Friday, January 22, 2021

Apocalyptic? #18: Evangelize? Or Hold Fast? (Rev. 2:13, 25, 3:3, and 11)


“To the angel of the church in . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . write . . .” 

Pergamum (2:13 NKJV): 13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Thyatira (2:25 NKJV):  25 “But hold fast what you have till I come.”

Sardis (3:3 NKJV):  3 “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”

Philadelphia (3:11 NKJV):  11 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”


The Command to Evangelize                                           

It is natural for “Evangelical” Christians to seek (and find) commands to “evangelize” everywhere in the New Testament.  But where is such a command in Revelation?  Jesus did give his apostles the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV):

19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And, surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

From the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, they did this very thing.  Beginning with Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles evangelized!  Our first four New Testament books are called “Gospel” (=Greek: EVANGELION).  Paul mentions the term “Gospel” (EVANGELION) many times—in every single one of his letters (except Titus).  But, in Revelation, the noun (EVANGELION) and its cognate verb (EVANGELIZOMAI) are used only three times—in Revelation 10:7 (NIV):

But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced (EVANGELIZOMAI) to his servants the prophets.

And in Revelation 14:6-8 (NIV):  

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel (EVANGELION) to proclaim (EVANGELIZOMAI) to those who live on the earth (understand: “land”)—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

Notice that in NONE of these three instances are HUMANS instructed to evangelize or preach the gospel.  In Revelation 10:7, it is GOD THE CREATOR who announced the Gospel which is about to be completed, with the blowing of the seventh trumpet, to his servants, the prophets.  In Revelation 14:6-8, it is an ANGEL flying in midair that announces to the “inhabitants of the land” the “good news” (EVANGELION) that Babylon the Great (Jerusalem) is Fallen, Fallen!  In other words, the perfection of the (mysterious) Gospel that God announced to the prophets is about to be completed, with the Fall of Jerusalem.  This is “good news” (EVANGELION) to the prophets, because Jesus has promised in the Gospels that his Parousia will follow shortly upon the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13).  Luke 21:28 (NIV) explains why this is good news: “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is what John (in Revelation 3:3 & 10) calls the “hour of [God’s] judgment” (14:7).

The Command to Hold Fast

Nowhere in Revelation are Christians instructed or commanded to “evangelize.”  However, four of the seven churches are encouraged to “hold fast.”  Repentance is repeatedly recommended and the goal of being one who “overcomes” or “conquers” is of paramount importance, but what does it mean that the churches were to “hold fast”?  It appears to mean that the time for evangelizing the world has neared a completion, that those who had become Christians should brace themselves for testing,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV) advises: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  We might, now, add the line: “A time to evangelize, a time to hold fast.”  John’s Apocalypse was written during such a time—a time to “hold fast.”  (Are we living in such a time, today?)  The church in 64 A.D. faced persecution throughout the empire, as Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Roman Fire.  In 66 A.D., the Jewish State declared independence from Rome, setting off the 7 year Jewish-Roman War, during which Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) faced murderous and economic retribution from the (Roman) Beast.  John, writing in 69 A.D., sees some of this happening in seven sea-port cities in Asia Minor, as Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) fled Judea to find safe harbor in Asia Minor.  Perhaps, a similar (time to hold fast) scenario is now developing in America.

One year ago, Christians in America and throughout the world entered into a time in which Churches were forbidden to assemble together in large numbers, due to the Communist China virus.  Daily, more and more freedom of speech rights and freedom of religion rights are being compromised.  Major news networks have censored news stories that Christians care about.  Social media sites have banned free expression of views the oligarch owners of the sites oppose.  Employers have removed the job security of many Christians who have spoken out.  Other Christians are black-balled in unfair hiring practices.  Retailers have refused to carry the products of openly Christian manufacturers while consumers have boycotted retail outlets that openly advocate Christian values.  Educational institutions have censored the expression of Christian values.  The court system has been leaning further and further in anti-Christian directions.  A large number of Americans wonder if even the election process has been compromised.  This may be one of those times in history, similar to 69 A.D., when Jesus’ message to the church would have less of an “Evangelize!” emphasis and more of a “Hold Fast!” emphasis.

