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In the summer of 2016 I began a long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I made about 75 posts that summer but only managed to work through the Enoch literature, the Sibylline Oracles, Fourth Ezra and 2 Baruch, and short posts on Treatise of Shem, The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, and Apocalypse of Zephaniah. I picked up the series again in the summer of 2017 and worked my way through Joseph and Asenath. Even after 120 posts on this literature, there is still many more the pseudepigraphical books I have yet to cover in Charlesworth. I hope to get to the recent More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (eds. Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, Alexander Panayotov; Eerdmans 2013).

My original motivation for the series was preparation for teaching an intertestamental literature class in Spring 2017. I enjoyed teaching the class and I think most of the students liked the class and learned a great deal about the literature of the Second Temple Period. Evangelicals tend to shy away from this material, but I think it is essential to have a firm grasp on what was in the air in the Second Temple period in order to understand the New Testament, especially as more scholars recognized the apocalyptic nature of both Jesus and Paul.

Another benefit of an open publication like this blog is the feedback I get from readers. There were a number of comments which interacted with what I had posted and often gave me new insights or links to other material to supplement my posts. Most of the posts in the original series still generate hits every day, so I hope people are finding some value in this series.

I plan to pick up this series again this summer beginning with the biblical expansions as they appear in Charlesworth and then move on to the Wisdom and Poetry Literature.

If you missed the series last two summers, here is an index for the previous posts on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

Introduction

1 Enoch

2 Enoch

3 Enoch

Sibylline Oracles

The Treatise of Shem

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragment 1

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragments 2-5

What is the Apocalypse of Zephaniah?

Fourth Ezra

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch

The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)

Apocalypse of Abraham

Apocalypse of Adam

Apocalypse of Elijah

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

Testament of Job

Testament of Abraham

Testament of Isaac

Testament of Jacob

Testament of Moses

Testament of Solomon

Jubilees

The Martyrdom of Isaiah

Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah

The Life of Adam and Eve

The Apocalypse of Adam and Eve

Joseph and Aseneth

 

 

 

 

 

After describing the coming of the Messiah, John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones. These thrones for those who were killed during the time of tribulation described in Revelation. There are other New Testament passages the_lion_and_the_lambpromising thrones to the faithful. In Matt 19:28 Jesus tells the twelve disciples they will sit on “twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Cor 6:2-3, Paul tells the Corinthians that believers will “judge the world” and will “judge angels.” Even in Revelation, the one who overcomes will have sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21).

The souls John sees in these verses are likely those under the altar in Rev 6:9. In that context, the souls were crying out to God asking to be avenged. Likewise, in 20:4 these souls were put to death because of their testimony of Jesus. These souls came to life and reign with Christ for the 1000 years (Rev 20:4). The verb ζάω (“came to life”) is used often in Revelation to describe God as the “living one” (1:18, 10:6) or Jesus as the one who “died and lives again” (2:8). In 13:14 the beast appears to have died and “came to life.” This first resurrection is after the tribulation and the return of Jesus. It is quite specific since only those who were martyred are raised. But they are raised to life on earth, not some ethereal heavenly state.

The function of these souls is that they are “priests of God” and reign with Christ. This reflects Exodus 19:6, God’s promise that Israel would be a nation of priests. This is consistent with the rest of Revelation. In 1:5-6 the people of God are called “a kingdom and priests,” now at the end of the book a kingdom is established and the resurrected martyrs fulfill Israel’s role as priests of God.

How should we understand the “1000 years?” A 1000 year rule by the messiah is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Even though a kingdom is described frequently in both the Old and New Testaments, the duration of 1000 years is not found. In fact, the kingdom is usually described as eternal: it never ends. But the idea of a Millennium (Latin, mille, a thousand; anum, years) is not based on this single passage since even here the kingdom continues forever, even if an event occurs after 1000 years.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah to come and establish a kingdom, a real physical rule on earth. This Messiah would be God’s personal representative, and like the kings of Israel, would be called a “son of God.” Beyond this, they speculated about how long human history would last, and how much of that history would be the kingdom. Ranges for the duration of the kingdom in Jewish apocalyptic ranged from 40 years to 7000 years. In the Apocalypse of Weeks human history is portrayed as a series of ten “weeks,” the first seven weeks lead up to the time of the writer but the eighth through tenth weeks are still future. 1 Enoch describes this “eighth week” after the judgment as a “week of righteousness.” During this period a house will be built for the great king “in glory forevermore” (91:12-13). The (Christian) letter of Barnabas described the history of the world in seven creational days of 1000 years each, with the seventh being the idealized age (i.e., the kingdom).

