September 27: Revelation 6:9-11

Revelation 6:9-17

The visions from the first four seals (cf. the previous note)—the horses and their riders—deal with the theme of warfare among the peoples on earth, along with the suffering and death that results from it. The fourth rider was actually identified as “Death”, bringing people down to the grave (the “unseen realm” [a%|dh$] of the dead). Death from the sword (i.e. war) was widened to include death from hunger, disease, and attacks by wild animals (verse 8). Now in the vision from the fifth seal, the death-motif is extended to include believers in Christ who are put to death for their faith.

Rev 6:9-11

“And when he opened up the fifth seal, I saw down below the place of slaughter [i.e. altar] the souls having been [i.e. that had been] slaughtered through [i.e. because of] the account of God and the witness which they held.” (v. 9)

Here the slaughter from the nations at war is replaced by the slaughter of believers in Christ—specifically, those put to death as a result of proclaiming the Gospel (“the account/word [lo/go$] of God”), and acting as witnesses of Christ. This represents one of the earliest instances of the word martu/$ (“witness”, here the related noun marturi/a) in the technical Christian sense of one who is put to death for his/her faith in Jesus (the word[s] being transliterated in English as “martyr”, “martyrdom”, etc). It is described in terms of ritual slaughter—i.e., a sacrificial offering, just as Jesus’ own death was understood as a sacrifice (Passover, sin/guilt offering, or the sacrifice establishing the [new] Covenant). The altar-image seems to draw upon aspects of both altars in the Tabernacle/Temple design—(a) the altar of burnt offering in the sanctuary courtyard, and (b) the altar of incense in the shrine. The allusions for these two aspects are:

    • The position of the souls down at the bottom of the altar (v. 9)—In the ancient sacrificial ritual, blood from the slaughtered animal was poured/thrown down at the base of the altar (Lev 4:7, etc). The souls of the believers put to death are closely connected to this image of blood—since blood was typically understood as representing the life-essence of the person (much like the soul). Moreover “blood” can be synonymous with “death”, regardless of the extent to which a person’s death involved actual bloodshed; violent and/or wicked action leading to death of the innocent could be described simply as “bloodshed”.
    • The cry (i.e. prayer) of these souls (v. 10)—The connection between prayer and incense was traditional, and was established earlier here in 5:8.

The position of the souls (“down below the altar”) may also express the idea of taking refuge (with God) in the holy place. A temple sanctuary often served as a place of refuge or asylum—near the altar, in particular (1 Kings 1:50). For a similar image of souls (of the righteous) waiting in the heavenly sanctuary, cf. 2 Baruch 30:1-2; 2/4 Esdras 4:35; 7:32 (Koester, p. 399).

The cry of “how long…?” (Grk e%w$ po/te, “until when…?”) in verse 10 reflects passages in the Old Testament such as the Psalmist’s lament in Ps 6:3; 13:1; 35:17; 74:10; 79:5ff (cf. also Zech 1:12, etc). It expresses two underlying thoughts: (1) the idea that justice has been denied or was not established during one’s life on earth, and (2) a desire to experience God’s deliverance in time of trouble. Here the emphasis is decidedly eschatological—i.e., waiting for justice to be done (by God) at the end-time Judgment:

“And they cried (out) with a loud voice, saying: ‘Until when, O master, the (One) holy and true, do you not judge and work out justice (for) our blood out of [i.e. from] the (one)s putting down house [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth?'” (v. 10)

The verb e)kdike/w is sometimes translated “avenge”, but it is better here to maintain its fundamental meaning “work out justice” (i.e. on behalf of someone). Justice was not “worked out” for these believers during their time on earth, when they were put to death unjustly; it waits to be established at the end-time Judgment. A basic premise of justice in such instances (murder, bloodshed, etc) is a requital for the death (“blood”) of the innocent. This idea is most ancient, expressed famously in Gen 9:5-6, but was given a new formulation by Jesus in the Gospel tradition (Matt 23:29-35 / Lk 11:47-51)—the blood of the prophets put to death (by Israel) serves as a pattern for the execution of Jesus and his followers (cf. Matt 5:12; 11:12-14 par; Mark 9:12-13 par), and will bring judgment upon the people and the city of Jerusalem (Matt 23:36-39; Lk 13:33-35).

This introduces another interesting parallel between Revelation 6 and the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. In both passages, a period of war among the nations/peoples (Rev 6:1-8; Mk 13:7-8 par) is followed by a reference to the persecution (and death) of believers (Rev 6:9ff; Mk 13:9-13 par). Also in both instances, the reference ends with a call for patient endurance (Rev 6:11; Mk 13:13 par). Here in verse 11, it is a response to the heartfelt cry of believers, longing to see justice done by God:

“And white dress was given to each of them, and it was uttered to them that they will rest up (for) a little time yet, until their (fellow) slaves with (them) and their brothers should also be fulfilled—the (one)s about to be killed off, even as they (were).”

On the significance of white garments, cf. the notes on 3:4-5, 18; 4:4, and further in 7:13-14. It is declared that justice will not be done—that is, the end-time Judgment will not come—until a “little time” (xro/no$ mikro/$) has passed. Based on 11:2-3; 12:6ff; 13:5, it is possible that this is equivalent to the (symbolic) period of 3½ years. In any case, based on the imminent eschatology clearly expressed in the book up to this point (cf. 1:1, 3, 8, 19; 2:16; 3:3, 10-11, 20), this declaration indicates that the end-time Judgment will take place very soon (though not immediately). This is confirmed by the announcement that the other believers, who will join them as martyrs for Christ, are “about [me/llonte$] to be killed”. This time, however short, or whatever the precise length, will be fulfilled when these other believers are put to death, completing their life-mission. On similar (and roughly contemporary) language, see, e.g., 1 Enoch 47:4; 2 Baruch 23:5; 2/4 Esdras 2:41; 4:35-37 (Koester, p. 400).

Clearly, the book of Revelation expresses the idea that the persecution (and execution) of believers is about to intensify and increase. While individual instances are mentioned, or alluded to, elsewhere in the New Testament, there is no real indication in the first century A.D. of widespread persecution. The opposition and attacks of early believers by Jews was most intense in the earliest years, but it was still experienced by Christians in Asia Minor toward the end of the century (as attested in 2:9-10 and 3:9). In terms of action against believers by Roman imperial authorities, this appears to have been sporadic and relatively infrequent. There were, of course, the famous (though very brief) state-sponsored executions under Nero’s reign (c. 64), which almost certainly influenced the imagery in the book of Revelation. However, the extent of persecution in the reign of Domitian (81-96), the period often thought to provide the setting of the book, does not appear to have been nearly so widespread as was often thought. Indeed, the evidence from the letters to the churches here in chaps. 2-3, suggests that executions were relatively infrequent in Asia Minor at the time of writing; imprisonment during interrogation would have been much more common. In the subsequent centuries (mid-2nd through the early 4th) there would be more intense periods of state-sponsored persecution, conducted on a wider scale.

September 26: Revelation 6:1-8

With chapter 6 the great 7-part vision cycles, which form the core of the remainder of the book, begin—the next cycle unfolding out of the seventh vision of the one prior. This triadic (3 x 7) visionary (and literary) structure, is tied back to the seven seals on the scroll at the right-hand of God’s throne (cf. the previous notes on the throne-vision of chaps. 4-5). From a rhetorical, epistolary standpoint, I had mentioned earlier that chapters 4-5 could be regarded as the propositio—the central proposition which is argued or expounded in the body of the letter. The proposition, if you will, might be stated as follows: even though Rome may seem to rule on earth at the present, in its socio-political and economic power, accompanied by corruption and wickedness, it is God and Jesus Christ (the Lamb) who truly rule over the peoples and nations. This “proposition” is implied in the words written on the scroll; the breaking of the seals, making these words known, is the exposition (probatio)—the “proof” of the proposition lies in the fact that the coming events, establishing God’s ultimate rule over humankind, have already been “written” and are destined to take place.

Revelation 6:1-8

Verse 1 shows the connection with the previous vision:

“And I saw (that) when the Lamb opened up one out of the seven seals…”

Interestingly, the visions which follow in chapter 6 do not necessarily correspond with anything written on the scroll as such; rather, they are preliminary, being revealed when each of the seals is broken (“opened up”). Only after the seven seals have been broken, can the scroll, properly speaking, be read. The opening of each seal is accompanied by the voice of one of the four Living Beings around the throne. The voice has the heavenly/divine characteristic of sounding like thunder (bronth/); recall that in Hebrew the common word for thunder (loq) literally means “voice” (i.e. thunder as the ‘voice’ of God, drawing upon ancient storm-theophany). Each Living Being announces “(you must) come! [e&rxou]”, creating a most effective visionary dynamic.

The first four seals (and visions) involve horses (and horsemen)—”see, a horse…and the (one) sitting upon it”—resulting in the traditional designation of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, immortalized in artwork such as Dürer’s famous woodcut:

The first horse is white (leuko/$), and this has caused some confusion among readers and commentators. Because Jesus is depicted as the rider on a white horse in Rev 19:11ff, it is often assumed that he is rider here as well. But that is most unlikely, given the character of these four horses/horsemen when taken together as a group. It is true that white is typically the color associated with the divine/heavenly realm, representing holiness and purity, in particular (cf. the earlier use in 1:14; 2:17; 3:4-5, 18; 4:4). However, it can also symbolize victory (i.e., in warfare other contests), and, indeed, it carries this association in chapters 2-3. Moreover, a victorious military leader was frequently depicted (or presented) on a white horse—cf. Herodotus Histories 7.40; 9.63; Virgil Aeneid 3.537, etc; Koester, p. 393. Thus it is probably best to view this horse and rider as symbolizing military conquest, as emphasized by the double use of the verb nika/w in v. 2—”…and he went out being victorious, (so) that he might be victorious”. It is also suggestive of an overwhelming military strength, or as referring to one destined to conquer. The use of the bow (i.e. by mounted archers) does not appear to have been commonly employed by Roman forces at this time, being more typical of people outside the empire, or on its borders, such as the Parthians and Sarmatians. This likely is intended as a contrast to Roman Imperial control and security (cf. the beginning of the next note), but may also indicate the swiftness of the attack which could be carried out by mounted archers and cavalry units.

