Book Review: Barry J. Beitzel, ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

Beitzel, Barry J., ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 763 pp.; Hb.  $39.99  Link to Lexham Press

Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). He edited the first volume of this projected five volume series, Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham, 2017, see my review here). This new volume is a joy to read, and will be an excellent addition the library of any student of the New Testament.

Lexham Geographic CommentaryThis new volume contains fifty-three essays written by nineteen New Testament scholars. More than half of these articles cover the book of Acts and the remaining articles discuss locations were Paul or Peter did ministry and the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. See the end of this review for a list of chapter topics.

Each chapter begins with a list of Scripture covered in the section, so it is possible to read through at least the first half of the book alongside a reading of the book of Acts. This is not always possible since some locations appear in various parts of the book such as Jerusalem or Caesarea. For example, Paul Wright’s chapter on Caesarea Maritima (chapter 16) lists all of the occurrences of the location in the book of Acts. A text box at the head of the article offers three or four key points covered in the chapter. The text flows in parallel columns and the chapters are richly illustrated. All non-English words appear in transliteration; distances are given in miles and kilometers. Each section concludes with a bibliography citing key journal and other dictionary articles.

The articles in these volumes are highly detailed and well-documented. Several would make excellent academic journal articles. Eckhard Schnabel contributes several chapters. His two-volume Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004) and Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eerdmans, 2018) are two of the most detailed academic works on the geography of the Gospels and Acts. David deSilva contributed articles on The Social and Geographical World of Psidian Antioch, Rome, Roman Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis. Mark Wilson contributes several articles on locations in modern Turkey (the Geography of Galatia, Peter’s Communities in Asia Minor, the Geography of Patmos, and the Social and Geographical World of Thyatira and Philadelphia).

The chapters are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Some photographs are licensed through WikiCommons, some are from Beitzel himself, and David deSilva contributed many. A few of these are familiar diagrams found in other Logos resources or Logos map sets. I noticed some of the city maps of the seven churches in Revelation were designed by Tutku Tours. The book is printed on an uncoated paper which does not glare and is easier to make notes on compared to a book like the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds commentary.

Some chapters cover material that strictly speaking is not a part of the book of Acts or the Epistles. For example, Ekhard Schnabel has a brief article on Paul in Spain and Crete based on the very thin evidence that Paul actually did ministry in these locations. J. Carl Laney contributed an article on Paul’s travel after the book of Acts based on the Pastoral Epistles and several church traditions. Each location where Paul did ministry has a chapter, including Colossae even though he did not establish that church.

A few other highlights: Barry Beitzel has a lengthy and detailed article on the meaning of “Arabia” in classical literature in order to answer the question of what Paul meant in Galatians 1:17 when he spent time in Arabia. Benjamin Foreman has an article on the Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria, Egypt, a location only mentioned in the book of Acts as the home of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). He discusses the Jewish presence in Alexandria and some of the traditions associated with how Christianity came to this important city in the Roman world. A. H. Cadwallader contributes an article on Onesimus and the world of Philemon, which is more less on slavery in the Roman world. Schnabel has an article on Paul’s travel in Macedonia and Achaia, including the distance traveled by foot between different locations and suggested time to travel. This article also includes a footnote in which Schnabel disagrees with one of his earlier conclusions.

Perhaps the most unusual article concerns Philippi, Michael Thate’s “Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.” The article is not particularly about the geographical location of the city of Philippi, but about how bodies were understood in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the Macedonian city of Philippi. As he puts it, this is a theo-graphical article rather than a geographical article. Unfortunately, this is the only article in the book devoted to Philippi. I would have liked an additional article on the social and geographical word of Rome Philippi as similar to other locations of Paul’s ministry.

The final seven chapters concern geographical locations in the book of Revelation, six of the seven churches plus an article on the geography of the island of Patmos. (Ephesus was covered in the order of the Pauline letters.) Each of these chapters gives the pre-history of the cities, as well as something of the religious and social situation at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.

The book includes with seventeen-pages of color charts and additional maps, a detailed list of the contributors, a subject index, a Scripture index and a list of image credits.

