‘Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna and say, “Here is the message of the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life again:
I know your hardships and your poverty, and — though you are rich — the slander of the people who falsely claim to be Jews but are really members of the synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of the sufferings that are coming to you. Look, the devil will send some of you to prison to put you to the test, and you must face hardship for ten days. Even if you have to die, keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life for your prize.
Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: for those who prove victorious will come to no harm from the second death.”
My post got screwed up some way and wouldn’t allow comments. So I deleted it and here it it again. (I’ll try to reproduce the two comments)
John used this device to separate the church (a principality) from the angel (a spiritual force). We might well emulate that in our own thoughts and feelings. When the angel is remonstrated with, it may suggest that a foreign spirit has entered into and threatens to dominate the church. We all know of cases where this has happened, though not necessarily fatal.
We also all, at least I, go to the far country sometimes and need to “come to ourselves”. The letters to the Churches seem to be to a large degree toward that purpose.
I’ve been away, so for the whole morning I have interespersed comments on the posts of the last five days. Read if you get a chance.
” ‘Remember from what you have fallen.’ Because love is union itself with God for the love of God. The works are of value only if they are the fruit of love itself working in us. They have no other value, no intrinsic value, not even the practice of justice or purity… The Lord does not put out the flame but changes the place of the lampstand; which is to say that the flame of truth and love is given to someone else. From that time this church will remain a church apparently alive but in reality empty. To us, it would seem that Jesus Christ is interested in keeping a solid, orthodox church, long at this place, in her place. Not at all! He is prepared to let her fall because the only thing that matters is that the Church keep the love of God. Better to cease having a church than to have a church of traditions, of good works, of institution without the love of God….The task then is to find again the first works, which is to say those that emanate directly, spontaneously, from love, those which were a beautiful ripe fruit, and not a difficult duty. It is a matter then of no longer putting her own works in the place of God.”
… repent, and behave as you did at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place … those who prove victorious I will feed from the tree of life set in God’s paradise.
I looked at this reading as if it was about a relationship, and it seems sort of disfunctional to me. Love can’t be coerced, doesn’t respond to threats or bribes. This is a very different relationship than that shown in the story of the prodigal son, for instance. It’s hard for me to believe this reading is “inspired”, or if it is, that it is free from the writer’s ax grinding interpretations.
THIS letter raises some fascinating issues for me.
A critical one is that we have no way of knowing who the Nicolaitans are. While there are theories the theories seem to have insufficient support. This raises serious questions about how scripture can be edifying when some core concerns (the Nicolaitans get mentioned twice by John of Patmos) are essentially unrecoverable references. All we know is that John claims the resurrected Christ detests both their deeds and their doctrines. All else is speculation.
This issue is naked here. We simply don’t know who these guys were. In other biblical passages we believe we know, or we can reconstruct partial references, or simply, what appears as common sense is quite false.
So if we wish to hold on to a doctrine of scriptural inspiration, or a role for the bible in our individual and corporate guidance, we also need a model which does not depend on actually understanding fully the original sense of the text. I turn to scripture for guidance — but the guidance is always tentative, because my understanding, while perhaps spirit led, is always (at least potentially) partial. I’m called to be pragmatic, and the proposed action or belief I’m exhorted to is at best a theory, an hypothesis, to be tested in the laboratory of my living.
Not easy for me. I like to get my intellectual ducks in a row before I step out into the world of action. And this passage is telling me that I cannot do so. There is a point where analysis becomes paralysis and I must act. I must risk.
I then bring this spirit of not knowing back to this passage.
I see that this letter is not addressed to the church at Ephesus but to its angel. Not to the lamp on the lampstand, but to the star shining in Christ’s right hand.
Ephesus (or its angel) is praised for hard work and perseverance. Which in turn implies that it faces resistance or attack. Again the doubt. Can we really be fed by a passage that presumes that we are persecuted for our faith when we are not?
I see also paradox. It is praised for not standing/tolerating/bearing wicked people/men. For challenging false apostles. And for hating these unknown Nicolaitans. And yet, it is held accountable for lack of love. Love (I presume for one another) is consistent with challenging false teachers, hating false teachers, refusing to put up with (unspecified) wickedness.
