Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, June 20, 2021
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 20 Jun-2021 10th of Tamuz, 5781
Nu 22:2-12 Jer 51 Esr 10 (Lk 9:1-26) 2 Co 12
Yeshua’s Letters to “The Called Out Ones” – Part 2
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: In last Sunday’s RR, I began a short series on congregations which worship and serve God. These congregations, as discussed in the B’rit Chadashah, come from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (transliterated, ekklēsía; translated, “the called out [ones]”).
WE NEED RULES AND STRUCTURE, BUT… All organizations, including worship organizations, need rules and structure, but we need to ask: Do we sometimes carry organizational details too far? Would simpler, more spontaneous worship better match the simple, straightforward Gospel message? I do not have the answers to these questions. I am just asking (for a friend).
In The Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, Yeshua dictated seven letters through the Apostle John to “the angel” (pastor?) of each congregation. (An “angel” is not a chubby cherub sitting on a cloud and playing a harp. An angel is a messenger. A messenger for a congregation could be a pastor/ rabbi who seeks messages from the Bible or the Ruach ha-Kodesh to share with his/ her congregation.)
I believe translators have not come up with a good translation of ἐκκλησία, commonly using such words as “community” or “church.” I probably can do no better, but I will coin* “Messiah’s congregation” as a translation. (*I say “coined,” because someone else may have already used this translation.) I believe this translation comes closer to the B’rit Chadashah’s meaning for such worship/ service groups– “PEOPLE gathering together in Messiah’s name.”
In my opinion, Yeshua is likely more interested in people gathered together to worship and serve God, than He is interested in worship buildings or in organizational charts, leadership hierarchies, and creeds. It is man who, for his own boasting, builds huge cathedrals (recall Nimrod and the Tower of Babel) or quibbles over trivial denominational matters (recall Jewish scholars and Pharisees arguing over trivial points of the Torah). Man’s construction of ornate buildings (St. Peter’s Basilica and so forth) and arguments over minor interpretation of Scriptures (beam versus speck of sawdust in the eye) form the basis of religion.
Many of us may be guilty of “church talk” or “synagogue talk.” We use a language on Sunday or Shabbat not used in the other six days of the week. (Religious speak using King James Version English– “thee, thou,” etc.– comes to mind.) Yeshua advised us to talk directly and concisely to Adonai in our usual language (Matthew 6:7-8): [Yeshua said] “And when you are praying, do not babble on and on like the pagans; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
“Worship” and other traits owed to God are not easily defined.
● In Hebrew of the Tanakh, three words are translated “worship” – cagad (lying prostrate in total submission before God), atsab (to form or fashion in reverence), and shachah (to prostate in reverent homage or devout affection to God).
● In Greek of the B’rit Chadashah, three words are translated “worship” – doxa (showing the dignity and glory owed to God), eusebeo- (to give respect and reverence to God), and latreuo- (to serve God). Our modern English word “worship” comes from the early 1300s and means a “condition of being worthy; showing dignity, glory, distinction, honor, or renown.”
Yehua probably said it best, when he gave us the greatest of all commandments (Matthew 22:37): And [Yeshua] said…, “‘You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” If a Believer truly keeps this commandment, why would he/ she need complicated catechisms, bylaws, and creeds? Yeshua’s commandment, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, is self-contained, complete, perfect, and needs no further explanation.
In my opinion, we should worship God under Yeshua’s very simple teachings, rather than practice “religion.” There is a difference. An invitation to follow Yeshua should be as simple as the invitation He extended to His disciples (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.” Simple, yes, but most difficult, if done correctly, and probably no one follows Yeshua perfectly.
If we make our faith too complicated, it is, then, religion. Yeshua wants our faith to be so simple that even a child (or, a person with a child’s intellect) can understand (Matthew 18:2-5): And [Yeshua] called a child to Himself, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Amen, I tell you, unless you turn and become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then shall humble himself like this child, this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in My name, welcomes Me.”
