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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Revelation 21-22

This is the end of it all. These are the last notes I really have to post for this, and these notes serve more as a synopsis or "spark notes" of these last two chapters than as a deeper look that I've offered up in the past.


Revelation 21-22
Revelation 21
  • The judgment that ended in chapter 20 is now proceeded by a story of hope and restoration for the people of God in the deliverance of the new heaven and the new earth.
  • John sees a holy city—it's called the New Jerusalem—descending from heaven and describes it as a bride awaiting his groom He hears a voice call from heaven, and tell him that God will now live among the people, they will be his people, and he will comfort them. (21:1-4)
  • The one seated on the throne is described to be making all things new, and he is told to write about the one. The one is described as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (21:5-6)
    • See 1:8 for a comparison.
  • Those who have conquered will inherit all the things that are before John, and these people will be God's children. All those people who didn't (the evil), will find no place there, but have been cast into second death. (21:7-8)
  • One of the angels who had given the bowl judgments tells John that he will be shown the bride, the wife of the lamb. John is carried away in the spirit to a large mountain, and he is shown the holy Jerusalem. The city is described as having radiance like rare jewels, having twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes above each, and having twelve foundations with the names of the twelve apostles on them. (21:9-14).
  • This same angel had a measuring rod of gold which he used to measure the city, the gates, and the walls. The city is a perfect square that is fifteen hundred miles long, high, and wide. The wall is described as having been build from jasper while the city was build from clear gold like glass. The foundations of the walls are adorned with all types of beautiful crystals and precious metals, while the gates are said to be pearls. (21:15-21).
    • This elaborate description serves to create imagery in the mind of the reader and the listener to show that this described holy city is a place of wealth, comfort, and peace—not need.
  • The city mentioned is said to have no temple because the Lord God is there and he will provide what the temple once provided. Also, there is described as a lack of a sun because God's glory will provide all the necessary light. God's light will guide the nations of the world, and nothing false or abominable (ritually unclean or impure) will enter into it, only those who had their names written in the Lamb's book of Life.
    • The Hebrew word for glory is a cloud with a light or fire radiating out from it.
Chapter 22
  • This angel then shows the river of the water of life which is as bright as crystal. This river flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb, throughout the middle of the street(s) of the city. There is also said to be a tree on either side of the river with twelve different types of fruit, one for each month. These fruits are said to possess healing power. Nothing accursed, impure, or evil will be found within. (22:1-3)
    • The tree of life described here was also mentioned earlier (2:7)
  • The name of God will be on the people's foreheads, and the lack of the need for light is repeated by saying that there is no need for lamps or for the sun.
    • See 7:3; 14:1 for this mark/name.
  • John then is told that the words and visions he has seen are set to take place, and that they are true and approved of by God. (22:6-7)
  • What follows in verses 8-21 (including verses 6 and 7 as well) is an “epilogue” of sorts of warnings and exhortations. People are told to not ignore the words of this book, and to stay away from evil so that they might be holy. The Alpha and the Omega's deliverance is coming soon and that people should wait for their debts to be repaid. Outside of the city are the evildoers and the liars. Jesus is said to be the one who sent the angel and is described as being the descendent of David. There is a warning that no one is to take out or to add to the words of this book, or else they will have their name taken from the book. God's grace is to be upon everyone and with all the saints. (22:8-21)
    • There is an interesting use of words (almost ironic) when John says that if anyone takes out of his book, then that person's name will be taken out of the Lamb's book.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Revelation 19-20

Revelation 19-20
The theme of “redemption” that we've touched upon throughout our study of Revelation is really made known in these chapters. This image of hope and restoration of humanity to holiness is pervasive throughout the text.
Chapter 19
  • We ended chapter eighteen with the destruction of the city of Babylon, and immediately after this John hears “a great multitude in heaven, saying 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just. . . he has avenged on her the blood of his servants. . . . The smoke goes up from [Babylon] forever and ever.'” (19:1-3).
    • As has been the norm throughout the text of Revelation, a judgment will be poured out upon the earth or upon the “enemies of God” and there will be a resulting affirmation by either someone or something.
  • The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures mentioned earlier in the text fall down before God and begin to worship him, giving him praise and honor (19:4-5).
  • John then hears a voice “of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out, 'Hallelujah!” (19:6 emphasis mine).
    • Further use of similes on the part of the author signifying a reluctance to describe things great, magnificent, or concerned with the divine.
  • Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure'” (19:7-8)
    • The earlier mentions of Babylon being a whore (17:5) and the sexual purity of the 144,000 individuals redeemed by God (14:4) can now be understood as something talking about spiritual “purity” or fidelity towards God.
  • John is then told by an angel to write “Blessed are those who are invied to the marriage supper of the Lamb. . . These are the true words of God.'” (19:9).
  • John, upon hearing this, falls down to the ground and begins to worship this angel who has brought him this declaration. The angel corrects him and reminds him that he (the angel) is also a “servant with you and your comrades [brothers] who hold the testimony of Jesus.” (19:10)
    • The angel reminds John that the message he is bringing is just one in accordance with the message that Jesus had brought and was not worthy of worship.
  • Before John, heaven opens and a white horse appears. The rider is called “Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war” and has “eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.
    • This rider seems to have an anonymity about him, though many have attempted to associate him with the lamb found earlier in Revelation (5:6). I think this is fundamentally flawed, though, since the two images of the rider and the Lamb are starkly at odds. The Lamb never seems to have a secret or concealed identity, and has a peaceful means of human liberation (5:6-9). The rider, on the other hand, seems to wage war and create violence which is at odds with what the lamb does.
  • This rider is wearing clothes that are dipped in blood, and his name (obviously one that is different from the name mentioned earlier that he alone knows) is The Word of God. The armies of heaven follow him in pure clothes. He has a sword that comes from his mouth which he uses to strike down the nations and to shepherd them like as with a rod of iron. He is the one who brings about the wrath of God and is called the King of Kings and Lord of lords. (19:13-16)
    • Compare this with the image of the Son of Man (1:13-16) which sounds very similar—particularly the part about a sword. There seems to be this dissonance or stark difference between the Son of Man/the rider and the Lamb.
  • After this an angel is said to be standing in the sun, declaring with a loud voice to all the birds that there will be a great supper for them to feast upon the flesh of kings, captains, the mighty, and horses with their riders. (19:17-18)
    • Birds are typically scavengers and so after wars, they would go and eat off of the dead bodies gathered there. This pronouncement is just a confirmation that the judgment upon the enemies of God is ready to be final and complete.
  • The beast and the kings of the earthy line up their armies and fight against the rider and his armies. The beast is captured, as is the false prophet who had performed signs for the people, and they are thrown into “the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” and everyone else is killed with the sword from the rider's mouth. (19:19-21).
    • The fighting is now over and the rider has quickly ended the war with the simple use of his authority of word (the sword from his mouth).
Chapter 20
  • An angel comes down from heaven after his, holding the keys to the bottomless pit along with a great chain. The dragon is seized and is bound up for 1,000 years, thrown into the pit, and sealed there so that he wouldn't deceive the nations for that period of time. (20:1-3).
    • The exact purpose for this temporary protection from the dragon isn’t entirely clear. The period of 1,000 years is best viewed as symbolic suggesting a temporary period of righteousness and tranquility before a final eschatological judgment. John's point here is best viewed as lost to the ravages of time.
  • Thrones are then made clear to John and those who are seated upon those are given authority to judge. Those who were martyred for their testimony to Jesus appear, and are given authority to reign with Christ for 1,000 years. (20:4)
  • Those who are to share in “the first resurrection” are blessed and they will not be subject to death any longer, but will be priests of God (20:6).
  • When the thousand years are ended, the dragon is released and he will deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog. They'll gather up armies for battle which will be as numerous as the sands of the sea, and will march all over the earth to surround the camp of the saints. Fire will fall from heaven and consume them, though, and they will not be able to prevail over the saints. (20:7-9).
    • Gog and Magog were ancient nations mentioned in the book of Ezekiel (chapters 38-39).
  • Following this defeat, the dragon is thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur along with the beast and the false prophet (20:10).
  • John then sees a great white throne and someone sitting on it. The earth and the heaven are said to flee from his presence because he is so great. All the dead, great and small, are gathered around before the throne as books were opened. Another book, the book of life, is opened and all the dead are judged “according to their works, as recorded in the books.” The sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades give up their dead, and all these are then judged according “to what they had done.” Death and Hades are then thrown into the lake of fire. (20:11-15).
    • God's judgment is made final. All the people of the world are judged by what they have done, and there is a reunification between God and all his people—the people he loves and has cherished; both big and small, sinful and pure.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Revelation 16-18

