|Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, February 23, 2020
Shavuah Tov << Test First Name >>,
Yeshua’s Changing Body (a.k.a. “The Called Out Ones”)
By Dr. Raymond Finney
APOLOGY: In the Valentine’s Day RR last Sunday (February 16), I wrote about my courtship with Linda. This phase of my life was an especially happy time for me, as I prepared to enter the future with a wonderful person. I probably embarrassed Linda (she is very private) and I abused your patience and time (by writing about myself). Your memories are as precious to you as my memories are to me. I should keep my private life, private. Yeshua would instruct me to ask your forgiveness– which I now do– and repent– I will try to remain on topic in the future.
Rabbi’s Note: I loved Raymond’s tribute to his sweetheart. I would love to read more personal reflection from such a man of God. End RN.
I am reminded of the inscription Ruth Graham had placed on her gravestone. She saw a highway sign, as she and Billy drove through a section of highway under construction: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” The Ruach ha-Kodesh has had me under construction for many years, but I still fail daily. I hope He never tires of my boneheaded stumbles. Even in my failures, though, I am in good company. See Paul’s confession of his failures (Romans 7:15-20).
WHY THIS TOPIC? Many readers may find this RR boring and tedious. I could argue the obvious– anything in God’s Word is there for a purpose, and different parts are revealed to different generations or nations or to individual persons at specific times to advance God’s messages to His children. There is also value in studying how the Body of Yeshua– those called to worship and serve God– has changed over time. This RR discusses what some scholars believe to be seven, evolving phases (ages) of groups which have been called to follow Yeshua. If this interpretation is valid, the last two ages are final, and they still exist today. Of these last two ages, we should worship in one and avoid the other.
FOCUS SCRIPTURE: (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27): For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body– though many– are one body, so also is Messiah. For in one Ruach we were all immersed into one body– whether Jewish or Greek, slave or free– and all were made to drink of one Ruach. For the body is not one part, but many. |…| Now you are the body of Messiah, and members individually. We explore today how the “body of the Messiah” has changed over the years, as prophesied by Yeshua Himself.
SEMANTIC DIFFICULTY: I write of groups of people who worship and serve God. Jews may designate such places as “temples” and “synagogues;” Christians, as “churches” (or other designations, especially by the Roman Catholic Church); and Shomair Yisrael, “Messianic synagogue.”
Since the description of Yeshua’s body is more fully described in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament, or NT), I call your attention to two Greek words used to describe worship congregations:
** Ekklesia: Usually translated “church,” ekklesia is a compound word. The ek- prefix is translated “out of.” The -klesia root comes from a verb, translated “to call.” Thus, a church is composed of “the called out ones.” This term brings to mind Peter’s description of Believers, who are called out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:9): But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. “Church” has a Christian connotation. “Church” is translated 74 times in 73 verses in the NT.
** Synagoge: Usually translated “synagogue,” synagoge is also a compound word. The syn- prefix is translated “with.” The -agoge root comes from a verb (ago) with such translations as “to lead, impart, go.” Thus, a synagogue is a place people go to or gather for a religious purpose. “Synagogue” has a Jewish/ Messianic Believer connotation. “Synagogue” is translated 73 times in 62 verses in the NT.
In this RR, I will try to use the word “congregation” to denote a gathering of persons assembled to worship and serve God, rather than either “church” or “synagogue.” Any confusion in naming places of worship reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s observation: “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” Yeshua’s congregations have evolved over nearly two millennia since His earthly life. Believers’ groups have split, merged, and hurled insults at each other. The result is that there are several Catholic branches and many Protestant denominations– hundreds? 22,000? 33,000? or, pick a number (someone will agree with you). See http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm.
SIDELIGHT: You have probably heard this oft-quoted story: A professor, who taught Christian theology in a college, arrived a few minutes before class and tacked a target on the bulletin board. When students arrived, he announced, holding darts in his hand, “Today, I invite anyone who holds a grievance against someone to take darts, verbalize why you dislike that person, and hurl the darts with all your strength against the target.”
Gleeful students lined up to take aim at people they disliked. Some even screamed at the person who was the target of their hatred. At the end of the class period, the target was mangled by many dart strikes. Seating the students, the professor quietly removed the target. Beneath the target was a picture of Yeshua, who was also badly shredded by the darts. Walking out of the classroom, the professor quietly quoted Yeshua (Matthew 25:40): “… ‘Amen, I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” Students sat in silence, realizing that their hatred of others was, in effect, hatred of Yeshua.
When we cannot get along with other Believers, we symbolically hurl darts at Yeshua. After nearly two millennia as being parts of Yeshua’s body, we still cannot apply to our lives psalmist David’s message (Psalm 133:1): … Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! END sidelight.
Perhaps changes in worship practices represent a change in Yeshua’s desires for His body of Believers. More likely, though, people listen only to themselves and not to the Ruach ha-Kodesh.