John clearly intends for us to understand a particular period of time in human history when Christ will rule with the martyred on earth. This was the understanding of the early church as well, Justin Martyr taught in the second century that the dead in Christ would be raised, followed by 1000 years in Jerusalem. Irenaeus, also in the second century, taught that there would be an earthly millennium where saints and martyrs would be rewarded. But by the fifth century, Augustine tried to interpret the kingdom in a non-literal way. The 1000 years, he taught, were the interval between the first and second coming. Satan was bound in Jesus earthly ministry, the first resurrection is the moment of salvation.

Revelation 20 follows the glorious return of the Lord and represents the final vindication of those who have died for their testimony of Jesus—they are raised to life to reign with Jesus. This reign is the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Jews and Christians in the first century. God will act decisively and send his anointed one to deal with the empires of man. The point of the Millennium is not to reward martyrs in some sensual paradise, but to demonstrate that God’s Kingdom has finally overcome the kingdoms of man.

AragornVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ.  But as Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The various descriptions in this paragraph of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of Second Temple literature. In fact, this Rider is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The Rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12).   In the Greco Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has “many” crowns, perhaps so many that they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13).  Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3. Finally, a sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a).  This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21).

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named “Faithful and True,” titles used for Jesus in Rev 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b).  Divine beings sometimes have a “secret name” or are not willing to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked.  Third, His name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word.  Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (16).   There are a number of ancient references to names being inscribed on the thigh of statues,

The Rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b).  That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.

 

 

 

John says he sees another “great and marvelous sign,” the third such description in the book (cf. 12:1 and 12:3).  The sign, in this case, is the last set of seven angels. These are the last because “God’s wrath is completed.” God’s wrath is associated with Israel’s rebelliousness, but the prophets extend that wrath to the eschatological events (Isa 26:20, Ezek 7:19, 22:24, for example).

In Revelation, God’s wrath is a featured attribute of God.  This is a righteous wrath, and is to a large extent anthropomorphic.  God’s anger is not at all like human wrath, he is justly punishing those who have offended his law. The wrath of God is nearly completed.  This can be translated “has been accomplished,” meaning that with these final judgments the wrath which was begun in chapter 6 has run its course.

MosesThe doors to the heavenly temple are opened and seven angels appear with the final seven plagues. The description of this location is as the temple and the tent / tabernacle.  The reference to the tent is likely to the tent of meeting, the place where Moses spoke face to face with the Lord, yet another allusion to events of the Exodus.

Temples with open doors were considered a “bad sign” in the ancient world. David Aune lists several sources indicating a temple door opening by themselves was a sign of God’s wrath (Revelation, 2:878). The whole temple is filled with the smoke of the glory of God.  This is a theophany: God’s presence is about to come to earth to finish his wrath.

After announcing that the final wrath of God has begun, John witnesses yet another worship scene in heaven (15:2-4).  This worship scene has elements from chapter 4-5, now familiar scenes of heavenly worship (sea of glass, martyrs worshiping, harps and singing).  In this case the martyrs are identified as those who have overcome the beast and the number of his name.  Presumably they have been martyred because they refused to take the mark of the beast.

The song they are singing is identified as the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The Song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1-18, Deut. 31:30-32:43; and Psalm 90. The problem with the Song of Moses in this context is that there is no literary relationship between the song recorded in Revelation and the various versions of the Song of Moses in the Old Testament.  Perhaps what follows is only the Song of the Lamb and the reader is assumed to know what the song of Moses is. More likely is that the context of the original song is what John wants to evoke. If you head someone hum a few notes of a famous song, the whole song comes to mind.

The Song of Moses is worship of God because he has overcome the enemies of Israel. In Exodus, God rescued his people out of Egypt and overcame the Egyptians and their gods.  There are obvious connections between the following bowl judgments and Exodus. Just as he has done in the past, God is once again working to redeem his people from an oppressive and evil empire.

