December 23: Revelation 20:11-15

Revelation 20:11-15

This is the last of the four scenes in chapter 20; like the second scene (vv. 4-6, cf. the prior note), it is centered on the throne of God in heaven, and refers to the heavenly aspect of the great Judgment.

Revelation 20:11

“And I saw a great white ruling-seat [qro/no$], and the (one) sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven(s) fled (away), and a place was not found for them (any longer).”

The color white, as a divine symbol, indicating both purity/holiness and victory, has been used repeatedly in the book of Revelation (4:4; 6:11; 7:9ff; 19:11, 14, etc). Here it specifically characterizes the qro/no$, or ruling-seat of God in heaven, which features prominently in the visions of chapters 4 and 5, as elsewhere in the book (1:4; 6:16; 7:9-17; 8:3; 12:5, etc). Since the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) rules alongside God the Father (at His right hand), he shares this same throne, and the People of God in heaven—i.e. the raised/exalted believers, and symbolized by the 24 Elders—also sit upon heavenly thrones (4:4; 11:16; 20:4), in the presence of God and Christ.

The reference to the earth and sky (“heaven[s]”) fleeing from God’s face is a traditional apocalyptic motif, indicating that creation itself cannot stand before the manifest presence and power of God. Moreover, here it alludes to the dissolution of the ko/smo$ and the end of the Age. Various upheavals in the natural order would already have taken place during the end-time period of distress, and more so with the return of Jesus and beginning of the Judgment, as depicted vividly in the sixth seal-vision (6:12-17) and all throughout the trumpet- and bowl-vision cycles (chaps. 8-9, 15-16). This corresponds to the more concise reference to the events surrounding the coming of the Son of Man in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus—Mark 13:24-25ff par, drawing upon Old Testament passages such as Isa 13:10; 24:23; 34:4; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15. This “Day of YHWH” imagery (cf. Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zeph 1:15, etc) has ancient roots in Near Eastern and Israelite tradition. The difference is that here, as in other apocalyptic Jewish writings of the period, the imagery is unquestionably eschatological—it refers to the end of the current Age (and to the end of the world/universe as we know it).

Revelation 20:12

“And I saw the dead—the great (one)s and small (one)s (alike)—having stood in the sight of the ruling-seat. And the paper-rolls were opened (up), and another paper-roll was (also) opened, which is the (roll) of life, and the dead (one)s were judged out of the (thing)s having been written in the paper-rolls, according to their works.”

This is the heavenly Judgment—that is, the end-time Judgment in its heavenly aspect—which is itself a reflection of the more ancient afterlife Judgment scene, widespread in religious thought throughout the ancient Near East (and in other cultures). Here the afterlife setting is preserved, since it clearly refers to the dead. Presumably it involves all human beings, though believers have already been set aside, having passed through the Judgment, as is indicated by the passing reference to the “roll of life” (3:5; 13:8; 17:8). The idea of election/predestination is strong in the book of Revelation, though this does not preclude the need for believers to remain faithful, nor negate the real danger of being led astray by the evil/wickedness in the world. These bi/blia, or scrolls (lit. paper-rolls), draw upon two lines of tradition: (1) a record of a person’s deeds which will be used in the (afterlife) Judgment, and (2) rolls of citizenship, in which the names of those belonging to a particular city or locale are recorded. The visions in Revelation make use of both images, which are also attested elsewhere in Scripture (Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Dan 7:10; 12:1; Mal 3:16; Luke 10:20; Phil 3:20-4:3). Here the former tradition—the record of a persons deeds (e&rga, “works”)—is emphasized.

Revelation 20:13

“And the Sea gave (up) the dead th(at are) in it, and Death and the Unseen realm gave (up) the dead th(at are) in them, and they were judged, each (person), according to their works.”

In the book of Revelation “the sea” (h( qa/lassa) is primarily a symbol, signifying the dark and chaotic domain of evil, especially as it exerts influence over the peoples of the earth (the nations). For more on the ancient roots of this symbolism, cf. my recent article in the “Ancient Parallels” series. Here the “Sea” is fittingly paired with Death and the realm of the dead (the “unseen” realm, a%|dh$, hades). This generally indicates that we are dealing with the Judgment of the wicked, the heavenly Judgment against the nations. While elsewhere in Scripture, believers are also said to have their works judged (Rom 2:15-16; 1 Cor 3:13-15; 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10, etc), here it is primarily, if not exclusively, the wicked (unbelievers) who are being judged by their works.

Revelation 20:14

“And Death and the Unseen realm (of the dead) were thrown into the lake of fire—this is the second death, the lake of fire.”

The fact that Death and Hades (= Hebrew Sheol) are thrown into the lake of fire, just as the Satan was (v. 10), suggests a mythic personification of Death—i.e. Death as a person, ruler over the realm of the dead. This is well-established in Biblical tradition, even if the authors of Scripture did not necessarily take the personification in a literal, concrete sense (cf. Rom 5:14ff; 6:9; 1 Cor 15:26, 54-56; Rev 1:18; 6:8). The idea of a second death reflects the distinction between earthly and heavenly Judgment, especially as it pertains to the wicked—the earthly Judgment results in physical death (19:21, etc), while the heavenly Judgment ends in a final death of the soul. All human beings (including believers) must endure the physical death of the body, but believers are saved from the second death (2:11). Fire is a primary motif of judgment, and especially of the heavenly Judgment (cf. the previous note). While the specific image of a lake (or river) of fire is traditional, stemming from ancient conceptions of death and the underworld, it is possible that, in the book of Revelation, it alludes to the visionary symbolism associated with the Sea.

Revelation 20:15

“And if any (one) was not found (with his name) having been written in the paper-roll of life, he (also) was thrown into the lake of fire.”

This statement is a simple and traditional description of the fate of the wicked in the heavenly (afterlife) Judgment. It serves as a fitting conclusion to the entire complex of visions that depict the end-time Judgment, particularly those spanning chapters 15-20 (cf. also 6:12-17; chaps. 8-9; 11:13ff; 14:6-20).

The final two chapters of the book of Revelation deal specifically with the New Age, the blessed and eternal life of believers, the People of God, in heaven. Before proceeding with a study of chaps. 21-22, it is necessary to attempt a summary of the book’s eschatology, as it pertains to the Last Judgment, and to give further consideration to the traditional background (and meaning) of the “thousand years” in chap. 20, the so-called Millennium. This will be done via a pair of supplemental articles.