But, Isn’t “Witnessing” Evangelism?

While cognates of “evangelism” are rare in Revelation, cognates of “witnessing” are abundant in Revelation.  This includes four uses of the verb (to testify), five uses of the noun (witness), and nine uses of the noun (testimony), which is a cognate of the verb and noun.   In Revelation 1:5 and 3:14, Jesus is called “the faithful witness.” In Revelation 2:13, Jesus calls Antipas “my faithful witness.”  In Revelation 11:3, an angel (speaking on behalf of God) refers to “my two witnesses [probably, referring to Moses and Elijah, as the personification of the Law and the Prophets].”  In Revelation 17:6, John “saw the woman [Babylon/Jerusalem], drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  Notably, IN EVERY SINGLE USE OF THE NOUN “witness,” the witness(es) is killed.  The Greek noun translated “witness” is MARTYS.  John has made the term “witness/MARTYS” indicate what we now understand the word to mean:  “MARTYR”—one who is killed for his beliefs.

The verb (to testify) is MARTYREO, a verb used more by the Gospel of John than any other New Testament book, is used in Revelation 1:2, 22:16, 18, and 20 to indicate that John, Jesus, and an angel “testified,” but no other humans. 

The noun (testimony) is MARTYRIA, a noun used more by the Gospel of John than any other New Testament book, is used in Revelation 1:2, 9, 12:17, 19:10 referring to the ongoing “testimony of Jesus.”  Revelation 6:9 (NKJV) refers to those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.”  Revelation 11:7 (NKJV) refers to the two witnesses (mentioned earlier: “When they finish their testimonythe beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.”  Revelation 12:11 (NKJV) refers to the Christians who “overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimonyand they did not love their lives to the death.  Revelation 20:4 (NKJV) refers to the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Clearly, as John uses the term “witness/testimony,” the strong potential for being killed is implicit in the term.  This is a pretty tough form of “evangelism,” to say the least.  How many non-believers will be induced to become a Christian, when faced with the possibility of being killed, if they do?  Surely, there are some (apostolic Christian history is evidence of that), but there won’t be many megachurches filled with new Christians volunteering to be slain or even financially disadvantaged!  This is not to say that every Christian will be slain, if s/he wishes to be a true Christian, but there is an implication that every Christian should accept the possibility that it might happen.  Even if they were not slain, the Christians in 69 A.D. in Asia Minor were faced with economic persecution not terribly unlike what Christians today are increasingly faced with.  Is there any actual martyrdom occurring today?  Yes, but not much in the United States, yet.  Nevertheless, it is happening world-wide.  According to , between October 31, 2017 and November 1, 2018:

In the top 50 World Watch List countries alone, 245 million Christians in the world experience high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ.  [There have been] . . . 4,136 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the top 50 WWL countries, 2,625 Christians detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned in the top 50 WWL countries, 1,266 churches or Christian buildings attacked in the top 50 WWL countries.  . . . In seven of the countries in the World Watch List’s top 10, the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression.

So, What Does John Mean: “Hold Fast”?

In Pergamum, Jesus commended the church in 2:13 (NKJV): “And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you.”  This is not saying that all Christians will necessarily be killed, but it certainly includes not denying faith in Jesus, when our fellow Christians (like Antipas and modern-day brothers around the world) are being slain.  We must not be intimidated by the persecution.

In Sardis, there is an indication that even Christians who have slipped are given a second chance, to repent.  The Church at Sardis was declared by Jesus to be nearly dead.  Nevertheless, in Revelation 3:3 (NKJV), Jesus states:hold fast and repent.”  Perhaps, instead of concentrating on new evangelism, the “hold fast” command suggests that we should concentrate on shoring up the weak among us, those whose faith is on the brink of dying.  We should encourage them to repent and renew their commitment to Christ.

