Search This Blog

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.

Revelation 4-5

  Here we go with chapters 4-5. I think these are really unique chapters, and they can really help provide a glimpse of the Biblical perspective of who God is.

Revelation 4-5
Chapter 4
  • Revelation 4 and 5 are distinct in that they are essentially dedicated solely to describing God and a little bit of the Throne in heaven.
  • We start off chapter 4 with John being shown God.
  • What's interesting is the description of God (vs 3)
    • Jasper – a precious, colorful stone that sparkles and flashes luminously of various colors.
    • Carnelian – a beautiful reddish, brown mineral that also shines brightly, semi-translucent.
  • Why, exactly, do you think God is described in such an odd way?
    • It's important to remember how Jews view God. God is a very abstract entity who is difficult to really give human attributes. As such, he is typically described by physical things. Earlier in Revelation the “Son of Man” is described as having hair like wool, and a voice like many waters. Here, God is described by physical things just as he has been traditionally described. The Burning Bush (Exodus 3) is the most common example in which God is portrayed through the natural world. Exodus 24:10 describes God as sapphire.
    • Additionally, the specific minerals that are mentioned, Jasper and Carnelian are both precious and valued greatly. This is just to add to the effect that the author is trying to make about the glory of God.
    • Yahweh wasn't meant to be pronounced, but was just written as four letters YHWH (some scholars have disputed this stating that it was meant to be pronounced, but from what I've been able to find, this is a small, minority view).
  • In verse 3, we also have an account of a rainbow that is like emerald. What exactly does a rainbow traditionally symbol in the Bible?
    • Deliverance and security, just like Noah had received when the rainbow was offered to him as a sign in that tale.
  • 24 thrones for 24 elders are mentioned. There is too much speculation about this to really know what these are form, but some interesting thought is that 12 are for patriarchs of the OT and the other 12 are for the disciples.
  • The most important thing to take from Chapter 4 is that it is keeping with the Jewish tradition of reluctance to actually describe God. Survey the Old Testament, and you will encounter various descriptions of God, all of which are physical or strange. What happened here was that a finite, human language (particularly of such a primitive time) was simply incapable of describing what they felt or saw in their God.
    • John just keeps with this tradition.
Chapter 5
  • While Chapter 4 was all about describing God, chapter 5 is all John's descriptions of "The Lamb of God".
  • We start off with a strange scroll that apparently no one is able to open because of the seven seals on it.
    • It should be noted, for those who don't know, that a seal was like a wax “stamp” placed on scrolls to ensure that they stayed closed and weren't opened before they got to who they were supposed to.
    • This concept of “who it was supposed to get to” is very important when we bring in the figure of the Lamb.
  • Apparently no one in heaven or on earth was able to open the seal (4). What sort of significance does this carry?
    • If Jesus is the lamb, as is overwhelmingly assumed, why is he the only one who can open the seals?
  • At first Jesus is described as the “Lion of Judah” (5) and the “Root of David.” More importantly, he is described as “victorious so that he may open the scroll and its seven seals”
    • The significance of this is pretty big. What was Jesus victorious in that he has this right to open these seals?
  • Back to the Lion of Judah, though. At first when you're reading this, you get an image of a powerful lion. One who was strong and ready to conquer. This is exactly what the Jews were expecting in their Messiah. They believed that their Messiah would be a political or military leader who would lead the Jews to deliverance from the Roman government.
    • Clearly, Jesus doesn't meet this expectation. This was the man who told people to turn the other cheek (Mat. 5:39) and to love one's neighbor as themselves.
    • What follows is Jesus' description as a lamb. This is all too fitting since he wasn't the expected military leader, but a spiritual leader who promoted redemption through his teachings.
  • He is described as a “slaughtered lamb” (6). Why were lambs slaughtered in the Jewish tradition? For remission of sins or guilt, but also as praise to God (think of the story of Noah after the ark).
  • He is described as having “seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth” (6). Do you remember the significance of the number seven?
    • Seven implies fullness or completeness. In this case, horns represent power, so it is shown that this lamb has complete or full power, and with eyes he has complete or full vision. I don't mean that he has 20/20 vision, but rather that he has full knowledge.
  • What follows seems to be a worship narrative in which the Lamb is described as “a redeemer” (9), “worthy, receiving power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor, glory, and blessings” (12), as well as “Blessing and honor and glory and dominion” (13). 
    • In vs. 9, we see that the blood of the lamb was enough to "purchase men for God." I think strong comparisons can be drawn from this to the tradition of Passover in which the blood of the lamb would offer security or safety.
    • All this is given by what is described as “countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands” (11). I can't help but think that what the author is trying to get across here is that God is completely worthy of countless or endless amounts of praise.
Recommended Reading:
Daniel 7
Ezekiel 1, 10

