Saturday Series: Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah 2:1-5

“The word which Yesha’yahu son of Amos saw (as a vision), upon [i.e. regarding] Yehudah and Yerushalaim” (v. 1)

This superscription mirrors that of 1:1, and should be taken as the opening of the book proper, that is, of chapters 2-39. Another similar superscription follows at 13:1, which indicates that chapters 2-12 form a distinct division, though whether or not they reflect a specific source document or stage of composition for chaps. 2-39, is difficult to say. In any case, it is important to view a passage (such as Isa 2:1-5) within its wider Scriptural context–which here involves the division comprised of chapters 2-12. Thematically, chaps. 2-4 form a smaller unit, with a parallel section (11:1-12:6) at the end of this division. They share the (eschatological) theme of the restoration of Israel, alternating with oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. The eschatological aspect of these chapters, with its theme of restoration, is more typical of so-called Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-66), which critical commentators believe was composed later on, reflecting an exilic or post-exilic setting. This would be contrasted with the core section 6:1-9:6, which clearly is set in Isaiah’s own time, dealing with the 8th century Assyrian crises. The surrounding judgment poems and oracles of chapters 5 and 10 also appear more closely related to the late-8th century Assyrian setting.

Before looking at the individual verses and lines of 2:2-5, it may be worth considering the passage briefly in terms of the various areas of Biblical Criticism (see the introductory study).

Textual Criticism

This passage is, of course, contained in the great Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa), as well as (partially) in manuscripts 4QIsab,e,f. There are several interesting variants between 1QIsaa (the Isaiah Scroll) and the Masoretic Text (MT); most notably, the text of 1QIsaa is shorter in verse 3 (absent the portion in italics):

“(Let us) go, and we shall go up to (the) mountain of YHWH,
to (the) house of the Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob”

The other main difference is the reading of the plural verb form “and they will instruct us” (w®yœrûnû) instead of the MT singular “and He will instruct us” (w®yœr¢nû). There are a few smaller, minor variants, as well as some orthographic differences; but, otherwise the Masoretic Text is relatively secure, and we can work from it without undue complications.

Source Criticism

A textual point of note is that the text of Isa 2:2-5 has a parallel version (with some key differences, noted below) in Micah 4:1-5. This raises a number of source- and composition-critical questions. The relationship between the two versions has been explained in various ways:

    • The book of Isaiah derives it from Micah
    • The book of Micah derives it from Isaiah
    • Both versions are derived from a common earlier source

I am inclined to the latter view, which would tend to support the idea that the opening and closing portions of this division—i.e. chapters 2-4 and 11-12—date from a later period than the material in the central chapters 5-10, but that they still contain old prophetic material (even from Isaiah himself), united by certain key thematic and literary points. Our passage 2:2-5, in particular, seems to have much in common with the Deutero-Isaian oracles in the second half of the book.

Historical Criticism

The eschatological aspect of 2:2-5, with its theme of the restoration of Israel, centered around the Jerusalem Temple, and the outreach to the surrounding (Gentile) nations, is certainly typical of many of the Deutero-Isaian oracles in chaps. 40-66—see, for example, 40:9; 42:6-7; 45:14-23; 49:6; 51:4; 56:7; 57:13; 60:1-18; 65:11, 26; 66:20, etc. Most critical commentators would ascribe the Deutero-Isaian material, generally, to the exile or post-exilic period. A thematic comparison with texts from this period (e.g. Zech 2:14-16 [EV 12-14]; 8:20-23; Hag 2:7-9) would tend to point in this direction (cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 191). I have already noted (above) the idea that the framing sections in chapters 2-4, 11-12, while likely containing earlier/older material, may well have been composed somewhat later. If this is correct, it would tell us something significant about how the book of Isaiah was composed, with the message of the historical Prophet being applied to the situation of Judah/Jerusalem in a later time. In this case, according to this theory, the promise of deliverance (for Jerusalem and a faithful remnant) from the Assyrian invasion would have been applied to the Babylonian exile and the promise of a future restoration/return.

Literary Criticism

Isa 2:2-5 is short oracle, written in a highly poetic prose style; it may be called a poem, though with a loose metrical and verse structure. It would be characterized as a salvation- or restoration-oracle, rather typical, as I have noted, of the oracles in chapters 40-66 (so-called Deutero-Isaiah). The thematic structure of the poem can be outlined as follows:

    • Opening stanza on the Jerusalem Temple (v. 2, lines 1-4)
    • Visionary scene regarding the Nations (v. 2, line 5; v. 3)
    • Closing stanza on the New Age for humankind (v. 4)
    • Concluding exhortation (v. 5)

Thematically, the central scene has a chiastic structure:

    • The Nations come to the Temple to hear God’s word
      • Declaration of the Nations
    • God’s word goes out from the Temple to the Nations

Now, let us briefly examine each of these portions.

Exegesis

Verse 2a-d

“And it shall be, in the days (coming) after (this),
(the) mountain of the house of YHWH shall be set (up),
on the head [i.e. top] of (all) the mountains,
and lifted up from [i.e. over] (the) high (hill)s.”

This opening stanza, as such, establishes the central theme of the Jerusalem Temple, referred to traditionally as the “house” (bê¾) of YHWH, but also as a mountain (har). The mountain motif relates to the ancient fortified hill-top location of the Temple, the Canaanite site taken over by Israel to form the core of the future Jerusalem (the “city of David”, also known as Mount Zion). However, the mountain has an even more archetypal (mythic-religious) association with the Temple. The mountain was a figure-type for the meeting place between heaven and earth, i.e. the place where human beings could come into contact with the divine. A temple building served much the same symbolic purpose, and temples frequently were constructed on mountain or hilltop locations. Ancient Mesopotamian tradition, beginning with the Sumerians, constructed their great city-state temples to resemble a mountain (i.e. the ziggurat form).

The expression b®°aµ¦rî¾ hayy¹mîm, translated “in the days (coming) after (this)”, gradually came to have a specific eschatological connotation—i.e. in the “last days”, or “latter days”, the days to come in the future, at the end of the current Age. Though not as precise here, perhaps, it certainly still carries an eschatological significance. Thus, it is a prophecy of the role the Temple will play in the end-time—marking the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the New Age to come.

Verse 2e-3a

“And all the nations will stream to it,
and many peoples will go and say:”
Micah:
“And peoples shall stream upon it,
and many nations will go and say:”

This couplet opens the central visionary scene of the oracle and introduces the declaration of the Nations in verse 3. The verb n¹har creates the image of people “streaming” to the Temple like rivers, all flowing into a central location, a great reservoir or sea.

Verse 3b-e

“(Let us) walk, and we shall go up to (the) mountain of YHWH,
to (the) house of the Mighty (One) [°E_lœhîm] of Ya’aqob;
and He will instruct us from His ways,
and we will walk in His (well-)traveled (path)s.”

This statement, introduced in 3a, is essentially a declaration of faithfulness by the nations, collectively. The idiom of “walking” (verb h¹lak) is used here specifically for the idea of obeying and worshiping God. Even as the nations walk (travel) to the Temple in Jerusalem, they are demonstrating their loyalty and obedience to YHWH, the God of Israel, walking in His “ways” and “paths”. Again, traveling a path is figurative for following instruction, in a religious or ethical/moral sense. The verb y¹râ is related to the Hebrew noun transliterated as Torah (tôrâ); it literally signifies aiming or pointing in a particular direction (as when one shoots an arrow, etc), thus blending effectively the motifs of travel and instruction.

