Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Book of Revelation: Study Outline Part 4

Part 1 of this Study outline was posted in August, 2007
Part 2 in Sept 2007
Part 3 on January 14 2008
Click on the appropriate month at left to find earlier sections

An Overview of 8.7 – 14.20

The section (8.7-11.19) is given its structure by the third seven marked by the blowing of seven trumpets, which again introduce a series of apocalyptic judgments, pointing to a final great catastrophe.

In his first attempt at the exegesis of this book (The Rebirth of Images) Austin Farrer tried to get seven sevens from the total text, seeing a series of seven sevens, though only four of them were clearly marked: the Messages, (2-3); the unsealings, (6-7); the trumpets, (8-14), and the bowls (15 ff.) The ‘unmarked ones were delineated by reference back to parallel themes and to a series of clues like a repeated “then I saw”.

In the later Commentary, he abandoned this (highly criticized) effort and, suggested the potentially more fruitful and much simpler structure of “the half week”, a variant of the common apocalyptic scheme of “a week of weeks” (cf. Dan 9 –“a time, times and half a time” and notes in Part One, published on 8/9/07)

Week Three - The Seven Trumpets

Ch 8, v.7 The series of seven begins almost at once and there is no opening Theophany as in the two previous weeks, but there is a very brief scene in the ‘heavenly throne room’. In v. 5, fire again shows its ambivalent nature - the fire that is a symbol of the glory of God becomes also the fire of judgment.

vv. 7 & 8 may reflect another of the sub-themes, the parallels that keep popping up with the Genesis creation story. God created the earth, sea, vegetation and trees on the third day; here at the first three trumpet blasts in the third "seven”, the earth, trees, vegetation and sea are one third destroyed.

v.10 the falling star is possibly a reference to the saying of Jesus in Lk.10.18, but this is not the final conquest of Satan which is reserved for 12.1-12, (typical; of the book's cyclical approach). cf. also Isa 14.12-14 which suggests the Satanic power operating through the secular state.

"Wormwood" is in Greek apsinthos. (artemisia absinthium) a bitter but not poisonous herb. In both OT and NT it is a metaphor for "bitterness" cf. Amos 5.6f; 6.12;Jer. 9.15.

vv.12-14 The fourth trumpet initiates destruction of the heavenly bodies. Is it a coincidence that the fourth day of creation in Genesis sees the placing of the “great lights" in the firmament?
Another obvious piece of O.T. background to this section is the story of the Egyptian plagues.

Chapter 9

The final verse of ch 8 introduces three woes, which are spelled out by the next three trumpet blasts, (cycles within cycles!). Again Farrer suggests this is the pervasive half-week pattern: 4+3.

The fallen star is another preview of Satan's fall (12.12).

The rest of ch. 9 is a picture of demonic forces let loose on the world. "The bottomless pit" of v. 1 is, in Greek, abysson, that is, in the mythology of the OT, the place of chaos overcome by God at creation. "This is spiritual geography, signifying the reservoir of evil, out of which the beast ascends (11.7, 17.8)". (John Sweet, Commentary, p. 167). For the description of the demonic monsters, see earlier note; here he is portraying the sins of imperialism, the fascination of sex and the ravages of sin.

v. 6 is a shattering picture of horror, much worse in its poetic brevity than the synthetic gore of a contemporary horror movie.

The sixth trumpet sounds marking the progress of this "week' of judgments, and the second woe gives its content.

v.14 seems to imply wicked angels, common dramatis personae in apocalyptic writing.
Sweet has a good note in this section. He writes, "We may find these plagues revolting, like pictures of the effects of nuclear war or ecological arrogance.... John is not threatening pagans but revealing to Christians the spiritual nature and destiny of the world to which they are tempted to conform. It is deeper diagnosis than that of many of our contemporary prophets of doom, and it is encapsulated within a more positive vision." (Commentary, p. 171).

v. 20 suggests much for us to apply to our own society, and the story of the plagues in Egypt suggests the pattern of stubborn refusal to turn to God that ends in a refusal to receive his grace.

Chapter 10 & Chapter 11.1-14

In the second week (seals), John makes a break between numbers six and seven, and so he does again here.

