Revelation 3 – 5
At the conclusion of this study, we have included three sidebars. Please feel free to read them, or not. begin We won’t be discussing them in our group. I post them in case you are interested. The topics are:
- Sidebar 1: One Example of Rome’s Relationship with God’s Nonhuman Creation
- Sidebar 2: Romans 13 and Revelation: How to hold together apparent opposites
- Sidebar 3: The Social Makeup of Early Churches
All three sidebar topics are based on conversations in one of our classes.
3And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name for being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is at the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4Yet you have still a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. 6Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The Church in Sardis
The church in Sardis has a reputation (a name) but it is false. And their reality contrasts with Christ (he was dead and is now alive).The problem at Sardis is that they have a “name for being alive,” but that reputation is false. And because of that falseness, they will lose their name in the Book of Life.
Do you see any application for the church today?
7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens:8I know your works. Look, 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. 9I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The Church in Philadelphia
Note that in this letter, the descriptions of the Christ are ones not found back in Chapter 1. Here Christ is, “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” This description will contrast with the letter to the church at Laodicea. Here the door is open. There, the door is locked, Christ is knocking but cannot get in.
There is no criticism of the church in Philadelphia, only praise. They may be small in power, but they are strong in endurance and faithfulness.
Do you see any application for the church today?
14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: 15I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.18Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 21To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The City of Laodicea—Location
“[Laodicea] was situated on a plateau in the fertile valley of the Lycus river on a prominent trade route. It was six miles south of Hierapolis, important for its wool industry, eleven miles west of Colossae, and a hundred miles east of Ephesus on a major road.”
The City of Laodicea—Characteristics
“Laodicea had a gymnasium and baths, two theaters, a stadium for athletic events and gladiator fights. It was a town devoted to textile manufacturing, commerce, and banking. In the latter part of the first century, it was a wealthy town. Its supposed manufacture of eye salve and its springs of tepid water are two features often related to the prophetic pronouncement in Revelation.”
The Church in Laodicea
The Titles Christ Gives Himself – 3:14
The description Christ gives of himself addressing the church in Laodicea are:
- “The Amen
- “The faithful and true witness”
- “The beginning of the creation of God”
“Amen” is a Hebrew word that means, “trustworthy,” and is given here as a title of Jesus. The meaning is: Jesus is worthy of our trust.
The word translated, “witness,” is from the Greek word, martus. In Revelation 2:13, the same Greek word is used to describe the martyr Antipas who is also called “my faithful witness.” In other words, this title affirms that Jesus is a faithful witness both in his ministry and in his death.
The third title is more complicated. In Revelation 1:5, Jesus as “the faithful witness” is linked to the description that he is “the first-born of the dead.” Jesus is crucified as a common criminal—an act that conveyed both shame and murder. But he raised from the dead. His resurrection is the vindication of his faithful witness. In the writings of Paul, Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a “new creation.” (See Colossians 1:15b, 18b; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 17; Ephesians 1:20-23).
So Beale concludes:
Christ as ‘firstborn from the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth’ in 1:5 is interpreted in 3:14 as designating Christ as the sovereign inaugurator of the new creation. Consequently, the title ‘beginning of the creation of God’ refers not to Jesus’ sovereignty over the original creation but to his resurrection as demonstrating that he is the inauguration of[italics author’s] and sovereign overthe new creation.
If the people in the church at Laodicea repent and align their lives with Christ as faithful witnesses, their lives will be at risk from the Romans. But they can take courage because of who Christ is and what he has accomplished. Through Christ, they will become participants in Christ’s new creation.
The Church 3:15-22
Laodicea was near two towns known for their water. Hierapolis, six miles north, was known for its hot medicinal baths. People who were sick went there and immersed themselves in the hot water to experience healing. Colossae, ten miles east, had cold, pure water springs. In the summer heat, exhausted people went there, slipped into the cold water and were renewed. But in Laodicea, water from the Lycus River was “nauseous and undrinkable.”
