Wednesday

10 September 2014

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.” (vv. 14-15)


Background

Yesterday we thought about how best to make sense of this strange biblical book, Revelation. My suggestion was that it can be read as an elaborate, extended 'hymn' of seven 'verses', each with a 'chorus'. In that case, this is the second 'chorus', following a 'verse' that describes the growing persecution of the faithful, "those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given" (Revelation 6:9). Under the persecution by the Roman emperor Domitian, this was all too real - Rome had devised some of the cruellest and most barbaric punishments the world had seen, as retribution, deterrent and entertainment. And Christians were increasingly being singled out for these. Under previous Roman persecutions, Christians had suffered alongside Jews because Rome thought of them as just another Jewish sect (which, at first, they were). But by now they were identified as a particular challenge to the authority of the Emperor. Why? Because they refused to worship the Emperor as the divine Son of God, or to call him 'Lord'. To refuse to participate in the growing Emperor cult was a capital offence, deserving of the most extreme punishments.

Significantly, it is with the writings of John that we first come across the explicit identification of Jesus as the divine Son, the 'Word become flesh' (John 1:14). So this generation of Christians was, perhaps, the first to face persecution of this intensity - and this was to continue, on and off, for the next 200 years. No doubt this strange, but exciting, book of Revelation continued to stiffen their resolve to persevere in the face of persecution - a better tomorrow would surely come. And those who have died, starved to death, or exposed to the torments of the arena, or burned alive as 'Roman candles', will stand before God, "robed in white ... for the Lamb ... will be their shepherd".


To Ponder

  • The Jewish (and subsequently Christian) hope of bodily resurrection dates back to a time of persecution around 200BC. Those who die for their faith will live again. Is this belief still relevant today? Why?
  • The image of the martyred faithful "robed in white" (v. 9) was later taken into the Church's practice of Baptism. Why do you think that was? How does that influence your own understanding of Baptism?
  • "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (Tertullian, AD197). Do you think persecution is good for the Church? Why?


Bible notes author:  The Revd David Rhymer

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