He inserts, two 'interludes', so to speak, ch 10, and 11.1-14 before the blowing of the seventh trumpet introduces yet another Sabbath liturgy.

v.2 the little scroll is linked to the sealed scroll of 5.2 ('mighty angel’, allusion to Ezek 2.8-3.3).

Sweet suggests that the little scroll is a suitably scaled down version of the great scroll now already opened in heaven (i.e., God's purpose is "in place"). It is given to John and his fellow Christians to "eat" = digest the message and, (v. 11), prophesy to many nations. Christ's victory is to be worked out by those who share his bitter cup (Mk 10.18) and his baptism of death (Lk 12.29ff).

Ch 11.1-14 is the second 'interlude'. It is a sort of parable of what John is doing by writing his book. A separation is made between those who will hear (v.1), and those who will not and remain outside the temple and the city (v.2).

This section weaves together material from Zech chs 2-4, Ezek 40.3 and Dan 7.25 & 12.7. Both the time references in vv. 2 & 3 = three and a half years, and this was a standard number (coming from Daniel) for the period of distress heralding the end (eschaton). It is also, in 13.5-7, the period of the "beast's" war against the saints, and, in 12.6, the time of nourishment for the woman who bears messiah,

The temple that is measured is not the one in Jerusalem; that had (a majority of scholars would concur) been destroyed almost two decades before John is writing. The temple is the Christian community (cf. 1 Cor 3.16; Eph 2.21; John 2.19ff) He seems to make a distinction between "the church in its inward being, measured as the 144,000 were sealed (7.1-8), and the church in its outward life, already the holy city (3,12), but not yet measured as it will be (21.15)". (Sweet, Commentary, p. 184)

vv. 2-14 give what can be seen as a "summary of the reign and fall of Antichrist, of the persecution and final redemption of the saints." (Farrer, Rebirth of Images, p. 44). The two witnesses may be Moses and Elijah, but probably represent the witness of the whole church, and the fire (v.5) is the word of God; like Elijah (I K 17.1) God empowers them. Note that when Jesus refers to the incident in Lk, 4.25, he says the "heavens were shut up for three and a half years".

v.7 the city is not a single geographical place. True, in Jerusalem the power of evil was most clearly seen in the execution of Jesus, but John says he is speaking "spiritually" (the literal Greek = allegorically); the death of Christ was at the hands of "the rulers of this age" (I Cor 2.6-8). Sweet writes: "The city is the social and political embodiment of human self-sufficiency and rebellion against God" (ibid. p.187). At various times, the center has been Sodom, Babylon and Egypt. As John writes, it is Rome, and later in his book, he will equate Babylon and Rome.

Chapter 11.15-19

At v. 15, John returns to the structured seven to close this third ‘week’. The reader is reminded that in spite of all the sin and rebellion, chaos and suffering caused by human obduracy, the glorious God reigns and His Christ shares that rule. The rule of God (‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in Matthew’s gospel) is ultimate, but not yet acknowledged by the rebellious creation.

For this section, and in many places later, John is using yet another O.T. source; this time Psalm 2. A quick scan of that Psalm will suggest why he found it so appropriate. (see also Rev 12.5; 14.1;16.14;17.18;19.5 7 19).
Echoes of the Jewish New Year Festival also can be heard.

v.17 note that John does not use the usual future reference in God's triple title; he is emphasizing that the end is not yet.

v. 18 (cf. 19.2) "Destroying the destroyers is the key to the destructiveness of Revelation" (Sweet p.192). The destruction is, in fact, brought about by the forces of evil both within and beyond human kind which are essentially (self)destructive - the disordered will, in the end, leads to the tearing up of the fabric of creation, so that God may remake it.

v. 19 the ark is the symbol of the presence of God, here revealed, presumably to the elect. The passage looks back to Mark 15.38.

Chapter 12.1 to Chapter 15.8

In his earlier exposition Farrer tried to show that the “gap” between the end of the trumpets and the casting of the contents of the first bowl could be a series of seven (marked by ‘and I saw’ or ‘was seen’), as follows:
(i) And a great sign was seen in heaven, a woman...and there was seen another sign in heaven, and behold a dragon..(12.1-3).
(ii) And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea (13.1).
(iii) And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth (13.11).
(iv) And I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion (14.1).
(v) And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven (14.6).
(vi) And I saw, and behold a white cloud, and on the cloud sitting as a
Son of Man (14.14).
(vii) And I saw another sign in heaven great and marvelous, seven angels having seven
plagues (15.1).

