February 8: Revelation 21:18-21

Revelation 21:18-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The description here in Revelation concludes with verse 21:

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

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

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

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

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February 7: Revelation 21:15-17

Revelation 21:15-21

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

Revelation 21:15-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 4: Revelation 21:12-14

Revelation 21:12-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Acts 1:6-26)

Acts 1:6-26 (and Matt 19:28 par)

The previous note dealt with the association of the Twelve and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the context of Matthew 19:28 par (Lk 22:28-30) and the tradition in Acts 1:6ff. I pointed out that there is good reason to think that the number twelve and its symbolism—related to the twelve tribes of Israel—was introduced and applied by Jesus himself. The apparent authenticity (on objective grounds) of the Matt 19:28 saying would confirm this. It is not entirely clear whether the idea is of a concrete earthly kingdom, or a heavenly one. The Synoptic narrative context of Matt 19:28, as it reads in Mark (10:28-31), indicates a contrast between earthly sacrifice/suffering for Jesus’ sake (now) and eternal/heavenly reward (in the future). This contrast seems to have been a common emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, such as we see in the parables and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; 6:1ff, 19-21; Lk 6:20-26, etc). Matthew’s version of the episode (19:27-30) has a different emphasis, but it would seem that a heavenly context is still implied; the use of the word paliggenhsi/a suggests a time following the resurrection. The parallel in Lk 18:28-30 is somewhat ambiguous, as is the context of 22:28-30 (cf. verse 18).

The problem is that traditional Israelite and Jewish eschatology variously envisioned the coming Kingdom (of God) in earthly and heavenly aspects, drawing upon imagery from both. This is also true in terms of Messianic expectation. Sometimes the establishment of the Kingdom was seen to follow the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, in other instances a period of (Messianic) rule on earth is envisioned. Certain eschatological schemes combine both aspects, as we see, for example, in the book of Revelation. Paul says very little in his letters regarding a future Kingdom on earth; the imminent, expected return of Jesus seems to coincide with the resurrection (1 Thess 4:14-17), after which believers will remain with him (in heaven). On the other hand, in 1 Cor 6:2, Paul states that believers will play a role in the Judgment of the world, expressing an idea generally similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28 par. Presumably, this ruling/judging position is thought to take place in heaven, since he also says that believers will judge the Angels (v. 3).

Jesus’ own teaching in this regard is not entirely clear, at least as it has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition. However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, early Christians had no choice but to believe that the coming of the Kingdom, in its full sense, in heaven and/or on earth (cf. Matt 6:10), was reserved for the time of Jesus’ future return. In the interim—however brief or long it may be—the Kingdom was realized (on earth) in two primary ways: (1) by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and (2) through the missionary work of early Christians, spreading the new faith (from Jerusalem) into the wider world. This is certainly the understanding expressed by the author of Luke-Acts; and, if we take the text at face value, it was also the true purpose and intention of Jesus.

In the prior note, I looked briefly at the question asked of Jesus by the disciples (i.e. the Twelve) in Acts 1:6. Their question indicates that they were thinking in traditional eschatological terms about the coming of the Kingdom—as a socio-political (and religious) entity on earth, headed by Jesus as God’s Anointed representative (i.e. a royal Messiah). By extension, it might have been thought that they (the Twelve) would be ruling this Kingdom as well (cf. again the context of Lk 22:28-30). Jesus does not answer their question directly, and so leaves open, perhaps, the possibility of such an earthly (Messianic) regime in the future; however, his response must be deemed an implicit rejection of their very way of thinking. He deftly redirects the entire thrust of the question (verse 7), and then effectively gives them their answer: instead of expecting the return of an Israelite Kingdom like that of David long ago, the disciples will usher a different kind of Kingdom, involving—(a) the coming of the Spirit in power, and (b) their witness and proclamation of the Gospel message (verse 8).

The Restoration of Israel (Acts 1:12-26)

The disciples’ question (1:6) involved the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The author of Acts, doubtless following the (historical) traditions which he inherited, has built upon this theme, which is central to the narrative which follows in the remainder of chapters 1-2. I have discussed this at length in a set of notes (for Pentecost, soon to be posted on this site), and will only provide an outline of that study here.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed already in verses 12-14:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem, in one place (upper room), v. 13. This is a seminal image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related motifs, expressing the unity of believers together:
    ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al.
    th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

As stated above, most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel; and, as such, their unity (and the unity of their mission work) similarly reflects the coming together of Israel (the true Israel). Consider, for example, the basic Gospel tradition of the sending out of the Twelve in Mark 6:6b-13 par. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist).

