Escape to the Wilderness – Revelation 12: 5-6

After the woman clothed in the sun gives birth to the male child, she escapes into the wilderness where she is protected for a period of 1260 days. The interpretation of the escape into the wilderness depends on the identity of the woman.

The child is obviously the messiah. Several messianic texts converge here. First, the child is the “seed of the woman” from Genesis 3:15. Second, Isaiah 66:7 has similar language, “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.” Third, that the child is destined to rule the nations with a rod of iron alludes to Psalm 2:9. John already quoted this messianic Psalm in 2:27 and will again in 19:15 with reference to the coming of the messiah ruling over the nations.

Following the Septuagint of Psalm 2:9, all three occurrences in Revelation use the verb shepherd, ποιμαίνω, rather than rule. A rod (ῥάβδος) refers to a staff or scepter, but here it is likely a shepherd’s staff. Micah 7:14, for example, refers to the Lord shepherding his people with his staff. This passage looks forward to the eschatological age when the Lord would rule over his people as a shepherd cares for is flock. Ezekiel 37:24 looks forward to a tome of peace and prosperity when a future David will shepherd God’s people.

Greg Beale draws attention to a “conceptual parallel” in 1QH 3.7-12. The author of 1QHodayot describes his distress as “like a woman giving birth the first time when her labor-pains come on her.” She “gives birth to a male,” a child who is free from the breakers of death. Then the author alludes to Isaiah 9:5-6, describing the child as “a wonderful counsellor with his strength.” This is in contrast to “she who is pregnant with a serpent.” It is possible this contrast alludes to Genesis 3:15, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Beale suggests the text referred to the origin of the Community or (less likely) the birth of the Teacher of Righteousness. By line 22 the psalm seems to refer to entrance into the Community, “the host of the holy ones, and can enter in communion with the congregation of the sons of heaven.” (Text from Martı́nez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (translations) (Leiden: Brill, 1997–1998).

The child is caught up to “God and his throne.” The sequence of sentences does not make it clear this catching up into heaven represents rescue from the dragon. If the child represents Jesus, it is very strange his death on the cross and resurrection is omitted from the imagery. In Revelation 5 John described Jesus as a lamb that had been slain. But here the vision jumps from the birth to the ascension.

After the child has been snatched away from the dragon, the woman flees into the wilderness. If the woman is Israel, then there is an allusion here to Israel’s experience in the wilderness. In the Old Testament, the wilderness is sometimes a positive experience and at other times the result of judgment. Mauser points out that it is in the wilderness that God reveals his name and his law, beginning the religions life of Israel (Christ in the Wilderness, 29). He finds the three major elements of Israel’s theology initiated in the wilderness: covenant and law, election, and rebellion. The Covenant is established at Sinai, confirming Israel’s election. Immediately, however, there is rebellion against God in the golden calf incident. But the focus here is on the wilderness as protection, just as Elijah was protected and nourished in the wilderness for three years, so too will God’s people be protected and nourished for a similar period of time.

Adele Yarbro Collins argues Revelation 12 was originally composed in a Jewish context rather than Christian. She points writer emphasizes the birth of the male child rather than the death (as expected in a Christian apocalypse). God rescues the child from the dragon after he is born (Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation, 105-6). Reading Revelation 12 in a Jewish context would take the woman as Israel (mother Zion of Isaiah 54) and avoids the problematic interpretation of the woman as the church (since the church did not “give birth” to Jesus).

If this is a Jewish apocalyptic fragment, where did it come from? Massyngberde-Ford suggested disciples of John the Baptist reworked and interpreted his apocalypse (Rev 4-11). She argues the flight into the wilderness occurred in the forties A.D. when the “mad Emperor” Gaius demanded his statue be placed in the Temple. This would have been interpreted as the “abomination that causes desolation” and prompted faithful Jewish-Christians to flee Jerusalem.

Although Massyngberde-Ford’s suggestion is intriguing, it has not convinced many. But could Revelation 12:5-6 be a highly creative re-working of Jesus’s warning in Mark 13:14-20? In his apocalyptic discourse, Jesus warned his followers to flee Jerusalem when they see an abomination which causes desolation. There are differences. Jesus tells “those who are in Judea” to flee to the mountains immediately. Revelation 12 indicates only the woman fled into the wilderness. If the woman represents Israel, then (perhaps) the flight to the wilderness is similar to the Judeans fleeing the Romans beginning in AD 66.