Revelation 16-18
As with all things in this study, I don't want to put forward a single theological perspective for everyone to just listen to and potentially accept. I want everyone to devotedly read the text and develop an appreciation for what they feel the author was trying to say to his specific audience. I just provide a very basic commentary on the passages that I think can help shed some light on understanding the potential riddles they pose, and then leave it up to the individual to divine a meaning from such.

Chapter 16
  • “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, 'Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.'” (16:1). The “bowl judgments” have started.
  • The first angel complies with this order and pours out his bowl on the earth causing “foul and painful sore[s]” to all those who had worshiped those with the mark of the beast (16:2).
    • So, while God's protection is upon the people with his mark, the beast's protection of those with his “mockery image” are not protected from God's wrath.
    • See Exodus 9:8-12 for similar afflictions. God will pour his judgment out upon his enemies, according to the author John, in a similar way that he did upon the Egyptians prior to the traditional exodus of his people.
  • The second angel pours out his bowl into the the sea, and it becomes like the blood of a corpse, and everything in the sea died (16:3).
    • Compare this with the judgment of the second trumpet (8:8-9).
  • The third angel follows suit and pours out his bowl into the rivers and springs (what would be, essentially, the only remaining sources of clean water), and they too became blood (16:4).
  • An “angel of the waters” then says, “You are just, O Holy One, who are and were, for you have judged these things; because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” (16:5-6).
    • Clearly, those who are being judged with the “wrath” of these bowls is those who had persecuted the saints (6:10-11). This is a theme that keeps recurring in the book of Revelation from the very moment that these martyred saints are mentioned.
    • This idea of the angel of the “waters” implies a worldview in which certain angels preside over certain elements of the cosmos (fire in Revelation 14:18 and wind in Revelation 7:1-2; additionally this idea is enforced by/found in the pseudepigraphical book of Enoch).
  • In response to what the angel of the waters says, “the altar” responds by saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!” (16:7)
    • You have what is said by the angels of the waters, then as a confirmation of what was said, the altar responds by affirming all that was just said as “true and just!”
  • The fourth angel pours his bowl upon the sun, and it then scorched people with fire (16:8). They were said to be scorched by the fierce heat, but they simply cursed the name of God who had brought about the plagues, rather than gave him glory (16:9).
    • Stubbornness and an unwillingness to listen to God or repent can be found throughout the Bible, but specifically in the story of Israel's enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians prior to the exodus.
  • As has been typical throughout the book of Revelation when judgments of any sort are being talked about, the first four judgments get less mention than the remaining three. The same holds true with these “bowl judgments” in that five through seven get a little more textual “time” or focus than one through four.
  • In succession, the fifth angel pours out his bowl on the “throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony, and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds.” (16:10-11).
    • Just as the kingdom of the pharaoh was plunged into darkness (Exodus 10:21-19), so is the kingdom of the beast.
  • The sixth angels pours out his bowl on the river Euphrates—a very important river of the day—and it dries up in order to prepare the way “for the the kings from the east” (16:12).
    • While the text could be making a literal reference to the Euphrates river, it's more likely that the fact the Euphrates was an important life source for many, many people was being used to imply that the source of their livelihood was being taken away.
  • Then, following the sixth bowl judgment, three foul spirits that are like frogs come from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet (16:13). They perform signs for the entire world, so that they might gather up an army to fight against God (16:14).
  • They are assembled at the place called Harmagedon in Hebrew.
    • Har Megiddo” means “The mountain of Megiddo.”
  • The seventh angel then pours his bowl into the air, and a loud voice comes from the temple and the throne, and says, “It is done!” (16:17).
  • Following this declaration from heaven, there is lighting, thunder, a violent earthquake, “the great city” was split into three parts, and the nations fell. God then pours his wrath out upon the city of Babylon (16:18-19).
Chapter 17
  • Then, one of the previously mentioned angels says to John, “'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.'” (17:1-2)
  • John is then transported spiritually into a wilderness area, and he sees a woman sitting on a red beast that had blasphemous names with seven heads and ten horns (17:3).
    • Compare this with the images of the dragon (12:3) and the beast from the sea (13:1). Clearly the imagery of seven heads and ten horns is something important with a specific meaning.
  • The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and was adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls. She was holding a golden cup that was full of abominations and impurities.
    • Purple was the color of royalty, and this is enforced by the great wealth that the woman is surrounded with.
    • “Abominations” are Jewish “bad things” or imperfections that cause ritual impurity.
  • On her head she has written, “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth's abominations.” (17:5)
    • Babylon has been used throughout the Bible as a symbol for corruption, injustice, and evil. This woman is representative of all the evils and impure things before God (abominations) on the earth.
