Supplemental Note 3 on Revelation: Interpretive Approaches

Interpretive Approaches to the Book of Revelation

The difficulties surrounding the symbolism of the book of Revelation (cf. Supplemental Note 2), along with other aspects of its eschatology, have led commentators to adopt very distinctive approaches to interpretation, sometimes to the point of constructing elaborate interpretive (and chronological) schema to explain the visions in the book (and how they might be fulfilled). In my notes, I have held tightly to an objective critical approach—which might be referred to also as the historical-grammatical method—focusing almost entirely on the Greek text of the book, its historical and cultural-religious background, and how the symbolism of the visions would likely have been understood by believers at the time (i.e. author and original audience in the late-first century A.D.).

However, the problem with this—and the reason why many Christians cannot accept a strict historical-grammatical approach, in the case of Revelation—lies in the early Christian eschatology reflected in the book. It is an imminent eschatology—i.e., author and audience in the late-first century expected the events described in the book to occur very soon, presumably within their own lifetime. This applies equally to many of the eschatological passages in the New Testament, and leads to the same interpretive problem for us today. I have discussed the point at length throughout the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (cf. especially the study on “Imminent Eschatology in the New Testament”), and in the notes on Revelation. I admit to making no attempt to solve this problem in the notes and articles, though I have addressed the matter at several points, and do so again more directly in the conclusion to the series.

Some might characterize my approach to the book of Revelation as preterist, but this is not particularly accurate, and would apply better to a critical study of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (cf. my four-part study), since most of the events and details predicted in the Discourse could be seen as being fulfilled, more or less accurately, during the first century A.D. The situation with the book of Revelation is rather different, but some of the same issues arise, in terms of a critical, historical-grammatical approach to the book; I would make the following points (which are also points of tension for believers today):

    • The historical life-setting of believers (in Asia Minor) in the late-first century A.D. (c. 80-100) informs the symbolism of the book, and the primary meaning of the symbols—and, with it, what the visions are describing and communicating—must be intelligible to those believers (author and original audience).
    • The eschatology of the book is imminent (cf. above)—author and audience expected the prophecies to be fulfilled very soon, within their lifetime.
    • The most immediate portion of the prophecies—depiction/description of the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$, 7:14 etc)—is an extension (and intensification) of what believers at the time were already experiencing.

Admittedly, all three of the above points are problematic, especially the second. While some of the things described in the visions (i.e. those related to the period of distress and persecution of believers) could be seen as having been fulfilled in the first (or early second) century, many others clearly were not—most notably, the return of Jesus and onset of the great Judgment, has not yet occurred. The various specialized interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation (and other eschatological passages in the New Testament) are essentially attempts to solve this difficult problem and bridge the divide. I would outline four basic approaches which might be, and have been, adopted:

    • Church-historical
    • Present-futurist
    • Dual-fulfillment
    • General-spiritual

I will discuss each of these briefly.

The Church-Historical Approach

This approach interprets the visions in the book of Revelation in terms of a survey of Church history, with the various visions (and vision-cycles) representing different periods and events in history, each of which was fulfilled at the proper time. The basic approach appears to have developed in the Middle Ages, especially in the 13th and 14th centuries among members of the Franciscan order. It developed as part of their conflict with the Papacy, the clear allusions to the Roman Empire in the book finding a natural fulfillment in the Roman Catholic Church. The Franciscans saw themselves as a persecuted remnant of the faithful, with Rome (i.e. the Papacy) as the wicked persecutor. This line of interpretation was continued during the Protestant Reformation, involving a similar polemic against the Roman Catholic Church, to be followed by many Protestants thereafter. There are two main advantages to this approach:

    • It allows for both an immediate fulfillment (and relevance) among early believers, as well as a future fulfillment centuries later, covering as it does the span of Christian history
    • It recognizes and retains the (original) context of Roman imperial rule, transferring it to the Roman Catholic Church, and thus making it applicable for believers in subsequent generations.

The main problem with this approach is that it renders the visions—most of them, at any rate—largely irrelevant to the believers for whom the book was specifically (and originally) written. If the visions refer to things that will only be fulfilled centuries later, what real meaning to they have anymore for Christians in the first-century?

While once quite popular among Protestants, the Church-historical approach has been largely abandoned today; traditional-conservative (or ‘Evangelical’) Protestants tend to follow other interpretative approaches, many now assuming some form of Present-futurist interpretation.

The Present-Futurist Approach

This approach simply assumes that, if the prophecies in Revelation have not yet been clearly fulfilled, then they must (and will) be in the future. And, since most individuals and groups who evince an eschatological interest or orientation tend to believe that they are the generation who will witness the end-time events (period of distress, return of Jesus, etc), this future becomes the present—i.e. the prophecies will be fulfilled, for us today, very soon. There are two principal (and rather obvious) advantages to this approach:

    • It retains the strong sense of imminence expressed in the book, transferring it from the first-century to the present-day.
    • It allows for an accurate fulfillment of all the prophecies in the book—presumably at some time in the (very near) future.

Unfortunately, even more than with the Church-historical approach (cf. above), the main problem (and fatal flaw) of any Present-futurist interpretation is that it effectively negates (or at least minimizes greatly) the significance of the visions for believers in the first-century—that is, those for whom the book was specifically written. If the visions speak of things only to be fulfilled centuries (or thousands) of years later, what relevance do they have for believers at the time? Moreover, this approach seems to ignore passages which clearly place the visions (and their interpretation) in the immediate context of first-century believers—as, for example, the explanation of the Sea-creature’s heads in 17:9-11, or the instruction regarding the number/mark of the Sea-creature (13:18), to say nothing of the many clear declarations, exhortations, and warnings to believers at the time.

Obviously, in any Present-futurist approach, details deriving from a first-century context have to be translated (i.e. transferred) into a modern setting. In the case of the historical/cultural setting of the Roman Empire, this has been understood in terms of a ‘revived’ Roman Empire, sometimes identified with the modern European Union (EU), or something similar. In any case, it would be a real, modern-day kingdom or ’empire’ of some sort, patterned in a sense after the ancient Roman Empire. Similarly, the “Antichrist” will be the ruler of this wicked modern empire.

For those who have long since accepted (and simply take for granted) the fundamental validity of a Present-futurist approach, the debate now revolves around specific chronological and interpretive schema—i.e., how the 7 (and/or 3½) year period of distress (Tribulation) fits in relation to the “rapture” of the Church, the return of Jesus, the Millennial reign (chap. 20), and so forth. Especially popular are forms of this approach which seek to find modern-day fulfillment of specific symbols and details, attempting to establish correlations which often border on the absurd. The diversity of the symbolism, of course, makes possible a very wide range of interpretation, and, for many commentators, no opportunity is lost to make a modern-day connection. In many instances, such interpretation is very far removed from how the symbolism would have been understood by first-century Christians.

