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Superman's product of the century (so far):
One like a Son of Man
9I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
19"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
John identifies himself again and his circumstances. Patmos is a small island about 40 miles from the southwest coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) - the area in which the churches that this Book was written to were located.
Most commentors are of the view that John was exiled on Patmos.
Most interpreters understand "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" to mean that John was in communion with God's Spirit on the first day of the week - i.e. Sunday - which has been celebrated as the "Lord's day" since the first century. A few Futurist interpreters take an alternate translation which is "I was carried in the Spirit to the Day of the Lord" - meaning the day of the Second coming of Christ, but they differ with the majority of expositors - including most Futurists.
John tells us that a loud voice like a trumpet speaks to him while he is in the middle of his reverie. (Some manuscripts include another reference to Alpha and Omega - the First and the Last at this point.) John is commanded to write what he sees on a scroll and send it to the seven churches - though they have been referenced earlier they are now named.
When John turns and is confronted by the living Christ, he first notices seven golden lampstands - and in the midst of those the risen Christ. His physical appearance was overwhelming to John. John notices as well that he holds seven stars in his right hand.
Scholars are divided on whether John was observing a purely symbolic representation of Jesus - or whether what he was seeing was real, yet in some spiritual plane.
Some interpreters relate symbolic meaning to the physical characteristics described here such as the golden band as an emblem of high rank, the overall garment is likely priestly, his hair denotes age, honor, and wisdom, his eyes the idea of piercing vision, his bronze feet his irresistable judgment, and the two-edged sword can only be his Word.
There is not much in terms of disagreement among the views related to the lampstands and the stars in this passage. Some scholars say that the lampstands are reminiscient of the seven branched lamp that was used by the priests offered their incense in the tabernacle. Since Christ is in the midst of the lampstands it is seen as significant by some that his presence is associated with them.
We still confront the conflict in interpretation of the meaning of the seven churches. Since the seven churches are named in this passage, some interpreters of the spiritual/idealist school begin to contemplate that the seven churches the book is written to are just these specific churches - and that the major gleaning that anyone can draw from the message is for application. Historicists and Futurists for the most part see the seven churches as representative of church history or types of churches during church history. Some scholars point out that there were at least 10 churches in Asia Minor during the time of John's writing and suggest that since seven were specifically referenced that the number seven is what is of importance - that it therefore represents all churches.
John is commanded to write what he has seen, the things which are and the things which will take place after this. There is contention among the views about what timing is suggested by this command. Futurists take the view that "things which will take place after this" are in the future - and from our viewpoint our future. Historicists and Spiritual/Idealists are of the view that fulfillment begins at this point in Revelation and is continuously filled throughout history - Historicists are of the view that specific events in history fulfill the prophecies and Spritual/Idealists are of the view that there are no specific events - there is just an overall sense spread throughout history of general fulfillment of the principle suggested by each prophecy.
That the lampstands are the seven churches and that this represents a mystery is taken at face value by most scholars. There is considerably more discussion in the literature about the meaning of the seven stars being the 'angels' of the seven churches. It seems that without too much regard to prophetic viewpoint it has been disputed as to whether this means heavenly beings or the pastor or bishop of the churches. Some have pointed out that the communication between God and his angels is perhaps a bit more direct than letters from an apostle.
References to scripture:
There is no quoted passage in verses 9-20. Some scholars see an allusion to Daniel's vision in chapter 10 of the book of Daniel when Daniel saw a man in a vision much like - but with some differences - John's vision of Jesus here. Jesus having the keys of death and Hades reminds some scholars of Ephesians 4:8-10.
Call for unity:
Again, it seems to me that on the issues that have caused some division to this point - namely the historical meaning of the seven churches - we are still able, should we choose, to take each view at its value. It is possible to take the view that the seven churches are the specific churches in Asia Minor that they were sent to - that they are seven kinds of churches throughout history - and that history provides us with identifiable examples of characteristic trends that can be identified with these seven churches. There is an enrichment in taking this view that I do not believe negatively impacts the particular point of view that we may hold as we contemplate this idea.
