(How) should we aim for a ‘pure’ church?


A couple of years ago, I was exploring the anthropology of the Book of Revelation, and it is quite a challenging topic; the result can be found in my chapter in the volume Anthropology and New Testament Theology. In exploring how a text depicts human existence, you might (for example, in Paul’s letters) look at theological terminology or (for example, in the gospels) explore the narrative construction of reality. Neither of these is really an option for Revelation, because of its distinctive form—a mixed genre letter/prophecy/apocalypse in vision report form constructed from a series of disconnected narrative segments.

So I focused instead on the depiction of the human agents within the text. One thing that has been very striking, which I don’t think I had really appreciated before, is the sheer variety of human life depicted. Revelation offers a dramatic and differentiated description of humanity in general, mentioning specific roles and titles (kings, nobility, generals, the wealthy, the mighty in 6.15; merchants, sea captains, seafarers, sailors, traders of sea goods in 18.11, 17) as well as more general ‘gradable antonyms’ (pairs of terms at opposite ends of a spectrum) that use Semitic contrast to indicate the whole of humanity (rich and poor, great and small, slave and free, 13.16). On top of that there are numerous groups and individuals in the messages (not ‘letters’; all of Revelation is a letter) to the seven assemblies (gatherings of people, not buildings or institutions as implied by the word ‘church’)—Antipas, those holding the teaching of Balaam, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans, those who are a ‘synagogue of Satan’. I am not sure there is a document in the New Testament with such a varied collection of characters!

But once we start to explore these characters, things begin to get interesting. Who are these groups and individuals, and what did they do? Take the Nicolaitans, for example. They are mentioned in a number of the church fathers, but we are not provided with any more information than we find in the text of Revelation:

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Rev 2.6)

Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Rev 2.15).

Our earliest commentator on this group is Irenaeus, in Against Heresies 1.26.3:

The Nicolaitanes [sic] are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.

His first claim, that this group are followers of the Nicolas mentioned in Acts 6.5, seems to have been inferred simply from their name, rather than on any external evidence. The second major claim is that they practice immorality and eat food offered to idols—but Irenaeus seems to have inferred this from their juxtaposition with ‘those who hold to the teaching of Balaam’ in Rev 2.14. The connection between the two is the ‘likewise’ in 2.15—but this word refers to the ‘holding to the teaching of…’ rather than to the content of the teaching itself. The summary of Balaam’s teaching doesn’t bear much relation to the account in Numbers 22, but is a typical characterisation of it found in other writings of the time (including 2 Peter 2.15 and Jude 11).

The bottom line, then, is that we simply don’t know. On one of our favourite TV quiz shows, QI, there is once in the show when Stephen Fry offers a ‘trick’ question—not trick in the sense of having a clever answer, but a trick in the sense that nobody knows the answer. Contestants have a ‘Nobody Knows’ sign and they get points if they wave it at the right moment. This is one of those moments: who are the Nicolaitans and what did they teach? NOBODY KNOWS. That has not, of course, prevented people presenting papers on them (I heard one a few years ago at the British New Testament Conference) or even writing whole books! But all of this is sheer speculation. Given the etymology of the word (‘conquerors of the people’; ‘Nicolas’ was originally an honorific given to generals who had won a significant battle) I strongly suspect that John is in fact coining the term to highlight a dangerous teaching, and that there probably wasn’t a recognisable, existing social group with this name at all.

This highlights a persistent feature of the interpretation of Revelation. Considering historical context in reading Revelation is very important, and has become popular since the work of Ramsay a hundred years ago and its recovery by Colin Hemer 40 years ago. But there are many things we don’t know historically, and there are limits to our historical insight. Oddly, popular commentators often ignore the things we do know (such as the identity of the man’s name encoded in 666, Rev 13.18) but build fantastic castles of theological fancy based on things we don’t know.

Here is a great example from Pat Robertson‘s Christian Broadcasting Network:

Antipas was the bishop of Pergamum, ordained by the Apostle John, and his faith got the attention of the priests of Asklepios. He had cast out so many devils that the demons had been complaining to pagans, saying, ‘You’ve got to do something about this Antipas’.