When Christ says to the people in the church at Laodicea that they are lukewarm he is saying that people don’t find healing there like they do at the hot mineral springs and they don’t find refreshment and renewal like they do in the cool water at Colossae. But Christ designed his church to be a place of healing and a place of refreshment and renewal.
Why isn’t the church in Laodicea a place of healing and renewal? What is getting in the way? In a word, their sin is getting in the way.
Their sin is participating in the economic idolatry of Rome. They say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (vs. 17). Whenever the Greek word translated, “rich” here, is used in Revelation (6:15; 13:16; 18:3, 15, 19), it points to wealth generated by participating in Rome’s unjust economic system. Beale observes:
That this is an economic-spiritual boast (is) hinted at by the parallel of Hosea 12:8 with Revelation 3:17…. Hosea 12:7 refers to Israel as a “merchant” who prospers through oppression. In the wider context of the book (Hosea) Israel attributes its material welfare to the benevolence of its idols…. Likewise, the Laodiceans are probably doing well economically because of some significant degree of willing cooperation with the idolatrous trade guilds and economic institutions of their cultures.
They think they have everything they could ever need and are in control of their lives. But according to “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (3:14), they are actually wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
So how do they need to change? They need to “buy” from Christ what only Christ can provide. “Gold refined by fire” is gold with all the impurities burned away. One “purchases” this gold by repenting from sin (e.g. Proverbs 27:21; Malachi 3:2-3).
The “shame of your nakedness” is the way God describes the people of Israel when they have engaged in idolatry (e.g. Isaiah 47:3; Ezekiel 16:36; Nahum 3:5). Their repentance will enable their sin of idolatry to be covered by the “white robes” of Christ’s forgiveness.
Laodicea is known for its eye salve. But the eye salve Christ “sells” is spiritual discernment, the only cure for the kind of blindness that is threatening their lives (see John 9:39-41). Beale notes that the church in Laodicea has “become anesthetized and insensitive to their spiritual plight” and to the “satanic realities standing behind the idolatrous institutions in which they are participating.”
Jesus’ words sound harsh. He is about to spit them out of his mouth. But Christ affirms that he disciplines “those whom I love.” He also is close at hand. In fact, he stands at their door and knocks urging them to “open the door” which Thompson observes is “an allusion to the lover seeking entrance to the beloved.”To open the door to him will require them to realize the depth of their poverty and the abundance of Christ.
“He Who Has an Ear, Let Him Hear”
Christ uses this statement to conclude each of his prophetic messages. We also find this same message in the Gospels and the Old Testament. In the Gospels, it is connected to parables (Matt 13:9-17; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8). The assumption is that only people who humble themselves before God and are both open-minded and openhearted will understand the symbolism of the parable.
The Old Testament prophets warn Israel by foretelling God’s coming judgment. But the majority of Israel could not “hear” their warning because of their addiction to the seductions of idolatry. They are invested in what they assume will give them the quality of life they desire. Their assumption and investment “hardens” their hearts toward God just as love of free slave labor hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
People who worship idols become as spiritually unresponsive and dead as the idols themselves (Psalm 115:4-8; 135:15-18). Hearing the parable makes those whose ears are closed more confused. In other words, their response to the parables (i.e. confusion) judges them. Those whose “ears are open” are challenged and inspired to obedience.
So Christ’s statement in each letter in Revelation is designed to confuse (judge) the hard-hearted but shock and challenge those whose ears are open to him but who have become discouraged or complacent in their pagan environment.
Do you see any application for the church today?
Revelation’s Central and Centering Vision: God and the Lamb in the Heavenly Throne Room – Revelation 4-5
1After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
“Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
“11You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
Roman culture fused oppression, economic prosperity, and religion. Imagine the impact of these practices on everyone: those in power, the common person, and the victims. Idolatry – seeking security in what is not God – is an agenda that is broken from the start because it is based on falsehood and coercion. Idolatry violates those who practice it and those who are impacted by their actions. It is the stark contrast to the redeeming, life-giving, community building work of God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Richard Bauckham notes that the visual imagery of Revelation is a powerful contrast to the visual images of the Roman Empire. He writes:
We have already noticed the unusual profusion of visual imagery in Revelation and its capacity to create a symbolic world which its reader can enter and thereby have their perception of the world in which they lived transformed. To appreciate the importance of this we should remember that Revelation’s readers in the great cities of the province of Asia were constantly confronted with powerful images of the Roman vision of the world. Civic and religious architecture, iconography, statues, rituals and festivals – all provided powerful visual impressions of Roman imperial power and of the splendor of pagan religion. In this context, Revelation provides a set of Christian prophetic counter-images which impress on its readers a different vision of the world.