I believe that all four of the horses/horsemen primarily relate to the image of warfare; it is worth looking at them in summary:

    • White (leuko/$, v. 2)—military conquest, indicated by both the color, as well as the weapon (bow, to/con) and wreath (ste/fano$) in honor of victory
    • Red (purro/$, v. 4)—violence and death (red connoting blood, etc) as the result of military action (sword); a period of intense warfare is indicated:
      “…and it was given to him to take peace out of the earth, even (so) that they will slaughter each other, and (indeed) a great sword was given to him”
    • Black (me/la$, vv. 5-6)—which I take as symbolizing the darkness which follows in the wake of war, as when the sun turns dark (v. 12, etc) being obscured by smoke, and so forth. Here it seems to be defined in terms of socio-economic distress and oppression, i.e. the disruption of the balance of social order, indicated by the scale-beam (zugo/$) the rider holds in his hand. Verse 6 describes this two ways:
      (a) food shortage, growing in severity—”a choinix of wheat-grain for a denarius, and three choinixes of barley for a denarius”
      (b) the increasingly precious nature of olive oil and wine—”do not take away justice (from) [i.e. injure/mistreat] the olive (oil) and the wine”
      Koester (p. 397) gives the plausible explanation that these references express the burden placed on the populace as the result of constant warfare. The need to provide food for armies, in addition to the effects of war itself (siege/destruction of cities and villages), would result in shortages of food. Funding the military might also require increased production of oil and wine to meet the costs, making these commodities even more precious.
    • Green (xlwro/$, v. 8)—the rider is identified specifically by the name “Death” ([o(] qa/nato$), which, of course, is the most terrifying and traumatic result of war. The association with the color green is not entirely clear; it could be related to death and the dead in ancient tradition, but here more likely it refers to the fear (pale greenish look of the face, etc) with which people respond to death’s approach (cf. Homer, Iliad 7.479; Hippocrates Prognostikon 2, etc; Koester, p. 397). Death is followed by the “unseen realm” (a%|dh$, ‘Hades’) of the Dead, just as death (from warfare, etc) sends countless dead to the grave. In v. 8b, the scope widens from the effects of warfare (“the warfare”) to death from other factors—hunger and disease, and being killed by wild beasts (“under the beasts of the earth”), which could also occur with greater frequency as the result of war. One might also view warring parties symbolically as “beasts of the earth”.

In the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel Tradition, a period of intense warfare is also predicted (Mark 13:7-8 par), at the beginning of the distress and suffering which precedes the coming Judgment—”these are the beginning of (the birth-)pains”. Jesus likewise describes this in terms of constant war involving many different nations and ethnic groups, etc. The visions of the first four seals here in the book of Revelation seem to expand upon this idea, intensifying it further, so that death would come to a fourth of the earth’s territory and population (v. 8b). While this is almost certainly a symbolic number (related to the four Living Beings, seals, and horses/horsemen), it is most striking as an indication of the sheer number of people who would suffer death during this period.

The warfare (and its effects) described in these visions is probably meant as a contrast to the peace and security which was thought to be the beneficial product of Roman Imperial rule. The ideal of Pax Romana, immortalized by the many Imperial shrines (most notably the Ara Pacis Augustae [“Altar of the Augustan Peace”] in Rome), is shattered, even as the rider on the second horse is given the authority to “take peace out of the earth”. The bow held by the rider on the first horse might also allude to warfare/attacks by non-Roman peoples on the surrounding border territories (e.g., the Parthians), which also would threaten the security of the Empire. Ultimately, true peace can be established only through the appearance of Jesus Christ on earth, as the book of Revelation will described in its later chapters.

The visions related to the fifth and sixth seals (vv. 9-17) will be discussed in the next daily note.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout this series, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

September 25: Revelation 5:11-14

Revelation 5:1-14 (concluded)

Rev 5:11-13

Following the song sung by the Living Beings and Elders (cf. the previous note on vv. 9-10), a vast multitude, both in heaven and on earth (and below the earth), joins in the singing. First we read of “many Messengers” (i.e. Angels, heavenly beings), almost beyond numbering—indicated by the expression “ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands (more)”. As they add their voices, it is as though we are hearing a refrain to the song in vv. 9-10, as it follows a similar pattern:

“…a&cio$ [i.e. worthy] is the Lamb th(at) has been slaughtered to receive the power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and esteem and (a) good account!” (v. 12)

Not coincidentally, there are seven attributes listed here, in keeping with the seven horns and eyes possessed by the Lamb, as well as the seven seals on the scroll. In some ways, the sequence of seven is more important than the individual attributes, as it clearly indicates the divine status and character of the Lamb, who is worthy (on a&cio$, cf. the previous note) to receive the same declaration of praise, worship and homage that the heavenly beings would give to God on His throne. This is a fundamental theme of the chap. 4-5 vision, as well as the book of Revelation as a whole. The seven attributes are traditional, and require little comment; I begin with the first four, which properly reflect divine attributes:

    • du/nami$ (“power”)—For God (or Christ) to receive power from others is a reflection of the (ritual) language and imagery of vassalage. The beings around the throne receive their position of rule/power from God, and thus give it back to him, as an indication of their submission and obedience, etc. It is also a natural characteristic of (religious) praise to emphasize the greatness of the Divine. The word du/nami$ indicates not only strength, but also the ability or authority to do something.
    • plou=to$ (“wealth, riches”)—This is a collective noun related to the verb plh/qw (“filling, fullness”). The customary translation “wealth” or “riches” can be somewhat misleading, suggesting a static possession, whereas here it denotes the fullness of God’s presence, power, etc—the source of all life and blessing. To recognize this of God (and Christ) effectively gives “wealth” back to him.
    • sofi/a (“wisdom”)—In its more original (and practical) sense, sofi/a refers to a thorough knowledge or skill in a particular area. Eventually, it came to have a more strongly intellectual denotation. Among early Christians, in particular, the word took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. True knowledge and ability comes from God, through Christ, by way of the presence of the (Holy) Spirit at work in and among believers.
    • i)sxu/$ (“strength, ability”)—Fundamentally, this refers to something which a person holds, or possesses—the ability to do something, in terms of capability. It is tied more directly to a person’s life-force, than is the similar term du/nami$ (above). The declaration here recognizes God (and Christ) as the source of life, and our own (natural) strength and ability which we give back (through worship, service, etc).

The final three words are, in a sense, synonymous, forming a triad which reflects how devout religious persons (believers) view God/Christ:

    • timh/ (“honor”)—This word fundamentally means “value” or “worth”, but is usually translated in the New Testament as “honor”. It refers to the worth we place on God and Jesus, i.e. the extent, or the way in which we value them.
    • do/ca (“esteem”)—Often translated “glory”, the word more properly refers to the way in which we consider or regard someone/something. However, in traditional religious usage, this represents only one side of the equation. How we regard God and Jesus is based on the nature and character which they possess—i.e., they are esteemed because they are worthy of esteem. In Hebrew, the word typically translated as “glory” actually means “weight” (db)K*), i.e. the weight or value which God possesses in His person.
    • eu)logi/a (“good account”)—The word is derived from eu)loge/w, “give a good account”, i.e. “speak/think well (of someone)”. Customarily, eu)logi/a is translated as “blessing”, but that covers up to some extent the concrete sense of the word. Because of their nature and character, and what they have done for us, God and Jesus are deserving of good words (of praise, proclamation of the Gospel [“good message”], etc) from us.

In verse 13, all creatures—in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (cf. verse 3)—join the song, further expanding the vast number of voices. Their refrain serves as a climax to the entire vision of chaps. 4-5, joining God and the Lamb (the exalted Jesus) together as the focus of worship:

“To the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, and to the Lamb—(be) the good account and the honor and the esteem and the might [kra/to$] into the Ages of the Ages!”

The three attributes (cf. above), which reflect how created beings (should) view and respond to God and the Lamb (Jesus), are repeated here; and a fourth is added: kra/to$. I am inclined to view this word as a summary of the four divine attributes in v. 13 (cf. above); in which case, the multitude of living creatures here echoes that earlier refrain. The meaning of kra/to$ (often translated “might”) differs somewhat from the words du/nami$ (“power”) and i)sxu/$ (“strength”)—I would define this as signifying the manifest presence of power and strength. As such, it is commonly used in reference to Deity. It is rather rare in the New Testament, occurring just 12 times, but its earlier use in Rev 1:6 is worth noting. Indeed, it may well be that its presence here, following do/ca, is meant as a deliberate echo of the closing words of 1:6. The entire greeting of 1:4-6 has the same two-part structure as chaps. 4-5, and shares many of the same phrases and ideas.

Rev 5:14

This verse serves as a coda to the vision, repeating the gesture of homage by the four Living Beings and twenty-four Elders. In 4:9-10, it was given to God on His throne, while in 5:8, it is directed toward the Lamb; now, here, we must understand it as an act of worship for them both, together. It is a solemn and fitting conclusion to the grand dual-vision in chapters 4-5.

September 24: Revelation 5:9-10

Revelation 5:1-14 (continued)

The vision of the Lamb in chapter 5 climaxes with the song in verses 9ff, just as the throne-vision of chapter 4 concludes with a similar song—the parallelism between the two halves of the chap. 4-5 vision were discussed in the previous daily note. The song begins in vv. 9-10, sung by the four Living Beings and twenty-four Elders, before being taken up by the heavenly multitudes in vv. 11-13.

Rev 5:9-10

“and they sang a new song, saying, ‘a&cio$ are you to take the paper-roll and to open up its seals, (in) that [i.e. because] you went to the market-place [i.e. bought] for God in [i.e. with] your blood, (purchasing) out of every offshoot [i.e. tribe] and tongue [i.e. language] and people and nation, and you made them a kingdom and sacred officials [i.e. priests] for our God, and they will rule as king(s) upon the earth’.”

It is worth noting again the opening word of the song, which begins as in 4:11, to be repeated here in 5:11. The adjective a&cio$ is rather difficult to translate literally in English. Fundamentally, the underlying idea is of bringing something into balance (i.e. being weighed/measured on the scales), as, literally, “bringing [vb. a&gw] up” the beam of the scale. The adjective itself signifies something which is thus of an equal, or proper, weight. As an honorific, especially when used in a religious context (in reference to God, etc), it indicates that someone is deserving of honor and praise, etc, and so should be given the appropriate reverence and respect. It is typically translated in such instances as “worthy”. However, in this case, the parallelism between chapters 4 and 5 connotes a deeper theological meaning—that the Lamb (i.e. the exalted Jesus) is of the same “weight” (Heb. db)K*) as God, and, in his divine position/status, shares with God the Father the ruling authority, etc (including effective ownership of the seal on the scroll). It is possible that this is what is signified by the characterization of the song as “new” (kaino/$). A song of praise and worship to God is obvious and natural for any religious person; it is the extension of this song to the Lamb (Jesus) which is new. On the motif of a “new song”, cf. Psalm 40:3; 96:1; Isa 42:10).

