Tag Archives: tribulation

Tribulation And The Crown of Life

Revelation 2:10: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”


The original persecution of Christians is described in the New Testament and was from the unbelieving Jews. It was the Jews of Judea that came into direct conflict with Christ in the Gospels and were the instruments of His arrest, condemnation and crucifixion. The Roman Empire did not distinguish between Christians and Jews until later at the time of Nero, or perhaps Hadrian. Even then the persecution under the Roman government was often at the instigation of the unbelieving Jews, as is indicated clearly in the New Testament as well as secular Roman history.

The tribulation under Nero may have been instigated by his wife, Poppea, who was a Jewish proselyte and a probable source of accusations against Christians . Poppea had requested and received favors for the Jews and had retained the High Priest Ismael and Helcias the treasurer. (Josephus’ Antiquites 20.2, also footnote; see also Eusebius, History of the Church, 104-5).

Other Persecution

There were several other periods of intense persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Those under Domitian, (circa AD 96), and Diocletian, (circa AD 245-313), are well documented by secular historians. However, in New Testament times, it was the Jews that “had the greater sin, John 19:11.”

“Persecution of the early Christians was sometimes because they would not bear arms and because they would not worship the emperor. As the Empire weakened some saw its collapse as a prelude to the fall of ‘Babylon’ and the return of Christ. The persecution under Diocletian lasted for 8 years and about 1500 Christians died. Some denied the faith and the Church seemed weakened for a time but the example and testimony of the martyrs became the source of many-fold converts. ‘The blood of martyrs,’ said Tertullian, ‘is seed’.

“‘There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won,'” (Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, Part III, (Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 652.

The message of Revelation 2:10 has strengthened every persecuted saint since that time with the command: “Fear not!” A fearless people are unconquerable.

The Crown of Life

The idea of the “Crown of Life” promised here is not taken from the ornamental headdress worn by kings as a symbol of their status, power and authority. It is rather from the idea of the crown of a plant, which is indeed a crown of Life.

The crown of a plant is that amazing cell or clump of cells from which the plant grows and increases. It is the life-producing part which reaches upward toward the light of the sun and multiplies itself continually. At the same time, it is reaching downward into the earth for the water and nutrients required to sustain its growth and produce fruit. Some plants will die if this crown is destroyed. Others will create new crowns at the leaf junctures. In any case, the plant grows only from the crown.

The idea of the king’s crown no doubt originated from the plant crown. It indicates a life source, or eternal life. When associated with mortal kingship, it is therefore a form of idolatry, since it is ascribing attributes of deity to a mortal man. A prominent and enduring motif of this symbol is the fleur de lis, combining the idea of the plant crown and the king’s crown.

This lesson is an edited excerpt from my book, Revelation in Context, available locally at the Living Word Bookstore in Shawnee, Oklahoma or www.Amazon.com, or www.XulonPress.com.
Free downloads are also available at www.revelationincontext.sermon.net.

Jewish Persecution of the Church Part 2

Witness of The Books Of I Peter and II Peter

Peter addresses these Jewish Christians in the Dispersion as those who are living among Gentiles. The reproach they bore was “for the name of Christ,” 4:14. At this time it was only the Jews who distinguished between Jews who bore the Name of Christ and those who did not; to the Romans this was an internal Jewish argument. These people were suffering “as a Christian,” therefore, from the hands of the Jews. Indeed, the Jews had enjoyed a certain degree of immunity for the practice of their religion.* Claudius granted freedom of worship to the Jews. This applied to Christians who were born in the Jewish faith. It was only when they denied the Jewish faith and took the Name of Christ that they lost that immunity to Roman prosecution, (ibid., 357).[iii]Indeed, the Romans did not distinguish between Jews and Christians until the time of Nero. It is clear that they who bore reproach for the name of Christ were those redeemed from the Jewish traditions, the doctrine of the Pharisees:

 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, I Peter 1:18.

They need no longer glory in their natural birth as Jews, for they had been “born again,” (1:23). Since Jesus, that Living Stone, had been rejected by men, namely Jews, the Christians were now Living Stones making up the Spiritual House and the Holy Priesthood, the Chosen People, (2:4-10). As alien residents in the Dispersion, they were therefore to walk blameless before the Gentiles also, I Peter 2:11-12.

The New Testament as the Primary Historical Source

Indeed, if we take the New Testament as the primary historical document, we must all agree that the source of persecution of Christianity was “the Jews.” In the Book of Revelation, we see that there were “synagogue(s) of satan” in Smyrna. These so-called Jews blasphemed when they called themselves by that name, “Jew.” Since satan = “the devil,” we know that these so-called “Jews” were the ones who would cast Christians into prison, where they would have tribulation, 2:10. This “synagogue of satan” was also in Philadelphia, 3:9. And it seems that in Pergamos also satan had a “seat” and dwelt there, 2:13.