The idea that the surrounding nations, the non-Israelite peoples, might be converted, coming to worship YHWH—and even joining with Israel as the people of God—is a notable theme in Deutero-Isaiah (as indicated above), but is less prominent in chapters 2-39. It came to be part of the Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation, and, as such, was inherited by early Christians who gave to it a unique interpretation. Naturally, it was applied to the early mission to the Gentiles, and was a key theme in the book of Acts (being foreshadowed also in the Lukan Gospel), as also by Paul in his letters.

On the mountain-motif, see the discussion above. The idea of the Temple as the “house” of God is traditional; here, the expression is “house of the Mighty One [i.e. God] of Jacob [i.e. Israel]”, referring to YHWH specifically as the God of Israel. The Temple is the place where Israel interacts with God, thus it is, in a sense, also Israel’s house (cf. verse 5 below). The expression is typical of the Deutero-Isaian oracles (e.g. 46:3; 48:1; 58:1), but also occurs a number of times in the Psalms.

Verse 3f-g

“For from ‚iyyôn (the) instruction goes forth,
and the word of YHWH from Yerushalaim.”

The couplet is parallel to that of 2e-3a (see above). Just as the nations come to the Temple to hear the God’s instruction (torah), so also God’s word goes out from the Temple, radiating outward to reach the nations. The narrative in the early chapters of Acts plays on both these ideas, both ‘directions’ —people from the surrounding nations come to Jerusalem to hear the Gospel proclamation (chap. 2), and then those who believe go out from Jerusalem to proclaim the same message into the nations (from chap. 8 onward, see 1:8, etc).

Verse 4

“And He shall judge between the nations,
and bring decision for many (people)s;
and they will beat their swords (in)to digging (tool)s,
and their thrusting (weapon)s (in)to trimming (kniv)es.
A nation will not lift a sword to a(nother) nation,
and they shall not learn again to make war.”

Micah 4:3-4:
“And He shall judge between many peoples,
and bring decision for mighty nations,
(even) unto (those) far away;
and they will beat their swords (in)to digging (tool)s,
and their thrusting (weapon)s (in)to trimming (kniv)es.
A nation will not lift a sword to a(nother) nation,
and they shall not learn again to make war.
And they shall sit (together)—
a man under his vine, and under his fig-tree,
and no one will bring fear (to them)—
for (the) mouth of YHWH of the (heavenly) armies utters it.

This three-couplet stanza is parallel to the opening stanza of verse 2; in both, the eschatological context is primary. Here it is defined qualitatively, describing the New Age to come—a ‘Golden Age’ of peace and righteousness. Because the nations now follow YHWH, obeying His instruction, their wicked and violent impulses, i.e. to attack one another, have been curbed and transformed. This ideal hope and promise of peace remains one of the most beloved of all Old Testament passages.

The Mican version is notably different, with additional lines in bold (above), and another minor difference in word order in italics.

Verse 5

“House of Ya’aqob, walk—we shall walk (together) in the light of YHWH!”

Micah 4:5:
“For all the peoples will walk—
a man in (the) name of his Mighty (One) [°E_lœhîm]—
but we will walk in (the) name of YHWH our Mighty (One),
(in)to the distant (future) and unto (the end).”

This final exhortation also summarizes the eschatological promise of the oracle—that the nations will join with Israel (“the house of Jacob”) as the people of God. The version in Micah again differs noticeably, patterned after the prior verse 4; it also establishes a contrast between Israel and the nations—i.e. “our God” (YHWH) vs. the deit(ies) of the surrounding peoples. The emphasis in Isaiah 2 appears to be more inclusive.

References above marked “Blenkinsopp” are to Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 19 (2000).

 

 

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

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)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

December 15: Revelation 19:17-21

Revelation 19:17-21

This is the third of the three visions of chapter 19. It follows upon the vision of the exalted Jesus’ return to earth as a conquering warrior (vv. 11-16), an Anointed (Messianic) ruler leading the heavenly army into battle. Here the end-time Judgment is cast in terms of the defeat of the nations, with the destruction of their kings and armies. It picks up on the unresolved sixth bowl-vision (16:12-16), where the kings of the earth gather for battle on the plain of “Megiddo” (the Har-Megiddo[n], Grk  (Armagedw/n, cf. Zech 12:11). This is the ancient “Day of YHWH” motif from Old Testament Prophetic tradition, as best epitomized by the Judgment-scene in Joel 3. In the sixth bowl-vision, the defeat of the nations is implied but never realized; this occurs here in verses 17-21, an echo of the earlier grape-harvest vision of 14:17-20.

Revelation 19:17-18

“And I saw one Messenger having stood in the sun, and he cried out [in] a great voice, saying to all (the) birds taking wing [i.e. flying] in the middle of (the) heaven(s): ‘Come here! you must be brought together unto the great dinner of God, so that you might eat (the) flesh of kings and (the) flesh of chiefs of a thousand, and (the) flesh of strong (one)s and (the) flesh of horses and the (one)s sitting upon them, and (the) flesh of all free (person)s and also slaves, and of little (one)s and great (one)s (alike)!'”

According to the ancient religious worldview, divine beings were closely associated with the natural phenomena of the universe, and so it is with the heavenly Messengers (Angels) in Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Throughout the book of Revelation, Angels are depicted as controlling the forces of nature, including the elements (fire and water, etc) as well as the specific parts of the cosmos (seas and rivers, the dry land, the sun, etc). At various points, these Messengers are seen standing in connection or contact with the natural features or cosmic regions (7:1; 10:5); here, one particular Messenger is standing “in/on the sun” (e)n tw=| h(li/w|). This makes for a most dramatic and brilliant appearance, as is fitting for such a climactic moment, similar to the Messenger who announces the fall of the Great City in 18:1-2.

The heavenly Messengers are often seen standing or flying in the heavens, giving them much in common with the birds of the sky; indeed, the two ‘heavenly’ motifs were joined together previously in 8:13 (cp. 14:6). Now the Messenger speaks directly to all the birds flying in the heavens, inviting them to come to feast on the flesh of the great multitudes who will be slain in battle. This image echoes 18:2, where it is announced that the Great City (“Babylon”) will become the haunting place for scavenging birds and wild animals—the implication being, in part, that they will be able to feed off of the dead bodies in the desolate and destroyed City. The actual language here in vv. 17-18 alludes to Ezekiel 39:17-18, part of what is surely the most elaborate “Day of YHWH” oracle in the Old Testament Prophets, depicting the Judgment against the Nations (and their defeat in battle) on the grandest scale. This is the so-called “Gog and Magog” prophecy in Ezek 38-39, and reflects an extensive development of the Judgment scene in Joel 3, where a vast confederation of nations comes together for battle against God and His People. Imagery and symbolism from this same oracle will continue into the visions of chapter 20.

Here, a multitude even more vast is indicated—the nation’s armies being made up from every part of society: free and slave, small and great, alike. Thus, the scene truly represents God’s Judgment against the nations as a whole, not just their leaders.

Revelation 19:19

“And I saw the wild animal, and the kings of the earth and their (group)s (of) armed soldiers, having been brought together to make war with the (one) sitting upon the (white) horse and with his (own group of) armed soldiers.”