Revelation 1-3

 So, these are just the notes I've taken as I've gone over these passages. By no means are these exactly "comprehensive" but they're my personal notes or notes from my study bible (or various other sources) on the matter. I think that these should just be used as a guide to developing your own understanding of the text. My goal with this study of the book of Revelation isn't to instill or teach a specific theological perspective of the book, but to offer everyone a critical look at the book so you can develop your own views on the matter, and back them with support.

Revelation Chapters 1-3
We'll be starting off this study with the first three chapters of Revelation. The book of Revelation starts of decidedly different that it will appear as we read later on, but I think there is a good reason for this that we'll explore as the study progresses.
  • The main version that I'm doing this study with is the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I really like this translation of the Bible as it strikes an incredibly difficult to find balance between accuracy and understandability.
  • I can be a stickler about translations, and for this study I'm going to recommend that you don't use any “watered down” translations like The Message regardless of how readable they are. For a study on such a tricky book, try something a bit more reliable like the NIV or the HCSB.
  • With that said, this book can be tricky and confusing to read. The Bible in general can be difficult, but the book of Revelation especially so. I would encourage everyone to read the passages over until they can at least develop some sort of familiarity with them.
Chapter 1:
  • We open up in vs. 1 with two very important things: the name of the author, John, and the information that the following is a “revelation” or vision from Jesus Christ.
  • Then in vs. 3 comes the blessing of the following “Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep [follow, obey] what is written in it, because the time is near!”
  • I think the blessing here is important because blessings were common ways to open or to start a letter. They also help to define the audience of the letter. Who is being blessed here isn't made apparent just yet, though.
  • Who do you think is being directly addressed here? That's a question we'll come back to at a later point.
  • At verse 4, we already hit our first encounter with the word “seven.” In this context, the number is representing a specific number of churches in the roman province of Asia. This is different from the continent of Asia as we know it. These churches were actually quite close together, so it wouldn't be that difficult for someone to have visited them all on foot.
  • The number seven pops up a lot in the Bible. Does anyone know what it actually refers to? The way the Hebrew language works involves common roots and so words share meanings with related words. The word Sheva, or seven, shares a common root with the word saba which refers to “fullness or completeness.” What the number seven is actually referring to in the Bible typically isn't a literal number, but is actually talking about an embodiment of the fulness of God. This is best exemplified by Revelation 15:1 in which both the number seven and the word fullness or completeness are used together.
  • Vs. 1-8 together establish a view of Christ that is commonly found in the Gospel of John as espoused by “The One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” (vs 8)
  • Vs. 9 establishes the location of the author, John, on the isle of Patmos.
  • He writes that he hears a voice calling to him and telling him to write on a scroll what he hears and sees to the seven churches. (vs 9, 10)
  • A brief description is given of “One who is like the [a] Son of Mon” saying that he is dressed in a long robe, with a gold sash wrapped around his chest. His hair were wool that was as white as snow, and his voice had the sound of waters. The description also includes seven stars. (vs. 12-16)
  • What exactly is being talked about there? Who is being described, and for what purpose?
  • It is my view that what the author is talking about here is himself physically viewing Jesus as a deity. In keeping with the Jewish view of God, he is described by things of nature, and his actual “body” is left un-described. Additionally, the Jewish God was often described by things of nature—this case cascading waters—but as a more familiar example, the burning bush. The very Jewish name of God was something that wasn't intended to be spoken, but was more of a "concept" (not stating that God was solely a concept, but rather that this wasn't exactly a personal name like Andrew or John) than anything else. YHWH.
  • This “Son of Man” is described as having seven stars and seven lampstands (vs 12, 16). Though this may seem strange, the meaning is elaborated later in vs 20.
  • The secret [mystery] of the seven stars you saw in My right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands, is this: the seven stars are the angels [messengers] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands [that you saw] are the seven churches” (1:20)
  • So the cryptic imagery that was shown to us earlier is demystified a little bit, but we're still left wondering what exactly are these “angels.” Well, my Bible was nice enough to include the fact that a more accurate or alternate translation of the word angel is “messengers.” It has often been proposed that these angels are spiritual guardians of the churches, but another opinion is that they're more like the “pastors” or leaders of those churches. A messenger of the church, in my opinion, is perfectly valid to view as a pastor or deacon. Thus, we know that when John is writing to these seven “angels,” he is writing to the seven leaders of the churches.
