October 12: Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12

This is the second of three episodes in the vision of Chapter 12. In the first episode (vv. 1-6, cf. the previous note), there was portrayed a conflict on earth, in which a mythical dragon-being attacks a woman and her children. The detail would make clear to any Christian reader that it was a narrative regarding the birth of Jesus (as the Messiah) and his life on earth, but told in mythological language familiar to many in the Greco-Roman world, such as in the tale of the Serpent (Python) that threatened the divine child (Apollo) and his mother (Leto). This conflict on earth is picked up again in verse 13, but in between, in verses 7-12, there is narrated a parallel conflict in heaven. This yields the following outline of the chapter:

    • Vv. 1-6: Conflict on earth—The woman and her child are threatened by the dragon
      —Vv. 7-9: War in heaven—Victory of Michael and the (good) Angels
      —Vv. 10-12: War in heaven—Victory Hymn, with praise and warning
    • Vv. 13-17: Conflict on earth—The woman and her children are threatened by the dragon

This generally reflects the ancient (religious) mindset that events and details on earth have their corresponding counterpart in heaven. In particular, conflict (or war) on earth could be indicated, or presaged, by clashes in the heavens (cf. 2 Macc 5:1-4; Josephus War 6.298-9; Lucan Pharsalia 1.578; Tacitus Histories 5.13; Koester, p. 547).

Revelation 12:7a

The conflict in heaven is introduced with the opening statement:

“And there came to be war in the heaven—Mîka’el and his Messengers with the Fabulous (Creature).” (v. 7a)

The heavenly being Mîka’el (la@k*ym!, Greek Mixah/l, Michael), whose name means “Who is like the Mighty One [°E~l, i.e. ‘God’]?”, is a leading Angelic figure, according to Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Daniel 10:13ff; 12:1ff; 1 Enoch 20:5; 24:6; 40:9-10, etc) . The structure of the narrative here indicates that, at the same time as the “Fabulous Creature” (dra/kwn) is attacking the Woman and her children (on earth), he/it is also engaged in battle in heaven.

There is a longstanding and well-established tradition of Angelic warfare, which is similar, in many respects, to the wars between the Gods in various Near Eastern (and Greco-Roman) cosmological myths. Such myths are typically cosmogonic (and theogonic), corresponding to the beginning and process of creation, in which the current world order was established. And, indeed, Jewish traditions regarding the Angelic battle also tend to be set in the primeval time, though the conflict is seen as extending into the present as well (cf. 1 Enoch 6-10; Life of Adam and Eve 12-16; Ascension of Isaiah 7:9-12, etc). Michael plays a key part in this conflict, serving also as the heavenly Protector of God’s people (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; 1 Enoch 20:5; and in the Qumran War Scroll [1 QM]). Jude 9 preserves an earlier Jewish tradition in which Michael contends with the Devil (over the body of Moses). He is also depicted as binding the rebellious Angels in anticipation of their ultimate Judgment (1 Enoch 10:11; 54:6).

Revelation 12:7b-8

“The Fabulous (Creature) made war, and (also) his Messengers (with him), and (yet) they did not have strength (enough) and their place was found (to be) no longer in the heaven.” (vv. 7b-8)

The idea that the Devil (or the Satan) has Angels who support him, and fight on his side, simply reflects the ancient tradition of the Angels who rebelled against God’s established order. It is, however, also specified in passages such as 1 Enoch 54:6; Testament of Dan 6:1; and Matthew 25:41. Under the name Belial, the Evil One (Satan) is depicted as ruler of evil spirits, such as in several of the Qumran texts; also by the title Mastêmâ (Jubilees 10:7ff) and the ancient Canaanite Ba’al-zebul (Mark 3:22). Here, the defeat of the Dragon’s army is described by two phrases:

    • “they did not have strength (enough)” [ou)k i&sxusen]—i.e. they lost the battle, and
    • “their place [to/po$] was found (to be) no longer in heaven” —that is, as a result of the battle, and as punishment for their hostility, they were no longer allowed to reside in heaven

This last point assumes that they previously had been residing in heaven; in the case of the Satan, his presence in heaven is part of the earliest tradition (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1).

Revelation 12:9

“And (so) was thrown (out) the great Fabulous (Creature)—the snake of the beginning, the (one) being called ‘(the One) casting (evil) throughout’ and ‘the Satan‘, the (one) making the whole inhabited (earth) go astray—he was thrown (down) onto the earth, and his Messengers were thrown (down) with him.” (v. 9)

The core tradition is that of the rebellious Angels begin thrown out of heaven, down onto/into the earth (cf. above). However, the visionary here also specifically identifies the mythological Dragon with the Evil One, using a series of titles and descriptive terms:

    • “the snake of the beginning” (o( o&fi$ o( a)rxai=o$)—that is, the Serpent of Genesis 3. Christians were not the first to make such an identification, i.e. of the Satan/Devil with the Serpent, as it had already been established in Jewish tradition (1 Enoch 69:6; Wisdom 2:24; Apocalypse of Moses 16; Apocalypse of Abraham, etc; Koester, p. 549). Here it may also indicate that the “Fabulous Creature” had a snake-like appearance.
    • “the (one) casting (evil) throughout”, or, “the (one) throwing over (accusations/insults)” —this is a literal rendering of the Greek dia/bolo$, typically left transliterated in English as devil, or “the Devil”.
    • “the Satan”, Satana=$ in Greek being a transliteration of the Hebrew /f*c*(h^), “(the) adversary”, “(the) accuser”. Cf. below on verse 10.
    • “the (one) making the whole inhabited (earth) go astray” —this descriptive phrase is centered on the verb plana/w, (“stray, wander”, transitive “cause to stray”). This reflects the basic idea of the Devil as one who both tempts and deceives human beings—cf. Matt 4:1-11 par; John 8:44; 1 Cor 7:5; 2 Cor 11:14; Rev 20:8ff, etc.

For those wishing to place the rebellion and expulsion of Satan (and his Angels) into a specific historical or chronological setting, this passage is problematic, since, on the surface, it suggests that this did not occur until after Jesus’ birth. As mentioned above, Jewish tradition tends to set this event in primordial times (some would interpret Isa 14:12-15 and Ezek 28:16-17 in a similar manner, though this is questionable at best). However, far more important is the symbolism involved—that of the defeat of the forces of evil, represented by the Dragon and his heavenly allies. The expulsion, or casting down out of heaven, serves primarily as a literary device, focusing the conflict with evil entirely on earth. The parallel conflict in heaven has been eliminated. Moreover, the manifest presence of these evil forces on earth also symbolizes the increase of wickedness and persecution that is to occur in the period of distress before the end. There had already been earthly forces of evil (corresponding to the heavenly), but now they are strengthened greatly by the concentrated presence (and power) of the heavenly forces on earth.

A second aspect of the symbolism here is fundamentally Christological; that is, the defeat of the evil powers coincides with Jesus’ presence and work on earth. This idea is expressed at a number of points in the Gospel tradition, most notably the statement by Jesus in Luke 10:18:

“…I looked at the Satan falling out of the heaven as a flash (of lightning).”

Jesus sent out his disciples to minister as his representatives (vv. 1-12), and gave them authority over the evil spirits, etc, this latter point being made only upon their return (vv. 18-19). The disciples’ power over evil spirits (responsible for disease, etc), an extension of Jesus’ own power, is symbolized in terms of the defeat of Satan. It would seem that a similar line of thought is expressed here in Revelation 12 as well.

Revelation 12:10-12

Following the defeat of the Dragon, there is a hymn of praise, introduced generally with the statement, “And I heard a great voice in the heaven saying…”. It is essentially all of heaven that is speaking, i.e. all the holy ones and heavenly beings collectively; from the standpoint of the visionary imagery in the book of Revelation, this must be understood as the people of God in their heavenly aspect:

“Now has come to be the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the e)cousi/a of His Anointed, (in) that [i.e. because] the (one who) brings down (accusation) on our brothers was thrown (down), the (one) bringing down (accusations) in the sight of our God day and night.” (v. 10)

The characterization of the Evil One (i.e. the Dragon) as kath/gwr (vb kathgore/w) reflects the earliest (and primary) aspect of the Satan tradition, as expressed in Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1, where he accuses people of wrongdoing before God’s throne (as a judicial tribunal). This aspect is generally not present in the New Testament, the role of the Satan/Devil having taken on a more common and overtly hostile dimension—i.e. deception, incitement to evil, etc. Thus the visionary here is drawing more directly upon the Old Testament tradition in describing the Satan.

The expression “our brothers”, in referring to human believers, shows the solidarity of heavenly beings with earthly beings, and demonstrates again the dual-aspect of the People of God—both heavenly and earthly. And it is with the heavenly defeat of the Dragon—the earthly defeat being yet to come—the Kingdom of God is now fully realized, at least for those in heaven; however, the promise this message brings for those on earth is also of the greatest significance. Here the “Kingdom” is comprised of salvation (swthri/a) and power (du/nami$), reflecting two interrelated aspects of God’s dominion over Creation: it is defined as the power to deliver people from the forces of evil. This power was demonstrated in the heavenly battle, but also through the saving work of Jesus on earth. The exalted Jesus is here identified as the “Anointed One”, with the e)cousi/a (i.e. ability, authority) to rule alongside God Himself.

“And they were victorious over him through the blood of the Lamb and through the account of their witness, and (that) they did not love their souls until death.” (v. 11)

Here “they” refers to believers on earth, who are facing suffering and persecution in the end time period of distress (described in the following vv. 13-17). This has been an important theme throughout the book, beginning especially with the letters to the seven churches (chaps. 2-3), where the endurance of persecution while still remaining faithful is defined as “being victorious” (vb nika/w)—cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21. Ultimately this victory stems from the sacrificial work (i.e. death and resurrection) of Jesus himself (Jn 16:33). The verb nika/w may be characterized as a Johannine term, occurring seven times in the Gospel and First Letter, and another 17 in the book of Revelation—24 out of 28 occurrences in the New Testament. Both the motifs of Jesus as the Lamb and the Gospel message of Jesus as witness are fundamental to the visionary language and imagery of the book. On the importance of believers enduring suffering even to the point of death, cf. Mark 8:34-37 par; 10:38-39 par; 13:12-13 par; Luke 17:33 par; John 12:25, and frequently throughout the book of Revelation.

“Through this you should be of a good mind, (you) heavens, and (you) the (one)s putting down (their) tent [i.e. dwelling] in them—(but) woe to the earth and the sea! (for it is) that the (one) casting (evil) throughout (has) stepped down toward you holding a great impulse (for destruction), having seen that he holds (only) a little time.” (v. 12)

The concluding statement of praise turns into an exhortation for believers in the present, shifting the attention from heaven to earth (the setting of the next episode in vv. 13-17). The heavens, and the heavenly beings, are called on to rejoice, since God’s Kingdom is now fully realized in heaven and the Devil has been cast out. But for the earth, the defeat of the forces of evil and the realization of God’s Kingdom must yet wait, at least until a short period of intense distress and persecution has passed. Believers, the children of the Woman (i.e. the People of God), must endure this period, which involves also great suffering for all of humankind (as expressed in the prior visions of chapters 6-9). This time of suffering will be relatively brief—symbolized by 3½ years—and, according to the declaration here, the Dragon is fully aware that he only has a short amount of time, and so must act aggressively. The work kairo/$ typically indicates a point or moment (rather than a period) of time, but can also refer to a particular occasion or opportunity; thus the concluding phrase could be rendered “knowing he has only a few moment(s left)”, or “knowing he has little opportunity (left to act)”. In any case, these words emphasize again for readers the imminence of the coming end.

