In chapters 2 and 3, John’s vision is a communique to ‘seven assemblies.’ These messages are sent through seven angelic messengers. This can be interpreted to mean that the messages have a more universal significance, as the number “seven” is often used in Hebrew literature to be an incomplete structure that represents a greater number or deeper meaning.
For example, the following verse from the Midrash Rabbah (concerning the Mount Sinai experience in the book of Exodus), shows that G-d’s voice was actually ‘seven voices,’ which in turn went to seven heavenly messengers, similar to what we have in this chapter of Revelation. The message then goes to the “the seventy nations” of the world. This is similar to what is seen in Acts, chapter 2.
“These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly… with a great voice, and it went on no more (Deuteronomy 5:19). R. Johanan said: It was one voice that divided itself into seven voices, and these into seventy languages. R. Simeon b. Lakish said: [It was the voice] from which all the subsequent prophets received their prophecy. The Sages said: It had no echo. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: How is it possible to say, The voice of the Lord is with power (Psalm 29:4)? Do we not know that no creature can withstand the voice of an angel, as it says, His body also was like the beryl… and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude (Daniel 10: 6). Was it then necessary for the Holy One, blessed be He, of whom it says, Do not I fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24) to speak with power? The meaning, however, of ‘The voice of the Lord is with power’ is that it was with the power of all voices.”
Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 28:6
The Zohar denotes a similar concept, referring to “seven zones of earth,” each having ten divisions within it, (thus creating the “seventy nations”), presided over by seventy angels:
“Observe that whatever is engendered on earth grows through the stimulus of a celestial Chieftain wh has charge over it, and that all on earth is shaped after a celestial pattern. There are on high seven firmaments, and seven zones of earth. Correspondingly, in the lower world there are seven graded firmaments and seven zones of earth. These, as the Companions have expounded, are arranged like the rungs of a ladder, rising one above the other, and each zone has ten divisions, so that there are seventy in all. Each one of these is presided over by a Chieftain, and these seventy Chieftains have under their charge the seventy nations of the earth. These seventy earth-divisions, again, border on and surround the Holy Land, as Scripture says: “Behold, it is the couch of Solomon; threescore mighty men are about, of the mighty men of Israel” (Song of Songs 3:7), there being, in addition to the threescore mentioned, ten concealed among their number. All these surround the Holy Land. This alludes to the upper world, and the same is reproduced in the lower world”
Zohar, Shemoth 30b
(See notes to verse 2:5 below, on the “couch of Solomon.”)
A hierarchy of ten angels serving under one, also applies to the disobedient angels, as is seen in the book of Enoch:
“And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Sêmîazâz, their leader, Arâkîba, Râmêêl, Kôkabîêl, Tâmîêl, Râmîêl, Dânêl, Êzêqêêl, Barâqîjâl, Asâêl, Armârôs, Batârêl, Anânêl, Zaqîêl, Samsâpêêl, Satarêl, Tûrêl, Jômjâêl, Sariêl. These are their chiefs of tens.”
The number seven is also associated with the number of people called to read from the Torah on Shabbat, they being representative of the total body. The people who read represent the “seven voices of God”:
“The celestial holiness is thus diffused through the whole, especially on the day of Sabbath. On that day seven persons are called up to take part in the public reading of the Law, corresponding to the seven voices.”
Zohar, Shemoth 206a
(See also chapter 1 on the ‘seven types of Pharisees from Talmud, Sotah 22b)
The commonality between the above passage and chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation goes beyond the idea of seven representing a greater number. In both texts we see five groups presented in a negative light, one considered ‘good but needing improvement’ (the ‘Pharisee from fear’ and the group at Smyrna) and one the role model (the ‘Pharisee from love’ and assembly at Philadelphia (from philos, “love” and adelphos, “brother”).
Critical in understanding all “rebuke” from the mouth of G-d, mashiach or any tzaddik, is that it is for the benefit and tikkun of the recipient. This applies to all verses in Torah from Moshe to Israel, and in the gospels where Yeshua took issues with the religious leaders of his day. The words from both, though harsh at times, had but one intention – to lead their fellow Jews back onto the correct path.
This is well explained in the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:
“Maschiach’s job is to bring everyone back to God, even the worst sinner. … “Proper rebuke thus strengthens the soul by The rectification for one who has sinned and weakened his soul is the ‘Voice of Rebuke’.” … “There is a garden where fragrant smells and fear of God bloom. For (Genesis 2:10), ‘The river flows from Eden and waters the Garden…’ ‘River’ represents the Voice of Rebuke as in (Psalms 93:3), ‘The rivers have lifted their voice.’ This ‘voice’ which waters the garden (the sweet smells) stems from Eden, the source of the ‘Song of the Future’.” … We see then that the Voice of Rebuke is rooted in Eden, which corresponds to Keter, the source of Maschiach’s vitality. … Maschiach will posess this “Voice of Rebuke” because MaShIaCh is like MaSIaCh, “one who speaks.” Since Mashiach is bound together with all souls through his sense of smell (i.e., “the nose”), he will be able to rebuke everyone properly, to arose awe within them and draw them closer to God. His voice will be the flowing “River” from Eden, from which emanate aromatic fragrances, so that everyone will be drawn to the “savory smell” of Mashiach.”
“Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?” Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem, excerpts from pp. 60-67.
Each of the seven assemblies receives some combination of either; salutation, rebuke, praise or promise. We will explore the distinctions made between each individual assembly.
Finally, there is an important concept to introduce here (that will be elaborated upon as we move forward), which is, midah k’neged midah. (“measure for measure”) where G-d’s corrective action or punishment is properly suited to the “transgression.” As these congregations are guilty of varying offenses, we can expect to see different types of warnings and punishments – as well as rewards.
As stated in Talmud:
“According to one’s behavior, they (Heaven) behave with him.”
Mishna, Sotah 1:7
To the angel of the assembly in Ephesus write: He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, he who walks among the seven golden menorahs says these things:
This is the only one of the seven assemblies that we have additional reference to in Scripture, namely the book of Ephesians. Naturally, this is a good place to look for help in interpreting some of what Yeshua is saying here in Revelation, especially with regard to the rebuke of verses 4 and 5.
Yeshua is referred to in the same terms seen earlier in Revelation 1:12-19. His being the one with the seven stars in the midst of the seven menorahs reinforces the theme of groom and bride, as the Menorah is symbolic of the Shekinah, which is always with the faithful remnant of Israel through their exile.
Further, the concept of the one with seven (stars) walking among the seven (assemblies) is reminiscent of the Omer Count, where seven aspects of the seven lower Sefirot (middot) are examined within each other (and within our lives), leading us to the fiftieth day – Shavuot and giving of the Torah. Further, the ‘fiftieth’ is associated with the Sefirah of Binah, which relates to the idea of “Jerusalem above” or “New Jerusalem,” which is found in the epic conclusion of Revelation.
The entirety of chapters 2 and 3, with the one ‘with seven among the seven,’ points to the idea of reflection with the purpose of improvement.
I know your works, and your toil and perseverance, and that you cant tolerate evil men, and have tested those who call themselves emissaries, and they are not, and found them false.
The idea of proper judgment corresponds to the Sefirah of Gevurah (Din), on the ‘left” (restrictive) side of the kabbalistic Tree of Life.
You have perseverance and have endured for my names sake, and have not grown weary.
The idea of endurance corresponds to the Sefirah of Hod, also on the left side.
But I have this against you, that you left your first love.
Interestingly, their two strengths (verses 2 & 3) reflect the left side of the Tree of Life, but this weakness corresponds to Chesed, the first of the middot (i.e., ‘first works,’ verse 5 below) which is associated with “loving-kindness,” from the ‘right side’ of the Tree.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I am coming to you swiftly, and will move your menorah out of its place, unless you repent.