The emphasis on the blood of the Lamb helps to clarify the sacrificial image. In the previous note, on verse 6, I outlined three sacrificial motifs with which Jesus’ death is associated in the New Testament: (1) the Passover Lamb, (2) the offering for sin/guilt, and (3) the sacrifice at the establishment of the Covenant. The Last supper scene, before Jesus’ impending death, blends together all three of these:

    • The context of the Passover meal (Mark 14:1, 12ff, 22ff par); in John’s account, Jesus is put to death on the day of Passover eve, identifying him more precisely with the Lamb that is slain (13:1; 18:28; 19:14).
    • The establishment of the (new) Covenant—the wine-cup is identified specifically as “the blood of the [new] covenant” (Mark 14:24 par)
    • A sacrifice for sin (Matt 26:28; cf. also John 1:29)

While the Lamb’s blood features prominently in the Passover narrative (Exod 12:7, 13), symbolizing God’s deliverance of his people and their protection (from death), here there is a more precise connection with the Covenant scene in Exodus 24. The blood thrown upon the people (v. 8), identifies that they are bound to God by the agreement (covenant) that has been established. The blood marks them as His people and consecrates them as “a holy nation” and “a kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6). This is exactly the tradition which is being referenced here, and it is also the primarily meaning of the Last Supper symbolism—”this is my blood of the covenant th(at is) poured out over many“. Only here in Revelation, the “many” (polloi/) have been expanded and given a universal scope: “out of every tribe/race and tongue and people and nation”. According to the tradition of the (old) Covenant, Israel was purchased by God, from among all the other peoples/nations on earth, to be his own chosen people (Exod 15:16, etc). Now, the new people of God (believers in Jesus), have been similarly purchased, but as individuals taken from every conceivable ethnic and racial background. In order to preserve the etymology and concrete sense of the verb a)gora/zw, I have given it an excessively literal translation above. It signifies a person going to the market-place (a)gora/) and purchasing something. In this case, the “market-place” is the entire inhabited world—all peoples and nations, etc.

As mentioned above, verse 10 draws upon the ancient covenant tradition, and especially, the language in Exodus 19:6. The same wording and imagery is used in 1 Peter 1:5, 9—believers in Christ are the true people of God, fulfilling the very characteristics previously applied to Israel under the (old) Covenant. We are a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood” (“kingdom of priests”). This is stated succinctly here in v. 10a, as it was earlier in 1:6. However, special attention must be given to the concluding statement in v. 10b:

“and they will rule as king(s) upon the earth”

First, one should note the variant readings involving the verb basileu/w (“rule/reign as king”). The textual evidence is divided between the present tense (basileu/ousin, “they rule as king[s]”), and the future tense (basileu/sousin, “they will rule as king[s]”)—the difference being a single letter (s). It is an important distinction, since it effects how one should interpret the nature and character of the believers’ reign. The present tense (supported by A 046 1006 1611 and other minuscules and versions), indicating that believers currently rule as kings on earth, would suggest a symbolic, or spiritual reign. By contrast, the future tense (read by a P 1 94 1854 2053 2344 and many other MSS and versions) most likely would be understood in an eschatological sense—in the Age to Come, believers will rule (with Christ). Moreover, the specific phrase “will rule upon the earth” would seem to indicate a concrete manifestation of the Kingdom of God (and Christ) on earth at the end of the current Age. For some commentators, this is readily identified with a (literal) Millennial Kingdom, in light of 20:1-6. Verse 6, in particular, is emphasized, though it should be noted that it applies specifically to those who were put to death for their faith in Jesus—following the resurrection, “they will be sacred officials [i.e. priests] of God and of the Anointed (One), and they will rule as king with him (for) a thousand years”. By contrast, 5:10 indicates that all believers will function as priests and kings. This will be discussed further when we come to 20:1-6; the question of the precise eschatological expectation, in terms of God’s Kingdom being established on earth, will also be addressed at several points as we continue through the book.

In the next daily note, we will look at the concluding song in verses 11-13.

September 23: Revelation 5:1-8

Revelation 5:1-14

Revelation 5:1 begins the second half of the vision in chapters 4-5. If chap. 4 was devoted to a vision of God (the Father) on His throne, chap. 5 is a vision of Jesus at the right hand of the Father—that is, sharing the ruling place with God. The parallelism between these two halves is unquestionable, and reflects a central theme of the book, theological and christological, which was already introduced in the opening words, and the first vision, in chapter 1. The key points in parallel are:

    • The central presence of the Throne, representing the seat of ruling-power in heaven. The Lamb has a place near and/or on the Throne.
    • Both God and Lamb are surrounded by the “seven Spirits” and have authority/control over them.
    • The Living Beings and Elders likewise surround both figures and give homage/praise to them, in a similar fashion.
    • The Song of praise that is sung to each uses similar language and form, beginning with the word a&cio$, usually translated “worthy”—i.e. “Worthy are you…”
Rev 5:1-4

The chapter begins with a narrowing of focus for the vision, closing in on the image of the throne:

“And I saw upon the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, a paper-roll [i.e. scroll] having been written (on the) inside and on the back, (and) having been sealed down with seven seals.” (verse 1)

Here we have the central motif of the “right hand” of God. The adjective decio/$ literally means “giving”, referring to the right hand as the auspicious (or giving hand)—i.e. the hand or side from which blessing comes, where symbols of power and authority are focused, etc. A fundamental element in the early Christian view of Jesus, and the Gospel proclamation (kerygma), was that, following his death and resurrection, Jesus was exalted to a position at the “right hand” of God in heaven—cf. Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In terms of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God, this motif was largely drawn from Psalm 110:1, and its application goes back to Jesus’ own words (Mark 12:36; 14:62 pars). The viewpoint here of the right hand of the throne of God prepares the reader for the appearance of the exalted Jesus.

Another important detail in this verse is the seal or stamp (sfragi/$) on the scroll. Typically, a papyrus or parchment scroll (bi/blo$, here the diminutive bibli/on) would be tied up with a string, upon which a clay or wax (or lead) seal was applied, and then stamped down (vb. katasfragi/zw) with an engraved image (from a signet ring, etc) to indicate ownership. God, as the Ruler, is the one who has stamped down his signet onto the seal, indicating his ownership. No one could tamper with (i.e. break) this seal; only the owner (God himself) has the authority to open the scroll, or someone who possessed the same authority (from God). The divine character of this seal is further emphasized by the plural (“seals”) and use of the number seven. This is the point of the solemn declaration which follows in verse 2:

“And I saw a strong Messenger proclaiming in [i.e. with] a great voice, ‘Who is a&cio$ to open up the paper-roll and to loose(n) its seals?'”

This is the same adjective (a&cio$) applied to God in 4:11, and which will similarly be applied to the Lamb in verse 9. I have temporarily left it untranslated (cf. further in the next note), but will mention here the fundamental meaning of something which is brought into balance (i.e. being of equal/appropriate weight). The significance of this is brought out vividly in verse 3:

“And no one—(not) in heaven, and not upon the earth, and not down under the earth—was able [i.e. had power] to open up the paper-roll and to look at it.”

The implication, of course, is that no one in all of creation possessed the personal authority of (or from) God in order to be able, rightly, to break the seal. The verb du/namai literally means “be (en)powered, have power”, but is often better rendered in English as “be able (i.e. to do something)”. The emphasis is not on a test of strength or power as such, but on a person’s authority (i.e. ability) to do something. This scene becomes personalized when the visionary (seer) gives his own reaction:

“And I wept (very) much (at this), that no one was found a&cio$ to open up the paper-roll and (so) not to (be able to) look at it.” (v. 4)

The importance of looking (vb. ble/pw) at the contents of the scroll is emphasized repeatedly, though it is not immediately clear why this would be so. On the one hand, it can be regarded as a literary/narrative device, building suspense—the reader is waiting and eager to find out what is written on this scroll (v. 1). At the same time, the ability to look at its contents implies someone with the authority to open the scroll and read it, which, again, anticipates the appearance of the Lamb (Jesus), building narrative suspense. The person allowed to open a sealed scroll would be: (a) the owner of it (or his/her representative), or (b) the person to whom it was rightfully sent (and intended to be read). Both aspects of meaning are present here, though it is the former which is emphasized.

Rev 5:5-8

In these verses, we find a precise response to the scenario established in vv. 1-4—no one in all of creation is able to open the scroll. There is a chiastic structure to vv. 1-8 which I outline as follows :

Indeed, the answer comes in verse 5:

“And (then) one out of the Elder (Ones)s said to me: ‘Do not weep! (for) see, the lion th(at is) out of the offshoot [i.e. tribe] of Yehudah, the root of Dawid, (he is able) to open up the paper-roll and its seven seals!'”

On these “Elder Ones” (presbu/teroi), see the previous note on 4:4. His response is characteristic of heavenly beings (Angels) when they appear to chosen ones among God’s people (i.e., “Do not be afraid!”, etc). The declaration which follows is among the most overtly Messianic in the book of Revelation, expressed very much in traditional language, specifically related to the Davidic Ruler figure-type (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Two expressions are involved:

    • “the lion out of the tribe of Judah”—The lion commonly symbolizes power, but also a leading/regal position among all the other animals (i.e. ‘king of the beasts’); lion images were frequently used in the royal iconography of the ancient Near East. Here the expression is derived primarily from Genesis 49:9-10, part of Jacob’s testament (“last words”) to his sons (Judah, vv. 8-12). These verses were given a Messianic interpretation by the time of Jesus, as we see from the Qumran texts (4Q252 5:1-4), and other writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D. The ruling staff (tb#v@) in Gen 49:10, was blended together with that of Balaam’s oracle (Num 24:17), to form a dual Messianic reference, prophesying the coming of the (end-time) Davidic Ruler.
    • “the root of David”—This expression comes from Isaiah 11:1: “A stick/twig [rf#j)] will come forth from the stem [uz~G#] of Yishai {Jesse}, a green shoot [rx#n@] will bear (fruit) from his roots [vr#v, pl.]”. The Septuagint (LXX) translates both uz~G# (“stem”) and vr#v# (“root”) as r(i/za (“root”), which is used here in Revelation. Isaiah 11:1-4ff was one of the key passages interpreted as prophesying the coming of the Davidic Messiah. With its military allusions, which could only be realized for Christians at the return of Jesus, it is generally absent from the New Testament, except for 2 Thess 2:8 and (here) in the book of Revelation. David himself was more properly referenced by the “branch” [rx#n~ / rf#j)], which, under the influence of the similar expression “sprout/branch of David” (dw]d*[l=] j^mx#) in Jer 23:15; 33:5 (cf. also Zech 3:8; 6:12), gave rise to rich set of Messianic motifs—see the Qumran texts 4Q161 7-10 iii 22; 4Q174 1-3 i 11; 4Q252 5:3-4; 4Q285 5, and other writings of the period.