The word thronos, translated “seat” in KJV, and “throne” in RSV means “the place of the residence of power.” In these three cities, we see that the synagogue was a place from which satan ruled. In chapter 12 we see the great red dragon, who is definitely identified as the devil and satan, 12:9. Then we see that this dragon gave power and a “seat,” (thronos), and great authority to the beast out of the sea, 13:2. This seems clearly to indicate that this sea-beast was driven by the satan of the synagogue. Then there was a beast out of the earth, 13:11, which caused people to worship the first beast. This close alliance of purpose between the earth-beast and the dragon indicate that he, too, was driven by the satan who was enthroned in the synagogue, that is, the religion of Judaism.

If the sea-beast can be identified with Rome, then it should be clear that the Roman persecution of Christians is motivated, instigated and driven by the wrath of satan as revealed in the Jewish religion. The earth-beast is out of the land, (equally translatable as “earth” or “land”), representing the Roman appointed Jewish rulers of Judea whose military power resided in Rome and whose religious power resided in the synagogues of Judaism. They were beasts, Gentiles not Jews, but they appeared to be lambs, i.e., Jews.

Thus the source of the tribulation that Christians of the first century endured was ultimately satan himself, but he worked through his henchmen, the Roman Empire and its stooges, the appointed kings and priests of Judea, operating in the power of the doctrine of the Pharisees, Judaism.

*This was a limited immunity as Claudius, in 41 AD, denied the Jews in Rome the right to hold meetings and ordered them to stop proselytizing.  In 49 he expelled some of the Jews from Rome for creating a disturbance, possibly a conflict with Christianity.  There was a real, hot war between Christians and Jews.

**For more thorough examination of Jewish persecution see pages 154-160 of my book Revelation In Context.

Revelation in Context is available locally at the Living Word Bookstore in Shawnee, Oklahoma or www.Amazon.com, or www.XulonPress.com.
Free downloads are also available at www.revelationincontext.sermon.net.

Jewish Persecution Of The Church Part 1

Revelation 1:9: “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation ….”

Persecution: Roman or Jewish?

Is the persecution alluded to in the Book of Revelation from the Romans or from the Jews?* Many theologians and secular historians suppose that the persecution was from Rome. Others agree that if the Apocalypse “does refer to conditions in Asia Minor under Domitian it is the only source for such a persecution,” (Cary and Scullard, A History of Rome, pages 153.)

What do the New Testament and the Book of Revelation actually say about persecution of Christians? The theme of tribulation is first sounded in Revelation 1:9:

I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

References to persecution in the Book of Acts reveal Jewish, not Roman, persecution. The Book of Acts was probably written after Paul’s imprisonment at Rome, probably 62-68 AD, but not later than the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. It is probable that both Peter and Paul were victims of Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome after the fire of 64. However, Acts must have been written before that time as Paul’s death is not mentioned. If the Book of Revelation were written in this same era, then Acts should make a relevant document for comparison of the theme of persecution. The source of persecution of the saints would most likely be the same in both books.

Bible References to Persecution of Christians*

References to persecution in Acts are as follows: Acts 4:3, 18, 21, 29, arrests and trials; 5:17-18, 33, 40, arrests, trials, beatings; 6:9-14, 7:54; 57-8:1, martyrdom of Stephen and persecution of the Church; 8:3, the Church ravaged and Christians imprisoned; 9:1-2, 13-14, 21, 23, Saul/Paul’s acts of persecution; 12:1-11; 13:45, 50; 14:5 (Jews with Gentiles), 19, 22; 15:26; 17:5-9, 13, 17; 18:6, 12; 19:9, 13-14, 33; 20:3, 19; 21:11, 27-35; 22:4, 22-25, 30; 23:12-35; 24:1-9, 24, 27; 25:2, 7-9, 15, 24; 26:9-11, 21; 28:19. (See above also for the list of references to the crucifixion of Christ since the crucifixion of Christ was attributed to “the Jews.” See also Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-15; 4:10-11, 26-28; 5:30; 6:52; 10:40; 13:27-29).

Further allusions or references to persecution or tribulation in the Book of Revelation are: Revelation 2:9-13; 2:22; 3:9-10; 6:9-11; 7:14; 11:7-10; 12:4, 11, 13, 15, 17; 13:7; 15-17; 16:5-6; 17:2, 4, 6, 14; 18: 3-4, 6, 9, 20, 24; 19:2; 20:4; 21:4; 22:15.[i]Of these, 2:9-13 and 3:9 clearly refer directly to Jewish persecution. In addition to these, references to the martyrdom of Christ might also be seen as references to Jewish persecution. References to Christ’s martyrdom are as follows: 1:5, 7, 18; 2:8; 5:6, 9. The question remains as to whether or not the remaining references pertain to Roman persecution.

Christians as Good Citizens of Rome

As Harold Lindsell has pointed out: “The author [of Acts] is careful to point out that the Christians were not enemies of the Empire: every time the missionaries were brought before Roman authorities they were absolved of all charges of sedition or insurrection.”**

If there had been severe persecution from Rome, surely there would have been some mention of it here.  But instead we find that in every case the persecution is from “the Jews” or by their instigation. Since the persecution in the Book of Acts is from the Jews, not the Romans, why should we attribute that of the Book of Revelation to the Romans?

