Saturday Series: Isaiah 1:2-31

Isaiah 1:2-31

In the Saturday Series studies this March and April, we will be exploring the rich trove of prophetic and historical material in the book of Isaiah. The critical areas, as they relate to the book, were discussed in last week’s introductory study. This week we will begin turning our eye to the text of the book, in practical terms, looking at a number of key passages and portions. Our analysis opens with the opening oracle in chapter 1. As the superscription in 2:1 serves just as well for the introduction to Isaiah (and certainly to chapters 2-39), many commentators feel that chapter 1 was added at a later point in the formation and redaction of the book, serving as a summary of various elements and themes that would be found throughout—both in chapters 2-39, and the so-called “deutero”- and “trito”-Isaian portions (chaps. 40-66). And, just as the book itself is composite, so the introductory chapter has a composite character, apparently including pieces of various genres, and areas of emphasis, with indications of different time-periods (perhaps) being referenced. A careful study of the chapter will bear out this evaluation, to some extent.

Isaiah 1:2-3

“Hear, (you) heavens, and give ear, (you) earth!
for YHWH opens (His mouth) to speak:
Sons have I helped grow (strong) and raised (them high),
and (yet) they have broken (trust) with me!
An ox knows (the one) purchasing [i.e. who purchases] it
and a donkey (knows) the trough of its master,
(but yet) Yisrael does not know—
my people do not recognize (this) themselves!”

The opening call to heaven and earth resembles the beginning of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 (discussed in earlier studies):

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will open to speak,
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” (v. 1)

Indeed, there would seem to be a number of Deuteronomic themes and points of emphasis here in chapter 1, include several that relate specifically to the Song of Moses and its context. The background involves the idea of the binding agreement (or ‘covenant’, Heb. b®rî¾) in the ancient Near East, the religious setting of which entailed calling on various deities as witnesses to the agreement—and to bring divine judgment if either party violates its terms. Since in Deuteronomy, et al, the binding agreement is between Israel and God (YHWH), there is no need to call on the Deity as a witness; instead, all of creation is called—i.e. heaven and earth, which were often considered to be primary deities in the ancient world.

Generally speaking, chapter 1 functions as a judgment-oracle, declaring the judgment that would come upon Israel—specifically Judah and Jerusalem—for violating the covenant with YHWH. Within the confines of the agreement, the Israelite people are recognized, symbolically, as God’s children (“sons”), His own people. This makes their violation, literally a breaking of trust (vb p¹ša±), a breaking away from God, all the more tragic; it is like a son betraying his own father. This motif, too, is part of the Deuteronomic language expressed in the Song of Moses (vv. 5-6, 11ff, 19-20), and is something of a common-place in the Prophets.

A bit of irony is made use of in verse 3, to emphasize the point. Even an animal (ox or donkey) knows enough to be faithful to the one who owns it (and feeds it), and yet Israel, God’s own children and people, do not seem to know or recognize their relationship to Him!

Isaiah 1:4

“Oh, (you) sinning nation,
people heavy (with) crooked(ness)!
Seed of (those) doing evil,
sons of (those) bringing ruin!
They have abandoned YHWH,
despised the Holy (One) of Yisrael!
They have turned aside, back(ward)!”

Verse 4 is a woe-oracle in miniature, beginning with a striking alliterative declaration, the effect of which is almost impossible to capture in translation:

Hôy gôy µœ‰¢°
“Oh, sinning nation…”

The final line of v. 4 is absent from the old Greek (Septuagint/LXX), but exists in the great Isaiah scroll from Qumran (and other MSS). While perfunctory in context, these two words (n¹zœrû °¹µôr) help to establish the theme of Israel’s wickedness (and corrupt religious practice) as defined in terms of false religion and idolatry—i.e., turning away from God to follow after other deities. In the 8th-7th century Prophets, judgment comes to Israel as a result of their adopting false religious practices; however, the emphasis here in chapter 1, as in many of the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophetic oracles, is on the corruption of religion because of the wider evils tolerated in society (i.e., injustice, mistreatment of the poor, etc). Thus there is here an interesting juxtaposition of earlier and later themes, very much typical of the book of Isaiah as a whole.

The title “the Holy One of Israel” (q®dôš yi´r¹°¢l) is distinctive to Isaiah, occurring repeatedly throughout the book, though some commentators believe that it tends to belong to a later stage/period of authorship. It may derive from the Temple liturgy (cf. Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:19; and note the context of Isa 6:1ff; Blenkinsopp, p. 183).

Isaiah 1:7-9

“Your land (is) a desolation—
your cities burned (with) fire,
your soil, (there) in front of you,
(those) turning aside are devouring it—
and a desolation like the overthrow of <Sodom>!
And Daughter ‚iyyôn is left (after it)
like a covered (shelter) in a vineyard,
like a lodging-place in a cucumber-patch,
like a city watched (by those surrounding it)!
(If it) were not that YHWH of the Armies (of Heaven)
had left (behind) for us (just) a few survivor(s),
we would have been (just) like Sodom,
(and) bear a resemblance to ‘Amorah!”

This again is an oracle in miniature—a judgment-oracle, declaring the judgment that will come upon Judah (and Jerusalem), in the form of a military attack, along with the devastation that comes in the aftermath of invasion. This aspect touches upon the area of historical criticism. If this is an authentic Isaian oracle (or at least from the late-8th century B.C.), then there are two possibilities for a military invasion of Judah that could fit this prophecy: (1) the invasion by the Northern Israelite kingdom and Aram-Syria (734-733), or (2) the Assyrian attack under Sennacherib (701), in which Jerusalem survived the devastation, but only barely so. The latter option is preferable, and well fits the historical scenario, of Isaiah’s own time, emphasized throughout much of chapters 2-39. Moreover, the imagery in verse 8, of Zion (Jerusalem) completely surrounded, certainly fits the circumstances of the Assyrian siege.

Rhetorically, this Judgment is framed by the ancient tradition of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Judah/Jerusalem barely avoids the fate of their complete devastation. The use of the noun mahp¢kâ (from the verb h¹pak) in the last line of verse 7, suggests the following word in the Masoretic text (also in the Qumran MSS), z¹rîm (“[those] turning aside”, i.e. foreigners, strangers, passers-by), repeated from the previous line, may be an error. Elsewhere the noun mahp¢kâ is always used in the context of the “overthrow” of Sodom; the motif of Sodom/Gomorrah here raises the strong possibility that the text originally read s§dœm (<d)s=) instead of z¹rîm (<yr!z`). Textual emendation should be done with extreme caution, and as rarely as possible, especially when the manuscript support for it is slight (or otherwise non-existent). However, here I do tentatively emend the final word of verse 7, indicated by the angle brackets in the translation above.

