September 29: Revelation 7:1-8

Revelation 7:1-8

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

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

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

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

Rev 7:1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev 7:4-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Acts 1:6-26)

Acts 1:6-26 (and Matt 19:28 par)

The previous note dealt with the association of the Twelve and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the context of Matthew 19:28 par (Lk 22:28-30) and the tradition in Acts 1:6ff. I pointed out that there is good reason to think that the number twelve and its symbolism—related to the twelve tribes of Israel—was introduced and applied by Jesus himself. The apparent authenticity (on objective grounds) of the Matt 19:28 saying would confirm this. It is not entirely clear whether the idea is of a concrete earthly kingdom, or a heavenly one. The Synoptic narrative context of Matt 19:28, as it reads in Mark (10:28-31), indicates a contrast between earthly sacrifice/suffering for Jesus’ sake (now) and eternal/heavenly reward (in the future). This contrast seems to have been a common emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, such as we see in the parables and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; 6:1ff, 19-21; Lk 6:20-26, etc). Matthew’s version of the episode (19:27-30) has a different emphasis, but it would seem that a heavenly context is still implied; the use of the word paliggenhsi/a suggests a time following the resurrection. The parallel in Lk 18:28-30 is somewhat ambiguous, as is the context of 22:28-30 (cf. verse 18).

The problem is that traditional Israelite and Jewish eschatology variously envisioned the coming Kingdom (of God) in earthly and heavenly aspects, drawing upon imagery from both. This is also true in terms of Messianic expectation. Sometimes the establishment of the Kingdom was seen to follow the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, in other instances a period of (Messianic) rule on earth is envisioned. Certain eschatological schemes combine both aspects, as we see, for example, in the book of Revelation. Paul says very little in his letters regarding a future Kingdom on earth; the imminent, expected return of Jesus seems to coincide with the resurrection (1 Thess 4:14-17), after which believers will remain with him (in heaven). On the other hand, in 1 Cor 6:2, Paul states that believers will play a role in the Judgment of the world, expressing an idea generally similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28 par. Presumably, this ruling/judging position is thought to take place in heaven, since he also says that believers will judge the Angels (v. 3).

Jesus’ own teaching in this regard is not entirely clear, at least as it has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition. However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, early Christians had no choice but to believe that the coming of the Kingdom, in its full sense, in heaven and/or on earth (cf. Matt 6:10), was reserved for the time of Jesus’ future return. In the interim—however brief or long it may be—the Kingdom was realized (on earth) in two primary ways: (1) by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and (2) through the missionary work of early Christians, spreading the new faith (from Jerusalem) into the wider world. This is certainly the understanding expressed by the author of Luke-Acts; and, if we take the text at face value, it was also the true purpose and intention of Jesus.

In the prior note, I looked briefly at the question asked of Jesus by the disciples (i.e. the Twelve) in Acts 1:6. Their question indicates that they were thinking in traditional eschatological terms about the coming of the Kingdom—as a socio-political (and religious) entity on earth, headed by Jesus as God’s Anointed representative (i.e. a royal Messiah). By extension, it might have been thought that they (the Twelve) would be ruling this Kingdom as well (cf. again the context of Lk 22:28-30). Jesus does not answer their question directly, and so leaves open, perhaps, the possibility of such an earthly (Messianic) regime in the future; however, his response must be deemed an implicit rejection of their very way of thinking. He deftly redirects the entire thrust of the question (verse 7), and then effectively gives them their answer: instead of expecting the return of an Israelite Kingdom like that of David long ago, the disciples will usher a different kind of Kingdom, involving—(a) the coming of the Spirit in power, and (b) their witness and proclamation of the Gospel message (verse 8).

The Restoration of Israel (Acts 1:12-26)

The disciples’ question (1:6) involved the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The author of Acts, doubtless following the (historical) traditions which he inherited, has built upon this theme, which is central to the narrative which follows in the remainder of chapters 1-2. I have discussed this at length in a set of notes (for Pentecost, soon to be posted on this site), and will only provide an outline of that study here.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed already in verses 12-14:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem, in one place (upper room), v. 13. This is a seminal image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related motifs, expressing the unity of believers together:
    ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al.
    th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

As stated above, most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel; and, as such, their unity (and the unity of their mission work) similarly reflects the coming together of Israel (the true Israel). Consider, for example, the basic Gospel tradition of the sending out of the Twelve in Mark 6:6b-13 par. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist).

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. Note the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. There would seem to be a symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel.

