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Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’

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

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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.

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Note: I promise this post will be more interesting than the title indicates.  If you disagree, I’ll refund your money.

Anytime we encounter lists in the Bible, we’re probably tempted to breeze over them.  There are, after all, more exicting things to get to and lists were something that were important to ancient people but less important to us.  But, they can, at times, reveal something very near to the heart of the biblical authors.

Take, for instance, the list of the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7:5-8.  It would seem straightforward enough, a listing of the 12 tribes is not that difficult to understand, except that when you look closely, the list isn’t quite what you’d expect.  Here is the list in the order it’s presented:

  • Judah
  • Reuben
  • Gad
  • Asher
  • Naphtali
  • Manasseh
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin

Now, there are a number of listings of the 12 tribes in the Bible, and they almost always differ (Genesis 35:23-25; 49; Exodus 1:2-4; Numbers 1:5-15; 26; 1 Chronicles 2-8).  I want to focus strictly on one aspect of this particular list, though, to demonstrate how it can reveal the author’s intentions.  Levi is left off some lists in the OT, mainly because his sons became the priests of the land and did not receive an allotment of land like the other 11 tribes.  Instead, Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, received land, keeping the number 12 intact. 

But this list is not for land allotments, so Levi makes an appearance.  One would expect, then, that Joseph would be on the list and the number would come out to 12 again, corresponding to the actual 12 sons of Jacob who originally headed the 12 tribes.  Joseph does make this list in Revelation 7, but so does one of his sons- Manasseh.  Ephraim, on the other hand, does not make it (despite his brother’s presence).  Dan, one of the original 12 sons of Jacob, is also left off the list. 

The omission of Dan would seem to be confusing, given the presence of the other 11 brothes, and Ephraim’s absence is also confusing because of his brother, Manasseh, making the cut.  So, the question is: of the available candidates (14 in all, the 12 sons and Ephraim and Manasseh), why were Dan and Ephraim chosen to be left off this list of tribes?

I would venture to guess that the answer goes back to 1 Kings 12:25-33.  I’ll quote vv28-30 (TNIV), with an explanatory comment or two, to make the point:

After seeking advice, the king [Jeroboam, of the Northern Tribes] made two golden calves.  He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.  Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  One he set up in Bethel [which was controlled by the tribe of Ephraim, Jeroboam’s tribe], and the other in Dan.  And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

The tribes of Ephraim and Dan became the centers of idolatry for the Northern Kingdom.  Instead of going to God’s Temple in Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices, the citizens of the northern tribes (all except Benjamin and Judah) would worship at these two centers of idolatry.  Hosea even changes the name “Bethel” (meaning “House of God”) to Beth Aven (“House of Wickedness,” see Hosea 4:15; 5:8; 10:5). 

I don’t think the omission of Ephraim and Dan are random or accidental, especially given their roles in the Old Testament as the centers of idolatry.  Idolatry is a grave concern for the book of Revelation because it gives worship that is due only to The One Who Sits on the Throne and the Lamb (see 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-17). 

The churches of Pergamum (2:12-17) and Thyatira (2:18-29) are warned about new incarnations of Balaam (who enticed the Israelites toward idolatry, see Numbers 31:1-24) and Jezebel (who promoted Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom, see 1 Kings 18; 21:25; 2 Kings 9:22).  The people of the earth worship the dragon (13:4) and the beast (13:8, 11-17), and kill those who refuse (13:15).  Throughout the Bible, adultery and harlotry (chapters 17-18) are images used of idolatry. 

But we are encouraged to “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (14:7; 15:1-4).  Those who worship the beast and receive his mark will be judged (14:9, 16:2; 19:20-21).  Those who reign with Christ in 20:4-6 are those “who had not worshipped the beast or his image.”   Idolaters are among those who will have no part in the New Heaven and New Earth (21:8; 22:15). 

Looking back at the list of the tribes in Revelation 7, John could have chosen a different way of presenting them.  He could have gone with the originally 12 sons of Jacob, leaving out Ephraim and Manasseh and including Dan.  He could have gone with the 12 tribes as they received their portions of land, leaving out Levi and Joseph and adding Ephraim and Manasseh.  But Ephraim and Dan were the ones omitted. 

I submit it was because of their role in leading Israel into idolatry.  I want to be clear, I don’t take this list of 12 literally, as if no descendents of Ephraim or Dan have any part in the Kingdom of God.  I think there is a theological and literary point John is making throughout the book that is captured in this list, or more specifically, what is omitted from the list.  Those who participate in idolatry, who worship anything other than the only One worthy of worship, have no inheritance in God.

