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Apocalyptic Comment

Many of us in the Christian community believe that the world is nearing the end of all things.  The book of Revelation identifies multiple things that have tantalized us throughout the years, as John has given us compelling images and themes that evoke the imagination in the areas of faith and dread.   Some of these images are frightening, as they show us a terrifying, ‘great beast’ who will appear at the end of the age who will influence the world.  The Bible identifies this beast as opposing Jesus and subsequently warns the readers to avoid the beasts mark. All of this information leads into John’s prophesying about civilization disrupting happenings that will lead us to Armageddon, the final consuming battle that brings humanity to the brink of destruction.  John is describing what he sees happening to the governments, nations and the people of planet earth as the world orders come to an end.

The phrase that is used in Revelation 1:1, Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (apocalupsis Iesus kristou), is normally translated to say something like: “This is a revelation from Jesus Christ.”  We usually translate this term apocalupsis (ἀποκάλυψις), as revelation or uncovering in most Greek to English works, but it can also be known as its transliteration, apocalypse.  There has been a measure of controversy that has grown out of the use of this word.  Because the word apocalypse only occurs once in the entire Book with the solitary occurrence being here in the beginning salutation (v. 1), some people dispute its inclusion in the book.  This attribute combined with other deductive factors deduced by some scholars, has led them to suggest that Revelation 1:1–3 was prefixed as an editorial addition to this Book at the last stage of its redaction (editing process).  The passage in question reads: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

It is not important to debate this factor, however, as this is not an indicated issue in any of the ancient commentaries, Church Fathers, or other works.  It is purely based on speculation, and should not be considered factual.  Paul uses the term Apocalypsis to refer to the supernatural, revelatory experience that is imparted by Holy Spirit via the verbal charismatic gifts.  Once these ecstatic revelations are made known to the recipient, the revelation could then be recited or conveyed to an assembly of believers in a formal setting: Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation (apocalypsis) or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (1 Corinthians 14:6).

I would like to point out that many of the more traditional commentators have not typically held to a belief that John was intentionally typecasting his Revelation as belonging entirely to a literary type, which we have now identified as being apocalyptic.  This characterization boils down to the argument that John identifies his work as a prophecy (1:3): blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near, or a “prophetic book:”  Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book… Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near… I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (22:7, 10, 18–19).  The problem can be resolved by accepting a dual application of the book in terms of its genre.  The Revelation is both prophetic and apocalyptic.  It is not an either/or proposition.  It is a both/and dynamic, which seems to be typical of most biblical writings.

INTERPRETING APOCOLYPTIC

It has been said that interpreting ancient writings is both an art and a science.  As such there are variables that have to be taken into consideration when we look at the various genres that are represented in the Bible.  The apocalyptic and prophetic portions of Scripture are more prone to difficulties in interpretation and speculation due to the inherent nature of the genres.  A valid principle for interpreting prophecy and apocalyptic literature for the most part is to accept the plain sense of the text unless there is a very good reason to adopt some other meaning.  The problem in interpreting these passages is seen as being most problematic in the nature of fulfillment.  Most prophecies have a double aspect for fulfillment to occur.  This principle of dual fulfillment is readily seen in Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, which refers to a young woman giving birth as a sign from God.  These are the two references, both Old and New Testaments’: Therefore the Lord himself will give you (plural) a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel… “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.  Word Biblical Commentary gives us insight into the difficulties of the dual application questions, and the use of different words and their meanings by translators, as they state two questions concerning the term virgin. The first question relates to meaning:

The Greek translators staked out the possible meanings: LXX ἡ παρθένος, followed by Vg virgo “the virgin.” Other Greek versions translate η νεανις “the young woman.” Both are possible translations of the word. The definite article is important. Not just anyone, but “the” or “that” virgin or young woman is meant. [1] The second question is: to whom does the prophet refer? Interpreters continue to differ in answering. The traditional answer of the Christian community points to Mary, the mother of Jesus (cf. Excursus: Isaiah 7:14 and the Virgin Birth). But the context in its primary meaning requires a sign that will be fulfilled in the immediate future (“before the boy knows … the land will be laid waste,” v 16).[2] Steinmann (90) identifies her as a princess who has just entered the household of Ahaz, possibly Abia, the daughter of Zechariah, a friend of the prophet (cf. 2 Kings 18:2), who would become the mother of Hezekiah.  It is entirely possible in large royal households that the mother would give the child its name. Some have objected that Hezekiah must have been older by this time for him to assume the throne when he did. But the chronologies of this period are very uncertain, so no sure statement can be made. The view that the child to be born is a royal heir, and that his mother belongs to the king’s household does justice to the evidence, fits the context, and provides the potential of messianic intention that is needed. [3]