In verse 6, this Messianic description (of the exalted Jesus) gives way to the image/vision of a Lamb (a)rni/on):

“And, in the middle of the ruling-seat and the four Living (Being)s, and in the middle of the Elder (One)s, I saw a Lamb having stood as (one) having been slaughtered, holding seven horns and seven eyes, which are the the [seven] Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”

The repeated use of e)n me/sw| (“in the middle [of]”) is a bit confusing, but I believe it is meant to emphasize two things: (1) the central position of the Lamb in the heavenly scene, and (2) his close proximity to the throne of God. There are four visual attributes or characteristics of this Lamb:

    1. It is standing (i.e. alive) even though it appears to have been slain. The paradox of this image may be conveyed by the sequence of perfect verb forms—”having stood”, “having been slaughtered”. This aptly reflects the dual-aspect of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the importance of both to his exaltated position/status as Messiah and Son of God.
    2. It has been slaughtered (vb. sfa/zw). This refers to ritual slaughter, i.e. a sacrificial offering. There are several possibilities:
      (i) The Passover lamb (Exod 12:6, etc), the blood of which symbolized God’s protection/deliverance for the faithful ones among His people.
      (ii) A sacrifice for sin/guilt (Lev 14:12-13), though lambs were more commonly used in the daily offering, etc, and not regularly connected with atonement for sin/guilt.
      (iii) The sacrificial offering at the establishment of the Covenant between God and His people—according to Exod 24:5-8, this was a sacrifice of “good will”, utilizing an ox/bull for the partial burnt offering.
      Jesus’ death is associated with all three of these, at various points in the New Testament. Probably the connection with the Passover is most clearly in view, as also in 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19, and, presumably, John 1:29, 36 (cf. the details in 13:1, etc, 19:14, 29[?], 31). There may also be a allusion here to Isaiah 53:7-8 (Acts 8:32-33).
    3. It has seven horns. The horn of a powerful animal, like the lion itself (cf. above), was a common ancient symbol of the strength and authority to rule; as such, it was natural as a Messianic motif—i.e. Luke 1:69 (cf. Ps 132:17; 92:10; 148:14; Ezek 29:1; 1 Sam 2:1, etc). The number seven here indicates divine power and authority, that the Lamb shares rule with God the Father (on/at His throne).
    4. It has seven eyes. These are identified specifically with the heavenly beings or Messengers (“Spirits”) which surround God’s throne and which “are sent forth into all the earth”. This imagery seems to be drawn from Zech 4:2ff, in which the “lamps” (Angels/Spirits) are described as “the eyes of the Lord” which travel back and forth in all the earth (v. 10). Here they are the eyes of the Lamb, indicating again the close relationship between the Lamb (the exalted Jesus) and God the Father.

Verse 7 narrates simply how the Lamb approaches the throne (at God’s right hand) and takes the scroll from God (“the One sitting on the ruling seat”). This action triggers an explosion of praise from the heavenly beings around the throne (vv. 8ff), similar to that which they offered to God in 4:8-11 (on this, cf. the previous note). It is an elaborate and dramatic scene, as the Living Beings and Elders again fall down to give homage—this time to the Lamb. They hold musical instruments (the kithara, a six- or seven-stringed harp) and golden dishes containing fragrant smoke (incense), identified as the “prayers” of the holy ones. These represent different aspects of worship—music and ritual offerings, only in the latter case the offerings, in a Christian context, have been defined in terms of prayer (largely eliminating the sacrificial/ritual dimension).

The Song sung by the heavenly beings will be discussed in the next daily note.

September 22: Revelation 4:8-11

Revelation 4:1-11 (continued)

(For the discussion on verses 1-7, see the previous note)

Rev 4:8

The throne-vision in chapter 4 reaches its climax with the four “living (being)s” and the worship which they give to God on the throne. I noted the general similarity between the description in vv. 6-7 with that of “living (being)s” (toYj^) in Ezek 1:4-11ff. However, for v. 8, there is a more immediate parallel in Isa 6:1-3, with the description of the six-winged “fiery (being)s” (v. 2, cp. Ezek 1:11). The “living beings” here in chapter 4 perform a function similar to to the “fiery beings” in Isa 6; even their declaration of praise is similar:

    • “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the All-mighty…” (v. 8)
    • “Holy, holy, holy is YHWH (creator) of the (heavenly) Armies…” (Isa 6:3)

Both Ezek 1 and Isa 6 record theophanies, presented as prophetic visions of God on his throne. These are perhaps the clearest examples in the Old Testament Scriptures of the heavenly rule and splendor of YHWH, and certainly it is no coincidence that the throne-vision in the book of Revelation is described in similar terms. There is, however, a significant difference between the declarations in Rev 4:8 and Isa 6:3, in the second half:

    • Isaiah has: “…all of the earth is full of his weight [i.e. glory]”
    • Revelation has a variation on the earlier declaration in 1:4 (cf. also verse 8 and 11:17; 16:5):
      “the (One who) was, and the (One) being, and the (One) coming”

The expression in Isaiah is spatial and concrete, while that in Revelation is temporal and more abstract (existential); but both emphasis the comprehensive and all-encompassing nature of God. The motif of God as Creator is found in the parallel declaration by the 24 ‘Elders’ (verse 11, cf. below).

Rev 4:9-11

The praise and worship given to God by the “living beings” is echoed by the “elder (one)s” (‘Elders’), reflecting two distinct groups of beings who surround the throne of God. I have argued that the descriptions of these two groups of heavenly beings effectively represent, or symbolize:

    • All of created life (animal and human), particularly in its greatest and noblest aspects—Four Living Beings
    • The People of God, especially in the honor and rule which it shares with God—Twenty-Four [12 x 2] Elders

The two groups are clearly parallel in the description of their worship:

    • “And when the Living (Being)s give esteem [do/ca] and honor [timh/] and good (thanks for His) favor
      • to the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, the (One) living into the Ages of the Ages…”
    • “…the twenty-four Elder (One)s will fall (down)…and kiss toward [i.e. worship]
      • the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, the (One) living into the Ages of the Ages…”

I have above reordered the wording of verse 10 slightly in order to bring out the parallel. We may also identify a different sort of (chiastic) structure, bringing in verse 11:

    • Declaration of praise/worship: “a%gio$…”
      —The Living Beings give honor and thanks to the Living God on his throne
      —The Elders give homage and worship to the Living God on his throne
    • Declaration of praise/worship: “a&cio$…”

The assonance between a%gio$ (hágios) and a&cio$ (áxios) is, of course, lost in English translation. The first adjective is typically rendered “holy”, emphasizing the holiness and purity of God, that which separates him from all other (created) beings (Heb. vodq* in Isa 6:3). The second adjective (a&cio$) is more difficult to translate. It literally refers to something which brings into (equal) balance (as on the scales); however, it is commonly used in the more general, abstract sense of something which is proper or appropriate for a given situation (i.e. giving it the proper weight or balance). Recall that the word usually translated “glory” in Hebrew db)K* literally means “weight”. Created beings (especially human beings), should regard God in a way that is worthy of his awesome “weight”—i.e. his power and splendor, his holiness, etc. In such a context the Greek a&cio$ is typically translated “worthy”; rendering it this way in verse 11, we have the concluding declaration by the Elders (i.e. the heavenly People of God):

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive the esteem [do/ca] and the honor [timh/] and the power (we give to you) , (in) that [i.e. because] you formed all (thing)s, and (it is) through your will (that) they are and were formed!”

Note, again, the similarity to the declaration by the Living Beings, especially in the first half. The significance here of including the word du/nami$ (“power”) is often overlooked. Exactly what does it mean for other beings to give “power” to God? Is it not He who is all-powerful and gives power to others? Here it is necessary to consider the important gesture of the Elders who “throw (down) their crowns in the sight of [i.e. in front of] the ruling seat (of God)”. While it may seem that this is simply a spontaneous act of adoration, it likely has a deeper meaning as well. The gesture itself has a socio-political significance, whereby a subordinate (or vassal) indicates his submission to a superior. It indicates not only subordination, but also the relationship of vassalage—the vassal receives the power/authority to rule from the sovereign. Moreover, in Greco-Roman worship, wreaths would sometimes be placed at the feet of the gods (their statues, cf. Koester, p. 365). Both political and religious aspects are connoted by the gesture. The People of God in heaven rule because of the authority/power which God gives to them; the gesture of throwing down their crowns (symbolizing their rule) shows that the ruling power truly belongs to the Living God upon His throne.

The application to believers in Christ is obvious—we who are faithful will receive heavenly/eternal crowns from Jesus, indicating that we share in his rule. It is Jesus’ rule in heaven, alongside God the Father on His throne, which becomes the central theme and motif of the remainder of the vision in chapter 5, which we will examine in the next daily note.

September 21: Revelation 4:1-7

Revelation 4:1-11

With chapter 4, a new division of the book—the beginning of the main body—is introduced. The vision of chapter 4-5 leads into the great vision cycles that make up the bulk of chapters 6-18. As has been previous noted, the book of Revelation is also structured as a letter, and, from the standpoint of epistolary (and rhetorical) form, the throne-vision in chaps. 4-5 functions something like the propositio, or main statement (proposition) of the case to argued or expounded in the main body of the letter, the probatio. The visions (and vision cycles) which follow serve as the probatio, demonstrating (or “proving”) what is represented in the vision of chaps. 4-5.

