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Spring 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 1 · pp. 47–60 

Revelation’s Exposé of Two Cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem

Gordon Zerbe

Images, words, and calls for justice and peace are both comprehensive in scope and coordinated throughout Scripture (e.g., Ps. 85:10; Isa. 32:17; Rom. 14:17). But the inclusiveness of both peace and justice, along with their close interconnection, is often limited in Christian practice. We often major on peace to the neglect of justice, or practice peace as something not done (refusing military service) to the neglect of active peace-building, or focus on personal justice (justification) to the neglect of social justice. The Book of Revelation is a crucial reminder that peace and justice belong together, with neither one circumscribed.

John’s Revelation calls us to choose between Babylon’s reign of violent wealth and New Jerusalem’s reign of justice and peace.

For instance, the vision of the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15), highlighting personal accountability, belongs together with the grand visions of the overthrow of the violent and unjust world order (Babylon) and the establishment of God’s reign of peace and justice (New Jerusalem) in its place. John’s pastoral call concludes with an impassioned plea that faithful believers disengage from the violent injustice of Babylon, and instead commit themselves to New Jerusalem’s way of peace and justice. This powerful appeal, with its obvious global horizon, is acutely relevant for Christian reflection today, not by way of predicting details of a future timetable, but by way of analogy between {48} our situation today and the critical situation faced by John and the churches of Asia in the early 90s A.D.

The first word of the book of Revelation is apokalypsis, literally, the “unveiling,” and thus “revelation,” or even “unmasking.” The question is: what is really “unveiled” in this book? Three basic questions and their answers constitute the focus of the book’s “exposé.”

  1. Who is really in charge, on the throne of the universe? The simple answer: God the Creator and the slain (but thereby conquering) Lamb are truly and eternally on the throne of the universe (chaps. 1, 4-5, 19).
  2. What is really going on in the world? The simple answer: The dragon (with many aliases), having sensed his imminent demise, is now on an all-out war against God and God’s people, having incarnated himself in a terrifying and destructive beast (for John’s first readers, a transparent symbol for the Roman imperial regime and military structure), which in turn is propping up the arrogant, lavish, idolatrous, and oppressive city Babylon (a transparent reference to Rome), 1 which has seduced all nations into its orbit of greed, whose consumptive lifestyle is the engine of the global economy, and whose wealth is based on inequitable trade relationships (chaps. 12-13, 17-18).
  3. What will be the inevitable outcome? The simple answer: The dragon, beast, and prostitute Babylon will inevitably and imminently be dethroned and destroyed, giving way to the realization of God’s reign on earth, pictured as the bridal New Jerusalem descending from heaven (chaps. 18-22).

The book of Revelation thus comes to a climax with an exposé of two rival cities, each of them representing alternative political economies between which faithful Christians must choose. Following brief previews, 2 both are given the same formal entrance (17:1; 21:9), in which the two cities come to life personified as two women—prostitute and bride. But it is crucial to observe that we find essentially a contrast between the two cities, indeed as two political economies revolving around them, and that the female imagery is used to sharpen the character and implications of the contrast. 3 {49}


Prostitute Babylon is pictured throughout from the perspective of its imminent judgment for its massive sins: “its sins are heaped as high as heaven” (18:5, translations are the author’s unless otherwise indicated). Most pointedly, the city and its sins are presented through a satirical city dirge (taunt song), quarried from the doom songs of Old Testament prophets against tyrant cities. 4 Of the three groups which lament the city’s demise, the group given most prominence is that of the “global traders” (emporoi), 5 highlighted both at the beginning and conclusion of the dirge (18:3, 23), but also as its lengthy centerpiece (18:11-17, 19). Without question the economic aspects of the doomed city Babylon (Rome) and its satellite political economy were both the most celebrated and the most hated.

The depictions of Babylon’s doom are extensive, highlighting its lavish wealth, arrogance, and craving for consumption, and its political oppression and economic exploitation, including its brutal military conquests and its destruction of the earth itself.