  • These seven churches are as follows: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia (not the city of brotherly love), and Laodicea.
  • These churches are almost universally viewed as actual, physical churches found throughout the Roman province of Asia, and there is little reason to doubt these places actually existed. With that being said, though, there are some scholars who dispute the role these physical churches actually played in the writing of this letter.
  • The best way to view these churches is as examples that were chosen by the author that could be applied to all other churches. He praises, commends, critiques, and criticizes the church for it's deeds and shortcomings.
Chapter 2:
  • It starts off by commending the church for “your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil.” Clearly this church is a church that is prospering, doing well, and reaching out to others. (vs 2)
  • Additionally, those people who are in their congregation or among them have been tested. They have sorted the true followers from those who are liars.
  • The one complaint that lies with the church of Ephesus is that they have grown cold and have lost the life they once had in their spiritual lives.
  • The church as Smyrna was facing a lot of suffering and imprisonment for their faith.
  • A local synagogue had been giving them a lot of trouble by making false claims against them (vs. 9) which shows that there was clear religious competition in that area.
  • Simply put, this church is praised for its ability to withstand trials, and was one of the two churches who had no criticisms levied against them by the “Son of Man”
  • For the church at Pergamum, thing were worse than at Smyrna. They seem to have lost one of their most devout spiritual members, Antipas (vs 13), and have been crumbling under persecution.
  • This church was also experiencing a lot of trouble with their doctrine as several people had been introduced who were teaching things the “Son of Man” introduced in chapter 1 is unpleased with. (vs 14)
  • Additionally, a sect called the Nicolaitans (vs 15) has been found among them, and they are being called upon to repent of their errors and return to the way they once were.
  • If things weren't so great at Pergamum, they're awful at the church of Thyatira. Though they were praised for “your works—your love, faithfulness [faith], service, and endurance” (vs 19), they had troubles.
  • They were harboring a woman named Jezebel who claimed to be a prophetess and was apparently teaching things that were considered doctrinally incorrect and led people astray with her sexual teachings (vs. 20).
  • The prophetess Jezebel is threatened with a “great tribulation” (vs 22), and many scholars have proposed that she is a parallel to the great harlot mentioned later in chapters 17 and 18. This gives some credence, though not necessarily a whole lot as the actual historicity of these churches is fairly well established, to the view that these churches were more symbolic than anything.
Chapter 3:
  • The church of Sardis was the perfect example of a church that had started off great and “on fire” for God, but had essentially lost everything they once had and were now simply going through the motions.
  • As far as God was concerned they were about to die (vs. 2)
  • There was, however, a small remnant left within the church who still followed God's teaching, and they were called to rejuvenate the church and to wake up and change things. (vs 4)
  • Other than the church at Smyrna, this church was the only church that wasn't criticized at all.
  • They seemed to facing a lot of intense conflict, but hadn't denied the name of God, and were still following his teachings (vs 8).
  • As a result of this, they were promised protection during future tribulations (vs 10).
  • This church was highly praised for their deeds.
  • This church was the church in the worst shape spiritually. There was absolutely nothing positive said about them at all.
  • Their spiritual luke-warmness was condemned by God, and it was made clear it made him very unpleasant (vs 15, 16).
  • They were a rich church who had forgotten their calling to take care of the poor and the destitute, not realizing that this is what they were at the core (vs 17). They had let their material wealth blind them from the mission of God.
  • What significance does these churches hold for reading and viewing the rest of the book of Revelation? Answers vary, but in my opinion, they set a great example of how the rest of the book should be read.
  • The book of Revelation opens with a moral condemnation of certain spiritual practices being observed in local churches, while praising the habits of other churches. Clearly, in my opinion, this sets the compass for viewing the rest of the book as a moral or spiritual lesson portrayed using stunning visual imagery and an epic storyline.
  • If you're unsure how to view the churches, keep an open mind and as we progress through the study of the book of Revelation, keep coming back to them and reevaluating them with what you've recently read.
  • The next readings will be a bit more difficult, and will involve some heavier reading for you guys. Keep a journal or notebook of what you've read and things that puzzled you or stuck out so you don't forget what you've read as the week progresses.
  • Don't let it all build up on Tuesday night or you won't be prepared to discuss your opinions on Wednesday morning, and you also won't understand things very well.
Recommended Reading:
Revelation 4-8
Isaiah 6
(for those who want to read ahead)
Ezekiel 40-48
Hebrews 5-10