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. Note the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. There would seem to be a symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel.

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13ff)

This symbolism continues into the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. Note the following (chiastic outline):

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

The way this scene builds upon the prior events of chapter 1 can be illustrated by expanding the outline:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The restoration of Israel in terms of a “regathering” of Israelites and Jews from the surrounding nations was expressed numerous times already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the latter half of the book of Isaiah; this eschatological expectation was extended to include those of the nations (Gentiles) who come to Jerusalem and join the people of Israel—e.g., Isa 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-14; 66:18-24; Micah 4:2-5 (Isa 2:3-4). Cf. Sanders, p. 79. This theme became part of subsequent Israelite/Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought (Baruch 4-5; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Ps Sol 11, 17, etc), sometimes expressed specifically in relation to the regathering of the twelve tribesSirach 36:11; 48:10; Ps Sol 17:28-31ff; 1QM 2:2ff; 11QTemple 18:14-16; T. Sanh. 13:10; and also note the motif in Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3ff (cf. Sanders, pp. 96-7).

Revelation 21:12-14ff

Finally, the connection between the Twelve Apostles and the Twelve Tribes of Israel is presented in the book of Revelation, but in a very different manner from the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28. It is part of the great vision of the new (heavenly) Jerusalem in 21:1-22:5, which serves as the climax of the book. The gates and walls of the city are described in 21:12-14ff, drawing upon the description in Ezek 48:30-35. Here we find:

    • Twelve gates, named after the Twelve Tribes—that is, the names of the tribes were inscribed on them (v. 12b). The Qumran community drew upon the same tradition (11QTemple 39-41; 4Q365a frag. 2 col. 2; 4Q554). The names on the gates commemorate the heritage of Israel as the people of God.
    • Twelve foundation stones for the city walls, named after the Twelve Apostles (v. 14). The image of Christ and the apostles as “foundation (stone)s” is found several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). There is also a similar idea expressed by the Qumran community, for the leaders of the community (esp. the twelve men of the Council), cf. 1QS 8:1-6; 11:8; 4Q154 frag. 1, col. 1). In the famous declaration of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19, Peter and the Twelve are depicted as stones which make up the foundation of the Church. Cf. Koester, p. 815.

Thus the New Jerusalem—that is, the heavenly/spiritual Jerusalem of the New Covenant (Gal 4:24-26)—honors the heritage and legacy of both Israel (representing the Old Covenant), and the Apostles (representing the beginning of the New). However, there is no idea here of the Apostles ruling—God alone (with Christ) is on the Throne (21:5).

References above marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985). Those marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38a (Yale: 2014).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:28-30)

Here I will be looking specifically at the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles), in terms of the significance (and symbolism) of the number twelve.

As mentioned in the previous note, the tradition of Twelve Disciples, representing the circle of Jesus’ closest followers, is extremely well established in early Christian tradition. The number is clearly fixed, even if the specific names which make up the list differ. Apart from the references to the calling of the Twelve (discussed in prior notes), they are mentioned as a group numerous times in the Synoptic Gospels, in passages which almost certainly derive from more than one strand of tradition. They are also mentioned twice in the Gospel of John, in 6:67-71 (cf. the previous note) and 20:24. Beyond the passage in Acts 1:12-26, they are mentioned as a group in 6:2, and are likely to be meant by the use of the expression “the apostles” (oi( a)po/stoloi), at least in the first half of the book (cf. 1:2; 2:42-43; 4:33ff; 5:2, etc). Paul also refers to “the Twelve” in 1 Cor 15:5.

The Significance of the Twelve

An obvious explanation as to the significance of the number Twelve, lies in an association with the twelve Tribes of Israel. Indeed, this is the only explanation which the New Testament itself offers. An intriguing critical question has been whether (or to what extent) this association (with its symbolism) goes back to Jesus himself. A careful examination of the evidence, however slight, suggests that, on objective grounds, it most likely does. There is one tradition in the Synoptic Gospels which makes a connection between the Apostles and the Tribes of Israel clear.

Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30

Here we have a parallel saying by Jesus, which, according to most (critical) commentators, is part of the so-called “Q” material—that is, traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The two ‘versions’ appear in very different locations of the Gospel narrative, but share the same basic meaning and significance—referring to the reward which will come to Jesus’ close disciples (i.e. the Twelve) for following him faithfully, to the end. The setting in Matthew is the discussion Jesus has with Peter and the other disciples (19:23ff) in the aftermath of the encounter with the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ (19:16-22). Both episodes are part of the wider Synoptic tradition, as represented by Mark 10:17-31 (cp. Lk 18:18-30). The Matt 19:28 saying is essentially ‘inserted’ between Mk 10:28 & 29; compare:

“And the Rock {Peter} began to give account [i.e. relate/say] to him [i.e. Jesus], ‘See, we released [i.e. left] all (thing)s and have followed you.’ Yeshua said (to him), ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. relate/say] to you: (that) there is no one who (has) released [i.e. left] house or brothers or sisters or mother or offspring or fields on behalf of me…'” (Mk 10:28-29)

“Then the Rock {Peter}, giving forth (an answer), said to him, ‘See, we released all (thing)s and followed you. What, then, will there be for us?’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Amen, I give (this) out [i.e. say/relate] to you: that you, the ones following me (will) …. judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael. And every one who (has) released [i.e. left] houses…on behalf of my name…'” (Matt 19:27-29)

The Matthean ‘additions’ are marked in blue—consisting of the saying in v. 28, and the additional words by Peter which allow for the saying to make sense in the narrative context. Here is the saying in full:

“You, the ones following me, in the (time of) coming to be (born) back (again), when the Son of Man should sit upon his seat (of rule) (in) splendor, you also will sit upon twelve (ruling) seats, judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea is clear enough—the reward of the Twelve will be to rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Age to Come. The Greek word paliggenesi/a literally means “coming to be back (again)”, in the sense of coming to be born again, i.e. rebirth (or regeneration). It occurs only once elsewhere in the New Testament (Titus 3:5), where it carries the specific idea of spiritual rebirth (by the Spirit) for believers. Already in ancient Greek (esp. Stoic) philosophy, it was used in an eschatological sense for the renewal of the world at the end of the (current) Age. It also had the basic denotation of “rebirth” for the human soul, whether concretely (reincarnation/metempsychosis) or in a spiritual/symbolic sense (in the Mystery religions, etc). For Greek-speaking Jews, both aspects came to be combined into the idea of the resurrection which would take place at the end of the Age, following the time of God’s Judgment upon the world.

The parallel saying in Luke (22:28-30) is set during the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his close followers in Jerusalem. Again, this appears to be a Lukan ‘insertion’ into the core Synoptic narrative. It is actually part of a collection of teaching and instruction, given by Jesus to his disciples, which is unique to Luke’s Gospel in this particular context. Verses 24-30, with the joining v. 23, are included after the narrative corresponding to Mark 14:17-25 (22:14-22). Similarly, verses 35-38 come after Mk 14:26-31 (22:31-34). Whatever else one may say about it, the location of vv. 28-30 is striking, occurring just after the saying(s) of vv. 25-27, for which there is a Synoptic parallel (the episode of Mk 10:35-45 par), albeit in a different narrative setting. The dispute between the disciples in v. 24, along with the teaching (on discipleship) which follows in vv. 25-27, are juxtaposed with Jesus’ woe against the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-23). These verses appear after the dedication of the bread/cup, instead of before (as in Mark/Matthew). Note the way this juxtaposition appears in Luke:

    • Saying of Woe for the disciple who betrays the Son of Man (vv. 21-22)
      —the disciples begin to discuss/debate among one another as to who this betrayer could be (v. 23)
      —the disciples begin to dispute which one of them should be considered the greatest (v. 24)
    • Instruction for the disciples—the ideal/importance of humility and sacrificial service (vv. 25-27)

Whether or not this order of events is strictly historical, it certainly creates a powerful literary (and artistic) effect. The implication of the teaching in vv. 25-27 is that the disciple who rejects it, seeking his own interests and importance, is like the disciple who betrays Jesus. The saying corresponding to Matt 19:28 follows in vv. 28-30:

“But you, the ones having remained throughout with me, in the (time)s of my testing, I will also set through(out) for you—even as my Father set through for me—a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table in my kingdom, and you will sit upon seats (of rule), judging the twelve stems [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The italicized portions correspond most directly with Matt 19:28, the remainder being unique to the Lukan version. Some critical commentators would hold that the non-italicized words simply reflect the author’s adaptation of the “Q” saying to the context of the Last Supper. If so, then the reading “seats” instead of “twelve seats” is likely also an adaptation to account for the betrayal by Judas. A more traditional-conservative approach to the matter would, almost certainly, require that two distinct sayings, which just happen to be similar to one another, are involved.

Regardless of the historical-critical question, the essential meaning of the core saying in both ‘versions’ is the same. This raises an entirely different problem of interpretation, which I will address in the next note.