Supplemental Note on Isaiah 24-27 (5): Isa 27:12-13

Isaiah 27:12-13

This is the last of five special notes supplemental to the recent Saturday Series studies on Isaiah 24-27 (see #1 on v. 1, #2 on vv. 2-5, #3 on v. 6, and #4 on vv. 7-11). The poem of vv. 7-13 concludes with two “day of YHWH” stanzas, as do the previous poems in 25:1-26:6 and 26:7-27:6. We will examine each of these stanzas in turn.

“And it will be, on that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
YHWH will beat out (the grain)
from (the) stream of (the great) River,
unto the river-bed of Egypt,
and you will be gathered up
from (there) one by one,
(you) sons of Yisrael.” (v. 12)

The harvest imagery of beating out (i.e. threshing) the grain and gathering it up (verbs µ¹»a‰ and l¹qa‰) follows the line of agricultural symbolism in these poems, and is entirely appropriate to the eschatological orientation of chaps. 24-27 as a whole. The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, came to be a popular motif for the end of the current Age, and the threshing—the separating of the grain from the chaff—was likewise suitable for the idea of separating the righteous from the wicked in the great Judgment.

It is a judgment on the nations, particularly those surrounding Israel, spanning the entire territory of the ancient Near East, using the “(great) River” (Euphrates) and “river of Egypt” (Nile) as the traditional boundary points. God’s Judgment on these nations means a return from exile for the people of Israel. They will be “gathered up” (by God) and returned to their land. The two-fold use of the numeral °eµ¹¼ (dj*a#, one), i.e. “one by one”, emphasizes both the restoration of the people, and that each person belonging to the restored people will return. This alludes again to the threshing-motif, with each single grain being gathered up as part of the harvest.

“And it will be, on that day [bayyôm hahû°]—
(the signal) will be struck on (the) great horn,
and they (all) will come,
the (one)s being lost in (the) land of Assur,
and the (one)s being cast off in (the) land of Egypt,
and they will bow down (in homage) to YHWH,
on the mountain of holiness in Yerushalaim.” (v. 13)

The second stanza, brings the return from exile more clearly into view. The time for returning is announced on the great horn, as would be used on festival occasions. The lands from which the people come correspond with the boundary markers mentioned in verse 12:

    • “the (great) river” (Euphrates) = the land of Assur (Assyria)
    • “the river of Egypt” (Nile) = the land of Egypt

The fact that Assyria is specifically mentioned (and not Babylon) raises the possibility that these lines stem from a period prior to the Babylonian conquest/exile, and that the “sons of Israel” refer primarily to the captives of the fallen northern kingdom of Israel. Parallels with the oracle in 11:11-16 are noteworthy; indeed, Assyria and Egypt are mentioned together there in v. 11. The prophecy in v. 12 declares that both Israel and Judah will be gathered from the nations where they have been exiled. The historical circumstances of such references can be difficult to determine with precision. The obvious explanation is that the lines in 11:12ff were composed following the Babylonian conquest, and yet there were certainly Judeans who had been taken captive (exiled) during the earlier Assyrian conquests as well. Roberts (First Isaiah, Hermeneia [Fortess Press: 2015], pp. 189-90) suggests the possibility that, in the case of the poem in 11:11-16, an earlier Isaian oracle (set in the Assyrian period) was adapted and reinterpreted by a later author/editor (in the Babylonian period).

There can be no real question that chapters 24-27 do make such use of earlier Isaian traditions (I have discussed the point in the prior notes and studies), and that the time-frame of the poems is fundamentally that of the Exilic period of the 6th century B.C. It may well be that here Assyria, as the territory marked by the Euphrates, serves equally for Babylon—both nation-states representing comparable powers from the east that conquered and exiled God’s people.

As far as Egypt is concerned, its significance here has multiple layers of meaning:

    • It is the ancient site of Israel’s first captivity
    • It played a (political) role in the events surrounding both the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests
    • Israelites and Judeans took refuge in Egypt in the wake of those invasions, and many remained there as ‘exiles’
    • The return from exile would follow the type-pattern of the Exodus, with Israel being gathered out of Egypt (Isa 11:15-16, etc)

That being said, the reference to Israelites/Judeans in Egypt, most likely reflects the historical circumstances of the fall of Jerusalem (587/6 B.C.), when large numbers of Judeans fled in its wake (to Egypt), particularly after the assassination of the governor Gedaliah (see 2 Kings 25:24-25; Jeremiah 41ff).

On the (eschatological) theme of Israel’s restoration centered on the “mountain” of God—that is, the city of Jerusalem (Zion), couched in the imagery of cosmological myth—see the earlier study on Isa 2:1-5.

Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Corinthians (Part 2)

In Part 1, all of the relevant passages in 1 Corinthians were discussed, except for the section on the resurrection in chapter 15 (the subject here in Part 2); the references in 2 Corinthians well be addressed in Part 3.

The Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15

Paul’s lengthy chapter on the resurrection is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament, largely due to several key verses that have been enshrined in their King James Version translation. When viewed as a whole, the discussion is considerably more complex, and demonstrates Paul’s inspired gift for giving theological weight and spiritual depth to traditional early Christian material. It will not be possible to treat the entire chapter in detail; here I will survey each section briefly, bringing out some of the more relevant points and features as they relate to Paul’s eschatological understanding.

1 Cor 15:1-2

“And I make known to you, brothers, the good message which I gave as a good message to you, and which you took alongside and in which you have stood, and through which you are saved—what account I gave as a good message to you, if you hold (it) down (in your mind), if you did not trust without (any) purpose.”

This statement serves to introduce the historical tradition of Jesus’ resurrection, which is central (and foundational) to the earliest Gospel preaching (the “good message”, eu)agge/lion, vb eu)aggeli/zw). Paul frames this fact in terms of the Corinthian believers’ own experience of coming to faith, as a way of urging them to accept his instruction. Four verbs in sequence serve as a rudimentary “order of salvation”:

    • “I gave the good message” (eu)hggelisa/men)
    • “you took (it) alongside” (parela/bete)
    • “you have stood (in/on it)” (e(sth/kate)
    • “you are saved (through it)” (sw|/zesqe)

The first two verbs are aorists, indicating past action; the third is a perfect form, referring to a past action or condition that continues into the present; the fourth verb is a present form. The perfect form e(sth/kate (“you have stood”) connotes the continued faithfulness of the Corinthians; from a rhetorical standpoint, this both praises their past faithfulness and encourages it to continue. The present sw|/zesqe (“you are saved”), according to Pauline theology, and reflecting early Christian thought in general, has a two-fold significance: (1) believers are now saved from the power of sin (cf. below on vv. 50-57), and (2) are about to be saved in the coming end-time Judgment. For early Christians, salvation is fundamentally eschatological. The main rhetorical point of emphasis comes at the close of verse 2, where Paul effectively presents his readers with two options: (a) that they “hold down” (i.e. preserve and keep firmly in mind) the Gospel message passed along to them, or (b) that they ignore it (and its implications), meaning that they will end up trusting “without (any) purpose”, the adverb ei)kh=| signifying someone going about randomly or idly.