Marcus Aurelius, Triumphal Procession
Menorah scene from the Arch of Titus
In Revelation 4 and 5, we find ourselves with John in God’s throne room in heaven. The throne room reflects Isaiah 6:1-8, Daniel 7:9-14 and the throne room in Rome where the emperor was worshiped as god of the universe.
Michael Gorham points out that two images are central to these chapters and to the book of Revelation: the throne of God and the Lamb of God. Gorman writes that these two images “reveal in pictures the essential theology of the book of Revelation: God the creator reigns and is worthy of our complete devotion, and Jesus the faithful, slaughtered Lamb of God reigns with God, equally worthy of our complete devotion.”
Gorman goes on to observe that these two images contain “two mind-boggling paradoxes. The first is that God shares sovereignty and honor, expressed in the receiving of worship, with the Messiah Jesus. The second is that this Jesus who is worthy of worship has exercised his messianic office and power by being slaughtered. His power is power in weakness.”
We need to understand the correlation between the understanding of God in Revelation and Revelation’s critique of Roman power…. Revelation itself allows no neutral perception: either one shares Rome’s own ideology, the view of the Empire promoted by Roman propaganda, or one sees it from the perspective of heaven, which unmasks the pretensions of Rome. Revelation portrays the Roman Empire as a system of violent oppression, founded on conquest, maintained by violence and oppression. It is a system both of political tyranny and of economic exploitation… Thus it is a serious mistake to suppose that Revelation opposes the Roman Empire solely because of its persecution of Christians. Rather Revelation advances a thorough-going prophetic critique of the system of Roman power. It is a critique which makes Revelation the most powerful piece of political resistance literature from the period of the early Empire. It is not simply because Rome persecutes Christians that Christians must oppose Rome. Rather it is becauseChristians must dissociate themselves from the evil of the Roman system that they are like to suffer persecution. In fact, the full-scale persecution of the church which John foresees was not yet happening when he wrote…. From John’s prophetic perspective Rome’s evil lay primarily in absolutizing her own power and prosperity… at the expense of her victims.
The Real Power Behind the Scenes – Revelation 4:1-3
Through John we are given a glimpse of what is happening in heaven every moment of every day.There is a throne in heaven and God sits on it.This symbol of God on the throne occurs more than forty times in Revelation.Rome appears to rule the world.But it’s actually God who is sovereign.
We see God but not in human form. God is brilliant light reflected from precious stones. Psalm 104:2 says God covers himself with light as with a garment. Paul describes God as dwelling “in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). The light of the precious stones reflects the beauty, splendor and majesty of God. And the light refracts into a rainbow reminding us of God’s covenant with Noah after the great flood (Genesis 9:11).
The rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant never again to use his sovereignty just to destroy, affirms that the disasters described in the next chapters of Revelation are not ends in themselves but means to the final redemption of this world. At the center of all creation is God on the throne. God is the power behind the scenes.
The Primacy of Worship – 4:3-11
What’s happening around God? What is the central action that is to take place? Worship. In this vision of worship, we are reminded that “true knowledge of who God is inseparable from the worship of God.”
The One who sits on the throne(4:9; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:15; 21:5)
The throne-room is the place from which God exercises his rule over the cosmos. The 24 “elders” are the angelic beings who compose the divine council. As their thrones and crowns indicate (4:4), they are themselves rulers. They rule the heavenly world on God’s behalf.