Babylon’s Lavish Wealth and Arrogance

The ostentatious wealth of Babylon is displayed first in the visual depiction of the prostitute (17:3-6). She is clothed in purple and scarlet (17:3) and adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls (17:4), an image repeated in 18:16, where fine linen is added to her garb. All these items head the list of luxury goods itemized in the lament of the global traders over their lost cargoes (18:11-13). In her hand is a golden cup of libations (17:4). In the next chapter, the word “wealth” itself is repeated as a key feature of the city (18:17, 19), as well as its “living with excess” (18:3, 7, 9), and its “shiny things” and “brilliant things,” that is, glitzy luxuries (18:14). Furthermore, the city “glorified itself,” referring both to its arrogance, but also to its sparkling external appearance and amassing of wealth (18:7).

Finally, Babylon is pictured as a place of insatiable craving for consumption, the true character of its “soul” (18:14). Arrogant provocation comes directly from Babylon’s own mouth: “I rule as queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief” (18:7 NRSV). An image taken from Isaiah’s earlier characterization of historical Babylon (Isa. 47:8), almost every word of this boast is incendiary. John takes up the reference to attack Rome’s own propaganda: “Roma Aeterna,” invincible, omnipotent, and destined to rule forever. 6 {50}

Babylon’s Political Economy of Violent Greed

In Revelation’s first reference to Babylon, its doom is announced since it dispenses “wine of wrath,” identified as its prostitution (14:8; 18:3); but in return it will receive God’s “wine of wrath” (14:10; 16:19; 19:15). Just as the city is drunk with blood, so also it will be forced to drink blood in judgment (16:6; 18:6). The vision appropriates the image of “wine/cup of wrath” from the Old Testament prophets, where it is a powerful image of judgment on evil-doers, especially foreign nations. 7

The image of the city’s “wine of wrath” as its prostitution leads directly to the identification of the city itself as “the great prostitute” (17:1; 19:2). For this John again draws on prophetic precedent, particularly texts in which the foreign cities Nineveh and Tyre receive such a depiction, highlighting their economic and political exploitation. 8 Identifying Babylon as prostitute, then, is John’s way to lodge a significant political and economic critique against it: for enriching itself at the expense of colonized people, and for forcibly seducing its client states. Babylon as prostitute in Revelation emphasizes its economic exploitation, not simply its idolatry.

Prostitute Babylon thus is described as forcibly 9 intoxicating “all nations” with the “wrathful wine of its prostitution” (14:8; 18:3), with which then “earth-dwellers 10 have become drunk” (17:2). We see that in the prostitute’s golden cup there is not good wine to be found, but a mixture full of dangerous corruption and impurities (17:4).

Closely tied to this is the image of Babylon “deceiving all nations with its pharmakos” (18:23). The Greek word pharmakos can refer positively to a medicine but also to a narcotic or poisonous drug, even sorcery. Babylon offers not good wine, but a dangerous narcotic and poison. As such, the city participates in the same deception exhibited by the dragon and the land beast, 11 ensuring that the world continues in its stupor.

Through this intoxication, and through sensuous and luxurious apparel, then, the city effectively seduces “the kings of the earth” to prostitute themselves with it (17:2; 18:3), referring to political agreements and alliances that the city is able to forge, presumably for mutual benefit (but especially for the benefit of prostitute Babylon). Indeed, this adultery by the “kings of the earth,” namely, by native rulers of conquered lands, is explained later as “living in excess (luxury) with it/her” (18:9). The native rulers have also participated in the exploitation of the world, at the expense of their own people.

Babylon is not just “the great prostitute” (17:1; 19:2), but indeed “the mother of prostitutes” (17:5). This is a play on the word {51} “metropolis,” which in Greek means “mother city,” and is used of a major city that has spawned colonies, or that is able to absorb many other cities within its sphere of control and influence. The image is distinctly geopolitical: graphically represented is Babylon’s power to colonize and extend its empire, and even to reproduce itself.

To emphasize Babylon’s political dominance over the world, John especially uses the imagery of “sitting” to imply “enthronement” (17:1, 3, 9, 15; 18:7). Babylon is “seated” as queen (18:7), and more particularly as “seated on many waters” (17:1 NRSV), explained as representing “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (17:15 NRSV). This recalls the global scope of the sea beast’s conquests and rule (13:7), and presumably depicts not only Rome’s control of the Mediterranean Sea, but also its control of the populations of the sea. But at the same time, this posture of enthronement poses a sharp contrast to the rule of God, who is “seated” on a throne in the midst of a pacified, crystal clear sea (4:1–5:1). And the reign of God is also one that, by contrast, aims to benefit “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9; cf. 7:9 and 14:6).