Revelation 14:8 A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

This verse is interesting because John finally names the kingdom of the beast:  “Babylon the Great.” As with the coming of the judgment, the fall of Babylon is described as an event that has already taken place (two aorist verbs, ἔπεσεν, ἔπεσεν). Sometimes an aorist verb can be used for a future event in order to highlight the certainty of the prophetic prediction. Wallace calls the use a “rhetorical transfer” of a future event to the past because it is so certain (GGBB 564). This proleptic aorist is rare, but it is possible here depending on how the interpreter understands Babylon in verse 8. The arrogant empire of Babylon had already fallen hundreds of years before this, but John predicts another arrogant empire was about to fall.

AngelFor most readers of Revelation, “Babylon the Great” is a clear allusion to Rome. Writing from Rome, Peter greets his readers by implying he is in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). After the first century, the identification of Rome and Babylon is four in other apocalypses (2 Baruch and 4 Ezra). The parallels are obvious, both are huge world empires that are completely anti-God, both quite arrogant, and both destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70). Babylon as the final enemy of God appears several times in Revelation (16:19, 17:5-6, 18: 2, 10, 21).

The prediction that Rome had fallen would have been laughable in the first century. Rome had endured for centuries by the time John wrote Revelation, and would last in glory until the 400’s A. D. when the Germanic tribes looted Rome. The Empire still hung together, although in a far less glorious form, well into the middle ages. There were predictions of the fall of Rome in the first century, such as the Oracles of Hystaspes, which predicted Rome would fall to powers from the east, but 6,000 years in the future!

This will be the cause of the destruction and confusion, that the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled … will be taken from the earth, and power will be returned to Asia, and again the Orient will dominate and the West will serve.

Unfortunately this text dates to the early fourth century and may not reflect first century views of the fall of Rome. (The text was quoted by Lactantius Div. Inst. 7.15.11, Aune, Revelation, 2:830–831.)

In Rev 14:8 Rome is described as giving the world “maddening wine of her adulteries.” The noun θυμός refers to “an intense, passionate desire of an overwhelming and possibly destructive character” (LN 25.19). This is probably a reference to the imposition of Roman worship on Christians. In the Hebrew Bible, adultery is a common metaphor for idolatry, and the spiritual adultery of Judah resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and the long Exile.

So what, or perhaps “when,” is John talking about? In the first century Rome did not fall and Babylon is long gone. The empire described as a “beast” in Revelation 13 is a conglomeration of all the previous kingdoms predicted by Daniel 2 and 7. The message of this verse is that arrogant empires of humanity will fall to the coming kingdom of God. For a preterist, this is a prediction of the actual fall of Rome, even if that prediction was not realized quite as John imagined it (with the return of the Messiah). For a futurist this is a prediction of the ultimate enemy of God in the future, an empire that styles itself as a “new Rome” by bringing peace to the world.

There is no need to fret over what empire this will be since John’s point in Rev 14 is that the kingdoms of mankind will finally be judged at the return of the Messiah.

This section is clearly related to the material in chapter 13. There is a contrast between those who have taken the mark of the beast in chapter 13 and the 144,000 witnesses (who were introduced in chapter 7.) Note that these witnesses have the name of God on their foreheads, in contrast to the followers of the beast, who have the name of the beast on their foreheads.

144000The description of the 144,000 is quite impressive. The descriptions of these men indicate that they are purified for God’s service. First, they have not “defiled themselves.” The verb μολύνω in the LXX describes a person who has done something that makes them ritually unclean (touching blood (Lam 14:4), eating impure foods (Isa 65:5), or sexual activity (Zech 14:2). But the word was also used for the defilement of the temple, (1 Macc 1:37; 2 Macc 6:2). “Kept pure” in the NIV is literally “they are virgins” (as in the KJV), and the word is highlighted by the fact that they have not defiled themselves with women. The Greek word for virgin (παρθένος) is normally used for a young woman, not a young man.

It is possible to take this term literally as a reference to men who have chosen to remain celibate because of their service to God. Both the priest and the soldier were exclusively male in the Old Testament. This could be taken as general service, like a priest during his time of service (Lev 15:18). Or, this could be taken as a reference to Holy War. There are several places in the Old Testament were men abstain from sexual activity while engaged in a Holy War (Lev 15:16, Deut. 23:9-10). The reasoning for this is unclear, although have unmarried men as soldiers makes good sense, the less family waiting behind the better, the men will be more apt to sacrifice themselves if there is no wife and kids at home. This makes some sense in our context since the young men are fighting something of a holy war, and any family relationships might hinder their boldness in resisting the power of the beast.

