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Churches & Scrolls

Background
• Thought to have been composed toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81-96 CE)

• Written on the island of Patmos • Where political prisoners are banished
• Image works by evoking an array of associations • Prophetic work with the goal in promoting faithfulness to God

Key Players
• God/Christ • John of Patmos • Seven churches • Ephesus • Smyrna • Pergamum • Thyatira • Sardis • Philadephia • Laodicea • Audience • Satan • Rome

Outline of Chapters 1-7
1:1-3  Prologue 1:4-8  An epistolary salutation 1:9-20  Inaugural vision 2:1-3:22  Messages to the seven churches 4:1-5:14  Heavenly vision of God enthroned 6:1 – 8:5  Opening of the seven seals

Problems with Assimilation
Ephesus – 2:1-7
• Major hub for commerce/governance • Pagan temples – Artemis, Roma, Caesar, Domitian • Praised for testing and exposing false prophets • Criticized for the way they pursue Christian love
Theme: Distinguishing what is not Christian but losing a main characteristic of Christianity “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you at first had. Remember then from what you have fallen: repent, and do the work you did at first.”

Problems with Assimilation
Pergamum – 2:12-17
• Cultural/administrative center • Site of Satan’s throne – physically and metaphorically • Rebuked for having members of congregation who worship Balaam • Criticized for eating food sacrifice from idols and fornicating (1 Cor. 8)
Theme: Acceptance of false prophets and false instruction “…you have some there who hold the teachings of Balaam, you taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.”

Problems with Assimilation
Thyatira – 2:18-29
• Commercial center • Commended for their faith, service, and endurance • Rebuked for tolerating false prophets • Idolatry connected to Satan
Theme: Not being seduced by the desire for pagan practices of fornication and idolatry

“…you have some there who hold the teachings of Balaam, you taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.”

Problems of Persecution
Smyrna – 2:8-11
• Cultural center • Persecuted for being Christian through harassment, social pressures to conform, public denunciation • Accused of promoting a new and mischievous superstition • Encouraged to be faithful till death despite sufferings
Theme: Suffering and persecution due to Christianity “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life”

Problems of Persecution
Philadelphia – 3:7-11
• Rich agricultural center • Publicly denounced by members of local synagogue • Not as severe as Smyrna but is still a threat to Christianity • Even in persecution, Christ has opened the way into his presence • May be outsiders in society, but are insiders through Christ
Theme: Suffering, persecution, and endurance “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you form the hour of trial..”

Problems of Complacency
Sardis – 3:1-6
• Wealthy commercial city • Congregation enjoys prosperity and an absence of affliction • Repeated calls to “wake up” • Most serious threat to them is Christ himself who will rob them of their complacency • Members who heed this warning will walk in purity with Christ
Theme: Complacency giving rise to ignorance of evil around them “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up..”

Problems of Complacency
Laodicea– 3:14-22
• Extremely wealthy city – did not need Rome’s help to rebuild • Congregation indulges in wealth and civic pride • Christ explains that before him, they are naked • Allusion of Christ standing outside, knocking to get in • Members are caught up in worldly pleasures that they are ignorant to Christ
Theme: Complacency giving rise to ignorance of evil around them “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Seven Seals on the Scroll
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Horseman of Conquest Horseman of Violence Horseman of Economic Hardship Horseman of Death Martyrs in Heaven Destruction of Earth Silence  Trumpets

Four Horsemen
• Represent genuine threats to the people in the 1st century • Imagery used to evoke a sense of uneasiness 1. Conquest – shows limits of security Rome could provide 2. Violence – warning against complacency that passes for peace 3. Economic Hardship – describes the limits of any economic system to guarantee prosperity 4. Death – expands the threats above and presents a threat to all humanity

Heaven & Earth
• Shows the challenge in perceiving peace and security • Those who were unsecure on Earth as martyrs are secure in Heaven • People on Earth are not secure from the destruction

Seventh Seal – silence
• Earth is shaken by the opening of seals 1-6 • Seven brings silence that adds suspense • Psalm 46:10

Discussion Questions
1. In Koester's reading, he states that the word "seal" has many different contexts. He suggest that a seal means "that people belong to God" but at other times it indicates protection (p.89). How do you see the variety of interpretations being played out in Revelation 6-7? Are these seals critiquing or supporting the actions of the seven churches in the previous chapters? What are some examples?

2. Throughout the first seven chapters, many themes of power and oppression are examined in looking at the seven churches described in Revelation 2-4. What are these themes? What are the implications of this new power structure that is formed? How does John use rhetoric to subvert the Roman authority?