In my previous posts we have talked much about the judgment on Babylon in Revelation 17-18. With this judgment in view, what does John wish for his readers, the seven churches, to take away? This question can be answered by comparing the end of Revelation with the seven letters to their respective churches. Initially, I want to point out that much of how John imagined the rewards and judgments found within the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 would turn out are later depicted in the last chapters of Revelation. The following chart gives a brief overview of rewards/judgments promised for fidelity, or lack thereof, and the future consummation of it.
Ephesus is granted to eat from the tree of life, a symbol of vindication found later on in Revelation 22. Smyrna will not be hurt by the second death, a curse found at the end of our book. Pergamum is threatened with the same “sword” from the mouth of Jesus that Babylon receives later in the text (19:11). The message of John to his churches, broadly speaking, could be understood as follows: “New Jerusalem praxis will reap the New Jerusalem promises just as Babylonian praxis will reap the great judgment.” This is the call of Revelation 18:4. “Come out of her My people. Lest you take part in her sins, lest you take part in her judgment.”
However, our discussion of “Babylonian praxis” has not been abstract immoral behavior. Rather we have discussed to socio-economic critique within Rome. And though much can be said about the seven churches, I will offer only a few insights regarding the socio-economics of the churches.
First, both Smyrna and Philadelphia are depicted as being in “poverty” (2:9) or of “little power” (3:8) respectively. Smyrna, though fiscally impoverished, is stated to be “rich” spiritually. This appears to be the mirror opposite of the church in Laodicea. Much like the harlot declared “I sit enthroned as a queen, I am not a widow, I will never mourn,” so the Laodicean church boasted, “I am rich, have acquired wealth, and do not need a thing.” In fact, Laodicea was an economic epicenter in the ancient world. In 60 CE a massive earthquake shook Laodicea and, when Rome offered assistance, Laodicea declined since it was so well off. However, spiritually the opposite was true; Laodicea was impoverished. And rather than bearing the marks of Jesus, she was suspiciously beginning to look like the Great Harlot.
The same appears to be true of Thyatira. In the prophetic letter, John utilized the Jewish legend of “Jezebel” who is teaching and seducing the servants of God to “fornicate” and eat meat sacrificed to idols. Again, this is a link to the Harlot Babylon that is charged with worldwide fornication (14:8; 17:2; 18:3; 19:2). Jezebel, within Jewish memory, was the Phoenician wife of the wicked king Ahab that turned Israel from the allegiance of YHWH to Baal worship (1 Kings 16:31-33). “Jezebel,” clearly a subversive non-literal name, in Thyatira probably encouraged the people to engage in eating meat sacrificed to idols for economic benefit. Without engaging in the various cults of the empire, it would have been difficult to improve their economic standing. The call from John is that the ends (economic benefit) do not justify the means (idolatry). Taking part in Rome’s harlotry will conjure up the judgment that belongs to Rome upon their church.
In this post, I wanted to display what the judgment upon the harlot meant for the seven churches. It wasn’t a far off prophecy to be ignored for another generation, but call to obedience for the first readers. To take part in Rome’s anti-Christian socio-economic practices was to oppose Jesus and His mission. How does this translate to our life here and now? How can we be faithful to Christ in the midst of the Harlotry of this American economy? Stay tuned…