December 21: Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6

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

Revelation 20:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 20:5

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

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

Revelation 20:6

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

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

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

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

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

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December 9: Revelation 19:9-10

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:9-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 8: Revelation 19:4-8

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:4-5

“And the twenty-four elder (one)s and the four living (being)s fell (down) and kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] God the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, saying: ‘Amen, Hallelu-Yah!’ And a voice came out from the ruling-seat, saying: ‘You must give praise to our God, all His slaves [and] the (one)s fearing Him, the small (one)s and great (one)s (both)!'”

On the significance of the twenty-four Elders and the four Living beings, cf. the earlier notes on 4:1-5 and 4:6-13. In my view, the 24 “elders” (presbu/teroi) represent the People of God, in their heavenly aspect, perhaps alluding to the 12 apostles and 12 tribes of Israel together (see 21:12-14). Their voices come between the two songs of praise by the multitude (cf. below); all they say in response is simply “Amen, Hallelu-Yah!”. The centrality of this scene is confirmed by the fact that these beings surround the throne of God; and it is a second voice, coming from the throne, which calls on the the People to give even greater praise to God. While such a heavenly voice often signifies that it is God Himself speaking, here it more probably refers to a great Messenger (Angel), one associated specifically with the throne.

In verse 2, believers were called “slaves” (dou=loi), as here again in verse 5; in fact, this is a regular label for Christians in the book of Revelation (1:1; 2:20; 7:3; 10:7; 11:18, etc), as also in the New Testament as a whole. It specifically connotes those who are faithful to the witness of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel (Paul uses it frequently as a self-designation for himself and other missionaries). The New Testament conception of dou=lo$ does not quite fit our modern idea of slavery, but it also rather inaccurate to translate with the softer term “servant”. While servitude is definitely indicated, here in the book of Revelation, especially, is the important idea of belonging to a master. The seal or branding provides the mark of ownership. Believers belong to God and Jesus (the Lamb), while the wicked (non-believers) belong to the forces of evil (Sea-creature/Dragon/Satan). Here all believers are addressed, collectively—small and great alike, from all backgrounds and segments of society.

Revelation 19:6-8

“And I heard as (though) a voice of a throng (of) many (people), as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunderings, saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! (For it is) that [our] Lord God the All-mighty ruled as king!
We should be glad and leap (for joy) and give honor to Him,
(in) that the marriage of the Lamb came,
and his woman [i.e. wife/bride] made herself ready (for it),
and it was given to her that she should throw (fine) linen about (her), bright and clean,
for the (fine) linen is the just (thing)s of the holy (one)s!'”

Again, as in vv. 1-3, a “throng of many (people)” (o&xlo$ pollo/$) uttered a song of praise, only now the multitude (of believers) has blended more completely into the heavenly scene, sounding also like “many waters” and “many thunderings”, both expressions characteristic of theophany—the presence and manifestation of God Himself (1:15; 4:5; 6:1; 11:19; 14:2). At the same time, the “many waters” in the vision of chapter 17 were interpreted as the nations and peoples of the earth (vv. 1, 15); this adds to the idea that we are still dealing with a great multitude of believers, the people of God, as in vv. 1-3 (cp. 7:9-10). However, now they speak with a voice that is virtually indistinguishable from the heavenly voice of God.

What the multitude sings is a hymn of praise to God, as in vv. 1-3, again opening with “Hallelu-Yah!”. The focus is on God’s kingship and kingdom, as it has finally been realized over all the nations and kingdoms on earth. The fall of the Great City, and with it the defeat of the nations (vv. 17-21), has demonstrated the ultimate authority of God and His anointed one, the exalted Jesus (the Lamb), over the earth. The verbal tenses throughout vv. 6, 7b-8 are aorist forms, indicating something which has taken place (in the past). However, here they could be understood as ingressive-stative aorists, i.e. that things are entering into a particular state; or, perhaps, as consummative or effective aorists, indicating that a climax has been reached, etc. Certainly, the great Judgment, marking the end of the current Age, makes for a dramatic climax to the visionary narrative. In terms of the narrative, the marriage (ga/mo$) of the Lamb is something that is about to happen. On the language in verse 7, cf. Isaiah 61:10 (Koester, p. 728).

There are numerous layers of meaning and significance to the motif here of marriage and wedding ceremony. To begin with, at the close of chapter 18, as part of a list of daily activities that will come to an end with the fall of the Great City are “the voice of bride-groom and bride”, i.e. wedding festivities and the institution of marriage. While they are gone from the fallen earthly City, they remain in the heavenly City, and, indeed, there is to be a great wedding between the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) and believers (the woman). I have intentionally rendered gunh/ as “woman” rather than “wife”, despite the odd/inappropriate sound this has in English. The main reason is that I feel it is important to retain the connection with the prior woman-figures in chapters 12 and 17-18. In chapter 12, the Woman represented the People of God, especially in her heavenly aspect (Heavenly City); by contrast, the Woman (the prostitute) in chaps. 17-18 represents the forces of evil and wickedness in the world (Earthly City). After the fall of the wicked/earthly Woman, the scene shifts back to the pure/heavenly Woman; and it is this woman, the purified believers in Christ, who are to be married. This sexual imagery was introduced in 14:1-5, and reaches it climax here in chapter 19.

The richness of this motif may be summarized by noting the following strands of tradition which relate to it (cf. Koester, pp. 728-9):

    • The period of betrothal (prior to marriage) during which the bride (as also the bride-groom) was expected to remain faithful; even while living apart during this engagement, bride and groom were required to act in faithfulness, as though they were already married. For believers in Christ, the betrothal-period began with Jesus’ departure to heaven, and continues through the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$). For the author and original audience of the book of Revelation, they were thought to be living in this period, presumably at an early point in the distress. The question was whether the bride (i.e. believers) would remain faithful to Christ, or be led astray under the influence of the wickedness (fornication/prostitution) of the “Great City”.
    • In numerous passages of the Old Testament, God (YHWH) was depicted as a husband with the people Israel as His bride. Cf. Hosea 2:19-20 (and chapters 1-3 as a whole); Isaiah 54:5; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:20; 31:32; Ezekiel 16:8-13. Many Jewish readers and commentators interpreted the Song of Songs along similar lines. The question of faithfulness/fidelity was central to this tradition as well.
    • The eschatological application of marriage imagery (esp. the wedding festivities) to the end-time appearance of God (and/or his Anointed representative) bringing salvation/deliverance for the faithful. The seeds of this line of tradition begin in the Old Testament Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 25:6), and continue in Jewish apocalyptic literature, etc (2 Baruch 29:1-8; 1 Enoch 62:14-15). Jesus utilized this same imagery in his eschatological sayings and parables (Mark 14:25 par; Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29). Of special significance in this regard was the idea of waiting faithfully for the bride-groom’s appearance, which could be readily applied to believers in the end-time period prior to Jesus’ return (Matt 25:1-13). Interestingly, this wedding/marriage imagery does not appear to have been generally applied to Messianic figure-types in contemporary Jewish sources, and may have been a uniquely Christian development.
    • Another Christian tradition is a corollary of the God-as-Husband motif (second item above), so that Jesus is the husband (bride-groom) and the faithful people (of Israel, etc) the bride. There is evidence for this application already in the Gospel tradition (Mark 2:19-20; Matt 19:15; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Gospel of Thomas log. 104; cf. also the contextual setting of John 2:1-11). Admittedly, the motif is not prominent elsewhere in the New Testament, though Paul clearly makes use of it in 2 Cor 11:2 (cf. also Eph 5:28-32). Believers as the “Bride” of Christ became a common-place idea in early Christian writings (e.g. 2 Clement 14:2), and has continued on in Christian tradition to the present.

What is specifically emphasized here in verses 7-8 is how the woman (or “wife”, gunh/) makes herself ready (vb e(toima/zw) for the marriage. This should be understood on two levels: (1) the period of betrothal (cf. above), during which she remains pure and faithful, and (2) preparation for the actual wedding festivities. Both aspects are indicated by the bright and clean (i.e. white) linen garments she is to wear. There is special eschatological (and Messianic) significance to the verb e(toima/zw in the New Testament. This goes back to the association of Isaiah 40:3 (LXX) with the preaching of John the Baptist as one who “prepares the way” for the Messiah (Mk 1:3 par; Lk 1:17, 76). In Luke 9:52, Jesus’ disciples similarly “prepare the way” for him as he begins his journey to Jerusalem (for which there may also be an allusion in Mark 14:12, 15-16 par). Otherwise, the eschatological usage tends to be on God (and/or Jesus) preparing a place in his kingdom for the faithful (Matt 25:34; Luke 17:8; John 14:2-3; 1 Cor 2:9; Heb 11:16). The idea of believers being prepared for the coming of the bride-groom (and the wedding festivities) is certainly central to the parable in Matt 25:1-13.

The motif of pure white (linen) garments is traditional (Ezek 16:10, etc), with white (i.e. shining bright) clothing typical of heavenly beings (Dan 7:9; Matt 17:2; John 20:12; Acts 1:10, etc). It indicates purity and holiness, but also can serve as a sign of honor. Believers are said to wear (or put on) white garments at several points in the book of Revelation (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14). In the context of the visions, and according to the traditional imagery, this marks believers’ as belonging to the People of God, in its heavenly aspect. Cf. Koester, p. 314.

In verse 8 it is stated specifically that these bright linen garments are the dikaiw/mata of the holy ones. The plural noun dikaiw/mata would be translated as “things (that are) right”, “things (that are) just”, sometimes more pointedly as “just deeds”, “right actions”, etc. The word is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring only 10 times, half of which are by Paul in Romans (1:32; 2:26; 5:16, 18; 8:4). In the only other occurrence in the book of Revelation (15:4), the dikaiw/mata belong to God or are characteristic of Him. Here the word is best understood in the sense that believers have been faithful to God, in obedience to Him and the witness of Jesus His Anointed.

References marked “Koester” above (and throughout this series) are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014). This outstanding critical commentary has been especially useful in locating and confirming many related references in Classical and Jewish literature.

