October 12: Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12

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

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

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

Revelation 12:7a

The conflict in heaven is introduced with the opening statement:

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

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

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

Revelation 12:7b-8

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

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

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

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

Revelation 12:9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 12:10-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 9: Revelation 11:15-19

Revelation 11:15-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 22: Revelation 4:8-11

Revelation 4:1-11 (continued)

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

Rev 4:8

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

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

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

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

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

Rev 4:9-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21: Revelation 4:1-7

Revelation 4:1-11

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

Rev 4:1

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

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

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

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

Rev 4:2-3

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

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

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

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

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

Rev 4:4

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

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

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

Rev 4:5-7

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

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

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

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

March 8: Matthew 6:10b

Matthew 6:10b

In the previous notes, we examined the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which are the same in both Luke and Matthew. In the Lukan version, these two petitions form a clear and definite pair—syntactically, thematically, and conceptually. In Matthew’s version of the Prayer, however, there is a third petition not found in (what must be regarded as) the original text of Luke:

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

The inclusion/addition of this line gives a different structure and rhythm to the Prayer. Some commentators who regard the shorter Lukan version as representing the (original) historical tradition (or, at least closer to it) consider the line to be an addition by the Gospel writer, perhaps drawn from early liturgical tradition. However one judges its status at the historical level, the petition in Matt 6:10b is vital to the Prayer as it appears in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. This point must be discussed.

In an earlier note, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)—”May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that all things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon (cf. the previous notes). God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., his word or instruction (Torah) which reveals his intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with his own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

For parallels to Matt 6:10b in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Psalm 103:21; 135:6, and especially 1 Macc 3:60 (“as the will might be in heaven, so shall it be done”). In Rabbinic literature, note b. Ber. 17a, 29b; t. Ber. 3.7; Pirke Abot 2.4; Abot R. Nathan (B) 32. For these and other references, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 392-6.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 5: Matthew 6:9 (continued)

Matthew 6:9b, continued

In the previous note, we examined the longer invocation to the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew (and the Didache [8:2]): “Our Father, the (One who is) in the heavens”, pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$ (Did. “…e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|“). I pointed out how the expression “…Father the (One) in the heavens”, as well as “(in) the heavens [pl.]” itself, is distinctive to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount, where it occurs numerous times (along with the parallel, “heavenly Father”). Indeed, it is a key thematic phrase within the Sermon, and expresses an important theological principle. The significance of the expression will be examined here in today’s note.

To begin with, let us consider the use of the plural “heavens” (ou)ranoi/). The word ou)rano/$ in Greek refers specifically (according to the ancient cosmology) to the high hemispheric vault (‘firmament’) which covers the earth, separating it from the waters (above), and providing the atmospheric space (air/sky) directly below. It came to be used broadly for the entirety of the skies above the earth, especially when used in the plural—on this traditional usage in the New Testament, cf. Mark 1:10 par, etc. Ancient religious thought tended to view the dwelling place of God (or the gods), in spatial terms, as being in a high location above the ‘vault of heaven’ (ou)rano/$). The divine dwelling-place generally came to be called by this name, whether in the singular or plural (“heavens”, ou)ranoi/). Most of the occurrences of ou)ranoi/ in the New Testament refer to the place where God the Father (YHWH) and other divine beings (“Angels”) reside, and this is certainly so in the Gospel sayings of Jesus.

The extensive use of the plural (ou)ranoi/) in Matthew, however, may also reflect the corresponding word in Hebrew and Aramaic, which is always in the plural—<y]m^v* š¹mayim; Aram. /y]m^v= (always emphatic aY`m^v= š§mayy¹°, “the heavens”). A reconstruction of the Matthean phrase in Aramaic might be: aY`m^v=B! yD! an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹° dî bišmayy¹°); cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901. Aramaic aY`m^v= has essentially the same range of meaning as oi( ou)ranoi/ in Greek. For Aramaic references in the Old Testament, where it refers to the abode of God, cf. Dan 2:18-19, 28, 37, 44; 4:31, 34; Ezra 5:11-12; 6:9-10, etc. The close association of God with “heaven” is indicated by the fixed (emphatic) expression “the God of Heaven” (aY`m^v= Hl*a$). It is possible that “…Father the (One) in the heavens” in Matthew reflects such a traditional expression in Aramaic.