The conjunction of the earth (gh=) with the sea (qa/lassa) foreshadows the dual-vision in chapter 13. Before exploring that vision, we must first examine the third and final episode of chapter 12 (vv. 13-17) in the next note of this series.

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

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October 6: Revelation 10:7-11

Revelation 10:7-11

In the previous note, we began to examine the message uttered by the heavenly Messenger (Angel) in verses 6b-7:

“…there will not yet be (any more) time [xro/no$]; but (rather), in the days of the voice of the seventh Messenger, when he shall be about to sound the trumpet, even (then it is that) the secret of God is completed [e)tele/sqh], (even) as He gave the good message (of it) to His slaves the Foretellers.”

As I indicated, this statement, along with the verses which follow, are most important for a correct understanding of the book of Revelation as a whole, and of the visions which make up the remainder of the book. However, a precise interpretation of the Angel’s words here in vv. 6b-7 is by no means easy to establish; indeed, the language and phrasing used presents a number of difficulties. I begin with the initial statement:

xro/no$ ou)ke/ti e&stai
which I have translated as
“there will not yet be (any more) time”

Of the two primary Greek words translated “time”, xro/no$ and kairo/$, the former (used here) more properly refers to a length of time, as opposed to a particular point in time (kairo/$). The compound particle ou)ke/ti means “not yet” or “no longer”. The bluntness of the statement has led some commentators to think that it may refer to a cessation of time itself. This, however, is unlikely; more probable is a reference to the time which is to pass before the end comes and God’s Judgment is completed. To say that “there will not yet be time” or “there will no longer be time” simply means that the end will finally come. This is described in verse 7 as the completion of the “secret [musth/rion] of God”. That it is a “secret” means that it has been kept hidden, revealed only to the Prophets (“Foretellers”)—both those in the Old Testament, as well as chosen believers in Christ such as John. Much the same idea is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, in passages such as Rom 16:25-26; Eph 3:3-5, and 1 Pet 1:10-12. From the standpoint of the visionary narrative in the book, a final stage in this process of (special) revelation involves the sealed scroll of chaps. 5ff. Its opening by the Lamb (6:1ff) indicates that its contents are to be read and made known.

The message also gives a general notice as to the time-frame according to which the end will finally come: “in the days of the seventh Messenger, when he is about to sound the trumpet”. The expression “in the days of…” could suggest that a period of time is involved; from the point of view of the visions, this would mean a period between the first six trumpet-visions and the time when the seventh sounds.

Though the declaration “there will not yet be (any more) time” is set (in the visionary narrative) at a point after certain events will have taken place, it would have had meaning as well for readers/hearers at the present moment (i.e. when the book was first written and transmitted). As I have discussed at various points in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, as well as in these notes on the book of Revelation, early Christians generally held to an imminent eschatological expectation—i.e. that the end would occur very soon. If, as is commonly thought, the book of Revelation was written toward the end of the first century (c. 90-95 A.D.), most of the first generation of believers would have already passed away, and Christians at the time would have become increasingly aware of what is referred to as “the delay of the Parousia” (cf. 2 Pet 3:3-10, etc). The entire thrust of the book reiterates and reinforces the idea that the end-time Judgment and return of Jesus will yet occur very soon.

Rev 10:8-10

Verses 8-10 describe an interesting scene, involving a symbolic action (within the context of the vision) which resembles certain episodes in the Prophet books of the Old Testament, especially that in Ezek 2:8-3:3. The seer (John) is commanded, by a voice from heaven, to eat the scroll held by the Messenger. As I argued in the previous note, this is the same scroll from chaps. 5ff, which had been sealed, but has now been opened (by the Lamb, 6:1ff). It is important to remember that the visions in 6:1-8:1 stem from the opening/breaking of the seals; they do not, it would seem, reflect what is actually written on the scroll itself. This is what the prophet John consumes in the vision. The action is narrated in a repetitive, three-fold manner, which has most ancient roots in Near Eastern (Semitic) oral tradition and writing:

    • The voice tells John to take the scroll from the Messenger, implying that the Messenger will instruct him what to do with it (v. 8)
      • The Messenger tells John to take it and eat it, describing what the effect will be (v. 9)
        • John follows the Messenger’s instruction (practically verbatim), takes the scroll and eats it, and experiences the effects (v. 10)

As noted, the action itself draws upon Ezek 2:8-3:3, describing the scene more or less precisely—the prophet eats the scroll, with writing on front and back, as commanded, and it was sweet (as honey) in his mouth. Here is how this is narrated in verse 10:

“And I took the little paper-roll [i.e. scroll] out of the hand of the Messenger and I ate it down (completely), and it was sweet as honey in my mouth, and (yet) when I ate it my belly [i.e. stomach] was made bitter (by it).”

I would interpret this graphic contrast as follows: the words of the scroll initially seem sweet, as they entail the fulfillment of God’s will and the deliverance of His people; however, the implications of this also involve pain and bitterness. The source of this discomfort, best understood as the realization and experience of the Judgment, may be two-fold: (a) the suffering/persecution to be faced by believers, and (b) the suffering of humankind generally during the Judgment. The same verb (pikrai/nw) was used in the third trumpet-vision (8:11).

Moreover, it is the prophet who experiences this bitterness in his stomach, implying that it is difficult for him to digest. This relates specifically to his role as prophet—i.e. spokesperson/representative who delivers the divine message. This certainly is reflected in the Ezekiel passage (2:3ff; 3:4ff), indicating the difficulties facing the prophet in delivering the message—the word and will of God—to the people.

Rev 10:11

This prophetic task is precisely what is described in verse 11:

“And he said to me: ‘It is necessary for you again to foretell about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings’.”

The four terms (peoples, nations, tongues [i.e. languages], kings) are comprehensive—i.e. all of human society—and echo the wording used earlier in 5:9. This marks an important shift in the book. Up to this point, the visions foretelling and announcing the coming Judgment involved the world and humankind generally, treated as a whole; but now, in the remainder of the book, a more distinct world-historical approach will be taken, entailing visions and prophecies related to the history of God’s people (Israel/Believers) and the surrounding nations (the Roman Empire, etc).

In this regard, as we shall see, the visions of the book come to resemble the visions of Daniel, in many aspects. The Danielic influence has been present throughout, but perhaps comes into sharper focus here in chapter 10. In concluding this note, I would point out certain parallels of wording with Dan 12:6-9 (cf. the upcoming special study on Dan 12); in this illustration here I follow Koester (p. 489), using his translation with relevant words in italics (modified slightly):

“How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” The man clothed in linen … raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.” (Dan 12:6-9)

October 5: Revelation 10:1-7

Revelation 10:1-7

As in the earlier Seal-vision cycle, there is here an interlude between the sixth and seventh Trumpet-visions—the seventh trumpet does not sound until 11:15. As a literary and dramatic device, this serves to build suspense, but it also turns the attention of the audience away from the Judgment and back toward the worship of God (and Christ) in Heaven. Also, in the book of Revelation, the number seven symbolizes the holiness and perfection of God, even as the number six (coming just short of seven) reflects the limitation and imperfection of the created order, and of humankind in particular. Thus, from a thematic point of view, a clear demarcation between the first six visions and the seventh is entirely appropriate. However, technically, based on 11:14, it would seem that the author of the book regarded this interlude (10:1-11:14) as part of the sixth vision.

Rev 10:1-2a

The core of this particular vision (vv. 1-7) features the presence of a “strong Messenger”—i.e. an especially powerful heavenly being, with distinctive attributes. His visual appearance is described in vv. 1-2a:

    • “stepping down [vb. katabai/nw] out of the heaven”—perhaps indicating a shift in visionary locale, i.e. a descent to appear before the seer (John) on earth (as in 1:12-20); more likely, the spatial reference is part of the vision itself, as is the reference to earth in v. 2b.
    • “having been cast about [i.e. clothed/robed] by a cloud”
    • a brilliant halo (i@ri$, i.e. rainbow) upon his head (cf. 4:3)
    • his face is “(bright) as the sun”
    • his feet are as “pillars of fire”

These characteristics echo both the language of theophany (the manifestation of God [YHWH]) and christophany (the appearance of the exalted Jesus), which includes the traditional imagery surrounding the appearance of the “Son of Man” (Dan 7:13-14). The clouds and related meteorological phenomena are part of the traditional storm-theophany—i.e. manifestation/description of the sky/storm as deity, or personified as deity. For ancient Israelites, El-Yahweh shared many of these storm associations, which were visible when he became manifest to humankind, according to the Old Testament narrative and traditions (most famously in the Sinai theophany, Exod 19:9, 16; 24:15-26ff). Especially important, from an eschatological standpoint, is the cloud-imagery related to the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7, who was identified with the exalted Jesus in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Mk 13:26-27; 14:62 par; Rev 1:7; cf. also Acts 7:55-56). The same cloud-imagery is specifically associated with the future return of Jesus (i.e. the Son of Man) in Acts 1:9-11 and 1 Thess 4:17.

Certain similarities with the vision of the exalted Jesus in 1:12ff have raised the possibility that the Messenger here in chapter 10 also represents an appearance of Christ. This, however, seems unlikely; the parallels are too general, and simply reflect the fact that descriptions of the exalted Jesus follow closely the traditional depiction of divine/heavenly beings.

Verse 2 establishes an important parallel with the vision-scene in chapter 5—the Messenger holds a scroll in his hand, just as the “One seated on the throne” holds the sealed scroll in his right hand (5:1). There is some question whether this is the same scroll (lit. paper roll, bibli/on, here bibliari/dion) from chapters 5ff. Almost certainly, it should be understood this way, based on the description of it here as “having been opened up” (vb. a)noi/gw, used 11 times in chaps. 5-6, beginning with 5:2). Moreover, it would present a visionary structure exactly parallel to that indicated at the very start of the book (1:1), referring to the revelation contained in the book as coming:

    • from God [YHWH]—par the scroll in his right hand (5:1)
      • given to Jesus—par the Lamb taking and opening the scroll (5:6-6:1)
        • and then sent through his Messengers—i.e., the figure holding the opened scroll here in chap. 10
          • to his servants (e.g. the seer John)—the scene in chap. 10
Rev 10:2b-4

These verses describe the action of the great Messenger:

“And he set his foot (on) the giving (side) [i.e. his right foot] (down) upon the sea, and his well-named [i.e. left] (foot) upon the earth, and he cried (out) with a great voice, just as a lion (does when it) bellows. And when he cried (out), the seven thunders spoke (with) their (own) voices.” (v. 3)

Here again, we see evidence of the ancient storm-theophany. In the Semitic idiom, thunder is literally the voice (loq) of God, and this imagery is utilized in the great throne-vision (4:5; 6:1). The roaring of the storm is paralleled with the roar of the lion—a powerful animal figure used to represent both God (Amos 3:8; Hos 11:10) and his anointed representative (i.e. Messiah/Christ); on the latter, cf. Rev 5:5, and the underlying tradition from Gen 49:9 (see also Mic 5:8). The lion’s roar is especially associated with the divine Judgment in the Old Testament (Hos 5:14; 13:7-8; Jer 2:15; 4:7, etc; Zech 11:3).