  • The woman is said to be drunk with the blood of the saints and of the witnesses (17:6).
    • See earlier for the saints (6:10-11) and for the possible witnesses it is referring to (11:7-11)
  • When John sees this woman, he is initially amazed but the angel who he is with rebukes him for his amazement (17:7). The beast she is with is described as “was, and is not, and is. . .” and is also said to be about to descend to the “bottomless pit” and to go to destruction (17:8).
    • Notice the interesting description of “was, and is not, and is” (17:8), which seems to be a parody or imperfect version of the description of God (1:4,8)
  • The identity is revealed for all who have “wisdom,” since the seven heads are said to be seven mountains on which the woman is seated. There are also seven kings, one of which has fallen, one is still living, and one is yet to come though he won't last long. (17:9-10)
    • Discerning the identity of the beast (most likely considered to be Nero because of the way gematria allows for it to be either 666 or 616) also calls for wisdom (14:18).
    • The possibility of the woman and the beast being the Roman Empire are made strongest by these verses. Rome was known as the “City of Seven Hills,” and here the seven heads are revealed to be geographical mountains, and they also stand for seven kings (emperors in the case of the Romans). I think that the message of domination and destruction on the part of the Roman Empire that John is making here is incredibly obvious.
  • The ten horns are said to be ten kings who don't yet have a kingdom, but will eventually receive authority for “one hour” along with the beast (17:12).
    • The reference to an hour is most certainly not literal hour, but is a metaphor that their reign will be short-lived.
  • They will form some sort of union, and they will make war against the Lamb. The lamb will conquer them because he is powerful and distinguished, and his followers are called faithful. (17:13-14)
  • Then, John is told by the angel that the waters he had seen earlier were representative of nations, peoples, and languages. (17:15)
    • While the prospect of this being the Roman Empire, though with a large amount of modern scholasticism behind it, is speculative, one must remember just how expansive the Roman Empire was and how the Jewish Christian author John clearly viewed it.
  • The ten horns seem to hate the whore, and will strip her of her jewels and adornment, and will eventually destroy her (17:16)
    • John sees the destruction of the Roman Empire, and the end to its lavishly wealthy ways of living, in addition to its “blasphemous” religion.
  • God had put it into the hearts of the “ten horns” to do his will and to give their kingdoms over to the beast until God's word was brought to fulfillment (17:17). There is a shift of power from the woman/whore to the beast.
  • The woman is, finally, said to be “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”
    • It's finally revealed that the woman is symbolic for a city. So, we know that the woman is a city who is seated on seven hills. What could this possibly be? The city of Rome? One would logically deduce such given the context of the text and its audience.
Chapter 18
  • After all this had been shown to John, another angel comes down from heaven with authority. The earth is said to be illuminated because of the splendor of this angel. He cries out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (18:1-2)
    • What follows is a narrative about how corrupt 'Babylon' had become (18:2), and how she had deceived various nations (18:3). She is said to be powerful and luxurious.
  • Then another voices comes from heaven saying, “'Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins. . . for her sins are heaped high as heaven. . . and repay her double for her deeds. . . she glorified herself and lived luxuriously. . . for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.'” (18:4-8)
    • A warning is given to all the people of God to flee from the evil and wicked ways of Babylon because God has remember all her sins and her time of judgment is approaching.
  • When the kings of the earth who had sided with her (Babylon as mentioned earlier), they will grow sad when they see her destroyed from God's judgments. They will stand far away in fear, and cry out about her destruction (18:9-10).
  • Not only are the kings weeping, but the merchants and traders are sad because there is no one who wants to purchase their expensive, lavish wares anymore (18:11-14). These merchants, like the kings before them, will stand in awe and fear of Babylon's fall (18:15-16).
    • Assuming that Babylon is representative of an empire, the destruction of such would bring about economic crisis and where people once had the money to purchase expensive items, they would no longer have a market any longer.
  • After the kings and merchants have expressed their sorrow, so will the men of the sea—sailors, shipmasters, seafarers, etc—also express their sorrow that such a great and powerful city has fallen, and their potential markets have also disappeared (18:17-19).
  • Following these three laments, an angel takes up a millstone and throws it into the sea saying that the violent, great city of Babylon will be thrown down just like the stone for her evil practices in the sight of God (18:21-23).
  • She is destroyed for her deceit of the nations, as well as for blood of the saints and prophets that was on her hands, as well as all those who were slaughtered on the earth (18:24).
    • See Revelation 6:10-12 for the saints.
That concludes chapters sixteen through eighteen, and what we've started to see here is the redemption of God's people from the oppressive forces they are experiencing upon the earth. Stark injustices have been committed on the behalf of the empire over these early Christians, and inequality is rampant. John gives a message of hope and perseverance through the vindication of God in all this.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Revelation 14-15

