Randy Harris on Persecution in Revelation

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Often we hear the message of Revelation is, “We win!” That is the end game but it is not where the letter starts. Of the seven churches in chapters 2-3 only two don’t have judgments against them (Smyrna and Philadelphia). The rest are so culturally accommodated that you can’t tell the difference between who is in the church and who is in the world. It sounds a lot like the state of much of Christianity today. I love this quote from Randy Harris. I think it puts things in perspective,

“It is not that Christians are undergoing persecution but that they have become so much like
the world around them that they are not worth persecuting.”

32 Responses

  1. A good friend of mine once said, “The world has a standard of behavior. When people do not live up to that standard, they are prosecuted; when they live above the accepted limits of that standard, they are prosecuted.” Most of us are neither prosecuted nor persecuted. What does that say about how we live compared to how the world lives?

  2. Sadly that is very likely the case. I worked with a Pastor, Matt Baker, at my first church who was recently convicted of killing his wife. These sorts of things cause the church, and the name of our Lord, to be taken “lightly” or less seriously by those unbelieving leaders in the world. The church has lost out on its place in society as a source of good and has become a den of immorality (i.e. Catholic priest scandal). Nevertheless, “if you love me, you will love the church” rings true.

  3. I hate this quote from our friend Randy. I down right don’t like it. I basically don’t know how to deal with it. Let’s stick our heads in the sand for a while. Maybe the quote will go away.

    1. “It is not that Christians are undergoing persecution but that they have become so much like the world around them that they are not worth persecuting.”

      Nope, still here! 🙂

  4. I would submit that the message of Revelation is not “We win” but that “God wins.” Big difference! God is on the throne and Satan cannot and will not overcome God no matter how hard Satan tries. The quote from Randy Harris is sad, but, in many places, true. Thanks.

  5. It depends on when you date Revelation. I take the minority view that it was written 65-66AD. I believe the letters of Revelation and 1 & 2 Peter are closely related, as I believe they were both written to Jewish Christians who had fled from Jerusalem to Asia Minor. This exodus probably happened in 62AD, when James and others were martyred by the high priest Ananus.

    So you have this group of Christians that had fled for their lives, and now live in a foreign environment. They are under fierce persecution by their fellow Jews even in Asia Minor (notice the primary source of persecution in the letters of Revelation is from the Jews in the synagogue). All this, with rampant false teachers running around, and you see many of these Christians slipping away.

    I think Jesus’ primary message to them could be summed up like this: “Y’all need to man up. I’m about to take care of your Gentile persecutor (Nero), and your Jewish persecutors (Jerusalem), so you had better keep the faith and restore what is lacking, or I’ll deal with you next.”

    Reassuring and sobering all at the same time. The grace and the wrath of God.

    1. There are a lot of difficulties of taking an early date. For one, if you go with Nero being the target of 666 it gets difficult. Nero fits both 666 and the textual variant 646. So he is the best candidate. Then you have the Nero myth that said he come back to life and whoop up on Rome, possibly with the Parthians. Rev 17:8 possibly references this,

      “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.”

      This would fit with the Nero myth and put the date of Revelation after Nero because the beast, “now is not.” The verses that follow talk about 8 kings and Nero doesn’t fit that well either. Of course Domitian doesn’t either so it is clearly a difficult issue on the kings in 17:9-11. Then you have Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, and Clement of Alexandria who all thought it was during the time of Domitian. Also, the imperial cult wasn’t as established or as serious during Nero’s reign as Domitian’s. Any way, you probably already are very familiar with all of this and have plenty of your own reasons to hold to the Nero date in the early 60s. I just don’t think the preponderance of the evidence points there.

    2. The Nero myth isn’t a problem, because I don’t think Revelation refers to it.

      The beast that was, is not, and is about to come up, the 8 heads, refers to the Roman Empire at war with the Jews. When Nero dies, the empire is thrown into chaos, and nearly implodes on itself as people battle for power, putting a halt to putting down the Jewish rebellion. Then, when it looked like the empire would fall, having 4 different emperors in a single year, it is suddenly stabilized under Vespasian. The Roman beast returns with a vengeance, and destroys Jerusalem.