Friday, December 10, 2010

Starting off Revelation

So, for clarity, I'm going to start dividing the book of Revelation into various sections. I think that sometimes being overly divisive can be harmful, but in taking a hard look at, or a study of,  a Biblical text, I would generally call it a good thing. I also think that breaking it into sections can really help you understand what is going on in the book, and what is being implied. For a side note, I like to use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (used here) when possible or the New Oxford Annotated Bible.

Chapters 1-3 are essentially an introduction and a notice to the target audience. John is writing to these churches in Asia (not the modern continent, but more like the modern-day country of Turkey), and he is essentially scolding and commending them for the application of their faith.  These churches are Ephesus (good but losing their devotion), Smyrna (good and under persecution), Pergamum (generally good, but has trouble with false or "aberrant" teachings), Thyatira (similar to Pergamum), Sardis (slowly starting to die out), Philadelphia (good/praised), and Laodicea (awful).

Chapters 4-5 are a little bit different and now that we've already moved past the target audience and the introduction we get a little background about who God is and how we can describe him. In chapter 4 we open with the throne room of heaven, and as is typical, God is described kinda strangely through natural phenomena or occurrences. My favorite example of this is the burning bush where God is essentially portrayed through a fire that does not consume (Exodus 3). He is described as "like jasper and carnelian" (Revelation 4:3) which we learned were precious, valuable, and to many, beautiful minerals. We also see this "emerald rainbow [surrounding the throne]" (4:3) which is traditionally seen as a symbol of hope or promise. The throne of heaven should be seen as a promise. As usual, we see recurring use of the word seven. In chapter 5 we are introduced to the lamb (also referred to as the lion of Judah), and he is described as the only one who is worthy or capable of opening the seals (5:5). When we remember the importance of a seal (authenticity and a sort of security), we can see why the ability of the lamb to open the sealed scroll is important.

Okay, so I've put together this small post about the introduction to the book, and I will update soon with the information about the seals and the trumpets as we cover them more. Feel free to comment or to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Did The Canon Happen?

