My Christmas Message on ICON


What are we searching for?

Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan, Thrissur Diocese

A group of shepherds, resting at night outside the cave where their flock was kept, received a message and went out to check it out. They saw to their amazement “… Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). They were not so much surprised at the sight because the message they received had told them, “you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). What they went out to see was a new born child in a most pathetic, wretched and poor environment. However, they heard the angels glorifying God for giving this child to the world. They realized that the situation in which the child was born was not a cursed or negative, rather a blessed one.

This, as a matter of fact, was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of humanity guided by God. God initiated the history of the world in creation hoping that it will steadily progress in the manner God wanted it to be. But human with his greed set the pace in a distorted direction. What God wanted was a history of humans in participation with God. God wanted to be with people, his creation, guiding them through all stages of development and take it to culmination of perfecting God’s image and likeness in them and thus, in the words of our ancient fathers, ‘make them like God’.
But human who could not wait for that process, rather wanted to jump over several stages in one step jeopardized God’s purpose. They, by their act went away from God’s presence and hid themselves behind a tree and found protection under it instead of finding it under the caring and guiding hand of God. So God had to keep them away for a while ‘lest they eat the fruit of the tree of life and live permanently in that distorted path’. God irrespective of human rebelliousness continued to work through selected individuals to bring his people back to his fold.

This is what we see in the life of Abram and his journey from Mesopotamia and later in Moses and his flight from Egypt. God walked with Abram and with Moses and his people. God provided Moses and his group with freedom from political and religious slavery, led them safe through hostile environment, provided them with food, water and passage, and was with them as a source of comfort and hope. He, of course, corrected them when they went wrong; but never left them alone for the mercy of the wilderness. God was a ‘God with us’ for those who left Egypt. The people recorded it in their history (Deut. 6 and 26). However, they lost that first step somewhere on the way further in history. David, out of his political ambitions made God his personal property and entombed him in his private chapel (see, 2 Sam. 6:1-5, 10 ff.). Thus he made God unapproachable and distant for the people by bringing the symbol of the presence of God in their midst, the ark in to his personal property, Jerusalem. His son later built a temple and enslaved God. The temple he built was magnificent and was an expression of not only his wealth, but also of his enslavement and hard labor levied on the people of God. Though it was interpreted as according to the will of God, later God himself used foreign kings to destroy it. Still they did not learn. When they came back from exile in Babylon, they built another temple which Jesus talked about saying, “… not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown away” (Matt. 24:2).

God wanted to correct the distracted history. He wanted to be with people, not through intermediaries, not through gatekeepers, but directly in the most simple and pure way (when I say this some may raise their eyebrows thinking I am against intercession of saints and mediation of clerics. No, to an orthodox believer saints are those who share the caring love of God toward his people and who stand with the faithful praying along. Priests (bishops included) are the shepherds and not gatekeepers who control people’s entry in to the presence of God, rather help them go further in their relation with God. Recently a term ‘bhadrasanadhipan’ is being used for bishops of our Church. This is totally wrong to my understanding of the office of Bishops. Rather they are chief shepherds and presiding person in worship of the congregation and can only be called ‘Bhadrasana Metropolitan’ ).

When God’s plan did not get worked out, he chose to do it by himself while he tried it earlier through his chosen ones, prophets and leaders and found unsuccessful. That initiated a new chapter in the history. He was born as the Son of David in the same city where he was enslaved in the thick darkness of the temple built with wood and stone, God’s own creation, by David. However, he was not born in the palace or in the temple, rather was born as any other poor and miserable human being of that time as a genuine human child. David was a shepherd before he became king and an enslaver. God took flesh and was born among sheep and the first who came to see him was shepherds. Seeing all these corrective measures fathers of our Church, starting with the Apostles, called him ‘God with us’ or Immanuel. They called a boy who was born in the most pathetic environment God. This is so wonderful (see the repeated phrase in our Yeldo liturgy ‘ithu atbhuthamakunnu’ . The shepherds went to see God incarnate in the most primitive and crude environment.

Now the questions before us are, where do we look for God’s continued incarnation and presence? Whom do we consider divine? I would humbly say, we Christians took the history back to where it went in the other direction whith Adam’s act of haste and greed. We took the child in the manger and put him in an artificially created golden crib. We set guards for God, just like David did, that no common man could approach him easily. We set laws and statutes claiming that we are protecting the interests of God and people’s faith in him. We sent intermediaries between God and human that we can issue permits and entry pass receiving fee and donation. We did the same mistake David did in Jerusalem. We built palacious buildings claiming that God resides there eternally. We today see such buildings in Europe and America being converted in to restaurants and clubs (I saw one of them recently in Iowa, USA, on the bank of Mississippi river). God does not pull them down any more, he gives them to people for better purpose (some times, of course, not so better purpose. God’s mysterious ways!!).

On the other hand, we failed to see sons of men still being born in pathetic situations. We look for divine presence and God’s blessings in wealth and riches. We invoked God’s presence not in areas that require salvation and redemption, rather to affluence and luxury. Greed and fancy continue to control our lives. We look for how much we can spend to further our luxurious life style, not how much is required to change the lives of those living in pathetic situation. We made God owner and custodian of wealth and riches. With that we took him away from among the people. We look for our God and his presence not in manger, rather in palaces and wealthy places just like those wise men of the old. We get easily attracted by what is called ‘prosperity Gospel’ of the time. We consider the divine as someone who prefers to live far from human situations. The great fathers of our Church confessed and proclaimed “un-assumed are unsaved”. Our Lord assumed our poor and wretched situation not to make us materially wealthy but to make us whole (shalom) and happy, leading a peaceful life participating in God’s salvific work. He assumed our nature that it shall be a resurrected nature, not slavish any more. But look at us, we are still enslaved by consumerism and greed.