Whether one attributes the phrase “our Father the (One) in the heavens” primarily to the Gospel writer or to Jesus himself (in Aramaic), there can be no doubt of the importance it has to the Sermon on the Mount, where it occurs six times (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21); the expression “in the heavens” itself occurs again in 5:12, and “the kingdom of the heavens” (par. to “kingdom of God”) also six times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 7:21). In addition, we find the parallel expression “(your) heavenly Father” (o( path\r [u(mw=n] o( ou)ra/nio$) four times in the Sermon (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32). Thus there is a definite (and concentrated) emphasis on associating God the Father with “the heavens” in the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, beyond anything we find elsewhere in the Gospel tradition. How is this to be understood?

The main point of emphasis appears to be idea that the behavior of Jesus’ disciples on earth should follow the example of God the Father in heaven. This is clearly expressed in 5:16 and 45, and the principle is summarized powerfully in the declaration of verse 48, whereby, if Jesus’ teaching is followed:

“You shall then be complete, (even) as your heavenly Father is complete.”

When we turn to the instruction in 6:1-18 (of which the Lord’s Prayer is a part), we find a slightly different emphasis: that of a dualistic contrast between common religious behavior by people (on earth) and the behavior of Jesus followers (focused on God in heaven). The principle is well expressed in the opening verse: “you must not do (things) in front of men to be seen by them, otherwise you hold no wage [i.e. reward] from your Father the (One) in the heavens“. The earthly desire and inclination of human beings is to demonstrate one’s religious devotion publicly, and to receive recognition for it from other people. Such recognition, Jesus says, is the only reward such people will receive—i.e. earthly, not heavenly (vv. 2b, 5b, 16b). Jesus’ followers are instructed to behave in just the opposite way—to act privately (“in the hidden [place]”), being concerned only about being seen by God (who is in heaven), vv 3-4, 6, 17-18. When it comes to instruction regarding prayer, the contrast is expressed two ways:

    • Prayer should not be done (publicly) in front of people, especially not for the purpose of being seen/recognized by others for one’s devotion; rather, it should be practiced privately, in one’s inner room (whether understood literally or figuratively), before God alone [vv. 5-6].
    • The importance in prayer is not the number of words/petitions, nor the pious-sounding character of them—characterized by the verb battologe/w (“give a chattering account”) and noun polulogi/a (“account [of] many [words]”). Moreover, even with the best of intentions, it is not necessary to utter everything out loud to God, since the Father (in heaven) knows the all needs of his children (on earth) before any request is made [vv. 7-8].

In all of this there is an implicit spiritual dimension at work, even though the Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not specifically mentioned, neither in the Lord’s Prayer (the variant reading in Lk 11:2b will be discussed), nor in the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. This is in contrast to the Lukan context of the Prayer, where the Spirit it is of the utmost importance. I would, however, maintain that for the Matthean form of the Prayer, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the idea of the Spirit is embedded in the expression “in the heavens”—i.e. the heavenly dimension defined by God’s own Power and Presence. This will be discussed further in the notes which follow.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 4: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2 (continued)

Matthew 6:9b; Luke 11:2b, continued

Here again is the opening of the Lord’s Prayer in the three versions:

Pa/ter (“[O] Father”) [Lk]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in the heavens”) [Matt]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in heaven”) [Didache]

As I discussed previously, most critical scholars hold that Luke preserves the original opening of the prayer, and that the longer form in Matthew (followed by the Didache) represents an expansion by the author (and/or an underlying tradition he follows).

Eventually the majority of manuscripts of Luke came to have the longer (Matthean) reading as well. This reflects scribal harmonization; the shorter reading is almost certainly original to Luke’s version of the Prayer.

To begin with, it seems clear that the Didache simply adapts the plural “heavens” (ou)ranoi/) in Matthew to the more common singular (“heaven” [ou)rano/$]). Thus, we really only need to consider the Matthean form here at this point. There are two parts to the invocation, as recorded by Matthew:

    • “our Father” (pa/ter h(mw=n)
    • “the (One who is) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$)

The expansion of “Father…” to “Our Father…” is simple enough, and a natural development in prayer form, as I mentioned in the previous note. The plural pronoun assumes a community orientation, which perhaps suggests a liturgical setting for the Prayer as recorded in Matthew. This is certainly the case for the adaptation in the Didache (8:2), which is part of instruction (a kind of “Church manual”) for believers in conducting public worship and managing the congregation. Some commentators feel that Matthew’s version in the Sermon on the Mount is drawing upon a similar (albeit earlier) community setting. A critical examination requires that we consider the evidence for the use of both parts of the Matthean invocation (by Jesus).