In Thyatira, Jesus offers the alternative to dying for him—remaining unintimidated and uncompromised until he returns.  Revelation 2:25 (NKJV) states: But hold fast what you have till I come.”  How long will that be?  He answers in his letter to the church at Philadelphia. In Revelation 3:11 (NKJV), he states: Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

If John is conveying Jesus’ message to Philadelphia in 69 A.D., the command to hold fast “till I come” may have only lasted a few years.  For our generation, I believe that the final coming of Christ to rescue us from Gog and Magog (to be explained later) could be signaled by an increasing encircling of “the camp of the saints”—if that is indeed what we are currently experiencing.  This is not a prediction that the assault of Gog and Magog is near at hand, but it is prudent to consider, at least, the possibility.  Jesus encouraged us to watch for the signs of the times in Luke 12:54-56 (NKJV):

Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?

Let not your heart be troubled.  We Christians win this thing in the end.  But, if you, as do many others, sense that we are living in apocalyptic times, the recommendation of Jesus for right now is:  Hold on tightly!  Hold fast!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Apocalyptic? #17: Harlotry in the Churches (Rev. 2:12 to 3:6)


“To the angel of the church in Ephesus . . . Smyrna . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . Laodicea write . . .” 

(The full text of the Letters to Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis is printed in the RSV at the conclusion of this blogpost.)


Middle Layer of the Apathy Sandwich:  The PORNEIA Churches:  Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis                                                        

Would you CARE if your church had leaders or even significant factions within it who promoted a government that allowed and even funded the killing of babies and other innocents—both in your own country and throughout the world?  (The Roman soldiers slaughtered children, adults, and the elderly with impunity—even crucifying them outside the city walls and catapulting them against the walls of Jerusalem!  Even so, the High Priestly party in Jerusalem was trying to secretly turn the city back over to the Romans.  John calls this “harlotry” or PORNEIA—committing adultery with the godless government.) 

1.      If you WOULD NOT CARE, you have APATHY, just like the church in Laodicea.   

2.      If you WOULD CARE DEEPLY and WOULD expunge such factions from your local congregation, despite the fact that you would be SLANDERED by the Synagogue of Satan (the members of the church who chose to backstab their fellow Christians in order to claim a religio licita status as Jews), you would be identified by Christ as a GOOD church, such as Smyrna and Philadelphia.   

3.      If you WOULD CARE, but you would TOLERATE such a faction in your church, you land in the MIDDLE of the Apathy-Porneia sandwich, as do the churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis.   

There are certain terms in Jesus letters to the churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis that all fit in the same bin.  They all refer to the same problem:  PORNEIA, Nicolaitans, Balaam, Jezebel, and defiled.  We have already mentioned the fact that both Jesus and the Ephesians hated the works of the Nicolaitans.  Now, we see that Jesus condemns the Nicolaitans in the church of Pergamum in the same breath as he condemns the teachings of Balaam: “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice PORNEIA.  So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola′itans.”  In other words, those who followed the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans were practicing PORNEIA—i.e., they were “eat[ing] food sacrificed to idols.”  Likewise, the church at Thyatira was condemned because they tolerated “the woman Jezebel, who call[ed] herself a prophetess and [taught and beguiled Jesus’] servants to practice PORNEIA and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”  John equates the Nicolaitans and the Balaamites linguistically by a Hebrew-Greek translation play-on-words.  Balaam (Hebrew) may be translated as Nikolaos (Greek).  They both mean: “he has consumed the people.”  My book Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 82-83) explains:

According to Charles:

Balaam = bala am = "he hath consumed the people" . . . while Nikolaos = nikai laon.  Such a play on the etymology of words is thoroughly Semitic.  There is, it is true, no exact equivalent to nikan in Hebrew.  Hence the above can stand.  Furthermore, a comparison . . . which shows that the Balaamites and the followers of Jezebel were guilty of exactly the same vices, makes it highly probable that the latter were a branch of the Nicolaitans.