Logos Version. Since the book was published simultaneously for the Logos Bible Software library, I had the opportunity to use the book in that format. Clicking a photograph open the Logos Media library so the image can be copied and pasted into Word or PowerPoint (or any other software). The Media tool gives the description of the image as well as photo credits. Maps open in the Logos Atlas tool and can be copied and pasted. Using these tools to enhance your teaching and preaching is an added incentive to purchase the electronic version. 

As typical in a Logos resource, clicking a Scripture references will open your preferred Bible to the text, or you can float over the reference to peek at the text. This works also for ancient sources if you have unlocked them for your library. For example, I can click on a cited reference to Pliny’s Natural History and open the version I have unlocked in the Logos library. This is true for any resource, Josephus, Philo, Strabo’s Geography, etc. At the end of a chapter the Logos version as a “see also” section which does not appear in the print format of the book. This section includes links to the Logos Atlas tool, Logos FactBook places and events, other articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation and any videos in the Media Library related to the section. The bibliography sections open additional Logos resources if unlocked. The Logos version of the book is obviously more interactive than a printed book and can be updated and corrected as necessary.

One disappointment in the Logos version of the book is the lack of page numbers. Usually a Logos book is tagged with real page numbers so I can cite the resource properly. The only index available is Scripture. The original Geographical Commentary on the Gospels has a page number index, perhaps Logos will update this book in the future.

All things being equal, I much prefer a real physical book. And this is an excellent looking book. But there are some definite advantages to using this book as part of Logos Bible Software.

Conclusion. The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated.  This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible. A hardback book with 763 pages illustrated with color photographs, maps and charts is worth more than the $39.95 list price. The Lexham website inaccurately lists the publication date as 2017. The Geographic Commentary will continue in 2020 with volumes on the Pentateuch, Historical Books and Poetry and Prophecy are due in 2020.

 

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

 

Contents of Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation

  • Typological Geography and the Progress of the Gospel in Acts
  • The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts
  • The Threefold Expansion of the Early Church: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria
  • Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth
  • A Sabbath-Day’s Journey from the Mount of Olives
  • The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2
  • Early Church Demographics
  • Geography of the Nations in Jerusalem for Pentecost
  • The Jerusalem Temple in the Book of Acts
  • The Geography of Worship: From Temple to Synagogue to Church
  • The Persecution of the Earliest Christians in Geographical Perspective
  • The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription and Its Relationship to the Book of Acts
  • Samaria: Too Wicked to Redeem?
  • The Roman Road System around the Mediterranean
  • The Desert Road between Jerusalem and Gaza
  • The Geography of Caesarea Maritima
  • The Road from Jerusalem to Damascus
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Syria, Nabatea, Judea, and Cilicia
  • Peter’s Ministry in Caesarea Maritima
  • Peter and the Centurion Cornelius: Roman Soldiers in the New Testament
  • The Geographic Importance of Antioch on the Orontes
  • Famines in the Land
  • The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea Maritima
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia
  • Barnabas, John Mark, and Their Ministry on Cyprus
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pisidian Antioch
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in Macedonia and Achaia
  • Paul at the Areopagus in Athens
  • What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Context
  • The Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria
  • Paul’s Missionary Work in the Provinces of Asia and Illyricum
  • Paul as a Prisoner in Judea and Rome
  • Paul’s Journey to Rome
  • The Social and Geographical World of Rome
  • Paul in Spain and Crete
  • Paul’s Travels After Acts
  • The Social and Geographical World of Roman Corinth
  • The Geography of Galatia
  • Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years
  • The Meaning of “Arabia” in Classical Literature and the New Testament
  • The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus
  • Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
  • The Social and Geographical World of Colossae
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thessalonica
  • Onesimus and the Social and Geographical World of Philemon
  • Peter’s Christian Communities in Asia Minor
  • Geography of the Island of Patmos
  • The Social and Geographical World of Smyrna
  • The Social and Geographical World of Pergamum
  • The Social and Geographical World of Thyatira
  • The Social and Geographical World of Sardis
  • The Social and Geographical World of Philadelphia
  • The Social and Geographical World of Laodicea

 

Book Review: Ian Paul, Revelation. Tyndale New Testament Commentary

Paul, Ian. Revelation. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 371 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the 1969 commentary by Leon Morris, originally published by Eerdmans. Ian Paul is described as “a freelance theologian” as well as an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate minister at St Nicholas’ Church in Nottingham, England. These three roles are reflected in this commentary. Paul certainly pays attention to the exegetical and theological details of the text, but he is also interested in accurately communicating the book of Revelation in a pastoral context.

