The church established by Christ at His crucifixion and resurrection has existed for more than 2,000 years. The term church is the Greek word Ekklesia which can also be used as assembly, gathering, congregation, etc. It is a word used to represent the body of believers that God entrusted with His covenant and commissioned to extend the covenant invitation to all mankind. We think the church is only a New Testament opportunity in opposition to Old Testament condemnation. This type of thinking is erroneous on many levels and has caused much heartache through anti-Semitism within the church. Our mindset changes and our preconceived notions are modified when we realize that God has had a “church” or congregation long before Jacob assembled his sons to hear his prophetic words regarding their future. Genesis 49
As the head elder of the first church after the flood, Noah got off the ark, built an altar and offered a living sacrifice for the entire congregation including himself, his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives as well as their unborn children. God smelled the sweetness of the aroma and blessed their worship service with His presence. Abraham is the forefather to the Jew, Arab and Christian, but Noah is the forefather of every nation. Noah made the sacrifice on behalf of all that were in the ark and all his descendants. Anyone can be a member of Noah’s church if they accept the blood sacrifice made by Noah and received by God. All believers are by default members of Noah’s congregation.
The church actually had its beginning in the garden when God invited Adam and Eve to rest with Him at a specified time in the open tabernacle of the garden. We also find in the garden the first time the church was restored in part through complete redemption demonstrated through the shedding of innocent blood making this the original Passover. The nakedness of Adam and Eve was concealed by the covering of the innocent. Right after the blood sacrifice was made the church had its first split congregation. Cain and Able both came to a set time and place to worship God, but their sacrifices were not equally pleasing. Genesis 4
God has always desired a relationship with humanity and is faithfully seeking a people that will demonstrate His desires; yet, while God’s heart is bent toward us, our heart is bent in a different direction. We do not by nature desire Godliness preferring darkness instead. Those that choose light over darkness have entered into a special group that transcends era, area, color, gender, and nationality. The body of believers willing to receive the acceptable sacrifice is and has always been called the congregation or church. Notice I said those that are willing to receive the acceptable sacrifice.
Cain’s Unworthy Sacrifice
Most of us assume that Cain demonstrated his unwillingness to make an acceptable sacrifice, but Cain was not willing to receive the sacrifice God made in the garden. The shedding of innocent blood was unacceptable to Cain as an adequate sacrifice; therefore, he offered the works of his own hands as a better way. Since we are like toddlers determined to do it by ourselves, we should all guard against our human nature when it comes to Godly matters. Do not miss the irony of the situation. Cain was offended by the blood-lust he thought he recognized in God and refused to shed innocent blood, but ultimately, what did Cain do? He shed his own brother’s innocent blood undeniably demonstrating the demands of sin.
Of course, God was highly offended by the acts of Cain, both his unacceptable offering and the slaying of his brother. The shed blood of the saints will always incur the wrath of God. This wrath is stored until the end of the ages when it will be poured upon the unrepentant and ungodly. It is important to point out at this time that Abel fit the category of saint not because he was flawless, but because he believed in the blood sacrifice offered by God in the garden when God saved Cain and Abel’s parents. He demonstrated this belief through obedience. Hebrews 11:4 It was his faith in the sacrifice that saved Abel and put him in a special category. While the garden was the first time the plan of the Passover was manifested in a physical manner in the presence of mankind, we must note that the plan was put in place before the foundations of the world was established. Revelation 13:8
God’s punishment was declared by Cain to be more than he could bear. In reflecting on the punishment inflicted upon Cain, we discover that God denied Cain the fruit and roots of the earth. Cain brought produce from the earth as a personal sacrifice to the Lord believing it to be the work of his own hands. Please recognize that nothing we sacrifice to the Lord is the work of our hands because without God’s abundance we would have nothing to sacrifice. Failure to recognize this important detail is offensive to God in the sacrificial process. To impress the importance of this understanding, God punished Cain by refusing him an abundant harvest (fruit) and a permanent home (roots) while he traversed upon this earth. The message to all of us is that we like Cain are sojourners in this world looking for a better place. However, we should be more like Abraham looking for a better heavenly place because we recognize that our place is not in this world. Cain and his descendants kept building cities because they insisted upon a place in this world. Genesis 4:17-18
Murderers are a scourge upon the face of the earth, and our opinion of Cain is very low because of his crime. We reserve sainthood for Able because God accepted his sacrifice. Able was smart to accept God’s offer and is someone I long to see in Heaven, but he was surely less than perfect. I have very little to offer in Cain’s defense, but he too was greatly beloved by God. These two young men were not just the sons of Adam and Eve. God’s heart is broken when His children are harmed. Like any other benevolent parent, He is more heart broken when His children do harm. The prince of the darkness in this world molested multiple victims in this story. Abel’s story is that he died. Cain’s story is that he had to live with the crimes he committed. Adam and Eve had to learn to live without either son.
