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).

Saturday Series: 1 John 1:1-5

Over the next month or so, these Saturday studies will focus on the Johannine Letters (1-2-3 John). Key passages in the letters will be highlighted, using the methods and principles of critical analysis—textual, historical, and literary criticism—to elucidate the text.

Even a casual reading, in translation, of both the Gospel and Letters of John, would make rather apparent the many similarities in language, style, and thought between these writings. If not written by the same person, then, at the very least, they share a common religious and theological worldview, and manner of expression, suggesting that they were both produced and read among a specific group of first-century believers. New Testament scholars typically refer to this as a Johannine “Community” or “School”. Community is the better term, in the sense of referring to a number of congregations in a particular region which were unified, to some extent, in thought and organization. Tradition ascribes all four writings (Gospel and Letters) to John the apostle (son of Zebedee); this is certainly possible, but technically the works are anonymous, and attribution to John should not be treated as established fact. A disciple of Jesus known as the “Beloved Disciple” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) is referenced in the Gospel as an eyewitness source of information and tradition, and it is often assumed that he was a central (perhaps the central) apostolic figure of the Johannine Community. I will regularly use the standard term “Johannine” without necessarily affirming the traditional identification of John the apostle as either the “Beloved Disciple” or author of the Gospel and Letters.

The location of the Johannine Community is also unknown, though tradition would identify it as the region around Ephesus, and, here too, the tradition may well be correct. In favor of Ephesus and Asia Minor are the following objective details:

    • The letters of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110-115 A.D.), many of which are addressed to congregations in Asia Minor, show many similarities with Johannine thought. The same is true of the letter of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who is said to have been a disciple of John the apostle. In writing to the Christians of Smyrna and Tralles, Ignatius attacks Christological views similar to those denounced in 1 John.
    • The book of Revelation, written by a “John”, and traditionally identified with John the Apostle, is addressed primarily to churches in Asia Minor (chaps. 2-3), the first of which is Ephesus. The warnings in those letters are similar in certain respects to those given in 1 and 2 John.
    • The island of Patmos, where “John” writes the book of Revelation, and where John the Apostle was exiled (according to tradition), is not too far from Ephesus.
    • John the Baptist features prominently in the Gospel of John, and it often thought that the Gospel was written, in part, against those would might identify the Baptist (rather than Jesus) as the Messiah. According to Acts 18:25ff; 19:2-6, there appear to have been disciples of the Baptist in the vicinity of Ephesus.

The emphasis on this idea of a Johannine Community relates to the importance of studying the Scriptures, first of all, in the historical-cultural context in which they were originally authored and distributed. Too often, there is a tendency for Christians to read Scripture out of context, as though the writings simply dropped down out of heaven fully formed. Any sound and reasonable view of the inspiration of Scripture must take full account of the natural processes by which the text took shape and was produced—this means a real life-setting of the work. Such a setting is easier to establish in the case of the Letters of Paul, where so much more detail is provided, but the critical analysis—under the heading of historical criticism— is just as necessary for the Letters of John. For a study on the background of the Letters, see my earlier article on the subject.

By way of introduction, we will begin with the first five verses of 1 John—the “prologue” (1:1-4) together with the initial declaration (in v. 5) of the work proper.

1 John 1:1-5

Every attentive reader will, I think, readily recognize the points of similarity between the “prologue” to 1 John (1:1-4) and the more famous Prologue of the Gospel (Jn 1:1-18). This is clear enough from the opening words:

1 John
Hó ¢¡n ap’ arch¢¡s
 ^O h@n a)p’ a)rxh=$
Th(at) which was from the beginning
Gospel
En arch¢¡ ¢¡n ho
 )En a)rxh=| h@n o(
In the beginning was the…

The form of the verb of being (eimi, here imperfect indicative ¢¡n, “was”) has profound theological (and Christological) significance in the Gospel of John, and is used most carefully in the Prologue as a mark of divine/eternal existence and life, contrasted with the contingent coming to be (vb gínomai) of creation. Also important is the noun arch¢¡ (“beginning, first, fore[most]”)—note the Gospel references in 1:1-2; 2:11; 6:64; 8:25, 44; 15:27; 16:4. There are nine other occurrences in the Letters, always in the expression “from the beginning” (ap’ arch¢¡s): 1 Jn 2:7, 13-14, 24 [twice]; 3:8, 11; 2 Jn 5, 6. One might also note the important occurrences of arch¢¡ in the book of Revelation (3:14; 21:6; 22:13).

The very way that 1 John starts, with the neuter relative pronoun (“[that] which”), could almost be read as a reference to the Gospel Prologue; indeed, many commentators feel that the author of the Letter is intentionally drawing on Jn 1:1-18, as a “deliberate reflection” upon its wording and theological message (Brown, p. 174). This seems most likely. However, while the (poetic) syntax of the Gospel Prologue is rather smooth and elegant, that of 1 Jn 1:1-4 is anything but, as most commentators and translators will acknowledge. The four verses make up one long (and rather awkward) sentence in the Greek; translations typically break this up and smooth things out considerably. Here I give my rendering of 1:1-4:

“Th(at) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked at (closely) and our hands felt (by touching), about the word/account [lógos] of Life—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it), and we bear witness and give forth (as) a message to you, the Life of the Ages [i.e. Eternal Life] which was (facing) toward the Father and was made to shine forth to us—th(at) which we have seen and heard we also give forth as a message to you, that you also might hold common (bond) with us; and, indeed, our common (bond) (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and we write these (thing)s (so) that our delight (in it) may be made full.”

I believe that a good deal of the grammatical awkwardness stems from the way that the thought/message of the Gospel Prologue is incorporated into the introductory message of the letter. It would seem that this took place two ways: (1) the initial (and repeated) use of the relative pronoun, and (2) the central proclamation (verse 2, highlighted in blue above) that interrupts the main statement. It is this proclamation that most clearly echoes the Gospel prologue:

    • “and th(is) Life was made to shine forth” (kai h¢ zœ¢¡ efanerœ¡q¢) [v. 2a]
      —Gospel: “and th(is) Life was the Light of men; and the Light shines…” (1:4)
    • “and we have seen (it)” (kai heœrákamen) [v. 2b]
      —Gospel: “and we looked at his splendor” (1:14, cf. also v. 18)
    • “and we bear witness [martyroúmen] and give forth (as) a message to you” [v. 2c]
      —Gospel: John the Baptist, in particular, bears witness to the Light/Life (1:6-8)
    • “the Life of the Ages which was [¢¡n] toward [prós] the Father” [v. 2d]
      —Gospel: “the Word [Logos] was [¢¡n] toward [prós] God…” (1:1) “this (one) was [¢¡n] in the beginning toward [prós] God” (1:2) “In him was [¢¡n] Life, and th(is) Life was [¢¡n]…” (1:4)
    • “and was made to shine forth to us” (kai efanerœ¡q¢ h¢mín) [v. 2e]
      —Gospel: 1:4f, 9ff, 14, 18 (see under v. 2a above)

The use of the relative pronoun adds to the complexity of 1:1-4 and requires some comment. It is a neuter pronoun, and, occurring as it does at the beginning of the sentence, is best understood in a general and comprehensive way. As I noted above, the allusions to the Gospel Prologue suggest that it is the unique message about Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of John, that is in view. I believe that this functions with three levels of meaning:

    1. Jesus as the eternal Word/Life/Light who came to earth as an incarnate (flesh and blood) human being
    2. The manifestation of this Life/Light on earth among other human beings—esp. his close disciples
    3. The message of Jesus—who he was and what he did—proclaimed by and among the first believers, down to the time of writing

The last of these is less prominent in the Gospel Prologue, but takes on special emphasis and importance in the Johannine Letters. The relative pronouns and points of reference in 1:1-4 shift subtly between these three levels of meaning, especially in vv. 1-3a—and it must be said that they are equally important (and interconnected) for the author. If the author is indeed making use of the (written) Gospel, then it is likely that 1 John was written somewhat later, after the Gospel (in some form) had already been in circulation in the Johannine churches. Probably he would have expected that his audience would understand and be familiar with his references to the Gospel Prologue, as well as the theology (and Christology) expressed by it. At any rate, the author’s own purpose in writing as he does is clear enough from the closing words in vv. 3-4:

“…th(at) which we have seen and heard we also give forth as a message to you, that you also might hold common (bond) [koinœnía] with us; and, indeed, our common (bond) [koinœnía] (is) with the Father and with His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and we write these (thing)s (so) that our delight (in it) may be made full.”

The specific wording here is significant and should be examined carefully. In particular, it is worth asking: if the author is writing to fellow believers, united in thought and purpose (as part of the Community), then why would he have any doubt that they “might also hold common (bond) with us”? The use of the subjunctive here (éch¢te, “might hold, would hold”) I believe is telling, as it relates to a certain conflict within the Community. We will examine this conflict in next week’s study; in preparation, I would ask that you read the letter carefully, from verse 4 through the end of chapter 2, paying special attention to the discussion in 2:18-27. What sort of conflict is described there, and what is the nature of the dispute? How would you relate it back to what the author expresses in the prologue of 1:1-4? In closing, it is worth noting the way the author re-states the Gospel message in verse 5:

“And this is the message which we have heard from him [i.e. Jesus] and deliver up (as a) message to you: ‘that God is Light, and there is not any darkness in Him’!”

This declaration again echoes the language of the Gospel prologue (1:5), as well as reflecting the dualism (i.e. Light vs. Darkness) that is especially characteristic of Johannine thought (3:19; 8:12; 12:35-36, 46, etc). This dualistic imagery will play an important role in how the author frames the conflict which is at the heart of the letter’s message. This we will explore…next Saturday.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982).

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.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 2)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this study, I surveyed the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse as represented by Mark 13. According to the common hypothesis, held by many critical scholars, the Gospel of Mark was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke. Whatever the precise relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, it is clear that they draw upon a common line of tradition, in which the same material occurs in the same sequence and setting. This is certainly true of the Eschatological Discourse. It is part of the common Synoptic narrative, derived either from Mark, or from a Gospel framework with a similar outline and set of contents. In discussing the Matthean version of the Discourse, I will be focusing almost entirely on the elements or features which are distinct or different from the Markan version. These may be viewed either as Matthean additions and modifications, or in terms of a particular (literary) arrangement and emphasis which the writer has given to the material.