Dual-Fulfillment Approach

This approach is basic to all early Christian eschatology, as expressed in the New Testament; it attempts to retain the original imminent eschatology (and its relevance for early Christians) while also maintaining an accurate fulfillment of every prophecy. It perhaps is a better fit for the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus, i.e.—(1) partial fulfillment in the first-century A.D. (persecution of the disciple, false Messiahs, Jewish War, Roman siege, destruction of the Temple, etc), and (2) secondary/final fulfillment in the future. The Discourse itself supports the idea of dual-fulfillment, in the case of the prophecy in Dan 9:27, being fulfilled in the actions of Antiochus IV in the 2nd century B.C., and again, by a wicked ruler (Roman emperor?) in the 1st century A.D. In this instance, a modern dual-fulfillment approach would mean a three-fold fufillment—(1) 2nd century B.C. (Antiochus), (2) 1st century A.D. (Roman), and (3) future/end-time (Antichrist?). Of course, certain events, such as the end-time return of Jesus, could really only be fulfilled in the future.

In applying this approach to the book of Revelation, one might deem it a plausible mode of interpretation, at least in terms of the end-time period of distress, as long as individual details were not interpreted in an overly concrete, literalist manner:

    • The forces of evil manifest in the Roman Empire (locally in Asia Minor), with its commercial, military, and political power; the corrupting false religion of the imperial cult would lead to increasing persecution of Christians, even to the point of tests involving the veneration of an image of the emperor (13:14-15, cp. Pliny the Younger Epistles 10.97.2).
    • In the future, the forces of evil will be manifest in another wicked/corrupt world-power, which will behave (and act toward Christians) in a manner similar to the Roman Empire in the 1st/2nd century.

As mentioned above, this approach has the advantage of preserving the imminent eschatology of the New Testament, while allowing for the accurate fulfillment of prophecy in the future. This makes the approach quite attractive, but also, for this very reason, is perhaps a bit too convenient. What basis is there, in the New Testament writings themselves, for such a dual-fulfillment idea, apart from our own desire (and need) to preserve the inspired integrity of Scripture? I can find very little substantive evidence to support this approach, however appealing it may be. It may, however, turn out to be best starting-point in the development of a genuine solution to the problem. Much work remains to be done by commentators and theologians in this regard.

The General-Spiritual Approach

In this approach to New Testament eschatology (and the book of Revelation in particular), the visions and prophecies are interpreted more generally, in a way that would apply them to believers in all times. This can be done a number of ways. With regard to the imminent eschatology in the New Testament, the aspect of imminence is often understood in terms of what may happen, or could happen (at any time), rather than what will happen (very soon). In my view, this misreads and distorts the fundamental emphasis in such passages, but the approach is quite understandable as a way of making the eschatological outlook more applicable to us today.

With regard to the main eschatological events—the period of distress and persecution, the return of Jesus, and the great Judgment—central as they are to the book of Revelation, it is similarly possible to interpret them in a generalized or “spiritual” sense, rather than as events for which there will be a concrete (metaphysical) manifestation in space and time. This might seem difficult to accept in the case of Jesus’ return, but a passage such as Luke 17:20-21 could be seen as pointing in that direction. Much more basic, at least in terms of the period of distress (qli/yi$), is the fact that Christians have faced, and continue to experience today, considerable opposition and persecution by the wicked (and by the forces of evil in the world). It need not be limited to any one moment or period in time, but could be seen as a general condition in the current Age. Similarly, the graphic imagery of Judgment—disruptions of the natural order, catastrophic phenomena, plagues and suffering—could be viewed more generally (even realistically) as things experienced by humankind throughout history. Ultimately, the Judgment—the final realization of it—would take place in the afterlife and the heavenly/eternal realm of God.

This would probably be the preferred approach for many Christians today, avoiding as it does all the thorny critical (and doctrinal) questions involving the compatibility of the imminent eschatology of early Christians with the 1900+ years that have since passed. But it is this very point that represents the fatal weakness of the approach—it ignores the clear force of the New Testament eschatology, with its imminence, urgency, and expectation of a terrible coming Judgment.

Ultimately, there is (as yet) no clear solution to the fundamental problem regarding the imminent eschatology of the New Testament. The most honest and forthright approach I can see, and which I have tried to maintain throughout, is to begin with an objective critical study of the text, looking first (and principally) at its original historical, religious-cultural, and literary context. What would these visions and their symbolism have meant to first-century believers in Asia Minor? How did they understand the visionary narrative and its realization? What does the narrative communicate to Christians at that time? Only then can we properly, and reliably, understand what the book of Revelation means for us today.

Supplemental Note 2 on Revelation: Symbols in the Book

Symbols in the Book of Revelation

More than anything it is the vivid and striking imagery in the book of Revelation which has given it a lasting place in the Christian consciousness. It is at the heart of the expressive power of the book. And yet, so rich and varied is the symbolism that it has been possible for readers and commentators to find just about anything one wishes in it, subjecting the images and symbols to a wide range of interpretation. However, the correctness and accuracy of any interpretive approach depends on properly understanding the nature and character of the symbols themselves. As symbols, one may isolate specific objects, personages, details, and the like; at the same time, these are built up within larger symbolic matrices. Each visionary scene or episode in the book represents a matrix of connected symbols; the larger vision-cycles are even more complex, each with its own symbolic marker—seal, trumpet, offering-dish.

When approaching the visionary symbols and images of the book, I would maintain that there are three important principles that must be observed, if one hopes to obtain a sound understanding of what is being communicated through this symbolism:

    1. The symbolic, figurative character of the imagery must be recognized throughout and consistently applied.
    2. Most of the symbols carry multiple layers of meaning, being drawn from multiple strands of tradition
    3. There is a fundamental dual-aspect to a number of the major symbols (and lines of symbolism) in the book

1. The Symbolic character of the imagery

In referring to the images in the book of Revelation as symbols, and symbolic, we mean that the image is a specific sign which represents another idea or thing—that is, something other that what is typically understood by the image itself (i.e. the sign vs. what it signifies). As a rather obvious example, the image of a lamb (a)rni/on), used repeatedly in a number of visions, does not simply refer to the animal (i.e. an ordinary lamb), but symbolizes the person of Jesus Christ, in his exalted position and state in heaven following his death and resurrection. Even a casual reading by someone unfamiliar with early Christian symbolism would likely lead to this conclusion, based on how the lamb-image is used in context. It becomes all the more clear when one is aware of the various strands of tradition that go into this association of Jesus with a lamb. Indeed, for early Christians, there was no real need to explain the symbolism; for most believers, it would have been readily apparent.

A basic problem with much interpretation, especially among more traditional-conservative commentators, is the inconsistent way these symbols are treated, with a tendency to understand them in a ‘literal’, concrete way whenever possible. As an example, the Temple in 11:1-2 is actually the Jerusalem Temple complex, but the Prostitute in chapter 17 is not an actual prostitute; similarly, the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel are actually 144,000 Israelites, but the seven-headed Sea-creature is not an actual seven-headed hybrid animal coming out of the sea. In my view, this distorts and misreads the symbolism of the book—if the seven-headed creature from the sea is symbolic and figurative, then almost certainly the image of the 144,000 from the twelve tribes is symbolic as well.

