Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matt 6:10, cont.)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we explored the literary context of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13, with its Kingdom-petition [v. 10a])—and, specifically, its position within the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7). In particular, the earlier Kingdom-references (including those in the Sermon) were examined. Now we turn to the Lord’s Prayer itself, considering the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Prayer (as it occurs in the Sermon), and how it relates to the Kingdom-theme.

Even the casual student of the New Testament will likely be aware of the differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Prayer—with Luke containing a significantly shorter version. Later copyists tended to harmonize the two versions, reducing (or eliminating) the apparent differences; however, virtually all critical commentators recognize the originality of the shorter version for Luke. Whether the Lukan Prayer more accurately represents an original “Q” version is more difficult to determine. Even if it does reflect the original “Q” material, the Matthean ‘additions’ are best explained as being representative of the version of the Prayer familiar to the Gospel writer’s Community. Doubtless, even in the first century, the Prayer circulated widely, perhaps in several different iterations. The familiar lines “for thine is the kingdom and the power…”, etc, offers evidence (from the early centuries) for a continuing adaptation (and expansion) of the Prayer, for liturgical use.

The only ‘addition’ that is likely to come directly from the hand of the Matthean author is the qualifying phrase “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$) in the initial invocation to God: “Our Father, the (One) in the heavens” (Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This wording is utterly distinctive of the Matthean Gospel, making it quite likely that it is an adaptation (expanding the simple Pa/ter h(mw=n, cp. Lk 11:2) by the Gospel writer. The possibility must also be considered that the wording could reflect usage by the author’s Community, rather than an independent modification by the author.

The distinctiveness of the expression (as a qualifying phrase for God the Father) was discussed in the previous study. 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), and nowhere else in the Gospels (but cf. Lk 11:13) or the rest of 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 (see also the discussion in the previous study); 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.

It is possible 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 extensive use of the plural (ou)ranoi/) in Matthew 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), as noted above. 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 the 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

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 has already been 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 (cf. the earlier study). 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 first portion of the Prayer, in the Lukan version (11:2), there are two paired petitions: “May your name be made holy / May your Kingdom come”. These are also present in Matthew’s version (v. 9b-10a), with identical wording (a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou: e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou). However, Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will be done”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will be done”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

Let us consider briefly the first petition. The verb used is a(gia/zw (“make pure/holy”). It can be used specifically in a ritual/ceremonial context, but also in a broader ethical-religious (or spiritual) sense, as with the adjective a(gno/$ (“pure, holy”, cp. a%gio$), from which the verb is derived. It is extremely rare in the Synoptic Gospels, occurring just once (Matt 23:17, 19) outside of the Lord’s Prayer. It is somewhat more common in the Gospel of John; cf. my recent note on 1 John 3:3.

When it comes to the specific idea of holiness, there are two aspects which should be delineated: (1) purity, and (2) setting something apart for special (religious) use. The Greek a%gio-/a(gno– word group emphasizes the former, while Hebrew/Aramaic vdq (qdš) the latter. Moreover, a fundamental religious principle is that: what we treat as holy in terms of religious behavior ultimately is an expression of how we view the nature and character of God. For Israel as the chosen people of God (YHWH), this is defined by the formula in Leviticus 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God, am Holy”

Jesus effectively restates this for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount—if they follow his teaching, then:

“…you shall be complete, as your Father the (One) in the heavens is complete” (Matt 5:48)

Thus, true religion requires that people act and think in a way that honors God and reflects His own Person and Character, including all the things He has done on behalf of humankind and His people (as Creator, Life-giver, Savior/Protector, Judge, etc).

According to the ancient religious mind-set, shared by Jews and Christians in the first century A.D., the “name” of God represented the Person and Nature of God manifest to human beings on earth. For more on this concept of names and naming, cf. the Christmas season series “And you shall call His Name…” The “name” of God the Father is more than simply the name expressed by the tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh)—it reflects the very Person of God Himself as He relates to His People. And, it is God’s “name” that is to be honored and treated as holy by His People—cf. Exod 20:7, etc. By the time of the Prophets, the emphasis had shifted away from a ritual honoring of God’s name, toward honoring it in terms of one’s overall behavior and conduct (see esp. Isa 29:23). Jesus, in his teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount), moves even further in this direction, and this is certainly intended in the Lord’s Prayer. But why/how is it that we pray to God for this, when it is our (i.e. human beings’) responsibility to treat His Name as holy? The key to this lies in the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, which will be discussed as part of the next study.