      This can be seen in Rev. 16:10, where the king (Nero) of the beast (Rome) is killed by God, bringing darkness upon his kingdom. Following this, there is the battle of “Armageddon,” which just happens to match in detail the siege against Jerusalem. Jerusalem was divided into 3 factions at the beginning of the siege, and was taken in 3 stages (Rev. 16:19), and the Romans catapulted white stones that weighed a talent each at Jerusalem (Rev. 16:21).

      You’ll have to read my book, which will be available for free hopefully at the end of this month. =)

      But putting all that aside, if you read my paraphrase of Jesus’ message to the seven churches, I think it is a very good fit.

    3. I believe Revelation was written earlier as well. One big reason is that the Temple of God in Jerusalem is still standing in Rev.Chapter 11. Another, (maybe even a bigger reason) is Daniel Chapter 9 VS. 24. 70 weeks are determined for Israel and her people. The destruction of the city and her people is the end point of the 70 weeks. Notice, 70 weeks are determined for the people and the city,(in other words when the 70 weeks are up, they are done. When the city and her people are destroyed vision and prophecy are sealed up. So, if any books of the Bible are written after the fall of the city, (Jerusalem) then it wouldn’t be an inspired writing. Notice also Daniel 12 vs’s 1-7, then read VS. 7 The Angel says when the power of the Holy people is completely shattered all the things mentioned in VS. 1-7 are finished.
      Going back to REV 11, notice vs. 8 the city in question is Jerusalem, (the city where our Lord was crucified). compare that to Luke 13:33, Jesus says it is impossible for a prophet to die anywhere but Jerusalem.
      According to Rev chapter 1 VS. 1 and 3 the events in Rev. were shortly to happen, and were at hand.
      Internal evidence should always take precedence over questionable external testimony.

    4. You could be right. I do think the Nero myth is being referred to and that it leads us to Domitian. I would think people 1800 years closer to the events might know better than we would including those I mentioned who had personal connection with the apostle John. If you toss out the contents of Revelation or interpret it differently than the Nero myth you still have to contend with why they thought it was during Domitian’s reign. If my memory is right one of them was even from one of the 7 churches.

  6. The earliest testimony that Revelation was written under Domitian comes from Irenaeus, writing at the end of the 2nd century. Irenaeus claims to have known Polycarp, who in turn knew the Apostle John. This is the primary evidence for the late date.

    However, Irenaeus met Polycarp as a child, and Irenaeus was wrote as an old man. Furthermore, Irenaeus admits he did not take any notes, but “wrote down” Polycarp’s teaching in his mind. The passage Irenaeus wrote, however, is disputable in whether it says the Revelation was seen under Domitian, or that the Apostle John who wrote Revelation was seen as late as Domitian. Finally, Irenaeus does not have a perfect record. Irenaeus argues that Jesus lived into His forties, and argues this on the basis of people who were supposed to be eyewitnesses of John and other Apostles. Much of the later testimonies of church fathers is based upon Irenaeus’ testimony.

    The primary argument for a late date is Irenaeus’ testimony, whereas the primary argument for an early date is based upon the internal evidence found in Revelation itself.

    1. I fail to see what the date of Revelation has to do with Matt’s original post or his quote from Randy. What Matt said is appropriate for either an early or late date.

    2. Jerry, the original post was made in relation to the churches in Revelation. The dating of Revelation has everything to do with understanding who the book was written to and what was going on in those churches. I don’t understand why discussing Bible context is such a bad thing.

  7. Date doesn’t really matter when it comes to the persecutions in Revelation. Whether Nero or Domitian they were still local persecutions that were not uniformly enforced across the Roman empire. Date does matter in Revelation on things not related to this post. For instance, emperors were not worshiped as divine while living until under Domitian. Another reason to favor him as the reigning emperor of Rome at the time Revelation was written 😉

    1. Living emperors received worship long before Domitian. Also, keep in mind, Nero only equals 666 if you first transliterate Nero Caesar into Hebrew.