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December 21: Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6

This is the second of the four visionary episodes in chapter 20 (on the first episode, vv. 1-3, cf. the previous note). As I indicated, these visions alternate between two distinct, but related, themes: (1) a thousand-year period during which Satan is imprisoned (vv. 1-3, 7-10), and (2) the heavenly judgment before the throne of God (vv. 4-6, 11-15). Moreover, the visionary scenes of chap. 20 can be understood in two different ways: (a) as the continuation/climax of chap. 19 (and the earlier Judgment-visions), or (b) as a separate/parallel cycle of visions depicting the eschatological scenario from the exaltation of Jesus to the final Judgment.

Revelation 20:4

“And I saw seats of rule [qro/noi], and they sat down upon them and judgment was given to them, and the souls of the (ones) having been struck with an axe [i.e. beheaded] through [i.e. because of] the witness of Yeshua and through the word/account of God, the (one)s who did not kiss toward [i.e. worship] the wild animal and did not (worship) its image, and (also) did not receive the engraved (mark) upon the (space) between (their) eyes and upon their hands—and they (all) lived and ruled as king with the Anointed (One for) a thousand years.”

The ambiguity of the syntax in this description at several points creates some difficulty for interpretation. The first is that the referent for the initial pronoun “they/them” is unclear. There are several possibilities:

    • It refers to the twenty-four Elders (4:4, 10; 11:6, etc), representing the People of God in their heavenly aspect, who pronounce judgment on behalf of the faithful ones (believers) who have come through the period of distress.
    • It anticipates the slain believers (martyrs) mentioned in the next phrases—i.e., the ruling-seats are reserved for them and they sit down on them.
    • It is a general and comprehensive reference to believers as a whole, of whom those slain during the period of distress are especially deserving of mention.

Secondly the precise meaning of the phrase kri/ma e)do/qh au)toi=$ (“judgment was given to them”) is disputed; it could mean either (a) that judgment was given for them (i.e. on their behalf), or (b) that they were given the power to render judgment. The idea of believers serving as judges in heaven (and/or in the Age to Come) is expressed at several points in early Christian tradition (Matt 19:28; par Luke 22:30; 1 Cor 6:1-2); however, in the book of Revelation, judgment is consistently reserved for God and the exalted Jesus (14:7; 16:5, 7; 19:11; 20:12-13). Yet here, if those on the thrones rule together with Jesus, then it is reasonable to assume that they have the power to render judgment along with him as well. I find it difficult to decide which aspect of the phrase is being emphasized, yet I would probably interpret the setting of verse 4 as follows:

The ruling-seats, or thrones, are reserved for all true believers, who, in their exalted status, become part of the People of God in its heavenly aspect. Those who remained faithful during the period of distress are true believers, though they are not the only such ones; the reason why they are mentioned here is two-fold:

(1) they are the focus of the visions of Revelation (esp. chapters 13ff), and
(2) they relate most immediately to the original audience of the book, since, based on the imminent eschatology of early Christians, it was expected that the majority of those first readers would go through the period of distress described in the visions, with many of them suffering and being put to death.

If believers occupy a place of rule along with Jesus, then they also have the power to judge, the phrase kri/ma e)do/qh au)toi=$ probably meaning that this authority for judgment was given to them. Believers are said to rule with Jesus for a “thousand years” (a symbolic number), but it is by no means clear that this is a kingdom on earth (cf. below).

Revelation 20:5

“And the (one)s remaining of the dead did not live (again) until the thousand years were completed, (since) this is the first standing up [i.e. resurrection] (out of the dead).”

Again, there is some uncertainty regarding this scenario: does the “remainder of the dead” refer to (1) all other believers, or (2) all non-believers, or a combination of the two? Most likely this is a roundabout way of making a distinction between the resurrection of dead believers, and all other human beings (non-believers). References to the end-time resurrection are surprisingly rare in the book of Revelation, as are descriptions of the return of Jesus. However, almost certainly, there is an allusion to both in 14:14-16, where the harvest imagery refers to the gathering of believers to Jesus at his end-time return, which would include the resurrection of those who have died (cf. 1 Thess 4:14-17 and the harvest imagery in 1 Cor 15:20-23, 36ff). Thus the “first” resurrection is that of believers, at Jesus’ return, while the rest of humankind is raised at a ‘later’ point (or stage) to face the Judgment in heaven. Here the visionary scene depicts the two events occurring at the beginning and end of a symbolic “thousand year” period. The use of the verb za/w (“live”) in vv. 4-5 has the special connotation of living or coming to life again.

Revelation 20:6

“Happy and holy is the (one) holding a part in the first standing up [i.e. resurrection]—upon these the second death does not hold (any) e)cousi/a [i.e. authority/power], but they will be sacred (servant)s of God and of the Anointed (One), and they will rule as kings with him (for) [the] thousand years.”

The opening adjective maka/rio$ (“happy”) marks this as another beatitude (or macarism) in the book of Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; also 22:7, 14). The background of the beatitude form is fundamentally eschatological, originally relating to the idea of the judgment-scene in the afterlife. Those who pass through the judgment (after death) will be worthy of entering into the blessed and divine life (in heaven). Eschatological tradition shifts the focus of the Judgment from the afterlife to the end-time, but the basic concepts and imagery are the same. Here the afterlife setting is retained, since the visionary portrait relates to the resurrection of believers who have died.

There are two aspects for the second adjective, a%gio$ (“holy”)—(1) it indicates the purity of the believers who have remained faithful, especially during the end-time period of distress (cf. 13:7, 10; 14:12), and (2) it signifies their exalted status, sharing in the holiness of God and Christ (3:7; 4:8; 6:10). The designation of believers as priests (i(erei=$, “sacred officials”) and kings, echoes ancient Old Testament tradition regarding Israel as the People of God (Exod 19:6; Isa 61:6, etc). This same language was applied to believers generally in the New Testament (1 Pet 2:5, 9), but its takes on special significance in the book of Revelation, which ultimately depicts the very exaltation of believers, realizing their status as the People of God in heaven, that is anticipated elsewhere in early Christian tradition (cf. 1:6; 5:10).