The militaristic violence of Babylon comes to center stage, when we observe a further close connection with the beast: Babylon is seated on a scarlet beast and its seven heads (17:3, 9), indicating that Babylon is propped up by the Roman empire’s military machine. Indeed, the throne of the beast would appear to be in the middle of the city (16:10), just as the throne of God is in the middle of New Jerusalem (22:1). Even though the imperial order and its allies will eventually turn on Babylon to destroy it (17:16-17), for the present moment Babylon and the beast are one. And to confirm that Rome is new Babylon, John explains that the seven heads of the beast upon which the prostitute sits are also seven mountains (17:9), referring to the actual topography of Rome. Rome’s brutal military conquests, and its continued control through means of terror such as crucifixion, are expressed further with the references to blood: in Babylon “was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth” (18:24 NRSV; cf. 16:6). Indeed, the city is “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (17:6 NRSV), recalling the beast’s war on the saints (13:7). This blood imagery was a familiar one for describing the brutality of nations and military leaders. Even Roman historians describe some of their generals and emperors as “blood-thirsty.” 12

As noted earlier, the satirical dirge on Babylon (chap. 18) highlights the role of global traders (emporoi) in the economic domination of {52} Babylon. Babylon’s global traders “have enriched themselves through the power of its excess/luxury” (18:3), and they “have become the powers of the earth” (18:23). 13 They have helped create the wealthy extravagance of Rome, and they are the obvious beneficiaries of the military-political domination by Babylon. They self-centeredly mourn the loss of Babylon because of the loss of their trade (18:11-17). Almost all the cargoes listed are luxury items. The first eight of them are also features of the prostitute’s apparel (17:3-4; 18:16): the global traders specialize in wants, not needs. The listing also highlights the global reach of the traders, including items from Spain and North Africa to Armenia and southern China. Interestingly, many of the cargoes itemized by John also appear in descriptions of Roman extravagance by Roman writers. 14 But John does not highlight merely conspicuous consumption and decadence, as some Roman writers do. Rather, he highlights how these items are merely a small piece of an exploitative system that has benefited an urban elite at the expense of the majority of the world’s population.

Babylon’s effect on the “earth” requires mention in conclusion. John’s vision asserts that Babylon has “corrupted the earth with its prostitution” (19:2), so that it is the mother “of earth’s abominations [corruptions]” (17:5 NRSV). The statement in 11:18 confirms that this corruption includes the corruption of earth itself—the time has come for judgment, including the rewarding of the prophets and saints, but also “for destroying those who destroy the earth” (NRSV). Revelation directly challenges Babylon for its degradation of the earth. Ultimately, the perspective of Revelation is not earth-abandoning, but earth-affirming. 15 The drama concerns God’s reclamation of all that belongs to the Creator (14:7). The redemption of humanity thus emerges, finally, only on a redeemed terrestrial sphere (as in Rom. 8:18-25).


New Jerusalem finally emerges along with a renewed creation, following some scenes of final conquest (19:11—20:15), which bring to conclusion the decisive victory already won on the cross (5:5; 12:7-12). Twice New Jerusalem is described as “coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2, 10), indicating its divine origins in contrast to the beast and Babylon, but also its terrestrial location. There are decisive images of immortality in the vision (e.g., 21:4), but one cannot fail to see that New Jerusalem is placed squarely on earth. In a sense, the entire vision is a picturesque commentary on our Lord’s prayer: may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. According to the Bible, the final hope that motivates Christians is not heaven itself. Rather, the {53} ultimate goal is to participate in God’s renewal of the universe—a renewal pictured as a merging of earth and heaven, in which all brokenness is restored.

