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.

October 8: Revelation 11:3-14

Revelation 11:3-14

As discussed in the previous daily note, the scene involving the measuring of the Temple is transitional between chapter 10 and this vision of the ‘two witnesses’ in 11:3-14. It establishes the contrast between the “holy city” (with the Temple at the center) and the “great city”, an allegorical distinction between the people of God (true believers) and the surrounding world (the “nations”, spec. the Roman Empire). In this vision, the image has shifted from the shrine (nao/$) of God to a pair of persons—two witnesses:

“And I will give to my two witnesses and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy] for a thousand two-hundred (and) sixty days, having been cast about [i.e. clothed] in a coarse garment [sa/kko$].”

Much ink has been spilled regarding the identification of these two persons—how are they best understood? The visionary character of this section, in context, would suggest that they are figurative, and yet many commentators believe that it refers to a pair of actual (historical) persons expected to appear, or to be active, at the end-time. It is important to begin with the language used to describe them, and the Old Testament traditions which are involved. Three lines of interpretation may be mentioned:

    • Angels—i.e. heavenly beings sent by God as a witness to humankind prior to the Judgment; the reference to the “great city” as “Sodom” would certainly bring to mind the Abraham narrative in Genesis 19, and the two (heavenly) Messengers that come to the city.
    • Messiah-Prophets—the Messianic figure-type of Anointed Prophet, expected to appear at the end-time (prior to the Judgment), according to several traditional patterns, most notably Moses and Elijah (cf. below).
    • People of God (Believers)—that is to say, as witnesses, these two persons represent the people of God, the faithful believers as a whole.

All three of these are more or less clearly present in the text; the vision draws upon the distinct lines of tradition, in various ways, and a proper interpretation must take each of them into account. Let us begin with the primary identification of the two persons/figures as witnesses (ma/rtu$, sg.). The word occurs five times in the book of Revelation, being used in two distinct, but related, ways in the other four references:

    • Of the exalted Jesus, who is given the title “the trust(worthy) [pisto/$] witness” (1:5; 3:14)—this is best understood in two respects:
      • Jesus gives witness of God the Father (YHWH), proclaiming His word and will, and acting as His representative (cf. the context of 1:1ff)
      • This witness entails, in a fundamental way, the sacrificial death of Jesus (the Lamb)
    • Of believers, who follow the example of Jesus, bearing witness of Christ and the Gospel, especially insofar as they follow him to the death (i.e. beginnings of the technical use of the term [“martyr” in English]):
      • In 2:13, Antipas, who was put to death, is given the same title used of Jesus in 1:5—”the trustworthy witness”
      • In 17:16, the believers whose blood was shed are specifically called “witnesses of Yeshua

Is it possible that this two-fold aspect is implied by the fact that there are two witnesses mentioned? The next bit of evidence comes from the parallel identification in verse 4:

“These are the two olive (tree)s and the two lamp(stand)s, the (one)s having stood in the sight of the Lord of the earth.”

This imagery is drawn from the fourth chapter of Zechariah, and, again, there is a clear two-fold aspect involved:

    • Messianic—Olive oil was used for anointing, and, in the context of Zech 3-4, the two olive trees (vv. 3, 11) refer to Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua (“sons of oil”, v. 14) according to early Messianic/Anointed figure-types—Davidic ruler and Anointed Priest, respectively.
    • Heavenly/Angelic—The (seven) lampstands in Zech 4:2-3 are identified as the “eyes of the Lord” (vv. 10-11)—personalized as (heavenly/spirit) beings who represent YHWH in the world, i.e. Messengers (“Angels”), and, one might say, also witnesses. This is reproduced in the book of Revelation (1:4, 12-13, 20; 2:1ff; 5:6). At the same time, we should note:
      • The lampstands are also identified with believers collectively (i.e. congregations/churches), 1:20; 2:1, 5
      • The exalted Jesus is at the center of the lampstands, holding/controlling them (1:12-13; 2:1, cf. also 3:1; 5:6)

Verses 5-6 bring out a number of Messianic details, especially those connected with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah (for more on this, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”):

    • “fire travels out of their mouths” to “eat up” the enemies of God (v. 5)—the idea of the word of God, communicated by the Prophet, as fire is found in Jer 5:14, and is specifically associated with Elijah in Sirach 48:1. Indeed, in Old Testament tradition, Elijah called down fire from heaven (1 Kings 19:36-38). The more direct Messianic association comes from Isa 11:4, in which the mouth of the Messiah (vv. 1-3) slays the wicked. Paul draws upon this in a clear eschatological context in 2 Thess 2:8; as does the deutero-canonical book of 2/4 Esdras (13:10, 37-38, roughly contemporary with the book of Revelation), where the slaying power of the mouth is presented as fire. There is an interesting parallel here with the fire-breathing plague-army of the sixth Trumpet-vision (Rev 9:13-20).
    • “authority to close the heaven” so that rain does not fall (v. 6)—a clear allusion to the Elijah traditions (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1; Lk 4:25; James 5:17)
    • authority to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with plagues (v. 6)—Moses and the Plagues of Egypt (Exod 7:19, etc)

If verses 3-6 tend to emphasis the heavenly and Messianic character of the two witnesses, verses 7ff more clearly reflect the dual aspect of Jesus-Believers as true and faithful witnesses who are put to death. Their role as Heavenly/Messianic Prophets covers the period of 1,260 days (= 3½ years) during which they prophesy, wearing coarse garments (‘sackcloth’, sa/kko$), marking the coming of the Judgment and urging people to repent. In a sense, this period of preaching/prophesying is similar to that of John the Baptist, as well as Jesus (in his Galilean ministry), both of whom were identified in different ways as the Messianic Prophet (Elijah) who would appear at the end-time. Jesus was also associated with the end-time “Prophet like Moses”, though the Gospel tradition identifies him more closely with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff. In any case, it is after this time of prophetic proclamation/ministry, that Jesus comes to Jerusalem and is put to death. This Gospel narrative-matrix is very much at work here in Rev 11:3-14.