Isaiah 1:10-17

“Hear the speech [i.e. word] of YHWH,
(you) leaders of Sodom!
Give ear to the instruction of our Mightiest [Elohim],
(you) people of ‘Amorah!
For what (purpose) to me (are) your many slaughtered (offering)s?
(So) says YHWH—
I have had (my) fill of (the) rising (smoke) of strong (ram)s,
and (the burning) fat of well-fed (cattle),
and the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goats
I take no delight (in them)!
For you come to be seen (by) my Face—
(but) who seeks this from your hand,
(the) trampling of my enclosures?
You must not continue bringing (these) empty offerings

This exposition of Israel’s sin lies at the heart of the chapter 1 oracle. That it effectively represents the covenant-violation is clearly indicated by the repetition of the call to the divine witness (heaven and earth) in the opening lines of verse 10 (see verse 2 above, and compare Deut 32:1). However, there is no suggestion here of the traditional violation of the covenant, i.e. of abandoning YHWH to worship other (Canaanite) deities, despite the use of this language in verse 4 (see above). Instead, the people continue to worship YHWH dutifully, at least in terms of coming to the Jerusalem Temple and presenting the sacrificial offerings, etc, required by the Torah. However, these offerings have been rendered “empty” (š¹w°) and detestable to God because of the evil and injustice that exists throughout society (vv. 16-17ff). This is a very different sense of the corruption of religion, and one that is more in keeping with the later Prophetic tradition, though it can be found prominently in the 8th-7th century Prophets as well (see, for example, Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8).

From a form- and genre-critical standpoint, verses 10-17 are in some ways the most consistently poetic of the chapter. Throughout, the section utilizes a 3+2 bicolon format, with synonymous (and synthetic) parallelism, disrupted occasionally by emphatic points of tension. The 3+2 meter (a 3-beat line followed by a 2-beat line) is referred to as the “limping” or qînâ meter, often characteristic of a lament (also in vv. 21-23).

Isaiah 1:18ff

It may worth here considering the structure of the oracle, from a form- and literary-critical standpoint. In verses 10-31, judgment-oracles (vv. 10-17, 21-26) alternate with prophecies of salvation/restoration (vv. 18-20, 27-31) for the people. As a rhetorical (and poetic) device, a judicial setting is indicated in vv. 18-20, tied to the ancient context of adjudicating the binding agreement of the covenant—i.e. whether or not it has been violated. Only here this imagery has been turned into an exhortation for the people, indicating that it is still possible to re-establish their relationship in the binding agreement with God. The basic terms of the covenant are stated clearly in verses 19-20:

“If you are willing, and would hear [i.e. are obedient],
you shall eat (the) good of the land;
but if you refuse and resist/rebel [i.e. be disobedient],
you shall be eaten by the sword!”

In verses 21-23ff, we find another judgment-oracle, this time emphasizing more clearly the injustice in society, a wickedness that turns the once-loyal city of Jerusalem into a prostitute. The closing lines of this oracle (vv. 24b-26), like those earlier (vv. 16-17), leave open the way to avoid the coming Judgment, and from a literary standpoint, function as a transition point into the prophecies of salvation (vv. 27-31 and 18-20). The opening lines of the final section make clear that the city of Jerusalem will be saved in the judgment, but only those in her who repent:

‚iyyôn will be ransomed in (the) judgment,
and (the one)s in her (who) turn back [i.e. repent], in justice;
but destruction together (for those) breaking away and sinning,
and (the one)s abandoning YHWH will be completely (destroy)ed!”

In the closing lines of the chapter, the traditional imagery of abandoning God to follow after other deities, embracing false religious practices, etc, comes back into view. The motif of pagan cultic garden-sites functions as a kind of antithesis to the true religion centered at the Temple sanctuary of Zion, but also, perhaps, to the tradition of the Garden of God accessible to humankind at the beginning of creation. Indeed, the language and symbolism in these verses seems to parallel the final chapters of the book (Trito-Isaiah) with their eschatological emphasis, both in terms of salvation and judgment (e.g. 56:1; 57:1ff; 59:9, 16-17; 61:3, 10-11; 63:1; 65:3, 11-13; 66:3-5, 17, 24).

Thus, we can see rather clearly, I think, how the complexity of the book of Isaiah is reflected in this opening chapter. A wide range of themes, genres, sets of symbols, and literary-rhetorical devices can be discerned, which, in a very real sense, mirrors those of the book as a whole. It is certainly possible that the chapter represents an authentic 8th-7th century oracle; however, it seems more likely that it is an assemblage of different oracle-forms and pieces, which an author (or editor) has combined to form a powerful, though composite, piece of prophetic poetry. In terms of the final book of Isaiah, its primary purpose is literary—introducing the many themes and motifs which will be developed throughout the oracles, etc, that follow.

Next week, we will turn to the second chapter, which may be considered as the beginning of the book proper (esp. of chapters 2-39). This time, we will focus on a shorter passage—verses 1-5—devoting our study to a more detailed exegesis. I hope that you will join me, next Saturday.

February 12: Revelation 21:27

Revelation 21:27

“And (in) no (way) shall all (that is) [i.e. anything] common come into her, and (even more) the (one) doing (what is) stinking and false, (none shall come in) if not [i.e. except for] the (one)s having been written in the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of life of [i.e. belonging to] the Lamb.”

Verse 27 essentially concludes the description of the “new Jerusalem”, and it is, I think, fundamental to a proper understanding of the vision as a whole, especially the details in vv. 24-26 (discussed in the previous note). The declaration in verse 27 defines who will dwell in the city; and this definition has both a negative (who/what will not) and positive (who will) aspect. Dwelling within the city is here expressed in terms of entering it (vb ei)se/rxomai, “come into”).

    • Negative—who/what does not come into the city:
      “all (that is) common” (pa=n koino/n)— “common” (koino/$) referring to the ordinary things of the world, in direct contrast to that which is holy (a%gio$) and of God.
      “the (one) doing (what is) stinking and false” —the noun bde/lugma (“stinking [thing]”) refers generally to the evil and wickedness in the world (characteristic of the “great city”, Babylon, 17:4-5); it also signifies a special kind of eschatological wickedness, or idolatry, that desecrates the sacred things of God (cf. Mark 13:14 par, citing Daniel 9:27 LXX); the related verb bdelu/ssw was used earlier in verse 8.
    • Positive—who does come into the city:
      “the (one)s having been written in the scroll of life of the Lamb” —this is a way of identifying believers in Christ, also used in 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, often in direct contrast to those who are not true believers; the idiom is based, in part, on citizenship-rolls in the Greco-Roman world, i.e., a list of names of those who rightly belong to a particular city.

Based on this contrast, the inclusion of the neuter pa=n koino/n (“all [that is] common”) seems a bit out of place; it is derived from the Old Testament imagery, and especially of the future/ideal Jerusalem as the “holy city” (Isa 52:1 and 35:8; cf. also Zech 14:19-20; Psalms of Solomon 17:30; 11Q19 [Temple Scroll] 47:3-5). In a technical religious sense, to be “common” means it is impure or ‘unclean’. The “new Jerusalem”, as the dwelling place of God, is holy and sacred throughout, as is indicated by the purity and clarity of its design (vv. 11, 15-21).

This dualism of holy vs. common, together with the reference to the “nations” that, apparently, still surround the “new Jerusalem”, creates certain difficulties of interpretation, as was mentioned in the previous note. If believers dwell within the city, then are these nations and kings non-believers? Were not all the non-believers punished/destroyed in the Judgment scenes of the prior chapters? Who exactly are these “nations”?