This “wild animal” (qh/rion) is the same Sea-creature of chapter 13, whose presence has remained all through the visions of chap. 14, the bowl-visions of chaps. 15-16, and on into the climactic visions of chaps. 19-20. In the sixth-bowl vision (16:12-16), the Sea-creature (along with his evil ally, the Earth-creature or ‘False Prophet’) drew all the kings of the earth to this location, in order to do battle. What was implied there is now made explicit: their purpose is to make war with God’s Anointed (Jesus) and the People of God (Believers). This was already stated clearly enough in the visions of chapters 12 and 13 (see esp. 13:7), but now it is expressed in terms of the Last Judgment itself, through the image of a great battle.

It was a basic principle of Apocalyptic tradition that the nations, in their wickedness, were influenced and guided, in a very real sense, by the forces of evil. In many Jewish writings of the time, these evil forces were personified in the figure of Belial—a figure largely synonymous (but not necessarily identical) with the Satan/Devil. The demonic powers, led by Belial, join with the wicked human forces of the nations, much as the holy Angels join together with the People of God (the righteous/Elect). This is perhaps best expressed in the famous Qumran War Scroll (1QM, and related texts), anticipating a great end-time war between “the sons of light” and “the sons of darkness” (cf. 1QM 1:1-7; 11:6-7; 13:10; 15:2; 17:6-7, etc). The idea of an end-time attack by the nations and their armies, with their subsequent defeat by the Messiah, was a staple of Jewish eschatology (e.g. 2 Baruch 70:2-10; 72:1-6; 2/4 Esdras 13:5-11; Sibylline Oracles 3:657-68; for an earlier manifestation, cf. Psalms of Solomon 17-18). It was, of course preceded by Ezekiel 38-39 and other nation-oracle passages in the Prophets. For these and other references, cf. Koester, p. 760.

Revelation 19:20

“And the wild animal was seized, and with him the ‘False Foreteller’, the (one) (hav)ing done the signs in his sight, (and) in which he led astray the (one)s (hav)ing received the engraved (mark) of the wild animal and the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] his image—the(se) two were thrown, (still) living, into the lake of fire, the (place of) burning in sulphur.”

While all of the human beings are slain (v. 21), the two figures representing or embodying the forces of evil—the Sea-creature and Earth-creature (called False Prophet)—are captured alive. Since these two are symbolic of evil demonic powers, their fate belongs to the Judgment in its heavenly, not earthly, aspect. The heavenly aspect of the Judgment was alluded to, though only briefly, in 14:9-11; it will come into focus only in the visions of chapter 20. There, too, mention was made specifically of the heavenly punishment that awaits those who worshiped the Sea-creature and received its engraved mark (xa/ragma), indicating that such persons belong to the creature. The motif of the “lake of fire” as a punishment will be discussed in the upcoming notes on 20:7-14. There I will also summarize again the symbolism of the Sea-creature within the overall context of the book of Revelation.

Revelation 19:21

“And the (one)s remaining were killed off in [i.e. by] the sword of the (one) sitting upon the (white) horse, the (sword hav)ing come out of his mouth, and the birds fed (as they would on green grass) out of their flesh.”

In verses 20-21, the figure of the conquering warrior (Jesus) is referenced simply as “the (one) sitting upon the (white) horse”, the emphasis thus being on the victorious power he possesses (the white horse signifying victory). It is by the sword (r(omfai/a) coming out of the exalted Jesus’ mouth that the people are slain. As discussed in the previous note, this “sword” is best understood as the Word of God, which is also to be identified with the Spirit of God (cf. the LXX of Isa 11:4). The exalted Jesus, as God’s representative (Anointed One and Son of God), himself possesses this Word, so that he even may be called “the Word of God” (v. 13).

As in the oracle of Ezek 38-39, the result of the great battle is a scene of total destruction and carnage. Ordinarily birds would come down onto the green grass to feed; now, these scavenging birds of prey come down onto the battlefield to feed on the flesh of the dead bodies. The verb xorta/zw alludes, literally, to animals grazing on lush green grass (xo/rto$); this came to be a common idiom for eating (or enjoying oneself) so as to be fully satisfied. Here the idiom (taken rather more literally), creates a grimly ironic scene—birds flocking to enjoy themselves on the flesh of slain human beings. There is irony in another sense as well: in verse 17, the Messenger called the birds to gather to a great dinner (dei=pnon) of God. This same word was used earlier in verse 9 for the dinner celebrating the marriage of believers (the bride) with the Lamb (the groom, Jesus). There, heavenly beings (human and angelic) were invited to a great feast signifying salvation; here, the birds are invited to a similar feast signifying judgment.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 25: Revelation 17:15-18

Revelation 17:7-18, concluded

Verses 15-18 provide a separate, parallel interpretation of the vision by the heavenly Messenger, alongside that of vv. 7-14.

Verse 15

“And he says to me: ‘The waters which you saw, on which the prostitute sits, are peoples and throngs (of people), nations and tongues.'”

In my earlier note on verse 1, I interpreted the “many waters” in relation to the overall symbol of the Sea (from which the Sea-creature emerges). The “Sea” represents the dark and chaotic forces of evil in the world, while the “waters” their manifestation and influence in the inhabited world of humankind. In the third bowl-vision (16:4ff), these waters were identified specifically as being on the earth—rivers and springs—in close proximity to human civilization, and upon which such communities depend. Thus the “waters” may be said to represent the presence and influence of the “Sea” over humankind (i.e. the nations). The Angel’s interpretation here in verse 15, similarly, but more explicitly, identifies the waters as the nations and peoples over whom the Sea-creature (and the Woman) exercise control.

Verse 16

“‘And the ten horns that you saw, and the wild animal (itself), these will hate the prostitute and will make her (as one) having become desolate and naked, and they will eat her flesh and burn her down in fire.'”

Here we have the extraordinary climax to the vision, as the Sea-creature with its horns turns against the Woman (the “prostitute”), stripping her of all her fine clothing and jewelry and destroying her in the most savage way. The imagery is that of a military siege and destruction of a city, according to the standards of warfare in the ancient world. The tendency to personify cities in feminine terms leads to the motif of stripping and humiliating a woman. Such imagery can be found in the nation-oracles of the Prophets, referring to the judgment against powerful cities (including Jerusalem)—cf. Hosea 2:5, 12; Nahum 3:5; Isa 47:3; Jer 13:26-27; Ezek 16:37-38; 23:10; 26-29; Koester, p. 680). Sculpted scenes of Roman conquests are often depicted in terms of violence and cruelty against a woman, images that are rightly disturbing to us today. The siege and destruction of Jerusalem (by the Romans in 70 A.D.), according to the Lukan version of the Eschatological Discourse, is similarly described as her “desolation” (e)rh/mwsi$, 21:20; cp. Mk 13:14 par, and cf. Lk 19:43-44).

The imagery of “eating flesh” and “burning in fire” more properly describes the result of siege warfare. A goal of such military tactics was to cut off the food supply and shut the population within the walls of the city, until the unbearable suffering forced them to capitulate. Siege warfare often brought famine and disease in its wake (similarly portrayed, it would seem, in the first four seal-visions, 6:1-8). A successful siege would likely end in the destruction and burning of the city, a fate met by Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D., as also by countless other cities in ancient times. The eating of the woman’s flesh may also be an allusion to the end met by Jezebel (according to 2 Kings 9:30-37). This wicked queen, notorious as representing religious unfaithfulness (by promoting religious syncretism) among the people of Israel, was used as a figure-type for wickedness earlier in 2:20ff. Having one’s flesh ‘consumed’ also serves as a general image for a person being exploited by another (Psalm 27:2; Mic 3:3; Koester, p. 680).