The Menorah and the Shekinah
The warning against the assembly at Ephesus is a very stern one — removal of their menorah from its place. Applying the principle of “midah k’neged midah,” this would be equivalent to the punishment of being “cut off” from the assembly of Israel, known as kareth, with the implication of premature death. As the Shekinah (Divine presence) is always with Israel, even in exile, there is a relationship between the menorah and shekinah. Removal of the menorah is equivalent to separation from the Shekinah.
The following text from the Zohar explain that the couch of Solomon is a reference to the Shekinah. It is taught that the book of Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) is an allusion to the “Holy of Holies” and reflects the history of this world, the Millennium and the wedding of the Shekinah to G-d.
R. Judah illustrated from the verse: “Behold, it is the couch of Solomon, threescore mighty men are about it, of the mighty men of Israel” (S.S. III, 7), which he expounded thus: ‘Six luminosities form a circle surrounding a seventh luminosity in the center. The six on the circumference sustain the sixty valiant angels surrounding the “couch of Solomon”. The “couch” is an allusion to the Shekinah, and “Solomon” refers to the “King to whom peace (shalom) belongs”: “threescore mighty men are about it”-these are the sixty myriads of exalted angels, part of the army of the Shekinah which accompanied Jacob into Egypt.’
Zohar, Shemoth 5a
There is also found a relationship between the Shekinah (called the “Matrona”), the angels of Ezekiel’s vision and the “way of the tree of life” (that we will address in 2:7), as found in the book of Genesis:
‘How many thousands, how many myriads, of celestial cohorts surround the Holy One and follow in His train! Princes of supernal countenances are there, and beings full of eyes; lords of the sharp weapons, lords of the piercing cry, lords of the heralding trumpet, lords of mercy, lords of judgment; and above them the Lord has appointed the Matrona to minister before Him in the Palace. She for her own bodyguard has armed hosts of sixty different degrees. Holding their swords, they stand around Her. They come and go, entering and departing again on the errands of their Master. Each with his six wings outspread they circle the world in swift and silent flight. Before each of them coals of fire burn. Their garments are woven of flames from a bright and burning fire. A sharp flaming sword also is at the shoulder of each to guard Her. Concerning these swords it is written: “The flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3:23). Now, what is “the way of the Tree of Life”? This is the great Matrona who is the way to the great and mighty Tree of Life. Concerning this it is written: “Behold the bed which is Solomon’s; the three score valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel” (Song of Solomon 3:7), namely, the Supernal Israel. “They all hold swords” (Ibid. 8), and when the Matrona moves they all move with her, as it is written: “and the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them” (Exodus 14:19). Is, then, the Shekinah called “the angel of the Lord”? Assuredly!
Zohar, Shemoth 50b,52a
We can now begin to understand the mystical significance of the Menorah as it relates to the Shekinah. The Menorah is a seven-branched candlestick, having three candles to each side of the main one in the center. Each Menorah has six candles surrounding one in the center, representing the angelic guardians of the Shekinah.
The Zohar gives the following explanation of the relationship between the sixty guardians of the Shekinah and the Menorah’s branches:
R. Simeon here discoursed as follows: ‘In his going down into Egypt Jacob was accompanied by six angelic grades, each consisting of ten thousand myriads. Correspondingly Israel was made up of six grades, in correspondence to which again there are six steps to the supernal celestial Throne, and corresponding to them six steps to the lower celestial Throne. … Observe that each grade was an epitome of ten grades, so that altogether there were sixty, identical with the “threescore mighty men” that are round about the Shekinah. And these sixty, again, are the sixty myriads that accompanied Israel in their departure from exile and accompanied Jacob into exile.’ R. Hiya asked him: ‘But are there not seven grades, each an epitome of the ten grades, thus amounting to seventy?’ R. Simeon said in reply: ‘That number has no bearing on this matter, as we learn from the description of the candlestick, of which it says: “And there shall be six branches going out of the sides thereof: three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side thereof… And thou shalt make the lamps thereof seven” (Exodus 25:32). The central branch is not counted with the rest, as it says, “and they shall light the lamps thereof over against it.”
Zohar, Shemoth 14b
Clues From the Book of Ephesians
Three questions we will attempt to answer, regarding the Ephesian congregation, are:
- What is their “first love?”
- Were did they “fall from?”
- What are their “first works?”
In chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul speaks of both; a) a mystery, and b) Yeshua gathering all things in heaven and earth together:
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Messiah, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
Recall that in the salutation to the Ephesians assembly (Revelation 2:1), Yeshua speaks of Himself as the one with the stars and lamp-stands. The stars are a representation of the heavens and that which is in heaven (angelic beings). The lampstand (menorah) represents the Shekinah and those faithful to God (“the Bride”), as Paul alludes to in Ephesians 1:10 above.
Paul continues to explain that this salvation is “unto the praise (honor) of His glory.” Both terms, honor (i.e., the “honorable name” of God) and “His glory,” are associated with the Shekinah (the “honorable name of God” and “glory of God”):
Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise [honor] of his glory.
The next clues that we find regarding our “three questions,” are in chapter 2 of Ephesians:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Messiah Yeshua you who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Messiah.
Paul would seem to be addressing a gentile faction within the congregation at Ephesus. He tells them that they were among those who walked according to the world, and were not in the faith of Israel and its Torah (covenants of promise). He reminds them that they were once strangers to this. Conversely, those gentiles who now came to God through Yeshua are not part of some new faith, but are entering (as gentiles), into the existing faith of Israel and its Torah.
Paul continues to remind the gentiles at Ephesus that their relationship to God is founded upon the faith of Israel — its Torah, as well as its Hebrew prophets, Hebrew Messiah and Hebrew people. As we will discuss shortly, it is important to recall that the Shekinah resides with the children of Israel in exile from the Land. Paul identifies the faith community they were once alien to (2:12 above), as being the household of God:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Yeshua Messiah himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Part of the “mystery” that Paul was revealing in Ephesians was that the gentiles could become part of the same existing body (“fellow heirs” with the Jews within the faith of Israel that God had already established). Note Paul does not preach a “new body” for gentiles, but they are now of the same body, that being the faith community of Israel with its Torah, etc:
That the gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Messiah by the gospel:
A key verse and important clue is Ephesians 3:17. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian gentile’s faith, speaks to their “being rooted and grounded in love.” This “love” is not baseless emotionalism, but is established in a view of their faith which is “rooted and grounded” in the Torah, prophets, Messiah and Hebrew people.
That Messiah may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.
Paul called upon these gentiles at Ephesus to walk as they were called:
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.
This “walk” (halakha), of the Ephesians is within the “one faith” that they were now part of (i.e., Ephesians 2:11-13), which is the faith of Israel as given in the Torah:
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Note the elements that Paul brings forth from the above verses:
- One body – (Israel, i.e., that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:6)
- One Spirit – i.e., the Shekinah, abiding with Israel, and bride to the Messiah
- One Lord – the Messiah, Lord of Israel, and groom to the Shekinah
- One faith – based in the Torah of Israel given by God
- One baptism – immersion into the faith of Israel with its Messiah (The Greek term here means “to take the likeness of”)
Yeshua Himself made clear that there is one faith, based in the Torah of Israel, and that this did not change to any degree:
Ye (Samaritans) worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
This faith of Israel, which the Ephesian gentiles were now part of, is what they were to hold to – the ‘first love’ they were ‘grounded in.’ This was to be based solidly in Torah so that they would not be “tossed to and from” in any non-Torah doctrine. This is what Paul wanted them to be aware of:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Messiah.