In the previous note, I touched upon the most relevant and informative parallel to this imagery in the book of Revelation—the vision scene of chapter 7, with its two-fold depiction of believers as the people of God:

    • 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8)
    • A great multitude from all the Nations (vv. 9ff)

In early Christianity, the imagery found in prophecies such as Isaiah 60:3ff, with its theme of the nations coming (to Jerusalem) to give homage and worship to the God of Israel, was applied directly to the proclamation of the Gospel and early Christian mission to the Gentiles. In other words, the eschatological/Messianic imagery was re-interpreted in the context of Gentiles (the “nations”) coming to faith in Christ. These Gentile believers, together with their fellow Israelite/Jewish believers, formed the true people of God, the people of the new Covenant. Paul was the most fervent and consistent advocate of this new theological and religious approach, but it can be seen throughout the New Testsment, and features prominently in the visionary narrative of Revelation (as has been discussed). The symbolism of the nations and their gifts in vv. 24-26 must be interpreted in this light. Consider, then, the details of this description:

    • “the nations will walk about through her light” —believers from the nations, who are in the city (and so walk through the light of God which pervades it); in a sense, the nations, as such (i.e. the ethnic divisions and distinctions), are sanctified and made holy this way.
    • “the kings of the earth carry their honor/splendor into her” —the presence of believers is here depicted as a gift from the nations (their kings); through the coming of Gentiles into the city (as believers), the nations, figuratively speaking, give all that is their true honor and splendor—believers being the glory (do/ca) of the nations.
    • “her gate-ways certainly shall not be shut by day…” —these ‘gifts’ are eternal, they are not based not natural (worldly) or temporal factors, “day” now being derived from the light of God Himself, without any darkness or “night”; for believers, these gate-ways are always open, while they are closed/barred to the wicked.
    • “and they will bring the honor and the value of the nations into her” —this essentially re-states the situation in v. 24b; the dual-reference to the honor (do/ca) of the nations is best understood as (1) the entry of believers in the city, followed by (2) the specific honor/worship of God which they give, eternally, as they come ever through the always-open gates.

This imagery of the nations coming to faith in Christ may seem incongruous with the previous visions, if we attempt to read them as a continuous and consistent narrative. In point of fact, however, chapters 21-22 represent the climax of the book, in which all of the previous themes, and many of the earlier visionary symbols, are brought together, and restated in new forms and combinations. Throughout the book, Old Testament motifs, which would have originally related to Israel (as the people of God), have been applied to believers. Moreover, even the Scriptures, which had been given a Messianic and eschatological interpretation in Jewish writings of the period, have been reinterpreted in light of Christian eschatology. This is certainly true of Isa 60:3ff in relation to the description of the “new Jerusalem”. In 11:1ff, believers are concentrated in the Temple sanctuary, while outside the “great city” is overrun by the wickedness of the nations. Now the situation has been transformed, and the entire city is the dwelling of believers, while the nations eternally bring holy gifts (that of the believers themselves) into her.

While the description of the city proper concludes at the end of chapter 21, the theme of the “new Jerusalem” continues in the opening verses of chapter 22 (vv. 1-5), which are also transitional to the final sections of the book. We will consider the scenario of 22:1-5 in the next daily note.

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February 11: Revelation 21:24-26

Revelation 21:24-26

This is the second of three parts of the description in verses 22-27; it deals with the relationship between the “new Jerusalem”, and the light of God’s presence in it (cf. the previous note on vv. 22-23), with the surrounding nations. This mention of “the nations” (ta\ e&qnh) is a bit surprising, given the apparent elimination of non-believers—their defeat, judgment, and destruction—in the preceding visions (16:12-21ff; 19:11-21; 20:7-15). Before dealing with this aspect of the interpretation, let us consider verses 24-26 themselves:

“And the nations will walk about through her light, and the kings of the earth will bear their honor/splendor [do/ca] into her—and her gate-ways shall not be closed (at all) by day, and there will be no night there—and they [i.e. the kings] will bring the honor [do/ca] and value of the nations into her.”

This language and imagery derives from the oracle of Isaiah 60 (vv. 3, 5, 11), even as verse 23 alluded to Isa 60:19 (cf. the previous note). It is thus traditional, drawing upon a key Scripture passage understood as a prophecy of the Messianic period and future New Age. How does it relate to the vision in chapter 21, and to the visionary narrative of Revelation as a whole? Here it may be worth considering just how much this description depends on Isa 60:3ff; note the wording in each phrase:

“And the nations will walk about through her light, and the kings of the earth…” (v. 24)
“And (the) nations will walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa 60:3, translated from the Hebrew)

“…nations…kings… (they) carry their honor/splendor into her” (v. 24)
“…the strength of the nations will come to you” (Isa 60:5)

“and her gate-ways shall not be closed (at all) by day, and…night…” (v. 25)
“Your gates shall be open continually day and night, they shall not be shut up [i.e. closed]…” (Isa 60:11a)

“…and they shall bring the splendor/honor…of the nations into her” (v. 26)
“…for (the) bringing (of) the strength of the nations to you…” (Isa 60:11b)

The Greek do/ca (“esteem, honor, splendor”) corresponds here to the Hebrew ly]j^, which generally means “strength”, but can also connote “wealth, worth, value”, especially when used of people. The main difference between verse 25 and Isa 60:11a is that, in Isaiah the gates are open “day and night”, i.e. continually; however, in Revelation it is always daytime—there is no night in the city. This particular detail derives from Zech 14:7:

“And there shall be one day, known to YHWH, (that is) not day and not night; but it shall be (that), at the setting (of the sun) [i.e. evening], it will be light.”

As a Messianic and eschatological prophecy, the oracle in Isaiah 60 draws upon the fundamental idea of the future restoration of Israel—a time when once again, as in the kingdom of David and Solomon, the nations will give honor and homage to Israel. From a Messianic standpoint, it relates to the motif of the defeat and subjugation of the nations, who will bring tribute to the Israelite kingdom, centered at Jerusalem (Isa 45:14 [note also v. 23]; 49:23; 60:5-16; 61:6; Mic 4:13; Zeph 2:9; 3:9-10; Zech 14:16; Tobit 13:11; Ps Sol 17:34-35; 1QM 12:13f, etc). Along with this portrait, there developed the more positive tradition of the nations coming to join Israel in worshiping the one true God (YHWH), at the Temple in Jerusalem; this tradition even allowed for the idea that many in the nations would be converted, becoming part of God’s holy people. All of these themes are highlighted in the verses (3, 5, 11) utilized here in the book of Revelation. Of the many other Old Testament passages which express the hope that the nations will come to learn the truth of God, along with Israel herself, cf. Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-4; Jer 3:17; Psalm 22:27-28; 86:9; 138:4; Isa 45:22; 49:6; 56:6-8; 60:3 (also 66:19); Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; (cf. also 14:16ff); and, in later Jewish writings, e.g., Tobit 14:6ff; 1 Enoch 90:30-33, etc.

Among early Christians, this nationalistic portrait was given an entirely new interpretation—now the idea of the restoration of Israel, and, with it, the inclusion of the nations, was understood almost entirely in terms of the mission to the Gentiles. This is certainly the case in the book of Acts (cf. my earlier article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”), and is also reflected in the Lukan Gospel, by the incorporation of Isaian prophecies into passages such as 2:29-32. Paul had much the same understanding of his own mission, as can be seen in his preaching and at many points in his letters.

The tendency in early Christianity was to see believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles both—as the true people of God, with believers becoming in the new Covenant what Israel was in the old. Given the importance of this theme in the book of Revelation, and especially here in chapter 21, the symbolism of the nations must be understood and interpreted in this light. The closest parallel is found in the vision of chapter 7, with its two-fold vision of believers as the people of God:

    • 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8)
    • A great multitude from all the Nations (vv. 9ff)

How, then, should the specific details of 21:24-26 be understood? This will be discussed in the next daily note, when we look at verse 27.

