Hebrew Roots of the Seven Letters - March 2015 Yavoh Article
In the book of Revelation, Yeshua the Messiah instructs the Apostle John to write letters to seven “churches.” These named churches are all located in the Asia Minor commonly referred to today as the nation of Turkey. Apparently, the Apostle John ministered in this area until he was exiled to the island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Turkey. It was there that he wrote the book of Revelation around 90 A.D.
Today, chapters two and three containing the seven letters are heralded without question as text directed to the Gentile Church, clearly separate from Israel and Israel’s past. Let me state that in a slightly different manner. Since the word “church” is used specifically in those passages by John, those who favor replacement theology (which purports that God’s program is now working with the Gentiles instead of Israel) use these Scriptures to confirm their theological stance.
Even dispensationalists, who believe God will restore Israel in the last days, consider the letters to be limited in scope to the “church age” and exclusively a Gentile message. There is also diversity in how timely and applicable the messages are; i.e., some believe that the seven letters are a sequence of messages throughout the church age leading to the end of the ages. Still others say they only applied to the historic churches in that day and are no longer relevant as those churches are not present anymore. Finally, others say that the letters are really messages in a bottle waiting for the last days—the end of the ages—and are intended for the saints who will be part of the final days (Great Tribulation and the return of the Lord).
Go back with me to the first century and let’s examine the “churches” in those days. Immediately after the resurrection, we have the disciples who believed in the Yeshua the Messiah. They began to add believers to their group on a daily basis. By the day of Pentecost (Shavuot) 50 days later, we hear of nearly 3,000 being saved by the word of Peter. For the most part, the believers are Jewish and located in the land of Israel. But persecution follows and they begin to scatter. Different groups of believers find themselves scattered in regions south, east, and north of Israel. We hear specifically of an assembly called Antioch and, because of the Greek influence, these believers are called “Christians.” Previously, they were the “people of the way” or the sect of the Nazarene. The first organized group of believers with recognized leaders and “deacons” wasn’t until 30 years after the resurrection. Once the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D, many assemblies emerged throughout the ancient Roman world. Paul was a Roman citizen and used his citizenship to travel freely on his missionary journeys. While many of his audiences were Gentile (he was referred to as the Apostle to the Gentiles), his message was purely Hebrew explaining a Hebrew Messiah who had fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures and that the Gospel was being accomplished according to Hebrew promises. God had purposed through Abraham that his Seed would benefit “all the families of the earth.”
Let me say this right now as clear as possible. It was God’s plan to use the entire Hebrew family of Abraham, which includes the children of Israel and the Jewish people, to bring forth a Messiah who would be the Savior of all peoples, tribes, and tongues of the world. At no time did God purpose for the successive elements of His plan to abandon the prior elements. For example, the children of Israel who left Egypt did not abandon or disregard their Hebrew fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The tribes of Israel dwelling in the land did not divorce themselves from the ancient things even after they separated into two kingdoms (the House of Israel and the House of Judah). Every prophet of Israel spoke of a restoration of the two kingdoms and of the Gentiles joining them when the Messiah established His kingdom.
When Yeshua accomplished the work of redemption, His disciples began to see that the message of the Gospel was far greater than just the Jewish people. Many Gentiles came to faith in the Messiah. In fact, they had to convene a special conference in Jerusalem to address the proper instruction for Gentile believers. Some Jewish believers believed they had to become Jewish proselytes. Paul and Peter argued before James that those Pharisaic requirements were not consistent with how they themselves had come to faith. James, who was judging the manner, confirmed what Paul and Peter said with the previous words of the Hebrew prophets. It was concluded that the Gentiles were not to follow the teachers of Judaism, but to hold to the instruction of Moses and the Law. By the way, there is a huge difference between Judaism and the teaching of Moses. This was the basis of the conflict between Yeshua and the religious leadership of His day. He accused them, “You prefer the precepts of men to the commandments of God?”
