The Relationship of the Seven Churches (Rev 2:1-3:22) to
the Vision of the Whore and the Bride (Rev 17:1-22:6)
The chiastic structure we have observed in Revelation predicted the contextual relationship between the letters to the churches (addressed to the first septet of angels) and the vision of the whore Babylon and the bride Jerusalem (introduced through the last septet of angels). We have seen how prominently the vision of the exalted Christ in 19:11-16 figured into the inaugural vision of Jesus (1:12-20) and the letters to the seven churches (2:1-3:22). We will now compare the entire vision of the last seven angels to the letters to the seven churches.
The pattern of inclusions connecting the letters to the seven churches to the vision of the whore and the bride is striking and pervasive. We begin by comparing the seven promises given to “the one who overcomes,” that is, the one who resists temptation and endures suffering (2:7; 11; 17; 26-28; 3:5; 12; 21). As we will see, the promises all anticipate the privileges secured in the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb.
The Bridal Destiny of the Seven Churches
The Lord of the seven churches encourages His faithful ones to purity and patient endurance by describing the hope that they have of participating in the New Jerusalem, the virginal and serene bridal city of the Lamb (21:2).1 Consider the following chart that compares the promises given to the overcomers with their eschatological fulfillment:
2:7 “I will give to him to eat of the tree of life”
22:2 “in the midst of its (New Jerusalem’s) street – the tree of life”
2:11 “he shall not be hurt bythe second death”
20:6 “on these the second deathhas no power”
2:17 “I will give to him astone, and on the stone a new name written”
21:14,19 “the city has twelve foundations, and on them thenames of the twelve apostles…the foundation was of every preciousstone”
2:26-28 “I will give authorityover the nations, and hewill shepherd them with a rod of iron…I will givethe morning star”
19:15, 22:16 “He…strikes thenations…He Himself will shepherd them with a rod of iron…I am the bright morning star”
3:5 “he will be clothed inwhite…his name in theBook of Life”
19:14; 20:12 “the armies in heaven …dressed in fine white linen…and another book was opened, theBook of Life”
3:8,12 “I have set before you an open door that no one can shut…I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God…and the name…of Mycity of the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God shall be on him”
21:2, 22 ,25”the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…the Lord God Almighty is its temple, and the Lamb…and its gates shall not beshut”
3:21 “I will give him to sit with Me on My throne, and…on His throne”
22:3 “and the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it (New Jerusalem)”
It should be noted that all the promises to the seven churches are precisely fulfilled in the New Jerusalem.2 Consequently, John has carefully exploited the capacity of a chiastic structure to show promises and their fulfillment.
The effect of the chiastic interconnection is to set before the believers of the churches of Roman Asia the hope that is assured by their destiny as the chosen bride of the Lamb. Indeed, much that describes the seven churches, especially their zeal for purity (3:19), previews the bridal hope expressed at the conclusion of Revelation in the vision of the New Jerusalem.