How exactly did this canon that we now know as our Bible come to be? This is a contentious issue that neither the left or right theological sides are able to agree upon (less than surprisingly). This post is going to be a bit on the longer side, but I think it's an interesting one, and a topic I absolutely adore. Here is a time line I "stole" from Columbia University, that I consider to be pretty reliable.


adapted from materials of Professor Paul Hahn of the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas

Development of the Old Testament Canon

1000-50 BC:
The Old Testament (hereafter "OT") books are written.
C. 200 BC:
Rabbis translate the OT from Hebrew to Greek, a translation called the "Septuagint" (abbreviation: "LXX"). The LXX ultimately includes 46 books.
AD 30-100:
Christians use the LXX as their scriptures. This upsets the Jews.
C. AD 100:
So Jewish rabbis meet at the Council of Jamniah and decide to include in their canon only 39 books, since only these can be found in Hebrew.
C. AD 400:
Jerome translates the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin (called the "Vulgate"). He knows that the Jews have only 39 books, and he wants to limit the OT to these; the 7 he would leave out (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach [or "Ecclesiasticus"], and Baruch--he calls "apocrypha," that is, "hidden books." But Pope Damasus wants all 46 traditionally-used books included in the OT, so the Vulgate has 46.
AD 1536:
Luther translates the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to German. He assumes that, since Jews wrote the Old Testament, theirs is the correct canon; he puts the extra 7 books in an appendix that he calls the "Apocrypha."
AD 1546:
The Catholic Council of Trent reaffirms the canonicity of all 46 books.

Development of the New Testament Canon

C. AD 51-125:
The New Testament books are written, but during this same period other early Christian writings are produced--for example, the Didache (c. AD 70), 1 Clement (c. 96), the Epistle of Barnabas (c. 100), and the 7 letters of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110).
C. AD 140:
Marcion, a businessman in Rome, teaches that there were two Gods: Yahweh, the cruel God of the OT, and Abba, the kind father of the NT. So Marcion eliminates the Old Testament as scriptures and, since he is anti-Semitic, keeps from the NT only 10 letters of Paul and 2/3 of Luke's gospel (he deletes references to Jesus' Jewishness). Marcion's "New Testament"--the first to be compiled--forces the mainstream Church to decide on a core canon: the four gospels and letters of Paul.
C. AD 200:
But the periphery of the canon is not yet determined. According to one list, compiled at Rome c. AD 200 (the Muratorian Canon), the NT consists of the 4 gospels; Acts; 13 letters of Paul (Hebrews is not included); 3 of the 7 General Epistles (1-2 John and Jude); and also the Apocalypse of Peter.
AD 367:
The earliest extant list of the books of the NT, in exactly the number and order in which we presently have them, is written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter letter of 367. [Note: this is well after the Constantine's Edict of Toleration in 313 A.D.]
AD 904:
Pope Damasus, in a letter to a French bishop, lists the New Testament books in their present number and order.
AD 1442:
At the Council of Florence, the entire Church recognizes the 27 books, though does not declare them unalterable.
AD 1536:
In his translation of the Bible from Greek into German, Luther removes 4 NT books (Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelations) from their normal order and places them at the end, stating that they are less than canonical.
AD 1546:
At the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church reaffirms once and for all the full list of 27 books as traditionally accepted."
 Source:  (Obviously, I don't own the rights to anything from Columbia University, I just thought it would be nice to provide a more tangible time line for people to view. All rights belong to their respective owner.)
Another time line for the New (or Second) Testament is provided by the Professor Dale B. Martin of Yale University. I've gone through his video series on the New Testament, and if you have the time, I would highly recommend it. If not, simply watching his lecture #2 "From Stories to Canon" would suffice. I won't paste this whole thing, but I will provide a link (it's a PDF format) to his note outline for the session which covers a much briefer, but more in-depth look at the early church and the canon. Here is a link to the session you can listen to, or even watch in a flash video.