The message of Christmas is that, we need to see God’s saving presence in the pathetic environment where humans are being born and are living in. Until we see no more birth and life in such situation we have no right to look for luxury and lavish lifestyle. This is what Paul talked about when he said in Rom. 8:22, 23, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies“. Our distorted lifestyle only will make lives of people more miserable. We see the effect of our greed in the present ‘global economic crisis’. So let us look down to the mangers and where sheep are resting instead of to palaces and to where kings and nobles are making merry.

I wish ICON members all over the world and everyone who comes across this short note, a blessed Christmas that would help us set your lives on the right track and in line with God’s plan about you, along with a New Year of God’s promises fulfilled in you.

A Sociological Study of the Book of Revelation


“Come out of her! my people; Lest you share in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.”

A Sociological Study of the Book of Revelation

Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan

I. Introduction

Several people even today wonder about he meaning, theology and usefulness of the Book of Revelation. Some see it as a programme for the end time. Others try to avoid it saying many things said in it are against the Christian Gospel. What really is the issue in the Book of Revelation? A sociological investigation in to the book will help us answer this question I think. This paper is an attempt in this direction. The pertinent sociological question is what kind of a society the author of the book is trying to create?  Following are some of the questions raised in order to find an answer to the fundamental question of the nature of the community.

What are the basic cohesive factors that John the seer and the Churches share?

Who is maintaining the boundaries; or who has the authority to say to the Churches what the patterns of their behavior are to be?

What are the boundaries working in this community, and what are their functions?

How are these boundaries guarded and maintained?

What is the kind of community John hopes to have; and do the people share these ideas with John?

The main issue in the book seems to be the question of the identity of the community. John has a firm conviction that he represents a unique community. He is worried about the nature of the world around him. Here the question is how to keep the community, as it ought to be in a situation of challenge? The book of Revelation is an answer to this question in John’s own terms. The thesis of the paper is, ‘John the seer who was already known and respected in the Churches, and who share with them several values of the community, is trying to place himself in the role of the only legitimate leader in the churches and trying to urge the community to keep its identity as he understands it’.

This study focuses on the contents of the letters to the seven churches as seen in the book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. However, the author finds it convincing that this section is an integral part of the whole book and hence references are made to other parts of the book as well.[1]

II. Basic Cohesion factors

There are few things that John and the seven churches, addressed in the book, share. God is the primary factor that keeps the churches together. In general, he is the one who is trying to tell the people about people’s conduct. He is ‘the Alpha and Omega’, who is and ‘was and is to come’, the ‘almighty one’ (1:8). He is ‘the Father’. They believe in one God.

Same is the case with their faith in Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness, the first born of the dead and the ruler of the kings on earth (5:6). He is the son of man (1:3), the lamb that was slain (5:6), and the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand (2:1). All these epithets of Jesus were familiar to his listeners. The churches were expecting Christ’s coming (1:7). He is understood to be the one who saved them from their sins by his blood (1:5).

John must have been a well-known and well-respected person in the churches. There are scholars who believe that he was a resident of Ephesus and probably a pastor to all these Churches.[2] He calls himself a servant of God (1:1) and one among them, the fellow servant. He is a brother to them and shares with them their tribulation (1:9). He presents himself as a prophet in the churches over against the false prophets (1:1,2; 16:13). The churches call themselves a community called together by God (4:10; 11:1; 14:7) to be free of sin. They belong to one kingdom and are priests to one God (1:6). It is a community based on love (2:4) with an attitude of service (2:19) and good works (2:2, 19). They are called saints (5:8; 8:4; 11:18) or holy people. They believe in angels and in their presence before God and in service to human.

The churches are located in almost the same region and share generally the same cultural and sociological context. Politically Rome is over all those regions.

III. Question of Authority

The book opens with the words, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants of what must soon take place” (1:1). The source of the revelation is God. What is said about the fate of the enemies of the church and what is promised to the victors come from God. Hence, God is the protector or the boundary at the basic stage. He gives direction to the church about the pattern of conduct of the people. But this revelation is then given to Jesus Christ. So the second person who holds the authority over the church and over the boundaries is Christ. There is another reason for him to be in authority. He is the lamb that was slain (5:6, 9, 12; 13:8). Thus Christ becomes a model of suffering, death and victory. He is the conqueror (3:21). This gives him authority to draw a line between the things that could initially cause suffering and ultimately would bring victory.

However, the chain is not complete with Christ. The revelation is given to John for the sake of the churches. Though John calls himself a servant among other servants (1:1), his position in the church is unique and much important. He stands against some of the apostles, Jezebel the prophetess and all other rival groups and teachers in the church. This is an indirect claim on his authority over against other leaders whom he calls ‘false teachers’. John does not mention any other ecclesiastical authority in the Church.[3] John considers himself as the one standing in the prophetic tradition of Israel. His free and extensive use of the Old Testament images and events confirm this.[4] He declares the rival teachers as those who belong to Satan. His claim on the revelation of the whole truth (19:9) makes him authentic. The heavenly angels and the twenty four elders are witnesses to him (5:11; 4:4;5:5; 7:1). It is through him those in the church receive the revelation. While John presents Christ as the Amen (3;14), he portrays himself as a true prophet to the Amen. Thus, there is a deliberate attempt on his part to legitimize John’s prophetic authority over the churches.[5] Also John is presently undergoing suffering and tribulation along with the churches. Thus, between God and Christ on the one hand and the people on the other, John stands as a true recipient of the divine revelation over against his rival teachers. Hence the people are bound to recognize him as the true leader and guardian of the boundaries even during his personal absence from the churches.