The expression “the second death” will be discussed in the note on vv. 11-15. Just as there are two resurrections, so there are also two deaths—one related primarily to believers, the other reserved for non-believers. This distinction also runs parallel to the two aspects of the Judgment-setting—earthly and heavenly. The earthly Judgment leads to physical death for the wicked (19:21), while the heavenly Judgment ends in the final death of the soul (20:14).

Does the scene in vv. 4-6 take place on earth or in heaven? Is the thousand year period, etc, symbolic of the blessed life in heaven, or is it meant to depict a span of actual time on earth? The answer to this question depends on how the book of Revelation envisions the Age to Come. It is not a simple answer, since the imagery and symbolism in visions of chapters 20-22, like that elsewhere in the book, is complex and multi-faceted. Moreover, within Jewish tradition there were several different ways of understanding the Age to Come; these generally can be distilled into two main constructs: (1) an idealized form of the current life on earth, emphasizing health and prosperity, long life and security, etc, and (2) the blessed life in heaven with God. These are not incompatible, but it can be difficult to harmonize them. As we proceed through the remaining visions of chaps. 20-22, we should be able to gain a clearer sense of how this is to be understood in the book of Revelation.

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December 9: Revelation 19:9-10

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:9-10

“And he says to me, ‘You must write (this): Happy (are) the (one)s having been called into the marriage supper of the Lamb’. And he says to me, ‘These are the true accounts [i.e. words/sayings] of God’.” (v. 9)

The subject of “he says” is not immediately clear; there is certainly a Messenger present with the seer in v. 10, perhaps to be identified with one of the two mentioned in chapter 18 (v. 1, 21). At the beginning of the book, the seer (John) was commanded to write down the things he would see in the visions (1:11, 19), a command which effectively runs through the letters to the seven cities (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). A closer parallel is found in 14:13, where what he is told to write is a beatitude, likewise beginning “happy (are) the ones…” (maka/rioi oi(…):

    • “Happy (are) the dead, the (one)s dying away in the Lord from now (on).” (14:13)
    • “Happy (are) the (one)s having been called into the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (19:9)

On the beatitude form itself, see my earlier study series on the Beatitudes of Jesus, esp. the introductory article on the contextual and historical background of the form, and the concluding article on the other beatitudes in the New Testament. The context of these beatitudes is fundamentally eschatological—that is, they relate to the blessed state of the righteous in the afterlife (or, in the Age to Come), following the Judgment. In Christian terms, the righteous and faithful ones (believers) will join in the heavenly, divine life, in the presence of the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) and God the Father. From the standpoint of the symbolism in the book of Revelation, this refers to the People of God in their heavenly aspect.

In this instance, the blessed life is expressed by the motif of a marriage and its wedding festivities (cf. the previous note). In Jesus’ parable of Matthew 22:1-10, the invitation to a wedding feast serves as a figure for the calling of believers and the proclamation of the Gospel. The meaning is comparable here, only the setting is that of the exalted condition of those believers who have remained faithful. There is actually a blending of images here, since believers represent both the bride and the wedding guests. As it happens, a number of written wedding-feast invitations, that are roughly contemporary, are preserved in the surviving ancient Greek papyri (e.g., P.Fay. 132, P.Oxy. 1579, 3313; Koester, p. 731).

The second declaration by the Angel (“these are the true words/accounts of God”) affirms the promise of salvation and the blessed future life for believers in Christ. Even as God Himself is true (a)lhqino/$, 3:7, 14; 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:2), so also are all His words and promises. This also confirms the inspired character of the visionary message (cf. on verse 10 below). One is reminded of the Johannine emphasis that identifies truth (a)lh/qeia) with the Holy Spirit (Jn 4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6).

“And I fell (down) in front of his feet to kiss toward [i.e. worship] him, and he said to me, ‘See (that) you do not (do that)! I am a slave together with you and all your brothers, (all) the (one)s holding the witness of Yeshua; (it is) God (that) you must kiss toward [i.e. worship]. For the witness of Yeshua is the Spirit of profhtei/a.'” (v. 10)

In previous notes, I have mentioned how there is a close relationship between believers and the heavenly beings (i.e. Messengers/Angels), both essentially making up (together) the People of God. This is expressed various ways throughout the book, and is emphasized again here in chapter 19, as exalted believers blend into the heavenly multitude (vv. 1-3, 6-8). The conjunction is also represented by the twenty-four Elders alongside the four Living beings (v. 4f). Perhaps nowhere is this relationship expressed more clearly than here in verse 10, where the Messenger (heavenly being) declares that he is “a slave together with” all human believers. The main thing they have in common is that they hold (vb e&xw) “the witness of Yeshua”. The directive by the Angel that the seer not give homage to (lit. “kiss toward”, i.e. worship) him, is found in other apocalyptic writings (e.g., Ascension of Isaiah 7:21) of the period, and so may have been something a standard traditional detail. It of course reflects the fundamental idea that worship belongs to God alone.

The expression “witness of Yeshua” (h( marturi/a  )Ihsou=) is central to the book of Revelation, which makes extensive use of the nouns marturi/a (9 times), ma/rtu$ (5 times), and the related verb marture/w (4 times)—the verb and noun marturi/a also occur frequently in the Johannine Gospel and Letters. The specific expression “witness of Yeshua” occurs four other times in the book of Revelation (1:2, 9; 12:17; 20:4). The genitival relationship can be understood two ways: either as a subjective genitive, i.e. Jesus is the one witnessing, or an objective genitive, in which case it is a witness about Jesus. Both are entirely valid, and each fits well in the overall outlook of Revelation. However, given the way that the book begins (cf. the initial note on 1:1), the subjective aspect should be given priority. Jesus is the one who gives witness, and believers reproduce Jesus’ own witness, both by word (preaching/proclamation) and example. This is beautifully expressed by the idea of believers following the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4).

