. When Moses spoke with God just before granting Israelites the Ten Commandments, God descended upon the Mount Sinai in fire, the smoke covered the mountain that quaked violently and “the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder.”[3] When Jesus will come to our planet to resurrect or transform His people, He will also come with the sound of “the trumpet of God,”[4] and John remembered His promise.

Since God is invisible, His voice was to Moses a proof that it was God who spoke with him from the burning bush,[5] and not an angel as he thought before.[6] On the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples heard the voice of God from the cloud,[7] “they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.”[8]

For John to hear “a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” might have been a great experience. After the voice gave him an instruction to write the vision and send the scroll to the 7 churches in Asia,[9] he turned to see “the voice that was speaking with”[10] him. It would be much simpler to say that he ‘turned to see Jesus’ (he knew it before he started writing the scroll), but he chose to say “the Voice.” Was there any reason for it? Yes, there was.

After the Voice finished dictating the letters to the 7 churches, John saw an open door to heaven and reported that “the fist voice I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me…”[11] John emphasized the importance of the Voice in his narration by saying that it was the same voice he heard before, and that it sounded like a trumpet. The emphasis is clearly intentional.

Then the Voice announced that John will see events (“I will show you”) and will describe them in his own words. Both sections are entirely different because

  1. The section with the messages is announced as “send it to the seven churches” (Rv1:11) and clearly ends before John saw the door open in heaven,
  2. The section portraying heaven has hardly anything in common with the messages,
  3. It was designed to be watched and described.

Yet John clearly emphasized that both sections, although diametrically different, were introduced by the same person described by John as the Voice who sounded like a trumpet. There are other places in the book that John identified in the similar way.

There is another hint provided at the beginning of scene in heaven. John repeats the phrase “After these things” to show that the scene in heaven follows directly after the first one and is a part of the story with the messages to the 7 churches. The first time he uses the phrase ‘after these things’ he refers to the relationship between both sections as he saw them in the vision — the scene in heaven follows the messages to the 7 churches. The second time he uses the same phrase he indicates that the events described in the scene in heaven will not take place until the events described in the messages to the 7 churches are fulfilled. Therefore the scene in heaven cannot describe events that supposedly took place immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven, as some interpreters suggest. It is still the future.

Table2

Some commentators also suggest that the messages to the 7 churches have been fulfilled in time when John sent them the scroll. However, I believe that the messages have their fulfillment during the period of the 19 centuries after John had a vision. Historical interpretation of the 7 churches could not be just a coincident, because there are too many matches with the historical events involved. It also establishes the pattern of the 7 seals and the 7 trumpets, that the same scholars accept as events that still transpire.

In general, many interpreters of the book of Revelation position their interpretations before the 2nd coming of Jesus, and it seems to me it happens because commentators do not appreciate the value of hints that John scrupulously places in his text; like the same voice as of a trumpet and the repetition of the phrase ‘after these things.’

Below is a graph of events described in the first 5 chapters of the book of Revelation, based on the hints that John left in his text. It is easy to verify it with the Bible. Just read the book of Revelation and check each element. The red line shows the sequence in which John wrote about most significant events mentioned in the first 5 chapters.

Chart iconChart 7 churches

Will be continued…


 

[1]      I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, Rv1:10nasb

[2]      Write in a book what you see, 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. Rv1:11nasb

[3]      When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. Ex19:19nasb

[4]      For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 1Th4:16nasb

[5]      He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Ex3:6nasb

[6]      The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. Ex3:2nasb

[7]      While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” Mt17:5nasb

[8]      When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. Mt17:6nasb

[9]      Write in a book what you see, 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. Rv1:11nasb

[10]     Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; Rv1:12nasb

[11]     After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Rv4:1nasb

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