First, “our Father”. This expression occurs just once in the Gospels, here in Matt 6:9b. More common is the expression “your [pl.] Father”, used when Jesus in addressing/teaching his disciples. However, it must be noted that it hardly occurs at all in the core Synoptic tradition (represented by Mark), just once—the saying in Mk 11:25, discussed below. Similarly, in Luke it is occurs just twice, both “Q” traditions with parallels in Matthew (6:36 [Mt 5:48]; 12:30 [Mt 6:32]). By contrast, it occurs 16 times in Matthew, nearly all in the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7). The evidence is more complicated in the Gospel of John, which largely represents an entirely separate line of tradition. Jesus frequently refers to God as “(my) Father”, but does not speaks of him specifically as “your Father” when addressing his disciples (but cf. 8:19ff, 38ff for the idea), nor does the expression “our Father” occur (but again note 8:38ff). As in John, Jesus frequently speaks of God as “my Father” in Matthew, less often in the Synoptic tradition as a whole (and never in Mark, but cf. Mk 8:38). As noted previously, Paul uses the expression “our Father” (or “our God and Father”) about a dozen times in his letters, especially in the opening sections; we find a similar “our Lord and Father” once in James (3:9), but otherwise it does not occur in the New Testament.

The phrase “the (One) in the heavens” is even more telling, especially when we consider its use in Matt 6:9. The specific expression “my/your Father the (One) in the heavens” occurs six times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21), along with another 7 times in the Gospel (10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19)—13 total (cf. also 23:9). By comparison, it occurs just once in all the other Gospel combined (Mk 11:25). Similarly, the parallel expression “(my/your) heavenly Father” occurs six times in Matthew, including 4 times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32; 15:13; 18:35), but just once in the other Gospels (Lk 11:13) [and nowhere else in the New Testament]. We must consider also the fact that use of the plural “heavens” (ou)ranoi/) and the expression “in the heavens” (e)n [toi=$] ou)ranoi=$) itself is especially prevalent in the Gospel of Matthew:

    • e)n [toi=$] ou)ranoi=$ occurs 15 times in Matthew, including 7 times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:12, 16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21), but only 6 in the other Gospels (Mk 11:25; 12:25; 13:25; Lk 10:20; 12:33; 18:22).
    • Matthew has “kingdom of the heavens” (basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n) instead of “kingdom of God” (basilei/a tou= qeou=) for a number of Synoptic (and “Q”) sayings of Jesus. The former expression is only found in Matthew (32 times), nowhere else in the New Testament; by contrast, “kingdom of God” is used only 5 times in Matthew, compared with 14 in Mark, 32 in Luke, and 16 times in John and the rest of the New Testament.

How are we to explain this data? If the expression “…Father the (One) in the heavens” reflects the genuine language of Jesus when referring to God the Father, we would expect to find more evidence of it throughout the Gospels; however, outside the Gospel of Matthew it only occurs once (Mk 11:25, cf. below). Moreover, the expression, along with the use of “(in the) heavens [pl.]”, clearly represents a distinctive Matthean vocabulary and style, at least when presenting the words and teachings of Jesus. These two facts would tend to support the position held by many critical commentators. At the same time, one must recognize the possibility that Matthew preserves a Semitic mode of expression which may have been altered or omitted when presenting Jesus’ sayings in Greek (to a Greek audience), which could explain why it disappeared from the Synoptic tradition as a whole. The Synoptic saying in Mark 11:25 might be seen as confirming this (note the similar in content and style with the instruction by Jesus on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount and the “Q” material):

“And when you stand speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], you must release [i.e. forgive] (it) if you hold any(thing) against any(one), (so) that your Father the (One who is) in the heavens [o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$] might also release [i.e. forgive] for you your (moment)s of falling alongside [i.e. sins/trespasses]”

At the very least, this demonstrates that the expression on the lips of Jesus was not the invention of the Gospel writer. In a similar way, direct evidence for the use of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) by Jesus has disappeared from the Gospel tradition, except for one place in Mark (14:36) where it happens to be preserved.