The concluding declaration by the Angel states that “the witness of Yeshua is the Spirit of profhtei/a“. The relationship of this statement with the rest of vv. 9-10 is not immediately apparent. Normally, I would translate the noun profhtei/a rather literally as “foretelling”; however, this can be misleading, as it suggests that the word refers merely to predicting the future. Certainly, the visions in the book of Revelation are to be taken as prophetic in that sense (1:1, etc), and yet early Christian use of the Greek word-group is better understood in light of the corresponding Hebrew root abn. A ayb!n`, in the religious sense, functions as a spokesperson for God—i.e., one who speaks on God’s behalf, communicating His word and will to the people. This is fundamentally the significance of a profh/th$ (foreteller, prophet) in early Christianity as well. Such divine communication was considered to inspired by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God and Christ. Here, the statement confirms still further the close relationship between heavenly Messenger (Angel) and believer. Just as the Angel conveys the word and will of God, so also do believers through the Spirit. The basic message both groups convey can be defined as “the witness of Jesus”, and what unites believers (especially those gifted as prophets) with the heavenly beings—as messengers—is the guiding presence and activity of the Spirit. There are relatively few references to the Spirit in the book of Revelation, apart from the letters to the seven congregations in chaps. 2-3 (once in each letter). The seer (John) is said to be “in the Spirit” on several occasions, indicating the inspired and prophetic character of the visions (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10); however, the closest parallel to the statement here is perhaps found at 22:17, in the concluding words of the book.

Some commentators would treat verse 10 as the end of a major section, thus separating it from the remainder of chapter 19. The declaration regarding the prophetic Spirit would certainly fit such a climactic position. However, I do not believe this way of dividing the book is correct; in my view, it is much preferable to retain the integrity of chapter 19 as a distinct unit, a set of three visions similar in structure and theme to those of chapter 14. Indeed, it is the sequence of visions in chaps. 14 and 19, rather than the more elaborate seven-vision cycles, which best encapsulates the traditional early Christian eschatology. This will be discussed further in the next daily note (on vv. 11-16).

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December 8: Revelation 19:4-8

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:4-5

“And the twenty-four elder (one)s and the four living (being)s fell (down) and kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] God the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, saying: ‘Amen, Hallelu-Yah!’ And a voice came out from the ruling-seat, saying: ‘You must give praise to our God, all His slaves [and] the (one)s fearing Him, the small (one)s and great (one)s (both)!'”

On the significance of the twenty-four Elders and the four Living beings, cf. the earlier notes on 4:1-5 and 4:6-13. In my view, the 24 “elders” (presbu/teroi) represent the People of God, in their heavenly aspect, perhaps alluding to the 12 apostles and 12 tribes of Israel together (see 21:12-14). Their voices come between the two songs of praise by the multitude (cf. below); all they say in response is simply “Amen, Hallelu-Yah!”. The centrality of this scene is confirmed by the fact that these beings surround the throne of God; and it is a second voice, coming from the throne, which calls on the the People to give even greater praise to God. While such a heavenly voice often signifies that it is God Himself speaking, here it more probably refers to a great Messenger (Angel), one associated specifically with the throne.

In verse 2, believers were called “slaves” (dou=loi), as here again in verse 5; in fact, this is a regular label for Christians in the book of Revelation (1:1; 2:20; 7:3; 10:7; 11:18, etc), as also in the New Testament as a whole. It specifically connotes those who are faithful to the witness of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel (Paul uses it frequently as a self-designation for himself and other missionaries). The New Testament conception of dou=lo$ does not quite fit our modern idea of slavery, but it also rather inaccurate to translate with the softer term “servant”. While servitude is definitely indicated, here in the book of Revelation, especially, is the important idea of belonging to a master. The seal or branding provides the mark of ownership. Believers belong to God and Jesus (the Lamb), while the wicked (non-believers) belong to the forces of evil (Sea-creature/Dragon/Satan). Here all believers are addressed, collectively—small and great alike, from all backgrounds and segments of society.

Revelation 19:6-8

“And I heard as (though) a voice of a throng (of) many (people), as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunderings, saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! (For it is) that [our] Lord God the All-mighty ruled as king!
We should be glad and leap (for joy) and give honor to Him,
(in) that the marriage of the Lamb came,
and his woman [i.e. wife/bride] made herself ready (for it),
and it was given to her that she should throw (fine) linen about (her), bright and clean,
for the (fine) linen is the just (thing)s of the holy (one)s!'”

Again, as in vv. 1-3, a “throng of many (people)” (o&xlo$ pollo/$) uttered a song of praise, only now the multitude (of believers) has blended more completely into the heavenly scene, sounding also like “many waters” and “many thunderings”, both expressions characteristic of theophany—the presence and manifestation of God Himself (1:15; 4:5; 6:1; 11:19; 14:2). At the same time, the “many waters” in the vision of chapter 17 were interpreted as the nations and peoples of the earth (vv. 1, 15); this adds to the idea that we are still dealing with a great multitude of believers, the people of God, as in vv. 1-3 (cp. 7:9-10). However, now they speak with a voice that is virtually indistinguishable from the heavenly voice of God.

What the multitude sings is a hymn of praise to God, as in vv. 1-3, again opening with “Hallelu-Yah!”. The focus is on God’s kingship and kingdom, as it has finally been realized over all the nations and kingdoms on earth. The fall of the Great City, and with it the defeat of the nations (vv. 17-21), has demonstrated the ultimate authority of God and His anointed one, the exalted Jesus (the Lamb), over the earth. The verbal tenses throughout vv. 6, 7b-8 are aorist forms, indicating something which has taken place (in the past). However, here they could be understood as ingressive-stative aorists, i.e. that things are entering into a particular state; or, perhaps, as consummative or effective aorists, indicating that a climax has been reached, etc. Certainly, the great Judgment, marking the end of the current Age, makes for a dramatic climax to the visionary narrative. In terms of the narrative, the marriage (ga/mo$) of the Lamb is something that is about to happen. On the language in verse 7, cf. Isaiah 61:10 (Koester, p. 728).

There are numerous layers of meaning and significance to the motif here of marriage and wedding ceremony. To begin with, at the close of chapter 18, as part of a list of daily activities that will come to an end with the fall of the Great City are “the voice of bride-groom and bride”, i.e. wedding festivities and the institution of marriage. While they are gone from the fallen earthly City, they remain in the heavenly City, and, indeed, there is to be a great wedding between the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) and believers (the woman). I have intentionally rendered gunh/ as “woman” rather than “wife”, despite the odd/inappropriate sound this has in English. The main reason is that I feel it is important to retain the connection with the prior woman-figures in chapters 12 and 17-18. In chapter 12, the Woman represented the People of God, especially in her heavenly aspect (Heavenly City); by contrast, the Woman (the prostitute) in chaps. 17-18 represents the forces of evil and wickedness in the world (Earthly City). After the fall of the wicked/earthly Woman, the scene shifts back to the pure/heavenly Woman; and it is this woman, the purified believers in Christ, who are to be married. This sexual imagery was introduced in 14:1-5, and reaches it climax here in chapter 19.