As to whether John's vision of Jesus in this passage is purely symbolic or some other explanation better explains it - I would again suggest that, again, a synthesis of those views is enriching. Clearly the lampstands and the stars are symbolic - the extent of the symbolism is a matter of detail and perhaps of interest on the part of the student, but we can all agree on that point. Jesus' appearance could be something that mere words just cannot approach and the symbolic meaning of his characteristics do provide an enhancement of understanding him. At the same time, a look into what objective reality that John observes may provide a greater understanding as well - there really is no compromise to integrate these ideas together.
As has been the custom, I will share my thoughs about this passage in the next post in the series. I can say that it will be another very long one.
I can say at the outset that this is truly going to be a Belmont sized post. (That is somewhat of an inside joke I suppose - Good man Wretchard at the Belmont Club is known for very, very long posts - and I particularly don't mind them because I think he has something useful to say - you may not think the same about me.) I hope to make your investment of time worthwhile.
I have meditated on this passage for a very long time this time around and have come to believe that it needs particular, detailed attention. I don't know if it will continue like this or not (usually when teaching the Book of Revelation in the past - Chapters 1-3 have gone along pretty quickly). I am certain that we are going to give considerable attention to Chapter 1.
John writes to the seven churches - 'seven' catches my attention but I think that is just because I know there are so many 'sevens' in the Book. This is a letter - like many of the other New Testament writings - and like those it was sent to a particular church or group of churches or believers.
But, overall, I get a sense of hyperbole from this passage - if John had written this as an email it would have had an urgent exclamation attached to it. As compared to the rest of the New Testament canon - there's just an overall sense of a 'little extra' here. This is a further signal that this is an epochal, special Book.
Let's examine the greeting: "from him who is, who was, and who is to come" - this could clearly apply to any of the Godhead - but certainly appears from the context to be God the Father. In this hyperbolic communication John is telling us: God encompasses all of history - he is not bound by the arrow of time. He has this particular characteristic that stretches his existence - and His point of view - across all of time.
Next: "and from the seven spirits that are before his throne". I'm with Gregg on this - Whoa! Growing up in the West in the 20th Century - few of us have read anything like this in Christian literature. What's your reaction to seeing this? Mine is: OK, I've been told that this is Apokalupsis - something hidden is being revealed. What is it? I don't know - but I want to know more about it. My reaction is not to automatically say: "Oh, this is just an oblique reference to the Holy Spirit." So, for the moment, I'll say that my interest is peaked and that I need to be aware of any clue as to what this means as we proceed.
Next: "and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth." - My reaction is why these particular characteristics? As I have read and re-read this passage I have come to interpret this in the light of what we have just been told about God the Father: "from him who is, who was, and who is to come" - I perceive these characteristics of Jesus as an echo of the characteristics of God in this passage and that they should be read like this: (who is) the faithful witness ('who is' - is already there), (who was) the firstborn from the dead, (who is to come) the ruler of the kings of the earth. While God the Father in this context is outside of time, outside of history - Jesus is the expression of God's action in the context of history - and that these characteristics are in this particular order are a consequence of the work of Christ in history and are meant to guide our understanding of the Book.
Click just below to continue reading this tome ......Continue reading "An Exegesis of the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1: verses 4-8 (continued)"
Greetings and Doxology
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
John continues opening the Book with greetings and informs us that it is written to the seven churches in the province of Asia.
As we've previously noted, there is little division among the major views for this early passage - though the seeds of disagreement are there.
Historicists and Futurists generally agree that the seven churches are representative of the church age in history - and we'll develop that further in Chapters 2 and 3. Spiritual interpreters acknowledge the seven historical churches that were intended recipients of the Book, but have no attachment to history - for the Spiritual interpretation everything about the book has primary value in personal application.
