The Sword of Jesus’ Mouth – Revelation Bible Guide Day 4
February 22, 2018
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:13“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
18“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
19“I know your works – your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. 20But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; 25only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
27to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered –
28even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Points of Interest
- “Pergamum… where Satan’s throne is” – Also a large city, Pergamum was also known for its Roman influence and emperor worship and had a huge and famous altar to Zeus, perhaps what John indelicately labels Satan’s throne.
- “Antipas my witness” – This is the one city that has already seen a follower of Jesus die for his faith, perhaps accused as an early “atheist” because he didn’t participate in Rome’s omnipresent civic religious activities.
- “Balaam” and “the Nicolaitans”- Whoever these people are, they are bad, bad influences. The second group is obscure but the first name is not – it refers to an old story in the book of Numbers of a non-Jewish spiritual leader who opposes Israel and leads them into trouble. These names appear to be codes or symbols for people in Pergamum who advise conformity with the civic religion of Rome, which would include idolatry and immorality as a cost of participation. Perhaps we could examine what function as the civic religions of our time, such as America-first nationalism or materialism and educational and career excellence. Where do our civic religions lead us away from the voice and teaching of Jesus?
- “make war against them with the sword of my mouth” – Jesus’ remedy isn’t physical violence; after all, the sword is that sword that comes out of his mouth, a metaphor for the piercing and powerful words of Jesus. Jesus’ voice is a piercing antidote to our allegiances and loyalties to other things.
- “hidden manna” – Legend had it some of the miracle food from heaven, described centuries earlier in Exodus, had been stored up for God’s people at the end of the age. Taken as symbol, the invitation is for God to provide what is more satisfying and nutritious than what your empire of choice has on tap.
- “a white stone” – Another apocalyptic hope is that in God, we will fully know who we are and discover that is fully good. As someone who’s paying a therapist as part of my own self-acceptance journey, I get this. Neither Roman armies nor American materialism can give me satisfaction, nourishment, self-acceptance, peace, and love. The Spirit says that Jesus can.
- “Thyatira” – This inland city had less Roman connection but was known for its trade guilds that governed economic life. As with Roman civic religion, these trade guilds practiced feasts that included some connection to worship of other gods. Participation was one of the costs of economic flourishing.
- “Jezebel” – Here the personification of selling out to empire or other gods is the infamous queen from the narrative of I and II Kings. This is one of several times that scripture uses sexual infidelity and prostitution as a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God. This language strikes many of us today as misogynist and violent. It helps me to notice and push back on that. The underlying message, I think, holds – parts of our soul are bound up with the cultural religion we’re assimilated into. Some of my tax money pays for bombs drones drop in Afghanistan. Some of my brain is colonized by the empty promises of America’s mass marketing industry. Some of my sexuality is flavored by all the sex-soaked media I’ve seen. Some of my hopes and heart are owned by my country’s sense of entitlement. And Jesus says this costs me.
- “give authority over the nations… the morning star” – Jesus invites God’s children to hold fast to God in the middle of all this, whatever it costs. We’ll lose prospects for wealth but will gain an immortal authority, signified by two things: joining God in God’s rule and receiving the morning star, which can represent eternal life or the dawning presence of Jesus with us. Is this a present-tense “in our hearts” kind of promise? A future tense “new heavens and new earth” thing? I dunno.
What might the Spirit of God be saying to you through today’s passage? Has anything struck your mind or heart? Looking back over the last 24 hours – yours highs and lows, times of joy or sorrow, presence or distraction, anxiety or peace – has the Spirit of God spoken to you through your life or though any other person? Pay attention for a moment, listen, and ask God how you can respond to whatever comes to mind.
A Direction for Prayer
How does some aspect of your everyday life – your job, your commercial activity, your entertainment consumption – impact your attention or soul and pull you away from God? What might a shift, a turn – repentance – look like?
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. The series starts here.