The basic message of the seven messages to the faith communities in chapters two and three, when taken as a whole, focused on the call to those communities to maintain their loyalty to Jesus and his way in face of demands from the Roman Empire for this loyalty. These messages conclude with a promise of a place with the Lamb and his God for those who “conquer.”
The call to “conquer” is a call to Jesus’ way of persevering love. Chapters four and five now provide the bases for taking this call with the utmost seriousness and the utmost hope.
After the messages conclude, John looks and sees an “open door” in heaven (4:1). He’s taken inside and sees a throne. The appearance of the one seated on the throne is never described—confirming that this is the creator God.
So John gets a theophany in this moment of transition from the challenges to the actual recipients of the book to the terrible visions that will follow. This direct vision of God seems to be intended both to ground the challenges in the realities of the sovereign one who calls them forward and to remind the readers that the visions to come do not negate the healing intentions of the one on the throne.
Chapters four and five actually make up one vision with one main message: God is present in the Lamb who brings healing to the world. The two chapters present a kind of worship service. It begins with worship and praise from the twenty-four elders (4:4, 11), proceeds to the four living creatures (4:8), then focuses on the core content—the triumph of the Lamb. It then proceeds to more worship, including from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, concluding as the service began, with the elders (5:14). Continue reading →
The seven messages that make up chapters two and three continue the vision John saw and heard beginning in the middle of chapter one when he hears a “loud voice” that calls him to send the visions that make up the book of Revelation to the seven churches of Asia (1:9). These messages serve today’s readers by anchoring the book as a whole in the context of the struggles of these seven churches in the late first century.
As we are attentive to the concerns Jesus conveys to the seven congregations we will discern the concerns that the later visions will also be centered on.
Revelation 3:1-6—Message to the congregation in Sardis
In the message to the congregation in the city of Sardis, we have one of the more negatively critical of the messages. As with the other messages, this one touches on characteristics of the city itself—implying that the congregation there is reflecting its environment, mostly in problematic ways.
The city of Sardis had a reputation of being invulnerable, safe from outside attack. However, in fact, several times in the past its boundaries had been penetrated by Sardis’s enemies, leading to disaster for the city. Likewise with the congregation. Jesus’ makes an extraordinarily cutting remark: “You have a name of being alive, but you are dead” (3:1). Continue reading →
In the Christian tradition, “justice” has often been seen as something far removed from Jesus’ life and teaching. However, when we posit a polarity between Jesus’ message and justice we undermined both our ability to understand justice in more redemptive and restorative terms and our ability to see in Jesus a political approach that indeed speaks directly to the “real world.”
Jesus and God’s Healing Strategy
Several Old Testament terms describe God’s healing work—shalom (peace), hesed (loving kindness), mispat and tsedeqah (righteousness/justice) prominent among them. These terms often cluster together in a mutually reinforcing way.
Just a few examples include Micah 6:8 (“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness?”), Psalm 85:10-11 (“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; justice and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and justice will look down from the sky.”), and Psalm 89:14 (“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”).
Jesus understood himself (and was confessed thus by early Christians) to fulfill the message of Torah. He makes the call to love neighbors, to bring healing into broken contexts, and to offer forgiveness and restoration in face of wrongdoing central.
As he began his ministry, Jesus clarified his healing vocation in face of temptations to fight injustice with coercion and violence. He made clear that genuine justice has not to do with punishing wrongdoers nor with a kind of holiness that cannot be in the presence of sin and evil. Rather, genuine justice enters directly into the world of sin and evil and seeks in the midst of that world to bring healing and transformation—a restoration of whole relationships. Continue reading →