It could be assumed that designating the Book for seven churches is a unique address in the New Testament - and certainly no other letter was written specifically to these seven particular churches in what is present day Turkey. But Paul's letter to the Galations, and the epistles of James and Peter were addressed to several churches and widespread groups of believers - possibly Ephesians as well was intended for circulation and maybe to many of the same churches in Asia as the Book.
"Grace" and "peace" is a typical salutation - but we see it expanded upon in this Book - in a more revelatory style - including more than a reference to God the Father. Most scholars are of the view that "him who is, and who was, and who is to come" refers to God the Father, the "seven spirits before his throne" refers to the Holy Spirit (though Gregg opines that this is "one of the more perplexing expressions in the Book"), possibly denoting the Sevenfold Spirit of God, and that "from Jesus Christ" refers, of course, to the Son of God.
This certainly is in support of Trinitarian doctrine - and is perhaps notable because it is the only New Testament letter that seems to include the Spirit in its opening greeting - as well as the Father and the Son.
Jesus is ascribed three characteristics: "who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" and the first two of these are rather universally agreed upon by scholars. The "ruler of the kings of the earth" characteristic engenders some disagreement between the primary views. Futurists believe that this is primarily a reference to future rule by the Messiah. Historicists and Spiritual interpreters believe that this was to give faith to persecuted believers and that it was a recogniftion of Sovereignty and Jesus' "rule in the hearts of his believers".
Further, there is a salutation to the person and work of Jesus: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." Some scholars suggest the "freed us from our sins by his blood" evokes visions of Exodus and that the Exodus theme is something to be aware of through the Book.
To this point the most significant point of disagreement between the views is the phrase "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father" - note that an alternate translation of this text would substitute "a kingdom of priests". There is a widespread separation among the prophetic views - and actually within specific segments of church doctrine in which denominations disagree - in regard to the people of Israel (the Jewish nation) and the Christian Church. Generally, the Historicists and Spiritual interpreters will hold that the Church has replaced or substituted for Israel - that the sacraments and prophecies concerning Israel reach fruition and are fulfilled in the Church. Generally, Futurists hold that there is a Church age that has occurred because of the hardness of Israel which enabled salvation to be presented to all people - but that there is a limit to the age and that God's plan for Israel will not be thwarted - that specifically in the wrapping up of history, Israel will once again take the stage as the chosen people of God. The impact of the difference in these views impacts doctrinal views on circumcision, baptism, the meaning of the Kingdom of God, and the overall meaning of the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament among other things. Certainly one of the roots of the idea that the Kingdom of God became active in the work of Christ is this passage.
It is also true that Spiritual interpreters and other scholars of other views also focus on the fact that "a kingdom and priests" is about personal access to God - that because of the work of Christ there is no requirement for an intercessor between the individual believer and God.
The initial greeting closes with a doxology ascribing glory and power or dominion and power - some scholars point out that this is the first of seven doxologies in the Book.
Verse seven introduces us to the overall theme of the Book. It also opens stark disagreement among the major views - all really concerning what "He is coming" means. A significant number of Historicist and Spiritualist interpreters favor interpreting this passage as the second coming of Christ. Some number of both camps though suggest that this coming is a figurative description - for visitation of God's judgment on Israel during the time period in which the Book was written or as a kind of 'continual coming of judgment during all of history' (this particularly favored by Spiritual interpreters). For the most part, Futurists interpret this passage as a reference to the literal return of Christ at the end of this present (Church) age.
References to scripture:
There is an unmistakable reference to Zechariah 12:10. And certainly an allusion to Matthew 24:30, and Exodus 19:6. Some scholars also suggest a possible reference to Isaiah 11:2 - in regard to the Sevenfold Spirit. I am not aware of any other scholars that point to other direct references in this passage.
Call for unity:
As you will no doubt discern from most of my suggestions - I am largely in favor of being pluralist with these views - especially to the extent that a favored point of view is not significantly damaged by allowing the other views to co-exist. As we proceed through this Book, this becomes more difficult to do. Please bear with me.