1 Cor 15:3-8

“For I gave along to you, among the first (thing)s, th(at) which you also took alongside: that (the) Anointed (One) died away over our sins, according to the Writings, and that he was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day according to the Writings, and that he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve, then upon [i.e. after] (that) he was seen by over five hundred brothers all at (once)—out of whom the most (still) remain until now, but some (have) lain down (to sleep)—then upon [i.e. after] (that) he was seen by Ya’aqob, then by all the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], and (then), last of all, he was also seen by me, as if (appearing) to (one who had been) cut out (of the womb).”

Paul’s opening words in verse 3 again emphasize how central the resurrection of Jesus is to the Gospel message. This would seem obvious, and is confirmed by a survey of the content of the earliest Christian preaching as recorded in the book of Acts (cf. the series “The Speeches of Acts”), and elsewhere in the New Testament. Here we have a similar kerygma (proclamation), expanded by a listing of post-resurrection appearances by Jesus. In large part these appearances correspond with the Gospel tradition (as presented in the canonical Gospels), and there is little reason to doubt the authenticity of the traditional information Paul records here. The idea of a reliable chain of tradition was fundamental for early Christians, with the apostles and other first-generation believers—who either saw/heard things firsthand or knew those who did—being the transmitters of tradition. Already at this relatively early point (mid/late-50s A.D.), ministers such as Paul were stressing the importance of preserving and guarding this tradition.

1 Cor 15:8-11

“For I am the least of the (one)s sent forth, which (means) that I (should) not (even be) able to be called (one) sent forth [i.e. an apostle], for (it is) that I pursued [i.e. persecuted] the called out (people) of God; but by the favor of God I am what I am, and His favor th(at was shown) unto me did not come to be empty, but even above all of them I beat [i.e. worked] (hard)—not I but, rather, the favor of God [that] (is) with me. (So) then, if (it is) I or if (it is) those (others), so we proclaimed (the message) and so you trusted.”

Paul’s self-effacing description of his apostleship, while doubtless reflecting his genuine attitude, also serves the rhetorical purpose of gaining the sympathy of his readers, so that they are more likely to hear his instruction. It also reaffirms his own position as a reliable transmitter of Gospel tradition; for another example of this, in an eschatological context, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (and the previous article on that passage).

1 Cor 15:12-19

“But if it is proclaimed (of the) Anointed (One) that he has been raised out of the dead, how is it counted [i.e. thought/said] among some of you that ‘there is not (any) standing up out of the dead’? And if there is no standing up out of the dead, (then the) Anointed (One) also has not been raised; and if (the) Anointed (One) has not been raised, then [even] our proclamation is empty, and your trust also empty, and we are found even (to be) false witnesses of God, (in) that we witnessed according to God that He raised the Anointed (One), whom He did not (in fact) raise, if (it is) then (that) dead (person)s are not raised.

For, if dead (person)s are not raised, (then the) Anointed (One) also has not been raised; and if (the) Anointed (One) has not been raised, (then) your trust (is) futile, (and) you are yet in your sins, and then (also) the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep) in (the) Anointed (One) (have) gone away to ruin. If we are (one)s having hoped in (the) Anointed (One) only in this life, (then) we are the most pitiable of all men!”

The main point of the passage is now introduced. There were, apparently, some Christians in Corinth who expressed the belief (or at least the possibility) that the bodies of human beings could, or would, not be raised from the dead. They presumably accepted the resurrection of Jesus, as a special and unique event, but not that the bodies of other believers would be raised in a similar way. There would still be a blessed afterlife, but not one involving a raised physical body (on similar doubts and skepticism, cf. Acts 17:32, and views of the Sadducees in Mark 12:18 par; Acts 23:6-8). While such an outlook might be understandable, especially for Greek believers, it runs contrary to a central tenet of Paul’s theology (and Christology)—that the fundamental identity of believers involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. So important is this idea for Paul, that he states the relationship here, twice, using forceful language and a clear chain of logic. Taken by itself, and viewed objectively, the actual logic is not all that convincing: why exactly is it that “if there is no resurrection out of the dead, (then) Christ also has not been raised”? Could not Jesus’ resurrection be an example of a special miracle? Similarly, if trust in Jesus leads to a blessed afterlife for the soul (but not the physical body), how would this make Christians “the most pitiable of all men”? Such questions, however, miss the point of the unity believers share with Christ, so that the two cannot be separated—what happens to Jesus must also happen to those united with him. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to say that any such separation effectively nullifies the entire Gospel message! It may not be immediately apparent just why this is, but Paul expounds the matter in some detail in the verses that follow. Here his forceful rhetoric, if nothing else, would likely get the attention of his readers.

1 Cor 15:20-24

“But now (the) Anointed (One) has been raised out of the dead, (the) beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the (one)s having lain down (to sleep). For seeing that death (came) through (a) man, standing up (out of the) dead also (came) through a man. Just as in the Man [lit. ‘Adam] all died away, so also in the Anointed (One) all will be made alive. But each (will be) in his own arranged place: (the) Anointed (One as the) beginning (fruit) from (the harvest), then upon [i.e. after] (that), the (one)s of [ i.e. belonging to] the Anointed in his (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a], (and) then the completion [te/lo$], when he shall give along the kingdom to God the Father, when he shall make every a)rxh/ and every e)cousi/a and power to cease working.”

There are three key strands to this powerful statement, each with a strong eschatological emphasis:

    • Harvest imagery, expressed by the word a)parxh/ (“[the] beginning from”, i.e. from the harvest); according to Old Testament religious tradition, and, especially, the agricultural regulations in the Law of Moses [Torah], the first part of the harvest was marked as belonging to God. Just as the harvest marked the end of the growing season, so it served as a fitting symbol for the end of the current Age. The threshing process, the separation of grain from chaff, represented the time of Judgment—i.e., separating the righteous from the wicked. The eschatological use of harvest imagery is seen, for example, in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt 3:12 par), the sayings and parables of Jesus (Mark 4:29; Matt 9:37-38 par; 13:30, 39; John 4:35), and the visions of the book of Revelation (14:14-20, cf. Joel 3:13ff).
    • The Adam/Christ parallel, best known from Romans 5:12-21 (cf. my earlier discussion on this passage). The eschatological aspect of this may not be immediately obvious to modern readers. However, Adam represents the beginning of the current Age and Jesus Christ its end; the old order of things was introduced with Adam, and the new order (the New Age) with Jesus. Paul will develop this parallel further in the passage (cf. below).
    • The end-time coming (parousi/a, parousia) of the exalted Jesus. Paul refers to this more clearly in 1 Thess 4:13-18, specifically including a reference to the resurrection—i.e. the raising of believers who have died to join those still alive at the moment of Jesus’ return. His coming marks the completion (te/lo$) of the current Age, accompanied by the final Judgment.