The significance of these “thunders” is indicated in verse 4:

“And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, and (then) I heard a voice out of the heaven saying (to me), ‘You must seal the (thing)s which the seven thunders spoke, and you shall not write them’.”

The description of these voices as “thunder”, along with the number seven, shows that they are closely connected to the voice of God Himself. However, the reflexive pronoun (e(autw=n) in verse 3, indicates that they are not precisely identical with God’s voice—i.e. they speak with their (own) voices. Nevertheless, they accurately reflect God’s voice, much as the “seven spirits” before the throne represent God’s very eyes (5:6, cf. Zech 4:10). According to the ancient religious consciousness and mode of expression, the personification of divine attributes was extremely common; whether, or the extent to which, the “seven spirits” and “seven thunders” are to be understood as independent beings in their own right, is extremely hard to determine. These passages should not be used to establish a precise Theology (properly speaking) for the New Testament.

The proximity of the thunders to God’s own voice is confirmed by the command to seal the things they spoke—here, as in chaps. 5-6, the seal (sfragi/$) implies that something is kept hidden and undisclosed (i.e. the contents of the scroll are not to be read). This suggests something of the numinous and awesome (divine) character of these voices. Whether the seer understood what the thunders spoke is beside the point, though it may be that there is a similarity with what Paul relates in 2 Cor 12:4. The underlying idea and imagery finds an interesting, though faint, parallel in the ancient Canaanite “Baal Epic”, in which the storm deity (personification of the storm) Baal Haddu addresses his sister Anat (through a messenger), part of a refrain that runs through the text:

“For a message I have, and will tell you,
A word and I will recount to you,
The word of tree and the whisper of stone,
The converse of Heaven with Earth,
Of Deeps with Stars,
I understand the lightning which the Heavens do not know,
The word people do not know,
And earth’s masses do not understand.”
(translation, with some modification, by Mark S. Smith in Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Society of Biblical Literature and Scholars Press [1997])

Rev 10:5-7

The action of the Messenger continues in verses 5-7, as he stands astride the surface of the earth—one foot on the sea, the other on the land. The symbolic majesty of the scene is enhanced as the Messenger proceeds to swear an oath, marked by the raising of his right hand to heaven (v. 5b). The ancient practice of swearing by oath is quite foreign to us today, though modern society retains a faint vestige of it in courts of law and certain other official settings. The ancient (religious/magical) sense and significance of the practice is indicated by the verb o)mnu/w, which, in its fundamental sense and earliest usage, refers to making (or holding) something firm through contact with a sacred object. In the setting of public affairs, including the delivering of message, giving testimony, etc, it can mean confirming the truth of what a person says. That is the basic meaning here. By raising his hand to heaven, the Messenger is affirming the truth of what he says through symbolic/ritual contact with Heaven itself (cf. Matt 23:22). Moreover, he utters his message through the name/authority of God Himself (“…in/by the [One] living into the Ages of the Ages [i.e. forever]”). The oath is presented in the manner of an ancient religious/theological formula, one which may be traced all the way back to the Abraham narratives in Genesis (cf. Gen 19:18-20), presenting God [YHWH-El] as the one true Deity and Creator. The more immediate reference here clearly is to Daniel 12:7.

The message itself, preceded by such solemn grandeur, follows in vv. 6b-7:

“there will not yet be (any more) time [xro/no$]; but (rather), in the days of the voice of the seventh Messenger, when he shall be about to sound the trumpet, even (then it is that) the secret of God is completed [e)tele/sqh], (even) as He gave the good message (of it) to His slaves the Foretellers.”

These verses, and those which follow here (vv. 8-11), are vital for a proper understanding of the structure of the visionary narrative in the book, as well as the time-frame that is involved. For this reason, I feel that it is worth devoting a separate note to a careful study of them—this will be done in the next daily note.

October 4: Revelation 9:13-21

Revelation 9:13-21

The sixth Trumpet-vision is similar in meaning and imagery to the fifth vision (9:1-12, discussed in the previous note). Both involve armies of (demonic) beings, with hybrid human/animal features, which come out from the depths of the earth to inflict suffering upon humankind. Before proceeding, it is worth outlining again the parallel thematic structure between the Seal- and Trumpet-vision cycles:

    • First Four Visions:
      • Seals—the four horses/riders symbolizing warfare and its effects on humankind
      • Trumpets—celestial/natural phenomena which bring about destructive effects on the world and humankind
    • Visions Five and Six:
      • Seals—celestial/natural phenomena which has terrifying/destructive effects on the world and humankind (6), together with the identity of believers and a voice sounding from the altar (5)
      • Trumpets—warfare on humankind from demonic military forces (horses/riders), along with the themes of the identity of believers (5) and a voice coming from the altar (6)

As noted previously, the twin themes of warfare and celestial/natural phenomena are also brought together in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Mk 13:7-8, 24-25 par; also vv. 14ff [Lk 21:20-24]); interestingly, the Discourse also includes reference to the identity and persecution/suffering of believers (Mk 13:5-6, 9-13, 21-22 par), as well as the motif of the Temple/Altar location (Mk 13:14 par).

Rev 9:13-15

The solemn character and grandeur of this vision in marked by the voice from the heavenly altar which responds initially to the trumpet-blast:

“…and I heard a (single) voice (from) out of the [four] horns of the golden place for (ritual) slaughter [i.e. altar] th(at is) in the sight of God, saying to the sixth Messenger: ‘Loose the four Messengers, the (one)s having been bound upon the great river Euphrates!’ And the four Messengers were loosed, the (one)s having been made ready—unto the hour and day and month and year—(so) that they should kill off the third of men (on earth).”

In the earlier (fifth) seal-vision, the significance of the altar—the place for (ritual) slaughter (qusiasth/rion)—was related to believers who had been put to death during the time of persecution (6:9-11). Though the death of these believers may be seen as a kind of sacrifice, it is clear that in the book of Revelation the heavenly altar is an altar of incense, not animal sacrifice, and that the incense is connected symbolically to the prayers of believers (5:8; 6:10; 8:3; cf. also Luke 1:9-11; Acts 3:1; 10:4). The (four) horns of the altar are mentioned in relation to four Messengers who are to be released.

The specific location of the great Euphrates river is curious and requires comment, as it is apt to trip up commentators today. Like many of the specific symbols in the book of Revelation, it involves a matrix of ideas and associations. Here I would identify these as three-fold:

    • It reflects the place of origin for the conquering armies/powers coming from the east (and north) in Israelite history—i.e. of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.
    • It marks the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. Recall that the conquering horse/rider of the first seal-vision (6:2), carrying a bow, may have alluded the potential violence of non-Roman forces invading the empire. In the first century A.D., the Parthians were the major power along the Euphrates border.
    • In a sense, it also marks the outer region of the inhabited world (in the east), as known by people at the time in Syria/Palestine and further west. According to the Genesis creation narrative, the Euphrates is one of the four original, primeval rivers (Gen 2:10-12).

Crossing the Euphrates thus symbolizes the invasion of hostile and destructive forces into the known (civilized) world. The fact that the four Messengers (i.e. Angels) have been bound (dedeme/nou$) probably indicates that they are evil/fallen beings (20:2; cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6); if so, then they presumably lead the demonic armies which are unleashed, just like the “Messenger of the bottomless (pit)” in verse 11. They are given power to kill off a third of humankind, keeping with the common “one-third” motif of the Trumpet-visions. Verse 15 makes clear that this judgment/punishment corresponds with God’s plan and purpose, down to the precise day and hour.

Revelation 9:16-19

The description of the army which is unleashed across the Euphrates generally matches the grotesque, hybrid character of the locust-army in the fifth vision (cf. the previous note). This is presumably intended to reflect their demonic character—the ferocious, destructive appearance of spirits, etc, which represent (and/or cause) pestilence, disease, and death. Like the locust-army, it is primarily a cavalry force (i.e. horses/riders, as in the first four seal-visions, cf. above), wearing armor (qw/rac, chest-guard), with fierce animal attributes (spec. that of the lion), including a stinging tail. Several of the unique details are worth noting:

    • they are specifically identified as a body/force of armed soldiers (stra/teuma), riding horses (v. 16)
    • their number is indicated by the expression dismuria/de$ muria/dwn (“two multitudes of multitudes”), which, by arithmetic calculation would be 10,000 x 10,000 (= 200 million), but here simply means an immeasurably large number (cf. 5:11)
    • they are essentially fire-breathing creatures, and the colors of their armor match what comes forth out of their mouths (v. 17)—fire (red), dark blue (smoke), and yellow-green (sulphur)
    • the destructive fire from their mouth is also matched by the mouth/bite of their tail; the locusts had a stinging point (ke/ntron) at the end of the tail, while these creatures have a “head”, like a snake’s head (with a mouth) at the end of their tail (v. 19), making them doubly deadly.

Fire-breathing creatures are common in ancient myth, but here the description more closely resembles the chimera (xi/maira) of Greek legend (Homer Iliad 6.181-2; Hesiod Theogony 319ff; Virgil Aeneid 6.288; Ovid Tristia 4.7.13, etc; Koester, p. 467). It serves as a powerful climax to the six trumpet-visions, which emphasized the motif of judgment by fire (from heaven)—the fire cast down onto the earth now takes the form of burning plagues. The imagery here in this regard is three-fold: (1) fire (pu=r), (2) smoke (kapno/$), and (3) burning sulphur (qei=on). This last word is similar (and may be related) to the words for deity (qei=o$, neut. qei=on; qeo/$), and could conceivably indicate a bit of wordplay—the failure of human beings to recognize the true God (qeo/$ / qei=o$) leads to judgment by burning sulphur (qei=on); on this, cf. below. Judgment by fire and burning sulphur was part of the Sodom/Gomorrah narrative (Gen 19:24-28) which became a stock element of eschatological and apocalyptic judgment-imagery.