Cain was terrified that someone would kill him which he justly deserved, but God loved Cain and He preserved his life for a time because God is long-suffering, patient and unwilling that any should perish. God put a mark upon Cain so that no one would take his life providing Cain opportunity to repent. Many people see this as being the mark of Cain and presume that it was something horrible to behold. I suggest instead that this mark put upon Cain is the mark of God and is the greatest blessing that any of us can partake of and was the second time God used his right of Passover. Satan was furious because his intent was to shed the blood of two victims. His greatest desire is to see all of the children of Adam and Eve consumed by death as the wages of sin. With his limited understanding, Satan believes that If he destroys all the children of Adam and Eve, the promise that a son of Eve crushing his head will fail. Genesis 3:14-15 However, God’s promises are sure.
The descendants of Cain consisted of some pretty bad characters as reflected by Lamach. The Old Testament tells us that Cain went out from the presence of God. The New Testament continues the story by telling us that he never did seek the presence of God. Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11 However, the real message in this story is that God is merciful to repentant sinners. When God saw Cain’s angry face he said, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:1-6 If you believe that you are as vile as Cain and cannot be redeemed by God, remember the words God said to Cain. Your repentance and turning from your ways is all the excuse He needs to exercise His right of Passover. For God so loved the whole world, including you and me, that he implemented the blood sacrifice through His only begotten Son. John 3:16-21 Will you receive it?
Cain and his descendants suffered the consequence of sin, but even Cain and his offspring had the privilege to request mercies of God. Cain just would not exercise his right because he did not have faith in God’s blood sacrifice. The irony is that Cain was a murderer and so were his children. Genesis 4:17-24 It is Satan’s work to persuade each of us to doubt the blood sacrifice. The wrath of God will be poured upon the generations of the last days for shedding the innocent blood of the saints, but you can be spared the wrath of God by seeking His mercies today. We have often heard the story of Cain and Able, but the rest of the story is about you. The mark of God preserved Cain for a time providing him with opportunity to repent. Regardless of how vile you are, you have this opportunity today and God is bigger than your sin if you believe.
Abraham’s Unworthy Sacrifice
God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God told Israel that sacrificing their children like the other nations was an abomination. However, God had an object lesson to deliver to Abraham and his descendants by requiring the father of the Jewish nation to sacrifice his promised son. Terah, Abraham’s father and priest in Ur, served gods that required human sacrifice. Abraham, being a product of his time and region, was not surprised that God requested the offering of his son as a sacrifice because all the gods Terah had taught his sons to worship required human sacrifice. However, it did surprise Abraham when God refused the offer of his son because God did not find Ishmael or Isaac worthy.