James wrote a letter to the Gentiles encouraging the new believers to follow three essential commandments: avoid idolatry, not eat the detestable, and abstain from sexual sins. He then guided them to the continuing instruction of Moses each Sabbath. The first assemblies of those who believed in the Messiah were a mixture of Israelites and Gentiles who kept Sabbath, were instructed in Moses, and heard and read the writings of the Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were assemblies and congregations of liked-minded believers.
So how did they become known as “churches?”
Many of the Gentiles spoke Greek. The Greek word for the Hebrew “adat” or “qahal,” meaning congregation or assembly, was the word “ecclesia.” In the Greek Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word “ecclesia” was first used for Adat Israel when they came out of Egypt. Ecclesia means “a called-out assembly.” The first “called-out assembly” of God was the children of Israel when they left Egypt. When the Gospel message went out to all peoples, the comparison was clearly understood. The believers of Yeshua the Messiah were the “called-out assembly” from the world. This was not a separate description from Israel; it was completely consistent with God’s relationship with Israel. The “church” is not a new thing whatsoever. From a Greek perspective, Israel was the first “church.” But from the Hebrew perspective the Gentile believers coming to the Messiah were an addition to the assembly – they were part of the Israel of God, part of the remnant of Israel, and part of the commonwealth of Israel. That was God’s plan.
However, the new Gentile believers didn’t want to follow that plan, and by the second century things began to be redefined. Around 150 A.D. anti-Semitic voices arose. By 160 A.D. the Bar Kokhba revolution arose with the Jewish people against Rome. Roman citizens who were believers turned against the Jews and Jewish believers because they chose to defend Israel in a nationalistic war. Disaster fell upon Israel and Jewish believers. The Gentile church excluding Jewish believers began to take shape. By 325 A.D. the Nicene conference had no voice from a Jewish believer and the Gentile church (now separate from Israel) was further established.
But when the Apostle John penned the book of Revelation, including the letters to the churches in chapters two and three, was it his intent that they would be directed at the Gentile church we know today? The answer is without question a flat “NO.”
The “churches” that John wrote to were assemblies contained a mix of scattered Israelites and Gentiles who considered themselves to be part of the kingdom called “Israel.” They believed in the God of Israel and the King of Israel (the Messiah). They used the Torah and the words of the Prophets along with the writings of the Apostles as their reference text for instruction in the faith. The Greek word ecclesia was just that—a Greek word referring to the original “called-out assembly” called Israel.
As Messianic believers, we see God’s purpose in sharing the Gospel with all people and how it is part of His original plan given to our ancient Fathers. But we also see how the Gentile church leaders (the church fathers) separated themselves from God’s intent and caused conflict with the Jewish people and Judaism. As a Messianic believer, I do not see myself as a Christian as the church defines themselves. Nor do I see myself as a Jew as defined by the tenants of Judaism. I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I hold to the Torah and commandments of God given to Moses and the children of Israel. I believe in the message of the prophets of Israel and the redemption by the Messiah. I believe that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah promised to us by the Fathers, Moses, and the Prophets. I believe the testimony of the Apostles. But when Judaism and Christianity disagree with Moses and the Messiah, I disagree with them.
Let’s draw application to the seven letters to the churches. I believe they are intended for assemblies that have both Jewish and Gentile believers who hold to the Hebrew understandings of Scripture including the Torah and keeping the commandments. Let me now illustrate the Hebrew roots and understandings that are embedded in the messages from the Messiah. Simply said, without the instruction of Moses and the Prophets, the content of these letters cannot be understood properly. Therefore, let’s examine the Hebrew roots of Revelation and the seven letters.
The book of Revelation is written to a select group of believers, not just to everyone. The purpose is found in verse one of the book.
The Revelation of Yeshua the Messiah, 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, Revelation 1:1
John says that the purpose of this book is to show future happenings to the bond servants of Yeshua. The definition of a bond servant is defined in the Torah. In fact, it is a specific part of the Law of Moses. For those who say that the Law of Moses is no longer applicable in our New Testament faith then the book of Revelation is not for you. The book of Revelation is purposely intended for those who hold to the Law of Moses and the commandment of the bond servant. Even further, it is not intended for every bond servant; it is for those who will be alive at the end of the ages who will see the prophecies of Revelation occur in their lifetimes. This purpose is confirmed at the conclusion of the book as well.