The Dragon and the Stars – Revelation 12:3-4

In Revelation 12:3-4 a “great red dragon” sweeps a third of the stars of heaven down to earth with his tail. Since Revelation 12:9 identifies the red dragon as Satan and the male child is Jesus, is there a real, historical event John has in mind when he says the dragon swept a third of the stars from heaven?

Seven Headed Dragon Joachim of Fiore

For some writers, Revelation 12:3-4 is a reference to the fall of Satan. At some point before the fall of humans in the Garden of Eden, Satan himself rebelled against God and deceived one third of the angels to join him in this rebellion. In order to support this origin of Satan, Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 are read as allusions to the fall of Satan. Michael Heiser argues there are clear parallels between Genesis 3 and these two passages (Demons, 68-70. Heiser does not think Revelation 12:3-4 refers to the primordial fall of Satan, p. 245).

For some (usually conservative) commentators, Revelation 12 looks back at this satanic rebellion. For example, Robert Thomas said this “must refer to angels who fell with Satan in past history” (Revelation 8-22, 124). Lenski observed the clear allusion to Daniel 8:10 and drew an analogy to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who threw down some of the stars from heaven and trampled them on the ground, and Satan, who threw down a third of God’s stars” (Lenski, Revelation, 366; cf., Patterson Revelation NAC, 263). Most who see Revelation 12:3-4 as a reference to the fall of Satan cite Jude 6 as a parallel text, “the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling.”

If the sweeping away of a third of the stars is the fall of Satan and the stars are the angels deceived by Satan, then perhaps there is a parallel to the Book of the Watchers, 1 Enoch 6-11. In this detailed expansion of the biblical story of the flood, two hundred angels take an oath to descend to Mt Hermon, find women to marry and have children with them. Michael and the other archangels hear the cries of the humans and respond in a prayer to God himself. The archangels point out to God the activities of Azazel and they blame him for teaching humans the “eternal secrets.” However, there is nothing in 1 Enoch which describes the leader of the rebellion as a dragon and there is nothing to indicate the wicked angels are “one third” of the angels.

There are problems with the interpretation of Revelation 12:3-4 as referring to the fall of Satan. The woman was pregnant and about to give birth to the male child (presumably Jesus, v. 2, 5) prior to the second sign, the great rea dragon who seeps away a third of the stars from heaven and flings them to the earth (v. 3-4). War does not break out in heaven until after the child is born and is snatched up to heaven (presumably the ascension). The chronology is confused, although that may not be convincing since Revelation 12 is a highly symbolic description of history.

More troubling for those who want this text to refer to a pre-Edenic fall of Satan is the lack of evidence for the kind of rebellion against God assumed in most descriptions of the fall of Satan. Even if Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are admitted as evidence for an angelic rebellion against God, there is nothing in either passage to support one-third of the angels falling along with the rebel, nor do either of those passages make a clear connection to Satan as the leader of an demonic horde. In fact, the idea that demons are the angels who fell with Satan is built on a number of assumptions built up over centuries of myth-building rather than solid textual / biblical evidence.

If the sweeping of one third of the stars from heaven to earth does not refer to the original fall of Satan, then it may allude to the activity of the little horn in Daniel 8:10. This little horn grew great, “even to the host of heaven” and “even as great as the Prince of the host” (v. 11). When it became great, it threw down some of the stars to the ground and trampled on them.

In the context of Daniel 8, the starry host refers to Antiochus’s attacks on the Jewish people,  beginning with the assassination of Onias III in 170, the sacking of the temple in 169, and the general persecution of Jews in the period which follows (see also 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-5). “Antiochus’ hurling them down to earth and trampling them is symbolic of what he did to the Jewish people” (J. Paul Tanner, Daniel, EEC, 491). Tanner also points out Alexander brutally trampled the Persians in 8:7, using the same word as verse 10. Alexander certainly did not trample angels, so in the context of Daniel 8 this host refers to those slaughtered by Antiochus.

There are other Second temple texts which use stars to represent righteous people. 1 Enoch 43.4 identifies stars in heaven as “the holy ones who dwell upon the earth and believe in the name of the Lord of the Spirits forever and ever.” 2 Maccabees 9:10 describes Antiochus as thinking “thought that he could touch the stars of heaven,” which could be hyperbole but likely refers to the righteous in the context of 2 Maccabees.