By examining the letter of Ephesians, it can be shown that although those in the assembly at Ephesus were heeding many of God’s commandments (verses 2 and 3), their first love, made up of the understanding that they as gentiles were welcomed into a relationship with G-d that was rooted in the Hebrew faith of Israel, had escaped them.
In other words, what we may have at Ephesus is the early stage of a counterfeit belief system, which presents itself as the superior replacement to the faith of Israel.
Note Yeshua’s warning in Revelation 2:5 of “being cut off” (kareth). This is similar to what Paul warned another gentile group in Rome concerning their relationship to Israel:
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
Returning to our three questions:
What is their “first love?” The love of their being included in the faith of Israel, with its Torah, prophets, Messiah, people and Shekinah.
Were did they fall from? They had been raised up out of a pagan gentile existence into the Hebrew faith of Israel (Eph. 2:11-13), and thus into a relationship with the God of Israel, via the Ruach haKodesh (i.e., Shekinah – see notes below on midah k’neged midah).
What are their “first works?” Recognition and appreciation for the root of their faith, based on the covenant of Torah (Ephesians 2:11-13).
A HISTORICAL NOTE
What is of particular historical significance is the punishment these predominantly gentile communities of believers received when they abandoned their “first love” and developed the various branches of early gentile Christianity. Quite a number of non-Jewish sects evolved in the early centuries. As early as the year 187, the Christian Bishop Iraneus counted twenty different varieties of Christianity. By the year 384, Epiphanius counted eighty.
(Caesar and Christ, Will Durant, 1944, Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 616.)
Because they no longer considered themselves part of Judaism, these Christian groups opened themselves up to “legal persecution” from the Roman empire. This occured because new religions were not tolerated by the Romans. Rome, going back to the original Caesar, had given Judaism the right to exist as a collegia, within the Empire, due to it being an ancient religion, predating the Romans.
(The Mystery of Romans, Mark Nanos, 1996, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, pp. 64-68.)
As early as the beginning of the second century, we see legal cases against “Christians,” such as one documented around the year 112, by Pliny the Younger, Roman governer of Bithynia (in modern-day Turkey). Pliny noted that those identifying themeselves as “Christians” were distinguishing themselves from Judaism, thus giving him the legal right to execute them for nothing more than being part of an illegal group.
(PBS video transcript, From Jesus to Christ – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/)
Had these gentiles remained faithful to the covenants of Israel, they would have at least avoided legal prosecution on the part of the Romans. Historically, they were therefore not persecuted by the Roman government, for the “sake of the Messiah,” but for walking away from Him, as he warns here in His comments to the assembly at Ephesus, and as Paul warned those in Roman chapter 11.
But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Neither Scripture or historical documents to date, give us a certain answer as to what the sect of Nicolaitans was involved with, that Yeshua would hate so much. One possibility is found in later verses of this chapter:
Speaking to the assembly at Pergamos, Yeshua says:
But I have against thee a few things: That thou hast there those holding the teaching of Balaam, who did teach Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the sons of Israel, to eat idol-sacrifices, and to commit whoredom; so hast thou, even thou, those holding the teaching of the Nicolaitans — which thing I hate.
It may be that the sin of the Nicolaitans is that which is mentioned just before the next reference to them, as seen in verse 14. If this is the case, the sin is related to that of Balak and Balaam with the sons of Israel, as found in the book of Numbers, chapters 22-24. This involved the women of Moab seducing the men of Israel, which included acts of idolatry as part of their “offer.”
Another possible explanation to the sin of the Nicolaitans has to do with the establishment of a separate class of individuals that had “special status” with God, over and above the common people (laity). This is found in the two Greek words that are combine to make the word Nicolaitin, those being; nikos, meaning “to conquer” (Strong’s #3534) and laos, meaning “people” (Strong’s #2992).
This is reflected in the following comment on the Erev Rave, the cause of much of Israel’s problems:
“The Divrei Hayim says: ‘Before the arrival of Messiah, most of the Rabbis will be from the Erev Rav, because Israel in themselves are holy, but the Erev Rav only works for their own benefit … wanting to rule over public … one should only join with those who truly serve G-d’.”
Divrei Hayim, Vayakheil, ‘Omissions’
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of my God.
Note that the promise is made to the “assemblies,” which is plural (as with each of the seven messages). This would indicate the more “universal tone” of these particular praises and chastisements. Although a particular assembly may be addressed (as a specific composite entity), the words can apply to all the “types” of assemblies, and to any individual within any type of assembly. (This could be compared to the various “assemblies” [schools] of the Pharisees, such as those of Hillel and Shammai, and the individual talmidim within each of these schools — i.e, the “seven types of Pharisees.”)
To the angel of the assembly in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life says these things:
There are multiple references to the theme of ‘death’ regarding the specific group being addressed.
- The name “Smyrna” has a Hebraic root from the word myrrh, a balm used to anoint the dead.
- The salutation is said to be from the one who was dead
- This group is encouraged to be “faithful unto death” in verse 10. The Hebrew name Myrna means “anointed unto death.”
Yeshua’s salutation is from the Aleph-Tav (the “First and the Last” – see notes to chapter 1), who was dead and resurrected. The mention of resurrection is found prior to verse 10, where He asks those following Him to be ready to die for Him.
This correlates to his statement in John’s gospel:
“Yeshua said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
As mentioned previously, this reference to the power of resurrection is found in the Zohar and associated with Jacob, a major messianic figure:
The Holy One reveals His dominion and power in all things, a power which shall never be shaken. He manifested His power in the Patriarchs, and particularly in Jacob. Now Jacob is united with the Tree of Life, over which death has no dominion, since in it all life is contained, emanating from it unto all those who are in perfect union with it. For this reason Jacob did not really die. He died in a physical sense when he gathered up his feet into the bed (Genesis 49:33), which bed is mysteriously called the bed of Solomon (Song of Songs 3:7).
Zohar, Shemoth 48b
I know your works, oppression, and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
This assembly is considered to be “rich” as opposed to the Laodicean assembly in the next chapter, which has great material wealth, but can’t see its own spiritual poverty. The relationship between spiritual and material concerns is important in the book of Revelation. In the later chapters we see G-d’s judgment coming against those concerned with material wealth of the world. (i.e., Mathhew 6:24, 1st Timothy 6:10)
Midrash Rabbah goes as far as saying that material wealth goes into Edom, which is comparable to Rome (or Babylon), each representing the evil kingdoms on earth (in the last days):
“Another interpretation of ALL THE RIVERS RUN INTO THE SEA: All wealth only goes to the kingdom of Edom, and the kingdom of Edom is never filled; for R. Levi said: It is written, So the eyes of man (adam) are never satiated (Proverbs 27:20), i.e. the eyes of Edom are never satiated. Do you mean to say that when wealth enters Edom it never returns to its owners? Therefore the text states, UNTO THE PLACE WHITHER THE RIVERS GO, THITHER THEY GO AGAIN. From the place where wealth accumulates, viz. the kingdom of Edom, in this world, thence it will be dispersed in the days of the Messiah; as it is written, And her gain and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord (Isaiah 23:18).”
Midrash Rabbah – Ecclesiastes 1:21
The book of Enoch, ties material wealth to denial of the Name of God:
“They shall condemn the stars of heaven, shall life up their hands against the Most High, shall tread upon and inhabit the earth, exhibiting all their works of iniquity, even their works of iniquity. Their strength shall be in their riches, and their faith in the gods whom they have formed with their own hands. They shall deny the Name of the Lord of Spirits, and shall expel him from the temples, in which they assemble.”