IV. Identification of Boundaries

A boundary is formed by the coming together of two different qualities, objects or forces. … More precisely, a boundary structures a situation in which differences touch one another: It calls attention to the contiguity of differences and becomes a kind of ‘transformer’ which allows those differences to cross on the other side.[6]

In this sense we could see the working of boundaries in the seven churches in relation to the appreciations and accusations John makes on the churches. He identifies and reveals to the people good and bad behaviors. Therefore, the first part of our investigation in this section will be to see what John finds good and bad in them.

IV. 1. Good and bad conducts.

One of the basic things John finds in the churches as to be appreciated is endurance (2:9,19; 3:10). The Ephesian church is praised for their patient endurance (2:2). This is also the readiness to stand firm before conflicting situations. Love and faith are two other qualities the seer wants to see growing in the churches (2:4,13,19. Cf. 13:10; 14:12). Love can be interpreted as the attitude towards Christ and his church represented by John along with hatred towards false teachers (2:6). Faith is integrally related to love and its practice in the community.

The Ephesian church is praised for not bearing evil men (2:2). By evil men, John means the false apostles. He appreciates the church for testing and finding them false. We are not quite sure what John means by ‘false apostles’. Probably he is referring to those journeying preachers who considered themselves as belonging to a second layer of apostles after the twelve.[7] This church is also praised for not accommodating the Nicolaitans (2:6). John finds this as faithfulness to the teaching John is propagating. Tribulation and poverty are found by John as virtues of the church in Smyrna (2:9). Thus love, relation to Jesus, hatred towards evil men, patient endurance and faithfulness are some characters that are praiseworthy in the sight of John.

On the other hand, John accuses the churches for several matters. One of the major accusations raised against the churches is in relation to some kind of distinct teaching. The Pergamum church is criticized for holding the teaching of Nicolaitans (2:15). We can not go any further from what is said in the text to see the precise nature of this teaching. There are scholars who argue that this teaching is identical with the teaching of Balaam-Balak group (2:14).[8] Concerning the Balaam-Balak group, the story in Numbers 22 seems to be in the background. Whether this is used symbolically or not, we do not know. What is clear is the nature of their teaching. This group did not condemn eating of food offered to idols and the practice of ‘immorality’ (2:14). It is not hard to identify the nature of the first part of the accusation. Within the social context of the churches, probably those who worked with the people of other communities in ‘guilds’ were required to share with them food offered to idols.[9]

The second part of the teaching is said to be immorality. This term could simply mean ‘lack of loyalty to the one God’ in a metaphorical sense and hence need not imply any sexual practice though this can also mean ‘fornication’. In 17:4, fornication is interpreted as recognition and worship of other gods. The same accusation is made against the church in Thyatira in relation to Jezebel (2:20), the false prophetess. It is less possible that this Jezebel group practiced fornication in the churches in its literal sense.[10] In the context of the emperor cult existed in the society, it is quite reasonable to assume that these groups did not prevent the followers from taking a passive attitude toward emperor worship. The seer who puts himself, to a great extent, in the Israelite prophetic tradition found this as evil as the work of Jezebel during the time of the prophet Elijah and Elisha (1Kings 16:30-33). It should be the same kind of teaching which is referred to as the ‘deep things of Satan’ (2:24).  The qualification ‘of Satan’ is from the seer and it shows his disrespect toward the teaching. The term Satan is used in relation to other communities or institutions also (2:9, 13).

The Laodicean church is accused of having a lukewarm state (3:15). The reference here is to a possible passive attitude of the church to the world affairs and Christian values as John understands them. The church is rich enough not to depend too much either on the Romans and Jews or on the leaders of the church. John calls the people of Laodicea wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked (3:17) and thus tries to make them understand that they should belong either to the church which John represents or to Rome and the Jews, the representatives of Satan. On the contrary, the economically poor Smyrna Church is comforted by saying that it is rich and asks the people to be fearless (2:8,9). Though John did not see wealth as something evil in itself, he did not like the Laodiceans being proud of their wealth.[11] He must have thought that this wealth was accumulated only through their association with the pagans and Jews. [12] Key to wealth is accommodation of Rome. John also seems to have taken a strong stand against the use of Roman coins with the image of the emperor on it.[13]

While the church in Ephesus is criticized of abandoning their first love (2:4), the Thyatira church is praised for growing in love (2:19). The Sardis church is said to be one almost dead (3;1) and the seer is not satisfied with their works. It seems that John is expecting a radical attitude from the churches. Every thing that is said in the form of accusation has to do with the conduct of the people in the community. They are not permitted to mingle with those who eat food offered to idols, respect the emperor and his cult and mingle with those who acclaim that these things are not against Christian teaching. He is also against those who take pride in wealth and count themselves self-sufficient.