If John alludes to Daniel 8 here, then sweeping of the stars from heaven to earth is another reference to the war of the beast against God’s people (11:7; 13:7). This war against God’s people is a main theme of the second half of Revelation, culminating in the ultimate battle at Armageddon (16:16, 19:11-21). As Beale concludes, “Though Dan. 8:10 first had application to Antiochus, John now applies it in an escalated way to the devilish power behind Antiochus” (Revelation, 636). Just as Satan was the power behind the Seleucids in the past and the power behind Rome in the present, he will be the power behind the ultimate enemy of God in the future.

Book Review: Buist M. Fanning, Revelation (ZENTC)

Fanning, Buist M. Revelation. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 623 pp. Hb. $59.99   Link to Zondervan   

In the preface to this new contribution to the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Buist Fanning mentions three pairs of influences on his thinking about the book of Revelation: G. B. Caird and S. Lewis Johnson; Richard Bauckham and Craig Blaising; R. H. Charles and John Nelson Darby. In the strange universe of Revelation commentaries, these are indeed strange bedfellows. As Fanning comments, “Revelation functions as a kind of literary Rorschach test” (p. 23).

Fanning, Revelation, ZENTCIn fact, Fanning observes, the interpretation of Revelation often tells you as much about the interpreter as the message of the book. He therefore identifies himself as an evangelical with a commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, using “chastened” historical critical method and reads Revelation in the light of other first-century Jewish apocalypses. Following Richard Bauckham, he recognizes Revelation as the climax of the canon. Fanning’s commentary blends a typological method with a futurist reading of Revelation. He certainly takes into account the context of first century Asia Minor and apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period, yet he does not get lost in the parallelomania which sometimes plagues commentaries on Revelation.

In the introduction to the book of Revelation, Fanning argues John the Apostle is the best candidate for authorship, writing in A.D. 95-98 to churches in Asia Minor.

As is common in commentaries on Revelation, a major section of the introduction is devoted to method. Fanning makes six axiomatic statements with respect to imagery and symbols in Revelation. First, literal does not equal “real, actual” nor does symbolic equal “imaginary.” It is not as though literal is true, and a symbol is untrue. Second, literal and symbolic language can refer to a range of entities with different character and scope. Third, a literal description can include emotive or connotative elements as well as denotative. Fanning offers as an example, “the Big Apple.” This is symbolic language refers denotatively to New York City, but it also evokes certain connotations and emotions. Fourth, a symbol can refer to a real entity without corresponding point-by-point comparisons which relating to reality. Fifth, Fanning follows Norman Perrin by contrasting steno-symbols (one-to-one specific historical figures) and tensive symbols. A tensive symbol cannot be totally exhausted nor adequately expressed by one reference. It “teases the mind into ever new evocation of meaning” (p. 35). For example, the Lamb in Revelation 5:6 refers to Jesus, but there is very little literal correspondence. The reader knows the lamb is Jesus. The trumpets in Revelation 8 build on imagery drawn from the Exodus. “They are intensified and universalized to be sure, but not changed to a different ontological realm” (p. 37).

Regarding the classic hermeneutical approaches to the book of Revelation, he begins by defining each preterist, futurist, historicist, and idealist. With the exception of historicism, he concludes each approach offers something of value for reading Revelation. Like Grant Osborne’s BENTC on Revelation, Fanning grounds his commentary in the world of the first century and finds application appropriate for the contemporary Christian reader, but he is also clear the book refers to future events.

In fact, Fanning has a consistently futurist perspective. With respect to the seven seals, Fanning suggests they are “the initial expression of God’s judgment on sin in anticipation of completing world-wide redemption.” These vivid symbols “referred to “real, this-worldly suffering that the earth and its inhabitants will experience as judgment from God during the future climactic events of this age” (p. 235). The 144,000 are ethnic Jews: “John affirms the widespread ancient Jewish expectation of the regathering in the end-times of all the tribes of ethnic Israel from the exile among the nations” (p. 263). The locust from the abyss are demons functioning in some ways like an invading army (p. 299), but this “nightmarish scenario will be devastatingly real” (p. 306). The mark of the beast most likely refers to Nero, but it is part of John’s typological pattern which foreshadows “the escalated fulfillment in the future antichrist” (p. 380). As for meaning of Babylon in Revelation 17, he rejects the classic dispensationalist view the city as literal Babylon as well as the common preterist view the city is Jerusalem. He argues Babylon refers to Rome as part of John’s use of typology, first-century Rome foreshadows the ultimate future worldwide enemy of God (p. 440-41).

