Revelation’s letters to the pastors of the seven churches in Asia are a prophecy of the history of the Church, according to dispensationalist Bible teachers. For these interpreters who are committed to a “literal” hermeneutic, this is bending the rules in the direction of a “literary” hermeneutic, which is excellent. However, they apply the letters to the wrong future, and overlook the obvious allusions to Israel’s past.
According to James Jordan, the seven churches are presented as a sort of “decentralized” menora, that is, seven lamps instead of a single seven-branched lampstand. Once this way of thinking is pointed out, it amazes me how much of what is obvious in the text we miss entirely.
This image suggests that we are supposed to take the Church as a new Israel, a conclusion which would not be so popular with dispensationalists, but one that seems unavoidable. The Bible teaches “replacement theory,” or at least, “transformation theory.” Like Jesus, Israel was about to pass through death and resurrection and come out of the grave renewed and as different from old Israel as a butterfly is from a caterpillar.
The Romans would remove the Lampstand from Herod’s Temple, as is predicted later in the Revelation (18:23). The new “decentralized” worship would not be centered on earth but in heaven, in the true Zion which Paul describes in Galatians 4.
Further support is found in the fact that the seven letters are a brief retelling of Old Israel’s history (following Israel’s festal calendar). Once this is observed, the use of the names of Old Testament characters suddenly makes perfect sense.
Ephesus (the fall) – The Garden of Eden (Sabbath/Day 1)
Smyrna (prison/door) – Joseph and Israel in Egypt (Passover/Day 2)
Pergamum (priests) – Balak, Balaam and the serpent (Firstfruits/Day 3)
Thyatira (kings) – Ahab and Jezebel (Pentecost/Day 4)
Sardis (prophets) – Repent and wake up or be invaded (Trumpets/Day 5)
Philadelphia (restoration) – An open door (Atonement/Day 6)
Laodicea (first century Judaism) – False food and riches (Booths/Day 7)
Following the seven letters, John’s “little book” containing the last warnings to Jerusalem is like an eighth letter. The budding sins which Jesus critiques in the fledgling church are shown to be full grown in the worship in Jerusalem (the harlot and false prophet are a Jewish Jezebel and Jewish Balaam, ruling and cursing Jerusalem). The Lampstand was made to look like an almond tree, literally a “watcher tree.”
The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.”(Jeremiah 1:11)
These New Covenant “watchmen” watch on as she is destroyed. So, the letters are a prophecy of future Church history, but the imminent future of the “Firstfruits” Church, leading up to AD70, with only a brief glimpse of “the age to come” in chapter 20.
The meanings of the names of the cities also seem significant in identifying the “dominion” pattern:
Ephesus (Creation) – “First, Desirable” (Genesis – Sabbath)
Smyrna (Division) – “Bitter Affliction” (Exodus – Passover)
Pergamum (Ascension) – “Earthly Heighth” (Leviticus – Firstfruits)
Thyatira (Testing) – “Sacrifice of Labor” (Numbers – Pentecost)
Sardis (Maturity) – “Prince of Joy” (Deuteronomy – Trumpets)
Philadelphia (Conquest) – “Love of a Brother” (Joshua – Atonement)
Laodicea (Glorification) – “Just People” (Judges – Booths)
As Jordan observes, the Church pastors are the seven stars in Jesus’ right hand. Jesus is the new Tabernacle, and His right hand is the new Lampstand, one whose light multiplies and reaches every corner of the earth.
For more on the Book of Revelation, I recommend James Jordan’s summary The Vindication of Jesus Christ, and then his lecture series available from www.wordmp3.com.