At the same time, verses 7ff open up an entirely separate line of imagery as well—that of the beast (i.e. wild animal, qhri/on) who attacks the people of God. It is this visionary conflict which dominates much of the second half of the book (beginning with chapter 12). It is introduced here, without any real explanation or elaboration:

“And when they should complete their witness, the wild (animal) stepping up out of the (pit) without depth [i.e. bottomless pit] will make war with them, and will be victorious (over) them and will kill them off.” (v. 7)

As the “beast” (wild animal) is clearly symbolic in the context of the visions which follow (to be discussed), it stands to reason that the two witness are figurative as well; this would seem to be confirmed by the description in verse 8, where several different images are blended together:

    • The body (singular) of the two witnesses is left laying in the streets of “the great city”, which is further given a hybrid identification:
      • Sodom—traditionally associated with wickedness/immorality (and the judgment which came upon it)
      • Egypt—the land of slavery for the people of God (Israel)
      • Jerusalem—here, literally, “where our Lord was put to the stake [i.e. crucified]”

Some commentators, relying on the last detail, would identify the “great city” flatly as Jerusalem (i.e. the actual city). However, I believe that this is overly simplistic, and, indeed, incorrect. In my view the designation “the great city” is meant as a specific contrast to “the holy city” (i.e. where the Temple is located) in v. 2. By comparison, “the great city” is marked by its “wide (street)s” and wickedness (“Sodom”). It is best to see it as a figure for the wider world—i.e. the “nations”, or, the Roman Empire, according to the (historical) setting of the book. By contrast, believers (the people of God, collectively) are represented by the “holy city” and the Temple-complex (cf. on vv. 1-2 in the previous note). The 3½ years (1,260 days) is also a figurative period, drawn from Old Testament tradition, and represents the coming time of distress (and persecution). During this period, believers are to serve as witness of Jesus to the world (the “great city”); many, like Jesus himself, will be put to death as a result. This is the main association in verse 8, identifying the “great city” as the place “where our Lord was put to the stake”.

The death of the witnesses—that is, the time they remain dead—parallels the period of ministry (3½ days | 3½ years). The people of the “great city” rejoice and celebrate (evoking the Roman Saturnalia festival), even as the body of the witness(es) lies dead and unburied in the street (vv. 9-10). The cruelty and wickedness of humankind could not be more simply and vividly expressed. It is possible that the public spectacle-executions of Christians under Nero is in mind here, serving as a pattern for many other early Christian Martyrdom narratives. The period of 3½ days also serves to bring out more strongly the parallel with the death of Jesus (i.e. the traditional motif of three days); like Jesus, after three days, the two witnesses are raised from the dead (v. 11). The parallel is extended, as the witnesses ascend to heaven (v. 12) in a cloud, just like Jesus (Acts 1:9-11). Their enemies look on as they go up in the cloud, even as the nations will watch as Jesus (the Son of Man) returns in a cloud at the end-time (Rev 1:7)

The vision concludes with judgment striking the people of the “great city”, by way of a “great shaking [i.e. earthquake]”. An earthquake is also tied to Jesus’ death (and resurrection) in Matthew’s version of the Passion narrative (27:51; 28:2). Here, however, the more immediate connection is with the six Trumpet-visions in chapter 9, especially the first four, in which various natural disasters and phenomena destroy/afflict a portion (one-third) of the world. In this vision, the earthquake destroys a tenth of the city, killing seven thousand people (v. 13). It is interesting to note the smaller percentage involved, compared with that in the Trumpet-visions. Almost certainly, this reflects the ministry/witness of the two figures, culminating in their death and resurrection/exaltation. That this is meant to blend together features marking both Jesus and his faithful/true followers (believers), was noted above, and must be maintained as a fundamental aspect of any proper interpretation. This work of witness ultimately has a profoundly positive effect for humankind—limiting the extent of the Judgment, and leading people to repentance and the worship of God. This shift from judgment to worship also characterizes the seventh Trumpet vision, which follows in vv. 15-19 (to be discussed in the next daily note). The closing words of v. 14 effectively enclose the visions of chapters 10-11 back within the structure of seven-vision cycle, repeating the refrain from 9:12 (following the fifth vision):

“The second woe (has) come along—see! the third woe comes quickly!” (v. 14)

This third woe refers to the seventh (final) Trumpet vision, and yet, interestingly, no “woe”, as such, is described in vv. 15-19. It functions, rather, as a literary device, here primarily indicating the end, or completion, of the Judgment visions. With chapter 12, an entirely new mode of visionary expression is introduced, one which restates the Judgment narrative along more traditional-historical lines. Before embarking on that interesting study, it is necessary to examine the final Trumpet vision, which we will do in the next daily note.

October 7: Revelation 11:1-2

Revelation 11:1-2

Many commentators regard the first two verses of chapter 11 as belonging more properly with chapter 10; in my view, it is best to treat them as a separate (transitional) scene set between 10:1-11 and 11:3-13.