For all Christians - regardless of denomination or prophetic point of view - there is some agreement that the Church has inherited God's favor - has replaced Israel in some way. This agreement exists because it is scriptural. The mystery and disagreement is rooted in the temporal. It seems clear from a reading of Romans 9, 10, and 11 that we currently live in an age where the Church has obtained the blessings promised to Israel - but that this condition is not permanent.
In Romans 11:11-15 Paul writes:
11Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
13I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Further, in verses 25-32 Paul writes:
25I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
"The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."
28As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. 32For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Though this teaching seems clear - I recognize that discerning Christians may differ on the temporal nature of the age we live in.
But here's something that we can all agree on - we are the ingrafted branches at present - the inheritors of the promise to Israel to be the people of God. As Paul suggests, this should not lead us to arrogance.
Additionally, Historicist, Spiritual, Futurist positions all believe that there is a Second Coming of Christ - and that it is still in the future. Whether or not we individually hold that verse 8 in chapter 1 refers to that we can still choose to be unified. If you hold the position that 'coming in the clouds' does not represent the Second Coming - it doesn't negate that there will be one. If you hold the position that this is a prediction of the Second Coming - you can still allow that Jesus has come into the hearts of His believers and reigns in at least his spiritual Kingdom. Whatever our view - there is no harm to be pluralistic at this point.
Next post in this series. Although earlier than I expected - we are going down a long trail in looking at this passage.
My comments to Chapter 1: verses 1-3:
Apokalupsis Iesous Christos is the transliterated Greek for the opening of this prophetic Book. The Greek word Apokalupsis is used just this once in the Book - and used a total of twelve times in the whole New Testament.
We derive the English word Apocalypse from Apokalupsis and it carries significant meaning that is worth brief examination. This word has three meanings in the KOINE Greek of the New Testament: 1. Laying bear - even: making naked, 2. A disclosure of truth or instruction - concerning things before unknown or used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all, and 3. Manifestation, appearance.
Since aspects of all of these definitions are contained in the previous New Testament references and this is the first word in this epochal Book it isn't a stretch to amplify the beginning of verse one to something like: "The full explanation, the naked truth, the revealed mystery, the unveiling of what has been hidden, and the manifestation and appearance of Jesus Christ."
This initial word defines the very epochal nature of the Book.
Since the Greek leaves ambiguity as to whether Jesus is the subject or object of the Apokalupsis, I take the position that it should be both. This revelation, manifestation, unfolding is in some parts delivered by Jesus and in some parts is about Jesus - and the implications to history that the 'about' parts engender.
At the time of the writing of the Book or sometime before this Apokalupsis was delivered by God the Father to his Son Jesus and it was for the purpose of communicating to his servants - the church at least and perhaps servants that are other than the church.
The invocation of an angel has significant portend. There are thousands of references to angels in the scriptures and their presence signifies action or intervention by God in history. We take the view that God inhabits a place that is outside the space-time that we live in and that his mechanism for acting in human history is through these agents of his creation. We don't always know exactly what the presence of angels mean - but we do know this: the infinite free agent of the universe is going to do something.
It's clear that John had a very visual experience - "what he saw" - and that was the word of God - the Logos - the creative power - and the things told to him by Jesus.
The invitation to read is certainly remarkable - it is the only place in all of scripture that extends this invitation. And there is no qualification to the invitation - no matter one's point of view - there is a blessing promised for reading this Book.
But we can't stop there - the blessing is two-fold. Readers are blessed - certainly. There is an additional blessing promised to those that 'hear it' and 'take to heart what is written in it'. This hearing recalls the many times that Jesus talked about having 'ears to hear' which for us means a clear attentiveness and openness to the Book. 'Tak[ing] it to heart' refers to meditation - the act of consumption of the Book - making it a part of one's self.
