Throughout December, I discussed my idea about the seven letters being addressed to periods in church history. I introduced this in:
I proposed that the letter to Ephesus refers to the Apostolic Age (roughly the time John was on Patmos writing Revelation) in:
Who were the Nicolaitans @ https://polination.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/who-were-the-nicolaitans/
I proposed that the letter to Smyrna refers to the 200 years of Roman persecution (roughly 100 to 313 AD) in:
I proposed that the letter to Pergamum refers to the church during the Early Middle Ages (roughly 313 to 1,000 AD) in:
A Brief Review of History: 313 to 1000 AD @ https://polination.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/a-brief-review-of-history-313-to-1000-ad/
And I proposed that the letter to Thyatira refers to the Late Middle Ages (roughly 1,000 – 1,500 AD) in:
I was planning to blog next about the punishments section of the letter to Thyatira, but it’s not complicated enough to warrant an entire blog. The Black Plague killed 1/3 of the human population in the Catholic West during its massive and terrifying first outbreak (1348-1349), then recurred periodically in smaller outbreaks until antibiotics were discovered.
In 1354, the Muslim Ottoman Turks were able to push into parts of the severely weakened Europe and, in 1453, took down the Byzantine Empire. In Europe, where Christianity still prevailed, papal abuse of excommunication, interdiction and inquisition as political weapons had chafed Europe’s princes and kings to the point where they were more than ready to support any new theology that would free their faithful from the fear of damnation if they were cut off from Catholic priests and Catholic Sacraments.
Enter the Protestant Reformation … and my confusion with the last three letters.
It seems to me that in order for this “historical periods” thing to be a valid interpretation, it has to work for all seven letters. (I’m a big fan of Hercule Poirot.) The first two letters were easy; the second two just required some brushing up of my Medieval History. But for weeks now, I’ve been reading and rereading the Revelation letters, praying and puzzling over how the last three may or may not fit into my theory.
There is a strong “Church vs. State” theme in Revelation and this is certainly abundantly clear in the first four letters. But all of the Church-State situations I looked at post-1500 were simply reruns of one of the first four letters. For example:
Ephesus: In the first century, the Roman Empire was remarkably tolerant of both Judaism and Christianity, something that greatly assisted the spread of the Gospel in the decades following Christ’s Resurrection. In 1791, the United States officially established its famous wall keeping the government out of the affairs of any and all churches.
Smyrna: The Roman Emperors ceased to be tolerant toward stiff-necked monotheistic Christians and Jews, but they were hardly unique in the whole persecuting of non-conforming believers department. In the 16th c., the Spanish monarchs ordered non-Catholics to convert or leave, then financed the Spanish Inquisition to make it happen fer realsies, while in Protestant England, more than 300 Roman Catholics were executed for treason. In the 17th century, the Pilgrims (not Puritans as I first wrote, see comment below) who climbed on the Mayflower were hardly looking for economic opportunity or free health care when they emigrated to the New World. They were fleeing religious persecution.
Pergamum/Thyatira: In the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Orthodox Church was subservient to the political ruler. In 1533, King Henry VIII broke with Rome, declaring himself head of the new Church of England. In 1721, the Russian Tsar Peter I actually abolished the Russian Orthodox Church as a separate entity and basically made it a department of his royal government.
Pergamum/Thyatira: In Europe, the Roman Catholic Church became a political power in its own right, then proceeded to prove the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But we’ve seen the same again and again in the brutalities of Islamic governments throughout the centuries and in the massive body count racked up in every nation where atheistic Communism has ruled.
So where does this leave me with my theory? I’m honestly not sure. Yesterday, I noticed something that may give me some clues, but since I still don’t know what it all might mean, I’ll have to leave you hanging breathlessly for my next installment. 🙂
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/
Various articles at Wikipedia (mostly to verify dates etc.)
UPDATE: I got this from a bloggy lister who gets my stuff via email.
Hi Chrissy,I always enjoy reading your thoughts on the Seven Churches. I have one point of correction, if you will permit me. It was the PILGRIMS, not the Puritans, that sailed on the Mayflower. I know this because I am a Mayflower descendent.The difference between the Pilgrims and Puritans was that the Puritans tried to purify the Church of England from within. The Pilgrims actually called themselves Separatists. They felt that the Church of England was so corrupt that it could not be purified from within, so they felt they had to separate from it.I hope you have a VERY healthy and happy new year.PD