Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:27-30

The Monday Notes on Prayer feature for the remainder of Summer (in August & September) is focusing on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. Verses 22-26 were discussed in the previous study.

1 Kings 8:27-30

With verse 27, the focus of the Prayer shifts to the role and purpose of the Temple. This is significant, since the purpose indicated in the Prayer differs noticeably from the emphasis earlier in vv. 10-13. The shift in emphasis began already in vv. 16-17ff, with the statement that the “house” (i.e., the Temple) was built specifically for the name (<v@) of YHWH. The distinction is between a dwelling for YHWH Himself and a dwelling for His name.

In vv. 10-13 (cf. the earlier study), the clear implication is that YHWH personally comes to dwell in the “house”, being present through the theophanous cloud. This reflects an older line of religious (and theological) tradition, drawing upon anthropomorphic and cosmological-mythic concepts—i.e., the Deity is personally present and manifest in the theophanous cloud, with the Temple building (esp. the sanctuary) serving as His dwelling-place on earth.

While this line of tradition is acknowledged in vv. 10-13, it disappears completely from the remainder of the narrative. Indeed, within the Prayer proper, there is no mention at all of YHWH Himself dwelling in the Temple, but only His name. This is especially clear here in verse 27:

“But (is it) that (the) Mightiest can truly sit [i.e. dwell] upon the earth? See, the heavens—even (the) heavens of the heavens—can not contain you, (and) even (less) that this house which I have built (could do so)!”

The theological point is that the Creator El-YHWH cannot truly, in a metaphysical sense, dwell in a building on earth. His true dwelling is in heaven—and yet, even the heavens cannot actually contain him. The verb lWK has the concrete meaning “contain” (as in a vessel), implying that a physical/material substance is involved. This is one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament Scriptures regarding the transcendence of God, expressed in terms of size. YHWH is simply too great and vast to be contained in any physical space.

The expression “heavens of the heavens” (<y]m^V*h^ ym@v=) is idiomatic; it follows a pattern—e.g., “holy of holies”, “king of kings”, “song of songs” —in Hebrew (and other Semitic languages), using this particular mode of construct expression as a superlative. The particular meaning of the expression here is “the greatest heaven,” “the highest heaven”, etc.

The ancient Near Eastern cosmology was geocentric, with the surface of the earth dividing a cosmos that tended to be seen as spherical in shape, the upper half certainly being hemispheric. There were layers—commonly three layers (i.e., three ‘heavens’)—to the upper hemisphere. Eventually the concept of a concentric spherical cosmos, with seven layers/heavens, came to be adopted on a widespread scale throughout the ancient world. According to this traditional cosmology, YHWH would be seen as dwelling in the ‘highest’ heaven.

Clearly, if YHWH cannot be contained in the vastness of the heavens, he certainly cannot be contained in a single building (built by human beings) on earth. In spite of this, Solomon continues:

“Yet may you turn to (the) prayer of your servant, and to his request for favor, O YHWH my Mighty (One), to listen to (the) cry and to (the) prayer which your servant prays before you th(is) day, (and for) your eyes to be opened to(ward) this house, night and day, to(ward) this standing place of which you said ‘My name shall be there’, (and) to listen to (the) prayer which your servant shall pray to(ward) this standing place.” (vv. 28-29)

The basic request, at the heart of the entire prayer, is that YHWH would pay attention to prayers made in the direction of (la#, “toward”) the Temple. As becomes clear in the remainder of the prayer, the Jerusalem Temple is to become the focal point of Israelite worship—in particular, for the prayers made by the people. Solomon (as king) represents the people in this regard. At the beginning of the request (in v. 28), Solomon refers to himself as YHWH’s loyal servant (“your servant”); but, at the close of the request (in v. 29), the same expression “your servant” stands for any faithful Israelite who prays to YHWH (as is clear from v. 30, cf. below).

There is a symbolic and ritual aspect to prayer, in relation to the Temple building. The location of the Temple (lit. its “standing place,” <oqm*, i.e., the place where it stands) has a unifying role for the people, and as a religious expression of their faith and devotion to YHWH. By praying in the direction of the Temple, the place where YHWH’s name dwells, this demonstrates that a person’s heart is directed toward God. Such prayer can be made at any time (“night and day”); according to Solomon’s request, YHWH’s eyes will constantly be open, attentive to any such prayer, and listening to (lit. hearing, vb um^v*) it. In the traditional religious idiom, for God to “hear” a prayer means that He will answer it.

The root llp is used several times in vv. 28-29, both the verb (ll^P*) and the related noun hL*p!T=; it is the basic Hebrew root denoting prayer to God. Prayer here is also defined specifically as a request made to God that He would show favor—i.e., respond favorably, giving help and bestowing blessing or benefits, etc. The noun signifying such a request is hN`j!T= (from the root /nj), which is formally parallel to hL*p!T=. Another word used is hN`r!, which means a ringing cry or shout; it can connote either a desperate plea (i.e., cry for help), a joyful expression of praise, or a confident shout (of triumph, etc).

From a theological standpoint, it is most significant that it is YHWH’s name, specifically, which “dwells” in the Temple. While YHWH Himself dwells in the heavens, His name dwells on earth among His people. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represented and embodied (in a quasi-magical way) the essence and nature of the person. This was equally true in a religious context, when applied to a deity; to know a deity’s name meant knowing the deity. This name-theology represented a more abstract and rational/intellectual way for a person to relate to a deity. In this regard, it is particularly meaningful that YHWH’s name is related to the act of prayer. This is the aspect of the Temple’s purpose that is being emphasized here, rather than its role in the sacrificial ritual, for example.