The meaning and significance of the expression, with the use of the plural “heavens”, will be discussed in the next note.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 3: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2

Matthew 6:9b; Luke 11:2b

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke is introduced in a similar way, even though the overall context and setting may be different (on this, see the introductory discussion). Consider both the similarities and differences:

Matthew:
“(So) then you must speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] this (way)…” (6:9a)
ou%tw$ ou@n proseu/xesqe u(mei=$
—An emphatic contrast with conventional religious behavior (vv. 1-8)

Luke:
“When(ever) you would speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] you must say/speak (this way)…” (11:2a)
o%tan proseu/xhsqe le/gete
—Disciples instructed to follow Jesus’ own example and pattern (v. 1)

The opening word(s) of the Prayer are an invocation to God, as is common in most forms of prayer. As indicated in the translation above, the Greek verb proseu/xomai literally means “speak out (aloud) [eu&xomai] toward [pro$] (someone)”, often in the sense of making a (forceful) request. It was used frequently in a religious sense, i.e. speaking toward God, sometimes referring to a religious vow, but more generally as a petition or wish. The imperative (“you must…”) form of the verb used by Jesus indicates that he is giving authoritative instruction to his followers.

Pa/ter (“[O] Father”) [Lk]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in the heavens”) [Matt]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in heaven”) [Didache]

All three versions of the Prayer begin the same way, with the vocative Pa/ter, “(O,) Father”. The Lukan invocation contains just this single word, while Matthew’s version (followed by the Didache) has a more expansive expression. Most critical scholars believe that Luke preserves the original form of the invocation, as it would have been spoken by Jesus at the historical level (on this, cf. the discussion in the next daily note). Almost certainly, the vocative Pa/ter in Greek is a translation of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) a definite/emphatic form of the noun ba^ (°a», “father”)—literally “the father”, but regularly used in place of the noun with pronominal suffix (yb!a&, Dan 5:13) as “my father”. That Jesus used this Aramaic word when addressing God in prayer is confirmed by the preservation of aB*a^ in Greek transliteration (a)bba=) once in the Gospel tradition (Mk 14:36), where it is translated strictly as “the father” (o( path/r). Paul also uses the transliterated Aramaic in a similar way twice in his letters (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), both times in the context of prayer (involving the Holy Spirit, cf. the next note for more detail).

Jesus addresses God, or otherwise refers to him, as “Father” numerous times in both the Synoptic and Johannine Gospels, though not as often as one might expect in the core Synoptic tradition—just 4 times in Mark (8:38; 11:25; 13:32; 14:36). It is more common in Matthew and Luke (including the “Q” material), being especially frequent in Matthew (41 times, including 17 in the Sermon on the Mount). In terms of the Lukan version of the Prayer, the occurrences in chapters 10-11 are most important:

    • Twice in Jesus’ own prayer (10:21)
    • Three times in the saying which follows, dealing with the relationship between Father (God) and Son (Jesus) (10:22)
    • Once in the teaching in 11:11-13 (“Q” material, cp. Matt 7:9-11)—comparison between earthly fathers and God as heavenly Father. Cf. also twice in 12:30-32 (cp. Matt 6:32-33)

Thus, in his instruction to his disciples, Jesus teaches them to follow his own example in addressing God as “my Father”. The idea of God as Father to humankind is, of course, a widespread religious idea, and well-attested in both the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. Of the many passages in the Old Testament, I would note: Deut 1:31; 32:6; Psalm 89:26; 103:13; Prov 3:12; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Mal 2:10. Israel as God’s chosen people was referred to as His children (or, collectively, His “son”), as was the (Davidic) King—Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 89:27ff, etc. God is addressed specifically as “our Father” in Isa 63:16; 64:8 (cf. also 1 Chron 29:10; Tobit 13:4; Sirach 51:10). Other examples in the New Testament are found in the openings of Paul’s letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3-4; Phil 1:2, etc). The Aramaic for “our Father” (Gk vocative Pa/ter h(mw=n) would be an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹°). Jewish prayer tradition, both Hebrew and Aramaic, would often address God this way as “our Father”—for some early examples, cf. the Eighteen Benedictions (5th and 6th petitions); a prayer for rain attributed to R. Akiba (b. Taan. 25b, “Our Father and our King…”); the instruction to children in the Targum Yerus. II on Exod 15:2 (to confess of God, “He is our Father”), etc.