The introduction concludes with a discussion of what Fanning means by typology and how the book of Revelation alludes to the Old Testament (and possibly Jewish apocalyptic, Greco-Roman literature and ancient Near Eastern mythology). The clearest examples of Old Testament types or patterns in Revelation are the reuse of the Egyptian plagues from Exodus in the Trumpets (Rev 8-9) and broader Exodus typology found throughout the book. For Fanning, this typology is more than a matter of how the New Testament uses the Old, it is “grounded in observations about God’s consistency in working out his purposes a crossed human history” (p. 47). Typology should not be limited to Christology or Soteriology, although those are common examples. In Revelation, judgment of the ungodly and opposition to God often conform to patterns found in the Old Testament. Fanning is clear: typology does not “require a metaphysical shift from physical, geographic, or historical entities to some sort of spiritual or eternal realities in the New Testament antitype” (p. 48). His view of typology does not require an antitype to be limited to a single climatic fulfillment. This allows for Antiochus IV Epiphanes to be a type of the future Roman emperors as well as a still-future antichrist (p. 48). Fanning argues this use of typological patterns accounts for John’s references to realities in the first century (preterism) as well as a final climactic period in the future (futurism). He cites favorably Marvin Pate’s progressive dispensationalist approach in Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998) and the “already/not yet” rubric.

In the commentary’s body, each unit begins with the literary context of the section followed by a concise summary of the pericope. Fanning’s translation appears in a graphical layout showing the relationship of clauses and the use of interpretive labels. A brief comment on the structure and an exegetical outline follows. The bulk of each unit explains the text. Each verse begins with a translation and the Greek text. Greek words appear without transliteration in the body of the commentary. The introduction to the series suggests readers with two years of Greek and some intermediate grammar will follow the discussion well. As the editors lay out the text, even readers without Greek will find the text accessible. Almost all detailed discussion of syntax and interaction with secondary literature appears in the footnotes. Each chapter of the commentary concludes with a section entitled “theology in application.” These are brief biblical-theological observations rather than pastoral guidance for preaching various sections of Revelation. Nevertheless, these observations often reveal Fanning’s pastoral heart as he seeks to apply the text of Revelation to a Christian reader.

Following the commentary proper is a chapter entitled “Theology of Revelation.” Fanning argues the book of Revelation is centered on “the true and living God engaged with his good creation.” He observes that Revelation is a “God-saturated book” (p. 568) and offers a series of points summarizing how Revelation describes God. Revelation is also a book about the reality of evil that has corrupted humans as well as creation. The book therefore describes an ongoing enslavement to deception and corruption by Satan and his minions (p. 571). Yet God works to establish his reign over his defiant and rebellious creation. God and the Lamb finally rule over creation, fulfilling God’s purpose of redemption. Revelation also describes a new community of the redeemed, although the word church does not appear in the book after chapter 3. Those who follow Christ suffered greatly in the severe final tribulation to come and the church is called to endure in faith and obedience in these intense trials (p. 573) while looking forward to the final salvation of diverse corporate worship of God.

Conclusion. It seems strange to describe a 600+ commentary as brief, but this only in comparison to the mammoth commentaries from Aune and Beale. Fanning’s contribution is worth consulting, especially as a representative of a future-orientated commentary on Revelation. His approach to symbolic language and typology grounds the exegesis in the overall story of Scripture. It is superior in this regard to Robert Thomas’s overtly dispensational commentary (Moody, 1992) or Paige Patterson’s attempt at a consciously pre-millennial commentary in the NAC series. Like other Zondervan Exegetical New Testament Commentaries, Fanning’s work is exegetically solid and reflects evangelical theological commitments.

NB:  Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Who is the Woman in Revelation 12?

After John sees the doors to the heavenly temple opened, a great sign appeared in heaven. The vision in Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven followed by a war on earth. The dragon attacks a woman and her child, forcing her to flee into the wilderness for a period of time where she will be protected by God.

Revelation 12 has been described as being “consciously or nor, considered as the center and key to the entire book” (Prigent, Apocalypse 12, 1, cited by Beale 621). The description of the woman is highly symbolic as if John describing with words. This is certainly the case in Revelation 17 although it is less clear in chapter 12.