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December 7: Revelation 19:1-3

Revelation 19

There are three visionary scenes in this chapter, which effectively concludes the depiction of the great Judgment upon the earth. The seal-vision cycle offered a brief description (6:12-17), foreshadowing the trumpet- and bowl-cycles where the earthly Judgment was portrayed in full. It also featured in the intermediate visions of chapter 14 (vv. 8ff, 14-20). The visions and announcements of the fall of “Babylon” in chapters 17-18 belong as part of the bowl-cycle (chaps. 15-16) and must be understood in relation to that visionary narrative cycle. The same is true, to a large extent, for the visions in chapter 19. The Great City’s fall was depicted in the seventh bowl vision (16:17-21), and extended into chaps. 17-18. Meanwhile the scene of the judgment of the Nations in the sixth bowl vision (16:12-16) was left unfinished and unresolved. This delay is, in part, a narrative device which builds suspense, akin to the delay between the sixth and seventh visions in the earlier cycles. The fall of the City and defeat of the Nations (in battle) are two sets of images for the same basic idea—the end-time Judgment of the Nations by God.

Each of the main cycles of visions is preceded by a heavenly scene, in which the People of God (i.e. the righteous/believers) are gathered together and worship God and/or the exalted Jesus (the Lamb). The throne scene in chapter 4 (and 5) precedes the seal-vision cycle; chapter 7 precedes the trumpet-cycle (along with a brief heavenly scene in 8:3ff); while chapter 15 (esp. verses 1-4) precedes the bowl-cycle. Similarly, in the chapter 14 visions, the scene with the 144,000 and the Lamb (vv. 1-5) precedes the Judgment visions. So it is also here in chapter 19:

    • Heavenly scene: Worship of God and announcement of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (vv. 1-10)
    • The Judgment: Vision 1—The end-time appearance of the exalted Jesus, in his Messianic role of conquering King (vv. 11-16)
    • The Judgment: Vision 2—The defeat and destruction of the Nations (vv. 17-21)

Revelation 19:1-10

The first scene in verses 1-10 may be divided further into several components, including three specific instances where the People praise God; or, perhaps better, two parallel instances with an intervening moment:

    • The voice of a great throng [o&xlo$ pollo/$] of people praises God (vv. 1-3)
      • The twenty-four Elders praise Him (vv. 4-5)
    • The voice of a great throng [o&xlo$ pollo/$] again gives praise (vv. 6-8)

Verses 9-10 are a separate episode, an exchange between a heavenly Messenger and the seer (John). We begin in this note with the first song of praise by the “throng (of) many (people)” (vv. 1-3).

Revelation 19:1-3

“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I heard as (though) a great voice of a throng of many (people) in heaven saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! The salvation and the honor and the power of our God—
(for it is) that true and just are His judgments,
(in) that He judged the great Prostitute who corrupted the earth in her prostitution,
and He worked out justice (for) the blood of His slaves out of her hand’ —
and a second (time) they have uttered ‘Hallelu-Yah!’ —
‘and her smoke steps up into the Ages of Ages!'”

This heavenly “throng of many (people)” represent the collective People of God, who speak in unison with a united voice (a “great voice”, fwnh/ mega/lh). On numerous occasions a great voice was heard coming out of heaven; generally this would be understood as the voice of God Himself, but here it is clearly that of a multitude, i.e. God’s People. I have previously discussed how many of the symbols in the book of Revelation have both earthly and heavenly aspects. That is certainly the case with the People of God, a comprehensive symbol for believers, but not limited to the idea of believers on earth; moreover, in their heavenly aspect, the People of God is hard to distinguish from the other groups and multitudes of heavenly beings. No such distinction is made here, with parallels in 7:9-10 and 15:3 (where human believers are clearly in view), and also 12:10ff (where Angels are suggested by the immediate context).

These are instances of praise to God, as is indicated by the use of the Greek a(llhloui+a/, a transliteration of the Hebrew expression Hy` Wll=h^ (Hal®lû Y¹h), meaning something like “Give a shout to Yah(weh)!” It opens a number of Psalms in the last division of the Psalter (111-113, 135, 146-150); it is used both in the opening and closing of Psalm 106. The Greek transliteration occurs only here in Revelation 19 (4 times) within the New Testament. The initial words of praise in v. 1 are similar to those in 12:10, juxtaposing swthri/a (“salvation”) and du/nami$ (“power”), along with do/ca (“honor/esteem”, = basilei/a in 12:10); cf. also 7:10, 12; 4:9, 11; 5:12-13. God’s people refer the salvation and power and honor/esteem they experience back to God as its source. This draws upon the traditional covenant idea, the bond between sovereign and vassal. In ancient Israel the covenant model was applied to the people as a whole, in their relationship with God (YHWH).

The core of this song of praise emphasizes justice and the role of God as judge, the fundamental context being the great end-time Judgment upon the wicked. Three distinct statements are made in the lines of verse 2:

    • God’s judgments (kri/sei$) are true and just (di/kaiai)
    • He judged the great Prostitute for her prostitution, i.e. for her actual crime, showing that his judgment is fair
    • He worked out justice for the victims of her crimes—i.e. for believers persecuted and put to death

The profligacy and extent of the Woman’s (the Great City’s) “prostitution” (pornei/a) was noted in 17:2, 4, 15ff and 18:3, 9 (also 14:8), involving all the kings and nations of the earth (cf. Jer 51:24-25). The same cup that poured out the wine of immorality also poured out blood—the violence done against believers in Christ (16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24). The dual imagery of wine/blood is especially vivid in the vision of 14:17-20 (cf. also 18:4ff). Overall, the wording of verse 2 echoes that of 18:20:

    • “God judged your judgment out of her” (18:20)
    • “(God) worked out justice for the blood of his slaves out of her hand” (19:2)

The prepositional expression “out of her (hand)” refers to the reason for the judgment—i.e. her punishment comes out of (or as a result of) her own actions (“her hand”). The verb e)kdike/w (“work out justice”) is generally synonymous here with kri/nw (“judge”); since God is true and just, his judgment establishes justice.

The final expression of praise in verse 3, prefaced by another shout of “Hallelu Yah!”, draws upon the image of a destroyed and burning city (as in 18:9, 18). The announcement of “Babylon’s” fall in chapters 17-18 clearly depicts it as the result of a military attack (17:16). The specific motif of the city’s smoke rising up (eternally) is derived from the Abraham narrative (19:28); the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah came to be a traditional symbol for the end-time Judgment. A similar sense of finality is expressed in Isaiah 34:10, in the context of a nation-oracle that takes on eschatological significance. The same imagery was used in 14:11 for the heavenly aspect of the Judgment—that is, the eternal punishment that awaits for the wicked.

If the fall/destruction of the Great City represents the judgment on the Nations, it is depicted again, in different terms, in verses 17-21 (to be discussed). This is parallel to the visions in chapter 14, which, indeed, have a similar structure:

    • Declaration of the Great City’s fall (14:8; 19:1-3ff)
    • Vision of the coming of the exalted Jesus, marking the onset of the Judgment (14:14-16; 19:11-16)
    • The Judgment of the Nations, in terms of a great battle, resulting in carnage and destruction of the wicked (14:17-20; 19:17-21)

The first episode is an oracle of the Judgment, the third a description of the Judgment itself. There is thus no need to consider the fall of the Great City and the defeat of the Nations as separate events (indeed, they are combined in 16:17-21). However, it is possible that the author (and his readers) would have expected to see “Babylon” (i.e. Rome) fall at the beginning of this Judgment, with the defeat/destruction of the remaining nations following thereafter. This will be discussed further when we examine various interpretive approaches to the eschatology of the book, at the conclusion of this series.

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November 6: Revelation 15:1-4

Revelation 15-16

Chapters 15-16 comprise the vision-cycle of seven “bowls” (fia/lai), the third of the three major seven-vision cycles in the book of Revelation. All three variously depict the great Judgment that is to come upon the earth at the end time. The first cycle of seven seals (chap. 6) primarily describe the period of distress (qli/yi$) which precedes the return of Jesus and the great Judgment; however the last two seals, in my view, refer more properly to the time of Judgment (6:12-17; 8:1-2). The second cycle of seven trumpets (chaps. 8-9), by contrast, provide a vivid description of the Judgment on earth. This final cycle of seven bowls presents the earthly Judgment again, in even more dramatic terms. We can see the parallel (and interlocking) structure of these cycles:

Seal-Cycle
Trumpet-Cycle
Bowl-Cycle
  • Vision of the Lamb (chap. 5)
  • The period of distress (Seals 1-5, 6:1-11)
  • The People of God (144,000, 7:1-8ff)
  • The Judgment (Seals 6-7, 6:12-17; 8:1-2)
  • Vision of the Lamb (7:9-17; 8:1)
  • The period of distress (chap. 7; 8:3)
  • The People of God
    (144,000, chap. 7 + 11)
  • The Judgment (Trumpets, 8:3-10:7; 11:15)
  • Vision [of the Lamb] (11:15ff + 14:1ff)
  • The period of distress (chaps. 12-13)
  • The People of God (144,000, 14:1-5ff)
  • The Judgment (Bowls, 14:6-16:20 + chaps. 17-18ff)

The Bowl-cycle is connected with a separate visionary theme and set of symbols—the fall of the great city Babylon, and the harvest (wine-press) imagery for the Judgment. Indeed, the latter vision-set brackets the Bowl-cycle, forming a comprehensive depiction of the Great Judgment:

Revelation 15:1-4

“And I saw another sign in the heaven, great and wondrous: seven Messengers holding the last seven (thing)s to strike—(last in) that the (angry) impulse of God is completed in them.” (v. 1)

The language here matches that of 12:1, speaking of a “great sign” (shmei=on me/ga) visible in the heavens. There it referred to a vision of the People of God (the Woman), in the context of a great conflict (with the Dragon). Here in 15:1ff, by contrast, the conflict for the People of God (believers, children of the Woman [12:17]) is over—they have been delivered, with the coming of the Son of Man (Jesus, 14:14ff), and now the great Judgment for the people on earth will begin (14:17ff).

This Judgment, to be unleashed by the heavenly Messengers (cf. the previous note), is described as a set of seven plhgai/. The noun plhgh/ fundamentally means something (a blow, etc) that is struck. It can refer specifically to disease or natural disaster—i.e. something that strikes humankind—and, according to the ancient religious mindset, it is God who strikes the blow. Here, of course, it is no ordinary disease or disaster—rather it represents God’s great (and final) punishment upon the wickedness of humankind. Almost certainly, the historical tradition of the “Plagues” of Egypt (Exod 7-12) is in view.