The full expression “Our Father the (One) in the Heavens” (Matt/Didache) will be discussed in the next note.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:11-12 (continued)

Matt 5:11-12 (Lk 6:22-23), continued

In the previous article, I looked at the first portion of the two-fold Beatitude in Matt 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23, which declares that those who experience persecution, hatred, insults and mistreatment on account of Jesus are “happy/blessed”. The result (o%ti) clause giving the reason for happiness does not appear until the second portion (Matt 5:12/Lk 6:23):

Matthew 5:12

Xai/rete kai\ a)gallia=sqe, o%ti o( misqo\$ u(mw=n polu\$ e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$:
ou%tw$ ga\r e)di/wcan tou\$ profh/ta$ tou\$ pro\ u(mw=n
“Be joyful and leap (for joy), (in) that your payment (is) much in the Heavens;
for thus they pursued the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] before you.”

Luke 6:23

Xa/rhte e)n e)kei/nh| th=| h(me/ra| kai\ skirth/sate, i)dou ga\r o( misqo\$ u(mw=n polu\$ e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|:
kata\ ta\ au)ta\ ga\r e)poi/oun toi=$ profh/tai$ oi( pate/re$ au)tw=n
“Be joyful in that day and spring up (with joy), for see—your payment (is) much in Heaven;
for accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets].”

There are some differences in vocabulary, but clearly these are two versions of the same saying. Three elements should be highlighted and discussed in turn:

    1. “Be joyful and leap (for joy)”
    2. “Your payment (is) much in Heaven”
    3. “For so (they did)…to the Prophets”

1. “Be joyful and leap (for joy)”

Both versions begin with a second person plural imperative of the verb xai/rw (chaírœ, “be joyful, glad, happy”, i.e. “rejoice”); in Matthew it is in the active voice, in Luke the passive, but the sense is the same—”Be joyful, rejoice!” The second verb may reflect a variant translation of the original Aramaic—a)gallia/w (agalliáœ, “leap, jump [for joy]”) in Matthew, and skirta/w (skirtáœ, “spring [up], leap”) in Luke. The dynamic parallelism of the two verbs doubly emphasizes the command to be joyful when one experiences mistreatment and persecution. Even more than the prior Beatitudes, this injunction by Jesus runs counter to one’s natural human instinct—the normal response is to see persecution as a bad thing and to regret having to experience it. Jesus does not merely say one should accept and endure persecution, he commands us (emphatically) to rejoice when it occurs. Bear in mind, this mistreatment is qualified in the previous verse as being suffered on account of Jesus; nevertheless, this does not make it any less difficult for the natural mind and flesh to respond to it with joy. Occasionally we see Paul and other early Christians rejoicing in suffering (Acts 5:41; Rom 5:3ff; 2 Cor 6:10; 7:4; 8:2; Phil 2:17-18; Col 1:24; James 1:2; 1 Pet 1:6; 4:11, cf. also Jn 16:20-24), but even in the New Testament this is somewhat rare. How appropriate that this most difficult teaching concludes the Beatitudes and leads into the equally challenging instruction of the Antitheses (Matt 5:21-47, which conclude with the command to love one’s enemies [Matt 5:43-47; Lk 6:27-35]).

