Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, June 13, 2021
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
13 Jun-2021 3rd of Tamuz, 5781
Nu 19:1-17 Jer 42-43 Esr 4 (Lk 5) 2 Co 6
Yeshua’s Letters to “The Called Out Ones” – Part 1
By Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: In recent RRs, I have written about the congregations of Yeshua’s followers called out to worship and serve God, to spread the Gospel message throughout the world, and to encourage one another in righteous deeds.
Orthodox Jews worship in “synagogues” (since destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70). Christians (Catholic and Protestant) worship most commonly in “churches,” but other meeting place names may be applied. Messianic Jews most commonly worship in “messianic synagogues.”
In the B’rit Chadashah, ἐκκλησία (transliterated, ekklēsía) is the word for a meeting of Believers. This compound word combines the prefix ek- (“out”) and a root from the verb kaleo (“to call”). Translators seem to struggle with this word. The Tree of Life Version may render the word as “community” (not a very good translation). Most other translations render the word as “church” (not a very good translation, either). Thus, a “church” is a meeting (a congregation) of “the called out (ones).”
A “church” refers to a gathering of people– hopefully, people with purpose. In my opinion, it is incorrect to refer to a “church” as a building (First Baptist Church in Knoxville) or a denomination (Roman Catholic Church). My limited definition of “church” comports well with 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. Shomair Believers should consider themselves “a chosen people… [called] out of darkness into [God’s] marvelous light.” Worship of God involves people, not buildings or organizations (denominations).
By my reading of the Bible, it seems that Yeshua values most the people who follow Him, while placing little emphasis on buildings or denominations. We followers seem to have the opposite emphasis. Yeshua’s invitation to His followers was simple and direct (Matthew 16:24): Then Yeshua said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
To become excessively involved in denominational affairs’ minutiae, it seems to me, is to practice religion, not the purposeful faith of being a Messiah follower. Yeshua was very critical of overly religious Jews who sought to follow Torah law, rather than love (Matthew 23:27-28): [Yeshua said] “Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, you appear righteous to men on the outside, but are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
In eastern Tennessee, located in the buckle of the Bible Belt, one of the first questions a person may ask a stranger is: “Where do you go to church?” The answer may be: “Shomair Yisrael synagogue, or First Baptist Church, or …..” The proper question should be: “With what body of Believers do you worship God?”
In the world of Christendom, general divisions are between Catholics and Protestants. There are several divisions of Catholicism (such as, Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church). Following the Reformation in which Protestants split from Catholics, there are many Protestant groups– some say more than 35,000 denominations, others say only 200 or so major denominations. This disturbingly wide range means that no one has an accurate count. Whatever the true number, it shows that Christianity tends to be a contentious endeavor. “Church splits” are common. A similar theme among various denominations is this assertion, whether spoken or silently held: “Our group is certainly going to Heaven, but, as for the others, well, we just don’t know.”
I am commonly wrong about many things. I may be wrong about expressing concern that there are so many Christian denominations. The Ruach ha-Kodesh may find it advantageous to have many divisions of Messiah’s body. The Apostle Paul wrote about the Messiah’s body having many parts, with each unique part having important roles to play (read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Whether Messiah’s body has too many parts or just the right number is not our decision to make. It is our decision to become a part of Messiah’s body and work harmoniously, effectively with the other parts. A person’s gifts and talents may best fit with Yeshua’s tongue, hands, feet, or other parts. One thing is certain, though: If one part of Messiah’s body (one denomination) attacks other parts of His body (other denominations), the attacking part is like a cancerous growth in the physical body.
In this RR, I will translate the Greek ἐκκλησία (“the called out [ones]”) as “Messiah’s Congregation” – which is about the best I can do, with my limited vocabulary. You may substitute “Church, Synagogue, Messianic Synagogue,” or another name to suit your understanding of corporate worship.
We are advised to meet together in corporate worship (Hebrews 10:24-25): And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds. And do not neglect our own meetings, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another– and all the more so as you see the Day approaching. (“The Day,” from the Greek ἡμέρα [transliterated, hēmera], is properly translated “day,” and probably refers to the Day of Judgment [marking the end of the Age of Grace]. The author of Hebrews [Paul? Barnabas? Luke? Apollos? Or perhaps some other well learned Messianic Rabbi] continued in this chapter of Hebrews discussing end-time judgment.)
Organized, corporate worship is now losing popularity, when compared to previous generations. Statistics showing shifting viewpoints on corporate worship may be read at https://reachrightstudios.com/25-church-statistics-for-2021/ and other sites.
