The Revelation: As Resistance Literature and a Pastoral Letter

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaGorman explains that the Revelation is a form of resistance literature, that is, an encouragement to resist the efforts of Rome to defeat Christianity, either through persecution or by corrupting the gospel with pagan teachings. That is, you cannot be a Christian and also participate in Emperor worship or other demands of the Roman pagan religions.

Calling Revelation “resistance literature” is appropriate because one of the primary prophetic purposes of Revelation is to remind the church, both then and now, not to give in to the demands or practices of a system that is already judged by God and is about to come to its demise. But Revelation is not just a document that stands against something. Like all biblical prophecy, it promotes true worship of the one true God, expressed not merely in formal liturgy but also in faithful living, the practice of having no gods besides God. Put more positively, then, Revelation is a summons to first-commandment faithfulness, a call to faithful witness and worship in word and deed. In other words, its character as resistance literature is actually secondary to, and derivative of, its more fundamental character as worship literature, as a liturgical text.

Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation. (Kindle Locations 716-723). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s easy to see the Revelation as resistance literature. Once that idea is voiced, it becomes obvious.

A Circular Pastoral Letter; Authorship; Dating

The Revelation is addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor, and the parts addressed specifically to each congregation read much like the other NT epistles. It’s just that these epistolary comments are overwhelmed by the much longer apocalyptic prophecies that follow. Nonetheless, the presence of the comments to these particular churches roots the Revelation in history. It was written to particular churches to address their immediate needs — that is, to encourage them (most of them) to repent of certain sins and to stand strong against Rome.

John was not only interested in passing along a word of apocalyptic revelation, he dealt with the congregation’s other pastoral needs. That is, John didn’t separate prophecy from ethics. To him, it all worked together.

Now, going back to the Third Century, Christian scholars have noticed how very different the style of Revelation is compared to John’s Gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John. The books appear to be written by two different Johns, which is quite possible as “John” (likely a derivation from Jonah) was a fairly common name among Jews.

But an interesting possibility is found in Ben Witherington’s theory on the authorship of John’s Gospel. Agree or disagree, it’s a truly fascinating bit of scholarship. Witherington concludes that John’s Gospel is built on the recollections of Jesus by Lazarus — and so Lazarus was the “beloved disciple.” But John was the final editor of the book, resulting in the attribution of the book to him.

How did this Gospel come to be named according to John? My answer is a simple one—it is because John of Patmos was the final editor of this Gospel after the death of Lazarus. Once Domitian died, John returned to Ephesus and lived out his days. One of the things he did was edit and promulgate the Fourth Gospel on behalf of the Beloved Disciple.

Hence, the Revelation is original with John, whereas John’s Gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John were authored by Lazarus and edited by John. (Don’t reject the idea until you’ve read Witherington’s post.)

The Revelation appears to have been written in the late First Century. Gorman explains–

Statue of Domitian from Ephesus

Statue of Domitian from Ephesus

The best guess, in my view, is the traditional dating to the time of Domitian, as stated by the church father Irenaeus of Lyon in the late second century. 

One chief reason many scholars hold to this date (rather than a date during or just after Nero’s reign) is that it appears that Jews, and thereafter Christians, began calling Rome “Babylon” only after the fall of Jerusalem in 70.

Furthermore, the situation of the churches in Asia Minor during the time of Trajan was probably different from that reflected in Revelation, if the famous correspondence between Trajan and Pliny, governor of Bithynia, is any indication. Thus a date for Revelation toward the end of Domitian’s reign seems most likely.

(Kindle Locations 780-785).

It makes sense that after Rome destroyed the Temple as Babylon had done hundreds of years earlier, Jews and Christians would begin calling Rome “Babylon.” Indeed, with the Temple gone, many Jews surely felt like they were in captivity in Rome just as they had been in Babylon — even while living in Jerusalem.

Emperor worship reached new heights under Domitian, and the Asia Minor cities competed to give the Emperor the greatest honor. Ephesus built a colossal statue of the Emperor, which we have parts of today (see photo).

According to the Christian History Institute,

Domitian was the first emperor to have himself officially titled in Rome as “God the Lord.” He insisted that other people hail his greatness with acclamations like “Lord of the earth,” “Invincible,” “Glory,” “Holy,” and “Thou Alone.” 

When he ordered people to give him divine honors, Jews, and no doubt Christians, balked. The resulting persecution of Jews is well-documented; that of Christians is not. However, the beast that the author of Revelation describes, as well as the events in the book, are perhaps best interpreted as hidden allusions to the rule of Domitian. In addition, Flavius Clemens, consul in 95, and his wife, Flavia Domitilla, were executed and exiled, respectively, by Domitian’s orders; many historians suspect this was because they were Christians. 

So the reign of Domitian around 81 AD makes sense and is consistent with the church’s traditional dating of the book. Of course, you really can’t take a Preterist perspective if the book was written after 70 AD. It takes no inspiration to prophesy an event that’s already happened.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to The Revelation: As Resistance Literature and a Pastoral Letter

  1. laymond says:

    Rev 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

    Eze 12:22 Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?
    Eze 12:23 Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.
    Eze 12:24 For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel.
    Eze 12:25 For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD.
    Eze 12:26 ¶ Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Eze 12:27 Son of man, behold, they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off.
    Eze 12:28 Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord GOD.

  2. laymond says:

    Who was this beloved disciple, Lazarus, or John ?