In the later Commentary he sees it as a recapitulation of the major apocalyptic themes of the battle between good and evil, the action of God in sending a Messiah who gathers to him the Holy Community, the inevitability of judgment (built into their situation, so to speak) for those who reject God and persecute his chosen and the hope of ultimate peace, "All nations will come and worship before you" (15.4).

Chapter 12
vv.1-6 John's book abounds in 'images' (= more or less "metaphors"), but in this section they are so thick on the ground that they jostle one another to be seen.

Psalm 2 is here, but also parallels from Persian, Greek and Egyptian mythology (e.g. goddess Roma, the great earth mother Cybele) (so Sweet). The dominant imagery is OT. The serpent's defeat of the woman is reversed (Gen 3.15ff). The chaos monster is overcome (Gen 1) see also the Exodus tradition (Isa 51.9-11 where the overcoming of "Rahab" (cf. Leviahan in Pss) is connected with Yahweh's bringing the Israelites out of Egypt).

The proliferation continues with the image of the woman. Her seed bruises the dragon's head (v.17 - Gen 3.15ff). She is the bride of Yahweh (S. of Sol 6.4 7 10);

"She is Mary, but only in so far as Mary embodies faithful Israel, and mothers the Messiah and his community (John 19.26f). She is the church, but only in so far as the church is continuous with God's people from the beginning and with Eve, 'the mother of all living' (Gen 3.20)" (Sweet, p. 195).

Note the "unholy" trinity of the Dragon, the Beast and the Second "Beast" who is a kind of False Prophet and is called thus at 16.13,19.20 and 20.10) - a parody of Elijah?

v. 7 The victory is Christ's; Michael (= 'who is like God?’) 13.4 is a parody of this.

v.12 the third woe is completed (11.14f).
For the earth swallowing God's enemies, see Ex 15.12; Num 16.32-34)

Chapter 13
The powers of evil continue their attack. The details refer to historical sequences of kings and the passage relies on Dan 7.3ff.

The notes of the HarperCollins Study bible are excellent for this section.

v.17 Greek, Latin and Hebrew letters had numerical values; thus a number could be turned into a name (or hide a name). For example, IĆ«sous = 10+8+200+70+400+200 = 888.

(According to Farrer 888 is the number for the resurrection Sunday, for it is the final Sunday, the octave of the first day of creation and the inauguration of the New Ctreation. Similarly 666, whatever else is hidden there is Friday, the day of crucifixion. The device is called gematria, and many efforts have been made to find a name that fits 666. Caesar Nero, written in Hebrew letters turned into their numerical values is a possibility, but a bit of fudging has to be done. Farrer suggests that 666 is a parody of 888 (Jesus). This points to Friday as the day (6) of the Crucifixion, and to day eight as Easter Sunday; 666 is also two thirds of a thousand (the time Antichrist has left to reign, one third having been destroyed already).

The problem of course with a Gematria is that with sufficient ingenuity almost any name can emerge from almost any number; 666 has given us Nero, any number of Popes of various names, Hitler, Stalin and a variety of one’s most hated politician!

Chapter 14

While the "nations rage" (Ps 2.1; 46.6), the steadfast love of God continues. See Ps 2 again, "I have set my king on my holy hill". Those marked with the name of Christ hold out against those who are marked with the mark of the beast (13.16f). At least two of the Letters to the churches suggest some Christians had fallen away. At times, John seems to imply a narrow view of those who will be saved (as here), but overall he is a universalist (see 5.9f; 7.9ff; 21.24ff).

v. 4 has been called "a monkish interpolation". Sweet argues that this is not the case. "Unchastity is a regular biblical metaphor for religious infidelity" (p. 222). In addition the need for abstinence when on priestly or military duty is an accepted norm of Judaism. There are, however, passages like I Cor 7.32-35 and Mt 19.10-12 to consider and it is possible that the Jewish view of sex as good, is already being overlaid with Hellenistic influences where matter is seen as inferior to spirit.

vv. 6-19 give us two days of judgment which is now imminent.

Chapter 15. 1-8
closes the section with a Sabbath liturgy in which celebration of the original Exodus is joined to a celebration of the Victory of Christ.

No comments: