IV. Synopsis and Commentary
A. Step A1: Prologue (1:1-9)
Rev 1:1-3 introduced the document and explained its dissemination. Its first word described the contents: Apocalypse ("a revealing" in Greek). The document revealed a vision of the end times that an angel brought to John (Rev 1:1). Notice the intermediate role of a heavenly messenger was common in Christian (Jude 1:9, 1 Thes 4:16, Luke 1:10-20, Luke 1:26-38) and inter-Testamental Jewish literature (Dan 10:13-21, 1 Enoch 9:1-3, 10:4-6,9, 20:7, 40:9). The vision itself related "the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:2) that needed to be read to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Because it described immanent events, it cast a blessing on those who read it aloud in a liturgical setting and those members of the congregation who heeded its words (Rev 1:3).
Rev 1:4-8 acted as a unique salutation. On the one hand, it framed a standard form of greeting ("from...to..."); like the salutations found the Pauline letters, it also included a phrase akin to "grace and peace from God" (1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:1-2, 1 Cor 1:1-3, Phil 1:1-2, 2 Cor 1:1-2, Gal 1:1-5, Rom 1:1-7, Col 1:1-2, Eph 1:1-2). On the other hand, however, it morphed, according to some scholars, into an opening dialogue for liturgy:
Call: Grace and peace to you from he who is and he who was and he who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are present before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth (Rev 1:4-5).
Response: To him who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his spilled blood—and he formed us into a Kingdom, as priests to his God and Father—to him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (Rev 1:5-6).
Call: Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, including those who pierced him. All the tribes of the earth will mourn over him (Rev 1:7)
Response: Yes, indeed. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "he who is and he who was and he who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev 1:7-8).
The phrase "from he who is and he who was and he who is to come" (Rev 1:4) rang as hard in Greek as it does in English for it changed the object of the preposition from the objective case ("him") to the subjective case ("he"); the first part of the phrase ("from he who is") hearkened back to the name YHWH ( "I am who am"; Exo 3:14). Rev 1:4-5 evoked a Trinitarian greeting where "from he who is and he who was and he who is to come" referred to the Father, the seven Spirits referred to the Spirit (the number seven could infer completeness instead of the count of individual entities) and Jesus Christ as the Son; in the case of Jesus, Rev 1:5 proclaimed his activity and status in a creedal style. Rev 1:5-6 answered the creed with a statement of salvation; the Lord saved the faithful by his Passion and appointed them as a Kingdom of priests (Exo 19:6, Isa 61:6). After the declaration of faith, Rev 1:7 proclaimed faith in the Second Coming while Rev 1:8 reiterated the "he who is...", sandwiching that phrase between a profession in the divine timelessness and power.
Notice the narrative mentioned phrase "he who is..." twice (Rev 1:4, Rev 1:8). If we include everything attached to that phrase (Trinitarian profession in Rev 1:4-6 and response in Rev 1:8 as A steps), we discover a chiastic structure where the proclamation of the Second Coming (Rev 1:7) acted as the B step. Indeed, Rev 1:8 itself created a mini-chiastic structure where attributes of divinity surround the "he who is..." phrase. In other words, the return of Christ would reveal not only the fullness of the Trinity but the very nature of God.
Rev 1:9 described the fellowship John shared with the suffering communities in Asia Minor; it identified the author and the audience with Jesus in his Passion and Risen Glory ("persecution, Kingdom and endurance"). It also described the place of authorship (the Aegean island of Patmos) and the reason for his banishment ("because of God's Word and the testimony of Jesus"); the verse inferred Roman authorities banished him to a small island off the coast of Asia Minor for subversive speech (evangelization).
B. Step B1: Letters
to the Seven Churches (1:10-3:22)
1. Vision of the Son of Man (1:10-20)
The Vision of
the Seven Candlesticks
We can divide this vision into the call by the "son of man", his description and his monologue. Rev 1:10-11 described the call as a charismatic vision ("in the Spirit") on a Sunday ("day of the Lord"; Rev 1:10, see Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2, Didache 14:1). We do not know whether the vision occurred in a liturgical setting as a prophetic utterance (1 Cor 14) or in an ecstatic state. Such utterances and trances were common in ancient times; both pagan and Christian mystic prophets claimed divine visions. So, their message, not their other worldly experience, gave them legitimacy. John, like many before him, claimed a vision as the reason for writing down its contents, but he would be measured by the message given to the seven churches.
Some scholars insist John listed the churches in their order along a trade route that began on the Aegean Sea in Ephesus, ran northward to Smyrna and Pergamon, then shifted south to the inland communities of Thyatria, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (Rev 1:11). This geographic order could allow a messenger to proclaim John's vision one community at a time.
The sharp command, like that of a trumpet (Eze 3:12), acted as a transition to present a scene in the heavenly court. "...one like a son of man..." was dressed like a high priest among seven lamp stands (Rev 1:12-13); his floor length robe (Exo 28, Wis 18:24) and golden sash (Exo 28:4, Exo 39:29) indicated such exalted status. His facial appearance echoed the "Ancient of Days" image in Dan 7:9 (also see Transfiguration accounts in Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36, 2 Pet 1:16-18); his shining feet reflected the prophet's vision in Dan 10:5-6; his prophetic utterances recalled Isa 11:4, Isa 49:2 (the tongue which proclaimed God's Word thrusting out of his mouth like the blade of a two edged sword, see Rev 19:10; Rev 1:14-16). The way John reacted (falling prostrate) echoed the prophet's response in Dan 10:9 (Rev 1:16).
The figure placed his hand on John and ordered calm (Dan 10:10-12). Then he revealed who he was, equating himself with the divine. Like the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8), he was "the first and the last." He was the Living One, like YHWH whom the Jews professed as the Living God (Josh 3:10, Jer 10:10, Jer 23:36). He was the "I AM" (echoing Exo 3:14, see John's gospel). He died and rose to life again so he gained power over both death itself and the destiny of those who had died (Rev 1:17-18).
After the "son of man" revealed his true nature and power, he instructed John to write down the vision of the seven stars he held in his hand (1:16) and the seven lamp stands (Rev 1:12). The stars and the lamp stands were metaphors; the stars represented the seven angels of the churches and the lamp stands represented the communities themselves (Rev 1:20). We should note here the significance of the number seven in ancient Judaism; it could mean a individual count, a sense fullness and completion (like the "seven spirits" of Rev 1:4) or both.
Numerology carried great weight in the ancient world, both in Judaism and in Hellenic culture. Among Jews the numbers 7 and 12 meant fullness, while the number 6 indicated inferiority. In the Greek world, the symmetry found in geometry heavily influenced the Platonic notions of God (the One) and humanity (balanced in gender pairs). Both cultures noticed how the cosmos ran according to laws of nature that could be reduced to mathematical models. Both employed number systems to explore the meanings of sacred texts and the forecast of future events. Numbers and mathematical systems acted as gates into the mind of God for both Jew and Greek. Hence, as we continue to explore the book of Revelation, we will ask both the meaning and the significance of the numbers in the times John wrote.
2. Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)
a. Structure of the Messages
The messages from the son of man figure shared a similar structure with common elements:
1) Command to the angel: "To the angel of the church in (city) write..." (Rev 2:1, Rev 2:8, Rev 2:12, Rev 2:18, Rev 3:1, Rev 3:7, Rev 3:14)
2) Description of command author as divine: "(Description) says these things..." (Rev 2:1, Rev 2:8, Rev 2:12, Rev 2:18, Rev 3:1, Rev 3:7, Rev 3:14). The phrase "says these things" signified an official pronouncement from one in power; hence, one could translate it as "pronounced" or "declared" the statement. Specific description of the command author is below with each church.
3) Knowledge of lifestyle within each community: "I know your works..." (Rev 2:2, Rev 2:9, Rev 2:13, Rev 2:19, Rev 3:1, Rev 3:8, Rev 3:15). The term for "works" was "ergon" in Greek. In Paul's vocabulary ergon referred to a duty demanded by the Torah; even though the author of Revelation was a Jewish Christian, he spoke of the behaviors that revealed the spirituality found in each local church.
4) Concluding admonishment to hear the message: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev 2:7, Rev 2:11, Rev 2:17, Rev 2:26, Rev 3:6, Rev 3:13, Rev 3:22)
5) Concluding promise to the faithful: "To those who overcome (evil), I will..." (Rev 2:7, Rev 2:11, Rev 2:17, Rev 2:29, Rev 3:5, Rev 3:12, Rev 3:21)
b. Messages to the Churches
1) Ephesus (2:1-7)
Patron Goddess of Ephesus
Ephesus lie at the mouth of the Cayster River and acted as the major seaport for the region of Asia Minor; it contained a large, diverse population with a cosmopolitan character. The city attracted pilgrims to its vast temple dedicated to Artemis, goddess of hunting, and to the temple erected to the cult of the Emperors (specifically Domitian, 81-96 CE). Paul visited the area first in 51 CE (Acts 18:19-21), then returned for a three year stay ion his third missionary journey (Acts 19-20).
John began his message to the Ephesian community by describing the command author as the one possessing power over the churches ("holding the seven stars, walking among the seven lamp stands"; Rev 1:16, Rev 1:20; Rev 2:1). Through the mouth of this command author, he recognized the struggle of the Ephesians in the face of opposition. Acts 19:21-41 reported a civic unrest directed at the faithful, so we can assume the city had a tradition of anti-Christian attitudes. Church members maintained a fierce allegiance to their faith even in the face of missionaries ("so-called apostles") with a competing message (Rev 2:2-3). What they had in calm determination, they lacked in loving enthusiasm (Rev 2:4) In other words, they possessed the right faith (orthodoxy) but lost the inner cohesion that gave the community a real spark to attract new comers (orthopraxy). Because they lacked that "first love," they needed to reform, otherwise they would lose their place among the other churches (Rev 2:5); implicitly, they would wither and die.
John recognized the Ephesians rejected the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6, Rev 2:15). Scholars have debated what their name and movement meant without consensus. Nicolaitans could refer to the "followers of Nickolaus" or to etymological meaning of the word, "victory of the people" in Greek. The verses in Revelation did not clearly specify either their beliefs or practices, but they could have argued for a more accommodating stance with pagan neighbors (see comments on Pergamon).
The message to the Ephesian community closed with the common admonition and promise for the reward of eternal life ("eat from the tree of life in God's paradise"; Rev 2:7; see Gen 2:9).
2) Smyrna (2:8-11)
Agora at Smyrna
Thirty five miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna also lay on the Aegean coast with a fine harbor. It contained a large Jewish quarter that, according to later writings, actively opposed the nascent Christian movement. In 26 CE, city fathers joined the regional competition to imperial cult, dedicating a temple to worship of the emperor Tiberius.
John described the command author as the Risen One ("...the first and the last...dead...come back to life" (Rev 1:17-18; Rev 2:8). Through the mouth of the command author, he recognized the faithful in Smyrna had been marginalized, both socially and economically ("your poverty"). He also witnessed prejudice by the Jewish community against the church there, even warning them of a short imprisonment ("ten days") followed by martyrdom (Rev 2:9-10). Yet, he held the faithful had the gift of endurance (spiritual "riches"; 2:9), even to the point of death, but would receive eternal life ("the crown of life"; 2:10) and avoid the total destruction of the "second death" (Rev 2:11, Rev 20:6; see the "lake of fire" in Rev 20:14 and Rev 21:8).
We cannot leave this passage without noting the antisemitism found in Rev 2:9 (also see Rev 3:9). John was a Jewish Christian, but he condemned his fellow Jews as those who abandoned God's chosen people and followed Satan simply because they did not accept the Good News. Of course, open animosity between the groups heightened the rhetoric but the author so rejected those who opposed the Jesus movement that he judged them in the harshest terms possible. Such was the polluted cultural environment in the area during the late first century CE.
3) Pergamon (2:12-17)
Temple to Trajan
Pergamon lay forty miles north of Smyrna and developed as a center for religious pilgrimage. It contained renown temples to Zeus and Asclepius, the pagan god of healing. It also had the first temple dedicated to imperial cult with the erection of a temple that honored Augustus and the goddess Roma in 29 BCE.
The worship of the emperors (or, more accurately, the divine will that empowered their rule) grew out of a Persian tradition that Alexander the Great adopted in his conquest. Local peoples considered their rulers as higher, not only on the social ladder, but in terms of character; they were "closer to the gods." Their proximity to divinity blurred the line between their exalted rulers and the gods. Worship of the rulers or the divine will found in the rulers was just the next step in that logic.
Romans initially found that logic abhorrent. The city fathers at Pergamon sought to honor Augustus and ingratiated their city in the good graces of the imperial family by building such a temple. The emperor acquiesced only if it also honored the Rome's civic deity, thus mollifying the sensibilities of those in imperial capital. Pergamon was the first city in Asia Minor to erect a temple honoring the emperor and, thus, was preeminent in imperial cult.
Zeus on his Throne
With that background in mind, we can see why John called the city "where Satan's throne is" (Rev 2:13). The author referred to one or all of the statues that portrayed Zeus, Ascleipius, Roma and Augustus as so completely abhorrent that he saw the city as the capital of evil incarnate. The civic furor of the such a shrine center clashed with Christian spirituality, leading to martyrdom ("Antipas" in Rev 2:14).