For examples in Jewish tradition of invocations or petitions similar to those in the (Matthean) Lord’s Prayer, I point out several here:

    • “…their Father in heaven, the Holy One” (Mekilta on Exod 20:25; Fitzmyer, p. 900)
    • “Thou art holy and Thy name is holy, and the holy ones praise Thee every day. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, the holy God.” (Shemoneh Esreh [3rd benediction])
    • “Let his great name be magnified and hallowed in the world which he has created according to his will” (The Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer; Betz, p. 390)

In the next study, we will look at the second of the two flanking petitions—the third petition in the Matthean version of the Prayer. By examining both of these petitions, we will gain a better idea of what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker in the Matthean Gospel) understood with regard to the Kingdom-petition and the coming of God’s Kingdom (“May your Kingdom come”).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).





“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 3:13-14)

John 3:13 and 14

The next two Johannine occurrences of the expression “the son of man” occur together, at the center of the ‘Nicodemus’ Discourse in chapter 3. These two sayings (vv. 13 and 14) may have originally circulated separately, even within the Johannine Tradition; however, they are currently integral to the Discourse, and clearly represent an important expository component within the literary structure of the Discourse.

All of the Johannine Discourses have an historical-traditional episode as their basis. In this instance, it is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus (vv. 1-8ff). However, Nicodemus effectively disappears midway through the discourse, and is not mentioned again after verses 9-10. The sayings in verses 13-14f represent the transition point in the discourse, leading to the exposition by Jesus that follows in vv. 16-21. This is significant from the standpoint of the theological framework of the discourse, since it explains how being “born from above” and “born of the Spirit” (the dual-theme in vv. 1-8) are to be understood—viz., in terms of trusting in Jesus as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (vv. 16-21). This Christological exposition also informs the “son of man” sayings in vv. 13-14 (as is clear from v. 15).

John 3:13

“no one has stepped up [a)nabe/bhken] into heaven, if not the (one hav)ing stepped down [kataba/$] out of heaven, the son of man.”

This statement by Jesus fits somewhat uneasily in the immediate context of vv. 9-12. Indeed, it is not entirely clear how it relates to the preceding vv. 11-12, and it certainly could have existed as a separate saying by Jesus (in some form). In the context of the Discourse, the statement affirms Jesus’ ability (and authority) to speak of “heavenly (thing)s” (e)poura/nia, lit. “[thing]s above the heaven[s]”)—such as the Divine/spiritual teaching in vv. 3-8, along with the exposition that follows in vv. 16-21. Only someone who comes from heaven is able to speak of heavenly things.

Verse 13 begins with the conjunction kai/, which could be translated conjunctively as “and”, or emphatically as “indeed”. In either case, the conjunction connects the saying with the prior vv. 11-12.

The saying itself uses the same verb pair as in 1:51 (see the previous study): a)nabai/nw (“step up”, i.e., go/come up) and katabai/nw (“step down”, i.e., go/come down). In our discussion on 1:51, the special theological significance of these verbs, in the Gospel of John, was noted. More to the point, they carry Christological importance. Though the immediate subject of the verbs in 1:51 was the angels (“Messengers of God”), the “son of man” (Jesus) is clearly the focus of that vision; and, indeed, throughout the remainder of the Gospel, these verbs are applied to the person of the Son (Jesus). This Johannine usage makes it absolutely clear, if there were any doubt, that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) refers to Jesus, and is thus used here by Jesus as a self-reference.

There are three component-phrases to this saying, and we shall examine them each in turn.