Rev 4:1

The structural shift is clear from verse 1, with its chiastic shape, marking a separation from the previous vision in 1:9-3:22:

“These things” refer specifically to what John heard and experienced in the previous visions, including the messages to the seven churches. The expression meta\ tau=ta (“after these [thing]s”) must be understood in this sense. Central to the verse is the description of the voice, which is again that of the risen Jesus, as in the earlier vision of 1:9ff:

“and the first voice which I heard as a trumpet speaking with me…”

It is Jesus who calls John to “step up” into heaven. The visionary motif of doors or gates opening into heaven is relatively common (cf. Gen 28:10ff; 1 Enoch 14:15ff; Testament of Levi 5:1, etc). An invitation to enter and experience the realm of the heavenlies is essentially a commonplace in apocalyptic literature (e.g., 1 Enoch 14:8ff; Testament of Levi 2:6ff; Martyrdom of Isaiah 7; cf. Koester, p. 359).

Rev 4:2-3

The parallel with the first vision is seen also in the language used in verse 2:

“(And) straightaway I came to be in the Spirit, and see!…”

With the shift to a new visionary location, the author mentions again being “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati, 1:10). This consistent reference to the Spirit is important in terms of understanding the source and (revelatory) nature of the visions as described by the seer. The central point of the vision is that of God’s ruling-seat or “throne” (qro/no$) in Heaven. It is here that the rhetorical (and polemical) thrust of the book of Revelation begins to come clearly into focus: the rule of God (and Christ) in Heaven contrasted with the false/wicked rule of earthly (spec. Roman imperial) government. Of course, the idea and image of God’s throne goes back to most ancient times, with the royal iconography (and ideology) of the ancient Near East, and continuing on to the time of the Roman empire. There are numerous references in the Old Testament (Psalm 9:7; 11:4; 103:19, etc), but the most prominent passages include visionary scenes of the heavenly court, such as 1 Kings 22:19ff (par 2 Chron 18:18ff); Isa 6:1-3; Ezek 1:4ff (v. 26); Dan 7:9-10. The “throne” represented the ruling power of God, and served as a graphical way of depicting or referring to God, and could almost be seen as a living/divine entity in itself. Note here in vv. 2-3, how closely connected God and the throne are:

“See! a seat of rule [i.e. throne] was set in the heaven, and upon the ruling seat [i.e. throne] (One was) sitting, and the (One) sitting (was) in vision [i.e. appearance] like a stone (of) iaspis and sardios, and a (rain)bow [i@ri$] circling round the ruling seat in vision [i.e. appearance] like a smaragdos (stone)”
[The words in italics indicate colored stones or gems—purplish(?), red {carnelian}, and green {emerald}]

In many ways, the throne (and its surroundings) simply reflects the manifest and glorious appearance of God—the divine/heavenly character reflected by the description, which resembles that of other theophanies in the Old Testament and later Jewish tradition (Exod 24:10; Ezek 1:26-28; 10:1, etc). In the developed Jewish mystical/visionary tradition of the Rabbinic and early medieval periods, the “throne-chariot” (merkabah, inspired largely from Ezek 1) was a fundamental symbol.

Rev 4:4

As the description of the throne vision continues, we move outward from the center of the throne itself, and a somewhat surprising detail emerges:

“And circling round the ruling seat [qro/no$] (were) twenty-four (other) ruling seats [qro/noi], and upon the ruling seats (were) sitting twenty-four Elder (One)s cast about [i.e. clothed] in white garments, and upon their heads (were) gold crowns.”

The description of these twenty-four seats as “seats of rule” (qro/noi), which circle around God’s throne (qro/no$), rather clearly indicates that the persons/beings on these seats share in God’s rule in some way. They are called by the common term presbu/tero$, referring to an old/elder person. It is not entirely clear whether these should be regarded as: (a) heavenly beings, or (b) glorified human beings. They do seem to be distinct from the heavenly Messengers (i.e. Angels) in that the Messengers are sent by God out into the world (as his “eyes” or to convey his word), while these “Elders” appear to have fixed places (of rule) around His throne. The use of the term presbu/tero$, along with the number twenty-four (12 x 2), suggests that they represent the people of God—perhaps as a heavenly counterpart, or corollary, to God’s people on earth. The specific number 24 suggests a combination of (a) the twelve tribes of Israel, and (b) the twelve apostles (i.e. the Church). Recall that Elders, representing Israel, were present at the covenant Theophany in Exod 24; similarly, Elders, representing believers in Christ, were appointed by the Twelve (apostles) who were present at the establishment of the “new covenant” (Mark 14:22-25 par), and who represent the new constitution of the people of God (cf. the symbolism in Acts 1:6ff, 15ff; chap. 2). The twelve apostles and the twelve tribes are closely connected in an (eschatological) saying of Jesus (Matt 19:28; par Lk 22:28-30), and also in the vision of the “new Jerusalem” at the end of the book of Revelation (21:12-14ff, to be discussed). The crowns on the heads of the elders similarly suggest a connection with believers, who will inherit the crown/wreath (ste/fano$) as a heavenly honor (and sign of eternal life), as well a sign that they have a share in the kingdom/rule of Christ (2:10; 3:11).

Rev 4:5-7

After the description of the Elders, the vision returns to more traditional theophanous imagery:

    • “(lightning) flashes and voices and thunderings”—this draws upon ancient Near Eastern storm theophany, most commonly applied to the ‘Lord’ (Baal) Haddu (the Storm [deity]) in Canaanite religion, but was found just as prominently in Israelite descriptions of El-Yahweh. In the Semitic/Hebrew idiom, the word for thunder is literally “voice” (loq), based on the idea of thunder as the “voice” of God.
    • “seven lamps of fire burning in the sight of the ruling-seat”—this repeats the description from 1:4, and again refers to these heavenly beings as “the seven Spirits of God”. That these “Spirits” should be understood as heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels) is clear from the explanation in 1:20 and 3:1, as well as various references in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Psalm 104:4; Ezek 1:12-13; Zech 4:2, 10; Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20:1-7; 90:21, etc).
    • “a glassy sea like ice-crystal”—this is said to be “in the sight of [i.e. in front of] the throne”, and also is a traditional image (cf. Exod 24:10; Ezek 1:22, 26), which likely is related to ancient Near Eastern cosmology, i.e. the firmament and God’s throne above the waters (Gen 1:6-7; cf. Psalm 29:3; 93:4; 104:3; 148:4).
    • “four living (being)s (appear)ing full of eyes in front and in back”—these living [zw=|a] beings are similar in description to those in Ezek 1:4-10 (cf. also Isa 6:2-3). Here they are said to be “in the middle” of the throne, perhaps meaning “in the middle, where the throne is”, and also “in a circle” around the throne. They feature prominently in the remainder of the vision.

The appearance of each of the four “living beings” combines various human, animal, and hybrid/heavenly characteristics. This is common, from the standpoint of ancient or traditional religious iconography, when attempting to describe the Divine. The ancient Near East, in particular, made use of many images of winged animals or beings with human and/or animal faces. It is almost as though it was necessary to make use of all the characteristics of living creatures, and the attributes these characteristics represent (strength, power, beauty, wisdom, etc), in order provide even a remotely adequate description of God. These living beings, indeed, have as their main task the praise and worship of God (v. 8). This aspect of the vision will be discussed in the next note.

Much has been made of the specific appearance of each being, resembling, in turn: (a) “a lion”, (b) “a bull/calf”, (c) human (“face/appearance as a man”), and (d) “an air(borne eagl)e flying”. These have been interpreted numerous ways, including the famous (traditional) association with the four Gospels (Evangelists). However, it is probably best to interpret them (if one must) as representing all of creation—specifically, living creatures (animal and human). It is, in particular, the noblest and most regal (lion, bull, human, eagle) portions of the animal world (according to the traditional reckoning) which are represented. Special emphasis is given on the wings of these living beings (v. 8), and this will be addressed in the next daily note (on vv. 8-11).

September 20: Revelation 3:14-22

Revelation 3:14-22

This is the last of the seven letters in chapters 2-3, addressed to the “(city of the one giving) justice (dikh/) for the people (lao/$)”, i.e. Laodikea, named after the wife of the Seleucid king (Antiochus II) who founded the city (on an older site) in the mid-3rd century B.C. Laodikea was a prosperous commercial and administrative center in Asia, much like Ephesus and Pergamum.

Rev 3:14

As in the case of the previous letter, the introduction to the risen Jesus no longer draws upon the vision in 1:11-16ff, though it does refer back to the description of Jesus in 1:5. There are three titles or descriptive phrases that are used:

    • “the Amen” (o( a)mh/n)—The word a)mh/n in Greek is a transliteration of the Hebrew /m@a* (°¹m¢n), an adverb meaning “firm(ly), secure(ly)”, often used more generally in the sense of “true, certain”, or in the specific (religious) sense of “faithful”. Already in the Old Testament, it was used as an exclamation meant to confirm a particular statement (Num 5:22 etc), and this usage is preserved throughout the New Testament. However, in Isa 65:16, we have the interesting expression /m@a* yh@ýa$ (°§lœhê °¹m¢n), which means something like “(the) God of confirmation”, in the context of swearing oaths, a formula which emphasizes God’s truthfulness and faithfulness (as the one who will confirm the blessings, etc, declared in the oath). Something of this expression may be glimpsed by Paul’s language in 2 Cor 1:17-20.
    • “the trust(worthy) and true witness” (o( ma/rtu$ o( pisto\$ kai\ a)lhqino/$)—For this phrase, and the idea of Jesus as a witness, see the earlier note covering 1:5.
    • “the beginning of God’s (work of) formation” (h( a)rxh\ th=$ kti/sew$ tou= qeou=)—The word kti/si$ literally means something formed or produced, often in the sense of the world/universe as created by God. It occurs 19 times in the New Testament, mainly in Paul’s letters (7 times in Romans). The expression a)rxh\ kti/sew$ (“beginning of [the] formation [by God]”) is found in Mark 13:19 and 2 Pet 3:4. The identification of Jesus with this a)rxh/ could indicate his role in creation, as we see in John 1:1-2. Perhaps more likely is the connection with 1:5 (cf. above), whereby a)rxh/ here would be parallel to the use of the related noun a&rxwn in that verse—i.e. Jesus is the head of all creation, just as he is the chief of all the rulers on the earth. A different idea could be suggested by Col 1:15, with the expression “first-produced [prwto/toko$, i.e. firstborn] of all creation [kti/sew$]”.
Rev 3:15-18

