I mean that with the utmost of respect, both for Yeshua, and for those who are called or consider themselves ‘redneck’; I come from a long line of ‘rednecks’, given my understanding of that word. My dad used to say, “There are some smaaart people hiding in these woods.” And indeed there are. Rednecks, like myself, can be very plainspoken, and frank, which to some is offensive. That is not my intent. But, the plainspoken part is: Yeshua was VERY clear about ‘end things’, and very, very clear about us not fearing. “Do not fear” is the most repeated command in all of scripture.
We are indeed in tricky, weird, perhaps even perilous times. Along with all the chaos in the world, with the panic of a pandemic, economic systems failing, and everyone’s livelihood being threatened by a depression, which would probably take ten years or more to recover from, especially if a stimulus is not offered sooner than later, I have also heard of other types of suffering. And it put my heart in a deeper mode of supplication for His Presence this morning.
After saying ‘the prayers’ that are customary every morning [Acts 2:42], I presented my pleas for others, who have or have not asked it of me, feeling some measure of their pains and fears, and a little of my own, admittedly, though I have had great shalom these past few months. As I sat and meditated, and hoped for Him to ‘move’, [sometimes I hate our cliches, but that is what I was hoping], the letters to the seven congregations in the Revelation went through my mind for some reason, particularly the last phrase of each letter, repeated seven times: מִי שֶׁמְּנַצֵּחַ , “mi shem’natze’akh”, whoever ‘overcomes’, ‘obtains victory,’ ‘perseveres’…
Life is challenging enough. Living a life of true faith in this world is even more challenging, and is not for the weak, or those who want to live a basically trouble-free life. And a trouble-free life can be achieved, without faith in the Creator and His Messiah. There are those in the community of faith who would say otherwise, but I assert that they do not understand the life of Faith, and may themselves not truly know Him. Faith in Messiah Yeshua separates you from people. “I did not come to bring shalom, but a sword, to divide” people. “In this world you will have tzarah..” You WILL have ‘tribulation’; not ‘may,’ but ‘will’. בָּעוֹלָם צָרָה יֵשׁ לָכֶם; אֲבָל הִתְעוֹדְדוּ, אֲנִי נִצַּחְתִּי אֶת הָעוֹלָם There is for y’all tribulation in this world, but y’all CHEER Yourselves up! I have ‘overcome’ this world! [Redneck, uh, literal Yeshua]. His word there for ‘overcome’ is the same word as in the seven letters: nitzakhti.
As I sat and thought, I strove to remember what exactly it was that we were to ‘overcome’, or have ‘victory’ or ‘perseverance’ over. Some of those ‘tribulations’ came to mind, as I have studied those letters many times. And as I sat there thinking on them, I was compelled to share them here, and remind the believing community of our hope. And of against what our ‘fight’, our ‘struggle’, really is.
Yeshua dictated seven letters to seven congregations in the general area of western Greece in Asia Minor, what we know today as modern Turkey. These Greek cities each had their own chief, false gods. The congregations were founded there by Paul [Sha’ul], and had existed for at least twenty to thirty years by the time of Yeshua’s visit to Yokhanan on the Island of Patmos, which was west of all these cities. If one were to look at the map, one could ‘see’ a Menorah formed between Patmos and these seven cities. Yeshua said that he walked among the seven “Menorah”s, which is the spiritual manifestation of His Presence in an assembly of believers. He warned them that if they did not correct their error, individually as congregations, He would remove their Menorah from their midst. But, with that correction, came encouragement. “Mi shem’natze’akh,” WHOEVER OVERCOMES….
Many good minds over the last 2,000 years have attempted to analyze those letters, and theories abound as to what the seven congregations represent. I’m going to look at it from a very simple, unified approach. Yes, there are many individual assemblies around the globe. In our day, unlike in that day, there are many individual assemblies even in the smallest of towns, much less in cities. Back then, there was ONE congregation in each of these cities, even if they met in various homes or public venues. These were assemblies that were likely founded by Sha’ul who was the Shali’akh to the Goyim, [Apostle sent to the Nations/Gentiles] who went into the SYNAGOGUES of these cities, where Jews AND Gentiles met to worship יהוה , the Creator, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Jews, from the Gentile perspective. Sha’ul introduced this mixed company to Yeshua, the Son of God, who gave them His Ru’akh. [Breath/Spirit] Time has passed, and they are now entering into error, and Yeshua Himself is correcting them, warning them to prepare for His return, and warning them that if they do not “Shema”, “HEAR”, [the greatest command in all of scripture, Mark 12], His Presence will leave them. In those seven cities today, there is no congregation! So, who do these cities ‘represent’ for us, the modern reader of the Hitgalut?
