Gorman explains the ethical background that is likely behind much of the
As Christian individuals and communities in Asia Minor interacted with family members, friends, business associates, and public officials who did not share their conviction that “Jesus is Lord,” the basic early Christian confession (Rom 10:9), these believers were faced with hard questions and decisions.
Should they continue to participate in social activities that have a pagan (non-Jewish, non-Christian) religious character? This would include most activities: watching or participating in athletic and rhetorical contests; buying and eating meat in the precincts of pagan temples; and frequenting trade guilds, clubs, and events in private homes, each with their meetings, drinking parties, and banquets. They would even have wondered, “Should we or can we go to pagan temples to do our banking or purchase meat? Should we acknowledge the sovereignty of the emperor when asked to do so at a public event in the precincts of his temple, or at another of the many events in his honor?”
Some believers continued to participate in such activities, while others did not. It was the latter group that created serious social conflict. Their confession of Jesus’ lordship and their separation from normal Greco-Roman religious, social, and political activity was seen by pagan non-believers—that is, by most people in their cities—as unpatriotic and atheistic.
Some of them were harassed unofficially, but some were likely excluded from guilds and others investigated by government officials. At least one of them (John) was exiled as punishment for his behavior. He says that his experience was not isolated, but part of a larger event of testimony and persecution. At least one of the faithful was actually killed, either by mob or by official action: Antipas of Pergamum (2:13). There may have been others.
Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation. (Kindle Locations 904-916). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Persecution always puts Christians to hard choices. Who’s really hurt if I burn a little incense to show my respect for the Caesar? Why not attend the banquets of the trade guilds, even though they are filled with drunkenness and prostitution? It’s where business is done — and Christians must support their families.
As Gorman reads the text, the challenge isn’t so much to stand up against overt persecution, but to live as Jesus against the temptations of everyday evils, injustices, and allegiances —
The target of Revelation’s prophetic critique is imperial idolatry (civil religion) and injustice (military, economic, political, and religious oppression), and specifically Rome’s imperial idolatry and injustice. But since Revelation is almost certainly not a response to a systematic, state-imposed persecution or widespread mistreatment of Christians by the masses, it is better read as a response to “ordinary empire,” to the everyday evils, injustices, and misguided allegiances that are daily with us. Revelation is a powerful wake-up call to those who have taken for granted beliefs, commitments, and practices that should be unthinkable. John did not write Revelation “to manufacture a crisis” for people complacent about empire, claim Howard-Brook and Gwyther. Rather, “complacency about Rome was the crisis.”
(Kindle Locations 933-940).