For those who would (attempt to) read the visions of Revelation in a strict chronological sense, the punishments of the Bowl-visions are events which occur, in sequence, after those of the Trumpet-visions have taken place. While this is true in terms of the literary and narrative sequence of the visions, I believe it is a gross mistake to read them as a concrete sequence of specific, actual events. The cyclical nature of the visions (cf. above), and the way the symbolism is developed, would seem to make this absolutely clear. Moreover, the language here in verse 1 indicates the significance of the adjective “last” (e&sxato$) in context: it refers to the completion (vb tele/w) of God’s desire to punish wickedness—that is to say, His desire (qumo/$, “impulse”, 14:8, 10, 19) is finally realized and fulfilled through the Judgment.

“And I saw (something) as a (crystal) clear sea having been mixed with fire, and the (one)s (hav)ing been victorious (from) out of the wild animal—and out of its image and out of the number of its name—having (now) stood upon the (crystal) clear sea, holding harps of God.” (v. 2)

This “crystal-clear” (u(a/lino$) sea refers back to the heavenly throne-vision in chapter 4 (v. 6), and generally derives from Old Testament and Jewish tradition, especially the vision of Ezekiel (1:22, 26; cf. 1 Enoch 4:2; 2 Enoch 4:2; Koester, p. 631), and the ancient cosmological idea of God (El-YHWH) enthroned (or standing) over the primeval waters (Gen 1:6-7; Ps 104:2-3; 148:4, etc); cf. also the clear blue pavement in the theophany of Exod 24:10. The image played a significant role in Jewish mystical tradition, the visionary-ascent (Merkabah/Hekhalot) traditions, which included the idea that the one who ‘ascends’ might mistakenly think that he was in danger of being overcome by a flood of water—when, in fact, it is not physical water at all, but a manifestation of the heavenly splendor of God’s throne (b. „agigah 14b, Tosefta; Greater Hekhalot chap. 19).

The earthly “Sea” (qa/lassa), like the primeval waters, is dark, turbulent, and menacing, serving as a traditional symbol of chaos, death, and evil. This is certainly the idea in the chap. 13 visions, whereby the fabulous “wild animal” (qhri/on) comes up out of the Sea, in the presence (and under the influence of) the Dragon, who stands on the shore of the Sea (12:18). Here, by contrast, the “Sea” is clear, and believers are able to stand upon it without danger of being harmed. The preposition e)pi/ (“upon”) could mean upon the edge or shore of the sea, in which case there is a parallel with 12:18; however, I think it very possible that they stand on the surface of the sea, possibly alluding to the Exodus tradition of the People of God passing through (or over) the sea as if on dry land (Exod 14:22; 15:19).

Overall, this scene parallels that of 14:1-6, describing the People of God in terms of believers who resisted the influence of the evil Sea-creature during the period of distress (chap. 13). Here, too, believers hold heavenly harps and sing, after having been delivered from suffering, persecution, and the coming Judgment. Again the verb nika/w (“be victorious [over]”) is used, as a characteristic of the faithful believer (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11)—i.e. victorious over the Sea-creature and its evil worldly power. The preposition e)k (“out of”) should probably be taken literally here, according to the imagery—i.e. believers are able to resist and escape from “out of” the clutches of the “wild animal”.

“And they sing the song of Moshe the slave [i.e. servant] of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:
‘Great and wondrous (are) your works, Lord God the All-mighty!
Just and true (are) your ways, King of the Nations!
Who will not fear (you), Lord, and give honor to your Name?
(in) that [i.e. because] you are holy,
(so) that all the nations will come and kiss toward [i.e. worship] (you) in your sight,
(in) that your just (action)s are made to shine forth!'” (vv. 3-4)

We should not think of two different songs being sung; rather, two different motifs and strands of tradition are brought together to symbolize the “song” that believers sing. It is fundamentally a song of salvation, praising God for His deliverance of His people. The “song of Moses” refers to the ancient poem of Exodus 15:1-18, set after the Israelites’ escape from the Egyptians (the wicked worldly power of the time), passing through the Sea to safety (including the destruction of the Egyptian forces). Similarly, believers escape from the power of the Sea-creature, effectively passing through that “Sea” (note esp. the wording in Exod 15:13). The “song of the Lamb” praises God for the deliverance He brings through the person and work of Jesus (his death and resurrection), and reflects the close connection between the redeemed, faithful believers and the Lamb in Rev 7:9-17 and 14:1-5.

The actual song here in vv. 3-4 draws upon the traditional language of Old Testament poetry, both in the Psalms (22:28; 35:10; 47:8; 72:1; 86:10; 89:8; 98:2; 111:2-4; 139:14, etc; Koester, pp. 632-3), and elsewhere in Scripture, including the great ancient songs attributed to Moses (Exod 15:1-18; Deut 32:1-43). It may be viewed as a hymn with two parallel strophes, each with a similar outline:

    • Statement of the greatness/holiness of God (lines 1, 4)
      • His authority over the nations and their submission (lines 2, 5)
    • The Person (“Name”) and works of God are reason to give Him honor (lines 3, 6)

The title “King of the Nations”, in particular, emphasizes the impending defeat of the Sea-creature, the fall of the Great City (Babylon), and the final Judgment of the nations. God is depicted in his traditional role (frequent in the Psalms) as Judge, whose judgments are just (di/kaio$) and true (a)lhqino/$). The idea that the nations will come to God and worship Him is part of traditional Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought, going back to key oracles in the Prophets (esp. deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66)—at the end time, the nations will be subdued and will come to Jerusalem to give homage to God and His people. For more on this subject, and a summary of references, see the article on “Jews and Gentiles and the People of God”.

The Sea here is said to be crystal-clear and yet also “mixed with fire“. This symbolizes the two aspects of the end-time Judgment:

    • The purity of believers and their deliverance—being gathered together at the coming of the Son of Man (return of Jesus), described in the grain harvest vision of 14:14-16 (cf. Mark 13:26-27 par; 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc).
    • The wickedness of the world (non-believers) and their punishment—traditionally depicted, as here in Revelation, through the image of fire.

The fiery Judgment is presented in the Bowl-vision cycle, beginning with the heavenly scene in vv. 5-8, which I will examine in the next daily note.

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November 4: Revelation 14:14-20

Revelation 14:14-20

In the third vision of chapter 14, we finally have a depiction of the end-time coming of the “Son of Man” —that is, the return of the exalted Jesus to earth. It had been foreshadowed at several points, including a more direct reference at the beginning of the book (1:7, cf. the note there), but is now described in a vision for the first time. The coming of the Son of Man ushers in the great Judgment, the event being presented here using harvest imagery (introduced in verse 4, cf. the prior note). The harvest marks the end of the growing season, and so serves as a suitable eschatological motif—i.e., for the end of the current Age. The basic act of harvesting—the cutting—is itself an ambiguous symbol. On the one hand, it provides life-giving and sustaining food for the community, and is thus a positive symbol of life. On the other hand, it can be seen as an act of violence, the menacing image of swinging a sharp and dangerous tool, cutting off the life of what has been growing out of the earth.

Both aspects are combined in the use of the harvest as an image of the end-time Judgment, already well-established in early Christian tradition by the time the book of Revelation was written, largely by way of the sayings/parables of Jesus, as well as earlier in the Old Testament Prophets (Joel 3:13ff [cf. below]; Jer 50:16; 51:33; Matt 3:12 par; Mark 4:29; Matt 13:30, 39; cf. also Luke 10:2 par; Jn 4:35, where the eschatological aspect of Jesus’ statements are often overlooked). Here, in Rev 14:14-20, two kinds of harvest are depicted: the grain harvest (vv. 14-16), and the grape harvest (vv. 17-20). They symbolize two aspects of the time of the Judgment, respectively—the salvation of believers and the punishment of the wicked.

Verses 14-16: The Grain Harvest

“And I saw, and see!—a white cloud, and upon the cloud was sitting ‘(one) like a son of man’, holding upon his head a gold wreath and upon his hand a sharp plucking-tool [i.e. sickle]. And another Messenger came out of the shrine, crying out in a great voice to the (one) sitting upon the cloud: ‘You must send (out) your plucking-tool and reap (the summer crop), (in) that [i.e. because] the hour to reap (has) come, (in) that the summer crop of the earth is dried out (for) reaping!’ And the (one) sitting upon the cloud cast his plucking-tool upon the earth, and the (summer crop of the) earth was reaped.”

I have utilizing both “summer crop” and “reap(ing)” in English to convey the fundamental meaning of the verb qeri/zw and related noun qerismo/$. (i.e. the heat of late-summer as the time for reaping). The figure sitting on the cloud, and depicted as the harvester (in that he holds a sickle, dre/panon, plucking/cutting-tool), is identified by way of an allusion (in Greek) to the expression in Daniel 7:13: “one like a son of man” (o%moio$ ui(o\$ a)nqrw/pou). The Daniel reference is the basis for the expression “Son of Man” as the name for an eschatological (and Messianic) figure—a heavenly redeemer figure-type who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and bring about the Judgment. Jesus uses the same expression as a self-reference in many sayings, and, in his eschatological “Son of Man” sayings, identifies himself with the heavenly-deliverer who is to appear at the time of Judgment. For more on this, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, the supplementary note on Dan 7:13-14, the earlier article in this series on the eschatological sayings, as well as the series of notes on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus as a whole. The clearest allusion to Daniel 7 is found in two key Synoptic sayings: Mark 13:26-27 par (part of the Eschatological Discourse) and Mark 14:62 par (the Sanhedrin ‘trial’ scene); it is echoed again in Acts 7:55-56, and is part of the imagery surrounding Jesus’ expected return (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 1:7).

Verse 15 brings certain eschatological details into view; we may note these as follows:

    • The association of heavenly Messengers (Angels, a&ggeloi) with the Son of Man figure. In many of the eschatological sayings of the Jesus, the “Son of Man” is said to appear from heaven together with these Messengers—Mark 8:38 par; 13:26-27 par; Matt 13:39-41ff; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also John 1:51.
    • The image of the Temple sanctuary (nao/$). In the book of Revelation, the Temple is primarily a heavenly symbol, representing the dwelling place of God, but also as a gathering place for the People of God (in their heavenly aspect)—cf. 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 16:1, 17. Only in 11:1-2 is the Temple (and its sanctuary) used in reference to the People of God in their earthly aspect (i.e. believers on earth). Here the Messenger comes out of the sanctuary, i.e. from God’s presence, to address the Son of Man.
    • The harvest imagery is specifically associated with the Judgment, by way of an apparent allusion to Joel 3:13 (cf. below).