As I said, the theories abound, but there is no doubt that ‘they’ represent the WHOLE, INDIVIDUAL congregation of Messiah, His Body, throughout the ages, and the struggles that every assembly would or could endure until He returns; the struggles they faced are the same today. The spirits they fought have been the same for every true assembly through all the ages. The Body of Messiah worldwide has always and will always face these same challenges, until the day He puts His foot down on earth and brings everything under His rule, finally. How individual assemblies respond to those challenges determines whether their veracity is lasting, whether His Presence remains with them, or whether they become obsolete in the realm of the Spirit. In the practical, these seven congregations became obsolete, so much so, that within 1,000 years they were gone, and today, there is barely a vestige of their memory in those places. Most ‘assemblies’ of people today have become obsolete in His Realm, and merely function as gatherings of people, and not as light and truth, healing, compassion, and change for individuals and families. At least, not on a lasting, eternal level.
How can we, then, as individuals, learn from these seven letters, and how might they encourage us in these most perilous of times our generation has seen?
The first assembly Yeshua addressed is that of Ephesus. He told them that they have left their first love, and then turns around and tells them to return to the FIRST WORKS. Efesus is the ONE city that we have more information on in the scriptures than the others. Perhaps that is why Yeshua started with this one? Sha’ul had spent three years there, and he had used the “School of Tyranus” in order to teach the SCRIPTURES every day for those believers, also going house to house on Shabbat to do so. [Acts 19-20] Sha’ul did not teach them to abandon the Torah, but to walk it in Messiah, trusting Him for Salvation, but also obeying Him, as He obeyed His Father. He taught them to love one another. He taught them the Jewish customs [1 Kor 11:2, 2 Tes 2:15, 3:6] in order to show them how to worship. They all, together, worshipped on Shabbat. The ‘first works’ of Efesus, then, can be none other than what Sha’ul taught them for three years. When Yeshua tells this assembly, ‘Whoever overcomes,’ the promise for them is that they will partake of Etz Khayim, ‘The Tree of Life’, in Gan Elohai, the Garden of His God. Gentiles and many theologians have a hard time admitting it, but Etz Khayim, the Tree of Life, has always been represented figuratively by the Torah, and symbolically by the Menorah. This is well established in ancient Jewish custom. Yeshua is telling His congregation to return to the Torah, as evidence of their trust for Him and obedience to Him, and be rewarded with Eternal Life as a result.
To the next assembly, Yeshua says, ‘do not fear anything that you SHALL suffer.’ The first struggle of every congregation, other than that of the propensity to turn away from simple obedience to His Word/Torah, is that of physical suffering of some sort: poverty, persecution, etc. Both of these come with the threat of physical, earthly death. Yeshua says to the ones who persevere that they will not be ‘hurt’ by the SECOND death. Many do not understand what this is. Many believers in Messiah do not realize that EVERY human will rise from the dead! Believers and unbelievers alike! Believers will rise from the dead before He returns, unbelievers 1,000 years later! And those will experience/be hurt by the SECOND DEATH: eternal separation from the Creator, and other suffering we cannot pretend to explain. Those who ‘struggle,’ those who strive to continue to trust Him and obey, will ‘overcome’, and not be hurt by it.