It is appropriate to address the references to 'must soon take place' and 'the time is near'. There is a certain sense of imminence and that certainly carries from the time of John's writing forward - we've not reached any demarcations in the book so far so there's no need to set out a timeline at this point. It is certainly fair to recall 2 Peter 3:
3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Since the earth has not yet been consumed by fire, we can assume that the final judgment has not yet occurred. We must understand that God is not bound by the arrow of time in the way that we are. Elsewhere the scriptures say (1 John 1:5) that "God is light". This can be taken as meaning spiritual enlightenment - but it also in some way characterizes his being. We know from the theory of relativity - now just a hundred years old or so - that light speed is the fixed maximum speed in the universe - the one constant by which everything else is measured. We also know that no clock can tick that's on a light beam (this should require some discussion of 4 dimensional space-time but that will be some other time and place). In one context it means that every photon in the universe is the same age as it was at the inception of the universe - that is 0 - but it also has implications for consciousness in the electromagnetic spectrum. We don't have the tools to understand this at this point in our physics - but we can certainly conceive of consciousness that has never aged and is outside of the temporal arrow of time that we experience. This is what Peter is telling us - we don't have the same perception of time that God has.
Does that mean that somehow that time has no meaning? No - time is a real characteristic of the universe we live in. Our clocks tick (in reference from other observers) because we are moving in some amount space and in some amount time - that is something lower than light speed (or you could think of it as everything/everyone proceeds at net light speed - but as the sum of two vectors - some in space and some in time. We humans mostly proceed through time.) We cannot escape time's arrow in this life. It inexorably ages us and slows us and hopefully wizens us. How does that compare to a Being who sees everything in the eternal 'now' like a tableau?
We live in an age where the antrhopic principle has elevated the ideas of man once again to placing himself at the center of the universe. Going forward, it is appropriate to grasp that we did not create the universe - in some way it was made for us. But bound by the arrow of time - we cannot say what is 'soon' and what is 'near'.
1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (NIV)
Thankfully, there are not many things that the key interpreters of this Book are in disagreement on in roughly the first three chapters. Unfortunately, there are many things that are left out by most scholars' commentary and there are seeds of disagreement.
There is some argument from diverse scholars (not consistent with the three major views) about whether the "revelation of Jesus Christ" means that Jesus is the object of the revelation or if he is the revealer. The original Greek allows ambiguity in interpreting this.
"Must soon take place" contains the seed of disagreement for scholars of the Historicist, (certainly the Preterist), and Futurist Views. The Historicist position holds that within John's lifetime the prophecies of the Book began to be fulfilled and that the fulfillment still continues. The Futurist position acknowledges (in most cases) that the subsequent letters to the churches represent initial fulfillment but that the bulk of the prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. For the most part the Futurist position relies on "A thousand years is as a day, and a day is as a thousand years". Spiritual (Idealist) interpreters, because they assert no direct fulfillment by any certain event have little to say about what is "soon".
Some scholars suggest that since these initial verses address the apostle John in the third person that they were written by members of his community - his disciples or perhaps other custodians of the Book. Such interpreters are mostly of the Spiritual school. Most Historicists and Futurists believe that John wrote the entire Book himself.
Fortunately, there is universal agreement on the fact that a blessing is promised to those who read the Book. It is often pointed out that this is the first of seven beatitudes - blessings - in the Book. This is also the first place that the Book claims itself to be a prophecy. Less often it is surmised that there is a second blessing as well - for those that hear it and take to heart what is written in it - which is a bit different than just reading it.
There are more seeds of disagreement in "because the time is near" - of the same nature as "soon" above.
References to scripture:
There's no direct allusion to a particular Old Testament passage. A visitation by an angel alludes to a considerable number of events in both the Old and the New Testament in terms of the imparting of prophetic information. Some knowledge of angelic visitation will assist us in understanding something about what the process is and will confirm the validity of John's experience. As we go on we will look at some of those prior instances.
