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Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Lesson 35

Revelation (Part 2)

In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Lesson 35
Watching Now
Revelation (Part 2)

II. REVELATION: GOD'S PLAN FOR COSMIC HISTORY (PART 1)

A. Background to the Revelation

1. John in mid-90's on Patmos under Domition

2. Writing to encourage persecuted churches in Asia Minor to "overcome"

3. Three-fold genre

a. Apocalyptic

b. Prophetic

c. Epistolary

4. A preterist-futurist approach

5. A historic (classical) premillenial approach

B. Revelation Time Line

1. Past: Intro (Chapter 1)

2. Present

a. Chapters 2-3: Letters to 7 churches

b. Chapters 4-5: Heavenly Praise

3. Future

a. Chapters 6-19

i. 7 Seals

ii. 7 Trumpets

iii. 7 Bowls of God's Wrath

b. Chapters 20-22

i. Millenium

ii. New Heavens and New Earth

C. Revelation 1-6

1. Chapter 1 – Rich theology, especially Christology

2. Chapters 2-3 – The whole spectrum of churches, good and bad (from Philadelphia to Laodicea)

a. Note also 2:9 and 3:9 and the birkath-ha-minim

b. Note Philadelphia vs. Smyrna

c. Not three abused texts (3:10, 3:15, 3:20)

3. Chapters 4-5 – Heavenly praise to prepare us for what comes next: the lion who is a Lamb (5:5-6)

4. Chapter 6 – Seals as precursors to tribulation

D. Unsealing a scroll

E. Approaching the Abyss

1. Seals

2. Trumpets

3. Bowls

4. The End

F. Revelation 7-11

1. Chapter 7 – First interlude; Jews who represent the whole church

2. Chapters 8-9 – Plagues like in Egypt

a. 1/3 the key fraction

b. Woes: overtly demonic

c. Believers still protected (9:4)

d. Intended for repentance (9:20-21)

3. Chapters 10-11 – Second interlude

a. The little, bittersweet scroll (but now no more delay)

b. The powerful witness (progressive polarization)

4. Progressive polarization before the End (Chapter 11)

a. Successful evangelism

b. Increase of evil

G. The Tribulation of Revelation (7) 8-16

1. Scenario 1

a. First three years

i. First (2) cycles of plagues (chapters 7-10)

ii. Testimony of the two witnesses (chapters 11-12)

b. Second three years

i. Persecution of God's elect (chapters 13-14)

ii. Final cycle of plagues (chapters 15-17)

2. Scenario 2 (3 years)

a. Testimony of the two witnesses

b. Persecution of God's elect


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Transcript
  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

     

  • Correlation of the accounts in Galatians and Acts on Paul's trip to Jerusalem. 

  • Galatians as a model of apologetics supporting Christianity.

  • Comparing faith and works in Judaism and Christianity. 

  • Paul faced persecution when he preached in Thessalonica. The return of Christ is a central theme in the letters to the Thessalonians.

  • One aspect of the subject of biblical eschatology is the timing and nature of the tribulation. 

  • Paul addresses the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as concerns regarding marriage, spiritiual gifts and the resurrection.

  • Divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by both theology and lifestyle.

  • Whether or not believers should eat food that had been offered to idols was an issue in the Corinthian church. The importance and role of spiritual gifts was a major topic of discussion.

  • Paul updates the people in the church in Corinth about his travels. He also follows up on relationships and defends his apostolic ministry.

  • Paul responds to specific situations in the Corinthian church including emphasizing a correct perspective on giving and encouragement to see God's redemptive purpose in our suffering.

  • Knowing the key places as backgrounds for Romans, the timeline and the outline of the book are helpful to understanding the context and message.

  • Paul wrote Romans as a systematic exposition of the gospel.

     

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the deity of Christ. Philemon was written to a gentlema Paul knows to encourage him to welcome back Onesimus, his runaway slave, who became a disciple of Christ and was returning.

  • Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

  • Paul describes the blessings of salvation and encourages believers to live in unity that transcends cultural and racial barriers. 

  • Paul describes to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, who they are in Christ, and the ethical implications for how they should live their daily lives.

  • Paul contrasts the condescention and the exaltation of Christ, and addresses specific situations in the Philippian church.

  • Paul writes to encourage and instruct Timothy and Titus, both of whom are young pastors. It is important for Titus to identify and train elders and deal effectively with factious people. 

  • Paul instructs Timothy about how to pastor a church and turn it away from heresy.

  • Both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians contain key passages addressing the roles of men and women in the local church. Some of them address conduct when gathering for corporate worship.

  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gives some direction for gender roles in a worship service.

  • Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

  • James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

  • A prominent theme in Hebrews chapters 1-5 is the superiority of Christ to the angels and to Moses.