Rev 11:1

“And there was given to me a reed (which was more) like a staff, saying ‘You must rise and measure the shrine of God and the place of (ritual) slaughter [i.e. altar] and the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] (God) in it’.”

The reed (ka/lamo$) refers to any stick which might be used as a measuring tool; the further description of it as being “like a r(a/bdo$” means that it is larger/longer and firmer, like the staff held by a shepherd or ruler. The possible royal/Messianic allusion adds to the idea that this is no ordinary measuring-stick.

The command to measure is a visionary detail which echoes a number of Prophetic passages, such as Amos 7:7-9. The Old Testament idiom involves a measuring-line (plum-line), and usually refers to the application of judgment—cf. also 2 Sam 8:2; 2 Kings 21:13; Lam 2:8. The most immediate reference comes from Zech 2:1-2, which involves the vision of a man (i.e. heavenly being/messenger) holding a measuring-line, who has been tasked to measure the dimensions of Jerusalem. This passage is part of a visionary promise of Israel’s restoration and return to Jerusalem, presented in eschatological language. Also relevant is the vision of the new Temple in Ezek 40-43ff, where the building’s dimensions are described in detail; the prophet also sees a heavenly/divine being holding a measuring-stick in his hand (vv. 3, 5). Taking all these prophetic passages together, we see that there is a two-fold aspect to the symbolism of measuring:

    • Negative—determining the portion/people which are to receive the judgment
    • Positive—demarcating the space marked for deliverance/restoration

Both of these apply to the visionary scene here in the book of Revelation.

Rev 11:2

(The heavenly voice continues:)
“And the open court(yard) th(at is) outside the shrine you must throw out and you should not measure it, (in) that [i.e. because] it was given to the nations, and they will tread (over) the holy city (for) forty-two months.”

Here the Temple is envisioned as having a simpler structure than the Herodian (Second) Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. It is closer in design to the ancient temple-pattern of the Israelite Tent-shrine (Tabernacle)—an inner sanctuary surrounded by an outer court (cf. Exodus 26-27). This indicates that it is typological—while it draws upon the historical Temple in outline, it should be understood here as a figure or symbol. The Herodian Temple did have a “court of the Gentiles”, marking a division in the Temple-complex past which non-Jews were not supposed to enter (Josephus Wars 5.190ff). This historical detail probably factors into the imagery here as well. Some commentators would infer from this passage that the Jerusalem Temple was still standing when the book of Revelation was written, indicating a date in the 60’s A.D. This is possible, but, I think, rather unlikely; other factors point to a time somewhat later in the 1st century. The reference here involves the (historical) Temple as a basic type-pattern, and really cannot be used for a dating of the book.

The contrast in vv. 1-2 is clear: the inner sanctuary (shrine, na/o$) is to be measured, but the outer courtyard (au)lh/) is not. The people (of God) are worshiping (vb. proskune/w, lit. “kiss toward”) within the shrine, but the outer court is given over to the nations (i.e. foreigners, unbelievers). This results in a religious division within the Temple itself, marking off the sanctuary from all that is outside.

This, too, draws upon historical memory and tradition, as interpreted and given shape in Scripture, set within a distinctive eschatological setting. Two main (historical) events are involved:

    • The violation and profanation of the Temple by the Syrian/Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) in 167 B.C., generally recognized as the primary point of reference in Dan 9:27 (cf. the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27).
    • The destruction of the (Herodian) Temple by the Roman army in 70 A.D., after which the Romans exercised more direct control over Jerusalem. Even prior to the Temple’s destruction, the emperor Gaius (Caligula, c. 40 A.D.) introduced policies which seemed to echo those of Antiochus IV.

Both of these events are reflected in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13:1-2, 14ff par)—indeed, the Lukan version combines them together, presenting the prophecy in Dan 9:27, and the time of distress associated with it, specifically in terms of the siege/destruction of Jerusalem (Lk 21:20-24). The wording, and the idea expressed, in verse 24 is quite close that here in Rev 11:2:

“…and Yerushalaim will be (be)ing tread (down) under the nations, until the (moment at) which the times of the nations should be fulfilled.”

Here Jesus (along with the Gospel writer) is clearly referring to the conquest of Jerusalem and, with it, the destruction of the physical/historical Temple, which occurred in 70 A.D. After this, there will be a period of time when the “nations” (i.e. Gentile Romans) exercise control over the city and the Temple. This seems to parallel precisely what is declared to the seer (John) in Rev 11:2, and yet, if the book was written after 70 A.D. (as most commentators believe), it cannot refer to the same event(s) prophesied by Jesus. Moreover, in this vision, the sanctuary itself (the inner shrine or “holy place”) is not destroyed or desecrated. Modern-day commentators who wish to retain verse 2 as a concrete historical prophecy, require a situation whereby the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt at a future time. Yet there is nothing of the kind suggested here in the text, nor anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter. The idea derives almost entirely from a specific interpretation of Ezek 40-43ff, harmonized to fit the eschatological references to the Temple in 2 Thess 2, etc. As an interpretive method or approach it is highly questionable, though popular as a way of navigating certain historical/chronological difficulties related to New Testament eschatology. I discuss this approach at various points throughout this series.

The idea that the Temple in Rev 11:1-2 refers to an actual historical/physical building would seem to be rather flatly contradicted by the fact that all other references to the Temple in the book are either (a) symbolic of believers, or (b) are part of a setting/locale in heaven; mainly it is the latter7:15; 11:19; 14:15ff; 16:1, 17; 21:22, while 3:12 also indicates the former. Moreover, the final reference in 21:22 identifies the Temple with the person/presence of God and Christ (the Lamb) together. Numerous other passages in the New Testament use the Temple as a symbol for believers (collectively) as the body of Christ—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5.

