The Letters to the Seven Churches:
The first part (i. 4-iii. 22) contains a vision by John, who is told by Jesus to send a letter to the seven angels of the
seven churches in Asia (founded by Paul and his associates), rebuking them for the libertinism that has taken hold of many
"who pass as Jews, but show by their blasphemy and licentiousness that they are of the synagogue of Satan" (ii. 9, iii. 9,
Greek). These seven churches were those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Owing
to their heathen associations many of their members had lapsed into pagan or semipagan views and practises, under the influence
of heretic leaders. Of these one is singled out by the name of Nicolaites (ii. 6, 15; comp. Acts vi. 5), called also Balaam
(ii. 14, ="Nicolaos"), because, like Balaam, he seduced the people to idolatry and fornication by his false prophecies and
witchcraft (Num. xxv. 1; xxxi. 8, 16). Another singled out was a woman, probably a prophetess, called Jezebel (ii. 20) on
account of her idolatrous practises (I Kings xviii. 19, xxi. 25). Evidently the seed sown by Paul and his associates, who
in their antinomian Gnosticism boasted of having penetrated "the deep things of God" (I Cor. ii. 10), had borne evil fruit,
so that the seer of Patmos calls these heretics "false apostles and liars" (ii. 2), and their teachings "the depths of Satan"
How much local cults, as that of Esculapius in Pergamos ("Satan's seat"; ii. 13), had to do with these heresies it is difficult
to say; certain it is that many were "polluted" by pagan practises (ii. 13, 26; iii. 4). All the more severely does the seer
condemn the Pauline teaching as "the teaching of Balaam" (comp. II Peter ii. 15; Jude 11; Sanh. 106b; Giṭ. 57a; see
Balaam). On the other hand, Jesus, through John, promises to the poor, the meek, and the patient toilers of the churches who
refuse to partake of the meals of the pagans that "they shall eat of the tree of life" in paradise (ii. 2, 7); to those who
are to suffer from the pagan powers that they shall, as true "athletes" of this world, be given the "crown of life" (ii. 10);
to him "that overcometh" in the contest (comp. the rabbinical term, "zokeh") will be given a lot or mark ("goral") bearing
the Ineffable Name, and he shall "eat of the hidden manna" (ii. 17; comp. Tan., Beshallaḥ, ed. Buber, p. 21; Ḥag.
12b; Apoc. Baruch, xxix. 8; Sibyllines, ii. 348); or, like the Messiah, he will "rule them [the heathen] with a rod of iron"
and be given the crown of glory (ii. 26-28; the "morning star," taken from xxii. 16, if it is not the error of a copyist);
those who "have not defiled their garments" "shall be clothed in white raiment," and their names shall be written in the book
of life and proclaimed before God and His angels (iii. 4-5); while those who stand the test of Satan's trials shall be spared
in the great Messianic time of trial and become pillars in the temple of the "new Jerusalem" (iii. 10-13, Greek), or shall
partake of the Messianic banquet, sitting by (scarcely "in") the seat of Jesus (iii. 21).
Jewish Point of View of Writer:
Obviously, the writer of these visionary letters to the seven churches of Asia was in his own estimation a Jew, while believing
in Jesus as the risen Messiah. He beheld him in his vision as "the faithful witness" (martyr) who is next to God, "who is,
was, and will be" ("come" is the emendation of the late compiler), his seven angelic spirits standing "before his throne"
(i. 4-5); "the Son of man" grasping seven stars in his right hand, while out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword (i.
13-16; ii. 1, 12 [taken from the apocalypse, xiv. 14]; iii. 1); who "holds the keys of hell and of death" (i. 18); who is
"the holy and true one" that "holds the key of David" (iii. 7, with reference to Isa. xxii. 22); who is called also "the beginning
of the creation of God" (iii. 14). However, the identification of "him who was dead and became alive again" with God, who
is the First and the Last, the ever-living Almighty (i. 17; comp. i. 8 and ii. 8), is the work of the late compiler. The close
of the visionary letters is found at xxii. 16, where Jesus is represented as saying, "I am the root and the offspring of David"
(comp. Isa. xi. 1, 10), "the bright and morning star" (after Num. xxiv. 17 and [probably] Ps. cx. 3; comp. LXX.). To find
in these chapters traces of a persecution of the early Christians by the Jews, as do most modern exegetes, is absurdly illogical.