  • Hebrews 6:4-8 is a key warning passage. Christ's priesthood is superior to both the Levitical priesthood and also to Melchizedek. Chapter 11 remembers the heroes of the faith.

  • A major theme of 1 Peter is perseverance despite persecution.

  • The outline of 1 Peter has similarities to other letters of the first century that emphasize a high view of Christology.

  • Jude and 2 Peter both emphasize refuting false teachers.

  • In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

  • As you study and preach from the epistles of John, note the passages that Dr. Blomberg describes as, “gems from John.”

  • Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

  • In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

  • In both of the possible scenarios for the tribulation, believers are exempt from God’s wrath but they are not exempt from Satan’s attacks.

  • Revelation chapters 12-22 cover themes of salvation and judgment of nations, Armageddon, the millennium and the new heavens and new earth.

Using the English New Testament, this course surveys the New Testament epistles and the apocalypse. Issues of introduction and content receive emphasis as well as a continual focus on the theology of evangelism and on the contemporary relevance of the variety of issues these documents raise for contemporary life.

 

Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
nt512-35
Revelation (Part 2)
Lesson Transcript

 

This is the 35th lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. 

 

Some exegetical notes for Revelation 1-6: I remind the readers that a much greater detail appears in our accompanying textbook, Acts through revelation, An Introduction and Survey by Craig Blomberg. But to continue, the theology of Revelation has often been viewed as limited, almost entirely to eschatology and then to minute debates over the specific end time’s scenario that had been revealed to John. A profitable exercise in reading through Revelation can help to bracket all references however straight forward or symbolic to eschatology or the study of the end times and look merely what Revelation teaches about the whole range of other theological topics and doctrine. And perhaps chapter 1 is as good a place to illustrate this as anywhere. For example, if one reads merely from the greetings and doxology, another pair of features that are often found in works that are exclusively in epistolary form as we have seen repeatedly. One reads Revelation 1:4-8 where we see John writing to the seven churches in Asia offering them grace and peace. Paul did the same thing in his letters combining key Christian and Jewish greetings. That grace and peace is said to be from God  and if we are not sure that this is referring to God, we will see shortly as he is described as the One who is, who was and who is to come, that is the everlasting. The Omni temporal and yet one who is distinguished from Jesus Christ in verse 5. And from the seven spirits who with the footnotes throughout the NIV and TNIV are also rendered the seven-fold or the complete spirit from that common Jewish usage of the number seven; a number of perfection which goes all the way back to the days of creation. This is probably with Richard Balkan and others, though against David Onia and others, a reference to Holy Spirit and thus we have a key Trinitarian reference here already in the opening verses of John’s greetings. 

 

The person and work of Jesus Christ is then unpacked further and the faithful witness, the one who preserved his testimony and did not abandon his faith, his mission, despite his agonizing crucifixion/martyrdom inflicted upon him, but leading him to become the first born from the dead. The first chronologically in rank, not merely to have been resuscitated however miraculously, but resurrected to new life, thus inaugurating the new age and Messianic Kingdom. And because he is preeminent and sovereign, only to God the Father in majesty and rank throughout the universe, he is Lord of the Kings on the earth. But balancing this sovereignty is his tenor love, to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, atoning by substitutionary sacrifice and has made us to be a Kingdom and Priest to serve his God and Father, our derivative regal and intercessory roles that give us direct access to Christ, to God, who is also our heavenly Father, with not merely the authoritative connotations of the 1st century and behind that term, but also tones of intimacy that in the best cases attach to it. 

 

Even as one gets into that which is more explicitly eschatological, never forget that 1:7 is the key piece, the key fundamental of the faith that historic orthodox Christianity has always agreed on, that Christ is coming back as a combination to world history and the ushering in of a very different kind of human existence though still in continuity with the heavens and earth that he originally created, redeeming his originally good creation and purposing for that creation. We can agree on that, we can agree to disagree on almost everything else.  

 

Turning to chapters 2-3, we see from the kinds of descriptions of the seven churches with two receiving only commendations, two that receive condemnation, (one of which receives somewhat of a comment while the other, nothing) and the remaining three representing a spectrum of strengths and weaknesses and in between. This represents the whole spectrum of churches from the best to the worst in any given age with Philadelphia reflecting the best and Laodicea the worst in this particular era. Intriguingly also, because of the many things we could follow up in the letters, we will do so a bit more in the text. Please note that in discussing 1st Thessalonians 2 with the references to a synagogue of Satan in 2:9-3:9 aren’t anti-Semitic against all things Jewish but rather reflective of very local persecution from two specific synagogues, but also did occur in other places, particular after the so-called, ‘blessing of the heretics’ which was an actual curse on the heretics. Among them was the Nazarenes, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth and reflective of the addition of the Synagogue liturgy of praying down cruses on these apostates from Judaism. No wonder that tensions ran high when Jewish Christians in the churches which John writes have been ex-communicated, their names erased from the registers of the synagogues and one can understand why in those instances a Christian writer would see the hand of the devil behind the action that had been taken. It’s worth also commenting that it is not merely Philadelphia, though it received the lavish praise but Smyrna received no condemnation. 