The “PORNEIA” and “defiled” connection is explained in my book Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 82-83):

John's polemic against fornication/porneia both in the church (Jezebel, Balaam, and the Nicolaitans) and in Judaism (Babylon) is probably a polemic against syncretism. Technically, the harlot situation which is confronted in Revelation is one in which there is a fusion of the heroine with the villain.  The "harlot" [PORNĒ] is a "woman" who commits adultery with the "horns" of the "beast."  She is a "woman" who is "seated on" the "beast."  . . . She has, in a Hebrew sense become one flesh with the serpent (through the serpent's synecdochic representative, the beast).

Syncretistic tendencies have been identified by Revelation scholars as the porneia (fornication) of which John accuses Jezebel and Babylon.  Perhaps syncretistic tendencies are an important rationale in John's choosing "Babylon" as the name of the harlot.  John appears to be greatly influenced by the book of Daniel.  The heroes of Daniel are the young men who resist syncretism, once they have been carried away into "Babylon."  They refuse to eat Babylonian food (Dan. 1:8) on the grounds that they would be defiled (summolunô in LXX) by (the syncretistic? act of) eating the king's food.  This is possibly the verse that John had in mind when he spoke in 14:4 of the "virgins" who were not defiled.  John uses the cognate molunô (defiled).

The Babylonians attempt to assimilate the young men into their religion by renaming the young men with Babylonian names, often associated with Babylonian deities. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are renamed respectively Shadrach, Meshach, and Aved Nego (Abednego).  Daniel is renamed Belteshazzar.  Daniel is determined to resist the law outlawing prayer to his God, even if it means incarceration with lions.  The other three young heroes are determined to resist pagan worship, even if it means death in a fiery furnace.  These heroes are models of anti-syncretism.  Even John's literary style in many ways imitates this thoroughly anti-syncretistic book.

"Why," John's favorite Psalm (the 2nd) asks, "do the heathen [Gentiles/goiim] rage?"  "They have plotted together against the Lord and His Messiah," it answers.  All other nationalities are expected to oppose the Lord and His Messiah.  Therefore, syncretism does not matter for the heathen.  They are all united against the Lord and His Messiah, anyway.  Any alliance with these heathen is porneia, for John.  The dragon is not in the important sense syncretistic, because the union of heathen gods, religions, and cultures is not porneia.  Only when Jews or Christians are united with heathen elements is there the type of syncretism which is equivalent to porneia.  The Old Testament harlot, Israel/Zion, is guilty of harlotry only to the extent she seduces and enters into alliances with her heathen neighbors.  The specific identity of the neighbor is insignificant--so long as it is heathen.  Therefore, John, in guarding against porneia, is interested only in this type of syncretism--Jewish (and Christian) alliances with heathen.

I have written more on syncretism in my posts:  Apocalyptic? #7, #10, and #11.  The church at Sardis is referred to by Jesus as a “dead” church, but some hope is still held out for some members of the church:

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

Not being “defiled” means that, while most in the church are dead/defiled, some have not succumbed to the pressure to engage in syncretism.  Although Jesus connects PORNEIA/defilement with “eati[ng] meat sacrificed to idols,” he is doing so synecdochically (see Apocalyptic? #14).  “Eati[ng] meat sacrificed to idols” is only one “part” that represents the “whole” of caving-in to a perverse, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian government or culture.  The Apostle Paul, you will remember, saw no problem with eating “meat sacrificed to idols,” so long as one understands that God is the one who created the meat, and not some idol, and so long as one does not cause his brother to stumble (i.e., by misinterpret one’s eating or drinking something from the marketplace as an indication that one is “worshipping” a false god to whom it has been dedicated).”

I Corinthians 8:4-13 (NIV) states:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Jesus is concerned, here, not so much with “eating meat” as he is with making alliances with pagan Rome.  The high priestly party in Jerusalem is called the “harlot/
PORNĒ Babylon” not because she “ate meat” sacrificed to idols (she did not), but because she made an alliance with Rome, to secretly work to turn the Jewish state that had rebelled against Rome in 64 A.D. back over to Roman authority.  She had conspired with pagan governmental authorities (Pilate and Herod) to crucify Jesus.  She had committed adultery/PORNEIA with the Beast/Rome!