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February 9: Revelation 21:22-23

Revelation 21:22-27

Having depicted the heavenly city of the “new Jerusalem” generally, and its walls (gate-ways and foundations) in particular, the vision proceeds to describe life within the city, in two respects: (1) its dependence on the presence of God Himself (and of Christ the Lamb), and (2) its relation to the ‘outside world’ (the nations). This section may be divided into three parts:

    • The presence of God and Christ takes the place of outward, earthly forms (vv. 22-23)
    • The surrounding nations are drawn to this eternal Light (vv. 24-26)
    • Who and what is allowed into the City (vv. 27)
Revelation 21:22-23

When compared to ordinary human cities, the situation in the “new Jerusalem” is very different, in that the presence of God (and Christ) takes the place of outward, earthly forms. This is symbolized two ways—one religious (the Temple), and the other natural (light).

“And I did not see (any) shrine [i.e. Temple/sanctuary] in her, for the Lord God the All-mighty is her shrine, (as) also (is) the Lamb.” (v. 22)

The Jerusalem Temple sanctuary (nao/$) plays a key role in the book of Revelation at several points. This, of course, is symbolic, and no real conclusions can be made regarding the date of the book, based on these references—i.e., whether it was written before or after the destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.). Early Christians were perfectly capable of making important use of the Temple, figuratively, long after the physical building-complex in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Christian use of the Temple as a symbol preceded its destruction by several decades, going back to Jesus’ own words and the early Gospel Tradition (on the relationship between Jesus and the Temple, cf. my earlier article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”). A tendency to spiritualize the Temple is found throughout the New Testament. Already Jesus and the earliest believers appear to have relativized the importance of the Temple (and its cultus), envisioning a different purpose for its (symbolic) space (cf. my article on the Temple in Luke-Acts). Earlier in this series, I discussed the significance of the Temple in Jewish eschatology and Messianism.

Of special importance was the early Christian tendency to identify the Temple with the person of Jesus himself (Matt 12:6; Mark 15:38 par; John 2:19ff [cf. Mk 14:58 par]; Eph 2:20); by extension, Paul especially identified believers—individually and collectively (the ‘body of Christ’)—with the Temple building (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22). The book of Revelation clearly recognizes this same sort of symbolism (3:12, etc), while retaining a more concrete sense of the Jerusalem Temple as an actual sanctuary. Let us briefly survey the visionary passages which feature the idea of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$):

    • As part of the vision(s) of chapter 7, believers who have come through the period of distress now have an exalted position before the throne of God and “give service to Him day and night in His shrine” (7:15). Clearly this is a heavenly sanctuary, centered around the very presence of God.
    • In 11:1ff, the Jerusalem Temple (its sanctuary and altar) serves symbolically to distinguish faithful believers from the rest of the wicked city (possessed by the nations). The earthly Jerusalem is called the “great city” (v. 8), a label otherwise reserved in Revelation for the wicked “Babylon” (and/or Rome). I discuss the parallels with chapter 21 (the measuring of the city, etc) in a prior note.
    • In 11:19, we read specifically of “the shrine of God th(at is) in heaven”; again the very presence of God is indicated (symbolized traditionally by the golden box [ark] of the Covenant). It is from this heavenly sanctuary that the great Judgment (and the messages regarding it) issues forth.
    • Along this line, voices and Messengers are heard/seen coming from out of the heavenly sanctuary, where God resides—14:15, 17; 15:5-8; 16:1, 17.

Thus, in all but one instance, the sanctuary (nao/$) refers to God’s presence in heaven. Now that God Himself resides directly with his people, i.e. in the “new Jerusalem”, there is certainly no longer any need for a Temple-building as such. Even the idea of a heavenly sanctuary seems to have disappeared, indicating a level of closeness and union, between God and His people, that transcends even the earlier throne-vision scenes in the book. There is also a clear contrast with the scene in 11:1ff:

    • Ch. 11—Believers exist in the world, living in the wicked “great city” (earthly Jerusalem). The faithful are separated from the world only by the space of the sanctuary (understood figuratively), where they gather around the ‘altar’, i.e. in the presence of God.
    • Ch. 21—Believers are no longer limited to the space of the sanctuary, for now the entire city is pure and holy, and there can be nothing wicked in it any longer.

In this regard, the vision in chapter 21 is quite different from similar depictions of a future/glorious Jerusalem, both in the Old Testament and subsequently in Jewish eschatology. The Temple—envisioned as a real, if idealized, building—features prominently in Ezekiel’s great vision (chaps. 40-48), as also in Zech 14:16-21, and other prophetic passages. Of other eschatological references, we may note Tobit 14:5; 1 Enoch 91:13; 2 Baruch 32:4 (cf. Koester, p. 820, and my earlier article). The Qumran Community certainly expected the Temple to be at the center of the New Age, whether in terms of a restoration/transformation of the existing building, or as a new (heavenly) Temple which God will build (or send) in its place—cf. the Temple scroll [11Q19] 29:8-10; 11Q18 frs. 19, 20; 2Q24 fr. 4 l. 3; 4Q400-405.

“And the city held no occasion of [i.e. need for] (the) sun, and not the moon (either), that they would shine forth in her, for the splendor [do/ca] of God gave light (to) her, and her lamp is the Lamb.” (v. 23)

There was also no need in this city for any natural light—that is, coming from the natural sources of the sun and moon. While the vision may genuinely understand the absence of sun and moon as an authentic cosmological detail in the New Age, it would be a mistake for us to make too much of this. The ancient cosmology of the first-century Near East, including the place of the sun and moon in it, is radically different from our expanded view of the universe today. What is most important here is the idea of the sun and moon as the primary sources of natural light. Instead, believers in the “new Jerusalem” rely on supernatural heavenly/divine Light that comes from the very presence of God and Christ.

This motif derives largely from Isaiah 60:19 (also vv. 1-2); as we shall see, a number of details here in verses 22-27 stem from the oracle in Isaiah 60. Of all the elements or features of the natural world, light was chosen, due to its primary religious and theological significance (which hardly needs to be demonstrated), as well as the way in which it marks the beginning of the original creation (Gen 1:3). Since God was the source of the first (created) light, His manifest presence provides an even greater, and truer, source of pure light. Jesus is also identified with light-imagery, especially in the Johannine tradition (Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 7; 2:8-10), where the imagery goes beyond the traditional Messianic associations (Matt 4:16; Luke 1:79; 2:32, etc). The specification here of Jesus as a “lamp”, as opposed to God as the true source of the light, suggests a Christological ‘subordination’ that would make many Christians uncomfortable; however, it generally reflects early Christian thought on the matter, though perhaps formulated not as precisely as we might like. The exalted Jesus rules alongside God the Father, sharing the same authority and power, but he still receives this from the Father. This, too, is a key point of Johannine theology, which Jesus himself declares repeatedly throughout the Gospel Discourses.

In the next daily note, we will explore the next part of this visionary description, of the relation of the city’s Divine Light to the surrounding nations. This presence of the “nations” in the vision raises certain difficulties of interpretation, as we shall see.

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February 8: Revelation 21:18-21

Revelation 21:18-21

These verses continue the description of the heavenly city’s walls—their gates and foundation-stones (cf. the previous note on vv. 15-17).