Ian Paul RevelationThe fifty-six page introduction begins with the observation that Revelation has been an influential book on both culture and worship, but it is also one of the most neglected books of the New Testament. Outside of the first three chapters, few preach from the book of Revelation. For Paul, Revelation is an important book because it tests an exegete’s ability to read Scripture well. Perhaps the proof of this is the wide range of bad interpretations of Revelation over the long history of the church. But Revelation also has significant implications for how the Gospel interacts with culture.

Paul’s approach in the commentary is first to pay disciplined attention to the text. This close reading of what Revelation actually says is not always evident as commentators are often driven by theological assumptions. Second, Paul pays attention to how John draws on the Old Testament and parallel texts in the New Testament. This is more than a search for allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation, since how John uses the Old Testament may tell us quite about his theological agenda. Third, Paul wants to understand how John’s message would have been understood by the original audience. Again, this is often set aside by some commentators who are only interested in the eschatology of the book. This attention to the original historical and social context will inform the fourth element of Paul’s approach, to make connections to the real world. How does Revelation preach in the contemporary world? In order to bridge the gap between the culture of first century Asia Minor and make appropriate applications to modern issues, the exegete hear the text as it was intended by the author in the first century.

With respect to other introductory details, Paul dates the book to the reign of Domitian, A.D. 85-95. Although this date certainly allows for the apostle John to be the author (the traditional view), the authority of book comes from what has been written rather than apostolic authorship. Paul does provide an argument that the Gospel of John and Revelation could be written by the same person, he admits the evidence is not conclusive.

Based on this date, Paul’s introduction surveys the historical, social and economic context of late first century Asia Minor. This necessarily includes a short section on the pervasiveness of the imperial cult in the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3. Although he only has space for a short introduction to the issue, Paul emphasizes the importance of the imperial cult for understanding some of the imagery in the book. He also responds to recent discussions of the non-persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian. Paul agrees there was no systemic, empire wide persecution of Christians, they nevertheless faces varying degrees of pressure, often economic, for their resistance to local gods and the imperial cult.

The introduction also includes a short section on the genre of Revelation. On the one hand, Revelation claims to be a vision, but on the other the book is constructed with extraordinary attention to details and remarkable subtly with respect to its allusions to the Hebrew Bible. Is the book “revelation or research”? For Paul, it is more important to attend carefully the text regardless of how John wrote the book. The book is apocalyptic, but it claims to be prophecy and it has some features of a letter. As such, the book makes claims about reality, even if those claims are made using complex metaphors.

Most commentaries on Revelation must deal with how the book relates to the future (or not). Paul offers short descriptions of idealist, futurist, historical and preterist approaches along with four theological positions on the kingdom, premillennialism, amillennialism, postmillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. Paul observes that although these eight possible positions are often presented as strategies for interpreting Revelation they are in fact conclusions about how the book should be interpreted. The interpreter brings their preterism or dispensationalism to Revelation rather than letting the book speak for itself. The book does speak to the Christians to whom it was addressed but it also has something to say about the future destiny of the world. In many ways the categories attempt to force Revelation into a theological slot which is not fully suited to the book. This blending of past, present and future is a healthy way to approach Revelation, although Paul does not always embrace the future aspects in the commentary.