YESHUA’S REVELATION TO JOHN: The Apostle John, a political prisoner of Rome, was banished to Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea off the coast of present-day Turkey. There, between ca AD 90 to 96 (approximately sixty years after Yeshua’s crucifixion), he received a vision of the past, present, and future. He recorded eyewitness accounts of the vision and wrote down messages given to him from Yeshua and others. His writing is The Revelation (from the Greek Apokalypsis = “Unveiling” or “Revelation”). Since this vision was a single event, the book should be called “The Revelation” (singular), and never “Revelations” (plural). While we are discussing Bible book titles, the Bible book written by David and others is in the plural (such as, The Psalms), but a single portion (chapter) from that book is in the singular (such as, Psalm 23).
In today’s and next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss seven letters Yeshua dictated to John to be transmitted to seven congregations in Roman Asia (today’s Turkey). These letters seem to chronicle the progression of Messiah’s congregations of worshipers from the beginning (Acts, chapter 2 in ca AD 33) until the Rapture/ Resurrection (still in our future). Each of the seven congregations (from Ephesus to Laodicea) seems to represent a distinct historical period. This interpretation of each letter representing a congregational stage is controversial. Because it is a commonly taught theory, I present it to you for your evaluation. Please understand:
● In most cases, one stage does not suddenly end and the next stage immediately begin. Rather, there is typically a descending-rising pattern, as an older stage gradually fades away and merges with the next developing stage. Characteristics of older stages may be brought along to the newer stage.
● An older stage influences the next, younger stage. For example: I am a distinct person. I was influenced by my father and mother, who are now dead. They, in turn, were influenced by their parents, who are also dead. And so forth. Many generations of my ancestors left good (and not-so-good?) qualities for my life. I see some features of my parents, some features of my grandparents, and so forth in my life, but I have adopted other good and bad qualities over my lifespan. With regard to Messianic congregations, carryover from one stage to the next– from olden times to modern times– has established today’s congregations.
● The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) would not be thrilled with this RR. The RCC would argue that the first Messiah’s congregation (church) was founded in Rome, and was led by the first pope, Peter. We believe the first congregation was founded in Jerusalem, and was led by Yeshua’s half-brother, Jacob (“James”).
● Further complicating this interpretation, the RCC holds that Miriam (Mary) was a perpetual virgin, who conceived Yeshua supernaturally and never had sexual intercourse or gave birth to another child. (Can a woman be called a “virgin,” after she has delivered a child?) The RCC teaches that Yeshua’s “siblings” mentioned in the B’rit Chadashah are His cousins or step-siblings from an earlier marriage of Joseph’s. They argue that the Greek word ἀδελφός (transliterated, adelphos; translated, “brother”) could be a sibling or step-sibling from a marriage, but may also be broadly interpreted as a fellow Believer or countryman or friend. And, we call men at Shomair “brothers,” even though we have no genetic bonding.
● And, the RCC would not be thrilled with the “dead” congregation in Sardis, from which sprang the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation is not a happy topic for Catholics.
● This interpretation has also been criticized because it is pro-Protestantism and pro-Western, ignoring other groups’ contributions to Messiah’s Body. Again, I present this historic-prophetic interpretation for your consideration, even though this commonly taught interpretation may or may not be correct.
● As more congregations develop, diversity blurs defined characteristics. For example, modern congregations are represented by those in ancient Philadelphia and Laodicea, but many thousands of congregations now exist. What modern congregations best typify congregations in ancient Philadelphia or Laodicea?
● Take notice of the pattern of service. When a congregation is given a certain task, Yeshua expects that task to be completed. Otherwise, He will assign this task to another congregation. Similarly, when we individually are assigned a task, He expects us to complete that task; or, He will give our task to someone else. In that case, the task will be completed– our rebellion and laziness will not stop God– but someone else will receive the glory, blessing, and reward we should have had.
● Although there is controversy about the interpretation of the seven congregations in Revelation 2 and 3, the historical-prophetic connection is commonly taught. I present a summary of this interpretation for your consideration. After study, determine what you think. I believe Yeshua had a reason to dictate these letters to first-century Roman Asian congregations. Since two of twenty-two chapters of Revelation are devoted to these seven letters I believe Yeshua wanted all of us to benefit from His words. Otherwise, would He not have visited the pastors* of these congregations privately? (*Each letter is addressed to the ἄγγελος [transliterated, angelos] of the congregation. Angelos = “messenger.”) A congregation’s “messenger” hears from Adonai, through study of the Bible or revelations from the Ruach ha-Kodesh, and these received messages are relayed to the congregation. Shomair’s “angel” (messenger) is Rabbi Weiner.