“And the (material) on which the (wall was) built (around) her (was) iaspis, (and) the city (itself was all) pure gold likened to pure glass.” (v. 18)

The expression h( e)ndw/mhsi$ tou= tei/xou$ is a bit awkward to translate literally into English. It properly would refer to the inner structure on which the wall was built—this is the fundamental meaning of the noun e)ndo/mhsi$ (“building on/in”). Thus the wall at its core was made of precious stone; however, it is perhaps more likely that the full expression is simply intended as a public announcement of how the wall was constructed, i.e. it was made (entirely) of precious stone. The particular stone is i&aspi$ (iaspis, “jasper”), as in the general description of the city’s splendor in verse 11 (cf. the earlier note, and compare its use in 4:3). It is indicative of the divine/heavenly character of the city, extending all the way to its outer walls.

The city itself was golden, or made of “gold”, signifying primarily its purity (kaqaro/$, “clean[ness]”), as would reflect the holiness of God (and His people), but also characteristic of the divine brightness and splendor (or ‘glory’, do/ca, v. 11). Gold is a natural symbol for the splendor of a city or of an ideal/heavenly location. In Tobit 13:16, in the glorious Jerusalem of the future, the towers and fortifications of the city are built with gold. The clarity of the city (“like pure glass”) is another traditional image to express its divine/heavenly character.

“The (foundation)s set down of the (wall) built (round) the city, having been adorned with all (kinds of) valuable stone (are as follows):
the first (stone) set down (was) iaspis, the second saphiros, the third (the) copper-like (stone) [chalkedon], the fourth smaragdos, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardios, the seventh (the) golden-stone [chrysolithos], the eighth beryllos, the ninth topazos, the tenth gold-prason, the eleventh hyakinthos, the twelfth amethystos” (vv. 19-20)

There were twelve large foundation-stones upon which the walls were built, three on each side, corresponding to the twelve apostles (v. 14, see the prior note). Each of these great stones was itself covered (“adorned”, vb kosme/w) with valuable stone of different colors. The imagery is derived primarily from Isaiah 54:11-12, where it applies figuratively to the promise of a future restoration of Israel:

“…see! I will cause your stones to be laid down with (richly-colored) powder, and your foundations with cutting-gems [sappîrîm]; I will set your sun-(marker)s (with) sparkling (stone), and your openings [i.e. gate-ways] with fiery stones, and all your borders with stones of delight!”

The meaning and derivation of the technical terms for precious stones, etc, are as uncertain in the Isaian prophecy as they are in Greek of Revelation. The emphasis in Isa 54:11 however is clearly two-fold: (1) stones decorated with rich color, and (2) the foundation-stones made of precious gems (Hebrew ryP!s^ = Greek sa/pfiro$, ‘sapphire’). The Greek terms primarily relate to different colors and hues, as is indicated by words like “copper-like” (xalkhdw/n) and “golden-stone” (xruso/liqo$); however, the precise meaning remains uncertain, and they are typically transliterated in English, as I have generally done above. The first two are most prominent, and essentially represent all the rest: i&aspi$ (“jasper”) and sa/pfiro$ (“sapphire”). The first is probably meant to indicate a stone of bluish or blue-green color, while the second is bright/light blue, perhaps to be identified as lapis lazuli. They feature in ancient descriptions of theophanic visions, such as in Exodus 24:10 and Ezekiel 1:22ff, 26ff (LXX).

The twelve stones in vv. 19-20 correspond generally with those in two important Scriptural lists (in the Greek LXX)—(1) the stones set in the ‘breastpiece’ (/v#j)) of the Israelite High Priest (Exod 28:17-20; 39:10-13), and (2) the gems present in the Garden of God, mentioned in Ezekiel’s oracle against Tyre (Ezek 28:13). The stones in the High Priest’s breastplate are more immediately relevant, in that they number twelve and correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12ff). They are also laid out in four rows, similar to the four sides of the heavenly city. However, the reference to the Garden of God in Ezekiel 28:13, reflects the heavenly paradise of the “new Jerusalem” (note the allusions to Eden and the Creation account in chap. 22, to be discussed). The idea of jewels/gems growing in the divine/heavenly “garden” is a traditional mythological motif, going back to at least the time of the Gilgamesh Epic in the mid-2nd millennium B.C. (Tablet 9, lines 170-190).

A much later example, closer in time to the book of Revelation, is found in Lucian’s (satirical) True History (11-13), providing a description of a utopian city in the ‘isle of the Blessed’ that is roughly similar to that of the “new Jerusalem”:

“The city itself is all of gold and the wall around it of emerald. It has seven gates, all of planks of cinnamon. The foundations of the city and the ground within its walls are of ivory. There are temples…built of beryl, and in them…altars of amethyst…” (citation and translation from Koester, p. 830)

The description here in Revelation concludes with verse 21:

“…and the twelve gate-ways (are) twelve pearls [margari=tai]—each one of the gate-ways was (made) out of one pearl. And the broad [i.e. main] (street) of the city was pure gold, as of shining through [i.e. clear/transparent] glass.”

In some ways, pearls are even more valuable than gold (e.g., the illustration in Matt 13:45-46), and it would require an immense pearl to construct a massive city gate-way out of one. As noted in verse 18, the city itself was made out of “pure gold” (xrusi/o$ kaqaro/$), and this includes even the wide main street (platei=a) of the city. Paved streets were relatively rare in the ancient world, but the main streets of a number of important Roman cities were given costly pavement, which could be dedicated to particular deities (or to the emperor; Koester, p. 820). Here the main street of the “new Jerusalem” is paved with translucent gold, in honor, we might say, of its dedication to God. In the description of the glorious future Jerusalem in Tobit 13:16, the streets are similarly paved with rubies and precious gems.

There may be an intentional contrast with the ‘main street’ of the earthly Jerusalem, symbolic of the wicked “great city”, in 11:8, where God’s faithful witnesses are slain. As previously noted, the heavenly city of the “new Jerusalem” (the Bride) is set in direct contrast to the wicked “great city” of earth (Babylon, the Prostitute). In 17:4, “Babylon” is similarly adorned with gold and jewels; now it is “Jerusalem” (the Bride) who bears this precious decoration, only in holiness and purity instead of wickedness.

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

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February 7: Revelation 21:15-17

Revelation 21:15-21

Having described the walls of the “new Jerusalem” generally, and in terms of the twin motif of their gate-ways and foundation-stones (cf. the previous note), verses 15-21 proceed to give an account of the walls of the city in more detail. This covers two aspects: (1) their overall size and shape, reflecting that of the city itself (vv. 15-17), and (2) their substance, appearance, and decoration (vv. 18-21). Both aspects are highly symbolic, and build upon the prior motif of the twelve gate-ways and foundation-stones—relating to the tribes of Israel and the apostles, symbolizing the people of God, according to the old and new Covenants, respectively.