The richness of this motif may be summarized by noting the following strands of tradition which relate to it (cf. Koester, pp. 728-9):

    • The period of betrothal (prior to marriage) during which the bride (as also the bride-groom) was expected to remain faithful; even while living apart during this engagement, bride and groom were required to act in faithfulness, as though they were already married. For believers in Christ, the betrothal-period began with Jesus’ departure to heaven, and continues through the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$). For the author and original audience of the book of Revelation, they were thought to be living in this period, presumably at an early point in the distress. The question was whether the bride (i.e. believers) would remain faithful to Christ, or be led astray under the influence of the wickedness (fornication/prostitution) of the “Great City”.
    • In numerous passages of the Old Testament, God (YHWH) was depicted as a husband with the people Israel as His bride. Cf. Hosea 2:19-20 (and chapters 1-3 as a whole); Isaiah 54:5; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:20; 31:32; Ezekiel 16:8-13. Many Jewish readers and commentators interpreted the Song of Songs along similar lines. The question of faithfulness/fidelity was central to this tradition as well.
    • The eschatological application of marriage imagery (esp. the wedding festivities) to the end-time appearance of God (and/or his Anointed representative) bringing salvation/deliverance for the faithful. The seeds of this line of tradition begin in the Old Testament Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 25:6), and continue in Jewish apocalyptic literature, etc (2 Baruch 29:1-8; 1 Enoch 62:14-15). Jesus utilized this same imagery in his eschatological sayings and parables (Mark 14:25 par; Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29). Of special significance in this regard was the idea of waiting faithfully for the bride-groom’s appearance, which could be readily applied to believers in the end-time period prior to Jesus’ return (Matt 25:1-13). Interestingly, this wedding/marriage imagery does not appear to have been generally applied to Messianic figure-types in contemporary Jewish sources, and may have been a uniquely Christian development.
    • Another Christian tradition is a corollary of the God-as-Husband motif (second item above), so that Jesus is the husband (bride-groom) and the faithful people (of Israel, etc) the bride. There is evidence for this application already in the Gospel tradition (Mark 2:19-20; Matt 19:15; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Gospel of Thomas log. 104; cf. also the contextual setting of John 2:1-11). Admittedly, the motif is not prominent elsewhere in the New Testament, though Paul clearly makes use of it in 2 Cor 11:2 (cf. also Eph 5:28-32). Believers as the “Bride” of Christ became a common-place idea in early Christian writings (e.g. 2 Clement 14:2), and has continued on in Christian tradition to the present.

What is specifically emphasized here in verses 7-8 is how the woman (or “wife”, gunh/) makes herself ready (vb e(toima/zw) for the marriage. This should be understood on two levels: (1) the period of betrothal (cf. above), during which she remains pure and faithful, and (2) preparation for the actual wedding festivities. Both aspects are indicated by the bright and clean (i.e. white) linen garments she is to wear. There is special eschatological (and Messianic) significance to the verb e(toima/zw in the New Testament. This goes back to the association of Isaiah 40:3 (LXX) with the preaching of John the Baptist as one who “prepares the way” for the Messiah (Mk 1:3 par; Lk 1:17, 76). In Luke 9:52, Jesus’ disciples similarly “prepare the way” for him as he begins his journey to Jerusalem (for which there may also be an allusion in Mark 14:12, 15-16 par). Otherwise, the eschatological usage tends to be on God (and/or Jesus) preparing a place in his kingdom for the faithful (Matt 25:34; Luke 17:8; John 14:2-3; 1 Cor 2:9; Heb 11:16). The idea of believers being prepared for the coming of the bride-groom (and the wedding festivities) is certainly central to the parable in Matt 25:1-13.

The motif of pure white (linen) garments is traditional (Ezek 16:10, etc), with white (i.e. shining bright) clothing typical of heavenly beings (Dan 7:9; Matt 17:2; John 20:12; Acts 1:10, etc). It indicates purity and holiness, but also can serve as a sign of honor. Believers are said to wear (or put on) white garments at several points in the book of Revelation (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14). In the context of the visions, and according to the traditional imagery, this marks believers’ as belonging to the People of God, in its heavenly aspect. Cf. Koester, p. 314.

In verse 8 it is stated specifically that these bright linen garments are the dikaiw/mata of the holy ones. The plural noun dikaiw/mata would be translated as “things (that are) right”, “things (that are) just”, sometimes more pointedly as “just deeds”, “right actions”, etc. The word is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring only 10 times, half of which are by Paul in Romans (1:32; 2:26; 5:16, 18; 8:4). In the only other occurrence in the book of Revelation (15:4), the dikaiw/mata belong to God or are characteristic of Him. Here the word is best understood in the sense that believers have been faithful to God, in obedience to Him and the witness of Jesus His Anointed.

References marked “Koester” above (and throughout this series) are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014). This outstanding critical commentary has been especially useful in locating and confirming many related references in Classical and Jewish literature.

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December 7: Revelation 19:1-3

Revelation 19

There are three visionary scenes in this chapter, which effectively concludes the depiction of the great Judgment upon the earth. The seal-vision cycle offered a brief description (6:12-17), foreshadowing the trumpet- and bowl-cycles where the earthly Judgment was portrayed in full. It also featured in the intermediate visions of chapter 14 (vv. 8ff, 14-20). The visions and announcements of the fall of “Babylon” in chapters 17-18 belong as part of the bowl-cycle (chaps. 15-16) and must be understood in relation to that visionary narrative cycle. The same is true, to a large extent, for the visions in chapter 19. The Great City’s fall was depicted in the seventh bowl vision (16:17-21), and extended into chaps. 17-18. Meanwhile the scene of the judgment of the Nations in the sixth bowl vision (16:12-16) was left unfinished and unresolved. This delay is, in part, a narrative device which builds suspense, akin to the delay between the sixth and seventh visions in the earlier cycles. The fall of the City and defeat of the Nations (in battle) are two sets of images for the same basic idea—the end-time Judgment of the Nations by God.