IV. 2. Outsiders and Insiders

What is said about the kind of conduct John wanted within the church helps us to categorize them and identify the insiders and outsiders. John is naming two groups that are outside the community with one of them having a possibility of becoming insiders and a third group which is inside right now, but with a possibility of becoming outsiders. While Rome and the Jews belong to the first category, false teachers belong to the second.

In the sight of John, Rome is a beast with ugly and repulsive features (13:1-3,11), and a woman seated on the beast (17:4, 18). Rome promotes idol worship and makes people eat food offered to images (13:14, 17). This is something John cannot compromise with. Any kind of association with Rome or Roman practice is not allowed in the churches. It is better to die than having any relation (2:10; 17:6). The accusations against the churches are all indirectly pointed toward idol worship and social involvement. Whether they are promoted by false teachers within the church or not is only a secondary question. Thus, Rome stands as the rival authority against the authority of God. Common meal, worship of idols and social interaction are symbols of their counter claim. Rome, for John is totally an outside world. Who ever trespasses this boundary is subject to condemnation (2:5, 16, 23). The book does not speak about the possibility of someone from the Roman society coming in to the church. This was, under the circumstance, not possible at all.[14]

The working of the boundaries in the case of Jews is slightly different. Here the boundary is rather weak. This is where Thompson’s interpretation of boundaries as ‘point of transaction’ becomes relevant.[15] As far as the Jews are concerned, John does not completely abandon them even though they are considered as outsiders at present. There is a possibility for them to come in to the community of John, though they as a community act now as an agent of Satan. Even though in almost all the seven places, Jews lived along with Christians, only at two places the Jews are said to be a synagogue of Satan (2:9; 39).[16] Out of these two, only at one place the reason for calling them so is explained (2:9). This means John has complaints only against those Jews in Smyrna and Philadelphia. It is not clear from the text what was John’s attitude towards Jews in other places. It is less possible for John to consider them as insiders. But certainly John should be willing to include them if they came to the church (3:9). The presence of and the worship offered by the twenty four elders before God and before the lamb (4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16), and the importance of Jerusalem and of the temple in the whole salvific work of God (3:12; 21:2, 10; 11:1, 2, 19; 14:15, 17; 21:22) should suggest that the Jews are supposed to have an active part in the community at large. Here what is decisive is the worship of the elders before the lamb (5:8). Probably John’s reluctance to include Jews as insiders was because they were not ready to accept Jesus as the conqueror.[17] They are said to be brought before the feet of the Philadelphia church, and it should mean that they will accept every thing that the church stands for (3:9). Faith in Jesus as Christ is the basic principle of the church. John wishes that those Jews would accept Christ as the Lord and the church as the true Israel.[18]

With respect to the opposing groups within the church, John’s boundaries are very fluid. They are considered as insiders, but they could be thrown out if they continue to be spreading false teachings concerning the life style of Christian and thus serve as agents of Satan. They are given a chance to repent. The repeated call for repentance (2:5, 16, 22), shows that John wants them to be inside the community. If they fail, they will be making themselves eligible to be cast out. Here the criterion to stay inside is repentance. John wants the people who go after the false teachers reconsider their position even while the false teachers, prophetess and the apostles try to lead them astray. John can not tolerate rival teachers who spread contradicting teachings within the church. He considers himself as the sole authority of authentic teaching in the church. We may list all those whom John considers as insiders but who may be thrown out. Who follow the teachings of Balaam-Balak and eat food sacrificed to idols and thus respect other gods, the supporters of Jezebel, who use Roman coin, those who share public life with the Romans and Jews, who participate in ‘guilds’, whose love and works are not up to the mark, who take pride in their wealth and who do not identify with the church, are all potential outsiders.

Taking the suggestion of Thompson, we might identify the working of a fundamental ratio in the question of boundaries. Rome makes a counter claim on divinity. Jews refuse to accept Jesus as the Lamb slaughtered and the false teachers take it on the true teaching of the church.[19]

V. Maintenance of Boundaries

This section can be considered as an answer to the question, how the boundaries are guarded and maintained? The answer to this question is found by identifying the enemies of the community, the advice John gives, the promise that are made, and the consequences that are listed in terms of what would happen if the advice is not taken seriously.

V. 1. Enemies of the Community.

To John, the enemies of the community are the Romans, the Jews and the false teachers. If we take the content of the letters alone, the major threat comes from within. The groups responsible for the threats are the Nicolaitans, the Balaam-Balak group, the false apostles and prophetess called Jezebel. All these individuals and groups persuade the faithful to eat food offered to idols and thus commit fornication or apostasy. Ultimately to John, this is a threat against the Almighty God, since anyone who would recognize the supremacy of God would not recognize other gods and participate in their cult.[20] For John a compromising attitude is a threat to the community and to its members.

Greater is the threat that lies behind the attitude of the ‘false’ prophets and teachers. This is where the death of Antipas and the reference to the seat of Satan become relevant. The situation for Christians to take an accommodative stand towards pagan cult is created by the socio-political situation in the churches.[21] Rome is the most powerful threat against the church. The responsibility of the death of Antipas is also placed on Rome. Whether he was killed in mob violence or directly by Roman governor is of less importance here. To John, the death of Antipas is a clear example for the policy of Rome towards Christians. Christians are not protected by Rome and they at many times are the target of violence.[22] Thus Antipas becomes the sign of a greater threat that will only escalate. Recognition of this threat is seen in John’s frequent call to churches for patient endurance (1:9; 2:2, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:10. Also see 2:13; 3:11 –hold fast). The seer also visualizes a time of greater tribulation denoted by the words ‘imprisonment’ and ‘death’ (2:10). The threat from Rome is considered as the greatest and hence the rest of the book almost entirely is dedicated to explaining various aspects of this power and its various actions.