WORSHIP CONGREGATION PHASES (AGES): Scholars identify seven worship phases identified by Yeshua’s letters, as recorded in the Book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3. These phases (ages) are briefly defined by letters dictated by Yeshua and transcribed by the Apostle John. These letters are among the last direct quotations from Yeshua available for our study. The seven letters to ancient Asia Minor (Turkey) congregations, which actually existed at the time the Revelation was written, are brief and parallel some of Yeshua’s parables and His Mount of Olives end-time prophecies (the Olivet Discourse). The Olivet Discourse is recorded in Matthew 24:1 – 25:46; Mark 13:1-37; and Luke 21:5-36.
The “ages” of these seven congregations (commonly called “church ages”) follow. I will give a very few characteristics of each age for background. All dates are AD.
EPHESUS (Revelation 2:1-7):
** Common Designation: The Apostolic Congregation
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 33 to 100
** Brief characteristics: These congregations were founded and/ or attended by Yeshua’s apostles.
** Yeshua’s view: Yeshua loved their works, labor, and patience. As this age progressed, founding apostles died out, and Yeshua bemoaned the loss of their first love (Yeshua and His kingdom). Yeshua agreed with their hate of the Nicolaitans. (Nicolaitan = a name from a compound Greek word, literally meaning “victory over the people.” Nicolaitans established a hierarchy of leaders, who must be obeyed by the people. Leaders ruled over the people, instead of serving them.)
SMYRNA (Revelation 2:8-11) :
** Common Designation: Congregation of Roman Persecution
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 100 to 313
** Brief characteristics: Yeshua’s followers were hated and persecuted by both religious Jews and Romans. It was a dangerous time to follow and serve Yeshua.
** Yeshua’s view: He encouraged followers to persevere, even under persecution and martyrdom. The Crown of Life for Martyrs was promised (Revelation 2:10).
PERGAMOS (Revelation 2:12-17):
** Common Designation: Congregation Following (Emperor) Constantine
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 313 to 600 (some say 800)
** Brief characteristics: In AD 312, Rome was engulfed in a civil war. One combatant group was led by General Constantine. Marching toward Rome, he wondered how he could be victorious. At noon, he saw a fiery cross in the sky, upon which was emblazoned in Latin, In hoc signo vinces (English translation: “In this sign conquer”). Although he primarily worshiped the Roman sun god Mithra, he immediately accepted Christianity. Familiar with the cross as this faith’s symbol, he ordered his soldiers to paint crosses on their shields. In the subsequent battle, he was victorious. In appreciation, he ordered an end to persecution of Christians. This act was most beneficial to early Christians, but it began an entanglement of the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman government (and later governments).
** Yeshua’s view: He appreciated their fight against Satan. He also was most displeased that some members still espoused the views of the Nicolaitans.
THYATIRA (Revelation 2:18-29):
** Common Designation: Congregation of the Dark Ages
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 600 (800?) to 1517
** Brief characteristics: A truly abysmal time for human life was endured during the Dark Ages. Yeshua’s faith congregations provided some of the few instances of charity for the poor people of this time, and Yeshua loved their efforts.
** Yeshua’s view: He praised their charitable works during this dark time. He was greatly distressed by “Jezebel” in their presence. Jezebel was a prophetess (1 and 2 Kings), who spread the message and practice of sexual immorality. Was Jezebel an actual woman? No woman could live for the centuries of this congregation’s existence. In prophecy, a woman can be used as a symbol of a religious entity. The congregation of Thyatira may have adopted practices of sexual immorality (a Jezebel spirit). Recall the pedophilia scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, many other instances of sexual immorality in religious communities, including non-Catholic communities, have occurred over the years.
SARDIS (Revelation 3:1-7):
** Common Designation: The Asleep Congregation, the Reformation Congregation
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 1517 to 1648
** Brief characteristics: Yeshua found the actions and works of His followers to be imperfect. This congregation’s age includes the Reformation, when Protestants began splitting from Catholics.
** Yeshua’s view: Although a few were faithful and worthy, most were lifeless and spiritually dead. The congregation lived on the reputation of its its name and works. Yeshua commanded: Wake up! Repent from imperfect worship.
PHILADELPHIA (Revelation 3:7-13):
** Common Designation: Congregation of the Great Missionary Movement
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 1648 to the Rapture (still in existence!)
** Brief characteristics: This age commenced with the great missionary movement from Great Britain to India and other nations. Philadelphia, a poor congregation, was greatly loved by Yeshua because of their works for others. (“Philadelphia” is Greek for “brotherly love or friendship.”) Because of Philadelphians’ perseverance in hard times, Yeshua promised to “keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10). In Revelation 3:11a, Yeshua stated, “Behold, I am coming quickly!” This statement has caused the Lord to be mocked. Coming quickly? Since He has not returned in nearly 2,000 years, He seemingly was not truthful in promising to return quickly. Therefore, will He ever return? Examine the Greek text. “Quickly” translates the Greek tachu. This adverb may be translated “quickly,” but it is equally correct to translate it “suddenly (by surprise).” Yeshua will return in the clouds, when no one (except God the Father) knows. Thus, the Rapture is sudden and unexpected. And, death will occur suddenly for all of us. Whether we enter eternity by Rapture or by death, such an event is sudden (Yeshua comes tachu).