A modern day Torah commentary teaches the following:
“We are not so aware of how our physical actions impact our spiritual reality, though, as we see here, there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two. People think that they can be exposed to negative influences, especially only for a short duration, and walk away spiritually unscathed. They think that they can purchase something that is spiritually defective, and somehow maintain enough spiritual distance from it to hold their moral ground. They are wrong — dead wrong. The Torah is warning here (Deuteronomy 7:25-26): Know that your entire perspective on life will be colored by your choices. If you choose good, then you will see good, and you will pursue G-d. If you choose spiritual depravity, then, you will see a G-dless world, and, be a victim of your own blindness. What you will “buy” from that world is more than just “idols” and “ornaments” — it is an entire philosophy that you will absorb through spiritual osmosis.”
Commentary on Parsha VaEtchanan, Rabbi Pinchas Winston (torah.org)
An important concept mentioned here is that of “blasphemy.” In Torah this has to do with creating a division within the unity of “the Name of G-d” (i.e., Zechariah 14:9) The term in Hebrew is “gadaph” which carries the meaning, “to cut.” In kabbalistic literature, this concept is also known as “cutting between the shoots/plants” (creating a ‘disunity’ between the Sefirot – how we understand/connect to G-d).
This is also expressed as “separating the bride from the groom,” which is considered the worse category of sin. This is the concept behind the following teaching of Yeshua, as the idea of “ruach hakodesh” was synonymous with the “shekinah” (the ‘bride’) in the second temple-era:
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the ruach hakodesh shall not be forgiven unto men.”
The idea of an “evil remnant” among the Jewish people is called the “Erev Rav,” the “mixed multitude.” This is usually associated with those who came with the Hebrews out of Egypt, however it is a spiritual concept that goes back to before Gan Edan.
Associated with this is the lesser-known idea of “Erev Ze’ir.” There are several differences between the two, one of the chief ones being that whereas the Erev Rav tend to be ‘secular,’ the Erev Ze’ir can appear religious – including leaders and rabbis.
Putting the above concepts of the “blasphemy” and “synagogue of Satan” together, we seem to have the idea here of the Erev Ze’ir who are causing division within those following Hashem. In chapter 3, we find another reference to the “Synagogue of Satan,” only this time in terms of denying the “name” (authority) of G-d, which is indicative of the more secular Erev Rav.
Do not be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have oppression for ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There is a connection between the idea of the Tribulation period, as it occurs here on earth, being of a seven-year duration, and this ‘ten day’ period. The answer to this lies in a mystical relationship between the numbers 7 and 10.
The period of time from Rosh haShana through Yom Kippur is called yomim ha nora’im – “days of awe.” This period can be seen as both the seven days between Rosh haShana (from the end of day two) and beginning of Yom Kippur, as well as including the time of Rosh haShana through the Day of Atonement, making a total of 10 days:
“But the Lord of Hosts is exalted through justice, and the holy God is sanctified through righteousness: When is the Lord of Hosts exalted through justice? In these ten days from New Year to the Day of Atonement; and none-the-less it says, ‘the holy God’.”
Talmud, Berachoth 12b
The yomim ha nora’im are considered a “last chance” to perform teshuvah (return to your true self, made in the Image of G-d). At the end of this time period, a person’s fate is said to be sealed:
“On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die … who shall rest, and who shall wander … who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.”
From the Musaf prayer for Rosh Hashana
Another example of the connection of 7 and 10 is the concept of the “ten sayings of creation” (found in Genesis 1), which are often expressed in terms of seven (i.e. seven days of creation).
Aryeh Kaplan’s commentary on the Bahir states:
“The answer given is that the ten “were expressed with a single word.” The ten represent an internal concept, which is expressed as a single idea. This is because the ten represent a complete structure. The seven, on the other hand, are an incomplete structure, and therefore seen as separate entities.”
The Bahir: Translation, Introduction and Commentary, Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach Maine, 1979, p.118
The 7/10 day relationship is also described in another way in Hassidic literature:
“During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there is a complete seven-day week, one Sunday, one Monday, etc. The Arizal ascribes special significance to this period, explaining that proper service on the Sunday of this week accomplishes repentance and correction of sin for every Sunday of the past year, and so for Monday etc. In addition to correcting past defects, this week also creates spiritual resources for the coming year (for repentance includes regret for the past and resolve for the future) on Sunday we gather strength for spiritually productive Sundays, etc. Where do we find that these seven days provide resources for the coming year? Yom Kippur is actually also called Rosh Hashanah, as indicated by the scriptural phrasing, “On Rosh Hashanah on the tenth of the month.” Chassidut explains that Rosh Hashanah is in an internal mode, and Yom Kippur in an external one. It is evident, then, that the spiritual service of Rosh Hashanah (“the building of the sefirah of malchut”) continues on the following days, reaching completion on Yom Kippur (when the “building of malchut” is accomplished for all the ten sefirot contained in it, i.e. chachmah of malchut, binah of malchut, etc.). All of the Ten Days of Repentance, thus, express the concept of “Rosh Hashanah”; and just as Rosh Hashanah includes all the days of the coming year (analogous to the head’s relationship to the limbs of the body), so do these days.”
A Momentous Week, Thoughts and Insights on the month of Elul, Chabad-Lubavitch, http://jewishnewyear.com/jewishnewyear.com/holidays/tishrei/4316.
- The ten “Days of Awe” represent an “internal concept of ten” (in the heavenly realm) of perfect judgment.
- They “play out” in the physical realm in the form of the seven year end time tribulation period.
- This time period is associated with that of judgment and repentance, for the individual as well as the world.
- This idea of an “internal concept of ten,” having a representation of seven in the physical world is similar to that of the Sefirot, where there are ten total, but the lower seven, called the middot (emotive attributes) are those we deal with in our current level of existence, while the upper three, the mochin (intellect) are hidden.
The Shekinah’s Judgment
The Zohar also associates the ten days between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur with the end times, when haSatan (associated with the angelic entity Samael), will interfere with the union of the bride and groom (the Sefirot of Malkut and Tiferet). When judgment comes to the earth in the seven year tribulation, it comes via the Shekinah, who is kept from her groom by the world’s rebellion culminating in the acceptance of a false Tzaddik, the “anti-Messiah.” (Which places the sin of ‘accepting the mark’ in serious category mentioned above.)
Israel is punished by the Shekinah for the sake of bringing them back to the correct path:
“When R. Eleazar was once studying with his father he said: ‘If an Advocate comes down to the world, he is to be found in the Matrona, and if there is an Accuser who assails the world, it is the Matrona that he assails. Why is this?’ He replied with a parable. ‘A king once had a son from a queen. As long as the son was obedient to the king the latter consorted with the queen. But when the son was not obedient to the king he separated from the queen. So it is’, he said, ‘with the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Community of Israel. As long as Israel perform the will of G-d the Holy One makes His abode with the Community of Israel. But when Israel do not perform the will of G-d He does not make His abode with the Community of Israel, because Israel is the firstborn of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Community of Israel is their mother. All the time that Israel is kept away from the temple of the king, the Matrona, if one may say so, is kept away with them. Why is this? Because the Matrona did not in time apply the lash to this son to keep him in the right path. For the King never punishes his son, but leaves it in the hand of the Matrona to punish him and to lead him in the straight way before the King.”
Zohar, Vayikra 74a
Chayim Henoch, in his book about Nachmanides, makes this interesting point that will be very applicable when we discuss the judgments that befall the earth in later chapters of this study. The separation of Groom from Bride is seen as causing the natural flow of judgment (stemming from the Sefirah of Gevurah) to not pass through the mitigating power of Tiferet (the Groom) but to go directly into Malkut (the bride) wreaking havoc on the earth:
“Such a husband-wife relationship exists between the two sefiroth of the Divine Atziluth. The Great Name – Beauty – Tiferet, is the husband, also called “the Holy One, blessed be He,” Who is the dominant partner vis-à-vis the Honorable Name – Lower Crown – Atarah (Malkut), the wife, also called the Shekinah, who will defer to Him. When husband and wife diverge from their natural tendencies in the relationship, with the wife, the Lower Crown, taking the upper hand and rebelling against Beauty, her husband, an imbalance is created. Such an imbalance interrupts the energy flow from the “Great Fire” ([harsh] Strength – Gevurah, the fifth sefirah). At that moment the wife, Lower Crown, becomes destructive and brings destruction to the lower worlds, particularly to our world.”
Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist, Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson, Inc., London 1998, p.221
The Zohar depicts the demonic realm as still “clinging” to the Shekinah in this present age. This is supported by Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew chapter 13, that at the present time, the Kingdom of G-d (Malkut, associated with the Shekinah among His people), still has both wheat and tares (good and evil) within it. The reference to the silent proclamation of unity (regarding the Kingdom), refers to the second line of the standard method of reciting the prayer of the Shema, which states: “Blessed be His glorious Name, (Tiferet/Groom) Whose Kingdom (Malkut/Bride) is forever and ever.”
“At present, as the “other side” still cleaves to the Shekinah, She is not entirely One, and therefore, although even in this present time we proclaim the unity, we do so silently, symbolizing it by the letters of the word wa’ed (ever), which are equivalent by certain permutations to those of the word echad (one). But in the time that is to be, when that other side shall be removed from the Shekinah and pass away from the world, then shall that unity be proclaimed openly.”
Zohar, Shemoth 133b
Because of this “relationship” between the Shekinah and the “demonic forces,” when the Shekinah acts as an agent of destruction, the demonic forces are allowed to inflict punishment upon men as well. Both the Shekinah’s vengeance as well as the demonic powers of evil, stem from Gevurah, the Sefirah of judgment:
“The distinction between ‘right’ and ‘left’ in the Zohar corresponds, not only to the distinction between reward and punishment in the next world, but also between good and evil, and specifically moral good and evil in this world. Samael, the power of evil, the tempter, the accuser, the evil Serpent, is placed on the left and is identified with the grade Geburah. Now Samael is represented as the opponent not of Hesed but of Tifereth. He is the Great Dragon, who on New Year [Rosh haShana] swallows the Moon, that is, prevents the union of the Matrona with the Holy King, until Israel by their sacrifice on the Day of Atonement induce him to desist.”
Soncino Zohar Appendix III, The Designations and The Categories, 3c
The kabbalistic book of Maarekheth Elokuth, elaborates on this idea:
“The existence of the world depends solely upon (the universal law of): “He shall rule over her,” (so to speak). And whoever causes the woman to rule causes the flow of mercy to depart, and she becomes punished and detached (and her rule as nursemaid for the lower worlds is interfered with). Then permission is given for the destroyer (Satan) to destroy in the name of the serpent; and sometimes he will not distinguish between the righteous and the evildoer, as in the case of the Egyptian firstborn, where it advises: “You shall not go out” (from your houses).”
“Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist, “Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson, Inc., London 1998, p. 221
As these forces have no regard for anyone, it then becomes imperative for those who are “on G-d’s side” to distinguish themselves from those opposed to G-d when this type of judgment is unleashed. This can be done by way of physical separation and also by application of some type of “mark” of G-d upon them.
An example the first type (physical withdrawal) is found in the Torah, where G-d tells his people to “stand away” from the rebellious Korah in order to not be struck by the judgment coming upon him and his followers (Numbers 16:26). Many commentaries have wondered why G-d told them to do this. (As if the Almighty couldn’t “aim” straight.)
An example of the “mark of G-d” is found in Exodus 12, where He commands the children of Israel to mark their doors with blood, in order that they be preserved when His vengeance strikes.
The most clear example, and one bearing resemblance to what happens later in Revelation, is chapter 9 of Ezekiel:
“Then He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.” And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his battle-ax in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer’s inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; and the Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.” To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city. So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, Lord God! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?” Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’ And as for Me also, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity, but I will recompense their deeds on their own head.” Just then, the man clothed with linen, who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, “I have done as You commanded me.”
Later, in Revelation 7:3 and 9:4, G-d’s people are marked by Him with what is evidently an invisible mark on their foreheads (as opposed to the visible “mark of the beast” that others will take — i.e., Revelation 13:16).
The following passage from the Zohar speaks of the same period of judgment and also of the “heavenly manna,” as a symbol of what was to come (i.e., Colossians 2:17 – also see notes to verse 17 below). Those who have rejected Torah, even if they lay claim to following the historical person of Messiah (i.e., Matthew 7:21-23), face judgment:
‘New Year’s Day [Rosh haShana] is a day of judgment for those who have not accepted the healing food, and have neglected the “medicine” of the Torah for the sake of another food, which is leaven. For on this day that “leaven” ascends and accuses mankind and speaks evil against all whom it can malign in any wise. And at that time the Holy One, blessed be He, sits in judgment over all and pronounces His decrees in regard to all the spheres. Therefore, when He gave the Torah to Israel He gave them to taste of that supernal bread of the celestial realm, namely, the manna, by means of which they were enabled to perceive and penetrate into the mysteries of the Torah and to walk in the straight path.
Zohar, Shemoth 183b
G-d’s judgment and mercy are not mutually exclusive (i.e., the Lord chastises the ones He loves). Thus, the ten Days of Awe are a time of judgment, but with an opportunity for repentance. (As the book of Revelation shows occurs in subsequent chapters):
And so the Holy One dispenses His judgment to Israel in a spirit of mercy, and accords them as a time of grace those ten days between New Year Day and the Day of Atonement, for the acceptance of all those who repent of their sins and for forgiveness of their iniquities, by giving them a respite till the Day of Atonement. The Holy One had thus given Israel all these commandments to save them from falling into the wrong hands and from being judged with rigor, so that they should all come out innocent on earth, through His mercy which is like the mercy of a father towards his children. All depends on actions and words, as we have explained.’
Zohar, Bereshith 113b
Some will repent during the time of tribulation. The same was true of Daniel’s time, during their “ten days” of judgment. (Note the reference to eating of prohibited food as seen also in Revelation 2:20 below):
It is written concerning Daniel and his companions that “at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter than the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat” (Daniel 1:5). This was because the image of their Lord was not removed from them, whereas from those others it was. What was the cause of this? The fact that they did not pollute themselves with the abomination of the prohibited food. Blessed are the Israelites who are called to be a “holy people!”
Zohar, Shemoth 125b
The “crown of life” Yeshua promises in verse 10, parallels the “hidden manna” and “white stone” he promises in verse 17. All are an allusion to the Kingdom of G-d, known as the Great Golden Crown.
(“Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist,” Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson, Inc., London 1998, quotation from Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, p. 171.)
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He who overcomes will not be harmed by the second death.
This promise is tied to the concept of the “ten days” mentioned in the previous verse. The promise of being “sealed” by God is a common blessing on Rosh haShana:
Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim. “For a good year shall you be inscribed and sealed.”
To the angel of the assembly in Pergamum write: He who has the sharp two-edged sword says these things:
See comments to verse 16 below.
I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. You hold firmly to my name, and didnt deny my faith in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Pergamos was a wealthy city with temples for many pagan deities. It is alleged that the mystery cults of Babylon had moved to Pergamos after the death of Belshazzar. The leader of the Babylonian religion later moved from Pergamos to Rome, probably when Pergamos became part of the Roman empire around 133 BCE.
An interesting foreshadowing of this transference of the seat of power from Babylon to Rome is found in the Book of Jasher, which states that Nimrod (associated with Babylon), was killed by Esau (associated with Rome). Also found in this text is mention of a mystical garment that Esau took from Nimrod. This garment, according to Jewish tradition, was the garment of Adam, which had been passed along from generation to the next. With this garment came great powers.
