Revelation 2:12-29

July 20, 2008 | 22 comments
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Previous post in this series here.

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;

13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

The phrase “thy works, and” is not found in the best ancient manuscripts.

“Seat” implies “throne” and is a particularly potent image since later on (ch4) we will be introduced to God’s throne and the contrast between the two rules will become clearer. (This theme is also developed throughout the rest of the book.) Apparently the Lord has a low opinion of Pergamos . . .

“My faith” means “faith in me.”

Calling Antipas a “faithful martyr” is particularly high praise since the same was said of Jesus in 1:5.

14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

Note the role that the sword plays in the Balaam story and that a sword is the part of Christ’s description from Rev 1 that was picked up in v12.

15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

“So” here carries the sense of “likewise.”

“Which thing I hate” isn’t in the best ancient manuscripts but probably was added to harmonize with v6.

So their main sin was pagan assimilation.

16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Note that the part of the description of Jesus picked up from ch1 is the part about the sword coming out of the mouth–see also v12. This is particularly appropriate given that, in the Balaam story just mentioned, he sees an angel with a sword drawn; the power of speech is a significant theme in that story as well. And, as is usually the case with OT quotations in Revelation, there is a politically subversive element: remember that Balak bribed Balaam to curse Israel (much as Roman leaders sometimes offered rewards to Christians who would bow down to idols).

17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

“Hidden manna” probably refers to a remnant of the manna that was placed in the ark of the covenant, which only would have been accessible to the high priest, and only on the one time per year (on the Day of Atonement) when he would enter into the Holy of Holies. So this promise implies that all faithful saints will have the rights that the high priest has, which means that all faithful saints will be permitted into what was the symbolic presence of God.

“Manna” is also an interesting counterpoint to the Balaam story (v14) above, where the people were eating meat sacrificed to idols (see Numbers 25:1f). Almost all (if not all) meat would have been sacrificed in one of the pagan temples (remember when I said that one of the functions of those temples was as a butcher’s shop?), and so to refuse to partake of meat offered to idols was to lock oneself outside the supply chain. But the promise of manna means that God will, in that case, provide for their needs. That’s how it would work on the literal level; on a higher plane, we might say that isolating themselves from the theology and worldview of the pagan temple would mean that God would then be able to (and willing to) fill them with the manna of gospel truths.

What would have been the most immediate frame of reference for the original audience for the white stone? It would have been obvious to them: it was a tessera–a little stone which was used as a ticket to indicate certain privileges such as banquet admission, permission to retire from combat, etc.

Throughout the Bible, knowing someone’s name (or naming someone) is associated with having power over that person. Hence, being given a new name means that no one (except, presumably, the giver of the name) has power over the person. So, in this case, the person who overcomes is given a tessera (which means: permission to do something) with a new name (which means: no other entity has authority over the person).

18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;

Thyatira was dominated by trade guilds that required pagan practice for membership; it is as if you couldn’t get a job in a one-plant town today without a union card and you couldn’t get a union card without being a Baptist.

This is the only time that the phrase “Son of God” appears in the Book of Revelation; perhaps it is because Thyatirans worshiped the son of Zeus.


19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

Remember that charity can be translated as “love.”

“And service” is not in the best ancient manuscripts.

“The last to be more than the first” means that they are now doing more than they did at the beginning (a good thing!).

20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

“Sufferest” means “tolerated.”

“Seduce” means “lead astray.”

21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

After “a bed,” add “of sufferings” or “of illness.”

23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

It isn’t clear whether this means her literal children or her followers.

24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.

“As they speak” means “so-called.”

25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.

26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

Shivers means pieces. The implication of the last phrase is “even as I received authority of my Father.”

This verse seems to borrow language from the second psalm, but instead of applying the imagery (as the psalm does) to the future ruler, it applies it to the people. It is, therefore, a strong testimony that the faithful really will inherit along with Christ all that the Father has.


28 And I will give him the morning star.

Possible meanings of morning star: Lucifer (see Isaiah 14:12), immortality (see Daniel 12:3), or messianic rule (see Revelation 22:16.)