And he said to me, "These words are faithful and true"; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond servants the things which must soon take place. Revelation 22:6
The Apostles referred to themselves as bond servants of Yeshua in their day, but you don’t hear much of that anymore. When the church fathers moved away from Israel and the teaching of Moses, the law of the bond servants was left behind.
But let’s look at Yeshua’s definition of the churches that He wanted John to address. We find that definition at the conclusion of chapter one.
As for the mystery of the seven stars which 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. Revelation 1:20
The symbol of the churches (assemblies) that Yeshua is referring to has two symbols that symbolize them: stars and lampstands. The symbols of the Gentile church established by the church fathers have different symbols. They include cathedrals, steeples, crosses, statues, stained glass windows, musical organs and the like.
What do you see in Messianic assemblies? Ans: Stars of David and menorahs (lampstands).
Let’s examine the specific letters now. The first assembly is called Ephesus and they have lost their first love. They are warned that if they do not correct their problem they will suffer a loss –the loss of their lampstand.
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. Revelation 2:4-5
First, let’s answer the most obvious question. What is the first love that Yeshua is referring to? Is it not the love of God? Are we not taught to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, our souls, and our might? Isn’t this the greatest commandment of all the commandments? When we walk away from the commandments we walk away from our first love. Yeshua taught “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The assembly at Ephesus wasn’t keeping the commandments, thus they had lost their first love—of God.
A Messianic assembly then and today would suffer a great loss if they did not have their lampstand. They would not be able to observe Sabbath or any of the festivals in the customary fashion. But since the Gentile church does not keep the Law, including the Sabbath and Festivals, taking a lampstand from them is meaningless and not really a loss to them at all. This call for correction and warning is only relevant to believers who believe in Yeshua and keep the commandments of the Lord.
A promise is also given to this assembly.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.' Revelation 2:7
The “tree of life” is part of the Garden of Eden story, the first teaching of the Torah. Because of sin man was forced out of the garden to prohibit them from eating of the “tree of life,” which would have given them eternal life. Yeshua was arrested in a garden, buried in a garden, raised from a garden, and ascended from a garden. The work of redemption is to solve the original “garden” problem.
Yeshua told the thief on the cross that he would join Him in Paradise. Hebrew people know that Paradise is also called the “Bosom of Abraham.” All of these things come from the root teaching of the Torah. Without that instruction, the promise is shallow and lacks meaning, but to Messianic brethren it is profound.
The assembly of Smyrna was also instructed in Torah and the Hebrew understanding. Consider this statement by Yeshua.
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. Revelation 2:9
Apparently, there was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers in this assembly. Conflict arose with the Jewish believers asserting their heritage to the harm of others. The charge of blasphemy is very serious. It is calling or defining something that is not true. The most common offense is calling something that is unholy as holy or something that is holy as unholy. In this case, the application is some believer calling themselves Jews who are not. A true Jew is one who is inwardly, not one who is just outwardly. Donning a kippah, putting on a tallit, or observing a Biblical holy day doesn’t make you a Jew. Nor does behaving in a racially bigoted way against Gentiles make you a Jew. The synagogue of Satan is the assembly of “accusers.”
I hate to say this but some Messianic assemblies have this problem today as they did then, but it is not a problem in a typical Gentile church, so this statement is only applicable to Messianic assemblies.
The assembly of Pergamum has some issues that are directly tied to Torah teachings.
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. Revelation 2:14
The Torah teaches about a Moabite king called Balak who hired a prophet named Balaam to curse the children of Israel. He was unable to do that. Instead, God issued some very powerful blessings upon Israel including the famous words “How goodly are your tents O Jacob.” Unable to curse Israel, Balaam instructed Balak and the Midianite kings to send their daughters down the Israelite camp and invite the sons of Israel to join them in their festivals and parties. Essentially, Balaam taught them how to lure the sons of Israel away from the teaching of Moses and to mix with the people, thus comprising them. The end result was the death of 24,000 sons of Israel and the impaling of a Simeonite prince with a Midianite princess on the same spear. This is a very profound teaching of the Torah invoked by the Messiah. It has virtually no meaning to a purely Gentile audience without Torah teaching. Even further, many Christians cannot explain the righteousness or justice in what God did at that time.