The name of YHWH was important in Israelite religious tradition from the earliest times, but the name-theology took on special prominence in the book of Deuteronomy (and the subsequent Deuteronomic History, of which 1-2 Kings is a part). Beginning in chapter 12 (vv. 5, 11, 21), and then throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the implicit location of Jerusalem (and the Temple site) is repeatedly referenced as the place chosen by YHWH to set His name. The names of the Canaanite deities are to be removed from the land (Deut 12:3), replaced entirely by the name of YHWH, the one true Creator God, with whom Israel is joined in a special covenant-bond. His name is thus closely connected with the covenant, as is clear implicitly from the references here in vv. 9, 21. The people belong to Him, and this is symbolized by the Temple which bears His name, indicating a sign of ownership, etc. God’s faithful vassals (“servants”) will pray in the direction of the Temple—that is, toward His name—as a sign of covenant loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign.

The people, collectively, as YHWH’s servant(s), are emphasized in verse 30:

“May you indeed listen to (the) request of your servant for favor, and of your people Yisrael, when they shall pray to(ward) this standing place; you shall listen at (the) place of your sitting [i.e. dwelling] (in) the heavens, and (when) you listen you shall forgive.”

As noted above, the expression “your servant” refers not only to the king, but to the people as a whole; this point is made quite clear here in v. 30. Solomon’s request is that whenever the people pray toward the Temple, YHWH will respond favorably to them, answering their prayers, even to the point of forgiving (vb jl^s*) their sins.

The preposition la# has a dual-meaning in this verse; on the one hand, the directional aspect of praying “to(ward)” the Temple is in view (continued from vv. 28-29), but in the second half of the verse it also is used in the locative sense of YHWH’s dwelling in the heavens. This dual-use may be intentional, as a subtle way of juxtaposing the dwelling-place of YHWH’s name (i.e., the Temple) with the place where He Himself dwells (in heaven). For more on this, see the discussion above.

In the verses that follow (vv. 33-44), a number of examples are given of circumstances under which the people might pray to God, using the Temple as their religious focal-point. In the next study, we will begin examining these.

March 28: John 3:31-33

John 3:31c-33

“The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]; what he has seen and heard, (to) this he gives witness, and (yet) his witness no one receives. The (one) receiving his witness (has) sealed that God is true.”

Regardless of whether the words in square brackets are original (cf. the discussion in the previous note), verse 31c syntactically belongs with v. 32f, rather than with v. 31ab. Indeed, the statements in v. 31a & c are parallel and essentially identical:

    • The (one) coming from above is up above all
    • The (one) coming out of heaven [is up above all]

The expression “out of heaven” (e)k tou= ou)ranou=) has the same meaning as the adverb “from above” (a&nwqen). The prepositional expression, however, forms a more precise contrastive parallel with “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$) in v. 31b.

There is a contrast between the two figures in v. 31ab, whereas in vv. 31c-32 the parallelism is synthetic—that is, the second statement builds upon the first. The same person “coming from heaven” (v. 31c) is described in v. 32f. The point of contrast, rather, is between the descriptions of the one “out of the earth” (31b) and the one “out of heaven” (v. 32). In particular, the contrast involves the way that they speak. The one who is “of the earth” simply speaks (vb lale/w) out of his/her earthly nature (“out of the earth”). By contrast, the one coming “out of heaven” speaks in a heavenly manner, and speaks of heavenly things (cf. verse 12).

This idea of ‘heavenly speaking’ is expressed through the Johannine motif of witness (ma/rtu$/marturi/a). Jesus, as the one coming from heaven, bears witness to the heavenly reality. This is understood primarily in relation to God the Father. Jesus, as the dutiful Son, pays close attention to the Father’s example—everything that he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. This is a fundamental component of the Johannine Christology and portrait of Jesus. The point is made a number of times throughout the Gospel—cf. 1:18; 5:19-20ff, 30-31ff; 6:46; 7:16-18; 8:26, 38, 40ff, 47; 17:8ff.

It is quite likely that the wording in v. 32 continues the thematic contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist (cf. the discussion in the previous note). John and Jesus both bear witness to the Divine truth, testifying to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by the Father. John, however, makes this witness in an “earthly” manner, based on the visionary experience of what he has actually seen and heard through his senses (1:32-34). By contrast, Jesus, having come from the Father in heaven, is a direct witness of God, and his witness is thus heavenly and spiritual in nature. As previously noted, John the Baptist as a witness is a key theme of chapters 1-3, beginning with the prologue (1:6-8).

Jesus gives witness (vb marture/w) to “that which he has seen and heard” (o^ e(w/raken kai\ h&kousen). The wording of this phrase, utilizing the relative (neuter) pronoun, very much reflects the Johannine style and theological idiom. This is clearly illustrated by the opening words of 1 John:

“That which [o^] was from the beginning, which we have seen [o^ a)khko/amen], which we have heard [o^ e(wra/kamen]…about the word [lo/go$] of life” (1:1)

The (Gospel) message, about who Jesus is, is a truthful witness that reflects what Jesus himself manifested to us on earth through his own incarnate person.

The idea that “no one” (ou)dei/$) receives Jesus’ witness is general and categorical, reflecting the basic theme that the “world” (ko/smo$), as a whole, is dominated by darkness and evil, and is unable/unwilling to accept the Divine truth and revelation that Jesus brings from heaven. As is clear from verse 11 earlier in the Discourse, and echoing the foundational statement in the Gospel prologue (1:11), even the most learned and religiously devout among his own people (e.g., Nicodemus) are unable to receive this witness. Indeed, it is not possible to receive it, to “see” the kingdom of God (v. 3), unless one is first “born from above” —that is, born of the Spirit.

The statements here in vv. 32-33 are indeed similar to those in 1:11-12 of the Prologue:

    • “and his witness no one receives [vb lamba/nw]” (v. 32b)
      “and his own (people) did not receive [vb paralamba/nw] him” (v. 11b)
    • “the (one) receiving his witness…” (v. 33a)
      “but as (many) as received him…” (v. 12a)

No one belonging to the world receives his witness, only those belonging to God. Every one belonging to God, who is drawn to the truth (by His Spirit), receives the witness of Jesus (through trust); then, having been born “from above” (i.e., of the Spirit), such a person is able to hear and understand the heavenly witness of Jesus. This recognition by the believer essentially seals the truth (and truthfulness) of God (v. 33b).