29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Notice that verses 26 and 29 invert the typical order of the letter, where we would have expected the “let him hear” to come before the “he that overcometh.”

Summary thoughts: my two favorite ideas in this section:

(1) Sometimes obedience means locking yourself outside of good things, whether that means sacrificing career opportunities or companionship or physical pleasure or whatever. But I believe the promise of “hidden manna” applies to all those who give up something for the sake of the kingdom.

(2) The image of all faithful people serving as the high priest does and symbolically entering into the presence of God is potent beyond words.

Bonus Link: This website is amazing. Call up any verse in the NT and hover over any word and it will define and parse the Greek for you.

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22 Responses to Revelation 2:12-29

  1. Kevin Barney on July 20, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Fun commentary. And that is indeed a cool website; I hadn’t seen that one before.

    I remember commenting on v. 22 in my “The JST and Ancient Texts of the Bible” article in Dialogue at p. 100:

    http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=23226

    Where the KJV has “Behold, I will cast her into a bed,” the JST has “Behold, I will cast her into hell.” The ancient variants for this passage line up as follows:

    (1) I will cast her into a bed
    (2) I will cast her into prison
    (3) I will cast her into a furnace
    (4) I will cast her into illness
    (5) I will cast her into sorrow

    My explanation of this state of variants was as follows:

    This verse details the punishment to be given to Jezebel, the false prophetess. To be cast into a bed does not appear to be much of a punishment, and so the JST and readings 2 through 5 substitute a worse fate.

    Reading 1, however, has scholarly support as original on the basis of the earliest manuscripts. According to R.H. Charles, the bed is a bed of illness, and the Greek simply represents a Hebrew idiom to that effect.

  2. deilos on July 21, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I am not trying to be snarky, but for what purpose are these exegeses being posted? If it is for personal enjoyment (and this is laudable in certain settings), why the public airing? If for general sermonizing, why the commentary-style method? If academic, who is the audience? Now I tread most delicately–if the intended audience is academic, to what extent does the author’s somewhat limited training bear upon the weight of the arguments? I realize this last question will seem harsh to some, but in academic approaches to ancient literature, the training and tools which one brings to the text matter most of all–skills acquired during many years of discipline. Indeed, the questions posed in this comment are none other than the questions which ought to be put to any academic assertion. So my apologies to the potential sensitivities of the author, but please do clarify your intentions.

  3. Julie M. Smith on July 21, 2008 at 11:21 am

    deilos,

    The purpose of these posts is that Ardis asked for them and a few other people have expressed appreciation for them and so I write them.

    Let me lay out the extent of my training/expertise and every reader can them decide whether it meets their standards:

    I have an MA from the GTU with a specialization in Biblical Studies (New Testament) where I studied Greek as well as modern literary interpretations of the scriptures. Since then, I have devoted most of my time to raising children but have also self-published a book on the Gospels as well as articles in _The Religious Educator_ and _Segullah_. I will be participating in two conferences at BYU (one this fall and one the next) on scriptural topics where I will be presenting papers. I have taught about a dozen semester-long institute classes. I have read a half-dozen major commentaries on Revelation and other materials on Rev. as part of a semester-long graduate level class on the Book of Revelation.

    Maybe that meets your qualifications; maybe it doesn’t. I agree with you that my training is “limited.” That’s what happens when you spend years wiping people’s bums instead of getting a PhD.

    However, I’m not sure that my background is as relevant as what I have presented; if you feel that there are errors in what I have written, please mention them and we can discuss. I am certainly no expert on Thyatira, but the major commentaries–written by people who *are* the world’s experts–say that it was dominated by its pagan trade guilds. If you have information to the contrary, I’d love to hear it.

  4. Julie M. Smith on July 21, 2008 at 11:55 am

    (The response to the ‘woe’ thread has made me paranoid, so here’s the subtext of comment #3 spelled out in plain language: my qualifications and training and expertise are very limited. That was the impression I meant to create by the recitation of what I have done. I concede that, but I don’t think that my background is as relevant as the content of the post, and so I invite deilos and the rest of y’all to point out errors that I have made. Engage the issues, not the author.)