This portion of Jasher leads up to the events of Genesis 25:29:
“And Esau at that time, after the death of Abraham, frequently went in the field to hunt. And Nimrod king of Babel, the same was Amraphel, also frequently went with his mighty men to hunt in the field, and to walk about with his men in the cool of the day. And Nimrod was observing Esau all the days, for a jealousy was formed in the heart of Nimrod against Esau all the days. And on a certain day Esau went in the field to hunt, and he found Nimrod walking in the wilderness with his two men. And all his mighty men and his people were with him in the wilderness, but they removed at a distance from him, and they went from him in different directions to hunt, and Esau concealed himself for Nimrod, and he lurked for him in the wilderness. And Nimrod and his men that were with him did not know him, and Nimrod and his men frequently walked about in the field at the cool of the day, and to know where his men were hunting in the field. And Nimrod and two of his men that were with him came to the place where they were, when Esau started suddenly from his lurking place, and drew his sword, and hastened and ran to Nimrod and cut off his head. And Esau fought a desperate fight with the two men that were with Nimrod, and when they called out to him, Esau turned to them and smote them to death with his sword. And all the mighty men of Nimrod, who had left him to go to the wilderness, heard the cry at a distance, and they knew the voices of those two men, and they ran to know the cause of it, when they found their king and the two men that were with him lying dead in the wilderness. And when Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped; and Esau took the valuable garments of Nimrod, which Nimrod’s father had bequeathed to Nimrod, and with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land, and he ran and concealed them in his house. And Esau took those garments and ran into the city on account of Nimrod’s men, and he came unto his father’s house wearied and exhausted from fight, and he was ready to die through grief when he approached his brother Jacob and sat before him. And he said unto his brother Jacob, Behold I shall die this day, and wherefore then do I want the birthright? And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the Lord.”
But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
“Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against HaShem in the matter of Peor, and so the plague was among the congregation of HaShem.”
Balaam achieved his powers by “tapping into” what would be considered the “evil sefirot” (the “unholy crowns), said to emanate from the left side.
“It was therefore arranged that every good concept have its counterpart in evil. This is what Scripture means when it says, ‘God has made one opposite the other’.”
“Derech Hashem (The Way of God),” Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1997, p. 207.
The Zohar says Balaam dealt with the entity of the evil realm (‘Sitra Achra’ = ‘other side’):
“There are many Chieftains who guide them and one supreme Chieftain from the side of the Left. That wicked Balaam gained access to this supreme Chieftain by his sorceries, which he practiced in the night when he was at the head of all his company, and then he made known his requests to him. The word Elohim is used in connection with Balaam as with Laban and with Abimelech, because this is a name of general application, being used of idols under the title of “other gods”, which includes these Chieftains also. So this wicked Balaam summoned the Chieftain to him and he came to him. It may be said that he was with him by day (when he was with Balak). The truth is, however, that at that hour he only made observations by means of his divinations to fix the right hour, and when it says, “he went not as at other times to meet with enchantments” (Numbers 24:1), this signifies that he tried to fix the hour, but was not able as on other days, because he saw that there was no great wrath in the world and knew that “it was good in the eyes of the Lord to bless Israel” (Ibid.). For when burning wrath is rife the Left is aroused, and the wicked Balaam knew how to take hold of the left side so as to curse; but on this occasion he looked and saw that the wrath was not there.”
Zohar, Vayikra 112b, 113a
“It is, however, true that Balaam was the counterpart of Moses. As the works of the one were from above, so were the other’s from below. Moses wrought his works by means of the holy Crown of the All-highest King, Balaam by means of the unholy crowns from below. Hence, “The children of Israel slew Balaam the son of Beor, the soothsayer” (Joshua 13:22). ”
Zohar, Shemoth 21b, 22a
So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise.
Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
“…with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the humble of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.”
“Our Rabbis said: SWORD refers to the Torah, as it is written, And a two-edged sword in their hand (Psalm 149:6)”
Genesis Rabbah 21:9
The (two-edged) sword is the Torah coming from the mouth of God. The threatened chastisement in this case, is different than that faced by Ephesus, as Yeshua’s words are directed toward specific offending parties within the congregation.
Bearing in mind again the principle of midah k’neged midah, (measure for measure) what we have at Pergamos, is severe error being committed by specific individuals within the congregation. Yeshua threatens to “correct” these individuals (only) with the teachings (Torah) of His mouth.
Balaam’s power also stemmed from his mouth:
“R. Jose quoted the verse: “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye” (Proverbs 23:6). ‘This’, he said, ‘is Balaam who blessed Israel. “Neither desire thou his dainties”: this was Balak, whose burnt offerings were not accepted by the Almighty. When Balak observed that Sihon and Og had been killed and their land taken away, he foresaw in his wisdom that he and five princes of Midian and his people would fall by the hand of Israel, and not knowing what to make of it he approached Balaam, whose power was in his mouth, just as the power of Israel was in its mouth. Balaam was even more anxious to attack them than Balak. The knowledge which he acquired was at night time, because the lower crowns and the asses are at large only in the first watch of the night. Therefore he had an ass to attract the asses to her in the early part of the night. It is true that it says, “Elohim came to Balaam in the night”, but we have explained this to refer to the Chieftain appointed over them. It was on this account that Balaam said to the princes of Balak, “Tarry here this night”. Balaam went to his she-ass and performed his rites and uttered his spells, and the ass then told him and he did the requisite act for that spirit to rest upon him. Then someone came and told him things through the agency of the ass. It may be asked, if he told him in one night, “Thou shalt not go with them”, why did he try a second time? The fact is that these powers are subject to a higher control, and we have learnt, “In the way in which a man desires to go he is led”. At first he was told, “Thou shalt not go with them”. When God saw that he was bent on going, He said to him, “Arise, go with them, only the thing that I tell thee”, etc.”
Zohar, Bemidbar 206b, 207a
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he who receives it.
“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of HaShem shall name.” Isaiah 62:2
The “hidden manna” is an ancient promise to those who will one day enter the Kingdom.
“R. Eleazar taught that in the coming age the righteous shall eat of this manna, but of a much higher quality, a quality which was never seen in this world, as it is written: “To behold the beauty of the Lord and to visit his Temple” (Psalm 27:4); “Eye hath not seen… what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (Isaiah 64:4).”
Zohar, Shemoth 63a
The Zohar makes a connection between the heavenly manna and the Sefirah of Tiferet. Those gathering the manna are said to have praised the “Holy Name,” which is associated with Tiferet:
“Said R. Simeon: ‘Observe that before the Holy One gave Israel the Torah He tried them to see who would be a son of faith and who would not be. How did He try them? By the manna. All those who were found to be sons of faith were signed with the sign of the crown of Grace by the Holy One Himself; and from those who were not found to be thus, this supernal crown was withheld. ‘It has been said at that hour Israel was perfected below according to her prototype above, for it is written, “and they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water and threescore and ten palm trees” (Exodus 15:27). Now the Holy Tree [Tr. note: Tiferet.] spreads to twelve boundaries on the four quarters of the earth, and to seventy branches closely intertwined, so that what was above should have here its counterpart below. At that hour holy dew dropped down from the Hidden Most Ancient One and filled the head of the Lesser Countenance, the place which is called “Heaven”. From this dew of the supernal holy light the manna descended, and in so doing dispersed itself into flakes and became solidified “as thin as the hoar frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14). And all the sons of the Faith went out, gathered it, and praised the Holy Name for it. The manna diffused the scents of all the spices of the Garden of Eden, through which it had passed in descending. Each one found in the manna the taste he most desired; and as he ate he blessed the Supernal Holy King for His goodness, and was himself blessed with understanding of the Supernal Wisdom. Therefore that generation was called “the generation of knowledge”. These were the sons of Faith, and to them was given the privilege of contemplating and comprehending the holy Torah. But of those who were not truly faithful it is written, “and the people roamed about (shatu) and gathered (the manna)” (Numbers 11:8). The word “shatu” (roamed about) indicates that these people allowed “stupidity” (shatuta) to enter into them, because they were not sons of Faith.”