Another important happening in the "early" church's history was the Council of Carthage (took place over multiple centuries, actually, through various synods or meetings). This essentially established a canon very similar to what he have in the modern day by solidifying what Athanasius (the Bishop of the church of Alexandria) had written to be scripture in 367. A more precise list of what was established at this council is:
  • The Council of Carthage, called the third by Denzinger,[4] on 28 August 397 issued a canon of the Bible quoted as, "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kingdoms, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, the Davidic Psalter, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Ezra, 2 books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 letter of his to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Jude, and one book of the Apocalypse of John."
Okay, okay, the information I've provided above has all been of the historical-critical tradition, and isn't typically what you would hear in church or consider "orthodox." To be completely fair to every perspective of the history of the Bible (Biblical canon), I'll provide a time line that is more orthodox. Here is the website for this, and I'll paste an excerpt for use here. As always, the rights of this information are the sole property of its owner(s). Legal blah, blah, blah.

"The New Testament


45- 95 A.D. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts are all dated from 45-63 A.D. The Gospel of John and the Revelation may have been written as late as 95 A.D.


There are over 5,600 early Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence. The oldest manuscripts were written on papyrus and the later manuscripts were written on leather called parchment.
  • 125 A.D. The New Testament manuscript which dates most closely to the original autograph was copied around 125 A.D, within 35 years of the original. It is designated "p 52" and contains a small portion of John 18. (The "p" stands for papyrus.)
  • 200 A.D. Bodmer p 66 a papyrus manuscript which contains a large part of the Gospel of John.
  • 200 A.D. Chester Beatty Biblical papyrus p 46 contains the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews.
  • 225 A.D. Bodmer Papyrus p 75 contains the Gospels of Luke and John.
  • 250-300 A.D. Chester Beatty Biblical papyrus p 45 contains portions of the four Gospels and Acts.
  • 350 A.D. Codex Sinaiticus contains the entire New Testament and almost the entire Old Testament in Greek. It was discovered by a German scholar Tisendorf in 1856 at an Orthodox monastery at Mt. Sinai.
  • 350 A.D. Codex Vaticanus: {B} is an almost complete New Testament. It was cataloged as being in the Vatican Library since 1475."
What I've provided is just a very brief excerpt from the website as I don't really want to "overload" my post with way too much information. Like in everything religious, everywhere you go, you're going to find a different opinion. Wrapping up this post, I think there are just a few things you need to know.
  • Canon -- a standard of measuring. In this case of a Biblical canon, this is the "standard" of the Bible, or the books that are included.
  • Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate are two common Bible translations that are historically quite important.
  • The Apocrypha is the group of books that are rejected by the Protestant and Jewish canon, but accepted in the Roman Catholic Canon (excepted as deuterocanonical [second canon] books).
  • And The Council of Carthage which establishes "finally" a canon that resembles something we are more familiar with.
  •  The Council of Trent re-establishes the authority of the apocryphal (deuterocanonical) books.
  • The history of the Bible and the various canons it has developed from is far from a well-paved, easy to travel road. Though what each church now holds as sacred is unlikely to change, there are variations in everyone's Bible depending on where they live.
For those of you who are curious, here is a link to a wiki about the various Biblical canons and the books included in them. Yeah, yeah, I know that wikipedia is "less than reliable," but I think this table is something difficult to find elsewhere, and is really interesting.

P.S. Many thanks to Paul. I've updated the post with a bit more information!

What About Daniel?

It's common among a multitude of theological circles to view the book of Daniel as a prophetic book that should be read along with the book of Revelation as an outline for the future. However, I can't help but think that such a perspective is mistaken at the core by viewing the book of Daniel as book of prophecy when it's more a book of history about the Jews and their persecution. The book opens with the tale of Daniel and his noble friends (Daniel and his friends were something of royalty) who are carried off into Babylonian captivity. What follows are the tales of Daniel and his friends. Later in the book, is what's more important for eschatology (dealing with end times) purposes, though. Daniel has strange visions concerning all sorts of one strange thing after another. What do all these strange things mean? Are they really a prophecy about the future?