Revelation 21:15-17

“And the (one) speaking with me held a golden reed (for) measur(ing), (so) that he might measure the city and her gate-ways and (the wall) built (around) her.” (verse 15)

The “one speaking” refers to the Messenger who announced the descent of the heavenly city in verse 9. There it was referred to as a bride, and, keeping with this feminine imagery, I have translated the feminine pronouns here literally (“city”, po/li$, being grammatically feminine). The Angel with the measuring-reed, and the measuring of the city, derives from the vision in Ezekiel 40:3ff (cp. the Qumran texts 4Q554 fr. 1 col. iii. 18-19; 5Q15 fr. 1 col. i. 2-4; Koester, p. 815). It also echoes the earlier vision in 11:1-3ff, where the seer is given the measuring-reed and commanded to measure (part of) the city. This parallel is significant, for several reasons:

    • Though it is the earthly city of Jerusalem that is in view in chapter 11, it is applied figuratively, symbolizing the relationship between believers and the world. Believers (the people of God) dwell only in the confines of the Temple sanctuary, while the outer court is given over to the nations.
    • The command to measure applies only to the Temple sanctuary, the place where the people of God (believers) reside; the very act of this Angelic measuring relates to the place where God dwells together with His people, just as here in chapter 21.
    • The measuring in chap. 11 defines the space that is to be protected in the time of the great Judgment; this protection generally symbolizes the eternal life that believers possess in the New Age. It is already represented here in the present, but only insofar as believers remain faithfully within the space of the sanctuary (figuratively speaking).

The actual measure is not mentioned in the previous vision; this important symbolic detail is new to the visionary scene in chapter 21, and follows in verses 16ff:

“And the city itself lies stretched (out into a) four-cornered (shape), and (so) her length is as (much) [even] as the width (of her). And he measured the city with the reed, upon twelve thousand stadia (in measure)—the length and width and height of her are (all) equal.” (v. 16)

As in Ezekiel’s great vision (48:16), the city has a perfect square shape, with all four sides of equal dimension. There may also be an intentional parallel (and contrast) with the city of Babylon (cf. Herodotus Histories 1.178), symbol for the wicked “great city” of earth in the visions of Revelation (see esp. chapters 17-18). The contrast of women—holy Bride (Jerusalem) and wicked Prostitute (Babylon)—established throughout makes such an allusion more likely. Rome, too, is said to have had a square shape in earlier times (Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 2.65.3; Plutarch Romulus 9.4; cf. Koester, pp. 815-6). The four sides of equal length generally symbolize perfection and beauty of form. However, there may be a deeper meaning intended, in light of the parallel with the measuring of the Temple sanctuary in 11:1ff (see above). This is all the more probable if we consider that the sanctuary of the ideal/future Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s vision also had a square-shaped inner shrine (41:4). As there is no Temple in the heavenly “new Jerusalem”, this sacred aspect now applies to the city as a whole.

The measure of a sta/dio$ traditionally marks the length of a stadium in the Roman world. The number of 12,000 stadia corresponds to about 1,500 of our miles. The enormity of size is traditional for depicting divine/heavenly realities. Much more significant than the scope is the number itself, since it draws directly on the base motif of twelve that here defines the people of God, which the city itself represents. The multiple of a thousand indicates both vastness and perfection, and the number of twelve thousand (12 x 1000) is central to the motif of the 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000) in chapter 7 and 14:1-5. This synchronicity only makes clear again that this is not a vision of a city per se, but of a people—the people of God.

“And he measured the (wall) built (round) her, a hundred and forty-four ‘fore-arms’, (according to the) measure of a man—that is, (here) of a (heavenly) Messenger.” (v. 17)

Finally, the surrounding wall itself is measured, which likely means measuring its thickness. The term ph=xu$, of uncertain derivation, corresponds roughly to the length of a man’s forearm (from elbow to the tip of the fingers). 144 units of such a measure would amount to around 215 feet (or 60-70 meters). However, the wording suggests that the measure is based not on a man’s forearm, but on that of the heavenly Messenger. As a divine/heavenly being, he presumably would have been envisioned as a much larger being, as would traditionally be the case. Again, the number itself is far more important than the large size—144 being symbolic of the people of God (12 x 12, cp. verses 12-14; 7:4-8; 14:1-5). See also the 24 (12 + 12) Elders of 4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4.

It would be a gross mistake to attempt a concrete reconstruction of the “city” described here, as though it were an ordinary physical city. All of these details are entirely symbolic, and clearly relate to the fact that the city represents the people of God itself. The same is true of the description of the walls (gates and foundations) that follows in verses 18-21; this will be discussed in the next daily note.

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February 4: Revelation 21:12-14

Revelation 21:12-14

Verses 12-14 build upon the description of the “new Jerusalem” in terms of its divine/heavenly splendor (do/ca v. 11, cf. the previous note). The details of the city, as such, relate to its overall symbolism—the exalted place of believers, as the people and children of God, who dwell together with God in the New Age. The symbolic building and structure of the city represents both the people and their dwelling.

“(It) was holding [i.e. it had] a great and high (wall) built (around it), holding twelve gate-ways, and upon the gate-ways (were) twelve Messengers, and names having been written upon (them) which are [the names] of the twelve off-shoots [i.e. tribes] of the sons of Yisrael—from the rising up (of the sun) [i.e. the east] three gate-ways, and from the (direction of the) north-wind three gate-ways, and from the (direction of the) south-wind three gate-ways, and from the sinking (of the sun) [i.e. the west] (als0) three gate-ways.” (vv. 12-13)

The number of twelve gateways (pulw=ne$)—three in each of the four directions of the (square) city—corresponds to the vision of the future/ideal Jerusalem in Ezekiel 40-48 (cf. 48:30-34; 42:15-20), as also in the Qumran Temple Scroll (11Q19 29:12-13; cf. also 4Q365a fr. 2 ii. 1-4; 4Q554 fr. 1 i. 13-ii. 10; Koester, p. 814). The heavenly Messengers (Angels) serve as gate-keepers, probably envisioned, quite literally, as standing upon (e)pi/) the wall itself, and above the gate. The significance of the presence of these Messengers may be seen as twofold:

    • Marking the complete security of the city—the preservation of its holiness, etc. Typically, the gate-keeper or sentinel of a city helped to protect it (and its citizen) from outside enemies and others who might be a source of danger or disruption (cf. Neh 3:29; 1 Chron 26:1-9; Isa 62:6). This would scarcely be necessary in the heavenly city of the New Age, but the motif of eternal security/preservation is still important to the imagery.
    • They indicate the divine/heavenly character of the city, being that of the honor/splendor (do/ca) of God Himself, and marking God’s presence in the city, all the way to its outermost wall. In the Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the Messenger functioned as the personal representative of God Himself, as also the honor and power of His manifest presence.

The naming of the twelve gates according to twelve tribes of Israel has precedence based on historical tradition (Neh 8:16; Jer 37:13), but here again the main influence is the vision of Ezekiel (48:30-35), followed by the Qumran texts cited above (esp. 11Q19 39:12-13; 40-41; Koester, pp. 814-15), etc. There is special significance to this symbolism in the context of the visionary narrative of Revelation, in terms of identifying believers in Christ as the true people of God (cf. below).

“And the (wall) built (round) the city was (also) holding twelve (foundation stone)s set down, and upon them (were) twelve names, of the twelve (men) of the Lamb (who were) se(n)t forth.” (v. 14)

Along with the twelve gate-ways, there were twelve large ‘foundation stones’ (qeme/lio$ literally meaning something “set/placed [down]”). I have translated the noun a)po/stolo$ quite literally as “(someone) set forth”, i.e. sent out from, or on behalf of, another. However, by the time the book of Revelation was written, this noun had long taken on a very specific technical meaning in early Christianity, to the point that one might transliterate the word in English as a title (“apostle”), as is typically done. There are two levels to this specialized meaning:

    • The original circle of disciples of Jesus, whom he “sent forth” as his representatives, to proclaim the Gospel and continue his mission (Mark 6:7-13 par; Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:8; John 20:21).
    • To any from the first generation(s) of believers, who either witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, and/or who were similarly commissioned to the continue the work of the first disciples (Matt 28:16-20; Acts 1:21-22ff, etc). Paul clearly considered himself to be an apostle in this sense.