This three-fold description is brought to a climax in verse 24, with a uniquely Pauline presentation of traditional Messianic imagery—i.e. involving Jesus’ role as the Anointed One, drawing especially on two strands of tradition: (1) the Davidic Ruler figure type, that is, of the king serving as God’s representative on earth, and (2) the Heavenly Redeemer (“Son of Man”) figure-type (from Daniel 7:13-14ff, etc); for more on these, cf. Parts 68 and 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here the language reflects the completion of the Judgment, the defeat/subjugation of enemies and opponents of God, carried out by the Anointed One. In so doing, God’s Kingdom is finally realized, with His Rule established over all of Creation. This is depicted in a heavenly ceremonial scene, similar in many respects to the more developed scenes in the visions of Revelation (chaps. 4-5; 7:9-12; 11:15-18; 12:10ff; 19:1-5, 11ff, etc).

1 Cor 15:25-28

“For it is necessary (for) him to rule as king until he should set all the hostile (one)s under his feet—(and the) last hostile (one) made to cease working is Death—for (indeed) he (has) put in order all (thing)s under his feet. But when (one) would say, ‘all (thing)s have been put in order under (his feet)’, (it is) clear that (this is) without [i.e. does not include] the (One) putting all (thing)s in order under him. But when all (thing)s should be put in order under him, then [even] he, the Son, will be put in order under the (One) putting all (thing)s in order under him, (so) that God should be all (thing)s in all.”

Here the Messianic subduing of enemies (v. 24) is cast within a precise theological hierarchy. Paul is apparently sensitive to the exalted status accorded to Jesus, by way of the traditional Messianic imagery of Psalm 110:1 applied to Jesus (Acts 2:34-35; Heb 1:13; 10:13). He takes great care to emphasize that, though Jesus is the Anointed One and Son of God, he is still subordinate to God the Father. Theologians have found great difficulty with this, but the later Christological controversies regarding ‘subordinationism’ are quite foreign to Paul. What Jesus the Anointed One subdues and “puts in order” underneath him (i.e. under his authority) is referred to comprehensively in verse 24 as “every a)rxh/” (that is, every chief ruling power), “every e)cousi/a” (i.e. every one who exercises authority, including the basis by which they act), and “every power” (i.e. the strength and ability by which a person acts). The “last” such ruling power is Death personified. Paul occasionally refers to Sin and Death as personified figures, as rulers who hold humankind in bondage under their power. Christ’s redeeming work freed believers from the power of Sin, but, as human beings, we are still under the power of death (that is, we all die). The resurrection represents the exalted Jesus’ power over death.

1 Cor 15:29-34

“Upon what (then) will they do, the (one)s being dunked [i.e. baptized] over the dead? If the dead are not raised whole, (for) what [i.e. why] even be dunked over the dead? And (for) what [i.e. why] are we in danger every hour? And I die away according to (each) day—(so I swear) by your boast, [brothers,] which I hold in (the) Anointed Yeshua our Lord! If, according to men, I fought wild animals in Efesos, what (is) the gain for me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die off! You must not be led astray: ‘Bad conversations [or, companions] corrupt useful habits’. You must wake out of (this intoxication), as is right, and must not sin; for some hold a lack of knowledge of God—I speak to you toward turning (you) in [i.e. back] (away from this).”

This rather uneven digression includes a number of references that have tripped up commentators, which is unfortunate, since they tend to obscure the primary point being made in the passage. For example, Paul’s mention of the apparent practice of being baptized “over the dead” (v. 29) has proven notoriously difficult to interpret. The preposition u(pe/r (“over”) often has the figurative meaning “for the sake of, on behalf of”; even so, the precise situation referenced by Paul remains elusive. Were baptisms performed on behalf of persons who had died prior to having heard the Gospel proclaimed, so as to bestow salvation or blessing vicariously on them? Or, perhaps, baptisms were being dedicated to believing friends and relatives who had passed away. We cannot be certain. Paul expresses neither approval or disapproval of the practice, and there is no other mention of anything of the sort, either in the New Testament, or other Christian Writings of the first/second century. It is possible that the situation reflects a general concern, regarding the relationship between living and dead believers, such as we find in 1 Thess 4:13-18. There the context is certainly eschatological, and relates also to the resurrection. If dead believers will rise (in their bodies) along with those living, to meet Jesus at his coming, then a denial of the resurrection means that the entire scenario—and the Christian unity it represents—would be negated.

Overall, however, Paul’s point is not so grand here in vv. 29ff. He uses several examples to illustrate the practical implications for human beings if there is no resurrection. The first two relate to believers:

    • Baptisms performed “for the sake of” the dead, whatever this entails precisely; it certainly reflects a care and concern for those who have died (v. 29)
    • The hardship and danger faced by Christians (vv. 30ff)—Paul uses his own example of “fighting wild animals” (in a figurative sense) at Ephesus

In Paul’s view, all such efforts (in the face of death) are rendered meaningless if there is no resurrection for the dead. The last illustration is proverbial (v. 32b), and represents the implication for non-believers: there need not be any concern for the future (“let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die off”), which can lead to self-centered amoral (and immoral) behavior. Paul strongly urges his readers not to be led astray to follow such an example as a result of their disbelief or doubts regarding the resurrection (vv. 33-34).

1 Cor 15:35-41

“But some(one) will say, ‘How are the dead raised? and with what body do they come?’ Senseless (one)! that which you scatter (as seed) is not made alive if it should not (first) die off; and that which you scatter (as seed), (it) is not the body th(at) is coming to be (that) you scatter, but a naked kernel, if it happens (to be) of wheat or of some of the remaining (kind)s, and God gives to it a body even as He wishes, and to each of the scattered (seed)s its own body. Not all flesh is the same flesh, but (rather) a different (one) for men, and a different flesh for creatures (of the field), and a different flesh for winged (creature)s, and a different (one) for fishes. Indeed (there are) bodies upon the heavens and bodies upon the earth, but (also) a distinct honor for th(ose) upon the heavens and (one) distinct for th(ose) upon the earth; (and) a different honor for the sun, and a different honor for the moon, and a different honor for the stars—for star (after) star bears through in (its distinct) honor.”

