WHAT IS THE “SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN”?

Syn SatanIn Rev 2:9 (cp. 3:9) we read Jesus saying to Pergamum: “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Evangelical commentator Ramsey Michaels argues that the false Jews of “the synagogue of Satan” are actually non-Jews, just like the “false apostles” in the letter to the church at Ephesus were not actual apostles. In fact, this is the majority view among Rev commentators.

Against this position I would urge the following

First, why would anyone in the first-century Roman empire other than a racial Jew claim to be a Jew? The Jews were detested in the Roman world:

1. They were driven out of Rome under Claudius for causing riots;

2. Tacitus claims of the Jews “the rest of the world they confront with the hatred reserved for enemies” and are “a most lasivious people” (Histories, 5);

3. According to Suetonius (Tiberius, 36), Tiberius “abolished foreign cults at Rome, particulary the Egyptian and Jewish, forcing all citizens who had embraced these superstitious faiths to burn their religious vestments and other accessories. Jews of military age were removed to unhealthy regions, in the pretext of drafting them into the army; the others of the same race or of similar beliefs were expelled from the city and threatened with slavery if they defied the order.”


Before Jerusalem Fell
(by Ken Gentry)

Doctoral dissertation defending a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation’s writing.
Thoroughly covers internal evidence from Revelation, external evidence from history,
and objections to the early date by scholars.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com

4. They ultimately were attacked and destroyed by the Roman armies in AD 70 (and since Michaels holds that Revelation was written after AD 70, this would seem to greatly weaken his observation).

Second, the word “synagogue” is a distinctively Jewish place of worship. It is often used in the New Testament of the Jewish meeting house in the first century (e.g., Matt 4:23; 9:35; 23:34; Mark 1:39; 4:22; 6:2; Luke 4:15–20; 6:6; 8:41; 13:10; John 6:59; 9:22; 18:20; Acts 6:9; 9:2; 13:5; 14:1; etc.). The word “synagogue” occurs sixty-eight times in the New Testament and is always used of the Jewish place of worship.

Third, the whole character of Revelation seems to emphasize that Christianity is the true Israel of God, and would suggest John’s put down of Judaism among ethnic, literal Jews:

1. The 144,000 from the 12 tribes surely speaks of Christianity under Jewish imagery (and probably refers to the Jewish Christians in Israel). They are the perfect number, who are set over against those who “pierced” the Messiah (Rev. 1:7).

2. The New Jerusalem is from heaven and seems to replace the old (Rev. 11; Rev. 21; cp. Gal. 4:20ff; Heb. 12:18ff). We should note that the Epistle to the Hebrews similarly contrasts Christianity with the old Jewish order about to be shaken — as made with hands (Heb. 12:27, 28 cp. Heb. 9:11, 24).

3. Christ’s marriage to the bride from heaven, the new Jerusalem, seems to imply the putting away of God’s old wife, the old Jerusalem. She is capitally punished for spiritual adultery so that the new bride might lawfully be taken..

Fourth, the “synagogue of Satan” fits well with John’s imagery in his Gospel, where he records Jesus’s charge that the leaders of Israel are “of your father the devil” (John 8:44). John’s Gospel has a well-known strain of antagonism against “the Jews” (the leadership of Israel?). In fact, many liberal theologians deem it to be anti-Semitic. This would fit well with John’s Revelation and its declaration that Jews have become a “synagogue of Satan.”


Blame It on the Brain?
Sub-title: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience
by Edward T. Welch

Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, Alcoholism, Homosexuality.
Research suggests that more and more behaviors are caused by brain function or dysfunction.
But is it ever legitimate to blame misbehavior on the brain?
How can I know whether my brain made me do it?

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Fifth, P. W. L. Walker’s excellent Jesus and the Holy City (Eerdmans, 1996) shows how, for instance, Matthew and Luke set up Christianity as the true Israel over against the Jewish claims. In a book as obviously Jewish as Revelation (Hebraic grammar, old covenant images, Old Testament allusions, etc.) we should expect an even more obvious attempt to present Christianity as the true Israel of God.

Thus, “the synagogue of Satan” attended by those who “call themselves Jews” surely refers to organized Judaism. And in the two diaspora cities of Pergamum and Smyrna, it undoubtedly refers to actual assemblies of the Jews.

000 Conference Ministry

 

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