Friday, December 28, 2012

Conditions in Churches When John Wrote

John wrote to "the seven churches that are in Asia" (Revelation 1:4), specifically, churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 1:11) . These cities were in the Roman province of Asia, the western part of modern day Turkey, across the Aegean Sea from Greece. He wrote as a partner in tribulation while confined to the island called Patmos, a small Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea about 35 miles west of Miletus.

Conditions in the churches of Asia at the time of writing can be inferred from the letters to the churches in chapters two and three. Two churches faced hardships caused by Jews. The church in Smyrna faced tribulation and poverty and slander by the Jews. As a consequence, some of them would be tested and imprisoned for ten days (Revelation 2:9-10). The church in Philadelphia had kept Christ's word and not denied his name while they also endured hardships caused by the Jews (3:8-10). In a third church, certain men found to be false apostles may have had Jewish connections (2:2). Hardships created by Jews were not new but no longer seemed to constitute the majority of the hardships as they had during the lifetime of Paul.

In one church, the church in Pergamum, a saint by the name of Antipas had been slain because he held fast to the name of Christ and did not deny the faith (2:13). The explanation for his death was that Satan dwelled in Pergamum (an allusion to Pergamum being a center of worship for Asklepios, whose symbol was a serpent) and that Satan's throne was there (an allusion to the seat of the Roman Proconsul and to the first temple of the Imperial cult in Asia). Apparently Antipas had offended Roman and religious authorities in some manner. Still, persecution resulting in death must have been comparatively rare at the time because Antipas is the only one mentioned in the seven letters as dying for the faith.

Two churches had compromised with the pagan world in order to participate in the social and economic benefits enjoyed by those who gave at least a token recognition of the patron gods of the cities and trade guilds. Although those in the church in Sardis had soiled their garments by compromising with the pagan world (3:4), they had gained a reputation for being alive (3:1). They were no longer social outcasts in fear of their lives. Although Jesus considered the church in Laodicea to be shamefully naked and destitute because of her compromise with the pagan world, the church herself said, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing" (3:17) making herself uncomfortably like Babylon the Great in 18:7 and 16. By compromising with pagan society, Sardis enjoyed security, and Laodicea enjoyed economic prosperity.

False teachers in several other churches were advocating compromise with the pagan world. In Pergamum, false teachers held the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans who taught people to eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual immorality (2:14-15). The Nicolaitans were also active in Ephesus (2: 6). The church in Thyatira tolerated the prophetess Jezebel, who bore the family resemblance of the Great Prostitute in Revelation 17. Jezebel also encouraged the saints to compromise with the pagan world (2:20). The faithful in all three cities, however, were commended for their patient endurance (2:2-3, 13, 19), which apparently meant that they shared the hardships of being social outcasts and living in poverty rather than compromising their faith.

Taken together, these accounts give a picture of some Jewish persecution in two cities (Smyrna and Philadelphia), imperial and pagan persecution in one city (Pergamum), and the seduction of pagan wealth and pleasure in five cities (Sardis, Laodicea, Pergamum, Ephesus, and Thyatira).   Therefore, we should look for a time when there was some persecution from both Jewish and imperial sources, but when the greatest threat to the churches was the seduction of pagan culture.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Objections to the Apostle's Authorship Answered

The first to question the Apostle John as the author of Revelation and suggest it was written by another John was Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria from AD 248 until his death on November 17, 265. Eusebius says that Dionysius questioned the Apostle John's authorship of Revelation for several reasons.[4] One reason was because the author's writing style differs from the style of John in the gospel. Although it must be admitted that there are significant differences in style, there are also some significant similarities in imagery and diction ("Word" and "Lamb" used for Jesus, reference to Jesus being "pierced," "water of life," "him that thirsts," "true," and "overcome/conquer").[5]

A second reason Dionysius questioned that the Apostle wrote Revelation was because John did not include his name in his other writings while Revelation mentions the name of John several times both at the beginning and at the end (Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). This reasoning, however, overlooks that none of the authors of the four gospels identify themselves in the text of their gospels. Furthermore, 1st John is not really an epistle, which generally names the author, but more like a doctrinal address. Preachers don't often identify themselves within their speeches. On the other hand, 2nd and 3rd John are quite intimate letters in which the writer is identified by details within the letter.[6] Hence, it should not be surprising to see John include his name in Revelation which mimics the opening and closing of epistles such as those of Paul.

Despite the objections of Dionysius and some modern scholars, the witness of the early church that the Apostle John wrote Revelation is accepted, and any differences are accounted for by differing genre, occasion, and purpose.[7]

[4] Eusebius, Church History, Bk. VII, xxvii.
[5] Alan F. Johnson, "Revelation", The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 405. Steve Gregg, Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 14. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 35.
[6] Ray Summers, Worthy Is the Lamb: An Interpretation of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1951), 73-79.
[7] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 34-35.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Author of Revelation

The author introduces himself as "his (God's) servant John" (Revelation 1:1). In the epistolary greeting, he calls himself simply John (Revelation 1:4) as if the recipients of the letter would know who he was. Indeed, he continues by saying that he was their "brother and partner in the tribulation" (Revelation 1:9). Therefore, it appears that he was well-known in the churches of Asia Minor and that they would have no difficulty identifying him.

The early church was nearly unanimous in identifying the Apostle John as the author of Revelation. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), who lived in Asia Minor shortly after the time of John the Apostle, writes, "And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him…." [1] Irenaeus (130-202 AD), who was born in Smyrna and later became a bishop in what is now Lyons, France, frequently quotes Revelation which he attributes to John.[2] Eusebius records these words of Origen (185-254 AD):
Why need we speak of him who reclined upon the bosom of Jesus, John, who has left us one Gospel, though he confessed that he might write so many that the world could not contain them? And he wrote also the Apocalypse, but was commanded to keep silence and not to write the words of the seven thunders.[3]
Most conservative Bible scholars take the Apostle John to be the author of Revelation.

[1] Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho (81).
[2] R. J. Utley, Volume 12: Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation. Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2001). 11.
[3] Eusebius. Church History, Bk. VI, xxx, 9.