Matthew 24

Matt 24:1-3—Introduction

Matthew’s version follows Mark quite closely, as can be seen already in the introduction (vv. 1-3; comp. Mk 13:1-4). Matthew’s account differs here in two respects: (1) it has a simpler narrative, with less local color/detail, and (2) it evinces a more distinctly Christian perspective. On the first point, one simply notes the omission of the disciples’ words in Mk 13:1 commenting on the great stones and buildings of the Temple complex, as also the fact that the disciples who subsequently approach Jesus (v. 3) are left unnamed (in Mk 13:3 they are identified as Peter, James, John, and Andrew). The second point touches upon the most significant difference in these verses—the form of the question posed by the disciples to Jesus. Compare the question in Mark and Matthew, respectively:

    • “Say to us [i.e. tell us], when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed (all) together [suntelei=sqai]?” (Mk 13:4)
    • “Say to us [i.e. tell us], when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] and (of) the completion together [sunte/leia] of th(is) Age?” (Matt 24:3b)

The first part is virtually identical, but the second portion differs considerably. In Mark the question refers, somewhat ambiguously, to “all these things”—in the present literary context, this must refer primarily to the time-frame of the Temple’s impending destruction; however, we may infer that other teaching regarding the end-time, especially the coming Judgment, may also be involved. The disciples ask for a sign (shmei=on) so they may known when these things will occur. The verb suntele/w, literally refers to “all these things” being completed together; an eschatological context is implied (i.e. the end of the current Age). Matthew’s version makes this context much more specific: “…the completion (all) together of th(is) Age“. The noun sunte/leia is related to the verb suntele/w, but functions as a distinct technical term (Dan [LXX] 8:17, 19; 11:27, 35, 40; 12:4, 6-7, 9; Matt 28:20; Heb 9:26; cf. also Testament of Zebulun 9:9; Benjamin 10:3, etc). More problematic is the way that this eschatological context is tied to the (early Christian) idea of Jesus’ future return, using the technical term parousi/a (parousia, “[com]ing to be alongside”). The actual disciples of Jesus, at this point, prior to his death and resurrection, would have had little or no sense of his future return. At best, they may have begun to connect his statements regarding the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man” with Jesus’ use of that expression as a self-designation. From the standpoint of historical accuracy, it is hard to see the disciples formulating the question this way. The Markan version is more realistic; Matthew here likely reflects a Christian gloss, or explanation, of the disciples’ words.

Matt 24:4-8—The sign(s) of what is to come

In Mark 13:5-8, Jesus gives an answer to the second question by the disciples (“what is the sign…?”), outlining several things which will occur before the coming of the end: (a) people coming falsely in Jesus’ name, (b) a period of warfare among the nations, and (c) shakings/earthquakes in various places. Matthew’s version is nearly identical in this description, with a number of small, but significant differences. Two may be noted:

i. In Mark 13:6 Jesus warns his disciples: “Many (people) will come upon my name, saying that ‘I am (he)’…”. This indicates that there will be persons who claim to speak for Jesus (prophetically), or, perhaps, claim to be Jesus himself. At the same time, later in the Discourse (vv. 21-22), Jesus warns of the coming of false Messiahs—lit. “false Anointed (One)s”, in Greek yeudo/xristoi (i.e. false Christs). Matthew’s version brings this association into the earlier saying as well:

“For many (people) will come upon my name, saying ‘I am the Anointed (One)'” (v. 5)

This appears to reflect a degree of confusion in the Gospel Tradition—a confusion which clears itself up instantly when we realize that, for early Christians, claiming to be the Messiah and claiming to be Jesus were effectively the same thing. From the standpoint of the historical Jesus’ teaching to his disciples, however, this simple identification is problematic. A warning against people claiming to be the Messiah is more realistic in a first-century eschatological setting; in this regard, Matthew’s version is perhaps closer to Jesus’ original intent.

ii. In Mark 13:7, Jesus says: “But when you hear of wars…”; Matthew (v. 6) phrases this a bit differently:

“And you are about to hear of wars…”

This has two subtle effects: (a) it enhances the passage as a prophetic declaration by Jesus, and (b) it distances the coming period of warfare from the present moment. This is perhaps significant in relation to Jesus’ statement in v. 6b (= Mk 13:7b) that “…the completion [te/lo$] is not yet (here)”.

Matt 24:9-14—The persecution (of the disciples) which is to come

Here Matthew’s version, while following the same outline as Mark, differs more substantially in the way the material is presented, as well as in the points of emphasis reflected in Jesus’ words. To begin with, the prediction in Mk 13:9 refers to the disciples being brought before the Jewish council(s), as well as the courts/tribunals of rulers (in the wider Greco-Roman world), enduring beatings and mistreatment during the process of interrogation. In Matthew, by contrast, the prediction is more general and harsher in nature:

“Then they will give you along into distress and will kill you off, and you will be (one)s being [i.e. who are] hated under [i.e. by] all (people) through [i.e. because of] my name.” (v. 9)

Another difference is that the statement in Mk 13:10 occurs in Matthew at the end of the section (v. 14, cf. below). It may be helpful to compare the Markan and Matthean versions, in outline (marked by letters to aid in comparison):

    • Mark 13:9-13:
      • [A] Interrogation and mistreatment of the disciples before ruling authorities (v. 9)
      • [B] Statement on the proclamation of the good message into all the nations (v. 10)
      • [C] Promise that the Holy Spirit will inspire the disciples when they speak (v. 11)
      • [D] Hostility and division within families (over the Gospel), leading to persecution and death (v. 12)
      • [E] Promise that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 13)
    • Matt 24:9-14:
      • [A*] Mistreatment of the disciples[, including being put to death; hatred by all people] (v. 9)
      • [**] Lack of faith and betrayal (i.e. abandoning the true/Christian faith) by many (v. 10)
      • [**] Rise of false prophets (v. 11, cf. v. 24)
      • [**] Increase in lawlessness and lack of love (v. 12)
      • [E] Promise that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 13)
      • [B*] Statement on the proclamation of the good message to all the nations (v. 14)
        Note: asterisks indicate sayings or details in Matthew not found in Mark

Matthew’s version thus differs from the Markan in three respects:

    • The suffering/persecution faced by the disciples (or believers) is made more general
    • The statements regarding the work of the Spirit and division within families (Mk 13:11-12) are replaced by a trio of statements describing the overall decline of both the (early Christian) Community and society in general; however, note the similar promise regarding the role of the Spirit in 10:9-10 (par Lk 12:11-12).
    • The statement on the proclamation of the Gospel to the nations occurs at the end of the section

Overall, in Matthew’s version, this section paints a more negative portrait of both the condition of the world (i.e. human society) and the difficulties faced by the disciples (believers) in this environment. On the one hand, the emphasis on a period of missionary work by the disciples, central to the Markan version of this section, is not present in Matthew’s version. At the same time, what remains of this mission (proclamation of the good message) is given a more robust formulation in the saying corresponding to Mk 13:10:

    • “And it is necessary first to proclaim the good message into all the nations.”
    • Matt 24:14:
      “And this good message of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole inhabited (world) unto a witness for all the nations—and then the completion [te/lo$] will come/arrive!”

The context and significance of these two statements are dramatically different. In Mark, the Jesus’ words simply indicate that the disciples will not face the persecution mentioned in 13:9 until they first begin to proclaim the good message. In Matthew, it becomes a sign of what must first happen before the end comes! This Matthean formulation, while authentic enough in comparison with, e.g., Lk 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; Matt 28:19-20, appears out of place at this point in the Eschatological Discourse, when judged from an historical-critical standpoint. The Markan version is much more realistic within the overall context of this material. Again, Matt 24:14 may well be an early Christian gloss, reflecting (accurately) the belief that a period of extensive missionary work would have to occur before the end comes. This will be discussed further in Parts 3 and 4, as well as in the study on the eschatology in the book of Acts.

Matt 24:15-28—The period of great distress before the end

This section corresponds to Mark 13:14-23, and follows it relatively closely in outline and in much of the wording. However, Matthew has an expanded, developed form of this material, primarily in verses 26-28 which appear to have been added/appended to the Synoptic section (represented by Mark); their secondary character is confirmed by the fact that Luke has the same sayings as vv. 27-28, but in an entirely different location (17:24, 37). This does not mean that the sayings are inauthentic; on the contrary, it confirms that the Discourse itself is most likely a traditional/literary arrangement of (authentic) material on eschatological themes. Matthew simply has a more extensive arrangement at this point.

This first significant point of difference is in the allusion to Dan 9:27 in Mark 13:14, which Matthew (v. 15) makes specific and turns into a direct citation; compare (differences in italics):

    • But when you should see the stinking thing [bde/lugma] of desolation having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not—the one knowing this again (through reading) must put his mind (to it)—then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Mk 13:14)
    • Therefore when you should see ‘the stinking thing of desolation’ that was uttered through Danîyel the Foreteller (now) having stood in the holy place—the one knowing this again (through reading) must put his mind (to it)—then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Matt 24:15-16)

If the saying of Jesus in Mark is authentic (in that precise wording), then most likely Matthew has modified it to give clarity for his readers, making clear that: (a) the expression “the stinking thing of desolation” comes from Daniel (9:27), and (b) that the phrase “having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not” refers to a location in the Temple (“holy place”), that is, in the sanctuary, as indicated in Daniel. I have discussed Dan 9:24-27 in its original context in an earlier detailed study. Most commentators accept that v. 27 refers primarily to the desecration of the Temple by the Syrian/Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes, with a corresponding disruption of the Temple ritual, 167-164 B.C. According to 1 Maccabees 1:54, this involved a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple, a pattern which was to be repeated by the emperor Gaius (Caligula). Jesus’ use of Dan 9:27 indicates that he is predicting something similar to happen at the end-time, and it could conceivably relate to the historical actions/intentions of the emperor (c. 40 A.D.).