New Jerusalem is also not simply equated with the readers John is addressing, nor with the church through time. Rather, New Jerusalem is a picture of the coming “reign of God,” in which God’s people are promised a “share” or an “inheritance” (21:7; 22:19; cf. 2:7, 17; 3:12). Christians are invited to the city by the bride; that is, they are asked to declare loyalty to it, which confirms that they are not the city themselves (19:9; 22:17). Thus believers pray for its final realization (22:20). 16

John’s vision pictures New Jerusalem with grand images of wealth, but it presents this wealth in terms of the physical features of the city’s walls, foundations, gates, and main street, not by reference to the bride’s apparel. The physical representation of the city as the bride is modest by comparison to the prostitute. As if “prepared” for the great marriage feast (19:7; 21:2), the bride is pictured with “fine linen, bright and pure” (19:8), “adorned for her husband” (21:2). The picture is restrained and simple, focusing on purity and fidelity. On the other hand, the physical description of the city is detailed and extensive: the city is immense, brilliant, glitzy, rich, and strong (21:10-21), rivaling the ostentatious grandeur of Babylon. It is the symbol of perfection, both in its shape (as a cube) and size (each dimension 12,000 stadia; walls 144 cubits high).

New Jerusalem is also pictured as the one international capital city (world superpower), rivaling the status and political economy of Babylon. But here, “inter-” has its true meaning (cf. 5:10; 7:9; 14:6). It, too, is the center of a global tributary economy, but it appears to be invitational and attractional. All nations “walk by the light” of God’s glory and of the Lamb (21:24), which radiates from the throne of God. The gates of the city are never shut (21:25), although guarded by angels (21:12), so that nothing unclean might enter (21:8, 27a; 22:3, 15). And the “kings of the earth” and the “peoples” bring their glory (tribute) 17 and honor (“items of value”) into the city, a point important enough to be repeated (21:24, 26). Here John picks up the prophetic hope that the historical outflow of tribute and people from Israel to foreign lands will be reversed, so that people and tribute will flow into Jerusalem. 18 In John’s final utopia, the nations voluntarily bring their tribute to God’s new capital city; the wealth of the nations is not extracted by military force or by inequitable trading relationships, as it was then and still is today. {54}

The production within the city focuses on basic necessities (needs versus wants), which flow directly from the throne of God and of the Lamb. First, we find the “river of the water of life,” an image with deep biblical significance. We are reminded both of the river of “paradise” (a Persian loan word, meaning “garden”; cf. 2:7) from Genesis 2:9-10, but also of the river of justice from Amos 5:21-24. 19 We also observe that “water of life” or “living water” is the way ancient peoples referred to running water, or water from a fountain, as opposed to standing, or well water, even as it is a metaphor for the water of spiritual vitality (cf. 21:6; 22:17). Notably, the water is available for free (21:6; 22:7); it is not commodified. For that reason, it flows down the middle of the main street of the city (22:1-2). And by contrast, the waters of Babylon are irreparably poisoned (16:3-6).

Indeed, the river not only sustains the city’s residents, it also provides a consistent source for the irrigation of its agricultural production (just as in Gen. 2). Thus the “tree of life” (22:2), which seems to straddle the river, produces “fruit” each month, indicating that it is also a tropical city (without any winter)! And it provides both sustenance and medicine for all the nations: its “leaves” are “for the healing of the nations.” The water, the fruit, and the medicinal leaves are freely accessible to all (in contrast to the beast’s economic exclusions, 13:16-17), and from a renewable (and unlimited) resource. Thus there is clean water, food security, and accessible health care, both for the city and for the whole world.

But what has become of the worldwide “trade” so prominent in the depiction of Babylon? On the one hand, John may be indicating that all unjust sea trade has ended, one possible meaning of the note that in the new creation there is no more sea (21:1). 20 On the other hand, the imagery suggests that the global trading relationships continue, but that they no longer focus on luxury goods (as in Babylon), but on those things that make for life’s fulfillment and joy. As for the city’s internal politics, we see that the residents not only have a “share” and an “inheritance” in the city (21:7; 22:19), they are also coregents with God and the Lamb (22:5), bringing to close a central affirmation of the book. 21 What we find is a politics of participation and access (22:4).

In summary, John’s vision of New Jerusalem is a picture not merely of heaven, nor of the church, but of what happens when God’s reign is realized on earth. New Jerusalem is God’s alternative political economy—a picture of redeemed humanity in the context of a renewed earth, economy, and politics. {55}


John did not pass on his visions just to reveal secrets, but to prompt his readers to act. What, then, is the practical response that John enjoins of his readers, and thereby of readers today?