(a) “no one has stepped up into heaven”

In a strictly literal sense, this would mean that no one (i.e., no human being) has ever gone up (ascended) into heaven. It is possible that the Gospel writer intends us to understand the statement in just this way; however, if so, then the author (and Jesus as the speaker) would be rejecting well-established traditions regarding figures such as Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24), Moses, and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1, 11f). It is, I think, better to view the verb a)nabai/nw here in its special (Johannine) Christological meaning. That is to say, no other person has ever “stepped up” to heaven, being exalted by God in the manner that Jesus was.

In the immediate context of vv. 11-12, the idea of someone ascending to heaven relates to that person’s ability/authority to speak of heavenly things (see above). A human being (such as Elijah) who went up to heaven could presumably speak, in a certain way, about “heavenly things”, but not in the manner of the Son (Jesus); on this point, see below.

(b) “if not the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven”

The compound negative particle ei) mh/ (“if not”) is conditional, and usually is meant in an exceptive sense (i.e., “except [for]”)—that is, no one has ever “stepped up” into heaven except for… . The only person who has ever “stepped up” into heaven is the person who has (first) “stepped down” from heaven. This person is designated by the substantive verbal noun (participle) kataba/$ with the definite article—o( kataba/$ (“the [one hav]ing stepped down”). Such use of the articular substantive participle is typical of Johannine style, and there are many examples occurring throughout the Gospel and Letters (too many to cite here). The syntax allows the author/speaker to express an essential or definitive characteristic of a person (or group). The qualifying prepositional expression “out of heaven” (e)k tou= ou)ranou=) fills out the characterizing phrase: “the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven”.

This is a vital element of the Johannine Christology—viz., declaring and affirming Jesus’ heavenly origin, and his identity as the Son sent (down) from heaven by God the Father. For more on this, see section (c) below.

A word should be said about the tenses of the two verbs. The verb a)nabai/nw is in the perfect tense, while the participle of katabai/nw is in the aorist tense; in English, both would essentially need to be translated “has stepped up/down”, but note the distinction (indicated by parentheses) in the translation above.

If the author (and/or Jesus as the speaker) intends a meaningful distinction here between the two tenses, and it is not simply a stylistic difference, what would this be? The aorist is generally used as the past tense, typically referring to an event which took place at a specific point in the past. In this case, it would refer to the Son (Jesus) “stepping down” out of heaven at some point in the past—specifically, we may assume, from the Gospel standpoint, that this refers to the incarnation described in 1:14ff. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is identified as the pre-existent Son (or Word [Logos], in the Prologue), who was sent to earth (from heaven) by God the Father. The “stepping down”, then, would refer to Jesus’ appearance on earth as a human being (see below).

The perfect tense of a)nabai/nw is more problematic. A perfect tense is typically used for a past action (or condition) the results/effects of which continue into the present. The sense may be that no one has ever (in the past) “stepped up” into heaven, a fact that continues to be true up to the present moment. This would give greater emphasis to the idea that Jesus (the present speaker) is the only one to do so.

(c) “the son of man”

Some manuscripts and versional (Syriac, Latin) witnesses include the qualifying phrase o( w&n e)n tw=| ou)ranw=| (“the [one] being in heaven”). The expression “the son of man” appears here so abruptly, without further explanation, that it would have been natural for scribes to add an explaining phrase such as this. On the other hand, copyists might just as well have deleted the phrase as being redundant or superfluous. The shorter reading is, I think, much to be preferred, though the matter is far from decisive; however, I would point out that the expression “in heaven” (with the preposition e)n) is not at all typical of Johannine usage, and occurs nowhere else in the Gospel (or Letters).

The expression “the son of man” is apposite to the phrase “the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven”, identifying the son of man (i.e., Jesus himself) as this person. That is, Jesus is the one who has “stepped down” out of heaven. In the context of the Johannine Christology, as noted above, the verb katabai/nw refers to Jesus’ heavenly origin, and to his identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father.

Does this usage imply that “the son of man” should here be understood as the title of a heavenly figure, with whom Jesus is identified? Many scholars believe so (or would assume so), and yet the evidence is highly questionable, when examined in detail. If it is intended as a title, then the heavenly figure called “the son of man” must refer to the one “like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14. As we have seen, at least two of the Synoptic sayings (Mark 13:26; 14:62 pars) allude to Dan 7:13f, and it is possible that other eschatological sayings assume the same traditional background. On this, see Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings. The question of the influence of Dan 7:13f on the occurrences of the expression will be discussed more extensively at a later point in this series.