It is not clear what the editorial aside (in English idiom, something like “let the reader understand”) means specifically. The author who inserted it (whether the [Markan] Gospel writer or an earlier source) must have assumed his audience would have understood the context and significance of Jesus’ saying, and is thus referring to an early interpretation, perhaps tying it to the present circumstances related to Roman rule over Jerusalem. That is certainly how it is interpreted in the Lukan version (to be discussed in Part 3), where it is connected with the (Roman) siege of Jerusalem, fulfilled in 70 A.D. Matthew’s version, however, does not take that step, but follows the Synoptic/Markan form of the section closely. Whatever is to take place in the Temple, it marks the beginning of the brief but intense period of “great distress” for Judea described in vv. 17ff (par Mk 13:15-22). The summary statement utilizing the expression (“great distress”) is a citation/allusion from Dan 12:1; in Mark (13:19) it reads:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], (and) of such (kind) as this (there) has not come to be, from the beginning of (the world’s) formation which God formed, until now, and (surely) will not (ever) come to be (again)!”

Matthew has a slightly different formulation, simpler and more pointed:

“For then there will be great distress, such as has not come to be, from the beginning of the world-order [ko/smo$] until now, and (so) will not (ever) come to be (again)!” (Matt 24:21)

The expression “great distress” suggests a development in the tradition (cf. Rev 7:14), echoed by the expanded version of the remainder of the section in Matthew, with the addition of the sayings in vv. 26-28. The effect of this expansion to enhance the role of believers (the elect) during this period. In Mark, the structure of the section may be outlined:

    • Allusion to Dan 9:27, marking the time of distress (13:14a)
    • Warnings and instruction regarding the severity of the coming distress, in traditional language and imagery (vv. 14b-18)
    • Statement on the time of distress (v. 19)
    • The Elect in the time of distress (vv. 20-22)
      —It will be cut short through the (presence/activity of the) Elect (v. 20)
      —False claims that the Messiah has appeared or is in a particular location (v. 21)
      —The appearance of miracle-working false Messiahs/prophets who might deceive the Elect (v. 22)
    • Final exhortation (v. 23)

Here is the portion corresponding to vv. 20-23 in Matthew:

    • The Elect in the time of distress (24:22-28)
      • Duration: It will be cut short through the (presence/activity of the) Elect (v. 22)
      • Character of it: A time of testing for the Elect—False signs and testimony:
        —Claims that the Messiah has appeared (v. 23)
        —Appearance of miracle-working false Messiahs/prophets (v. 24)
        —Importance of this: Jesus is warning them ahead of time (v. 25)
        —Claims that the Messiah has appeared in various locations, outdoor and inside (v. 26)
        —The true Messiah (Son of Man) will appear suddenly, in a manner visible and unmistakable to everyone (v. 27)
        —Proverb: The false prophets are like vultures circling around, taking advantage of the time of distress (v. 28)

The closing exhortation in Mark 13:23 thus serves a different purpose in Matthew: instead of being an assurance by Jesus to his disciples that they will be able to recognize the signs and events of the end-time when they come, it specifically relates to the appearance of false Messiahs and false prophets. This takes on much greater importance in Matthew’s version, and the three added sayings enhance and reinforce the message:

    • 26—Repeated warning regarding claims that the Messiah has appeared
    • 27—Contrast with the actual appearance of the true Messiah (Son of Man), that it will be clear and unmistakable to everyone
    • 28—Closing illustration: The false Messiahs/prophets are like vultures circling around a dead body, taking advantage of people in the time of distress

This is an altogether different sort of eschatological setting for the material than in the Gospel of Luke (17:23-24, 37); the way these sayings were adapted and included by each Gospel writer will be discussed in Part 3 on the Lukan version of the Discourse.

Matt 24:29-31—The appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time

In the outline of the Discourse, the section describing the time of distress is followed by a description of the Son of Man’s appearance, which contains three pieces:

    • Supernatural celestial phenomena—combination of Scripture allusions, drawing upon the language/imagery of theophany (manifestation of God) [Mk 13:24-25]
    • The appearance of the Son of Man (allusion to Dan 7:13) [Mk 13:26]
    • The gathering of the Elect by the Angels [Mk 13:27]

Matthew follows Mark closely here; the only real difference is in the actual description of the Son of Man’s appearance (Matt 24:30 / Mk 13:26), where the Markan saying is preceded by two additional statements (in italics), each beginning “and then…” (kai\ to/te):

And then the sign of the Son of Man will shine forth in heaven, and then all the offshoots [i.e. tribes/races] of the earth will beat (themselves), and they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Let us consider each of these additions:

    • “the sign of the Son of Man will shine forth in (the) heaven”—On the one hand, this serves to distinguish the Son of Man’s actual appearance from the celestial phenomena which preceded it. These were signs that he (a divine/heavenly being who represents God himself) was about to appear, but now his presence, as he comes down from heaven, is marked by a special sign in the sky. At the same time, the context here suggests that the sign (shmei=on) is to be understood as the cross—symbol of the Son of Man’s (Jesus’) suffering and death.
    • “all the offshoots of the earth will beat (themselves)”—If there is a sign in the heaven of Jesus’ suffering and death, so there is also a corresponding sign on earth, which follows in response. The earth’s “offshoots” (i.e. the tribes and races of people) beat themselves in an act of collective mourning. This is an allusion to Zech 12:10, interpreted in light of Jesus’ death (cf. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 also combines Dan 7:13 with Zech 12:10 in a similar eschatological context, referring to the exalted Jesus’ visible return to earth at the end time.

Both of these additions make more specific what would otherwise have to be inferred by early Christians in this, as in all the other, eschatological Son of Man sayings (cf. the earlier study)—that the Son of Man’s appearance is to be equated with Jesus’ future return. This is confirmed by the way that the Son of Man is specifically identified here with Jesus in his exalted state (in Heaven), following his death and resurrection. Again, it is easier to view these statements as explanatory additions by the Gospel writer, and that Mark (13:26) more closely approximates the original saying of Jesus.

Matt 24:32-25—Sayings and illustrations on when the end will occur

Matthew follows Mark in this section very closely, almost verbatim. One small, but possibly significant difference is in the application of the fig-tree parable. Mark (13:29) reads: “So also you, when you see these (thing)s coming to be [gino/mena]…” Matthew (24:33) does not include the participle “coming to be”, stating more flatly, “…when you see these (thing)s”. It is possible that this is intended to avoid the implication that all these things will, indeed, come to pass for the disciples, i.e. in their own lifetime. If so, then it might give a slightly different sense to the famous statement that follows in verse 34 (par Mk 13:30), distancing “this generation” from the current generation whom Jesus is addressing. This is possible, though rather unlikely, and is, in any case, untenable as the original meaning intended by Jesus. I discuss this difficult saying in a separate study on “Imminent Eschatology” in the Gospels.

Matt 24:36-44—Concluding exhortation and illustration(s)

This corresponding section in Mark (13:32-37) brings the Discourse to a conclusion; it has a relatively simple structure:

    • Declaration that no one knows the exact time (day and hour) of the end, though it is coming soon (v. 32)
    • Exhortation to stay awake/alert (vv. 33-37)
      • Initial warning/exhortation (v. 33)
      • Illustration of the Master who goes away (v. 34)
      • Application for disciples/believers (vv. 35-36)
      • Final exhortation (v. 37)

This has been modified/expanded significantly in Matthew’s version (24:36-44ff):

    • Declaration on knowing the day and hour (v. 36, nearly identical to Mark)
    • Illustrations on the sudden/unexpected coming of the Judgment (vv. 37-41)
    • Illustration on the coming of the Lord / Son of Man (vv. 42-44)
    • Illustration of the Faithful Servant (vv. 45-51)

Verses 42-44 generally correspond to Mk 13:33-37, but in simpler form and with a distinctive emphasis, which specifically interprets the core illustration in terms of the end-time coming of the Son of Man and the return of Jesus. The bracketing exhortations in vv. 42 and 44 make this abundantly clear (note the italicized words):

    • “(So) then, you must keep awake/alert, (in) that you do have not seen on what day your Lord comes!” (v. 42)
    • “Through this you must come to be (made) ready, (in) that (it is) in an hour which you do not consider (that) the Son of Man comes.” (v. 44)

The first statement could be understood in the traditional sense of the coming of God (YHWH, the Lord) at the end time (i.e. the day of YHWH); but, when paired with the similar saying involving the “Son of Man” (i.e. Jesus) in an early Christian context, it can only refer to the end-time return of Jesus. Again, Matthew makes specific what would otherwise have to be inferred in Mark’s version.

Matthew also includes significant additional material, in verses 37-41 and 45-51. The sayings in vv. 37-41 are part of the so-called “Q” material, common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. Luke has these sayings in a different location (Lk 17:26-27, 34-35), in a separate section of eschatological instruction (17:20-37). They will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 on the Lukan version of the Discourse. In the Matthean context, the sayings build upon the statement in verse 36 about knowing the day and hour; they are traditional (and proverbial) illustrations to the point that the end-time Judgment will come upon people unexpectedly—most of the population will be overcome and destroyed, while only the faithful ones will be saved. The detail of the illustration in vv. 40-41 is not entirely certain; there are two figure-types—one who is “taken along” and the other who is “released” or “left”. It clearly is meant to distinguish between those saved from the Judgment and those destroyed by it, but uncertainty remains among commentators as to which figure-type represents which category; there are two possibilities (I tend to prefer the latter):

    • “taken along”, i.e. into the ark (salvation); “left” (behind) to face the Judgment
    • “taken along”, i.e. by the flood (destruction); “left” (behind) to survive the Judgment
Matt 24:45-51—An additional (transitional) parable

The parable in vv. 45-51 is unique to Matthew here, and is not part of the Markan/Synoptic Discourse, though it corresponds to the pattern of a number of Jesus’ parables. It features the familiar idea of a Master who goes away, leaving his land/estate in the care of servants. The primary purpose of this parable type is as a vehicle for ethical instruction—i.e., whether the servant will be faithful diligent while the Master is away. The juxtaposition of the two servant types—one faithful, the other lazy/wicked—was a natural fit for the eschatological aspect of such parables. The end-time Judgment would separate the righteous from the wicked, a motif present in most of the eschatological parables, especially the Matthean parables of the Weeds (13:24-30, 36-43) and the Fish-net (13:47-50), as well as those which follow here in chapter 25 (cf. below). If the illustrations in vv. 37-41 build upon the saying in v. 36, the parable in vv. 45-51 builds upon the sayings/illustration of vv. 42-44, demonstrating the importance (and ultimate consequence) of believers acting and behaving faithfully which the Master (Jesus) is away.