Leon Wood further stipulates this difficulty, as he points out “It will be noticed that, in respect to the predicted events which have already occurred, the vision finds a literal historical fulfillment; and the same should be anticipated, then, in respect to the events which lie still in the future (L. Wood, Commentary on Daniel).”  Daniel 7–12 contains many symbols that we identify as apocalyptic in nature however, we do understand that most of the material is meant to be understood as prophecy.  To further complicate this discussion, it needs to be pointed out that the distinctions between the two genres are recent additions to the discussions about their impact on our theologies.

SYMBOLISM

Symbolism is one of the key elements in what we call apocalyptic.  These symbols are mysterious with dubious meanings.  The very nature of apocalyptic writings was to create a mystery language that only the knowledgeable would be able to decipher.  These ciphers’ have baffled many readers of books like Daniel and Revelation throughout the ages, leading to exaggerated explanations and fantastic theologies that are useless to most common applications for life and service to the Lord.  This is especially true when dispensational limitations are placed on the passages, as this renders the message mute. The common sense approach is the best rendition in most instances, as the symbols usually carry an explanation or meaning of the figures within the text itself.  When this is not the case, their significance is often found in other Scriptures.  When there is no other supporting Scriptural data, we can go to outside religious or secular writings of the era to try and render a plausible meaning of the referral.  If there is scant evidence however, extreme caution should be taken in allowing the minor referrals to influence theologies.  A further caution should be inserted: if there are fewer than two Scriptural references, no doctrine should be developed under any circumstances.  This is a sound hermeneutical principle that when followed, keeps us safe.

I) Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature

  1. Revelations and visions,
  2. Symbolism/numerology,
  3. Shaking of the foundations or the overthrow of the established world order,
  4. Triumph of God,
  5. Determinism of Destiny,
  6. Dualism,
  7. 7. Pseudonymity,
  8. Unique Literary Form and Structure,
  9. Rewritten history,
  10. Ethical teaching,
  11. Predictive,
  12. Historical perspective,
  13. Heavenly viewpoint (example: “come up here”),
  14. Activity of Angels and demons,
  15. Focus on Messiah,
  16. Esoteric in Character,
  17. False Antiquity,
  18. Resurrection and Life Beyond the grave,
  19. Judgment of God upon the wicked *Numbers 1-12 are explained in Leon Morris Revelation and Daniel. See other books (in bibliography) for the explanations of 13-19.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Is The Revelation an apocalyptic book?
  2. Is The Revelation a prophetic book?
  3. Can it be both?
  4. Characteristics: Apocalyptic literature has certain literary devices, characteristics or styles that set it apart from other literature. How does this affect your view of prophetic writings?
  5. II) Revelation:

The book of Revelation, which contains the unique literary form of letters written to seven churches, plus visions of the future, borrows from the Old Testament, Intertestamental Apocalyptic writings, and Old Testament prophetic literature as a whole.  For example, it highlights the:

  1. a) Concept of Jesus as the Son of Man
  2. b) The Second Coming of Christ
  3. c) The Ultimate Glory of the Kingdom of God (Revelation 21)
  4. d) Resurrection as a Necessity for the Final Judgment: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15).

In the Intertestamental apocalyptic writings, we also find additional themes that surface in Revelation:

  1. a) A woman representing a people and a city: The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18).”

b) Horns representing authority and eyes representing understanding: Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth (Revelation 5:6).

  1. c) Trumpets signifying a superhuman or divine voice (Revelation 8:6–11:19)
  2. d) White robes symbolizing the glory of the coming age: Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed (Revelation 6:11).
  3. e) Crowns depicting dominion: I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest (Revelation 6:2).
  4. f) The number seven standing for fullness or perfection: Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals… Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them(Revelation 5:1; 8:6)
  5. g) The number 12 standing for the ultimate perfect people of God: From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000,6 from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, 7 from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, 8from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000… down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 7:5–8; 22:2), and
  6. h) The frequent appearance of angels: After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree…Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars (Revelation 7:1; 10:1).