The pagan priests went to the Roman governor and complained that the prayers of Antipas were driving their spirits out of the city and hindering the worship of their gods.  As punishment, the governor ordered Antipas to offer a sacrifice of wine and incense to a statue of the Roman emperor and declare that the emperor was “lord and god.”

Antipas refused. Antipas was sentenced to death on the Altar of Zeus… “They would take the victim, place him inside the bull, and they would tie him in such a way that his head would go into the head of the bull. Then they would light a huge fire under the bull, and as the fire heated the bronze, the person inside of the bull would slowly begin to roast to death. As the victim would begin to moan and to cry out in pain, his cries would echo through the pipes in the head of the bull so it seemed to make the bull come alive.”

This is all gripping stuff, and makes Revelation seem suddenly relevant to contemporary life—especially when you realise that the evil socialist Barak Obama modelled his convention stage on the altar of Zeus which is the throne of Satan! So there! But in fact all of the detail is speculation; we know nothing historically about Antipas or the nature of his death (and we don’t really know that the phrase ‘throne of Satan’ was a reference to the shape of the altar, now kept in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin). What it does do, of course, is serve the political and theological purposes of the writer!

So what do we learn from the Nicolaitans? (I had planned to call this post ‘What have the Nicolaitans ever done for us?’). There are two quite striking things about John’s depiction of the early church communities in the seven cities that he selects (from the much larger number that has Christian communities—I haven’t yet found a convincing theory as to why these seven; do you know of one?).

The first is that they are a very mixed bunch. Just like the Pauline churches, there are plenty of things under dispute, and on some similar issues—sexual morality (which might well be a metaphor for idolatry, given both its use in the text and the OT background to this kind of language), food offered to idols, and the Judaizers (‘synagogue of Satan’). If you think the church you belong to is a rather mixed bag, you are in good company!

But the second striking thing is that, despite some unequivocal words of judgement, John does not expel or exclude those caught up in this teaching—or even promulgating it. It is not even clear, for example, that ‘Jezebel’ has been excluded from the communities; rather to the contrary, the risen Jesus emphasises that ‘I have given her time to repent’ (2.21), and her followers have the same opportunity. John is very clear, as a pastor, that it is his job to declare the truth very clearly, but the process of judgement is one that he leaves very firmly in the hands of Jesus himself. (There is a strong parallel here with John’s wider criticism of Roman Imperial power; he speaks the truth to it, but is clear that judgement will come from God—just as Paul is clear in the same way about personal judgements in Rom 12.17–21.) I am tempted to think that John’s failure to tell us the content of this teaching is quite deliberate; the issue is not so much the content of the teaching itself, so much as how we relate to teaching that is misleading.

Despite the strong binaries elsewhere in Revelation, John’s strategy for seeking a ‘pure church’—and there is no doubt he has such a strategy—has this distinctive relational dynamic, in line with his identity as a pastor who knows his communities. He urges the communities to reform their understanding and renew their teaching in line with Jesus, the ‘faithful witness’. But he is reluctant to expel and exclude.

I cannot help observing that our own strategies tend to be exactly the opposite. Many of the voices calling for purity appear to want to achieve this by excluding those they disagree with, redrawing the lines of membership. But other voices, concerned to avoid such exclusion, also avoid the call to reform the teaching of the church and the urgent need to be faithful to the truth.

Very soon, in the liturgical calendar, we will celebrate the feast of St Mark, and will pray this collect:

Almighty God,
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I think it is a prayer that John would have been happy to pray—and one that perhaps we need to take more seriously.

(To explore some of the issues in Revelation in pastoral and theological context in more detail, you might like to read my commentary.)

(A version of this article was first published in 2016.)

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27 thoughts on “(How) should we aim for a ‘pure’ church?”