The third threat is mentioned only in the letters. This is the threat from the slanderous Jews. In the letters, John refers to the synagogue of Satan the members of which claim to be Jews. Some scholars have raised doubts whether this is a reference to the Jews or to the Judaisers within the church itself. Under the present context, we would consider them as Jews and not Judaiseres.[23] The Jews are said to be slanderers. This slander is directed against the Smyrna church which is a poor church. Their poverty may be due to their separation from the life of the society. Any sort of aloofness from the affairs of the society is a matter that could be condemned in the Roman Province.[24] Jews enjoyed considerable amount of freedom and status in the society, though most of them were not citizens.  They considered Christians as a rival group in Judaism with their claim on Jesus as Messiah. Jews had a legitimate reason to make accusation against Christian. Disassociation from the guilds and gymnasiums, hesitation to pay homage to the emperor and suspiciously conducting group meetings were clear proof for such an accusation. But to the Christians they were some of the basic characters of the church. So, for John, the Jews are a potential threat to the very existence of the church and so they are included among the enemies of the church. Thus, for the seer, the enemies are many and powerful and a firm endurance is needed to keep the integrity of the church. This is the whole idea behind his drawing the boundary lines.

V. 2.  Advice.

What John asked the churches to do can be described in four headings: hear what the spirit is saying, repent, be fruitful and do some thing positive.

Every letter ends with a call from John that was made in the name of the Spirit to the churches. When the church is addressed the formula “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” is used. This follows the information about what is offered to the conquerors in each church according to its context. The message primarily is from Jesus Christ (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). In the case of each church a different qualification of Christ is used. This again is according to the situation prevailed in that particular church.

There is a frequent call directed towards the churches to turn back from what they were doing. This is the second time a call is issued to the Jezebel group (2:21). Though the word repentance is used in the case of each church in every context, in the light of the possible threat that John sees against the churches and in the context of what the churches were doing, it is possible to make a general comment on this word; this is a call to turn back form their association with Rome and their associated agencies. Thus the term ‘repent’ here has more of a socio-political significance than religious meaning. But for John socio-political life is integrally tied up with religious endurance.

Yet another demand John makes before the churches is to be faithful (2:20, 25; 3:3, 11). Faithfulness can be interpreted as holding on to a position which one is obliged to. It seems that the church in Smyrna was a bit worried about them being poor and being accused by the Jews for keeping away from the society. But to John, keeping away and thus being poor are the signs of faithfulness. Separation from society may bring suffering. But John places Jesus Christ as the model for faithfulness. Jesus showed his faithfulness to his father through his death. The whole idea of Jesus being compared with the lamb that is slaughtered (5:6, 12; 7;14) is to be understood in this way. The letter to the churches is concluded by the words of Jesus ‘who has conquered’. So the call to conquer extended to the churches is a challenge to be faithful unto death. This faithfulness is to be shown in their withdrawal from idolatrous Rome.

The fourth set of calls is to do some thing concrete. Most of them are symbolic speeches that have deep roots in the social realities and myths. All except one are directed towards the church in Laodicea. They consider themselves as rich and lacking nothing. But John is asking them to buy a series of things from Jesus Christ (3:8 – refined gold, white garment and eye salve).These things are to make their membership in the community secure. 3:20 portrays a special call. It says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (cf. Matt. 7:7; Luk. 11:9). Following this call, the next section (4:1) begins with a vision of an open door. Through this rhetorical style, a wonderful continuity is given to the theme. This is followed by a call to enter and witness wonderful secrets of God’s plan with the world and history. By opening the door to Jesus the church will on the one hand realize their poverty and will find their richness in him, and on the other hand, their membership in the community will be secured. This is another way of presenting the message of repentance. The church is not asked to give up their wealth, but they are called to take away their pride in wealth and self-sufficiency. The fact that living according to John’s advice may cause them lose their wealth and position is not a matter John is worried about.

The church in Thyatira is asked to hold fast what they have (2:25). The seer is content with how they live now and does not want to put more demands on them. But to hold fast to the faith is not an easy task in the social context. Nonetheless, they have to do that to be inside the community. Taken together, the call is for withdrawal. But that demand is placed in positive terms. For John these are the practical side of repentance.

V. 3. Promise.

The suffering that could be brought by living according to John’s advice is compensated by what are being promised by John. The first promise is about the protection from the trial that is to come on the whole world (3:11). Right now the faithful may face prison, suffering and death. But that will not be the end of the matter. Once the number of the martyrs is complete (6: 11), then a terrible dread is to fall on the whole world (6:12, 17). The faithful will be protected from this dread. They are also offered rescue from the second death (2:11) which follows this terrible time (20:6, 14; 21:8). Thus eternity is offered to all the faithful ones.

In symbolic language great honors are promised to the faithful. The fruit of the tree of life in paradise (2:7), hidden manna and white stone with the new name on it (2:17), power over the nations (2:26, 27), morning star (2:28), white garment (3:5), being made a pillar in the temple of God (3:12), and writing upon them the name of God, of the city of God and Jesus’ own name (3:12) are the major promises. We can make a comparative chart of what they are losing and what they will get if they are faithful.