We have all heard learned pastors deliver complicated sermons that can only be understood by someone with a doctorate in theology. Is the Ruach ha-Kodesh as bored with these sermons, as we are? Mea culpa! The RRs I write are too long.
Religion causes man to build, “in the name of God,” huge cathedrals worth immense fortunes. Yeshua was a poor, itinerant preacher, who had few earthly possessions. He even lamented (Luke 9:58b): …, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Would a building fund fortune be better used in constructing an ornate cathedral or in feeding, clothing, and housing “the least of these, Yeshua’s brothers and sisters?” (“The least of these” are explained in Yeshua’s Parable of the Righteous Judge, also called, Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Matthew 25:31-46.)
Religion causes man to argue repeatedly fine points in Scriptures, while neglecting the truth of the Scriptures (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.”
SIDELIGHT: We observe certain rituals at Shomair Yisrael. An example is the Torah Service, when the Torah is carried through the congregation. Rather than observing this service as a rote ritual, I hope we congregants take the opportunity of this service to show reverence, thanksgiving, and respect for God’s Word and for the many people who have preserved this Word for our use. END sidelight.
CONTINUATION OF YESHUA’S LETTERS: Last Sunday, I discussed the Messiah’s first three letters to congregations at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. Today, I discuss Messiah’s final four letters to congregations at Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Early Believers faced ten Satanic, hostile emperors, prophesied by Yeshua as “ten days” of tribulation in Revelation 2:10. These persecutions were under ten emperors– Nero (AD 67), Domitian (AD 81), Trajan (AD 108), Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (AD 162), Severus (AD 192), Maximus (AD 235), Decius (AD 249), Valerian (AD 257), Aurelian (AD 274), and Diocletian (AD 303-313). Note that all but two of these persecutions, of which Yeshua warned, occurred years after The Revelation was written in AD 90 – 96. These persecutions, then, were prophetic– not retrospective– in nature.
With religious tolerance ordered by Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD, the fledgling Messiah’s congregations could grow– and grow they did! – spreading the Gospel throughout the Empire and beyond. I continue Yeshua’s seven letters:
FOURTH MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT THYATIRA:
● Scripture reference: Revelation 2:18-29.
● Common designations for this congregation: The Roman Catholic Church.
● Literal translation of name: of uncertain origin, Thyatira = “odor of affliction.”
● Beginning time: AD 590.
● Historical landmark of beginning: the western Roman Empire, led by Emperor Romulus Augustulus, fell to the barbarians, led by Odoacer, in AD 476. The Roman Empire’s order and civil law (the Pax Romana, or “Roman Peace,” which was at its height between ca 27 BC to ca AD 180) was forever lost. For centuries, Europe languished in lack of education, progress, and law, a time commonly called the Dark Ages. Organized religions struggled. Orthodox Christians regarded this time as a period of Roman Catholic corruption and error, disagreeing with papal doctrines and organizational hierarchy. Orthodox Christians desired to recreate a pure Christianity, without “dark” Catholic practices. Not unsurprisingly, Roman Catholics did not view this period as “dark.” Catholics viewed this period as a harmonious, productive religious era. Complicating the Dark Ages were also years of vast Muslim conquests. Hordes of Islamic nomads and horse- and camel-riding warriors rode violently through the fallen Roman Empire, wreaking havoc and planting intellectual, social, and religious heresy in their wake. Muslim conquests prevailed until the time of the Crusades (beginning AD 1095). The conflicts between followers of Yeshua and followers of Allah continue to this day.
● Ending time: AD 1517.
● Landmark of ending: Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, challenged certain practices and beliefs of the Church, such as the corrupt practice of selling indulgences to absolve sin. Luther wrote his 95 Theses, a list of questions and propositions for debate which challenged practices and interpretations of Catholicism. (Read Luther’s Theses at: The_Ninety-Five_Theses.pdf (reverendluther.org) .) On October 31,1517, Luther affixed his list of grievances on the Wittenberg Castle Church, and the Protestant Reformation was launched.