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13ff)

This symbolism continues into the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. Note the following (chiastic outline):

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

The way this scene builds upon the prior events of chapter 1 can be illustrated by expanding the outline:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The restoration of Israel in terms of a “regathering” of Israelites and Jews from the surrounding nations was expressed numerous times already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the latter half of the book of Isaiah; this eschatological expectation was extended to include those of the nations (Gentiles) who come to Jerusalem and join the people of Israel—e.g., Isa 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-14; 66:18-24; Micah 4:2-5 (Isa 2:3-4). Cf. Sanders, p. 79. This theme became part of subsequent Israelite/Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought (Baruch 4-5; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Ps Sol 11, 17, etc), sometimes expressed specifically in relation to the regathering of the twelve tribesSirach 36:11; 48:10; Ps Sol 17:28-31ff; 1QM 2:2ff; 11QTemple 18:14-16; T. Sanh. 13:10; and also note the motif in Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3ff (cf. Sanders, pp. 96-7).

Revelation 21:12-14ff

Finally, the connection between the Twelve Apostles and the Twelve Tribes of Israel is presented in the book of Revelation, but in a very different manner from the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28. It is part of the great vision of the new (heavenly) Jerusalem in 21:1-22:5, which serves as the climax of the book. The gates and walls of the city are described in 21:12-14ff, drawing upon the description in Ezek 48:30-35. Here we find:

    • Twelve gates, named after the Twelve Tribes—that is, the names of the tribes were inscribed on them (v. 12b). The Qumran community drew upon the same tradition (11QTemple 39-41; 4Q365a frag. 2 col. 2; 4Q554). The names on the gates commemorate the heritage of Israel as the people of God.
    • Twelve foundation stones for the city walls, named after the Twelve Apostles (v. 14). The image of Christ and the apostles as “foundation (stone)s” is found several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). There is also a similar idea expressed by the Qumran community, for the leaders of the community (esp. the twelve men of the Council), cf. 1QS 8:1-6; 11:8; 4Q154 frag. 1, col. 1). In the famous declaration of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19, Peter and the Twelve are depicted as stones which make up the foundation of the Church. Cf. Koester, p. 815.

Thus the New Jerusalem—that is, the heavenly/spiritual Jerusalem of the New Covenant (Gal 4:24-26)—honors the heritage and legacy of both Israel (representing the Old Covenant), and the Apostles (representing the beginning of the New). However, there is no idea here of the Apostles ruling—God alone (with Christ) is on the Throne (21:5).

References above marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985). Those marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38a (Yale: 2014).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30)

Here I will be looking specifically at the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles), in terms of the significance (and symbolism) of the number twelve.

As mentioned in the previous note, the tradition of Twelve Disciples, representing the circle of Jesus’ closest followers, is extremely well established in early Christian tradition. The number is clearly fixed, even if the specific names which make up the list differ. Apart from the references to the calling of the Twelve (discussed in prior notes), they are mentioned as a group numerous times in the Synoptic Gospels, in passages which almost certainly derive from more than one strand of tradition. They are also mentioned twice in the Gospel of John, in 6:67-71 (cf. the previous note) and 20:24. Beyond the passage in Acts 1:12-26, they are mentioned as a group in 6:2, and are likely to be meant by the use of the expression “the apostles” (oi( a)po/stoloi), at least in the first half of the book (cf. 1:2; 2:42-43; 4:33ff; 5:2, etc). Paul also refers to “the Twelve” in 1 Cor 15:5.

The Significance of the Twelve

An obvious explanation as to the significance of the number Twelve, lies in an association with the twelve Tribes of Israel. Indeed, this is the only explanation which the New Testament itself offers. An intriguing critical question has been whether (or to what extent) this association (with its symbolism) goes back to Jesus himself. A careful examination of the evidence, however slight, suggests that, on objective grounds, it most likely does. There is one tradition in the Synoptic Gospels which makes a connection between the Apostles and the Tribes of Israel clear.

Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30

Here we have a parallel saying by Jesus, which, according to most (critical) commentators, is part of the so-called “Q” material—that is, traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The two ‘versions’ appear in very different locations of the Gospel narrative, but share the same basic meaning and significance—referring to the reward which will come to Jesus’ close disciples (i.e. the Twelve) for following him faithfully, to the end. The setting in Matthew is the discussion Jesus has with Peter and the other disciples (19:23ff) in the aftermath of the encounter with the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (19:16-22). Both episodes are part of the wider Synoptic tradition, as represented by Mark 10:17-31 (cp. Lk 18:18-30). The Matt 19:28 saying is essentially ‘inserted’ between Mk 10:28 & 29; compare:

“And the Rock {Peter} began to give account [i.e. relate/say] to him [i.e. Jesus], ‘See, we released [i.e. left] all (thing)s and have followed you.’ Yeshua said (to him), ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. relate/say] to you: (that) there is no one who (has) released [i.e. left] house or brothers or sisters or mother or offspring or fields on behalf of me…'” (Mk 10:28-29)

“Then the Rock {Peter}, giving forth (an answer), said to him, ‘See, we released all (thing)s and followed you. What, then, will there be for us?’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. say/relate] to you: that you, the ones following me (will) …. judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael. And every one who (has) released [i.e. left] houses…on behalf of my name…'” (Matt 19:27-29)

The Matthean ‘additions’ are marked in blue—consisting of the saying in v. 28, and the additional words by Peter which allow for the saying to make sense in the narrative context. Here is the saying in full:

“You, the ones following me, in the (time of) coming to be (born) back (again), when the Son of Man should sit upon his seat (of rule) (in) splendor, you also will sit upon twelve (ruling) seats, judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea is clear enough—the reward of the Twelve will be to rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Age to Come. The Greek word paliggenesi/a literally means “coming to be back (again)”, in the sense of coming to be born again, i.e. rebirth (or regeneration). It occurs only once elsewhere in the New Testament (Titus 3:5), where it carries the specific idea of spiritual rebirth (by the Spirit) for believers. Already in ancient Greek (esp. Stoic) philosophy, it was used in an eschatological sense for the renewal of the world at the end of the (current) Age. It also had the basic denotation of “rebirth” for the human soul, whether concretely (reincarnation/metempsychosis) or in a spiritual/symbolic sense (in the Mystery religions, etc). For Greek-speaking Jews, both aspects came to be combined into the idea of the resurrection which would take place at the end of the Age, following the time of God’s Judgment upon the world.

The parallel saying in Luke (22:28-30) is set during the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his close followers in Jerusalem. Again, this appears to be a Lukan ‘insertion’ into the core Synoptic narrative. It is actually part of a collection of teaching and instruction, given by Jesus to his disciples, which is unique to Luke’s Gospel in this particular context. Verses 24-30, with the joining v. 23, are included after the narrative corresponding to Mark 14:17-25 (22:14-22). Similarly, verses 35-38 come after Mk 14:26-31 (22:31-34). Whatever else one may say about it, the location of vv. 28-30 is striking, occurring just after the saying(s) of vv. 25-27, for which there is a Synoptic parallel (the episode of Mk 10:35-45 par), albeit in a different narrative setting. The dispute between the disciples in v. 24, along with the teaching (on discipleship) which follows in vv. 25-27, are juxtaposed with Jesus’ woe against the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-23). These verses appear after the dedication of the bread/cup, instead of before (as in Mark/Matthew). Note the way this juxtaposition appears in Luke:

    • Saying of Woe for the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-22)
      —the disciples begin to discuss/debate among one another as to who this betrayer could be (v. 23)
      —the disciples begin to dispute which one of them should be considered the greatest (v. 24)
    • Instruction for the disciples—the ideal/importance of humility and sacrificial service (vv. 25-27)

Whether or not this order of events is strictly historical, it certainly creates a powerful literary (and artistic) effect. The implication of the teaching in vv. 25-27 is that the disciple who rejects it, seeking his own interests and importance, is like the disciple who betrays Jesus. The saying corresponding to Matt 19:28 follows in vv. 28-30:

“But you, the ones having remained throughout with me, in the (time)s of my testing, I will also set through(out) for you—even as my Father set through for me—a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table in my kingdom, and you will sit upon seats (of rule), judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The italicized portions correspond most directly with Matt 19:28, the remainder being unique to the Lukan version. Some critical commentators would hold that the non-italicized words simply reflect the author’s adaptation of the “Q” saying to the context of the Last Supper. If so, then the reading “seats” instead of “twelve seats” is likely also an adaptation to account for the betrayal by Judas. A more traditional-conservative approach to the matter would, almost certainly, require that two distinct sayings, which just happen to be similar to one another, are involved.

Regardless of the historical-critical question, the essential meaning of the core saying in both ‘versions’ is the same. This raises an entirely different problem of interpretation, which I will address in the next note.