The body of each letter typically contains a “mixed” message, involving both positive (praise) and negative (blame/rebuke) aspects. Here in addressing the congregations in Laodikea, it is primarily negative. This is summarized by a colorful metaphor in the opening statement:

“I have seen your works—that you are not cooled [yuxro/$] and you (are) not boiling (hot) [zesto/$]; I ought (to see that) you are either cooled or boiling!” (v. 15)

These two adjectives—yuxro/$ [“cooled, cold”] and zesto/$ [“boiling (hot)”]—here refer specifically to water, and, in particular, how water (and/or wine) is treated in the setting of the meals and banquets of well-to-do citizens. A drink may be heated or chilled, for the comfort and pleasure of those dining. Jesus is declaring that the believers in Laodikea (and their “works”) have neither of these positive characteristics:

“So, (in) that [i.e. because] you are (luke)warm [xliaro/$], and not cooled and not boiling, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth!” (v. 16)

This reflects a reversal of the Laodikean believers’ self-estimate, and their apparent situation according to human standards:

“(Yes, it is in) that [i.e. because] you say that ‘I am rich and have become rich, and I have no business (asking for any)thing’—and (yet) you have not seen that you are the (one) bearing misery and (deserv)ing of pity, and (indeed) you are poor and blind and naked…” (v. 17)

It would seem that the Laodikean congregations were reasonably well-off and comfortable within the society at large—a situation differing considerably from that of Smyrna, Pergamum or Philadelphia (cf. those letters). This level of comfort for believers often indicates a measure of accommodation to the surrounding culture, though the letter gives no details of anything along these lines. There is no indication, for example, of willing consumption of food sacrificed to the pagan deities, despite the meal/banquet setting of the imagery being used. It would seem that the Laodikean Christians were lacking the kind of humility, etc, indicated by Jesus’ expression “poor in spirit” in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3). Being perhaps a bit too enamored with worldly comfort (and status), Jesus urges them to seek instead the wealth/honor that comes from God (v. 18):

“…(so) I take counsel with you to purchase (from) alongside me gold having been fired (and glowing) out of fire, (so) that you might (indeed) be rich…”

This is a different sort of “gold”, referring to “heavenly treasure” (Matt 6:21; Lk 12:33f; 18:22), coming from God (and Christ) himself. The verb puro/w, especially in the use of the perfect participle, probably connotes two distinct ideas—(1) the fire of testing, including endurance of suffering (Eph 6:16), and (2) the purity and holiness of God (Rev 1:15). By way of reversal, this true wealth will address the poverty and misery of their current condition (of which they have been unaware):

“…and white garments (so) that you might be cast about (with clothing), and the shame of your nakedness would not shine forth, and kollourion to smear on [i.e. anoint] your eyes (so) that you might see.”

Access to white garments, and to specialized medical treatments such as kollourion (an almost untranslatable term, referring here to a kind of eye-salve), would have been privileges of the wealthier citizens in places like Laodikea. Both, however, have a special religious connotation for believers. The motif of white garments has already appeared in the letters (vv. 4-5, cf. the earlier note), and will occur several more times in the book. The significance of seeing (and its opposite, blindness) as a spiritual metaphor hardly requires comment; it is especially prominent in the Johannine writings.

Rev 3:19

The message shifts more decidedly in the positive direction, with the exhortation in verse 19:

“I rebuke and train as (my) child as (many) as I hold dear; therefore you must be(come) hot and change (your) mind [i.e. repent].”

The verb zhlo/w (“be[come] hot”) relates back to the adjective zesto/$ in vv. 15-16. There, Jesus stated that he wished the Laodikean believers would have either characteristic (cold or hot); here, in light of the idea of gold burning out of fire, he specifically refers to their being hot, in the sense of burning with faith and love.

Rev 3:20

The famous declaration by Jesus in verse 20 encapsulates the dining/banquet imagery of the message (cf. above). Instead of the setting of a Greco-Roman banquet (such as might be attended among the well-to-do in Laodikea), we have the idea of Jesus coming to dine with the believer:

“See, I have taken (my) stand upon the door and I knock—if any (one) should hear my voice and open up the door, I will come into (the house) toward him, and I will have dinner with him, and he with me.”

This emphasizes the motif of hospitality, of taking in the guest or visitor who knocks at the door. It is possible that there may be a specific eschatological allusion here, to the heavenly/Messianic banquet at the end time (Rev 19:9; cf. Isa 25:6; 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:8, etc; Koester, p. 340). More properly, it refers to the intimacy and fellowship which the faithful believer has with Jesus. On similar door-imagery related to Jesus, cf. Luke 12:36; 13:24-25; Matt 25:10; John 10:1-2, 7-9; 2 Cor 2:12; Rev 3:8. The image of the open door will be used again, in a different context, in 4:1.

Note how the body of the letter may be outlined:

    • Dining: Greco-Roman banquet imagery, with chilled and heated water/wine
      • Rejection by Jesus—he spits out (throws up) the lukewarm drink
        • The apparent wealth, but real poverty, of the believers
        • Exhortation to obtain true wealth from God/Christ
      • Acceptance by Jesus—he comes to dine with them
    • Dining: Fellowship with Jesus in the believers’ own house
Rev 3:21

The concluding promise (v. 21) continues this motif of fellowship with Jesus:

“(For) the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious, I will give to him to sit with me on my ruling-seat [qro/no$], even as I was victorious and sat with my Father on His ruling-seat.”

There are several interesting examples in the Gospel tradition, where we find the idea of disciples sitting alongside of Jesus on his throne, when he exercises rule over the kingdom of God/Christ. The most prominent tradition is that in Mark 10:35-45 par. Another is found in Matt 19:28, where Jesus speaks of the twelve (apostles), sitting on thrones similar to his own, and judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke apparently has a separate version of this tradition, but has it set during the Last Supper; this raises an interesting parallel with the situation here in Rev 3:20-21:

    • Jesus dining with his faithful followers (v. 20; Lk 22:14-20)
      • The promise of his followers ruling with him, on thrones (v. 21; Lk 22:28-30)

The idea of believers ruling (in heaven)—that is, sharing in Jesus’ own rule—is found at several points in the book of Revelation (2:26-28; 21:7). The throne of God (and Christ) is especially prominent in the book; the reference here certainly is meant to foreshadow the vision in 4:1-11 (to be discussed in the next note).

Here again, we also find the important association of Jesus’ ruling authority with his death and resurrection (rather than with any sense of his pre-existent, eternal deity). This is the fundamental meaning of the verb nika/w here. Of the 28 occurrences of this verb in the New Testament, 17 are in the book of Revelation. It is used at the start of each concluding promise in the letters (“[to] the [one] being victorious…”). The believer who is faithful and endures (i.e. suffers) essentially will share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This sharing in Jesus’ victory (over the world, sin, evil, etc) is also a key motif in the Gospel and Letters of John (Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5). As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, in the earliest Christian preaching and Gospel-proclamation, Jesus status and position at God’s right hand (i.e. sharing rule on His throne), was seen a direct result of his resurrection/exaltation (Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 1 Pet 3:22). Psalm 110:1 was certainly influential in shaping the early Christian understanding of this aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.

September 19: Revelation 3:7-13

Revelation 3:7-13

The sixth letter in chaps. 2-3 is addressed to the city of “the one dear to (his) brother” (Greek fila/delfo$, philádelphos), surname of the Pergamene king (Attalos II) who founded the city in the mid-second century B.C. Today it is known by the name Alashehir. The brotherly affection (or loyalty) indicated by the name filade/lfeia (philadélpheia) takes on a new significance for early Christians, based on their use of the words fila/delfo$ and filade/lfeia, where the fondness/affection (fi/lo$) is understood in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) believers share with one another in Christ (cf. Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 3:8; 2 Pet 1:7, and note the interchange of file/w and a)gapa/w in Jn 21:15-17).

Rev 3:7

In this letter, for the first time, the introduction to the risen Jesus does not draw upon the vision in 1:11-16ff; however, it continues the blending of Messianic and Divine attributes which especially characterizes the portrait of Jesus in the book of Revelation. It begins with titles properly applied to God the Father (YHWH):

“the Holy (One), the True (One)…”
o( a%gio$ o( a)lh/qino$

The first title, “Holy One”, occurs in Isa 40:25; Hab 3:3 (cf. also Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Prov 9:10; Isa 5:19ff, etc), and relates to the idea of God’s holiness, expressed many times in the Scriptures (e.g., Exod 3:5; 15:13; Lev 19:2; Deut 26:15ff; Josh 24:19; Psalm 99:3ff; Isa 6:3; Luke 1:49, etc). It is applied to Jesus in the New Testament, usually in the form “the Holy One of God” (o( a%gio$ tou= qeou=)—Mark 1:24 par; John 6:69; also Acts 3:14 (“Holy and Just [One]”); and Acts 2:27; 4:27, 30; 13:35 (“your Holy [One]”). In these passages the sense is primarily Messianic, influenced, in part, by the wording in Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:27; 13:35). However, there can be no doubt that the title “Holy (One)”, would have been associated in the minds of early (Jewish) Christians, with God Himself (cf. Rev 16:5, to be discussed). The association of the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) with the title “Son of God”, in Luke 1:35, may point in this direction. There would also have been an obvious association with the Holy Spirit for early Christians as well (cf. 1 John 2:20; Luke 1:35).

The second title “True One”, “the One (who is) True”, using the adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”, par a)lhqh/$), is less common, but draws upon truth (a)lh/qeia) as an attribute of God—cf. 2 Sam 7:28; 22:31 (Ps 18:30); 2 Chron 15:3; Psalm 25:5; 43:3; Prov 30:5; Isa 10:20; 45:19; 65:16; Jer 10:10; Rom 3:4ff; 1 Thess 1:9, etc. Both noun and adjective are especially prominent in the Johannine writings (both the Gospel and Letters), where the terms are variously applied to God (the Father), Jesus (the Son), and/or the Spirit. Of the many occurrences, note especially: Jn 1:9; 3:33; 4:23-24; 5:32; 6:32 (and v. 55; 15:1); 7:18, 28; 8:14ff, 26, 32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:37f; 1 Jn 2:8, 27; 5:20. The Spirit is specifically connected with the Truth of God (and Christ)—Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6. The declarations in Jn 17:3 and 1 Jn 5:20 are central to Johannine theology, and must be studied closely. In the book of Revelation, “true” as a divine title, is applied to God the Father (i.e. YHWH) and Jesus interchangably, as can be seen in 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:11, etc. The twin attributes “holy” and “true” are used together again in 6:10 (to be discussed).