Woman with Gragon, Bamburg

The first great sign is a pregnant woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” The second sign is a “great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” who makes war in heaven and is cast down to the earth. The description of the great red dragon with multiple heads and crowns is familiar to readers of Daniel. (I plan on discussing the war in heaven in a separate section.)

The woman is clothed in the sun, feet on the moon and has a crown of twelve stars. The number twelve calls to mind the regular use of twelve in the Old Testament for the sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes comprising the nation of Israel. In Genesis 37 the sun and moon represent Jacob and Rachel in Joseph’s dream. Song of Songs 6:10 describes the bride’s beauty as like the moon and sun. Greg Beale surveys a range of rabbinic literature which interprets Song of Songs 6:10 faithful Israel (Beale, Revelation, 625 citing Midrash Rab Exod. 15.6; Num 2.4, Num 9:14).

Who is the woman and her child? As with most things in Revelation, there have been a wide range of views from the Egyptian goddess Isis (the “queen of the cosmos,” (Yarbro Collins, Combat Myth, 71–76) to the American Revolutionary War and Civil War (Alan Johnson, “The Bible and War in America: An Historical Survey,” JETS 28 (1985): 169-181).

The two most common views take the woman as a symbol for either Israel or the church. That the woman represents the church has been a common view in the history of the church. of the woman is that she represents the church, since her offspring are attacked by the power of the beast. Medieval commentators often interpreted the woman as Mary and the child as Christ.

For many writers these are not mutually exclusive. Mounce, for example, observes there is one continuous people of God through redemptive history, so it should not be a surprise the imagery refers to both Israel and the church (Mounce, Revelation, 236). However, since this is a Jewish Christian apocalypse, an emphasis on the Jewish-ness of this image is important.

The woman represents the Jewish people as the persecuted people of God and her child is the Messiah. The metaphor of Israel or Zion as husband to the Lord is common (Hosea 1-3; Isa 54:1-55; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:8-14). In Isaiah 49 Zion believes she has been abandoned by her husband; her children scattered throughout the word (in the exile). The Lord restores her children (the end of the exile) and tells her to “expand her tents” because so many children will return to her (54:2-8) and her marriage is restored (Isa 62:1-5). Isaiah 62:1-5 may be important for understanding the imagery of Revelation 12. When Zion is restored, she will be given a new name and she will be like a crown of splendor and a royal diadem in the hand of the Lord (Isa 62:3).

The woman gives birth to a son. John describes this child with allusions to several messianic texts from the Old testament. In Isaiah 66:7 Zion goes into labor and gives birth to a son. The time before the messianic ages is often described as birth pangs. For example, Jesus said the non-signs leading up to the final conflagration were birth (Matthew 24:8; cf., Paul. 1 Thessalonians 5:3). The child will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” This is clear allusion to Psalm 2:9, a text regularly interpreted as messianic in the Second Temple period.

The child was “snatched up to God and to his throne.” This seems like a clear allusion to the ascension. But there are problems with that interpretation. The child is born, threatened by the dragon, and then immediately snatched to heaven. It seems strange a Christian apocalypse would not make some reference to the cross and resurrection. In addition, this “snatching” rescues from the power of the dragon. After the resurrection, Jesus did not need to be rescued, he had already overcome the powers of evil. It is possible, however, the birth and ascension refer to the totality of Jesus’s mission.

The word translated “caught up” (ESV) or “snatched” (NIV is the aorist passive of ἁρπάζω. The word refers to rescue from danger with the connotation of a sudden, violent pulling away, “in such a way that no resistance is offered” (BDAG). Although Paul the word in 1 Thessalonians 4 17, the catching away of the child in Revelation 12 does not refer to the rapture of the church.

The War of the Dragon – Revelation 12-15

Revelation 12-15 is a major section of the book patterned in the same style as the other three sets of seven in the book (seals, trumpets and bowls). Each unit begins with “and I saw” (καί εἶδον). The seven units have the same 4 + 2 + 1 pattern with a brief interlude between the sixth and seventh unit. The larger section is framed by the word “sign” (σημεῖον) in 12:1, 3 and 15:2. Revelation 11:19 refers to the opening of the doors of the temple, Revelation 15:5-8 refer to the opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven.