FIRST MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT EPHESUS:
● Scripture reference: Revelation 2:1-7.
● Common designations for this congregation: The Apostolic Congregation, The Congregation With Dying Faith.
● Literal translation of name: Ephesos, of foreign origin = “Permitted.”
● Beginning time: ca AD 33 (the Day of Shavuot/ Pentecost, fifty days after Yeshua’s resurrection).
● Historical landmark of beginning: the beginning of New Covenant worship, described in Acts, chapter 2, through power imparted by the Ruach ha-Kodesh.
● Ending time: ca AD 100.
● Historical landmark of ending: the apostles had all died (the Apostle John was the last to die).
● Basic characteristics: This fellowship was characterized by good works and patient endurance.
● Yeshua’s praise: The congregation genuinely had good works. Both the congregation and Yeshua hated the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas, who held heretical views and probably followed Balaam. Nicolaitans brought unholy practices into the congregation; they taught a form of antinomianism. (Antinomianism holds that man can freely partake of sin because God’s grace causes His laws to no longer apply. Anti = “against, opposed to” || nomos = “rule, law.”)
● Yeshua’s condemnation: Their “first love” had been abandoned. As those who personally knew and witnessed Yeshua’s activities began to die, the congregation’s passion for the Messiah grew dimmer. Yeshua warned (Revelation 2:5): “Remember then from where you have fallen. Repent and do the deeds you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place– unless you repent.” Remember this general warning of Revelation: Yeshua blesses people and congregations, but He can– He will– remove those blessings, if people or congregations act in an unworthy manner, and those blessing can– will– be given to others. The Lord will have His work accomplished, even if His charges and blessings must be transferred. No person– no congregation– is indispensable.
● Modern name: Selçuk, Turkey (a few miles from the original Ephesus ruins). Although the area is almost entirely Muslim, a small remnant of Protestant Christians still meets in this area.
● Additional comments: Wealthy Ephesus, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, as well as its political center. Here was the temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Paul founded the church at Ephesus and asked Timothy to be its pastor. This was the home congregation of the Apostle John.
SECOND MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT SMYRNA:
● Scripture reference: Revelation 2:8-11.
● Common designation for this congregation: The Persecuted (Martyred) Congregation.
● Literal translation of name: Smyrna, local place name = “Myrrh”
● Beginning time: ca AD 100.
● Historical landmark of beginning: death of the apostles and other eyewitnesses of Yeshua’s ministry.
● Ending time: ca AD 313.
● Historical landmark of ending: acceptance of Yeshua into the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses by emperor Constantine (beginning of greater religious tolerance).
● Basic characteristics: this fellowship was characterized by abundant spiritual gifts, perseverance in the face of persecution and adversity, and unwavering faith.
● Yeshua’s praise: even though poor in man’s eyes, the Smyrna residents were rich in Yeshua’s eyes. Even though the persecution from Satan would continue, Yeshua promised those who persevere through the ordeals, even if martyred, would receive the Crown of Life at the Bema Judgment. The Believer who overcomes will not be harmed by the Second Death. (First Death = physical death of the body, which will affect all persons. Second Death = spiritual death of the soul, which will affect only persons who choose Hell, rather than Heaven.)
● Yeshua’s condemnation: none! Only two of the seven congregations– at Smyrna and at Philadelphia– had no condemnation from Yeshua. This divergence in how man sees and how God sees is reminiscence of Adonai’s selection of David (1 Samuel 16:7b): (Adonai said to Samuel) “… For He does not see a man as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but Adonai looks into the heart.”
● Modern name: Izmir, Turkey. Many Christians still are present in Izmir (ancient Smyrna), attesting to the long-standing fruits of this early congregation.
● Additional comments: this congregation was probably established by the Apostle Paul on a missionary journey to Ephesus (Acts 19:10). Smyrna was a wealthy port city devoted to Rome and the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses. Because of the mixed population in Smyrna, this congregation of Believers was severely persecuted by both Jews and Romans. Believers were social outcasts, living in abject poverty. Some of Yeshua’s strongest leaders have been the very poor, prostitutes, slaves, and the like– people a “respectable church” might invite to go elsewhere to worship. Yeshua recognized the faithfulness that overcame the hard life the Smyrna Believers faced. Note that in all seven letters, Yeshua said that “only those who overcome” may enter Heaven. What is to be “overcome” is not specified. I have assumed it is sin that must be overcome, because sin separates us from God and sin can be overcome only because of God’s grace and acceptance of Yeshua’s blood sacrifice at Golgotha (our acceptance of the New Covenant). We may be rewarded for other thing we overcome in life.