And then I look at my real life and blood faith communities that wrestle with matters like neo-pagan and neo-trinitarian Quakers worshipping and working together. Gay marriages. Gay ordination. Women’s ordination. Whether there should be a church organ and a choir in a church or a rock band.
In the face of such issues this letter to the angel of Ephesus is less like guidance than it is like a zen kōan — something to be lived with until enlightenment comes unbidden on the winds of the spirit.
Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say,
“Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives among the seven golden lamp-stands: I know your activities, your hard work and your perseverance. I know you cannot stand wicked people, and how you put to the test those who were self-styled apostles, and found them false. I know too that you have perseverance, and have suffered for my name without growing tired.
Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make: you have less love now than formerly. Think where you were before you fell; repent, and behave as you did at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place. It is in your favour, nevertheless, that you loathe as I do the way the Nicolaitans are behaving.
Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: those who prove victorious I will feed from the tree of life set in God’s paradise.”
Before I comment on the reading – 1:9-20 – I thought I’d mention some intro material. I haven’t read Revelation before and haven’t yet read any commentary, so my first step was to look at the introduction to it in the New American Bible. I found the info basic, and most of you will already know this stuff, but it was helpful to me 🙂 …
…. symbolic descriptions are not to be taken as literal descriptions, nor is the symbolism meant to be pictured realistically. One would find it difficult and repulsive to visualize a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes; yet Jesus Christ is described in precisely such words (⇒ Rev 5:6). The author used these images to suggest Christ’s universal (seven) power (horns) and knowledge (eyes). A significant feature of apocalyptic writing is the use of symbolic colors, metals, garments (⇒ Rev 1:13-16; ⇒ 3:18; ⇒ 4:4; ⇒ 6:1-8; ⇒ 17:4; ⇒ 19:8), and numbers (four signifies the world, six imperfection, seven totality or perfection, twelve Israel’s tribes or the apostles, one thousand immensity) ….
The Book of Revelation cannot be adequately understood except against the historical background that occasioned its writing. Like Daniel and other apocalypses, it was composed as resistance literature to meet a crisis. The book itself suggests that the crisis was ruthless persecution of the early church by the Roman authorities; the harlot Babylon symbolizes pagan Rome, the city on seven hills (17, 9). The book is, then, an exhortation and admonition to Christians of the first century to stand firm in the faith and to avoid compromise with paganism, despite the threat of adversity and martyrdom; they are to await patiently the fulfillment of God’s mighty promises …
So, on to the reading …
As mentioned, the description of Jesus is, I guess, meant to be symbolic of his power and glory … the long robe (priestly), the gold sash (kingly), etc. About the symbolism of the two-edged sword, the NAB says … A sharp two-edged sword: this refers to the word of God (cf ⇒ Eph 6:17; ⇒ Hebrews 4:12) that will destroy unrepentant sinners … exmple … Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12.
When you think about it, it really is kinda neat we’ve been around this long together.
Forrest’s question prompted me to check out what we were up to one year ago today. And we were into the gospel of John, and praying bodhisattvas that looked like glowing green ETs!
I’ve started in reading the archives, taking them from the bottom–and I find some interesting questions raised.
I’m offered a chance to comment, but the moment seems to have passed for carrying on the original conversation. I get the impression that new comments would simply gather dust.
So–In that situation I should simply add a new post reviving the subject? I suppose this is more natural than the practice at another site, where responding to a subject brought it forward again–but then their thread on eternal life was becoming an argument against eternal life by its own quite unreadable length.
I, John, your brother and partner in hardships, in the kingdom and in perseverance in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos on account of the Word of God and of witness to Jesus; it was the Lord’s Day and I was in ecstasy, and I heard a loud voice behind me, like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write down in a book all that you see, and send it to the seven churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’
I turned round to see who was speaking to me, and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands and, in the middle of them, one like a Son of man, dressed in a long robe tied at the waist with a belt of gold. His head and his hair were white with the whiteness of wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze when it has been refined in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of the ocean. In his right hand he was holding seven stars, out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double-edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead, but he laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and look — I am alive for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of Hades. Now write down all that you see of present happenings and what is still to come. The secret of the seven stars you have seen in my right hand, and of the seven golden lamp-stands, is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches themselves.’