Following these (divine) titles, we find the descriptive phrase:

“The (one) holding the key of Dawid, the (one) opening up and no one closes, and (the one) closing and no one opens up”

This is essentially a quotation of Isa 22:22, which came to interpreted in a Messianic sense, due to the expression “key of David” (klei/$ Daui/d). The key symbolizes both authority and rule (i.e. within the house or kingdom). The one holding the key typically would be a trusted servant acting with the ruler’s authority, giving/granting access and administering the household (or kingdom), etc. It is especially appropriate as an image for the risen Jesus, who was exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, and was given authority (as judge, etc) over the world. His actions/judgments cannot be reversed—what he opens cannot be closed, and what he closed cannot be opened. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples in Matt 16:19 (cf. also Jn 20:23). In Rev 1:18, the risen Jesus declared “I hold the keys of Death and (the) Unseen realm (of the Dead) [i.e. ‘Hades’]”. There the keys are unquestionably connected to Jesus’ resurrection; the significance of the image is also eschatological—as are the keys held by the heavenly Messengers in 9:1; 20:1.

Rev 3:8

The message to the believers in Philadelphia is entirely one of praise and encouragement (there is no blame/rebuke section beginning “but I hold [this] against you…”). The praise is emphasized at the start in verse 8:

“I have seen your works—see! I have given (you) a door having been opened up in your sight, (of) which no one can close it—(in) that you hold little power, and (yet) you (have) kept watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and you did not deny my name.”

The praiseworthy “works” are clearly summarized: the believers in Philadelphia have little power (i.e. in a socio-political or religious-cultural sense), and yet they have been faithful, in the face of the pressures (and persecution?) surrounding them in the city. Here the “word [lo/go$]” is best understood in terms of the Gospel message (which includes the teachings of Jesus), often referred to in the New Testament as the “account/word [lo/go$] of God”. They have been faithful in a two-fold sense: (a) keeping watch over the Gospel, and (b) not denying the “name” of Jesus (i.e. their faith in him and religious identity as believers). The latter implies some measure of persecution, or at least pressure (from the surrounding culture) to abandon one’s Christian identity. The idea of “keeping watch” (vb. thre/w) over the word/account (i.e. Gospel) may indicate the danger of false teachings, but could just as easily refer to influence from Greco-Roman (pagan) religion and culture—cf. the use of the verb in 1 Thess 5:23 (note the eschatological context); 1 Tim 5:22; 6:14; 2 Tim 4:7; James 1:27. The specific idea of keeping watch over the word (or ‘command’) of Jesus is especially prominent in the Johannine writings—Jn 8:51-52; 12:47; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 20; 1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:22ff; 5:3. In the Johannine tradition, this ‘command’—better understood as the charge/duty laid upon believers—is two-fold [1 Jn 3:23-24]: (1) trust in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, and (2) love for one another, following the example of Jesus.

On the suffering and persecution of believers being tied specifically to the name of Jesus, cf. Mark 13:13 par; Matt 10:22; Luke 21:12; John 15:21; Acts 5:41; 9:16; 15:26; 26:9, etc. The similarity of language between Rev 3:8 and the earlier wording used in 2:13 (letter to Pergamum) strongly indicates that the believers in Philadelphia were facing danger (and/or active oppression) from the provincial government (Roman magistrate, etc) due to their Christian identity.

The “door” that is opened up, relates back to verse 7, and the key held by Jesus; this door should be understood symbolically in terms of the believer’s entry into Eternal Life. On this basic motif in Jesus’ teaching, cf. Matt 7:13-14; Luke 13:24-25; John 10:1-2, 7ff. For the idea that Jesus provides access to God the Father, cf. the famous saying in John 14:6. The image of the “open door” will appear again in Rev 3:20 and 4:1.

Rev 3:9

As with the situation in Smyrna (2:8-11, cf. the earlier note), the believers in Philadelphia were dealing with opposition from the Jewish community. The same harsh language and terminology from 2:9 is used here. The nature of this conflict is not entirely clear; at Smyrna, it may have involved the denunciation of Christians to the authorities. Certainly, it had to be serious enough to bring about the condemnation (and punishment) described here:

“See, I will make them (so) that they will come and will kiss toward (you) in the sight of your feet, even (so that) they should know that I (have) loved you.”

This is a stark reversal of the traditional (eschatological) image of the Gentiles coming to Judea/Jerusalem to worship the one true God, and submitting or giving homage to God’s people Israel (cf. Isa 60:14, etc). It entails the love God has for his chosen ones (Exod 15:13; Deut 7:7; 33:3; Hos 3:1; 11:1; Isa 63:7; Psalm 98:3; Ezra 3:11, etc; and note especially the wording in Isa 43:4), which here is expressed in terms of Jesus’ love for his faithful followers—the people of God in the New Covenant. The idea of Jews bowing down (in submission), giving homage to Christians, will doubtless make many believers today a bit uncomfortable, in light of the sad legacy of centuries of anti-Jewish persecution. It is important to remember, however, the emphasis here in the book of Revelation, and elsewhere in the New Testament, which is fundamentally Messianic (and Christological)—true Israelites and Jews (i.e. those who are truly God’s people) would recognize and accept Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Their opposition to believers, however this was manifest, shows that they do not accept Jesus, and, indeed, are opposed to him.

Rev 3:10-11

Here, Jesus expounds upon the idea of keeping watch over his word (lo/go$), using a bit of wordplay (with the verb thre/w):

“(In) that [i.e. because] you kept [e)th/rhsa$] my account [lo/go$] of remaining under, I also will keep [thrh/sw] you out of the hour of the test(ing) th(at) is about to come the whole inhabited (worl)d to test the (one)s putting down house upon [i.e. inhabiting] the earth.”

The expression o( lo/go$ th=$ u(pomonh=$ mou is somewhat ambiguous, and can be read one of two ways:

    • “the account of my remaining under”—that is, of Jesus’ willingness to endure suffering and death, as expressed in the Gospels; it would mean specifically following his own example
    • “my word (to you) of [i.e. about] remaining under”—this would refer to Jesus’ instruction to his followers, regarding how they should conduct themselves in the face of persecution and suffering

The motif of “remaining under”, rendering the noun u(pomonh/ literally, entails both patience and commitment, continuing to follow Jesus and remaining faithful to him. It is used frequently in the New Testament (more than 30 times, including 7 in the book of Revelation), and is often translated as “patience” or “endurance”. The reward, or result, of this faithfulness, is presented here as being reciprocal: just as believers kept Jesus’ word, so he will keep them out of the time of testing which is about to come upon the world. According to the eschatological view of many Christians (today), this refers to the so-called “Rapture” of believers which is to occur before the “Great Tribulation”. However, this certainly reads far too much into the text, and, even in its general premise, does not appear to reflect accurately what the text actually describes. Note that Jesus does not say that he will remove the believers of Philadelphia from the world, but only that they will be kept out of the time of testing, implying that they will still be in the world, but will be protected from the suffering and evil (temptation, etc) that is to come. This is very much akin to Jesus’ words in John 17:15 (and almost certainly expresses the same idea), as well as the famous petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13 par).

It also seems clear that Jesus is not speaking here of something that will take place in the distant future (i.e. our time today, or thereafter); rather, in addressing believers at the end of the 1st century A.D., he speaks of “the hour…that is about to come”. This is one of several definite indications of an imminent eschatology, which we have already seen in the first chapters of the book. The doctrinal difficulties involved in this, for us today, will be addressed in a special upcoming study. The same sense of imminence is found in the following declaration of verse 11:

“I come quickly [taxu/]—grab firmly (to that) which you hold, (so) that no one should take your crown.”

Here the nuance of the Greek is often lost in translation—believers already hold (vb. e&xw) faith, life, etc, in Jesus; they are exhorted to grab hold firmly (vb. krate/w) to these things. The adverb taxu/ (“quickly, [with] speed”) was used previously in 2:16, and will occur 4 more times in the book, always in reference to the end-time coming (vb. e&rxomai) of Jesus. The wreath, or “crown” (ste/fano$) was mentioned as a symbol of heavenly honor/reward in 2:10.

Rev 3:12

The final promise (and exhortation) in the letter-format always involves the eternal/heavenly reward which the faithful believer will receive. Here it is expressed with two statements:

    • “I will make him (to be) a standing post [i.e. pillar] in the shrine of my God, even (so) he should not (ever) go out(side of it) any more”
    • “I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God…and my new name”

The first image draws upon the ancient Temple design (1 Kings 7:15ff; Ezek 40:49; 11QTemple 10:4ff; 35:10; Josephus Jewish War 5.190ff), which involved supporting columns or pillars (Grk. stu/lo$)—in other words, the individual believer has a fundamental place and position in the overall design (and structure) of the Temple. The word nao/$ properly refers to the inner shrine, or sanctuary, but can also be used for the entire Temple building-complex. The Temple in Jerusalem, of course, was central to ancient Israelite religion, and early Christians made use of it, in a figurative (and spiritual) sense, referring to individual believers, and to believers collectively, as the Temple (or “house”) of God—cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; Heb 10:21; 1 Pet 2:5; 2 Clement 9:3; Ignatius, Philadelphians 7:2; Barnabas 4:11; 6:15. In the vision of the “New Jerusalem” (chaps. 21-22), there is no longer any Temple building, being replaced by the personal presence of God and Christ (v. 22). The idea of Jesus as the real/true Temple is likewise expressed, or suggested, at various points in the New Testament and early Christian tradition (John 2:19-21; Matt 12:6; cf. also Mk 15:38 par; Acts 17:24; Ignatius, Magnesians 7:2; Barnabas 16. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians (9:1) refers to believers as the stones of the Temple, an idea not so different from that in the book of Revelation here.

