Wednesday

“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)

Revelation 7:9-17 Wednesday 10 September 2014


Background

Yesterday we thought about how best tomake sense of this strange biblical book, Revelation. My suggestionwas 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 growingpersecution of the faithful, "those who had been slaughtered forthe word of God and for the testimony they had given" (Revelation 6:9). Under the persecution by theRoman emperor Domitian, this was all too real - Rome had devisedsome of the cruellest and most barbaric punishments the world hadseen, as retribution, deterrent and entertainment. And Christianswere increasingly being singled out for these. Under previous Romanpersecutions, Christians had suffered alongside Jews because Romethought of them as just another Jewish sect (which, at first, theywere). But by now they were identified as a particular challenge tothe authority of the Emperor. Why? Because they refused to worshipthe Emperor as the divine Son of God, or to call him 'Lord'. Torefuse to participate in the growing Emperor cult was a capitaloffence, deserving of the most extreme punishments.

Significantly, it is with the writings of John that we firstcome across the explicit identification of Jesus as the divine Son,the 'Word become flesh' (John1:14). So this generation of Christians was, perhaps, the firstto face persecution of this intensity - and this was to continue,on and off, for the next 200 years. No doubt this strange, butexciting, book of Revelation continued to stiffen their resolve topersevere in the face of persecution - a better tomorrow wouldsurely come. And those who have died, starved to death, or exposedto the torments of the arena, or burned alive as 'Roman candles',will stand before God, "robed in white ... for the Lamb ... will betheir shepherd".


To Ponder

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

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