Other commentators would emphasize the incarnation of the Son here, in the use of the expression “the son of man”. Since “son of man”, as a Semitic idiom, denotes a human being, it would be natural that it signify here the incarnation. Indeed, such an interpretation would very much fit the sense of the statement in v. 13: the Son “stepped down” from heaven to earth, and became a human being, viz., Jesus as “th(is) son of man”.

In the continuation of this study, we will examine the following “son of man” saying in verse 14.

December 20: Psalm 89:6-9

The daily notes for December will be focused on Psalm 89, as an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. The Gospel tradition, as presented by the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke, preserves a definite emphasis on Jesus’ identity as the royal (Davidic) Messiah; the Lukan narrative, in particular, features this component rather prominently (1:32-33, 68-69; 2:1-4ff, 10-11ff).

The Psalm was introduced, along with an exposition of the opening prologue-section (vv. 2-5), in the Sunday study. The remainder of the Psalm will be treated in this series of daily notes.

Division 1: Vv. 6-19 [5-18]

Psalm 89:6-9 [5-8]
Verse 6 [5]

“(The) heavens throw (praise for) your wondrous (devotion), YHWH—
yes, (and for) your firmness—in (the) assembly of (the) holy (one)s.”

The praise of YHWH, introduced as a theme in vv. 2-3 (cf. the introductory study), is developed in vv. 6-19. This couplet begins the hymn of praise. The location of the heavens builds upon verse 3, with the emphasis on YHWH as the Creator (and Sovereign) of the universe. God is to be praised (lit. thrown praise, vb hd*y`), in particular, for his faithfulness. In vv. 2-5, this fundamental attribute and characteristic was expressed by the pair of nouns ds#j# and hn`Wma$. The former noun means “goodness, kindness”, often in the sense of “loyalty, devotion”, while the latter means “firmness,” often in the sense of “faithfulness, trustworthiness,” etc.

The noun hn`Wma$ occurs again here, but this time is paired with al#P#, which denotes “something wonderful”. This word often refers to the miraculous/mighty deeds performed by YHWH (on behalf of His people); but here, the context (and pairing with hn`Wma$) suggests rather that His covenant loyalty is being emphasized. Part of YHWH’s covenantal obligation is to provide protection for His people (the faithful ones)—a theme often featured in the Psalms; this protection entails the exercise of power, including His control over the natural forces, and the performance of wondrous deeds. The verb al*P* is used in Lev 22:21; 27:2; Num 15:3, 8, in the context of fulfilling a vow, which certainly would relate to the idea YHWH’s faithfulness to a binding agreement (covenant). In this light, I have translated al#P# above as “wondrous (devotion)”.

The parallel with “heavens” in line 1, clearly shows that “holy (one)s” (<yv!d)q=) refers to heavenly beings. As the Creator, YHWH is the supreme Sovereign over all other divine/heavenly beings. The image here is of the entire assembly (lh*q*) of divine beings surrounding YHWH (presumably on His ‘throne’) and giving praise to Him.

Verse 7 [6]

“For who in (all) the cloud(s) can (be) set next to YHWH,
(who) is like unto YHWH among (the) sons of (the) mighty (one)s?”

This couplet emphasizes YHWH supremacy and incomparability. None of the divine/heavenly beings can be compared to Him. This is expressed by the parallel verbs Er^u* and hm*D*. The first verb means “set in order (or in a row)”, and, more generally, “arrange”; however, this setting/arranging can carry the more figurative meaning of “compare” (i.e., by setting one thing alongside another). The second verb (hm*D*) has the basic meaning “be like, resemble”.

The noun qj^v^ (“cloud, vapor”) in the first line parallels “heavens” in v. 6, while the expression “sons of the mighty (one)s” obviously parallels “holy (one)s”, referring to the divine/heavenly beings (as a group). The plural <yl!a@ (plur. of la@) means “mighty (one)s”, or (more conventionally in English) “gods”, i.e., divine beings. The usual word for “God”, <yh!l)a$ is essentially an extended variant of the same plural; cf. my earlier notes on El and Elohim as names/titles of God.