      Which indicates a primarily Jewish audience, not a Gentile one. If it is the earlier date, then that argues for a Jewish audience. And if it is a Jewish audience in the 60s, then that does indicate a different kind of persecution, as well as the audience’s background with persecution.

      If it was written at an earlier date, then I think there is strong evidence that these are Jewish Christians John had taught back in Jerusalem, but who had now fled to Asia Minor because they were the recipients of persecution. If these things are true, then that gives a different insight into the Christians John was writing to – what they had been through, and what they were about to go through.

      If so, then it wasn’t a matter of them not being distinct enough to persecute – they had already faced intense persecution. It is that they need to “man up” and restore and persevere, rather than a church that had always been lackadaisical .

  8. I feel the need to jump in. I’ve heard it said that the primary argument for the late date is the Irenaeus quote, but I’ve only heard that from those who were setting up a straw man to knock over. The primary argument for the late date is the internal arguments of the book itself; the Irenaeus quote is merely the oldest quote referring to that common view.

    I’d recommend reading Mounce’s survey of the arguments. You can read almost all of it on Google books; just search “date of book of Revelation” at books.google.com and look for the one by Mounce. Pages 18 and 19 are particularly helpful.

    I would especially recommend the works of Mounce, Peterson, Metzger, MacArthur, Beale and Witherington. The classic works by Caird and Morris are also very helpful. If you have access to Donald Guthrie’s Introduction to the New Testament, it also has a very helpful discussion.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    1. Thanks Tim. I have been tempted to write a lengthy response in favor of the late date here but I am sure he is very much aware of all of those arguments so I have let it be. Thanks for your contribution and I agree…there is plenty of internal evidence to point to a late date.

    2. Sweet said, “To sum up, the earlier date may be right, but the internal evidence is not sufficient to outweigh the firm tradition stemming from Irenaeus.”

      Swete says he “is unable to see that the historical situation presuppose to buy the Apocalypse contradicts the testimony of Irenaeus which assigns the vision to the end of the reign of Domitian.”

      Peake said, “In deference to our earliest evidence, the statement of Irenaeus, the Book was generally considered to belong to the close of Domitian’s reign.”

      According to Terry, “Ellicott, Hengstenberg, Lange, Alford, and Whedan contend strongly that the testimony of Irenaeus and the ancient tradition ought to control the question.”

      You can agree or disagree, but it is not fair to call it a straw man.

    3. Isn’t it contradictory to say the internal evidence is overwhelming in light of external evidence like the book of Daniel?

      If the internal evidence is so overwhelming why are the majority (at least as far as I have noticed) of recent scholars in favor of a late date?

    4. Matt, it isn’t contradictory at all. The people who choose the late date are wrong, unless they want to concede that Revelation isn’t an inspired book. The fact that there is a lot, (I don’t think it’s a majority any more) of people who take the late date doesn’t make it so. Eusebius said in his Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch.39, “That Papias,c,60-140A.D. was limited in his comprehension, That Papias believed that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very Earth; which things he appears to have imagined, as if they were authorized by the apostolic narrations , not understanding correctly those matters which they propounded mystically in their representations. For he was very limited in his comprehension, as is evident from his discourses; Yet he was the cause most of the ecclesiastical writers, urging the antiquity of the man , were carried away by a similar opinion; as for instance, Irenaeus, or any other that adopted such sentiments.”
      I’m sure that when you carefully study Dan. 9 and 12 You will see the problem with the late date theory.

    5. William,

      It just isn’t true that you have to reject the inspiration of scripture to hold a late date. That is saying anyone who disagrees with you has a complete disregard for scripture because they haven’t come to your conclusions. There are a lot of NT scholars who believe both A) Revelation was written late in the first century and B) scripture is inspired.

      Dating Revelation based on prophesies of Daniel may be obvious to you but that doesn’t mean it is absolutely correct.

  9. OK, I’ll admit that I haven’t read every source on Revelation from the last 200 years. I guess some scholars from 100 years ago or so used Irenaeus as the base of their argument. But to refer to modern scholarship and claim that “The primary argument for a late date is Irenaeus’ testimony” is inaccurate. I haven’t seen anyone in the last few years say such except when constructing the proverbial straw man.