Zohar Shemoth 62b
John’s gospel has Yeshua associating Himself with the heavenly manna:
“Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
“I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
The “white stone” of verse 17, is also called the precious stone in Kabbalistic writings and is associated with the Sefirah of Malkut (Kingdom). As Malkut is the “last” Sefirot, it receives and reflects all the previous Sefirot, similar to a diamond reflecting white light as all colors.
The first mention of this is found in the text of the Bahir which mentions the stone in a dialogue between the Holy One Blessed be He (Tipheret) and the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Note the relationship between the stone and “fear of G-d,” (and therefore to Malkut/Kingdom, as mentioned earlier in this study):
“What is Fear of God? It is the First Light. Rabbi Meir thus said: Why is it written (Genesis 1:3): And God said ‘Let their be light, and there was light.’ Why does it not say: ‘And it was so?’ But this teaches us that the light was very intense, so that no created thing could gaze upon it. God therefore store it away for the righteous in the Ultimate Future. This is the measure of all merchandise (Sechorah) in the world.” … This teaches us that God took a thousandth of its radiance, and from it He constructed a beautiful precious stone. In it He included all the commandments.
Bahir 190 from, “The Bahir: Translation, Introduction and Commentary,” Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach Maine, 1979, p.160.
Not only are all the Torah commandments included in this stone, but the stone itself is a reward for those who keep these commandments (the patience of the saints), as Yeshua’s promises:
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
Kabbalistic teachings also show that the commandments of Torah are to be kept in faith (i.e., Hebrews 4:2):
“And the purpose of all the mitvoth (commandments) is to believe in our God, and to admit and thank Him for having created us. That is the purpose of Creation, for lack of any other regarding the first Creation. And God primarily wants man to know and admit and thank God for creating him, and to say in a congregation, i.e., in public): We are Your creatures (see Exodus 13:16).”
Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist, Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson, Inc., London 1998, quotation from Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbai, p.175.
Nachmanides stressed the link between the reward of the Kingdom and following the commandments in faith:
“We must not forget our faith in G-d. This first preventative mitzvah commands us the “Acceptance of the Kingship of Heaven,” in other words, that we believe there is a G-d Who made everything. He brought them forth from the total “nothing” unto “something” that He perpetually wants. He commanded us this faith, which is the foundation of the Torah, and He doubled this exhortation regarding its denial, which would mean the abolition of the truth. As it is stated: “Beware, lest you forget the Lord, Who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:12), meaning, not to forget G-d, or have doubts whether He exists, and the world has always existed, or always existed for a reason and does not change.”
Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist, Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson, Inc., London 1998, citation from Sefer Ha-Mizvoth – Negative Mitzvah 1, p. 164.
The “precious stone,” (the Kingdom) is given at the end of the Tribulation period, corresponding to the end of the Days of Awe (see verse 10 above), on the Day of Atonement. The Zohar shows that it is the “voice of the Trumpet” (Tiferet) that causes this to occur. Note that at this “final Yom Kippur” the powers of darkness are prevented from acting any longer. (Something the annual Yom Kippur sacrifice was able to accomplish for intermittent periods.) Note also the reference to the “upper Jerusalem” as “mother” (i.e., Galatians 4:26):
“Therefore the Israelites haste to awaken the voice of the trumpet, which is compounded of fire, water, and wind, and all are made one and the voice ascends and strikes that “precious stone”, which then receives the various colours of this voice and then draws down upon itself the attribute from above, according to the colour which it shows. And when it is duly prepared by this voice, Mercy issues from on high and rests upon it, so that it is enfolded in mercy, both above and below. Then is the “other side” thrown into confusion, and its power weakened, so that it lacks the strength to accuse, and the “precious stone” is lit up on both sides, from below and from above. And when is that light shed from the world above upon the ways of men? Verily, on the Day of Atonement. On that day the “precious stone” is illumined with the light from above, which emanates from the splendour of the world to come. Therefore Israel prepare a goat here below for the Day of Atonement and send it forth to that terrible desert which is under the dominion of the Accuser. That “other side” is the central point of the waste places of the world, just as the central point of the whole inhabited world is occupied by the “holy side”, and therefore Jerusalem is in the centre of the inhabited world. The kingdom of heaven, which is the side of holiness, is fixed at two points, one its own and one belonging to the world to come. The upper point is hidden, and therefore it has two points. Under its own point is Jerusalem, the centre of the inhabited world. The point which takes from the hidden supernal Mother is the terrestrial Paradise, which is in the centre of the whole world. In the centre of this Paradise there is a hidden supernal point which is not manifested, and a pillar rises within that point from below, and from thence issue waters which spread to all four sides of the world. Thus there are three points which stand one upon the other, like the three sections of the Torah (Law, Prophets, Writings).”
Zohar, Shemoth 184a-185a
To the angel of the assembly in Thyatira write: The Son of G-d, who has his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like burnished brass, says these things:
I know your works, your love, faith, service, patient endurance, and that your last works are more than the first.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Yizebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
Both fire and brass are representative of judgment. The reference is to Jezebel (1 Kings & 2 Kings), who is long dead when Yeshua speaks these words to John — yet He speaks in the present tense.
A similar anachronism is found in Midrash Rabbah concerning Jezebel who lived long before those mentioned in this passage:
“AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN HE HAD BEEN THERE A LONG TIME, etc. (XXVI, 8). R. Johanan said: A bad dream, an evil prophecy, and unreasonable mourning are nullified by the lapse of time. How do we know it of birth; while, The day wherein my mother bore me, refers to the day of conception. Is it possible that Hilkiah, a righteous man, would do such a thing! The fact is that since Jezebel was massacring the prophets, he came, cohabited by day, and fled.”
Midrash Rabbah Bereshith 64:5
What is being referred to here is a continuation of the problems caused by the teachings of Jezebel, who taught the children of Israel to compromised Torah by linking it to that which was not from God. The “whoredom” and “adultery” spoken of in this section is more “spiritual” than it is physical. (See notes on “holiness” in verse 23, below.)
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
Behold, I will throw her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great oppression, unless they repent of her works.
I will kill her children with death, and all the assemblies will know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
With verses 22 and 23 we seem to have a “double” punishment — a) being cast into the couch of great tribulation, and b) the “killing of her children.” Two questions to ask are; a) Why the double penalty? and, b) Exactly who is carrying out these retributions?
As discussed earlier, the Shekinah is also known as the couch of Solomon. The couch (“bed”) of a chaste bride is also compared to the Shekinah’s purity.
“AND ISRAEL BOWED HIMSELF DOWN UPON THE BED’S HEAD. The “bed’s head” is the Shekinah. Said R. Simeon: ‘Not at all. The bed stands for the Shekinah, as in the verse, “Behold, it is the litter of Solomon” (Song of Songs 3:7). The “head of the bed” is the Foundation of the World who is the head of the sacred couch; and “that which is upon the head” is (the supernal) Israel who is established at the head of the bed.
Zohar, Bereshith 225b
“Said R. Jose: ‘When Jacob went down to Egypt, sixty myriads of celestial angels accompanied him.’ R. Judah illustrated from the verse: “Behold, it is the couch of Solomon, threescore mighty men are about it, of the mighty men of Israel” (Song of Songs 3:7), which he expounded thus: ‘Six luminosities form a circle surrounding a seventh luminosity in the centre. The six on the circumference sustain the sixty valiant angels surrounding the “couch of Solomon”. The “couch” is an allusion to the Shekinah, and “Solomon” refers to the “King to whom peace (shalom) belongs”: “threescore mighty men are about it”-these are the sixty myriads of exalted angels, part of the army of the Shekinah which accompanied Jacob into Egypt.’