III) Visions: Although other types of biblical literature use visions to communicate theological concepts and teaching (Isaiah 6), apocalyptic literature uses visions as a way of revealing secrets from heaven about the present and the future of humankind.  Often these visions are caused by some trauma or major personal or social event that created a crisis in the writer’s experience.  On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet… in the thirtieth year after the ruin of the city I was in Babylon, and lay troubled upon my bed, and my thoughts came up over my heart (compare Revelation 1:10 with 4 Ezra 3:1).  These visions lead in turn to further explanations about coming events or other visions and dreams that will follow in the record.

  1. IV) Ethics: because of these visionary experiences, the writer usually draws ethical conclusions that become mandates for the community of faith. In Revelation 2–3, John writes seven letters to seven distinct historic churches in Western Asia Minor. Each letter is addressed to specific issues facing the church. These letters were written after John saw a vision and was commissioned by God to write: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 1:19). These messages were meant to call the churches to specific ethical or moral decisions, directing them back to a renewed vigor in their collective faith.
  2. V) Pseudonymous authorship: The Book of Revelation in the New Testament is the only book of Jewish or Christian Apocalyptic Literature that gives the name of its author. All of the other apocalyptic books that we know about are attributed to famous prophets or people of the past, such as Ezra, Enoch, Baruch, Jeremiah, Abraham, Moses, and Adam. This trend toward Pseudonymity transferred into the mystical and Gnostic writings of the early church community and those they were influencing.  The reason why these authors identified their writings with great persons in Israel’s history probably had a very simple explanation, as these names were used to add credibility to their work.  It is similar to the common practice of ghost writing in the modern world of publications.  A vision from Enoch, for example, would carry more weight than if it were from some contemporary writer named Joe Jacobs, the Ishmaelite.  In our culture, this practice is synonymous to Joe Smith being replaced to one of the more popular and well known authors who weld influence and credibility in their fields of expertise.
  3. VI) Powerful symbolism: Each of the apocalyptic books that we have record of have a common characteristic. They are rich in symbolism. The reader’s imagination is stretched by the images that evoked by the descriptions of terror and wonder. Another general characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that those who read the apocalyptic books just after they had been written would usually meaning of the symbols used by the author, as they were extracted from the cultural iconographic images of the era.  Distorted animals and beasts with multiple heads and voices, horrible signs from heaven like fire raining down, or a chaotic flowing of thundering waters symbolize the events of the time, evil rulers, and pagan nations.  This type of imagery was designed to evoke fear and dread.  Conversely, the remnant people who are faithful to God are portrayed as majestic animals, like a lion, or a well-kept plant.  The purpose of this symbolism was to make explicit the contrast between good and evil obvious to the reader.

VII) Messages: Through the non-canonical apocalyptic books, the authors were communicating several important current messages to their readers.  The following themes are recurrent ideas that appear in all the apocalyptic writings.  This makes them static, constant fixtures that are redundant expressions of this genre.  As such, they should prove to be interesting, as you observe their influence on our modern belief systems:

  1. a) The end is coming soon: Throughout these books the authors write about the arrival of the end times somewhere within the constraints of the near future. Listen to Baruch, speak: “for the youth of this world is past, and the strength of the creation already exhausted and the advent of the times is very short, yea, they have passed by: and the pitcher is near to the cistern, and the ship to the port, and the course of the journey to the city, and life to its consummation” (2 Baruch 85:10). In the other books, various images are used to spell out the coming end. This apocalyptic view of the last days gives a certain measure of urgency to these writings.
  2. b) The whole universe is involved: The end of the world is not a solitary event for the earth alone; it extends to the whole of the created universe, both in the seen and in the unseen dimensions.  This planet is only a small part of a greater epic tragedy that is unfolding throughout the expression of salvific history.  Every apocalypse tells us that an awful time is in store for the living and the dead, and that all nations of the earth will “be seized with great panic” (4 Ezra 5:1) as they face the fierce and expedient wrath of God.
  3. c) History is divided into fixed segments: Along with a very pessimistic view of history, the apocalyptic books declare that God has determined the end of history before creation began.  This determinism is of epic proportions, as time is seen as an instrument in the hand of God, with a fixed amount of time being doled out by God.  To further complicate these matters, world history is usually divided into fixed times or epochs that transcend the biblical constraints of God’s activities among men.  These fixed segments have been established, and humanity simply lives out the already established drama, almost serving the role of scenery or props that will someday lose their usefulness.  Jesus delineated a proper biblical understanding of the division of time into ages or dispensations.  According to Jesus, the creator of time and eternity, history may only be divided into two periods—this age, which is ruled by Satan and his legions, and the age to come, in which wickedness will be abolished and God will rule supreme.
  4. d) Angels and demons: Apocalyptic literature is almost always filled with angels and demons who are actively involved in the drama of unfolding events.  The problem of evil is normally explained by pointing to the demons and satan himself, the chief demon as being the forces or personalities that have caused evil to exist, imposing their malicious will onto humanity.  The Angels who have not fallen (1 Enoch 6–36) are used by God to protect and serve his faithful, remnant, people.  The Books of Enoch, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the book of Jubilees give us detailed descriptions of the task of angels and demons within creation and as God’s witting and unwitting servants.  The Book of Revelation and the examples of apocalyptic and prophetic writings in the New Testament also echoes these truths and beliefs.
  5. e) The New Heaven and the New Earth: The end times as portrayed in the apocalyptic writings as ending with a return to the beginning of creation, albeit evil and sin will be expunged from the equation.  God will issue a final edict, and descending out of heaven there will emerge a new heaven and a new earth that will displace the old ones.  The old creation will be destroyed.  It will be replaced by a new creation where God will rule with complete authority (Revelation 20–22; 2 Enoch 65:7–10; 2 Baruch 48).  Only those who have been faithful to God’s law and revelation will be saved from the impending judgment and destruction that will be poured out on a creation in rebellion.
  6. f) The Kingdom of God: Enoch 41 is very descriptive of the place from where all the world will ultimately be judged by God. The biblical apocalyptic books describe the Kingdom of God as the ultimate rule in the new creation in  a very similar fashion, as we see in these citations: For Thou hast made and Thou rulest all things, And nothing is too hard for Thee, Wisdom departs not from the place of Thy throne, Nor turns away from Thy presence. And Thou knowest and seest and hearest everything, And there is nothing hidden from Thee [for Thou seest everything]… The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”“ ‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men’ (Enoch 84:3; Revelation 11:15; Daniel 4:17). All throughout the apocalyptic literature examples that we have, the image of the Kingdom or the Rule of God is a central theme.  This is rightly so, and it should shape and influence our belief systems.  In the final analysis, ultimately, all events really are determined from God’s throne.
  7. g) Messiah: A Messiah or mediator between God and humankind appears in most of the apocalyptic writings. He is invariably seen as the one who accomplishes the final salvation of the world.  This figure usually appears figuratively or literally as a Messiah, a son of man, the chosen one, or a mediator between God and man.
  8. h) Glory: The underlying theme of almost all apocalyptically themed writings is that the righteous have suffered in this world because satan has ruled over this world and he has turned his anger toward God’s beloved. However, this situation will change in the future as the Glory of the Lord drives him out of God’s creation.  This vision of glory is meant to serve as a word of hope and encouragement for the righteous remnant.  The righteous remnant are those who trust in God and refuse to be shaped by the world around them. Glory will come to God’s people and the persecution they have suffered for their dedication to God will end.  Because of the impartation of God’s Spirit and love, they will always have the power that is necessary to live full and meaningful lives in this world now, demonstrating the power of faithfulness, and challenging the darkness around them.

VII) An interesting stylistic trait of Revelation is its strong contrasts. These include contrasts in:

  1. a)Conflict: God’s Kingdom struggles against satan’s fallen dominion, the saints war against the followers of the beast, the bride of Christ battles against the harlot Babylon,
  2. b)Imagery: Lamb’s and dragons, the beautiful, deceptive and deadly harlot, the Lamb that is a Lion,
  3. c)Actions: the establishment of the New Jerusalem and the destruction of Babylon, Satan being allowed to harm his own human followers but not the followers of the Lamb,
  4. d)Location: heaven and earth, land and sea, and time: time and eternity (chronos vs. epoch).

These contrasts vividly convey the sense that vast forces of good and evil are in conflict in this world, and we cannot hope for stability until the day of Christ’s triumph.