Poverty and lack of wealth White stone with new name of it which will enable 

them for entry in to eternity

Inferiority and subordination power over nations and morning star
Cloth made in Roman textile mills White garment
Slander before Roman authorities confessing before the Father
Lack of citizenship Name in the book of life
Expulsion from the synagogue and Lack of participation in the emperor cult Becoming a pillar in the temple of God
Lack of the mark of the beast on them Names of God, of the city of God and of Jesus on them

The precise meaning of these symbols is less important here. The honor and recognition one gets before Jesus Christ and God implied here are powerful enough to persuade one to accept the message of John.

The underlying fact in all these promises is the fellowship with Christ, which is made explicit in a few instances. In 3:21, the conqueror is offered to sit with Jesus on his throne. Fellowship is offered to the victor in the Laodicean church, provided they open the door to Christ. The few who have not soiled their garments in Sardis are offered walk with Jesus in white robes since they are worthy (3:4). If they lose public life and social status, they will eventually receive the fellowship with Christ and an honorable seat with him. These are few things every one would look forward to have.

V. 4. Consequences

In his letter to the churches, John lists what are the things that need to be avoided with respect to their Christian behavior. Over against the elaborate and splendid explanation about the promises offered, the fate of the unfaithful is portrayed in few but strong words. The church in Ephesus is threatened of the removal of their lamp stand (2:5). Removal or destruction of the church is implied here.[25] A war with the sword of the mouth of Jesus will be declared against the disobedient Pergamum church (2:16). This is not a pleasant message. The fate of Jezebel and her followers is said to be terrible. She will be cast in to a sick bed (2:22), her followers will be put into great tribulation, and her children will be given for death (2:23).[26] If Laodicean church is going to continue to be lukewarm, they will be spewed out of Jesus’ mouth (3:16). The message is about a total abandoning.

However, nothing of this sort will happen if the churches repent. Therefore, the threats are not the last words. John seems to be making a contrasting situation in order to persuade the churches to maintain the boundaries.

VI. The Ideal Community

John has clear idea about his ideal community. For him, Christ is the Lord and Son of God (2:18), First and the Last (1:7; 2:8; 22:13), the True One (3:7, 14) and above all the lamb who was slain (5:6, 8, 12). He sits on the throne with his Father. To John, this is the fundamental faith of the Church and does not want to make any compromise on this. But he is sure that Satan is trying to compete with God and his church and it is using human agents for that purpose. Thus even the members of the church have become his agents. But it is the responsibility of the faithful to fight against Satan and his agents joining hand with God. Christ has conquered Satan (3:21). Taking the model of Christ, John is calling each church, to be victorious and conquerors (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).

John identifies Rome, the Jews and the false teachers within the church as the agents of Satan. Therefore, a church of Christ has to be a community that keeps itself away from these agents. Enjoying public meal, coming together with Jews and Gentiles, engaging in trade and commerce, working in guilds, doing financial transactions using Roman coin, all in the eyes of John are against the principles of his ‘ideal community’.

He is sure that this sort of a life is that of suffering and tribulations and will bring immense pressure on the individuals. But every one who wants to be inside the community of the lamb has to suffer patiently and show endurance. This time is not going to last long. All the visions in the rest of the book are speaking about the imminent fall of Rome (18:10, 21). The Jews will finally accept the supremacy of the church and the false teachers will perish. But prior to that Rome will fall and consequently all its allies will be wiped away. Therefore, the seer proclaims, “come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plague” (18:4). Thus John wants to create an exclusive community of saints where God alone is worshipped, Christ alone is the Lord and John alone is the true teacher.

This was not the kind of idea people had in their minds about the community.[27] Though John had earlier issued a warning to Jezebel, she did not listen to that. The Ephesian church has lost its old zeal, the Laodicean church is proud of its riches and wealth. The group represented by Balaam-Balak and the Nicolaitans were for more active involvement in the social life. They did not consider it as a serious offense. Thus John’s vision of the community and the people’s attitude are in conflict.[28] However, there are some who faithfully shared the idea of John (2:3, 13; 3:8).

VII. Conclusion

Our study of the book of Revelation helps us to understand one of the basic purposes of John in sending these letters to the churches. To John, it was a time of crisis. He was afraid that the church would loose its identity in the context of the social situation existed under the over-lordship of Rome.  To him, Christianity never could compromise with any one in matters of basic principles as he understands them. He could not think of some one respecting other gods and participating in their cults and yet call himself a Christian. Emperor worship that existed during the period to John called for serious consideration. The social situation made it so impossible for people to live a life, as John wanted them to be. John knew very well the implications of being faithful to what he considered the basic principles of Christianity. John wanted people to be patient and enduring. He finds Jesus as the true example for endurance. Being a servant of God, John understands his role in the church as that of a prophet who would advice his people about the correct attitude towards life and advice them about a genuine Christian life style. He was quite clear about what a Christian ought and ought not to do in the given context. He draws boundaries of a genuine Christian life, a life outside and inside. John does not want his fellow Christians to cross those boundaries. He explains to his churches the advantages of such a life and reveals to them what is to happen to those who support compromising attitude. John explains clearly enough the fate of the enemies of the church. To him Rome, the Jews and the false teachers are those enemies who try to destroy the church. He does not want the members of the church to allow the adversaries to destroy the church. Therefore, he advises them to keep away from all those influences. This could bring suffering or even death to them now. But that will not last long. Triumphant times will come when the church will rejoice with the elders and the saints on the victory of Christ over all his enemies. John asks the churches to be patient and enduring till then. The overall picture derived from the latter to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, hence, is of a community that is called to believe in social radicalism.