Revelation 14-15
Chapter 14
  • We start off with a break from the previous verse which talked about the number allocated to the beast (13:18).
  • Here, John has another vision in which he sees the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and there are 144,000 with him who have the name of the Lamb name written on their heads (14:1). Just like the number given in Revelation 7:4, this seems to be a symbolic expression.
    • Mount Zion is considered to be the spot, according to the unknown author of Hebrews, where God will reign (Hebrews 12:22).
    • “Written on their foreheads” is probably a reference to the seal placed upon the 144,000 in chapter 7, which will also be referenced again later (22:4).
  • John hears a voice like the sound of many waters, like the sound of thunder, and like the sound of harpists playing (14:2).
    • “Many waters” is probably a repeat of the details offered earlier (1:15).
    • As is typical with John, an author who keeps with the Jewish tradition of hesitance to describe God, he uses similes (indirect descriptions using the words "like" or "as" instead of direct descriptions) to describe God. He hears a voice like the sound of waters, like thunder, and like the sound of harps.
  • No one is able to learn the song that is being played (14:3), indicating that there is some sort of exclusivity to this song, though its exact nature is not clear.
  • The 144,000 thousand are described as “It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.” (14:4-5 NRSV).
    • This characterization of them being “virgins” isn't something that is meant to literally talk about their sexual history, but is to be understand in terms of sexual abstinence—ritual purity even—concerning contact with the divine (see Exodus 19:15 and Deuteronomy 23:10-14 as examples of this).
    • A relationship with God has also been viewed intimately throughout parts of the Bible, so this passage can also be viewed as a testament to the 144,000's consistent faith in God which did not stray to doubt in him or faith in other deities. They were spiritually “pure.”
  • Next follows this encounter with three different angels, all bearing three different messages.
  • The first angel comes with an “eternal gospel” (14:6) and declares “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (14:7)
    • The eternal gospel implies that the message that follows is an announcement of God's judgment being imminent.
    • The angel is asserting the importance of giving worship to the creator, rather than the created (Romans 1:25).
  • The second angel comes and says, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” (14:8)
    • Babylon was a sinful city, and is more representative of evil, than a physical city. Still, this declaration can be found similarly in other passages (Isaiah 21:9; Daniel 4:30). This message is repeated later (18:2).
    • Fornication, though typically seen as a sexual act, in this case can be seen as leading people astray from the message of God spiritually. This would seem to enforce the idea that the 144,000 “virgins” remained true to God spiritually, and did not commit fornication.
    • The reference to drinking of the wine is probably foreshadowing the events later in the chapter referencing the harvest of grapes and the pressing of wine (14:18-20).
  • The third and last angel comes and declares that those who received the mark of the beast and its created image, will drink the wine of God's wrath. There is strong imagery concerning the punishment given to these individuals (14:9-11).
  • Then John gives a “call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.”
    • This seems to be a message of encouragement to those who have been oppressed by the dragon (12:17).
  • Then John hears a voice that declares that, “Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord. . . they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” (14:13).
    • This is the second blessing, or beatitudes, given in the book. There are a total of seven. The first was mentioned at the very beginning of the book (1:3).
  • John then sees a white cloud, with one like the Son of Man on it. He has a golden crown on his head, and holds a sharp sickle in his hand. Another angel comes out of the temple, and says that the sickle is to be used to reap, for the time to reap has come. The one who sat on the cloud swings his sickle over the earth, and the earth was said to be reaped (14:14-16).
    • This can be seen as borrowing some imagery from the book of Joel (Joel 3:13).
    • This precedes a very similar harvest.
  • John then sees another angel come from the temple with another shark sickle in hand. The angel comes out from the altar and declares that the sickle will be used to “gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” The angel swings his sickle over the earth, and gathered all the products from that. He throws these grapes into “the great wine press of the wrath of God.” The wine press was walked upon, and blood is said to flow out from it in an immense quantity. (14:17-20)
    • Unlike the first harvest, this harvest seems to have something especially dark or negative about it since it invoked the wrath of God and involved blood.
    • This could be God's vengeance for the martyred saints mentioned earlier (6:10-11).
Chapter 15
  • Chapter 15 is incredibly short and breaks with the narrative found in chapter 14. As you will have already noticed by all your reading in the book of Revelation, the book does not smoothly flow from one part to the next, but is filled with visions that interrupt other visions, and mysterious symbols and images interspersed throughout.
  • John sees another portent in heaven that is said to be great and amazing (15:1). Seven angels with seven plagues, and these are to be “the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.” (15:1).
    • This is the third portent, or sign, that John sees (12:1, 3).
    • is ended” can be read to meat that it is brought to fulfillment or that it is accomplished.
  • Before John's eyes, a something that appeared to be like a sea of glass mixed with fire is noticed. Those who conquered the beast and its image are standing alongside this sea with harps (15:2). They sing a song of praise. “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the lamb: 'Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your holy name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.'” (15:3-4; emphasis mine).
    • A sea of glass has parallels with an earlier part of the book (4:6).
    • The song of Moses is likely a reference to Exodus or Deuteronomy (Exodus 15:1-18; Deuteronomy 32).
    • Those who are worshiping God declare that he alone is holy, and this may stand in contrast to the emperors of the first century who declared themselves to be gods worthy of worship.
  • After John has heard this song, the “temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen [other ancient authorities read stone], with golden sashes across their chests.” (15:5-6). The angels are then given their seven bowls full of the wrath of God (15:7), and the temple will filled with smoke from the glory of God and his power. No one could enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels had come to an end. (15:8).
    • The “temple of the tent of witness” is the heavenly version of the tent of witness that was carried around by Israel during their time wandering the desert (Numbers 9:15).
    • For an apocryphal perspective on this, see 3 Maccabees 6:18-19. In this, opening the heavenly gates (in Revelation, the temple of the tent of witness is opened) is seen as a sort of introduction or prelude to judgment.
    • Bowls were part of the religious ritual in Judaism.
    • Smoke could be a reference to a large number of verses (Isaiah 6:1-4; Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 8:10-11).
  • This is the close of chapter 15, and really serves as a prelude to chapter 16. The brevity of chapter 15 serves to introduce chapter 16. When we move on to the next chapter, we will explore the judgment of the bowls.We're starting to move away from the part of the book of Revelation based on “story-telling” in which there are dramatic stories and images given to us, but rather to a sort of theological aspect of the book in which judgment and God's divinity and holiness are discussed, as well as the vindication of God's saints/martyrs.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Revelation 11-13

So, this section is a good bit larger than some of the previous sections. In spite of the fact that it's without a doubt larger, I think this section is more understandable and cohesive than the previous stuff. So, here are my notes over the stuff. In my opinion, this is where the book gets more interesting. The first part of the book is critical, though, and I can't help but think I haven't done justice to the immense importance that worship plays in the book of Revelation. We see some of that become important in this section as the beasts may very well be talking about emperor worship, and the message of John is restoring that worship to who it truly belongs to: God.