Call for unity:
Generally, Christians of all views can be inclusive without significant compromise to their individual views of this passage. Historicists who maintain 'early fulfillment' points of view - will still acknowledge that fulfillment of the prophecies in this book are in some way still occurring - on a different timeline than other views - but still occurring. Futurists who maintain 'early fulfillment' points of view - will still acknowledge that at least the letters to the seven churches have a contemporary fulfillment beginning at the time of John's writing. In either case, it is a scriptural basis to talk about "a thousand years are as a day, and a day is as a thousand years" because both the Psalms and Peter reference that concept (more on this in my comments section). This parallels one of our significant assumptions in entering this study: God is not bound by space-time. His view of history is more likely akin to a tableau of 'now' across what we perceive as a spectrum of time. We must allow that our perception of time is not that of God. So, at least for the beginning, we can agree together.
I'll venture my comments on this passage in the next post.
We're just about ready to embark on this journey.
A few assumptions going in - I don't care to defend these - for the purpose of this study we're going to accept them:
1. Revelation was written by the apostle John under the inspiration of the Spirit of God - the same John who wrote the Gospel of John and I, II, III Epistles of John. Scholars say this Book is 'Johannine'.
2. It was written sometime in the first century A.D. - for our purposes it doesn't really matter exactly when.
3. It is a book of prophecy and the only work of apocalyptic literature in the New Testament.
4. Though it makes no direct quotation from the Old Testament, Revelation contains hundreds of references to symbols and images from Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Psalms, Exodus, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Amos, and Joel. Because of these allusions, it is intended to be interpreted largely in the sense that interpretations are given in the rest of canonical scripture for like images and symbols.
5. On time. Human beings are, for the most part, bound in the space-time continuum of the four dimensional (at least!) universe that we live in. God is not. God is understood to be outside of this continuum - outside of the arrow of time. Though this is not stated directly in the Book it is a significant assumption that we make going in. We must be very careful not to necessarily apply the space-time continuum to what God says or shows. Kind of like a scientist who should be careful about saying "before" or "after" when doing an experiment with quantum mechanics.
6. Revelation is the only Book in the canon that promises a blessing for those who read it. We assume that invitation extends to all people of all points of view.
7. 'Exegesis' for our purpose means that we are going to examine the meaning of the Book, verse by verse, context by context, chapter by chapter - many time resorting to search out the meaning by delving into other prior works in the canon - such forays may be long and extended. As we develop themes, we will often summarize them but only after development. All this to distiguish between approaching this work without 'worrying about the details' or 'not paying attention to the weird stuff'.
Generally, posts are going to take this form: a) We'll start with a context - a set of verses in a contextual group, b) We'll examine at least the three major interpretations for that group of verses, c) We'll examine Old Testament references (if any) for that group, d) We'll pursue my interest in a call for unity on the particular subject or context, and e) I'll venture my thoughts. In many cases getting through a particular area or context will take many posts. As always your comments are welcome.
We start in the next post.
Like several other books in the Canon, Revelation makes considerable use of numeric expressions - relative to dates and times, counts of beings - even for identification of 'The Beast'.
In the process of exegesis of the Book - where it is warranted - we'll invest some time in exploring gematria (using the numeric values of the original text - Greek in this case) to determine if it of value in assisting an understanding of the Book.
There is a long and ancient Jewish tradition of finding hidden/mystical meaning - both in the Kabbalah and other Jewish mysticism that represents a cultural idiom familiar to practitioners that is quite foreign to Western peoples. There have also been more recent works that have explored this characteristic of the Scriptures.
Substituting traditional numerical values for letters is quite different than the techniques used in the current 'Bible Codes' phenomena - those involve choosing letters from the original text in equidistant counts (every 8th, 24th, or 50th character for example). That's not what I'm talking about.
To summarize the views:
1. Preterist: Everything in the Book has already happened and in fact happened mostly between AD 66 and AD 70. We have actually been living in a new heaven and new earth since AD 70. Let's just say "all done." As I said previously, I'm giving this view pretty short shrift.