That these images are all substantially symbolic seems to me to be without question; however, there may be some difference in the degree or extent of the symbolism. For example, a seven-headed monster is more clearly figurative than other images; and, while the specific detail of 3½ or 1000 years is symbolic, it still relates to a period of time. Moreover, the symbolism may be rooted in a particular aspect of the imagery, or may relate specifically to how different images are connected. In this regard, the visions of Revelation are comparable to the Gospel parables of Jesus—the basis of the (figurative) illustration lies more in the overall scenario and portrait than in the meaning that is attached to each individual detail.

In the notes, I have made every attempt to analyze the symbolism for each vision carefully, with the guiding premise that, in every case, the imagery is symbolic, and not to be understood in a concrete, literalist manner.

2. Multiple Layers of Meaning

In many instances, the symbols in the visions carry multiple layers of meaning, based on their manifold derivation, drawing upon different strands of tradition. It is often possible to demonstrate this (and I have done so at many places in the notes), isolating the distinct strands, which tend to come from three broad lines of tradition:

    • The Old Testament Scriptures, along with subsequent Jewish (eschatological and Messianic) tradition
    • The surrounding Greco-Roman world—its literature, culture, manner of expression, et al.
    • The life experience of believers, both in community and in relation to the wider (Greco-Roman [pagan] and Jewish) world; obviously, it is the experience of believers in Asia Minor, in the late-first century A.D., that informs the imagery.

The first line of tradition is perhaps the most notable. The visions in the book are packed full of references and allusions to Old Testament and Jewish tradition; it may be possible to distinguish these further:

    • Historical references, especially to passages and episodes which relate to the idea of God’s Judgment upon the wicked—Moses and the Exodus (i.e. the plagues on Egypt), Sodom and Gomorrah, the prophetic oracles (in Joel, Ezekiel, Zechariah) depicting the collective Judgment on the Nations, etc.
    • Eschatological and Messianic references—these are replete throughout, but may be seen as including the many references to the book of Daniel
    • Images specifically related to the idea (and identity) of Israel as the people of God—regularly applied to believers as the people of God in the New Covenant (and New Age)
    • Cosmological mythic/archetypal images, including motifs from the Creation narrative (Paradise, river, tree of life, etc); a prominent line of Near Eastern mythic tradition is associated with the Dragon/Sea-creature imagery in the second half of the book (chapters 12-13ff), and other examples could be cited as well.

With regard to the second area, it is the traditional imagery of the imperial cult that is most to be noted, with many details and motifs in the visions alluding in various ways to Roman imperial iconography. It is hard to know how readily the Greek-speaking readers/hearers at the time would have picked up on these allusions, but I suspect that the visions communicated this aspect to them clearly enough, so immersed as they were within the surrounding Roman culture.

The same Roman (imperial) environment relates to the third area—the life-experience of believers in Asia Minor. It was their sense of common identity, in the face of the surrounding pagan (and Roman imperial) culture, which establishes the fundamental conflict that runs through the visionary narrative. The experience of actual persecution at the time, to varying degrees, informs the depiction of the more intense and widespread persecution to come, during the period of distress. The community life and identity of believers informs the symbolism in many other ways as well; I have attempted to bring out this aspect at a number of points in the notes.

3. A Dual-Aspect to the Symbolism

In addition to the multiple layers of meaning to the symbols, it is possible to recognized a wider dual-aspect to the major strands of symbolism. Generally speaking, this may be defined as a dualism consisting of an earthly and heavenly aspect. It does not apply so much to individual symbols as it does to the larger symbolic matrices. I would note three areas where it is most prevalent, and where it is important to recognize its application to the meaning of the symbolism:

    • Believers as the People of God—in their heavenly aspect, they are shown existing in an exalted state, in heaven, along with multitudes of heavenly beings; at the same time, in their earthly aspect, they face oppression and persecution from the forces of evil at work in the world. Only in the closing chapters, during the New Age, when the heavenly “Jerusalem” descends to earth, are both aspects united.
    • The Forces of Evil—involving the various symbols of the Dragon, Sea-creature, the “Great City”, Prostitute, etc.; there is similarly a ‘heavenly’ and earthly aspect. Most of the visions focus on the manifestation of evil on earth, but throughout there is a transcendent, cosmic aspect, evident most clearly in the symbol of the Dragon, who, in chapter 12, is depicted in conflict with the People of God both on earth and in heaven.
    • The Judgment—again, there is both an earthly and heavenly aspect to the end-time Judgment; for the most part, the visions (esp. the Trumpet- and Bowl-cycles) focus on the earthly aspect, but, during the later chapters especially, the heavenly aspect is more clearly in view.


Antichrist and the Nero Legend

In my study on the Antichrist Tradition (Part 3), I mentioned the possibility, accepted by many commentators, that the book of Revelation is drawing upon the legend of Nero’s return (Nero redivivus). The emperor Nero (r. 54-68 A.D.) was a notorious figure already in his own lifetime, as the historians of the period (Tacitus, Suetonius, et al) amply document. In response to rumors that he was responsible for the great fire in Rome, Nero instigated a persecution of Christians in the city, during which many were put to death (cf. Tacitus Annals 15.44). This would leave an indelible impression on believers, for whom Nero would remain in memory as the persecutor of Christians. Evidence for imperial persecution (arrests and executions) of believers during the reigns of the subsequent emperors (such as Domitian) in the 1st and early 2nd centuries is uncertain at best. Even under Nero, the period of persecution was brief, and more or less limited to the city of Rome. It wasn’t until much later, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, that widespread, state-sponsored persecutions took place.

For early Christians, the role of the emperor itself was representative of impiety and wickedness, especially as the establishment of the imperial cult throughout the provinces emphasized all the more the traditional pretensions to deity intrinsic to ancient kingship (cf. the “wicked tyrant” motif in Part 1). Nero’s character and behavior added a particularly monstrous layer of wickedness to the figure of the Roman emperor, which would greatly influence how first-century Christians viewed imperial rule (compare how Paul speaks of it, prior to Nero). In some ways, this had been prefigured by the reign of Gaius (Caligula) some years earlier, but outside of the specific context of the persecution of believers.

By all accounts, Nero died by his own hand (committing suicide, cf. Suetonius, Nero 49.3-4) in 68 A.D. However, rumors soon took hold that Nero had not actually died, but had gone into hiding—perhaps in the East (among the Parthians), waiting for the opportunity to return and reclaim the throne. In the twenty or so years after his death, a number of Nero-pretenders appeared on the scene (Tacitus Histories 2.8-9; Suetonius Nero 57; Dio Cassius Roman History 66.19.3), and rumors doubtless persisted for a number of decades after that.

It is possible to understand the idea of Nero’s “return” in a figurative sense, in terms of his cruelty and tyranny being repeated in subsequent Emperors; on comparisons between Domitian and Nero, cf. Juvenal Satires 4.38; Pliny the Younger Panegyricus 53.4; Philostratus Life of Pythagoras 7.4.1 (Koester Revelation, p. 571). This is probably closer to how the book of Revelation makes use of Nero (and the Nero-legend)—as a type-pattern for the wicked ruler of the end-time, similar to that of the earlier emperor Gaius (Caligula) and the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (in Daniel 7-12 etc).