Some may find it strange that a Messenger (Angel) here commands the exalted Jesus (Son of Man) to act (imperative “You must…”). However, this simply reflects the fundamental (and sometimes forgotten) meaning of an a&ggelo$ as a messenger—that is, one who conveys a message from God the Father. Here this describes God the Father informing Jesus (the Son) that the time has come to act. It may also reflect the situation in the difficult Synoptic saying of Mark 13:32 par, where Jesus indicates that only the Father (and not the Son) knows just when the moment of the end will occur (cf. also Acts 1:7; 17:31 for this as a time specifically set by God).

The grain harvest, depicted in vv. 15-16, as a symbol has two main points of signification: (1) that the end-time Judgment is begun by Jesus (the Son of Man) at his return, and (2) that it refers primarily to the salvation/deliverance of believers. Generally such harvest-imagery in the New Testament refers to the gathering of believers, and is thus a positive image (of salvation)—cf. Matt 9:37-38; Mark 4:29; Luke 10:2; John 4:35-38. Only in the process of threshing—separating grain from chaff (i.e. the righteous from the wicked)—does the negative aspect (of condemnation/punishment) enter in (Matt 3:12 par; 13:40-42). Here the punishment side of the Judgment is reserved for the scene of the grape harvest (vv. 17-20), drawing heavenly upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition, especially the oracle in Joel 3:9-16. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

It is worth noting that it is Jesus (the Son of Man) himself who performs the grain harvest, but the grape harvest is left to a heavenly Messenger (Angel). This probably reflects the close connection between the personal return of Jesus and the gathering of the elect (believers) specifically. This is certainly the point of emphasis both in the original Gospel tradition of Mark 13:26-27 par (even though Angels oversee the gathering), as well as Paul’s exposition in 1 Thess 4:15-17 (cf. also 1:10; 2 Thess 2:1, etc). The separation of the righteous from the wicked, thereby consigning the latter for judgment/punishment, is seen as the activity of the Angels in Matt 13:39-49. Here, too, in the book of Revelation, it is the heavenly Messengers who unleash the Judgment upon the earth in the Trumpet- and Bowl-visions.

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November 3: Revelation 14:6-13

Revelation 14:6-13

This is the second of three visions in chapter 14 (on the first in vv. 1-5, see the previous note). In terms of the basic framework of early Christian eschatology, it marks the end of the period of distress (qli/yi$) and announces the beginning of the great Judgment (kri/si$). It thus holds the same place as the half-hour of silence (at the opening of the seventh seal) in 8:1f; note the parallel structure:

  • Vision-cycle depicting the period of distress (chapters 5-6)
  • Vision of the 144,000, together with the Lamb (chapter 7)
  • Angels & the preparation for the Judgment (8:1-2)
  • Vision-cycle depicting the great Judgment (chapters 8-9)
    • Vision-cycle depicting the period of distress (chapters 12-13)
    • Vision of the 144,000 together with the Lamb (14:1-5)
    • Angels & the preparation/onset of the Judgment (14:6-13, 14-20)
    • Vision-cycle depicting the great Judgment (chapters 15-16)

While the 144,000 symbolize the People of God (believers) generally, there is also a specific reference to those who have faithfully endured the period of distress (7:14; 14:4-5), whether or not they were put to death for following Christ. Since the author/seer and the first readers of the book would have assumed that they were about to enter into this period (i.e. that it was imminent and about to begin), there is no real contradiction in this. Modern-futurist interpretation (in its various forms), of course, requires that the period of distress is yet to come, and so the 144,000 must symbolize future believers.
[The entire question of modern-futurist interpretation of the book of Revelation will be discussed at the end of this series]

The vision in 14:6-13 describes the appearance of three heavenly Messengers (Angels), each of whom delivers a different, but related, message regarding the coming Judgment.

Verses 6-7: First Messenger

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing in the middle of the heaven, holding (the) good message of the Ages to deliver (as) a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, upon every nation and offshoot (of the human race), and (every) tongue and people, declaring in a great voice: ‘You must fear God and give to him honor, (in) that [i.e. because] the hour of His Judgment (has) come, and you must kiss toward [i.e. worship] the (One) making the heaven and the earth and (the) sea and fountains of waters!'”

The image of the Messenger flying “in the middle of the heavens” echoes that of 8:13, confirming the Judgment-setting. There, however, it was a message of woe to the people on earth; here, along with the warning of the Judgment is a message of hope. The idea seems to be that God is giving humankind one final chance to repent and turn to Him, much as we saw in the earlier Trumpet-cycle depicting the Judgment—note the remnant motif (i.e., two-thirds survive) and the specific notice at the close of the cycle (9:20-21).

I have translated the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion literally (“good message of the Age[s]”). It is typically rendered “everlasting Gospel” or “eternal Gospel”; however, I feel it is especially important here to preserve the etymological meaning, since the “good message” relates to the consummation of the Ages, the end of the current Age. The Judgment marks the moment when God will eradicate evil and wickedness from the world, fully establishing His justice and rule over humankind. At the same time, no early Christian reader could hear the word eu)agge/lion without associating it with the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Like many symbols in the book of Revelation, the great Judgment itself has both earthly and heavenly aspects—i.e. Judgment that takes place on earth, and that which takes place (subsequently) in Heaven. It would seem that the visions allow for the possibility of people turning to faith in God (and Christ?) during the earthly Judgment (cf. below).

For the expression “good news” (using the eu)aggel– word-group), its background and usage in connection with the Roman emperor and the imperial cult, see my earlier Christmas season note and the recent Word Study series on Gospel/eu)agge/lion.

The use of the aorist tense (h@lqen, “came”) in verse 7 is interesting, since it suggests that the Judgment is a past event, even though it is just now being announced by the Messengers. Most translations render this like a perfect (“has come”); it may be considered as an ingressive aorist, indicating the start of an action. The focus on God as Creator, may reflect a style of Gospel-preaching to (Gentile) non-believers (cp. Acts 14:15-18; 17:23-31), but may also refer back to the idolatry and false religion emphasized in the chap. 13 visions (cp. Wisdom 13:1-19; Rom 1:18-25; Koester, p. 612). The chain of terms in verse 7, summarizing all of the inhabited world, is a direct echo of 13:7.

Verse 8: Second Messenger

“And another Messenger, a second, followed declaring: ‘Babilim the great (has) fallen, fallen!—the (one) who has made all the nations drink out of the wine of the (evil) impulse of her prostitution!'”

This second Messenger continues the “good message”, concerning the end of the current (and wicked) Age, with an announcement regarding “Babel” (i.e. the city Babylon). Greek Babulw/n is a transliteration of the name, presumably deriving from Akkadian b¹b-ilim (“Gate of God”); Hebrew lb#B* (B¹»el) is a similar transliteration, while English Babylon comes from the Greek. The nation-state centered on the city of Babylon was the pre-eminent (imperial) power at the time of the Judean exile, thus making it a fitting symbol for the conquering imperial power (Rome) in the first-century A.D.—the time of the Judean distress (c. 40-70) as well as suffering/persecution of believers when the book of Revelation was written. Most commentators regard “Babylon” as a cypher for Rome, both here and in 1 Peter 5:13. On the whole this is correct, and the identification is made more clear and specific in chapter 17; however, I believe that the symbolism is actually somewhat broader in scope. The interpretive key lies in the vision(s) of 11:1-13, especially the reference to the “great city” (h( po/li$ h( mega/lh) in v. 8, which is there identified with Jerusalem (cf. also vv. 1-2), but also called “Sodom” and “Egypt”, names specifically indicating worldly power and wickedness. Here, too, Babylon is called “the great (city)” (h( mega/lh), and, I believe, the meaning is generally the same. Whether identified by the specific name “Sodom”, “Egypt”, “Jerusalem”, “Babylon”, or “Rome”, the symbol refers primarily to the center of earthly power and influence, which is fundamentally (at least in this current Age) wicked and opposed to God.

Again an aorist form (e&pesen, “fell”) is used to describe something which, from the standpoint of the overall narrative, has not yet taken place. The use of a past tense (whether aorist or perfect in Greek) is sometimes used in reference to future events, speaking of them as something already completed—i.e. proleptic aorist. The use of the prophetic (and precative) perfect in Hebrew does much the same thing, often used to assure readers that something will take place. The specific form of the message (regarding Babylon) derives from Old Testament tradition and the nation-oracles in Isaiah and Jeremiah—specifically Isa 21:9 and Jer 50-51 (50:2; 51:8). It will be greatly expanded in chapter 18.

As is frequently the case in Jewish and early Christian tradition, the noun pornei/a (lit. referring to acts of prostitution) is used figuratively for wickedness and faithlessness to God (i.e. ‘idolatry’ and false religion, etc).

Verses 9-11: Third Messenger

“And another Messenger, a third, followed them declaring in a great voice: ‘If any one kisses toward [i.e. worships] the wild animal and its image, and takes the engraved (mark) upon the (space) between his eyes or upon his hand, even (so) th(is person) he will drink of the impulse of God’s (anger) having been poured out (for him), without (being) mixed (with water), in the drinking-cup of His anger, and he will be tested severely (and proven false), in fire and sulphur, in the sight of (the) holy Messengers and in the sight of the Lamb!—and the smoke of their severe testing steps [i.e. goes] up into the Ages of Ages, and they hold no resting up (from this) day and night, the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] the wild animal and his image (and), indeed, if any one takes the engraved (mark) of its name!'”

