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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Revelation 11-13

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

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

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