Second, the 144,000 “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” The language of “following” Christ is almost completely limited to the Gospels.  Following in the Gospels does not mean “accepting the teachings of” the one you follow.  (For example, “Pastor Smith followed N. T. Wright in his teaching on sanctification.” The “following” is intellectual.) Following Christ is to become his disciple on a much more intimate level, and to accept a commitment to continue following Christ even to death. There are many passages that talk about the disciple’s willingness to give up earthly pleasure and security in order to follow Christ on the deepest level possible. The other unusual thing about this description is that the Lamb is portrayed as a shepherd (as in 7:17). This is to be expected since the Messiah’s leadership is described as a “shepherd” in Is 40:11 and Ezekiel 34:23.

Third, the 144,000 “were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”The martyrdom motif continues in the next description. “Offered as a firstfruit” is a clear reference to sacrifice. Firstfruit refers to the practice of sacrificing the first portion of a crop to the Lord, or the best of ones flock to the Lord. The Old Testament is very clear that the only acceptable sacrifice is the best sacrifice; therefore the flawless firstborn male lamb is the most pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. Chapter 14 will eventually describe a harvest, perhaps there is an intentional linking of the 144,000 with that harvest. The 144,000 are the firstfruits of men, which might mean that they are the best that men have to offer to God. The problem is that God is not accepting these men as human sacrifices. The meaning might better be that they are the firstfruits of the harvest of the redeemed, the first to be protected in the tribulation period, or perhaps the first set aside to God at the beginning of the period.

Fourth, “no lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” This description concerns moral purity, and continues the theme of describing the 144,000 as spotless sacrifices. The phrase is used in Zeph. 3:13 to describe the remnant of Israel in the last days.

The whole scene in heaven is designed to give comfort to the reader; those that have been set aside to the Lord in the tribulation are being brought through and will stand with the Lamb in Zion, and will apparently rule with him in the Kingdom.  After the description of the protection of the 144,000, John describes three angelic messengers that continue the theme of comfort and hope.

 

Obama-is-the-AntChristG. R. Beasley-Murray commented that Revelation 13 is a kind of “satanic trinity” (Revelation, 207). Vern Poythress considers the language of Revelation 13 to be a “counterfeit” of the true Christ: “ kind of pseudo-incarnation of Satan, is a counterfeit unholy warrior opposed to Christ the holy warrior” (Poythress, 410). Greg Beale considers this a “Christological parody” (Revelation, 17). For Beale, the “war against the saints” is a “an ironic parody of the Son of man’s final triumph” and even the number 666 is a parody of the trinity (777) (Beale, Revelation 699).

This is a very common view, and one that is, I believe, an accurate assessment of Revelation 13. The Dragon is the father, who is the power behind an anti-Christ image (the beast from the sea). The beast from the earth is a kind of anti-holy spirit, preforming miracles which support the claims of the first beast.

The first beast has a counterfeit resurrection in the form of a mortal wound that was healed (Rev 13:3). The miraculous character of his healing creates astonishment and followers for him, just as the miracle of the resurrection creates followers of Christ. The beast has ten crowns (13:1), parallel to Christ’s many crowns (19:12).

The relationship between the dragon and the first beast is a parody of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Gospel of John. While it is not fashionable to see Revelation and the Gospel of John as representing similar theology, it appears to me that Beasts of Revelation 13 relate to the dragon and each other in ways which resonate with the Gospel of John.

First, the dragon gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2). This is the same relationship which John describes in his Gospel between the Father and the Son. In John 5:22–27 the Father gives his authority to the Son in order that he execute judgment.

palin-anti-christ

Second, In addition, those who worship the beast are implicitly worshiping the dragon (Rev 13:4). Jesus states in John 5:23 that those who honor the Son, honor the Father. This is an extremely common theme in the Gospel of John.

 

Third, Both beasts speak with the voice of the dragon (13:11). So too in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks only what he has heard from the Father (John 7:16-18). In John 5:19-24 the Son can only do what he has seen from the Father.

