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The Seven Churches of Asia (B. H. Carroll) [bhcSeven] 1.0

Regarding the seven churches described in Revelation.

  1. Brandon Staggs
    INTRODUCTION

    The first word in this book, as in the Old Testament books, gives its name: Greek, Apocalupsis; Latin, Revelatio; English, Revelation. They all mean literally an upveiling of that which is hidden.

    The source of the revelation, as you see from the text, is God the Father. The medium of the revelation is Jesus Christ. The agent employed in signifying it is an interpreting angel. The revelation is made to John the apostle for the people of God. Notice that the word "signify" is appropriately used, since the revelation is to be made known by signs or symbols. The angel, who signifies it, is the author of the great voice as of a trumpet in verse 10. We hear his voice again at the beginning of chapter 4, and he reappears on the scene in the last chapters of the book. Verse 2 tells us which John received this revelation in these words: "Who bare witness of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw." It is quite important to know when John bare witness of the word of God. The tense is the "aorist" and usually, according to grammatical construction, refers to something in the completed past. Following this sense of the aorist we are bound to construe verse 2 as identifying the John to whom this revelation was made and the bearing witness would refer to the witness that he had already borne in his Gospel. This construction would conclusively establish the authorship of the book. It would prove that the author of the Gospel is also the author of this book, and that the Gospel was written first.

    The only escape from this conclusion is to make the witness bearing refer to what John now does concerning this revelation which he is receiving. Many great scholars insist on making this the meaning, and calling the tense the epistolary aorist. I see no necessity for adopting this latter construction. By reference to John's Gospel, and indeed to his first letter, we see that he there claims to have borne witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all things that he saw and heard.

    In verse 3 we have the words: "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy." We know that in later times the churches had readers who would read to them any communication received and explain the communication. The rest of the church would hear. We have already found that Paul gave directions that his letter to one church should be read to another church, and the letter to that church be also read to the first church named. So it is unnecessary to go to a later date to find the origin of a reader to the churches. The New Testament itself gives the origin.

    From Re 1:4-6 we have John's greeting to the seven churches of Asia. to whom the entire book is addressed. Not only all of chapters 2-3 are specifically devoted to special messages for the churches named, but at the end of the book, Re 22:16, we have these words referring back to the whole book, "I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches." It is important to note in this connection our Lord's use of the word ecclesia. In Matthew 16, he says: "I will build my church," using the term to signify the institution. In Matthew 18, he says, "tell it to the church," referring to whatever particular congregation the decision of the case of discipline belongs. Many times in the book of Revelation he uses the word "church," and in every case the reference is to particular churches. Our Lord's usage of the word knows nothing of a now existing universal church, whether visible or invisible. He does not say to the church of Asia, but the seven churches of Asia. There is nothing in His use of the word to indicate the existence of church in any provincial, national, worldwide, or denominational sense. On the contrary, he seems to guard very carefully against such a use of the term. It is true that in chapter 12, without using the term "church," he does present the idea of the church as an institution under the symbol of the woman arrayed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, which woman later becomes, in chapter 19, the bride of Christ or the church in glory.

    We have a remarkable vision which is the key passage to the interpretation of the whole book of Revelation in verses 12-16. The elements of the vision are, first, seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of the candlesticks a vision of Christ as the Sun of Righteousness. He holds in His right hand seven stars and out of His mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword. This vision He explains himself: The candlesticks represent the churches; the stars represent the messengers or pastors of the churches; the two-edged sword represents His word, or the gospel. The whole vision is one of light. The central light Christ, the Sun of Righteousness; the lower lights the churches and the preachers; the instrumentality of dispensing the light the Word of God.

    In the next chapter we see. that while Christ is in the midst of the churches, He is not there in person, but through the other Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who is His "alter ego," His vicar here upon earth. John in his Gospel had previously represented Christ as the light of the world, but since He ascended into heaven this light is reflected in the churches and preachers through the Spirit and by the Word. The object of the vision is to show that the whole world will be illumined by the churches and the preachers in the dispensation of the gospel, which dispensation is the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, for when Christ speaks to the churches He says: "If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit sayeth to the churches." The doctrine of this vision is of incalculable importance. It teaches that the Spirit dispensation, or Word dispensation through the churches and the preachers, is to accomplish the whole work of the application of the salvation achieved by our Lord's vicarious death. We will find in every subsequent revelation this ruling thought; the world to be illumined by these light-bearers. There is no hint of any other source or medium or instrumentality of light. There is no hint that the churches will fail on the earth and that some other divine interposition must take place to finish the mystery of the kingdom of God. This is in accord with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:

    "Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo! I will be with you all the days, even unto the end of the world."

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