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Richard Bauckham’s book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, is, in my opinion, the best book written on Revelation (at least for a non-commentary).  Among many strong points, he demonstrates the intentional contrast between the city of Babylon (which is Rome for John’s readers), portrayed as the harlot (chapters 17-18) and the New Jerusalem, seen in chapters 21-22.  I’ve mentioned previously how I’m trying to understand better how Revelation works as a narrative, and the use of contrast is a fairly common literary device in narratives.  I present Bauckham’s breakdown of this contrast (from pages 131-132).

  1. The chaste bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:2, 9) vs. the harlot with whom the kings of the earth fornicate (17:2)
  2. Her splendour is the glory of God (21:11-21) vs. Babylon’s splendour from exploiting her empire (17:4; 18:12-13, 16)
  3. The nations walk by her light, which is the glory of God (21:24) vs. Babylon’s corruption and deception of the nations (17:2, 18:3, 23; 19:2)
  4. The kings of the earth bring their glory into her (i.e., their worship and submission to God: 21:24) vs. Babylon rules over the kings of the earth (17:18)
  5. They bring the glory and honour of the nations into her (i.e., glory to God: 21:26) vs. Babylon’s luxurious wealth extorted from all the world (18:12-17)
  6. Uncleannes, abomination, and falsehood are excluded (21:27) vs. Babylon’s abominations, impurities, deceptions (18:12-17)
  7. The water of life and the tree of life for the healing of the nations (21:6; 22:1-2) vs. Babylon’s wine which makes the nations drunk (14:8; 17:2; 18:3)
  8. Life and healing (22:1-2) vs. the blood of slaughter (17:6; 18:24)
  9. God’s people are called to enter the New Jerusalem (22:14) vs. God’s people are called to come out of Babylon (18:4)

I find this list not only to be a convincing demonstration of the intentional juxtaposition of the two cities, I also find it convicting.  How often do we settle for accepting life in Babylon when we were made for the New Jerusalem?

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Revelation can be a difficult book to understand.  The are any number of reasons for this, many of which are obvious (you know, stuff like demonic frogs and giant hailstones falling from the sky).  One of the reasons for this difficulty, in my opinion, is that we tend not to read Revelation as a narrative.  I realize that it doesn’t work exactly like most narratives, such as the ones we find in the OT or even in the NT, like Acts.  After all, settings shift without much notice; characters come and go rather quickly, often without identifying themselves; and so on.

Yet, if we allow some features of a narrative to be present, we’ll notice how seemingly disconnected visions can work together.  I want to look at two questions that are posed in Revelation by unbelievers to demonstrate what I’m getting at.

  • As God is pouring out His judgment in 6:12-17 (the 6th seal), the people of the earth “called to the mountains and the rock, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?'”
  • In chapter 13, the beast is revealed and worshipped.  The people of the earth who follow the beast ask, “Who is like the beast?  Who can make war against it?” (v4- I take the second question as working in tandem with the first.)

These questions were intended to be rhetorical questions by those who ask them, the answer being “no one.”  No one, in their mind, can withstand the judgment of God; and no one can wage war against the mighty beast.

But in the narrative of Revelation, John takes these rhetorical questions and turns them around.  After the sixth seal is opened and the people of the earth ask who can withstand God’s wrath, John has another vision.  After hearing the number of those sealed, he sees a vision of a great multitude (I take these to be referring to one group, but that’s for another discussion) “standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (7:9).  Who can withstand God’s judgment?  Those who remain faithful to the Lamb and refuse to compromise even if it means their death. 

In the same way, the answer to the “rhetorical” question of 13:4 (who can make war against the beast?) is given in chapter 14 in another vision of the 144,000.  I’m following Richard Bauckham (and others) here in seeing the number “144,000” as a wartime census (which helps explain why they are men and not women), although my interpretation doesn’t depend on this point.  These righteous and holy people are the ones who can wage war against the beast; not in the manner that the beast would fight, but in the path of the Lamb himself.  And the Lamb is also the heavenly warrior who ultimately defeats the beast in Revelation 19:11-21.  The point is that there are, in fact, some who can successfully wage war against the mighty beast.  The beast’s power, vicious though it was, was only temporary and ultimately futile.  The irony is that those who suffered at the hands of the beast were actually winning the battle.