● Basic characteristics: False antinomian doctrines, teaching a person can commit sin with immunity because his/ her sins are already forgiven, reappeared in his congregation. This congregation lacked self-discipline. The antinomian doctrine was in direct conflict with Scriptures (such as, Romans 6:15). These congregants failed to appreciate that a person without holiness cannot stand before the Holy Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
● Yeshua’s praise: the congregation was commended for their practical love shown to the Lord and others. The Catholic Church was the one institution that kept society intact during the Dark Ages.
● Yeshua’s condemnation: the congregation tolerated sin within its members and lacked zeal for the true doctrine and discipline of being followers of The Messiah. Antinomian philosophers wedged themselves into congregations, falsely teaching that sin was automatically forgiven. A false prophetess led members into sin, as Jezebel had led B’nei Yisrael away from the Lord generations earlier.
● Modern name: Ak-hissar, Turkey.
● Additional comments: Thyatira, founded in the Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great, was noted for its trade, especially the valued purple dye (purple cloth). Lydia, one of Paul’s converts, came from this region (Acts 16:14).
FIFTH MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT SARDIS:
● Scripture reference: Revelation 3:1-6.
● Common designations for this congregation: The Dead Congregation.
● Literal translation of name: of uncertain origin, Sardis = “red ones.”
● Beginning time: AD 1517.
● Historical landmark of beginning: As noted in the preceding letter to Thyatira, Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, wrote his 95 Theses– questions and propositions for debate– which challenged important practices and interpretations of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther posted his grievances on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, launching the Protestant Reformation.
● Ending time: AD 1700.
● Landmark of ending: congregations became earnestly engaged in evangelism, sending many missionaries to foreign lands.
● Basic characteristics: the Roman Catholic Church in the years AD 1517 to 1700 was like the Sardis congregation– lethargic and relying on past works. God expects congregations to stay active and produce good works continuously, or He will remove from them their candlestick (their platform to spread the Light of Yeshua into a dark world).
● Yeshua’s praise: the Sardis congregation had a reputation for good works. Some in the congregation remained faithful to Yeshua. Remember: God always looks for and uses a remnant of the faithful. As bad as things may seem now, God has likely identified a small remnant who will keep our faith vibrantly alive, as our faith is systematically destroyed. Adonai will not be defeated by Satan or by His disobedient, rebellious children.
● Yeshua’s condemnation: is spite of good works, the Sardis congregation had let its life in the Spirit of God, die. Their good works were incomplete.
● Modern name: Sartmustafa, Turkey.
● Additional comment: Sardis was the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom. Residents carried sardis (carnelian) stones (red stones, hence the name of their city) as amulets to ward off evil spirits. The residents were unusually preoccupied with seeking wealth. The church established at Sardis became materialistic and carnal, boasting of earlier achievements while dying as a viable worship congregation. Yeshua, understanding the collapse that would come in the future, implored this congregation to come back to life (Revelation 3:2-3): [Yeshua said] “Wake up, and strengthen what remains that was about to die. For I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard– keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.”
SIXTH MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT PHILADELPHIA:
● Scripture reference: Revelation 3:7-13.
● Common designations for this congregation: The Faithful Congregation; or, The Revival Congregation; or, The Loving, Concerned Congregation.
● Literal translation of name: from Greek: Phil (“love”) + adelphos (“brother”); literally, “[city of] brotherly love.”
● Beginning time: eighteenth century (AD 1700 is a commonly used starting date for this era). William Carey, “the Father of Modern Missions,” pastor of Harvey Lane Baptist Church, Leicester, England, moved with his family to Calcutta, India, in 1793, and served there for forty-one years as a missionary. His work greatly influenced missionary efforts from Great Britain and the United States. Today, between 400,000 to 450,000 missionaries are sent to foreign lands in the name of Yeshua. The United States sends the most foreign missionaries. Foreign missionary work, perhaps the most selfless act of “brotherly love” a Believer can demonstrate, is the ultimate fulfillment of Yeshua’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and His parable of serving “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).