SIDELIGHT: For nearly two centuries, followers of Yeshua faced brutal persecution and martyrdom. Roman emperors needed scapegoats on which to blame Rome’s failures, and Mashiach-followers were perfect victims. In Hitler’s Third Reich, Jews became the scapegoats for Germany’s economic and social woes. Yeshua warned of such oppression of His followers. But, then came a Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, who ruled from AD 306-337. Constantine adopted Christianity for reasons not clearly known. Some say his mother, Helena, was a Christian, and he adopted Christianity to honor her beliefs. Others say Constantine became a Christian and converted Helena. Regardless of whether Constantine became a true Christian or merely tolerant of Christianity, the Roman government stopped the persecution of Believers. This shift in tolerance at Constantine’s insistence occurred in AD 313.
There is an account of Constantine, a Roman general in AD 312, marching his outnumbered army to Rome to engage in a civil war for control of the Roman Empire. He realized he needed help from a higher power and had doubts about the Roman gods. He prayed earnestly to “the true God,” asking for help. Although a bright day at noon, he saw in the sky a cross and heared a voice in Latin, “In hoc signo vinces” (translation: “In this sign conquer”). Constantine accepted this sign (a cross, a sign of Christianity) as a message from “the true God.” He ordered his soldiers to paint crosses on their shields and to become Christians. He added Yeshua to the Roman pantheon and outlawed any anti-Christian discrimination.
Constantine was successful in the civil war, and followers of Yeshua were no longer persecuted. That was the good news. The bad news was that the Catholic Church, which was being developed at the time, became uncomfortably aligned with the Roman government. That is, there was no clear separation of church and state. The Church and government meddled in the affairs of each other. A little piece of Rome became the nation of the Vatican City.
Constantine and the Romans apparently accepted Yeshua, but they saw no reason to make Him an exclusive God. The Roman soldiers’ favorite god was a Persian sun god, Mithra (in Latin, Mithras). Statues of Mithras showed him wearing a crown, from which come multiple spikes (“sunbeams”). I suspect this crown of sunbeams is the source of halos shown in religious paintings and statuary. Of course, no one ever had a halo, but religious art (especially in the past and even some today) show Yeshua and others with halos. This may be one reason Adonai gave a commandment (Exodus 20:4): [God spoke] “Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth.” The Roman Catholic Church has statues, especially of Miriam (Mary), and the Eastern Orthodox Church has even more images (icons) of various saints. I planned to discuss whether this Second Commandment has been removed from or re-worded in the Catholic Bible, but I became too dizzy trying to follow their explanations. Another RR, maybe. END sidelight.
THIRD MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT PERGAMUM (PERGAMOS):
● Scripture reference: Revelation 2:12-17.
● Common designation for this congregation: The Compromising Congregation.
● Literal translation of name: Pyrgos, from local place name = “tower, castle.”
● Beginning time: ca AD 314.
● Historical landmark of beginning: Constantine the Great’s decriminalization of Christian worship, and merging of Church and State affairs (hence the name, “Compromising.” Recall Yeshua’s words to render certain things to Caesar and render other things to God.
● Ending time: ca AD 590.
● Historical landmark of ending: Gregory the Great was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), marking the beginning of the Middle Age of the RCC. The Dark Ages were about to be entered.
● Yeshua’s praise: The congregation was faithful to Yeshua’s name and it performed good works despite being surrounded by sin and idolatry.
● Yeshua’s condemnation: The congregation tolerated some members who committed sexual immorality and ate food considered unclean (having been sacrificed for idol worship). Yeshua warned that those who participated in such acts had no part in this congregation. Yeshua offered clean (spiritual) “food” to replace the forbidden, unclean idol-worship food.
● Modern name: Bergama, Turkey. (The Bergama area is now almost entirely Muslim. A few Believers live near the old city, but there is no formal meeting place for Believers.)
● Additional comments: After the fall of Babylon, this city became the center of the Babylonian mystery religions, as well as temples to worship the Roman emperor. A chief god worshiped here was Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing. Worship in the pagan temples included bawdy orgies and temple prostitution.
FINALLY: Messiah’s congregations were established in ca AD 33 in Jerusalem as a gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh (Acts, chapter 2). Some teach a controversial theory that Yeshua’s letters to seven congregations in The Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, prophesied the seven stages of Messiah’s congregations from the beginning to the end of the Age of Grace. I have very briefly summarized the first three congregations in this RR, and will conclude the last four congregations in next week’s RR. You decide whether this theory seems to have validity,
Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.