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 34, which contains the important Spirit-reference.

May 7: Isaiah 53:12

Isaiah 53:12

“For this (reason) I will give a portion to him with (the) many,
(and with) the strong he shall have a portion of (the) plunder;
(it is) for that which (he did:) he laid bare his soul for death,
and (with the one)s breaking (faith) he was counted,
and he (himself) lifted (the) sin of many,
and met (with the punishment) for their breaking (faith).”

This final verse (12) is comprised of three parallel couplets. It will be helpful to examine each of these in some detail.

Couplet 1

The verse opens with the compound particle /k@l*, which I translate rather literally as “for this (reason)”. It continues the discussion of the previous lines, but also anticipates the final two couplets here. The Servant’s faithfulness to YHWH, even while enduring suffering and punishment (on behalf of the people), has resulted in his being given a heavenly reward, and entry into the blessed afterlife, where he also will hold a new (heavenly) position as YHWH’s servant. This reward is described in the remainder of the first couplet:

“I will give a portion to him with (the) many,
and (with) the strong he shall have a portion of plunder”

The verb ql^j* is used twice, in the technical sense of giving someone a share or allotment in an inheritance, etc. A covenant setting must be assumed, whereby each vassal receives an appropriate portion from the sovereign, in return for faithful service he has rendered. This includes the plunder (ll*v*) from warring activity. There are “many” (<yB!r^) such vassals for YHWH, and some are particularly strong (<Wxu*), in battle, etc. The Servant is to be given an honored place among these mighty vassals. Probably the divine/heavenly beings (Angels, etc) are in view here, in which case, there is an intentional play on the meaning of the plural substantive <yB!r^ (“[the] many”).

Earlier in this passage, <yB!r^ referred to the nations (and their rulers, 52:15), but also, apparently, to God’s people Israel/Judah (cf. the previous note on 53:11). Possibly the initial occurrence in 52:14 is meant to encompass both groups. There will be “many” among Israel/Judah, and among the nations, who will be made righteous through the Servant’s work. Thus, we should not discount the earthly aspect—that is, of the restored Israel/Judah in the New Age, with a kingdom centered at Jerusalem, from which point the Torah of YHWH will spread out to embrace the nations.

This touches upon an important Isaian theme (cf. 2:2-4) that is developed in the Deutero-Isaian poems (and again in the so-called Trito-Isaiah of chaps. 56-66). In the New Age, the nations will come to Jerusalem to pay homage and give worship to YHWH; within this eschatological imagery, we find the motif of the nations bringing tribute to Judah (cf. chap. 60, etc). The section that follows here (54:1-17) certainly involves the idea that God’s people will prosper in the New Age, and will spread out to possess the territory and wealth of the nations (vv. 2-3). This will constitute a reversal of earlier times: instead of being plundered by the nations, Israel/Judah will come to possess their wealth.

Couplet 2

The second couplet begins with an expression (rv#a& tj^T^) that is difficult to translate in English. Literally it means “under which”, but it essentially modifies the initial particle /k@l* in the first couplet (cf. above), “for this (reason)”. Here it is clarified: the reason is that which the Servant did. And what did he do? The couplet states this clearly:

“he laid bare his soul for death,
and (with the one)s breaking (faith) he was counted”

The verb hr*u* signifies a condition of nakedness—of uncovering or baring oneself. The Servant willingly laid bare his soul, leaving it naked and vulnerable, to the point where it could easily meet with death. He did this by taking on himself the guilt that would make him prone to the judgment (of death) from YHWH. But it is the guilt of the people, not his own, as the discussion in the prior verses makes clear. The guilty persons are characterized as “(the one)s breaking (faith)” (<yu!v=P)), that is, breaking the covenant bond with YHWH and rebelling against His authority. This fundamental meaning of the root uvP has been discussed in the earlier notes. While the Servant has remained faithful/loyal to YHWH, he bears the guilt of those who have broken faith.

It is worth mentioning that it is possible to translate the verb hr*u* in the sense of “empty (out),” which naturally brings to mind the idea of kenosis in the famous Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11.

Couplet 3

The final couplet essential restates the point made in the second:

“and he (himself) lifted (the) sin of many,
and met (with the punishment) for their breaking (faith)”

The two couplets together have a chiastic thematic structure, which may be illustrated as follows:

    • The Servant bares his soul for death
      • He is identified with (i.e. bears the guilt of) those breaking faith
      • He bears/lifts the guilt of those committing sin
    • He meets with the punishment (of death) for their sin

Again the verb ac*n` is used for the lifting/bearing of guilt (cf. also in v. 4). The pronoun “he” (aWh) is specifically set in emphatic (first) position, emphasizing that the Servant himself did this, that he bore the guilt of their sin upon himself.

The verb in the final line (ug~P*) can be a bit difficult to translate. In my view, it is best to keep to the fundamental meaning of “meet” —that is, to meet with (i.e., encounter) someone or something. It can be used in the harsher sense of meeting with an impact, i.e., getting hit or struck. Here, it would seem, the idea is of the Servant meeting with punishment—that is, the punishment that should have fallen upon the guilty people, but which has come upon him instead. This is the central theme of the passage: the vicarious suffering of the Servant, by which he bears on himself the guilt of the people.

There can be no doubt that it is this theme which helped to make Isa 52:13-53:12 such a powerful passage when applied to the sacrificial death of Jesus. Interestingly, however, the vicarious and sacrificial aspect does not seem to have been foremost in view for the earliest believers who applied the passage to Jesus. Rather, it appears to have been the correspondence with certain details in the account of Jesus’ Passion that first established the connection between Jesus and the Servant.

Having gone through the passage in detail, it now remains for us to explore the main lines of interpretation—including, but not limited to, the early Christian interpretation. How, precisely, should the figure of the Servant be understood? Does he represent a specific historical person, or is he a symbolic or collective figure? Does he differ in any way from the Servant-figure in the other so-called “Servant Songs” of Deutero-Isaiah? How does this figure fit within the visionary framework of the Deutero-Isaian poems, in terms of their theology, eschatology, expository purpose, and so forth? These subjects will be touched on in the concluding article (on this passage) in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”.