The second reward involves three “names” which will be written on the believer: (1) the name of God, (2) the name of God’s city, the “new Jerusalem”, and (3) the “new name” of the risen Jesus. All of these should be understood similarly to the “new name” which the believer will receive (2:17). The image presumably is that of God’s name being written on the forehead of the believer (14:1; 22:4). The symbolism indicates that the believer belongs to God (and Christ). In light of the pillar/temple imagery in the first half of the verse, there may be an allusion here to the inscription/dedication of pillars, etc, in temples and other public buildings, known from the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world (cf. Koester, p. 327).

The city of God (i.e. Jerusalem) is specifically identified as “the new Yerushalaim th(at is) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven from my God”. This makes clear that it is not the current, earthly Jerusalem, but a heavenly/eternal “city”. The meaning of this image will be discussed later on when addressing the final vision(s) of the book in chapters 21-22. There are precedents for it elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:1; Gal 4:25-26; Heb 12:22).

With regard to the “new name” of Jesus, the most reliable line of interpretation is to be found further on in the book, at conclusion of 19:11-16 (to be discussed in turn). However, there are a few other passages in the New Testament which may be relevant, such as the great prayer-discourse in the Gospel of John (chap. 17), which is vital to an understanding of Johannine theology (and Christology). God gives his own name to Jesus, who, in turn, makes it known to his followers (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). An interesting parallel is also to be found in Phil 2:9-10 (cf. also Heb 1:4; Eph 1:21). It is important to realize that the “name that is over every name”, like the “new name” in Rev 3:12, contrary to popular belief, is not simply “Jesus/Yeshua”, but that which reflects the essential identity and (divine) nature/status which Jesus (the Son) shares with God (the Father). In the earliest preaching, this was understood almost entirely in terms of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God. Eventually, it came to encompass the idea of divine pre-existence and eternal Sonship (to be glimpsed already in Phil 2:6-11).

September 18: Revelation 3:1-6

Revelation 3:1-6

This fifth letter, to the believers in Sardis, follows the format used in all seven letters (as discussed in the earlier note). Here we will examine the features and details which are unique to this particular letter.

Rev 3:1a

Each introduction to the risen Jesus draws upon the wording and imagery in the vision of 1:11-16ff. Here the reference is to the image in v. 16a, i.e. holding the seven stars in his right hand. They are connected closely with “the seven Spirits of God” (from 1:4), which merely confirms that these “Spirits” are to be understood as heavenly beings (i.e., Angels, cf. 1:20).

Rev 3:1b

The main message, or body of the letter, differs from the others in the way that it blends together the two aspects of praise and blame/rebuke. This is clear from the way that the opening formula has been adapted:

“I have seen your works—that you hold a name (indicating) that you live, and (yet) you are dead.”

This is doubtless meant, in part, as an ironic echo of Jesus words in 1:18:

“I am the living (one)—I came to be dead, and see! I am living into the Ages of Ages…”

The expression “holding a name that you live” presumably means that the Christians in Sardis identify themselves (by name and confession) as believers in Christ (“the living one”). It is hard to know just what is meant by the statement “and (yet) you are dead“. It is probably best here simply to understand the adjective “dead” as the opposite of “alive”—the absence of life, in the sense of a lack of true faith and/or love, as manifest in the words and actions (“works”) of the congregations. Specific or blatant sin does not seem to have been the issue; the situation is perhaps similar to that stated in the letter to the Christians of Ephesus (2:4f).

Rev 3:2-3

The rebuke of verse 1 turns into an exhortation, whereby the believers in Sardis are urged to remain awake (i.e. watchful, vb. grhgoreu/w) and to strengthen (lit. fasten, firm [up], sthri/zw) “the (thing)s remaining which are about to die off”. The neuter plural ta\ loipa/ makes it clear that this refers to their “works” (ta\ e&rga), i.e. to their words and acts of love, faith, etc, which are still manifest in the congregations, but are in danger of dying out. Again, we must be cautious about reading into this the idea that the Christians of Sardis were particularly “worldly” or immoral. The book of Revelation tends to express an extremely rigorous view of Christian faithfulness and devotion, in relation to the negative influence of Greco-Roman (pagan) culture and false religious practice. The standard, or ideal, is stated clearly here in verse 2:

“For I have not found your works (as) having been made full [i.e. complete] in the sight of my God.”

The exhortation shifts again back to a warning:

“Remember, then, how you have received and heard (before), and (so) you must keep watch and change your mind(set) [i.e. repent]. (But) if, then, you would not remain awake [i.e. watchful, alert], (know that) I will come as a thief, (so that) you should not even know what hour I will come upon you!”

Here, Jesus’ coming (“I will come”) is unquestionably eschatological, referring to his end-time return (whereas in 2:16 this was not so clear). The suddenness and unexpectedness of his appearance is characterized as that of a thief who breaks into a house, an image used in an eschatological context for the coming of the end (and the return of Jesus) several times in the New Testament, including by Jesus himself in the Gospels (Matt 24:43 / Lk 12:39; cf. also 1 Thess 5:2, 4; 2 Pet 3:10). Similarly, the verb grhgore/w (“be/remain awake”, i.e. be watchful, alert) is often used in relation to eschatological expectation in the New Testament (Mark 13:34-37 par; Matt 25:13; 1 Thess 5:6; Rev 16:15; cf. also Mark 14:34ff par; 1 Cor 16:13). In such instances, there is a strong emphasis on ethical behavior, with the idea of the approaching time of Judgment serving as a warning and exhortation to repentance, etc.

Rev 3:4-5

As indicated above, the sections on praise and blame/rebuke in this letter have been reversed, beginning with blame and concluding with praise. The second section typically begins, “But I hold (this) against you…”; but here it has been modified:

“But you hold [i.e. have] a few names in Sardis which did not dirty their garments, and they will walk about with me in white (garment)s, (in) that [i.e. because] they are brought [i.e. weighed] (in the) balance.”

There is a bit of wordplay here with o&noma (“name”). In verse 1a (cf. above) it referred to the reputation and character of the congregation(s) in Sardis (i.e. Christians as a whole); here, it refers to individual believers (and their names). While the congregations are characterized generally as “dead”, there are still present a small percentage of (“a few”, o)li/go$) true and faithful believers. They are described as those who “did not dirty [e)mo/lunan] their garments”. The verb molu/nw (“darken, dirty, soil, stain”) is rare in the New Testament (elsewhere only in 1 Cor 8:7; Rev 14:4). However, the motif of dirtying/washing one’s clothing is a relatively common religious motif, and can be used in the context of both ritual and moral purity (cf. Exod 19:10-14; Lev 11:25ff; Num 8:7; 19:7ff; Lam 4:14; Zech 3:3-5, etc). The image of a garment might suggest the physical body (as opposed to the soul/spirit), leading to the idea that sensual/carnal sin is involved. More likely, however, is the association with the believer’s baptism—where the ritual symbolism entails the removal of one’s old nature (taking off the garment) and putting on the new. Presumably from very early times the baptism rite included use of a clean white robe. Paul’s language in Gal 3:27 (cf. also Rom 13:12-14; Col 3:9-10 [Eph 4:22-24]) draws upon well-established baptism imagery. The idea of putting on (new/glorious) clothing can also be used in the context of eschatological expectation (of the resurrection, etc), cf. 1 Cor 15:53-54; 2 Cor 5:2-3; 1 Thess 5:8 [cp. Eph 6:11ff].

White clothing brings together the twin attributes of brightness and purity. Heavenly beings are typically described wearing a white (linen) garment or robe—Ezek 9:2ff; 10:2ff; Dan 10:5; 12:6-7; Mark 9:3 par; 16:5; Matt 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; 10:30, and frequently in the book of Revelation. The promise here in verses 4-5 relates to heavenly reward and honor. This is expressed by the promise-formula in verse 5:

“The (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious, this (one) will be cast about [i.e. clothed] in white garments…”

The white garments (of heavenly purity/holiness) allow the believer to “walk about” with Jesus (i.e. in Heaven). This is the first of three rewards given in v. 5, all of which refer primarily to the Eternal Life the believer will receive, having passed through the Judgment. The context of the end-time/heavenly Judgment is clear enough, but there is an important allusion to it in the earlier use of the adjective a&cio$ (end of v. 4). Often translated “worthy”, it fundamentally refers to being “brought (down)”, i.e. weighed, in the balances. These are the scales of justice/judgment; the person who is weighed in the proper balance is deemed worthy of entering into Life. The second reward in verse 5 is:

“…and I will not rub his name out of the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of Life…”

The word bi/blo$ is usually translated “book”, but literally refers to a paper (papyrus) roll, or scroll. The specific image is that of a roll on which the names of citizens are recorded—in this instance, those who are (to be) citizens of heaven, who belong to the Kingdom of God and the realm of Eternal Life. The expression “scroll/book of Life” (o( bi/blo$ th=$ zwh=$) goes back to Old Testament tradition and ancient Near Eastern concepts of the divine Judgment (cf. Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Dan 12:1; also 4Q381; 4Q504; Jubilees 30:22; 36:10; 1 Enoch 108:3; Koester, p. 315). The specific expression is used by Paul in Phil 4:3, and repeatedly again in the book of Revelation; Jesus refers to the basic idea in Luke 10:20.

The third, and final, reward is:

“…and I will give account as one of [i.e. confess/acknowledge] his name in the sight of my Father and in the sight of His Messengers.”

This statement gives a snapshot of the scene of Judgment in which Jesus testifies on behalf of believers. It is better viewed in terms of Jesus as one who is overseeing the court of Judgment and authorizes the believers to pass through into Life. There is a precise parallel in the Gospel tradition (the so-called “Q” material); the saying by Jesus in Matt 10:32b and Luke 12:8b is very close in wording—combining the two versions gives a saying not too far removed from that here in Rev 3:5c:

“Every one who gives account as one in (regard to) me in front of men, I will give account as one in (regard to) him in front of my Father in the heavens.” (Matt 10:32)
“Every one who would give account as one in (regard to) me in front of men, the Son of Man also will give account as one in (regard to) him in front of the Messengers of God” (Luke 12:8); [v. 9] “…in the sight of the Messengers of God”

The verb o(mologe/w literally means “give account as one”, i.e. “give common account”, “say the same thing”, often rendered as consent, acknowledge, confess. It implies agreement regarding a statement or principle, etc. In other words, the believer agrees to the Gospel message regarding Jesus (his teaching, example, etc), and Jesus, in turn, confirms the believer’s trust/faith and (religious) identity—an identity which is also confirmed by what the believer has said and done during his/her lifetime.