2. Historicist: Most everything in the Book has been fulfilled throughout the course of history - mainly the history of the Church. Ultimately views the Papacy as the antichrist and depends heavily on symbolic interpretation - I mean, after all, the star named Wormwood is Attila the Hun. Let's just say "mostly done".
3. Futurist: While some of the Book has been fulfilled in the past - most of it has not been fulfilled yet. Most of the plain meaning of the events in the Book have not yet happened in history but they will. Sometimes not friendly with the Papacy. Proponents have found correspondence to current events - for the last 150 years. Let's just say "not yet."
4. Spiritual: For the most part the events in the Book apply to all phases of church history - not to any specific events - it is best for us to look for how to apply the spiritual meaning of each part to our daily lives. Some of the prophecies will be fulfilled at the end of time. Let's just say "everything everywhere."
As we move through this process, one of the ideas that I'm going to be examining is - how can or is it possible to hold all of these views at the same time - I guess that's one method for seeking unity. Can we find a 'holistic' view?
On exegetical style: I favor context by context going forward - no fair talking about something we don't know yet (in terms of the unfolding of the Book). Let the Old Testament inform us about something we don't understand - if it does - using key words and similarites of subject matter to determine whether it does.
There has been considerable discussion over the years relative to 'literal' versus 'figurative' interpretation. I prefer to think in terms of 'plain meaning'. There is obviously considerable symbolism in the Book - the issue is how to interpret those symbols. To me 'literal' interpretation would suggest that a 'beast' is just that - some kind of strange looking animal. 'Plain meaning' would instead ask "Where else have we seen a reference to a like creature and was that symbol defined elsewhere?" If it is then we have a definition for the symbol - its 'plain meaning'. If not, then we just have the symbol and we are obliged to take its apparent plain meaning only and only alter that should the symbol be more rigorously defined elsewhere in the Book. Scholars of all views have produced outrageous interpretations - even the most 'literal' of scholars - by allowing assertion of conjecture as truth - rather than in some cases just saying "We don't know what this means."
I'm running behind already on this series so expect a couple of posts in fairly quick succession.
I've realized from reviewing past notes and recently acquired resources that just characterizing views from the millennial standpoint only is unreasonable - mainly because only a portion of the Book of Revelation concerns itself with the Millennium. It is a fact that the particular view one takes on Revelation likely disposes one to a certain millennial view - but it is also clear that this is not always the case.
It's also the case that the views recognized generally by scholars today do not have unanimity across the Book themselves. It may be that there are four predominate viewpoints - but there are literally as many viewpoints as there are scholars, authors, and historians that contemplate this work. It isn't my purpose to explore every flavor - I'm looking for unanimity to the extent that it can be achieved.
My intention in this exegesis is to examine each verse of Revelation in context - and I will make more than the occasional foray into the Old Testament (which I think diverges from many scholars) in doing so. In that context, I intend to portray the major historical viewpoints - well three of the four of them. I'll also give my take on it given that I'm not a teacher or a scholar nor do I have any denominational baggage that I must support so it's just fine with me if what I think either does or does not affect your own viewpoint.
Let's also say that this exercise is not one in Christian apologetics. My viewpoint assumes a basic faith in the major tenets of the Christian faith. We're focusing here on understanding and looking for unity in the Book of Revelation.
The four major historical viewpoints have been well named in Steve Gregg's fine Revelation Four Views A Parallel Commentary. They are Historicist, Preterist, Futurist and Spiritual.
The Historicist point of view interprets the Book from mostly as events that have been to some extent already realized in history. It has long been in development and for the most part represents the views espoused by the Reformers beginning in the 16th century. There have been very few scholars espousing this view since the 1800s - though a remarkable number of people hold it by a default embrace of Amillennialism.