Nearly all of the distinctive elements and characteristics of Matthew’s version of the Discourse seem to point in the direction of an early Christian interpretation of Jesus’ (original) sayings, as, for example, in identifying the “Son of Man” more precisely with Jesus himself (and his end-time/future return). At every point, Mark appears to have the more ‘primitive’ version of the material, closer to the context and setting of the authentic sayings. The inclusion of sayings, which Luke preserves in an entirely different location, as part of the Discourse, confirms a level of (secondary) development in Matthew’s version. This must not be misunderstood—it reflects an interpretive layer in addition to the Synoptic material which otherwise more closely reflects the authentic historical tradition. It does not, by any reasonable standard, contradict or invalidate the historicity of the tradition.

On Chapter 25

The expanded nature of Matthew’s version of the Discourse is made even more clear when one considers the place of the three parables in chapter 25. These were discussed already in the earlier study on the eschatological Parables. As I did in that study, those three parables are often treated separately from the Eschatological Discourse; however, the Gospel writer, by all accounts, regards them (and presents them) as part of the Discourse. There is no indication of any break in the narrative between chapters 24 and 25, indicating that, on the narrative and literary level, they represent a single Sermon-Discourse, much as chapters 5-7 are presented as a single “Sermon”. The parable in 24:45-51 is transitional to the three great parables in chapter 25. They all deal with the contrast between faithful and negligent servants, true and false disciples, in the (eschatological) framework of the coming end-time Judgment. The first two parables follow the pattern of the Master who has gone away and is about to return, just as in the illustrations which close the Discourse proper in chap. 24 (cf. above). When viewed in this light, taking chapters 24 and 25 together, it shows just how far, and to what extent, the Synoptic Discourse was adapted in the Gospel of Matthew. Only in Matthew’s version is the end-time Judgment and appearance of the Son of Man completed with a vision of the final Judgment taking place in the heavenly court (25:31-46), ending with the clearest possible description of the fate of the righteous and wicked respectively. In this regard, Matthew’s version of the Discourse is closer to the scope and vision of the book of Revelation, which moves between predictions (visions) of the end-time Judgment, and scenes set in Heaven before the throne of God (cf. the current series of daily notes on Revelation). Moreover, it is in Matthew’s version that the exalted position of Jesus (as Son of Man) is given greatest emphasis.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 1)

The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 1)

The most extensive eschatological teaching by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is found in the so-called “Eschatological Discourse” in Mark 13 (par Matthew 24 & Luke 21:5-36). Within the Synoptic framework, it is presented as a sermon or discourse by Jesus; however, many scholars feel that this arrangement is literary (and traditional) rather than historical. That is to say, it represents a collection of eschatological teaching by Jesus which may have originally been uttered on separate occasions. This view would seem to be confirmed by the evidence from Matthew and Luke, where eschatological sayings recorded in other locations (in Luke) are incorporated as part of the “discourse” (in Matthew). It is useful, however, to begin with the Gospel of Mark, as representing the core Synoptic Tradition. The distinctive features and elements of the Matthean and Lukan versions will be examined in Parts 2 and 3 of this study, respectively.

Mark 13

An outline of the Markan version of the Eschatological Discourse gives some indication, I think, of how different sayings or traditions might have been combined. This is not to say that Jesus might not have given a longer discourse, dealing with eschatological matters, which resembles the Synoptic Discourse; but the thematic arrangement of the sayings and parables of Jesus is, on the whole, better viewed as a result of the early collection and transmission of the material. On this basis alone, however, there is no (objective) reason to doubt the authenticity of any of the sayings. Here is an outline of the Markan Discourse:

    • Vv. 1-2—Narrative introduction, including:
      • Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple (v. 2)
    • Vv. 3-4—Introduction to the Discourse: Question by the disciples
    • Vv. 5-8—”Birth Pains”: Things which will occur before the end
      —Appearance of false Messiahs/Christs (v. 6)
      —Wars among the nations (vv. 7-8a)
      —Natural disasters and famine (v. 8b)
    • Vv. 9-13—Persecution of the Disciples which will occur before the end, reflecting missionary work among both Jews and Gentiles
    • Vv. 14-23—Sayings regarding the affliction which will come upon Judea
      —Saying concerning the “abomination of desolation” (v. 14)
      —Warning of the coming suffering (vv. 15-20)
      —Repeated reference to the appearance of false Messiahs/Christs (vv. 21-22)
      —Concluding exhortation (v. 23)
    • Vv. 24-27—The appearance of the Son of Man
    • Vv. 28-31—Sayings on the time when the end will come
      —Illustration of the fig-tree (vv. 28-29)
      —Two sayings with the verb pare/rxomai (vv. 30-31)
    • Vv. 32-37—Concluding Parable (and Sayings)
Mark 13:1-2

The narrative introduction provides the general setting for the discourse, in the vicinity of the Jerusalem Temple:

“And (at) his traveling out of the Sacred Place, one of his learners [i.e. disciples] says to him, ‘Teacher, (do you) see what sort of stones and what sort of buildings (these are)?'”

This expression of amazement reflects the grandeur of the Herodian Temple in Jesus’ day, which is described extensively by Josephus (Antiquities 15.380-425; Wars 5.184-227). The size and beauty of the building, and its great stones, would have been impressive indeed; Jesus, however, declares:

“(Are) you look(ing) at these great buildings? (Yet) there shall not be here (even one) stone left upon (another) stone which shall not be loosed down!” (v. 2)

This must be regarded as a prediction of the Temple’s destruction, which, of course, came to pass in 70 A.D. as a result of the Jewish revolt and Roman siege of Jerusalem. It is important as a general time-frame for the Eschatological Discourse. The Lukan version gives much greater emphasis to the Roman attack on the city.

For more on the eschatological aspects of the Temple—especially the Temple action and saying(s) by Jesus—cf. the supplemental article on this subject.

Mark 13:3-4

With these verses, the Discourse begins, though the introduction clearly continues from where the narrative introduction in vv. 1-2 leaves off—with its connection to the Temple (note the similar structure):

“And (at) his sitting (down near) unto the Mount of the Olive-trees, down opposite to the Sacred Place [i.e. Temple], on their own [i.e. privately]…they asked him…” (v. 3)

The introductory statement, as in verse 1, culminates with a question by the disciples—here the ones who ask are identified as Peter, James, John and Andrew. Their question must be understood, in context, in relation to Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction. It is actually a two-fold question which serves the (literary) purpose of joining Jesus’ Temple saying with the eschatological instruction which follows:

    • “when will these (thing)s be?”
    • “what (shall be) the sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed together?”

In Matthew’s version, the disciples’ second question is more precisely eschatological, framed in more obvious Christian terms: “what is the sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] and (of) the completion (all) together of th(is) Age?”. In Mark, however, the question is more general and ambiguous—to what “things” exactly are the disciples referring? Is it simply to the destruction of the Temple, or does it imply other eschatological teaching by Jesus? The literary context of the Discourse requires the latter, and points to the very teaching which follows in vv. 5ff.

Mark 13:5-8

Jesus’ initial response deals more with the disciples’ second question (“what shall be the sign…?”) rather than the first (“when…?”). He offers three such “signs”, which are summarily described as “the beginning of the (birth) pains” (v. 8); these are:

1. Persons claiming to be Jesus and/or speak in his name, causing many to go astray (vv. 5-6). Here is how this is stated in Mark’s version:

And Yeshua began to say to them, “You must look (carefully so that) someone should not lead you astray—(for) many will come upon my name saying that ‘I am (he)’, and will lead many astray.”

There is some confusion in the Gospel tradition here as to whether Jesus is speaking of people claiming to be him (i.e. Jesus) and speak for him, or whether they are claiming to be the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ). Early Christians would have treated these essentially as identical situations, but it is not so clear how this might have been framed by (the historical) Jesus to his followers. This will be discussed further when we examine the Matthean and Lukan versions, and when we come to verses 21-22 below.

2. A period of warfare among the nations (vv. 7-8a). Syntactically, the second and third signs should be discussed together; however, thematically, it is useful to keep them distinct:

“And when you should hear of wars and the hearings [i.e. rumors] of wars, you must not be frightened (by these things)—they need to come to be, but the completion (of them) is not yet (here). For nation will rise upon nation and kingdom upon kingdom…”

This would seem to refer to a period of relatively widespread warfare, involving a number of different nations and kingdoms. The book of Revelation describes something similar in the visions of the first four seals (i.e. the four horses and riders) in 6:2-8—they represent an intense period of war which has a devastating effect upon society. For those eager to place these verses in a more precise time-frame, it is virtually impossible to do so, as there have been many periods of widespread warfare from the first century A.D. down to the present time in the 21st century. Also, it may be claimed that Jesus is here referring to a mindset and outlook, reflecting human wickedness and violence, and its effects, as much as to any specific events.

3. Natural disaster and famine (v. 8b). This continues from the description of the period of warfare:

“…(and) there will be shakings [i.e. earthquakes] down in (many) places, (and) there will (also) be (time)s of hunger [i.e. famine]…

In the seal visions of Revelation, famine and food-shortage also follows the period of warfare among the nations (6:5-6, 8b), as well as “shakings” of the earth (vv. 12-13ff). Interestingly, there is no real indication that the book of Revelation is consciously following the Eschatological Discourse, even though both passages express the same basic message and traditional sequence. Jesus describes all of these signs in vv. 5-8 with the declaration that “these (are the) beginning of (the birth) pains” (a)rxh\ w)di/nwn tau=ta). Childbirth was frequently used as a metaphor for human suffering, either in the negative sense of pain (and possible death) or the positive sense of the joy which replaces the pain when the child is delivered. Of the many relevant passages in Scripture, cf. Gen 3:16-17; Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17-19; 42:14; 66:7-8; Jer 4:31; 22:23; 48:41; 49:22ff; John 16:21; Gal 4:19. Several other passages in the New Testament use the motif of childbirth, and the pains associated with it, in an eschatological sense or context:

    • The suffering of Judea/Jerusalem predicted by Jesus in Luke 23:28-31, which will be touched on briefly in the study on the Lukan version of the Eschatological discourse.
    • Paul’s statement in Romans 8:22: “we see that all creation groans together and is in pain together until now”.
    • The vision of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12.