As would be expected in a vision such as those in the book of Revelation, the Temple as an image is a concrete symbol or pattern for something else. A proper interpretation should begin with the idea of the Temple as symbolizing believers as a group or body (community). If this is correct, then what is the meaning of the distinction between the sanctuary (nao/$) and the outer court? The key is found in verse 1, where John is commanded to measure the shrine, including specifically the altar and the ones worshiping God there. Above I translate qusiasth/rion literally as the “place of (ritual) slaughter”; however, the context clearly shows that this is not the altar for animal sacrifice (which was in the outer court), but the altar for offering incense (which was inside the sanctuary). This is the altar-type assumed throughout the book (except possibly in 6:9), and the incense is associated specifically with the prayers of believers (8:3). I would say that the persons inside the sanctuary, worshiping at the altar, are meant to represent true believers, those following Jesus faithfully even unto death (6:9ff). By extension, this would imply that any persons in the outer court, outside the sanctuary, are not true believers, but false disciples or believers in name only who do not remain faithful in the time of distress. This is very much the theme of the warning/exhortations in the letters to the Seven Congregations (chaps. 2-3), and follows the clear symbolism in Jesus’ own eschatological teaching (esp. the parables in Matt 13 [vv. 24-30, 37-43, 47-50]).

What, then, of the motif of the nations treading/trampling the “holy city” (v. 2)? The “nations” (e&qnh), in the basic traditional/religious sense of the term, refer to all those who are not part of the people of God (i.e. not believers in Christ). The “nations” are fundamentally synonymous with the “wicked”. As part of the end-time Judgment, in its initial phase(s) at least, the nations/wicked will war against one another, bringing about suffering and destruction on humankind. This is expressed in the first four seal-visions (6:1-8), with the same idea also found in Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:7-8 par). The time of warfare precedes, or is part of, the great distress (1:9; 2:22; 7:14; Mk 13:19 par; cf. Dan 12:1ff), which will even engulf the faithful.

The measuring of the sanctuary is a sign that those in it (believers) will be protected from judgment (cf. above). Traditionally, a temple, and, in particular, the area around the altar, due to its sacred character, was a place where persons could seek (and find) protection or asylum (Exod 21:13-14; 1 Kings 1:50). Similarly, here, we have the idea that the believers worshiping in the sanctuary (at the altar) will be protected from the Judgment. This does not mean that believers will not suffer any harm, or even be put to death, as is clear from 6:9-11 and Mk 13:9-13, 20-22 par; however, the promise is that, ultimately, the true believer will be saved from the (final) Judgment (2:7, 10-11 etc; Mk 13:13 par), while those outside, among the nations, will be destroyed. God’s Judgment does not only mean punishment for the wicked; it is also a time of testing for the righteous, and is to be endured by believers as part of our coming salvation (1 Pet 4:12-19, etc). The time period involved—forty-two months (= 3½ years)—comes from the book of Daniel (9:27; also 7:25; 12:7, 11f); here, like the rest of the vision in vv. 1-2, it is best viewed as symbolic, reflecting a short but intense period of suffering and distress at the end-time. For those seeking to preserve a concrete literal/historical fulfillment, it would mean a period of precisely 3½ years (42 months), as written. Rev 12:14 uses the same idiom as in Dan 7:25; 12:7 for this duration—”time, times and half and a time”.

It should be pointed out that not all commentators would interpret Rev 11:1-2 exactly as I have above; I note here a different approach, which still treats the Temple image as symbolic in more or less the same sense (Koester, p. 485):

“{The} outer court as the vulnerable aspect of the church. The enclosed temple (naos) that is measured signifies the worshiping community, which God preserves on earth. The open court (aule) signifies the church, as it is vulnerable to affliction in an unbelieving world. The same community is both preserved and vulnerable…”

I have already mentioned above the line of interpretation which would view vv. 1-2 as a vision of the historical/physical city and Temple, to be fulfilled (literally) at a future time, parallel with a similar modern/futurist interpretation of Mk 13:14ff. For more on the Temple in New Testament eschatology as a whole, see the separate study on this subject.

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

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.

October 3: Revelation 9:1-12

Revelation 9:1-12

The fifth and sixth Trumpet-visions should be considered together, just as the first four visions form a single group (cf. the previous note); however, due to the extensive detail in which each is presented in the text, it is necessary to treat them in separate daily notes.

Rev 9:1

The fifth vision, in its initial imagery, is similar to the third (8:10-11) in which a fiery star (a)sth/r) falls from heaven to earth. Most likely there is a play on the imagery in the two visions. In the third vision, we are presumably dealing with a natural celestial phenomenon (such as a meteor), despite the extraordinary effects it produces (poisoning a third of all rivers and springs). Here in the fifth vision, by contrast, the star is personified:

“…I saw a star having fallen out of heaven into/onto the earth, and the key of the pit th(at is) without depth [i.e. bottomless] was given to him” (v. 1)

The star is thus treated like a celestial/heavenly being (i.e. Angel) with power/control over the depths of the earth. In Near Eastern and Old Testament tradition, the stars were typically seen as divine beings, or Angels (Judg 5:20; Job 38:7, etc), as also in the symbolism used in Rev 1:20, etc. Moreover, in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the various celestial phenomena were controlled (by God) through heavenly Messengers (Angelic beings); this was expressed earlier in Rev 7:1-3.