Rev 9:20-21 and interpretation of the 5th/6th visions

The six trumpet-visions, describing God’s end-time Judgment on the world, close with the narration in verses 20-21:

“And the (one)s remaining of the men (still alive), the (one)s who were not killed off in these (plague)s that struck (them), even (then they) did not change (their) mind [i.e. repent] out of the works of their hands, (so) that they would not kiss toward [i.e. worship] the daimons and the images (of) gold and silver and copper and stone and wood, which are not able to see nor to hear nor to walk about.” (v. 20)

This seems to imply that the limited scope (one-third) of the initial Judgment is meant to give humankind, even at that late time, the opportunity to repent. The flip side is that this painful “testing” (vb. basani/zw, verse 5) actually serves to demonstrate the wicked character of humankind (the non-believers)—even in the face of the anger of God clearly at work, people continued to follow their pagan/idolatrous ways. This is expressed entirely in traditional Old Testament language, from the Prophets, and sharpened in the light of Jewish and early Christian monotheism. All other deities, apart from the one true God (YHWH), must be false and/or evil—that is to say, either (a) non-existent, or (b) evil/malevolent beings. Both lines of thought can be found in the Old Testament, with the former dominating in the Prophetic writings—i.e. the ‘gods’ are simply lifeless images (Isa 44:9-20; Psalm 115:4-7, etc). By the time of the New Testament, Jews and early Christians tended to adopt the latter position (i.e. they are real spirits/beings [daimons], but evil/hostile to God and humankind); note, however, Paul’s careful treatment of the subject in 1 Corinthians 8-10. An important point in the letters of Revelation 2-3 involved the same issue addressed by Paul—believers taking part in food which had been offered to pagan deities (2:6[?]; 3:14-15, 20). The letters of Revelation contrast sharply with Paul’s approach, condemning the practice in no uncertain terms, without any qualification.

At the same time, this traditional religious polemic is joined with the ethical dimension of pagan religion and society, typically viewed by Jews and early Christians as thoroughly immoral (cf. Romans 1:18-32 for a similar description of the behavior which is the target of God’s impending Judgment). Here it is summarized by four terms:

    • fo/noi—acts of killing/slaying (i.e. murder)
    • fa/rmakon (pl.)—literally a medical potion or drug, which, according to the ancient mindset, would generally be thought to have magical properties; in this (religious) context, it can connote both (1) a harmful poison, and (2) the practice of magic/sorcery (cf. the related noun farmakei/a)
    • pornei/a—literally prostitution (sexual intercourse for payment/hire), but often used to describe sexual misconduct or immorality generally; based on Old Testament language and tradition, Jews and early Christians frequently used the word figuratively for religious unfaithfulness (cf. earlier at 2:21).
    • kle/mma (pl.)—literally “things (that are) stolen”, i.e. stealing, theft.

Thus Judgment comes upon humankind for this wickedness, expressed in both religious (v. 20) and ethical (v. 21) terms. How are we to understand the nature of this Judgment in the trumpet-visions? If we isolate out, for a moment, a layer of distinctly Biblical imagery (from the Exodus Plague Narratives, etc), the first four visions present extreme versions of the sort of natural and ecological disasters with which we are becoming increasingly familiar today—burning of grass and trees (as in the recent wildfires on the U.S. west coast), contamination of the oceans, lakes, and rivers, etc. The darkening of the sun and moon, etc., whether by a natural eclipse or other meteorological phenomena (including smoke/pollution), also is not uncommon. That God would make use of these natural means and forces in a special way at the end time, is fully in keeping with the witness of both Scripture and common religious tradition.

The fifth and sixth visions are a bit more difficult to interpret. On the whole, the armies of attacking creatures seem to represent the disease and destruction which comes about by demonic forces. If the judgment in the first four visions comes from above, that of the fifth and sixth visions comes from in/under the earth itself—based on the traditional idea that evil/fallen beings (Angels) have been bound in the depths under the earth (Gk. ta/rtaro$). Naturally, much, if not most, of this is quite foreign to our cosmology today. In the modern intellectual idiom, we might translate this to say that the forces bound up within the earth/nature itself work to bring about the suffering/destruction of humankind. In ancient thought, the forces and powers of nature are personified as living beings. At the same time, within Scripture, there is a long tradition of dualistic conflict between divine/heavenly forces—of good vs. evil, God vs. Satan. The visions in the book of Revelation are fully rooted in this line of tradition. It is worth noting that the natural phenomena of the first four visions primarily affect the natural world (the earth itself), while the last two target human beings. There is an obvious parallel between human wickedness, which involves the worship of false/evil deities, and the supernatural/demonic attacks which come about in response—in a sense, it is an entirely fitting and appropriate punishment.

September 29: Revelation 7:1-8

Revelation 7:1-8

The relationship of chapter 7 to the seal-visions in chapter 6 is problematic for readers who might be inclined to view these chapters as representing a strict chronological sequence of events. There is, however, a definite kind of (visionary) logic at work, as we shall see. More significant as a connecting point between the two chapters is the closing question in 6:17: “who is able to stand” in the face of God’s approaching Judgment? Chapter 7 gives the answer to this.

First, it is important to keep in mind the structure of the vision-cycle:

    • Group of 4 visions (seals 1-4)—horses and horsemen
    • Group of 2 visions (seals 5-6)
    • The concluding vision (seal 7), which opens up into the next vision-cycle

The fifth and sixth visions involved, respectively: (i) the persecution of believers, and (ii) disruption of the natural order marking the beginning of the great Judgment by God. Chapter 7 combines both of these themes.

Rev 7:1-3

The theme and setting of the sixth seal-vision continues in verse 1:

“With [i.e. after] this, I saw four Messengers having taken (their) stand upon the four corners of the earth, holding firm(ly to) the four winds of the earth, (so) that the wind should not blow upon the earth, nor upon the sea, nor upon all tree(s).”

The sixth seal had a cosmic orientation, involving the universe (heaven and earth) as understood by ancient cosmology. Now the visionary setting has shifted to the surface of the earth. In ancient (Near Eastern) cosmology, while the universe was more or less spherical (or a hemisphere), the earth itself was essentially flat, typically envisioned as a disc or cylinder. There is no reason to think that this traditional image is not being followed here (the picture used at the top of the header above is quite inaccurate in this regard). The idea of four “corners” does not require a square shape; the number four is again traditional. Winds could be seen as coming from the ends of the earth, also identified as four (Mark 13:27; cf. Psalm 135:7; Jer 10:13; 25:32, etc). God’s power and control extends to the “ends of the earth” (Job 28:24; Psalm 46:9; 59:13; 72:8; Prov 30:4; Isa 40:28, etc), and His destructive Judgment both comes from the ends of the earth and goes out to them as well (Deut 28:49; 1 Sam 2:10; Isa 5:26; 13:5; 41:5; Jer 25:31f; 50:41). Similarly, God’s salvation extends to the ends of the earth, a motif found often in the book of Isaiah, which came to be part of the Messianic imagery (Psalm 2:8; 46:9; 65:5; 98:3; Isa 41:9; 43:6; 45:22; 48:20; 49:6; 52:10; 62:11; Jer 31:8; Mic 5:4; Zech 9:10; and cf. Acts 1:8; 13:47; Rom 10:18).

“And I saw another Messenger stepping up from the rising up of the sun [i.e. the east], holding (the) seal of the living God, and he cried (out) with a great voice to the four Messengers to whom (it) was given to them to take away the right (order) of the earth and the sea, saying: ‘Do not take away the right (order) of the earth, nor of the sea, nor of the trees, until we would seal the slaves of our God upon the (space) between their eyes [i.e. their forehead]!'” (vv. 2-3)

This makes clear that the (four) winds coming from the ends of the earth have a destructive power, and their unleashing by the Messengers (natural celestial forces were typically seen as being controlled by heavenly beings or Angels) is to be part of, and/or symbolic of, the great end-time Judgment upon the world. The adjective a&diko$ fundamentally means “without (a)) justice (di/kh)”, and the verb a)dike/w “be/act without justice”, sometimes in the sense of “take away [i.e. remove] justice”. However, here such a translation would be quite misleading; di/kh must be understood in the broader sense of “right (order)”. Thus the verb a)dike/w would be rendered “take away the right (order of things)”. In English, this is often translated more simply as “injure, harm”, but, in light of the theme of the disruption of the natural order in 6:12-17, it is perhaps best to retain this wider aspect.

The verb sfragi/zw is related to the seven-fold seal (sfragi/$) upon the scroll in chapters 4-6. As previously noted, it refers to the act of stamping an engraved image (from a signet ring, etc) upon a seal of clay or wax (or lead). This stamp marks the ownership (of the document, etc) by the one who has the signet (ring). Here it is stated that the winds will not be released (to disrupt/destroy the surface of the earth) until the “slaves of God” are stamped with the “stamp/seal of the living God” (v. 2). It is possible that this alludes to the marking/branding of slaves, such as occurred in Roman society (and many other cultures); if so, then it is a mixing of images with the sealing (through wax/clay/lead) of a document or object. The primary motif is doubtless the same, however—that the “slaves”, like the scroll, belong to God, who is their owner/master. In Romans 4:11, Paul refers to circumcision—the essential sign (shmei=on) of God’s binding agreement (covenant) with Israel—as a seal (sfragi/$) of God’s righteousness. As applied in an early Christian context, this seal marks believers as the people of God. Much the same is stated in 2 Tim 2:19:

“Yet (truly), the firm (foundat)ion set down by God has stood, holding this seal [sfragi/$]: ‘The Lord knew the (one)s being [i.e. who are] His (own)’…”

The theme of sealing will be used further in the book of Revelation, including a contrast between those sealed by God (true believers) and those stamped by the mark of the “Beast”. In this regard, it is quite likely that the stamp/seal here also is meant to indicate God’s protection. This seems to be the point for the way this detail is included in verses 1-3—the seal gives God’s “slaves” protection from the natural disasters (and other suffering) to come in the time of Judgment. The precise significance of this will be discussed and clarified in the upcoming notes.

Who are these “slaves”? The word dou=lo$ means “slave” or “(bond)servant”, but, to avoid confusion with certain historical occurrences and modern conceptions of slavery, it is often translated as “servant”. The word was regularly used, by early Christians, as a self-designation for believers—i.e. those belonging to God (and Christ), and bound to serve him (Acts 4:29, etc, and see earlier in Rev 1:1; 2:20). It could also refer specifically to one chosen by God for special service (as apostle, minister, etc). Paul uses it frequently to refer to himself (and his fellow ministers)—Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Col 4:12; cf. also James 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1, etc. Here in the book of Revelation, the point of reference is expounded in the verses which follow.