Despite their endurance to such outside pressure, local believers faced an internal threat: cultural accommodation. They were tempted to eat meat offered to idols, either purchased at the local market or during city-wide religious festivals (Rev 2:14; see 1 Cor 8). If they abstained for conscience sake, they faced abuse from their pagan neighbors who thought they were odd at best, anti-social at worst. If they indulged, they ate one of the few sources of meat protein available to them.
Did some Christians partake in ritual prostitution ("sexual immorality") like the libertines of 1 Cor 6:12-16? Some scholars doubt this scenario, since ritual prostitution existed only in the cult of Venus/Aphrodite and the city did not have such a temple (while Corinth gained notoriety for such a worship center). Instead, these experts viewed such a charge as metaphorical. In other words, they consider "sexual immorality" as a symbol for accommodation.
In the words of command author, John condemned such accommodation in the harshest terms possible. He described the situation as the temptation to apostasy posed by Balaam the seer and Balak the Moab king (Num 22-24). He connected the Nicolaitans to this teaching and threatened divine retribution ("war with the sword of my mouth"; Rev 2:14-16). However, he promised those who resisted the temptation the heavenly meal ("hidden manna") and a place marker ("white stone" whose meaning is uncertain); on the stone would be carved a secret "name known only to the one who received it" (Rev 2:17); this verse could refer to the sacraments of Eucharist ("hidden manna") and Baptism ("new name" as an adopted baptismal name).
John described the command author as a prophetic voice ("...sharp two-edged sword..." in Rev 1:16; Rev 2:12). Notice the parallel between this true voice of God's word and that of the false prophet Balaam; those who followed the Lord would find life, but those who followed false teachers (Nicolaitans) would find death.
4) Thyatira (2:18-29)
Thyatira lay forty miles southeast of Pergamon in a broad valley. The city acted as a hub for trade guilds including dye and metal workers.
John described the command author as the Glorious One who had implicitly endured testing ("...eyes like flames of fire...feet like burnished brass..." in Rev 1:14-15; Rev 2:18). In the words of command author, he praised the community for the love it shared among its members (unlike Ephesus; Rev 2:19). However, he noted it suffered from the same temptation to accommodation found in Pergamon; he even slurred the female prophet who permitted the consumption of meat offered to idols as "Jezebel," a reference to the idolatrous wife of King Ahaz (1 Kings 18:1-5, 1 Kings 19:1-3, 1 Kings 21:5-24; Rev 2:20). Because of her intransigence, he promised her utter destruction along with those who followed her teachings (Rev 2:21-23); notice the imagery that focused on sexuality (adultery and punishment on a bed of shame). That punishment would reveal the power of the Son of God (Rev 2:18, the only use of this title in Revelation). He promised those who did not follow her teaching ("deep things of Satan"; Rev 2:24) ruthless power over the pagans ("the nations"," ruling them with "an iron rod, shattering them like clay pots," see Psalm 2:9; Rev 2:26-27) and his own presence ("morning star"; Rev 2:28); the survivors of testing would share in the glory of the One who had been tested.
5) Sardis (3:1-6)
Temple to Artemis
Sardis lay thirty miles southeast of Thyatira and grew into an important commercial center. It honored the pagan goddess Cybele, mother of the Persian gods, with a temple. As the former capital of Croesus, it possessed formidable defenses and was taken twice only by stealth (Cyrus in 586 BCE and Antiochus the Great in 218 BCE). It had a prominent Jewish population.
In the words of command author, John criticized the community for its paper-thin spirituality ("reputation for being alive, but you are dead"; Rev 3:1). He urged believers there to revive their initial enthusiasm and outreach ("wake up") just as they remembered their excitement when they first believed; otherwise, the Lord would return suddenly just like the city fell by stealth (see Matt 24:43-44; Rev 3:2-3). He praised the faithful remnant who would wear white (reminiscent of their baptismal garments), insisted these holy ones would not have their names deleted from the "Book of Life" and claimed the Lord would witness to them ("confess their names") in the heavenly court ("before God and his angels"; Rev 3:4-5); note the three steps mentioned included proper court attire (white; see 1 Enoch 62:15-16), registration in official documents (Book of Life) and public recognition before royalty and the ruling class.
The "Book of Life" deserved special mention. It occurred in the Hebrew Scriptures at Exo 32:32-33, Psa 69:28, Isa 4:3 and Mal 3:16). While it contained the names of the righteous "from the foundation of the world" (Rev 17:8), it did not guarantee the names would remain within it (implied in Rev 3:5); the loss of one's name in the book meant death (Psa 69:28).
The text described the author of the command as one possessing the fullness of the Spirit ("seven Spirits of God") and the mission to the churches ("seven angels"; Rev 1:4, Rev 1:16; Rev 3:1). He threatened the community with judgment while he enticed them with the promise of eternal life.
6) Philadelphia (3:7-13)
Philadelphia (modern day Alasehir in Turkey) lay thirty miles south of Sardis as a commercial and cultural center for the region. It suffered almost utter destruction from an earthquake in 17 CE but received some material assistance and tax breaks from the Emperor in order to rebuild. Implied in the text, it had a small Christian community and a hostile Jewish section.
The text introduced the author of the command as unpolluted ("holy"), faithful ("true") and powerful ("who has the key of David", see Isa 22:20-24; Rev 1:18; Rev 3:7). It applied those attributes to the condition of the believers in the city, highlighted by three "Look!" phrases. It implied the one who held the "key of David," the one who had the power in the kingdom to open or close access to the ruler, would forever open that "door," allowing those who remained faithful despite their small number intimacy with God (first "Look" in Rev 3:8). Such closeness to God would even compel Jews who opposed the nascent Christian community there (second "Look") to recognize their status as beloved by God (third "Look"; note the subjugation of the Gentiles to the Jews promised in Isa 45:14, Isa 49:23 and Isa 60:14 had been reversed in Rev 3:9).
In the words of the command author, John promised that, because of dogged endurance found in the faithful Philadelphians, they would received some comfort in the coming Tribulation (Rev 3:10). He backed up that statement with hope of Jesus' immanent return, not as a judge but as a savior; so the believers should wait for their reward ("wreath crown"; Rev 3:11). Here, he turned to the metaphor of the strong believer as a key, unmoved component ("pillar") in the Lord's Temple. This faithful one would reveal the power of God, his heaven based community ("new Jerusalem") and the Christ himself (Rev 3:12); in this sense, the "name" meant the identity and power of the One the believer represented.
7) Laodicea (3:14-22)
Street in Laodicea
Forty miles south of Philadelphia, Laodicea lay on a major trade road where the small rivers of Aspus and Caprus flow into the larger Lycus river. Because of its location, it developed into large commercial center known for textiles, banking and medical training. After an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 60 CE, it received assistance to rebuild from an imperial grant. It had a good view of the falls from the hot spring waters sourced in Hierapolis; by the time the waters flowed into the city, they were lukewarm and repugnant due to its sulfurous stench. It also lay close to Colossae, known for its pure cold stream waters. The city had a reputation for wealth and opulence that even touched its Christian community.
In the words of the command author, John used the hot and cold springs as a metaphorical commentary on that church's spiritual life. Instead of a passionate endurance in the face of opposition or a cold indifference, the believers at Laodicea wallowed in a smug self-sufficiency that the city's wealth allowed them (Rev 3:15-17). Compare their false sense of self containment with that of the command author who was truly complete. The "Amen" referred to the end or "Omega" while the "beginning" ("arche" in Greek) referred to the source or originator ("Alpha") of creation (Rev 1:8, Rev 1:17; Rev 3:14). This verse echoed the same themes in Rev 2:1.
John viewed the community's false image as wretchedness, describing their condition with three qualities: poor, blind and naked. He urged them to turn to the Lord for spiritual riches (poverty), white (baptismal) clothing (nakedness) and eye medicine (blindness; Rev 3:17-18). He challenged them to return to a passionate faith even in the face of opposition (Rev 3:19). Then, he turned the image of the powerful key holder (Rev 3:7-8) into the meek visitor who knocked but did not violate the privacy of the resident. The one knocking sought entry and meal fellowship (a reference to the Eucharist; Rev 3:20); those who heeded his call would rule for their victorious endurance, just as the Lord had overcome his trials (Rev 3:21). This gentle invitation and promise counter-balanced the sharp image of the Lord vomiting the community (Rev 3:16).
C. Step C1: Seven Seals (4:1-8:1)
1. The Heavenly Court: Power of Creation (4:1-11)
The vision of the heavenly court acted as a transition from the judgment/call of the seven churches to the subject of the eschaton. The One who had the power of the keys opened a passage into heaven. With the clarion voice ("like a trumpet" see Rev 1:10), he called John to see "things that must happen after this" (Rev 4:1). Just as in his preamble of message to the churches (Rev 1:10-11), he called upon John to witness from a divine perspective.
John found himself caught up in divine power ("in the Spirit") which allowed him to see the transcendent source of that power, the heavenly throne (Rev 4:2). As a Jewish Christian, he could not portray YHWH as an image in art and so in writing, but he could describe the sign of his authority, the ruler's throne.
First, John beheld God's glory as bright lights; precious jewels and an emerald rainbow acted as similes for this sight (Rev 4:3). Then he gazed upon the divine throne surrounded by the seats of 24 lesser powers ("elders"), all arrayed in white, baptismal tunics with gold crowns (Rev 4:4). He noticed the power emanating from the divine throne, expressed in forces of extreme weather ("lightening...thunder"), charisms of the Spirit ("seven flaming torches...seven Spirits of God" see Acts 2:3; a possible reference to Isa 11:2-3) and creation itself ("sea of glass" was watery firmament above the earth found in Gen 1:7 and Psa 104:3; see 2 Enoch 3:3). He also saw four creatures implicitly support the throne (each upholding a corner of the throne) these beings were ever vigilant ("full of eyes, before and behind"; Rev 4:6). The creatures recalled those found in Ezekiel's vision ("merkabah" or chariot in Eze 1:5-11) and were popular in other apocalyptic writings (1 Enoch 71:1, 39:12, 61:11-12; 2 Enoch 19:16). The face of each creature represented an aspect of creation: wild nature (lion), domestic agriculture (ox), human activity (man) and the lowest heaven (eagle; Rev. 4:8). John compared the creatures with the seraphim found in Isaiah's vision in the Temple ("six wings" in Isaiah 6:1-3; Rev 4:8), thus folding the famous prophetic visions of the divine into his own.
John witnessed the heavenly liturgy in a dialogue fashion. The cry of the creatures acted as the call to worship ("Holy, holy, holy" reflecting Isa 6:3, Enoch 39:12, 2 Enoch 19:6, along with a repetition of the title in Rev 1:8; the term "Almighty" could be found in Rev 1:8, Rev 11:17, Rev 15:3, Rev 16:7, Rev 21:22). The "elders" responded with an act of prostrated worship/loyalty ("fall down...throw crowns") and response of praise ("...glory and honor..." from Psa 29:1, Psa 96:7); both the creatures and elders praised God for his creative power ("...you created all things..."; Rev 4:9-11).
The Jewish meaning of numbers played a significant part in the vision. The numbers 7 and 12 represented completion and perfection; the number three meant perfection on a lesser degree than 7 while the number 4 denoted creation. Notice the three signs "before the throne" (weather, fullness of the Spirit, sea of glass) revealed divine power in creation, while the four creatures signified divine power over aspects of creation (nature, domestic farming, human affairs, realm of the birds); added together, all these encompassed the creative power of God through the eyes of ancient believers. These seven signs portrayed the complete and perfect power of God in the cosmos. In response to displays of his power, the 24 "elders" fell down in worship; note the multiple of 12 reinforced the notion that the heavenly worship (reflected in Christian liturgy) was complete, hence perfect.
If we strip away the descriptive elements, the dialogue created a liturgical call and response:
Call: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!
Response: Worthy are you, our Lord and God, the Holy One, to receive the glory, the honor, and the power, for you created all things, and because of your desire they existed, and were created!
2. The Lamb and the Challenge of the Scroll:
Power of Salvation (5:1-14)
Lamb of God
at the Basilica of San Vitale
John turned from the creative power of God to his redemptive plan. He saw the eternal plan of God, symbolized by the scroll with its seven seals (see 1 Enoch 81:1-3; Roman tradition held a will be sealed with seven seals; Rev 5:1). The call question of the angel was as much rhetorical as it was a challenge; no creature in the three tiered universe ("above the earth, on the earth or underneath the earth") could reveal divine providence ("break the seals"; Rev 5:2-3), only the Christ figure could. John described this figure as the victorious "Lion...of Judah" (Gen 49:9-10) and "Root of David," the descendant of the king who would bring about eternal justice and peace (see Isa 11:1-10; Rev 5:5). From this point through the rest of the book, the author envisioned the Christ not as the Lion but as slain Lamb (reminiscent of the morning and evening Temple sacrifices in Exo 29:38-42 and Num 28:3-8, the Passover preparation in Exo 12:1-27, Lev 23:5-6 and Deu 16:1-7, the Suffering Servant in Isa 53:7). But, here, he saw the Lamb arise in the midst of the divine throne with the full and ever-vigilant power of the Spirit ("seven horns and seven eyes"); only he had the power to reveal God's plan (Rev 5:6-7).
John saw the moment that the Christ Lamb took possession of the scroll marked a liturgical response of the community's praise: prostration, songs with harp accompaniment (see Psa 141:2) and the "incense" petitions of the saints (Rev 5:8). The new hymn of heaven (Psa 33:3, Psa 40:4,Psa 96:1, Psa 98:1, Psa 144:9, Psa 149:1) rose up in accolades to the Lamb who received the power to reveal ("...take the scroll and open the seals…) because of his salvific death for all humanity ("...purchased...persons from every tribe, language, people and nation..."). With his power, he formed a new people to worship God ("...kings and priest...reign on earth..."; Rev 5:9-10).