● Historical landmark of beginning: sending missionaries to foreign countries to spread the Gospel was seen as acts of “brotherly love” (being concerned not only about friends and neighbors at home, but also unknown lost persons in foreign lands). Yeshua’s Great Commission became a priority then, and still remains a priority in certain denominations (Matthew 28:19-20): [Yeshua said] “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (The TLV’s “immersing” is more commonly translated “baptizing.”)
● Ending time: Still presently active, persisting to the end of the Age of Grace, although Philadelphia congregations form the minority of Believers’ congregations.
● Landmark of ending: at the end of the Age of Grace (still in our future).
● Basic characteristics: the original Philadelphia congregation was formed of poor people, who were rich in the eyes of Yeshua.
● Yeshua’s praise: Yeshua praised this congregation for its strength, faithfulness, and evangelical witness. Yeshua knew the congregants had little wealth to build impressive worship centers, but they possessed abundantly the things which Yeshua desired– faithfulness, love, service to each other, and service to and concern about their neighbors. They understood and observed the only three commandments Yeshua gave to us– love God, love neighbors, love each other. Yeshua told these congregants to hold fast to what they have, that no one can take their crowns (rewards). Satan and his minions roam the world seeking to destroy faith in the Triune God. The faithful were promised they would become pillars in God’s heavenly temple. Notice that Heaven is a time to pay back good for anything bad suffered in this life. In this instance, the Philadelphia congregants were poor and weak and looked down upon by the rich and powerful. In New Jerusalem, though, they will be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.
● Yeshua’s condemnation: no condemnation. (Only the congregations at Smyrna and Philadelphia escaped Yeshua’s criticism.)
● Modern name: Alaşehir, Turkey (Alaşehir translates to “City of Allah”).
● Additional comments: Philadelphia was noted for its grapes, textiles, and leather goods. Philadelphia, ironically designated the “Gateway to the East,” was the congregation which epitomized the modern missionary movement. Ancient Philadelphia is virtually non-existent today. Yeshua loved this faithful congregation and gave them an extraordinary promise (Revelation 3:10): [Yeshua said] “Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.” Scholars disagree on interpretation of this verse. Some say that “the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth” is the Tribulation, and those who act like the ancient Philadelphia congregants will be spared the Tribulation. If you ascribe to the pre-Tribulation rapture theory, then, of course, this is what this verse means. Faithful servants will be spared the Tribulation. If you ascribe to another theory, you are on your own. I am not smart enough to understand the other theories. (I no longer “argue” about the timing of the rapture. Since God knows, any time He chooses is good for me, as long as I can go.)
SEVENTH MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION– AT LAODICEA:
● Scripture reference: Revelation 3:14-22.
● Common designations for this congregation: The Lukewarm Congregation.
● Literal translation of name: from Greek: laos (“people”) + dikē (“justice”) = “justice of the people.”
● Beginning time: AD 1900.
● Historical landmark of beginning: the beginning of large, affluent congregations (megachurches).
● Ending time: at the end of the Age of Grace (still in our future).
● Landmark of ending: in our future– the end of the Age of Grace.
● Basic characteristics: the congregants were rich, smug, self-sufficient, lukewarm in their affection to God, pride-filled for their prosperity, and needing the help of no one else.
● Yeshua’s praise: no praise! This congregation stands alone as having no praise from Yeshua!
● Yeshua’s condemnation: the congregation was lukewarm. Yeshua can use “hot” workers– workers who evangelize and serve others. Yeshua can use “cold” workers– workers who can be converted to evangelize and serve others. But a lukewarm worker is useless. I think of tea, when I think of the Laodicean congregation. Both hot tea and iced tea are wonderful drinks. But, tepid (room temperature) tea is horrible.