There is a purpose in having these rhetorical questions turn out to be not-so-rhetorical in the narrative.  These questions demonstrate the blindness of unbelief.  Those who do not submit themselves to the One who sits on the throne or to the Lamb honestly think they understand “the way things work.”  They think of God’s judgment as comprehensively unavoidable.  It seems capricious and arbitrary to those who do not have eyes to see.  But those who remain faithful will know that God’s judgment is anything but arbitrary.  It is just.  Even worse, their blindness prevents them from seeing the proper response- repentance (see also Revelation 9:20-21).  They seek help from inanimate objects rather than the Creator who is sovereign over all things, who is able and willing to extend mercy.

In the same way, those who followed the beast honestly thought that the beast was unconquerable.  Awed by the brute force of the beast and the signs of the second beast (the “shock and awe” approach, if you will), they were deceived into thinking that they were witnessing the single most powerful entity in existence.  They were blind, however, to the true reality: that those who resist the beast and remain faithful to the Lamb will overcome the beast. 

So in John’s narrative, these rhetorical questions prove a point: that those who do not have eyes to see will be blind to true reality.  When we recognize these questions for what they are- false assumptions of a blind people- we are convicted and encouraged not to capitulate to such a worldview.  We are reminded to seek God, the One who sits on the throne, the One who is the merciful and sovereign King of Creation.

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I’m going to be honest: I don’t feel like I read as many good books this year as I did last year.  My guess is that’s due largely to having a baby in April; less time = fewer books, unless you count Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See.  When I did this list last year, I had to think about how to narrow down my number to 5.  This year, I’m pushing it to get to 5.  Anyway, here goes.  Like last year, books on this list may not have been published in 2009 (I don’t have time to keep that up-to-date), but that I first read it this year.  Here we are, in no particular order:

The Epic of Eden, by Sandra Richter

Okay, I lied about the whole “no particular order” thing.  This was my favorite new read of 2009.  Simply put, this is the best book that I’ve read geared towards lay people that clearly explains the often foreign world of the Old Testament.  As I said in my review, “One gets the sense that she’s explained these things in non-academic settings before.”  My biggest complaint now is trying to find a way to fit it into an already jammed packed training school curriculum.

Introducing Paul, by Michael Bird

This is another book written by a biblical scholar but can be read by non-scholars.  I mentioned Bird’s wit in my review, as well as in a video, and it helps liven up the book considerably.  There are a million books out there on Paul, but few that lay out the issues so clearly as this one.  Bird isn’t content to focus merely on academic debates, but can get practical as well.  I look forward to what this young scholar will be offering down the road, and I hope he continues writing books on this level as well as his more in-depth academic treatments.

The Revelation of Saint John, by Ian Boxall

After reading this book, I finally felt like I had found a commentary on Revelation I could recommend to people in my church.  Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  By its very nature any commentary on Revelation will be a bit difficult to wade through.  But time and time again I felt like Boxall took a position and explained it clearly and concisely.  By the end of it I found myself wishing he had more space.  One of Boxall’s strength is the use of Ezekiel in Revelation, which has inspired me to study Ezekiel more in-depth than I ever had before (I’m actually following through on what I wrote in my review of this book).  At any rate, this is my favorite non-technical commentary on Revelation.

The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, by Daniel Block

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here.  One, I haven’t actually finished this book.  Two, it was published 12 years ago (hence my “not necessarily published in 2009” caveat above).  Block’s 2-volume commentary has been regarded by many evangelical scholars as the best commentary on Ezekiel since it came out.  As mentioned above, Boxall on Revelation inspired me to study Ezekiel more deeply, so I used some gift cards to get Block’s commentary.  I’m so thankful I did, as it has been a reliable (and enjoyable) guide to this often confusing OT prophet.

We Become What We Worship, by Gregory Beale

I think I have to include this one, since I did a 5-Part book review of it.  I had my disagreements with Beale’s exegesis at points, thinking that he stretched a bit to fit things under his thesis.  But still, I came away with a stronger sense of the Bible’s teaching on idolatry and how it destroys our worship of our God.  Tough reading at points, but worth the time and effort.

Honorable Mention

The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons

Okay, this is definitely cheating.  But, this is Boston Bible Geeks, and Bill Simmons is known as the Boston Sports Guy.  Maybe there aren’t that many people who would read a 700 page book on the NBA, and even fewer who would do it in a weekend, but I’m one of them.  The problems with Simmons: juvenile humor and an overload of soon-to-be-outdated pop culture references (which I’m sure will be his excuse to update this book every 5-10 years to sell more copies).  The upside: well, he writes about sports and entertains while he does it.  I’m a sucker for sports history- comparing eras, taking on longheld myths, arguing about which players are the best and who’s overrated.  Sure, Simmons is gimmicky and overplays his “I’m just an average fan” hand.  (He brags about how he pays for his season tickets instead of using a press pass- big deal when you make a ton of money and have the time to go to all those games.)  But, he does take the discussions that many of us “regular” fans have and turns them into columns and books, and manages to do it reasonably well.  He isn’t for everybody, but for the younger generation of  Boston sports fans, well, we’re obligated to read him.

