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Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verses 18-29:
To the angel of the church in Thyatira, write this:
The Son of God, whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished brass, says this:
I know your works, your love, faith, service, and endurance, and that your last works are greater than the first.
Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
I have given her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her harlotry. So I will cast her on a sickbed and plunge those who commit adultery with her into intense suffering unless they repent of her works. I will also put her children to death.
Thus shall all the churches come to know that I am the searcher of hearts and minds and that I will give each of you what your works deserve.
But I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not uphold this teaching and know nothing of the so-called deep secrets of Satan: on you I will place no further burden, except that you must hold fast to what you have until I come.
To the victor, who keeps to my ways until the end, I will give authority over the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. Like clay vessels will they be smashed, just as I received authority from my Father. And to him I will give the morning star.
Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
I propose here that the Revelation letter to Thyatira refers to the Late Middle Ages – roughly 1,000 AD – 1,500 AD.
Plenty have identified “the woman Jezebel” with the Roman Catholic Church, but I’m not one of them. God isn’t concerned with institutions, but with individuals, something He makes very clear in every letter with “the victor” and “whoever has ears ought to hear.” These are messages to individuals.
I think a quick note is in order here about the 17th chapter of Revelation, which anti-Catholic rhetoric often cites to equate the whore of Babylon with the Roman Catholic Church.
She wears “purple and scarlet.”
Yes, these are the colors worn by Bishops and Cardinals, but these same colors were used for the veil in the Jewish Temple and the clothing of the High Priest officiating there. They were also used for many centuries by political leaders for their official robes – e.g., Alexander the Great, the kings of Ptolemaic Egypt, and the Seleucid, Roman and Byzantine Emperors. Why? Because the dye was difficult to make and therefore expensive.
She is “adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls.”
On its own, this merely suggests ostentatious wealth, which is hardly unique to the Roman Catholic Church.
She holds “in her hand a gold cup that was filled with the abominable and sordid deeds of her harlotry.”
A gold cup full of sin is far too generic a symbol to point definitively to the allegedly false doctrine of transubstantiation (that the wine in the chalice becomes the real Blood of Christ) … particularly if you happen to believe the doctrine like I do.
She is “drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”
Yes, there was the shameful period of the Inquisition when torture and death were used by the Roman Church to punish its enemies, but again, that’s hardly a unique qualification. Many regimes, including Roman, Muslim, Protestant, Nazi and Communist, have done likewise.
The real kicker for anti-Catholic exegetes is the part about how the woman sits on a beast whose seven heads “represent seven hills upon which the woman sits.”
And while it is true that Rome lays claim to having been built on seven hills and that it is the home of the Catholic Pope, the interpretation breaks down as soon as one consults a map. The Vatican is not on the seven hills. In fact, no Pope has ever lived or had his “seat” (cathedra or cathedral) on any of the seven hills of Rome. The big bad Roman Empire now … that actually was built on the seven hills. But you can’t even make a good case for this interpretation. About 60 other cities world-wide lay claim to being built on seven hills. Astonishingly, these include Jerusalem (Judaism), Constantinople (Eastern Orthodoxy), Moscow (Russian Orthodoxy) and Mecca (Islam)!
To be continued …
Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity [Eerdmans Publishing, 1977]
The New Bible Dictionary [Eerdmans Publishing, 1962]
New American Bible online @ http://www.usccb.org/bible/
Whore of Babylon @ http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/whore_of_babylon.htm
Tyrian purple dye @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purple
The color of Liturgical Vestments @ http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0172.html
Seven hills of Rome @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_hills_of_Rome