The agricultural/harvest imagery continues in this section, with the concrete motif of the seed that ‘dies’ only to be made alive as it grows, taking on a distinctive “body”. Jesus was fond of the seed motif in his parables and illustrations (e.g., Mark 4:3-8ff, 26-32 par), using it specifically in reference to his own death and resurrection in John 12:24. Everything in creation has its own “body” (sw=ma), and also its own kind of honor or splendor (do/ca). The distinction of heavenly (i.e. celestial) bodies prepares the way for Paul’s distinction between the physical (earthly) bodies of human beings and the spiritual (heavenly) bodies of believers in the resurrection.

1 Cor 15:42-49

“So also is the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead: it is scattered (as seed) in decay, it is raised (in a form) without decay; it is scattered in (a form) without value, it is raised in (a form with) honor—scattered in a lack of strength, raised in power, scattered (as) a body with a soul, raised as a body with the Spirit. If there is a body with (only) a soul, there is also (a body) with the Spirit. Even so it has been written, ‘The first man Adam into a living soul’, (and) the last ‘Adam’ into a Spirit making alive. But the (body) with the Spirit (is) not first, but the (one) with the soul (is first), (and) then upon [i.e. after] this the (one) with the Spirit. The first man (is) out of the dust (of the earth), the second man (is) out of heaven. Such as the dust (of the earth is), so also (are) those of the (earth-)dust; and such as the (place) upon [i.e. above] the heavens (is), so also (are) those (who are) upon [i.e. above] the heavens. And even as we bore the image of the dust (of the earth), (so) also we will bear the image of th(at which is) upon [i.e. above] the heavens.”

Paul again blends harvest imagery with the Adam/Christ parallel, as in vv. 20-24 (cf. above). The latter motif is expanded into a full-fledged dualism, contrasting the ordinary human being with the believer in Christ. Two main pairs are used for this contrast:

    • Earth vs. Heaven—In verse 40 the word-pair was e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”) and e)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”). Here in vv. 47-49, e)pi/geio$ is replaced by xoi+ko/$, which refers more properly to the “dust” (or “dirt, soil”) of the earth’s surface (and beneath it). This establishes a more extreme contrast: the crude dirt beneath the earth’s surface and the pure place above the skies.
    • Soul (yuxh/) vs. Spirit (pneu=ma)—Here the contrast is primarily between the adjective yuxiko/$ and pneuma/tiko$, both of which are Pauline terms. The latter is usually rendered “spiritual”, while the former proves almost impossible to render accurately into English— “soulish” would be comparable, but that scarcely exists as a legitimate word. Most translations opt for “natural”, which is rather inaccurate and misleading, though it can get across the basic idea. Paul’s only other use of yuxiko/$ is in 1 Cor 2:14; it is also used in the letter of James (3:15), as generally synonymous with e)pi/geio$. Jude 19 captures the correct meaning, glossing it as referring to persons “not holding the Spirit”, i.e. ordinary human beings without the Spirit. That is very much what Paul has in mind in 1 Cor 2:14, and also here. A yuxiko/$ person has a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit, and thus applies to every non-believer.

Perhaps the most striking point of contrast is in verse 45, where Paul, developing the Adam/Christ parallel, states that “the first man Adam (was turned) into a living soul, the second Adam into a Spirit making alive”. The first phrase, of course, comes from the Genesis narrative, but how are we to understand the second phrase? There would seem to be two aspects to Paul’s thought: (1) it refers to the exalted Jesus after the resurrection, and (2) it reflects an understanding of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, i.e. the living and abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. In my view, it is the latter, the Holy Spirit, that is primarily in view. To say that Jesus was changed/turned into the Spirit may seem odd, but it captures the dynamic character of the resurrection and the ascension/exaltation of Jesus into heaven. In both the Luke-Acts narrative, and in the Johannine tradition, the coming of the Spirit is closely connected with Jesus’ resurrection and ascent to the Father (Lk 24:49-51; Acts 1:8-11; 2:1-4ff; John 14:1-4, 15-18ff, 25-26; 15:26; 16:12-13ff; 20:17, 22). There are two related aspects to the resurrection in this regard: (a) believers’ participation in Jesus’ dying and rising, including the power that raised him, and (b) the presence and power of the Spirit in believers, which enables one to be raised from the dead.

1 Cor 15:50-57

“This I tell (you), brothers, that flesh and blood is not able to receive the kingdom of God as (its) lot, and decay is not able to receive (a form) without decay as (its) lot. See, I relate to you a secret! We shall not all lie down (to sleep), but we shall all be made different, in an uncut (particle) [i.e. moment], in a flicker of (the) eye, in the last trumpet (sound)—for it will trumpet and the dead will be raised without decay, and we will be made different. For, it is necessary (for) this decay(ing body) to sink in(to) [i.e. put on] (a form) without decay, and (for) the dying (body) to sink in(to) [i.e. put on] (a form) without death. And when this decay should sink in(to a form) without decay, and this dying should sink in(to a form) without death, then will come to be the account having been written: ‘Death was drunk down into victory. Where, Death, (is) your victory? Where, Death, (is) your (sharp) point?’ And the (sharp) point of the Death (is) Sin, and the power of Sin (is) the Law; but thanks to God (for His) favor, the (One) giving us the victory through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed!”

These climactic verses represent one of the most famous and oft-cited passages in the entire New Testament. As English poetry, the King James Version remains unsurpassed; still, it is even better (and, in its own way, more powerful) when read in the original Greek, the sense of which I attempt to convey in the literal rendering above. The passage here is filled with eschatological motifs and images, which may be listed out as follows:

    • The idea of inheriting the Kingdom of God, drawn from traditional language related to the afterlife/end-time Judgment scene
    • The specific use of the word “secret” (musth/rion), with its strong eschatological implications—cf. Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:1; Col 1:26-27; 2 Thess 2:7; Rev 1:20; 10:7; 17:5ff
    • The sounding of a trumpet to announce the end of the current Age and the end-time Judgment (Matt 24:31; 1 Thess 4:16; Rev 1:10; 4:1; 8:6-13ff; 11:15)
    • The trumpet-blast representing the suddenness with which believers are gathered together at the return of Jesus (1 Thess 4:16; Matt 24:31)
    • The idea of being clothed in new garments, i.e. eschatological use of wedding/festal motifs (Rev 19:7-9; Matt 22:11ff; 25:1ff, etc)
    • The Messianic imagery of being victorious over the enemies of God (and His people); here, the great enemy is Death itself (see vv. 24-26, above)

Throughout, these motifs are expressed in distinctive Pauline theological terms, including his unique view of the relationship between sin and the Law (v. 56). We can see how important that belief is for him by the way that he introduces it here, as an interpretation/application of the Scriptures quoted (Isa 25:8; Hos 13:14), even though it has little immediate relevance to the subject of the resurrection. It also demonstrates that Pauline soteriology focused as least as much on salvation from the power of sin as on the more traditional idea of being saved from the coming Judgment. Deliverance from bondage to the ruling power of sin was the more immediate experience for believers in the present.