On the contrary, the writer condemns the anti-Jewish attitude of the Pauline churches; the document is therefore of great
historical value. It is important in this connection to note the Hebraisms of the whole of this part of the book, which prove
that the writer or—if he himself originally wrote Hebrew or Aramaic—the translator could neither write nor speak
Greek correctly. As to the relation of this to the apocalypse which follows see below.
First Jewish Apocalypse
After the introductory verses, part of i. 1, 8 ("I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which
is, and which was and will be ["will come" is a Christian alteration], the Almighty") and part of i. 12-19, the apocalyptic
seer describes (iv. 1 et seq.) how he was carried up by the spirit (with the angel's word, "Come down hither," compare the
expression "Yorede Merkabah"), and how he saw "a throne set in heaven and One sitting on the throne," after the manner of
Ezek. i. 26-28. "Round about the throne were twenty-four seats, and upon these I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in
white raiment, and they had golden crowns on their heads": obviously heavenly representations of the twenty-four classes of
priests serving in the Temple (Ta'an. iv. 2; I Chron. xxiv. 7-18; Josephus, "Ant." vii. 14, § 7; comp., however, Gunkel, "Schöpfung
und Chaos," pp. 302-308, and Isa. xxiv. 23 [Bousset]). After a description of the four "ḥayyot," taken from Ezek. i.
5-10, 18 and combined with that of the seraphim in Isa. vi. 2-3, the text continues, "They rest not day and night, saying,
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts [παυτοκράτωρ, translated
"Almighty" in A. V.; comp. Amos iv. 13], who was, is, and shall be" (Greek text, "is to come"). And when the ḥayyot
give glory and honor and praise to Him who sits on the throne, Him who lives forever and ever ("ḥe ha-'olamin"), the
twenty-four elders prostrate themselves and, laying down their crowns, say, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and
honor and power, for Thou hast created all things, and by Thy will they have been created."
Ch. v.: The seer then describes how he saw at the right hand of God a scroll written within and without and sealed with seven
seals (it was customary for the last will to be sealed with seven seals and opened by seven witnesses; see Huschke, "Das Buch
mit den Sieben Siegeln," 1860; Zahn, "Einleitung in das Neue Testament," ii. 591), which none in heaven, on earth, or beneath
the earth was found worthy to open until one of the twenty-four elders pointed out that "the lion of the tribe of Judah, the
root of David, had merited to open the book and loose its seven seals." Then the lion (the Christian reviser rather awkwardly
substituted "the slain lamb") suddenly appeared, with seven horns and seven eyes, standing between the throne and the four
ḥayyot and the twenty-four elders; and he stepped forth and took the scroll while the ḥayyot and the elders prostrated
themselves before him, saying, "Thou art worthy to take the book and open the seals thereof; for . . ." The remainder has
been worked over by the Christian reviser.
Ch. vi. 1-12: At the opening of the first seal by the Messiah the seer hears the thunder-call of one of the four ḥayyot,
and sees a white horse appear, with a rider holding a bow (representing, probably, Pestilence);
at the opening of the second seal, a red horse, with a rider armed with a great sword (representing War);
at the opening of the third seal, a black horse, with a rider holding a pair of balances to weigh flour, bread having become
scarce (signifying Famine);
at the opening of the fourth seal, a "pale" horse, the rider thereof being Death.
These four are to destroy the fourth part of the earth by the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts.
What plague is ushered in at the opening of the fifth seal is no longer stated; apparently it is persecution of the saints,
as the text continues: "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony
they gave" (as martyrs; see Ḳiddush ha-Shem). "And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and
true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth." And white robes were given them, and they
were told to rest for a while until the number of the martyrs was full (comp. Apocalypse of Baruch, xxx. 2; IV Esd. iv. 36).
After this the seer beholds a great multitude of people of every land and language, both Jews and proselytes, also arrayed
in white robes, standing before the throne; and he is told that, "having undergone great tribulation, they have made their
robes white by the blood of the martyrs" (of course, not "of the lamb," as the Christian reviser has it); and that now they
serve God in the heavenly temple day and night, and the Shekinah dwells with them (vii. 9-17, which part is misplaced).
Ch. vi. 12-17: At the opening of the sixth seal "the birth-throes of the Messianic time" appear, as depicted in Joel iii.
3-4; Isa. ii. 10, xxiv., xxxiv. 4; and Hosea x. 8. Fear of the great day of God's wrath (Mal. iii. 2) and of the wrath of
His anointed (Ps. ii. 12) seizes the whole world.
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