The image of a falling star, or Angel, could conceivably allude to Satan or a similar demonic being (i.e. ‘fallen angel’), reflected in such passages as Luke 10:18 and Rev 12:7-9 (cf. also the negative connotations in Isa 14:12 and 1 Enoch 86:3; 88:1-3; 90:24-26; Koester, p. 456). However, the idea that this Star/Angel was given the key to the bottomless pit suggests positive divine presence and control (1:18; 3:7; cf. also 20:1-3). At the very least, the motif of falling, with its echo of the third vision, anticipates the destructive and demonic character of what comes out of the depths. The translation of a&busso$ (lit. “without depth”) can be misleading; in ordinary English idiom, “bottomless” (i.e. without a bottom limit to its depth) would be a more accurate rendering. The Greek is preserved as a transliterated loan-word in English (“abyss”). It occurs several more times in the book, as the location from whence demonic beings arise, and as the place where they belong (11:7; 17:8; 20:1-3). In at least one line of ancient Greek cosmology, the space under the earth, corresponding to the atmosphere (hemisphere) above, was bounded by a long and almost limitless gulf below (Homer Iliad 8.14-15f; Hesiod Theogony 119, etc) called by the name of ta/rtaro$ (of uncertain derivation).

Rev 9:2-3

The ominous character of this scene is expressed by a two-fold description of that which emerges from the bottomless pit—(a) immense, dark smoke, and (b) a terrifying swarm of locust:

“And he opened up the pit th(at is) without depth—and smoke [kapno/$] stepped up [i.e. came up] out of the pit, as the smoke of a great burning (oven), and the sun and the air were darkened out of [i.e. from] the smoke of the pit. (v. 2)
And out of the smoke there came out locusts [a)kri/de$] into/onto the earth; and authority [e)cousi/a] was given to them, (even) as the stinging (creature)s [skorpi/oi] of the earth hold authority.” (v. 3)

The image of smoke (kapno/$) continues the fire-imagery of the visions, as well as the motif of darkening (the sun, etc) common to ancient Judgment imagery and as expressed in the prior fourth vision (8:12). This fiery smoke also evokes the idea of warfare, as do the locusts which emerge in vv. 3ff. There are actually several aspects to the symbolism of a swarm of locust:

    • Destruction—as of the crops which are consumed/destroyed by locust, a potential disaster always in the mind of ancient farmers
    • Military attack—the swarm of locust symbolizing an army on the move
    • Pestilence—locusts themselves represent a terrible plague on humankind, and they can be used as representative of various kinds of plagues (diseases, etc)

All three aspects are relevant (and intended) here, and draw upon traditional imagery in the Old Testament, beginning with the Plagues on Egypt (Exod 10:4, 12-19; Psalm 105:34)—cf. Deut 28:38; Judg 6:5; 7:12; 1 Kings 8:37; Psalm 78:46; Prov 30:27; Joel 1:4; 2:25; Amos 4:9; 7:1; Nah 3:15-17; Jer 46:23; 51:14, 27. These locusts are distinguished from ordinary locust in that they have been given the power/ability to sting, like other insects/creatures (such as the scorpion, i.e. skorpi/oi).

Rev 9:4-6

These verses give further detail on the stinging power of these locusts. It was declared to them, i.e. by the Angel who released them, that they should not “take away justice” from (vb. a)dike/w, i.e. injure) the trees, grass or other vegetation (“green [plant]s”) of the earth. They would have power only over human beings (“men”), and then only over those who “do not hold the seal of God upon the (space) between the eyes [i.e. forehead]”. This seal (sfragi/$), mentioned previously in 7:2-3ff (cf. also the visions in chaps. 5-6), refers to the distinctive image impressed into clay or wax (or lead) marking an object as belonging to a person. This image (to be described in 14:1) consists of the names of God and the Lamb (i.e. the risen Jesus); however, at this point in the book, this detail has to be inferred, based on the context of chapters 5-6. Those who are sealed are identified as the true people of God—utilizing the traditional image of Israel (the twelve tribes) as God’s people. In the context of the book of Revelation (as in Rom 9-11, etc), this imagery refers to the people of God (Israel) who are believers in Christ (the Lamb). The seal also carries the idea of election—it was God (and the Lamb) who stamped them.

As for those who do not carry this seal, they will be afflicted (but not killed) for a (symbolic) period of “five months” (v. 5). The verb used is basani/zw, a word of uncertain derivation, which specifically (and originally) referred to the testing of metals (gold/silver, coinage, etc). The harsh treatment required by such testing eventually led to the word as signifying torture, etc, as a means of ascertaining the truth. Here the implication is that the torment these people will endure from the locusts reflects, and will demonstrate, their true nature—i.e., as those who do not belong to God. What they suffer will be like the poisonous stings of the scorpion, resulting in agony that will make them long for death as a relief (v. 6). In spite of the military imagery which follows (vv. 7ff), it is clear that this refers to pestilence or disease.

