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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!