Verse 17

“‘For God gave (it) into their hearts to do (according to) His (way of) knowing, and (so) to do (according to) one [mi/a] (way of) knowing, and to give their kingdom to the wild animal until the accounts of God should be completed.'”

God’s sovereignty over the end-time affairs, specifically as it relates to the enactment of the Judgment, is clearly expressed here. In verses 12-13, it was said of the horns—i.e. (vassal) kings—of the Sea-creature, that they ruled together with the creature for a single (mi/a) hour, and held a single (mi/a) mind. This unity of purpose is here declared to be according to God’s own purpose. The word translated “mind” is gnw/mh, also used here in v. 17, and more properly refers to a way of knowing or thinking about something, as I have rendered literally above. In more conventional theological terms, we might say that they act according to the will of God, in the sense that God allows (and directs) their wickedness to accomplish His own purpose. Throughout Israelite and Old Testament tradition, the execution of YHWH’s judgment against a people or nation was often seen as coming about through the concrete military action of an invading human army. So it is here in the vision as well.

The ten kings “give” their kingdom(s) to the Sea-creature, meaning that they recognize his authority, just as the elders of the heavenly People do for God in 4:10. This alliance lasts until the lo/goi of God are completed. Here the plural lo/goi may be understood several ways:

    • In the more literal sense of lo/go$ as an account, or accounting, meaning that the proper judgment is meted out, according to the wickedness of the nations, etc.
    • The conventional sense of lo/go$ as written account, specifically the words of the Prophets as recorded in Scripture. Future events, including the fate of various nations and cities, were made known in these texts. Oracles against Babylon are found in Isaiah 13-14, 21, 47, and Jeremiah 50-51, and these may be in view here; certainly the poem of “Babylon’s” fall in chapter 18 (to be discussed in the next note) was influenced by Jer 50-51, along with other portions of the nation-oracles.
    • The word lo/go$ can also be used in the specific sense of a revelation of the will of God, especially to apostles, Christian prophets, and other believers in Christ. This may take the form of a specific message or pattern of communication (i.e. proclamation of the Gospel), and thus an “account”. As discussed throughout the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, the inspired authors and speakers in the New Testament writings make various pronouncements regarding the coming end-time Judgment.
Verse 18

“‘And the woman which you saw is the Great City, the (one) holding rule as king upon [i.e. over] the kings of the earth.'”

The expression “the Great City” (h( po/li$ h( mega/lh) occurs numerous times in the book of Revelation; it is synonymous with “Babylon” in chapters 13ff (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:10, 16, 18-19, 21), but was also used earlier in 11:8 where it was identified with Jerusalem (but also called “Egypt” and “Sodom”). As most commentators would agree, in the New Testament (in Revelation and also 1 Pet 5:13) “Babylon” is a cypher for Rome. The parallels, especially in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem, are obvious: Babylon and Rome were the capital cities of the conquering Empires of the time. In various recent notes, we have discussed how the symbolism of the visions would relate to the Roman Empire as the ruling power—and pinnacle of wicked, worldly power—for Christians at the end of the first century. While this does not exhaust the symbolism, in many instances it seems clear that the primary point of reference is Rome and the Roman Imperial government. From that standpoint, the symbolism here in chapter 17 may be summarized as follows:

    • The Sea and its Waters—The “Sea” represents the dark and turbulent forces of evil at work in the world; the “waters” refer to the presence of the Sea in the inhabited world, i.e. among human beings with their communities and nations.
    • The Sea Creature—This fabulous and hybrid “wild animal” comes up out of the Sea, and resembles the “Dragon”; thus its character is fundamentally wicked, characterized and influenced by the forces of evil. Like the creatures of the Daniel 7 vision, it represents a great kingdom and conquering empire. At the time of the book of Revelation, this is the Roman Empire.
    • The Woman—She is called a prostitute, signifying her blatant wickedness, immorality, and promiscuity, with an ability to seduce and influence people on earth. She is also identified as a city: the “great city” and “Babylon”. She sits upon the Sea-Creature, and the waters of the Sea, demonstrating her close connection with the Creature. If the Sea-Creature represents the Roman Empire, then the Woman, the City, is Rome; she sits upon “seven mountains”, best understood in terms of the traditional “seven hills” of Rome.

Based on this essential framework, other details in the vision (and its exposition) may be interpreted as follows:

    • The Seven Heads of the Sea-Creature—these “kings” almost certainly refer to Roman Emperors of the first-century, though it is probably no longer possible (if it ever were) to identify them precisely with a sequence of seven emperors. The author and his audience were living during the reign of the sixth emperor, and another was yet to come (for more on this, cf. below).
    • The Ten Horns of the Creature—these “kings” are best understood as vassal kingdoms (and their rulers), who reign as subordinates under Roman Imperial authority; presumably their reigns correspond to the current/future rule of the sixth and seventh (and eighth) emperors. They, like the seventh emperor, will rule for only a short time (“one hour”).

To the extent that the visionary narrative in chapter 17 is meant to describe a sequence of actual historical events, it may outlined as follows:

    • The author and his audience are (presumably) living during the reign of the “sixth” king (emperor); this would likely correspond to an approximate date of 69 or 90-95 A.D., depending on just when the book of Revelation was composed. Most critical commentators would opt for the latter date.
    • The brief reign of the “seventh” king (emperor) would soon follow; this could conceivably refer to a short period of time rather the specific reign of a single emperor. In any case, it is likely that only a few years would be involved, probably less than a decade, unless the visionary details are more broadly symbolic.
    • After this, an “eighth” king (emperor) will reign; this will be a truly evil, demonic incarnation of the wicked Sea-creature itself, and not an ‘ordinary’ human emperor at all (cp. 2 Thess 2:3-12). The specific wording in verse 8 (cf. also 13:3, 12, 14) raises the possibility that this demonic figure may resemble an earlier emperor who had previously died. This is all the more likely if the Nero redivivus (return of Nero) legend is in view here, as most critical commentators would hold.
    • At the time of this demonic emperor, there will be an alliance of vassal kingdoms (the “ten horns”); the alliance is temporary and short-lived, but it probably should be seen as beginning after the reign of the “sixth” emperor.
    • At some point, these vassal kings will turn on the city Rome and lay siege to it, destroying it and burning it with fire. This is probably to be understood as occurring prior to the great final battle (19:11-21, cp. 16:12-16ff).

It must be admitted that nothing quite like this ever took place, and certainly not within the time-frame suggested here in the vision. Rome was, in fact, sacked and destroyed (at least partially) by the invading armies of ‘vassal’ kingdoms, i.e. the migrating Germanic peoples with whom Rome was forced to form alliances, etc. The first such sacking took place in 390 B.C. (by the Senone Gauls), but the others occurred in the centuries after the book of Revelation was written; note the following events, with the associated people and ruler (in parentheses):

    • 410 A.D., by the Visigoths (Alaric I)
    • 455 A.D., by the Vandals (Genseric)
    • 546 A.D. (and again in 549-550) by the Ostrogoths (Totila)

As we approach the conclusion of this series of notes, we will explore various attempts to interpret the first-century eschatology of Revelation from the vantage point (and time-frame) of later generations, including our own today. To avoid unnecessary complication, these interpretive approaches have been studiously avoided, so that the viewpoint of the author and his audience can be allowed to speak for itself, as far as that is possible.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 22: Revelation 17:12-14

Revelation 17:7-18, continued

Verse 12

“And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings, th(ose) which did not yet receive a kingdom, but they receive e)cousi/a as kings (for) one hour with the wild animal.”