Each of the main cycles of visions is preceded by a heavenly scene, in which the People of God (i.e. the righteous/believers) are gathered together and worship God and/or the exalted Jesus (the Lamb). The throne scene in chapter 4 (and 5) precedes the seal-vision cycle; chapter 7 precedes the trumpet-cycle (along with a brief heavenly scene in 8:3ff); while chapter 15 (esp. verses 1-4) precedes the bowl-cycle. Similarly, in the chapter 14 visions, the scene with the 144,000 and the Lamb (vv. 1-5) precedes the Judgment visions. So it is also here in chapter 19:

    • Heavenly scene: Worship of God and announcement of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (vv. 1-10)
    • The Judgment: Vision 1—The end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus, in his Messianic role of conquering King (vv. 11-16)
    • The Judgment: Vision 2—The defeat and destruction of the Nations (vv. 17-21)

Revelation 19:1-10

The first scene in verses 1-10 may be divided further into several components, including three specific instances where the People praise God; or, perhaps better, two parallel instances with an intervening moment:

    • The voice of a great throng [o&xlo$ pollo/$] of people praises God (vv. 1-3)
      • The twenty-four Elders praise Him (vv. 4-5)
    • The voice of a great throng [o&xlo$ pollo/$] again gives praise (vv. 6-8)

Verses 9-10 are a separate episode, an exchange between a heavenly Messenger and the seer (John). We begin in this note with the first song of praise by the “throng (of) many (people)” (vv. 1-3).

Revelation 19:1-3

“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I heard as (though) a great voice of a throng of many (people) in heaven saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! The salvation and the honor and the power of our God—
(for it is) that true and just are His judgments,
(in) that He judged the great Prostitute who corrupted the earth in her prostitution,
and He worked out justice (for) the blood of His slaves out of her hand’ —
and a second (time) they have uttered ‘Hallelu-Yah!’ —
‘and her smoke steps up into the Ages of Ages!'”

This heavenly “throng of many (people)” represent the collective People of God, who speak in unison with a united voice (a “great voice”, fwnh/ mega/lh). On numerous occasions a great voice was heard coming out of heaven; generally this would be understood as the voice of God Himself, but here it is clearly that of a multitude, i.e. God’s People. I have previously discussed how many of the symbols in the book of Revelation have both earthly and heavenly aspects. That is certainly the case with the People of God, a comprehensive symbol for believers, but not limited to the idea of believers on earth; moreover, in their heavenly aspect, the People of God is hard to distinguish from the other groups and multitudes of heavenly beings. No such distinction is made here, with parallels in 7:9-10 and 15:3 (where human believers are clearly in view), and also 12:10ff (where Angels are suggested by the immediate context).

These are instances of praise to God, as is indicated by the use of the Greek a(llhloui+a/, a transliteration of the Hebrew expression Hy` Wll=h^ (Hal®lû Y¹h), meaning something like “Give a shout to Yah(weh)!” It opens a number of Psalms in the last division of the Psalter (111-113, 135, 146-150); it is used both in the opening and closing of Psalm 106. The Greek transliteration occurs only here in Revelation 19 (4 times) within the New Testament. The initial words of praise in v. 1 are similar to those in 12:10, juxtaposing swthri/a (“salvation”) and du/nami$ (“power”), along with do/ca (“honor/esteem”, = basilei/a in 12:10); cf. also 7:10, 12; 4:9, 11; 5:12-13. God’s people refer the salvation and power and honor/esteem they experience back to God as its source. This draws upon the traditional covenant idea, the bond between sovereign and vassal. In ancient Israel the covenant model was applied to the people as a whole, in their relationship with God (YHWH).

The core of this song of praise emphasizes justice and the role of God as judge, the fundamental context being the great end-time Judgment upon the wicked. Three distinct statements are made in the lines of verse 2:

    • God’s judgments (kri/sei$) are true and just (di/kaiai)
    • He judged the great Prostitute for her prostitution, i.e. for her actual crime, showing that his judgment is fair
    • He worked out justice for the victims of her crimes—i.e. for believers persecuted and put to death

The profligacy and extent of the Woman’s (the Great City’s) “prostitution” (pornei/a) was noted in 17:2, 4, 15ff and 18:3, 9 (also 14:8), involving all the kings and nations of the earth (cf. Jer 51:24-25). The same cup that poured out the wine of immorality also poured out blood—the violence done against believers in Christ (16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24). The dual imagery of wine/blood is especially vivid in the vision of 14:17-20 (cf. also 18:4ff). Overall, the wording of verse 2 echoes that of 18:20:

    • “God judged your judgment out of her” (18:20)
    • “(God) worked out justice for the blood of his slaves out of her hand” (19:2)

The prepositional expression “out of her (hand)” refers to the reason for the judgment—i.e. her punishment comes out of (or as a result of) her own actions (“her hand”). The verb e)kdike/w (“work out justice”) is generally synonymous here with kri/nw (“judge”); since God is true and just, his judgment establishes justice.

The final expression of praise in verse 3, prefaced by another shout of “Hallelu Yah!”, draws upon the image of a destroyed and burning city (as in 18:9, 18). The announcement of “Babylon’s” fall in chapters 17-18 clearly depicts it as the result of a military attack (17:16). The specific motif of the city’s smoke rising up (eternally) is derived from the Abraham narrative (19:28); the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah came to be a traditional symbol for the end-time Judgment. A similar sense of finality is expressed in Isaiah 34:10, in the context of a nation-oracle that takes on eschatological significance. The same imagery was used in 14:11 for the heavenly aspect of the Judgment—that is, the eternal punishment that awaits for the wicked.

