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Friday, 29 April 2016 19:21

11. The route of the seven churches * Introduction to Revelation 2 and 3

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11 […] “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

19 "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
(Revelation 1:11, 19 NIV)
Nothing in Revelation happens by chance. Jesus spent the first chapter of this book describing in detail who He is. This gives us the impression that we need to keep these descriptions of Him in mind when we study the rest of the message. He is King, Priest, and Savior. He knows everything about each of His children. We saw how much He cares about human beings. He protects us with His powerful hand. This level of care and detail is present throughout the book of Revelation. And now, that we are gonna start studying the seven churches, this will become very evident.
In John's first vision, Jesus said that John should send the message of Revelation to seven churches in Asia Minor. In verse 11 of chapter one, we read the names of those churches, listed in this order: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In the original text in Greek, there is an "and" in-between all the church names. So, the list is: Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamum and Thyatira, and so forth. This gives us the impression that the order of this list is important. So, before we breakdown every single verse for each of the specific church messages, let's take a look at the big picture first.
From a geographical point of view, the order of the church list makes perfect sense. Ephesus was the city on the list that was closest to Patmos. It makes sense that someone leaving the island of Patmos on a boat would first arrive in Ephesus. The path in between the cities, that the person carrying the letters would take was, most likely, roads. The Romans were famous for their roads, and people traveling between those cities would travel along roads connecting them in that order. Starting at Ephesus, someone traveling to the next city would go in a somewhat clockwise direction. From each of them, the letters could easily spread out to Greece, and Europe, as well as to Damascus and further East. These seven churches were strategically located. It is interesting to know that they were not the only churches in Asia Minor. The Bible mentions several others: the churches in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14), Colosse (Colossians 1:2), Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Derbe (Acts 14:20), Lystra (Acts 14:6), Troas (Acts 20:5), and Miletus (Acts 20:17). 
You can see that Jesus’ command was not to send these letters to 15 churches in Asia or to just 3 churches. We can imagine that God had a good reason to select these specific seven churches since there were more in the region to choose from. In the next studies, we will see that the particular issues and circumstances of each church play a very important role in why they were chosen. Certainly, we cannot ignore the fact that seven is the number of chosen churches. In the book of Revelation, there are not only Seven Churches, but also Seven Seals (Revelation 5:1), Seven Trumpet (Revelation 8:2), Seven Last Plagues, and Seven Bowls (Revelation 16:1). The number seven appears frequently throughout the Bible, not just Revelation. The number seven is a very important symbol. As always, we need to find the meaning of this symbol in the Bible. So let’s see what the Bible has to say about the number seven. 
  1. The first time we see the number seven is in Genesis. God had finished His creation and made the seventh day holy. And Genesis 2:2-3 says: "By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." (NAS). The seven-day week is not a human invention. God is the One who planned the division of the week in format. On the seventh day, God celebrated what He had done. His Creation was complete.
  2. Noah was in the Arc for 7 days before God sent the Flood (Genesis 7:1, 4). In this case, the number 7 represents a waiting time. Again, the duration of this time was in God’s hands. He had control over this period of time. When the waiting time was over, or complete, the flood came.
  3. The next example comes in Genesis 9:13, when after the Flood, God sets His rainbow up in the sky. This example is not very obvious right away because the text only says that God set His bow in the cloud. But as you know, rainbows have seven colors. So let’s find out more about the meaning of this rainbow. God had destroyed the earth with a flood because of the iniquities of the people. For 120 years, Noah had preached the message of this destruction, warning the people to get ready for this day. Despite all the opportunities God gave everyone, only Noah and his family were ready on that day. When the Flood ended, God made a promise to Noah. He said He would never again destroy the Earth with water. God is the One who chose the rainbow as the symbol to represent this promise. And so, every time it rained and people saw the rainbow in the sky, they would remember that the Destruction of the Earth with water was complete, to never happen by flood again.
  4. The next story is found in Genesis 29:15-30, and it tells us the story of how Jacob worked for 7 years and then another 7 years to marry Rachael. Once again, we see here a waiting time that got ended after a period involving the number 7. At the end of this period, it was clear to Jacob and his father-in-law that the agreement between them had been fulfilled. The waiting time was complete.
  5. Let’s go to our next example, and we see it in Joshua 6:1-16. This example mentions the number 7 many times. God told the Israelites to conquer the city of Jericho but Jericho was a fortified city, with very tall walls. God’s instructions were very specific on how they should go about it. And the way He put together this plan, it would make it very evident to everyone that Victory over Jericho would be due to God’s power, not because of human effort. And this victory happened like this: Joshua and the Israelites marched around Jericho for 7 days, with 7 priests carrying 7 trumpets. On the 7th day, they marched 7 times, blew the 7 trumpets, and the walls of Jericho fell down. God gave them that city in its entirety.
  6. The last example we are going to mention here is in 2 Kings 5:10. And this story is about Naaman. Naaman was a commander for the Syrian army, which means he was not an Israelite. He was a man of high prestige. It just so happens that Naaman got sick with leprosy. There is no cure for it. This was a tragedy in Naaman’s life. But there was a young Israelite woman who worked there, in Naaman’s house. This young woman was faithful to God. She said the prophet in Samaria would be able to cure him. And so, Naaman went to see the prophet, and the prophet told him exactly what to do. Naaman had to bathe 7 times in the Jordan river to be cured of leprosy. When he dove in for the seventh time, his wounds disappeared and he was fully restored and cleansed.
Now, after seeing all these Bible texts, it becomes clear that the number 7 is a number that has to do with completeness, full restoration, full cleansing, victory, and things that are blessed and made holy by God. The number 7 is a symbol of God's perfection. Under this view, we can see that the Seven Churches are a full, complete, and perfect representation of God's people. In the context of what Jesus tells John, we can also see that these churches are not just the representation of the people of God at that time (as the verse in Revelation 1:19 says, the time of "what is now", but they are also directed towards God's people in future times (as this same verse says, the time of "what will take place later". Once again, we need a historical approach to understand this other dimension of these Churches.
The problems the churches were having as a group is a reflection of the problems the individuals of the churches were undergoing. The church is formed by each one of its members (1 Corinthians 12:27). So, not only we need to interpret this message as information being passed along to the church community at that time and to the generations that followed, but also, we need to interpret the message to the Seven Churches as something addressing what we may go through personally in our own personal and spiritual life. We can see that this message to the seven churches is perfect, and it needs to be analyzed in many different layers. This is a very deep message.
*** Overview ***: The Seven Churches are perfectly selected geographically and spiritually to receive an important message addressing the serious issues afflicting each one of them. The message is primarily directed at those churches in Asia Minor, but they also carry spiritual significance for the churches throughout the centuries and each individual who is part of the Body of Christ. The number 7 indicates that God chose each one of these churches for a very specific reason. They were not randomly selected. The geographic and spiritual rout reflect God’s wisdom. This route is an indication of the physical, spiritual, and historic path that this message will take. This is a literal message for the first century Christians and a prophetic message to the Christians who came later. God's message to the churches is profound, multi-layered, and complete.

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