By all accounts, the early Israelite religion was monotheistic in a qualified sense. That is to say, the emphasis was on YHWH’s superiority to all other divine beings, rather than claiming that no other divine beings existed at all. In the light of the more absolute monotheism of later periods, the expression “sons of God” was understood as referring to heavenly beings (i.e., angels), but not gods or deities per se. For more on this, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 82, as well as my note(s) on Deut 32:8.

Verse 8 [7]

“A Mighty (One) terrifying among (the) council of holy (one)s,
great and fearsome over all (those) surrounding Him!”

Again the superiority (and sovereignty) of YHWH is emphasized, this time in terms of the fear/awe with which even the divine/heavenly beings regard Him. This idea is expressed by another pair of (parallel) verbs—Jr^u* and ar*y`. The Niphal (passive) participle of these verbs, however, is a bit difficult to translate. The first verb, Jr^u* means “be terrified” (or transitively, “cause/bring terror”), while the second, ar*y`, is the common verb meaning “fear, be afraid”. The passive participle forms denote something like “being feared”, probably in the sense of “to be feared”, “to be held in dread”. Rather than emphasizing the response of the heavenly beings, I have chosen to translate the participles as Divine attributes/characteristics (“terrifying”, “fearsome”) which, of course, deserve the proper response of fear and awe.

Verse 9 [8]

“YHWH, Mighty (One) of (the) armies,
who (is) like unto you?
O strong(est) YH,
how your firmness surrounds you!”

Metrically, this verse (which climaxes the strophe-unit of vv. 6-9) diverges from the general (4-beat) couplet pattern of vv. 6-8. I parse it as a pair of shorter couplets (3+2 and 2+2), loosely parallel in form. The first line of each couplet contains a vocative address to YHWH, emphasizing (again) His power/strength. The second line reiterates the unit’s theme of the incomparability of YHWH, and His absolute superiority over all other divine/heavenly beings.

In v. 8, YHWH was referred to by the ancient Semitic term la@, the word for deity, which I understand as more or less meaning “Mighty (One)”, the plural <yl!a@ (“mighty [one]s”) being used in v. 7. Here, in v. 9, the expanded plural <yh!l)a$ (the customary Hebrew word for “God” in the OT) is used; it is best understood, when applied to YHWH in a monotheistic context, as an intensive or comprehensive plural (i.e., “Mightiest [One]”). In the second couplet, the adjective /ys!j& (“mighty, strength”) is used, as a similar (if much more rare) Divine title.

YHWH’s incomparable might/strength is defined in relation to the other divine/heavenly beings (<yl!a@). He is their Creator and absolute Sovereign. This is indicated by the title “YHWH of (the) armies” (toab*x= hwhy), here in the expanded form “YHWH Mightiest (One) of (the) armies” (toab*x= yh@l)a$ hwhy). The “armies” refer to the heavenly beings, conceived of as a vast army of entities. They were created by YHWH and are under His control/command.

This army of heavenly beings (and their domain/power) includes the various forces of nature, especially those located in the skies/heavens—the sun, moon, stars, and, in particular, the wind and rain and all other storm-phenomena. These forces of nature are under God’s control and will ‘fight’, at His command, on behalf of His people. In addition to the famous event at the Reed Sea (Exod 14-15), one may point to the references in Josh 10:12-14 and Judg 5:4-5, 20-21 as famous examples. Descriptions of YHWH in terms of ancient storm-theophany traditions are relatively common in Hebrew tradition (esp. the older poetry); for the Near Eastern background of this imagery, cf. my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

In the final line, this emphasis on YHWH’s strength is expressed again in relation to His faithfulness, with the use (again) of the noun hn`Wma$. The fundamental meaning of this word (“firmness”) covers both aspects—strength/power and faithfulness—of God’s nature and character.

In the next note, we will turn to the second strophe-unit (vv. 10-13) of this section.

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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