top of page

Revelation 5:11-14

If you followed the link to access this commentary for the second reading of this week’s lectionary texts, my first assumption is that you have done so for one of three reasons: you either made a mistake, you were simply curious, or you are brave (or crazy) enough to preach from the book of Revelation. All joking aside, I hope that you will lead your congregations in engaging both the second reading for this week as well as the entire book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is a difficult book, but it is an important one for the church today, albeit in a different way than that assumed by many of those in the pews on Sunday morning.

Many assume that in the first century, the Roman empire actively and aggressively pursued and persecuted Christians. Persecution certainly existed and is an important piece of background information for reading the book of Revelation, but most scholars agree that the kind of persecution often imagined by readers of the book of Revelation was most likely not the reality experienced by most Christians in the first three centuries of the common era. Persecution of Christians in the Roman empire was mostly sporadic and localized.

Aside from a brief period under the emperor Nero, It wasn’t until 250 AD that persecution took the form of a state-sanctioned program. Even then, however, Christians were not the specific target of this program. The program was instituted to restore Roman religion by requiring all inhabitants (except Jews) to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Because of their confession that Jesus is Lord and, by implication, that Caesar was not, Christians were more likely to refuse to offer sacrifices and, therefore, often fell victim to the consequences of this edict.

It is crucial to note that wherever and whenever in the Roman empire the persecution of Christians occurred, it did not occur on account of Christians’ partaking in practices of worship that fell outside of the Roman practices. The Roman empire was extremely practical when it came to religion and practiced syncretism. For them, more gods couldn’t hurt anything as long as the practices of worship did not disturb the peace and order Rome fought so hard to maintain. Christians ran afoul of authorities on account of their loyalty to Christ as Lord and, by implication, their denial of the Lordship of Caesar. Their refusal to participate in Roman practices of worship was at the same time a refusal to give credence to the Roman empire and its way of organizing life. It w