If the fall/destruction of the Great City represents the judgment on the Nations, it is depicted again, in different terms, in verses 17-21 (to be discussed). This is parallel to the visions in chapter 14, which, indeed, have a similar structure:

    • Declaration of the Great City’s fall (14:8; 19:1-3ff)
    • Vision of the coming of the exalted Jesus, marking the onset of the Judgment (14:14-16; 19:11-16)
    • The Judgment of the Nations, in terms of a great battle, resulting in carnage and destruction of the wicked (14:17-20; 19:17-21)

The first episode is an oracle of the Judgment, the third a description of the Judgment itself. There is thus no need to consider the fall of the Great City and the defeat of the Nations as separate events (indeed, they are combined in 16:17-21). However, it is possible that the author (and his readers) would have expected to see “Babylon” (i.e. Rome) fall at the beginning of this Judgment, with the defeat/destruction of the remaining nations following thereafter. This will be discussed further when we examine various interpretive approaches to the eschatology of the book, at the conclusion of this series.

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November 7: Revelation 15:5-8

Revelation 15:5-8

The drama and suspense of the onset of the great Judgment builds in this second heavenly scene (15:5-8). In the previous note, we examined the scene of the People of God (believers) standing upon the crystal-clear sea, in front of God’s throne (implied), singing a song of praise to God for his deliverance. The sea was “mixed with fire”, indicating the punishment-aspect of the Judgment and anticipating the Bowl-cycle of visions. The seven Messengers (Angels) holding these “plagues” (plhgai/) were already mentioned in verse 1, along with an announcement of the Judgment.

Verses 5-6

“And with [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I saw—and the shrine of the tent of witness in the heaven was opened, and the seven Messengers holding the seven (thing)s to strike came out of the shrine, having been sunk [i.e. clothed] in clean (and) bright linen (garments) fastened around the chest (as they stood with) golden belts.”

The seven heavenly Messengers (Angels) are described here in some detail, both in terms of the setting of their appearance and the clothing they wear. Again, from a literary standpoint, this allows the suspense of the scene to build. The shining white (linen) garments with golden belts matches the earlier description of the exalted Jesus (1:13-14); it is traditional imagery, depicting purity, holiness, and heavenly splendor, applicable to the righteous in heaven (3:4; 7:14; 19:8), and, more broadly, to the People of God in their heavenly aspect (4:4; 19:14).

As in the visions of chapter 14, these Messengers come out of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$, “shrine”), the Temple being used as a symbol for God’s dwelling (in heaven); it also represents the place where the People of God gather to worship. The altar (of incense) is in the Temple sanctuary, and its fire symbolizes the end-time Judgment (8:3-5; 14:10-11, 18). The reference to the Temple as the “tent of the witness” is one of several images from the Exodus narratives that have been introduced into the Judgment scene here. In verse 3, the song sung by the People of God is called “the song of Moses”, referring to the song of praise, attributed to Moses, set after Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt and crossing the Sea (Exod 15:1-18). The seven Messengers are said to hold plhgai/, literally things which strike, often in the sense of disease or natural disaster that ‘strikes’ humankind. The English “plague” derives from Greek plhgh/ (pl¢g¢¡), and the Bowl-visions certainly reflect the historical tradition of the Plagues of Egypt (Exod 7-12). As for the “tent of witness”, it is a reference to the portable tent-shrine (‘tabernacle’) of the Exodus/Wilderness period. More properly called the “tent of (the) appointed (meeting)” (du@om lh#a)), the name “tent of the witness” is better rendered from the Hebrew as “tent of the agreement” (td%u@h* lh#a), Num 17:7-8 [Heb 22-23]), in reference to the tablet(s) recording the binding agreement (covenant) established between YHWH and Israel, stored in the golden chest that served as the “throne” of YHWH in the shrine. Both the tent-shrine (Tabernacle) and later Temple were built after a similar pattern, and served a common purpose for the People of God (Israel); however, the image of the tent-shrine is more appropriate here, in terms of its (Mosaic) connection with the “plagues” of Egypt, etc, but also because of its more immediate association with the cloud/fire of God’s presence. This is alluded to by the image of the smoke (kapno/$) of His presence that fills the shrine in this scene, also serving as an image for the smoke of His fiery anger.

Verses 7-8

“And one out of the four living (being)s gave to the seven Messengers seven offering-dishes [fia/lai] being full of the (angry) impulse [qumo/$] of God, the (One) living into the Ages of the Ages. And the shrine was made full of smoke out of the splendor of God and out of His power, and no one was able to come into the shrine until the seven (thing)s to strike (held by) the seven Messengers should be completed.”

The parallelism of these two sets of images is clear enough. The offering-dishes are filled with the angry impulse of God (i.e. to punish wickedness), and the sanctuary is filled (same verb gem[i/z]w) with the smoke of His splendor and power. The Greek word fia/lh generally refers to a broad, flat dish such as that used in religious offerings, particularly libations—i.e. offerings of wine. This fits perfectly with the earlier image of the Judgment as a cup of wine to be poured out upon the earth (14:8, 10, 19-20); there the same word qumo/$ (“impulse”) was used, referring to God’s anger and desire to punish wickedness. As noted above, the “smoke” (kapno/$) is a dual-image, signifying both the presence of God in the sanctuary and His anger which will be expressed as a fiery Judgment. The final statement in verse 8 again draws upon the ancient Tent-shrine traditions, limiting access to the sanctuary, so that even the officiating priests could not enter (Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron 5:13-14; 7:1-2; cf. also Lev 16:13, etc; Koester, p. 645-6).

The Messengers already hold the seven “plagues” which will strike the earth; the motif of the offering-dishes is a literary device which gives to the vision-cycle a powerful dramatic and ritual dimension. It also blends together two sets of images for depicting the Judgment: (1) the Exodus traditions with the Plagues of Egypt, and (2) the wine imagery of chapter 14. The sudden appearance of the “living beings”, which echoes back to the heavenly throne-vision of chapters 4-5, is also a dramatic device, but one which enhances the symbolism here in two respects: (1) it plays on the theme of God in the sanctuary as “the Living One”, and (2) it provides a subtle contrast to the Sea and Earth creatures of chapter 13, and the ‘living’ image of the Sea-creature that causes humankind to worship and obey the creature. The first five visions of this Judgment-cycle (16:1-11) are directed specifically against the world as the domain of the Sea-creature. These will be discussed in the next daily note.

