Did the Parousia and Plagues of Revelation affect the Churches in Asia Minor?

PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY Forums Forum Did the Parousia and Plagues of Revelation affect the Churches in Asia Minor?

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    If the Parousia just occurred in Israel, why does Christ say that He will come to several churches in Asia Minor (Turkey) in the introductory chapters of the Book of Revelation? Jesus threatens to come in judgment on the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:5, Pergamum in Revelation 2:16 and Sardis in Revelation 3:3. Jesus also promises to come to the churches in Thyatira and Philadelphia in a non-threatening way in Revelation 2:25 and 3:11.

    As will be addressed below a few of these comings seem to be fulfilled in the judgment in the life to come following the resurrection at the time of the Parousia while others appear to mention a coming visitation outside of that expected to occur at the Parousia. John Noe lists thirty to forty separate comings or appearances of Christ throughout the Old and New Testaments (John Noe, Ph.D., The Greater Jesus: His glorious unveiling, (Indianapolis: East2West Press, 2012), 43.). The fact that Jesus would make more than one appearance in the first century and perhaps even spiritually visit some of these churches in Turkey should not be surprising in light of the many appearances He made throughout the Bible–especially considering the multiple appearances He made between His ascension into heaven in Acts 1 and the start of His Parousia in A.D. 66 (Acts 7:55-56; 9:1-18; Revelation 1:9-20). In other words, why should we assume that Jesus was only to come once at the end of the age if the pattern throughout the Bible is just the opposite—many comings (Ibid., 44)? Thus the coming of Christ in judgment on these churches could have occurred in Asia Minor as well.

    I believe that the coming of Christ in the first century was a coming with an extended stay, not a onetime event. “Parousia” is a Greek word meaning a coming often with an extended stay. I believe that Jesus’ parousia or second coming was not limited to just A.D. 70, but rather seems to have extended throughout the entire duration of the Jewish War from start to finish as I argue in Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. Recall that in the midst of the Jewish War, Rome suffered greatly during the civil wars of A.D. 68 and 69, the year of the four Caesars, which corresponds chronologically with the fifth plague when “the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness (Revelation 16:10).” Since the rest of the Roman Empire was also punished during the course of the Jewish War per Revelation 16:10, it stands to reason that Asia Minor, a province of first century Rome, was also at risk at the time of the Jewish War and the concurrent Parousia. That being the case, it is quite possible that Christ could have come in judgment on any one of these churches in Asia Minor during the Jewish War.

    That having been said Jesus’ threat to come in judgment on the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:5, Pergamum in Revelation 2:16 and Sardis in Revelation 3:3 could have impacted the people of these churches during the Jewish War even though these churches were located in Asia Minor. The Book of Revelation borrows heavily from Old Testament prophecy and imagery. This vision is so replete with Old Testament references that it is highly likely that a very large percentage of Christians in these churches in Asia Minor were ethnic Jews well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Exodus 34:18-23 the Jews were to make three annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem a year: once on Passover, then during Pentecost and later during the Feast of Tabernacles. If these ethnic Jews or Gentile Christians did not cease to practice the Law by the time of the Jewish War, these Christians from Asia Minor could have experienced the coming of Christ in judgment in the midst of the Jewish War during one these pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

    The non-threatening coming of Christ to the churches in Thyatira and Philadelphia mentioned in Revelation 2:25 and 3:11 in context seems to refer to the coming of Christ at the resurrection. The resurrection is, of course, a global phenomenon. See Jesus, the Son of Man, was seen in the Clouds in A.D. 66 and The Historical Appearance of Christ at the Death of the Beast Fulfills 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:19-20. During the resurrection, the faithful of these churches were expected to see and experience the coming of Christ as promised in Revelation 2:25 and 3:11. It might also be stated that the more threatening promises of Christ’s coming mentioned in Revelation 2:5, 2:16 and 3:3 could also have been retribution after the resurrection.

    The next question one might ask is if the plagues of Revelation were primarily confined to Israel during the Jewish War, why are there references to tribulation affecting the churches in Asia Minor? The tribulation affecting some of the seven churches is NOT tribulation from the seven trumpets and bowls referred to in the following vision. For example, the tribulation of Revelation 2:9 seems to be turmoil associated with being poor and/or persecution from the local Jewish community: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Then in Revelation 2:10 the church is warned that some parishioners are about to face tribulation associated with being put in prison for ten days: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.” In Revelation 2:22-23 Jesus says that the Prophetess Jezebel and her children–which seem to signify her followers within the church–are going to be punished with sickness. Therefore, the tribulation mentioned in Revelation 2:22 appears to be suffering associated with illness. The final mention of tribulation is found in Revelation 3:10. This tribulation is, in fact, the seven trumpets and bowls described in the following chapters in Revelation. However, in this verse Jesus promises to keep the church at Philadelphia safe from the coming plagues: “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come on the inhabited earth, to test those who dwell on the earth.”  Recall that the fifth trumpet and bowl were poured out on the throne of the beast and were fulfilled in the tumultuous Roman civil war following Nero’s death.

    All seven messages addressed to each of the seven churches include a promise of reward to those who “overcome.” The plea to overcome is not a request to keep the faith amidst exposure to the coming tribulation expected to affect Rome and Israel as predicted in the rest of Revelation. This is because a similar request to overcome is issued to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:12; however, Jesus says that this church will escape “the hour of testing which is about to come upon the whole inhabited earth[.]” As stated above, this “hour of testing” is, of course, the seven trumpets and bowls which were soon to afflict Israel and Rome during the Jewish War. Therefore, as explained above it is clear that the tribulation associated with the seven trumpets and bowls mentioned in the remaining chapters of Revelation did not and were not expected to affect the churches in Asian Minor.

    If the events predicted in Revelation primarily transpired in Israel, why is Revelation addressed to churches in Asia Minor?  Why is it that John did not address the church in Jerusalem or at least one in Judaea?  Before addressing this question, it is important to note that the purpose of Revelation was NOT to call people to repentance.  In Revelation John is told that the events about to transpire were about to occur so soon (Revelation 22:7) that there was no longer any time for national repentance: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy (Revelation 22:11).”  Though Asia Minor remained largely unscathed during Israel’s war with Rome and the civil war that affected the rest of the empire from A.D. 68 to 69, the fact that the people of Asia Minor were told of these events mirrors Ezekiel’s prophecies concerning Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was a Jewish exile in Babylon who predicted the fate of Jerusalem to Jewish exiles in Babylon in order to assure them that these events were from God.  God sent other prophets like Jeremiah to convey a similar warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem at that time though that was not Ezekiel’s role. The Book of Revelation is similar to the Book of Ezekiel in this regard. (Arthur M. Ogden, The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets: Commentary on Revelation, (Pinson, AL: Ogden Publications, 2006), 102.). The early church in Asia Minor was predominately Jewish. And these Jewish Christians would have naturally had great interest and concern for Judaea no matter where they lived in the Roman world. Recall that according to 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 churches in Greece raised money for the Christians in Jerusalem. Furthermore, John was the pastor of the church of Ephesus and spiritual leader of the churches of Asia Minor. Thus one would expect any revelation he had to be shared with his flock. (Ralph E. Bass, Jr., Back to the Future: A Study in the Book of Revelation, (Greenville, SC: Living Hope Press, 2004), 44.) The church and people of Judah, Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine had already received abundant warning by Jesus and the disciples long before the composition of Revelation.  Thus like Ezekiel before him, John addresses people outside of Jerusalem in order to assure them that the coming or present war in Israel was the work of God.

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