John described the liturgical response in the heavenly court. Imagine the scene in concentric circles. With the throne in the center, first surrounded by the angels, the creatures and the "elders," uncountable in number ("ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands...") then by every living being in creation. The inner circle of angels, creatures and elders declared the worthiness of the slain Lamb to receive praise ("...power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing."); all of creation added to the praise for God and the Lamb ("...blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion, forever and ever! Amen!"). The throne creatures completed the praise with an "Amen" and again the "elders" fell prostrate (Rev 5:11-14).
The call and response of this passage was:
Call: Who is worthy to open the book, and to break its seals? Behold, the Lion who is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome: he who opens the book and its seven seals.
Response: You are worthy to take the book and to open its seals:
for you were killed, and bought us for God with your blood
out of every tribe, language, people, and nation,
and made us kings and priests to our God, and we will reign on the earth.
Call: Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!
Response: To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion, forever and ever! Amen!
3. Opening the Six Seals (6:1-8:1)
a. The First Four Seals: Unleashing of Chaos (6:1-8)
First Horseman of the
John witnessed the power of war unleashed with the breaking of the first four seals. In Rev 6:1-8, he combined two prophecies of Zechariah with the apocalyptic traditions found in the Synoptics. Zec 1:8-11 mentioned four horses, ridden by horsemen who report about the conditions on the earth to YHWH. Zec 6:1-8 described four chariots pulled by four different colored horses (red, black, white, spot marked) who represented the four winds; these predicted the fall of Babylon and the return of those from the Exile. Mark 13:7-8 listed the end time woes as international strife, civil wars, earthquakes and famine. The famous "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" encapsulated those traditions.
John heard an invitation to "come and see" the plaques released with the breaking of each of the four seals (Rev 6:1, Rev 6:5, Rev 6:7, only "come" in Rev 6:3); these plagues reflected events in the life of the Empire. First, he beheld the conquering power (white colored horse and crown) of the Parthians, the only organized military force on the eastern flank of the Empire; the Parthians were famous for a calvary of mounted archers (Rev 6:2).
Roman and Parthia had a centuries long dispute over spheres of influence in the area. In 53 BCE, the first major battle between the two powers marked a devastating Roman defeat at Carrhea; this led to Parthian incursions into Syria in 51 BCE. In 40 BCE, Parthians overran Syria and Palestine, establishing vassal kingdoms, but the Romans regained strength in the region and, 38 BCE, forced the Parthians from the area. The Roman conquest of Palestine and the subsequent rise of Herod as King of the Jews were in part the result of the Parthian challenge. Rome constantly worried about the Parthian threat.
Next, he saw the blood spilled from civil war (red horse and power of the sword) which destroyed the "pax Romana" (Rev 6:3-4). This imaged reflected struggles of the Great Jewish War (66-70 CE) and the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty which resulted in the chaotic "Year of the Four Emperors" (69 CE). Four men claimed the title in quick succession until emperor Vitellius was killed as the forces of Vespasian surrounded Rome, thus consolidating power.
Third, he witnessed to the power of death (black horse) who held the balance of life (scales in the hand of the rider); while inflation struck with commodity shortages ("...wheat...barley...") caused by deadly war, the price of others ("...olive oil...wine...") remained constant (Rev 6:5-6). Death struck those who could not obtain the staple of grains despite the relative stability of wine and olive oil prices. On the one hand, the bread basket of the Empire lie in Egypt, with additions from Palestinian exports. But, the chaffing relationship between pagan and diasporic Jews in the major Egyptian port of Alexandria (pogrom in 38 CE), the Great Jewish Wars and the subsequent tensions that led to the Kitos riots (115-117 CE) then the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE) could have led to shortages or hording which fueled inflation. On the other hand, olive oil production lie in stable parts of the Empire (Syria, Anatolia and northern Africa) while wine production was ubiquitous.
Finally, he saw the results of war, pestilence (pale green horse) which caused wide spread disease and social breakdown (attacks by wild animals; Rev 6:7-8). Clearly, the plaques of the first four seals promised chaos for one quarter of the earth, but where? Let's keep in mind that John, like his compatriots, envisioned the known world, not the globe, as the Roman Empire. Palestine in the wake of the Great Jewish Wars qualified for such a extended area of pestilence as the result of brutal warfare. As a Jewish Christian, the author sensed the tensions facing Jewish the Roman Diaspora and could have feared for his countrymen in any likely future pogroms.
b. The Fifth Seal: The Cry of the Martyrs (6:9-11)
With the breaking of the fifth seal, John shifted his focus to heavenly altar, the resting place of the martyrs. The altar in the Temple allowed for the blood of the animal (representing its life force) to drain onto the ground (Lev 4:7; see Lev 17:11). In this sense, martyrdom represented the self-giving of the faithful to God on the heavenly altar, so their blood (lives) "drained to the base of the sacrifice table" (Rev 6:9). Yet, their spent lives called out for divine retribution ("how long?" see Psa 6:3, Psa 13:1-2, Psa 35;17, Psa 74:9-10, Psa 75:9, Psa 80:4, Psa 89:46, Psa 94:3-4, Isa 6:11, Jer 47:6, Zec 1:12; "...judge...avenge..." see Psa 79:5-6; Rev 6:10). To comfort them, they received the victorious white garments of their baptism and gained divine repose as they awaited additional martyrs to be added to their number (Rev 6:11); in other words, the Tribulation would soon begin. In the light of the first four seals, the fifth seal represented the sufferings of believers in progress.
c. The Sixth Seal: Cosmic Upheavals and the Expected "Wrath" of the Lamb (6:12-17)
With the breaking of the sixth seal, John witnessed upheavals on a cosmic scale that portended disruption in nature itself. Notice the flow; the great, end time earthquake (Eze 39:18, Isa 2:19) led to disruption in the heavens like eclipses (Joel 2:31, Isa 13:10) and massive meteor showers (like the fig tree shedding its fruit; see Isa 34:4), and shifts in topography (landslides and loss of islands; Rev 6:12-14). Everyone in society from the ruling class downward to the slave sought escape to the wilderness and a quick death from the "wrath of the Lamb" based upon fear and anxiety (Rev 6:15-17), yet that "wrath" would reveal itself in ways unexpected.
4. Interlude: 144,000 Sealed
and the Uncountable Saved (7:1-17)
Before the breaking of the final seal, John beheld divine constraint on the forces of nature (four winds, see Zec 6:5) so the elect could be marked. Like his compatriots, the author conceived of the four winds originating at the "corners" of the a flat earth (Isa 11:12, Eze 7:2); when all the winds blew at once, where they met experienced hurricane force destruction (see Matt 24:31). And like other ancients, he envisioned natural forces controlled by spirits ("angels"; Rev 7:1). Another spirit (an "angel" implicitly superior to the others, representing divine will) from the beginning of a new day (the east; see Eze 43:2) ordered the others to hold back the winds and not reek havoc until the saved were sealed (Rev 7:2-3).
Notice the irony of the sealing. A regent wore a ring that he pressed into a wax drop to seal an official document; breaking open the seal made it public and, thus, in effect (Gen 41:42, Dan 6:17). In 6:1-17, the Lamb "broke" six seals of God's will, unleashing signs of the end times. But in 7:3, the saved were "sealed"; their status remained official but hidden to the public. The forehead of the elect would receive the seal (Eze 9:4-6).
of the 144,000
John heard how many would be saved. The elect of Israel numbered 144,000, that is 12 squared times 1000; in an ancient society that lacked computational devices, this number was inconceivably large, thus uncountable. John mis-marked the name of one tribe (Manasseh instead of Ephraim/Manasseh of Joseph); Joseph replaced Dan on the list (Rev 7:5-8).
Then, John saw the number that he previously heard, the 144,000 were the uncountable multitude form every people on earth. The faithful gathered before the throne of God and that of the Lamb, dressed in their victorious baptismal garments and holding palm branches in a hymn of victorious praise (1 Macc 13:51, 2 Macc 10:7), reminiscent of the autumn festival of Sukkoth where Jews would raise up palms to celebrate the presence of YHWH in their midst (Lev 23:33-36, Neh 8:13-18; also see Zec 14:16-19). The inner circle (angels, elders and four living creatures) affirmed the praise in dialogue fashion (Rev 7:9-12).
John shifted the scene from sealing and praise to the identity of the saved. Beginning with a rhetorical exchange (see Zec 4:4-5, Zec 6:4-5), he saw the saved as those who remained faithful throughout the Tribulation (Dan 12:9). They "washed their white robes...in the blood of the Lamb" by spilling their own blood via martyrdom (Rev 7:13-14). For their sacrifice, they would serve as priests, like the rest of the congregation (Rev 5:9-10) in the divine presence ("...spread his tabernacle over them..."; Rev 7:15). Before God, they would not suffer from any bodily need ("hunger or thirst") or affliction ("...sun beat down..."; see Isa 49:10). Instead, in an inverted image, the Lamb would act as the shepherd to lead them to "spring of live-giving waters" (John 4:10); God himself would remove any reason for mourning ("...wipe away every tear..." see Isa 25:8; Rev 7:16-17).
Call and response of the passage:
Response: Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
Call: Amen! Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might, be to our God forever and ever! Amen.
5. Opening of the Seventh Seal: Silence (8:1)
After the sealing of the faithful, John saw the seventh seal broken. But, instead of witnessing another plague or sign of divine wrath, he experienced silence for a half hour. Scholar have split on the meaning of this pause. Did the silence act as a liturgical transition to the seven trumpets? Or, did it mark a sign of divine restraint to allow time for repentance? Or, did it signify the ineffable nature of God's will? (Rev 8:1)
D. Step D: Parallels
1. Parallel 1a: Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
a. Seven angels and the Golden Censer (8:2-6)
John witnessed a change in the scene when the seven angels of presence ("who stood before God" see Isa 63;9, Tobit 12:15) received instruments announcing divine justice (trumpets, see Joel 2:1, Zep 1:16, Isa 27:13; Rev 8:2). Then, he saw another angel, the attendant to the heavenly altar of incense . In ancient religions, incense symbolized the worship of the faithful; as the smoke of the incense rose into the air, those gathered believed their deity "breathed in" the scent as a pleasing offering. With the censer in hand, the angel swung it, creating billows of smoke that symbolized the prayers of the saints rising up to God (Rev 8:3-4). Finally, the attendant angel filled the censer with the coals that fired the altar of incense and hurled it towards the earth, creating the signs of divine wrath. Notice 8:2-6 paralleled 6:9-14, the fifth and sixth broken seals where saints cried out for retribution from the base of the heavenly altar, followed by the end time signs of earthquakes and cosmic disruption.
b. Six Heavenly Trumpets
In the structure of Revelation, John paralleled two passages of the highest chiastic level (Step): the seven trumpets (8:7-9:21) and the seven bowls of plagues (16:2-21). In doing so, he evoked the historical image of divine judgment, the plagues upon the Egyptians in Exodus 7-10.
1) First Four Trumpets
With the first trumpet (Rev 8:7), "hail and fire mixed with blood...thrown on the earth" recalled the seventh plague (hail and fire from heaven in Exo 9:23-26); this paralleled the hailstorm of the seventh bowl (Rev 16:21). Both heavy hail and fire caused death ("mixed with blood"); the presence of the opposites together required a divine miracle.
With the second trumpet (Rev 8:8-9), "...a great burning mountain was thrown into the sea...one third of the sea turned to blood" recalled the first plague (waters of the Nile turned into blood, Exo 7:14-24); this paralleled the sea turning into blood (second bowl, Rev 16:3). The burning mountain was an image also found in 1 Enoch 18:13 and echoed Jeremiah's critique of Babylon as a "burnt-out mountain" (Jer 51:25).
With the third trumpet (Rev 5:10-11), "...a great star fell from the sky...called ‘Wormwood'..." continued the theme of poisoned water found in the first plague (Exo 7:14-24). John could have seen the burning star (see 1 Enoch 18:13) as a reference to Babylon's decline (Isa 14:12). The term "wormwood" referred to a bitter herb (artemisia absinthium) with some medicinal uses; consumed in large quantities, it can cause convulsions. Hebrew prophets used the phrase as a metaphor for divine judgment (Jer 9:15, Jer 23:15, Lam 3:15) or a perversion of justice (Amos 5:6-7, Amos 6:12); Prov 5:4 connected it with disaster. The author envisioned nature itself turning against humanity.
With the fourth trumpet (Rev 8:12-13), "...one third of the sun was struck, one third of the moon and one third of the stars, so one third would be darkened..." recalled the ninth plague of darkness (Exo 10:21-23). John meant a partial eclipse, hence a limited upheaval of the cosmic powers. The eagle ("aetos" in Greek, also meaning "vulture") pronounced doom, echoing Hos 8:1: "Put the trumpet to your lips! Something like an eagle is over the house of YHWH, because they have broken my covenant, and rebelled against my law" (WEB). The eagle announced three "woes" to the last trumpets.