In connection with the vision of Babylon, God’s people are specifically called to “come out” of Babylon, so as “not to be partner in its sins” (18:4). The implication of this metaphorical call is that the church is to some degree situated in Babylon. Or, to put it another way, Babylon is everywhere. The church is not somehow a “totally innocent bystander.” What is called for is a comprehensive disengagement and resistance: economic, social, political, and spiritual. 22 Particularly striking, however, is the use of a term that can be used of commercial partnerships (sygkoinoneo) to refer to the “partnership” with Babylon’s sin. 23 Given the sustained critique of global traders (emporoi) in chapter 18, the economic dimension of disengagement must have been uppermost in John’s mind. Indeed, Revelation shares the New Testament perspective that “wealth” is often tied to “lukewarmness” and “arrogance” (3:14-22), and that “poverty” is often tied to spiritual vitality. The rich church of Laodicea receives only criticism; whereas the poorer churches of Smyrna (2:8-11) and Philadelphia (3:7-13) receive only commendation.

It would appear that John does not consider all his readers to be harassed, dispossessed, and on the economic periphery. Some Christians may well be among those who are deceived in their complacency. According to R. Bauckham, this is the reason why Babylon’s fall in chapter 18 is narrated from the perspective of those who mourn over its downfall: it functions as a “hermeneutical trap” for any readers who have become collaborators in the Roman economy (for instance, Christian traders or shippers involved in the global economic system, or those striving for a degree of upward mobility). “Any readers who find themselves sharing the perspective of Rome’s mourners—viewing the prospect of the fall of Rome with dismay—should thereby discover, with a shock, where they stand, and the peril in which they stand.” 24 This call to disengage, therefore, can be associated with the repeated call to “repent” in the seven messages (2:5, 16, 21; 3:2-3, 19).

More generally, the Christian conduct exhorted by John is identified as hypomone, “endurance” or “persistence” under pressure, the most important virtue promoted in the book, occurring seven times (1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:2). Perhaps appropriately translated as “consistent resistance,” 25 this virtue is singled out for special mention immediately after persecution by the beast has been explained (13:10), and after the judgment is announced on those who worship the beast and are willing {56} to be marked by its name (14:11-12). Closely tied to “consistent resistance” are faithfulness, witness, truth-telling, and martyrdom. 26 All this is the proper path to victory—Christian conquering—following the same path as the Lamb Messiah. 27

In many contexts within early Jewish literature (including the New Testament), hypomone (“endurance”) is synonymous with the virtue of not repaying evil in kind (non-retaliation). 28 Thus while Revelation reveals a marked thirst for justice, literally for blood to be avenged (e.g., 6:9-11, answered by 19:2), 29 the consistent message is that Christians do not repay in kind, but leave justice to God. In the final drama, the Messiah and his angelic army conquer the kings of the earth 30 without the assistance of human agents, while the action of the elect focuses on their faithfulness, endurance (persistent resistance), witness, truth-telling, disengagement from the evil system, and martyrdom. 31

John also exhorts his readers to have “wisdom” (13:18; 17:9). The two crucial calls to “wisdom” in Revelation refer specifically to recognizing the meaning of the beast’s number (13:18) and the meaning of the appearance of the beast and the prostitute Babylon (17:9). In other words, John recommends careful political and economic discernment, so as not to be taken in by the “deception” of the dragon, beast, and prostitute Babylon. Beneficiaries of empire are often blind to its evils.

Finally, God’s people are invited to “worship” (19:5; 22:3), which in Revelation as elsewhere in the New Testament means “to pledge allegiance” and “to pay homage,” an inherently political act. The entire book of Revelation is full of liturgy (giving us a window into early Christian worship), 32 and at almost every point of Christian confession and worship in Revelation, there is polemic against false claimants of human allegiance.

Revelation offers the church then and today a crucial challenge—that it disengage from Babylon’s reign of greed, and commit itself to God’s reign of justice and peace. The appeal of John is no less relevant now than when it was first written.