  1. Thanks Ian – really good post

    Not sure I quite go with your concluding application: ‘I cannot help observing that our own strategies tend to be exactly the opposite. Many of the voices calling for purity appear to want to achieve this by excluding those they disagree with, redrawing the lines of membership. But other voices, concerned to avoid such exclusion, also avoid the call to reform the teaching of the church and the urgent need to be faithful to the truth.”

    There is certainly grace in Jesus’s addresses to the 7 Churches andtime to put things in order – to ‘remember, repent, repeat’ but it is clear several of the churches have accommodated false teaching and are warned of very real consequences through divine intervention if their church continues with false teaching. It is surely a given that there is no attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and tolerate the intolerable.

  2. Fascinating – I often wondered how far we are in the dark about the Nicolaitans. If ‘Jezebel’ is a handpicked pseudonym, then if ‘Nicolaitans’ is a coinage it will be apt, but all it suggests is that a lot of people fell for them.

  3. ‘John does not expel or exclude those caught up in this teaching’

    – it’s not actually John who is speaking the words, rather they come from Jesus directly- John is simply reporting them to the churches. So in the context it is not surprising that there is no mention of John doing anything. But I am not convinced that no action would be taken against those who behave badly and unrepentantly. ‘If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. ‘ – whatever that means precisely, it sounds bad and seems to affect the whole church, not just some individuals.

    Re Jezebel, yes Jesus gave her time to repent (though we have no idea how long that time was) but ‘she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead.’ Regardless of whether this concerns actual sexual immorality or idolatry or both, these are very strong words from Jesus. And I dont think we can assume that any judgement/discipline from Jesus somehow comes from Him directly, rather than being worked out through His church. It was the same Jesus who said, “If your brother or sister sins (or sins against you), go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen (ie are unrepentant), take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”


    • Indeed…but what are we to make of John’s leaving that discipline to Jesus? At the very least, it is striking, and not in accordance with what most people think Revelation is doing…

      • But John wasnt leaving anything to Jesus, he was simply reporting what He said. We simply dont know how the discipline played out in actuality in those churches (unless we have other writings to refer to?) but given Jesus’ other words in the Gospels which specifically cover discipline, I think it is at the least quite possible that the leaders disciplined those members after receiving the letter. I would find it very odd if their attitude was ‘oh we’ll just leave it to Jesus’ given those words of warning. And we shouldnt forget when God acts He more often than not uses human beings to bring about His purposes.

        • Whatever is said of John, I’d agree with Paul below on Paul’s instructions to churches on disciplinary exclusion.

          These apostolic instructions certainly bears no resemblance to leaving the discipline to Jesus.

          It’s a bit too easy to dismiss scriptural counter-arguments with the assertion that they add up to little more that quoting proof-texts out of context.

          A more robust argument would explain why the context of John’s prophecy to the seven churches makes the inferences of this post relevant to the CofE today, while reference to Paul’s repeated instructions on disciplinary exclusion could be treated as lacking merit due to out of context proof-texting

          The reason that disciplinary exclusion is rarely imposed by the CofE is that such an expulsion would be legally considered as tantamount to a sentence of excommunication (cf. the Court of Arches decision in Banister vs. Thompson).

          This kind of sentence can only be imposed by a bishop on someone who is adjudged to be “an open and notorious evil liver”.

          For the CofE, the purpose of disciplinary exclusion is not to provoke reform (which is through priestly rebuke, reproof and exhortation), but to safeguard public morals from being scandalised by the Church’s wholesale connivance.

          The Bishop of Norwich could even re-instate the PTO of the unrepentant thrice-married Rev. Kit Chalcraft when it became politically expedient to do so.

          The CofE restriction on the imposition of disciplinary exclusion might well have its basis in episcopal tradition, but it certainly has nothing to do with scripture.

  4. I guess the other view is the harder line taught by Paul in his letters:
    ‘Now I urge you, brethren note those who cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them’. Romans 16.17
    ‘Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.’ 1 Corinthians 5.6-7
    ‘Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits”. 1 Corinthians 15.33
    ‘if anyone preaches any gospel to you other than what you have received, let him be accursed’. Galatians 1.9
    ‘Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, know that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.’ Titus 3.10-11

    I appreciate you don’t much like us quoting the bible, Ian, but these passages do stand together as a consistent corpus to guide shepherds in how to guard the flock.

