Good morning! I hope your Christmas went well, and that you’ve got some further plans for rest in this last week of the year. For our part in Daily Bible, today we start the final book of the Bible, the Revelation to John. Mystery, fear and dread surround the book of Revelation in our popular context. Certain scenes from it have been part of western culture for centuries, and though it’s a deeply influential book not many people explore beyond the lurid descriptions of fantastic beasts, worldwide calamities, and supernatural battles. Becoming closer friends with Revelation however (as with the entire Bible) can help us better discern what meaning there is in it—if any—for us today. As I read it, the main message of Revelation is that “hope springs eternal”. God always triumphs in the end, even against the most powerful and deadly opposition possible. Put another way and borrowing another phrase, the arc of faithful Christianity is long, but it bends toward deliverance.
In the early decades of the second century, Christianity has grown to such influence that it threatens the security of the Roman Empire. It empowers a competing loyalty to Jesus instead of Caesar, and elevates the voices of slaves, women, the poor, and other marginalized communities. Some emperors treat it with benign disdain, but others seek to annihilate Christians with public spectacles of martyrdom by gladiators or beasts. The book of Revelation arises from the latter context of great persecution. Its writer John, himself exiled to the island of Patmos, seeks to encourage other Christians to endure through mortal hostilities with the message of God’s eventual triumph over evil. Because of the danger that would come if these writings were discovered by authorities, John adopts a code based in numerology and imagery of the biblical prophets (especially Ezekiel) to communicate without being understood by non-Christians. Chapters 1-3 set the stage and introduce us to seven churches in Asia Minor who are the intended audience of this unique book.
A preface characterizes the book as intended to show Christians “what must soon take place”, and to instruct on how to live in the days before Christ’s imminent return. John wrote the contents of his vision with the (common but so far unrealized) expectation that the world would end in a cataclysm divine judgment, at which time everything would finally be set right. Even though this prophecy never came true as John wrote it (nor as every generation since has applied it to their times), its core message of endurance through challenge does give hope to suffering people around the world still today. We need not (and should not) take these prophesies literally to share in that assurance of eventual triumph over evil by divine good.
But on to those churches. John describes being “in the spirit on the Lord’s day” when he has a vision of Jesus appearing among seven lampstands and with seven stars in his hand. We hear that each lampstand represents one of the churches in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey and Greece), and the stars represent the angelic protection over each church. Jesus dictates personal commendations and corrections to each of the churches, referencing their activities against opposition and praising their endurance. Smyrna and Philadelphia receive only encouragement, but the other five cities get “called out” for short-comings. The messages here (and throughout Revelation) reflect a very polarized world where the “good side” is under assault on every front (from Satan and the unknown Nicolaitans, for starters) and must allow no breaches if they are to withstand the attack. John also conveys the promises of Jesus to each church if they are able to endure—artifacts, the divine presence, and eternal victory. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Revelation 4-7. Thanks for reading!