Before Spring Break (which, whenever the term “break” is used in a student’s life, generally means slacking – in this case, it means “Before I started slacking”), I attended the fourth and final session of Paul Anderson’s Wednesday evening teaching on the imagery in Revelation and the Johannine situations. On this evening, Anderson covered the third and fourth situations underlying the penning of the Johannine writings, particularly Revelation. These last two crises were: 3) the docetizing of Gentile Christians, and 4) Diotrephes and the Institutionalizing of Christianity.

The inclination toward docetism is found in 1 John 4:1-3 and 2 John 7. Because of the persecutions that had been taking place under Nero and Domitian, it was quite likely many Christians were finding a way to opt out of suffering. Ephesus, where the Johannine community was situated, was a city running against Pergamum (“where Satan has his throne”) for the status of the imperial capital for emperor worship. For this status, the city would have to appease the emperor and put on its very best in terms of honoring the emperor during his visits, showing up for civic festivals, and giving religious worship to the emperor. Indeed, much of the celebrations were paired with emperor worship—could the reference to idolatry in 1 John 5:21 be a reference to these celebrations? Not only this, but Ephesus, with its many luxuries, would strive to maintain its peace with Rome as Rome was one of its prime sources to finance these luxuries. For one to not align oneself with this Ephesian plan meant death. It follows, then, that a doctrine of non-suffering would arise: such a doctrine would state that Jesus did not really suffer (because he was not really human—the docetic doctrine) and therefore Christians do not have to suffer either. The Johannine leadership emphasized Jesus’ suffering and our willingness to suffer.

A clue to the early institutionalization of the late first century church is found in 3 John 9-10, referring to Diotrophes and his animosity toward the Johannine community members. Diotrephes was apparently one aspiring to a hierarchical position. Following the deaths of many of the 12 apostles, the church made a move toward a structural model to hold the churches together. The Johannine leadership offered a Spirit-based corrective (based on Jesus’ original intentions [see John 16]) and this threatened Diotrophes. The Elder (a Johannine leader or John himself) appears to have liked to threaten many, since his juxtaposition of the Beloved Disciple and Peter (recall Matthew 16:16-19), and the Holy Spirit passages in John 15-17 are evidently to set the record straight in regard to church structure. This points to an interaction of John with Matthew before the final production of John’s Gospel (see Anderson’s interfluence chart in Session 3).

In sum, we can say that the Beast, the Antichrist, and 666 literally and historically refer to the following:

  • Schismatic Jewish Christians who split to the synagogues
  • Imperial Rome that demanded emperor worship
  • Docetizing Gentile Christians who refused to bear the cost of discipleship
  • Hierarchical Christians who used coercive means of leadership

Anderson does not end it at the late first century. He sees each of these situations as having application to every generation. For us today, these threats manifest as:

  • Religious certainty (familiarity) versus a tenuous link to a living Lord
  • Idolatry of institutions versus a transcendent government and reign of God
  • Assimilation into the world versus a life of costly discipleship
  • Structure as a false Messiah (coersion) versus a life of convincement

Anderson ended on a true and relevant note: “Christ is come . . . and is coming” (George Fox).

Thanks for following along with these sessions.