Revelation 11-13
  • Worship. This is one thing that I have managed to leave out of this study up till this point by accident. I've just now come to realize, upon a further study of the text, just how important the concept of worship is in the book of Revelation.
  • What I had been doing earlier was attempting to “skim” over the many sections of the text containing worship hymns and worship narratives, to get to the actual bulk of the story and to infer a meaning. I've now realized that, through a look at the historical context of the book of Revelation, that is incredibly mistaken, and these worship sections provide us a way of understanding the “bulk” of the story.
    • Worship is central to the message the author, John of Patmos, is trying to convey with his message to the first century Christians.
Chapter 11
  • John has just “had his commission renewed” by his previous visitation by the mighty angel in chapter 10. Chapter 11 picks up after John is told to prophesy against many (10:11).
  • We start off with John being given a measuring rod before being told to measure the temple, altar, and those who are gathered there (11:1). He is specifically commanded not to measure the court outside of the temple because that will be trampled or destroyed (11:2).
    • The act of measurement of the sanctuary and those who worship there seems to emphasize the protection and preservation that the faithfulness within will receive.
  • Two “witnesses” come into the scene and they are to prophesy for 1260 days or ~3.5 years (11:3).
    • Notice that the number of years they are to prophesy is exactly half of seven, the number of completeness. This seems to symbolize “radical” incompleteness or something far from complete.
    • Though they are left unnamed, lots of speculation exists about their identity or their exact role.
  • They are given authority over the elements, and also the power to bring down plagues (11:6).
    • These plagues hold many similarities to those mentioned in the Hebrew Bible when Moses was attempting to liberate his people (Exodus 7-12). Can it be said that these two witnesses are attempting to do the same and to liberate those saints who have be so harshly punished and harmed by this world and its injustices (Revelation 6:10)?
    • Additionally, they were garbed in sackcloth (11:3), which was typically the garment used to bring about repentance, so this seems to be representative of something.
  • These witnesses are, unfortunately, killed by the beast mentioned earlier (11:7).
  • Their bodies are then left in the street of the great city that is “prophetically [allegorically] called Sodom and Egypt, where also their lord was crucified” (11:8 NRSV).
  • They will then be resurrected after 3.5 days—note the similarities to the aforementioned 3.5 years—before being called up to heaved by a loud voice (11:11-12).
  • A great earthquake ensues, and their enemies with a tenth of the city fall (11:13).
  • The moment we've all been waiting for has finally, finally arrived. The seventh trumpet is here. We had to wade through chapters 10 and most of 11 to get through this, but we've finally reached it.
  • The seventh angel blows his trumpet, and loud voices from heaven start saying something (11:15).
    • “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom our of Lord and of his Messiah [Christ]” (11:15 emphasis mine). The sinful world will become the kingdom of God through reform. This is what's being emphasized there.
    • “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” (11:17). Again, the emphasis is on the Lord now taking power so that justice can be done (11:18).
  • God's temple suddenly opens, the ark of the covenant appears, which is followed by lightning, noises, thunder, hail, and an earthquake (11:19). This concludes the vision of the seven trumpets, and introduces the vision found in chapter 12.
Chapter 12
  • Chapter 12 abruptly breaks with the tone found in chapter 11, introducing a new vision with a different purpose.
  • This is the vision of the child which is rich is symbolism drawn from familiar symbols to Jews and Gentiles of that time. These are images they would have commonly been exposed to because of surrounding countries such as Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, or Rome, in addition to symbols present in the Hebrew Bible.
    • To give you an idea of a similar story the early readers of this text would have been familiar with, I give a paraphrased version of what my Bible says (New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha 4th Edition). This story starts with the goddess Leto who is pregnant with Apollo. They are menaced by the dragon Python who pursues Leto because he knows its prophesied that Apollo will be his death.
      • I feel that what John has done is taken a “pagan” story—one that all his readers would most likely have been familiar with—and re-rendered it for his early Christian readers with a different message. One of deliverance and hope.
  • A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (12:1). A portent is a sign of warning that something great or huge is about to happen. So in heaven, we find a sign of something great to come.
    • Most scholars identify this woman as the nation of Israel who is awaiting their Messiah. The twelve stars (12:1) could refer to the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs...” (12:2). This woman was, as stated, pregnant and was in pain from the soon-coming birth.
  • Then we get another portent that appears “...a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.” (12:3). A diadem is a crown, so clearly this is some sort of political leader, or something that views itself as exalted.
    • This dragon is probably the Leviathan, the monster of Canaanite tradition, also found in Job 40 and Isaiah 27. This fearsome imagery would probably have been known by even Jewish children. He is later called the Devil and Satan (“the accuser”) in verse 9.
    • The details of seven heads and ten horns is probably drawn from the symbolism found in Daniel (Daniel 7). In the book of Daniel they were used to symbolize political empires and rulers, though the symbolism isn't as clear here.
  • The dragons tail is said to strike down a third of the stars of heaven, throwing them to earth (12:4).
    • A third is a number directly proportional to the destruction caused by the trumpets.
    • Refer to Daniel 8:10 for a similar use of imagery.
  • The dragon stands before the woman, ready to devour the child as soon as it was born (12:4). In spite of this, the woman gives birth to her son who is “to rule [shepherd] all the nations with a rod of iron.” (12:5).
  • The child is saved from harm by being “snatched away” and talked to God and to God's throne (12:5). The woman feels into the wilderness to a safe place for 3.5 years (12:6).