Rev 7:4-8

“And I heard the number of the (one)s having been sealed: one hundred and forty-four thousand, (one)s having been sealed out of all the offshoots of the sons of Yisrael—…” (v. 4)

A more precise syntax would have been “…out of the all the offshoots of Yisrael”, i.e. the tribes of Israel; we might paraphrase the actual wording here as “…out of all the tribes which make up the sons of Israel”. This brings up a somewhat difficult question of interpretation—do the ‘tribes of Israel’ here refer (1) to ethnically Israelite believers, or (2) to believers in Christ generally? The question is complicated by the relationship between vv. 4-8 and the description which follows in vv. 9-17. The answer may also depend, to some extent at least, on the orientation of the author and his audience. Was he writing (primarily) to Gentile believers, Jewish believers, or a mixed audience? On one level, it would seem that vv. 4-8 definitely refer to Israelite believers, in an ethnic sense. This would be confirmed by: (a) the combined use of “tribes (of Israel)” and “sons of Israel”, and (b) the ‘census’ in vv. 5-8, listing out the specific tribes. At the same time, the relationship between believers (Jews and Gentiles both) and the ethno-religious identity of Israel as the people of God, was extremely complex in early Christianity, and could be expressed in a number of ways. Even limiting ourselves to Paul’s letters—the most complete evidence we have from the first century—there is a wide range of images and concepts. We must be cautious in how we approach this religious dynamic in the New Testament. I would suggest three avenues for interpretation which, I believe, are supported by the 1st-century evidence:

    • Historical—Nearly all of the earliest believers were Jewish (and, presumably, Israelites); from this standpoint, Christianity was seen as a natural extension (and fulfillment) of God’s covenant with Israel—i.e. Israelites who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. Only after the Gospel began to be proclaimed farther afield, in the Greco-Roman world, did this understanding change (and not without some difficulty) through the inclusion of significant numbers of non-Jewish believers.
    • Pauline—Paul’s letters give us a vivid picture of the formation of a new, and distinctly Christian, religious identity, in the years 50-60 A.D. Especially in Galatians and Romans, Paul forges this through a rich and complex series of arguments and illustrations. Even when writing primarily to Gentiles, he draws upon the Old Testament and the covenant traditions related to Israel as the people of God. All of this is redefined, as the “new covenant”, strictly in terms of faith in Jesus Christ, accompanied by the presence/work of the Spirit (of God and Christ). It is, however, also the fulfillment of the original covenant (with Abraham, etc), one which many Israelites and Jews have rejected. According to Romans 9-11, Paul views this as temporary—a brief period during which Gentiles are included (with Jewish believers) as the people of God; ultimately, at the end of this period, the Israelite/Jewish people will come to accept Christ in larger numbers. It is possible that Rev 7:4-8 reflects a similar eschatological idea.
    • Restoration Imagery—According to at least one line of tradition (and interpretation), believers represent the “restoration of Israel” at the end-time. This is symbolized through the tradition, fundamental to much eschatological and Messianic thought, that Israel—the twelve tribes—will be restored, coming back to the land (and to Jerusalem) from the surrounding nations. As I have argued elsewhere, Jesus’ selection of twelve apostles likely has this idea in mind. Certainly, it features in the eschatological awareness of the book of Acts (cf. the upcoming article on this subject). Only, instead of the emphasis being on the twelve tribes (and, eventually, the nations) coming to Jerusalem, here the twelve apostles (representing the tribes), along with others, go out from Jerusalem to proclaim the Gospel into all the nations.

All three of these approaches have merit and value in understanding the symbolism of Rev 7:4-8. And, it should be stated in passing, that there can be little doubt as to the symbolic character of the numbering (a)riqmo/n) here—144,000 = 12 x 12 x 1000. We will look again at the interpretative possibilities when we turn to vv. 9ff (in the next daily note).

Finally, it is worth considering two peculiarities in the list of tribes here in vv. 5-8:

    1. The order does not match that of the traditional lists elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen 35:16-26; 46:8-27; 49; Deut 33; Num 1:5-15; Ezek 48, etc). Placing Judah first has obvious Messianic significance (Rev 5:5, etc); but otherwise, there does not appear to be any clear meaning to the ordering of the rest of the names.
    2. The tribes of Levi and Joseph are not included in the tribal allotments of land, etc, but would be included in any proper genealogical list of the tribes which make up the “sons of Israel”. However, the list here in Revelation, curiously, includes Joseph’s son Manasseh (half-tribe for Joseph), but leaves out Dan. While there are negative traditions associated with Dan in the Old Testament (Gen 49:17; Judg 18:30, etc), it is by no means certain that this is the reason for the exclusion here. Some early Christian commentators came to adopt the explanation that the ‘Antichrist’ would come from the tribe of Dan (Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.30.2; Hippolytus On Christ and Antichrist 14:5ff; Koester, p. 418); but there is nothing in the book of Revelation itself to confirm this.

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).

May 1: 1 Corinthians 11:10

1 Corinthians 1:10

Today’s note is a supplement to the discussion of 1 Cor 11:2-16 in the current series on Women in the Church (Part 1). This verse has been one of the most difficult to interpret of the entire letter, largely due to the way Paul brings together several key words and phrases in such a short and concise statement. The last phrase has been especially problematic. Here is the verse in the original Greek, along with a literal (glossed) translation:

dia\ tou=to o)fei/lei h( gunh\ e)cousi/an e&xein e)pi\ th=$ kefalh=$ dia\ tou=$ a&ggelou/$
“Through [i.e. because of] this the woman ought to hold (the) authority upon her head, through [i.e. because of] the (heavenly) Messengers”

Each element of the verse will be examined:

dia\ tou=to (“through this”)—the preposition dia/ (“through”) expresses the reason or purpose, i.e. “because of this, for this reason”. It refers back to Paul’s line of argument in vv. 7-9.

o)fei/lei h( gunh/ (“the woman ought”)—the verb o)fei/lw refers to an obligation or debt, i.e. something one owes, but is often used in the general sense, as in English, “ought (to do something)”. As I discussed in Part 1, gunh/ (“woman”) can mean specifically “wife”, just as a)nh/r (“man”) can mean “husband”. Probably Paul assumes the marriage relationship throughout the passage, though he does not limit the man-woman relationship strictly to this. Here the definite article (“the woman”) should be understood as referring to the woman who is acting in the role of speaker/prophet in the worship meeting, not necessarily to women in general.

e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold [the] authority”)—the noun e)cousi/a is rather difficult to translate literally into English; it has the basic meaning of ability, i.e. the ability coming from a person to do something, though occasionally in the sense of a right or permission granted by a higher power. The verb e&xw can mean “to have”, generally, but more concretely “to hold“. The expression in context is, “to hold authority upon the head [e)pi\ th=$ kefalh=$]”—i.e., by way of the symbolic head-covering. There has been considerable debate regarding the precise meaning and force of e)cousi/a here; the word has been interpreted a number of different ways, each of which affects the understanding of the overall context of Paul’s statement:

    • To be under the authority of the man (i.e. sign of submission/subordination), according to the hierarchical chain of relation in vv. 3, 7 (cf. also Eph 4:22-24); possibly meaning specifically “under the authority of her husband”.
    • To have (protective) power against the Angels (cf. below), where the head-covering has a kind of ritual/magic purpose.
    • To have the power/protection (of the Angels)
    • To have the authority to speak in the worship meeting; or, perhaps, more precisely
    • To have the authority to speak as a prophet, etc.
    • To be under the control/authority of God’s created order
    • To have authority/control of her own head (or person), i.e. personal autonomy

In several versions (Bohairic Coptic, etc) and writings of the Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc), much of the interpretive difficulty has been eliminated by reading “covering, veil” (ka/lumma) instead of e)cousi/a. Several scholars have suggested that this gloss indicates that e)cousi/a may reflect the underlying Aramaic hynwflv (for a veil or headcovering) since the root flv can also mean “have power (over)” (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 37 ff [citing G. Kittel]).

dia\ tou\$ a&ggelou$ (“through the Messengers”)—the preposition dia/ (“through”) is parallel to its use in the first phrase (cf. above). The “Messengers” certainly refer to heavenly Messengers or “Angels”; however, the reference appears so abruptly, apparently unrelated to the overall context of vv. 2-16, that it has caused commentators considerable difficulty over the years. The most commonly accepted interpretations are:

    • It is a reference to the Jewish tradition (Gen 6:1-4, etc) of the Angels who lusted after human women—the covering hides the woman from the sight of lustful Angels (and/or men)
    • It refers to ‘guardian’ Angels who protect the women, the head-covering being a (magical) symbol of this protection against evil (including the lust of men)
    • Just as the Angels (in heaven) are pure and holy, so should the women (who participate in the worship service) be pure, as symbolized by wearing the head-covering
    • It indicates that Angels observe (cf. 1 Cor 4:9) and/or participate in the worship meeting, so everything ought to be done decently and in order
    • The Angels are guardians of the created order, which is reflected by the gender-distinction and use of the head-covering

In my view, based on the context of the passage (esp. vv. 7-12), only the last interpretation is likely to be correct. This can be demonstrated, I think, rather clearly, when one observes the chiastic structure of vv. 7-12 as a whole. First, consider the precise parallelism of verse 10:

    • “through this” (dia\ tou=to)—i.e. through (or because of) the order of creation established by God (vv. 7-9)
      —”the woman ought to hold (the) authority upon the head”
    • “through the Messengers” (dia\ tou\$ a&ggelou$), i.e. the Angels as guardians of the created order (implied)

Now note the structure of vv. 7-12 (with the statement of v. 10 at the center):

I leave open the possibility that the Angels may represent the new created order (in Christ), which is parallel to (but not identical with) the original order of Creation. In several places in his letters, Paul refers to believers in Christ as a “new creation”—2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; also Rom 8:19-23; Col 3:10 (Eph 4:24), and cf. Eph 2:15. Moreover, a “new age” has come in Christ, with the old having passed away (2 Cor 3:6ff; 5:17, etc). One is reminded of Jesus’ teaching regarding life for the righteous (believers) in heaven, where the sexual distinctions no longer have the same meaning—they will be like the Angels (Mark 12:25 par; Lk 20:36). It is possible that Paul understood believers to have something of this ‘Angelic’ status, in Christ and through the Spirit, even in this life (cf. 1 Cor 6:3; 13:1). In Galatians 3:28 (to be discussed in Part 3 of this series), Paul seems to declare that sexual differences no longer have any fundamental meaning for believers in Christ. Yet clearly, he did not teach that gender distinctions should be abolished in practice, either in the organized Community or in society at large, just as he did not call for the abolition of slavery (as a social institution). However, I do think it likely that he viewed the corporate worship of believers (the body of Christ) as reflecting a new order of creation—that is, the (old) created order transformed and perfected through union with Christ and the work of the Spirit.

A proper understanding of the statement in verse 10 demands that we devote a little more attention to the specific expression e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold authority”), as it is central (cf. above) to an interpretation of the passage as a whole. This will be done in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, “A Feature of Qumran Angelology and the Angels of 1 Cor. 11:10” as reprinted in Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. J. Murphy O’Connor and James H. Charlesworth (Crossroad Publishing Company: 1968, 1990), pp. 31-47. Originally presented in the journal New Testament Studies 4 (1957-58), pp. 48-58.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Daniel 3:25

Overview and Interpretation

Daniel 3:25 is noteworthy as the only occurrence in the Old Testament of the expression “son of God”; the plural appears numerous times (in several forms) in the Hebrew, in reference to divine/heavenly beings, and, less frequently, to human beings (cf. the first section of Part 12). However, the singular occurs only here in Daniel, at the climactic moment of chapter 3, as the three young Israelite/Jewish men (Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah) are inside the blazing furnace, and the king (Nebuchadnezzar) declares in amazement:

“See! I behold four young men loosed (from their bonds and) walking in the middle of the fire, and there is no damage to them! and the appearance of the fourth is like that of a son of God!”