However, many commentators would see in the book of Revelation a more precise application of the Nero-legend, especially in the detail of the Sea-creature’s head that had apparently received a death-blow (“strike of death”) and was then healed/restored to life (13:3). The phrasing in 17:11 is thought to reflect this same imagery. The idea is that one of the heads (emperors) had suffered a mortal wound, but then recovered; on the assumption that this is an allusion to Nero, he would presumably be one of the first five emperors (heads) mentioned in 17:10. The eighth emperor, then, would be a demonic incarnation, in the form of Nero, or patterned after him—and, in this sense, he ‘returns’ from the dead. The visionary symbolism here may indeed have something like this in mind; certainly, the eighth ruler appears to be a direct (personal) manifestation of the forces of evil (cf. also on 2 Thess 2:3-12 and the Ascension of Isaiah 4:2ff in Part 3).

The Nero-legend would seem to feature in several eschatological passages in the Sibylline Oracles (cf. the survey in Part 2). This is rather clear, for example, in 4:119-24, 137-9—a great king’s flight from Italy, into the land of the Parthians, from whence he returns leading a great army. Nero also seems to be primarily in view in 5:28-34, 137-51, 214-27, 361-71; these verses include the idea that the wicked king flees from Rome (‘Babylon’), and, ultimately, on his return, will seize and destroy the Temple in Jerusalem (which the emperor did in 70 A.D.). Also worth mentioning is the detail in 3:63ff, when Beliar (= Belial), at the end-time, will appear, coming “from the Sebastenoi [Sebasthnoi/]”, which has sometimes been identified with the Sebastoi, the house of the emperor Augustus. This could refer to the idea that Beliar will be manifest/incarnate as a Roman emperor, and could apply to Nero (as well as any other early emperor). The incarnation of Satan/Belial (or a comparable evil Spirit-being) was certainly a component of the developed Antichrist Tradition, as mentioned and discussed in Part 3.

February 28: Revelation 22:20-21

Revelation 22:20-21

The concluding words, of the exalted Jesus as a witness (ma/rtu$) to the prophetic message, come now in verse 20a:

“The (one) bearing witness [marturw=n] to these (thing)s says: ‘Yes, I come quickly [taxu/]’.”

To which the author of the book echoes:

“Amen, may you come, Lord Yeshua!” (v. 20b)

This refrain surely expresses the heartfelt desire of believers throughout the years, down to the present day. However, in the context of first-century Christianity, it carries a special significance, due to the nature of the imminent eschatology of early Christians and the profound effect it had on nearly every aspect of their thought. I have discussed the subject at length in these notes, and throughout the wider study series (“Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”). It bears repeating as our examination of the book of Revelation comes to a close. Believers at the time (c. 90 A.D.?) fully expected that they would live to see the events prophesied in the book–the great period of distress, the return of Jesus, and the onset of the Judgment. Indeed, this expectation is made clear all through the book itself, including the final words of 22:20.

Jesus states clearly, and unequivocally, that he is coming “quickly” (taxu/). The adverb taxu/, along with the related expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] speed”), was used to express the widespread belief that Jesus’ return would occur soon (also with the sense of “suddenly”). This language has been used repeatedly, particularly at the beginning and end of the book (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6-7, 12); cf. also Luke 18:8; Rom 16:20, and the discussion in my earlier study on imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The Greek e&rxou ku/rie (“may you come, Lord”) reflects an underlying Semitic (Aramaic) expression at* an`r^m* (m¹ranâ tâ), which is preserved transliterated in Greek (mara/na qa/) by Paul at the close of 1 Corinthians (16:22). Indeed, the closing of the book of Revelation (v. 21) resembles that of Paul in a number of his letters (1 Thess 5:28; 1 Cor 16:23; Rom 16:20; also 2 Thess 3:18; Gal 6:18; 2 Cor 13:13; Phil 4:23; Philemon 25), cf. below. Interestingly, Paul also uses the expression “may you come, Lord” (mara/na qa/) in 1 Cor 16:22 directly after a curse-formula, just as here in Revelation (cf. the previous note). The verb form e&rxou is an imperative (“you must come, come!”), but when used to address God (or the exalted Jesus) it is perhaps more fitting to translate it as an exhortation (“may you come”), much as imperatives are typically rendered in a prayer-setting (e.g., in the Lord’s Prayer). In the early Christian writing known as the “Teaching (of the Twelve)”, the Didache, the curse + marana/ qa/ format is used in a eucharistic context (10:6), cp. the reference to Jesus’ return in 1 Cor 11:26.

The final words of the book of Revelation are a benediction, or blessing, quite similar to that used by Paul in his letters, as noted above; the closest examples are in 2 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians:

“(May) the favor of the Lord Yeshua (be) with (you) all” (Rev 22:21)
“(May) the favor of our Lord Yeshua (be) with you all” (2 Thess 3:18)
“(May) the favor of the Lord Yeshua…(be) with you all” (2 Cor 13:13)

This may simply indicate a standard form, commonly used by believers at the time. There are a considerable number of textual variations in v. 21, no doubt reflecting variations in usage of the basic form over time, and preserved by copyists. The absence of the pronoun (u(mw=n, “[with] you”) could be due to the fact that, strictly speaking, the book of Revelation was not written to a specific congregation, but to believers generally, over a wide region. In a very real sense, it was written “to all”, i.e. to all believers.

* * * * * * *

This concludes the series of daily notes on the book of Revelation; however, as a way of summarizing the results of this study, I feel it is important now to deal with certain topics which were left largely unaddressed in the notes. These involve issues regarding the authorship and date of the book, different approaches to interpreting the visions, and application of the eschatology for modern-day Christians. I purposely avoided these issues so as not to detract (and distract) from a careful examination of the text itself. Thus, a short set of supplemental notes will be presented during the upcoming week.

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February 27: Revelation 22:18b-19

Revelation 22:18b-19

The declaration of the truthfulness of the book’s message, as testified formally by the exalted Jesus himself (v. 18a, cf. the previous note), is followed by a curse in vv. 18b-19. Such a “curse” is part of the ancient concept of the binding agreement, which utilized various religious and magical formulae as a way of guaranteeing adherence to the agreement. Quite frequently, deities were called upon as witnesses to the binding agreement, who would, it was thought, punish those who violated the terms of the agreement. Punishment (or “curse”) forms were built into the structure of the agreement, and the description of what would happen if the terms were violated was equally binding.

The exalted Jesus, functioning as God’s witness (1:1, etc), has the power and authority to effect the divine punishment for violating the agreement—which here must be understood in terms of verses 7ff, the expectation that all true and faithful believers will guard the message of the book. Anyone who violates this implicit agreement will face the punishment declared by Jesus in vv. 18b-19:

“If any(one) would set (anything else) upon these (thing)s, God shall set upon him the (thing)s (that will) strike, (those) having been written in this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]; and if any(one) would take (anything) away from the accounts of the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of this foretelling [i.e. prophecy], God shall take away his portion from the tree of life and out of the holy city, (all) the (thing)s having been written in this paper-roll [i.e. scroll].”