In fact, the eschatological motif is traditional; the time of suffering, marking the end of the current Age, came to be referred to as “the birth pains of the Messiah”.

Mark 13:9-13

Surely to be included among the “signs” of things which must occur before the end is the prediction of persecution and suffering of Jesus’ disciples, implying a period of missionary work which would extend outside the confines of Judea into the Gentile world. This idea was fundamental to New Testament eschatology at the time the Gospels were written (c. 60-80 A.D.), and especially so in the Gospel of Luke. It is less pronounced and developed in Mark, but it is still present (v. 10), as part of the Synoptic tradition. Verses 9-10 outline the missionary work and reflects the experience (narrated in the book of Acts) of a number of the disciples who were arrested and interrogated by government officials:

    • 9a: Among Jews (in Judea and beyond)—given over to the ruling bodies (“sitting together”, sune/drion, i.e. sanhedrin) & beaten in the places of gathering (“being brought together”, sunagwgh/, i.e. synagogue)
    • 9b: Into the wider world, which presumably include the Gentile kingdoms—made to stand before governors and kings, as a witness to them on behalf of Jesus

The period of early Christian mission is stated succinctly in verse 10:

“And first it is necessary to proclaim the good message into all the nations.”

It is easy to misunderstand the significance of this, as though it required an extensive worldwide mission (in the modern sense) before the end would come. Matthew’s version (24:14) does suggest something of the kind, but we must be cautious about reading that wording into Mark’s account. The use of the adverb prw=ton (“first”) here in Mark, I believe, is intended primarily to make clear what might seem obvious—before the disciples will experience these things, they must first begin to proclaim the Gospel (“good message”). It establishes the need for the early Christian mission, without any real indication of the time-period involved.

The persecution which Jesus’ disciples will experience is further summarized in three distinct sayings:

    • A promise that the Holy Spirit will inspire the disciples, giving them the ability to speak and offer a defense (v. 11)
    • Following Jesus will lead to violent splits within families (v. 12)
    • A declaration of the hatred believers will face from people, along with an exhortation to endure and remain faithful (v. 13)

This last saying involves an eschatological promise of salvation—i.e. the heavenly reward of (eternal) Life:

“But the one remaining under unto the completion, this (one) will be saved.”

We are accustomed to viewing this as a promise to all believers, and, indeed this is appropriate; however, if we consider it strictly in terms of the historical situation (i.e. the disciples whom Jesus was actually addressing at the time), it would tend to support the expectation that the end was to come within the lifetime of the first disciples.

It is interesting to note that the seal-visions in Revelation also include a reference to the persecution of believers (cf. the fifth seal, 6:9-11) in a roughly similar sequence.

Mark 13:14-23

Another intense period of suffering and distress is described in vv. 14-23, with certain similarities to what has gone before in the Discourse. This raises the question as to whether the three sections—vv. 5-8, 9-13, and 14-23—are meant to describe sequential events or are different ways of describing the same general period (i.e. of events to occur before the end). Verses 9-13, referring to the persecution of believers, presumably is not meant to be taken as a period of time separate from the suffering in vv. 5-8 and 14-23. If these various sayings were originally uttered in different settings, this can no longer be reconstructed; we must work from the arrangement in the Discourse as it has come down to us. I suspect that vv. 5-13 are meant to be taken together as referring to the same ‘stage’, if you will; the exact relationship to vv. 14-23 is less certain. From a literary standpoint, the wording in verse 14 is transitional, creating a point of contrast with the promise of salvation in v. 13 (“But when you see…”). The exact setting or scenario described in this section is rather vague and allusive, at least in the Markan version of the Discourse. Several points can be determined with certainty:

    • It involves an allusion to Daniel 9:27 (v. 14)
    • It refers to something which will be localized in Judea
    • It involves suffering and trauma which will upset much, or all, of society (vv. 14b-19)
    • It will be an especially intense, though brief, period of suffering (v. 20)
    • In the midst of it, there will be false Messiahs and false prophets (vv. 21-22)

In Luke’s version (to be discussed), this is all presented in terms of a military invasion of Jerusalem. However, it is poor method simply to read this into Mark’s version, which otherwise makes no clear reference to such an invasion (apart, possibly, from the allusion to Dan 9:27). Even so, it must be said that nearly all of vv. 14-22 could well fit the setting of the war of 66-70 A.D. and the ultimate siege and destruction of Jerusalem, according to the historical accounts narrated by Josephus. This will be discussed in the concluding part of our study.

In my view, all of verses 5-22 describe a single, intense (and relatively brief?) period of suffering and distress which precedes the coming of the end. It is the same period, with three different points of focus:

    • The effect on the world (nations) and people in general (vv. 5-8)
    • The effect on the disciples (believers) (vv. 9-13)
    • The effect on Judea (and Jerusalem) (vv. 14-22)

Jesus’ concluding words in verse 23 are often overlooked, but they are important in the way that they clearly summarize and mark off the events preceding the end from the end itself: “And (now) you must look (closely): (for) I have spoke all (thing)s to you before(hand)”. The disciples now have all they need to recognize the signs that the end is about to come.

Mark 13:24-27

The description of the end itself begins in verse 24, as indicated clearly by the opening words:

“But in those days after that (time of) distress [qli=yi$]…”

The period covered by vv. 5-22 is called qli=yi$ (“crushing [force], pressure, [dis]tress”), the same word used, in a very similar sense, in Revelation 1:9 and 7:14. In translation, the word has taken on a life of its own in modern eschatology as “the Great Tribulation” (from the phrase in Rev 7:14). It is important, however, to stay rooted to the Greek text, and remain focused, for the moment, on the Eschatological Discourse here in Mark. Nothing more is said about this “distress”, only what comes after it—namely, the appearance of the Son of Man. This appearance is accompanied by an upheaval of the natural order of things in the universe, drawing upon the ancient/traditional language of theophany—i.e. the manifestation of God within creation. Nature itself can not withstand the appearance of God, falling and submitting before him; moreover, the forces of nature and the heavens are obedient to God and work as servants on His behalf. This sort of imagery is expressed numerous times in the Old Testament, especially in Prophets, where it begins to take on an eschatological coloring. The description in vv. 24-26 by Jesus is taken from passages such as Isaiah 13:10; 14:12; 34:4; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; and Ezek 32:7. The sixth seal-vision in Revelation 6:12-14ff describes similar cosmic phenomena, but without culminating in the appearance of the Son of Man. That moment is described here as follows:

“Then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming in/on (the) clouds with much power and splendor.” (v. 27)

This is largely drawn from Daniel 7:13-14, but apparently with a difference in orientation—instead of the Son of Man coming toward God (v. 13), he comes to earth as God’s representative to judge humankind and deliver the faithful ones among God’s people (more closely related to v. 14). It is the latter aspect of deliverance which is emphasized by Jesus in verse 28:

“And then he will send forth the Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) [his] (chosen one)s gathered out, (from) out of the four winds, from the (farthest) point of earth unto the (farthest) point of heaven.”

This is salvation in the proper New Testament sense—deliverance from sin and wickedness at the end-time and being saved from the final Judgment. Only in the later strands of the New Testament do we see a definite shift from final (eschatological) salvation to the experience of believers in the present (i.e. ‘realized’ eschatology).

For more on the influence of Daniel in the Eschatological Discourse, cf. the supplemental study on 7:13-14 and 9:27.

Mark 13:28-31

Here we encounter two of the more controversial pieces in the Eschatological Discourse: (a) the illustration of the fig tree (vv. 28-29) and (b) the saying on “this generation” in v. 30.

On the surface the parable/illustration of the fig tree is simple and straightforward, being similar in style to the mustard seed/tree parable (Mk 4:30-32 par). It also resembles the illustration on interpreting the ‘signs of the time’ in Luke 12:54-56 / Matt 16:1-3. As in a number of Jesus’ parables, it uses an easily understandable observation from farming and the natural world to describe some aspect of the Kingdom. Though not specifically indicated here as a Kingdom-parable, it may fairly be characterized as relating to the end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God. The comparison is clear enough:

    • When the branch is soft and puts out leaves, you can tell that summer is near (v. 28)
    • When the disciples see “these things [tau=ta]” coming to pass, they will know that “it is near” (v. 29)

In context, “these (thing)s” can only refer to the signs Jesus has spoken of in vv. 5-22—the things which are to take place before the end comes. Similarly, the generic statement “it is near…”, refers to the coming of the end—specifically, the coming of the Son of Man which ushers in the final Judgment. The exact phrase used is “it is near upon the gates”, which could be an allusion to the gates of the city (Jerusalem), though it need not be taken that concretely.

It has become popular in some circles to identify the fig tree as a particular symbol of Israel (the people or nation/state). This, however, is misplaced. The fig tree and vine together serve as symbols of blessing and fruitfulness, but in a general, proverbial sense; it can, of course, be applied to Israel as God’s people, but only in Hosea 9:10 is there anything like a direct connection (fig tree = Israel). The blossoming fig branch here refers not to Israel, but to the coming of the end and the appearance of the Son of Man.

In verses 30-31 we have two seemingly unrelated sayings; they are connected by common use of the verb pare/rxomai (“come/go along[side]”). This is an example of what commentators call “catchword-bonding”, and serves as evidence in support of the view that the Discourse is a collection of sayings, etc, which may originally have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions. Early Christians brought this material together, arranging it by theme (eschatology) or on the basis of common words and phrases. This would have begun to occur at the level of oral tradition, helping the earliest believers to remember and transmit the teachings of Jesus, and continued as the first collections were written down. It is possible that Jesus did utter both sayings together, and that the wordplay is his own, but given the many examples of “catchword-bonding” in the Gospel tradition, the critical view seems more likely. Here are the two sayings taken together:

    • “Amen, I relate to you that this (period of) coming to be [genea/] shall (certainly) not go along [pare/lqh|] until the (time at) which all these (thing)s shall come to be.” (v. 30)
    • “The heaven and the earth will go along [pareleu/sontai], but my words [lo/goi] will not (ever) go along [pareleu/sontai].” (v. 31)

The first saying uses the verb in connection with the noun genea/, which fundamentally refers to something coming to be (born) [vb. gi/nomai], often in the sense of (1) a group of people from a common line of birth, or (2) an age or period when people were born (and lived). In both cases, the English word “generation” (itself related to the Greek) is typically used to translate. Here, for the first time in the Discourse, Jesus addresses the initial question posed by the disciples in verse 4: “When will these (thing)s be?” As the saying in verse 30 makes clear, “these things” will take place before “this generation” goes away. A more precise interpretation of the time indicated here is difficult and has proven controversial, for a variety of reasons (and cf. verse 32 as a word of caution). It will be discussed in more detail in the article on “imminent eschatology” in the sayings of Jesus.