Select Bibliography

Aune, David E. “The Social Matrix of the Apocalypse of John” BR (1981) 16 – 32

Beckwith, Isbon T. The Apocalypse of John: Studies in Introduction with Critical and exegetical

Commentary. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967.

Brown, Schyler. “The Hour of Trial (Rev. 3:10)” JBL 85 (1966) 308-14

Caird, George Bradford. A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. HNTC. New

York: Harper & Row, 1966

Charles, Robert Henry. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John

1&2. Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1920.

Collins, Adela Yarbro. “Dating the Apocalypse of John”. BR 26 (1981) 33-45.

——— Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984.

——— “Insiders and Outsiders in the Book of Revelation and Its Social Context”. To see

Ourselves as Others See us. (ed. Jacob Neusner and Ernest S. Frechs. 1985) 187-218.

——–  “Vilification and Self-Definition in the Book of Revelation”. HTR 79 (1986) 308-20.

Hermer, Colin J. The Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia in Their Local Setting. JSNTS 11.

Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1986.

Murray, Beasley G. R. The Book of Rev lation. CB. London: Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1974.

Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Church in the New Testament. New York: Herder & Herder, 1965.

Thompson, Leonard L. “The Mythic Unity of the Apocalypse” (Lawrence University: 1985).

Manuscritp.

Appendix:

The Book of Revelation, also called Revelation to John or Apocalypse of John, (literally, apocalypse of John) is the last canonical book of the New Testament in the Bible. It is the only biblical book that is wholly composed of apocalyptic literature. Other apocalypses popular in the early Christian era did not achieve canonical status, except for the 2 Esdras (Apocalypse of Ezra), which is canonical in the Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches.

The book is frequently called “Revelation”; however, the title found on some of the earliest manuscripts is “The Apocalypse/Revelation of John” and the most common title found on later manuscripts is “The Apocalypse/Revelation of the theologian”.

The author of Revelation identifies himself several times as “John” (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). The author also states that he was in exile on the island of Patmos when he received his first vision (1:9; 4:1,2). As a result, the author of Revelation is referred to as John of Patmos. John explicitly addresses Revelation to seven churches of Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (1:4, 11). All of these sites are located in what is now Turkey.

The traditional view holds that John the Apostle, considered to have written the Gospel and epistles by the same name, was exiled on Patmos in the Aegean archipelago during the reign of Emperor Domitian, and wrote the Revelation there. Those in favor of a single common author point to similarities between the Gospel and Revelation. For example, both works are soteriological (e.g. referring to Jesus as a lamb) and possess a high Christology, stressing Jesus’ divine side as opposed to the human side stressed by the Synoptic Gospels. In the Gospel of John and in Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Word of God”. Explanations of the differences among John’s work by proponents of the single-author view include factoring in underlying motifs and purposes, authorial target audience, the author’s collaboration with or utilization of different scribes and the advanced age of John the Apostle when he wrote Revelation.

A natural reading of the text would reveal that John is writing literally as he sees the vision (Rev 1:11; 10:4; 14:3; 19:9; 21:5) and that he is warned by an angel not to alter the text through a subsequent edit (Rev 22:18-19), in order to maintain the textual integrity of the book.

A number of Church Fathers weighed in on the authorship of Revelation. Justin Martyr asserts his belief in its apostolic origin. Irenaeus (178) assumes it as a conceded point. At the end of the 2nd century, we find it accepted at Antioch, by Theophilus, and in Africa by Tertullian. At the beginning of the 3rd century, it is adopted by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen, later by Methodius, Cyprian, and Lactantius. Dionysius of Alexandria (247) rejected it, upon doctrinal rather than critical grounds. Eusebius (315) suspended his judgment, hesitating between the external and internal evidence

In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom and other bishops argued against including this book in the New Testament canon, chiefly because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the danger for abuse. Christians in Syria also reject it because of the Montanists’ heavy reliance on it. In the 9th century, it was included with the Apocalypse of Peter among “disputed” books in the Stichometry of St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople.  In the end it was included in the accepted canon, although it remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. . Some canons, especially in the Eastern Church, rejected the book, while most others included it. Revelation is considered one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Bible, with many diverse interpretations of the meanings of the various names and events in the account.

Martin Luther at first considered Revelation to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and stated that “Christ is neither taught nor known in it” and placed it in his Antilegomena. However, he later changed his mind, believing the book to be divinely inspired. John Calvin believed the book to be canonical, yet it was the only New Testament book on which he did not write a commentary.

Although the traditional view still has many adherents, many modern scholars believe that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos refer to three separate individuals. Certain lines of evidence suggest that John of Patmos wrote only Revelation, not the Gospel of John nor the Epistles of John. For one, the author of Revelation identifies himself as “John” several times, but the author of the Gospel of John never identifies himself directly. While both works liken Jesus to a lamb, they consistently use different words for lamb when referring to him the Gospel uses amnos, Revelation uses arnion. Lastly, the Gospel is written in nearly flawless Greek, but Revelation contains grammatical errors and stylistic abnormalities which indicate its author may not have been as familiar with the Greek language as the Gospel’s author.