  1. The first reference to Babylon in 14:8 is phrased in a way that assumes the readers were already familiar with this application. In {57} 17:9 the topography of Rome is specifically mentioned. Babylon is used as a cipher for Rome also in 1 Pet. 5:13, and in contemporaneous Jewish literature: Sib. Or. 5. 143, 159; 4 Ezra 3:1-2, 28-31; 2 Bar. 10:1; 11:1; 67:7. The correspondence between Babylon and Rome was confirmed for many Jews after Rome razed Jerusalem to the ground in A.D. 70. At the same time, the image Babylon in Revelation does not seem limited as a simple one-to-one code word for Rome; its associations are even wider. See Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, Proclamation Commentaries (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1991), 89.
  2. Babylon, 14:8; 16:9; New Jerusalem, 3:12 (2:7, 26-28; 3:5, 21); 19:7-8.
  3. See Barbara Rossing, The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride, and Empire in the Apocalypse (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), 17-59.
  4. Esp. Ezek. 25-27; Jer. 50-51; Isa. 22-24, 47.
  5. I consistently translate emporoi in this essay as “global traders,” as opposed to the usual “merchants.” This is appropriate since emporoi designates large-scale, international traders, literally, “those who traverse,” as opposed to those whose merchandising is local, for which Greek used kapeloi. Moreover, in Revelation the horizon of trading is the whole oikoumene, the whole earth (e.g., 3:10; 12:9; 13:3, 8; 14:8; 15:4; 16:14; 18:3), making “global” a suitable adjective to “traders.” Of course, this translation also has a polemical edge, seeking to highlight the contemporary analogy.
  6. Rossing, Two Cities, 126-27.
  7. Jer. 25:15-16, 27-28; Ezek. 23:32-33; Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22-23; Lam. 4:21; Zech. 12:2; Hab. 2:15-16; Obad. 16; see also Pss. of Sol. 8:5; 2 Bar. 13:8.
  8. See esp. Isa. 23:15-18; Nah. 3:4. The prophetic depiction of Israel’s own “prostitution” focuses on its idolatry, but in some texts the notion of economic injustice can also be seen (Isa. 1:21-23).
  9. See 14:8: “caused them to drink”; cf. variant readings in 18:3.
  10. “Those who dwell on the earth” (3:10; 6:10, 15; 8:13; 9:15, 18; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8) is synonymous with those who worship the beast, follow the beast, or take on the mark of the beast (13:11-17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4); the phrase thus seems to refer to all those who are somehow taken in by the dragon, beast, and Babylon and reject the claims of God. In contrast are those who take on the seal of God (7:2; 9:4; 14:1), who follow the Lamb (14:4; 17:14), who refuse to worship the image of the beast (13:15), {58} and who conquer the beast (15:2).
  11. Dragon as deceiver, 12:9; 20:3, 8, 10; land beast as deceiver, 13:14; 19:20.
  12. Rossing, Two Cities, 86.
  13. For the contemporary analogy, see David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 2d ed. (New York: Berrett-Koehler, 2001).
  14. Richard Bauckham, “Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation 18,” in Alexander Loveday, ed., Images of Empire (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 47-90.
  15. On the NT’s imagery of earth’s final transformation, and not destruction or replacement, see further Gordon Zerbe, “Ecology According to the New Testament,” Direction 21 (fall 1992): 15-26.
  16. The imagery of the church as bride (Eph. 5) or as the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4; Heb. 10-12) must not be read into the imagery of Revelation. Only in one place does the imagery seem to equate the saints with the bride (19:8).
  17. On the word glory as representing the wealth of nations, see Matt. 4:8; Luke 12:27. Specifically as tribute, see Isa. 60:13 (LXX).
  18. See e.g., Isa. 56:7-8; 60:3, 5, 10-12, 14, 18-20; 61:6; Hag. 2:7; Zech. 14:14; Ps. 72:8-11; Deut. 15:6.
  19. See also Ezek. 47:1, 12; Ps. 46:4; Isa. 55:1; Jer. 2:13; Zech. 14:8.
  20. See esp. Rossing, Two Cities, 144-47.
  21. The idea of God’s people as priests and kings is introduced in 1:4-8 and picked up decisively again in 5:10; for the polemical royalty theme, see further 1:6, 9; 2:10, 26-28; 3:20-21; 5:10; 20:4-6; 22:4-5; cf. Exod. 19:6; Gen. 1:26-28.
  22. Pablo Richard, Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995), 135; Fiorenza, Vision, 100.