● Modern name: Denizli, Turkey.
● Additional comments: Laodicea, the ancient capital of Phrygia, became wealthy through trade and banking (see Revelation 3:17: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have made myself wealthy, and I need nothing.’ But you do not know that you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.’”) Laodicea was noted for being the site of a medical school and producing a renowned eye ointment, but Yeshua desired a different “ointment” to treat their spiritual blindness (Revelation 3:18): “I advise you to buy from Me… eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake during Roman rule, but residents rebuilt the city with no help from Rome. This attitude of pride and self-sufficiency caused the Laodiceans to look only to themselves and no others. The Laodiceans followed a form of “prosperity gospel.” They smugly valued the wealth they had accumulated, but Yeshua knew better (Revelation 3:17-18): [Yeshua said] “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have made myself wealthy, and I need nothing.’ But you do not know that you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked. I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may dress yourself and so the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed, and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” An entire RR could be written about this passage, but we have no space today.
Even so, a few congregants’ love for the Lord remained constant in Laodicea. (Remember: God always has a remnant, and He uses small remnants to accomplish great things.) Yeshua stopped His message to the “angel” (pastor?) of the Laodicean congregation, and, instead, appealed to individual members of the congregation. Yeshua said:
□ (Revelation 3:19): “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore, be zealous and repent.” Yeshua called for individual repentance, not congregational repentance.
□ (Revelation 3:20): “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.” What a sad verse. Yeshua, the Rock upon whom His congregation was established, found Himself locked out of His own congregation. He felt He needed to knock to ask someone inside to come out to Him, that they might dine together (dine together = share Communion?).
□ (Revelation 3:21): “To the one who overcomes I will grant the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I myself overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Yeshua called for individual repentance. A ember of a congregation is responsible for his/ her own salvation, and cannot claim errors of the entire body of Believers. In this and all seven if the congregational letters, Yeshua says that only “overcomers” can enter Heaven. Overcome what? Yeshua does not elaborate. I assume it is overcome sin, because sin can be overcome only by the grace of God, the vicarious sacrifice of Yeshua, and acceptance of the New Covenant.
FINALLY: The congregations of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira are lost to history, and their efforts at serving Adonai have been extinguished. (As Yeshua might say– see Revelation 2:5, their candlestick, whereby they could shine the Light of the world, Yeshua, to a dark world has been removed from them.) Their traits, whether good or bad, have been folded into later congregations.
The fifth congregation (Sardis) has a little representation left in present-day, lifeless congregations.
The final two congregations (Philadelphia and Laodicea) form most of the present-day congregations which worship Yeshua. These congregations are almost polar opposites of each other. Philadelphia-type congregations tend to be small, poor, and scorned by society and other Believers. Yeshua loves this congregation, which is devoted to spreading the Gospel and serving others throughout the world. Laodicea-type congregations tend to be larger, affluent, and better accepted by society and most Believers. Yeshua has little use for this lukewarm, lazy congregation devoted to self-serving projects.
I had hoped to cover much more discussion in these two RRs. I have exhausted my space, and I want to reserve the next two RRs to discuss some patriotic issues for the Believer before Independence Day (July 4). I will later return to the topic of the future of Messiah’s congregations. I will discuss such issues as:
● What will be the role of Messiah’s congregations during the Tribulation? What persecutions will these congregations face during this time? What will be the role of remnants of Believers in an apostate society?
● What responsibility does the individual Believer have in leaving a Laodicea-type congregation and joining a Philadelphia-type congregation?
● What is the ultimate fate of Messiah’s congregations?
● What is the Whore of Babylon– of whom Yeshua dictated, “Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and the detestable things of the earth” (Revelation, chapter 17)?
● What might be the role of organized religion in creating the False Prophet (Revelation 13:11-18)? Will the False Prophet have a Christian and/or Jewish background?
● And other questions.
Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.