    • Peter, I am very fond of quoting the Bible! I am not a great fan of either quoting it out of context or proof-texting, but those are different things.

      I wouldn’t disagree with your observations, but (as I think I mention in passing) despite all this Paul has to be pushed pretty hard before he draws any kind of excluding boundary. His strategy appears to rely much more on persuasion…

  5. Perhaps because of recent discussions elsewhere on this blog, what immediately struck me on reading this post was:

    “You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

    The risen Lord Jesus Christ states that there are some practices which he hates, and the Ephesian church is commended for their similar attitude. Does this make Jesus a “hatemonger”?

    • If you like anything, then by definition you will hate its opposite. If you have no strong feelings at all of like or love, you may have none of hate either. The latter is sometimes called laziness or at worst being a psychopath. Plus, all the best people do feel things strongly.

  6. “Oddly, popular commentators often ignore the things we do know (such as the identity of the man’s name encoded in 666, Rev 13.18) but build fantastic castles of theological fancy based on things we don’t know.” – Ian Paul

    Precisely, Ian. And this is why we need to be aware of the fact that many so-called theologians are desperately intent on writing and selling books about the contents of the books of The Bible’; sometimes stretching the imagination of their readers beyond the actual parameters of the original material. This is why such material is so prone to theological error and serious misunderstanding.

    Individual presumption is often at the heart of theological speculation. We often have conflicting theories on biblical texts and their actual provenance and authenticity. What one commentator sees as contrary to the ‘nature’ of biblical revelation; another can demonstrate as being in line with God’s intentions. Added to this, the opposition between what we called ‘Creationism’ and the modern view of how the Cosmos came into being, provides a happy hunting ground for closed-minded radical conservatives whose minds are fixed on out-dated presuppositions.

    Perhaps we need to take heed of the problems of ultra-conservative theological speculation which, as Jesus reminds us, can be misleading or even dangerous, even contrary to mature spiritual enlightenment. It is surely no coincidence that Jesus said: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth; for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children – for that is what it pleased you to do”. Humility is paramount!

    • I don’t think I would disagree with any of that—though I am not sure that ‘ultra-conservatives’ (whoever they are…usually people ‘not like us’) have a monopoly on theological speculation.

      It does mean that we need some very good reasons to promote a teaching and understanding which has no antecedent in the teaching of the Church…

    • “closed-minded radical conservatives” “ultra-conservative theological Speculation”

      I’d agree with some of what you said but I’d also agree with “liberal” being swapped for “conservative” in those phrases.

      Anyway.. Can one be both “closed-mind/conservative” and “radical”? I’m sure Jesus had something to say about oxymorons. I can’t see where immediately….

      Do these lobbed pointlessnesses (to coin a phrase?) help the Church to be holy?

    • Hi Fr Ron,
      Jesus said: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth; for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children – for that is what it pleased you to do”

      I might suggest that in the last century or so it is the “learned and clever” who have led the the way in liberalism and is the childlike naivity of the “fundamentalist” who might know more of God in practice. The fundamental lack of humility is in those who elevate human reason to sit in judgement over revelation.

      Taking the example you give on creation, Augustine clearly understands the issues with a ‘literal’ understanding of Genesis 1, and the problem with promoting such an understanding towards the educated pagan. However, he also is critical of those who deride the simple:

      “But since the words of Scripture that I have treated are explained in so many senses, critics full of worldly learning should restrain themselves from attacking as ignorant and uncultured these utterances that have been made to nourish all devout souls. Such critics are like wingless creatures that crawl upon the earth and, while soaring no higher than the leap of a frog, mock the birds in their nests above.