2) Fifth Trumpet and the First Woe (9:1-12)
With the fifth trumpet (Rev 9:1-12), John shifted from the images of a falling star to a volcano cauldron to the attack of locusts (the eighth plague; Exodus 10:12-20). The fallen star referred to a fallen angel (see 1 Enoch 6-13, a legend based upon Gen 6:1-4; also see Joel 1:6-2:5). Jews saw the abyss (the crater of an active volcano) as the opening to Sheol (Job 41:22-23), the place of the dead; in Revelation, it was the temporary home of demons. Smoke rose from an eruption and darkened the sky (Rev 9:1-2).
Wall Painting of Mt. Vesuvius
at Casa del Centenario
The images found in Rev 9:2 fit the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 CE which devastated Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pliny the Younger (61-113 CE) witnessed the event and the doomed attempt to rescue the people. Tacitus (56-120 CE) described the panic of the populace caused by the darkened sky of dust and ash. Wall paintings found Pompeii portray Vesuvius as a single peak that some scholars estimate at 6000 ft high; today, the height of the volcano cone measures 4203 ft above sea level. An explosion of that magnitude sent debris high enough into the atmosphere to make the eruption and its aftermath a regional event. The resulting ash cloud could have hurled small but solid fragments over a large area. The author saw such an event as another apocalyptic sign.
Here, John could have compared falling ash to the attack of a poisonous locust swarm. Out of the pit of evil emerged an army of insects with the sting of a scorpion (the impact of a speeding fragment), specifically to torment pagans ("people...without God's seal on their forehead..."; Rev 9:3-4). The locust swarm only caused pain, not death, even though it caused many to despair (Rev 9:5-6). The author described the swarm as a calvary charge; each locust had the body of a horse, the face of a man with long hair, wearing a gold crown and an iron breastplate, even the tail of a scorpion (since ancient peoples contributed all natural phenomena to spirits, they would naturally describe destructive forces with malevolent features). John held the war only lasted a short time ("...five months..."), causing social distress but not deadly destruction (Rev 9:7-10). John called the locust leader "Abaddon," Hebrew for "destruction", the same meaning as "Apollo" had in Greek (Rev 9:11).
Some scholars hold that John used the term "Apollo" as a pun for the ruthless but efficient emperor Domitian (51-96 CE) who model his persona on that of the sun god. As the last member of the Flavian dynasty, he rose to power after the death of his brother, Titus (ruled 79-81), and father, Vespasian (ruled 69-79). The dynasty itself consolidated control after the Year of Four Emperors, a period of social instability and civic war. When he became emperor, he swept away any facade of senatorial power and ruled as autocrat who assumed control even of the daily lives and morals of average citizens. The people felt uncertain under the emperor's obsessive intrusions into their affairs, the periodic threats from the long haired Parthians on the eastern front of the Empire and the implicit presence of civic unrest that could spill into civic war. This unease (sting of the scorpion-locust) was only the first of the woes (Rev 9:12).
3) The Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21)
With the sixth trumpet, John heard the prayers of the saints ("horns") rise up from the altar of incense ("golden altar"); in answer to these petitions, the sixth archangel gave the command to unleash the vast might of an eastern empire ("...four angels...bound at the great river Euphrates"; Rev 9:13-14). For the Romans, the Parthians represented such a threat; however, Jews viewed the threat through the lens of their history, specifically the Assyrians (see Isa 8:7) and the Babylonian exile. The attack by an uncountable number of horsemen ("two hundred million") was foreseen down to the very hour by divine providence, resulting in broad devastation ("killing one third of humanity"; Rev 9:15-16). The author portrayed the battle attire with the power of the army; the colors of the breastplates represented the destructive abilities of fire (fiery red), smoke (hyacinth blue) and sulfur (sulfur yellow). The lion head was a popular motif for potency in Parthian culture (Rev 9:17-18); . John paralleled the destructive energy of the tails (having serpent heads) with that of the scorpion-locust in the fifth trumpet blast (9:10). Yet, despite the voracious attack, the survivors did not repent from their pagan idolatry ("works of their hands"; Deu 4:28, Psa 115:4-7, Psa 135:15-17) and pagan lifestyle (Rev 9:20-21).
c. Interlude: Prophecy
1) The Angel and the Little Scroll (10:1-11)
John shifted the scene from heaven to earth and presented a figure not unlike the "Son of Man" from Dan 7:13-14. This was a "mighty angel" (one of only three listed; Rev 5:2, Rev 10:1, Rev 18:21) who possessed power reflected in cosmic signs. His presence was revealed on a cloud (Dan 7:13, Psa 104:3); his face was like the sun surrounded by a rainbow (see Eze 1:28, Gen 9:12-16); his feet were like pillars of fire (Dan 10:6; see Exo 14:19) planted on land and in the sea (Rev 10:1-2); his stature reached from earth to heaven, not unlike the messengers of the Resurrection in the Gospel of Peter v. 39-40. Here, the author drew upon the rich images from apocalyptic visions (Daniel), the Noahic covenant and the Exodus to evoke the shear power of divine revelation that trumped any other heavenly beings. The figure held a small, open scroll in his hand, indicating revelation. The call of the mighty angel ("as a lion roars") preceded that of the other seven "thunders" (Psa 29:3, Jer 25:30) and controlled what the author could report ("seal up..."; see Dan 8:26); Rev 10:3-4). Some scholars equate the "seal" command to times when YHWH relented divine punishment (see Jonah 3:10; Gen 8:21).
This powerful messenger (whose statue symbolized his might) took a divine oath (Dan 12:7, Deu 32:40) for speedy action (contra Dan 12:7; Rev 10:5-6). His lack of delay meant the fulfillment of the last days; the seventh angel would soon blow his trumpet (Rev 11:15-19) and the "mystery of God" would find completion, just as God revealed it to the prophets (Amos 3:7; Rev 10:7).
A heavenly voice instructed John to take the open scroll (once small, now large) and internalize its message ("eat it"; see Eze 3:1-3, Eze 3:13). The message was bitter-sweet, sweet for its words of salvation, bitter for the violent opposition it faced (Rev 10:8-10). However, now it demanded not a local audience of the seven churches but a universal one (see Jer 1:10; Rev 10:11). The command marked a turning point in the author's ministry.
2) The Two Witnesses and the Second Woe (11:1-14)
John now received his first divine commission: put the faithful under God's protection. The "reed like a rod" served as an ancient surveyor's tool (see Eze 40:3, Zech 2:1-2). The heavenly voice ordered him to measure inner courtyard of the Temple, but not the outer courtyard (specifically for the Gentiles). It directed him to demarcate the sharp division between the saved and the violent profane, implicitly creating a siege mentality among the faithful. While believers would continue, they would suffer persecution from the pagans for a short time ("forty two months" see Dan 7:25; Rev 11:1-2).
The voice shifted to the image of the two witnesses; according to Deu 19:15, courts required multiple witnesses to assure truth in a matter. Dressed in sackcloth like the ancient prophets (see 2 Kings 1:8), they would prophesy for the same period of time (42 months = 1,260 days) as the persecution (Rev 11:3). But who were these two figures? Here John recalled the prophet Zechariah:
I see a solid gold lamp stand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left. (Zech 4:2-3 WEB)
In context, the lamp stand represented the people of Israel and the two olive trees were the ruling duo of regent and high priest ("...the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth" Zech 4:14 WEB; Rev 11:3-4). Zech 6:12-13 inferred two Messiahs: king and high priest; the Damascus Document (also known as the Cairo Document or CD) prized by the Essenes listed "...the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel..." (CD 12:23-13:1).
However, these two witnesses spoke with the power of God's word which could damn most harshly ("fire" see Num 16:35). Here the image shifted away from the king and high priest to a pair who primarily had a prophetic role: Moses and Elijah. Deu 18:15-18 foretold a prophet figure like Moses who would speak God's Word; 2 Kings 1:10 quoted Elijah's condemnation of the Ba'al priests with fire raining down from heaven. The pair symbolized Hebrew Scripture, "the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah)" (see Matt 22:40; also see the Transfiguration in Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36; Rev 11:5). Rev 11:6 referred to Elijah's declaration of a famine (1 Kings 17:1) and Moses' curses upon the Egyptians (Exo 7:14-11:10), thus cementing the connection with the two towering figures in Jewish history.
After delivering their testimony, both received martyrdom at the hands of the Beast (Rev 11:7). Their bodies were displayed in "...the street of the great city...symbolically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified..." (Rev 11:8). Isa 1:10-11 described the uselessness of Temple worship in a faithless environs like Sodom. Isa 3:9 addressed Jerusalem's lack of moral propriety like that found in Sodom. Wisdom 19:14 connected Sodom and Egypt together as areas inhospitable to strangers. Both Sodom and Egypt stood under divine judgment.
Note John described the resting place of the pair in allegorical terms. The death of the two prophets meant the end of any meaningful witness to the Hebrew Scriptures in Jerusalem. Since both the faithful and the pagan equated Judaism with the capital of Judea, they would see the "death" of prophecy with the destruction of the city (like the fate of Sodom and Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea). Here, the author likened the city which lay in ruins to the prophets' corpses allowed to rot without honor. He saw the victors rejoicing over their doom because of the "torment" their testimony caused the pagan populace (see 1 Kings 18:17, 1 Kings 21:20; Rev 11:9-10). Hence, he envisioned the conquest of Rome (the Beast) over Jerusalem (the prophetic witnesses) in 70 CE as an apocalyptic symbol.
But like the Resurrection (and the rise of the Christian faith), the power of Hebrew Scriptures would also rise again in the image of the two prophets. After a period to prove their death, the "breathe of life" entered them (see Ezek 37:10) and they stood up (a code word for "resurrection"). Jubilation turned to dread among the pagans (Rev 11:11). A booming voice beckoned them to ascend into heaven on a cloud, recalling Elijah's ascent (2 Kings 2:11) and the ancient legend of Moses disappearing into a cloud at the end of his life (see Josephus' Antiquities IV 8:48).
The general populace saw their ascent followed by an earthquake that killed a tenth of the city. The number of dead (7,000) was symbolic for the complete righteousness of divine justice balanced with divine mercy; th event led to the repentance of the pagans (gave glory to the God of heaven; Rev 11:12-13).
The shift of images in Rev 11:1-13 could be confusing, but the interpretation of the two witnesses depended the measurement of the Temple. John preached his message ("measuring the Temple") based upon the dual sources of the Hebrew Scriptures, "the Law and the Prophets" (Moses and Elijah). As God's word, they rooted the order of the cosmos (king) and instructed the faithful how to worship YHWH (high priest). Together, they had the power of divine judgment even over the pagans (breathing fire). As such, they would face deadly opposition from those same idolaters (represented by the destruction of Jerusalem). They also held the promise of eternal life (rising after three and one half days) and divine judgment in the last days. Despite the author's dire message, he held out the promise of salvation to everyone who repented. The "torment" caused by the message marked the second woe; the third woe would come quickly (Rev 11:14).
d. The Seventh Trumpet and Heavenly Praise (11:15-18)
John now heard the seventh trumpet blast but, instead of a distressful scene, he saw the praise of heaven. The third woe never materialized. Voices declared the Kingdom and the realm of the earth merged (Rev 11:15); the twenty four elders thanked God for the time of his judgment and salvation (Rev 11:16-18). Notice the divine title only included the present ("who is") and the past ("who was") not the future (unlike Rev 1:8; Rev 11:17). The end had arrived; there was no need for anticipation. Also note the order of those saved, first Church leaders (the prophets), then members of the community (saints) and finally respectful outsiders ("those who fear your name"); the damned only included those who persecuted the faithful ("destroyers of the earth"; Rev 11:19).
This section again presented a liturgical dialogue:
Call: The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. He will reign forever and ever!
Response: We give you thanks, Lord God, the Almighty, the one who is and who was; because you have taken your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and your wrath came, as did the time for the dead to be judged, and to give your bond servants the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints, and those who fear your name, to the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.
2. Parallel 2a: Revelation
and Opposition (11:19-14:20)
a. The Woman and the Dragon (11:19-12:17)
1) Appearance of the Heavenly Woman and the Dragon (11:19-12:6)
Our Lady of Guadalupe
inspired by Revelation 11
John witnessed a response to the heavenly dialogue: the opening of the Holy of Holies to the public. Now, everyone could experience the presence of God, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark disappeared when the Babylonian conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, plundered the Temple in 587 BCE. According to a Jewish legend reflected in 2 Mac 2:4-8, the prophet Jeremiah hid it; on the last day it would be revealed to all, thus "the glory of the Lord shall be seen" (2 Mac 2:8). With the revelation came the signs of divine power (Rev 11:19).
John symbolized universal revelation (opening of the Holy of Holies) as the "Queen of Heaven" giving birth to the true ruler of the nations. The author described the woman in great cosmic terms not unlike that of the angel who gave John his commission (Rev 10:1-2); she was "clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and a wreath crown of twelve stars" (Rev 12:1). The woman was in the final stage of her pregnancy (see Gen 3:16, Isa 66:7-8, Mic 4:10; Rev. 12:2). Then, John turned to her nemesis, the powerful, blood red dragon who readied himself to devour her newborn. The dragon had seven heads (Psa 74:13-15), ten horns (fourth beast of Dan 4:7) and seven diadems (an earthly, thus inferior crown compared to the superior heavenly crown over the woman's head); note the number seven here denoted the totality of evil. That evil (dragon's tail) crushed many celestial spirits and "deified" leaders from their place in culture (swept from heaven; Rev 12:3-4). However, God saved the woman and her child. God brought the newborn into his heavenly court, while he gave the woman refuge in the desert (not unlike Israel's Exodus journey; Rev 12:5-6). Note the repetition of 1,260 days; 1260 days = 44 months = 3.5 years (Rev 12:5, Rev 11:2-3).