I view the message in vv. 9-11 as comprised of a single long (elliptical) sentence, which I have sought to make more readable by punctuating with commas throughout. Its elliptical structure can be illustrated with a chiastic outline:

    • Any one who worships the creature…and takes its mark
      • he will drink from the cup of God’s anger (i.e. divine judgment)
        • they will be tested severely in fire (judged & punished)
          • in the sight of the holy Messengers and the Lamb
        • the smoke of their severe testing rises (judged & punished)
      • they have no rest from it day and night (i.e. eternal judgment)
    • ones who worships the creature…and take its mark

The description of the one who worships (lit. “kisses toward”, vb proskune/w, a common Greek idiom signifying worship/veneration) the “wild animal” (qhri/on, i.e. the Sea-creature) occurs both at the beginning and end of the message, a dual-emphasis that shows just how serious the matter is. It also confirms the context of the visions in chapter 14 as that of chap. 13, with its depiction of the wicked influence exerted by the Sea-creature over humankind. It is specifically stated that anyone who so venerates the Sea-creature (and its living ‘image’ on earth), and takes the engraved mark (xa/ragma) showing that he/she belongs to the creature, will face the full brunt of God’s anger (o)rgh/) in the Judgment. The immediate context of these verses makes clear that it is the heavenly aspect of the Judgment that is in view.

Drinking from a cup (poth/rion) is a traditional motif for the fate a person will experience, often in the negative sense of suffering and/or punishment. For the idiom in the Old Testament, cf. Psalm 16:5; 75:8; Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-17; 49:12, etc. Jesus famously uses it in the garden scene of the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:36 par, cf. also 10:38-39 par). This cup is controlled by God, and given out to human beings (who meet their fate over the course of their lives). Here it is meant as a precise contrast with the wine that Babylon made the nations drink (v. 8; cf. Jer 51:7). In both instances the noun qumo/$ is used, which I regularly translate as “impulse” (for lack of a better option in English); it basically refers to a violent or passionate movement, as of air, breath, etc, sometimes internalized as a movement of the soul or mind. The wine Babylon gives is from her wicked impulse to “prostitution”, whereas the wine God makes people drink in the Judgment comes from His impulse to anger, to punish the wicked. This wine is said to be a&krato$, “without mixture”, that is, without being diluted by water—at its full strength.

The verb basani/zw (and related noun basanismo/$) is typically translated as “torment”, but more properly refers to an intense testing, as of metal that is tried by fire. That is the basic image here. The wicked, of course, are proven to be false in the fire of testing, which becomes a painful torture for them (a common denotation when basini/zw is used of human beings). The motifs of fire and sulphur, along with the rising smoke, allude to the destruction of cities (even a “great city”, cf. above), following the traditional imagery of the destruction of the wicked Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24, 28) which came to be used as a symbol of the end-time Judgment (Luke 10:12 par; 17:29; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7; cf. also Rev 11:8). Many Christians are naturally disturbed by the idea of the wicked being tormented endlessly; however, any ethical-religious issues we may have today are quite foreign to the text itself and its first-century setting. We should not try to soften or mitigate the imagery, nor should any attempt be made to view it as an absolute metaphysical description of the afterlife.

Verses 12-13: A Fourth Voice

“Here is the need for the holy (one)s to remain under [i.e. endure faithfully], the (one)s keeping watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of God and the trust of Yeshua. And I heard a voice out of the heaven saying, ‘Write (this): happy the (one)s th(at are) dying away in the Lord from now (on)’. ‘Yes’, says the Spirit, ‘(so) that they will rest up out of [i.e. from] their beatings, for their works follow with them’.”

Verse 12 represents the author/seer’s own words to his readers. He stresses again the importance of remaining faithful to Christ during the end-time period of distress (which he and his audience are believed to be entering). The dangers for believers described in the chap. 13 visions—both in terms of being led astray and of being persecuted (and put to death) for remaining faithful—would have been realized already by the surrounding pagan culture and, especially, the imperial cult tied to Roman rule. What is envisioned in chapter 13 is a more extreme, intense, and wicked version of what Christians in Asia Minor, at the end of the 1st-century, were already facing. The description of believers in v. 12b echoes that of 12:17, there referring to believers as children of the Woman (i.e. the People of God on earth). See the prior note on that verse for a discussion of the plural noun e)ntolai/, usually translated “commandments”. In my view, the expression “the e)ntolai/ of God” is best understood and comparable to “the law [no/mo$] of God” in Paul’s letters (Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21). It refers generally to the will of God, such as is expressed in the Old Testament law (Torah) and the teaching of Jesus, but should not be reduced to a specific set of commands or teachings. The pairing of expressions means that believers are people who generally live in a manner that corresponds to the will of God, and who also, specifically (and most importantly), have trust/faith in Jesus.

The final message is one of comfort for believers, given by a heavenly Messenger, and echoed by the Spirit. The main difficulty lies in the expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”); it can be understood three ways, moving from narrower to broader focus:

    • It refers to believers (or those who come to be believers) alive during the great Judgment on the earth. The message of the first Angel (cf. above) seems to allow for the possibility of people coming to faith during the Judgment, or just prior to its onset. Given the terrible events that will occur on earth at the Judgment (vividly described in the Trumpet- and Bowl-cycles), death certainly would be a blessing.
    • It refers primarily to the period of distress that precedes the Judgment on earth; believers certainly will live through this (according to the visions of chaps. 12-13 and elsewhere in the book), and will suffer greatly. Here, too, death, even as a result of execution, would be a comfort.
    • It is meant more directly for the audience/readers of the book, who, it must be said, were expected to live into the (imminent) period of distress.

In my view, the last, and most inclusive interpretation best fits the context of both the vision and the book as a whole. In any case, the blessing (or happiness) of believers who die during this time is two-fold: (1) they receive rest from suffering and distress (referred to as “beatings” ko/poi, something with weakens or reduces strength), and (2) they are rewarded for their faithfulness (referred to here as “works”, e&rga).

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November 2: Revelation 14:1-5

Revelation 14

While some have been inclined to interpret the visions of the book of Revelation from a continuous chronological standpoint, the structure and symbolism of the visions, I believe, offers overwhelming evidence that the framework is instead cyclical. That is to say, the same end-time themes and events are repeated, presented from different points of view, emphasizing specific aspects and details, as the visionary narrative builds to a climax. This will be discussed further when we come to the Bowl-cycle of visions in 15:5ff; however, it is important to stress the point now as we look at the visions of chapter 14, for, in many ways, they are a key to the entire structure of the book.

There are three visions in chapter 14:

    • The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (vv. 1-5)
    • The Three Angels announcing the Judgment (vv. 6-13)
    • A vision of Jesus’ return and the onset of the Judgment (vv. 14-20)

These correspond roughly with the three main components of early Christian eschatology:

    • A period of distress (qli/yi$) on earth which includes severe suffering/persecution of believers
    • The coming (parousia) of the exalted Jesus (the “Son of Man”) to earth, together with heavenly Messengers (Angels)
    • The end-time Judgment: deliverance for believers, punishment for the wicked

Revelation 14:1-5

The vision in verses 1-5 both builds upon the prior visions of chapters 12-13 as well as repeating important themes and symbolic matrices from the earlier visions (in chapters 5 and 7) which precede the Seal- and Trumpet-cycles. The main imagery from those visions is centered on the exalted Jesus symbolized as a heavenly Lamb (a)rni/on). In each instance, the Lamb is surrounded by the People of God—in both their heavenly (chap. 5) and earthly (chap. 7) aspects. On the symbolism of the lamb, cf. the earlier notes on 5:1-14. Here in chapter 14, the imagery more closely reflects that of chap. 7 (cf. the note on 7:9ff).

Verse 1

“And (then) I saw, and see!—the Lamb having stood upon mount ‚iyyôn, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousands, holding his name, and the name of his Father, (it) having been written upon the (space) between their eyes.”

‚iyyôn (Gk Siw/n, English Zion, a transliteration of Heb /oYx!), is a traditional Israelite/Jewish name for Jerusalem. It likely meant something like (“fortress, fortified place”) originally, and refers specifically to the ancient Canaanite hilltop site taken over by David as the location of the Israelite Temple-Palace complex (and the oldest part of the later city). Near Eastern cities of the Bronze/Iron-ages, unlike most Greco-Roman (and modern) cities, covered a much smaller area, largely limited to the palace(s) of the ruling family and associated temple-complex(es). They were walled and highly fortified, on hilltop locations, often built-up as such through successive levels of occupation. The majority of population, as farmers and herders, lived outside of this fortress-city, but would take refuge behind its walls in times of invasion or natural disaster. Thus “Zion” came to be used as a symbol of refuge and salvation in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition; this imagery was enhanced due to the manifest presence of God (YHWH) in the sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple (on the Zion-site). The term (Siw/n) is rare in the New Testament, occurring just seven times (almost always in Scripture quotations), and only here in the book of Revelation. In Hebrews 12:22 it is used as a reference for the heavenly dwelling of believers, those saved and redeemed through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; that is the same basic meaning here in Rev 14:1. The mountain location may also be intended to symbolize a point where heaven and earth meet—i.e., the people of God (believers) in both their heavenly and earthly aspects.

The motif of the 144,000 believers was introduced in the chapter 7 vision (vv. 4ff), comprising 12,000 from each of the twelve Israelite tribes. Interpretation of this symbolism as proven a bit difficult. Certainly the specific number is symbolic (12 x 12 x 10,000), and ought not to be taken in a concrete sense any more than should the image of the hybrid “creatures” that come up out of the “Sea” and “Earth”. However, there is perhaps more reason to take seriously the ethnic (i.e. Israelite) aspect of the image in 7:4ff, and, indeed, many commentators would interpret it as specifically representing Israelite/Jewish believers, perhaps along the line of Paul’s idea, expressed in Rom 11, of a widespread Jewish conversion at the end-time. In my view, this is correct, but only partly so. As I discuss in the previous notes (on 7:1-8 and 9-17), there are actually two groups in vv. 4-17 which make up the sum total of believers (the people of God): (1) the restoration of Israel (i.e. Jewish believers, vv. 4-8), and (2) those from all the other nations (vv. 9ff). While the 144,000, in that vision, more properly refers to Israelite/Jewish believers, here, in my view, it serves as a shorthand for all believers—i.e. the entire people of God.

The scene depicted in verse 1 clearly echoes the imagery of the two visions in chapter 13, at two main points:

    • Jesus as the Lamb, in opposition to appearance of the evil Earth-creature as a Lamb (13:11); more importantly, the Sea-creature was apparently slain and restored to life (13:3, 12), a wicked parody of the Lamb (5:6).
    • Just as those belonging to the Sea-creature have its name/number ‘written’ on their forehead (between the eyes), so those belonging to the Lamb have his name between their eyes (cf. also 7:3).
Verse 2

“And I heard a voice out of heaven, as a voice of many waters and as a voice of great thunder, and the voice that I heard (was) as harpers harp-playing on their harps.”