      But more dangerous is the error of certain weak brethren who faint away when they hear these irreligious critics learnedly and eloquently discoursing on the theories of astronomy or on any of the questions relating to the elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon them as great men; and they return with disdain to the books which were written for the good of their souls; and, although they ought to drink from these books with relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up. Turning away in disgust from the unattractive wheat field, they long for the blossoms on the thorn. For they are not free to see how sweet is the Lord, and they have no hunger on the Sabbath. And thus they are idle, though they have permission from the Lord to pluck the ears of grain and to work them in their hands and grind them and win-now them until they arrive at the nourishing kernel.”

      It may be that those who hold to a simplistic understanding of Genesis 1 gain more nourishment for their souls than those who reject the whole text because of discrepancies with modern science.

    • Father Ron

      I am interested in the internal dialectics and tensions in your hermeneutical approach to Scripture:

      “stretching the imagination of their readers beyond the actual parameters of the original material” – this sounds Evangelical.

      “We often have conflicting theories on biblical texts and their actual provenance and authenticity” – this sounds Liberal.

      Jesus said: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth; for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children – for that is what it pleased you to do”. Humility is paramount! – this sounds Revelatory.

      I am interested in your ‘internal life-world’ and how the Holy Spirit works with you in a pneumatological-phenomenological way as you sense make and wayfind – I know you make “cognitive maps” from how you read scripture – it has all the signifiers of a form of spiritual cognition…but I am also interested in the nature of the contaminants that are seemingly creating areas of occlusion in your hermeneutical lens (areas were we can all have a “darkened nous”)….those “footholds”…..

  7. Ian
    We are divided, fundamentally divided, on what the ‘truth’ is and what the ‘gospel’ is. It could be argued, I do argue, that Canons C15 and A5, in their reference to the ‘historic formularies’ set out the Anglican view on what the ‘truth’ is – at any rate the essential truth – and what the ‘gospel’ is. However, as I see it, there has been a trajectory since the Reformation to ignore, downplay or otherwise subvert those formularies, especially their teaching on original sin, the wrath and condemnation of God and the atonement.
    Phil Almond

  8. This is very thought-provoking and interesting. Aren’t the Second and Third letters of John rather unpleasantly exclusionary?

    • I guess we might think so. But they are part of God’s Spirit-breathed word to us, and are of a piece with the gospel testimony to the person of Jesus. So perhaps we have some work to do in understanding them better…

    • You got me there Penelope… I wondered if I’d never read them properly! So I’ve just read them again… I really can’t see that they are “unpleasant”. They certainly contend for truth as enormously important to faithfulness to God and the health of the Church.

      2 John warns against false teachers and against been taken in by them. But the first half scene setting is “grace, mercy, peace, love “.

      3 John warns about me-first and false teachers… those who “put people out of the church”

      Where are they unpleasant? Uncomfortable? Yes.

  9. A problem I have with ‘Sola Scriptura’ teachers is their insistence that God ceased speaking to us (via the Holy Spirit) since the Canon of the Scriptures was formed so long ago. Does God have nothing new to say to us – sometimes via the revelation of modern scientific methoid and discovery – as well as modern scholarship?

    • Father Ron

      Are we able to agree that the Reformers used “Sola Scriptura” as a instrument of doctrinal riscipiscence in dealing with Medieval accretion and “magical thinking”? From an Evangelical perspective in practice our approach to “Sola Scriptura” is that we will not accept anything that contradicts Scripture. I am interested in the relational dynamics between Scripture and the “readings” of modern Scholastic method – although from again from an Evangelical perspective would be interested in the nature of the “pneumatological energies” informing those readings. Scripture by its very nature has embedded pneumatological energies and vivacities so although the Canon is fixed, illuminated enquiry remains open….our question is what governs those illuminations and insights.

    • Fr Ron, a few thoughts in response to your issue with ‘Sola Scriptura.’ For me, the fundamental understanding of revelation is summarised in Hebrews 1:1,2:

      “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”

      Therefore, the two testaments are, perhaps, not so much the revelation but the witness to that revelation. There cannot really be any better revelation of God to us that that in his Son. So, we cannot see how we can really add to the witness of that revelation. As Mark says, I cannot accept anything which contradicts that witness.