This curse-formula follows the ancient lex talionis principle, whereby the punishment matches the nature of the transgression. The violation is two-fold, each part mirroring the other:

    • Violation: Put (anything else) upon [i.e. add to] what is in the book
      Punishment: God will put upon him (same verb, e)piti/qhmi) what is described in the book (i.e. the Judgment on the wicked)
    • Violation: Take (anything) away from what is in the book
      Punishment: God will take away from him (same verb, a)faire/w) what is in the book (i.e. the reward of eternal life for the righteous)

Some commentators would question whether this strictly refers to altering the book itself—its content and text—or if, instead, the primary reference is to faithful observance, etc, of the prophetic message. Certainly, there are examples, both in Greco-Roman and Jewish literature, of warnings given against tampering with a written work, especially one considered to be a sacred text—cf. Epistle of Aristeas 311; Josephus Against Apion 1.42; 1 Enoch 104:10-13; Artemidorus Onirocritica 2.70; Koester, p. 845). However, in this instance, a closer parallel is perhaps to be found in the traditional understanding of adherence to the Torah (the terms of the Covenant between YHWH and Israel), such as expressed in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, etc:

“You shall not add (anything) upon the word that I (have) charged you (to keep), and you shall not shave off (anything) from it (either), (but you are) to guard (the thing)s charged (to you) of [i.e. by] YHWH your God, which (indeed) I have charged (you).” (Deut 4:2)

In the Greek LXX, the verb corresponding to “add upon” (Heb. [s^y` + preposition lu^]) is prosti/qhmi (“set/place toward [i.e. next to]”), which is close to the e)piti/qhmi (“set/place upon”) here in v. 18. The Hebrew “shave off from” (ur^G` + preposition /m!) is translated by the verb a)faire/w (“take [away] from”), just as here in v. 19.

Thus, once again, the book of Revelation draws upon Old Testament tradition, regarding Israel as the people of God (according to the old Covenant), applying it to believers in Christ (in the new Covenant). Just as one who willfully disobeyed or disregarded the Torah could not belong to the true people of God, based on the terms of the old Covenant, so one who similarly disobeyed the inspired message of Revelation’s prophecies could not be part of God’s people (believers) in the new Covenant. Since the message of the visions centered on the need to remain faithful to Jesus during the end-time period of distress, with a clear distinction between those who belong to the Lamb and those who belong to the forces of evil (Dragon and Sea-creature), a true believer would not (and could not) violate this message.

It is also likely that the curse was meant to warn people from tampering with the book itself; if so, I would tend to agree with Koester (p. 858) that this emphasis is secondary. The message, not the text, is primary; and yet, so vital is this message, in the context of the imminent/impending time of distress, that it is to be preserved and transmitted with the utmost care.

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 22: Revelation 22:17-18a

Revelation 22:17

In the previous note, I treated verse 17 as the conclusion to the section spanning vv. 6-17; however, it is also possible to view it as transitional to the concluding section (vv. 18-21). I have chosen here to discuss verse 17 along with v. 18a:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come!’ And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come!’ And (the) one thirsting must come—the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [i.e. freely]. I (myself) bear witness to every (one) hearing the accounts of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll…” (vv. 17-18a)

In verse 17 there are three distinct imperatives, exhorting/commanding people to come (vb. e&rxomai). Together these serve as a beautiful communal image of believers in the end-time; their response, as believers, is centered around the book of Revelation itself. Let us briefly consider each statement:

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come! [e&rxou]'”

This reflects two aspects of the prophetic visions and messages in the book:

    • Source of the visions—their inspiration by the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God (and Christ), which communicates with the prophetic spirit of the seer
    • Content of the visions—their depiction of the community of true believers as the Bride (of Christ), i.e. the people of God in its exalted, heavenly aspect

It may also be that the community of believers adds its own (inspired) voice to that of the Spirit; certainly this would express the actual dynamic of how the prophetic gift was understood and realized in early Christianity.

“And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come! [e&rxou]'”

Once the prophetic message had been written down and made available for others, it would have been read aloud in the congregations—in the early Christian setting, such texts would have been heard, rather than read, by the majority of people (cf. the previous note on v. 16). Having received (i.e. heard) this message, true believers in the local congregation would add their voice to the inspired Community—i.e., the people of God in their earthly aspect.

“And (the) one thirsting must come [e)rxe/sqw]…”

Here the verb is a third person imperative, and it elucidates what is meant by the second person command, and how people (believers) respond to the command. The wording alludes to Isaiah 55:1 (as in 21:6b, cf. below), and reflects the true believer’s longing (i.e. “thirst”) for God and desire for eternal life. This is very much a Johannine motif—the verb and idiom occurs in the Gospel Discourses of Jesus (4:13-15; 6:35; 7:37, cf. also Matt 5:6); the exhortation in Jn 7:37 provides a close formal parallel:

“If any (one) should thirst, he must come [e)rxe/sqw, i.e. let him come] toward me and drink.”

Here, however, we are not dealing with a person’s response to the Gospel, but to their faithfulness in following Jesus, even in the face of suffering and testing, during the end-time period of distress. This is the significance of the believer’s response to the message of the book—he/she will take special care to remain faithful, aware of the severe tests and challenges to trust in Jesus that are coming, but also reminded of the promise of God’s ultimate victory over evil.

“the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [dwrea/n, i.e. freely]”

The same statement, and allusion to Isa 55:1, occurred earlier in the “new Jerusalem” vision (21:6b, cf. the earlier note). Here the imperative is best rendered as an exhortative (“let him take/receive”, labe/tw), corresponding to the imperative pine/tw (“let him drink”) in Jn 7:37. The verb lamba/nw is often translated “receive”, but here it is perhaps better to render it in its fundamental sense as “take”. The context is that of the Paradise-motifs—river, tree of life—which symbolize eternal life, and which were inaccessible to humankind during the old order of Creation (i.e. the current Age). Now, however, in the New Age (and a new order of Creation), believers are able to come and take (i.e. eat and drink) from the tree and water of Life.

Revelation 22:18-21

Revelation 22:18a

“I (myself) bear witness [marturw=] to every (one) hearing the accounts of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]”

Here the exalted Jesus repeats his personal declaration from v. 16—again with the emphatic personal pronoun e)gw/ (“I”)—only this time he makes explicit the significance of his declaration as a witness (ma/rtu$), i.e. one who gives truthful and reliable testimony (cf. the previous note). It is once again the congregational setting, where the written accounts (lo/goi) of the visions in the book of Revelation are heard read aloud. Jesus himself bears witness that they are true; since he himself is the original witness who received the revelation from God (1:1), this confirms the truth of the message in a special way. In the Greek-speaking world of the time, official documents (esp. living wills and other binding agreements) would often begin with the person’s name, followed by marturw= (“I bear witness…”), e.g. P.Oxy. 105.13-14; 489.24-26; 490.15-16; cf. Koester, p. 844.