How about you?  I’d love to hear some thoughts from our reader(s) regarding what new reads they’d recommend for us.

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Most of us understand that the book of Revelation predicts and expects persecution for its readers.  The assumption is that John’s readers were under the constant threat of death for their testimony of Jesus Christ.  Basically, this viewpoint goes something like this: if you don’t worship the emperor, you will be killed.

Ian Boxall, in his commentary on Revelation, takes a slightly different route.  He doesn’t deny that there is some persecution going on, but he sees it strictly as local and not really involving Roman authorities.  “The internal evidence of the messages to the seven congregations (Revelation 2-3) suggests a rather mixed picture.  …actual or impending hostility is referred to for some (e.g. 2:9, 13; 3:9)… there is no clear indication that suffering is at the hands of Roman authorities, or involves formal legal precedings” (p12).

Instead, Boxall, and many others, note that the call not to compromise is just as strong in Revelation.  Within the messages to the seven churches, we see condemnations of “Balaam” and “Jezebel”- OT figures who caused God’s people to stray.  In other words, John’s message is for them not to fall into the trap that these false teachers are laying.

This, of course, has implications for persecution:  “If Revelation is not primarily written to comfort the persecuted, it nevertheless represents a rallying cry to Christians to place themselves in a position in which they might find themselves being persecuted” (p13, Boxall).  If John’s readers are able not to stray, they should expect persecution.

I appreciate Boxall’s attempt to balance, though I have to wonder if he’s overstated his case.  I’m not sure what the Beast of chapter 13 represents if not the powerful oppressor standing against God’s people- making war and conquering them, according to 13:7.  Even the harlot of chapter 17, the seductive power of the comfort the Roman Empire provides, drinks the blood of the saints (17:6). And when Rome is judged, she is judged “with the judgment she imposed on you [the saints]” (18:20).

But the connection with bearing testimony for God and the threat of death is undeniable in Revelation.  Jesus himself is the faithful witness who was put to death (1:5).  Keeping in mind that “testimony” and “witness” are from the same root in Greek, we see how Jesus sets the stage for God’s people in this way.  Read 2:13, 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 17:6 and 20:4- all of them combine the notions of faithful and enduring testimony and the reality of death for that testimony.

John’s original readers dealt with the reality that they were called to compromise their testimony (side note: I’ve noticed that we always word it “compromise our faith,” which indicates to me that we’ve internalized something that was intended to be a public evidence, but that’s another post for another day).  For many, if they did not denounce their exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ, they could lose work, be imprisoned or end up in a colosseum face-to-face with a lion.

But they were also tempted to compromise by enjoying the pleasures that Rome offered- this is especially strong in chapters 17-18.  Why “rock the boat” and cause problems?  Why not keep your mouth shut and enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life like everyone else in the Roman Empire?  When she is destroyed, “the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury… will weep and mourn over her” (18:9).  Would John’s readers be among those who mourn her destruction and the comfort that came with her, or would they rejoice in God’s judgment of her wickedness (18:20)?

So both of these realities- persecution and compromise- are undeniably present in Revelation; Boxall states their connection well.  If one chooses not to compromise, they may face brutal persecution.  John is calling his readers to remain faithful in their witness, even if it means death, in the face of these twin realities.

Does this have anything to do with us?  I think it does.  I mentioned this in teaching the other night, and I keep coming back to it.  I have to wonder if we (by “we” I mean American Christians, since that’s where the vast majority of my experience comes in) focus on the persecution apparent in Revelation because it enables us not to face the compromising aspect of Revelation.  The fact is that we are inundated with temptations to compromise in our culture.  We live in an affluent society where you can pretty much have what you want when you want it. We tend not to notice these temptations (do we not have ears to hear and eyes to see?).

There’s a certain wicked wisdom in using pleasurable temptation rather than persecution to make God’s people ineffective.  It is a powerful tool.  The truth is that you can put a gun to my head and threaten to take my life if I don’t deny Jesus, and I will stand firm, I’m sure of it.  But if you parade by me, day after day after day, the siren call of comfort- power, acceptance, money, home, sex, cars, etc- I am much more likely to compromise my witness.

Perhaps the American church isn’t facing the beast, but we are facing the harlot.  The question remains, will we be a faithful witness?  May we hear the message of Revelation and overcome.

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