 

For those who like to consider Philadelphia as symbolic alone of the true church of Christ in any era, the example of Smyrna gives the lie to this approach, but the reason why Smyrna doesn’t commend itself to many people as Philadelphia does as a model because despite their faithfulness, despite no hint of any fault on their part, we read in Revelation 2 that they are going to have to suffer for a short period of time, including imprisonment, persecution and even death. Whereas Philadelphia in 3:7 and following are given an open door; in verse 8, a place before them that no one can shut. Seemingly an open door for ministry without the kind of opposition that Smyrna will experience, because in verse 9, those who claim to be Jews though they are not, spiritually speaking, they are not the true heirs of the faithful Israelites of old though they may be ethnically Jewish, will come and fall down at your feet and acknowledged that I have loved you. This is not the same type of local enduring persecution that Smyrna will receive. 

 

The next point covered three somewhat abused texts in these letters to the seven churches. Interestingly all three come from the letters to the best and the worst churches, Philadelphia and Laodicea, perhaps because of there being the best and the worst has received the most scrutiny which has led to the wide spread use and or abuse of these texts. The first is Revelation 3:10 which follow verse 9, ‘since you have kept my command,’ John continues to the Philadelphian Christians, ‘to endure patiently, I will also keep you in the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. Is that a way of promising a pre-tribulation rapture? If the trial or tribulation is going to come upon the whole world is indeed that severe tribulation that immediately precedes Christ’s return about which Revelation will speak more explicitly beginning in chapter 7. Interestingly the expression kept from or to keep from employs the Greek verb, tereo following by the preposition and the only other combination of this exact pair of words in the New Testament appears in John 17 where Christ prays that his followers would be kept from the evil attacks of their day even while he explicitly makes clear that remaining in the world. If the tribulation here is a reference to the great tribulation at the end of human history, then the parallels in language would more support post tribulation than pretribulation. But it’s interesting that nothing else in chapters 2 and 3, even remotely suggest the great tribulation elsewhere persecution and hard times the Christians are going through or that loom on the horizon are uniquely those things took place in the 1st and 2nd century and therefore back to which John is referring here with the world as more than once in the writings of the first century being synonymous to the known world of the Roman Empire. If that is the case, we may deduce nothing about the form tribulation that John would be endorsing. 

 

In chapter 3:15 the letter to the church at Laodicea and reads, ‘I know your deeds, you are neither cold nor hot, I wish you were one or the other. Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.’ If we have ever had any archeology or not, it ought to sound odd to one familiar to Biblical theology in general when one hears the claim perpetuated by popular preachers and occasionally even by scholarly commentators, that the point of John’s teaching here is that God would rather someone be totally opposed to him or enthusiastically following him than committed half way undecided. Surely that is a perverse thought; surely God and all God’s people would far rather have someone on the blink of finally making a full-fledged commitment to Jesus than one from all human perspective appears to be beyond committing to Jesus and indeed my fall into that category that we will discussed in earlier lectures of having committed the unforgiveable sin and therefore being beyond the ability to return to Christ. From the 1950’s onward, there is now no excuse at all for holding any question or doubt about the church at Laodicea as archaeologists have confirmed that Laodicea did not have its own fresh water supply and therefore received either what began as cold crystal clear mountain water running down the Roman aqueduct to the city or from the hot therapeutic springs near Hierapolis, very much used for soothing and healing purposes, hot springs continue to be used today. Thus both cold and hot therapeutic are positive metaphors and it is only lukewarm that is a negative metaphor in this text. God would much rather have the Laodicea’s be on fire for him and so the metaphor is for full-fledged commitment rather than what they now find themselves in.

 

Finally in 3:20, maybe the best known of all of these three texts; ‘here I am, Jesus says, ‘I stand at the door knocking, if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them and they will eat with me.’ This is a text widely used for evangelistic invitations to let Christ come into to the hearts of the unsaved. Nothing is theologically wrong in this case with that interpretation and perhaps it is even derivatively true application of John’s original meaning but it’s not likely to have been John’s original meaning since he is still writing to a church of professing Christians, at least some of whom are true believers, if not a large number, even though they may be in that carnal or worldly state which we discussed when we looked at 1st Corinthians in 3, not clearly showing their true colors and therefore needing to be encouraged further. Doubtless John fears that some are not true believers at all and hence the comments about the fact that an evangelistic interpretation could be a derivative application but first, it is concerned for those who have ‘back slid’, who are not advancing in their Christian life as far as they should have, who need to turn back to the Lord with full vigor and he is writing more collectively as in all of the seven letters the church as a whole than he is to individuals. His first focus is that the church as a whole, recover more of what it once had.