  5. Jonovitch on July 21, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Julie, thanks again for these. Although these posts don’t generate many comments (what can we add?), I’m sure many are reading and learning thanks to your sacrifice of time and your offering of talent.

    Jon

  6. Jonovitch on July 21, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    A thought carried over from the previous post, which I had forgotten and was reminded of but which I didn’t share, so I’m doing it here:

    – - -

    The last time I read straight through Revelation (a year ago?), one point stood out in these early chapters especially: overcoming. The sentiment is repeated for each of the seven churches (I think): for him who overcomes, a great reward awaits. But it wasn’t the reward that caught my attention, it was “overcoming.”

    “What does that mean?” I thought to myself quickly, with more rapid and assuring thoughts following: “You can’t overcome something if there’s nothing to overcome. These people must have had an obstacle. I have obstacles. God expects us to overcome, therefore he expects us to have obstacles. He wants us to learn how to overcome our obstacles. He expects us to have failures and trials and hardships and challenges and addictions and losses and misery. It’s part of the plan for me to have a problem. He knows my problem. He knows how to best help me overcome my problem. I don’t have to be perfect, in fact God does not expect me to be perfect. He wants me to succeed. But he wants me to have obstacles, because that’s the only way for me to learn how to overcome those obstacles. He wants me to ask for help. He will give his help freely, because he knows that I have plenty of obstacles. Etc., etc., etc….”

    I didn’t have to be perfect. God didn’t expect me to be perfect. I was setting myself up for misery and failure. And negative emotions do not yield positive results. His *expectation* is for me to have obstacles. It was a freeing, liberating thought. “I am imperfect!” I was floating; I was ecstatic.

    I never thought I would find something so profound and personal in Revelation, yet there it was. This reading, straight through, was the only way the principle of overcoming would have been repeated enough for me to get it. (Sometimes the Spirit has to whack me over the head to get through my thick skull.) This was one piece in my progress of owning my mistakes, taking ownership of my faults, which left me feeling, for the first time I can remember, that I could actually overcome those obstacles.

    It was my own unexpected revelation from a book I never thought to get anything out of. Yet there it was, plain and precious to me. Thank you, Julie, for this series, and for reminding me of how I first learned from the Spirit about overcoming.

    Jon

  7. Researcher on July 21, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    “If academic, who is the audience?”

    Wow. Although deilos may claim to be trying not to be snarky, a simple read back through the links to former posts would have explained the purpose of the posts. I’m trying not to be snarky myself, but my reaction to the comment is swinging wildly between rolling on the floor in laughter and pacing back and forth in horrified offense. If no one but a PhD can post or comment on a subject (and a PhD only on their limited area of expertise) without having their motives called into question, I think we had all better slink back into the bushes that we crawled out from under this morning.

    Some of us have no desire to learn Greek. Or Hebrew. Or whatever language the scriptures were written in. Some of us have little time or interest to crack open an academic treatise on the scriptures. (Or the money to spend on such volumes or the access to libraries that carry such works.) On the other hand, we care deeply about the scriptures and the fact that someone is willing to pull things together for our benefit and explain things that are vague or inaccessible in today’s culture is a wonderful gift.

  8. Julie M. Smith on July 21, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Jonovitch, that’s fabulous–thanks for sharing it.

  9. deilos on July 21, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    “Engage the issues, not the author.”

    Always a pertinent reminder, though my comment was in no danger of attacking the author–my question dealt with purpose, audience, and a fair concern over how the post’s audience is to interact with the content of the post. That being said, you have adequately answered the questions of purpose and audience. As to the question of how the audience interacts with the post, I think a recitation of credentials, though not non-germane, does not fully respond to the question of whether the post aims at academic inquiry or otherwise. At any rate, perhaps my comment was misunderstood: I am not engaging or criticizing the content of the post but the framing and intention of the post. I am not trying to attack or disprove your assertions, I am only trying understand the context and reason for their existence. If I or any other reader wanted to know more about the Apocalypse we could turn to authoritative work on the topic. What I want to know is why you are asserting these things about this text. Often the most fruitful discussions on a given argument develop not from the “factuality” or evidence, but how the facts and evidence are arrayed and to what end the author marshal’s his or her data.

