Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2011

In my last post, I showed that in Revelation, holding tightly to the “word of God” and the “testimony of Jesus” (or similar phrases) will possibly lead someone to death.  This was a reality for John and his readers, one they were encouraged to face with perseverance (see 13:10).

It would be wrong, however, to think of this message as lacking in hope, although it would certainly be hard to stomach.  So I want to look at the message of hope given in Revelation, lest anyone think Revelation is all bad news.  But let’s heap the grim realities a little higher, first.

Below is a chart showing the connection between faithful testimony/witness and the prospect of facing death because of it.  It’s important to know that testimony, witness and their related words come from the same Greek root.  So whereas we might not make the connection in English (or if we do, it’s purely thematic), there is a linguistic tie-in for these verses.  I’ve underlined the portion about the testimony and italicized the death/persecution references.

 

Following Jesus, the faithful witness, unto death

“Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead” (1:5; cf. 3:14)
“Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city” (2:13)
“the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (6:9)
“when they (2 witnesses) have finished their testimony, the beast… will attack them… and kill them” (11:7)
“they triumphed…by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11)
“the dragon…went off to make war against the rest of her offspring- those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (12:17)
“the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (17:6)
“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4)

 

A couple things to notice.  One, Jesus is the faithful witness par excellence, who was killed for not turning his back on the truth.  And while Antipas is the only other person referred to as a “faithful witness,” the theme is seen clearly in these other references, where people are killed because they will not recant their witness.  You can’t get more faithful than being marched to death for what you believe and proclaim.

So, to repeat the point: if you remain faithful to your testimony about Jesus, there is a decent chance you will be killed for it.

But there is a message of hope in Revelation, and it shows up in places other than the final chapters.  Notice that Jesus is called the “firstborn from the dead.”  That is, he is no longer dead.  Jesus wasn’t just the faithful witness who paid the ultimate price for his faithfulness; he is the faithful witness who won the ultimate victory.  His resurrection guarantees that death does not have the final say over his life.

Nor does death have the final say over the lives of Jesus’ followers.  That is the message of hope.  Those who follow Jesus will participate in his victory over death on the last day.  All of the persecuted groups in Revelation (the souls under the altar; the 2 witnesses; the 144,000; etc.) await the day of their resurrection and the New Jerusalem.

Part of the goal of Revelation is to encourage its readers to remain faithful witnesses until the end of one’s life.  Of course, for John’s original readers and many other believers around the world being a faithful witness might cause that end to come sooner than it otherwise would.  But just as death is guaranteed (by one means or another), so is resurrection promised to those who belong to Christ.  Yes, the war waged by the dragon and the beast are real and terrible.  But it is temporary.  Resurrection- life in Christ- is eternal.  While Revelation presents a grim picture of the world, underlying the entire message is the hope of Jesus’ faithful witnesses experi

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’ve said before that I think Richard Bauckham’s little book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, is the best book I’ve read on what is generally regarded as the most perplexing book in the Bible.  He packs a lot of great information into a relatively small space, offering the reader solid judgments on almost every page.

But, he suggests an odd viewpoint (in my opinion) on the reason why John was on Patmos to begin with.  While the traditional view has been that John was exiled on Patmos, Bauckham presents the possibility that John went there specifically to receive the Revelation that God was about to give him.  So, when John says he “was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” he isn’t referring to being punished for those two things at all.  And if you look only at 1:9, this stance has some merit.

But when you look at those two phrases, “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” as they are used in Revelation, it’s hard to come to this conclusion.  See below for how those phrases are used.  I’ve italicized “the word of God” and underlined “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (or something like it, all quotes from the New American Standard).

1:2 [John] who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw
1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus
6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained
12:11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.
12:17 So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
19:10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But [the angle] he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

The first instance is still in the introduction of the book, so we don’t see it expounded just yet.  It does, however, set the stage for what is to come.  You’ll see here that almost every instance of these phrases give reason for suffering or are connected to it.  The exception is 19:10, when the angel is speaking to John.

So, we see the “souls under the altar” in 6:9 had been slain because of “the word of God” and their testimony, and the dragon in chapter 12 wages war on those who maintain their testimony of Jesus, and those in chapter 20 were beheaded because of their testimony.  John, in his self-introduction in 1:9, tells his readers he is their “brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation.”  Given the usage of these two phrases in the rest of the book, I find it hard to see this as referring to anything other than John being exiled or imprisoned on Patmos.

Or let’s look at this from a different perspective, of John the pastor and his readers.  Put yourself in the place of his readers (if possible).  You’re facing persecution for your faith, or at least strongly tempted to compromise by all the Empire has to offer (for these two themes, see here).  In reading/hearing Revelation, you’re given a realistic portrayal of what will happen to those who cling to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  You understand that those two things (which aren’t really two separate ideas) will quite possibly lead you to your death.

Then you go back and see at the beginning that John uses those two phrases of himself, who is your apostolic authority and Spirit-empowered prophet.  But for him, maintaining the word of God and the testimony of Jesus leads him not to death, but to a Mediterranean island that was not, contrary to popular opinion, a backwater deserted Gilligan’s island, but a populated, secure destination.

And he has the right to call himself a “fellow partaker in the tribulation?”  It would seem to me to be a pastoral blunder on John’s part, one I have trouble believing he’d make.

The traditional view, that John was exiled on Patmos, is best supported by the rest of the book.  When people hold tightly to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus in Revelation, they are not rewarded with tropical vacations or personal retreats.  They run the risk of losing their very lives.  Only the densest of John’s original audience could have come away from this book with a different understanding, and John, if he truly was exiled, knew it was a strong possibility for himself.

However, that doesn’t mean that despair wins in Revelation.  The hope of those who faithfully testify to Jesus Christ will be the subject of my next post.

Read Full Post »