December 6: 1 Peter 3:22

1 Peter 3:22

The confessional statement in 1 Peter 3:22 has a pattern similar to the “Christ hymns” we have been examining in these notes. Indeed, it is altogether possible that there is preserved here a primitive formula, which hews more closely to the early kerygma, with its focus on the exaltation of Jesus—that is, his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven at the “right hand” of God. As I have discussed repeatedly, this exaltation-aspect represents the earliest Christology, to which a pre-existence aspect developed alongside during the second half of the 1st century A.D. The great “Christ hymns” of Philippians (2:6-11) and Colossians (1:15-20) combine both aspects, holding them closely in tandem, while they are blended together even more carefully in the letter of Hebrews (cf. the recent notes on the hymnic statements in 1:2b-4).

The date and composition of 1 Peter remain in dispute among New Testament scholars and commentators. The text itself (1:1) indicates that the apostle Peter was the author, but some critical commentators are inclined to view the letter as pseudonymous (though not nearly so many as who hold this view for 2 Peter). If the letter is genuinely the work of Peter, then this, combined with the reference to “Babylon” (presumably Rome) in 5:13, suggests a date sometime around 60 A.D. (or shortly thereafter). A date in the early/mid-60’s would have to be posited even if one were to accept the theory that the letter was primarily composed by Silvanus (5:12), writing under the (posthumous) authority of Peter.

Such dating, under the assumption of Petrine authorship (in one form or another), is significant in terms of the Christological development that took place during the 1st century. It was precisely in the period of the late-50s to early-60s that we find the first evidence for the rise of a pre-existence Christology—i.e., the belief that Jesus must have had existence as the Son of God even prior to his life on earth. Such a belief is first attested, in a limited, rudimentary manner, in Paul’s letters (1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans) written during the mid-late 50’s. It is then expressed more directly in the Christ hymns of Philippians (c. 60) and Colossians; the latter, if genuinely a Pauline work (rather than pseudonymous), was probably written a year or two after Philippians.

Thus, according to the common traditional-conservative view, 1 Peter would have been written at roughly the same time as Philippians and Colossians. Whether or not the “Christ hymns” in those letters represent earlier statements adapted by Paul, or are his own compositions, it is clear that Paul affirms and makes use of the Christology they contain. The possibility that the Philippians hymn, in particular, is drawn from an earlier hymnic composition, along with the evidence from Hebrews, shows that the blending of exaltation and pre-existence Christology was not unique to Paul at this time; indeed, it was likely held and shared by many believers during the period c. 60-90 A.D. At the same time, the relative newness of the pre-existence view of Jesus’ divine Sonship perhaps explains the rise of poetic/hymnic formulae (i.e., these numerous “Christ hymns”) to establish it and make it more familiar to believers in congregations throughout the Greco-Roman world.

As noted above, the statement in 1 Pet 3:22 only represents the exaltation-aspect. However, there is evidence that the author (identified as Peter), at the time of writing (c. 60-64?), held at least a rudimentary pre-existence view as well. In speaking of Jesus’ sacrificial death (1:19), comparing it to that of a pure lamb (alluding to the Passover ritual) “without blame and without spot”, the author goes on to refer to him as:

“having been known before(hand), before (the) casting down [i.e. foundation/creation] of (the) world, but (now hav)ing been made to shine forth upon th(ese) last times, for you…” (1:20)

The me\nde/ construction in this verse establishes a contrastive juxtaposition (i.e., “on the one hand…on the other…”). Jesus’ “being known (by God) beforehand” is contrasted with his “being made to shine forth” (on earth, to be seen/known by human beings). This implies a (pre-existent) life with God prior to his life on earth (cp. Phil 2:6-8).

Turning to the statement in 3:22, it follows the basic pattern of the other “Christ hymns”, opening with a relative pronoun (o%$), characterized by traditional kerygmatic terms and phrases, with a poetic/hymnic rhythm, and containing a decided emphasis on the exalted place/position of Jesus in heaven. Here is the statement, beginning with the tail end of v. 21:

“…through (the) standing up [i.e. resurrection] of Yeshua (the) Anointed,
who [o%$] is
on (the) giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God,
(hav)ing traveled into heaven,
(hav)ing been put in order under him
(the) Messengers and authorities and powers.”

There is an interesting chiastic structure to the lines of the ‘hymn’ in v. 22, which may be outlined as follows:

    • Heavenly realm—the “right hand” of God (His throne)
      • Exaltation—ascension into heaven [active/Jesus the subject]
      • Exaltation—granting of divine rule [passive/Jesus the object]
    • Heavenly realm—rule over all other (heavenly) beings

The emphasis on Jesus’ position of rule is central to the Christ hymns of Philippians and Colossians, and is very much in focus here as well. The outer phrases summarize the heavenly domain where Jesus exercises rule, while the inner phrases (aorist participial phrases) describe the process of the exalted Jesus coming to rule. This process has two components, indicated by each of the aorist participles:

    • poreuqei/$ (“[hav]ing traveled”)—that is, “into heaven”, i.e., Jesus’ ascension following his death and resurrection
    • u(potage/ntwn (“[hav]ing been arranged under”)—the location parallel to “into heaven” is “under him” (i.e. under Jesus)

The latter phrase and its verb (u(pota/ssw) requires additional comment. The participle u(potage/ntwn is a plural passive form, the subject of which is not Jesus, but the three groups mentioned in the following line. The verb u(pota/ssw means “arrange under” or “put in order under”, and can specifically connote persons who are under the authority of a superior. It is used most frequently in the Pauline letters (23 of 38 NT occurrences), but also five other times here in 1 Peter (2:13, 18; 3:1, 5; 5:5). In all these instances in 1 Peter, the verb is used in the context of believers humbly (and willingly) submitting to governmental authorities—whether within the household, the Christian congregation, or society at large. Similarly here, the groups mentioned in the final line are placed (by God) under the authority of the exalted Jesus (“[under] him,” au)tw=|).