Likewise, certain parties (Jezebel, the Balaamites, and the Nicolaitans in the churches) and, perhaps, also in the churches, those who said they were Jews but were what Jesus called “the synagogue of Satan” were more intent on serving the Beast/Rome than they were on serving God and Jesus or even helping their fellow-Christians.  J. A. T. Robinson (pp. 207-208) reports, regarding the Neronian persecution of Christians following the Roman Fire of 64 A.D.:

exceptional and dangerous circumstances, involving the betrayal of fellow-Christians . . . [in] the Neronian persecution in Rome.  Describing it, Tacitus . . . spoke of the “information” given by those who confessed which led to the conviction of their fellow-believers.  Clement, reflecting on the same sad story from the Christian side, speaks of “a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among [the Christians].  . . . [The Shepherd of] Hermas . . . pictures vividly the various sections under pressure: “As many . . . as were tortured and denied not, when brought before the magistracy, but suffered readily, these are the more glorious in the sight of the Lord; their faith is that which surpasseth.  But as many as became cowards and were lost in uncertainty, and considered in their hearts whether they should deny or confess, and yet suffered, because this design entered into their heart; for this design is evil, that a servant should deny his own lord.”

Even in Asia Minor, where being a Christian might not have cost someone their life in the Neronian persecution, it certainly might have cost one financially.  So, in a move to protect their businesses and business interests, many “Christians” chose to put distance between themselves and the Church.  Perhaps, as a show of good faith to Rome, these “Jewish Christians” even participated in pagan festivals.  It was just good business.  Robinson (pp. 211-212) comments: 

If we ask why now [the Jewish Christians] were . . . “staying away” from assembling with their fellow Christians ([Hebrews] 10:24f.), we may recall that in his description of the [Neronian] persecutions, [the Shepherd of] Hermas speaks of those who “were mixed up in business and cleaved not to the saints”; they “stood aloof . . . by reason of their business affairs . . . from desire of gain they played the hypocrite . . . .  Some of them . . . are wealthy and others are entangled in many business affairs”; and the wealthy “unwillingly cleave to the servants of God, fearing lest they may be asked for something by them.  . . . [T]he Jewish community in Rome had a strong business sense, which was reflected in its Christian members.  Their temptation was to allow racial and economic connections to outweigh the commitment of their Christian faith.  . . . [T]hey sought to shelter under the “protective colouring” of the religio licita [=legal religious status] of Judaism.”

In John’s and Jesus’ terminology, the synagogue of Satan, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans, and the Balaamites sold out their fellow Christians.  Since the Jews were exempt from Nero’s persecution of the Christians—because Judaism was considered an “acceptable religion” (religio licita), many Jewish Christians became—like the high priesthood in Jerusalem—"harlots” who committed PORNEIA with Roman authorities.  Their garments were “defiled” because they chose to be in league with the Beast. 

Before we quickly condemn those “Christians” who chose political expediency over loyalty to Christ in the churches of Asia Minor, it would be wise for us to consider those “Christians” today who (for political expediency) tolerate, vote for, support financially, and generally promote those who want taxpayers to fund the murder of babies, who support rampant sexual deviancy, who shout obscenities at law enforcement officers—all for the sake of physical and/or financial security.  (The issue of “financial security” for those who speak out as Christians in America is exploding in the year 2021.  Many Christians are tempted to stay quiet and allow pagan influences to infiltrate the church.  This is the circumstance of the three PORNEIA churches.)  Would Jesus say to such Christians, today: “Repent, or I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place or I will come to you soon and war against [you] with the sword of my mouth or I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you?”  Or, will Jesus say to Christians today, as he did to the two churches—Smyrna and Philadelphia—at the second level of the sandwich: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life; I will make [you] a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall [you] go out of it, and I will write on [you] the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

The Text (Revelation 2:12-3:6)

The Message to Pergamum

12 “And to the angel of the church in Per′gamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An′tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. 15 So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola′itans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.’