Who were the woman and her child? Since John paralleled the mother giving birth with the opening of the Holy of Holies, he meant the images to represent the act of revelation. So, who revealed God's presence in the world? The Church. The object of that revelation was the Messiah, the child who would "rule all nations with an iron rod" (note the rod, the instrument of power, repeated a theme found in Rev 11:1; Rev 12:5). As the prophet-preacher proclaimed God's revelation to the community, that local church (the woman) showed its environs the divine presence in the person of Jesus Christ (the child).
Later Church tradition identified the woman of Revelation chapter twelve with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Such a connection found its fullest expression in the apocalyptic image for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Finally, we should note the correlation between the woman of Revelation twelve and the Leto narrative. In Greek myth, Leto, the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, had an affair with Zeus, king of the gods. Leta became pregnant with Apollo and Artemis. When Zeus' mate, Hera, heard of their liaison, she banned the mother from giving birth on any firm earth including island, even dispatching the serpent Python to pursue her. But Leta found the floating island of Delos and gave birth first to Artemis, then to Apollo, the sun god. In his thirst for vengeance, Apollo slew Python. The emperor Nero fancied himself as a descendant and earthly realization of solar deity.
Since Delos lie less than seventy miles from Patmos, John certainly knew of the myth's importance in the Aegean basin. According to many scholars, the author used the Leto myth as a template for the passage of the woman and the dragon, but flipped its meaning upside down. Instead of Leto giving birth to a pagan god the emperor would call his own, the woman of heaven gave birth to a Messiah who opposed imperial claims. The Python whom Apollo slew now became Satan himself who manipulated the Empire and its leader like a puppeteer. And, the Christ who was crucified by evil men would rise to destroy death and defeat the Satan-dragon (Rev 19:20-21).
2) Heavenly Victory over the Dragon (12:7-9)
John now turned to the banishment of evil from the heavenly realm to that of the earth. Previously, many believers held the leader of the demons, Satan, had a place in the heavenly court as a (forgive the pun) "devil's advocate" (see Job 1:6-12, Job 2:1-6). But, in Rev 12:7-9, the angel Michael led heavenly troops against the Dragon (Satan, see Rev 20:2 and cast him, along with his followers, to earth (see Luke 10:18 and John 12:23). Dan 10:13-21 portrayed Michael as a "chief prince" of heaven; Jude 1:9 raised his status to that of an "archangel." With the action of Michael and his cohorts, evil was limited to the earth.
The author did not intend to describe the battle between Michael and the Dragon as the fall of the angels. This legend found its roots in 1 Enoch 6-13 and was reinterpreted later by Christians in later centuries.
3) Heavenly Praise for Victory (12:10-12)
John heard a booming voice of praise for the victory over evil. The banishment of the demons marked the end times; the accuser ("Satan" in Hebrew; see Job 1-3 and Zech 3:1-5) could no longer question the divine acquittal of the faithful (Rev 12:10). The martyrs could share in the Lamb's victory based upon his Passion and their own testimony as they valued death for him over apostasy (Rev 12:11). The praise ended with a statement of heavenly joy and an earthly woe due to the containment of evil to the earth, but even that presence would only last a short time (Rev 12:12).
4) The Dragon's Pursuit of the Woman and Child (12:13-17)
John witnessed the reaction of the Dragon to his banishment from heaven. The Evil One would pursue the mother of the Messiah child. But, through divine intervention, she would find a respite in the wilderness; God gave her wings like that of an eagle for her freedom flight (Exo 19:4, Deu 32:11-12, Isa 40:31; Rev 12:13-14) The time frame ("...a time and times and half a time...") referred to 1260 days mentioned in Rev 12:6 (see Dan 12:7). In Rev 12:15, the dragon morphed into a serpent who flooded the wilderness. The destructive power of water represented evil, both in floods and in the depths of the sea, but the earth itself represented nature which YHWH created as "good" (Gen 1:1-2:3); the earth "swallowed up" the onrushing water (Rev 12:16). Frustrated, the dragon turned his sites on the persecution of the faithful (Rev 12:17).
Notice how John weaved major themes from the Hebrew Scriptures: the liberation of God's people through the Red Sea (earth swallowing flood waters), the Exodus itself (the woman's flight into the wilderness for safety), even hinting at the Noah narrative (salvation from the flood). Yet, salvation did not mean freedom from persecution; in fact, it meant the opposite.
b. The Beasts and the Lamb (13:1-15)
1) The First Beast (13:1-10)
John next saw the court of the Dragon which mimicked the heavenly court of Rev 4. Since evil had been banished to earth, it returned to its home, the sea (see Gen 1:2, Dan 7:2-8, 4 Ezra 11:1, 1 Enoch 60:7-10, 2 Baruch 29:4). A first "beast" arose from the watery abyss. It was completely evil ("seven heads" like the sea monster Leviathan in Psa 74:14), had the power of a totalitarian state ("ten horns...ten diadems" see fourth beast of Dan 7:24) and bore blasphemous names (titles for the emperors included "kyrios" = lord, "sebatos" = worthy of honor, "dominus et deus" = Lord and God; Rev 13:1). He had the appearance of total power with military speed (leopard), might (bear's feet) and propaganda (roar of a lion); yet that power, along with its prestige ("throne and authority"), came from the Evil One (Dragon; Rev 13:2).
While the beast suffered a potential death blow (fatal head wound), he survived and thrived, causing all to marvel (Rev 13:3). What recent historical event could John and his audience have seen as the head wound? In 68 CE, Nero committed suicide thus ending the Julio-Claudian line of emperors. With a void in leadership, many pretenders claimed the imperial throne and thrust the Empire in a potentially catastrophic civil war. Only the rise of the emperor Vespasian a year later quelled the unrest and returned the Empire to relative peace. Notice the death and resurrection of the Empire (the first beast) mimicked that of the Lamb. Imperial resilience caused many under Roman control to look upon its power with awe and pledge allegiance to the emperor (make an incense offering to his image). Yet, there was a touch of biting irony. The phrase "Who is like the beast?" parodied Exo 15:11, "Who is like thee, Lord?"; the name Michael, the angel who defeated the Dragon, meant "Who is like God?" (Rev 13:4)
Ultimately, the power the Dragon gave to the first beast was that of blasphemy, not only in word but in appearance. Through the first beast, the Dragon challenged divine authority by mimicking such power through imitation and persecution. By demanding complete allegiance to the emperor, the Empire (first beast) mocked the Christian God and those who made their faith commitment their first priority (Rev 13:6). By persecuting the faithful ("make war on the saints") even in a limited way ("forty two months"; Rev 13:5), the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Empire (Rev 13:7) flexed its muscle to the extent that it created a siege mentality among Christians. In the eyes of John, it blasphemed by demanding an allegiance that only God could claim; it based that demand on apparent, earthly power. It also blasphemed when it denied the right of Christians to exercise their true allegiance.
Hence, John divided the peoples of the world into two camps: the damned (universal worshipers of the Dragon) and the faithful remnant (those written in the slain Lamb's Book of Life; Rev 13:8). Here, he resigned himself to the fate of the believers, both the imprisoned and the martyred; they should have known the price of faith. He could only encourage the persecuted to endure (Rev 13:9-10).
2) The Second Beast (13:11-18)
While the first beast came out of the sea, the second arose from the land ("Behemoth" from 1 Enoch 60:7-10, 4 Ezra 6:51, see the difference between Dan 7:3 and Dan 7:10). This beast resembled the Savior (had the horns of a lamb) but spoke evil ("like a dragon"; Rev 13:11). Note that, in the cosmology of ancient cultures, the universe had three tiers: above the earth (heaven), earth and beneath the earth (hell). This beast emerged from below, the place of evil.
John saw the second beast as the locus of earthly authority, even with the power to compel worship (Rev 13:12). In Roman culture, imperial officials insisted that local citizens make an incense offering to the bust of the emperor as a sign of direct allegiance to him; such an act also recognized imperial rule as the will of the gods (thus an act of idolatry in Christian eyes). His power extended to "calling down fire from heaven," a clear inversion of Elijah's curse upon the priests of Ba'al in 1 Kings 18:38 and 2 Kings 1:10 (Rev 13:13); Mark 13:22 warned against false Christs with miraculous powers. Yet, his power depended upon deception, the apparent resilience of the Roman state (the "death-resurrection" motif found with the death of Nero, civil war and the rise of Vespasian) symbolized in the emperor's bust ("image of the beast"; Rev 13:14). The deception of the beast could extend to God-like powers ("breathe life into the image") and proclaim divine oracles ("...the image to speak...") in order to impress the gullible (Rev 13:15). Some scholars speculate that an imperial bust was hollowed out to give room for a human to fit into the structure so the voice appeared to come from the bust or someone close to the statue employed ventriloquism. Notice the author described the second beast as imitator of Christ who, believers held, had divine power to proclaim God's word and to even raise the dead.
John turned to questions of identity. Who were the followers of this beast? He defined them in economic and legal terms. The mark ("charagma" in Greek) was the image of the emperor found on coins and stamps for legal documents that allowed for the establishment of trade guilds and business consortia; these papers controlled commerce for taxation purposes. In a sense, John defined one's place in society with a view to the economy ("...small and great, rich and poor, free and slave..."), even to the extent of obsession (metaphorical use of "forehead" as concern over money and "right hand" as individual business transactions); no city dweller could live without some involvement in the Roman economy ("...buy or sell, unless he has that mark..."; Rev 13:16-17).
Nero (r 54-68 CE)
Who was the beast? Here, John recorded his great puzzle, the number of the beast as 666. One could deduce the name through gematria, the addition of the numerical value found in the letters of an alphabet (A = 1, B = 2 and so on). If one transliterated the Greek title for Nero, "Neron Kaisir," to the Hebrew script "nrw qsr" (classical Hebrew scrip had no vowels), he could add that numeral value of those letters together and arrive at "666." Note the number "6" was inferior to the number of completion "7" so the human who had the gematrial number of 666 could not stand against he who had the number 777. Noteworthy, Jesus in Greek (Iesous) added up to 888, the number of superiority.
Was Nero (37-68 CE) or a Nero-like figure the beast? By reputation, Christians considered Nero a monster based upon the Annals (Book 15) of Tacitus (56-120 CE); according to the ancient historian, the emperor pinned the blame for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE upon the city's believers and instigated a brutal but local persecution. A little later, the Latin writer Suetonius (69-122 CE) reported the emperor's persecution of Christians without mention of the fire (Nero 16). Yet, there was another reason to connect Nero to the beast. In the second century CE page writings, the Sibylline Oracles, predicted the return of Nero as an agent of destruction; the Greek historian Dio Chyrsostum (40-115 CE) also recorded the "Nero Redivivus" myth in the Discourse XXI. As early as 69 CE, an impostor appeared, the another ten years later and a third ten years after that who had the backing of the Parthians. Some scholars hold that Rev 13:3 (fatal wound miraculously healed) reflected the "Nero Redivivus" myth. No doubt, the emperor loomed large in the popular imagination decades after his death, especially among members of the Church.
3) Appearance of the Lamb and the Chosen on Mount Zion (14:1-5)
John counter-balanced his vision of the two beasts with that of the Lamb along with his disciples. He saw the Lamb, not in heaven, but on the Temple Mount (Mount Zion; Psa 2:4) with the gathering of the uncountable remnant from Israel (144,000 from Rev 7:1-8) Unlike those sealed with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-17), the disciples had the seal of the Lamb's name and the Father's name (Rev 14:1). Here, John contrasted the pagan from the Christian not only in terms of faith but in economic and political terms; non-believers belonged to the evil Dragon while the faithful belonged to God.
In his vision, the author heard a heavenly sound like rushing water, reflecting Ezekiel's vision of a river arising from the foundation of the Temple, gushing forth to give life and even to freshen the Dead Sea (Eze 47). He also compared the sound to thunder, like that of God's voice (Jer 10:13). Finally, he described the sound as heavenly worship (harps playing; Rev 14:2). In one sound, John combined salvation (Temple river), divine will (thunder pronouncements) and worship (harps) as a single reality. Only the faithful (creatures, elders and 144,000) could comprehend the Good News (salvation, divine will) and praise God for it (worship of "those redeemed out of the earth"; Rev 14:3).
Then, John described believers in an odd way, as those "not defiled by women...virgins". What does this phrase mean? Scholars are split over this verse. Some interpret it as the call for a holy war; Israelites who prepared to fight for the nation abstained from sexual relations (Deu 20, Deu 23:9-10, 1 Sam 21:5, 2 Sam 11:11). In this sense, the 144,000 stood as an army of priest-warriors who would abstain in order to stand in the presence of the divine, not unlike those who offered sacrifice in the Temple (Lev 15:15). This holy gathering would fight the forces of darkness in the great end time battle (Rev 19:14). In this sense, John equated anticipation for the end times with sexual abstinence.
Other scholars interpreted the chastity touted in a metaphorical sense; those "not defiled" represented Israel (the bride) in a covenant relationship to YHWH (the groom; Hos 1-3, Jer 2:1-4, Eze 16, Eze 33). Indeed, the prophets called the ancient Israelites away from idolatry to the fertility Ba'al, thus fusing the image of polytheism and ritual fornication in the minds of the Jews. In Rev 19:7 and Rev 21:2-9, the Church was the pure bride, while the polytheistic Rome (symbolized by the city's patron goddess, Roma) was the whore (Rev 17:4-6, Rev 14:8). In this sense, John equated faithfulness with sexual purity.
