The key to Revelations is to read it as if it was actually addressed to the seven churches of Asia. But to unlock the revelation you need a bit of background as to what the problem was that Jesus was addressing through John and when you see that you will see why this is a great warning to the evangelical church of the 21st Century.

I could do a book on this topic alone but let me give you a quick broad view for your own further study. Firstly you need to understand that this vision of John occurred while he was in captivity on Patmos under the persecution of Emperor Nero of the Christians from about 64-68 AD. That means that the book was written before the great destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the massacre that took place there of over a million people by the Roman army.

Secondly it was addressed to the seven churches of the province that the Romans called "Asia" which is located on the western side of Turkey. Jesus addressed this dire warning to them through the well known vision of John. The province next to Asia was Galatia and the churches there had the same problem which Paul tried to correct them of in his epistle to the Galatians.

Thirdly you need to understand that the apostle Paul spent many years of labour among these churches with at least three years in Ephesus in Asia teaching them the Word of God. But here is the the end of his life he wrote a letter to Timothy with the sad reflection, "This thou knowest that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me..." (2 Tim.1:15)  Why did the seven churches in Asia reject Paul after so much ministry from him?

Fourthly you need to realize that there were two denominations in the early church. There were two views as to what the Lord was doing in the earth and how He was going to do it.  The one group centred around the Jerusalem church and the leader of that church James the brother of Jesus.  The other group centred around Paul.

The Faction Fighting in the early Church

We idolize the early church and their leaders but we forget just like us they were leaders with strong opinions and each wanted their interpretation to prevail. The issue was this:  The Jerusalem church believed that the Kingdom of God would be established on the earth through Israel. They were still obsessed with the last question they asked Jesus before His ascension, "Lord wilt thou now restore again the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Forgetting what Jesus told the Pharisees that the Kingdom would be taken away from the Jews and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And as shown in last week's blog that new nation that would bring in the Kingdom was born on the day of Pentecost shortly thereafter.

But as the years went by the Jerusalem church drifted from sound doctrine. They elected James the brother of Jesus as their leader and after his death in 62 AD they chose the next brother of Jesus Simon as their leader. Why? because they expected a restoration of national Israel and James was the direct descendant of King David. The church was first persecuted by the Sanhedrin with believers being locked up, killed and persecuted because their beliefs were at odds with the laws of Moses as taught by the Sanhedrin.  But as the years went by they adapted more and more to Jewish laws and keeping those laws. The persecution stopped.  Jewish Christians would not eat with gentile Christians. That would defile them. Peter was involved with this nonsense in Antioch. Gentile believers were told they needed to be circumcised if they wanted to be part of God's great Kingdom plan which is centred around Israel.

Paul fought these "Judaizers" as he called them in all his letters to the gentile churches. To the Romans he said it was not you that must be joined to the Jews, they have been cut off, it is they who must be grafted back in to the real Israel of God which is the Church.  To the churches in Galatia he made an impassioned plea that physical Israel meant nothing, the real seed of Abraham are the believers. To the church in Corinth he was desperately trying to convince that circumcision of the flesh meant nothing, only circumcision of the heart.

The disagreement become so heated that Barnabas left Paul and sided with the Jerusalem church.  Finally they told Paul, you go preach to the gentiles, we will concentrate on the Jews.  They had long since forgotten the words and warnings of Jesus. He told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. He told them in Math.23-24 that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed and it would happen in that generation.  Great tribulation was coming but they clung to Jerusalem and the Temple and their vision of a revived national Israel bringing in the Kingdom of God.

The churches of Asia were infected with the Judaizers false teachings as were the churches in Galatia. That is why all the churches in Asia left Paul.  Jesus intervened directly sending them John the Apostle and giving him a mighty vision of what was soon to happen. That is why John says right at the start in verse 1 addressed to these seven churches of Asia these prophecies were to "shortly come to pass" (not in 2000 years time) and again in verse 3 "for the time is at hand".

What was at hand? What was the Lord trying to tell the churches of Asia? He was telling them He was coming in the clouds to bring judgment on Israel and Jerusalem just as He promised He would! The Lord coming in the clouds was a sign of judgment (Isaiah 19:1).  The old order of national Israel was finished. It was the end times. It was the last days. The Great Tribulation was about to come. And when it was finished so would the whole doctrine of the Judaizers. And as you go through the book of Revelations if you understand the history of the Roman invasion you see these prophecies being fulfilled:
- Jesus denounced these Judaizers in ch 2 & 3 as those "who call themselves Jews but are not but are of the synagogue of Satan."
- He names their enemy by calling him a beast and instead of giving him a name he says you can work out his name from his number 666: which works out to Nero Caesar.
- He describes the coming war against Jerusalem as lasting 42 months and that there would be rivers of blood and that is exactly what happened from 66-70 AD exactly 42 months that the Roman armies composed of men from all the surrounding nations made war against Israel.
- He shows how the Church remnant from Jerusalem would escape when the city was surrounded into the desert for 42 months which is exactly what happened when they escaped to Petra in Trans-Jordan.
- He describes how great stones from heaven will fall on Jerusalem which is what the Roma siege engines did.
- He describes how the city would be divided in three and history of Josephus tells us of three factions in the city all fighting against each other.

There are many other prophecies here that I can describe as being fulfilled but the important thing is the message that Jesus was giving the church. The old dispensation is over, the old covenant is finished, the old Jerusalem is finished.  What lies ahead is the New Jerusalem. And then He gives them the dimensions of this New Jerusalem to figure out: 12,000 furlongs on a side, which works out at about 1500 miles on a side.

What does that tell the churches of Asia? That was about the dimensions of the Roman Empire! That meant that the Israel of God was going to encompass the whole of the Roman Empire, the kingdoms of the world of the Roma Empire would become the kingdom of God.  The Lord was not interested in restoring the kingdom to Israel, He wanted all the nations to enter into the Kingdom of God!

But He also told them not only the size of His kingdom but the length of His reign to do His purposes on the earth. He said in Rev. 20 he would reign for "thousands of years" until the task of putting all His enemies under His control is completed. That's right, there is no future one thousand year rule of Christ, He started reigning at His resurrection when all power in heaven and on earth was given unto Him and we are to go into all the earth to declare this great news to all the earth. And thousands of years later we are still doing that great work as millions more come into the Kingdom of God.

But our church of the 21st century is facing the same deception that the early church faced. Leaders of the evangelical movement who are as beloved to all of us as Peter or James was to the early church are now caught up with this Judaizer deception.  They are looking to the Jews and national Israel to bring in the Kingdom of God.  They look to the nation of Israel in Palestine as proof that this is the end times and that Jesus is coming soon to bring in His Kingdom on earth.

This is what I say: Yes Jesus is coming soon just as He said in the last chapter of Revelations, three times He said "I come quickly"! He said it to the Asian churches before 70 AD. And He kept His word. He came quickly and did exactly what He said He would do...He destroyed Jerusalem and Israel till there was not one stone left upon another of the Temple. The great tribulation left over 1 million dead in Jerusalem.  They were all crowded in there, over a million people! Why? Because they believed the Judaizers who told them Jesus the Messiah was coming to restore the Kingdom to Israel.  Jesus tried to warn them that false prophets would arise. Paul many time tries to warn the churches about false teachers and false prophets. But I declare this to you...yes Jesus is coming soon on the clouds and when He does it will be in judgment to destroy the false Jerusalem.  And when that happens the evangelical church will finally be free of false teaching and can get on with the job of discipling the nations.

That is the message of Revelations and the key to understanding its message for us today.

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