The triad of “Messengers” (a&ggeloi, i.e. Angels), “authorities” (e)cousi/ai), and “powers” (du/nami$, pl.) is a comprehensive reference to the heavenly beings. There is a similar reference in the Christ hymn of Colossians (1:16), while 1 Tim 3:16 has only the first term (a&ggeloi). The Philippians hymn expresses the universality of Jesus’ rule with a different triad, referencing three parts of the cosmos (2:10)—cp. Col 1:20, “the (thing)s upon the earth and the (thing)s in the heavens”. The noun e)cousi/a, rather difficult to translate literally in English, generally signifies something which a person has the ability to do, an ability that resides in the person’s own being (and control), though the power/ability to act may also be granted to him/her by a superior. The English word “authority” is typically used to render e)cousi/a, and that is as good a translation as any.

The terms “authorities” and “powers” can refer either to physical (human) beings or heavenly spirit-beings, though the context here is clearly to heavenly beings (in Col 1:16 both heavenly and earthly realms are in view); cp. Mk 13:25 par; Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24-27; Col 2:15; Eph 1:21; 6:12; Heb 6:5, etc. The idea is that there are spirit-beings which exercise governing control over the universe; this very much reflects the basic polytheistic worldview of the time, though filtered through monotheistic Israelite/Jewish (and subsequently early Christian) sensibilities. Angels were seen as having control over various parts of the universe, but it was a contingent power granted to them by the one Creator God (El-Yahweh). Moreover, as the world—the current world-order (ko/smo$)—came to be viewed as predominantly sinful and wicked, an additional layer of immediate control was attributed to evil/rebellious spirit-beings (or ‘fallen’ angels), in direct opposition to God. Such cosmic dualism was increasingly common among Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. (most notably, the Community of Qumran texts), and was inherited by early Christians as well. It is especially prominent in the Johannine tradition (cf. the many occurrences of the work ko/smo$ in the Gospel and first Letter of John), but can be found throughout the New Testament; Paul’s references to ‘authorities and powers’ also tend to have this negative association (cf. above).

However, here in 1 Pet 3:22, the terms are neutral, and comprehensive—they include the wicked ‘powers’ that exert influence over the world, but are scarcely limited to them. We may fairly understand the triad of “messengers, authorities, and powers” as a reference to all heavenly beings, especially those who exercise governing control over the universe. They all are subject to the exalted Jesus, who shares the authority of God the Father Himself. This is the significance of his position “at the right hand” of God, a key motif of the early Christology and kerygma (cf. the earlier note on Heb 1:3).

February 3: Revelation 21:9-11

Revelation 21:9-27

In the remainder of chapter 21, the seer (John) is given a colorful description of the “new Jerusalem”, the heavenly city that descends to earth marking the beginning of the New Age. The initial motif was established in the introductory section (vv. 2ff), and now it is presented in more detail. The individual details, discussed below (and in the following notes), develop the overall symbol.

Revelation 21:9-14

Revelation 21:9

“And (then) came one out of the seven Messengers holding the seven offering-dishes, the (one)s (hav)ing been full of the seven last (thing)s striking (the earth), and he spoke with me, saying: ‘(Come) here, (and) I will show you the bride, the woman [i.e. wife] of the Lamb!'”

This continues the bridal/nuptial imagery from earlier in these visions (19:7-9; 21:2; cf. also 14:4-5), which I have already discussed (cf. on 19:7ff and 14:4f). In those passages, it is believers, collectively, who are the bride; here, however, and in verse 2, it is the city presented as a bride. This would seem to make clear that we are not dealing with an actual city at all, but with a people—i.e., believers, the people of God. In a similar manner, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, “Jerusalem” and “Zion” often refer, not to the city per se, but to its people—the people of Judah (and Israel). Believers are specifically said to be the bride (and wife) of the Lamb—the exalted Jesus—as in 19:7; it is a beautiful figure for a covenantal and spiritual union between believers and Christ. This feminine imagery, of the people of God depicted as a Woman, builds upon two important strands of symbolism from earlier in the book:

    • The Woman in chapter 12, which has an exalted/heavenly aspect (v. 1, cp. verses 10-12), and yet who also faces suffering and persecution on earth (vv. 2, 4ff, 13-17). She gives ‘birth’ both to Jesus (her firstborn son) and to believers in Christ (her other children).
    • The contrast with the Prostitute in chapters 17-18 (also 14:8 and 19:2-3); she too is symbolized as a city—the “great city” (Babylon)—even as the people of God (believers) are represented as the “holy city” (Jerusalem), cp. 2/4 Esdras 10:27-28, 44-45ff.

The point of contrast, between the Bride and the Prostitute, is alluded to by the reference to the bowl-cycle of Judgment visions (chaps. 15-16).

Revelation 21:10-11

“And he bore me away from (there), in the Spirit, up on(to) a great and high mountain, and he showed me the holy city Yerushalaim, stepping [i.e. coming] down out of the heaven from God, holding the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, her (bril)liant light (being) like a most valuable stone, as a iaspis-stone being (clear) as ice.”

The transport of the seer “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati) follows the pattern of several earlier visions (cf. 4:2; 17:3, and note the initial motif in 1:10). The reference in 17:3 is perhaps most relevant, as it continues the parallel between the wicked Prostitute-woman (earthly “Babylon”) and the holy Bride (heavenly “Jerusalem”). Direct references and allusions to the Spirit are strangely lacking in the book of Revelation, especially within the visions themselves. This is perhaps to be explained by the focus in the visions on the actions of the wicked, and of the Judgment that is to come upon the earth. I would argue that the symbolism in the concluding vision of chaps. 21-22 relates very much to the Spirit of God; this will be discussed as we proceed.