    Jay asked; “How did this Gospel come to be named according to John? My answer is a simple one—it is because John of Patmos was the final editor of this Gospel after the death of Lazarus. Once Domitian died, John returned to Ephesus and lived out his days. One of the things he did was edit and promulgate the Fourth Gospel on behalf of the Beloved Disciple.”
    “Hence, the Revelation is original with John, whereas John’s Gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John were authored by Lazarus and edited by John. (Don’t reject the idea until you’ve read Witherington’s post.) ”

    Mat 26:20 Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
    Luk 22:14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
    (have we established that just Jesus and his apostles were at the table?)

    Mar 10:35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ——
    (we know who the sons of Zebedee are)
    Jhn 21:2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
    (what we don’t know is who the two other disciples were, but I doubt one of them was Lazarus )
    Jhn 21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. ——-
    (seems to me that when the disciples went fishing the beloved desciple was there,)

    Jhn 13:25 He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
    Jhn 21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
    ( I am led to believe the beloved disciple was one of the twelve.)
    (I’m just saying maybe Witherington, should read the bible more carefully.)

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    There is one thing that just jumped out at me as I searched for information about “loved” in these Gospels. If any “John” had authored the messages in this book, he while being author would never have authored this statement.
    Joh 21:24 ESV This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
    This statement is not in the first person (the author’s) testimony. This is a comment made by a second person (not author) who is editing or completing the document.
    This caught my attention prior to reading Witherington’s comments and inspired me to read his document.
    But, I did not notice him commenting on what I had encountered, I haven’t reread it did any one else notice where he picked up on this?
    Sorry Laymond, but I believe that there is a lot more evidence even within the book to support Mr. Witherington’s concept than there is for your findings.
    Peter identifies the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. Would we really believe that he would have called a fellow Apostle as a unnamed disciple? That identification is very convincing that he was not an Apostle. It is very easy to notice the wording of 23 to believe that the close brethren of the Lord all thought that this man would not die, they did not even contemplate that status for themselves. They could easily have thought that he might be treated like Enoch. But the clincher is that the text written in 24 places the responsibility for the writing of this book into this man’s efforts (being the author). It is very easy to see that Lazarus would be the only person within the narration of the scriptures who lived at this time who could have fit all these variations.
    Joh 21:20-24 ESV Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” (21) When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (22) Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (23) So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (24) This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

  4. laymond says:

    “Sorry Laymond, but I believe that there is a lot more evidence even within the book to support Mr. Witherington’s concept than there is for your findings.”

    Larry, there has always been evidence that Lazarus, is probably the one referred to as the disciple that Jesus loved, John said that Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters, Jesus loved all his disciples, or he was teaching something he did not do.

    Larry who do you think would be better prepared to write about this incident, John who was beside Jesus, during this time, or one that had lain dead for four or five days.

    “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

    How are we to know that this does not refer to John, he surely was a better witness than a dead man. and he had many others who witnessed this also.

  5. laymond says:

    Larry, this is some of the evidence that is given to rebut the authorship of John.

    “One of the things which is probably fatal to the theory that John son of Zebedee is the Beloved Disciple and also the author of this entire document is that none, and I do mean none, of the special Zebedee stories are included in the Fourth Gospel”

    Surely if the forth gospel was not a John Zebedee autobiography it could not have been written by him.
    How many other gospel writers, wrote about their self ? Actually leaving out the Zebedee stories, leans toward being authentic writings of John.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    Have you read carefully what you said, “Surely if the forth gospel was not a John Zebedee autobiography it could not have been written by him.
    How many other gospel writers, wrote about their self ? Actually leaving out the Zebedee stories, leans toward being authentic writings of John”.

    Are you trying to say that this fourth gospel is an autobiography of John Zebedee and that is why he could not be the author (really because he would be dead)?
    Then state that they are authentic writings of John because he left out stories of his family?

  7. laymond says:

    Larry, I thought you said you read Mr. Witherington’s blog, and I expected you to remember what you read. this is a quote directly from that blog.
    quote:
    “One of the things which is probably fatal to the theory that John son of Zebedee is the Beloved Disciple and also the author of this entire document is that none, and I do mean none, of the special Zebedee stories are included in the Fourth Gospel.

    That is Mr. Witherington’s reasoning , not mine.

    sarcasm-Surely if the forth gospel was not a John Zebedee autobiography it could not have been written by him. Criticism, of Mr. Witherington’s reasoning.

    autobiography; an account of a person’s life written by that person. you don’t have to be dead to have written your own biography.

    What I was saying is, Just because John did not include the “Zebedee stories” does not exclude him as the author. Name all the other gospel writers that included their family biography. I know, Paul did not shy away from telling his own story, but Paul was not necessarily a gospel writer. John was.

    I believe tooting you own horn is one of the deadly sins. pride.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    So as I read your explanations of what you said, I still understand that you are insistent that John wrote The Book of John. Is that true?

    By the way my comment was directed to this statement that you had made.
    “( I am led to believe the beloved disciple was one of the twelve.)
    (I’m just saying maybe Witherington, should read the bible more carefully.)”
    The scripture text that I provided proved Mr. Witherington’s theory and disproved yours and that is the reason that suggested that your explanation was not accurate.
    You asked me.
    Larry who do you think would be better prepared to write about this incident, John who was beside Jesus, during this time, or one that had lain dead for four or five days.

    “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”
    This is a direct quote of verse 24, if you read it in its context you should see that (this disciple) is the same one identified in verse 20. Who could not possibly have been The Apostle John, Peter would not have referred to John the Apostle as (the disciple whom Jesus loved), and he would never have expected that John would never die.

    Joh 21:20-24 ESV Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” (21) When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (22) Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (23) So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (24) This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

    I did not realize that I was tooting my own horn, I thought that I was was drawing your attention to the scriptures which told a different concept than you had presented. I am sorry if that offended you.

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