The description of this heavenly voice echoes that of 1:15, the introductory vision of the exalted Jesus (cf. the earlier note), which, in turn draws upon traditional Old Testament theophanic imagery. Here it is also described as the sound of music, specifically of heavenly musicians playing the harp (Gk kiqa/ra). The kiqa/ra is harp made up typically of seven strings (and almost certainly seven is intended here); for classic references to its use and symbolism, cf. Koester, pp. 378, 608-9, 618). Here its use reflects the heavenly worship of the Lamb in chapter 5 (v. 8).

(image courtesy of luthieros.com)

Verse 3

“And they sang (together) [as] a new song, in the sight of the ruling-seat [i.e. throne] and in the sight of the four living (being)s and the elders, and no one was able to learn the song if not [i.e. except for] th(ose) hundred and forty-four thousands, the (one)s having been (purchased as) at market [h)gorasme/noi] from (out of) the earth.”

This is essentially a repetition of the heavenly worship scene in 5:6-14, with the “new song” being that described in vv. 9-10ff. It is new (kaino/$) in the sense that it belongs to the New Age that was inaugurated with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus (the Lamb). Since it relates to a true understanding of the person and work of Jesus, only Christian believers (represented by the 144,000) are “able to learn” this song—here the verb manqa/nw (“learn”) probably signifies both the ability to sing the song and to understand its meaning. On the traditional idiom of the “new song”, cf. Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa 42:10.

The verb a)gora/zw literally refers to going to the market-place (a)gora/) or public square (to make a purchase). It can be used in the specific context of purchasing someone’s freedom (out of slavery/bondage); that is generally how Paul uses it (in 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23, 30), referring to believers being purchased out of bondage (to sin) through Christ’s sacrificial death, and so also here in the book of Revelation (cf. Rev 5:9). Here the “earth” (gh=) has the basic meaning of the inhabited world (i.e. all of humankind), but also in terms of the world dominated by the forces of evil and wickedness (i.e. the Dragon and Sea/Earth-creatures). There is likely a play on the idea of those belonging to the Sea-creature needing the mark of its name in order to purchase (13:16-18), with those belonging to the Lamb bearing the mark of his name because they were purchased by him.

Verse 4a

“These are the (one)s that were not stained with women, for they are virgins—these (are) the (one)s following the Lamb wherever he would lead (himself) under.”

The 144,000 (i.e. believers) are now described using sexual imagery, introducing a strain of symbolism that will grow and climax in subsequent visions. The reference here is actually quite complex, drawing upon a number of traditional images. The most difficult point of interpretation is the phrase meta\ gunaikw=n ou)k e)molu/nqhsan (“they were not stained with women”). There are two ways this may be understood, depending on how the phrase is emphasized:

    • “they were not stained with women” —this reflects a male-centered orientation, defining sin/immorality in terms of sexual relations with women. That there was such an ascetic tendency in early Christianity cannot be doubted (of many passages, see esp. 1 Cor 7:1ff). A strict version of this interpretation would then view the 144,000 specifically as males (with parqe/noi as male virgins); more figuratively, one would say that the male-imagery may be applied to the purity and faithfulness of believers as a whole.
    • “they were not stained with women” —the emphasis here is that their relation with women was not stained through (improper) sexual contact; this would allow parqe/noi (“virgins”) to be used in its more common sense of chaste young women. Then, the second these (ou!toi) could refer to both aspects of the sexual/gender-symbolism—males not stained (i.e. pure) and (female) virgins.

I tend toward the second option; either way, the sexual imagery is largely figurative—symbolizing purity and faithfulness (to God and Christ). The Greek word pornei/a (literally, prostitution, but generally referring to improper sexual activity) in the New Testament often refers figuratively to a lack of faith and false religious belief and practice, etc, following a long line of Israelite/Jewish tradition going back to the Old Testament. And, given the context of the prior visions in chapter 13, the idea of sexual immorality here should be understood in terms of the wicked/false worship of the Sea-Creature (and Dragon). The second vision in 14:6-13 (discussed in the next note) will make this quite clear.

Several strands are built into the image of believers following the Lamb:

    • The basic idea of Christian discipleship as following Jesus (cf. the expression “Lamb of God” in this context in John 1:29ff)
    • Shepherd/pastoral imagery used to this effect—though normally the symbols are reversed: the sheep follow the herdsman (John 10:1-18, etc)
    • The Old Testament motif of faithfulness, whereby God’s people (Israel) follow Him into the wilderness; this can be combined with bridal/sexual imagery as well (Hos 2:14-15; Jer 2:2-3)
    • Traditional bridal motifs in ancient love poetry, etc., which depict the young maidens (including the betrothed) following after the bridegroom (Song of Song 1:3-4, 7-8; 2:4, 10ff; 3:1ff, etc). These maidens are referred to as “daughters of Jerusalem (i.e. Zion)”, which came to be a traditional expression for the people of God (the faithful ones).

I have translated the verb u(pa/gw above literally as “lead under”, often used in the basic reflexive sense of “lead oneself under”, i.e. make oneself hidden, or, more generally, go away. I preserve the etymological meaning here for two purposes: (1) the prefix u(po/ (“under”) is often used in verbal compounds denoting obedience, endurance, etc, and (2) it captures the sense of the Lamb going away, i.e. so that he cannot be so easily seen, which requires faithfulness and devotion in order for his followers to search after him (esp. in times of great distress).

Verses 4b-5

“These are the (one)s purchased (as) at market from (out of all) men, the beginning of (fruit) from (the harvest) for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth was not found (anything) false, (for) they are without blame.”

Two different traditional images are introduced here, both drawing upon Israelite harvest traditions:

    • The beginning of the harvest (both grain and vine), represented in Greek by the noun a)parxh/, which, according to Israelite tradition (and specified in the the Torah regulations), was dedicated to God, belonging to Him. Believers are occasionally referred to by this term elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom 8:23; 2 Thess 2:13; James 1:18). Here there are two aspects to be emphasized:
      (1) believers are the first-fruits in the sense that they belong to God and are dedicated to Him, and
      (2) in the vision that follows in vv. 14-20, which uses similar harvest imagery, the deliverance/rescue of believers at the time of the Judgment is given priority over the punishment of the wicked, occurring first in sequence.
    • Referring to believers as “without blame” (a&mwmo$) reflects the idea of the lamb that is without blemish, esp. the lamb slain for Passover (originally a harvest festival), cf. Exod 12:5 etc. Here “blame” is meant in the specific context of chapter 13, but it certainly extends to include the wider sense of purity and faithfulness among believers (especially during the end-time period of distress), which, in turn, reflects the holiness/purity of the Lamb (Jesus).

The lack of anything “false” in the mouth of believers is probably meant as a contrast to the deceptive/false speaking of the Sea- and Earth-creatures, by which non-believers on earth are led astray (13:5ff, 11-14ff). The idea of being “without blame” or “without blemish” also ties back to the earlier sexual imagery and bridal motifs—i.e., the bride as a chaste, virginal young woman who is presented to the groom at the time of the wedding. This entails remaining pure during the period of betrothal (engagement). Such bridal imagery is applied to (faithful) believers at a number of points in the New Testament (Matt 25:1ff; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2, etc); it will take on even greater prominence later in the book of Revelation. Interestingly, it is not entirely unusual to combine bridal and harvest motifs, as we see this done throughout the Song of Songs and elsewhere in the Old Testament. A particularly noteworthy passage is Jeremiah 2:2-3, which resembles Rev 14:4-5 in a number of respects.

October 13: Revelation 12:13-17

Revelation 12:13-17

“And when the Fabulous (Creature) saw that he was thrown (down) onto the earth, he pursued the (same) Woman who (had) produced the male (child). And the two wings of a great eagle were given to the woman, (so) that she might take wing [i.e. fly] into the desolate land, into her place (in) which she will be nourished there—for a time, times, and half a time—(away) from the face of the Snake.” (vv. 13-14)

This episode continues the conflict between the “Fabulous Creature” (dra/kwn) and the Woman from vv. 1-6. As I discussed in the prior note on that passage, the Woman should be understood as representing the People of God, in both a heavenly and earthly aspect. Similarly, the Dragon embodies the forces/powers of evil and wickedness; it, too, has both heavenly and earthly aspects. This dual-aspect of the symbolism—heavenly and earthly—is the key to understanding this passage; it also reflects the overall eschatological worldview of the book as a whole. This is similar, in many respects, to the outlook of the Community of the Qumran texts, which viewed itself as the “holy ones” on earth, in conjunction with the “Holy Ones” in heaven (i.e. Michael and the Angels). The two dimensions existed and functioned in tandem, on parallel levels, but would come to be more properly united, working and acting together, at the end time. The War Scroll (1QM) is perhaps the best example of this eschatological expectation, whether realized figuratively or as a concrete historical event, as the Community and Angelic forces join together in a war between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness”. Revelation 12 evinces a similar sort of military imagery, with the forces of evil (the Dragon) “making war” against the People of God.

While the three episodes of chapter 12 make up a three-part narrative, it is also possible to view vv. 7-17 as a kind of unit, with a parallel/chiastic structure:

    • Dragon makes war on the People of God (Angels) in heaven (vv. 7)
      • He is unable to prevail in heaven (v. 8)
        • He is thrown down to earth (v. 9)
          • Voice sounding the victory of the Kingdom of God (vv. 10-12)
        • Conflict on earth with the Woman (vv. 13ff)
      • He is unable to prevail on earth (v. 16)
    • Dragon makes war on the People of God (Believers) on earth (v. 17)
Revelation 12:13 (translation above)

In the first episode, the Dragon stands close by, threatening the Woman and waiting to devour her (first-born) male child (v. 4). The child, clearly to be identified with Jesus Christ, was “seized” and taken up to God (i.e. the resurrection/ascension/exaltation of Jesus) away from the Dragon’s grasp. Now the monster is only able to go after the Woman, and he pursues her. This verb (diw/kw) is often used in the sense of pursuing someone with hostile intent, and so came to be a technical term for the persecution of believers. While the Woman clearly has a heavenly aspect (v. 1), as noted above, it is the earthly aspect that is primarily emphasized in this vision. As the People of God, the Woman represents Israel, but should not be limited to such an identification. In the first episode, representing the period of Jesus’ birth and earthly life, it would be proper to understand the Woman as the People of God according to the Old Covenant (cf. the Lukan Infancy narratives for examples of this emphasis). Here, however, the vision is describing the period after Jesus’ resurrection; and yet, believers in Christ are not specifically mentioned until the end of the episode (v. 17). It is, perhaps, best to see the Woman here as representing the People of God according to the New Covenant, understood at first (vv. 13-16) in a general sense.