  23. Elsewhere in the NT, the compound can be found with its commercial connotations in 1 Cor. 9:23 and Phil. 4:14. Cf. also Rev. 1:9.
  24. Bauckham, “Economic Critique,” 84.
  25. Fiorenza, Vision, 96. This virtue is also parallel to “bearing up” and “not growing weary” (2:3).
  26. “Faithfulness” is exhibited particularly in the context of the “testimony/witness” (martyria) of God’s people (2:10, 13; 6:9; 11:7, 13; 12:11, 17; 13:10; 17:6, 14; 19:10). The model for this is Jesus, “the faithful and true witness” (1:5; 3:14; 19:11). Christians are those who confess and tell the truth, regardless of the consequences (3:8). Those “who bear testimony to Jesus” are also those “who keep God’s commandments” (12:17). And their martyrdom is the ultimate opportunity for “witness,” so that in time the very Greek word {59} for “witness” (martys) takes on the meaning martyr. On martyrs in Revelation, see 2:13; 6:9-11; 7:9-14; 11:7; 12:13, 17; 13:7; 14:3,13; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; 20:4-6. A related feature of God’s people is that they “keep their robes clean” (3:4; 22:14), referring to their “righteous deeds” (19:8). Elsewhere, “white robes” is the attire promised to those who conquer, who remain faithful unto death (3:4-5; 7:13-14; cf. 14:5; 19:14). On the warning simply to remain clothed, see 16:15.
  27. Each of the seven messages to the seven churches closes with a word of promise to those who “conquer” (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; cf. 21:7-8). In these texts, “conquering” is identified as “being faithful unto death” (2:10), “keeping my works till the end” (2:26), “holding fast” (3:11), and as the opposite of being cowardly, faithless, and immoral (21:7-8). It is featured as the necessary prelude to ruling (2:6; 3:21), and as taking the same path as Christ’s conquering (3:21). When Christ’s own conquering is pictured, what we are presented with is the slain Lamb (5:5)—Christ has conquered through his faithfulness unto death. Thus, it is later affirmed that God’s people “have conquered” the dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony/witness” (12:11). And later we see a picture of martyrs in heaven, described as “those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name,” referring also to their ability to discern the truth of the deception (15:2-4). Like other Jewish apocalyptic writings (e.g., the Testament of Moses), Revelation assumes that martyrdom provokes God’s justice; cf. 6:9-11.
  28. See e.g., Prov. 20:22; 1 Thess. 5:14-15; Rom. 12:12, 14-21; 1 Cor. 4:12-13; 13:4-7; Col. 3:12-15; 1 Pet. 2:18-23; 2 En. 50:2-4. But see Rev. 18:6-8, where the context would naturally suggest the avenging subjects as Christians; but that jars with the sentiment of the rest of the book, and in fact addressees and speakers abruptly change throughout chap. 18. At the least, this text expresses the thirst for justice expressed throughout the book, not unlike the so-called imprecatory psalms.
  29. The imagery of the destruction of those allied with the beast and Babylon is gruesome. See 14:8-20; 16:4-7; 18:6; 19:11-16, 17-21.
  30. At the end, Christ is pictured as an avenging and warring conqueror (19:11-16; cf. 1:16-18). While there is some restraint, such that his “sword” comes out of his mouth (19:15, 21; cf. 1:16; 2:12, 16) indicating that he conquers with his “word,” the imagery of blood shed in conquest is vivid (19:13, 21; cf. Isa. 63:1-3; Rev. 14:17-20). {60}
  31. See e.g., William Klassen, “Vengeance in the Apocalypse of John,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966): 300-311; Gordon Zerbe, “ ‘Pacifism’ and ‘Passive Resistance’ in Apocalyptic Writings,” in The Pseudepigrapha and Early Biblical Interpretation, ed. J. H. Charlesworth and C. A. Evans (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 85-95.
  32. E.g., 1:5-8; 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-17; 11:15-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:1-8; 21:3-4; 22:17, 20.
Gordon Zerbe is Associate Professor of New Testament, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is currently on a two-year leave as a Mennonite Central Committee volunteer, serving as Visiting Professor of New Testament, Silliman University Divinity School, Dumaguete City, Philippines.
This article is an adaptation of a Bible study presented at the annual National Council of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, October 24, 2002.

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