The western mind sees this as a wonderful reprieve and an opportunity for God to demonstrate His unique mercy toward Abraham and his offspring because Abraham was faithful to bring the ultimate blood sacrifice. Yet, we miss the parallel in Abraham’s experience to that of Cain. Yes, Abraham was relieved that his son would not be sacrificed; but we fail to recognize the insult and offense to Abraham when he realized that God found his offer unacceptable. Then Abraham saw Christ and was humbled. John 8:48-58 It is true that God will provide Himself a lamb for the offering. Who will accept the lamb? Genesis 22:7-8
Abraham came from a nation and a family of priests, yet he knew Christ as the priest of the Most High God. Christ was and is the High Priest, the mediator of a better covenant established on better promises, and a better sacrifice than that of bulls and goats–even better than the blood of Abraham’s offspring. Hebrews 7-10 Abraham received this sacrifice and encouraged all he knew to do the same. However, the problem for the church from the time of Cain has been that there is something insulting and unacceptable about The Way; therefore, we insist that there are many ways and seek a more acceptable one. Many still stumble over Jesus because they are offended, but the bible insists that He is, and always has been, God’s only acceptable way. The question is can we accept that? Romans 8:30-33; I Peter 2:4-10
The Church Apostate
It is difficult for us to imagine the mindset of individuals that routinely offered their children on the altar of their belief system. However, we sacrifice our children to the world on a daily basis. We want a place in this world so badly for ourselves and our offspring so we sacrifice church attendance and Bible teaching cluttering their schedules and minds with worldly events and details. We feel justified in our decisions because they are not bad choices. However, we crowd out the set times and places that God reserves as His own. It is not a bad thing to occupy a place in this world for you and your children; however, it is a violation of everything holy to fail to preserve a place for you and your children in the world to come. Christ is preparing a place. Do your children know to submit their RSVP? John 14:1-3
Each message that God delivered to the congregation or church was directly applicable to the primary recipients of the message. The amazing thing about the word of God is that while it is delivered in precise form with great clarity to the current generation, the same passage has application for future generations. Therefore, the information delivered to Adam and Eve in the garden, the covenant with Noah as he and his family left the ark, and the information Moses brought down from the mountain are all applicable to the church of every era. Indeed, the closer we get to the end of time, the greater the application.
The language in Revelation is directed to the New Testament church, but can only be decoded by a people steeped in the language of the Old Testament. Without an understanding of the wisdom imparted to the patriarchs, how can we understand end-time matters? Unfortunately, Christianity takes too much pride in being New Testament churches with little regard for Genesis to Malachi.
When Jesus said in John 5:39, Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; He was referring to the old testament. The prophets and patriarchs of old certainly knew and testified about Jesus. In learning about Jesus, the scriptures that come before Matthew in your Bible fully describe Him, but they may challenge things you perceive about Jesus based upon tradition.
When Jesus came He did not chastise Israel because of her ancient writings and neither did he challenge the teachings of Moses. He did however, challenge their traditions because the things they perceived about the Messiah and Moses kept them from recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. Is it possible that the teachings of the church that have been so Hellenized over time and adopted as tradition could also prevent us from recognizing Christ at His next coming?
In the letters to the churches of Asia found in Revelation 2-3 Christ chastises the church making it clear that there is great need for restoration within the church. In reading the letters, the language makes it clear that there is a need to go back to our Hebraic roots to understand the messages in the letters since Jesus uses so many Jewish terms such as: Jews, synagogue, Balaam, Balac, children of Israel, hidden manna, Jezebel, rod of iron, book of life, key of David, temple, Jerusalem, etc. The full understanding of these terms are found in the ancient Hebrew writings called the Tanakh or old testament.
In Revelation 1-3 Jesus makes it very clear that He has pertinent messages to be fully embraced by the seven churches in Asia. I believe the messages are critical in preparing the church for a mission of reconciling the world to God. Jesus has the stars, which represent angelic beings in His right hand because this mission will be completed by the power of Christ. He will be with us until the end of the ages and will send Heavenly emissaries to support our mission.
These messages are to be extended to all the believers of all ages but have special application to the believers of the last days. Understanding the messages in the letters to the churches will help the individual believer and corporate believers to prepare for the devil’s wiles in our daily living and be especially prepared for the time of the end when he will be revealed. More importantly, accepting the chastisements delivered to the churches and repenting of our worldly ways will prepare us and others to meet our Maker when He comes to deliver us.