Revelation 12:14 (translation above)

There are three key motifs in this verse:

    • the wings of an eagle—In Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the wings of an eagle (Gk. a)eto/$) are used to symbolize the salvation and protection God provides for his people (cf. Exod 19:4; Deut 32:10-12; also Isa 40:31; Psalm 103:5, etc). In particular, the Exodus/Wilderness setting of Exod 19:4 and Deut 32:10ff is probably in view here. The passive form of e)do/qhsan (“was given”) is an example of the “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor. The parallel in Rev 17:3 would suggest that the great bird-image here essentially refers to the Spirit.
    • flight into the desert—In Israelite/Jewish history and tradition, the desert (Gk. e&rhmo$, “desolate [land]”) is a place to which one flees for safety and protection. In the case of God’s people, alone in the desert, they must then rely entirely upon God (YHWH) himself for care and sustenance. The most prominent example, of course, is the wilderness wanderings of Israel (Exodus 16ff; Deut 32:10ff, etc); but there are other notable traditions involving Hagar/Ishmael (Gen 16:1-13; 21:8-19), Moses (Exod 2:15-3:1), David (1 Sam 23:25), and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1-7; 19:4-8). Jesus was similarly sustained in the desert, according to the early Gospel tradition in Mark 1:12-13 par; and there is also the famous tradition of the Flight to Egypt in the Matthean Infancy narrative (Matt 2:13-15). From such imagery developed the religious-spiritual tradition of the desert as the place where a person encounters the presence of God (Isa 40:3ff; Hos 2:14, etc).
    • “time, times, and half a time” —This expression comes from the book of Daniel (Dan 7:25; 12:7), and is another way of referring to the 3½ years that marks the end-time period of distress. The orientation of the book of Revelation suggests that believers were living at the very beginning or onset of this period, during which they would endure intense persecution (cf. below).

It is likely that the “place” (to/po$) the Woman finds (with God) in the desert is meant to echo the “place” (to/po$) that the Dragon (Satan and the other Angels) loses in heaven (v. 8).

Revelation 12:15-16

“And the Snake cast out of his mouth, in back of [i.e. after] the Woman, water as a (great) river, (so) that he might make her (to be) carried (away) by the river. And the Earth ran to the cry (of) the Woman and opened up her mouth, and drank down the river which the Fabulous (Creature) cast out of his mouth.”

This vision-narrative here is replete with a closely connected set of mythological images. In addition to the figures of the Woman and Dragon, the Earth (gh=) is personified as well. Like the Woman and Dragon, it too has a kind of dual aspect. Note—

1. There is a close affinity between Earth and the Woman. As noted above, here the Woman represents the People of God on earth—that is, human believers (cf. below). Also the word gh= is grammatically feminine, and so Earth is personified as a woman. Traditionally, such mythic-cosmological personifications of Earth have a strong fertility component—i.e. the Earth as a Mother, giving birth to life on earth. In the vision, the Woman is also principally a mother, so it is quite natural that the personified Earth would seek to help her.

2. At the same time, there is also a kind of parallel between the Earth and the Dragon, which foreshadows the following visions in chapter 13 (cf. the prior warning in v. 12). Just as the Dragon opens its mouth (sto/ma) to blast out water, so also the Earth opens her mouth (sto/ma) to contain it. The Dragon lost its place in Heaven, and so it now forced to reside on the Earth; many Snake/Serpent traditions in ancient myth have a strong chthonic aspect—i.e., tying it to pattern of earthly/material existence, the boundaries of the created order, etc.

The matrix of images Earth-Water-River here also serves as an important symbol with several levels of meaning:

    • The natural motif related to rivers in the desert (including many of the rivers in Palestine)—dry river beds (wadis) which are filled suddenly with water by powerful rain-torrents. This is generally a positive image of life and sustenance (Psalm 105:41; Isa 43:19), but it could also signify a time of great danger (i.e. for someone standing in/near the river-bed).
    • In the Exodus traditions, during the wanderings in the desert, God provided for Israel with water-streams that came out of the rock (Exod 17:6; Psalm 78:16). Here we have the reverse image of the earth (i.e. the desert ‘rocks’) helping the people of God by taking back in the waters.
    • Also in the wilderness period traditions, we have the episode of the Korah rebellion, in which the earth “opened up” to swallow the wicked rebels (Num 16:32-34). Here the earth responds similarly to swallow up the evil waters of the Dragon; implicit is the idea that the earth (like all of creation) responds to the will and command of God (cf. Wisdom 16:17ff; 19:6; Koester, p. 554).

As in vv. 13-14, here the Fabulous Creature or Dragon (dra/kwn, v. 16) is identified as a great Snake (o&fi$, v. 15), reflecting both: (1) a snake-like appearance, and (2) the Serpent of Genesis 3 as a personification/manifestation of the Evil One (Satan/Devil), as the earlier aside in v. 9 makes clear. The name Dia/bolo$ (i.e. Devil) is derived from the verb ba/llw (“throw, cast”), literally referring to one who “throws over” accusations/insults, or who “casts (evil) throughout”. Here the Dragon/Snake is said to “cast” (e&balen, from ba/llw) out the destructive waters against the Woman from its mouth.

Revelation 12:17

“And (so) the Fabulous (Creature) was in anger about the Woman, and went from (there) to make war with the (one)s remaining (out) of her seed, the (one)s keeping watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of God and holding the witness of Yeshua.”

Unable to destroy the Woman, the Dragon goes away to focus on attacking her children. This is the first we hear in the vision of any other children by the Woman. It is to be inferred that, after the birth of her (first) male child (Jesus), she gave birth to other children, here expressed as “the (one)s remaining (out) of her seed”. How are we to understand this distinction between the Dragon’s attack on the Woman, and that against her remaining children? Are the Woman and her Children two different figures or aspects of the same basic image. On the one hand, they are different:

    • 1st Episode: Woman = People of God under the Old Covenant
      • Jesus (the Messiah) is the male child born of her
    • 2nd Episode: Woman = People of God under the New Covenant
      • Believers in Christ are the children born of her

On the other hand, we may see it as the same image—i.e., the Woman represents the People of God on earth, under the New Covenant, which is equal to all believers in Christ. The specific expression “the remainder of her seed” probably means simply all other children after Jesus, distinguishing believers from Jesus himself. Conceivably, the idea of “remaining” could also imply believers who are still alive after the attack on the Woman (i.e. an initial period of persecution). These children of the Woman are here defined as believers, by two phrases, describing them as those:

    • “keeping watch (over) the e)ntolai/ of God” and
    • “holding the witness of Yeshua”

With regard to the first phrase, I have left the plural noun e)ntolai/ untranslated above. Typically it is translated as “commandments”, but literally the word e)ntolh/ refers to something (a duty, charge, etc) which is placed on someone to complete. The only other occurrence of the word in the book of Revelation is at 14:12, where the same phrase is used. The expression “the e)ntolai/ of God” here may be understood one of three ways:

    • It refers to the commands, precepts, etc, of the Old Testament Law (Torah), either in its full sense or as it might be applied to Christians.
    • It is equivalent to Paul’s expression “law of God” (no/mo$ qeou=, Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21), which I take to mean the will of God in the broader sense. Paul’s also uses the phrase “keeping watch over the e)ntolai/ of God” in 1 Cor 7:19, where “e)ntolai/ of God” probably has the same meaning as “law of God”.
    • It is being used in the Johannine sense, referring to the two-fold command—(1) true faith in Christ and (2) Christ-like love for fellow believers—expressed by the use of e)ntolh/ throughout the Gospel and Letters (see esp. 1 Jn 3:23-24).

In my view, the second option above best fits the context here in the book of Revelation. By “commands of God” (or the Pauline equivalent “law of God”), early Christians would surely have understood the idea of believers fulfilling the will of God by following the example and teaching of Jesus. The Pauline and Johannine emphasis on the Spirit as the source of guidance and teaching for believers in this regard is generally absent from the book of Revelation (but note the wording in 2:7 etc). Some commentators would see the reference to the “commands of God” here as an indication that Jewish Christians were specifically in view, but I find this to be unlikely. Throughout the book of Revelation, images and motifs from Israelite/Jewish tradition are consistently applied to believers—that is, all believers—in a general sense.

The second descriptive phrase in v. 17 is “the ones holding the witness of Yeshua”. The genitive could be understood as subjective (Jesus is giving the witness) or objective (it is witness about Jesus). In Rev 1:2, it is subjective, meaning that the witness/message comes from Jesus; however, elsewhere in the book, the idea of believers functioning as witnesses tends to dominate. Clearly, both concepts are related, and I would argue that we should give weight to them both here as well. The close connection between Jesus and believers as children of the Woman makes this all the more valid. In giving witness of the Gospel (about Jesus), believers follow the example of Jesus himself in giving witness. The verb e&xw should be translated literally (and concretely) as “hold”, conveying the idea of the need to hold firmly to the Gospel during the time of distress, parallel to the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”).

Some commentators would include the short sentence in 12:18 (“And he stood upon the sand of the Sea”) as part of the vision in chapter 12; however, it is best considered as part of the vision that follows in chapter 13. In many way, it is serves as a transition between the two visions, joining together the images of Earth and Sea (as in v. 12). I will discuss verse 18, together with the first portion of chapter 13 (vv. 1-10) in the next daily note.

