Richard Ritenbaugh provides introductory information to his ensuing series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Letter-writing, as a means of communication, became highly formalized in the Greco-Roman world. The Scriptures contain a large number of letters, the epistle being the dominant literary form in the New Testament. The "Seven Letters" are an example of letters embedded in a larger book. Christ has written these letters to all the members of His Body, that is, to individuals having the Holy Spirit and therefore capable of understanding their highly symbolic language. God intends the book of Revelation to be a disclosure of vital information, warning us to prepare for those things that will occur with lightning speed. God admonishes the members of Christ's body to read and keep the spiritual lessons, not just to "figure out" prophecies. The seven churches represent the composite church of God in its multiple personalities, as well as each individual God has called-out. The book's dramatic introduction, emphasizing the sovereignty of our High Priest and His Father, projects us into the Day of the Lord and offers vital information as to how to endure that horrendous time. Christ, standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (the church of God) rules and teaches the church. The seven angels (Greek: angelos, or "messenger") could apply to spiritual guardians, physical leaders, or even individual church member as we also serve as messengers of the Way.
Martin Collins notes that both Luke (in the Book of Acts) and the Apostle himself (in autobiographical comments appearing in his epistles) documented Paul's travels. However, the Scriptures remain largely silent regarding the exploits of the other Apostles; they provide only general comments concerning even the spheres of activities of these men, who God commissioned to travel to the lost tribes of Israel. Only three books of the New Testament, James, III John, and Acts, do not conclude with the word "Amen," suggesting that God arranged material to be deleted as it would reveal the whereabouts of the lost tribes. Secular historians fill in some gaps in the biblical narrative. From these sources, we learn the destinations and work of Paul, as well the original apostles identified in Matthew 10:2-4. Peter travelled to exiled pilgrims scattered throughout northern Asia minor and eventually to Britain. Andrew traveled to the Scythians (progenitors of the Scots). Simon the zealot journeyed to Egypt, Cyrene, Africa, and Britain. James Alphaeus went to Spain and then to Britain and Ireland. Thomas brought the gospel to Parthia (modern Iran and Afghanistan) before the exiles migrated westward. Bartholomew traveled to Turkey. Jude ministered to the east of the Holy Land. Philip labored in Scythia (the region surrounding the Black and Caspian Seas). Matthew first went to Parthia and then to Aethiopia (a region west of India). Matthias went to Dacia (modern day Romania) and later to Britain. According to local legend, John may have been sent to the area now occupied by France and then later traveled to Britain. Although Israel has lost its own identity, God has kept close track of the lost tribes (Amos 9:9).
Martin Collins focuses on the second and third epistles of John, letters. Second John warns Christians against false teachers and the necessity not to let down their guard, realizing that deception is possible when they move 'progressively' against doctrines of Christ, as had occurred in the final years of the Worldwide Church of God. Third John was written to Gaius, whom John commended for his hospitality in welcoming genuine servants of God. John warns Gaius of the treachery of Diotrephes, who had arrogantly initiated a mutiny against God's true apostles and ministers, pompously assuming the behavior of putting out of the church those who did not follow his arrogant leadership (a practice sadly practiced in some of the splinter groups of the greater Church of God). Both Gaius and Demetrious are commended for their sterling receptivity of the truth as well as their generous hospitality, serving as lights to the world, while Diotrephes is rebuked for his arrogance and his caustic divisive behavior as is seen in his malicious gossip and hatred for God's true servants. Third John provides some practical counsel on dealing with friction and bitterness, attaining peace in the process.
Oftentimes, in our haste to get to the "good stuff," we skip the introductions of books and articles. Richard Ritenbaugh explores the first chapter of Revelation and shows that skipping it deprives us of vital information necessary for understanding the rest of the book.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
John Ritenbaugh provides compelling evidence that remnants of four out of the seven churches will be extant at the time of Christ's return. The inset chapters of the book of Revelation are digressions which give clarity to the sequential events. Revelation 10 and 11 constitute one inset, reflecting a time before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, a time when the last of the seven thunders (symbolic of the messages of the seven eras of God's church) rumble to a faint whimper. After this time, the dramatic work of the Two Witnesses will begin. Because we have all become contaminated with the worldliness of the Laodicean era/attitude, we need to soberly reflect upon the extent of this contamination.
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