Opening of the doors of the heavenly temple (11:19)

  • 12:1-18    The War of the Dragon (vs. 1, 3 a great sign, σημεῖον)
  • 13:1-11    The First Beast, from the Sea (καί εἶδον)
  • 13:11-18  The Second Beast, from the Earth (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:1-5      The Lamb and the 144,000 (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:6-13    The Three Angels (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:14-20  The Son of Man’s Harvest of the Earth (καί εἶδον)
  • (Interlude: 15:1, introduction of the seven vials)
  • 15:2-4      The Saint’s Victory over the Beast (καί εἶδον; 15:2, third sign, σημεῖον)

Opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven (15:5-8)

This outline is drawn from Greg Beale’s commentary, although I have added the opening of the two heavenly sanctuaries. Craig Koester also considers 11:19-15:4 as a unit describing “the conflict between the Creator and the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation, AB, 523).

Some commentators group chapter 15 with chapter 16 since the pouring of the bowls is introduced in 15:1 and executed in chapter 16. Buist, for example, calls Revelation 12:1-14:20 “Two further interludes” (Revelation, 402). Osborne specifically rejects Beale’s suggestion, observing the phrase “and I saw” (καί εἶδον) is a general formula used often in the book. For Osborne, 15:1-8 parallels the introduction to the trumpets in Revelation 8:2-5 (Revelation, 452, n. 1). Massyngberde Ford takes 11:6-19 as an introduction to seven signs in 12:1-14:20 (the woman, the dragon, the beast of the sea, the beast of the earth, the lamb and virgins, the seven angels (Revelation, AB, 194). For each of her septets, the seventh contains the next set so there are really only six signs.

Dragon and Woman Revelation 12

Regardless of the boundaries and structure of the unit, the main theme of Revelation 12-15 is the source of evil that is tormenting the God’s people. This is the first time John reveals explicitly who is behind the persecution: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (12:9).

In addition, the nature of the persecution God’s people must endure intensifies. Prior to Revelation 12 demonic activity was implied (6:8 and 9:11), but the devil himself was never mentioned. Revelation 11:7 mentions the beast for the first time, but who or what the beast refers to is not developed until Revelation 13. Those who choose to follow this beast (and receive his mark) will “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (Rev 14:10). Those who refuse the beast’s mark will no longer be able to buy or sell (13:17) and those who are marked by God (14:1) will face persecution and death (13:7). But “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev 14:13).

God’s Temple in Heaven and the Ark of his Covenant – Revelation 11:19

At the conclusion of the seventh trumpet, God’s temple in heaven was opened and John saw the ark of his covenant (Rev 11:19). Greg Beale suggested the seventh trumpet was model on the Song of Moses (Exod 15:13-18). If this is the case, then the opening of the temple and appearance of the ark of the covenant would recall God’s glory revealed at Mount Sinai.

Beale suggests this allusion based on 11:18, “the nations raged” (ἔθνη … ὠργίσθησαν). The words are the same in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 15:14 (Revelation, 618). The conclusion to the song of Moses describes God leading Israel out of Egypt and planting them on his own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Exod 15:17), following by the statement “the Lord will reign forever and ever” (cf. Rev 11:15).  The “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail: would also be consistent with an allusion to Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16).

From the 13th century Morgan Bible

This passage may also reflect the “entrance liturgy of Psalm 24. This psalm celebrates the return of the presence of the Lord represented by the ark. Seow suggests it was “sung antiphonally, with those who led the procession and the ‘gatekeepers of the ark’” (cf. 1 Chr 15:23-24; ABD 1: 387). Verses 7-9 call on the gates and doors of the temple to open as the mighty warrior Yahweh returns to his temple. The difference is the Lord is leaving his heavenly temple, presumably to execute the final judgment at the end of the great tribulation since the kingdom of the Lord and of his messiah has come (Rev 11:15).

In the ancient world, temple doors opening by themselves were considered to be sign from the gods (Aune 2:676). Aune reports a Talmudic tradition that for forty years before the destruction of the temple the doors of the temple would open by themselves (b. Yoma 39b). in the context of First Jewish War with Rome, Tacitus lists shrine doors suddenly opening as a prodigy:

Tacitus, Hist. 5.13 Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard (trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, LCL 2:197–199).

The most intriguing feature of this verse is the sudden appearance of the “ark of his covenant.” After the ark is installed in the Temple (1 Kings 8), there is little reference to it in the rest of the Old Testament. Ezekiel’s temple does not mention the tables and lampstands, let alone the ark. The ark is only mentioned in this passage Hebrews 9:3-5 in the New Testament.