Early tradition, however, also construed the term more narrowly, referring to the group of twelve, who were Jesus’ closest followers (Mark 3:13-19 par; Acts 1:13, etc). Almost certainly, the use of the number twelve goes back to Jesus himself, and that it was, from the beginning, meant as a parallel to the idea of the twelve tribes of Israel (cp. the saying[s] in Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30). I discuss this at length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (Galilean Period, Part 1).

This symbolism is clearly present, and important, to the narrative in the early chapters of the book of Acts, where it possesses eschatological significance—the reconstitution of the Twelve represents the (end-time) restoration of Israel, understood in terms of the early Christian mission (cf. Acts 1:6-2:42 in full). The book of Revelation makes comparable use of the twelve-tribe motif to depict believers as the people of God. This is expressed most clearly in the symbolic image of the 144,000 in 7:1-8ff and 14:1-5. It is possible that the 144,000 in 7:4-8 are specifically meant to represent Jewish believers (compared with the multitude from all the nations in vv. 9ff). This may well be true (I discuss the matter in an earlier note); however, in 14:1-5, the figure of the 144,000 does not appear to have any such limiting aspect, but is better understood as signifying all believers, esp. those who remain faithful through the end-time period of distress.

In previous notes, I also mentioned how I would interpret the twenty-four “Elders” (4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4) as representing the People of God, in their heavenly aspect, drawing upon the twin-motifs of the twelve tribes of Israel (the People of the old Covenant) and the twelve apostles (the People of the new Covenant)—12 + 12 = 24, even as 12 x 12 x 1000 = 144,000. This interpretation would seem to be confirmed by the symbolism here in 21:12-14, where the twelve tribes and twelve apostles are explicitly joined together to define the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostles are described with the same image of a foundation-stone, or similar kinds of support-figures (Matt 16:18; Gal 2:9; Eph 2:20; cp. 1 Cor 3:10-11ff). However, it is important to remember that the apostles are representative of the people as a whole—and, indeed, all believers serve as stones that support the heavenly city/house (Rev 3:12; 1 Pet 2:4-5ff; Eph 2:19-22).

Yet more details of the “new Jerusalem”, which add to this symbolic portrait, are found in the verses that follow (vv. 15-21). These will be examined in the next daily note.

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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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December 22: Revelation 20:7-10

Revelation 20:7-10

This the third of the four visionary scenes in chapter 20; it is parallel to the first scene (vv. 1-3, cf. the earlier note), with its emphasis on Satan and the “thousand years”, as representing the period during which he is bound in prison. Within the structure of the vision-sequence, the heavenly throne scene occurs between these two episodes (vv. 4-6, cf. the previous note).

Revelation 20:7-8

“And when the thousand years are completed, the Satan will be loosed out of his (prison) guard, and he will go out to lead astray the nations th(at) are in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to bring them together into the war, of whom their number (is) as the sand of the sea.”

This is perhaps the most unusual and difficult portion of the chapter to explain. If we are to view chap. 20 as a continuation of the Judgment visions in chap. 19, then this episode is totally unexpected. After all, the nations have been defeated and judged, Satan bound, and the People of God (believers) ruling alongside the exalted Jesus (in heaven). This would seem to have settled the matter; yet now, apparently, there is another rebellion by the nations and a second Judgment? Here is where viewing chapter 20 as a separate vision sequence, parallel to that of chap. 19, may make better sense of the eschatological framework. With this approach, the assembling of the nations to battle in 20:7-8ff would be seen as a separate depiction of the same event—the Judgment of the Nations—in 19:17-21.

Let us briefly consider each detail in vv. 7-8, depending on whether chap. 20 is viewed as continuous or parallel with chap. 19 (and the earlier visions):

“when the thousand years were completed” —While the actual number of a thousand is certainly symbolic (indicating completeness, etc, 10 x 100), the idea of a period of time that it represents can be understood several ways; limiting this to the immediate interpretive approach (cf. above), there are two possibilities:

    • (Parallel): The “thousand years”, encompassing the defeat/binding of Satan and the rule of believers alongside Christ, reflects the current Age, specifically the time between the exaltation of Jesus and the end-time Judgment.
    • (Continuous): The thousand years, taken in a more literal sense (as a lengthy period of time), represents the Age to Come on earth; that is to say, the current Age has come to an end, and the “thousand years” marks the New Age.

“the Satan will be loosed out of his (prison) guard” —This of course refers to the binding and imprisonment of Satan in vv. 1-3. Ideally, the release of a prisoner should lead to gratitude and obedience in response (cf. Tacitus Annals 12.37; Josephus Antiquities 10.40; Koester, p. 776), but here the Satan continues to rebel against God instead. Keeping with the same dual line of interpretation, there are again two possibilities:

    • (Parallel): The defeat and binding of Satan (vv. 1-3) corresponds with the scene in 12:7-12, and is related to the work of Jesus that culminates in his death and resurrection (vv. 5, 10-11; cf. also Lk 11:17; 1 Jn 3:8, etc). The “loosing” of Satan then would refer to the end-time period of distress, otherwise referenced in the book of Revelation by the symbolic designation of 3½ years; cp. 12:12 with 20:3.
    • (Continuous): Just as there is a brief but intense period of activity by Satan at the end of the current Age, so there will also be at the end of the Age to Come (the “thousand years”). Satan is bound following the Judgment at the end of the current Age, and will be punished again at the end of the Age to Come.

“and he will go out to lead astray the nations th(at are) in the four corners of the earth” —This draws upon the eschatological tradition of the Judgment of the Nations (collectively), which requires that they assemble together so they can all be judged in one place (Joel 3). A development of this motif has the nations gathering together to make war against God and His People (Israel)—cf. especially Zechariah 12:1-9 and Ezekiel 38-39 (discussed below). The nations were similarly gathered together for battle, by Satan (or his representatives), in 16:12-14; 19:17-21 (cf. also 14:17-20). Interpreting this in v. 7 as parallel with 19:19 is obvious; while a continuous interpretation would mean that the same sort of gathering of the nations (along with their subsequent judgment/defeat) is going to take place at the end of the Age to Come (the “thousand years”).

“Gog and Magog” —These two names, presumably derived from the eschatological oracle in Ezekiel 38-39, here represent “the nations in the four corners of the earth”. In the original oracle “Magog” (gogm*) is a territory north of Israel, possibly to be identified with parts of Anatolia (Cappadocia, Scythia) or Armenia and beyond the Caucasus mountains. The name likewise appears as the name of the eponymous ancestor of this (same?) region in Gen 10:2, but its derivation is otherwise quite unknown. “Gog” (goG) is the ruler or commander of the land of Magog, and could conceivably correspond to the Akkadian gûgu (there was an Anatolian [Lydian] ruler with this name in the 7th century B.C.). Probably “Gog” is simply taken from “Magog”, by assonance/wordplay, etc, to create a specially colorful and ominous combination.