The Preterist point of view interprets the Book as having been more or less completely fulfilled in ancient times. In the most extreme view this would be prior to AD 70 during the destruction of the Jewish temple by Rome. I'm going to dispense with this view pretty much at the outset mainly because I'm interested in examining Revelation as a book of substantial prophecy - meaning more than a few years of time - and I think much of what the Preterists do borders on heresy (some deny that there will be a Second Coming for example). This view has enjoyed a fairly recent resurgence in recent times - both in the reformed camp generally and in the liberal camp. If you have an interest in exploring Preterism in detail write to me and I'll give you some resources to explore.
The Futurist point of view takes the position that most of the prophecies in Revelation more or less will take place in the future - our future. There is a very wide variety of points of view within this camp and most of it has been developed since the 1800s - though there is some evidence for aspects of this view from the first century. Tim Lahaye of the Left Behind series is an author that holds the Futurist view.
The Spiritual point of view takes the position that most of the prophecies in Revelation relate to the church age in general and that nothing really points to specific events in history - rather to series or cycles of events that churches and Christians and the world experience in general. There is some sense of 'end times' prophecy for some Spiritists, but there is no unanimity in the view. This view is popular with teachers that seek current application efficacy from the Book - i.e. how to apply the messages of Revelation to our daily lives - and is also popular among liberal interpreters of the scripture who want to address much of the symbolism in the Book as spiritually intended - or desire to interpret the Book as a Greek drama.
I'll summarize some ideas on these views in my next post. Then we'll do a little more set up.
Through the prompting of several people and my own interest, I have decided to do a series of posts on the Book of Revelation.
This may turn out to be a very large number of posts - the last time I conducted a small group study of this book it took us about eight months to get through it with once a week two hour discussions. That was about nine years ago I think. We'll just have to see where it goes.
I've been motivated to do this for several reasons:
1) My pastor is doing a series on Revelation and he is primarily taking an 'application' perspective that is certainly an effective form of teaching today as well as good 'daily life' ministry. But it is not informed by the rich history and meaning that I believe is intended by this epochal apocalyptic book. Blogging about it will allow me to express these views but in a context that isn't confrontational with my spiritual leadership - though it may provoke good discussion as many people that attend with me read this blog.
2) I have long seen eschatological issues as poorly discussed in general in the church - mostly because of the strong disagreement on positions - and I think relatively few Christians could have a cogent discussion on Amillennialism, Post-Millennialism, and Pre-Millennialism (in its various Tribulation forms). This is unfortunate given the times in which we live. Many emerging cult practices feature a strong eschatology and it is attractive for people to hear a prospect for the future. The success of the Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins "Left Behind" series demonstrates that there is keen interest in 'end times' literature. The fact that Babylon is in the heart of Iraq should not be lost on the Christian populace.
3) Though I am no scholar, I have a long background (more than 40 years) of eschatology studies with both a Baptist (Dispensational Pre-Millennialism) and Presbyterian (Amillennialist) background - and a reasonable working knowledge of the primarily Catholic 'Post' position. I would like to foster a discussion that attempts to explore the views with an agenda towards unity in the face of disagreement. I know that's pretty lofty but I'd like to try.
4) I believe in using the Old Testament to inform a discussion of Revelation. I personally do not believe that the Book of Revelation can be approached without a thorough grasp of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah and parts of Jeremiah (pretty much in that order). I had an old Bible teacher that repeatedly told me: "The New is in the Old concealed, The Old is in the New revealed." I think that's a pretty good prescription. I think that this relation between the Old and New - especially in the apocalyptic literature is no longer well studied within the church at large.
A couple of people have expressed some interest in participating in this process. I'm thinking about taking contributions from additional authors especially promoting the Amillennial and Post-Millennial views. Please let me know if you have some interest in contributing to this effort.
This is not intended to be a scholarly work - my ultimate aim for doing this is to see what unity is achievable among those with a Christian world view. If you are someone that does not subscribe to the Christian faith, there may be some value for you to follow the history, arguments, and the actual 'end times' literature of the Bible.
The first few posts will be set up material. Look for one post a week for the time being.