The body of the commentary treats the English text (usually TNIV) in a verse-by-verse fashion. He divides each section into context, comment, and theology, although the first and last sections are usually just a short paragraph. When Paul deals with Greek or Hebrew words they appear in transliteration. Although this is certainly a scholarly commentary, in keeping with the style of the Tyndale series Paul does not often interact with other scholarship. This is refreshing since recent commentaries have become collections of views from other commentaries. Paul’s comments are intended to illuminate the text of Revelation and enable a reader to make sense of some difficult problems.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate Paul’s method. In commenting on the first four seals, the four horsemen, Paul rightly dismisses the possibility the white rider is Jesus and suggests it is an allusion to Apollo and refers to pagan religions. The next four horsemen clearly refer to war, famine and death, the conditions of Asia Minor in the late first century. He suggests a parallel to Jesus’s teaching in the Olivet Discourse (using Matthew 24:5-29 and summarized in a simple chart, p. 148). The theological point John makes with this imagery is that the imperial myth of peace and prosperity is actually a myth. The Empire is full of chaos and suffering, only the sovereign God has power over this world. Certainly this is a message each generation of the church needs to embrace, no empire brings real peace and prosperity to this world. But Paul does not address any possible future hope in the first six seals despite the coming of the “great and terrible day of the Lord” in 6:16-17. Some scholars have suggested each of the seals, trumpets and bowls culminate in the return of Jesus. It is certainly possible understand the seals as pointing toward a future hope in the return of Jesus without embracing any complicated dispensational timeline drawn from Revelation 6.

With respect to the “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:16-18, Paul briefly explains the practice of Gematria and suggests the number refers to Nero Caesar in Hebrew. Both Nero Caesar and beast have a numerical value of 666 and identifying the number of the beast with Nero makes sense of some other elements of the chapter, such as the Nero Redivivus myth. Ultimately Revelation 13 is about human totalitarian rule which defies the sovereignty of God. The contemporary example for John is Nero and the Roman Empire, a message which will resonate in every generation of the church. Where Paul stops short is suggesting a future application of this defiant totalitarian rule to the ultimate enemy of God who will be defeated by God in the future.

Conclusion. Ian Paul’s commentary is an excellent guide to reading the text of Revelation. In keeping with the format of the Tyndale series, this is not an exhaustive commentary which delves into every nuance of the text. Compared to the commentaries by David Aune (WBC, now Zondervan, 1998; three volumes and 1600+ pages) or Greg Beale (NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1998, 800 pages), this book is a brief.  But other than scholars, few people have time to wade through the depths of such massive commentaries. This short commentary in the Tyndale series is a joy to read, both pastors and laypeople will appreciate Paul’s lucid style.

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

 

A Millennial Kingdom – Revelation 20:4-6

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.

The Rider and the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

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.

 

 

 

Who is the “Great Whore of Babylon”? Revelation 17:1-18

The woman in Revelation 17 is riding a “scarlet beast.” We might have expected to see the beast himself, or the king who represents the beast.  Rather than the king, we see a prostitute riding a scarlet beast.  It is possible the image of a beast is of a throne, and the woman is the king. This beast is not unlike the beast from chapter 13 or the fourth beast of Daniel 7, other than the color scarlet. Nothing much can be made of this color, although it is similar in color to that of the red dragon who gave his authority to the beast in chapter 13.

The woman is described as a prostitute. Prostitutes are common images in the Old Testament for unfaithfulness, for example, Jerusalem Isaiah 1:21, Tyre in Isaiah 23:16-17 and Nineveh in Nahum 3:4. Israel herself is compared to a prostitute in Jer 3:6-10; Ezek 16:15-22; 23:49; Hos 4:12-13; 5:3.

Although there are some commentators who made the woman represent Israel, but the vast majority of writers associate the woman with Rome, especially given the evidence below. The “final” empire as Rome is consistent with Daniel 2 and 7, and with the rest of Revelation.  It is Rome which is demanding worship in chapters 2-3, and it is Rome which persecutes the saints.