The mountain location here may reflect the setting of Ezekiel 40ff (v. 2) and its description of the future/ideal Jerusalem; there could also be an echo of the Sinai tradition (i.e. Moses observing the [heavenly] pattern of the Tent shrine, Exod 24:15-25:10, cf. also Acts 7:44; Hebrews 9). However, mountain-symbolism is archetypal, with fundamental religious significance across many cultures and traditions. The mountain represents a meeting place between heaven and earth, between God and humankind; the (temple) Shrine/Sanctuary building serves a similar symbolic purpose, and can also be identified as a mountain location. This explains how the ancient site of Jerusalem itself—Zion, the “city of David”—where the Temple is located, can be thought of as a “mountain” (i.e., Mount Zion).

The descent of the new/heavenly Jerusalem here repeats the earlier notice in verse 2 (cf. my earlier note), using the same verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”). It is a common verb, however in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel), katabai/nw, with the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”), have special theological and Christological significance (discussed in prior notes and articles). To the extent that the book of Revelation is part of the same Johannine Tradition (and Community), the verb would almost certainly have the same special connotation here. Clearly, the heavenly origin of this “city” is being emphasized. Jerusalem plays an important role—both symbolic and literal—in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic of the period, drawing in large measure on the exilic (and post-exilic) prophecies in Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah (2:5; 8:3, 20ff; 14:7-8, 16ff), as also throughout much of deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-66, e.g. 51:3ff; 54:11-12; 60:1-5ff; 65:17-19; cp. the earlier traditions of 2:2-4 par, etc).

The initial added detail here in verse 11 draws upon traditional motifs of brilliant light (fwsth/r) and clarity (kru/stallo$ “[made] like ice”) to depict the divine or heavenly splendor (do/ca). The association of God with light reflects basic religious symbolism, and scarcely requires any explanation; however, it is possible that certain Isaian passages, understood in an eschatological sense, are specifically in view (e.g., 30:26; 42:6ff; 58:8ff; 60:1-3, 19-20). The crystalline (kru/stallo$) characteristic is a bit more specialized, but it can feature in depictions of divine manifestation (theopany) and the heavenly splendor, as in the famous vision of Ezekiel (1:22). Almost certainly there is an allusion here to Isa 54:12 (cf. below), as also to the “glassy sea” in the earlier vision of 15:2. What these characteristics emphasize is that the “new Jerusalem” possesses (“holds”) the very do/ca (“honor, splendor”) of God Himself.

The other motif highlighted is that of a valuable stone (li/qo$). Here the adjective is a superlative (“most valuable”, ti/mio$). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the idiom of the valuable/precious stone is largely limited to citations of Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 (cf. Mark 12:10-11 par; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7; also Eph 2:20), where the precious stone is Christ himself. However, 1 Pet 2:5f also identifies believers as precious “living stones”, symbolism which is closer in meaning to that in Rev 21:10ff. Here the stone is described as resembling ia&spi$ (“jasper”), which can refer to stones of various colors; probably a clear blue (or bluish-green) is meant, like the ‘sapphire’ pavement in the theophany of Exod 24:10 (cf. also Ezek 1:26; Isa 54:11, and further in Rev 21:19). The same stones are mentioned in the throne-vision of God in Rev 4:3.

What follows in vv. 12-14 is a description of the “gates” and “walls” of the city, continuing with the imagery of brilliant light, clarity, and resemblance to precious stones. Almost certainly, a reference to the prophecy in Isaiah 54:11-12ff is intended, as will be discussed in the next daily note. In Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic, a glorious manifestation of Jerusalem, as the place of God’s dwelling in the New Age, often features prominently—cf. Isa 60:1-3; Ezek 43:1-5; Zech 2:5; Baruch 5:1-9; Tobit 13:9ff; 14:5-7; Sirach 36:19; Psalms of Solomon 11:1-9; 17:31; 4Q554; 11Q18 frag. 10; 11Q19 [Temple Scroll] 39:12-13). Sometimes this is envisioned as a transformation of the (current) city, or, as in the book of Revelation, its replacement (cp. 1 Enoch 90:28-29; 2 Baruch 4:1-7; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 8:52). Cf. Koester, pp. 812-14.

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January 28: Revelation 21:2-4

Revelation 21:1-8, continued

Verses 1-4, cont.

Revelation 21:2

Following the initial declaration of the “new heaven and new earth” (v. 1, cf. the previous note), the foundational image of the vision is introduced in verse 2:

“And I saw the holy city, the new Yerushalaim, stepping [i.e. coming] down out of the heaven from God, having been made ready as a bride having been adorned for her man [i.e. husband].”

The motif of the city of Jerusalem, the traditional capital and sacred site of Israelites and Jews, has appeared variously throughout the earlier visions, though not always cited by name. In 11:2ff, as here, the expression “the holy city” (po/li$ a(gi/a) is used, drawing upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition (Nehemiah 11:1, 18; Isaiah 48:2; 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; 27:53, etc). In the book of Revelation, however, this expression takes on greater meaning, referring to the true (heavenly and spiritual) dwelling place of God (cf. below). In the vision of 14:1-5, the reference is to Zion (Heb ‚iyyôn, /oYx!), the ancient fortified hilltop site around which the larger city would be built, and which was the location of the Temple. As such, the name had special religious (and theological) significance as the dwelling place of God, and the place to which people would go for safety and protection. Jerusalem is also in view with the expression “the (be)loved city” in 20:9, and the “city” in 14:20 perhaps alludes to it as well. The heavenly “holy city” (Jerusalem) of God forms a clear and stark contrast to the wicked “great city” (Babylon) of earth (11:8ff; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16ff).

The idea of this “Jerusalem” being located in heaven also has parallels in earlier tradition. Paul makes use of the same symbolism in his allegory in Galatians 4:21-31. Believers in Christ belong, not to the earthly city of Jerusalem which represents the slavery of humankind, but to the ‘Jerusalem’ that is “above” (a&nw) which symbolizes the freedom we now have in Christ (and in the Spirit), vv. 25-26. The letter of Hebrews also speaks of a Zion, a heavenly Jerusalem, to which believers belong (12:22). We wait for the time when we may enter this city, our true home, a longing that will soon be realized in the future (11:10, 16; 13:14) when the city “comes”. The images of names being written down in the “paper-roll (scroll) of life” draws, in part, on the Greco-Roman custom of the names of citizens being recorded on rolls (13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 21:27). The true citizenship of believers is in heaven (cf. Phil 3:20).