But notice how they worship, and notice how their worship determines how they rule. They get down from the thrones, remove their crowns and lay them before the divine throne (4:10). Unlike the political and military powers of Rome, they acknowledge that (4:11) they cannot use their power to do whatever is in their self-interest. They affirm that God is their authority. God alone is to be worshipped. And the worship of God – bowing before him, submitting to his will and his rule – determines all that they do.
The four living creatures are heavenly beings whose existence is entirely fulfilled in the worship of God. Their ceaseless worship was taking place before time began, will take place after the end of time and is taking place at this very moment. And so we see that the worship of God is at the heart, the center of all reality. In every moment, in every place, their worship of God is THE main event.
They are the central worshippers. Their worship is taken up by ever-wider circles concluding with angels (5:11) and last, people (5:13). We’re not exactly the center, are we?
Worship is God’s intention for us—not just in the future but now. So we need to let the four living creatures teach us. Bauckham notes that their worship entails, “the awed perception of his numinous holiness (4:8; cf. Isa. 6:3), and the consciousness’ of utter dependence on God for existence itself that is the nature of all created things (4:11). These most elemental forms of perception of God not only require expression in worship: they cannot be truly experienced except as worship.”
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
Three times holy means totally holy. God is totally unique. So to worship God is to confess the idolatry that seduces us and to fill our hearts with the truth of who God is.
“Lord God Almighty”
To worship God is to affirm that God is sovereign over all. Nothing, not even the power and wealth of Rome, lies beyond God’s control.
“Who was and is and is to come.”
This is an interpretation of the divine name YHWH in Exodus 3:14. It means God is committed to act – to be who God is as history unfolds. To worship him is to place our hope in him no matter how the beast threatens us.
Bauckham reflects on the real-world significance of this worship for the life of the church. He writes:
There is a sense in which Revelation takes a view from the ‘underside of history’, from the perspective of the victims of Rome’s power and glory. It takes this perspective not because John and his Christian readers necessarily belonged to the classes which suffered rather than shared Rome’s power and prosperity. It takes this perspective because, if they are faithful in their witness to the true God, their opposition to Rome’s oppression and their dissociation of themselves from Rome’s evil will make them victims of Rome in solidarity with the other victims of Rome. This special significance of Christian martyrdom is that it makes the issue clear. Those who bear witness to the one true God, the only true absolute, to whom all political power is subject, expose Rome’s idolatrous self-deification for what it is. This means that the power of resistance to Rome came from Christian faith in the one true God. Not to submit to Roman power, not to glorify its violence and its profits, required a perspective alternative to the Roman ideology which permeated public life. For John, it was the Christian vision of the incomparable God, exalted above all worldly power, which relativized Roman power and exposed Rome’s pretensions to divinity as a dangerous delusion. This is why the critique of Rome in Revelation follows, in the structure of the book, from the vision of God’s rule and justice in chapter 4. In light of God’s righteousness, Rome’s oppression and exploitation stand condemned, and in the light of God’s lordship over history, it becomes clear that Rome does not hold ultimate power and cannot continue her unjust rule indefinitely. Thus, if there is a sense in which Revelation adopts a perspective from the ‘underside of history’, it is the heavenly perspective, given in the vision of God’s heavenly throne-room, that makes this possible.
1Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
for ever and ever!”
14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshipped.
Introduction – 5:1-4
In chapter 4, the door to heaven is opened and we see God on the throne, worshipped as the One who is sovereign over all. At the end of chapter 4 we are left with the question, how will God, seated on the throne in heaven, redeem the world from the evil that has infected and undermined God’s vision of righteousness, justice and shalom?
As chapter 5 begins, God holds the scroll—his plan for redeeming his creation (as we will see in the rest of Revelation) and establishing his eternal kingdom—in his right hand (5:1). But who has the authority to break the seals and open the scroll, that is, to implement God’s redeeming plan? We find the answer in chapter 5.
The One who has the authority to redeem the world from the grip of evil is Jesus Christ, the messianic Son of David, the Lion (warrior king) of the tribe of Judah. Of course, as anyone in or around the Roman Empire would assume, to defeat the powers of evil will require a warrior king!