The church has prided herself on being chosen by God to deliver the gospel to the nations and has distanced herself from God’s chosen nation, Israel because of her perceived failures. We have moved as far from Israel and her teachings as possible justifying our distance because we have knowledge that Israel tossed. In reality, we distance ourselves from Israel out of fear because it was not, and never has been, and may never be politically correct to align with her. The result is that as “new testament churches” we have exchanged all the sacred instructions that God delivered to Moses in the wilderness and become Hellenized. Our western way of thinking made the church more acceptable to the world but would we be recognizable to the patriarchs and apostles?
Paul and the apostles agreed with the other Jewish people of their day that Torah is the word of God and they went to great length to demonstrate that Jesus is the word of God; therefore, Torah is Christ because the Torah is all about Christ. They also went to great length to help the Gentile understand Torah so they could see how Jesus fulfilled the ancient scriptures. Again, when they quoted scriptures to the Gentiles, they quoted the old testament. The reason the book of Revelation is so foreign to so many Christians is because they fail to see the Torah in Christ. It would help the Jew to see Christ in the Torah if they could see the Torah in Christians. Indeed the church has distanced herself from Israel, but sadly Israel also distanced herself from the early church and continues to do so today.
Revelation 1-5 is written to inspire and restore the church while grafting in all believers from every nation. It is readily recognized by most Christians that Revelation 2-3 are written to restore the church since they are all addressed to first century churches and counsels them to be overcomers. Even Philadelphia is counseled to overcome. What is not so readily recognized is that chapters 1, 4 & 5 are also about the restoration of the church as a prerequisite to prepare the church for the ministry of reconciling the world to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirt. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.Psalms 51:12-13
The Menorah was the light in the holy place of the tabernacle. The job of keeping oil in the Menorah was given to Samuel under the careful watch of Eli. It was Samuel’s job to keep oil in the lamp stand at all times so that the light in the dark place would never go out. According to Jewish tradition, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the Menorah (also known as the eternal flame) in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. This blessed event occurred between the time of the old and new testament, and is still celebrated in November or December (begins 25th of Kislev and lasts eight days) as Hanukah by Jewish families today.
This image inside the Arch of Titus is believed to show the Lamp stand taken from Herod’s temple in 70 AD. The work of the priesthood has always been to be a light unto the people. Israel is to be the Menorah to the world, but the church now joins them in delivering this sacred privilege and sweet obligation. Matthew 5:14 Christ is in the midst of believers daily filling our vessels with the oil consecrated by the Holy Spirit so that we will be like the 5 wise virgins and have oil in our lamp when the bridegroom comes. Matthew 25:1-13 The chastisement of the 7 letters to the churches defines our need and points us to The Way. Only those that read, understand and repent will be anointed with wisdom.
Revelation 4-5 describes an amazing throne room scene that includes all the inhabitants of heaven including redeemed representatives of humanity. Christ is found worthy to take the sealed book and begin removing the seals. During Israel’s fall festivals the great high priest must be found worthy to complete the atonement process for himself, the Levitical priesthood and corporate Israel. This was accomplished through the Israelite Feast of Trumpets (Days of Awe) and the Day of Atonement. As Christ begins to remove the seals, the fall feasts of Israel become recognizable as types of last day events.
With Christ as our great high priest, the church will progress through the Days of Awe as a great beacon of light to the nations and will draw men to Christ like moths to the flame. The moths are consumed by the flame, but if men will come to Him, they will come through this time of trouble as gold tried in the fire. Like the Hebrew young men that would not bow down to Babylon’s idol, their hair will not be singed and their clothes will not even smell like smoke.
I have long embraced the historical view regarding end-time prophecies, but I am profoundly aware that God has a wonderful way of making the scriptures applicable in very specific ways to each era of believers. His word is quite amazing like that; therefore, I ponder over the message He longs to deliver to the last day believers. The letters to the churches describe the overall spiritual condition of the churches of Asia in the first era and appear to describe the church through each church era. However, I also believe that all the spiritual conditions can be found in the churches in each of the eras with one condition being the prevailing one.
The chart below demonstrates my view of the churches through the historical eras. I see the churches as a 7-layer cake sliced seven times for the eras instead of a loaf of bread with only seven progressive slices. This point is critical because if the church of the last days is in the Laodicean spiritual condition, she must repent and turn toward another church condition. Unless Laodicea and all the churches receive spiritual empowerment, the work of the church can not be completed.
|Era 1||Era 2||Era 3||Era 4||Era 5||Era 6||Era 7|
One reason to view the churches in this manner is because in Revelation 1:19 John is told to write the things he has seen which includes the description of Christ in the midst of the candlesticks. This image demonstrates that only those believing Christ is the light of the world (Jew or Gentile) are now a light source, or menorah, to the world. John 1:1-13; 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16 This truth is evident in every era of believers because John is told to write the things that are and the things that will be hereafter. I believe the seven churches represent seven spiritual conditions that always are. They are seven spiritual conditions existing from the foundation of the world and can be found in any each church era and as long as time as we know it lasts. The spiritual conditions of the churches will always be described as the things that are.
Another reason to believe that all the spiritual conditions are in each church era is because it takes all of them to fulfill the promises Christ longs to impart to believers. Which promise can we do without and which chastisement is unnecessary? Also, can we name an era that the church of Philadelphia did not exist? No, it is obvious that this spiritual condition must exist or how could another generation of believers be born. The conclusion is that if Philadelphia must exist in all the eras, it is most certain that they all existed in each era. It should certainly be that in the last day the church should have more to offer than the Laodicean condition or what hope do we have?
The Church Restored
The next prevailing question regarding the churches is why would they need to be restored? Again, for obvious reasons if they are not restored, they will lose their spiritual gifts. Without their spiritual gifts, they will lose their place as a beacon of light in a dark world and be fit for pruning instead of preservation. With the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the understanding of the complete Word of God including that part commonly referred to as the Old Testament, the world will be drawn to the light. When the Jew sees the Torah in Christians, he will be drawn to the light of Jesus as the Messiah and be grafted back in. Romans 11
The restoration of the church prepares us to meet the Messiah with spotless garments for the marriage supper, but it is more than that. It is also about preparing the church to deliver babes in Christ during a time of trial when the dragon wants to devour her children. At their request, Jesus described the end of time to the disciples in Matthew 24. In Matthew 24:8 He described the trials as the beginning of sorrows in the King James Version, but in the New International Version it is described as the beginning of birth pains because many Godly children will be born during this time of duress through the travails of the church. It is for the sake of believers that Eve was cursed with pain in childbirth because her actions brought suffering to believers as they deliver God’s children in their spiritual rebirth. Eve and her daughters could have refused childbirth, but each generation of brave women deliver children so the next generation can also be born. It is the way of the body of believers since the garden.
When the church is in the midst of tribulation, Jesus draws especially near to us and makes known His presence for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. Hebrews 13:5-6 In addition, many times in the letters to the churches He admonishes us to overcome trials and tribulations. If the last day church wasn’t bound for trouble, he would not cause us to tremble by mentioning troubling times. It is not meant to scare us, but to encourage us to draw closer to Him and settle certain things in our hearts and minds beforehand.
The bigger question of why God needs to restore the church has to do with our mission. We have been commanded to take the gospel to the ends of the Earth. We believe we have, but Revelation 10 clearly tells us that we will hear the seven thunders and recognize it as God’s voice while everyone else thinks it just thundered. The church of the last days must in bitterness prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. Apparently there is something very specific that God wants revealed in the spirit through the church to the last day inhabitants of earth that doesn’t apply to any other generation. Rev 10:11; Dan 8:26
The apostle Paul talked about a falling away of the church before the Lord returns. II Thessalonians 2:3 The letters to the churches identify the specific need for restoration of the church of the last days to help Christians recover from the falling away of past eras and prepare for the deceptions of the last days. We must be restored, reflecting His glory so the world will recognize Him in us and be drawn away from the delusion of the last days. It is imperative that we be here to do this work because the eternal lives of our friends and family are in the balance. If we will be restored, all manner of men will be drawn to Him. Lord, let us go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in.