Reflections on Revelation #43

Day 43

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.” Rev 2:9 NLT

It appears from the text that the church’s relationship with the Jews of Smyrna was at risk. This was a perilous matter for the church. By the Second Century everyone was expected to venerate the emperor except the Jews. Jews were exempted out of respect for the antiquity of their religion. Since early Christians were usually identified as Jewish, they were often protected from unnecessary persecution.

The Jews themselves, on the other hand, had reason to be cautious about this arrangement. 25 years earlier Jewish apocalyptic excitement had provoked the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and its temple, leaving behind thousands of dead. It was loud and clear that Jewish status in the empire could be revoked at a moment’s notice if Christian talk of the Messiah created Roman suspicion against the Jews.

At the time Revelation was written, the Jewish community was in some difficulty with the local leaders of Smyrna. When Christian Jews talked about Jesus the Messiah and the end of the world, it could only make things even more difficult. So the word “blasphemy” in our text should be understood in terms of “slander.” Historical records suggest that the Jews regularly reported Christians to authorities for being followers of Jesus and therefore anti-emperor and an enemy of the state. Jews did not like the Christian influence. It is no wonder that Christians would see Jews like this as tools of satan. Especially when being reported to the authorities could result in execution.

This was also the time when pressure came on Christians regarding the Sabbath and the unbiblical idea of keeping Sunday in honour of the resurrection. This would disassociate them from being a sect of Judaism. For over two centuries this idea would gather momentum until the “converted” Constantine would legislate that “Christians should no longer Sabbitize on the Sabbath, but should keep Sunday in honour of the resurrection.” There was no Biblical authority for this decree by Constantine.

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