In either case, disciples followed the Lamb wherever he went, like those who "picked up their cross" (Mark 8:34, John 21:19, Luke 9:57). These stood as a pure sacrifice ("first fruits" in the end time harvest: Rev 14:15) without deceit (Zep 3:13; see Isa 53:9), so without flaw (Rev 14:4-5).
c. Message of the Three Angels (14:6-13)
After the gathering of the elect with the Lord at the Temple, John saw three angels in quick succession. The first angel in "mid-heaven" (the second or watery section of the three tier heaven) proclaimed the moment of decision to a world-wide audience. The celestial being called all to worship (reverence and praise) because of divine power (creator of the cosmos) and judgment (Rev 14:6-7).
The second angel announced the coming fall of Roman hegemony ("Babylon" see Isa 21:9, Dan 4:30) that forced everyone to pledge fealty by offering incense before the emperor's bust ("drink of the wine"). Note the Jewish connection between idolatry and ritual prostitution mentioned above ("wrath of her fornication"; Rev 14:8).
The last angel predicted the fate of those who rejected the Good News (from the first angel). Those who persisted in pagan practices ("worship the beast and his image") and its commerce ("receives the mark") would receive divine wrath full strength (Jer 25:15, Isa 51:7, Psa 75:8; Greeks cut their wine with water to dilute its potency and possible bitter taste). Notice Roman persecution ("wrath of her fornication"; 14:8) would pale in comparison of divine judgment ("wrath of God...unmixed in the cup of his anger"). John pictured that judgment in light of Sodom and Gomorrah ("lake of fire and brimstone"); unlike Enoch 27:3, 48:9 and 4 Ezra 7:36, the unending torture ("smoke of their torment rising forever and ever") did not add to the happiness of the the Lamb and his cohort through schadenfreude. Note the author created a chiastic structure in Rev 14:9-11 with divine wrath over paganism as the A step (Rev 14:9-10a, Rev 14:11) and the Sodom reference as the B step (Rev 14:10b). Here, he wanted to heighten the gravity of God's pending action, thus fortifying faithfulness (Rev 14:12). Those who died in the Lord found blessing for their faith and their persistence (Rev. 14:13).
The three angels represented the apocalyptic face of the Good News. God offered salvation to all, but the time of decision was drawing closed. Those who continued to cling to their pagan ways would be lost.
d. The Great Harvest (14:14-20)
John's focus shifted from the angels announcing the final judgment to the divine harvest. "...one like a son of man..." (Dan 7:13) appeared in royal splendor ("gold crown") ready to judge ("sitting on the cloud"; Rev 14:14). Two court officials (angels) pronounced the judgment. The first proclaimed the ripe harvest of the faithful, performed by "he who sat on the throne" (Rev 14:15-16). The second called upon another heavenly being who possessed the power of damnation ("power over fire") to strike, harvesting the ripe "grapes" of evil (Rev 14:17-18). This harvest cast the evil into the "wine press of God's wrath" (Rev 14:19). This language paralleled that of the prophets where an unrepentant Israel (the vineyard) faced God's anger (destruction; Isa 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Eze 15:6). There was no escape from such complete desolation. This punishment took place even in the rural areas ("wine press...outside the city"); it spread wide ("six hundred stadia" = 184 miles) and deep ("...to the bridles of horses" = 5 feet high; Rev 14:20).
Note the two angels speaking for the regal "son of man" came out of the "Temple." These twin voices paralleled the two witnesses of Rev 11:3-12; the "Temple" was not a building but the community of faith (Rev 3:12). So they represented Christian prophet who arose within the local assemblies and announced the eschatological message of the Church. The day of the Lord would soon arrive; the moment of decision was at hand.
3. Parallel 1b: Seven Bowls of Judgment (15:1-16:21)
a. Heavenly Worship for Divine Judgment (15:1-16:1)
John saw another great sign, like the woman in the sky (12:1); seven angels each with a plague to fulfill divine judgment (Rev 15:1). He also envisioned the middle heaven as the place of judgment ("sea of glass mixed with fire") and those who endured ("...overcame the beast, his image and number of his name...") standing above in the highest heaven, praising God (Rev 15:2). These faithful sang the "song of Moses...song of the Lamb." thus connecting the hymn of Hebrew liberation from Egypt (Exo 15:1) with that of redemption found in the Lamb. Here, the author called Moses "the servant of God," juxtaposing his position with that of the Lamb, "the Son of God" (see Heb 3:5).
The ode itself addressed God and the faithful. It praised the divine for its creation ("...great and marvelous works..." see Psa 112:2, Psa 139:14, Amos 4:13) and its righteous ways (see Psa 145:17, Deu 32:4; Rev 15:3). It posited a rhetorical question about standing in awe before and giving glory to such a powerful deity (see Jer 10:7). It reaffirmed monotheism ("...only you are holy...") and saw the call to worship God was universal (see Psa 86:9, Mal 1:11, Psa 98:2, Isa 2:2-3, Isa 49:22-23, Isa 66:23-24, Mic 4:2, Zec 8:20-22) because of divine righteousness (Rev 15:4).
John returned to the parallel of the great signs. Just as the appearance of the woman (Rev 12:1) equaled the opening of the Temple (Rev 11:19), so did the appearance of the seven angels dressed in baptismal white garments with "golden belts" (like a son of man in Rev 1:3). They emerged from the "temple of the tabernacle of testimony," a reference both to the traveling tabernacle in Exodus and to the community that proclaimed the "testimony" of the Good News (Rev 15:5-6).
Like in Rev 6:1-8, John saw the four throne creatures (Rev 4:6-8) mediated God's will to the angel-servants; the creatures gave the seven angels the power to carry out divine judgment ("...seven golden bowls of God's wrath..."; Rev 15:7). At this point, the divine presence manifest itself ("the temple was filled with smoke from his glory and power") to extent that denied audience with anyone ("no one could enter the Temple" see 1 Kings 8:11) until the angels' task was completed (Rev 15:8). Then, the command came for the fulfillment of God's will (Rev 16:1).
b. Seven Bowls of God's Wrath
1) First Four Bowls of Nature (16:2-9)
The first four bowls represented curses within nature, but on a cosmic scale. Bowls one and four affect people directly, bowls two and three indirectly. Like the trumpets (8:6-9:21), the curses paralleled those of the Exodus plagues (Exo 7-10). The first bowl of sores referenced the sixth plague (see Exo 9:8-12, Deu 28:35; Rev 16:2); the second bowl of bloody seas and the third bowl of bloody rivers was like the first plague (see Exo 7:20-21; Rev 16:3-4); the forth bowl of the fiery heat had no parallel (Rev 16:8). Notice God punished the pagans for their idolatry (bowl one, Rev 16:2) and unrepentant blasphemy (bowl four, Rev 16:9), but shifted the curse of bloody waters to a just retribution for persecutions against the faithful (bowls three and four; Rev 16:4-6); because of the curse, the pagans could only drink blood, thus making them ritually unclean and morally repugnant in the eyes of Jews (Lev 17:10-12).
All the angels with the first four bowls represented powers of nature. Like their pagan neighbors, early Christians believed spirits controlled natural forces but these spirits obeyed the divine will; thus, the "angel of the waters" praised God for his judgment (Rev 16:4-6).
2) Fifth Bowl against the Dragon (16:10-11)
against the Dragon
The fifth bowl cursed the evil with darkness, opposing it to the searing sunlight in the fourth bowl (Rev 16:8). The juxtaposition of light and dark created a contrast between the forces of good and evil. The anguish of evil ("gnawed tongues because of the pain") in the moral "darkness" (Rev 16:10) caused blasphemy against the Almighty (implicitly the true light; Rev 16:11) just like the fourth bowl (Rev 16:9).
3) Sixth Bowl and Preparation for War (16:12-16)
The sixth bowl dried up (Exo 14:21, Jos 3:17, Jer 51:36-37) the Euphrates River, thus allowing multi-national forces ("prepared for kings") from the east ("sunrise") to gather for battle (Rev 16:12). Here, John saw an alliance between Rome and the Parthians under the Nero Redivivus ("false prophet" in Rev 16:13; see the notes on 13:18) Around 90 CE, the Parthians promoted a Nero impostor, thus creating an international incident that almost led to war between the empires.
The combined armies would face off against the army of God at Armageddon, in Hebrew, "Har-Magedon" or "Mountain of Megiddo" (Rev 16:16). Megiddo controlled the pass through the fertile Carmel Ridge that led to the Mediterranean; it also overlooked the rich Jezreel Valley. As a choke point and with such a commanding view, the city had strategic importance. The city gained a reputation as a symbol of disaster when King Josiah lost his life in a Judean defeat there (2 Kings 23:29-30).
To prepare for the battle, the forces of evil ("...the mouth of the dragon...the beast,,,the false prophet...") combined to entice other leaders in joining the fight against the divine. John listed the agents of evil as "...three unclean spirits, like frogs..." reminding his audience of the second plague of frogs (Exo 8:1-7; Rev 16:13). These demons would perform signs to invite leaders into the unholy alliance (Rev 16:14).
The battle would occur on the "great day of God, the Almighty" (Joel 2:11, Joel 2:30). This would mark the final battle and end of time (Rev 16:14). Following this verse, John wrote a beatitude. The Lord would come "like a thief in the night" (Mat 24:43, Luke 12:39, see 1 Thess 5:2). The faithful who persisted ("kept watch") and honored their baptismal vows ("kept his clothes") would not face shame ("walk naked" see Rev 3:18; Rev 16:15).
4) Seventh Bowl and Cosmic Signs (16:17-21)
The seventh and final bowl ("It is done!") marked the full manifestation of God's wrath in "...lightnings...thunder...earthquakes..." (see Dan 12:1, Exo 9:24). The final, world-wide earthquake would cause massive landslides, leveling islands and mountains, destroying entire cities It culminated in splitting Rome ("the great city") in three. Divine justice peaked with an unimaginably destructive hail storm that recalled the seventh plague (Exo 9:23-24); yet like the Pharaoh and his courtiers, the people of the age only blasphemed God (Rev 16:17-21).
4. Parallel 2b: Fall of Babylon (17:1-19:10)
a. Vision of the Babylon Whore (17:1-18)
1) The Whore (17:1-6)
John turned his attention to the whore of Babylon. Here he echoed Ezekiel's description of Jerusalem as the virgin wife whom YHWH adorn with fine clothes and jewelry, only to spur her divine husband by prostituting herself among other nations (Eze 16). In other words, Judea became a client state of either Egypt or Babylon and, with such alliances, promoted the worship of their gods (Eze 23 compared Jerusalem with idolatrous Samaria). Other prophets also condemned the capital for its dalliances with foreign powers (Isa 23:15-17, Nah 3:4). Notice again the connection of the between idolatry and adultery in the author's mind that hearkened back to the synergistic piety of pre-Exilic Judea that mixed the worship of YHWH and the fertility god, Ba'al.
With the phrase, "who sits on many waters," John transferred the judgment of Jerusalem onto Rome. The imperial city controlled the Mediterranean basin; indeed, Romans liked to referred to Mediterranean as "nostri maris" or "our sea." The city controlled the "many waters" thus allowing it speedy access to the spoils of its conquests; the subsequent open sea lanes also allowed for prosperous trade among those who participated in the economic system of the polytheistic empire ("became drunk with the wine of her sexual immorality"; Rev 17:1-2).
Carried into the desert by the Spirit, John beheld the whore, riding on the beast of Rev 13:1. Notice his description of the woman and the desolate environment paralleled that of Rev 12:6; the mother of the true ruler sought refuge in the desert, while the whore rode the beast in that same area seeking the faithful to devour (Rev 12:17). The color of the beast and the whore's clothing matched that of elite in the Empire (the rare purple and deep crimson, both derived from the secretions of a sea snail). The "blasphemous names" of the beast represented the many gods in the polytheistic culture. The whore's attire matched the opulence many upper-crust Romans sought ("...gold, precious stones and pearls...") in a pagan society dominated by the such morally corrupt emperors as Caligula and Nero ("...cup full or abominations and the earth's impurities of sexual immoralities..."; Rev 17:3-4). In his description, John asserted the spirit of pagan Rome, the goddess Dea Roma herself, was the whore of Babylon (compared to the virginal "Mother" Church).
Like the mark of the Beast (Rev 13:16-17) and the sign of the saved (Rev 7:1-4), the whore "wore on her forehead" a metaphorical title (Rev 17:5). John referred to it as a mystery, most likely in the same way he named the second beast with the famous number "666"; it was a puzzle for the faithful to unravel. The title read "Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the earth's abominations." In the context of greed and depravity John saw in in the ruling class of pagan culture (the whore's attire and riding position on the beast), he clearly connected Rome itself as the source of all evil as imperial officials turned a jaundiced eye upon the faithful ("...woman drunk on the blood of the saints...with the blood of the martyrs for Jesus..."; Rev 17:6); the explicit language reminded the reader of Nero's brutal persecution against Christians in Rome (64 CE).
2) The Beast She Rode (17:7-14)
Picking up on the mystery of the name (Rev 17:5), John created an atmosphere of amazement that begged for angelic explanation (Rev 17:6-7). What was the significance of the beast with "seven heads and ten horns...(who) was and is not...about to emerge from the Abyss and descend into destruction..." (Rev 17:3, Rev 17:8)? The author described the seven heads as the seven hills that made Rome famous (the seat for the whore; Rev 17:9).