The Message to Thyatira

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyati′ra write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez′ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyati′ra, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; 25 only hold fast what you have, until I come. 26 He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

The Message to Sardis

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Friday, January 8, 2021

Apocalyptic? #16: Are the 2 Good Churches Anti-Semitic? (Rev. 2:8-11 and 3:7-13)


“To the angel of the church in Ephesus . . . Smyrna . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . Laodicea write . . .” 

(The full text of the Letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia is printed in the RSV at the conclusion of this blogpost.)


Layer #2 of the Apathy Sandwich:  The GOOD Churches   

Jesus lists no problems with Smyrna and Philadelphia. 
Jesus acknowledges Smyrna’s “poverty,” but, using the trope of irony, he reverses the meaning of the term, claiming that they are actually “rich.”  The trope of irony is also active, referring to certain individuals who “slander” the Christians claiming that they (the slanderers) are “Jews.”  Jesus reverses the meaning of the term “Jews,” claiming that they are actually “a Synagogue of Satan.”  In the ONLY other use of the term “Synagogue of Satan” in the Bible, Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia, “I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you.”  Some have claimed that Revelation is anti-Semitic because of such language, but they fail to realize that John is (as is Jesus) a Jew, himself. 

He is not slandering Jews, per se, because that would be self-slander.  I write in my book Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 131-132):

     What is the sociopolitical problem which the Apocalypse of John addresses?  Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza claims:  "New Testament scholars generally agree that . . . Rev[elation] . . . depict[s] the . . . political struggles of the churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century." According to this context, the sociopolitical struggle would be between Christianity and the Roman Empire.  Revelation's negative reference to Jews would open John to a charge of Anti-Semitism.  While Fiorenza's claim that "New Testament scholars generally agree" concerning this is true, the general agreement is not necessarily correct.  Fiorenza notes:  "After reviewing scholarly efforts to arrive at a definite interpretation of Rev[elation], [E. Lohmeyer] concludes that the proposed interpretations are so diverse that the true meaning of Rev[elation] still remains hidden."  . . .

     As was Luke T. Johnson, I personally am indebted to [my Jewish major professor at Indiana University] Henry Fischel, who, as he did for Johnson, "introduced me to the Talmud and whose pioneering work on Judaism as part of the Hellenistic world is a model." Hence, I have a sensitivity to the anti-Semitism that has unfortunately been at least a part of the history of Christianity throughout the past two millennia.  Like Johnson, I have no desire to support anti-Semitism in any form.  Johnson's explanation of what has been called "anti-Jewish slander" in the New Testament refers to the rhetorical climate which was a part of the Greco-Roman milieu, in line with the basic methodological tenets which Fischel taught.  Johnson suggests "that the slander of the N[ew] T[estament] is typical of that found among Jews as among other Hellenists." According to Johnson, the problem with many approaches to the "anti-Jewish" issue is that "they isolate 'Christianity' over against 'Judaism' as though each was [sic] a well-defined entity when the polemic was written." Johnson argues that Christianity was merely one of a number of rival Jewish groups:  "So-called normative Judaism was not normative in the period of the N[ew] T[estament].  The question Who is a real Jew? was then an open question, debated fiercely and even violently by rival claimants."

     Apparently, this intra-Jewish rivalry is operative in Revelation, as well.  R. H. Charles argues and most subsequent scholars agree that the author of Revelation is Jewish.  The author holds great respect for the twelve tribes of Israel.  He applies the terms Mt. Zion and Jerusalem to his heroes with a healthy respect for such terms.  His 144,000 are identified not as gentiles, but as being from the twelve tribes of Israel (minus Dan).  If anything, he is jealous of the Jewish terminology, and unwilling to apply what he considers to be prestigious nomenclature to those whom he considers unworthy to be called "Jews."  Yet, it seems clear that at least some of John's villains are Jews. 

Nevertheless, using the trope of irony, those who say that they are Jews are recast as non-Jews (i.e., the synagogue of Satan).  This was an intra-Jewish rivalry move.  The non-Christian Jews were actually slandering the Christian Jews.  Often, as will be explained in the next post, this slander resulted in the Christian Jews being “black-balled” from the economic system of Asia Minor.  Hence, Jesus can say to the Christian Jews:
“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” To get an idea how this anti-Christian economic pressure might work, consider this scenario:  How many Christians in America, in 2021, fear that they would suffer financially were they to make certain “Christian” comments regarding issues of killing innocents or the elderly or certain forms of sexual immorality?  The suggestion, in Revelation, that those who claim to be Jews are not Jews is fairly similar, rhetorically, to presidential candidate Joe Biden, in 2020, saying to blacks in America: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain’t black!”  I write further in Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 164-165):

     What is strange in Revelation is that John is not willing to call ANYONE a Jew.  The fact that the word Jew is in his vocabulary is evident by two citations (2:9 & 3:9), but it occurs nowhere else in Revelation.  The word Israel occurs in three locations.  In 2:14, Balaam caused the Israelites to sin, but these Israelites were from past ages.  In 7:4, the 144,000 saved from the earth are clearly Christians, but are identified as the tribes of Israel.  In 21:12, the gates of the city (New) Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  John uses the term "Jerusalem" three times (3:12, 21:2,10), but all three instances refer to the "New Jerusalem," not the old Jerusalem.  "Mount Zion" occurs once (14:1), but it refers once again to the 144,000.  If, as Ford [also] understands, the harlot Babylon is faithless Jerusalem, John is continuing his rejection of the villains' nomenclature.  Thus, he renames "the holy city" (11:2) in which the "Lord was crucified" (11:8), "Sodom and Egypt."  If he refers to Jews who dwell in Judea, he calls them the "inhabitants of the land" and leaves off the words "of Israel."

     At least some of John's villains are Jews by the weight of the language used in 2:9 and 3:9. In terms of scholarly support for this conclusion, Fiorenza . . . concludes:  "Therefore, the so-called Jews . . . do not seem to represent a Christian group, but the Jewish citizenship of these cities."  Kiddle also understands the villains in Smyrna and Philadelphia to be literal Jews.  Caird concurs, as does Charles. (164-165)

In his message to the church in Philadelphia, “the hour of trial” that is coming upon “the inhabitants of the earth/land” (actually, meaning Judea, throughout the seven-year war between the Jews and the Romans from 66-73 A.D.), the NIV translation incorrectly translates what should be translated as “the inhabitants of the land” as “those who dwell upon the earth.”  “The inhabitants of the land/earth” is the exact terminology used to refer to the (non-Jewish) inhabitants of the (Promised) Land (before Israel dominated it) throughout the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Chronicles, and even later.  Genesis 34:30, 50:11, Exodus 23:31, 34:12 & 15, Leviticus 18:25, 25:10, Numbers 13:32, 14:14, 32:17, 33:52 & 55, Joshua 2:9, 7:9: 9:24, Judges 1:32 & 33, 2:2, I Samuel 27:8, II Samuel 5:6, I Chronicles 11:4, 22:18, and II Chronicles 20:7 all use the expression “the inhabitants of the land” when referring to the non-Jewish population of the (Promised) Land.  The word translated “land” in every one of these instances is the word ארץ/ARETZ, in the Hebrew, the equivalent of γῆ/GE in the Greek, which virtually all Bible versions incorrectly translate as “Earth,” in Revelation.  A tremendous amount of confusion regarding what Revelation is predicting is removed once one realizes that the prophecies directed against the so-called “earth” (and the “inhabitants of the earth” and the “kings of the earth”) in Revelation are actually only directed against the “land” (of Israel).

I surmise that one of the principal errors of those in Smyrna and Philadelphia who say that they are Jews but are actually a synagogue of Satan is that they were guilty of the same PORNEIA that the three churches in the middle of the Apathy-Porneia sandwich were guilty of.  That subject will be discussed in the next post.

The Message to Smyrna

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.’

The Message to Philadelphia

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’