Rev 9:7-11

A detailed description of the stinging locusts follows in these verses. Previously in the book, most of the imagery has been traditional and relatively straightforward; from this point on, it becomes increasingly complex, causing great difficulty for commentators and those eager to understand exactly what is being described. The hybrid depiction of these locusts is striking indeed; note the rather bizarre combination of elements:

    • they have the overall likeness of “horses made ready for war”, immediately indicating a military motif (i.e. war-horses, cavalry)
    • there are objects like golden crowns upon their heads, indicating the power to achieve victory (i.e. in military combat)
    • they have human faces (“like the faces of men”)
    • they also have long flowing hair (“like the hair of women”)
    • their teeth are long and sharp (“like [those] of lions”)
    • they each wear a chest-guard or armor (qw/rac), with the appearance of iron
    • their wings make the sound of “many horse(-drawn) chariots running into battle”
    • they have tails like a scorpion (lit. stinging creature [skorpi/o$]), with a stinging point (ke/ntron) on the tail

This admittedly strange mixture of features makes more sense once we realize that it is an attempt to combine several kinds of imagery, each with its own symbolic significance:

    • Military—armor, horses, and the rush into battle, with the power/ability to conquer
    • Personification—the human attributes indicate something of the purpose and control which these creatures possess
    • Demonic—images with hybrid human & animal features were commonly used in the ancient Near East to represent deities (and their attributes); from the standpoint of Jewish and early Christian monotheism, all such (pagan) deities tended to be regarded as demonic, or as symbolizing the demonic. In particular, there is likely a reflection here of the religious-royal iconography associated with the conquering Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires.
    • The Scorpion—special emphasis is given to the (poisonous) stinging tail of creatures such as the scorpion
Rev 9:11

“They hold upon [i.e. over] them as king the Messenger of the (pit) without depth [a&busso$]—the name for him in Hebrew is Abaddôn, and in Greek (this) name holds as ‘Destroyer’ [Apollu/wn].”

This army of locust has as its ruler (basileu/$) a being called “the Messenger of the (pit) without depth” (i.e. Angel of the bottomless [pit]). It is not entirely clear if this is the same being as the Star/Angel which opened up the bottomless pit, or whether it reflects a different being (i.e. one who rules over the pit below); probably the latter is intended. The Hebrew name indicated here—/oDb^a&, transliterated as Abaddw/n in Greek and Abaddon in English—is derived from the verb db^a* (“perish, ruin, destroy”), and originally referred to the grave/underworld as a place of death and decay; in this regard, it was roughly synonymous with Heb. loav= (Sheol). The word is used in this general/neutral sense in the Old Testament (Psalm 88:11; Prov 15:11; Job 26:6; 28:22, etc). Only in later Jewish tradition, did it come to take on a more negative and hostile/evil connotation, as in the Qumran texts (1QH XI.19ff; 4Q491 8-10; 11Q11 4.10). The Greek name Apollu/wn, is a relatively faithful translation, at least in terms of capturing the later (negative/hostile) sense of the word; it is related to the verb a)po/llumi (lit. “cause/suffer loss from”, i.e. “ruin, destroy”, similar in meaning to Heb. db^a*) and the noun a)pw/leia (“loss, ruin, destruction”). Simply put, the name signifies the power which brings about suffering and death; personified as a divine (or semi-divine) being, it would naturally be identified with Satan and the fallen angels (and/or unclean spirits) in Jewish and Christian tradition.

Rev 9:12

The concluding words of this vision echo those earlier in 8:13:

“One woe has come along—see! two (more) woes (are) yet (to) come after these (thing)s!”

An interpretation of the vision as a whole will be offered in summary after the sixth vision (9:13-21) has been discussed in the next daily note.

October 2: Revelation 8:6-13

Revelation 8:6-13

For an introduction to the Trumpet-visions and their relation to the earlier Seal-visions, etc, see the previous daily note (on 8:1-5). Verses 6-13 cover the first four Trumpet-visions, all of which involve natural disasters as the result of celestial phenomena. The language and imagery used to describe these is drawn primarily from Old Testament tradition, but also would have been recognizable to people in the Greco-Roman world at large, since these sorts of celestial phenomena were widely seen as portents of disaster and divine anger/judgment which were to come upon humankind. For the background of the trumpet-motif as a herald of end-time Judgment, cf. the previous note.

Suspense is created in verse 6, adding to the sense of anticipation and foreboding: “And the seven Messengers, the (one)s holding the seven trumpets, made themselves ready (so) that they should sound the trumpet”. The idea of trumpets sounding (in the sky) announcing or forewarning of disaster to come is widespread, and not only in Old Testament tradition (cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.784ff; Lucan Pharsalia 1.578). The first three trumpets (vv. 7-11) each announce judgment in the form of fire from heaven, which echoes both the Plagues on Egypt (Exod 9:23-24) and the Sodom & Gomorrah narrative (Gen 19:24ff) in Old Testament tradition. Both were natural figure-types for the end-time Judgment; on the use of Sodom/Gomorrah in this regard, cf. Luke 17:29; also Matt 10:15; 11:23-24; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7.

The first two trumpet-visions follow a common pattern, describing fire which was “thrown [e)blh/qh] (down) into [ei)$]” the earth/sea. This reflects the Messenger holding the golden bowl at the altar of incense, who throws fire down to the earth (vv. 4-5); however, ultimately the passive should be understood here as the divine passive, i.e. God as the implied actor. The third trumpet-vision differs slightly, in that the fire (a burning star) falls (e&pesen) out of heaven to land upon the earth. Here is a comparison of the details in the three visions:

  • First Trumpet (v. 7):
    • “hail and fire having been mixed in blood”—an obvious echo of the plague in Exod 9:13-26 (also Ps 78:48ff; 105:32), repeated as judgment imagery in Isa 30:30; Ezek 38:22; Wis 16:22-23. The added element of blood may be intended to continue the theme of warfare and violence (and its effects) from the earlier seal-visions. Blood raining from heaven is known as a visionary portent of war (cf. Lucan, Pharsalia 1.578; Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.5.14; Sibylline Oracles 5:377-9, etc). A more immediate Old Testament allusion may be found in Joel 2:30.
    • thrown down into/onto the earth
    • a third of the earth’s surface (i.e. the dry land)—trees and green grass—is burnt down
  • Second Trumpet (vv. 8-9):
    • “(something) as/like a great mountain burning with fire”—i.e. a great fiery mass; there are similar eschatological/apocalyptic references in 1 Enoch 18:13; 21:3; and Sibylline Oracles 5:158-9.
    • thrown down into/onto the sea
    • a third of the sea becomes blood—a clear echo of Exod 7:16-23 and the plagues on Egypt; whether this means that the water came to be the color of blood, etc, or was miraculously transformed into actual blood, hardly matters (probably the latter was meant). As with the fire which struck the land (burning trees and grass), there are similarly two effects from the fire which strikes the sea:
      —a third of the creatures in the sea die, and
      —a third of the boats come to ruin, perhaps literally rotting or decaying
  • Third Trumpet (vv. 10-11):
    • “a great star burning as a brilliant (light) [i.e. lamp/torch]”—falling stars (i.e. comets, meteors) naturally served as omens and portents of death and disaster in the ancient world (cf. Manilius Astronomica 1.874-6, etc). If taken literally, here it is the image of a great (fiery) meteor landing on the earth.
    • falls out of heaven—it is conceivable that this shift in wording foreshadows the fifth and sixth trumpet-visions; or, perhaps, it is intended to convey a natural phenomenon, as opposed to the supernatural fire of the 1st/2nd trumpet-vision.
      It falls out of heaven and land upon the rivers and springs of earth; exactly how this comes about from a single star/meteor is unclear, nor is the scientific detail important.
    • a third of the waters are turned into a&yinqo$, a Greek word of uncertain derivation, which refers to a small plant (‘wormwood’) which yielded a bitter taste (cf. Prov 5:4; Jer 9:15; 23:5)—i.e. a third of all rivers and springs, with their water used for washing, drinking and cooking, etc, became poisoned and made bitter, resulting in the death of “many” people. Here there may be likely an allusion to the judgment upon the people following the Golden Calf incident, where they were forced to drink the contaminated water (Exod 32:20; cf. 15:23).

As in the third trumpet-vision, the fourth (v. 12) also involves natural celestial phenomena—namely the sun, moon, and stars together:

“…and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were (each) struck, (so) that a third of them (each) would be darkened, and the day would not shine a third of its (light), and the night likewise.”

This, too, reflects the Plagues of Egypt—the plague of darkness on the land (Exod 10:21-23)—but the idea of the darkening of sun and moon came to be a common Judgment motif in the Old Testament (Isa 13:10; 24:23; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7), one which Jesus would make use of in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:24-25 par). Unusual darkness, as during an eclipse, etc, was naturally seen as a dangerous omen or portent in the ancient world (Ovid Metamorphoses 15.785; Lucan Pharsalia 1.538-43, etc).

Verse 13 marks a division between the first four visions and the next two; from a literary standpoint, it also serves to heighten the dramatic suspense, pointing toward what is about to come. It is treated as a distinct vision:

“And I saw and heard one air-borne (being) winging [i.e. flying] in the middle of the heaven, saying with a great voice: ‘Woe, woe, (and) woe (again which is to come) to the (one)s putting down house [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, out of the remaining voices of the trumpets of the three Messengers the (one)s about to sound the trumpet!”

I have translated a)eto/$ literally as a creature/being in the air, which usually refers to a bird (spec. an eagle); some manuscripts instead read a&ggelo$ (“Messenger”, i.e. Angel), which seems more likely to be a ‘correction’ of a)eto/$ than the other way around. Birds served as omens or portents of disaster, etc, in the ancient world, and the eagle would have represented the nobility (and reliability) of a divine messenger (cf. Homer Iliad 8.242, Odyssey 2.146, etc). The messenger, whether an eagle or heavenly being, here is announcing the judgment still to come in the remaining trumpet-visions.

A common detail through the first four visions is the motif of a third—the celestial phenomena, and the related disasters, are repeatedly (and consistently) said to affect a third of the world. The precise significance of this remains uncertain. Possibly it is meant to indicate one stage or portion of the final Judgment, which will be completed in the seven Bowl-visions of chapter 16, etc. It also may reflect traditional imagery, or a literary/prophetic device, such as we see in Ezek 5:2ff; Zech 13:8-9. More likely is the idea that the limited application of the Judgment (to a third of the earth and humankind, cf. also 9:15ff) is intended as an expression of God’s mercy, to give the survivors the opportunity to repent before the Judgment is completed; this is certainly implied in 9:20-21, as a concluding notice to the first six trumpet-visions, and should be taken seriously.

October 1: Revelation 8:1-5

Revelation 8:1-5

These five verses describe the opening of the seventh, and final, seal upon the scroll. As such, it mark the final portion of the eschatology represented by the seven seals. Though somewhat obscured by the amount of material remaining in the book, we must keep this idea of finality and completion in mind. It may be said that the seventh seal provides the context and setting for all that follows, from 8:6 to the end of chapter 20, including two more seven-part vision-cycles. This naturally means that the opening of the seventh seal is a matter of great importance, requiring a solemn and ceremonial treatment. There are three elements of the section which need to be studied:

    1. The silence in heaven when the seal is opened
    2. The introduction of the seven trumpets, and
    3. The motif of the golden censer and smoking incense

Each of these will be examined in turn.