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September 30: Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17

Rev 7:9-10

Verse 9 begins with words similar to the opening of verse 1, indicating that these are two halves of a single visionary scene:

With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I saw, and see! a throng (of) many (people), which no one is able to number, out of every nation—and (all) offshoots [i.e. tribes] and peoples and tongues—having taken (their) stand in the sight of the ruling-seat and in the sight of the Lamb, having been cast about [i.e. clothed] in white dress and (with) palm branches in their hands, and they cried (out) with a great voice, saying: ‘The salvation (is) to our God, the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, and to the Lamb!'” (vv. 9-10)

The image of believers—those who are “able to stand” in the great Judgment (6:17)—begins with those sealed out of the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a throng of people out of every nation, language, and ethnic group, etc. The relationship between these two will be discussed further below. First it is necessary to examine how this second “group” of believers is described here in vv. 9ff.

    • “cast about [i.e. clothed] in white dress”—this corresponds with the traditional description of heavenly/angelic beings (4:4; 19:14), as well as the heavenly reward/status promised to believers in 3:4-5, 18.
    • “(with) palm-branches in their hands”—the palm branch symbolized victory in Greco-Roman tradition (Virgil Aeneid 5:112; Livy Roman History 10.47.3; Plutarch Moralia 723-4; Pliny Natural History 17.244; Caesar Civil War 3.105, etc; cf. Koester, p. 420), and was recognized by Jews as well (1 Macc 13:37, 51; 2 Macc 10:7; 14:4; Philo On the Unchangableness of God §137). In John’s version of the Triumphal Entry scene, palm branches are used (Jn 12:13), presumably to greet Jesus as the (conquering) Messiah.
    • The song they sing is similar to that of the heavenly beings in chaps. 4-5, and reflects the same dual emphasis of the Lamb (the exalted Jesus) standing alongside God on His throne. It also indicates the same position of homage and adoration, in which the salvation believers have experienced is “given back” to God (and Christ), recognizing Him as its source. Ascribing salvation to God (that is, as coming from Him, or belonging to Him) is part of the Old Testament tradition (cf. Gen 49:18; 1 Sam 2:1; Psalm 3:8; 27:1; 38:22, etc).
Rev 7:11-12

The song by the believers effectively joins that of the heavenly throng (chaps. 4-5), and the heavenly beings around the throne of God answer in return, with a new refrain. On the language used here, cf. 4:9-10f; 5:9-14; in particular, the wording of the song in v. 12 echoes 4:11 and 5:12-13. Significantly, seven words are strung together, symbolizing the praise that is worthy of Deity.

Rev 7:13-14

The identity of the great throng clothed in white (vv. 9-10) is addressed here, by way of a leading question from one of the heavenly “Elders”. Such an exchange reflects similar episodes in Old Testament and Apocalyptic tradition—cf. Ezek 37:3; 40:3-4; Zech 1:8; Dan 7:16; 8:15; 1 Enoch 21:5; 22:3; 2 Baruch 55:3-4ff, etc; Koester, p. 420.

Elder: “These the (one)s cast about [i.e. clothed] with white dress—who are they and (from) where did they come?”
John: “My lord, you have seen [i.e. you know].” (cf. Ezek 37:3)
Elder: “These are the (one)s coming out of the great distress/oppression [qli/yi$], and they washed their dress and made the (garment)s white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Here the emphasis is on their white garments. The word stolh/ is often translated “robe”, but fundamentally it refers to any sort of (special) clothing or dress, used to indicate position, honor, etc. The white garments reflect the dress of heavenly/divine beings (cf. above), which believers receive as a sign of honor and victory (i.e. heavenly reward). Now, however, the color is given a particular significance, which is two-fold:

    • they have come out of “the great distress/oppression”
    • they have washed (i.e. rinsed under flowing water) their garments “in the blood of the Lamb”

Previously, the blood of the Lamb was tied to sacrifice—i.e. Jesus’ death in terms of (a) Passover, (b) the offering at the establishment of the covenant, and (c) a sin/guilt offering. Only the last of these is really in view here, with the distinctive idea of cleansing (i.e. from sin). Obviously, blood is antithetical or paradoxical as a symbol for cleansing, but it may relate to concepts of atonement (wiping out/off) through blood in ancient religious traditions—cf. Gen 9:6, etc. There was a sacred quality associated with blood, it could be used in religious ritual to consecrate people or objects (Exod 24:6, 8; 29:12ff; Levit 8, etc). The connection with washing is perhaps drawn more directly from Gen 49:11, as a Messianic prophecy (cf. Rev 5:5). Since these believers have come out of the time of great distress, which includes persecution and killing of believers (6:9-11), it is possible that here blood specifically refers to believers who are put to death for their faith. While this allusion is likely, the reference here should not be limited to that interpretation. According to basic early Christian teaching, all believers are cleansed through Jesus’ blood (Rom 3:25; 5:9; 10:16; Col 1:20; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:13-14ff; 10:4; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5, etc). Moreover, the obvious parallel with baptism likewise would apply to believers generally.

Some comment is required regarding the expression “the great distress/oppression” (h( qli/yi$ h( mega/lh). Under the now-traditional designation “Great Tribulation”, this expression has very much taken on a life of its own, especially among Dispensationalist commentators. We must, however, be careful not to wrench it too quickly out of its context here, within the vision-cycle of the seven seals. Limiting it this way, at least for the moment, it must refer generally to the visions described for the first six seals, which we may summarize (again) as:

    • Seals 1-4, the four horses and riders—a period of intense warfare among the nations, resulting in disruption of the social order, culminating in hunger, disease and death.
    • Seal 5—persecution of believers, resulting in many being put to death
    • Seal 6—cosmic disruption of the natural order, marking the appearance of God to bring Judgment

As I noted previously, this sequence generally parallels that of Jesus’ sayings in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:7-8, 9-13, 24-25 par). There, too, it is described in terms of great distress and suffering (the word qli/yi$ being used in vv. 19, 24). Jesus also ties this period to the choosing/election of believers (vv. 19-20, 27), as here in Rev 7:4-9ff, though without the specific image of sealing. It is customary for many Christians today to view this period (the “Great Tribulation”) as a time which has not yet come—i.e. many centuries after the author’s time. While this is understandable, it is hard to find support for such an interpretation, and certainly not based on what we have seen thus far through the first six chapters of the book, where the language of imminence is used throughout (Rev 1:1, 3, 7, 19; 2:5, 16; 3:3, 10-11, 20). Indeed, 3:10 refers to “the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole inhabited (world)”. There is little, if any, indication that this “hour of testing” is anything other that the time of “great distress” mentioned in 7:14. The entire issue of imminent eschatology in the New Testament will be addressed in a special article, as part of the current series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”

Rev 7:15-17

This answer by the Elder suddenly turns into a kind of poem, or hymn, which echoes that of v. 12 (also in chaps. 4-5), and serves as a fitting conclusion to the vision:

“Through this they are in the sight of the ruling-seat of God and do service for Him day and night in His shrine, and the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat will stretch (out His) tent upon them. They will not yet hunger (any more), and will not yet thirst (any more), and (certainly) the sun shall not fall upon them, and not (either) any burning (heat), (in) that [i.e. because] the Lamb (standing) up in the middle of the ruling-seat will herd them and will lead the way for them upon fountains of waters of life, and God will wipe out every tear out of their eyes.”

The language of verse 15 brings out two motifs drawn from Israelite religious tradition:

    • Believers serving as priests (cf. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6), day and night, in the sanctuary—both of the Temple, and, more particularly, of the older Tent-shrine (Tabernacle)
    • The Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) indicating God’s presence, and the protection which that brings

Verses 16-17 also allude to a number of key passages in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 49:10 and 25:8. The motif of the Lamb serving as a shepherd for the people, is primarily Messianic, by way of Ezek 34:23-24, etc. Both the shepherd-image and the idea of God’s sanctuary/dwelling among his people, are combined in Ezek 37:24-28. The exalted Jesus (the Lamb) is recognized as the Messiah, but also, through his divine status/position at the right hand of God, he fulfills the same life-giving and protecting role as God Himself. Jesus identifies himself similarly as a shepherd at various points in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:27 par; John 10:1-18; cf. also Matt 2:6; 10:6; 15:24; Mark 6:34 par; Luke 15:3ff; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4; Heb 13:20).

Concluding note on the two “groups” in vv. 4-17

The distinction in this passage—believers from the people of Israel and those from all the nations—would seem to reflect two themes in early Christian eschatology taken over from Jewish tradition, and which ultimately stem from the Old Testament Prophets (esp. the book of Isaiah):

    1. The Restoration of Israel. At the end time, the twelve tribes will be regathered from their dispersal among the nations, forming a new Israel, centered back at Judah/Jerusalem. Among the many passages note: Isa 11:12; 43:5-6; 49:5-6; Jer 29:14; 31:8-10; Ezek 11:17; 34:13; 36:24; 47-48; Zech 10:8-10; Sirach 36:11; 48:10; Tobit 13:5; 2 Macc 2:18; Jubilees 1:15-17; Psalms of Solomon 11; 17:28-31. Related to this theme is the idea that the restoration will involve a faithful remnant, or portion of the people—Amos 3:12; Zeph 3:11-13; Mic 2:12; Isa 10:19-22; 11:11ff; Jer 23:3, etc. Early Christians seem to have shared this latter idea with the Qumran Community—i.e., they represented the faithful remnant of Israel (Rom 9:27-29; 11:5ff).
    2. The Inclusion of the Gentiles. Along with the restoration of Israel, at the end time the nations (i.e. Gentiles) also would come to Jerusalem and be included among the people of God. This belief was fundamental to the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, but was reflected already in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—e.g., Mic 4:1-5 (par Isa 2:2-4); Isa 49:5-6; 56:3-8; 60:3-7ff; 66:18-24; Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; Tobit 13:11; 14:6f.

As I noted above, it is possible that here the book of Revelation expresses and eschatological view similar to that of Paul in Rom 9-11, and that the portion sealed from the tribes of Israel, with its symbolic number of completeness (12 x 1000), is more or less equivalent to Paul’s statement regarding “all Israel” (Rom 11:26). As Paul describes this end-time conversion of Israelites (vv. 25-27), it suggests a sudden and miraculous event, which could be comparably expressed through God’s sealing of the 144,000 in Rev 7:4-8. Along with this large number of Jewish believers, there is an even larger number of believers from among the nations; Paul doubtless envisioned this as well (10:18; 11:11ff, 25). Both “groups” together—Jews and Gentiles as believers in Christ—make up the true, complete people of God.