The description of this “Jerusalem” as new (kaino/$) has three points of significance:

    • Emphasizing its heavenly character; this corresponds to the “new song” that believers sing (in heaven, 5:9; 14:3), and the promise of a “new name” that the faithful will receive in heaven (2:17; 3:12).
    • It is part of the new creation, i.e. the “new heaven and new earth” (v. 1). Elsewhere in the New Testament, in the letters of Paul especially, this is described as being realized for believers now, in the present (through the work of Christ and the presence of the Spirit)—cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Rom 7:6; Col 3:10; also Eph 2:15; 4:24. The scene of Rev 21-22 depicts the future fulfillment of what we already experience in the Spirit; elsewhere this is tied specifically to the future resurrection (cf. 2 Pet 3:13; cp. Rom 8:18-25).
    • The heavenly Jerusalem replaces the old earthly city; this is signified by the idea of the heavenly city coming down, i.e. down to the earth. In this vision, as I have noted, the heavenly and earthly aspects of the symbolism finally merge together and are united. In archetypal religious symbolism, the “holy city” and the temple both represent a meeting point between heaven and earth, the divine and the human; this is certainly so for the Jerusalem/Temple imagery in early Christianity, spiritualized as it is—God and man meet in the person of Christ and in the living/abiding presence of the Spirit.

The motifs of holiness/purity and newness are reinforced by the marital imagery in verse 2: “Jerusalem” has been prepared as a bride (numfh/) for her marriage, made ready to join her husband, meeting together for the moment of their wedded union. She is adorned or ornamented (vb kosme/w) with splendid garments and jewelry, etc. This draws again on the profound contrast between the “holy city” and the “great city” (Babylon) of earth, also depicted as a woman richly adorned, only as a prostitute (17:4, etc). The same sort of contrast is found in Old Testament tradition, contrasting the faithful wife (or bride) with the adulterous woman or prostitute; wedding/bridal imagery can also be used in this context. Jerusalem/Zion was traditionally understood as the bride of God (Isa 54:5-6; 62:4-5, etc), and the joy of the wedding, with the decorating of the bride, can serve as a motif for salvation (Isa 52:1; 62:10). The earlier use of such imagery in Revelation makes clear that the reference is to the people (believers) rather than a city per se; however, the preparation of the wedding place (and marriage home), along with that of the bride herself (19:7-9), is entirely appropriate.

Revelation 21:3-4

“And I heard a great voice out of the ruling-seat [i.e. throne] saying: ‘See! the tent [skhnh/] of God (is) with (hu)mans, and He will put down (His) tent [skhnw/sei] with them, and they will be His peoples, and God Him(self) will be with them [as their God], and He will smear out [i.e. wipe off] all tears (flowing) out of their eyes, and there shall not be death any longer, and no sorrow and no crying and no (pain of) labor shall there be any longer, (for it is) [that] the first (thing)s (have all) gone away’.”

The Majority Text has the great voice speaking from out of “heaven” generally, rather that out of the “ruling-seat” (qro/no$) of God in heaven. This latter reading of a A 94, etc, is probably correct, hearkening back to the messages (and Messengers) emerging from God’s throne (16:17; 19:4-5). It emphasizes the place where God resides (and rules), the central message of the declaration in vv. 3-4 being that God and humankind (i.e. believers) how dwell together in the same place. This was already true spiritually, and symbolically, by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers; however, now, at the end, it is realized fully and completely.

The wording draws from the Scriptures, where this relationship between God and His people is expressed in numerous passages (Lev 26:11-12; Exod 29:45; Jer 7:23; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:28; Ezek 11:20; 36:28; 37:23; Zech 2:11; 8:3, 8, etc). Probably it is Ezek 37:27 that is primarily in view, though the wording of Lev 26:11-12 is also fairly close. The Hebrew word translated “dwelling place” (/K*v=m!) primarily, and originally, referred to the ancient Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) of Israelite history and tradition. It came to be used more generally of the Jerusalem Temple, but the book of Revelation preserves the specific image of the “tent” (skhnh/) at several points (13:6; 15:5), including here in the final vision. The Ezekiel reference is ultimately followed by a depiction of the future/ideal Jerusalem (chaps. 40-48), much as a description of the new/heavenly Jerusalem follows here in chaps. 21-22.

The relationship between God and His people is defined by the language and traditions of the ancient “binding agreement” or covenant (Heb tyr!B=). The old covenant was made with a single people (lao/$), Israel; now, however, the new covenant is with many peoples (plural laoi/)—believers from all the nations who make up the people of God (see esp. the vision in chapter 7). Some manuscripts do read the singular lao/$ (“people”) here, but this would scarcely change the meaning, since the book of Revelation could just as easily express the idea of believers (from all the nations) as the collective “people” (singular) of God (18:4).

The second part of this message (v. 4) begins the description of what life will be like (for believers) dwelling with God in the new/heavenly “Jerusalem”. The memory and effect of all prior pain and suffering will be “rubbed out” (vb e)calei/fw). The translation “wiped away” makes for a lovelier reading in English, but the root verb a)lei/fw specifically refers to the rubbing or smearing of a substance (like oil or ointment) over a surface. Here the wet tears (from sorrow and crying) are the substance, and they are rubbed out, or off (e)k). More than this, the reason for crying—the suffering, toil, and pain itself—has also gone away. Most importantly of all, the principal reason for human sorrow, the experience of death, now is no more. This description comes more or less from Isaiah 25:8, and is echoed in the vision of the future New Age that is to come (65:19-20; cf. also 35:10; 51:11; Jer 31:16); the book of Revelation had alluded to it earlier in 7:17. Paul says much the same regarding the final end and elimination of death, though under the mythic personification of Death as an opponent/adversary of God and humankind (1 Cor 15:26); Revelation used this same sort of personification in 20:13-14. The concluding promise that “the first [i.e. former] things have gone away” again echoes Isa 65:17 (cf. also 43:18-19); Paul makes a similar declaration, but from the standpoint of “realized” eschatology (2 Cor 5:17).