The second saying (v. 31), in context, serves to reinforce the reliability of Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the end. His words will last longer than heaven and earth themselves (i.e. the created order), remaining after the physical universe has disappeared. There may be an allusion to Scriptures such as Isa 40:8; 51:6; Psalm 119:89; cf. also Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:18.

Mark 13:32-37

The Discourse concludes with a short block of material that centers around a parable by Jesus, utilizing the familiar setting of the master who goes away and the servants who work in his absence. Jesus used this story framework repeatedly, including a number of other parables (discussed earlier in Parts 2 and 3 of the study on the Parables) which have an eschatological orientation. The parable itself occurs in verses 34-36; we may outline this section as follows:

    • Saying on the day and hour when the end will come (v. 32)
    • Exhortation for the disciples to watch and stay alert (v. 33)
    • Parable of the Returning Master (vv. 34-36)
    • Second Exhortation to stay alert (v. 37)

On the whole, the section continues Jesus’ answer of the disciples’ question “When will these things be?” Beyond the basic declaration that they will occur before “this generation” goes away, Jesus makes clear in verse 32 that the disciples cannot know the time with any more precision: “About that day or th(at) hour, no one has seen [i.e. no one knows]”. Commentators and students can be tripped up by reading too much theological (and Christological) significance in the the second half of the saying, which states that neither the (heavenly) Messengers nor the Son (of Man) know the time, but only God the Father. It makes for interesting speculation, but all Jesus is really saying is that the disciples cannot know the exact time—it is one of the “secrets of the Kingdom” (4:11) which has not been revealed to them. Indeed, the overriding message of this section, driven home by the parable and the double-exhortation to stay awake, is that “these things” could occur at any time:

“(So) then you must keep awake—for you have not seen [i.e. do not know] when the lord of the house comes…” (v. 35a)

The figure of the returning master, can be interpreted at several levels, based on one’s view of the development of the Gospel tradition:

    • A general reference to God’s appearance to bring the end-time Judgment
    • This divine visitation as taking place through the Son of Man as God’s appointed/anointed representative
    • The return of Jesus, who is identified as the Son of Man

By the time the Gospels were written, among early Christians the latter would certainly have been in view. For more on the background of the expression and title “Son of Man”, and the identification of Jesus with this heavenly/Messianic figure, cf. Part 10 of the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Supplemental Study: Eschatology and the Temple

Supplemental Study:
Eschatology and the Temple

This article is meant as a supplement to the current series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament. In our study of the “Eschatological Discourse” in the Synoptic Gospels, we saw how it begins with Jesus’ prediction of the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). The Discourse itself proceeds literally in view of the Temple (v. 3), which continues to play a role in Jesus’ instruction, especially as presented in the Lukan version of the Discourse. Thus it is worth considering the place of the Temple in the eschatology of the time, and how such existing traditions and belief might be reflected in the New Testament. There will be three parts to this study:

    1. The Temple in Jewish Eschatological and Messianic Thought—focusing on evidence prior to, or contemporary with, the Gospels
    2. The Temple-Action & Temple-Saying(s) of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition
    3. Early Christian Views of the Temple with a possible Eschatological aspect

1. The Temple in Jewish Eschatological and Messianic Thought

In the surviving texts from the first centuries B.C./A.D. (i.e. 250 B.C.-100 A.D.), there are a number of passages which indicate the role the Jerusalem Temple was thought to play in Jewish eschatology, which, for the most part, is closely connected with Messianic expectations of the time. Generally speaking, the end time, marked by the appearance of specific Anointed (Messiah) figures, was characterized by two expectations: (1) the deliverance/restoration of Israel (or the faithful remnant), and (2) the judgment of the wicked/nations. Central to both of these components, or aspects, was the location of Jerusalem, which had the Temple at its religious/spiritual heart. Already in the Old Testament Prophets—especially the second half of Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66)—the promise of return from exile had begun to be expressed in eschatological language, envisioning an ideal time of peace and prosperity, etc, for the faithful ones among the people of Israel, a New Age for the people of God.

Much of this eschatological expectation was current at the time of Jesus, and it informs the worldview of the New Testament. Perhaps the best evidence for it is found in the narrative of Luke-Acts, where the devout in Israel are described as awaiting the coming of this New Age, and, with it, the deliverance of the faithful—cf. Lk 1:32-33, 54-55, 68-75; 2:25-26ff, 38, etc. In Acts 1:6ff, the disciples ask Jesus specifically about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, indicating an expectation of the sort outlined above. It is significant that, of all the Gospels, the Temple has the most prominent role in Luke (or Luke-Acts, cf. below).

Especially important for the New Testament view of the Temple is the idea that the restoration of Israel would entail a rebuilding of Jerusalem, and, in particular, a rebuilding/restoration of the Temple. This is suggested already in several passages in the Prophets, esp. (Deutero-)Isaiah—cf. Isa 44:28; 56:5ff; 60:7, 13; 66:20). The Exile, following the destruction of the first (Solomonic) Temple, provides the background for this restoration imagery. The establishment of Israel in the land would require a rebuilding of Jerusalem and a newly-rebuilt Temple. This is presented, in idealized form, in the final chapters of Ezekiel. The new Temple itself is described, in considerable detail, in chapters 40-43. Even after the Temple was rebuilt—even the second (Herodian) Temple in all its splendor (Mark 13:1-2 par; cf. Josephus Antiquities 15.380-425; Wars 5.184-227)—this idea of a New Temple persisted, being cast in an eschatological form. Many Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. recognized that the Herodian Temple, in reality, was far from the idealized portrait of the restored Temple found in the Prophetic writings. This is reflected in a number of Jewish texts from this period, where it is expressed, in different ways, that the true Temple will yet be built (by God) at the end-time. We see this, for example, in Tobit 14:15 and 2 Macc 2:7; it is formulated in more figurative language in 1 Enoch 90:28ff. Other passages to note in writings from the 1st centuries B.C./A.C., where this is stated or implied, are Jubilees 1:15-17ff; Psalms of Solomon 17:32; and Testament of Benjamin 9:2. For a good survey and discussion, cf. E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985), pp. 77-85.

The leadership of the Community of the Qumran texts was represented by a group of priests who had separated from the religious establishment of Jerusalem. In their view, the current (Herodian) Temple was corrupt, due to the improper conduct of the priesthood officiating and managing the cultic apparatus of the Temple. They envisioned a new Temple, in the manner described in Ezek 40-43, which would soon be built at the end-time. This is best expressed in the Temple Scroll (11QTemple), where the building, and its priestly operation, are depicted in considerable detail. It is an idealized Temple, viewed, it would seem, in terms of a sanctification of the current Temple. At the same time, it is only a temporary earthly sanctuary, to last (presumably a Messianic age/period) until the final creation by God—i.e. a Temple made by God himself (11QTemple 29:8-10).

Thus, at the time of Jesus, the Temple would have played a prominent role in eschatological and Messianic thought. This helps us to understand the place of the Temple in a number of key points in the Gospel Tradition, and elsewhere in the New Testament as well. The eschatological implications of these passages, based on what we have discussed above, must be examined. We will begin with the Temple action and sayings of Jesus in the Gospels.

2. The Temple Action and Saying(s) of Jesus

a. The Temple Action

The Temple Action, otherwise known as the “Cleansing of the Temple” by Jesus, is recorded in all four Gospels—both in the Synoptics (Mk 11:15-19; Matt 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48) and the Gospel of John (2:13-22). In spite of the difference in location within the Gospel narrative, it is all but certain that the Synoptic and Johannine accounts go back to a single historical episode and tradition. I have discussed the meaning and significance of the episode in considerable detail as part of the series “Jesus and the Law”, and in a series of earlier notes, and will not repeat all of that here. Rather, I will focus on the possible eschatological implications of the action, in light of the role of the Temple discussed in section 1 above. The following points should be considered:

    • (i) Whether the action symbolizes the destruction of the Temple
    • (ii) A new/restored purpose for the Temple—whether, or to what extent, this reflects the eschatological idea of the coming New Age
    • (iii) The Scriptures cited or alluded to in the episode
    • (iv) The connection with Jesus’ “triumphal entry” and death

i. It has been thought that the act of upturning the tables more properly signifies destruction rather than “cleansing”. While the eschatological idea of a new Temple does not necessarily require destruction of the old, it is perhaps the most natural way to think of the process. In favor of this interpretation of Jesus’ act, at the historical level, we may note:

    • The Prophetic tradition of using symbolic acts to indicate the coming Judgment by God—cf. .
    • The citation of Jer 7:11 (cf. below) implies the destruction of Jerusalem
    • The generally close connection, in the Synoptic narrative at least, with the Temple saying reported during the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (in Mark/Matt), as well as the prediction of the Temple’s destruction—on both of these, cf. below.
    • In John’s version, the action is connected with the idea of the Temple’s destruction, through the saying in 2:19ff.

At the same time, a number of key details in the narrative point in a different direction.

ii. Certain elements of the Temple action, as narrated in the Gospels, suggest that the symbolism involves a renewal of the existing Temple, giving to it a new purpose. The overturning of the tables, etc, is just one aspect of Jesus’ action; he also is said to have driven out the people doing business (buying and selling) in the Temple precincts. Many readers and commentators assume that this relates to corruption and dishonesty among the traders and money-changers, etc; however, apart from the citation from Jer 7:11, there is little evidence of this. Rather, Jesus seems to be striking a (symbolic) blow at the very commercial apparatus necessary to maintain the functioning of the Temple as a place for sacrificial offerings. In Mark’s account, Jesus goes so far as to forbid persons carrying anything (i.e. performing any sort of ordinary business) as they went through the Temple (on this detail, cf. below). All of this suggests that Jesus has in mind a different role and purpose for the Temple, and this would seem to be confirmed by the citation from Isa 56:7 (discussed below)—it is to be a place devoted to prayer.

iii. There are four Scriptures associated with the Temple action by Jesus: (1) Isa 56:7 and (2) Jer 7:11, both cited by Jesus in the Synoptic versions; (3) Psalm 69:9, in John’s version; and (4) Zech 14:21b in relation to the main historical tradition.