VIII) The New Testament Apocrypha: The New Testament Apocrypha contains several writings that were similar to New Testament books but were not included as a part of the New Testament. These writings were greatly influenced by the philosophies and religions of the cities or nations out of which they came. Some of the apocryphal gospels were written to replace the gospels of the New Testament but were declared false writings by officials of the early church.

In 1974, several apocalyptic books and fragments were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the War Scroll and Book of Mysteries. In the second and third century ad., Christian writers produced a number of apocalypses, including The Revelation of Peter, The Revelation of Paul, and The Revelation of Thomas. All these writings are included in a collection known as the New Testament Apocrypha.

In general, apocalypses are made up of two types or styles. The more familiar ‘historical’ apocalypses, exemplified by Daniel and Revelation, are concerned with great historical crises. History is often divided into a set number of periods, and the course of history is ‘prophesied’ from the time of the supposed author down to the actual time of composition. The period before the end is marked by catastrophic upheavals. Salvation may include the restoration of the land of Israel, but the emphasis is on a transition to a radically different world order. In the second type of apocalypse, exemplified in the Enoch books and the Apocalypse of Abraham, the visionary ascends through the heavens, thus they are known as ‘allegorical’ apocalypses.  Seven is the classical number of heavens but three and five are also attested. These journeys, which are usually guided by an angel, usually include a vision of the abodes of the dead.

Some apocalypses were written in times of distress: Daniel in the persecution of 168 BC, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem.  Others responded to less specific problems, but all reflect some kind of dissatisfaction with the present world and seek salvation either in a new world to come or in another world beyond. Apocalyptic ideas played a crucial role in the formation of early Christian beliefs in the resurrection and Second Coming of Christ.

Closely related material can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Sibylline Oracles, and The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.  The Gnostics who tended to place a greater stress on salvation in the present also adapted this genre.  Apocalyptic writing of this sort was a kind of code, a way of communicating so that unbelieving enemies would not understand. A person who wrote such literature could encourage his readers to stand against the pagan state and predict its downfall under divine judgment, without fear of official reprisal. Modern readers often miss this aspect of the apocalyptic genre, just as the ancient pagans did. It was designed to reveal its message to insiders in terms that an outsider could not understand.

  1. IX) So, what is an Apocalypse?

The word apocalypse comes from the Greek word apokalypsis which means “revealing, disclosure, to take off the cover.” The book of Revelation is sometimes referred to as the “Apocalypse of John” because it is God revealing the end times to the Apostle John. Further, the Greek word for “apocalypse” is the very first word in the Greek text of the book of Revelation. The phrase “apocalyptic literature” is used to describe the use of symbols, images, and numbers to depict future events. Outside of Revelation, examples of apocalyptic literature in the Bible are Daniel chapters 7-12, Isaiah chapters 24-27, Ezekiel chapters 37-41, and Zechariah chapters 9-12.

Why was apocalyptic literature written in such symbolism and imagery? The apocalyptic books were written when it was more prudent to disguise the message in images and symbolism than to give the message in plain language. Further, the symbolism created an element of mystery about details of time and place. The purpose of such symbolism, however, was not to cause confusion, but rather to instruct and encourage followers of God in difficult times.

Beyond the specifically biblical meaning, the term apocalypse is often used to refer to the end times in general or to the last end-times events specifically. End-times events such as the Second Coming of Christ and the Battle of Armageddon are sometimes referred to as the apocalypse. The apocalypse will be the ultimate revealing of God, His wrath, His justice, and then ultimately His love. Jesus Christ is the ultimate ‘apocalypse’ of God, as He revealed God to us: Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe (John 14:9; Hebrews 1:2).

  1. X) Apocalyptic Symbols
  2. a) Satan: prince of Otherworldly beings

The vision narratives of Revelation are populated with a complex array of supernatural beings arranged in two competitive hierarchies, one headed by God and the other by Satan.

The exalted Christ, who has a special and unique relationship to God, has an even more central role in the framework of Revelation than does God the Father (1:9–3:22; 22:12–21), though his role, Lamb, Messiah, and Rider on the White Horse, is curiously varied and certainly less prominent in the main section 4:1–22:9 (5:1–8:1; 11:15; 12:4–5; 14:1–5; 17:14; 19:11–21; 20:4–6).