    Full disclosure: I have read a few of your exegeses on Revelation and it seemed to me that you were posturing as an expert on the text and the tools to engage it and therefore qualified to exegetize it for the readership of T and S. From your response to my comment I see that this was neither your intention nor assumed position. Read without context your posts seemed pretentious, but now with context, appropriate.

  10. Julie M. Smith on July 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    “If I or any other reader wanted to know more about the Apocalypse we could turn to authoritative work on the topic.”

    deilos, if you are the kind of person who would take your questions about the Book of Revelation to the 1200-page-plus NIGTC, then I applaud you and it is certain that you will find better commentary in that book than in my posts. (But I’m not sure someone who hasn’t studied Greek and/or who isn’t familiar with the terminology of biblical studies can make heads or tails of that book.)

    For those unwilling to wade through the NIGTC and take grad-level classes in Revelation, I give a few highlights in these posts. If you don’t like them, don’t read them.

    “What I want to know is why you are asserting these things about this text.”

    Because they are, according to my studies, accurate. Again, if you have info to the contrary, bring it on.

  11. deilos on July 21, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    “FWIW, “exegetize” is not a word. Its use–as well as a few other errors that you have made–makes me think you are pretending to be something you are not.”

    Sheesh. Talk about engaging the person and not the content. Exegetize is a word-play combining exegete and the -izo ending common in Greek words which, in some cases, verbify(!) abstractions (such as exegesis). Perhaps straining at a (joke) word leads to misjudgment. As for pretending to be someone I am not, in what way have I pretended?

    Again, you are either missing or sidestepping my inoccuous and non-confrontational point: I am not attacking your argument, I want to know why you are arguing thus. This is the same question one asks about the author of the epistles to the seven cities–the same question which any reader of any given text implicitly asks when engaging the text.

    “Because they are, according to my studies, accurate. Again, if you have info to the contrary, bring it on.”

    Accuracy is not the issue and the challenge to “bring it on” is, perhaps, best left to dance movies and premature sabre rattling. (FWIW, If you now happen to judge me based on my spelling of sabre, you may be in error as to determining my country of origin–think on it).

  12. quin on July 21, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Julie,

    The reference to the “white stone” caused me to do a lot of reading and research at one point and for myself personally, I think it would compare today to having a temple recommend, which then ties in with the idea of the “hidden manna” that is found in our temples today. There is physical food and spiritual food and the manna sent daily to the children of Israel was both-it nourished their bodies but also strengthened their faith that God was watching over them and was willing to sustain them in both ways.

    Today, being given new names is also temple representative and relates also to baptism, where we take upon ourselves the name of Christ and become His children, as well as to having our lineage declared through our patriarchal blessings. Names are significant throughout scripture and the idea of having our names written in the Book of Life as well as having Christ’s name written in our hearts are just two.

  13. Dave on July 21, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    deilos (#2, 9, 11), if you’re really “not trying to be snarky,” you’re certainly doing a fine job without trying. Why does Julie post a commentary on Revelations? Why does anyone post about anything at blogs? Either you are very new to blogging — perhaps you’ve been doing field work in Antarctica since 2003 — or you are just thick as a brick. If you seriously can’t understand why people post on this stuff, just go back to checking out books from the library and writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper for your textual interaction with other people. Julie’s request that you engage the issues, not the author, seems like a reasonable request and good advice. I’d add that if you can’t do it pleasantly, maybe this is not the forum for you.