The various descriptions of the woman add to the vividness of the image:

  • She was dressed in purple and scarlet.  The word for the color purple here covers a range of colors from deep purple to black.  While the color is normally associated with royalty and prestige, the writer Porphyry associated the color purple with carnality (which is interested because his name is derived from the word, Aune 3:935).
  • She was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.  The stereotypical prostitute is gaudy and over-dressed with jewelry and other accessories.
  • She held a golden cup in her hand. This gold cup is likely an allusion to Jeremiah 51:7, although the verse there refers to Babylon.  This is an example of the unusual blending of Roman and Babylonian elements in the chapter.  The cup is filled with “abominations and impurities.”  The word abomination is almost always associated with idols or meat sacrificed to idols (Jer 51:7).
  • On the head of this woman is written several names. There is a problem of how to read the verse with respect to punctuation.  Is this “on her forehead was written a name, a mystery:” or “on her head was written a name: MYSTERY”?  In verse seven, the angel interprets the “mystery” of the woman, so it is likely here that the name of the woman begins with BABYLON rather than mystery. Why is the head of the beast’s empire portrayed as a female prostitute?  She is not just a whore, she is the mother of all whores.
  • The prostitute is drunk on the blood of the saints. That the woman is a prostitute is bad enough, but she is a drunk prostitute. Descriptions of prostitutes in the Greco-Roman literature usually indicate they drink very little “for professional reasons” (Aune 3:927.)  There really is not more degrading way of describing a woman than as a drunk whore.  To be “drunk on blood” is am image of extreme violence (see Ezek 39:18-19; Isa 49:26)

It is possible this description is based on coins minted by Vespasian in A.D. 71. These coins depict the goddess Tiber seated on seven hills, as described in this vision.   The image of the goddess is common both before and after Vespasian, but not the image of a goddess seated on seven hills. On the reverse, the river goddess Tiber reclines on seven hills, holding a sword indicating the military might of Rome. S and C stand for senatus consultum – a resolution of the senate. In the background are a she-wolf and the twins Romulus and Remus.

 

A coin minted in A.D. 71 featuring Vespasian and (Cohen, Description 1:398 [no. 404]) From Aune Revelation, 3:920

The coins of Rome obviously do not depict Rome as a prostitute.  But there may bit a subtle word play in this description:  “The Latin term lupa, ‘she-wolf,’ had the connotation ‘prostitute’ and might have contributed to a subversive joke that was transferred to Roma as the female personification of Rome” (Aune 3:929).

The angel gives an invitation to the reader to “figure out” what the beast represents in verses 9-14 “this calls for wisdom.” The city of Rome was well known in antiquity as the city on seven hills, although it is difficult to identify which are the seven hills on which Rome was founded.  In the various attempts to make the beast Jerusalem, the seven hills becomes a problem.

The angelic guide identifies the ten horns as seven kings who are coming.  There are at least three was to “count” the Roman emperors of the first century. There are at least three approaches to handling this problem.

The historical approach.  This approach attempts to make sense of the series of kings in Roman history.  One must determine the start of the series, and decide which of the kings “count.”  For example, there are three Caesars in A.D. 69, before Vespasian takes the throne.  Do they count as three separate kings, or as a single king, or not at all?

The symbolic approach.  This approach argues John has no specific kings in mind, but rather he means to use the number seven as a complete number of kings. This is consistent with Revelation’s use of the number 7, and Roman history as well, which held the first period of their history was ruled by seven kings, when in fact there were likely many more than this.

A combination of the historical and symbolic approaches.  This attempts to use the historical sequence of kings, but declines to identify the first 5.  It is the sixth king that is important, and is well known to the readers (either Nero or Domitian, depending on one’s view of the date of the book.)  The hope, then, is that this evil sixth king will only reign for a short time.

Once again, Revelation leaves us with more questions than answers. If this image does refer to Rome, then Revelation 18-19 describes fall of Rome. Since Revelation 19:11-21 refers to the return of Jesus as the Messiah, when does Rome fall? Certainly not in John’s time, and it is unclear this could refer to any historical event in history. A solution may be to understand the prophecy of the fall of Rome as already beginning in the first century, but not yet consummated until the Second Coming.

 

 

“God’s Wrath is Completed” – Revelation 15:1-8

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.

The Message of the Second Angel – Revelation 14:8

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.