The remainder of the concluding section, beginning with vv. 18b-19, will be discussed the next few daily notes.

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February 21: Revelation 22:8-9, 16-17

Revelation 22:8-9, 16f

This is the last of the four components in vv. 6-17—a personal declaration by the seer Yohanan (John) and the exalted Jesus, respectively. Each begins with the emphatic personal pronoun e)gw/ (“I, Yohanan/Yeshua…”). The parallelism relates to how each person is a witness of the divine message being delivered, the prophecy recorded in the book (vv. 6, 10). On the relation between the two, and the place each holds within the overall inspired witness, see esp. the opening verses of the book (1:1-2); thus, again, the conclusion of the book of Revelation corresponds to its introduction. On the identity of this “Yohanan”, cf. my earlier note on 1:9; I will discuss the question of authorship a bit further at the conclusion of this series.

There is also a clear contrast between the two figures; this is indicated both by the content of the declaration (vv. 8, 16a), but also by the response that follows (vv. 9, 16b): in one, it is emphasized that John is a mere servant, while Jesus is exalted as the Messiah and a divine being deserving of worship.

Verses 8-9

“And I [ka)gw/], Yohanan, (am) the (one) hearing and looking at [i.e. seeing] these (thing)s. And when I heard and looked, I fell (down) in front of the feet of the Messenger, the (one) having shown these (thing)s to me, (in order) to kiss toward [i.e. worship] (him). And he says to me, ‘See (that) you do not (do this)! (For) I am a slave together with you, and (with) your brothers the foretellers [i.e. prophets], and (with) the (one)s keeping watch (over) the accounts of this paper-roll [i.e. scroll]—(it is) God you must kiss toward [i.e. worship]!'” (vv. 8-9)

In prophetic and apocalyptic texts, it is often the case that the seer, the one witnessing the divine message and visionary experience, announces his name. The most immediate parallel comes from the conclusion of the book of Daniel (12:5, “I, Daniel…”). This an essential aspect of the person serving as a witness (ma/rtu$, 1:2, etc), as the prophet formally testifies to the truth of what he saw and heard.

Also traditional is the prophet’s response to the heavenly Messenger (Angel)—i.e. falling down in fear and reverence, as would be fitting toward a divine/heavenly being. However, the parameters of Israelite/Jewish and Christian monotheism, strictly speaking, do not permit worship of any being other than God (YHWH); this means that worship or veneration of Angels is quite inappropriate, as the Messenger himself declares, stating that he is only another slave (i.e. servant) of God, just like all faithful human believers. The same thing happened in an earlier encounter (19:10, cf. the prior note). By contrast, the seer fell down to venerate the exalted Jesus in 1:17, who was deserving of such worship. This is important, in light of the parallel here with Jesus in v. 16.

Verses 16-17

“I [e)gw/], Yeshua, sent my Messenger to give witness (of) these (thing)s to you [plur.] upon the (gathering)s of (those) called out [e)kklhsi/ai]. I am (both) the root and the (thing) coming to be (out) of David, the radiant first star (of the morning).” (v. 16)

A conjunction of the two I-statements, by John and Jesus, perfectly replicates the initial statement in 1:1, illustrating the role of each in the prophetic witness (vb marture/w):

“(The) uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed, which God gave to him, to show to his slaves…sending (it) forth through his Messenger to his slave Yohanan…”

The chain of relationship is explicit:

    • God gives the revelation to the exalted Jesus =>
      • who gives it to his Messenger (Angel) =>
        • who gives it to the prophet Yohanan =>
          • who gives it to the other believers

The use of the plural u(mi=n (“to you [pl.]”) and the phrase e)pi\ tai=$ e)kklhsi/ai$ (lit. “upon the [gathering]s of [those] called out”) fills out the last two stages of the chain of transmission:

    • the Messenger gives it to the prophet Yohanan =>
      • who makes it available (in written form) to other ministers =>
        • who have it read (out loud) in the congregations [e)kklhsi/ai]

The first phrase of verse 16b is a Messianic inflection of the earlier identification of Jesus as the “Alpha and Omega” —Messianic in its association with David (i.e. the Davidic Ruler figure-type). It is also a key Christological statement within the book of Revelation: Jesus is both the descendant of David (humanity) and the source of his own life and existence (deity). Note the parallelism:

    • Alpha [first/beginning]—the Root (r(i/za) of David, from which he comes to be
    • Omega [last/completion]—the ge/no$ of David, i.e. one who comes to be (born) from him

The language derives from Isaiah 11:1, 10 (an important Messianic passage), along with other references to the Davidic line (2 Sam 7, etc); for more on this, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and also the earlier note on Rev 5:5. The second phrase of v. 16b alludes to a different Messianic tradition, that of Num 24:17 etc, using the image of a star that will rise (i.e. the morning star) to bring the light of salvation and deliverance to God’s people. I discuss this line of tradition in prior articles.

“And the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come!’ And the (one) hearing must (also) say: ‘Come!’ And (the) one thirsting must come—the (one) willing (to do so), let him take/receive the water of life as a gift [i.e. freely].” (v. 17)

This communal declaration summarizes the entire section, reflecting the dynamic of the prophetic witness and how it relates to the people of God as a whole. It will be discussed further in the next daily note.

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February 18: Revelation 22:7b, 14-15

Revelation 22:7b, 14-15

This is the third component within the parallel sections of vv. 6-17. Following the exalted Jesus’ announcement of his imminent return (vv. 7a, 12-13, cf. the previous note), there is a beatitude, or “macarism”, marked by the opening adjective maka/rio$ (makários, “happy”). The background of the beatitude-form is essentially eschatological, as I discuss in an earlier article (part of a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus). Here, of course, at the end of the book of Revelation, it is unquestionably so, referring to the blessed happiness that awaits for believers who remain faithful through the end-time period of distress. Ultimately, the source of this blessedness is the eternal life that the true believer is to experience, dwelling with God and Christ in the heavenly “Jerusalem” of the New Age (21:1-22:5).

The beatitude in verse 7b is brief and concise:

“Happy [maka/rio$] (is) the (one) keeping watch [thrw=n] (over) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll.”

As in vv. 6, 10, the reference is literary, i.e. to the book (bibli/on, “paper-roll, scroll”) of Revelation as a whole—all of the visions and messages contained in it. The beatitude thus relates to how people respond to the book (when they hear it read aloud, etc), and treat its contents. The verb thre/w means to “keep watch” over something; it is often used in an eschatological sense in the New Testament, as part of ethical instruction and the exhortation to remain faithful as the end comes nearer (cf. earlier in 2:26; 3:3, 8, 10). This reproduces the beatitude in the opening of the book (1:3), where this aspect of imminence is clearly stated (“…for the moment [is] near.”).

The beatitude in verse 14 is more extensive:

“Happy (are) the (one)s washing their robes, (so) that their e)cousi/a will be upon the tree of life, and (that) they should enter into the gate-ways of the city.”