  14. TT on July 21, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Whoa! I have no idea who deilos is, but I must say that it seems like the only personal attacks here are being perpetrated against him/her. The question, as I read it, concerns what kind of text this is meant to be. For trained interpreters, this is among the very first questions that one asks, and when one can ask the author directly, all the better! The answer to that question determines how one is supposed to read/engage a text. It seems to me that the questions are perfectly fair ones, and that Julie’s answers were perfectly fine and accepted. As I read it, Julie says that she is not attempting an authoritative commentary here, simply offering some of her acquaintance with this material to a non-expert audience. It has nothing to do with Julie’s qualifications, and everything to do with how the text is rhetorically situated.

  15. deilos on July 21, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    TT,

    Thanks for the defense and far better explanation of my question which I must have failed to explain sufficiently (not uncommon in blog-o-discourse it seems). Anyhow, my question (in a muddled way) was about “how the text is rhetorically situated,” as you say more clearly.

    Dave,

    I am just about as thick as a brick (6’1, 192 lbs). And if I were female and a thrall to literality I might take umbrage. The reason I ask “why” is so that I don’t contrive some false reconstruction in my thick head (hat size 7 1/2).

  16. Julie M. Smith on July 21, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    FYI: #11 quotes a statement that was originally part of my #10 but that I edited out a few minutes after posting the comment because I decided that even though I am 90% sure that deilos is a troll sent to waste my time this fine day, I wanted to give her/him the benefit of the doubt.

    I don’t have any more to add than what Dave has covered: I think deilos’ comment is bizarre: if you have an actual dispute with what I’ve written, take it up. If you are making the hypothetical argument that I am not competent to write a blog post on Revelation, then I’ve stated my credentials and you can accept or dismiss them as you wish. If you are concerned that I haven’t adequately addressed issues of purpose and audience: the purpose of this post is to blog; the audience is readers of the blog. It just isn’t any more complicated than that.

  17. Marjorie Conder on July 27, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Julie–I am just getting back to these Revelation posts. So much info and food for thought. I hope the response to your “woe” post and the snarky comments from deilos haven’t taken the wind out of your sails to continue with these posts on Revelation. Even if it takes you a couple of years or more to finish, please keep them coming. (I really do appreciate how busy your life is right now and that it is a sacrifice of time and effort to share all this with the rest of us.) But please know that some of us are amazed and grateful to you for sharing your insights. Again, thank you!

  18. Julie M. Smith on July 27, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Marjorie, thank you.

  19. Ardis Parshall on July 27, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    “For those unwilling to wade through the NIGTC and take grad-level classes in Revelation,”

    That’s me.

    “I give a few highlights in these posts. If you don’t like them, don’t read them.”

    I like them. I’m reading.

    “And if I were female and a thrall to literality I might take umbrage.”

    deilos demonstrates that he knows very well the background of these posts. I don’t take umbrage at being a female, and I’ve admitted repeatedly my tendency toward literality so there’s no cause for umbrage there, either — despite oudenos’s (or deilos’s, or whatever pseudonym he’s using this time) foolish assumption that “tendency” equals “thralldom.”

    Bug off, deilos. These posts are meant for me, and for readers like me, and if you do anything to discourage their continuation, well, that’s one more reason to dislike you.

  20. TT on July 27, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Again, whoa. Given the abuse that I see repeatedly heaped upon commenters here, I think I am done reading this blog for a while. I am saddened to see the respect I had for so many bloggers here tarnished.

  21. Ardis Parshall on July 27, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    TT, if deilos is a friend of yours, you could give him a friendly heads-up about bursting into a community where he is unknown and snarking for all he’s worth. None of his “clarifications” were any milder. I’m surprised that you’re surprised that some of us get defensive with that kind of attack. Julie didn’t deserve his scorn for offering a basic and clear guide to (what is to me) a baffling scripture, and my having asked for Julie’s help didn’t make this “female thrall” deserving of it, either. deilos earned the response he got.

  22. TT on July 28, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Ardis,
    I have no idea who deilos is. I have never seen his/her name comment before. No doubt you all know something that I don’t. Where you saw “snark,” I saw sincere, legitimate questions and an earnest attempt to understand and make him/herself understood. My disappointment remains.