It is in verses 50-57 that Paul is closest to the eschatological passage of 1 Thess 4:13-18, in which the resurrection also plays a prominent role. Paul is the only New Testament author who specifically includes those who have died among the believers who are gathered together to meet Jesus at his coming. He likely is simply making explicit what other Christians would have taken for granted. However, in the early years, at least, in view of the strong belief in the imminence of Jesus’ return, the general expectation doubtless was for the vast majority of believers to still be alive when this occurred. By the time Paul wrote (50s A.D.), there would have been a number of Christians who already died before the expected end, so it would have been increasingly necessary to mention the resurrection in the context of Jesus’ return.

November 5: Revelation 14:14-20 (continued)

Revelation 14:14-20, continued

In the previous note, we examined the scene of the grain harvest (vv. 14-16), in which the “Son of Man” (the exalted Jesus) performs the act of harvesting, at God’s command (by way of a Messenger). This is a depiction (for the first time in the visions of the book) of the end-time return of Jesus to earth. His coming (parousia) ushers in the great Judgment, and the scene in vv. 14-16 certainly indicates the moment of the Judgment and its beginning. However, the grain harvest itself primarily signifies the gathering of believers at the time of Jesus’ return, and is thus a positive image of salvation. It is with the grape harvest, in vv. 17-20, that we have a depiction of the other side of the Judgment—the punishment of the wicked.

Verses 17-20: The Grape Harvest

“And another Messenger came out of the shrine th(at is) in heaven, and he (also) holding a sharp plucking-tool [i.e. sickle].” (v. 17)

The initial description of this scene closely matches that in vv. 14-16, with a Messenger acting in place of the “Son of Man”. Like the Messenger who gave the command in that scene, the one who conducts the harvest here comes from “out of the shrine [nao/$]”, that is, the sanctuary of the heavenly ‘Temple’ where God dwells. Here the location in heaven is specified. That a Messenger acts (instead of Jesus himself) perhaps reflects the traditional Angelic association with the Judgment upon the earth. The idea that natural forces and powers were controlled by heavenly/divine beings is a fundamental part of ancient religious thought. Throughout the book of Revelation, heavenly Messengers (a&ggeloi) deliver the Judgment (in its earthly aspect), both in terms of natural disaster/upheaval and pain/suffering for humankind. This will be depicted vividly in the Bowl-visions of chapters 15-16 (to be discussed).

“And another Messenger [came] out of the place of (ritual) slaughter [i.e. altar] holding e)cousi/a upon the fire, and he gave voice [i.e. shouted] with a great voice to the (one) holding the sharp plucking-tool, declaring: ‘You must send (out) your sharp plucking-tool and take while ripe the bunches of the vine of the earth, (in) that [i.e. because] her grapes are at the point (of ripeness)!'” (v. 18)

As in the grain harvest scene, another Messenger comes out of the sanctuary with a command (from God the Father) for the harvester to act. This time, the Messenger comes specifically from out of the altar in the sanctuary. I translate the word qusiasth/rion literally as “place of (ritual) slaughter”, however it can refer to an altar even when no animal sacrifice is involved. Indeed, the altar in the visions of Revelation is the altar for burning incense (in the sanctuary) rather than that for animal sacrifices (in the Temple courtyard)—cf. 8:3, 5; 9:13; 11:1, but note the possible allusion to sacrifice in 6:9. This Messenger is said to have e)cousi/a over (i.e. authority, the ability to act, etc) “the fire”, i.e. the fire of the altar. This corresponds to the scene in 8:3-5, where an Angel takes fire from the altar and hurls it down to earth; this marks the onset of the great Judgment (portrayed in the Trumpet-vision cycle of chaps. 8-9). Here, the fire has a similar meaning, as a foreshadowing of the Judgment, which likewise will be portrayed in the Bowl-vision cycle (chaps. 15-16).

As with the grain harvest, the grape harvest occurs in the heat of summer at the moment when the grapes are ripe. They must be harvested quickly, as soon as the clusters (bo/trua$) are ripe, otherwise the fruit may be ruined or lost. This is indicated by the language used (vbs truga/w and a)kma/zw), and gives to the Judgment-scene a dramatic sense of suddenness and urgency, as befits the eschatological idiom.

“And the Messenger cast his plucking-tool into the earth and took (fruit) while ripe (from) the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great trough of the (angry) impulse of God. And the trough was tread down outside of the city, and blood came out of the trough (flowing) until (it reached up) to the horses’ bridles, from a thousand and six-hundred stadia (all around).” (vv. 19-20)

The harvest imagery, as a symbol of the end-time Judgment, while traditional, alludes here specifically to Joel 3:13ff; indeed, the command in verse 15 echoes that in Joel 3:13, as does the trough for pressing the wine in vv. 19-20. This pressing, performed by trampling the harvested grapes, was a suitable motif for Divine Judgment in the nation-oracles of Prophets, whereby judgment would come in the form of a people being “trampled” by an enemy (Lam 1:15; Isa 25:10; Zech 10:5, etc). The specific oracle in Joel 3 involves a time of judgment (the “day of YHWH”) for the nations surrounding Israel, viewed collectively. They will be gathered in the “valley of YHWH’s judging [Y§hôš¹¸¹‰, i.e. where YHWH judges]” (verse 1), understood to be a location near Jerusalem, variously identified with the Hinnom, Kidron, or “King’s” valley. In particular, the Hinnom valley, once associated with the vilest of pagan sacrifices (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; Jer 32:35), and called the “valley of slaughter” (Jer 7:31-32; 19:5-6), is probably the location in view. Its subsequent use as a place for burning garbage, caused it to be utilized also as a symbol of the fire of judgment that will consume the wicked. Hebrew <N)h!-ayG@ (gê°-Hinnœm), transliterated in Greek as Ge/enna (English Gehenna), served as a technical term for the punishing fire (Mark 9:43ff; Matt 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; Luke 12:5, etc).

The juice from the pressed-grapes in the trough (lhno/$) functions as a two-fold image. First is the ordinary process of producing wine. The wine-cup was a symbol for the wickedness of the great city (“Babylon”), as also of the divine Judgment that comes in response to it (vv. 8, 10, cf. the prior note). In both instances the noun qumo/$ was used, a word I render as “impulse”, that is, the impulse to passionate wickedness or to righteous anger, as the case may be. It is used again here in the latter sense, for the anger (o)rgh/) of God and His desire to punish evil.