While it is not specified in this verse, the clear implication is that this fourth “young man” (rb^G+) is a divine/heavenly being. The expression in Aramaic is /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn), the equivalent of Hebrew <yh!ýa$ /B# (ben-°§lœhîm), which is typically used in the plural for heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). The text states this explicitly in verse 28, in the subsequent public declaration by Nebuchadnezzar:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his Messenger and brought release/deliverance for his servants…”

The Hebrew/Aramaic ialm, like the Greek word a&ggelo$, can refer to either a human or heavenly “messenger”, depending on the context; here, it certainly means a heavenly Messenger. At the historical level, a (pagan, polytheistic) king such as Nebuchadnezzar, in using an expression like /yh!l*a$ rB^, would have meant simply a divine being, “son of (the) gods” (cf. Hebrew <yl!a@ yn}B=), according to the conventional understanding of the time. The text does not indicate just what it was about the appearance of this fourth person that led Nebuchadnezzar to believe it was a divine being of some sort. From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, the “gods” (<yl!a@) or “sons of God” of course were understood to be created heavenly beings or “Angels”.

The earliest interpretation of this heavenly/angelic being in Dan 3:25 is found in the Additions to the Greek version of Daniel, LXX Dan 3:49 (verse 26 of the addition), where it is stated that “the Messenger of the Lord stepped down into the furnace with the ones around Azariah and shook the flame of the fire out of the furnace”. This is a reference to the Messenger (Angel) of YHWH in ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. Originally, this was not so much a particular Angelic person or being, but rather a concrete expression and embodiment of God’s power and protection on behalf of his people, which may acted out by His Messenger(s), but can also be taken to represent the presence or manifestation (theophany) of God Himself. The Messenger of YHWH is especially depicted as one who protects Israel (Gen 16:7-11; Exod 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; Num 20:16; 22:22-35; Judg 2:1-4; 2 Kings 19:35; Ps 34:7; 35:5-6; Zech 3:1-6; 12:8, etc). Later Rabbinic tradition identified the Angel of Dan 3:25 as Gabriel (b. Pesach. 118ab). For the Christian interpretation of the passage as a Christophany, or as prefiguring Jesus in some way, cf. below.

Daniel 3:25 and 7:13-14

There are some interesting parallels between these two passages. To begin with, the references, taken on their own, are similar, though the expressions use different vocabulary:

“See! [ah*] … (he) is like [hm@D*] a son of God
“See! [Wra&] … one like [K=] a son of man

Probably both are referring to a heavenly being, a Messenger (Angel) of God, and both seemingly in the context of the protection and deliverance of God’s people (the righteous ones) on earth. If we step back and look at the overall setting of chapters 2-3 and 7, in relation to the thematic development and structure of the book, the parallelism is enhanced:

First, we have the visions of chapters 2 and 7, which are related in the following ways:

    • Each involves a succession of four kingdoms, the last of which is the most savage and violent, with ten toes/horns representing ten kings. Following these is the everlasting kingdom of God, which will be established following the defeat/judgment of the other kingdoms.
    • Each has the general structure of: (1) occurrence of the vision, (2) hymn/vision of God’s glory, (3) interpretation of the vision.
    • Each is set at the beginning of one half of the book—(1) the vision in chapter 2 introduces the stories of chs. 3-6, set during the Babylonian, Median, and Persian (i.e. the first three) kingdoms; (2) that in chapter 7 introduces the visions of chs. 8-11, involving the rise and history of the Greek empire (the fourth kingdom).

Note also the following parallels between chaps. 3 and 7:

    • The episode in chapter 3 is, in some ways, a narrative dramatization of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—now it is a real statue, representing the glory and power of earthly kingdoms on a grandiose scale (everyone in the kingdom is to bow down before it and worship). This, then, is a story narrating the beginning of the four-kingdom vision—i.e. the first kingdom, of Babylon. The fourth beast of chapter 7 (and the following visions of chs. 8-11), is part of a vision depicting the end of the four-kingdom scenario (cf. vv. 11, 26, where the final beast is judged and slain).
    • In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar persecutes the people of God (arrest and execution of the three young men), just as the fourth beast (and his last horn) in the vision will make war against the (people of the) holy ones (7:21, 25).
    • At the central point of the ch. 3 story, the one like a “son of God” appears in the middle of the fiery furnace; in the central scene of the ch. 7 vision, the one like a “son of man” comes into the fiery presence of God (the “Ancient of Days”) in Heaven.
    • In chapter 3, the one like a “son of God”, it may be said, comes to rescue/deliver his people (the three young men); in the chapter 7 vision, it is said that the “Ancient of Days” comes to bring judgment (v. 22). It is not said how the “(people of) the holy ones” are delivered, but based on Dan 12:1ff (cf. also 10:13-21), this takes place by way of a heavenly Messenger (Michael), whom many commentators identify as the one “like a son of man” in 7:13-14.
    • Following the appearance of the one like a “son of God” in chap. 3, the Babylonians realize they have no power over God’s people (vv. 27-28), who are given special privilege and promoted within the kingdom (vv. 29-30). In the chapter 7 vision, the scene involving the one like a “son of man” coincides with the judgment of the beasts and the removal of their kingdoms; instead, an everlasting Kingdom is given to “the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (vv. 22, 27).

If a heavenly Messenger (Angel) is being described in both passages, then we are seeing this from two perspectives:

    • On earth, among humans, he is marked (in some way) as a divine being (“son of God”)
    • In heaven, among the divine/celestial entities, he resembles a human being (“son of man”)

However, the parallelism in chapter 3 & 7 could also be interpreted differently:

    • In chapter 3, a divine being (“son of God”) appears among humans
    • In chapter 7, a human being (“son of man”) appears among the divine/heavenly beings

In this case, the human being could either (a) be symbolic of the righteous (people of God) on earth, or (b) indicate the elevation of a human being (or humankind) to a heavenly status and position before God. Of these options, the first is more plausible, given the references in 7:22, 27; however, already at the end of Daniel (12:2-3) we find the righteous being exalted to a heavenly, celestial position. We have also seen the idea of a human being specifically elevated to divine/heavenly status in the Enoch traditions (1 En 70-71, etc), and, of course, with the person of Jesus in early Christian belief; several of the texts from Qumran (4Q427, 4Q491, etc) suggest something similar.

Christophany and Christological Interpretation

It has been popular among Christians to view this heavenly Messenger of Daniel 3:25 as an Old Testament appearance or manifestation of Jesus—that is, a “Christophany” of the pre-existant Christ (Son of God). There are a number of writings of the early Church Fathers which indicate such a belief, though it is not attested before the end of the 2nd century A.D. Here the most notable passages which survive:

  • Irenaeus [late 2nd century], Against Heresies I.5.2—identifies the one resembling a “son of God” with “the Son of God”, though he does not specifically say that this was Jesus in a pre-incarnate form.
  • Tertullian [early 3rd century], Against Marcion 4:10—conflates Dan 3:25 and 7:13, reading “Son of Man” in both passages, but clearly with the idea that “Son of Man” indicates Jesus’ deity. In chapter 21 of the same book, he states that it was Jesus (as Son of Man) who saved the lives of the three young men.
  • Hippolytus [early-mid 3rd century], Commentary (Scholia) on Daniel, understands the “son of God” to be Christ, but wonders how Nebuchadnezzar could have recognized this—it prefigures the acceptance of Christ by the Gentiles.
  • Jerome, Commentary on Daniel (commenting on the text with the Additions [cf. above], vv. 49, 92 [25], 95 [28])—accepts the plain meaning of the text as referring to an Angel, and interprets this typologically as relating to Christ: “this angel or son of God foreshadows our Lord Jesus Christ, who descended into the furnace of hell… in order that he might without suffering any scorching by fire or injury to his person deliver those who were held imprisoned by chains of death” [English translation by Gleason Archer]. Cf. also Letter 130.10.
  • Athanasius, in his Fourth Discourse Against the Arians §24, accepts Dan 3:25 as a Christophany without comment; Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.13.80, offers a brief interpretation similar to that of Hippolytus.

Along similar lines, a fair number of commentators throughout the centuries have identified Jesus with the “Messenger of YHWH” in the Old Testament, and that Dan 3:25, 28 (vv. 49, 92, 95 in the Greek version) indicates one such appearance of the pre-existent Christ as the Angel of the Lord. It must be said that there is really nothing in the Old Testament to warrant this interpretation. Nor is there much in the New Testament to support it. While Jesus was identified with the “one like a son of man” in Mark 13:26; 14:61 par; Rev 1:7, 13; 14:14ff, there is no comparable identification with the one “resembling a son of God”. I find only two passages which could conceivably be cited in support of Old Testament Christophany and/or recognizing Jesus as the Angel of YHWH:

  • In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul draws upon Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding the rock of Kadesh and well of Beer (Numbers 20-21), giving it a spiritual and Christological interpretation, declaring that the life-giving rock which followed the Israelites “was the Anointed (One) {Christ}”. While we cannot be absolutely certain, this seems to indicate a belief that the pre-existent Christ appeared in a miraculous form among the ancient Israelites. If so, Paul likely would have recognized a similar presence of Jesus in other episodes from Israelite history; however, he makes no mention of this elsewhere in his letters.
  • The identification of Jesus with the Messenger of God in Malachi 3:1. I have discussed this passage in an earlier note. While early Christian tradition, based on the explanation provided in Mal 4:5-6, settled on the interpretation of this Messenger as a human being—John the Baptist, fulfilling the end-time role of “Elijah”—elsewhere in Gospel tradition, it is Jesus himself who appears to be the “Messenger of the Covenant” and the “Lord” who comes to the Temple (in the original context of Mal 3:1ff). The basic Synoptic narrative, with the centrality and climactic setting of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (and into the Temple), supports such an interpretation.

Once early Christians came to understand the earthly (historical) Jesus as the incarnation of pre-existent Deity (Son of God, Word/Wisdom of God), it was easy enough to identify him with the Messenger of YHWH, since this figure often represents the presence and power of God Himself made manifest to humankind. However, this Christological application has not yet been made explicit in the New Testament.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Dan 7:13-14

Daniel 7:13-14

Dan 7:13-14, which would prove to be enormously influential on eschatological and Messianic thought, both in Judaism and in early Christianity, itself holds a central place in chapter 7 of the book of Daniel (for the structure of the chapter, cf. below). It is part of the heavenly Throne-vision in vv. 9-12, similar to other such visions in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—1 Kings 22:19ff; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; 3:22-24; 10:1, cf. also 1 Enoch 14:18-23; 60:2; 90:20, etc (Collins, p. 300). The throne is said to have wheels, and thus is to be understood as a chariot-throne, which draws upon ancient Near Eastern mythic imagery, associated with heavenly/celestial phenomena—i.e. the fiery chariot of the sun, etc—and the divine powers which control them. For chariot imagery related to God and Heaven in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 68:17; 104:3; Isa 66:15; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:15-21; 10:2. The idea of God’s chariot-throne would play an especially important role among the Jewish visionary mystics of the Merkabah/Hekhalot tradition.