But the seven letters are also filled with severe admonishment and the threat of terrible sanctions from the Lord.3 Jesus warns the churches about an immoral woman who dwells in their midst, one who leads the church into fornication (2:20). Further, He warns the church about a false prophet who seeks to deceive them (2:14). Moreover, Satan dwells among them (2:9 and 3:9). Each of the warnings stated in the seven letters to the churches has a chiastic correspondence in the vision of the last seven angels. The portrait that emerges when we match the warnings with their chiastic correspondence is generally less flattering than the bridal imagery:
The Seven Churches and the Whore
2:5 “Repent…but if not…I willremove your lampstand”
18:23 “And the light of a lamp shall not shine in you (Babylon)”
2:10-11 “the devil is about to throw some of you in prison… you will have tribulation ten days…be faithful until death, and I will give you acrown…you shall not be hurt by the second death”
20:2-7 “He laid hold of the deviland bound him for a thousand years…those who had beenbeheaded…lived and reigned with Christ…over such the second death has no power…Satan will be released from his prison”
2:13-14 “Antipas, My faithfulmartyr, who was killedamong you…you have there some holding the teaching ofBalaam so that they would…eat food sacrificed to idols”
17:6, 19:20 “the woman (Babylon) was drunk with the blood… of the
martyrs…the false prophet who had performed signs of deceit…to make them worship the beast”
2:20,22-23 “you permit thatwoman Jezebel…to deceive My servants into committingfornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols(abominations)…I am throwing into a bed those who commit adultery with her…I will give to each one according toyour works”
17:4, 18:6,9 “The woman(Babylon)…had a golden cup full ofabominations and the filthiness of her fornication…repay heraccording to her works…thosecommitting fornication with her”
3:3 “Repent…(or) you will not know in what hour I will come upon you”
18:10 “Woe to you, the great city (Babylon)…for in one hour has your judgment come”
3:9 “I will make them come (false Jews of Satan‘s synagogue) and know that I have loved you”
20:9 “They (Satan and those he deceives) went up…and surrounded the beloved city…andfire came down from heaven and God and devoured them”
3:17-18 “you say, ‘I am rich… and have need of nothing‘…you do not know that you are… naked…Buy from Me refined gold…andwhite garments”
17:4,16, 18:7 “the woman (Babylon) was arrayed in scarletand adorned with gold…(yet) these will …make her naked…in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen…I will not see sorrow’”
The first pattern that emerges from a comparison of the two charts is that the seven churches anticipate the bride, the New Jerusalem. In fact, two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, are not reproved at all. They are simply encouraged to persevere. But each of the other five churches has a feature or features that conform to the portrait of the whore Babylon. In fact, two churches, Thyatira and Laodicea, are in great moral jeopardy, their portrait striking for its similarity to the whore, while Ephesus, Pergamum, and Sardis are generally more composite in their association with both the bride and the whore.
The seven letters convey the message that the whoredoms of Babylon are not, at least primarily, an external threat. Contrary to the settled opinion among modern critical commentary on Revelation, John’s “Babylon” is not to be identified primarily with Rome and imperial persecution. Indeed, the choice between the two cities, which the Apocalypse presents, is fundamentally ethical. The intent is to promote repentance, and only secondarily is endurance in view.
We conclude by observing that the immoral woman and the false prophet are at work within the church, which establishes the need for the churches to repent.4 The dramatic portrait of the church as bride and whore is a fundamental conclusion drawn from the chiastic intertextuality between the letters to the seven churches and the vision of the seven last angels. It is this radical juxtaposition, set against the antithetical portraits of the alternative destinies of the bride and the whore, which characterizes Revelation as a hortatory address to the people of God. The jeopardy of partaking in the judgment of the whore rather than the wedding of the bride is the basis for the parenetic exhortation to believers.
1 The eschatological banquet is clearly in mind. See Rev 3:20 and 19:7-9. See also Jan Fekkes, Isaiah and Prophetic Traditions in the Book of Revelation: Visionary Antecedents and their Developments (Sheffield, JSOT, 1994) 233.
2 See Fiorenza, “The Eschatology and Composition of the Apocalypse,” CBQ 30 (1968) 537-69; reprinted in idem, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment, 35-67; Rossing,The Choice Between Two Cities, 158.
3 See Beale, The Book of Revelation, 262. Warnings are not pronounced against Smyrna and Philadelphia, two faithful churches. However, both churches suffer from the “synagogue of Satan” in their midst (2:9 and 3:9) and their deliverance is anticipated in the judgment on Satan announced in Rev 20.
4 It is instructive that the description of Jesus addressing Thyatira, the fourth of the seven churches, is the One “whose eyes are like a flame of fire” (2:18). This description anticipates the depiction of Jesus as the fourth angel in the vision of the last seven angels, “His eyes were a flame of fire” (19:12). The intent of the metaphor of the “fiery eyes” is to present Jesus as the divine Judge, the One can see through all deceit and who will visit righteous judgment, even on the community of faith. See Beale, The Book of Revelation, 951. In the context of a call to repentance, the fiery eyes may also suggest the possibility of purgation under the gaze of the holiness of the Son of God.