The heavenly court and its denizens are frequently the focus of vision narratives, including the seven spirits of God (4:5), the four cherubim (4:6b–10; 5:6, 14; 7:11; 14:3), the twenty-four elders (4:4, 10; 5:5–14; 7:11; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4), a variety of individual angelic beings that function in various ways (7:1; 8:3–9:21; 10:1–11), and an innumerable host of angelic beings (5:11; 7:11).

Satan plays a central role in the narratives as the chief antagonist known by various names and forms including Devil, Satan, the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the deceiver of the whole world (12:9).

  1. b) Satan’s second in command is the Beast (11:7; 13:1–10; 16:13), who is an infernal being thought of sometimes as incarnate in the Roman empire and other times as one of the Roman emperors (17:7–11).
  2. c) The third member of this unholy trinity is the Beast from the Land (13:11–17), also referred to as the False Prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
  3. d) Satan also has his host of angels (12:7–9), which can apparently be represented as a horde of demonic locusts (9:3–11).
  4. XI) The world

John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth is predicated upon the destruction of the first heaven and the first earth: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea (21:1). Earth and heaven are said to have fled from the presence of God: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them (20:11).

XII) Otherworldly beings

The Beast and the False Prophet are defeated and cast into the lake of fire by the Rider on the White Horse: But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (19:20), and Satan is ultimately defeated and thrown into the lake of fire where he, with the Beast and the False Prophets, will be eternally tormented: And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever (20:10).

XIII) Eschatological salvation may involve cosmic transformation

The destruction of the first heaven and the first earth is followed by the creation of a new heaven and a new earth: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea (21:1). The New Jerusalem, representing the presence of God in the midst of his people on a transformed earth, will descend from heaven: I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (21:2–4) and is described in (21:9–22:5):

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia (1,400 mi) in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits (200 ft) thick(high) by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. 22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever…

XIV) Personal salvation may take the form of Resurrection

Those who had died for their testimony to Jesus returned to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years in the first resurrection: I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years(20:4–6), while the general resurrection is mentioned in (20:11–15): Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Referring to Christ under the traditional title of the “firstborn from the dead” naturally implies the resurrection of all believers: and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), though resurrection is never explicitly made one of the promises that conclude the seven proclamations.

XV) Other forms of afterlife

Those who conquer are promised the fruit of the tree of life in the paradise of God: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (2:7; 22:14) and are assured that they will wear white robes: blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city (3:5). It is also a metaphor for eternal life, be given a place with the exalted Christ on his throne: He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (3:22), and have access to the New Jerusalem: Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city (22:14). The righteous will dwell with God, and he will abolish all sorrow, death, and suffering:

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes, who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (7:13–17; 21:3–4; 22:3–5).

XVI) Otherworldly regions

Though Revelation reflects the ancient Jewish cosmology of heaven, earth, and underworld, the seer tells us a great deal about heaven but reveals little of the underworld. The heavenly world is represented primarily by the heavenly court, where God presides surrounded by a variety of supernatural beings who are characteristically engaged in the worship of God (4:1–5:14; 7:9–17; 8:2–5; 11:16–18; 12:10–12; 15:1–16:1; 19:1–8).

XVII) Otherworldly beings

The vision narratives of Revelation are populated with a complex array of supernatural beings arranged in two competitive hierarchies, one headed by God and the other by Satan. The exalted Christ, who has a special and unique relationship to God, has an even more central role in the framework of Revelation than God the Father (1:9–3:22; 22:12–21). This is clearly seen in his roles as Lamb, Savior, and as an Equestrian Rider who makes an appearance on a White Horse. These optical allusions are varied, divergent and less pronounced in the main passages of 4:1–22:9 (5:1–8:1; 11:15; 12:4–5; 14:1–5; 17:14; 19:11–21; 20:4–6). The court of heaven and its citizenry are the dominant focal point in this function of John’s vision.

LXX The Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT

Vg Latin Vulgate (as published in Weber’s edition)

[1]Watts, John D. W.: Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33. Dallas : Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 24), S. 98

  1. confer, compare

[2]Watts, John D. W.: Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33. Dallas : Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 24), S. 99

  1. confer, compare

[3]Watts, John D. W.: Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33. Dallas : Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 24), S. 99

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