The wine-trough is located “outside of the city”. This should be understood, figuratively, in relation to the “great city”, whether identified by the name “Jerusalem”, “Babylon”, or “Sodom”, etc. The immediate reference is to Jerusalem, in light of the prophecy in Joel 3. However, it should not be read as a concrete geographic location any more than the “wine-trough” should be understood as a simple physical object. It is part of a set of symbols meant to depict the great Judgment upon the earth. The same is true of the second aspect of the grape-juice—as an image of blood. Playing upon military imagery, we have the idea of people being ‘trampled’ and slaughtered in battle. It is depicted in extreme, exaggerated terms—as a vast river or lake of blood filling up the valley (on this imagery, cf. Isa 34:3; Ezek 32:5-6; 2 Macc 12:16; 1 Enoch 100:1-3; 2/4 Esdras 15:35-36; Sibylline Oracles 5:372; Koester, p. 625). The significance of the specific number of 1,600 stadia (= about 200 miles) is unclear, beyond as a general way to indicate the vast scope of the carnage. Some manuscripts instead read 1,200 stadia, which is more obviously a symbolic number. Here 1,600 may be meant to indicate a complete coverage of the earth, i.e. its four corners, etc—4 x 4 x 100.

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

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November 4: Revelation 14:14-20

Revelation 14:14-20

In the third vision of chapter 14, we finally have a depiction of the end-time coming of the “Son of Man” —that is, the return of the exalted Jesus to earth. It had been foreshadowed at several points, including a more direct reference at the beginning of the book (1:7, cf. the note there), but is now described in a vision for the first time. The coming of the Son of Man ushers in the great Judgment, the event being presented here using harvest imagery (introduced in verse 4, cf. the prior note). The harvest marks the end of the growing season, and so serves as a suitable eschatological motif—i.e., for the end of the current Age. The basic act of harvesting—the cutting—is itself an ambiguous symbol. On the one hand, it provides life-giving and sustaining food for the community, and is thus a positive symbol of life. On the other hand, it can be seen as an act of violence, the menacing image of swinging a sharp and dangerous tool, cutting off the life of what has been growing out of the earth.

Both aspects are combined in the use of the harvest as an image of the end-time Judgment, already well-established in early Christian tradition by the time the book of Revelation was written, largely by way of the sayings/parables of Jesus, as well as earlier in the Old Testament Prophets (Joel 3:13ff [cf. below]; Jer 50:16; 51:33; Matt 3:12 par; Mark 4:29; Matt 13:30, 39; cf. also Luke 10:2 par; Jn 4:35, where the eschatological aspect of Jesus’ statements are often overlooked). Here, in Rev 14:14-20, two kinds of harvest are depicted: the grain harvest (vv. 14-16), and the grape harvest (vv. 17-20). They symbolize two aspects of the time of the Judgment, respectively—the salvation of believers and the punishment of the wicked.

Verses 14-16: The Grain Harvest

“And I saw, and see!—a white cloud, and upon the cloud was sitting ‘(one) like a son of man’, holding upon his head a gold wreath and upon his hand a sharp plucking-tool [i.e. sickle]. And another Messenger came out of the shrine, crying out in a great voice to the (one) sitting upon the cloud: ‘You must send (out) your plucking-tool and reap (the summer crop), (in) that [i.e. because] the hour to reap (has) come, (in) that the summer crop of the earth is dried out (for) reaping!’ And the (one) sitting upon the cloud cast his plucking-tool upon the earth, and the (summer crop of the) earth was reaped.”

I have utilizing both “summer crop” and “reap(ing)” in English to convey the fundamental meaning of the verb qeri/zw and related noun qerismo/$. (i.e. the heat of late-summer as the time for reaping). The figure sitting on the cloud, and depicted as the harvester (in that he holds a sickle, dre/panon, plucking/cutting-tool), is identified by way of an allusion (in Greek) to the expression in Daniel 7:13: “one like a son of man” (o%moio$ ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou). The Daniel reference is the basis for the expression “Son of Man” as the name for an eschatological (and Messianic) figure—a heavenly redeemer figure-type who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and bring about the Judgment. Jesus uses the same expression as a self-reference in many sayings, and, in his eschatological “Son of Man” sayings, identifies himself with the heavenly-deliverer who is to appear at the time of Judgment. For more on this, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, the supplementary note on Dan 7:13-14, the earlier article in this series on the eschatological sayings, as well as the series of notes on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus as a whole. The clearest allusion to Daniel 7 is found in two key Synoptic sayings: Mark 13:26-27 par (part of the Eschatological Discourse) and Mark 14:62 par (the Sanhedrin ‘trial’ scene); it is echoed again in Acts 7:55-56, and is part of the imagery surrounding Jesus’ expected return (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 1:7).

Verse 15 brings certain eschatological details into view; we may note these as follows:

    • The association of heavenly Messengers (Angels, a&ggeloi) with the Son of Man figure. In many of the eschatological sayings of the Jesus, the “Son of Man” is said to appear from heaven together with these Messengers—Mark 8:38 par; 13:26-27 par; Matt 13:39-41ff; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also John 1:51.
    • The image of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$). In the book of Revelation, the Temple is primarily a heavenly symbol, representing the dwelling place of God, but also as a gathering place for the People of God (in their heavenly aspect)—cf. 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 16:1, 17. Only in 11:1-2 is the Temple (and its sanctuary) used in reference to the People of God in their earthly aspect (i.e. believers on earth). Here the Messenger comes out of the sanctuary, i.e. from God’s presence, to address the Son of Man.
    • The harvest imagery is specifically associated with the Judgment, by way of an apparent allusion to Joel 3:13 (cf. below).

Some may find it strange that a Messenger (Angel) here commands the exalted Jesus (Son of Man) to act (imperative “You must…”). However, this simply reflects the fundamental (and sometimes forgotten) meaning of an a&ggelo$ as a messenger—that is, one who conveys a message from God the Father. Here this describes God the Father informing Jesus (the Son) that the time has come to act. It may also reflect the situation in the difficult Synoptic saying of Mark 13:32 par, where Jesus indicates that only the Father (and not the Son) knows just when the moment of the end will occur (cf. also Acts 1:7; 17:31 for this as a time specifically set by God).