** Yeshua’s view: In most of these letters, Yeshua followed a formula in His dictation. He praised congregations for the good they were doing, but He chastised them for their failures. Yeshua had only praise (no condemnation, no chastisement) for the Philadelphia Congregation.
LAODICEA (Revelation 3:14-22):
** Common Designation: Congregation of the Apostasy
** Approximate dates of primary influence: 1900 to the Rapture (still in existence!)
** Brief characteristics: Laodicea was a prosperous industrial and commercial center, but its church was lukewarm. (Compare ancient Laodicea to 2020 America. America is prosperous, but most American churches are populated with lukewarm, lazy members who do little for God other than occasionally attend services.) Laodicea’s prosperity led to– just as America’s prosperity leads to– spiritual bankruptcy. Yeshua was more critical of the religious elite than He was critical of “ordinary sinners” (murderers, rapists, thieves). Why? “Ordinary sinners” can be convicted by the Ruach ha-Kodesh to repent from their sinful ways, whereas pious religious people are so set in their ways and convinced that they are right (and everyone else is wrong) that they may refuse to listen to the Ruach.
**Yeshua’s view: Yeshua praised the congregations for the good they were doing, but He chastised them for their failures. Yeshua had only condemnation (no praise) for the Laodicean congregation. The Laodicean congregation was lukewarm– neither hot nor cold. Yeshua can use a “hot” congregation, willing to work for His kingdom. A “cold” congregation can be converted to become useful. But, a “lukewarm” congregation– especially a wealthy, lukewarm congregation– is so smug and self-satisfied that members will prove to be useless. Compare this congregation to the Pharisees of Yeshua’s time.
CAVEATS: Understand cautions about these interpretations:
** Division of Yeshua’s congregations (churches) into seven periods is tidy, but not all Bible students agree. If you find any topic in religion in which all “experts” agree, please let me know.
** Dates are approximate, often coinciding with historical events. Some students suggest other dates for these ages. The starting date AD 33 for Ephesus is the date the Ruach ha-Kodesh was given to Believers– the Day of Pentecost (Acts, chapter 2), which was fifty days after Yeshua’s resurrection. Some scholars suggest dates other than AD 33 (such as, AD 32 or AD 30). Bible authors were more concerned with WHAT happened, than WHEN something happened.
** There is not a sharp line between one congregation’s age and the beginning of the next congregation’s age. Congregations blend from one to the next. Doctrines from one age are carried over into the next age. Family generations may better explain this principle. I carry teachings from my parents. My parents carried teachings from their parents (my grandparents); they, in turn, from their parents (my great grandparents); and so forth. I am influenced directly by my deceased parents and also indirectly by generations of my deceased ancestors, many of whom I never knew. Generations before me have contributed to the person I am now. You are influenced by generations you never knew.
** These ages are taught by Protestant scholars. Catholic scholars might offer alternative views (example: Sardis = Reformation Church). The Protestant Reformation is not a particularly happy topic for the Roman Catholic Church. (You will never hear of Saint Martin Luther.) Ages also emphasize Western history.
** Even so, I believe there is value in considering church ages, especially the last two ages. We should all strive to model Shomair Yisrael after the vibrant, active Philadelphia Church and not the spiritually dead Laodicea Church.
OVERCOMERS: In all seven letters, Yeshua emphasized to His followers that only the Believer who overcomes may enter Heaven (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21). He did not say what must be overcome. I assume it is sin that must be overcome, and sin may be overcome only by acceptance of God’s grace through Yeshua’s sacrificial death on Golgotha’s cross.
SIDELIGHT: A well-known painting, titled “The Light of the World,” was created in the early 1850s by William Holman Hunt. It shows a lantern-carrying Yeshua (the Light of the world) knocking on a vine-overgrown, obviously seldom-used door. This painting was created to illustrate Revelation 3:20: [Yeshua said] “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. ” See this famous painting at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Light_of_the_World_(painting) . Question: Does this dining with Yeshua represent Communion?
What a sad verse! The Savior of the World must knock on the heart’s door of a person, literally begging to be let inside. When the painting was completed, artist Hunt asked a friend what he thought of it. The friend liked the painting, but pointed out an error– the door latch was missing. Hunt immediately answered: “No! I didn’t forget the latch. When Jesus knocks on the door of a heart, the latch is on the inside.” That is, each person must open his/ her heart to accept Yeshua. Yeshua does not force Himself on anyone. END sidelight.
There are both good and bad congregations everywhere. including Knoxville. It is your responsibility to find a good congregation in which you may worship and serve. I have heard pastors compare God’s gifts to us as seeds. Each person should find a place of worship with “good ground” to plant his/ her seeds. We should all try to make Shomair good ground in which to plant God’s seeds (gifts) to us, that we may bear an abundant harvest individually and corporately.
In a future RR, I may discuss the destruction of a church or church system at the end of the Age of Grace (at a future time). This church (congregation), Babylon the Great, is described in Revelation, chapter 18. Believers are commanded to leave bad congregations (Revelation 18:4-5): Then I [John] heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you participate in her sins and receive her plagues! For her sins have piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” Shalom and Maranatha.