Isaiah 56:7—The verse reads, “…My House will be called a house of petition/prayer [hL*p!T=] for all the peoples”. The message of Isa 56:1-8 is that all people who adhere to the Law of God (including Gentiles and foreigners) will become part of God’s people gathered in from exile. This is one of several Prophetic passages which refer to the nations (Gentiles, non-Israelites) coming to Jerusalem to worship the true God (cf. above; Isa 2:2-4 / Mic 4:1-4 provides a classic formulation of this idea). Subsequently in Jewish tradition, such passages came to be understood in an eschatological sense. Moreover, this is a key text underlying a new/restored purpose for the Temple—i.e., as a place of prayer rather than sacrifice. Certain Gospel traditions and sayings of Jesus already point in this direction, away from the sacrificial/cultic machinery of the Temple (see esp. Matt 12:5-7). It is important to note that even in Luke-Acts, which presents the most extensive (and positive) portrait of the historical Temple, believers are virtually never depicted as participating in the sacrificial ritual (Acts 21:26-27ff is an exception); it is the aspect of prayer, teaching and worship which is emphasized—cf. Luke 1:10; 2:37, 46; 18:10; 19:47 (note the close proximity to v. 45); 20:1; 21:37; 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20ff; 22:17. Cf. also further below on Rev 8:3 and 11:1.

Jeremiah 7:11—Jesus contrasts “house of prayer” in Isa 56:7 with “cavern of thieves/plunderers” in Jer 7:11. This portion from Jeremiah has something of a different meaning in its original context. Jer 7:1-29 is a lengthy oracle condemning the evils committed throughout Judah (delivered by the prophet while standing in the gate of the Temple, v. 2); this includes a familiar prophetic denunciation of those who commit evil and yet come to the Temple to participate in the sacred ritual (vv. 8ff). The bitter question is asked in verse 11:

“Has it become a cave of violent (men) in your eyes, this house of which My Name is called upon it?”

The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew literally, using the approximate phrase “cavern of plunderers” (sph/laion lh|stw=n); Jesus’ quotation follows the LXX phrase. It is an oracle of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (see section i. above). Verse 13ff warns that, because the people (including the priests and religious leaders) have done the things described in the oracle, Judah will face the same judgment (invasion/destruction/exile) experienced by the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria; this judgment will include the destruction of the Temple (v. 14).

The combination of Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 results in the following logic: the Temple is intended as place of prayer and worship, but has been corrupted and so will be destroyed. This corruption extends to the administration of the Temple, and the business needed to maintain the sacrificial ritual (money-changers, sellers of animals, etc).

Psalm 69:9—If the quotation of Isa 56:7/Jer 7:11 was part of the common tradition, the Gospel of John has omitted it—replacing it with different/historical words of Jesus, or, perhaps, ‘explaining’ the quotation. Another Scripture appears in the parenthesis, from Psalm 69:9: “The ‘zeal’ of [i.e. for] your house has eaten me (up)”. The word usually translated “zeal/jealousy” (ha*n+q!) has the basic sense of “(burning) red”, the Greek word zh=lo$ properly “heat/fervor”. The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew quite literally, and the quotation in John follows the LXX (B), reading the future tense (katefa/getai “will eat me down [i.e. devour me]”). The future form, of course, betters suited the verse as a prophecy related to Jesus; indeed, reflection on Psalm 69 helped shape the Gospel tradition of his Passion (as indicated in v. 17a), and is doubtless one of the key texts used to show that the Messiah must suffer and die (see especially Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). There is a slight ambiguity here in the Psalm: while the ‘zeal’ is generally understood of the protagonist (or Psalmist)—that he is consumed with (righteous) fervor—it could also be taken to mean, in the overall context of suffering, that his righteous zeal has caused him to be “eaten up” by his enemies. The citation in the Gospel could be interpreted, or made to apply, either way. Since it is associated with Jesus’ “cleansing” action, the image primarily would be the intense nature (all-consuming fire) of his ‘zeal’ for God’s house; but it is also possible that a bit of wordplay is involved—a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death that connects with the Temple saying in vv. 19-22. On this particular association, cf. section iv. below.

Zechariah 14:21—Many commentators feel that the historical tradition of the Temple action, as a whole, has been shaped by the closing words of Zechariah (14:21): “…and in that day there will not be merchants/traders [yn]u&n~K=] any more in the house of YHWH…”. The oracle in Zech 14 draws upon the Prophetic tradition of the nations coming to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship God there (along with Israel), but casts it in a more definite eschatological setting, taking place after the great Judgment against the nations (vv. 1-15). Those who survive will turn to worship the true God (vv. 16ff), coming to worship YHWH in the Temple at the appropriate times (the festival of Sukkoth/Booths is particularly mentioned). Verses 20-21 indicate that in this (end) time, the Temple be given a new or special consecration, extending to every utensil involved in the ritual. There is a bit of wordplay involved with the noun /u^n~K=, which could be read either as “Canaanite” (i.e. a pagan foreigner) or as a technical term for a merchant/trader (a traditional occupation for ‘Canaanites’ [Phoenicians, Syrians, etc]). The LXX understands the former, but most commentators today opt for the latter meaning, which may also have been in mind in the Gospel tradition here.

iv. The Temple action, in the Synoptic narrative at least, follows closely after Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11 par), beginning the final period in Jerusalem prior to his death. These two associations—the triumphal entry and death of Jesus—in context, must be examined. All four Gospels narrate the triumphal entry with Messianic details and allusions, drawing attention to Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic-ruler type. The reaction of the crowd (vv. 8-10 par) makes it clear that many people regarded Jesus as this figure, and that his entry into Jerusalem marked the arrival of the Davidic Messiah into the holy city. Moreover, the narrative details echo Zech 9:9, an association made explicit by the Gospel writer in Matt 21:4-5 and John 12:14-15. There are obvious Messianic connotations in Zech 9, as through much of chaps. 9-14, which helped shape the Gospel (Passion) Narrative and early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. The appearance of Jesus as the Messiah, for early believers and many Jews of the time, would have meant that the end of the current Age was at hand, and that the new time of the Kingdom of God (i.e. the Messianic Age) would be established by Jesus in Jerusalem. The subsequent Temple-action by Jesus must be understood with this context in mind.

Ultimately, however, the early Christian recognition of Jesus as the Anointed One, departed from the traditional conceptions, and was made unique through the historical reality of his death and resurrection—aspects foreign to most Messianic thought. The structure of the Synoptic Passion narrative sets the Temple action in the general context of Jesus’ death; at the historical level, such an action would have increased the opposition to him from the religious establishment, and, presumably, helped to spur his arrest. Certainly, Jesus’ view of the Temple played a role in his interrogation before the Council, at least according to the Synoptic (Mark/Matt) version. Despite the Johannine location of the Temple action at a much earlier point in the Gospel narrative, there is still a clear connection with Jesus’ death—the Temple saying (cf. below) occurs in this context, and is interpreted (by the Gospel writer) explicitly as a prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection (2:19-22). There are definite eschatological implications to the Temple saying(s), as we will discuss.

b. The Temple Saying(s)

The Temple features in a number of sayings and parables of Jesus, but there are several which are especially relevant and, indeed, would seem to relate to the significance of the Temple-action (cf. above). These may be reduced to a pair of historical traditions:

    1. A saying about destroying and rebuilding the Temple (in three days)
    2. A prediction of the Temple’s destruction

Saying 1: Destroying and rebuilding the Temple. There are several sources indicating that Jesus made a statement to the effect that the Temple would be destroyed and (miraculously) rebuilt. These will be examined briefly (for a more detailed analysis, cf. the earlier studies on the subject [links at the beginning of Section 2 above]).

i. Jesus before the Sanhendrin. In the Synoptic account (in Mark/Matthew) of Jesus’ interrogation before the Council (Sanhedrin), it is recorded that witnesses came forward reporting that Jesus claimed he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. The Gospels differ in the exact formulation given:

    • Mark: “I will loose down [i.e. destroy] this shrine made with hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another house made without hands.” (14:58)
    • Matt: “I am able to loose down [i.e. destroy] this shrine, and, through [i.e. after] three days, to build the house (again).” (26:60)

These witnesses are referred to as false witnesses, implying that Jesus never claimed such a thing, or that they are misrepresenting what he said. Most critical commentators assume that the historical Jesus did, in fact, make a statement along these lines; and this would seem to be confirmed by the other sources. It is certainly possible, however, that these witnesses, at the historical level, were distorting a genuine saying of Jesus. The context of the Synoptic narrative presents two traditions which may relate to this report during Jesus’ interrogation: (a) the Temple action (cf. above), and (b) the prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:1-2 par. If the idea of the destruction of the (current) Temple, and the building of a new Temple, had eschatological significance—i.e., marking the end of the current Age and beginning of the new (cf. Section 1 above)—then such a statement by Jesus could be taken to imply that he was claiming to be a Messiah figure who would usher in the end-time. This certainly appears to have been central to the interrogation, according to Mk 14:61-62 par.

ii. The Lukan evidence in Acts 6:13-14. Interestingly, Luke’s version of the interrogation scene does not include the detail of the false witnesses and the saying they report. If this is a deliberate omission, there may be several reasons for it:

    • The author wished to narrow the focus of the scene to the primary exchange between the Council and Jesus (Lk 22:67-70)
    • It reflects the more positive portrait of the Temple in Luke-Acts, including references to early believers continuing to frequent it
    • Luke was aware that Jesus did make a statement of the kind, as reflected in Stephen’s preaching
    • The detail was reserved for the interrogation of Stephen, which follows the general pattern of Jesus’ interrogation (Acts 6:12-7:1ff)

All three explanations are potentially valid, on literary and thematic grounds. The claims made in Acts 6:13-14 certainly are similar to the reports by the ‘false witnesses’:

“This man does not cease speaking words against [this] Holy Place and the Law—for we heard him saying that this (man) Yeshua the Nazarean will loose down [i.e. destroy] this Place…”

The same verb (katalu/w, “loose down”, i.e. dissolve/destroy) occurs here as in Mk 14:58 par. Given the points made in the sermon-speech which follows (chap. 7), it seems probable that Stephen did report an authentic Temple-saying by Jesus, and followed it in his own preaching.

iii. The Johannine Temple scene. John’s version of the Temple action (2:13-17) is followed by a Temple saying by Jesus, similar to that reported by the ‘false witnesses’ (cf. above):

“Loose [i.e. destroy] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (again)” (v. 19)

Instead of katalu/w, the simple lu/w (“loose[n]”) is used here, but with essentially the same meaning. The Gospel writer explains that this statement by Jesus is a symbolic reference to his eventual death and resurrection (vv. 21-22). Thus, in the Johannine version, for both the Temple action and saying, the original eschatological and Messianic connotations (such as there were) have been replaced almost entirely by a typological application to the person of Jesus—spec. his death and resurrection—fully in keeping with the approach taken by the Gospel of John.