The author also inferred the line of seven "kings" as succeeding emperors. However, we cannot know the exact way he numbered them since more than seven reigned beginning with the ascension of Julius Caesar to power; he might have meant this number symbolically, referring more to the fullness of divine timing than the individual reigns of emperors. The key to understanding the number lie in the phrase "...the one is, the other has not yet come..."; while five others have past, one presently reigned and one was promised for the future (Rev 17:10). The present yet future emperor ("beast that was and is not...") reminded John's audience of the Nero Redivivus, the popular notion that a Nero like figure would arise to control the Empire again; thus he would rule as the "eighth" yet be counted as one of the seven. Like the others, this figure would also face defend (Rev 17:11). Notice how "...the beast that you saw was and is not..." (Rev 17:8) juxtaposed with "(He) who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev 1:8); in this way, John compared sporadic pagan power (Nero Redivivus) to the consistent presence of divine providence.
John turned to the question of the ten horns (Dan 7:24), the number of future emperors and/or vassal kings ("...no kingdoms yet..."). These regents derived their anti-Christian prejudice from the Nero's example and would align themselves with the future emperor (Rev 17:12-13). They would face defeat against the divine army of the Lamb, the true "King of kings, Lord of lords"(see Deu 10:17, Psa 136:3, Dan 2:47, 2 Mac 13:4); notice John usurped an imperial title that described the emperor's status and applied it to the Christ (Rev 17:14).
In line with the other mysteries of Revelation seventeen, John called upon the reader and his audience to wisely discern his symbols (Rev 17:9). He communicated his experience of popular prejudice against Christians, aided and aligned with imperial disapproval over the new faith. He also laid out his expectations based upon that experience; persecution would continue. He did not paint a pleasant picture, but held firm to the notion that divine justice would prevail in the end.
3) Destruction of the Whore (17:15-18)
John shifted to the destruction of the Roman system. He recognized that a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic union around the Mediterranean basin (Rev 17:15) could not stand forever. Leaders within the system would fight for power; the Empire could and would slide into civil war, thus endangering its very existence (Rev 17:16). The author foresaw the downfall of Rome as part of God's plan (Rev 17:17). Even the imperial city, with all its power and wealth (symbolized by Dea Roma; Rev 17:18) could not last forever.
b. Heavenly Proclamation and Celebration
1) Babylon's Fall (18:1-24)
i. Announcement of the Fall (18:1-9)
Fall of Babylon
John saw the testimony of two angels. The first with great authority and divine glory (Rev 18:1) declared the fall of the city like a town crier; the last plague caused its destruction (Rev 16:16-17; see Jer 51:8, Isa 21:9). This messenger pointed to the desolation of the area where, in the popular mind, the ruins portrayed a place of evil ("home of demons") which caused insanity among the survivors ("prison for every unclean spirit") and provided pickings for scavenger fowl ("...every unclean and hateful bird"; Rev 18:2). The author added a note on the centrality of the city in international pagan culture ("kings of the earth partook in her lust"), politics and economics ("merchants...grew rich from the abundance of her luxury"; Rev 18:3). Notice he spread guilt on anyone who shared in the Roman system.
The second angel warned against the immorality of Rome, for those who aligned themselves to the imperial system that offended God (Jer 51:9) would share in its punishment. The messenger urged the faithful to flee (Jer 51:6, Isa 48:20, Isa 52:11) in the face of YHWH's angry wrath ("repay her double", Jer 50:15, see Isa 40:2, Jer 16:18, Jer 17:18; Rev 18:4-6). As the city glorified itself with plunder and tribute, thus deceiving itself ("I sit as a queen...and in no way will see mourning"), it would suffer total destruction ("death, mourning and famine...utterly burned by fire") by God's hand (Rev 18:8).
ii. Lament of the pagans over the Fall (18:11-19)
The later angel now commented on the effects of Rome's collapse among the kings, the merchants and the sailors. Rome's vassal regents (see Eze 26:16-17) would mourn in awe of her swift downfall ("your judgment has come in one hour"), but at a safe distance (Rev 18:9-10). The merchants would lament over the loss of trade a safe Mediterranean provided in terms of luxury goods, building materials, agricultural products, war implements and even slavery (Eze 27:12-13; see Isa 23:1-12); the loss of such trade would impoverish traders. They, too, mourned over the city's sudden demise, but from a safe distance (Rev 18:11-17). Finally, the seafaring men who sailed the Mediterranean stood in awe and mourned ("cast dust on their heads") over the city's quick defeat (Rev 18:17-19). Notice the lament of all three groups ("Woe, woe...") seemed more ritual than actual; they did not suffer directly from the sudden void caused by the destruction of the Eternal City and its imperial system.
iii. Judgment over the City (18:20-24)
As a transition, this second angel urged rejoicing among the saints for the downfall of Rome (Rev 18:20). John envisioned a third angel with the divine power ("mighty") symbolically condemned the city that echoed Jeremiah's prophesy over Babylon (Jer 51:59-64). With the plunging of a stone into the watery depths, the great city would sink, never to rise again (Rev 18:21). Neither would court and temple musicians perform for the city's elite; neither would the skilled produce and sell their crafts in its marketplaces; neither would bakers grind grain for bread in the area; neither would the young marry and celebrate in its confines (see Jer 25:10; Eze 26:13, Isa 24:8). Rome merely created an illusion of glory and power ("sorcery"; see 2 Kings 9:22, Isa 47:22, Nah 3:4) that deceived the economic actors in the Empire (Rev 18:23). The city's real power lie in its sadistic lust for blood, especially that of faithful (see Jer 51:49; Rev 18:24). Ironically, the that desire to spill the "blood of the prophets and the saints" worked as the judgment over Rome; the smoke that rose from the city's remains acted as incense offered to God (see Rev 19:3).
c. Divine Praise for Victory and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (19:1-10)
After the announcement of judgment, John heard a dialogue of the heavenly liturgy. The praise of the multitude acted as a transition to the feast celebrating the salvation of the faithful: the wedding the Lamb.
Side One: Hallelujah! Salvation, power, and glory belong to our God; for his judgments are true and righteous. For he has judged the great prostitute, who corrupted the earth with her sexual immorality, and he has avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.
Side Two: Hallelujah! Her smoke goes up forever and ever.
Assistant: Amen! Hallelujah!
Leader: Give praise to our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, the small and the great!
All: Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns! Let's rejoice and be exceedingly glad, and let's give the glory to him. For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready.
Leader: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. These are true words of God.
The four shouts of "hallelujah" (Hebrew for "Praise you, God") punctuated the worship dialogue (see the Hallel psalms, Psa 113:1, Psa 134:1, Psa 135:2). The first two declared the judgment over Babylon for its idolatry-prostitution-persecution (see 2 King 9:7; Rev 19:1-2) and witness over her definitive destruction ("smoke goes up forever and ever", see Isa 34:14; Rev 19:3-4); note the bookend "hallelujahs" emphasized the the statement ("Amen! Hallelujah!" see Psa 106:47). Then, God ("voice from the throne") demanded praise (Rev 19:5). The subsequent praise began with the final "hallelujah" and led to the announcement of the divine wedding (Rev 19:6-7). The saved ("bride" see Hos 2:16, Isa 54:6, Eze 16:7-8, 2 Cor 11:2; Christ as the bridegroom Mark 2:19-20, Matt 22:1) would array themselves in their pure baptismal linens (symbolic for their "righteous acts", implicitly a divine gifts, see Eph 5:26; Rev 19:8). The following benediction (a divine directive to prophesy) was an invitation to the Eucharist (wedding feast of the Kingdom, see Matt 7:11, Matt 22:1-14, Matt 25:1-13, Matt 26:29; Rev 19:9).
Note how the declaration of victory led to praise, then to the celebration of the initiation sacraments (baptism and Eucharist). The worshiping community could see the end times already realized in a spiritual sense with the reception of the neophytes. This atmosphere created a sense of awe for it realized the divine presence. One could mistake a fellow Christian for that presence (an angel, "I fell down...to worship him", see Dan 8:17 and Col 2:18) for the assembly itself held the testimony about Jesus ("the Spirit of prophecy") created the conditions for God to reveal himself (Rev 19:10). Here, the worship community and the multitudes of heaven were one.
E. Step C2: Millennium (19:11-20:15)
1. Victory of the Rider on the White Horse (19:11-21)
Like the heavenly Temple that opened in Rev 11:19, here heaven itself unfolded to reveal a king-general ("...judges and makes war...") on a white horse, the color that denoted victory; John emphasized the righteous nature of this heavenly figure ("Faithful and True"; Rev 19:11). The author went on to describe the king-general as a mysterious man ("name...which no one knows...") filled with the fury of divine wrath ("eyes are a flame of fire") and clothed in the garments of the martyrs ("...cloak dipped in blood…" see Isa 63:1-3, Wis 18:14-16); as the Word of God, this figure was the "King of kings and Lord of lords" ("on his head were many crowns"; Rev 19:12-13, Rev 19:16). He led the army of the faithful, dressed in white baptismal robes which paralleled the fine linens that adorn the Lamb's bride (Rev 19:8). His only the weapon was the word of prophecy ("out of his mouth proceeds a sharp, double edged sword", see Isa 49:2) with which he gained victory in the holy war ("...with an iron rod..." see Psa 2:9). Only armed with prophecy, he would judge the unfaithful harshly ("...wine press of the fierceness of God's wrath..."; Rev 19:15).
John then saw another angel in the first heaven ("standing in the sun") foretell the defeat of the wicked; the messenger commanded predatory birds to scavenge the flesh of the vanquished as the "great banquet of God" (see Eze 39:17-20; Rev 19:17-18). The forces of light stood arrayed against those of darkness ("the beast and the kings of the earth"; Rev 19:19) but the king-general alone gained immediate and total victory. He captured the beast and his agent (see Rev 13:11-17), condemned them forever ("cast them alive into a lake of sulfurous fire") and slew those with the mark of the beast, thus allowing the grim prophecy of the predatory birds to be fulfilled (Rev 19:20-21).
Note the scene described a judgment more than a battle. The victory of the king-general depended solely on divine initiative, not on the participation of the faithful. Indeed they and the heavenly multitudes observed the action as passive bystanders. They were to give God the praise for his activity in the world.
2. Millennial Kingdom (20:1-15)
Chapter twenty of Revelation spoke of two movements (final judgment over Satan and the reign of Christ) spread in a chiasmus. This recalled the two phrases of divine judgment found in Dan 7:2-14 and Dan 7:23-27.
a. Imprisonment of Satan (20:1-3; Step A1)
John beheld an angel with the power to carry out the divine sentence over evil. The messenger chained Satan, cast him into a deep pit and locked the cell for a thousand years. The imprisonment was so complete that the devil could not communicate with the outside world ("sealed it...he should not deceive the nations any more"). Then, evil would find freedom for a brief time (Rev 20:1-3).
The span of a thousand years has sparked interest among Christians. The notion of the "millennial Kingdom" paralleled that of a creation day in Genesis 1; ancient Jews believed that, in God's eyes, a thousand years was like one day (Psa 90:4, 2 Pet 3:8). Through this lens, the span of the millennial Kingdom represented a day in the new creation.
b. Millennial Reign (20:4-6; Step B)
Next John saw the enthronement of the saved. The thrones represented seats of power and judgment where those who were persecuted, even martyred for the faith could condemn their evil opponents. While we could interpret the term "behead" literally (the death of St. Paul, for example), we should also extend the notion symbolically to all the faithful who resisted compromise with pagan society, those who Rome wished to silence ("beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God"; Rev 20:4).
John uniquely believed in two resurrections, but he meant the term "resurrection" in a greater sense as "transformation from death to life." In Phil 1:20-23, Paul felt torn between ministry on earth and death as a door to eternal life with Christ. Indeed, "Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Phil 1:20). In other words, Paul saw the reality of the Risen Christ realized within; death itself would make that reality fully manifest. So, in a sense, death was the first resurrection. Those who died in Christ were with Christ during the millennial Kingdom; these blessed would not face eternal damnation (see Jer 51:39, Jer 51:57 which the Aramaic translation or "Targum" of Jeremiah listed a "second death"); they would form a heavenly worship community ("priests of God and of Christ"). Only the unbelievers ("rest of the dead") would only be raised after the thousand year span (Rev 20:5-6).
c. Defeat of the Dragon (20:7-10; Step A2)
When the millennial Kingdom ended, the devious Satan will gather the multitudes ("sand of the sea" Jos 11:4; see Gen 22:17, Judges 7:12, 1 Sam 13:5, 2 Sam 17:11, Judith 2:20, 1 Mac 11:1) from the four corners of the earth to lay siege to the faithful ("camp of the saints and the beloved city", that is, the heavenly Jerusalem). But again, divine intervention would save them ("fire raining down from heaven" see 2 Kings 1:10). Like Rev 19:20-21, the devil would join the beast and his prophet in eternal damnation (Rev 20:7-10). Note the scene matched that of Rev 16:12-16, Rev 17:14 and Rev 19:11-21; the author weaved the same event into four different themes to highlight the importance of divine judgment.