Interestingly the text of verse 9 reads “the thrones [pl. /w`s*r=k*] were set [lit. thrown, i.e. into place]”, and there is some question as to the use of the plural here. It probably should be taken as indicative of the setting—the heavenly Council or Court. In ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) tradition, the high deity °E~l (generally identified with YHWH in the Old Testament) presides over the Council of the gods; in the context of Israelite monotheism, the “gods” (°¢lîm/°§lœhîm) are created heavenly beings (i.e. Angels) who sit in the Council—Psalm 82:1; 89:7; Job 1:6, etc. For an elaborate description of the Angels surrounding the chariot-throne of God, cf. the so-called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice” (4Q400-407, 11Q17) from Qumran, esp. 4Q405 frags. 20, 23 (11Q17 cols. 7-10); and in early Christian tradition, note Matt 25:31, as well as the (Christian?) corollary of human beings on the thrones surrounding God/Christ (Matt 19:28; Rev 4:2ff; 20:4). Cf. Collins, p. 301.

On the throne is seated the /ym!oy qyT!u^ (±attîq yômîn), usually translated as “(the) Ancient of Days”, with the adjective qyT!u^ understood (on the basis of its cognates in Hebrew) as “advanced”, either in the sense of age or of prominence and wealth (majesty, etc). This image is likely drawn from the mythic-religious tradition of depicting the high God °E~l as an elderly patriarch (with long white/grey beard), though here it has been adapted to traditional Israelite visionary images of the glory of God (El / YHWH)—Exod 24:9-11; 1 Kings 22:19ff; Isa 6:1-5; Ezek 1. Verse 9b-10a vividly depicts the divine figure seated on his fiery chariot-throne, with countless multitudes (of heavenly beings) serving him. The vision scene in 1 Enoch 14:15-23 provides an interesting comparison.

From verses 11-12 it is clear that the Heavenly Council is also the Court, with God ruling as Judge (Psalm 82, etc). Judgment is brought against the Beasts of the earlier part of the vision (vv. 2-8, cf. below)—a sentence of death is pronounced and executed against one Beast (the fourth), while the others are stripped of their kingdoms but allowed to live for a time. It is in this context that verses 13-14 must be understood:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

This figure comes near and approaches the “Ancient of Days”, and is given authority/rule (/f*l=v*), honor/glory (rq*y+), and (a) kingdom (Wkl=m^), so that “all the peoples, nations and tongues [i.e. languages] would serve him”. The question as to the identity of this “(one) like a son of man” has long vexed commentators, leading to a variety of interpretations, some more plausible than others. In terms of the original context of the vision in the book of Daniel, I would suggest three basic possibilities regarding this figure:

    1. Symbolic—he represents the Kingdom of God or the people of God (and their dominion)
    2. Real, but archetypal—i.e. he is the heavenly archetype of humankind (“son of man”), specifically the righteous/holy ones (people of God)
    3. Real, and personal—he is a real heavenly being, an Angel such as Michael who represents the people of God, supporting and protecting them, etc.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these:

1. The symbolic view is supported by the structure of the passage (chapter 7) itself, where the “(one) like a son of man”, and the kingdom he receives, is set parallel with the people of God (and they kingdom they receive), cf. below. Also, this figure resembling a human being is clearly meant as a contrast with the four “beasts” of vv. 2-8; since they are taken to represent four earthly kingdoms (in their savagery and violence), it is logical that the human being likewise represents the kingdom of the people of God.

2. The same parallelism could just as well be interpreted in an archetypal sense—that the heavenly “son of man” is the type/pattern for the righteous/holy ones on earth. This certainly seems to be the way that Daniel 7 was expounded and interpreted in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), and also, to some extent, by the Qumran community (cf. below).

3. It is the third view, however, which seems best to fit the immediate context and thought-patterns in the book of Daniel. Angels are prominent in the second half of the book, and are generally depicted in human terms (Dan 8:15; 9:21; 10:5; 12:5-7; cf. also 3:25), as they often are elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen 18:2; Josh 5:13; Judg 13:6, 8, 16; Ezek 8:2; 9-10; Zech 1:8; 2:5, cf. Collins, pp. 306-7). A specific identification with the chief Angel (Archangel) Michael is possible, given his comparable role and position in Dan 12:1 (cf. also 10:13, 21). The “(one) like a son of man” should probably be understood as a real heavenly being, at least similar to an (arch)Angel such as Michael. This does not eliminate the parallelism or corollary with the people of God, as is clear enough by the evidence from Qumran (on this, cf. below).

Before proceeding, it may be helpful to examine the structure of Daniel 7 in outline form:

  • V. 1: Narrative introduction/setting
  • Vv. 2-14: The Vision of the Four Beasts
    —The Four Beasts (vv. 2-8)
    —The Ancient of Days who presides in Judgment over the Beasts (vv. 9-12)
    —The Son of Man who receives the everlasting kingdom/dominion (vv. 13-14)
  • Vv. 15-27: The Interpretation of the Vision
    —Basic outline/explanation: Four Kingdoms (vv. 15-18)
    —The Kingdom of the Fourth Beast (vv. 19-25)
    —Judgment and the Kingdom of the People of God (vv. 26-27)
  • V. 28: Conclusion

Verses 13-14 and 26-27 are clearly parallel in several respects:

    • Judgment in the Heavenly Court (vv. 9-12, 26)
      • Kingdom taken away from the Beast(s)
    • Everlasting Kingdom/Dominion
      • Given to the “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14)
      • Given to the “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High” (v. 27)

Interestingly, we find the same basic paradigm, it would seem, in the Pseudo-Daniel (Aramaic) text 4Q246 from Qumran, which was certainly influenced by Daniel 7.

An important point lies in the way that heavenly and human beings are united in the term “holy ones” (Heb. <yvdwq, Aram. /yvydq). Although a few instances are uncertain or disputed, the majority of occurrences of the plural “holy ones” in the Old Testament would seem to refer to heavenly beings (i.e. Angels)—Deut 33:2; Psalm 89:5, 7; Job 5:1; 15:15; Dan 4:17; Zech 14:5, and cf. also the LXX of Exod 15:11. The only clear instances where “holy ones” refer to human beings (on earth) are in Deut 33:3 (cf. the par with verse 2); Psalm 16:3; 34:10. Especially significant is the usage in the Qumran texts, which in many ways are close to the eschatological/apocalyptic imagery and thought-world of Daniel, and, indeed, were certainly influenced by the book. The Qumran Community saw itself as connected with the Angels—the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the Holy Ones in Heaven; this was a key aspect of their self-understanding, in particular, of their eschatological role and identity. Indeed, they referred to themselves as “congregation of the holy ones”, and in 1QM 10:10; 12:7; 1QH 11:11-12 we find the very expression (“people of the holy ones”) as in Dan 7:27; note also the variant formula “holy ones of the people” (1QM 6:6; 16:1). On the relation between the Community and the Angels, and their inter-connection, cf. especially in the War Scroll (1QM 12:7, etc), passages in the Rule documents (1QSa 2:8-9; 1QSb 3:25-26; 4:23-25), and in the Hymns (1QH 3:21-22; 4:24-25; 11:11-12). For these and other references, cf. Collins pp.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), which may well be contemporary with Jesus and the earliest Gospel tradition, there is an equally clear, and (in some ways) even more precise correspondence between the holy/righteous ones on earth and in heaven—1 Enoch 39:5; 47:2; 51:4, etc. It is indicated that their true nature and position will be revealed at the end-time Judgment (1 En 38:4-5). The Son of Man is their ideal/archetypal heavenly representative (the Righteous One, the Elect One); in the concluding chapters 70-71, we see how Enoch himself, as the first human being to be raised to heavenly status, is identified with this Son of Man, apparently merging/assimilating with him in some way.

What of the traditional interpretation of the “one like a son of man” with the Messiah in Jewish thought? Apart from the possible example of 4Q246 from Qumran, this association does not seem to have been clearly formed until the 1st century A.D. In the Similitudes of Enoch, the Son of Man figure, certainly inspired by Daniel 7, is specifically called “(the) Anointed One” (1 En 48:10; 52:4); cf. also the context in 2/4 Esdras 13 (late 1st-century A.D.). The Messianic interpretation came to be the dominant view in Rabbinic literature (b. Sanh. 89a; Num. Rabbah 13:14, et al); even the plural “thrones” in Dan 7:9 could be understood in this light (one throne for God, one for the Messiah), as traditionally expressed by R. Akiba (b. Chag. 14a; b. Sanh. 38b). For early Christians, of course, the Messianic interpretation was applied to the person of Jesus—first in terms of his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (from whence he will come at the end-time Judgment), and subsequently, in terms of his pre-existent deity. According to either strand of tradition and belief, his divine/heavenly status and position was superior to that of the Angels, just as the “one like a son of man” would seem to hold a special and exalted place in the context of Daniel 7. The identification of Jesus with this divine/heavenly figure appears to go back to the (authentic) early layers of Gospel tradition, and the Son of Man sayings by Jesus himself (for more on this, see in Part 10, and the additional supplemental note).

References marked “Collins” above are to John J. Collins’ commentary on Daniel in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993), esp. pages 299-323.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:10-14

Luke 2:10-14

Today’s Christmas Eve note focuses on the famous announcement by the heavenly Messengers (Angels) to the shepherds. This is the third such angelic appearance in the Lukan narrative, and they all follow a basic pattern (cf. the earlier note on Lk 1:26ff). They are also birth announcements, such as we find in Old Testament tradition (Gen 15-18; Judg 13, etc). The birth of Jesus itself is narrated in verses 6-7, parallel to that of John (in 1:57), and using similar wording:

“And it came to be…the days of her producing (a child) were (ful)filled, and she produced [i.e. gave birth to] her son, the first (she) produced…”

It is preceded, of course, by a relatively lengthy introduction in vv. 1-5, which establishes the setting of the scene, and has three main purposes for the author (trad. Luke):

  • It explains why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem
  • It emphasizes the Messianic association with David (and Bethlehem)
  • The mention of the Roman census/enrollment establishes a parallel (and contrast) between Jesus and the Emperor (Augustus), whose birth was celebrated as marking a time of peace and “salvation” for the world. For more on this connection, cf. the upcoming Christmas Day note.

To this may be added another (secondary) purpose:

  • The reference to the caravan resting-place and the feeding-trough (‘manger’) for animals (v. 7), as well as to the shepherds in vv. 8ff, emphasizes the association of Jesus with the poor and lowly in society—a theme given special attention in the Gospel of Luke.