Though the answer to this is certainly a bit subjective, I think it's best to view these strange images as history or as a political critique. What this is presented as is a prophecy from the sixth century (the date the book is traditionally considered to have been written around)? However, more modern scholarship has put its date of authorship sometime in the mid-second century. Wouldn't that make this book a little bit of a "cheater" or a "liar" for making "prophecies" about things that have already happened (making a "prophecy" of events from the perspective of the 600s when you're writing from the 200s)? To understand what I mean, we'll look at a fictional scenario. Suppose I'm confronted with a scenario in which there is a briefcase in front of me with a number in it, and I can earn a million dollars by guessing the number that's inside of this briefcase. If I randomly guessed and got the number, I would deserve the money reward.

If I peeked (as displayed by my elegant paint drawing), then guessed the number, that would be cheating and I shouldn't get anything (except punishment, maybe). So why are things different with the book of Daniel? As the link below describes in slightly better detail, this sort of quasi-prophetic writing wasn't foreign to the people of that time period. In fact, it would have been familiar to the people of that time to present a history or past story as a future prophecy. The coded symbolism (strange beasts, horns, statues, and other interesting things) is subject to interpretation, of course. This is from the link below:

"The summaries we have given above indicate the striking double focus of the Book of Daniel.  The stories center on Jews who lived in the sixth century and on issues that were important for people in the dispersion.  The revelations, however, wherever we can be sure of the situation to which they relate, speak to the predicament of Jews who lived in Jerusalem in the second century in the religious crisis brought about in Judea by the political policies of Antiochus IV.
So was the book written in the sixth century or in the second (or some time in between)?  Was it that God led sixth-century believers to put into writing stories that directly spoke to issues that concerned their situation in exile, and also gave them previews of events to unfes no necessary difference to one’s understanding of the contents of the book, so that readers who takeold over the next four centuries which would be primarily relevant to Jerusalem in the second century?  Or was it that God led second-century believers to collect earlier stories of the faithfulness which Jews experienced from God and showed to God, and gave them further revelations regarding their destiny now, which built on that earlier material and which they could add to it?
In discussing this question scholars have taken into account a number of factors such as the nature of the languages in which Daniel is written (a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic with a number of words imported from Persian, Greek, and other languages).  But the most significant determinant of their attitudes has been their attitude to that fundamental question of what God seems more likely to have done.
In my opinion the second view is much the more likely; see further the discussion of the visions in the book at the end of chapter 4 below.  But one’s attitude to this question mak the traditional view that the book was written in the sixth century will not necessarily thereby find that they disagree about the book’s themes - though in practice people who believe that the visions came from the sixth century tend also to assume that they refer directly to events such as the millennium."

I most certainly don't expect everyone to read the entire following document (I didn't), but I skimmed through it, and found some of its material to be helpful. I think the above quote is very important to remember before you start pulling the book of Daniel into your views about the future of the world. How one views these things is undoubtedly up for debate, but everyone should at least be willing to look at other views and to see what they have to offer. Perhaps Daniel is actually written as a book of prophecy yet to unfold, or, as mentioned here, perhaps it's more an inspiring tale of Jewish struggles with a critique of the Roman Empire thrown in.

It should be noted that I don't own the right to the .rtf document I linked here. The rights to that belong solely to its owner and creator, of which I am neither. My use of it was for private purposes.