Here “keeping watch over” the prophecy is parallel with the expression “washing their robes” (plu/nonte$ ta\$ sto/la$ au)tw=n); however, in many (later) manuscripts, and some versions, the reading is instead the similar sounding poiou=nte$ ta\$ e)ntola/$ au)tou= (i.e., “doing His commands”, cp. 12:17; 14:12). The idiom of washing one’s robe (stolh/, a long ceremonial garment) was used earlier in 7:14, specifically in the context of believers who have remained faithful during the end-time period of distress (“…coming out of the great distress [qli/yi$]”). The implication of the parallelism, between verses 7b and 14, is that the true believer will accept the prophecies in the book, and will guard them with care. The verb thre/w is combined with the motif of keeping one’s garments clean in the beatitude of 16:15.

The idea of “washing” (vb plu/nw) alludes to the flowing (i.e. living, eternal) waters of the great river (of life) in the “new Jerusalem” (22:1), indicating a reward that corresponds to the believer’s actions. Here the same Paradise-setting is indicated by the motif of the “tree of life” (22:2, also 2:7); cf. the earlier note on 22:1-3a.

English translations tend to obscure the actual wording of the Greek in v. 14, as the subject of the second verb is not the believers themselves, but their e)cousi/a. The noun e)cousi/a is notoriously difficult to render accurately (and consistently) in English. Literally, it indicates something that comes out of a person’s own being, i.e. something he/she is able to do; however, it can specifically connote an ability that is given to the person from a superior, in which case, we might understand it in terms of permission. The word “authority” is perhaps the best option for capturing this semantic range in English. Here, the context is the ancient tradition of humankind being barred from access to the “tree of life”; in the New Age, for believers, this ‘curse’ is removed (v. 3), and we have the ability to come into the Garden of God and eat from the fruit of this tree. This access is part of the wider image of entering into the heavenly “city”, through the gate-ways that always stand open (21:25).

For the blessings described in v. 14, there is a corresponding curse in verse 15, defined in terms of being left outside (e&cw) the city (cp. Matt 8:12; 25:11-12, 30, etc):

Outside (are) the ‘dogs’ and the drug-handlers and the prostitute-(seek)ers and the murderers and the image-servers—indeed, every (one) being fond of, and doing, (what is) false.”

This more or less reproduces the vice-list of 21:8 (cf. also 9:20-21; 21:27), with the addition of the deprecatory label ku/ne$ (“dogs, hounds”); as a traditional term of opprobrium, it suggests both that a person is unclean and is deserving of contempt. On the idea of dogs (the actual animals) being excluded from the holy city, cf. the Qumran text 4Q394 fr. 8 iv. 8-9 (Koester, p. 843). The four terms, taken together, serve as a summary of human wickedness, traditionally associated (in Judaism and early Christianity) with the pagan culture of the “nations”:

    • fa/rmakoi (drug-handlers, drug-users)—a label for any kind of magical practice, perhaps best understood here, more generally and figuratively, for evil and mind-altering deception.
    • po/rnoi (those engaged in, or seeking, prostitution)—a traditional catch-term for any kind of immorality, sexual or otherwise.
    • fonei=$ (murderers, killers)—generally covering any kind of violent and lawless action.
    • ei)dwlola/trai (lit., ones serving images)—representing, not merely the idolatrous aspects of pagan religion, but false religion of any kind, and even, we may say, of pagan culture as a whole (i.e. the surrounding Greco-Roman world).

These are all summarized under the aspect of people “being fond of” (filw=n), as well as actually “doing” (poiw=n), what is false (yeu=do$).

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February 17: Revelation 22:7a, 12-13

Revelation 22:7a, 12-13

This is the second component from the two parallel sets that make up verses 6-17 (cf. the previous note on vv. 6, 10-11). It is a declaration, by Jesus, of his imminent end-time appearance:

“And, see! I come quickly [taxu/]!” (v. 7a)
“See! I come quickly [taxu/]…” (v. 12)

This repeats the message of the exalted Jesus in 2:16; 3:11; the corresponding expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] haste”) occurs in 1:1 and 22:6 (cf. the previous note). This is a clear indication, again, that, from the standpoint of the author and readers of the book, the end-time return of Jesus was imminent. On the specific use of taxu[$] / taxo$ with this eschatological meaning among early Christians, cf. my study on the imminent eschatology in the New Testament.

The message in vv. 6ff and 10ff is spoken by the heavenly Messenger (Angel); that it shifts here to the first person voice of Jesus is simply a reflection of the book’s understanding that the exalted Jesus is the true source of the message (cf. the discussion on 1:1 in the opening note, and the one previous).

Verses 12-13

The declaration by Jesus in vv. 12-13 is expanded beyond the simple announcement of his imminent return:

“See! I come quickly [taxu/]! and my wage is with me to give forth to each (person), as his work is (deserving). I (am) the Alpha and the O(mega), the first and the last, the beginning and the completion [te/lo$].”

In many ways, this statement provides a concise summary of early Christian eschatology, as may be illustrated by an exegesis of each phrase.

 )Idou\ e&rxomai taxu/ (“See! I come quickly”)—This reflects the early Christian belief that Jesus’ return is imminent (cf. above); it was something that believers at the time would have expected themselves to see.

kai\ o( misqo/$ mou met’ e)mou= (“and my wage is with me”)—This alludes to the coming end-time Judgment, which will be ushered in at Jesus’ return; as God’s appointed (and Anointed) representative, he will also oversee the Judgment—thus the payment (misqo/$) is “with him”, and is his to give (“my wage”).

a)podou=nai e(ka/stw| w($ to\ e&rgon e)sti/n au)tou= (“to give forth to each [person] as his work is [deserving]”)—The noun misqo/$ is often translated “reward”, but “wage” is the proper rendering, referring to service done for payment or hire. Thus, here it specifically denotes payment that is due to a person, appropriate to the work (e&rgon) they have performed. Again, as God’s divine representative, Jesus as the authority to give out (vb a)podi/dwmi, “give from, give forth”) the payment at the time of Judgment. Jesus’ parables involving workers/laborers generally carry this eschatological aspect.

e)gw\ to\ a&lfa kai\ to\ w@ (“I [am] the Alpha and the O[mega]”)—The exalted Jesus identifies himself by this conjunction of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which, elsewhere in the book of Revelation, functions as a Divine title applied to God (1:8; 21:6, cf. the earlier note). Since the exalted Jesus rules alongside God the Father, he shares the same divine position and authority; beyond this, we should be cautious about reading into the wording and symbolism of the book of Revelation a more precisely-developed Christology (regarding divine pre-existence, etc).

o( prw=to$ kai\ o( e&sxato$, h( a)rxh\ kai\ to\ te/lo$ (“the first and the last, the beginning and the completion”)—These two expressions both relate to the motif of “alpha and omega”, expounding it in similar ways. The expression “the first and the last” was used specifically of the exalted Jesus in earlier scenes (1:17; 2:8), while “the beginning and the completion” was applied to God in 21:6. The expressions are eschatological, but also cosmological, in that they refer to the beginning and end of the current Age (and, indeed, of all Ages, all Creation). Jesus is the a)rxh/ (“beginning”) in the sense, certainly, that he serves as the “chief ruler” over Creation (3:14), alongside God the Father; whether this also indicates his role in the original act of Creation itself is harder to say, but I think it likely, given the contours of early Christology as it developed in the latter half of the first century (cp. 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:2; John 1:1-4, cf. Koester, p. 841). The term te/lo$ (“completion”) is unquestionably eschatological, and the exalted Jesus plays a central role in the completion of the current Age, and the formation (beginning, a)rxh/) of the New.

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February 16: Revelation 22:6, 10-11

Revelation 22:6-21

Verses 6-21 form the conclusion to the book of Revelation, and, as might be expected, they run parallel in many respects with the introduction (1:1-3ff). Many of the same words, phrases, and motifs occur here. Verses 6-17 have a parallelistic structure that may be outlined as follows:

    • Angelic declaration (“And he said to me…”), involving the words of the prophecy (the book) as a whole—vv. 6 / 10-11
    • Announcement of the exalted Jesus (“See! I come quickly…”)—vv. 7a / 12-13
    • Beatitude declaring happiness/blessings for those who remain faithful—vv. 7b / 14-15
    • Closing personal statement, by the seer (John) and the exalted Jesus, respectively (“I, Yohanan…”, “I, Yeshua…”)—vv. 8-9 / 16f

It makes sense to discuss each component, as it occurs in each part, together.

Revelation 22:6, 10-11

Each part begins with a declaration by the heavenly Messenger who is speaking with the seer (John), cf. 21:9, 15; 22:1. Let us compare the two statements:

“And he said to me: ‘These accounts [i.e. words] (are) trustworthy and true; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the foretellers [i.e. prophets], se(n)t forth His Messenger to show to His slaves the (thing)s that are necessary to come to be in (all) haste [e)n ta/xei]’.” (v. 6)

“And he says to me: ‘You shall not seal (up) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this paper-roll [i.e. scroll], for the moment is near [e)ggu/$]’.” (v. 10)

Clearly the statements are similar, involving a common set of verbal and thematic elements: (1) the opening phrase, (2) reference to the “accounts” (lo/goi, i.e. the words) in the book, (3) that it is prophecy (foretelling what is to come), and (4) the things described in the book are imminent.

22:6—Verse 6 is quite close to the introductory statement in 1:1 (words in italics):

“An uncovering of Yeshua (the) Anointed which God gave to him, to show to His slaves the (thing)s that are necessary to come to be in (all) haste…”

To this is added a specific reference to the words of the prophecy as being “trust(worthy) and true” (pistoi\ kai\ a)lhqinoi/), which repeats the wording in 21:5; elsewhere, the same dual expression is used of God and Christ himself (3:14; 19:11; cf. also 6:10; 15:3), indicating here the divine source and character of the prophecy.

There is also an emphasis on the spirit (pneu=ma) of the prophecy. From the standpoint of early Christian religious psychology and anthropology, the spiritual dimension of prophecy was rather complex, with certain conceptions that are generally foreign to us today. The word pneu=ma (“[life-]breath, spirit”) is used in three distinct, but interrelated ways, in regard to prophecy:

    • The deity as a spirit-being—this applies not only to the Spirit of God (and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit, but to the opposite: evil/unclean or deceptive “spirits” (spirit-beings)
    • The “spirit” (inner-most breath and source of life) within the human being; it represents the point, or level, at which people relate to the Spirit of God (and other spirit-beings); this is especially true for those gifted as prophets
    • The prophetic gift or ability is also referred to as a “spirit” (pneu=ma); early Christians saw it as a specific gift from the Spirit of God—this is a uniquely Christian development of the conception in the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world, etc, whereby such giftedness was due to the indwelling presence of a personal deity (or semi-divine being), i.e. a genius, in the original sense of the word.

This spiritual aspect of prophecy is described several ways in the book of Revelation:

    • On certain occasions, the seer (John) is said to be “in the spirit” (e)n pneu/mati) when he receives his visions (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10); since he is in contact with the Spirit of God at these moments, he is certainly “in the Spirit“, but he is also engaged “in the spirit (of prophecy)”
    • In 19:10 there is the statement that “the witness of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy” (or “…of the prophecy”); the primary meaning here is that the exalted Jesus, through the Spirit, is the source of the message (cf. 1:1, above, and my earlier note on 19:10)
    • This message is also communicated (by God and Christ) through heavenly Messengers (i.e. Angels), themselves spirit-beings who are specifically called “spirits” (pneu/mata) in 1:4; 4:5; 5:6; by contrast, false prophecy is inspired by evil/unclean spirits (16:13-14, cf. also 13:15; 18:2).

22:10-11—If verse 6 resembles 1:1, the statement in verse 10 is correspondingly similar to 1:3, as it specifically emphasizes the need for believers to read (i.e. hear read aloud) the words of the prophecy, along with the declaration that “the moment (is) near” (o( kairo\$ e)ggu/$). Here the reading of the book is expressed negatively: “You shall not seal (up) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll”. The verb sfragi/zw (“seal”), along with the related noun sfragi/$, is used repeatedly in the book of revelation, mainly as an idiom for a message that is meant to be kept hidden until it is revealed at some future time (5:1-2ff; 6:1ff; 7:2; 8:1; 10:4). Generally, in the visionary narrative, seals are being opened—that is, the message is finally being revealed (and fulfilled) in the end-time, which is also the present time (and/or the near future) for readers of the book. This is also the reason here for the injunction not to seal the prophecy—the events described do not refer to things that will take place at some time in the distant future, but are about to be fulfilled now.

On the use of the adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”), and the expression e)n ta/xei (“in [all] haste”), as clear indications of the imminent eschatology of early Christians, cf. my earlier study on the subject. It is probably this sense of imminence that informs the proverbial declaration in verse 11:

“(For) the (one) being without justice [i.e. unjust], he must yet be without justice; and the (one who is) dirty, he must yet be dirty; and the (one who is) just, he must yet do justice [i.e. act justly]; and the (one who is) holy, he must yet be holy.”

The pairs of opposites are precise: just(ice) vs. without justice, holy [i.e. clean/pure] vs. dirty. The book of Revelation has a strong sense throughout of the wicked as belonging to evil, while the righteous (true believers) belong to God and the Lamb. Little hope is held out for the repentance and conversion of the wicked. The end-time was seen as a period of ever-increasing wickedness, a time of testing that will reveal a person’s true character and identity—i.e. whether he/she belongs to God, or to the forces of evil. As the end draws nearer, this dynamic will only intensify further, to the point that, even in the face of God’s Judgment, the wicked will scarcely repent (9:20-21; 16:9, 11). Believers will genuinely repent of their sins (2:5, 16, 21-22), but not the wicked. There is also in the book of Revelation an emphasis on what we would call predestination, which corresponds to the aforementioned sense of person’s essential religious identity (which cannot be changed). The form and language in verse 11, with its poetic parallelism, is similar to that earlier in 14:9-10; it also resembles certain proverbial statements in the Old Testament (e.g., Ezek 3:27; Dan 12:10).

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