“to bring them together into the war” —Here in the book of Revelation, “Gog and Magog” serve as a kind of shorthand for the entire scenario in Ezek 38-39—i.e., of the collection of distant nations who assemble together to attack Israel (cf. also Zech 12:1-9). The same oracle was in view in 19:17-21 (cf. Ezek 39:17-20), which tends to confirm the interpretive view (cf. above) that chaps. 19 and 20 are parallel accounts of the same basic Judgment scene. The Qumran War Scroll also associates Gog and Magog with the wicked nations who are to be defeated in the great end-time battle (1QM 11:6, 16-18; cf. also 4Q161 fr. 8-10 col. iii. 10-21). Now, “the war” takes on more cosmic significance, being waged against God and the People of God (exalted in heaven); it is quite literally the climax of the conflict between God and the forces of evil (cf. below).

“of whom their number (is) as the sand of the sea” —On the one hand, this is simply a picturesque idiom to describe a great multitude, especially when used of an army assembled for battle (Josh 11:4; Judg 7:12; 1 Sam 13:5). However, the association with the sea in the book of Revelation suggests perhaps a deeper allusion—recall that in 12:18, just prior to the rise of the evil Sea-creature, the Dragon (Satan) was standing there “upon the sand of the sea”.

Revelation 20:9

“And they stepped up upon the wide space of the earth and encircled the (gathering) of the holy (one)s (that had) thrown (down) alongside (each other), and (also) the city having been loved, and fire stepped down out of heaven and ate them down.”

The noun parembolh/, difficult to translate literally in English, refers to the idea of military troops thrown together alongside each other, i.e. as in rows or arranged in a camp. It is very much a military battle that is envisioned, with the forces of “Gog and Magog” encircling the group of “holy ones”, as well as the city designated by the perfect participle “having been loved” (vb a)gapa/w). Here “the city” is Jerusalem, or, more properly, the portion of the city where the Temple was located—the old Canaanite fortified hill-site known in tradition as the “City of David” or “Zion” (cf. Psalm 78:68; 87:1-2, etc). This is scarcely the earthly Jerusalem, in its ordinary sense, in spite of the traditions drawn on from Zech 12:1-9, etc. In the book of Revelation, the earthly Jerusalem is not depicted in a positive light, having been overrun by the wicked nations (11:2, 7-10). Only the Temple sanctuary, figuratively speaking, where the faithful ones (believers) gather, truly represents the holy city. Similarly, believers gather around the Lamb on “Zion” in the vision of 14:1-5. The realization of Jerusalem as the true holy city (“the new Jerusalem”) must wait until the visions of chaps. 21-22 (to be discussed).

The punishment and defeat of “Gog and Magog” is accomplished via supernatural means, much as the nations are defeated by the “sword” that comes out of the exalted Jesus’ mouth in the earlier Judgment vision (19:15ff). The image of “fire coming down out of heaven” is a traditional motif of Divine Judgment, on cities and peoples, cf. Gen 19:24; 1 Kings 18:39; 2 Kings 1:10-12; Luke 9:54), which here is used in the eschatological context of the Last Judgment (cp. Luke 10:12 par; 17:29; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7; Rev 11:9). Elsewhere in the book of Revelation fire comes down on the nations as a sign of the great Judgment—8:5, 7-11; 11:5; 15:8; 16:8; 17:16; 18:9; cp. 14:10-11; 19:3. The same imagery was used in the oracle of Ezek 38-39 which inspired this scene (38:22; 39:6).

The imagery of Gog and Magog “stepping up” onto the broad surface of the earth, presumably from somewhere ‘below’, suggests that these are not normal human armies—on this, cf. the notice below.

Revelation 20:10

“And the (One) casting (evil) throughout [dia/bolo$], the (one) leading them (all) astray, he was cast into the lake of fire and sulphur, where also the wild animal and the false foreteller [i.e. False Prophet] (were cast), and they shall be tested (painfully with fire) day and night, into the Ages of Ages.”

This represents the final defeat of the forces of evil, parallel with what was described in 19:20. The idea of the Devil (o( dia/bolo$), or Belial, being punished and devoured by fire is found elsewhere in Jewish tradition (e.g., 1Q13 iii. 7; Testament of Judah 25:3). As for the expression “lake of fire”, it draws upon the more general imagery of fire as a sign (and form) of Divine punishment (cf. above, and note in Isa 30:33; 66:24). The fiery end of the Sea- and Earth-creatures (“wild animal” and “false prophet”) resembles that of the fourth ‘beast’ in Daniel 7:11. The wicked/rebellious Angels could likewise be depicted as being thrown into a fiery abyss (1 Enoch 10:6ff; 21:7-10). The specific combination of fire and a lake probably is derived from common underworld imagery; on such rivers, etc, of fire, see, for example, Plato Phaedo 113ab; Virgil Aeneid 6.550-51). For these and other references, cf. Koester, pp. 761, 779.

The difficulties in explaining the scenario of vv. 7-10 have been noted above, including the wider interpretative question of whether the visions of chap. 20 are best understood as a continuation of chap. 19, or as a separate sequence parallel to it. Complicating the situation is the use of “Gog and Magog” as a symbol. There is some indication that it does not refer simply to the ordinary nations known to readers (such as those of the Roman Empire, etc), but should be regarded as a mythic figure-type for peoples from beyond the recognized boundaries of the earth (“the four corners”). This would make “Gog and Magog” akin to the Sea- and Earth-creatures of chaps. 13ff, who serve as figures of the forces of evil at work in the world. In support of this, I would note:

    • The location of “Gog and Magog” as “in the four corners of the earth”. In the original oracle of Ezekiel 38-39, Gog and Magog are said to come from the remotest parts of the north (38:6, 15); now this conceptual delimitation is given wider cosmic significance. It is a basic point of human religious and cultural psychology, that the boundaries of the known world tend to be regarded as the domain of frightening alien beings.
    • Here Gog and Magog “step up” onto the broad space of the earth’s surface, suggesting that they come up from a location below the earth, much like the hybrid-demon beings in the fifth and sixth trumpet-visions of chapter 9.
    • These strange ‘nations’ are described as a vast multitude, numbering “as the sand of the sea”; the demonic ‘armies’ in 9:16-19 are similarly vast. Moreover, the descriptive expression here likely alludes to the earlier scene of the Dragon standing “upon the sand of the sea” (12:18).
    • The fate of theses ‘nations’ is to be consumed by heavenly fire, just like the Sea- and Earth-creatures, and Satan himself.

Even so, there is clearly an intentional parallel between the Judgment scenes in 19:17-21 and 20:7-10, reflecting, if you will, two stages in the end-time Judgment and final defeat of evil:

    • The immediate nations, influenced by the Sea-creature are defeated and slain in battle
      • The Sea-creature (and his ally) are thrown into the lake of fire
    • The distant nations, influenced by the Satan/Devil himself, are defeated and slain in battle
      • The Satan/Devil is thrown into the lake of fire

These two episodes bracket the scene of the “thousand years”, signifying the resurrection/exaltation of believers, who now rule alongside Jesus—parallel to his own resurrection/exaltation. This may be outlined as:

    • The Judgment in its earthly aspect—the human nations on earth (16:12-16ff; 19:17-21)
    • The Thousand Years—the resurrection/exaltation of believers (20:1-6)
    • The Judgment in its heavenly aspect—the distant nations of the earth, signifying more clearly the forces of evil (20:7-10ff)
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