The Book of I Peter was also written in this same era, [AD 63-67], and has a strong theme of persecution. The addressees are Christians in northern Asia Minor, (see below), just as the Book of Revelation is addressed to the seven Churches in southern Asia Minor. Since the dates are similar and the addressees are similar, the source of persecution would very likely be the same. References to persecution in I Peter are as follows: 1:6; 3:9, 13-18; 4:1-2, 12-19.  Was this persecution from Rome?  It hardly seems so from the admonition in 2:13-15:

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Here Roman authorities are seen to be friends of Christianity.

Jews of the Dispersion

It should be noted that I Peter is addressed to the “exiles of the Dispersion” specifically those in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, that is, northern Asia Minor.  The term “exiles of the Dispersion” is used specifically of Jews who have left Judea to live in another land.  The affairs in Judea at this particular time were such that many who were Christians fled from the political anarchy, religious persecution, and economic deprivation.  Pontus and Asia are specifically named in Acts 2:9 as places from which Jews had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.  It is therefore likely that those who later fled from Judea went to areas where Jews already lived.

Indeed, we know from Paul’s missionary journeys that there were Jewish synagogues throughout the Roman world.  Many of these colonies in the Dispersion were more populous than in Judea itself.  There were especially large colonies in Babylon and Alexandria.  It is therefore evident that the persecutions in all the far-flung nations of the Roman world could have been by the Jews or at their instigation.  (See Acts 2:5-11; 6:9; of Christian Jews 8:1, 4-5; 11:19.)

The Testimony of Peter

Peter is expecting the “end,” that is, the end of the times predicted by Daniel for the destruction of the nation of Israel and its Temple: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer,” I Peter 4:7.  In the same way the Book of Revelation is about that “appointed time” of the end, “the time is at hand.” Revelation 1:3.

First Peter speaks specifically of the “Revelation of Jesus Christ“: in salvation, (1:5, 7, 13); and in glory, (5:1).  He believed this “Revelation” was “at hand.”  With Jeremiah 25:17-18 in view Peter says:

 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, [i.e. the Jews], what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? I Peter 4:17.

* References are not necessarily exhaustive.

**Harold Lindsell, “Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles,” Harper’s Study Bible, RSV, (Grand Rapids Michigan, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1981), p. 1625.


Revelation 1:9. Tribulation: “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation.”

Purpose of the Writing

Discerning the purpose of any writing is crucial to its interpretation. Just so, in the Book of Revelation, what one discerns as its primary purpose colors every aspect of the interpretation of the Book. Many interpreters see the purpose of the Book as being to comfort those who are being persecuted. Those who thus interpret the purpose of the Book then usually interpret this persecution as coming from the Roman government.

There are therefore two questions to be examined: (1) Is the primary purpose of the Book to comfort those suffering persecution? And (2) is the persecution alluded to in the Book from the Romans or from the Jews? The question of the source of persecution is tied to the date of the writing.

Date of the Writing: 96 AD or 68 AD?

Those who see the date of writing as in Emperor Domitian’s reign, circa 96 AD, view the persecution as coming from the Roman Empire, and Mystery Babylon as Rome. These three facets of interpretation, i.e., (1) the date of writing, (2) the source of persecution, and (3) the identity of Mystery Babylon, all depend upon each other and neither of them can stand alone. If any one of them is totally proven, the others would be on much steadier ground. However, if any one of them is totally disproved, the others must fall with it.

Those who see the writing as being in Emperor Nero’s reign, about 64-68 AD, have the option to view the persecution as coming both from the Roman Empire (Rome, interpreted as the Beast), and Judaism, (Jerusalem), interpreted as Mystery Babylon. After reviewing Biblical and historical records, this is my view.*

Persecution Under Nero, circa 64 AD

The Roman persecution under Nero as described by the ancient Roman historian Tacitus[i] was probably not a general law against Christianity as such but a specific charge such as of arson. Tacitus had no respect for Christianity, but admitted that the charges of their having set fire to Rome in 64 AD were a “frame-up.” Whatever difficulties they may have encountered at this time in Rome, the modern historian Cary says: “There is no evidence for persecution outside Rome,” (ibid. note 27), and Nero’s ruthless treatment of Christians caused the general populous to pity them and to hate Nero even more, (ibid. 359).

The Church historians have little record or memory of the Neronian persecution. Other than Tacitus, they have the ancient historian Suetonias’ allusion to a disturbance in Rome caused by one “Chrestus” which may have been his mistaken conception of a Jewish uprising against the Christians in that city, (ibid. 639, n. 50).

Therefore, there is little evidence of widespread Roman persecution in Nero’s reign, but there is evidence that there was a “frame-up” against the Christians and a Jewish uprising against the Christians.

*(See Lesson 18: “The Writer and Date of Writing” in my Book, Revelation In Context.)

[i] As given by Cary and Scullard, History of Rome, 634, note 26-7.