According to early tradition, the writing of this book took place near the very end of Domitian’s reign, around 95 or 96. Others contend for an earlier date, 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter. The majority of modern scholars also use these dates. Those who are in favor of the later date appeal to the external testimony of the Christian father Irenaeus (d. 185), who stated that he had received information relative to this book from those who had seen John face to face. He says that the Apocalypse “was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign” (A.H. 5.30.3), who according to Eusebius had started the persecution referred to in the book. However, recent scholars dispute that the book is situated in a time of ongoing persecution and have also doubted the reality of a large-scale Domitian persecution.

Some exegetes (Paul Touilleux, Albert Gelin, Andr Feuillet) distinguish two dates: publication (under Domitian) and date of the visions (under Vespasian). Various editors would have a hand in the formation of the document, according to these theories. The dating of the work is still widely debated in the scholarly community.

See, Kummel W.G. Introduction to the New Testament for details of what is said in Appendix


[1] For the survey of the history of the study on the integrity of the book see, Isborn T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John: Studies in Introduction with Critical and Exegetical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976) 216-39

[2] Adela Yarbro Collins, Cris and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984) 46; David E. Aune, “The Sociological Matrix of the Apocalypse of John”, BR 26 (1981) 27-8.

[3] Some have raised question whether the reference to angels of the churches can be taken as a symbolic way of speaking about the bishops of the churches. This seems to be too speculative and less possible. See, Beckwith, Apocalypse, 445-46.

[4] David E. Aune, “The Social Matrix”, 21,22.

[5] “In summery, John’s self-presentation in the Apocalypse is very carefully and calculatingly constructed to obliquely legitimate his prophetic role by making indirect claim and by emphasizing those values, norms and behaviors which he and the Christians of Western Asia Minor shared and by securing the absolute and unconditional acceptance of the divine authority of his apocalyptic message”. Aune, “The Social Matrix”, 22.

[6] Leonard L. Thompson, “The Mythic Unity of the Apocalypse”, (Lawrence University: 1989. Unpublished article), 12.

[7] George Bradford Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. HNTC. (New York: Harper and Row, 1966) 30. Colin J. Hermer, The Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia in their Local Setting, JSNTS 11. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, (1966) 40. Hermer thinks that they were libertarians who wanted to make terms with pagan society. In that case they are identical with the other groups like Balaam-Balak, Jezebel and Nicolaitans.

[8] The Nicolaitans must have argued that the pagan gods do not exist and therefore a Christian could without any hesitation or fear of contamination enter in social life, commerce and politics with others. There are several scholars who would argue that the Balaam-Balak group also taught the same way as that of Nicolaitans. See, Caird, Commentary, 31, 38, 40-41. Beckwith, Apocalypse, 459-60.

[9] Collins, Crisis, 124.

[10] In the Old Testament the word for fornication is used in both ways. We do not find any practice of immorality on the part of Jezebel in the OT story of 1 Kings 9:22. See, Caird, Revelation, 39-40.

[11] Jerusalem temple is seen as the seat of all wealth and riches. Rev. 21:11, 18, 21.

[12] Collins, Crisis, 132-35.

[13] Collins, Crisis, 126

[14] The socio political situation of the time is not discussed in this paper. It is rather taken for granted based on the study of several scholars. See for dating of the book, Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis, 54-77. For socio-political situation, Collins, Crisis, 84-138.

[15] Thompson, “The Mythic Unity”, 28.

[16] See, Hermer, The Letters, 37, 65, 89-90, 110, 134-138, 160.

[17] Adela Yarbro Collins, “Insiders and Outsiders in the Book of Revelation and Its Social Context”. To See Ourselves as Others See Us, (ed. Jacob Neusner and Ernest S. Frech, 1985) 202.

[18] Collins, “Insiders”, 209.

[19] “Boundary situation is nothing more or less than a fundamental ratio at work or in process”. Thomson. “The Mythic Unity”. 26.

[20] Just the reverse can also be argues on this. If one recognizes that there is only one god, then that person need not worry about other gods and their cults, and hence need not hesitate to eat food offered to those (no)gods. This is the way Paul argues the case in 1Cor. 8:1-11. We do not know what would be John’s response to Paul’s advice in this matter and to the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15:24. In any case, if these advices are taken seriously, the so-called false teachers may not be wrong in their argument.

[21] The seat of the Roman governor is seen as the seat of Satan. This office, for John, is a powerful institution that could promote emperor worship and worship of the Roman-goddess. Caird, Revelation, 37-8

[22] Christians had no citizenship and rights in Roman world. Collins, “Insiders”, 188.

[23] If John was referring to the Judaisers he would have said ‘those who say that they are Christians instead of ‘Jews’ since Judaiseres were not interested in making Christians better Jews, rather better Christians. The use of the term ‘synagogue’ further strengthens this conclusion. See,  Adela Yarbro Collins, “Vilification and Self-definition in the Book of Revelation”, HTR 79 (1986) 311.

[24] Any one who acts suspiciously in the society was considered to be a criminal and could be handed over to the state authorities. Hermer, The Letters, 37,38.

[25] R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Revelation of St. John, 1, Edinburg: T & T Clark (1920) 52

[26] The question whether the reference is about her bodily children or to her disciples is not that important in the context. However, since her followers are also mentioned here, ‘children’ must refer to her own offspring.

[27] Collins, “Insiders”, 215.

[28] Whether this can be taken as a sign of a major drift within the community of John is doubtful. See, Collins, “Insiders”, 203.