    • Consider the similar story of God's providence for Mary, and the resulting Messiah/Christ, and the nation of Israel by sparing the life of Jesus in spite of (Matthew 2:13-15).
  • This protection is followed by a war in heaven. Michael and his angles fight against this dragon and his angels. The battle was fierce, but the dragon eventually loses. The dragon is thrown down, and there is no longer a place in heaven for them (12:7-9).
  • This interruption to the story is followed by a loud voice from heaven proclaiming “...Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah [Christ]...” (12:10).
  • Having seen that he was thrown down to the earth, the dragon pursues the woman who had given birth to the baby boy (12:13).
  • The woman escapes, though, by being given the wings of an eagle and flying off into the wilderness for 3.5 (a time, and times, and half a time) years (12:14).
  • In an attempt to get the woman, the serpent (previously called the dragon) pours out water like a river to sweep her away with a flood (12:15).
    • The Canaanite Leviathan was believed to be the cause of watery chaos and sometimes flooding.
  • Thankfully, the earth opens up and swallows the river the dragon had poured out from his mouth (12:16).
    • This symbolism is probably an allusion to Exodus 15. In that story, the earth swallows up the pursuing Egyptian armies. Here, the same effect has been accomplished in that those who are of God are protected from his enemies.
  • The dragon became angry because he didn't seem to like this all too much. He decides that he is going to make war “...on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (12:17).
  • Chapter 12 flows right into chapter 13 without any break in narrative, so the last verse, verse 18, starts as an introduction to chapter 13. “Then the dragon [Greek Then he; other ancient authorities read Then I stood] took his stand on the sand of the seashore.” (12:18)
Chapter 13
  • As we left off on Chapter 12, the dragon is standing on the edge of the sea. John then sees “...a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names.” (13:1)
    • This probably refers to the Roman Empire. Roman Emperors were commonly deified (to be made God), and were given elaborate names to represent such. Many of them even expected to be worshiped.
  • The beast is said to be like a leopard, a bear, and a lion (13:2). The dragon gives it his power, throne, and authority (13:2).
    • The imagery here resembles that of the four beasts found in Daniel 7. These most likely represent the Roman Empire since they are they to oppress the saints (Revelation 13:7).
  • One of the beast's heads seems to have something strange about it, though. “One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound [Greek the plague of its death] had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast.” (13:3). They all worshiped the dragon and the beast (13:4).
    • This could be an allusion to the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 BCE, well before the writing of Revelation) or a reference to the suicide of Nero. Many people believed that Nero would be brought back to life and rule again after his death. This was incredibly fearful because Nero was incredibly cruel, a terrible emperor, and he commonly persecuted Christians.
    • Notice that the mortal wound to one of the beast's heads does not bring down the entire beast. The Roman Empire, despite the set backs it experienced through its short-lived Emperors, didn't fall apart upon their death.
  • The beast was given a mouth and began to speak horrible words for forty-two months or 3.5 years (13:5). It blasphemes, or talks bad about, God and his dwelling (13:6).
  • This beast was also given permission to make war on the saints and to conquer them (13:7; some ancient manuscripts omit this sentence). It was also given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation (13:7).
    • This, to me, further strengthens the idea that the beast was the Roman Empire since the Empire was truly expansive covering essentially all of the known world, many tongues or languages, tribes, and nations.
  • All the people of the earth will worship it, all those who do not have their name written in the book of life of the lamb (13:8).
    • It was customary for people of that time to take on the religion of their captors. The Roman Empire, being so extensive, placed its religious beliefs on top of conquered nations. While the conquered were allowed to preserve their own religious traditions, they also had to practice or respect the Roman traditions.
    • It appears that a name can be removed from this book (Revelation 3:5), and that the judgment depends on the conduct of one during his life (Revelation 20:12).
  • Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” (13:9-10)
    • In spite of captivity and death, those saints and those who endure are called to persevere, remain faithful, and to not fight back. Violence is condemned here as whoever kills must also be killed. Just as the lamb did not liberate or ransom the world through violence (as the “expected” lion would have done), so are those who remain to act the same in spite of their circumstances.
  • As if the beast from the sea wasn't bad enough, an addition beast rises from the earth. It has two horns like a lamb, but it speaks like the dragon. (13:11)
  • It acts on the behalf of the first beast, exercising all of its authority, making the first beast with the mortal wound be worshiped (13:12).
    • This seems to stay in line with the deification (or the process by which an emperor was declared a god) that was common for Roman Emperors.
  • This beast from the earth performs great signs. These signs resemble the judgments poured out on the earth through the trumpets (8:7).
  • The beast from the earth makes an image of the beast from the sea (the one with the mortal wound), and causes people to worship this image. Those who don't worship are killed (13:15).
    • This image is probably a statue of one of the deified emperors. Some of the emperors were so vain they had enormous statues commissioned of themselves and placed throughout the empire.
  • Everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, is given a mark on their forehead (13:16).
    • This is a sign of allegiance, and may act as a mockery the 144,000 sealed of God received on their forehead (7:3). Those without the mark receive economic oppression (3:17). This may have been important since unstable economies were discussed earlier (6:5-6).
  • This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six [other ancient authorities read six hundred sixteen].” (13:18 emphasis mine)
    • The ancient practice of gematria used numbers to stand for a specific letter. Though far from concrete, “Neron Caesar” ( Emperor Nero in Hebrew letters) is 666. If you spelled this without the final “n” you would get 616, as some of the older accounts state.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Revelation 9-10