In verses 9-11, the Messenger interpreted the seven heads of the Sea-creature as kings, correlating them to the time of the vision (and the writing of the book, i.e. its readers). In the previous note, I discussed the generally accepted view that the Sea-creature =represents the Roman Empire, as a predominant symbol of corrupt and wicked worldly power–with the seven mountains alluding to Rome and her ‘seven hills’, and the seven kings as first-century emperors up to (and beyond) the readers’ own time. Various attempts have been made to identity the seven with a particular sequence of seven emperors, and I noted what I regard as the two most plausible such schema. However, both seven and ten are symbolic numbers, functioning as symbols in the visions, and should not be made to fit historical circumstances exactly. Indeed, the division of 5+2 is a numeric scheme utilized in the vision-cycles—visions 1-5 grouped together, followed by visions 6 and 7; this is particularly true in both the seal-vision and bowl-vision cycles. Similarly, here the first five kings form a group—those who have “fallen” (i.e. have died or been killed), ruling in the past; the last two reign in the present and immediate future.

Likewise, the ten horns are also kings, just as the ten horns of the fourth creature in the Daniel 7 vision (vv. 7-8, 11, 20ff, 24ff; on the horn as a symbol of power and strength, cf. the prior note on 13:1). In the earlier description, the horns were said to have “diadems” (cloth/silk band wrapped around), indicating a royal status. Thus there are two groups of kings. Important details are offered by the Angelic interpreter which help to identify the nature of these “kings”:

    • “(they) did not yet receive a kingdom”
    • “they receive e)cousi/a as kings for one hour…”

This wording suggests that they are not rulers in the sense that the “heads” are, i.e. are not emperors; rather they are vassal kings, who receive kingship and rule from the head-king (emperor), reigning as semi-independent subordinates, but only for a relatively short time. Governing the vast territory of the Roman Empire, with its ethnic and cultural diversity, required that local vassal kings be employed on occasion, and in certain places. Herod the Great was just such a king (over Judea), one who could be removed from power at any time, as Rome saw fit. This king-making authority is demonstrated by a historical anecdote associated with the emperor Nero; when a Parthian leader offered his allegiance to Rome (and Nero), the emperor is said to have responded, “I now declare you king of Armenia…I have power to take away kingdoms and to bestow them” (Dio Cassius, Roman History 62.5.3, as cited in Koester, p. 679). Here in verse 12 the wording is clear: the horn-kings receive their kingdoms from the head-king, and they also receive the e)cousi/a from him to act as kings. The noun e)cousi/a is difficult to render literally in English, as I have often noted; basically it refers to a person’s own ability to do something, often in the sense of it being granted to him/her from a superior (i.e. the authority to do something). That is very much the situation here. These kings rule “(together) with” the Sea-creature (and its head), meaning that they reign under the creature’s authority.

As mentioned above, the specific number ten is symbolic, and it is probably foolish to attempt an identification of these horns with an actual set of ten vassal kings who reigned at a particular time. It may well be that the combination of head(s) and horns serves as a comprehensive symbol for the nations—those of the known world at the time, i.e. the Roman Empire and its vassals. This idea of the nations as a collective group was expressed differently in the last two bowl-visions:

    • Vision 6 (16:12-16)—Kings cross the great River (Euphrates), expanding to comprise all the kings of the inhabited world, who gather for battle in the day of Judgment
    • Vision 7 (16:17-21)—When the great City (Babylon) is toppled, all the cities of the nations—mountains and islands, etc—likewise fall and break apart; this is a depiction of the Judgment anticipated in the sixth vision (cf. 19:11-21)
Verse 13

“These hold one mind and give their power and e)cousi/a to the wild animal.”

The unity of these kings (nations) in their purpose and intention is emphasized. This indicates more than their loyalty to the Sea-creature (and its head); it anticipates their common hostility toward the creature, to be described in verses 16ff. However, they clearly recognize their status as vassals, acknowledging that their power and authority (e)cousi/a) comes from the Sea-creature. This generally reflects the situation in the Roman Empire, where the vassal rulers and nations had to acknowledge Rome’s sovereignty, but would seek any opportunity for true independence, to break free from Roman authority, if this were possible.

Verse 14

“These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will be victorious over them, (in) that [i.e. because] he is (the) Lord of lords and King of kings, and the (one)s with him (are) called and gathered out and trusting (one)s.”

This verse summarizes the Judgment of the nations, as in the earlier visions of 14:17-20 and 16:17-21; it will be depicted in much greater detail in 19:11-21. There are three components to the description here:

    • War with the kings of the nations and their defeat
    • The Lamb (Jesus) identified as the greatest King and embodiment of all kingship and rule
    • Believers who serve (and rule) as his vassals

The initial wording (“they will make war with [the Lamb]”) reflects that of the conflict-visions in chapters 12-13, where the Dragon and Sea-creature likewise “make war with” the people of God (believers / offspring of the Woman, cf. 12:7ff, 17; 13:7). Likewise in the sixth bowl-vision, the kings of all the nations gather together to make war; ostensibly, the evil purpose of their gathering is to make war against God (here against the Lamb), but the Judgment they will face may, it seems, also involves their fighting against each other (vv. 16ff).

In depicting Jesus as the Lamb, this detail of the interpretation continues the emphasis on his death and resurrection that is central to the Christological portrait in the book of Revelation. It also reflects the uniquely Christian understanding of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah), whose suffering and death was altogether contrary to the traditional Messianic figure-types in Judaism at the time. Jesus, in his earthly life, never fulfilled the traditional role, for example, of the David-ruler figure, who would subdue and punish the wicked nations. This was reserved for the time of his future return; even so, it is rarely mentioned in the New Testament; even in the book of Revelation it is, for the most part, only hinted at. At several points, the conquering Messiah of the end-time is anticipated (1:6-7; 12:10; 14:14-16ff), but is finally depicted only in the vision of 19:11-21 (to be discussed).

The three-fold reference to believers—using the adjectives klhto/$ (“called”), e)klekto/$ (“gathered out”), and pisto/$ (“trusting, trustworthy”)—is a bit curious. The context might suggest that Christians join with Jesus to do battle against the wicked nations, much as the Qumran Community seems to have imagined would take place in the great Eschatological/Messianic war (cf. especially the so-called War Scroll [1QM]). While the book of Revelation draws upon this same general tradition, it is unlikely that this is a reference to believers making war as part of the Lamb’s ‘army’. In my view, the mention of believers here brings together three important strands from the visionary narrative:

    • The idea of believers following the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4)
    • A continuation of the immediate symbolism–believers are “with” Jesus the King as his vassals, even as the horns/kings are vassals of the Sea-creature (and its head), ruling “with” him
    • The traditional motif of believers (the Elect, e)klektoi/) being gathered together to meet Jesus at his return (Mk 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-16; 2 Thess 2:1)

This discussion will be picked up in the next daily note, on vv. 15-18.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 18: Revelation 17:9-11

Revelation 7:7-18, continued

An initial interpretation of the chapter 17 vision (the Woman on the Sea-creature) was given in verses 7-8 (discussed in the previous note); it is explained in more detail here in verses 9ff. Given the challenges and difficulties in understanding the rich symbolism of the book’s visions, special care should be given to those few passages, in the book itself, where an interpretation is provided. It is somewhat surprising that more attention is not given to these verses for an explanation of the Creature (or “Beast”) from the Sea as a symbol. A careful examination would all but eliminate some of the more outlandish lines of interpretation that have been offered in recent times. We might echo the opening words of the heavenly Messenger in verse 9: “Here a mind holding wisdom (is needed)”.

Verse 9

“Here a mind holding wisdom (is needed). The seven heads are seven mountains, at which (place) there the woman sits upon them. And they are (also) seven kings…”

They Messenger states the matter clearly: the seven heads of the Sea-creature represent seven mountains and also seven kings. Let us consider each of these.

Mountains—Before rushing into fanciful explanations in attempts to identify these “mountains” (or “hills”, o&rh), one ought to first examine carefully what the imagery would have meant to the author and original readers of the book. Anyone living in the Roman Empire during the latter part of the first-century A.D. likely would have been familiar with the representation of Rome as a woman seated on seven hills. It is clearly depicted so on many coins of the period (cf. the example here below).

Thus most readers of the book would have recognized the symbolism as referring to the Roman Empire. The “seven hills” of Rome itself was a traditional designation, already well-established by the end of the first century (e.g., Propertius, Elegies 3.111.57; Ovid, Tristia 1.5.69-60; Statius Silvae 4.1.6; cf. Koester, p. 677, 690). Though the specific identification of exactly seven hills has varied somewhat (cf. the diagram below), the tradition of seven dominates, being much more significant than the geographical data.

However, while the identification with Rome is clear enough, this does not represent the full extent of the symbolism. In both ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman tradition, mountains were symbolic of earthly kingdoms and their kings. In the prior note on the seventh bowl-vision (16:17-21), I discussed how this symbolism applied to the Judgment of the nations, along with the image of “Babylon” as the “Great City”. Both the waters of the Sea and the mountains of the Earth represent the worldly power of the nations in its wicked and evil aspect. We might note, in this regard, some interesting examples from Greco-Roman and Jewish literature, such as in Dio Chrysostom (Oration 1.78-84) where tyranny is personified as a woman sitting on a mountain. According to the imagery of 1 Enoch 18:6-8 (also 24:1ff) there are seven mountains in heaven where God’s throne is located; an important (eschatological) theme in 1 Enoch involves the failure of the wicked nations (and their rulers) to acknowledge properly the authority of God, seeking instead to take over His rule on earth themselves. Cf. Koester, p. 677.

Kings—This corresponds entirely with the mountain-symbolism, as noted above. More importantly, this line of interpretation follows that of the vision in Daniel 7, though there it is the horns of the creature, rather than its head(s), which represent particular rulers of the kingdom (as also here in vv. 12ff). With regard to the specific relationship between mountain and king, there are two possible ways that the imagery may be understood:

    • Each mountain represents a kingdom (i.e. nation or city-state), along with its ruler (king)—the seven collectively represent the nations as a whole, and/or a sequence of nations (as in the visions of Daniel 2 and 7)
    • As the seven mountains represent the seven hills of Rome, so the kings are Roman emperors

The second option better fits the immediate context of the interpretation in chap. 17.

Verse 10

“…the five are fallen, the one is, the other (has) not yet come—and, when he should come, it is necessary for him to remain (only) a little (while).”

The wording here plays on that of verse 8, referring to the Sea-creature as one who “was, and is not, and is about to (come…)”. As I discussed in the previous note, that phrase is an evil parody of the description of God Himself (as well as Jesus Christ) in 1:4,8; 4:8 (also 11:17; 16:5). Now the same phrase is given a new interpretation in terms of earthly kingdoms and kings. This is in keeping with the symbolism of the book, whereby many symbols have both heavenly and earthly aspects. Here the ‘heavenly’ aspect of the Sea-creature, representing the forces of evil, lies in its opposition to God, imitating the Divine power and presence so as to lead the entire world astray. On the earthly level, this reflects the influence and control of nations (and their kings) by the same forces of evil. For the readers of the book of Revelation, the current pinnacle of earthly power, ruling a vast empire, is Rome, the city on seven hills. As such, most critical commentators would identify the first six “kings” in verse 10 with first-century Roman emperors. The wording of the text itself indicates that five kings have died (“fallen”), and one is currently alive and ruling (“is”). On this basis, various attempts have been made to identify the six kings with specific emperors; of these, two are the most viable, depending upon when the book was written (cf. Koester, p. 73):

    1. Augustus
    2. Tiberius
    3. Gaius (Caligula)
    4. Claudius
    5. Nero (54-68 A.D.)
    6. Galba (68-69 A.D.)
    1. Gaius (Caligula)
    2. Claudius
    3. Nero
    4. Vespasian (69-79 A.D.)
    5. Titus (79-81 A.D.)
    6. Domitian (81-96 A.D.)

The first option, which assumes a date for the book of c. 69 A.D., has several advantages:

    • It includes all of the 1st-century emperors to that point, beginning with Augustus
    • Nero is the last of the five who died, which would give special emphasis to the idea that he might return
    • The brief reigns of four emperors in 68-69 could reflect the expectation that the coming emperor would reign only a “little while”

Most critical commentators would not date the book quite so early, preferring a time closer to 90-95 A.D., during the reign of Domitian. This would be the second option above, which may be preferred for the following reasons:

    • The period begins with the reign of Gaius (Caligula), the most notoriously wicked of the emperors (along with Nero); it thus marks the period of Imperial rule as especially wicked and opposed to God.
    • It allows more time for the return-of-Nero legends to develop and influence the Sea-creature imagery in chaps. 13ff
    • It retains a climactic position for the destruction of Jerusalem (and the Temple), an important eschatological keystone (and time indicator) for early Christians
    • The limited persecution indicated in the book would seem best to fit the reign of Domitian, and a late first-century time-frame
Verse 11

“And the wild animal, that was and is not, even he (himself) is the eighth (king), and is out of the seven, and leads under [i.e. goes away] into ruin.”

This is perhaps the most important part of the interpretation, and it shows rather clearly, I think, how this unusual symbolism fits together. It reflects a line of tradition expressed some time earlier (by Paul) in 2 Thessalonians. I have discussed the famous eschatological passage in 2 Thess 2:1-12 as part of an article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”. I would isolate the basic tradition as follows, guided by the expressions in 2 Thess 2:6-7ff:

    • “the (thing) holding down (power)”:
      The Roman Imperial government, embodying the “secret of lawlessness” currently at work in the world
      = the Woman on the Sea-creature as the “secret” of the forces at evil in the world, along with the first five heads (kings) of the creature
    • “the (one) holding down (power)”:
      The current/reigning Roman emperor, who soon will be removed (i.e. taken “out of the middle”)
      = the sixth king who currently is, and/or the seventh who is coming
    • “the lawless (one)”:
      A Satanic, demonic-inspired ruler (emperor) who will control all people
      = the eighth king

Based on the wickedness of the Roman Imperial government, manifest especially in several of the emperors (Gaius, Nero), it was easy enough for early Christians to envision an even more wicked ruler, following after the pattern of Gaius and/or Nero, coming to power over the Empire. The Old Testament Scriptures had already provided the eschatological template for this figure, from the visions in Daniel 7 and 9 (and again in chaps. 11-12), referring primarily to the historical figure of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. At the same time, other nation-oracles played on the same general idea of a wicked foreign ruler who speaks and acts against God, and who might dare to assume the role and authority of God on earth. In certain strands of Jewish tradition in the first centuries B.C./A.D., it is the Evil One himself (i.e. Belial) who is embodied in the form of this wicked end-time ruler. Ultimately this is the basis for the “Antichrist” tradition among early Christians, a subject I will be discussing in detail in an upcoming article. I would maintain that both 2 Thessalonians and the book of Revelation attest a belief, among Jews and Christians of the period, that the final (Imperial) ruler of the end-time will be a truly demonic figure, if not Belial himself.

Because this idea is so critical to the interpretation of the vision in chapter 17, I feel it is necessary to discuss the matter a bit further, which I will do, in the next two notes, beginning with an exposition of vv. 12-14.

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 17: Revelation 17:7-8

Revelation 17:7-18

Following the introduction to the vision and the vision itself (vv. 1-6, see the previous notes), an interpretation is provided in verses 7-18. This is rare in the book of Revelation, as most of the visions are given without any interpretation/explanation in the book itself. The closest parallel is with the vision of 1:9-20, where it too is referred to as a “secret” (musth/rion) that the heavenly figure/messenger explains to the seer (v. 20). A narrative transition to the interpretation is provided in verse 6 when the author/seer states “I wondered (with) great wonder” at the vision of the woman. This serves as the basis for the Messenger’s response.

Verse 7

“And the Messenger said to me, ‘Through what [i.e. why] did you wonder? I will utter to you the secret of the woman and the wild animal carrying her, the (one) holding the seven heads and the ten horns.'”

On the significance of the term musth/rion (“secret”), cf. the previous note and my earlier word study series. As noted above, the same word is used in the interpretation of the vision in 1:9-20 (v. 20). The only other occurrence in the book of Revelation is at 10:7, with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (i.e. the conclusion of the great Judgment, par. with the seventh bowl-vision). The expression “the secret of God”, also used by Paul in 1 Cor 2:1; 4:1, and Col 2:2 (cf. also Eph 1:9; 3:3-4ff), generally refers to God’s plan for the Ages, the plan of salvation (through Jesus Christ) which effectively marks the beginning of a New Age (and the end of the current Age). The eschatological significance of the word musth/rion is clear enough in Paul’s letters (see esp. Rom 16:25), even as it is in the book of Revelation.

The Angel’s response to the seer’s wonderment is similar in some respects to Jesus’ response to his disciples at the beginning of the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:2 par). In both instances, what is most significant is the way that the Messenger (the Angel/Jesus) places the eschatological message in the context of the current life-setting of his audience. In the case of Jesus and the Eschatological Discourse, end-time events center around the destruction of the Temple; and the Temple was indeed destroyed, generally within the lifetime of his audience (70 A.D.), though how the other events are to be associated with it remain a matter of considerable debate (cf. my 4-part article on the Discourse). In the book of Revelation, the “secrets” of the visions in 1:9-20 and 17:1-6, are also set in reference to the immediate life-experience of its readers. This is done in the initial vision by identifying the “seven lamp(stand)s” with the Christians of the seven cities addressed in chapters 2-3. It establishes at the outset of the book that the visions relate specifically to the audience of the book—i.e., believers living in Asia Minor toward the end of the first-century A.D. Much the same occurs here in chapter 17. The Sea-creature (with the woman) represents the forces of evil as they are manifest in the centers of earthly power (i.e. kingdoms and their rulers), but with the interpretation of the creature (esp. its heads) this wicked earthly power is set firmly in relation to the readers’ own time and place. This is parallel to the earlier (veiled) interpretation of the name of the Sea-creature in 13:18. The author expected his readers at the time to recognize the reference, meaning that it had to be a name that would have been known to them (however obscure and elusive it may be to us now).

Verse 8

“‘The wild animal that you saw was, and is not, and is about to step up out of the (pit that is) without depth [i.e. bottomless], and (then) lead under [i.e. go away] into ruin—and the (one)s putting down house [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth will wonder, those whose name has not been written upon the paper-roll of life from the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, in their looking at the wild animal that was, and is not, and will be along.'”

The creature (lit. “wild animal”, qhri/on) is described with the triad of existential terms: “it was, and is not, and is about to…” (h@n kai\ ou)k e&stin kai\ me/llei). This parodies the language used of God in 1:4, 8 and 4:8 (also 11:17; 16:5) as “the (one) being and the (one who) was and the (one) coming” —expressing God the Father’s comprehensive existence, which can also be applied to the exalted Jesus (with an emphasis on his coming). The main difference with the Sea-creature is that, instead of the being (w&n) of God, it embodies non-being (ou)k e&stin, “is not“). The Sea-creature’s life and existence, as such, is defined as something past: “it was, and (now) is not“. Its coming manifestation is thoroughly evil and demonic, like the living dead. It comes from the deepest place of the earth—the pit “without depth” (a&busso$), meaning without a bottom. This locative imagery was first used in the trumpet visions, depicting the plagues of the Judgment as monstrous creatures coming out of the deep pit (9:1-2, 11, cf. the earlier note). The fact that the creature can be depicted both as coming out of the Sea (13:1ff), and out of the Bottomless Pit (also in 11:7), demonstrates that the symbolism refers to a common idea of the creature as the embodiment of the forces of evil that are at work upon the earth. It steps up out of the Pit, and then will, after a short time, go back into the place of death and ruin. The brief, passing existence it will have on earth is indicated by the verb parei/mi (“be along”, cp. para/gw in 1 Cor 7:31; 1 Jn 2:8, 17, etc); this verb may also be intended as a parody of the end-time parousi/a (“[com]ing to be alongside”) of Jesus (cp. 2 Thess 2:8-9).

Verse 8b clearly refers back to the chapter 13 visions of the Sea-creature. The people living on earth who wonder at the creature, are so fascinated (and deceived by it) that they are willing to worship it and belong to it (by receiving its mark). This process is described in more detail in those earlier visions (cf. the notes on 13:1ff); here it is presented in summary fashion. It also helps to explain the Angel’s response in v. 7: the idea that the seer should not “wonder” (vb qauma/zw) reflects a warning to readers of the book not to be led astray themselves, “wondering” at the Sea-creature. To worship the creature and receive its mark demonstrates that a person is not, and could not have been, a true believer. Those who resist the creature’s influence are the true believers, whose names have been written in the roll of life since the beginning of Creation (cf. 13:8).

The Angel’s interpretation continues in vv. 9ff; because of the historical-critical issues related to the details of the interpretation, it will be necessary to break it up into several notes. Verses 9-11 will be discussed in the next daily note.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

November 13: Revelation 17:5-6

Revelation 17:1-6, continued

Verse 5

“and upon the (space) between her eyes a name having been written, a secret—Babilim the great, the mother of prostitutes and stinking things of the earth.”

The vision of the woman on the seven-headed creature (cf. the previous note on vv. 1-5), concludes with this description of the name on her forehead (lit. the space between the eyes, me/twpon). The parallels with the engraved mark (xa/ragma) of name of the Sea-creature on the forehead of the wicked, and the name of God (and the Lamb) stamped/written on the forehead of believers, are clear enough and have been noted. More precisely, the “secret” of this name matches the hidden meaning (something requiring wisdom and understanding) of the name/number of the Sea-creature in 13:18 (cf. the earlier note). It is hardly coincidental that a veiled interpretation follows here in vv. 7ff, which, in both purpose and emphasis (for the original readers), is similar to the cryptic declaration in 13:18. Let us consider each component of the name presented in verse 5, in turn.

musth/rion (“secret”)—The name, as presented, is said to be a secret—yet, as the interpretation of vv. 7ff indicates, it is a secret that is being revealed, or made known (in part, at least), to readers of the book. The author/seer does much the same thing regarding the name of the Sea-creature at the close of the chapter 13 visions (v. 18). Since the woman here sits upon the Sea-creature, and is so closely identified with it, we may fairly assume that the names are closely connected as well.