The grain harvest, depicted in vv. 15-16, as a symbol has two main points of signification: (1) that the end-time Judgment is begun by Jesus (the Son of Man) at his return, and (2) that it refers primarily to the salvation/deliverance of believers. Generally such harvest-imagery in the New Testament refers to the gathering of believers, and is thus a positive image (of salvation)—cf. Matt 9:37-38; Mark 4:29; Luke 10:2; John 4:35-38. Only in the process of threshing—separating grain from chaff (i.e. the righteous from the wicked)—does the negative aspect (of condemnation/punishment) enter in (Matt 3:12 par; 13:40-42). Here the punishment side of the Judgment is reserved for the scene of the grape harvest (vv. 17-20), drawing heavenly upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition, especially the oracle in Joel 3:9-16. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

It is worth noting that it is Jesus (the Son of Man) himself who performs the grain harvest, but the grape harvest is left to a heavenly Messenger (Angel). This probably reflects the close connection between the personal return of Jesus and the gathering of the elect (believers) specifically. This is certainly the point of emphasis both in the original Gospel tradition of Mark 13:26-27 par (even though Angels oversee the gathering), as well as Paul’s exposition in 1 Thess 4:15-17 (cf. also 1:10; 2 Thess 2:1, etc). The separation of the righteous from the wicked, thereby consigning the latter for judgment/punishment, is seen as the activity of the Angels in Matt 13:39-49. Here, too, in the book of Revelation, it is the heavenly Messengers who unleash the Judgment upon the earth in the Trumpet- and Bowl-visions.

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November 2: Revelation 14:1-5

Revelation 14

While some have been inclined to interpret the visions of the book of Revelation from a continuous chronological standpoint, the structure and symbolism of the visions, I believe, offers overwhelming evidence that the framework is instead cyclical. That is to say, the same end-time themes and events are repeated, presented from different points of view, emphasizing specific aspects and details, as the visionary narrative builds to a climax. This will be discussed further when we come to the Bowl-cycle of visions in 15:5ff; however, it is important to stress the point now as we look at the visions of chapter 14, for, in many ways, they are a key to the entire structure of the book.

There are three visions in chapter 14:

    • The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (vv. 1-5)
    • The Three Angels announcing the Judgment (vv. 6-13)
    • A vision of Jesus’ return and the onset of the Judgment (vv. 14-20)

These correspond roughly with the three main components of early Christian eschatology:

    • A period of distress (qli/yi$) on earth which includes severe suffering/persecution of believers
    • The coming (parousia) of the exalted Jesus (the “Son of Man”) to earth, together with heavenly Messengers (Angels)
    • The end-time Judgment: deliverance for believers, punishment for the wicked

Revelation 14:1-5

The vision in verses 1-5 both builds upon the prior visions of chapters 12-13 as well as repeating important themes and symbolic matrices from the earlier visions (in chapters 5 and 7) which precede the Seal- and Trumpet-cycles. The main imagery from those visions is centered on the exalted Jesus symbolized as a heavenly Lamb (a)rni/on). In each instance, the Lamb is surrounded by the People of God—in both their heavenly (chap. 5) and earthly (chap. 7) aspects. On the symbolism of the lamb, cf. the earlier notes on 5:1-14. Here in chapter 14, the imagery more closely reflects that of chap. 7 (cf. the note on 7:9ff).

Verse 1

“And (then) I saw, and see!—the Lamb having stood upon mount ‚iyyôn, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousands, holding his name, and the name of his Father, (it) having been written upon the (space) between their eyes.”

‚iyyôn (Gk Siw/n, English Zion, a transliteration of Heb /oYx!), is a traditional Israelite/Jewish name for Jerusalem. It likely meant something like (“fortress, fortified place”) originally, and refers specifically to the ancient Canaanite hilltop site taken over by David as the location of the Israelite Temple-Palace complex (and the oldest part of the later city). Near Eastern cities of the Bronze/Iron-ages, unlike most Greco-Roman (and modern) cities, covered a much smaller area, largely limited to the palace(s) of the ruling family and associated temple-complex(es). They were walled and highly fortified, on hilltop locations, often built-up as such through successive levels of occupation. The majority of population, as farmers and herders, lived outside of this fortress-city, but would take refuge behind its walls in times of invasion or natural disaster. Thus “Zion” came to be used as a symbol of refuge and salvation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition; this imagery was enhanced due to the manifest presence of God (YHWH) in the sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple (on the Zion-site). The term (Siw/n) is rare in the New Testament, occurring just seven times (almost always in Scripture quotations), and only here in the book of Revelation. In Hebrews 12:22 it is used as a reference for the heavenly dwelling of believers, those saved and redeemed through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; that is the same basic meaning here in Rev 14:1. The mountain location may also be intended to symbolize a point where heaven and earth meet—i.e., the people of God (believers) in both their heavenly and earthly aspects.

The motif of the 144,000 believers was introduced in the chapter 7 vision (vv. 4ff), comprising 12,000 from each of the twelve Israelite tribes. Interpretation of this symbolism as proven a bit difficult. Certainly the specific number is symbolic (12 x 12 x 10,000), and ought not to be taken in a concrete sense any more than should the image of the hybrid “creatures” that come up out of the “Sea” and “Earth”. However, there is perhaps more reason to take seriously the ethnic (i.e. Israelite) aspect of the image in 7:4ff, and, indeed, many commentators would interpret it as specifically representing Israelite/Jewish believers, perhaps along the line of Paul’s idea, expressed in Rom 11, of a widespread Jewish conversion at the end-time. In my view, this is correct, but only partly so. As I discuss in the previous notes (on 7:1-8 and 9-17), there are actually two groups in vv. 4-17 which make up the sum total of believers (the people of God): (1) the restoration of Israel (i.e. Jewish believers, vv. 4-8), and (2) those from all the other nations (vv. 9ff). While the 144,000, in that vision, more properly refers to Israelite/Jewish believers, here, in my view, it serves as a shorthand for all believers—i.e. the entire people of God.

The scene depicted in verse 1 clearly echoes the imagery of the two visions in chapter 13, at two main points:

    • Jesus as the Lamb, in opposition to appearance of the evil Earth-creature as a Lamb (13:11); more importantly, the Sea-creature was apparently slain and restored to life (13:3, 12), a wicked parody of the Lamb (5:6).
    • Just as those belonging to the Sea-creature have its name/number ‘written’ on their forehead (between the eyes), so those belonging to the Lamb have his name between their eyes (cf. also 7:3).
Verse 2

“And I heard a voice out of heaven, as a voice of many waters and as a voice of great thunder, and the voice that I heard (was) as harpers harp-playing on their harps.”

The description of this heavenly voice echoes that of 1:15, the introductory vision of the exalted Jesus (cf. the earlier note), which, in turn draws upon traditional Old Testament theophanic imagery. Here it is also described as the sound of music, specifically of heavenly musicians playing the harp (Gk kiqa/ra). The kiqa/ra is harp made up typically of seven strings (and almost certainly seven is intended here); for classic references to its use and symbolism, cf. Koester, pp. 378, 608-9, 618). Here its use reflects the heavenly worship of the Lamb in chapter 5 (v. 8).

(image courtesy of luthieros.com)

Verse 3

“And they sang (together) [as] a new song, in the sight of the ruling-seat [i.e. throne] and in the sight of the four living (being)s and the elders, and no one was able to learn the song if not [i.e. except for] th(ose) hundred and forty-four thousands, the (one)s having been (purchased as) at market [h)gorasme/noi] from (out of) the earth.”