Yeshua concludes His words to this assembly with these promises.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. Revelation 2:17
There are three components in this promise: hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name written on stone. Manna is a well known element of the exodus from Egypt. So what is hidden manna? Yeshua has given us some of this answer. Manna was bread from heaven; the Messiah is the true bread from heaven. The Messiah was born in Bethlehem (the house of bread). Hidden manna is knowing about and understanding the gift of the Messiah from the teachings of Moses and the Prophets. It ties into King David and Yeshua feeding the thousands.
The white stone is better translated as the “brightly illuminated” stone. It ties directly to the Urim and Thummim that were carried by the High Priest in the Ephod and Breastplate. The Urim was a stone that would illuminate brightly along with the Thummim that give an affirmative or negative answer. The Israelites could quickly determine God’s will or affirmation with these stones. Upon the return from Babylon, the Urim and Thummim were able to affirm the priestly line when the ancestral records were lost. The promise of the white stone is God’s affirmation for your life in very important matters. Only those who hold to the Hebrew roots and their relevancy in their faith in the Messiah would value this promise.
A new name written on stone is the final component of this promise. Again, you must understand the visions that come from the prophets. Consider what Isaiah had to say about our future in the kingdom.
The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will designate. Isaiah 62:2
For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me," declares the Lord, "So your offspring and your name will endure. ISA 66:22
These components of Yeshua’s promise are all based in Moses and the Prophets (the Hebrew roots of the faith).
The assembly of Thyatira is like the other assemblies. The mistake they made is similar to the mistakes of Israel in the past. One of the most famous of those mistakes is about a woman named Jezebel who followed Baal in the days of the prophet Elijah.
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. Revelation 2:20
Many believers have heard of the woman Jezebel. She symbolized the very worst behavior by a spiritual woman. I have heard many men mumble under their breath that a particularly antagonistic woman having the spirit of Jezebel. However, the teaching of Jezebel is more about a particular false god than demeaning the character or personality of an obstinate woman. Baal is mentioned throughout Scripture and its characteristics assigned to it are hated by God more than any other false god.
Why is that? Ans: Baal’s believers call him the lord of the whole earth. This is literally stolen from the God of Israel. Psalm 24 speaks of the God of Israel in this way, and these words are spoken over the Lord’s altar (His ownership symbol of the earth) weekly. Still further, Baal is also the word for “husband.” Therefore this false god is attempting to steal the world from God and His bride at the same time.
How do you think a rightful husband would react to an intruder coming into his house claiming to own the husband’s house and his wife? In spiritual terms this is obscene!
The assembly of Sardis was warned that they needed to “wake up.” He gives a particular warning that comes from the temple and altar service.
So remember therefore 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. Revelation 3:3
This reference to the thief in the night is one of five times that we find this example. It is based on the temple service. After the evening sacrifice, the temple is closed and one priest is stationed inside the temple to maintain the altar fire. He is to keep the pyre on the altar burning so that the lamb is consumed by the morning and there is fire ready for the morning sacrifice. The next morning, well before dawn, still in the dark of night, the High Priest would return and first check the status of the fire on the altar. In fact, he would enter in a very stealthy manner (like a thief). If the fire had not dwindled, he was authorized to prepare before the morning service. If the fire had dwindled the High Priest also knew that the priest stationed before had fallen asleep somewhere in the temple. If that was the case, the High Priest would take his fire pan with some of the coals of the altar, find the sleeping priest, and light his garment on fire. A very direct reference is found later in Revelation.
"Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame." Revelation 16:15
Only from a Messianic and Hebrew roots teaching would you know of the temple service. Most Gentile Christians don’t think the temple has any relevance to their faith any longer.
There is another Messianic-only understanding given to this same assembly. It has to do with the “book of life.”