Saying 2: Destruction of the Temple. The Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” begins with a prediction by Jesus of the Temple’s destruction:

“Are you look(ing) at these great buildings? There shall not be left (at all) here stone upon stone which shall not be loosed down!” (Mk 13:2)

This prediction was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Its position in the Discourse gives it an unquestionable eschatological significance. The implication is that the Temple’s destruction occurs as the climax of a great period of distress which will come upon Judea (and Jerusalem) prior to the end-time Judgment and appearance of the Son of Man (vv. 14-23ff). The Lukan version describes the time of distress more precisely in military terms as the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24; cf. also 19:41-44). The coming of the Son of Man (vv. 25-28) follows this terrible event. For more on the Eschatological Discourse, cf. the current 4-part study in this series.

Thus we see that the Temple-action and Temple-saying(s) by Jesus have eschatological (and Messianic) significance, both at the level of the original historical event/tradition, and they way they these been narrated and presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus consciously responding to the traditional line of eschatological thought, expressed in Section 1 above, that the “restoration of Israel” at the end-time would involve a new/restored Temple? I believe that the answer must be regarded as affirmative, though with some qualification. From the earlier studies on the eschatology in the Sayings and Parables of Jesus, we have seen how Jesus repeatedly began from the point of the traditional expectation, but then proceeded to re-interpret it, giving it a deeper meaning in relation to his own person and identity (as Messiah and Son of Man). The same appears to be true with regard to the Temple action, and also the Temple saying (in John they are combined together). Three distinct strands can be found in the Gospel tradition:

    • The destruction of the Temple in terms of the end-time Judgment
    • A new/restored role and purpose for the Temple—as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The identification of Jesus himself as the new/true Temple, which also marks the end of the old Covenant and the beginning of the new (in Christ)

Early Christians developed all three strands, though it is the last of these which came to dominate by the end of the New Testament period.

3. Early Christian Views of the Temple

The last two themes mentioned above were applied and developed by early Christians almost immediately, indicating that they followed naturally from Jesus’ own teaching; this pair of themes may be summarized:

    • The Temple as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The Temple fulfilled in the person of Jesus

Both aspects involve the elimination of the sacrificial ritual, allowing for the Temple idea to continue among believers long after the historical Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Already in the Gospel tradition, several statements by Jesus identify the Temple with his own person, and, by implication, that following him effectively takes the place of fulfilling the Temple ritual (Matt 12:5-8; John 2:19ff, etc). This came to be made more explicit by early Christians, and two areas of the New Testament may be highlighted:

    1. The sacrificial ritual is fulfilled and completed (i.e. put to an end) by Jesus’ own (sacrificial) death. This is expressed all throughout the body of Hebrews (4:14-10:18), as well as in passages such as Rom 3:25; Eph 5:2; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
    2. Believers in Jesus are priests, able to touch the holy things and to enter, in a spiritual manner, the sacred shrine through our union with Christ. Cf. 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; also Rom 15:16.

Combining both ideas leads to the core image of believers, collectively and in community, as the body of Christ—i.e., the (true) Temple and House of God. This is found numerous times in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; and especially Eph 2:19-22. In 2 Cor 5:1, it refers to the eternal life awaiting believers following death and resurrection; in this regard, there is a clear echo of the Temple-saying of Jesus (in Mk 14:58), with its use of the adjective a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”; cf. also Col 2:11 and the wording in Acts 7:41, 48, 50 [referring to Temples]). In John 2:19ff, the Temple-saying of Jesus was interpreted precisely in terms of his death and resurrection, in which believers now have a share. The idea of believers as the (spiritual) house of God is also found in 1 Pet 2:5; cf. also Rev 3:12.

While these references are all eschatological, in the qualified sense that they relate to the New Age that is realized for believers in Christ, there are several passages which specifically mention the Temple in the more traditional (futurist) sense of eschatology—i.e., referring to events to come in/at the end-time.

a. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4ff—This will be discussed in detail in the study on eschatology in the letters of Paul, but it is worth pointing out here the connection with the Dan 9:27 tradition alluded to by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:14 par). The reference would seem to be clearly to the historical Jerusalem Temple, indicating a time-frame within the first century A.D., in spite of the historical/chronological difficulties this poses for us today. As in the Eschatological Discourse, this desecration of the Temple is part of coming time of great distress which precedes the end-time appearance/return of Jesus (vv. 7-8).

b. The visions of Revelation (esp. 11:1-2)—The Temple features as a setting/locale for several of the visions in the book of Revelation (cf. the current series of daily notes, where they are being discussed, at the appropriate place). Since these are symbolic visions, while they draw upon the historical image (and idea) of the Temple, they should not be taken as referring to the physical Jerusalem Temple itself. Indeed, most of the references refer to a temple/shrine in Heaven (7:15; 11:19; 14:15ff; 16:1, 17). Thus, while they occur in the context of the the eschatological visions, they do not describe the role of the Temple in the end-time per se.

The situation is a bit different, however, with the scene in 11:1-2, where the visionary prophet (John) is commanded to measure the Temple of God in the “holy city”. As this passage is to be discussed in the current daily notes on Revelation, I will not go into it here, except to say that, in my view, it primarily refers to Christians collectively, in the sense outlined above. The true and faithful believers are those worshiping at the altar (symbolizing prayer and devotion), and they are protected from the Judgment, while those in the outer court (presumably to be understood as false believers) will suffer when it is trampled/destroyed by the “nations”.

c. The final vision of Rev 21:9ff (v. 22)—The key eschatological reference to the Temple in the book of Revelation is found in the vision of the “holy city”, the heavenly Jerusalem, in 21:9-27. There it is stated clearly in verse 22:

“And I saw no shrine [i.e. Temple] in it; for the Lord God the All-mighty (One) is its shrine, and (so also is) the Lamb.”

This provides an eschatological setting for the early Christian idea discussed above—that the true/real Temple is to be identified with the person of Jesus (the Lamb). According to the fundamental theology in the book, developed from a long line of Christian tradition, the exalted Jesus stands and rules side-by-side with God the Father (YHWH) in Heaven, sharing the same divine authority. Thus here in the vision, God and Jesus (the Lamb) together represent the true Temple.

Appendix: A Rebuilt Temple at the End-Time?

In Section 1 above I discussed the idea of a new and/or restored Temple as part of Jewish eschatological and Messianic expectation—part of the overall belief in the restoration of Israel at the end-time. There are, in fact, only two Scripture passages which specifically indicate that the Temple (originally destroyed in 587 B.C.) would be rebuilt: (1) Isa 44:28, and (2) the vision of the new Temple in Ezek 40-48. The former can be taken simply as a reference to the initial rebuilding under Zerubbabel (c. 516), which really leaves only Ezek 40-43ff to support the idea of a future Temple built at the end-time. The Herodian Temple of the 1st-century B.C./A.D., for all its grandeur, clearly did not fulfill the vision of Ezekiel in many important respects. The Qumran Community continued to emphasize the idea of a new/rebuilt Temple yet to come, along the lines of the idealized portrait in Ezekiel (the Temple Scroll [11QTemple], cf. above). Surprisingly, however, there is little or no evidence for this in the New Testament, apart from the Temple-saying by Jesus, and the Gospel treatment of that tradition is notoriously ambiguous (as discussed in Section 2 above). The lack of early Christian interest in a new/rebuilt Temple would seem to be due primarily to three factors, already discussed and outlined above:

    • Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment—given that finality, how/when/why would it ever be rebuilt?
    • The sayings and teachings of Jesus eliminating or downplaying the importance of the sacrificial ritual, i.e. the principal purpose for a physical Temple-complex; this includes the identification/substitution of Jesus’ own person and ministry as the true Temple.
    • The corresponding tendency to spiritualize the Temple, as an image symbolizing believers in Christ as a community (body of Christ)—an idea which was already well established before the historical Temple was destroyed.

Even so, some commentators today believe strongly that there will be a Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem at some future point, despite the fact that this contrasts (and conflicts), in many important ways, with the three ideas (and early Christian principles) highlighted above (cf. Section 3 for more detail). The reasons for this belief essentially relate to (a) the need to preserve the accuracy of Biblical prophecy, and (b) the belief that these prophecies are to be fulfilled, in detail, in a concrete and literal way. This involves three areas of Scripture:

The New Testament passages involve the tradition in Dan 9:27, and so, in a sense, must be taken together. In the Eschatological Discourse (on which, see the current study), the allusion to Dan 9:27 is clearly set within the context of events which will occur before the coming of the Son of Man (and the end-time Judgment). Since all of this did not take place prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., historical accuracy would seem to dictate that some or all of the events will have to occur at a future time. If they require the presence of the Jerusalem Temple, as Dan 9:27 and 2 Thess 2:3ff would seem to, then a natural conclusion might be that the Temple will be rebuilt and serve as the setting for these events. There are, however, serious problems with such an interpretive approach; I have already touched on some of these, and will be addressing them in more detail in Part 4 of the study on the Eschatological Discourse, as well as in the study on Paul’s eschatology (in 1-2 Thessalonians). The significance of the Temple in Rev 11:1-2 is discussed at the proper point in the current series of daily notes.

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).