John drew attention to the term "Gog and Magog," a reference to Eze 38:1-3. Magog appeared as the grandson of Noah (Gen 10:2), son of Japheth whose descendants, according to Jewish lore, populated Anatolia, Eurasia and Persia. The name "Gog" or "Goug" has no connection with a Reubenite of the same name in 1 Chron 5:4. Yet the term "Gog and Magog" gained a tradition in the inter-Testamental period. The third book of the Sibylline Oracles (Sib 3:319, 512) , a second century BCE Jewish text, packed Egypt, Persia and India with far distant lands to the north into the term. Dead Sea Scroll scrap 4Q523 listed "Gog and Magog". The Book of Jubilees (160-150 BCE) contained three references to Gog or Magog independent of each other; in every reference, the text referred to distant lands. In every case, the term referred to the "ends of the earth" as the ancient Jews conceived world geography.
3. Final Judgment (20:11-15)
John witnessed the Final Judgment where God the Almighty sat on the seat of victory ("white throne") and all the corrupt flee but in vain; both the living and the dead would face the divine judge who based his verdict on records of the individual's deeds ("they opened books" see Dan 7:10, 4 Ezra 6:20, 1 Enoch 90:20). Yet, another record appeared, the Book of Life which implicitly listed the saved (Dan 12:1, Exo 32:32-33, Psa 69:29, Mal 3:16, 1 Enoch 47:3; Rev 20:11-12).
All would find judgment. Ancient Jews did not believe those who lost at sea could find rest in the afterlife, so the "sea gave up its dead." Death and Hades ("Hell") were personified; even these two entities faced a verdict. Everyone and everything not found worthy would find its condemnation (in the "second death… the lake of fire"; Rev 20:13-15); this punishment meant total annihilation, the end of existence.
F. Step B2: New Jerusalem (21:1-22:5)
1. New Creation (21:1-8)
With the utter destruction of evil, John witnessed the establishment of the new order, a righteous cosmos (see Isa 65:17, 2 Pet 3:10-13, 1 Enoch 92:16). Since Jews saw the watery depths as a dark realm of unknown evils, they held the Kingdom would lack any such foreboding environment (Rev 21:1). With the transformation of creation complete, a new, divinely ordained Jerusalem descended (see Isa 65:17-19); unlike the notion that the holy city would rise to glory from the ruble (Isa 52:1), the new entity came from above. When John equated the city with the chaste bride of the Lamb, he inferred the city was not the physical infrastructure but the people themselves (see Isa 49:18, Rev 3:12, Rev 19:7, Rev 22:17; Rev 22:2). The prophetic, the apocalyptic tradition used the images of city and bride to refer to the faithful (bride: Hos 2:16, Isa 54:6, Eze 16, Tobit 13:16; city: Isa 61:10, Eze 40).
With a heavenly proclamation, a short liturgical dialogue commenced:
Assistant: Behold, God's dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away.
Leader: He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new. It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give freely to him who is thirsty from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes, I will give him these things. I will be his God, and he will be my son. But for the cowardly, unbelieving, sinners, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their part is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
The loud voice declared God's dwelling would be among his people. Normally, the Temple stood as the place of divine dwelling, the "house of God," but that notion shifted to the community (1 Cor 6:19). The author used the Greek word "skene" for dwelling, meaning "tent"; John 1:14 employed the verb derivation of the word with the phrase, "...the Word became flesh and ‘pitched his tent' among his people..." The word meant more than a physical structure; it referred to the Shekinah, the manifestation of God's presence. In that presence, the faithful would enjoy a permanent covenant relationship with the divine (see Eze 37:27, Zech 8:8). And, with the old order passing away (see 4 Ezra 8:53, 1 Enoch 66:10), God would wipe away all the vestiges of evil ("tears" see Isa 25:8; Rev 21:3-4).
Then God spoke, renewing creation ("...all things new...it is done..." see Isa 43:19, 2 Cor 5:17; Rev 21:5). He declared himself both eternal ("Alpha...Omega, Beginning...End") and giver of grace ("give freely...from the spring of the waters of life"; Rev 21:6). Then, he judged the individual. The unwavering believer he will give the place of the adopted child and an intimate relationship ("I will be his God" see 2 Sam 7:14; Rev 21:7). But the backsliders, the apostates and the immoral he would destroy (Rev 22:8).
2. New Jerusalem (21:9-27)
John returned to the vision of the community of the saved, the heavenly Jerusalem. One of the angels who poured judgment on the earth revealed the sight of the Lamb's bride. Echoing Rev 4:1-2, the author beheld the glory of the community as an ecstatic experience ("...in the Spirit") on the spot closest to divinity ("mountain top", see Exo 19:3, 1 Kings 19:11-12, Matt 17:2–9, Mark 9:2–10, Luke 9:28–36; Rev 21:9-10). He now saw the presence of God within the community ("having the glory of God"); in Rev 4:3, he described divine radiance as "a jasper stone" (a sign of divine glory, see Isa 54:11-12, Zech 2:5), now the faithful shone like "a jasper stone, clear as crystal" (Rev 21:11).
John outlined the heavenly Jerusalem by evoking the description of the Temple in Ezekiel from chapters 40 through 47. While John severely shortened Ezekiel's lay out, he exploded the Exile prophet's dimensions (as we will see below). He did not dwell on details of the new city, unlike Ezekiel who, as a priest, spent an extraordinary amount of ink on the details of the Temple. He did not even consider sacrificial cult, while the prophet obsessed over it. He focused on evangelization (the saved from every nation entering the city, even foreign leaders) but the prophet concerned himself with covenant justice (the remnant leaving the Temple to reclaim the Land). John saw the Law implicitly fulfilled while Ezekiel obsessed over its restoration.
John painted the safety of ("great, high wall") and the Spirit-attracted access ("twelve gates...twelve angels") to the community in spacial terms; the symmetry of the gates allowed peoples from the four corners of the earth to find a place. Notice the continuity of the Hebrew ("...gates...with the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel"; see Eze 48:30-35) and Christian traditions in the community ("twelve foundations … twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb"). Also note the number "twelve" invoked multiple times to emphasize the complete and total nature of salvation (Rev 21:12-14).
In Rev 11:1-2, an angel commanded John to count the distances in the inner courtyard of the Temple with a measuring rod. Now, God's own messenger would lay out the city's dimensions (see Eze 40:3) as a cube, the geometric symbol of YHWH's perfection (see Eze 45:2, Eze 48:16); 1 Kings 6:20 described the Holy of Holies which contained the Ark of the Covenant (hence the divine presence) as a cube. The author envisioned the city's dimensions on an unimaginable scale for ancients to grasp; the measure (12,000 strada, about 1500 miles) symbolically reinforced the complete and total character of salvation (12,000=12x1000; Rev 21:15-16). Ezekiel's Temple merely stood at a mile square, but lay upon a mount 51 miles long by 21 miles wide (Eze 42:15-19).
John shifted in measure when he described the height of the city wall; 144 cubits (261 feet high) could not compare to the height of the city at 1500 cubits. However, a literal interpretation would miss the import of the number. Like the uncountable number of the saved (144,000 in Rev 7:4-9), the height of the wall represented completeness compounded (12x12=144), thus again reinforcing what kind of salvation God offered to the faithful. After all, this was a divine measure (that "of an angel"; Rev 21:17).
The author then laid out glory of God's presence in the construction of the city. The glory of God contained the community ("wall was jasper"), yet revealed everything since it was reflective yet transparent from within ("city was pure gold, like transparent glass"; Rev 21:17-18). The divine presence provided a solid basis for the community (the cornerstone was jasper); John described the city's foundation as twelve precious stones (see Isa 54:11-12, Tobit 13:16-17), representing the witness of the Apostles. They created a color pallet not unlike a rainbow: jasper (clear diamond-like), sapphire (blue), agate or chalcedony (green), emerald (deeper green), onyx or sardonyx (red), sardius or carnelian (deeper red), chrysolite (gold quartz), beryl (bluish green), topaz (yellow), chrysoprase (color uncertain), jacinth (reddish orange) and amethyst (purple). The colors of the stones themselves, not their size or consistency, stood out, emphasizing the glory of the divine presence (Rev 21:19-20).
The pearl gates compounded both their precious nature and their desirability with their immense size (see Isa 54:12, Matt 13:46) to stress the attraction of evangelization to all people. The author repeated the quality (gold) and transparency of the streets (Rev 21:18) to again emphasize God's presence (Rev 21:21). John would lay out the themes of divine presence and evangelization throughout the rest of the chapter. First, the presence of God (light, "the very glory of God illuminated"; see Matt 5:14-16, Isa 60:19) lie in the community (city "...with no Temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple"; Rev 21:22-23). And, second, ongoing evangelization (city "gates will never close..." see Isa 60:11) would draw all peoples into that presence ("nations will walk in it light...they will bring glory and grandeur of the nations into it so they can enter" see Isa 60:11; Rev 21:24-26). Yet, entry into the community meant repentance ("nothing unclean…nor the detestable nor the liar will enter it….only those written in the Lamb's Book of Life" see Isa 52:1, Isa 35:8, Eze 44:9; Rev 21:27).
3. River of Life (22:1-5)
John again echoed Ezekiel. In Eze 47:1-12, the prophet described a water source that bubbled up from the foundation of the Temple, then flowed into a great river that spilled over the mountains into the Dead Sea, bringing life to vegetation along its banks and wildlife to the salt lake. John foresaw the living waters ("water of life, clear as crystal") flow not from the house of God but from his very presence ("throne of God and his Lamb") through the midst of the community ("middle of its main street"). On the bank of the heavenly river lie the "tree of life," a reference to the tree in Gen 2:9 and Gen 3:22; in this sense, the fruit of the tree did not bring the curse of death but everlasting life ("twelve kinds of fruit, yielding it fruit every month") and universal healing ("...of the nations"). God had set creation aright and now ruled over his community of faithful servants ("their name will be on their foreheads"); they experienced the divine presence ("they will see his face...the Lord God will shine on them"; Rev 22:1-5).
G. Step A2: Epilogue (22:6-17)
John ended his book of visions with a worship dialogue. The angel of Christ affirmed the veracity of the Spirit-filled prophecies (see Num 27:16) given by his servants (indicating the community itself had the charism of prophecy). Then Christ himself spoke of his immanent return and gave a blessing to those who held to its contents (see Rev 1:1-3; Rev 22:6-7).
Next, John identified himself as the witness to the book. In response to the angel who revealed the visions, he prostrated himself, but the angel dissuaded him, claiming equality with the author, his fellow prophets and the faithful themselves. Then the angel exhorted John to worship God and keep the message of the book alive ("don't seal the message...the time is near"; Rev 22:8-10). Finally, the angel stated that the conditions of the world would continue in two parallels: "unjust-righteous" and "unclean-holy" (Rev 22:10).
Both parallels foreshadowed the judgment of the Christ. He reassured his timely return as the divine judge ("...Alpha and Omega...") who would reward the faithful ("blessed are those who keep his commandments") with the symbols of eternal life, entry into the saved community ("enter the gates of the city") and partake in its fellowship ("right to the tree of life") But he would damn the immoral ("dogs"). Then, he identified himself by name ("I, Jesus...")and declared he sent the Spirit ("his angel") to the audience assemblies, thus affirming the truth in the book. He finished his statement with an identification, not as divine, but as human in his lineage with David ("his root and descendant") who shined as king ("the bright and morning star" see Isa 11:1; Rev 22:12-16).
John warned both his audience and his possible detractors (see Deu 4:2, Deu 12:32). He cursed those who ignored his words with the plagues found in his prophecy, while he condemned those who would water down his message with excommunication (Rev 22:18-19). If we skip those caveats, we can see a continuation of the liturgical dialogue of invitation. The Lord and his assembly beckoned outsiders to hear, enter the community and be spiritually refreshed ("...water of life…" see Isa 55:1; Rev 22:17), then affirmed his quick return. The faithful responded entreating the Lord to come (Rev 22:20). A possible reconstruction of the sacred dialogue is below:
Leader 1: The Lord says, "Behold, I come quickly. My reward is with me, to repay to each man according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies. I am the root and the offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star."
Leader 2: The Spirit and the bride say:
Leader 2: He who hears, let him say:
Leader 2: He who is thirsty:
Leader 2: He who desires:
All: Let him take the water of life freely.
Leader 1: The Lord says: Yes, I will come quickly.
All: Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.
In Aramaic, the phrase "Come, Lord" was "Marana tha" (see 1 Cor 16:22). The Eucharistic prayer in the Didache, an early second century CE Christian text, stated:
Let grace come and this world pass away.
Hosanna to the God of David.
Whoever is holy, let him come. Whoever is not, let him repent.
Marana tha. Amen.
Notice how both books shared the attitude of expectation and the call to repentance.
John ended the book with a benediction on his audience (Rev 22:21).
First Horseman of the Apocalypse. Bamberger Apokalypse [Public domain]
Agora at Smyrna. Georges Jansoone JoJan [Public domain]
Statue of Artemis. David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
Temple to Trajan at Pergamon. Carlos Delgado [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Temple to Artemis at Sardis. simonjenkins' photos [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
Zeus on Temple Throne. Sanne Smit [Public domain]
Street in Laodicea. Rjdeadly [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
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Worship of the 144,000. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld [Public domain]
Two Witnesses of Revelation. Bamberg State Library [Public domain]
Wall Painting of Mt. Vesuvius at Casa del Centenario, Pompeii, Italy. WolfgangRieger [Public domain]
Our Lady of Guadalupe. Ignatian Solidarity Network
Bust of Nero. cjh1452000 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
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Fall of Babylon. British Museum [Public Domain]
New Jerusalem. Bamberg State Library [Public domain]