2. “Your payment (is) much in Heaven”

The word misqo/$ (misthós) is typically translated here as “reward”, but more properly means “payment” (for services rendered, i.e. “wages”). However, one may emphasize the aspect of “compensation, recompense”, which comes close to the idea of “reward”. It is no doubt due to subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theology that misqo/$ is especially colored by the sense of the grace or “gift”of God, and, therefore, as “reward” (see Rom 4:4, etc). Jesus uses the term on a number of other occasions (Matt 10:41-42; Mark 9:41), including several more times in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5:46; 6:1, 2, 5, 16; Lk 6:35); the motif of Christians as workers who receive their wages (from God) was a natural one, and would have been readily understood within the socio-economic status of Jesus’ followers (cf. Matt 20:1-16 [v. 8]; Lk 10:7; Jn 4:36). As for the idea of payment/reward “in Heaven” (Matt. “in the Heavens”), it is a common refrain in the Sermon on the Mount, sometimes phrased as payment from God the (heavenly) Father, treasure in Heaven, etc (Matt 5:46; 6:1-2, 4-5, 16-21), and elsewhere in Jesus’ teaching (Matt 10:41-42; 19:21; Mark 9:41; 10:21, 30 par; Lk 12:21, 33-34; 18:22; cf. also the parables in Matt 20:1-16; 25:14-30 par; Lk 16:1-17). The Kingdom of God/Heaven is itself said to be a treasure hidden away for the disciple who finds it (Matt 13:44). Subsequently in the New Testament, the heavenly payment/reward becomes contained within the wider soteriological concept of inheriting the Kingdom (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5; Col 3:24; Heb 1:14; 9:15; 1 Pet 1:4, also Heb 12:28), but the motif remains, associated with the end-time Judgment before God (1 Cor 3:8-14; 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 11:8, etc). The heavenly reward as extremely/excessively “great” or “much” (polu/$, polús) is a traditional eschatological motif, which Jesus uses to contrast with (and present as compensatory with) the persecution and mistreatment his followers receive in this life. That there may be “degrees of reward” related to suffering endured by the disciple for Jesus sake is perhaps suggested by Mark 10:29-31 par, but see also the parable in Matt 20:1-16 (where all workers receive equal payment).

3. “For so (they did)…to the Prophets”

The reference to the Prophets (lit. “Foretellers”, pl. of profh/th$ proph¢¡t¢s) is an interesting addition by Jesus to the principal result-clause , in that it further qualifies the persecution faced by the righteous (believer) (cf. the prior note on the eighth Beatitude, Matt 5:10). In Matthew it reads “for thus they pursued [i.e. persecuted] the Foretellers before you” (“they” being unspecified or implied); in Luke it states “accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the Foretellers” (referring to the four verbs and expressions of mistreatment in Lk 6:22, committed by the Israelite/Jewish contemporaries of the Prophets). It is difficult to say which might more accurately reflect the putative ‘original’ saying (in Aramaic); in either version, however, the meaning is essentially the same. Persecution of the Prophets of Israel was a common ethical and polemical motif in Judaism (1 Esdr 1:41; 2 Esdr 1:32; 2:1; 7:130, etc; cf. 1 Kings 19:10; Jer 15:15; 17:18; 20:11; 26:20-24) and the New Testament (Matt 5:12; 23:29-37; Lk 11:47-50; 13:34; Acts 7:52)—indeed, the Prophets in this respect serve as sympathetic exemplars for believers to follow (Heb 11:32-12:1). Saints and Prophets are mentioned in tandem in the heavenly vision of the book of Revelation (Rev 11:18; 16:6; 18:24), in a similar eschatological context (reward for their suffering and martyrdom) as we find here in the Beatitudes.

After reading Luke 6:22-23, the corresponding “Woe” in verse 26 is surprisingly brief, almost perfunctory, by comparison—

Ou)ai\ o%tan u(ma=$ kalw=$ ei&pwsin pa/nte$ oi( a&nqrwpoi: kata\ ta\ au)ta\ ga\r e)poi/oun toi=$ pseudoprofh/tai$ oi( pate/re$ au)tw=n
“Woe when all men say (things) beautifully [i.e. speak well] of you, for accordingly their fathers did the self(same) things to the false-Foretellers [i.e. false Prophets]”

including one corresponding phrase from 6:22b and presenting the contrast (opposite) of 6:23b. Jesus may not have wished to conclude the Beatitudes with on an overly negative tone by emphasizing the opposite (for the wicked) of everything relating to the righteous in vv. 22-23; or, perhaps the Gospel writer shortened Jesus’ saying for the same purpose. I will be discussing the four Lukan Woes specifically in the next day’s note, but here in passing it is worth examining the term “false prophet” (yeudoprofh/th$), which I will do in a supplemental article.

This series was originally posted in the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online Study Blog. It is also available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]