What happened to the original ark of the covenant? There are a number of suggestions. There is a tradition it was hidden by Josiah (b. Yoma 52b), or Jeremiah. In 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou) Jeremiah asks the Lord what to do about the items used in the temple service before Babylon destroys Jerusalem. The Lord tells Jeremiah to hide them until the coming of the “beloved one”:

4 Baruch 3.10–11  Take them and deliver them to the earth, saying, ‘Hear, earth, the voice of him who created you, who formed you in the abundance of the waters, who sealed you with seven seals in seven periods (of time), and after these things you will receive your fruitful season. 11 Guard the vessels of the (Temple) service until the coming of the beloved one.

In 2 Baruch 6.7 Baruch sees an angel rescue the temple items, including the mercy seat. The angel commands the earth to guard these items until Jerusalem is destroyed:

2 Baruch 6.7 And I saw that he descended in the Holy of Holies and that he took from there the veil, the holy ephod, the mercy seat, the two tables, the holy raiment of the priests, the altar of incense, the forty-eight precious stones with which the priests were clothed, and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. 8 And he said to the earth with a loud voice: Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty God, and receive the things which I commit to you, and guard them until the last times, so that you may restore them when you are ordered, so that strangers may not get possession of them. 9 For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time, until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored forever. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.

As intriguing as speculation of where the ark went before the destruction of the temple in 586 BC, there is almost nothing in the Bible about the Lord rescuing it or a prophet hiding it in Jerusalem (or Ethiopia, or Washington DC). In Revelation 11:19 the point is to show the Lord has left his sanctuary in heaven and is about to render judgment on the nations who rage against his wrath.

Bibliography:  M. Haran, “The Disappearance of the Ark,” IEJ 13 (1963): 46–58.

The Seventh Trumpet – Revelation 11:15-19

When the seventh trumpet sounds, John hears loud voices in heaven declaring the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah (Christ), and the Lord’s messiah will “forever and ever.”

Four living beasts, Bamberg Apocalypse Bible

Revelation 11:15 states the kingdom “has come.” Aune says this aorist middle verb (ἐγγένετο, from γίνομαι) functions like a prophetic perfect. The verb “has come” is referring to something that has not happened yet but is so certain it can be spoken of as if it had already happened (Aune 2:638). Wallace would call this a proleptic aorist (GGBB 563). As an analogy, your mother announces, “it is time to eat thanksgiving dinner,” but there are several things that happen before you are sitting at the table eating the meal.

This kingdom belongs to “our Lord and of his Christ.” This is a clear statement the real Lord of this world is God, not any human who claims to be lord of this world. This anticipates the increasingly anti-Roman rhetoric beginning with the two beasts in Revelation 13 and culminating in the great whore of Babylon.

The messiah will rule the Lord’s kingdom. Although the word Χριστός is usually translated Christ, it is important to remember the word translates the Hebrew word usually translated messiah or “anointed one.” For example, in the Septuagint, the Lord’s anointed in Psalm 2:2 is מָשִׁיחַ , (māšîaḥ) is translated as Χριστός, a text applied to Jesus in Acts 4:26). This anointed one may be the king of Israel (David, 2 Sam 22:51) or some person chosen by God for a task (Cyrus the Persian, Isaiah 45:1). By the Second Temple Period, the messiah/Christ was used for the coming representative of God who would restore Israel. For example, Psalm of Solomon 18:6, “May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy with blessing, for the day of election ⌊when he brings up⌋ his anointed one (LES2). In the Odes of Solomon 29:6-11, the writer believes in the “Lord’s Messiah” and considered him to be the Lord. This messiah will “subdue the thoughts of the gentiles and humble the strength of the mighty.”

This messiah will rule forever (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων). This is likely an allusion to Daniel 7:14, but the idea God’s kingdom will never end is found elsewhere (Ps 146:10). In the Second Temple period book the Wisdom of Solomon, the righteous will “govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever” (3:8, NRSV). In Joseph and Asenath “the Lord God will reign as king over them for ever and ever” (19:8).

The jubilation of the seventh trumpet stands in contrast to the seventh seal, silence in heaven for about a half hour. I suggested in an earlier post this silence is a form of worship, so the silence of the seventh seal answered by the noisy worship of the twenty-four elders. The seventh seal, trumpet and bowl each refer to the coming of the messiah, the defeat of the kingdom of man, and the beginning of the Kingdom of God.