    You would do well to consult the sources I referenced. If you’ve already done so, then you know that the Irenaeus quote is hardly the focal point of their arguments. If you haven’t, then you would do well to study them, either to confirm what you already believe or to modify your view.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    1. “Although some scholars have identified the persecutions alluded to in the book as originating from the Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) it is more likely that the book reflects the conditions prevailing during the latter years of the Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96). Prior to Domitian the state religion had not discriminated against the Christian faith. Nero’s mad acts against Christians were restricted to Rom and had nothing to do with the issue of worship. The first emperor who tried to compel Christians to participate in Caesar worship was Domitian. (Metzger, 16)

      Carson, Moo and Morris say the early date/Nero crowd have a point in that persecution of Christians can clearly be seen in the time of Nero and less so in the time of Domitian. However, they also point out that it was not until Domitian ordered that he be addressed as “lord and god” and made that confession a “test of loyalty” (C,M, M 475). They conclude with this, “The fact remains that our hard evidence points to the last years of Domitian as being the time when Christians would most likely have collided with the claims of the emperor cult.” (475).

      Witherington points out the strong point of a Nero date – the first record of persecution of Christians. He then goes on to give a long list of **internal** evidence for a later/Domitian date (p.4). He gives a long treatise on the historical background, life under Domitian, and internal cues. It is too long a list to post here but when I get more time I can post some of it. He favors Domitian and I can’t find mention of Irenaeus anywhere.

      Mounce gives internal and external (Irenaeus) evidence but spends far more time on the internal evidence (p.31ff). He also gives a long list of internal evidence for the Domitian date. This is actually a longer list than Witherington supplied. He favors Domitian.

      Reddish takes a third route in the 90s.

    2. Here is a more recent quote:

      “I would think people 1800 years closer to the events might know better than we would including those I mentioned who had personal connection with the apostle John. If you toss out the contents of Revelation or interpret it differently than the Nero myth you still have to contend with why they thought it was during Domitian’s reign. If my memory is right one of them was even from one of the 7 churches.”


    3. I still agree with that quote. But that doesn’t mean I am unwilling to deal with the contents of the book itself. That is, as has already been stated, the most important thing we have to go on. I am not saying scholarship is right all the time but there is a reason the vast majority of scholarship disagrees with your thoughts on the dating of Revelation. I am happy to stand with them. 🙂

  10. While we are at it, why not take this post back to its original point. Much of Christianity today suffers from the same problems they dealt with. The biggest one being cultural accommodation. In the end the lessons we have to learn from their situation doesn’t hinge on which emperor was in power at the time. The call is the same. Choose to be on God’s side and eventually receive the blessing coming to God’s people or choose something other than God and eventually undergo his judgment. Works with Nero. Works with Domitian.

    1. Matt,

      I very much agree with that. Some have criticized us for not dealing more with the date in our Letters From The Lamb book. My response is that the overall message of the letters doesn’t change no matter when it was written.

      Grace and peace,
      Tim Archer

    2. I have to disagree with you, that the date doesn’t matter. Read my response to Steve Robertson above. If it were written at the late date it wouldn’t be an inspired book. Daniel says vision and prophecy are sealed up at the destruction of Jerusalem. Dan. 9:24 and 12: 1-7

  11. Brother Matt, Are you really comfortable accepting the majority view? Statistically the majority doesn’t have a very impressive record. For instance… a majority of the “Christian” world believes the Church of Christ is dead wrong. Many even say we are a cult. A majority does not believe baptism, (immersion) is a necessary part of salvation. Jesus Himself said broad is the road to destruction , because there are many who travel it, and narrow is the road to life, for there are few that travel it. Would you tell Jesus you will have to stick with the many? As for me I’ll take Daniel’s word over the majority every time. He said vision and prophecy would end with the destruction of Jerusalem and her people. Because of your own prejudice, you may not want to accept it. When the majority contradicts the Bible, that’s where I part company with the majority. Biblical speaking that is.

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