This is essentially a repetition of the heavenly worship scene in 5:6-14, with the “new song” being that described in vv. 9-10ff. It is new (kaino/$) in the sense that it belongs to the New Age that was inaugurated with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus (the Lamb). Since it relates to a true understanding of the person and work of Jesus, only Christian believers (represented by the 144,000) are “able to learn” this song—here the verb manqa/nw (“learn”) probably signifies both the ability to sing the song and to understand its meaning. On the traditional idiom of the “new song”, cf. Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa 42:10.

The verb a)gora/zw literally refers to going to the market-place (a)gora/) or public square (to make a purchase). It can be used in the specific context of purchasing someone’s freedom (out of slavery/bondage); that is generally how Paul uses it (in 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23, 30), referring to believers being purchased out of bondage (to sin) through Christ’s sacrificial death, and so also here in the book of Revelation (cf. Rev 5:9). Here the “earth” (gh=) has the basic meaning of the inhabited world (i.e. all of humankind), but also in terms of the world dominated by the forces of evil and wickedness (i.e. the Dragon and Sea/Earth-creatures). There is likely a play on the idea of those belonging to the Sea-creature needing the mark of its name in order to purchase (13:16-18), with those belonging to the Lamb bearing the mark of his name because they were purchased by him.

Verse 4a

“These are the (one)s that were not stained with women, for they are virgins—these (are) the (one)s following the Lamb wherever he would lead (himself) under.”

The 144,000 (i.e. believers) are now described using sexual imagery, introducing a strain of symbolism that will grow and climax in subsequent visions. The reference here is actually quite complex, drawing upon a number of traditional images. The most difficult point of interpretation is the phrase meta\ gunaikw=n ou)k e)molu/nqhsan (“they were not stained with women”). There are two ways this may be understood, depending on how the phrase is emphasized:

    • “they were not stained with women” —this reflects a male-centered orientation, defining sin/immorality in terms of sexual relations with women. That there was such an ascetic tendency in early Christianity cannot be doubted (of many passages, see esp. 1 Cor 7:1ff). A strict version of this interpretation would then view the 144,000 specifically as males (with parqe/noi as male virgins); more figuratively, one would say that the male-imagery may be applied to the purity and faithfulness of believers as a whole.
    • “they were not stained with women” —the emphasis here is that their relation with women was not stained through (improper) sexual contact; this would allow parqe/noi (“virgins”) to be used in its more common sense of chaste young women. Then, the second these (ou!toi) could refer to both aspects of the sexual/gender-symbolism—males not stained (i.e. pure) and (female) virgins.

I tend toward the second option; either way, the sexual imagery is largely figurative—symbolizing purity and faithfulness (to God and Christ). The Greek word pornei/a (literally, prostitution, but generally referring to improper sexual activity) in the New Testament often refers figuratively to a lack of faith and false religious belief and practice, etc, following a long line of Israelite/Jewish tradition going back to the Old Testament. And, given the context of the prior visions in chapter 13, the idea of sexual immorality here should be understood in terms of the wicked/false worship of the Sea-Creature (and Dragon). The second vision in 14:6-13 (discussed in the next note) will make this quite clear.

Several strands are built into the image of believers following the Lamb:

    • The basic idea of Christian discipleship as following Jesus (cf. the expression “Lamb of God” in this context in John 1:29ff)
    • Shepherd/pastoral imagery used to this effect—though normally the symbols are reversed: the sheep follow the herdsman (John 10:1-18, etc)
    • The Old Testament motif of faithfulness, whereby God’s people (Israel) follow Him into the wilderness; this can be combined with bridal/sexual imagery as well (Hos 2:14-15; Jer 2:2-3)
    • Traditional bridal motifs in ancient love poetry, etc., which depict the young maidens (including the betrothed) following after the bridegroom (Song of Song 1:3-4, 7-8; 2:4, 10ff; 3:1ff, etc). These maidens are referred to as “daughters of Jerusalem (i.e. Zion)”, which came to be a traditional expression for the people of God (the faithful ones).

I have translated the verb u(pa/gw above literally as “lead under”, often used in the basic reflexive sense of “lead oneself under”, i.e. make oneself hidden, or, more generally, go away. I preserve the etymological meaning here for two purposes: (1) the prefix u(po/ (“under”) is often used in verbal compounds denoting obedience, endurance, etc, and (2) it captures the sense of the Lamb going away, i.e. so that he cannot be so easily seen, which requires faithfulness and devotion in order for his followers to search after him (esp. in times of great distress).

Verses 4b-5

“These are the (one)s purchased (as) at market from (out of all) men, the beginning of (fruit) from (the harvest) for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth was not found (anything) false, (for) they are without blame.”

Two different traditional images are introduced here, both drawing upon Israelite harvest traditions:

    • The beginning of the harvest (both grain and vine), represented in Greek by the noun a)parxh/, which, according to Israelite tradition (and specified in the the Torah regulations), was dedicated to God, belonging to Him. Believers are occasionally referred to by this term elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 8:23; 2 Thess 2:13; James 1:18). Here there are two aspects to be emphasized:
      (1) believers are the first-fruits in the sense that they belong to God and are dedicated to Him, and
      (2) in the vision that follows in vv. 14-20, which uses similar harvest imagery, the deliverance/rescue of believers at the time of the Judgment is given priority over the punishment of the wicked, occurring first in sequence.
    • Referring to believers as “without blame” (a&mwmo$) reflects the idea of the lamb that is without blemish, esp. the lamb slain for Passover (originally a harvest festival), cf. Exod 12:5 etc. Here “blame” is meant in the specific context of chapter 13, but it certainly extends to include the wider sense of purity and faithfulness among believers (especially during the end-time period of distress), which, in turn, reflects the holiness/purity of the Lamb (Jesus).

The lack of anything “false” in the mouth of believers is probably meant as a contrast to the deceptive/false speaking of the Sea- and Earth-creatures, by which non-believers on earth are led astray (13:5ff, 11-14ff). The idea of being “without blame” or “without blemish” also ties back to the earlier sexual imagery and bridal motifs—i.e., the bride as a chaste, virginal young woman who is presented to the groom at the time of the wedding. This entails remaining pure during the period of betrothal (engagement). Such bridal imagery is applied to (faithful) believers at a number of points in the New Testament (Matt 25:1ff; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2, etc); it will take on even greater prominence later in the book of Revelation. Interestingly, it is not entirely unusual to combine bridal and harvest motifs, as we see this done throughout the Song of Songs and elsewhere in the Old Testament. A particularly noteworthy passage is Jeremiah 2:2-3, which resembles Rev 14:4-5 in a number of respects.