 

Turning to chapters 4 and 5 and the majestic hymns of heavenly praise; many of which inspired Handel and his Messiah, we see a strategic placement of these two chapters, immediately before the unleashing of the tribulation and tribulations to come; much like the transfiguration in Jesus’ ministry came near the start of his road to the Cross as a way of giving his followers and himself a glimpse of the future, of the future glory that hopes of which can sustain people during the hard times. But as so often is the case even for all people by means of death and others by means of suffering preceding death.  The tribulation comes first and there is tribulation, whatever ones eschatology that all believers must endure before they can receive the full glory that is promised to them. 

 

Another point that needs highlighting because it sets up our understanding of Chapter 7 and is a new perspective for many introductory theological students, is the vision in 5:5-6, we might say the vision, the hearing and the seeing of Jesus in symbolic grab as the lion who is also a lamp. As John is morning the apparent lack of anyone being able to break the seal on the scroll that will depict end time judgement. Christ appears who alone is worthy, who will be able to unfold and disclose what is about to come, but instead of him being described here as Jesus, or Christ or Son of God and any other unambiguous title; we read, ‘one of the elders said of John, do not weep, see the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ The lion was already in the Greek world of John’s day, a metaphor for the king of the beast; this also is the tribe of Judah, clearly the messianic tribe of the Jews who had looked forward to; a Savior coming on the basis of Old Testament prophesies. The root of David narrowing down that this messianic king would be in the line and model of great King David. It’s no question that this is Jesus the Messiah in view but he is described with the powerful kingly regal metaphors and symbols in visionary form for John’s benefit as a lion.

 

But we are never told that John sees any lion. All the elder does is to say to him, ‘see, look, there’s a lion.’ But in verse 6, presumably describes what happens when he looks and when he sees, reads, ‘then I saw a lamp.’ And not a baby sheep but one looking as if it had been slain, a sheep led to slaughter. Also with Old Testament symbolism, the suffering servant passages of Isaiah 52 and 53, the Passover lamp that was slaughtered. Beginning with the time of the Exodus and on from there. But why choose this imagery here out of many options, not least; it is about the most diametric opposite metaphor of symbol to a lion out of the pool of options available to God that would make sense to God from his particular historical background. The lion who is also a lamb, the conqueror who conquers through martyrdom, the king who suffers and dies before he can triumph, that paradox or semi-oxymoron is at the very heart of the Christian Gospel. I recall 1 Corinthians 1 here and 2 and elsewhere. Keep that in mind as well when we come to chapter 7. 

 

Meanwhile, thanks to the triumph, chapter 6 begins that large middle section of Revelation that unfolds the coming judgements. There are two reasons, though this is disputed for seeing the first set of judgements or at least the first five of the seven of the seals as not part of the great tribulation of the last days of the last days itself.  But rather as pre-cursers to tribulation of those things that must happen and have happened throughout church history, throughout human history repeatedly and undoubtedly continue to happen and as we have already commented in Christ’s Olive Discourse in Mathew 24 and Mark 13, these things will happen but the end is not yet. The end is still to come but birth pains, there are labor pains like those of a woman giving birth, reminding her that there is a baby coming. But for any woman who has experienced false labor, very core predictors of when the actual birth will take place, except to remind her that the process is continuing and that thing are closer than they were. Thus when we read about the seals that is explained as imperialism, conquering, death, famine, warfare and all of its horrors, we realize that there is nothing unique the great tribulation immediately preceding Christ’s return about these judgements from God. Just as Christ in the Olivet Discourse said, ‘these things must happen but the end is not yet.’ 

 

With the 5th seal, we have a very different kind of explanation, namely the cries of the martyrs’ as to how it must be, before God’s full vengeance, i.e. final judgement will come and the answer again simply, a little longer. Yet another way to reinforce our understanding that these are not the last set of events that come toward the end, but earlier preliminary suffering, even though more delay is still to hand. With the sixth seal, we apparently have a very different kind of judgement of God. One that is with the first glance appears not only appears part of the great tribulation but to bring us to the very end of that period as if it belongs to the last of the seven bull judgements rather than here as nearly the six of twenty one judgements in totally. In chapter 6:12, we read that John watched as the angel opened the sixth seal and there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black like sackcloth made of great hair, the whole moon turned blood red and the stars fell to earth as figs dropped from the fig tree when shaken by a strong wind, the sky was like a scroll as every mountain and island was removed from its place and even if this is not literal language, it describes such cosmic upheaval that it’s hard to imagine how the universe could continue in any fashion, not to mention the more theological explanation in verse 17, the great day of wrath of God and the Lamb has come and who can withstand it?