“What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?”
James F. Pope
Answering your question involves bridging a “culture gap” in biblical interpretation and growing in our appreciation for the grace of God in Christ.
Bridging the gap
We encounter culture gaps in the Bible whenever we read about customs and practices that differ from our experiences today. To understand what the biblical customs and practices meant then, and to derive accurate, appropriate meaning for our lives today, we need to bridge the culture gap. Revelation 2:17 contains one of those gaps.
Already going back to the days of ancient Greece, jurors in court cases indicated the verdicts they reached by depositing pebbles or stones in receptacles. That practice continued into the days of ancient Rome. A dark stone reflected a “guilty” decision, while a white stone represented a “not guilty” or “acquittal” decision. Because jurors in our judicial system forward the results of their deliberations to judges by other means of communication, the practice of the ancients has little meaning to us today unless we bridge the culture gap. With that background in mind, we are in a better position to understand the intended meaning of Revelation 2:17 for Christians then and now.
Acquitting the guilty
Revelation chapters two and three contain specific messages from the Lord to Christians in seven congregations in Asia Minor. Revelation 2:17 is part of a tailor-made message from the Lord that the apostle John relayed to Christians who were living in the city of Pergamum (present-day Bergama in Turkey). The Lord’s message to those Christians contained rebuke and encouragement. Their rebuke was appropriate because some of them were drifting away from biblical teaching and godly living. They were yielding to the influence of Satan, whom John describes as living in Pergamum and figuratively occupying a throne there (Revelation 2:13). To the Christians who resisted Satan’s temptations, the Lord made the promise that he would give them a white stone. That was a picturesque way of describing God’s declaration of those people as “not guilty” of sin; it was a symbolic means of speaking of their justification. By bridging the culture gap, we can see what message God intended for Christians then and now.
“Not guilty” or “acquittal” is the declaration of God that we Christians today also enjoy. From a worldly, judicial perspective, God’s verdict is surprising. That is because our natural sinful condition and our actual sins deserve a “guilty” verdict from the holy and just God. Yet, in the courtroom of God, the Judge declared the guilty “innocent,” and he pronounced the Innocent One “guilty” (Romans 3). Through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus, Christians personally enjoy that declaration of acquittal.
Recasting the content
The answer to your question illustrates the truth that the book of Revelation very often recasts in figurative and symbolic ways what the Bible teaches elsewhere. It is comforting, indeed, to know from the book of Romans, for example, that God declares us “not guilty” for Jesus’ sake. There is additional comfort in receiving that same message of forgiveness of sins through this vivid picture in the book of Revelation.
This repetition and reshaping of content definitely says something about God. The lesson is that God desires that we be all the more convinced and confident that he has completely removed our sins. In pursuit of that goal, God speaks and restates his message of forgiveness in the Bible. He does that with unmistakable language and unforgettable imagery. He even does that with a little object like a stone, a white stone.
That stone says, “You are not guilty. Case dismissed.”
Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019
- Q&A: Why is Pontius Pilate immortalized in our creeds?
- Q&A: How does remembering my baptism help with the guilt I carry?
- Q&A: Do parts of the Bible teach works righteousness?
- Q&A: How can I overcome my struggle with lust and pornography?
- Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?
- Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?
- Q&A: Is anger sinful?
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith?
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer?
- Q&A: Is God fair?
- Q&A: When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for?
- Q&A: How can I better manage what God has given me this year so that I glorify him?
- Q&A: What are ways to glorify God besides singing in church?
- Q&A: I have no special gifts, and I mess up all the time. Does God really need me?
- Q&A: How do I overcome the feeling that my life has no purpose and I don’t make a difference?
- Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?
- Q&A: How can my mother and I forgive my father for being unfaithful and causing my parents to divorce?
- Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?
- Q&A: Is Christianity the only religion that gives the certainty of heaven?
- Q&A: If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
- Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?
- Q&A: Can you explain Jesus’ words to the wailing women he met on his way to be crucified?
- Q&A: What if spouses don’t “love” each other anymore?
- Q&A: Is it wrong to have a cross with Jesus’ body on it?
- Q&A: Is our time of grace really unchangeable?
- Q&A: I know that we are saved by grace apart from works, but how can it be that easy?
- Q&A: Are there degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works?
- Q&A: Do Lutherans take the Bible literally and teach millennialism?
- Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
- Q&A: How can we be sure the Bible includes what God originally gave us?
- Q&A: Why does it seem like Christianity is so negative?
- Q&A: How can I explain how Jesus’ resurrection is possible and if the Bible is reliable?
- Q&A: Is it okay to live together if we are planning to get married?
- Q&A: How is the Bible God’s Word?
- Q&A: Were we “created to make a difference”?
- Q&A: Am I being judgmental if I point out someone’s sin?
- Q&A: Do I need to read the Bible to have a relationship with God?
- Q&A: Can a Christian vote for a political candidate who supports abortion?
- Q&A: Does God really care?
- Q&A: Does it really matter how God made the world?
- Q&A: Does God send people to hell?
- Q&A: Is death natural?
- Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?
- Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?
- Q&A: How can we say that the Old Testament God is the same as the New Testament God?
- Q&A: Is Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
- Q&A: Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
- Light for our path: Does God hate us?
- Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide?
- Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
- Light for our path: Is it a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?
- Light for our path: What advice can you give about applauding in church?
- Light for our path: Can you please explain Matthew 5:20?
- Light for our path: What is karma?
- Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
- Light for our path: Does the word Easter refer to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?
- Light for our path: What role does emotion play in contrition?
- Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?
- Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?
- Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?