In my opinion, this is essentially the last part of the book of Revelation in which the "setting" for the rest of the book will be explored and explained. After this, things will start flowing a little bit more, be at least a slight bit easier to understand, and we'll get to a time-line of sorts in which we can probe what the author is trying to say.


Revelation 9-10
  • Review definitions that they need to know.
  • Up to this point we've covered the author of the book, the audience, some description about God, and an introduction to the setting through the seals and trumpets.
  • These seals have unleashed Destruction, Violence, Economic catastrophes, Death, Unjust slaughter of martyrs, Devastating political occurrences, and natural calamities in the seven seals, and fiery/icy hail, meteorites/asteroids, poisoned waters, as well as a darkened day.
  • Jumping into chapter nine, we start off with the fifth trumpet. What's interesting is that these last three trumpets are called “woes” (9:12)
  1. One thing that's different about this fifth trumpet is the amount of the text that is devoted to describe it. The first four trumpets are just glanced over, and at this point we start taking a much more detailed look at the text. Additionally, after the fourth trumpet, an eagle gave a warning that the three remaining trumpets would be the worst. In my opinion, if it's important, the text will focus on it more. With this trumpet, a star falls to heaven presumably opening up a shaft or abyss in the earth (9:2). From this abyss rises smoke which darkens out the sun and also from which powerful locusts swarm out. These locusts were given power like scorpions (9:3), and were told to harm people. The specific number of five months is given, and while this could quite possibly be a real amount of time, I think the more likely interpretation is that the “torment” exists for a short or limited time only. This truly is a torment because they will long for death, but they won't be able to actually find its comfort (9:6) There is a lot of description about the locusts, comparing them to lions or armored chariots (9:8-9), but I think the main idea that's being portrayed here is that they're powerful. And over these kings is someone who is named Abbadon (in Hebrew) and Apollyon (Greek). These names both mean “destroyer” and I think that's pretty obvious given what they are put in charge of. 
  2. The sixth trumpet, like the fifth one before it and the seventh one after it is given a lot more detail than the first four. This fits in nicely with the image of these last three being the final “woes” or the especially bad ones. What is released here is a mounted army that is 200 million strong (some manuscripts actually read “only” 100 million as the English Standard Version does) (9:16). While the locusts before them weren't supposed to kill anyone, these horseman were charged with killing off one third of the human race (9:15). With these fractions and numbers, I tend to disregard them as factually literal, and instead view them as symbolic. As always, though, my opinion is exactly that, and there are hundreds of other views on the matter that take it as factually literal. Whatever stance you take, try to examine it from the other view and to then develop a strong reason for embracing that view. All those who aren't killed by these horseman still chose not to make remission of their sins (9:20). I think what this passage is making clear is the harm that can come about when someone ultimately rejects their best interests and buy into sins making these sins idols in their life (9:20).
  • So, while I bet everyone was expecting that we would get to finish up the trumpets at this point, that's sadly not the case. What instead happens is that the author gets a little bit off track (just like with what happened between the sixth and seventh seals), and starts talking about other things. I think this is really where the book starts getting a bit more unified. Up to this point, I like to think that John was laying the setting for the rest of the story to come, and now that's it has been eloquently laid out in detail, we're ready to actually get to the "bulk" of it all.
  • In chapter 10, we start talking about a mighty angel who comes down from heaven (with a rainbow; the sign of hope). As would be expected of John, he describes the supernatural through natural terms (face like the sun, legs like fiery pillars, and a rainbow over his head) in his description of this angel (10:1-2). He is holding a little scroll opened in his hand, and it seems that this will be important in a little bit (10:2). I have a feeling that the scroll itself isn't all that small (as my study Bible suggested), but that the angel holding it is so big that it just looks small in comparison.
  • While some people may like to approach this text with a hard-core, literal approach, I think we can all agree that at this point we're starting to hit some serious symbolism. The angels starts but putting his right leg on the sea and his left on the land (10:2). While it's not exactly specified, my best guess is that this isn't like having one foot in the ocean and one on the beach, but rather like having one in the middle of North America and one in the middle of the Pacific. Looking at this symbolically, what do you think having one foot on the sea and one on the land means?
  • He roars, which is described like a lion, and then seven “thunders” speak with their voices (10:3). Clearly we're hitting some symbolism here since I think we all know that thunder can't speak. Regardless, these thunders said something that John heard, but he was immediately told not to write it. (10:4) What do you think could have been said, and why do you think that John wasn't allowed to write it down? Though this is all speculation, I think it helps create interest in the text, and can get your mind thinking.
  • What follows after the thunders is a little bit strange. The angel raises up his right hand and swears an oath upon God (10:6). He then goes on to say that there will no longer be an “interval of time” (10:7). When I first read that, I was a bit confused, but thanks to my study bible, I realized that what they meant was a delay. What he is saying is that there won't be a delay any longer, and that the seventh trumpet will be blown soon and God's “hidden” plan will be completed.
  • John is then commanded to take the scroll from the angel and to then eat it (10:8-9). He is told it will be sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach (10:9). John does as he is told, and sure enough, it happens. Immediately after this, he is told that he is to go and prophesy to/against many people, nations, languages, and rulers (10:11). I think the message about the bitter-sweet scroll, though a bit hidden, isn't too hard to understand if you look at it deeply enough. Given that immediately after he ate the scroll he was told to go prophesy (or preach), I think the message given by the symbol of the scroll is that though the John's message may seem sweet at first, it will be bitter and difficult for some to swallow thereafter (alternate views such as the one expressed in my study Bible is that the word of God is pleasing at first, but later unpleasant and difficult to truly understand the “depth” of; the word of God may seem sweet or "easy" at first, but eventually trials, tribulations, hard times, or persecutions will come).
  • There we go. We've concluded a lot of stuff, and not all of it is exactly cohesive or easy to piece together. This is understandable, and I really recommend that people take things chunk-by-chunk and write down there thoughts and important stuff as they go about reading it. When we come back, we'll start discussing more about the “actual story” of Revelation and what precisely we can learn from it.
I think John borrows a lot of imagery from the Prophets of the Old/First Testament, and so if you are interested, I would recommend that you read all or some of these passages as I think they'll give you a new appreciation or understanding of the writing style of the book of Revelation.  

Alternate reading: 
Ezekiel 2, 3
Exodus 7-12, and 15 (story of bitter water) 
Joel 1, 2.
Assignment over break: Reread and finish the rest of Revelation, read the book of Hebrews, and read as many minor prophets as you can (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, as examples). These minor prophets will really help you understand the symbolism, or at least make you a bit more familiar with it. Exploring the major prophets (the only real difference between a major prophet and a minor prophet is the length of the text they wrote; the minor prophets wrote short books while the major prophets wrote long books. It's not like a major prophet is more important than a minor prophet) can also help you gain an understanding for this sort of writing style, but they're longer, thicker, and more difficult to understand. If you have a study bible, please read the section before the book about the historical context, as I think this really helps you understand the text and why specifically it was written, and can also shed some light on some of the more confusing parts of the text.

Revelation 6-8

 Here we start off with the development of the setting from which the rest of the story in Revelation will unfold. All stories have a setting, and I think this is where the author John starts describing the setting for the story he is telling. We'll see some dramatic imagery in these passages, and it really gives you a lot to think about. Though the strange or bizarre symbols/images can sometimes be confusing, carefully analyzing things, taking notes, and thinking about it often helps me.