The Meaning of ‘Lamb’: Biblical Background
Passover Lamb Rev 5:6, 9, 10 and Ex 12:14-25
The Exodus is the key saving/redeeming event in the Old Testament (Dt 7:7-8). As slaves in Egypt, God’s people are held in the grip of evil. God intervenes, destroys their oppressors, makes them his own people (Ex 19:1-6) and brings them to the Promised Land. They are “the ransomed of the Lord.” God uses the blood of the Passover Lamb as a ransom to free them from slavery and give them the Promised Land.
The prophets connect this image with the new exodus—God’s final victory at the end of time (Isa 35:1-10; 51:4-11). And Revelation 15:2-4 describes the victorious Christian martyrs beside the heavenly Red Sea singing the song Moses sang after deliverance from Pharaoh (Ex 15). In fact, the plagues in Revelation 15:1, 5-16:21 are modeled on the plagues of Egypt. The point is that Jesus’ victory through his death as the Passover Lamb is what makes the final victory of this new exodus (the new heaven and earth) possible.
Suffering ServantRev 5:6, 9 and Isaiah 53:1-8
In Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant is described as “led like a lamb to the slaughter.” The New Testament links this lamb – this Suffering Servant – to Jesus (Luke 22:37; Heb 9:28; 1 Peter 2:22). His death, his shed blood redeems us (1 Peter 1:18-19). God will redeem the world through the Lamb who was slain.
By the time we reach Revelation 5:9, we know we are expected “to conquer” as Christ did. Each of the letters to the seven churches ended with Christ’s promise of eternal life to those who conquer (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21). Notice how Christ’s message to the seventh church in 3:21 prepares us for 5:5-6.
In Revelation 12:11, John describes how Christians share in Christ’s victory. By not clinging to life even in the face of death, but by working to live faithfully in the messiness of their everyday realities, Christians live out their faith in and give testimony to the way of Christ who defeated Satan and redeemed the world on a cross.
Lion / Lamb – 5:5-6
In Revelation 5:5, John hearsan elder speak of the Lion of Judah. This is a picture of Jesus as Messiah who triumphs over God’s enemies. But then John seesthat this warrior king, the powerful Lion, is a slain Lamb! And John realizes that the Messiah won thedecisive victory over evil through his sacrificial death on a Roman cross and not with a sword.
As Gorman writes, “The Lamb’s power, his ‘conquering,’ has been manifested, not in the raw power associated with a lion, but in the power of faithfulness to death, a violent death that resulted in ‘ransoming,’ or redeeming, a royal and priestly people for God. The imagery of the Lamb and of ‘a kingdom and priests serving our God’ (5:10; 1:6; Exodus 19:6) is reminiscent of the Passover and Exodus stories, only this time the redeemed people come, not from one nation, but ‘from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (5:9; 7:9; 21:24; 22:2)…. This Lamb is clearly Jesus… . In his death he has already manifested the true meaning of power, judgment, and salvation.”
“Human beings, even apparently faithful Christians, too often want an almighty deity who will rule the universe with power, preferably on their terms, and with force when necessary. Such a concept of God and of sovereignty induces its adherents to side with this kind of God in the execution of (allegedly) divine might in the quest for (allegedly) divine power and justice, and of their erroneous human corollaries.”
“Paradoxically, the slaughtered Lamb reveals God and also reveals what it means to be faithful to God. It reveals how God saves humanity and how humanity in turn can serve God. Here John the seer again echoes Paul, for whom the cross symbolizes both the divine means of salvation and the human expression of that salvation in daily life. As for Paul, so also for Revelation: the cross—meaning the faithful death of the slaughtered Lamb—is both the sourceand the shape of our salvation.”
Harry Maier also reflects on what the theme of Christ as slaughtered Lamb means for the church in Rome. He writes:
For John, memory of the political execution by crucifixion of Jesus, functions politically to unmask the cruel reality of Roman imperial domination. John deploys an edgy hermeneutics (i.e. the way he interprets/views the Roman Empire) of suspicion on the much-touted imperial propaganda of the Pax Romana and its claims of divine blessing. He seeks instead to remind those Christian listeners, who support the imperial economic order too enthusiastically, of the blood and tears on which the Roman Empire is built. He seeks to convince his listeners that the grand buildings and avenues of their pro-imperial cities are facades that hide the ruined lives on which the Roman Empire was built.
The Primacy of Worship – 5:11-14
Worship is core to the book of Revelation. And it’s not too difficult to see why. When we see God as God is and when we give our lives to God in worship, we are transformed. We can live in the Roman Empire without being captivated by the abusive power and economic exploitation of the Roman Empire.
Walter Brueggemann’s description of Israel’s worship enables us to see the impact of worship on our lives. He writes:
In worship, Israel redescribes: The world as the creation of YHWH, over which YHWH presides in effective sovereignty and in generous beneficence.
- Human society as a community evoked by YHWH and willed to be a community of compassion, mercy, and justice.
- Its own life in the world as a community of obedience, as a community that has received its own life and its world from the abundance of YHWH, and that has sworn in glad loyalty to live its life back to YHWH in joy.
Hymns that Use Images from Revelation
Michael Gorman highlights the following hymns:
“Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber (1826)
“Holy God, We Praise Your Name” by Ignaz Franz (1719-1790)
“Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain” from Handel’s “Messiah”
“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” by Edward Perronet (1779)
“Crown Him with Many Crowns” by Matthew Bridges (19thcentury)
“What Wondrous Love is This, O My Soul” American folk hymn (1835)
So What Does it Mean to Follow the Lamb?
- Place worship at the center of our lives.
- Make a life-long commitment to learn and live out God’s righteousness (right relationships where all thrive), justice (victims seen and redeemed rather than unseen and abused) and shalom (well-being for all God’s creation—human and nonhuman).
- Discern ways to act characterized not by asserting power over but by following the lead of the Lamb, namely, sacrificially serving and empowering.
- Develop an awareness of the ways in which the culture in which we live (by “culture” I mean the order fostered by and beneficial to those in charge) violates God’s righteousness, justice and shalom.
- Develop an awareness of who the victims of these cultural practices are.
- Commit to intervene to stand alongside and work to build a foundation of shalom (peace, well-being) upon which they can build their lives.
- Develop an awareness of the idolatries that cripple our world, our nation, our communities and our individual lives. Speak prophetically against these idolatries.
- Have the courage to take these stands as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
- Other ideas. . .
The Rev. Fran Gardner-Smith and The Rev. Dr. David Smith
Sidebar 1: One Example of Rome’s Relationship with God’s Nonhuman Creation
The first sidebar is an article from The Atlantic entitled, “The Exotic Animal Traffickers of Ancient Rome.” The article is about how the Roman Empire used animals in spectacles in Roman arenas. Let me warn you that like so much about the Roman Empire, it’s sobering. I include it because next fall, we will be focusing on Revelation’s message about God’s love for the nonhuman creation and the impact of human evil on God’s nonhuman creation.
The article concludes with a mosaic depicting a leopard hunt in an arena in Tunisia. The article concludes with the words on the mosaic. They are attributed to Magerius, who brought himself much glory by paying for this spectacle. His words are, “This is what it means to be rich, this is that it means to be powerful, this is the case now!” From our study, how do you think the Bible would respond to that statement? Here’s the link to that article:
Sidebar 2: Romans 13 and Revelation: How to hold together apparent opposites
This second sidebar is prompted by a discussion we had in one of our Revelation Bible Club meetings. The discussion was about the relationship between the church and state. We noted that Paul’s words in Romans 13 sound quite different from the message of Revelation. Our discussion asked: how do we synchronize Paul’s words of acquiescing to the empire with Revelation’s call to resist? This sidebar is my attempt to do that.
Writing in 1999, Walter Pilgrim describes his dismay at the church’s response to the crises of the 20thcentury. As he searches for a cause of the church’s failure, he concludes that one reason is the church’s misinterpretation of Romans 13 and a complete lack of awareness of the Book of Revelation. He writes,
I have been deeply puzzled and disturbed by the repeated failure of the church and individual Christians in the midst of twentieth-century crises. I do not say this to pass judgment or to claim a higher moral ground. But I wonder about the degree to which the failures may be due to a one-sided reading or misreading of the New Testament. In the case of German Evangelical Christians (my own heritage), it became far too easy to equate being a Christian with loyalty to one’s nation or government. Victoria Barnett, the author of a provocative study of the church resistance movements in Germany, searches for the reasons why so few stood firm: “For those who weren’t Nazis, the habits of complicity grew by degrees; its roots were in the tangled web of fear, nationalism, political naiveté, and traditional subservience to the state.”‘ Why this subservience to the state? Among the complexity of answers may be biblical ones. Perhaps those Christians knew only the tradition of Romans 13 or a misinterpretation of Jesus’ saying, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s….” The contrary witnesses in the New Testament, and especially the Apocalypse, may have been unknown, forgotten, or silenced. Therefore, one of my purposes is to enable Christians and the church to hear the full testimony of the New Testament, which includes both a critique of and resistance to those in political authority. Caesar is not Lord. Governments may or may not be servants of God.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 are quite clear in their critique of the Roman imperial cult. This critique appears to be at odds with this directive from Paul in Romans 13:1-7:
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Pilgrim describes the great danger that happens when the church rejects Revelation and follows a simplistic interpretation of Romans 13. Is there a way to combine a deeper understanding of Romans 13 with the message of Revelation? Thomas Hughson points to such a way. He writes:
Paul’s position was clear. He professed that “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 8:5-6,12:30, and thereby weighed in with the powerful demurral that Caesar was not Lord, was not the supreme and imperial savior.
Hughson also adds a reference to the work of Walter Pilgrim. Pilgrim assesses Jesus’ relationship with the Roman Empire and describes it as an “ethic of critical distancing.”Hughson writes:
Paul’s position on how to relate to the Roman Empire was complex insofar as it involved not absolute, but conditional, acceptance of a contingent political authority and governance. The condition was that it serve the divine purpose of a just, ordered, peaceful life in society and did not oppose the Lordship of Christ manifest in the existence and evangelizing mission of Christians. Therefore, his accolade to standing political authority in Romans 13 was not antithetical, as usually has been thought, to condemnation of imperial tyranny in Revelation 13. Revelation 13 condemned precisely a regime that defaulted on its duty to serve the divine purpose of justice and peace and so did not meet the Christian condition. . . . This was in keeping with what Pilgrim calls Jesus’ “ethic of critical distancing” of his mission from political authority.
Sidebar 3: The Social Makeup of Early Churches
One of the questions that has come up in our meetings is the social makeup of the churches addressed in Revelation. Specifically, we wondered how many participants were poor and how many were wealthy. This brief quote from Larry Hurtado indicates that these churches included a representative mix of Roman society.
The evidence [is] that early Christianity included a good many individuals of varied social and economic levels, among them those who had property and possessions, those with some level of education, and some with respectable social status.
Christopher C. Rowland, “The Book of Revelation,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998, 583.
Mitchell G. Raddish, Revelation, Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001, 72.
David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5, Dallas: Word Books, 1997, 249.
Leonard L. Thompson, Revelation, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998, 84.
C. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation,Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 298.
W.M. Ramsey, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, 2 vols, Oxford, 1895, I:215n.
Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Cambridge University Press, 1993, 17.
Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011, 103.
Gorman, 109, 110.
Harry O. Maier, Apocalypse Recalled, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2002, 20-21.
Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002, 236.
Gorman, 112, 113.
Walter E. Pilgrim, Uneasy Neighbors: Church and State in the New Testament, Augsburg Fortress, 1999, 3.
Thomas Hughson, S.J., “Citizenship: Re-Minded by the Holy Spirit” in Robert Boak Slocum, Engaging the Spirit: Essays on the Life and Theology of the Holy Spirit, New York: Church Publishing Inc., 2001, 194.
Larry W. Hurtado, Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2016, 46.