Fourth, the function of the second beast is to be exercise the authority of the first beast after the near-fatal wound (13:12-13). This beast is not worshiped itself, but does miracles in behalf of the first beast, causing people to worship the first beast. This is not unlike the activity of the Holy Spirit in John 16, who is sent after the resurrection in order to guide the followers of Jesus. The Advocate will not speak on his on authority, but of the one who sent him, the Father. It is perhaps significant that the second beast breathes fire to destroy, in John 20 Jesus breaths on the disciples, giving to them the Holy Spirit.

This list could be multiplied, but these few examples show that the “satanic trinity” is a parody of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as presented in John’s gospel. While there is little in the way of exact verbal parallels, this not a serious problem since Revelation rarely quotes any text directly, even when it is certain that the writer is alluding to a previous text. While the writer, as a resident of Asia Minor, may have known John’s theology and incorporated it into his own book, it is also possible that this is a hint that the author behind the Gospel of John also produced Revelation.

Bibliography: Vern S. Poythress, “Counterfeiting In The Book Of Revelation As A Perspective On Non-Christian Culture” JETS 40 (1997): 411-18.

Colossus_of_RhodesJohn does not identify this angel, although some speculate it is Gabriel primarily because the name Gabriel means “mighty one.” It is not necessary to make the connection to Gabriel, although there are certainly other parallels here to Daniel. Gabriel is mentioned twice in Daniel, both times he is delivering a message to Daniel from God, and twice in Luke where he is the angelic messenger who tells Mary that she is pregnant.

The physical description of this angel borrows from the imagery of a theophany. While this angel is not to be equated with God (or Christ), it is a messenger that has been in the very presence of God and the message that he brings is of primary importance.

  • “Robed in a cloud.” A cloud is often associated with the presence of God. It is used as an image in Revelation as a description of heaven (11:12) and the place where “something like a son of man” sits before he comes as judge, a reference to Jesus Christ (14:14-16).
  • “With a rainbow above his head.” Rainbows are also associated with the glory of God, although the two places in scripture where a rainbow is associated with God it is a description of his throne or location (Ezek 1:28, Rev 4:3).
  • “His face was like the sun.” Christ was described as having a face shining like the sun in Rev 1:16, but this description is more like Daniel 10:6, where an angelic being is described similar to this one, as well as in passages when someone has been in the “presence of God.”
  • “His legs were like fiery pillars.” This is literally “feet.” Most modern translations translate this as legs, since it is odd to describe feet as pillars. This may be an allusion to the two pillars that led Israel in the wilderness (Exod 13:21), but a better solution is seeing this as another allusion to angelic beings, as in Ezekiel 1:7.

The angel stands with one foot on land and one foot on the sea. This is important because the beasts in chapter 13 come from both the land and the sea – God is demonstrating his sovereignty over both. This also corresponds to the Colossus-of-Rhodes-footoath he makes in verse 6, swearing by both the land and the sea. Because of this, David Aune argues the angel is an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes (Revelation, 2:556-557).

The Colossus was a 105 foot tall bronze statue that was built about 280 B. C. It was placed in a promontory overlooking the harbor at Rhodes, and was known as one of the “seven wonders” of the ancient world. The statue was of Helios, a sun-god that was worshiped primarily in Rhodes. The image of a halo/rainbow and fire do evoke the memory of this well-known statue. It is possible that the statue had this right handed lifted towards heaven, as the angel in this passage does.

The Colossus was destroyed by an earthquake in 224 B. C. It broke off at the knees, and although it was looted for bronze, pieces were still visible during the first century. The fact that the Colossus was destroyed some 275 years prior to the writing of Revelation creates a problem for Aune’s argument the great wonder of the world influenced this description.

Nevertheless, the angel evokes memories of both Old Testament theophanies and an important Greco-Roman cultural icon. Perhaps this is why John describes this as he does so that the important message he will deliver resonates with both Jewish and Greek readers.

In a 1993 interview for The Door, Tony Campolo said:

“Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that take the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”

Marvin Pate concludes his introduction to Four Views on Revelation with these words, distancing himself from both the overly zealous Dispensational interpreter of Revelation who finds cryptic references to Obama’s Health Care mandate or the events of 9/11 in the metaphors of the seals, trumpets or bowls. He also wants to avoid a totally non-eschatological view of the book, since the author of Revelation really does claim to be writing about a future, eschatological age.

armageddon-comicAs I am preparing to teach a three week intensive course on Daniel and Revelation, I resonate deeply with what Campolo says. I think many students think a class on Revelation will be provide a kind of “end times outline of future events” complete with Clarence Larkin charts and graphs. While I am committed to a belief in the future return of Christ (including a rapture and a tribulation), the sort of thing that passes for “prophetic studies” are quite embarrassing. If anyone was expecting that sort of weirdness in my class, I think they will disappointed.