For the readers of the book of Revelation, this is the final realization of that which was promised to them, to all those who would remain faithful, in 3:12:

“(For) the (one) being victorious…I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Yerushalaim, the (city) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of the heaven from my God, and my (own) new name.”

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January 26: Revelation 21:1

Having interrupted the series of daily notes on the Book of Revelation (part of the continuing Study Series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”), for special postings over Christmas and New Year, I am now returning to conclude these notes. I am picking up where we left off, at the end of chapter 20.

Revelation 21-22

In terms of the visionary narrative of the book of Revelation, the great end-time Judgment was seen as having been completed in chapters 19-20. These two chapters contain parallel sets of visions, describing the final Judgment from two different, but related, vantage points. The Judgment entails punishment of the wicked—both humankind (the Nations) and the forces of evil controlled by the Dragon/Satan. Like many of the symbols in the visions, the great Judgment has both earthly and heavenly aspects. In chapter 19, it is the earthly aspect that is emphasized, focusing on the defeat of the nations, and the Messianic role of the exalted Jesus as a warrior and conqueror. By contrast, we may say, in chapter 20 the heavenly aspect is more properly in view, with the defeat of Satan, and the Messianic role of Jesus ruling (as king) along with the resurrected righteous (believers). On the difficult question of how to interpret the “thousand years” in chap. 20, see the previous notes and my supplemental article on the subject.

The next two chapters (21-22) describe the New Age that is to come, following the Judgment. While this has been anticipated and alluded to throughout the earlier visions, it is only now depicted—in vivid detail—as befits the chronology of the narrative. Moreover, as the climax of the book, we now find that the earthly and heavenly aspects of the symbolism are finally brought together, merging and resolving within one last, great vision.

Revelation 21:1-8

Verses 1-4

Revelation 21:1

This unity of earthly and heavenly, which, in many ways, represents the thematic goal and purpose of the narrative, is expressed most powerfully in the opening verse:

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth—for the first heaven and the first earth went away, and there is (now) no longer (any) sea.” (v. 1)

This statement alludes to Isaiah 65:17ff, one of the most famous passages in the Old Testament describing the “New Age” to come (or the future “Golden Age”); cf. the recent article on the “thousand years” motif. The same basic idiom (and idea) is expressed in Isa 66:22: “…the new heavens and the new earth that I make”. The theme of the transformation of the world, of the current created order, is part of the overall restoration-imagery in Isa 40-66 (Deutero-Isaiah)—41:19-20; 45:8, etc. As previously discussed, the future New Age is a key component of the Jewish eschatology of the period, and the early Christian ideas regarding it generally follow the Jewish apocalyptic and Messianic traditions. It can, however, be depicted a number of different ways; I have noted three main lines of tradition:

    • An idealized continuation of the current life on earth (i.e. the Golden Age, cf. above)
    • The blessed/heavenly afterlife for the righteous, having passed through the Judgment, and
    • The dissolution of the world, followed by a new creation.

Revelation 21-22 brings together all three of these, as do other eschatological writings of the period. However, it is the third which is emphasized specifically here in 21:1-8. On similar references to the passing away of the current world, and the creation/transformation of one that is new, cf. Jubilees 1:29; 4:26; 1 Enoch 45:4-5; 72:1; 91:14ff; 2 Baruch 32:6; 44:9ff; 57:2; Koester, p. 794. The dissolution of the universe is a common element of eschatological and apocalyptic thought worldwide, and, based on Old Testament Prophetic tradition, was included as part of the early Christian expectation regarding the phenomena surrounding the end-time Judgment, whether understood concretely or figuratively (cf. Mark 13:24-25 par, and throughout the vision-cycles in Revelation). The future transformation of all creation is related to the final transformation of humankind (believers) in Romans 8:18-25 (cf. the prior article on this passage). In 2 Peter 3:10-12, we have the familiar eschatological image of the world consumed by fire at the end of the current Age, associated with the traditional depiction of the end-time Judgment by fire (cp. James 3:6). The reference to the paliggenesi/a (“coming to be again”) in Matt 19:28 may imply more than the resurrection of the righteous, since it can also be used to express the idea of the restoration (and reconstitution) of the world (Philo Life of Moses II.65; cp. Josephus Antiquities 11.66); in Stoic eschatology, it is used for the renewal of the world following its dissolution by fire (e)kpu/rwsi$).

One particular detail in this “new heaven and new earth” is that “there is no longer (any) sea“. This is not simply a cosmological detail; for, in the book of Revelation, there is special significance of the Sea (qa/lassa) as a symbol. Throughout the visions in the second half of the book (chaps. 12-19), the Sea represents the forces of evil and chaos at work in the world; cf. especially 12:12, 17; 13:1ff (the Creature out of the Sea); 16:3; 17:1ff; 18:17ff; 20:8, 13. This imagery stems from ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth and tradition, as I discuss in a previous article. In this context, to say that “there is no longer any Sea” means that there is no longer any evil at work in the world. From the standpoint of the historical (and socio-religious) background of Revelation, it means, in particular, that the wicked human institutions (i.e. the Roman Empire) which are controlled by the forces of evil, no longer exist or have any power.

Even more indicative of the union of the heavenly and earthly in the New Age is the symbol of the “new Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven. As this image is foundational to all that follows in the vision of chaps. 21-22, it is worth devoting a separate note to it; we will discuss vv. 2-4 in the next daily note.

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

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December 23: Revelation 20:11-15

Revelation 20:11-15

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

Revelation 20:11

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

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

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

Revelation 20:12

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

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

Revelation 20:13

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

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

Revelation 20:14

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

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

Revelation 20:15

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

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

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

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December 21: Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6

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

Revelation 20:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 20:5

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

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

Revelation 20:6

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

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

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

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

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

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December 9: Revelation 19:9-10

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:9-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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