Reflections on Revelation #53

Day 53

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality.” REV 2:20-21 NASB.

Christian opponents are here called followers of Jezebel. Whoever she was, she appears to represent the Thyatira branch of the group labelled “Nicolaitans” and “those who hold to the teaching of Balaam” (Rev 2:14-15). Apparently, all three names represent the same group because all three names involve the same two problems: eating food offered to idols and committing fornication. Interestingly enough, when you go to the Christian writings of the following century, the same two issues are front row centre.

All non-Jews in the Empire were required to participate in Roman civil religion. The Romans tolerated all kinds of religious practices, but no matter what your religion was or where you came from, you were also expected to participate in the ceremonies and public events of Roman society.

There were serious consequences for citizens who did not participate in the civil religion, even when the death penalty was not in view. They would be ostracized from the trade guilds, where people networked to build their businesses. They would lose their influence on the development of society or the improvement of their position within it. Lack of participation in the civil religion also resulted in the loss of social opportunities. As a result, those who refused to participate in Roman civil religion became poor, powerless, social outcasts.

In the Western world, today wealth and security seem to represent the highest goals of secular society. But in the Greco-Roman world, there was an even higher goal, status. It was a world that revelled in the honour and esteem of others and poured shame on those who did not conform. In such a world, the restrictions of Christian life and practice virtually guaranteed exclusion from honour and status in one’s own neighbourhood.

So first-century Christians who refused to participate in Roman civil religion suffered serious consequences in business, civil affairs and social contact. The gospel is free but it can cost us our reputations, our families, our jobs, and even our lives. Jesus calls His followers to total commitment, no matter what the cost. That total commitment is rewarded with meaning and purpose in this life and exalted status in the life to come.

1 Comment
  • Leon Miller
    Posted at 06:38h, 24 February Reply

    What a picture this is of our world today: Christians being forced to act as the state dictates. Worse is to come.

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