      Article VI contains what is meant by ‘sola scriptura’:

      “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

      If salvation is the primary message of the Gospel, which is certainly the evangelical position, then if Article VI is correct, we do not need anything other than Scripture, because all that we need is in Jesus Christ.

      My academic background is science, theoretical astrophysics to be precise. There is an attraction to thinking, after Kepler, that science is “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” However, I have scepticism that any authoritative revelation can come from this, and certainly anything outside a fairly restricted domain. There are some fairly obvious philosophical issues which come into play if we attempt to determine, for instance, from the nature of the material world what is good in an ethical sense.

      Karl Barth famously said ‘nein’ to a natural theology finding revelation in the world through human reason. As I understand it, this is because God is wholly ‘other’. The only way we can come to a knowledge of God is through revelation. That revelation comes supremely in his Son.

    • When as a teenager I read the Acts of the Apostles for the first time, all the way through, I was struck by the way it ended. It left me feeling that I the reader was to carry on the story and continue ‘writing’ the history. It seems to me the cannon isn’t closed. But, what we have is all we need. I could say more but this is an old post so I suspect nobody will read it!

  10. There is Judgement.
    1 Purity
    The title to the article draws us into a passage in Revelation that doesn’t address the question of “purity”, nor does the article or the scripture.
    So, Ian, what do you mean by “purity”?
    Is it holiness? “Be Holy as I am Holy.”
    Is it in doctrine and/or living life as believers.
    But I’d ask you to set out in summary what the whole book of Revelation says about Christian “Purity”, putting the text into that context, then into the context of the NT and then in the seep of the whole canon of scripture, both from a systematic and biblical theology perspective.
    Without a wider context, I’d suggest that we could be left with an Anglican “curates egg” pronouncement by Jesus which includes “I have this against you”. And nothing more Ho…Hum. Dear me how.

    2 Judgement
    2.1 While it is suggested that the passage itself may seem to leave the outcome of the pronouncement without an immediate resolution, what are we to do with a present day pronouncement by Jesus, “I have this against you.” Ignore it? Surely you don’t mean it?
    I”ll suggest that from the scripture there are in fact warnings of judgement. They are the “words of him who has the sharp two edged sword.” (Rev 2:12, 160
    2. 2 Parallels:
    Are there not the parallels with the teaching of Balaam the the Nicholations?
    2.2.1 Balaam:
    a) Balaam’s teaching was “to put a stumbling block” (where else have we heard that?) before the sons of Israel with forbidden food and sexual immorality, forbidden appetites. He enticed Israel into sin through idolatrous and immoral practices.
    b) “Balaam”, means “one who rules over the people”
    c) The Israelites who failed to failed to deal with Balaam’s sin were judged (Numbers 25:90 24,000 died in the plague) Paul in 1Cor 10:7-11 alludes to this passage when warning of tolerance of idolatry.
    2.2.2 Nicolatians:
    a) they are linked, parallel, to this with, ” So also have some of you who hold onto the teaching of the Nicolatians.” Rev 2:15. Whatever they taught, it was a “stumbling block” And there is a parallel in the name.
    b) “Nicolatians2 means “one who conquers the people”.
    And now there is Christ’s judgement.

    3 Judgement comes:
    3.1″Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” Rev 2:16
    3.2 Balaam was threatened with a sword by an Angel: ( Numbers 22:23,31) and he was killed by the sword (Num.31:8)
    Christ here is warning false teachers and those who tolerate (Num 25:9)
    4 Reward for the faithful who hold fast to Christs name(Rev 2:13b)…”to the one who conquers..Rev 2:17 follows.
    But ,”We tolerate sin because we want others to tolerate our own sin.” David H Campbell.
    NB Large parts of the above *the exegesis) is from: “Mystery Explained a simple guide to Revelation”, by David H Campbell, which is itself a double distillation, with permission, of GK Beale’s New International Greek Testament Commentary on Revelation.
    Scripture from ESV 2001.


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