Following the birth of Jesus, the Angelic announcement begins in verse 8, which sets the narrative scene—the outdoor, night setting of shepherds watching their herds (or flocks) in the fields around Bethlehem. Apart from historical concerns, the mention of shepherds almost certainly is meant to reinforce the connection with David and Bethlehem (cf. 1 Sam 16:11; 17:14-15ff). This important motif was introduced in the earlier annunciation to Mary (cf. the note on 1:32-35). Both in 1:26, and here again in 2:4ff, Joseph is said to be from David’s line (the “house of David” [oi@ko$ Daui/d]), the latter reference further emphasizing this fact—”out of the house and father’s line [patri/a] of David”. This Davidic descent of Joseph is confirmed by both of the genealogies recorded in Matthew and Luke, respectively (despite their apparent discrepancies). Moreover, in the ancient Near East, kings and rulers were often described with the name and/or symbols of a shepherd—i.e. as one who leads and protects the people, as a shepherd does his flock (cf. 2 Sam 5:2; Isa 44:28, etc). It was altogether natural, therefore, that the royal Messianic figure-type—the expected future king and deliverer from the line of David—would take on similar shepherd-imagery, such as we see in Micah 5:2-4 (cf. Matt 2:5-6); Ezek 34:23; 37:24; and Zech 10-12.

The annunciation itself begins in verse 9 with the appearance of the “Angel (lit. Messenger) of the Lord”:

“And the Messenger of the Lord stood upon [i.e. near to] them, and the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord put out beams (of light) around them, and they were afraid (with) a great fear [i.e. were truly afraid].”

After the traditional exhortation by the heavenly Messenger (“Do not be afraid [mh\ fobei=sqe]!”), the birth of Jesus is declared:

“For see!—I give you a good message (of) great delight which will be for all the people…” (v. 10)

The verb is eu)aggeli/zomai, which is related to the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. “gospel”). Similarly, the noun xa/ra (from the verb xai/rw, “have/find joy, delight, etc”) is related to xa/ri$ (“favor”, i.e. “grace”)—that is to say, delight comes specifically from the favor shown by God to his people in the birth of Jesus (cf. the note on 1:32-35). The remainder of the announcement in verse 11 utilizes language and terminology which needs to be considered closely:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] there was produced [i.e. has been born] for you today a Savior—which is (the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord—in the city of David!”

The conjunctive particle o%ti gives the reason for the good message of delight which the Angel brings. This clearly is a birth announcement, marking the moment (the day) of the child’s birth—”was produced/born…today [sh/meron]”—and the purpose of the birth is declared as being “for you”, i.e. for those the Angel is addressing (the shepherds, and through them, to all people [v. 10]). Note the chain of names and terms which follow, all of them having Messianic significance:

  • a Savior (sw/thr)
    —the Anointed One (xristo/$)
    —the Lord (ku/rio$)
  • in the city of David (e)n po/lei Daui/d)

The noun sw/thr, derived from the verb sw/zw (“save, protect, preserve [life]”), and related to the noun swthri/a (“salvation”, 1:69, 71, 77), occurs 24 times in the New Testament where it is applied equally to God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus, most frequently in the (later) writings (the Pastoral letters, 2 Peter, etc). It is surprisingly rare in the Gospels and early Christian tradition—apart from the references in Luke-Acts, cf. Jn 4:42 and Phil 3:20 (where the eschatological context is clear). It was used earlier in the Magnificat (1:47) as a title for the Lord God (Yahweh); the other occurrences are in Acts 5:31; 13:23, and reflect early Christian Gospel preaching (kerygma)—note especially how Jesus’ role as Savior is connected with his resurrection and exaltation in Acts 5:31.

The title xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”) specifically relates to Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) expected by Israelites and Jews of the time—in particular, the figure-type of the future Davidic ruler who would usher in the end-time Judgment and deliver the faithful among God’s people. I discuss this title at considerable length the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. especially Parts 6-8). The Messianic context is clear—the title is set within the phrase “Savior…in the city of David [e)n po/lei Daui/d]” (cf. the outer pairing, above). The expression “city of David” could apply either to Jerusalem or Bethlehem; here it is certainly the latter.

Paired with xristo/$ is the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), a noun already used 19 times in the Lukan Infancy narrative, mainly as a title for God the Father (Yahweh, cf. the earlier article). It was first applied to Jesus in 1:43, while v. 76 plays on the dual-meaning and reference among early Christians (cf. the prior note). There are several ways to read the two titles taken together here:

  • As a pair in apposition—”(the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord”, or, perhaps “(the) Anointed (One and) Lord”
  • With xristo/$ essentially functioning as an adjective—”(the) anointed Lord”
  • The variant reading with the genitive kuri/ou—”(the) Anointed of the Lord”, “(the) Lord’s Anointed (One)” (cf. Lk 2:26, etc)

The first option is to be preferred. For an important occurrence of the two titles together, cf. Peter’s Pentecost speech in Acts 2:36 (2:14-40).

The Angelic announcement, like the others previous, concludes with a sign, given by the Messenger, confirming the truthfulness of the message (v. 12). After this we read:

“And (suddenly) without (any) apparent (warning), there came to be, (together) with the Messenger, a multitude of the heavenly Army praising God and declaring…” (v. 13)

This motif of the Angel of the Lord along with the heavenly army goes back to ancient cosmic military imagery, associated with Yahweh/El (cf. the article on Yahweh). Here it serves to emphasize the divine splendor (do/ca) and power of the moment. The short declaration which follows in verse 14 is usually counted as one of the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narrative, and like the others, is known by the first words in Latin (Gloria in Excelsis). It is almost certainly the single most famous verse in the narrative, best known from the King James Version; I translate the Greek here literally:

“Honor in the highest (place)s to God
and upon earth peace among men of eu)doki/a!”

As a hymn it is indeed short—just two parallel lines—but it turns out to be quite difficult to translate and interpret with precision. The main difficulty lies in the first and last words, which are actually related, though this is almost impossible to preserve in English:

  • do/ca (dóxa)—typically rendered as “glory”, but the Greek word itself is better translated “esteem, honor”; as applied to God, in particular, there are two distinct aspects which need to be recognized:
    • the primary sense is the esteem/honor which is due to God from created beings (humans and Angels both)—literally, how we think of Him, considering and recognizing His nature, attributes, and actions (as Creator and on behalf of His people); this is essentially the meaning here in v. 14
    • when referring to God Himself, his greatness, etc, is often depicted visually with light-imagery, and likewise when it is narrated that God appears or manifests Himself to human beings; in such a context, the translation “splendor” is more appropriate, as in verse 9 (cf. above)
  • eu)doki/a (eudokía)—this noun, derived from the verb doke/w and the particle eu), essentially refers to a person considering (something) as good, thinking well of (someone/something), etc. The noun eu)doki/a is found most commonly in the Greek version of the Old Testament, especially in relation to the word /oxr*, indicating something which is acceptable or pleasing to a person. As such, it is frequently used in the religious sense of God showing favor to human beings, and his willingness to do so. Of the eight other occurrences of this word in the New Testament, five refer to God’s purpose and concern with regard to believers, and, in particular, the salvation, etc, he brings to them in the person (and Gospel) of Jesus Christ (Matt 11:26 / Lk 10:21; Phil 2:13; Eph 1:5, 9). On the text-critical question regarding the form of this word, cf. the article “What the Angelic Chorus said…“.

There is thus a definite parallel between the two words and the two lines of verse 14—human begins give praise and honor to God (in heaven) and God shows favor and has good regard for his people (on earth). This is described in spatial terms:

  • e)n u(yi/stoi$ (“in [the] highest [place]s”, i.e. the [highest] heavens)—in 1:78, the light of God’s mercy and salvation comes from “out of (the) height [e)c u%you$]”. God is referred to by the title “Highest” (u%yisto$) in 1:32, 35, 76, reflecting the ancient Semitic title ±Elyôn, and the idea of God as the “Mightiest/Greatest” and “(most) Exalted”.
  • e)pi\ gh=$ (“upon earth”), which qualifies the expression e)n a)nqrw/poi$ (“in/among men”) as parallel to e)n u(yi/stoi$—i.e. “in the places (where) men (dwell) on earth”

The genitive expression in v. 14b (e)n a)qrw/poi$ eu)doki/a$) is most difficult to translate, but a fair approximation would be something like “among men of (His) good will”. Based on similar Hebrew/Aramaic expressions known from the Qumran texts (1QH 4:32-33; 11:9; 4Q545 frag. 3), it would refer to people who are pleasing to God, or who have been favored by him. In traditional, ethnic-religious terms, this would mean the chosen people of Israel—specifically, the faithful ones among them. For the use of eu)doki/a in this context, cf. Psalms of Solomon 8:39 (mid-1st century B.C.). This means that v. 14b is not a promise or blessing of peace for all of humankind (strictly speaking), but rather for those who have been favored by God and are faithful to him. This helps us to understand the Angel’s words in verse 10: “I give to you a good message of great delight which is for all the people“. From an early Christian standpoint, and within the overall context of Luke-Acts, there are two important aspects to observe, whereby the favor of God is extended to “all people”:

  • Salvation through Christ is for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike—that is, for all the “people” (cf. 2:30-32), the people of God (believers in Christ). The book of Acts emphasizes the early mission to the Gentiles (the “Nations”).
  • The Gospel and the early Christian mission is for all demographics, all segments of society—i.e. all the people—with special attention given to the poor and oppressed, etc, those otherwise neglected and marginalized within society (cf. Acts 2:17ff, “all flesh”).

How then should we understand the emphasis on peace (ei)rh/nh) in verse 14? From a traditional religious standpoint, it refers to the blessing, security and protection which comes from God—e.g., Num 6:24-26; Psalm 29:11; 85:8-10; Isa 48:18; 54:10; Jer 16:5; Ezek 34:25-29; 1 Enoch 1:8 (Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 224-5). Peace is an important characteristic of the coming Messianic age, which God’s anointed representative (the Messiah) ushers in—cf. Isa 9:6-7 [Heb vv. 5-6]; 52:7; 55:12; Ezek 37:26; Zech 9:10, etc. According to the traditional portrait, this peace is connected with the judgment and defeat of the (wicked) nations (Ps Sol 17-18; 4Q246 col 2, etc). While early Christians expected Jesus to fulfill something of this aspect of the Messiah’s role upon his (future) return, which coincides with the end-time Judgment, the peace he brings in the Gospels is of a different sort. A blessing of peace comes with acts of healing/saving by Jesus (Lk 7:50; 8:48); similarly, the customary peace-greeting takes on new significance when Jesus (or his representative) appears in the house (Lk 10:5-6; 24:36 par, etc). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an opportunity for the people to accept and realize the peace he brings (19:38, 42), but they ultimately rejected him and he was put to death as a criminal rather than accepted as the true Anointed One of God. There is an obvious parallel in language and terminology between the Angelic song in 2:14 and the cry of the crowd in 19:38. The kind of peace expected to be the result of the Messiah’s coming, in socio-political and military terms, was, in fact, realized, to some extent, at the time of Jesus during the reign of the emperor Augustus, commemorated by the famous altar to the Augustan peace (Ara Pacis Augustae, 13-9 B.C.). There can be little doubt that the author of the Gospel is drawing an intentional point of contrast between the birth of Jesus and that of Augustus, whose birthday was also celebrated as a time of “salvation” for the world (cf. above).