Revelation 6-8
  • Canon, Canonical, Exegesis, Seven (meaning or significance), eschaton, eschatology, hermeneutics.
  • I didn't do the best jobs presenting it last time, but I'm going to try to divide up the book of Revelation as a progressive story talking about different things at different points.
      • Chapters 1-3 were the introduction and the audience of the letter, and potentially a way of reading the rest of the book.
      • Chapters 4-5 were talking about the “Nature of the Divine” in its Jewish portrayal of God and the strange way the Lion is contrasted with a Lamb.
      • Chapters 6-8 as we'll cover today talk about the nature of a not-perfect world. There will be war, death, strife, and heart-ache in our world. Additionally, these can be seen as developing the “setting” for the rest of the story that will unfold with the rest of the book.
  • We start with the lamb opening the first of the seven seals (6:1)
  • The seals are as follows (I ignored the fractions that were given about who was affected):
  1. A white horseman with a bow who was given a crown, and was sent out as a victor to conquer. (6:2) Most people think this talks about Jesus. My youth leader's notes I'm following said it could be representative of a nearby country named Parthia. The Parthian signature color is white, and the bow is one of their characteristic weapons. They were nearby neighbors of the Roman Empire (the setting for this story), and there were known historical conflicts between Parthia and the Roman Empire.
  2. A fiery red horseman who was empowered to take peace from the earth, and to promote violence. A sword was given to him. (6:4) Self-explanatory. This one talks about strife in the world—a natural occurrence.
  3. A black horseman appears in this one, and he is given a balance scale (6:5). There is a reference to wheat, barley and a Denarius. A Denarius was a common Roman coin. I think it's fairly obvious that this horseman is representing economic strife or trouble. A Denarius was a normal day's wage, and could normally buy between 8 and 16 times the amount of food that was listed here, so it seems to be referring to economic inflation that follows after war.
  4. A pale green horseman appears this time. He is named “death” and “Hades” follows after him (6:8). Hades is Greek for “underworld” essentially (Hell is a very rough translation). This occurrence seems to be representing violence and death occurring in the world. Could this be a reference to our mortal nature?
  5. No longer do we have a horseman at this point, because there are only four. Now we see an “altar of the souls of those slaughtered [for God]” (6:9). These souls cry out for vengeance for those were unjustly slaughtered. They were rewarded with white robes, though, and told to be patient (6:11).
  6. The sixth seal results in a violent earthquake occurring (6:12). The sun turns black, and the moon becomes like blood, and the stars end up falling from the sky. As strange as this may seem, weird cosmic references like this have been used historically to talk about political or social occurrences, and one Biblical examples of this is Jeremiah 4:23-26. It seems to me that a statement about the political balance (or lack thereof) is being made. This view is further strengthened when we look at who is mentioned next. The kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, and the powerful (6:15). All these people of political importance are begging for the rocks and mountains to fall on them because there is no political stability.
  7. Talk about the seventh seal, but then go back to the sealed of Israel. The seventh seal (8:2), when opened, ushers in the seven angels with seven trumpets (something loud and boisterous) as well as natural calamities . Before these angels appear, though, upon the opening of the seal, there is complete silence in heaven for a half-hour. Perhaps this silence is reverence for the perils that are to come, silence for dramatic effect, or maybe it's a reference to the Day of the Lord as found in Zephaniah 1:7. I prefer the previous thought since the seal ushers in the trumpets which are negative and harmful. It seems strange that the prayers of the incense are, in a way, used as a weapon against earth. Maybe this is a sign of what may seem like futility when we pray.
  • What's the significance of these seven seals? I think it's important to view them as a way to look at not only the history of the world (death, economic struggle, strife, violence, etc.) but also as a way of viewing personal conflicts we will all face in our lives. I think the book of Revelation, in certain respects, should be read as a personal book to help you understand and face troubles or trials you might face. What needs to be known, as the story will progress as we dig deeper, is that there will always be a liberation no matter how dark things might seems for us at the time.
  • The Sealed of Israel is an interesting little passage to look at. You start with four angels at the four corners of the earth (7:1). Right off the bat we should see something "wrong" there. As we now know, the earth is round, not flat, but that wasn't something the author John knew here. Though this may not be geologically correct, that isn't the main point of what John is trying to convey here. These angels are restraining the four winds of the earth (we now know there are quite a lot more than four, but this is also not what the author is trying to present).
  • Then an angel from the east (7:2) rises up who had the “seal of the living God.” A seal here seems to be a sign of protection, since a seal or a signet was a common sign from a king or authority figure that a document was authentic. This angel is here to protect 144,000 people from the harms the other four angels want to bring about (7:3). 144,000 people are sealed—or protected—with 12,000 being from each tribe of Israel.
    • I've looked into this as much as I can, and there doesn't seem to be anything special about these numbers that I can find other than twelve being the number of tribes. Most every source I had, including my study Bible, said these numbers were symbolic for the church as a whole throughout history (not modern history, but Jewish history), with the tribal names and numbers naturally referring to ethnic Israel.
  • Next, you have a vast multitude of people (7:9) from all over the world that is so great it can't possibly be numbered. They're from different tribes, nations, and languages, and they're here to stand before God. They sing praises to God (7:10, 12)
  • What seemed strange to me here when I first read it was the question of the elder that is posed to John. The elder asks John if he knows who the people are (6:13), and John strangely responds by dodging the question and saying that the elder knows. The elder then goes on to explain that these are the ones who have withstood the great trials, and they will no longer have to face the troubles, worries, and pains of life any more (7:16). I was a bit confused by this, and what I was best able to work out was that John was trying to tell us this story, not through his own eyes and words, but through the words of what appeared to him in his vision. He wanted to reach beyond his simply humanity.
  • Now that we've essentially covered the seven seals, we move on to the seven trumpets. In the Old/First Testament, trumpets were a sign of war. Just before any of these seven trumpets blown though, we need to remember what happened right after the seventh seal was opened. There was silence, then an angel came with an incense burner and offered all the prayers of the saints to God on a golden altar (8:3). I think the significance of this is that incense is supposed to be pleasing, and to God, our prayers are pleasing.
  1. The first trumpet is described as hail, fire, and blood (8:7), and this rains down upon the earth. It seems like these trumpets are perhaps being portrayed as a type of punishment against those who are unrighteous in the eyes of God. 1/3 of all the grass and trees were burnt up.
  2. A blazing, great mountain is hurled into the sea (8:8). What exactly this is referring to isn't exactly known. From a modern perspective we might say a meteorite or something, but with their lack of astronomical knowledge then, I don't think this is the best way to view this. 1/3 of all the ships were destroyed. I think it should be viewed as mere outside destruction of the naval powers that existed at that time. Some have even said that this might be a reference to the Minoan civilization (a civilization destroyed by the effects of the sea), but I hold my reservations about this view.
  3. A great star named Wormwood (a very bitter herb) fell into the waters and poisoned them—or made them bitter—reducing the drink-ability of the waters (8:10, 11). 1/3 of all the people died from these water because of its bitterness. Water has always been a highly contested resource, and this just is a sign less will be available in times of crisis.
  4. The fourth angel results in the partial destruction of the sun, stars, and moon (8:12). All of these were sources of light, so I think what's trying to be said there is that the people will be stumbling around in the darkness, and won't know what they are doing exactly (symbolically, of course). I don't think a literal view that 1/3 of these will be destroyed makes any sense if you understand anything about cosmology.
  • What follows all of this is the appearance of an eagle (a sign of majestic power) that is here to warm people that the remaining three trumpets are especially terrible (8:13).
So, in summary, I like to think that what we've covered is just the beginning of a great story that will unfold as the weeks go by and as we read more of these passages. I want to encourage everyone to look at these verses in a different way than you normally might. Don't try and put them in the context of the future (though you absolutely are free to do that, try and see it other ways as well as I think looking at things from other perspectives truly gives you a new appreciation for things), but try and see them as story being told to us by John about something that's slowly beginning to unfold, and there's gonna be some serious conflict with an amazing climax, and an unforgettable resolution. What I want most from everyone is to truly examine the text, study it, and formulate personal opinions about the text with evidence from it, as well as other sources, to support their beliefs.

Recommended Reading:
  Zechariah 6 (in which we see some dramatic imagery in the middle of the passage)
Haggai 2
Joel 2
Isaiah 34 
As with all/most of the Old Testament prophets, incredibly dramatic imagery is used to convey a meaning. I think that John was continuing this "tradition" or writing style, and using vivid descriptions to say something.