To the next assembly, He instructs that they should repent from two doctrinal errors: that of Bilam, and that of the Nicolaitans. We know without doubt what the error of Bilam was: he desired money for his service to God. He fell away from being a true servant because of his desire to profit from harming Israel through false prophecy. The Nicolaitan error is harder to ‘see’, as there is no recorded history of a possible people group, but it is encoded in the name itself. The name means “controller of the people”, where the suffix is actually where we get our word ‘laity’ from, as in, ‘lay people’, who are led/controlled by a clergy, a superior religious class that feigns to serve, but actually controls people, using money as the catalyst. This is true of MOST EVERY assembly today, but especially of those that are institutional in any way, or married to the state by contract on paper in any way. This is a ‘spirit’, and Yeshua warns this assembly to free itself from it through REPENTANCE. Interestingly, it is to this city that Yeshua says He knows where they live, where “Kiseh HaSatan” is, the throne of Satan. Yes, there was an altar to Zeus there, that looked like a throne; but, on a spiritual level, it is the place where the ‘laity’ are controlled by those ‘above’ them spiritually [temple on high places]. Many ‘churches’, even today, have a ‘throne’ somewhere, where the ‘leader’/clergy sits. The name of this city actually means ‘high/exalted’. When people think they are the ones who judge or are ‘in control,’ Yeshua has left the building. If we are able to repent, and to ‘overcome’ this, we are promised first the ‘hidden manna’; Yeshua is telling us that His Body, the WORDS of His truth, cannot be deprived from us by any human, even if that human[s] pretends to serve in His Name; we are also promised a “New Name”, with a white stone that has a ‘secret name’ written on it, known only to the individual and to Him.
The next city has a spirit that is very, very common in many, if not most congregations, a spirit that our last assembly was not able to avoid, unbeknownst to most there, though we prayed and were aware of its threat. This is Jezebel/ Yizevel. Yizevel is the spirit of adultery/harlotry. Because of this ‘spirit,’ which many people think is simply that of a contentious woman, Yeshua promised that whoever the prophetess was that brought it into the Thyatira congregation would be put into a coffin. The adultery about which we speak is physical adultery, which can be an outward manifestation of spiritual adultery/harlotry. People today in MOST congregations do NOT take this spirit/sin very seriously at all. We ‘tolerate’ it abundantly in our culture. Most assemblies today are packed with people who court with/lust after and sleep with one another before marriage. We use the business of life and the attitude of the world as an excuse to ‘try on’ a person sexually before marriage, like we try on shoes. We use the excuse of ‘grace’ to justify breaking up a home in order to have ‘happiness’, in spite of a covenant made before God with a spouse. This is such a serious sin in an assembly that Yeshua promised that the congregation leader who was committing it would die. He warns the whole congregation to repent of it. Along with the harlotry/adultery, there came the practice of eating things offered demonically to idols. Most do not realize that this is not a ‘mythical/symbolic’ thing, but that people were eating food that Yeshua said not to eat, particularly things that were offered up to other gods. We have today pagan restaurants that actually offer their food to demons, “Buddha,” “Krishna”, and others found in many ‘eastern’ themed restaurants. Further, we have “Halal” food flooding our grocery stores and restaurants, meats that have been offered to Allah by a muslim Imam. And churches do not seem to care, but want to accommodate these practices and overlook them. Most of the believing world is quite content not to pay attention at all to what they put in their mouth. But, Yeshua was very serious about this, as this was part of the practice of an adulterous, false prophet. Consider this: food is a serious matter. So serious, that it was over FOOD, over WHAT we put in our mouth, that ALL sin came into the world! Yeshua warns this congregation to repent, saying He will put Yizevel into a coffin, and all those who follow her into ‘great tribulation.’ This is a warning that any believer who does not turn from these behaviors will go through the WORST of the tribulation! Incidentally, the name of the city here means ‘the stench of affliction/tribulation’. The promise of reward for repenting of her adtultery, however, is ‘authority over the nations,’ and ‘the morning star’. The ‘morning star’ is the sun, in practicality. But, Yeshua called Himself the ‘morning star’ at the end of this book [Rev], so it is clearly a reference to Himself. This could obviously be a reference to ‘eternal life’, which I truly believe it is, as all the ‘rewards’ offered at the ends of these letters allude to eternal life. It is, I believe, the RESURRECTION, as the sun gives us a picture of this every single morning. Kefa tells us of this concept in his second letter:
“We have also a D’var Nevu’ah [Prophetic Word] which is true; you do well when you look to it [Torah] for guidance, as you look to the lamp that shines in a dark place until the dawn of day, when the sun will shine in your hearts, knowing this first, that not every prophetic writing is made clear in its own book.”
He is speaking here of the Torah, and of the rest of scripture, which prophesies about Yeshua as a ‘Star out of Ya’akov,’ saying the Scepter [authority of kingship] shall never leave His hand. Overcoming the spirit of adultery/harlotry is thus rewarded.
The next city is warned to ‘wake up,’ or He will come as a thief. This is clearly a reference to Yeshua’s warnings to believers to be alert to His coming, and of the signs He gave to signal it. He tells them that there are only a FEW who do not have dirty garments, who will walk in white, because they are worthy. Yeshua told us in Luka 21:
“But take heed to yourselves that your hearts may not become heavy by extravagance and drunkenness and the worries of this world, and that day come suddenly upon you. For like a downpour it will entrap all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. Therefore keep watch always, and pray that you may be worthy to escape all these things which are to happen, and that you may stand before Ben HaAdam.”
All of this is most probably an allusion to the wedding theme of His return. And those few who are ‘awake’ for it are the ones who overcome, and are then promised they would be given ‘white robes’; interestingly, the city’s name means ‘red ones’; ‘though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow’; they are then promised that their names would not be ‘blotted out’ of the Sefer Khayim, the Book of Life, but their names would be confessed by Yeshua before His Father. Being ‘spiritually’ awake, then, assures clean garments, and is itself a means to overcome this world. Might it be that the stupor of sleep causes the other sinful things already mentioned to the other assemblies?
The sixth city has ‘a little strength’; ‘meh’at ko’akh.’ “Ko’akh” is the outward presence of the Ru’akh ‘upon’ those who have Him inside by trust, who have been transformed by His resurrection. It was promised to the believers who assembled a week later on Shavu’ot and received it. Yeshua acknowledges that the assembly has but a little of it. It is interesting that shortly after the Hitgalut was written, a believer asked of Polycarp, the student of the Yokhanan who wrote the Hitgalut, why there was so little ‘power’ or ‘miracles’ any more in the assemblies, and this was a mere 1 generation from the Shali’akh [Apostle]. Certainly now we have but very little outward ‘ko’akh’. None of us are raising the dead, healing the sick [though so many claim to be; if so, why are so many still ill after they ‘name it and claim it’; they excuse their lack of a miracle somehow. The miracles of Yeshua are undeniable.] We experience a small amount of His Ko’akh, at times, as have I, and my whole family, but we are not overflowing with it like the apostolic generation was. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves. It is self-righteous self-hypnosis. Having ‘meh’at ko’akh’, just a little of His power, is not a bad thing, but seems to be a compliment from Yeshua! Encouragement. Be GLAD that He does allow it to manifest ‘on’ us at times! He tells them, ‘You have OBEYED my Word and have not denied MY NAME.’ That is FAR more important than having signs and wonders. He mentions false Jews here, those who ‘claim’ to be Jewish/Israel and are not, but do lie. This time, He mentions the ‘synagogue of Satan’. Most people are not aware that this was actually a name for the “School of Shammai,” an early first century way of thought of a Rabbi named Shammai, a Parush [Pharisee]. He taught that salvation was by obedience to the Torah. He taught that Gentiles must become Jews, with the final sign of that conversion being circumcision in the flesh. His error is the same error of Galatia. THAT is the ‘synagogue of Satan.’ One does NOT become ‘Jewish’ by circumcision in the flesh, but by TRUST in the Creator, and in His Son Yeshua, the King of the Jews. [Rom 2:29] It is interesting that those of us who simply obey the Scriptures are accused of being the ‘synagogue of Satan,’ though we NEVER claim salvation by circumcision, or by obedience to any mitzvah. What if THAT is part of the ‘hour of testing’ that will come on the world, to see if we know the difference between a real “Jew,” and anyone who puts any trust in their flesh in any way. It is my contention that most of the Hebrew Roots/Two House people fall dangerously into this category, trusting their flesh, even if in the smallest way, to be part of their salvation. So many people of ‘faith’ are indeed coming to an outward Torah walk, but are also ‘identifying’ with the Jewish, though they call themselves “Israelites” and claim their genetic descendant from the 10 tribes is ‘why’ they are saved. They have fallen from grace. They put their trust in their flesh, the fact that they are Ephraim or Dan, or another ‘lost tribe’, and that this is one reason Abba ‘called them’. This is a self-important ‘work,’ that of being “Jewish” by any means but trust in Him.
This assembly is told that because they continue in the Word of Suffering/Patience, I will keep you from the hour of testing that is coming on the whole world. This ‘time of testing’ will be to ‘try’/’prove’ those on earth. But Yeshua will keep those who indeed have ‘a little strength’ from going through it. THAT is the ‘gate’ that is opened to them! The “Opening of the Gate” is a reference to Yom Teru’ah/Rosh HaShannah! And in the very next chapter, that gate is opened, with a SHOUT and a BLAST, and Yokhanan is told to ‘come up here!’ Those who have a small bit of strength, ‘ko’akh,’ will indeed be kept from the time of tribulation that is coming on all the world, by going through the gate at the sound of the shofar! He tells them, ‘hold on, so that no man can take your crown,’ and we see the crowns in the next chapter, where PEOPLE are assembled around the throne of God in Heaven. He promises these who ‘overcome’ the temptation to be concerned with genetics and self-importance versus TRUST ALONE that they will be made ‘pillars’ in HIS SANCTUARY, which is above. They will have the Name of Elohim written on them, and Yeshua’s NEW name, whatever that may be. That is a ‘sign’ of His character, and again, a reference to life eternal.
The last assembly gets the worst warning. But, remember, all of these apply to all of us through all times. Just because a believer dies before the Shofar is blasted and is not alive before Yeshua returns, does not mean that his soul will not be weighed in the balance; every person will stand before the Judge, at one time or another. Yeshua tells this assembly immediately that they are neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. Lukewarm is a mixture of cold and hot. Mixture is similar to adultery. It is a combining of the thoughts of God with the ways of this world. It is a ‘comfort zone’. Yeshua basically tells us that we are, in this condition, ‘blind,’ ‘naked’, ‘poor’, ‘wretched’, ‘helpless’. He tells us to acquire ‘white clothing’, and to anoint our eyes so we can ‘see’. This is done, He says, with GOLD REFINED IN THE FIRE. This is no doubt a reference to His Torah. Indeed, ALL the thoughts of these letters seem to be summed up in Tehillah [Ps] 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of Elohim, and the firmament shows His handiwork; Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge; There is no speech, there are no words, neither is their voice heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has He set an Ohel [tent] for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his Khupah, and rejoices as a strong man to run his course. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing hidden from the heat thereof. “
Pay particular attention here to the last half, in regard to ‘gold refined in the fire’:
The Torah of יהוה is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of יהוה is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of יהוה are right, rejoicing the heart; the Mitzvah of יהוה is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of יהוה is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of יהוה are true, they are righteous altogether;
More to be desired are they [commandments of the Torah] than gold, yes, than much fine gold [refined in the fire] ; sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is Your servant warned; in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults. [Yeshua is revealing these faults to us]
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins, that they may not have dominion over me; then shall I be faultless, and I shall be clear from great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, O יהוה , my Rock, and my Redeemer.
It is just very interesting that His Name is seen SEVEN TIMES in this song.
Here, those who ‘overcome’ ‘sit down on His throne, as He is on His Father’s throne, which we see in the next two chapters.
So, we are to overcome:
- Turning away from the Torah/Scriptures, our first love
- Fear of suffering and persecution
- Religious greed and embezzlement, and classism
- Adultery/harlotry, physical and spiritual, and idolatry of any kind
- Spiritual laziness and lack of concern for His coming, identifying oneself in the flesh and NOT in TRUST ALONE in Messiah Yeshua.
- Ignoring our ‘little strength’; getting weary in our suffering, forgetting of His promise to escape all tribulation, for those ‘worthy’
- Self indulgence that creates a ‘laissez faire’ attitude Toward God and His WHOLE Word.
It is evident to anyone who has even the smallest measure of His Ru’akh that we are in the last of the last days, whether it all begins this year, or fifty years from now. Regardless, our ‘faith’ is definitely being put to the fire right now. So, in the words of Redneck Yeshua:
“In this world you will have tzarah..” You WILL have ‘tribulation’; not ‘may,’ but ‘will’. בָּעוֹלָם צָרָה יֵשׁ לָכֶם; אֲבָל הִתְעוֹדְדוּ, אֲנִי נִצַּחְתִּי אֶת הָעוֹלָם
There is for y’all tribulation in this world, but y’all CHEER Yourselves up! I have ‘overcome‘ this world!”