In an earlier series of notes, I discussed the use of the word musth/rion in key passages of the New Testament. It often has an eschatological connotation, especially in the letters of Paul, tied to the essential early Christian belief that the revelation of Jesus Christ—through the proclamation of the Gospel and his presence through the Spirit—had ushered in a New Age for believers, even before the end of the current Age was fully realized (1 Cor 2:1ff; Rom 16:25, etc). This is made more explicit in the book of Revelation (10:7), where the coming of the great Judgment marks the moment when the “secret of God” (musth/rion tou= qeou=) is finally completed. More in keeping with the use of musth/rion here is its occurrence in the vision of 1:9-20, where a heavenly Messenger similarly interprets the details of the vision (v. 20).

A close parallel may also be found in the expression “secret of lawlessness” (musth/rion th=$ a)nomi/a$) in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. There, too, the “secret” relates to the manifestation of evil at the end-time, involving a wicked world power (and ruler/emperor). Paul makes known to his readers something of this “secret” and how it is unfolding, just as the Angelic interpreter does for the seer and readers of the book of Revelation. For more on this, cf. the article on the eschatology of 1-2 Thessalonians (Part 3), as well as my earlier note on the passage.

Babulw/n (“Babilim”)Babulw/n is a transliteration in Greek of the ancient city name meaning “Gate of God” (Akkadian B¹b-Ilim), similarly transliterated in Hebrew as lb#B* (B¹»el); English Babylon derives from the Greek. The ancient Near Eastern city, located along the Euphrates river (cf. 16:12), has a long history extending back until at least the late-3rd millennium B.C. (Ur III period). It also features prominently in Israelite and Jewish tradition, including the famous “Tower of Babel” narrative (Gen 11:1-9), in which the city served as figure and symbol for worldly power which sought to challenge God’s authority and take His position, much as it does in the book of Revelation. More clearly rooted in documented history is the city-state that became a conquering empire in the reign of Hammurabi (18th century) and again in the Neo-Babylonian period of the 7th-6th centuries. This makes it a fitting parallel to Rome as the great empire ruling the Near East in the 1st century A.D. Just as Babylon conquered and destroyed Jerusalem (587 B.C.), so Rome did again in 70 A.D. In the aftermath, Jewish authors clearly made the association (e.g., 2/4 Esdras 3:1-2, 29-31; 16:1; 2 Baruch 10:2; 11:1; 67:7; Sibylline Oracles 5:143, 159; Koester, p. 675).

Most commentators assume that in the New Testament (both in Revelation and also 1 Peter 5:13) “Babylon” is a cypher for Rome and the Roman Empire, and this does seem to be correct. The earliest surviving Christian interpretation (outside of the book of Revelation itself) clearly makes such an identification (e.g., Tertullian, Hippolytus, Victorinus, etc), a point that will be discussed further in the upcoming notes (on verses 7ff).

h( mega/lh (“the great”)—In the book of Revelation, “Babylon” is always called “the great” (14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 21) and is also identified specifically with “the great city” (16:19; 18:21). The latter expression is used in 11:8, where it is more properly identified with Jerusalem, but is there also called “Sodom” and “Egypt”. This shows that we must be cautious about limiting “Babylon” and “the great city” to Rome. In my view, as I have already discussed in recent notes, the imagery is more widely encompassing, as a symbol of worldly power—i.e. the nations and their governments and rulers, etc—as a manifestation of the forces of evil (the Sea-creature and Dragon) at work upon the earth. For readers of the book of Revelation, the Roman Empire and its Imperial administration (over Asia Minor, etc) would be the immediate point of reference. For a clear sense of the wider view of this symbolism, see especially the seventh bowl-vision (16:17-21 and my note on the passage).

h( mh/thr (“the mother”)—This plays on the typical use of feminine language and imagery to describe cities and nations (here the woman, v. 1, 3), with the motif of “mother” signifying both parental authority and the dependence of children (i.e. the populace) on her for nurturing care. Rome at times was called ‘mother of (all) cities’ and Italy the ‘mother of all countries’ (cf. Pliny the Elder Natural History 3.39; Koester, p. 675). However, perhaps even more prominent in the vision is the idea that the woman on the creature gives birth to all kinds of evils in the world. This would play into the parallel with the Woman in the chapter 12 vision, who gives birth both to Jesus (her first son) and believers (her other children).

tw=n pornw=n (“of the prostitutes”)—This woman, identified as a prostitute (po/rnh), would naturally give birth to other prostitutes, who are just like her and follow her example. The kings of the earth are said to engage in prostitution with her and “drink” from her cup of wickedness—thus, these other cities and nations likewise become prostitutes.

kai\ tw=n bdelugma/twn (“and of the stinking things”)—This expression echoes the wording in verse 4; the immediate reference is to Daniel 9:27 (also 11:31; 12:11), as interpreted by early Christians, in the eschatological sense of a wicked kingdom (and ruler) who will oppose God, profaning His holiness and persecuting His people (Mark 13:14; cp. 2 Thess 2:3-4ff; Revelation 13).

th=$ gh=$ (“of the earth”)—In these visions, the “Earth” (gh=) symbolizes the inhabited world (of humankind), specifically in relation to the dark forces of evil (the Sea) that exercise influence and control over it. The earthly nations and governments (“kings of the earth”) are primarily in view.

Verse 6

“And I saw the woman being intoxicated out of the blood of the holy (one)s and out of the blood of the witnesses of Yeshua, and seeing her I wondered (with) great wonder.”

Even as the woman in the vision intoxicates the nations and kings of earth with the wine of her wickedness, so she becomes intoxicated herself on the blood of believers. The pouring out of wine as a figure for the shedding of blood is a natural enough image, one which the Judgment-visions in Revelation play on at several points—14:17-20; 16:3-6. The drinking of blood (and becoming drunken with it) could also be used in a military setting—i.e. for the chaos and carnage of a battle (Isa 34:5; Jer 46:10; Ezek 39:18-19; Zech 9:15; Judith 6:4). For an application of the motif to a Roman Emperor, cf. Suetonius Tiberius 59.1. Here, it refers to the persecution and putting to death of believers in Christ (“holy ones”), especially insofar as they are “witnesses” of Jesus and the Gospel. For the special sense of ma/rtu$ / marturi/a (“witness”, vb marture/w) in the book of Revelation, in the context of the end-time persecution, cf. 1:2, 5, 9; 2:13; 3:14; 6:9; 11:3, 7; 12:11, 17; 19:10; 20:4; 22:16-20. Cf. Koester, pp. 675-6.

At this point, we read that the seer (John) “wondered with great wonder” at the sight of this woman. This sets the stage for the interpretation that follows in verses 7ff (to be discussed in the next note). It also emphasizes the extraordinary (and climactic) nature of the vision. It most effectively serves as the conclusion to the entire sequence of visions beginning with chapter 12. The parallels with the initial vision of 12:1ff should be obvious, as each involves an extraordinary image of a woman. The first woman, symbolizing the People of God, is seen clothed in celestial splendor (indicating especially her heavenly aspect). The second woman, by contrast, represents wickedness and the wicked on earth, being clothed with luxurious earthly garments. The first woman is in conflict with the Dragon and Sea-creature, being pursued by them; the second woman, is the companion of the Sea-creature, united and identified with it—indeed, she gains support and power, etc, by being seated upon it. The motif of conflict/persecution in the earlier vision is picked up again in the present vision with the description here in verse 6.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png