Rev 8:1—Silence in Heaven

“And when he opened up the seventh seal, there came to be silence [sigh/] in heaven as (of) [i.e. for] a half-hour.”

The silence accompanying the opening of the final seal marks the awesomeness of the moment. The word sigh/ (“silence”) is rare in the New Testament (elsewhere only in Acts 21:4), though the related verb siga/w is a bit more frequent. Silence is an appropriate response for created beings in the presence of God (Deut 27:9; Job 4:16; Hab 2:20; Zech 2:13), or in expectation of His manifestation (Psalm 62:1; Isa 41:1). The eschatological context of Zeph 1:7 is perhaps close to the idea here in v. 1:

“Be silent from the face of [i.e. before] the Lord YHWH, for the day of YHWH is near…”

There may also be an allusion to the motif of silence at the beginning of creation (i.e. before God speaks), which can also be applied in terms of a new creation which follows the end of the current Age (cf. 2 Baruch 3:7; 2/4 Esdras 6:39; 7:30). A “half hour” here indicates a very short period of time.

Rev 8:2—Introduction of the Seven Trumpets

“And I saw the seven Messengers th(at) have stood in the sight of God, and seven trumpets were given to them.”

Previously in the book, these seven beings were called “Spirits” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), but it was clear that they were to be understood as heavenly beings or Angels (rather that God’s Spirit as such), and this is made explicit here. The seven trumpets given to these Messengers serve as the framework for the next vision-cycle, unfolding out of the first. The trumpet was used for ceremonial and military occasions, and both of these aspects are relevant here: (1) announcing the appearance of God, and (2) the Judgment expressed in traditional military terms. There is a long tradition related to the trumpet-image in the Old Testament (Exod 19:13-19; 20:18; Lev 23:24; Num 10:8-10; Josh 6:4ff; Psalm 47:5, etc); but it is in the Prophets where it begins to take on an (eschatological) association with the day of Judgment—cf. Isa 18:3; 27:13; Jer 4:5ff; 6:1ff; 51:27; Hos 8:1; Joel 2:1ff; Zech 9:14. Again, it is Zephaniah (1:14-18) which perhaps provides the closest parallel to the context of Rev 8-11 (cf. above on v. 1 and Zeph 1:7). The eschatological significance of the trumpet-sounding is clear from other passages in the New Testament (Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16).

Rev 8:3-5—The Golden Censer and Smoking Incense

“And another Messenger came and stood upon the place of slaughter [i.e. altar] holding a golden vessel for (burning) incense, and much fragrant powder was given to him (so) that he will give it, (along) with all the holy ones’ speaking out toward (God) [i.e. prayers], upon the golden place of slaughter [i.e. altar] in the sight of the ruling-seat.” (v. 3)

I have translated the noun qusiasth/rion literally as “place of (ritual) slaughter”, though it can be used in the more general sense of an “altar” even when no animal sacrifice takes place (such as the altar for burning incense). Clearly, in this heavenly vision, the altar does not involve animal sacrifice, but is limited to the burning of incense which symbolizes prayer (also in 5:8). Only in the reference to the blood of the Lamb, and the blood of the believers put to death for their faith (6:9-11), is there an allusion to animal sacrifice. However, retaining the fundamental meaning of the word (qusiasth/rion) here is, I think, important, as it may allude to the ‘slaughter’ which accompanies the Judgment (cf. Isa 30:25; Jer 7:32; Joel 3:1-2ff, etc). The association of prayer with incense is traditional (Psalm 141:1-2; cf. Luke 1:9-11), and reflects the idea of a purified form of religion (Isa 1:13; Mal 1:11). In the Temple-action by Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptic tradition, the citation of Isa 56:7 (Mark 11:17 par) would seem to give priority to prayer over and against animal sacrifice, suggesting a new role and purpose for the Temple (in this regard, cf. Luke 18:10; 24:53; Acts 3:1; 22:17).

It is interesting to see how the imagery progresses. First we have the incense itself, which is burned upon the altar. Then is emphasized the smoke from the offering:

“And the smoke [kapno/$] of the fragrant powder stepped [i.e. went] up, (along) with the holy ones’ speaking out toward (God) [i.e. prayers], out of the hand of the Messenger in the sight of God.” (v. 4)

Smoke is an ambivalent image—it can indicate the warmth and protection of fire (here also the soothing fragrance of the burning incense), but also the destructive effects of fire (war, natural disaster, etc). Thus the rising of the smoke serves as an effective transition to the motif of the fire of Judgment, which is the third step in the progression:

“And the Messenger took the vessel for (burning) incense and filled it out of the fire of the place of slaughter [i.e. altar], and (then) threw it into/unto the earth—and there came to be thunderings and voices and flashings and shaking.” (v. 5)

In this regard, just as the seven trumpets serve as the basis for the second vision-cycle (chaps. 8-11), the golden censer filled with fire prefigures the third vision-cycle (in chapter 16). It is useful here to keep in mind the structure of the seven seal vision-cycle. The visions from the first six seals involve: (a) warfare among the nations, (b) persecution/death of believers, and (c) disruption of the cosmic/natural order—all of which is preliminary to the day of Judgment itself. With the terrifying natural phenomena which strike when the sixth seal is opened, humankind is aware that God is present and about to bring Judgment. Now, with the opening of the seventh, final seal, the Judgment begins. This, I think, helps us to understand the framework of chapters 8-20—various ways of describing the nature and character of the coming Judgment. We will begin exploring this as we proceed through the remainder of the book, starting with the trumpet vision-cycle; the first four visions (8:6-13) will be examined in the next daily note.