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. Revelation 3:5
Only those in the Hebrew roots teaching would know that this is a direct reference to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). On the 10th of Tishri, those observing this appointed time wear white apparel and they give each other the greeting of the day, “May your name be found in the book of life.” Yom Kippur foreshadows the day of reconciliation (the Day of the Lord). It is a day that we fast and do not rejoice. As the Sovereign Judge, God decides on that day who lives and who dies.
The assembly at Philadelphia is another Messianic assembly with misbehaving believing Jews.
Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Revelation 3:9
Like the earlier assembly, this group is having issues with some of its Jewish brethren, but Yeshua quotes from a passage in Isaiah chapter 49. The context of chapter 49 is dealing with the future restoration the House of Israel. It is not applicable directly to the Gentile believer per se. It is dealing with Ephraim in the Messianic assemblies, when God will rise up the whole House of Jacob (Ephraim and Judah together).
One of the most encouraging words in the letters to the churches is found here with Philadelphia as well.
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. Revelation 3:10
The “word of My perseverance” is the Torah, and the testing that will come upon the world is tribulation. It is clear that Yeshua is saying that keeping the Torah is bound up in the deliverance of the tribulation saints. Messianics keep the Torah; churchmen don’t. According to the promise of Yeshua, guess who is kept alive to survive the Great Tribulation?
The assembly at Philadelphia is also given a promise related to the temple and the New Jerusalem.
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. Revelation 3:12
Two pillars stood on either side of the door leading into the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem. They were give the names Jachin and Boaz by King Solomon. The pillars themselves don’t offer structural support to the temple. Instead, they stand at the entrance giving a testimony of helping to build the temple. In fact, many scholars consider the names to be code for King David and King Solomon. King David assembled the materials while King Solomon erected the temple. In the same manner, Yeshua’s honor of a believer becoming a pillar is recognition for helping build the kingdom and the future temple. Since the Gentile church is only interested in building churches and not the temple to the God of Israel, the honor of a pillar in His temple named after someone is of no interest to a churchman. However, it is of great interest to a Messianic believer.
The last assembly to receive a message is Laodicea. They are advised that they are deceived. They think they are rich and in need of nothing, but Yeshua speaks to their reality.
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, Revelation 3:17
In my day, I have heard many teachers explain that this assembly best describes the American believers. America is probably the richest nation in the world and has many believers of Yeshua with many churches. However, they fault their comfort (have need of nothing) in the face of calls for repentance. Lukewarm is also the temperature likened to many believers in America.
Yeshua calls this assembly to repentance and then suggests something that doesn’t make a lot of relevant sense unless you are Messianic or learning the Hebrew roots of the faith. Yeshua asks for members of this assembly to invite Him into their homes to have supper. What could that possibly be about?
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20
This is simple for a Messianic who keeps the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew). On Shabbat eve, they prepare their home for Sabbath dinner, the mother lights the candles, and then beckons the Lord to enter the home to enjoy Sabbath with that family. The Father blesses the Lord, thanking Him for the joy of life and God’s daily provision. He then blesses his wife and children. They eat the supper and enjoy fellowship of the Lord on Sabbath day.
Families that do this don’t have a lukewarm problem with the Lord. They also are clothed and can see the truth.
It turns out that the Book of Revelation is intended for bond servants of Yeshua, those who keep the Law of the Bond Servant. The actual letters Yeshua drafted and John penned are for Messianic believers in the last days, to make last minute corrections before the days of the tribulation. Only if you have been taught the Hebrew roots of the faith, learning the Torah, and are keeping the very commandments of the Law will you fully understand what Yeshua wants corrected and the promises given for obeying Him.
If you are a Christian and not aware of the Hebrew roots teaching, I encourage you join a new church, one that has stars and lampstands. It is also where Moses is taught every Sabbath in the assembly.
For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues (assemblies) every Sabbath. ACT 15:21
If you will recall, this quote comes from the letter to the Gentiles from the Council at Jerusalem that was to clear up any misunderstanding about what the Gentile believers should do to be part of the assembly that Yeshua, the King of Israel, leads.