Zohar, Shemoth 5a
Malkut (= the Shekinah) is the Sefirah through which G-d’s judgment is channeled through. Hence, the reference in verses 22 & 23 are saying that the Shekinah will carry out this aspect of their punishment. Those committing spiritual adultery (by way of bringing anti-Torah teachings into the congregation), will be tossed into the judgment that comes upon the world (via the Shekinah). The bed of Solomon is now the “sickbed” for the wicked.
In this case however, the threat to “kill her children with death,” is stated directly from what seems to be Yeshua Himself. This reference and the subsequent words, “I will give to you — to each — according to your works,” are presented in a negative context, and further establish the principle of midah k’neged midah. As the teachings of Jezebel corrupt (and bring spiritual death) to the children of Lord’s people, Yeshua (as mashiach) kills her “children” as a fitting punishment.
Why does mashiach himself also get involved with this punishment? The answer lies in the idea that “stealing children away” from G-d (via spiritually “adulterous” teachings) is a sin against both the “mother and father” of the children. Besides the metaphorical aspects of husband and bride, the Sefirah of Tiferet is also considered as “Father,” and Malkut (Shekinah) as “Mother.” Therefore, the two Sefirot are said to both take revenge when children are involved.
Nachmanides taught this principle regarding the sacrifice of children to the god Molech:
The sinner of Molech introduced defilement into the atmosphere of Holiness between the two Divine Names via plucking the sublime fruit, a child in Israel, from its celestial source of growth to sacrifice it to a foreign realm. Its source of growth is the Atziluth Parents: the sefirah of Tifereth, the provider, Who is called “Father” and “the Holy One, blessed is He,” and the Atarah (Malkut), the recipient, also called “Mother,” and “the Assembly of Israel” (see Leviticus 20:3). Therefore, these two sefiroth take revenge against the sinner, measure for measure.
Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist, Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson, Inc., London 1998, quotation from Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbai, p.229.
In verse 23, Yeshua states, “I am he who is searching reins and hearts.” The purpose of searching us is to make us holy – to set us apart to G-d. Holiness is at the opposite end of the scale from spiritual adultery. Interestingly, the words, “holy” (kodosh) and “harlot” (kedaisha), are similar in the Hebrew. The former signifies an attachment to holiness, the latter attachment to the unholy.
But to you I say, to the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, who do not know what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I am not putting any other burden on you.
As with Pergamos (above), there is a “doctrinal” problem with certain individuals, and His punishment is directed toward the specific people holding this teaching.
Nevertheless, hold that which you have firmly until I come.
He who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.
He will rule them with a rod of iron, shattering them like clay pots, as I also have received of my Father:
The aspect of “judgment” which weighs heavy in this section is returned in a positive light for those who overcome.
and I will give him the morning star.
The term “morning star” is peculiar, as its only reference in the Tenakh (Isaiah 14:12), seems to refer to either haSatan or Nebuchednezzar. (This is similar to the King of Tyre, who also has characteristics of haSatan and is said to have been present in the Garden of Eden.)
There are several possible associations to this term as used in the book of Revelation
1.) Regarding the removal of the “evil morning star” (haSatan) and subsequent rule over the nations by the righteous
The Midrash Rabbah associates the morning star with an angel cast down by God. HaSatan is known as the deceiver of the nations (Revelation 20:3,8). This is interesting in light of Revelation 2:26, which states that Yeshua will give authority over the nations to His faithful ones. This would not be possible unless the previous authority – the angel(s) over the nations – are first removed from his/their positions. As we will discuss, this occurs through the series of judgments shown in subsequent chapters of Revelation:
The Holy One, blessed be He, does not punish a nation on earth till He has cast down its guardian angel from heaven. This is borne out by five Scriptural verses. One, the verse, And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of the high heaven on high-that first, and then-and the kings of the earth upon the earth (Isa. XXIV, 21). The second is: How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! after which we read, How art thou cut down to the ground (ib. XIV, 12). The third is: For My sword hath drunk its fill in heaven; and then, Behold, it shall come down upon Edom (ib. XXXIV, 5). The fourth: To bind their kings with chains, and then, and their nobles with fetters of iron (Ps. CXLIX, 8), explaining which R. Tanhuma said: ‘ To bind their kings with chains’: this refers to the heavenly princes. ‘And their nobles with fetters of iron’: this refers to the earthly rulers. The fifth is: To execute upon them the judgment written, and then, He is the glory of all His saints, hallelujah (ib. 9).
Midrash Rabbah – The Song of Songs 8:19
2.) Regarding the morning sacrifice.
An alternative meaning for “morning star” may be found in the Mishnah:
The officer said to them: Go forth and see whether the time for killing (of the morning sacrifice) has arrived. If it had arrived then he who saw it said: It is daylight!
Talmud, Yoma 28a
A footnote to the above passage, offers an alternate translation for the word “daylight,” as found in the above passage:
The Mishnaic ‘barkai’ may be a contraction of ‘barka hi’, i.e. there is a shining. Or: the shining one, i.e., the morning star.
Talmud, Yoma 28a, footnote 11
3.) Regarding Messiah and His role in ushering in the Eternal (complete) Shabbat.
The term “morning star” became associated with Messiah in Judaism. The second century false Messiah, Simon bar Kokba, had his title (bar Kokba = son of the star), given to him by Rabbi Akiba ben Yosef.
In Revelation 22:16, Yeshua refers to Himself as “the bright and morning star.” Kabbalistically, the evening of Shabbat (at sunset) is associated with Sefirah of Malkut (Kingdom), and is dominant in the world we live in, as the bride (Malkut) is not united with the groom (Tiferet).
The daytime side of Shabbat is associated with Tiferet. The “complete” Shabbat (evening and day), comes into being with the union of the bride and groom. This cannot occur as long as the “other side” (evil) clings to the evening side of Shabbat (Malkut/Shekinah), as discussed above in verse 10.
The Zohar explains this as follows:
“This psalm of praise was therefore ordered to be chanted on the Sabbath by the “one people”, namely the children of Israel. (Psalm 92): “A song. A psalm for (to) the sabbath day. It is good to praise the Lord, to sing unto thy name, O most high. To proclaim thy lovingkindness in the morning and thy faithfulness in the nights.” It has been established by the Companions that this hymn of praise was sung by the first man (Adam) after he had been driven out of the Garden of Eden, when the Sabbath drew nigh unto the Holy One and interceded for the created being. Then he sang this hymn in honour of the Sabbath which had delivered him. It is a hymn of praise sung by the world below to the world above, to a world which is altogether “Sabbath”, the sphere of the “King whose is the peace”. It is a hymn of the sabbath below unto the Sabbath above: the sabbath below, which is like night, sings to the Sabbath above, which is like day. In fact, whenever “Sabbath” is mentioned it refers to the “eve of the Sabbath” (i.e. the Shekinah), but when it says “the Sabbath day”, it denotes the Supernal Sabbath (i.e. Tiferet). The former is symbolized by the Female, the latter by the Male. Thus “And the children of Israel should keep the Sabbath” (Exodus 31:16) alludes to the Female, which is the night (layla), and “remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8) alludes to the Male. Thus the sabbath here below sings a hymn to the Sabbath above.”
Zohar, Shemoth 138a
It is therefore possible that the reference to “bright and morning star,” has to do with Yeshua’s role (as groom) in establishing the Supernal Shabbat. The morning star is both the Supernal Shabbat (Revelation 2:28), as well as the one who ushers it in (Revelation 22:16).