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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 9: Revelation 11:15-19

Revelation 11:15-19

After the interlude in chapters 10-11, the cycle of seven Trumpet-visions (i.e. visions of the Judgment) comes to a close. The initial words of the vision need to be considered in comparison with the parallel description of the seventh Seal-vision:

    • “And when he opened up the seventh seal,
      there came to be silence in the heaven as (for a period of) half and hour.” (8:1)
    • “And (when) the seventh Messenger sounded the trumpet,
      there came to be great voices in the heaven saying…” (11:15)

The contrast is clear and striking—silence vs. “great voices”; the distinction is important for an understanding the structure of the book here:

    • “Silence”—marking the awesome/ominous moment when the great Judgment begins
    • “Great voices”—marking the end of the Judgment, with worship and praise of God

With a full 11 chapters (half the book) remaining, it may seem strange to think of the end of the Judgment as being represented here, and yet that is indeed what the vision declares, with the “great voices” sounded together in heaven:

“The kingdom of the world (has) come to be (that of) our Lord and His Anointed (One), and He will rule (as king) into the Ages of the Ages!” (v. 15b)

This is the ultimate eschatological statement regarding the twin concepts, so central to New Testament and early Christian thought, of: (1) the Kingdom of God coming near, and (2) Jesus coming and inheriting the Kingdom. The first is an expression of traditional Jewish eschatology, while the second is a distinctly (and uniquely) Christian idea. Both are combined at many points in the New Testament, and, especially, here in the book of Revelation—the image of the exalted Jesus ruling in heaven alongside God the Father (YHWH), sharing the same power and authority. It is only after the Judgment that the “kingdom of the world” (i.e. humankind and all earthly power) has been completely and utterly transformed into the Kingdom of God. The heavenly scene of chapters 4-5, reprised in 7:9-12, receives its climactic expression here in vv. 16-18, with a similar hymn of praise. It is again to be noted the emphasis on God’s victory and Judgment of the nations:

“…you have seized your power and ruled (as King). And the nations became angry, and (yet) your anger came, and (also) the time of [i.e. for] the dead to be judged and to give the wage [i.e. reward] to your slaves—the foretellers and the holy (one)s and the (one)s fearing your name—the great and small (alike), and to thoroughly ruin the (one)s thoroughly ruining the earth!” (vv. 17b-18)

There is a bit of marvelous wordplay here, often lost in translation, which should be noted—at two points:

    • the nations became angry (w)rgi/sqhsan), and God’s anger (o)rgh/) came
    • the time came for God to thoroughly ruin (diafqei=rai) the people (i.e. nations) who have been thoroughly ruining (diafqei/ronta$) the earth

It is a kind of equation, the Judgment being entirely reciprocal, mirroring almost exactly how humankind has thought and acted. This is an important (religious and ethical) principle, with most ancient roots, expressed many times in Scripture (cf. Gen 9:6, etc). Jesus, in his sayings and teachings, tended to express it through a ‘reversal of fortune’ motif, as in the Lukan Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26) or the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31)—i.e. the one rich and happy now (in the present) will mourn and receive nothing (at the end time). Believers will receive a reward in proper measure to what they have suffered and endured (while remaining faithful); similarly, the wicked will receive punishment according to how they have acted and behaved during their earthly life.

The reference to the nations becoming angry is probably an allusion to Psalm 2:5, reflecting the ancient (socio-political) phenomenon of vassals who rebel and seek independence when a new king (son of the ruler, etc) comes to power. Psalm 2 was given a Messianic interpretation and applied specifically to Jesus by early Christians; indeed, it was one of the principal Messianic passages that shaped Christian thought and belief. In Psalm 99:1, there is a more precise formulation of the peoples’ anger in relation to the rule of God (as King). Here in the vision, as throughout the book Revelation, the exalted Jesus rules along with God as His Anointed One (Messiah).

This heavenly scene concludes with a powerful vision of the “shrine of God” (o( nao\$ tou= qeou=), featured in the earlier vision in vv. 1-2. In the daily note on that passage, I expressed my view that the Temple image is best understood as a figure for believers (collectively) as the people of God. The inner shrine itself, where the altar is located, represents the true believers, worshiping and remaining faithful during the time of distress. Now we see the shrine located specifically in heaven (“the shrine of God in heaven”). Significantly, the shrine is opened up (vb. a)noi/gw), reflecting an important structural framework for the Judgment-visions of chapters 6-11:

    • The seals of the scroll are opened up (by the Lamb)
      • Seventh seal—there comes to be silence in heaven
        • Visions of the Great Judgment
      • Seventh trumpet—there comes to be great voices in heaven
    • The shrine of God is opened up (revealing the Divine Glory)

Just as the innermost area of the shrine signified the Presence of God, i.e. seated above the golden throne (ark), so here the opening of the shrine reveals the Divine Presence—God in His glory made manifest, described almost entirely in the traditional language of storm theophany:

“And the shrine of God th(at is) in the heaven was opened up, and the (sacred) box [i.e. ark] of His diaqh/kh was seen in His shrine, and there came to be flashes (of lightning) and voices and thunders and shaking and a great downfall (of hail).” (v. 19)

This storm imagery was already utilized in the earlier Trumpet-visions, including fiery hail and other celestial phenomena thrown/falling down to earth. Now it is focused more properly in the presence of God Himself, reflecting the shift here in chapter 11, away from the Judgment and (back) toward the worship of God (and Christ) in Heaven.

As indicated above, this seventh Trumpet-vision reflects the completion of the Judgment; or, perhaps it is better to say, the aspect of the Judgment which is located on earth. The context of the passage makes clear that it is now the moment of the resurrection and the final Judgment of humankind before God in the heavenly court. What is strangely missing from this framework is the end-time appearance of the Son of Man (return of Jesus), which normally would be thought to occur prior to the resurrection. Description of this glorious event is put off until a later point in the book (19:11ff). In between (12:1-19:10), the end-time period of the Judgment is presented in a different manner, one which focuses on the idea of conflict between the people of God (believers) and the wicked nations. This shift in emphasis was introduced in the visions of chapter 11, and is developed considerably in the visions which follow. The opening vision of chapter 12 will be discussed in the next daily note.

September 22: Revelation 4:8-11

Revelation 4:1-11 (continued)

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

Rev 4:8

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

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

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

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

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

Rev 4:9-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21: Revelation 4:1-7

Revelation 4:1-11

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

Rev 4:1

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

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

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

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

Rev 4:2-3

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

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

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

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

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

Rev 4:4

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

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

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

Rev 4:5-7

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

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

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

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