I usually joke at the beginning of the class the title of the class ought to have been “An Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period.” That is the class I would really like to teach, although not many undergraduates would opt for an elective with that particular title. But Daniel and Revelation must be read for what they are, examples of apocalyptic literature from the Second Temple Period! Revelation is a book  that has a “sense of the immediate return of Christ” and an “urgency of faith.” But also call their readers to challenge their culture, and “come out of Babylon.” Both Daniel and Revelation urge their readers to social responsibility that goes beyond even what Campolo had in mind.

tribulation-mapRevelation is about God transforming the world, beginning with his faithful in the world and culminating with his Son’s glorious return in the future.  In order to live out the theology of the book of Revelation, we must constantly be engaged with the world, evaluating and reforming it. The seven churches were not called to found monasteries, but to constantly be on their guard against any corruption of their faith while they continue to interact with their culture. This struggle will eventually end when Christ returns, but for now, it is difficult, and even deadly.

Nor were the seven churches in Revelation called to create complicated charts mapping out future events. There is a great deal of prophecy fulfilled in the life of Jesus. But no one suggested people could have used the Old Testament Prophets to write a life of Christ 50 years before he was born! Prophecy was fulfilled in literally, but in remarkable and surprising ways. What makes us think the Book of Revelation could yield a “tribulation map” warning people of the times and dates of various judgments?

The warnings in Revelation are against complacency and compromise.  What will happen in the future is certain, but our calling now is to live properly in the shadow of the Second Coming, whether it happens in our lifetime or not.

It is important to remember the oral nature of our texts in the New Testament, Harry Maier (Apocalypse Recalled, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) emphasizes the “performance” of the text as a vital component of how to understand Revelation. While it is certain the ancient world was an oral culture, it is not clear if an early church service was a “performance” in quite the way Maier and others describe it.  I am left with the impression the reader in a congregation is more like an interpretive artist who breathes some life into the text as they read.  In terms of Greek-oratormodern literary theory it is often thought that a piece of literature is not complete without the reader encountering the author in the text. By making the text a performance, a third party enters into the interpretation of a text, the actor. The actor/reader takes the text from the page and “interprets” it for the listener.  This whole process is said to “create meaning.”

I recently read an interpretation of the lyrics of the songwriter Bob Dylan written by the literary critic Christopher Ricks.  Ricks makes the point that one cannot simply read lyrics and receive the full impact of the text, one must hear them performed in order to get the “full effect” and intention of the writer.  In a similar way, Maier is saying we must learn to “hear” the script of Revelation as it was “heard” in the first century, as oral performance. This is an interesting goal, but it seems nearly impossible to do when reading the text – how can we know what elements of the text are intended as rhetorical without having experienced a first century “reading”?

If this performance aspect of Revelation is critically important, it seems as though we can never fully appreciate the book since we can never “hear” it performed as John intended it.  On the other hand, perhaps Meier would not care for the original intention of the author, since it is the “recalling” of the Apocalypse which is so important to him.

Maier attempts to tease out some of the rhetorical elements of Revelation which indicate a possible “oral performance.”  These include repetitive elements (the list of the twelve tribes, for example).  An aspect of repetition which can be overlooked is the typical supplementation of the third (or last) in a series.  Maier’s example is the three woes, where the third “woe” is the fall of Babylon.  Maier considers these as performance, the text does not “mean,” it “does.”

While if find the use of rhetoric very valuable for working out some of the details of the Apocalypse and these devices are certainly aspects which imply an “oral” reading, I am less impressed by the implication these rhetorical devices will raise the interpreter above the “apocalyptic time-line” interpretations.  It seems to me that a commentator can recognize all the rhetorical elements of the book and still read Revelation as having a future aspect. Even if Revelation is a performance meant to “be heard not analyzed,” it does not follow that the performance necessarily has nothing to say about the future.

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Christian Theology

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