The Different Perspectives About Revelation

There are five main ways through which the text is commonly viewed that I will highlight in this post. I think it's important to note that there are so many views on the book of Revelation that I couldn't possibly list them all. I think that these views have the most scholarship behind them to merit conversation, though, and so I will briefly list all of them.
  1. The Futurist view – this view is the most familiar and treats the Book of Revelation (and other texts as well) as a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled and specifically concerns the end of the world. This is probably the most common view by Protestants and is best represented in The Left Behind series.
Strengths: This view typically counts a literal reading of the text as its most prominent strength.
Weaknesses: There is no real reason given in the text that it should be interpreted literally.
  1. The Historicist view – this view sees the book of Revelation as a book of prophecy, but one that does not exclusively refer to the end times or the end of the world. The Historical view asserts that the book of Revelation has been fulfilled throughout history since its writing. Most Historicists believe that every prophecy in the book of Revelation has been fulfilled already.
Strengths: The historicist view can make compelling arguments by displaying how certain passages in Revelation and Daniel seem to line up perfectly with historical events.
Weaknesses: There is no reason to believe that any of the historical events that a historicist points to actually fit the narratives found in the various texts. Most of the texts are vague, and can easily be molded to fit just about any historical occurrence.
  1. The Preterist view – this view is the most common view among the Roman Catholic Church (or at least was for a while) and is somewhat similar to the Historicist view. This view asserts that the book of Revelation is not a book of prophecy but is a “secret” (written in code so as not to be obviously seen as a political or historical critique by the Roman empire) text that records the history of the first century, and especially criticizes the Roman Empire.
Strengths: The text of Revelation was likely written at the very end of the 1st century (between 90 and 99 AD/CE) situating it in the perfect time to write a historical critique. Additionally the Jewish nation underwent a lot of change and unrest in the first century culminating in the destruction of the temple in the year 70.
Weaknesses: There isn't a direct reason to interpret this text as historical other than the rejection of certain oddities that come from a literal interpretation. Certain events or passages described can be seen as difficult to perfectly “fit” with 1st century occurrences.
  1. The Idealist/Radical Discipleship view – this view is probably the least common view both in the modern age and throughout the history of the church. That doesn't mean this view doesn't have a lot to offer, though. The idealist view does not refer to an “optimistic” view of the text, but rather stems from the Greek view of idea which was that of something ephemeral or symbolic of meaning. Essentially, this view looks at the book of Revelation as a worship narrative and as a text that can be viewed personally throughout any age. The Radical Discipleship view is similar asserting that the book of Revelation is a call to grow deeper in a personal relationship with Christ and to truly follow his commands and examples.
Strengths: This view has garnered support through the use of modern scholarship and historical-critical academia. What could be this view's greatest strength is that it views the other perspectives as mistaken at the core by asserting that the book of Revelation is very much a book to be read personally.
Weaknesses: The majority of the support of this view has not been historical, but recent within the last few centuries specifically. Additionally, this view relies on viewing almost an entire text as symbolic without providing a grounds for picking what is symbolic and what is literal.
  1. Social-political narrative – this view asserts that the book of Revelation is largely a critique of the Roman Empire's politics as well as the ways the Roman Empire was affecting the Jewish society and the other societies it had conquered.. This view is different from the Preterist view in that it does not view the book of Revelation as a historical document as well.
Strengths: Many of the passages in Revelation can easily be seen as a political critique or social narrative given the context the book was written in.
Weaknesses: This view has historically never had as significant of support as the Preterist view, and generally lacks a large body of scholarship to back up its views.

Studying A Book of the Bible

There are just a few things that you have to keep in mind when you start to study a book of the Bible. These three things, in my opinion, are as follows: context (political, social, time period), purpose (why the text was written), and intended audience (who the text was written to). You can't fully study or appreciate a book of the Bible till you're willing to do all three of these things.

With all this in mind, there are also a few words that you need to keep in mind as you begin to study a book of the Bible. There are without a doubt more words that are important to the full exegetical studying of a text, but I think that these are the ones of prime importance.
  • Exegesis – the critical explanation or study of a text; this text is typically a religious text.
  • Hermeneutics – the study of how texts are interpreted and the methods with which to do so.
  • Canon/Canonical – a canon is a accepted group of books. Canonical means a book that is accepted into a given canon.
 As you go through a book of the bible, chapter-by-chapter, it's important that you journal your thoughts on the matter and your opinions about it. If something stands out in particular, you should write the verse down, so it's easier to find at a later point. Additionally, try not to single out any particular part of the text as special, but try to view the text as a whole with one unified theme. Admittedly, most texts have multiple themes that are presented in a complicated manner, but if you tie these themes back into the audience they're written for in the context of when it was written, they're normally easier to understand.

With all this in mind, I think we're ready to delve into the complicated but interesting text that is Revelation.