Lecture 29: Revelation Part 1
Lecture 29: Revelation Part 1
This is the 29th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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The Purpose of Revelation is to encourage suffering saints.
Flow Assignment 2nd Peter 1:3-11
‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’
I. Author and Location
John is the author and the style is very close to that of the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John. However some do argue that this isn’t John the apostle, but their arguments are not very convincing. The Book can be attributed to the apocalyptic genre. It is written from Patmos, an island opposite of Miletus off the coast of Asia Minor. We don’t know for sure why John was there, but he says because of the Word of God, however most have argued it was because of some kind of persecution.
There have been intense debates on the date whether it be the early 90s or late 60s. The traditional view is the early 90s and I sort of hold to that but it is possible that it was written in the late 60s. This is known as the Preterist view which actually depends on it being written in the 60s, before the destruction of the temple. Some people are really strong about it being written in the 60s, a viewpoint coming from conservative Christian groups.
The situation is obviously persecution. The martyrs under the altar are mentioned in 6:9. John refers to the trial on the earth in 3:10. We are told a number of times that Babylon poured out the blood of people several times. There is also a reference to the martyrs being beheaded. This is a quick survey telling us that people are being put to death for being Christians, but this doesn’t seem to be an empire wide sustained persecution. Instead it seems to be a sporadic persecution that is breaking out in different places. There is no evidence that there was a sustained persecution of Christians in the 1st century. It wasn’t quiet that organized. It happened from time to time and from place to place.
The genre of the book is three fold. It is prophesy, an epistle and apocalyptic. This is somewhat of a simple definition. But apocalyptic literature is simply revelation, but it can also be described as a supernatural unveiling of what is about to take place. It is a divine disclosure usually via angels or a prominent person, in this case, John, in which God promises to intervene in human history to destroy evil and to bring in his kingdom. A more official definition as stated by an apocalyptic committee where every word was weighed states that an apocalyptic is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an-other worldly being to a human recipient disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal in so far that it envisages eschatological revelation. So there is a temporal timeline; a story that goes through history. It also involves another supernatural world, the world above. It was intended to interpret present earthly circumstances, usually difficult ones in light of the supernatural world of the future and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority. Some characteristics of apocalyptic include a historical dualism, not anthological where God and Satan are equally powerful but it is a historical dualism where there is battle between God and Satan. There are visions and pseudonymity and revelation. There is the use of symbolism, numerology which is very important in the Book of Revelation. There is also angelology and also demonology. Note that apocalyptic literature wasn’t unfamiliar with people as indicated by other apocalyptic works. The distance between us and the time of the Bible is clear when we open the Book of Revelation. For modern people it is strange to them but it wasn’t so strange for the readers of the 1st and early centuries.
V. Destination: 7 Churches of Asia Minor (1:4; 2:1-3:22)
It was written to the seven churches of Asia Minor. So it wasn’t written to us but to them. So one of my key points in the Book of Revelation; yes, they could understand the book. This is a big difference from today and many popular prophetic usages being proclaimed today. We cannot understand Revelation today like those people of the 1st century AD. You cannot compare what is called ‘newspaper eschatology’ to that of the understanding of the early readers. Interestingly the meaning of Revelation changes as world current events changes; it keeps shifting throughout history along with people who have been identified as the anti-Christ throughout history, so many, yet not one have been true. However, it is obvious that Revelation will be fulfilled and will have some relationship to history.
VI. Theories of Interpretation
There is the Preterist theory, another word for the past, the past being the key to interpreting Revelation. There is an evangelical wing and also a liberal wing. The Pretorius simply states that it was written to the early church and it was all fulfilled in the 1st century. It states that the beast and Babylon are both Rome with the first readers understanding this. In regards to the liberal wing, John was wrong; he thought the end was coming. He said that Jesus was coming soon; he was talking about Rome. There is no doubt about it; the original readers understood it, but he was wrong because Jesus didn’t come back. The evangelistic view agrees in many respects to this; the beast is Rome and Babylon is the city of Rome, but John is not wrong. They believe that much of Revelation was fulfilled in AD 70. I therefore think that they rightly place Revelation into its historical context. But I think they too simply limit Revelation to AD 70 and start forcing their interpretation to be understood in light of the writings of Josephus and the Jewish war of AD 70. The second view which is known as the idealist view agrees with the Preterist view in that we ought to interpret it in light of history but only as a general picture of what will happen ultimately. The objection to this view is that it isn’t specific enough. But I’m really an idealist when it comes to Revelation. I see it as more general than specific. Dennis Johnson who teaches at West Minister Seminary in Escondido California in his book, Triumph and the Lamp portrayed Revelation in this way, an idealist view.
The third view is the historical view. This view tries to interpret the seven letters in light of church history. Starting out with the Ephesus church that lost its first love. Some believe that is what happened to the early church; they lost their first love. The Smyrna church was the church of the martyrs. For today, I would classify us as being lukewarm. According to this view these letters were written chronologically as periods of church history, but hardly anyone holds this view now. It is a rather weak view; the churches are actually removed from their historical context and read as prophecies in church history. With this view, we are almost forced to consider today’s church as the lukewarm group. Not too many people hold this view anymore. The futurist view is the fourth view and it is the view that you are most familiar with. This understands Revelation as being almost completely in the future. It will be fulfilled at the end and everybody is trying to figure out what all of these symbols are about. There are many books written on this and even some movies. There is the left behind series, Hal Linsey, etc. plus an unending stream of books which aren’t necessarily bad; most are encouraging us to keep up the fight until the end. We need to keep in mind that Jesus is coming again. I think there are a lot of flaws and misinterpretations in these books, but the Lord still uses them. And, I believe this view is partially correct as there are parts of Revelation that will be fulfilled in the future. It is just that the detailed fulfillment that is overly stressed that I don’t think is correct; it’s also the speculative nature of some of these books.
VII. Interpretive Standpoint
So to sum this up; I think we need to interpret the Book of Revelation historically in light of understanding the Old Testament. But this presents a problem because most people don’t know the Old Testament. If we have the Old Testament background and we interpret Revelation in context, I think we could make good sense of it. Okay, there are passages in Revelation that I simply don’t know what they mean and I may find out that I am wrong on quite a few things. So to repeat, the main purpose of Revelation is to encourage suffering saints. but for the western church, we almost think of Revelation as we think about UFO’s. It’s fascinating but separate from our everyday lives and so it is sort of like a puzzle that needs to be figured out. But we separate ourselves from it. However, the early Christians were suffering intensely and for them Revelation was a sort of pastoral.
I. Introduction 1:1-20
So we see Jesus Christ as being the object of Revelation. This book reveals to us Jesus Christ and it is a revelation given by Jesus Christ also; both are true. Luther complained about Revelation saying that it should reveal something. I think Luther was wrong when he said this because it did reveal to us, Jesus Christ. It actually fit Luther’s theology as his theology of being Christo Centric. Revelation is certainly Christo Centric as it focuses on who Jesus Christ is. ‘The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.’ I believe the word ‘soon’ here includes all of history. John received visions in verse 2. Then we have a blessing for those who read aloud the words of this prophecy since most people didn’t have books or scrolls. And it is not just hearing being the blessing but keeping and obeying it. This is the pastoral sense coming in right from the beginning. In verse 4, John writes to the seven churches in Asia and then we have grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come from the seven spirits and from Jesus Christ. I suggest that this is a reference to the trinity. Grace and peace only come from God; so you have grace and peace from the Father, the Spirit and the Son. The Father is the one who is, who was and who is to come; a reference that goes back to Exodus. Revelation has something like 400 allusions to the Old Testament. They are in almost every verse. From the seven spirits who are before his throne where seven is a symbolic standing for the perfection of who the Spirit is. He is the faithful witness and the firstborn of the dead. Jesus is sovereign over death. Even if Rome is making your life miserable, he is still in control over the kings of the earth. John is trying to strengthen those who are suffering by saying that Jesus knows what is happening to you. You can trust him for he is ruling and reigning. He says to him who loves us, who freed us from our sins by his blood. We have the center of our faith; we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
(It would be very interesting to do a sermon on the Cross from Revelation in apocalyptic language. The Cross winds its way through Revelation again and again.) Revelation is about the Cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We are now part of God’s kingdom; we are his kings and his priests. We see in verse 7 that Jesus is coming with the clouds where everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the countries of the earth will bow on account of him. Here, we have a reference to both Daniel and Zechariah. Coming with the clouds is from Daniel and even those who pierced him are from Zechariah. Will the people of earth morn in repentance or from the judgement that is coming? Verse 8, I am the Alpha and the Omega, says God. I am who is and was and is to come; I am in control, God is saying and the suffering church needs to understand this. Verse 10 says that John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day; in other words the Spirit came upon him for the reason of prophecy. He is commanded to write down what he sees and send it to the seven churches of Ephesus, Smyma, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and to Laodicea. In verse 12, ‘I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me’ is apocalyptic language. I saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of them one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. This all comes from Daniel 7; the son of man is Jesus. The robe that he is wearing is a priestly robe to portray his priestly image. His hair was white as snow. In Daniel 7, you have the son of man who comes up to the Ancient of Days. But in Daniel 7, it is God who has the white hair. John takes the Old Testament and tweaks it somewhat. John is saying here that the Son of Man is also God. His eyes were like a flame of fire penetrating everything. His feet were like bronze, refined in a furnace. They are feet that can crush you if you oppose him. This is just imagery; he doesn’t really have bronze feet. The part that says his voice was like the roar of waters also comes from the Old Testament. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. Now, nobody puts a sharp two-edged sword in their mouths. This stands for the Word of God; the strength of his Word. His face was like the sun shining in full strength. The glory on his face was so remarkable.
When John saw him, John fell at his feet as though dead. He fainted! But he laid his right hand upon me telling me not to fear. And then the message for the suffering church, ‘I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ Since I’m living, you will live; isn’t that what he is saying? This is a great message for the church and us. Those seven stars are the angels and the lampstands are the seven churches. I don’t know what the angels of the seven churches are; some think they were pastors but usually angels in Revelation are angels.
II. Letters to the Seven Churches 2:1-3:22
There is a pattern here. The letters are addressed to the angel of each church. John encourages most of the churches. He complains about some of them, in fact, most of them. There are a couple of churches that he doesn’t complain about. He calls them to repentance and threatens them with judgement. There is a promise to over-comers and a call to hear. There is no complaint in regards to Smyrna and Philadelphia. The first epistle is to the church at Ephesus and is covered in verses 1-7. ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.’ This is part of the vision of Christ. The point here is that he walks in the midst of the church; he knows what is going on. He encourages them by telling them that he knows their works, their toils and endurance and how they cannot bear with those who are evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and found them to be false. Verse 6 says that they hate the works of the Nicolaitans. This church is concerned with orthodoxy and they do good works, testing things doctrinally. He commends them for all of this. Remember that the complaint is that they have lost their first love. They don’t have that same passionate love they once had. He calls them to repent and threatens them with judgement and calls on them to overcome. Verse 7b, ‘to the one who overcomes, I will grant him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ Here John is using language from Genesis saying that you must overcome to experience eternal life, to be saved on the last day. This is a salvation where God does a new work in his people.
In the next vision, we have Smyrna in verses 8-11. He says here, ‘the words of the first and the last, he who died and came to life.’ John says, I know your tribulation and your poverty and the slander of those who say that they are Jews, are not, but instead they are a synagogue of Satan.’ So who are the true Jews? We are the true Jews; those who belong to the people of God. Remember, this is said to a persecuted church by a person is a Jew himself. This is not anti-Semitic. He says that ‘the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.’ So they were to be tested for ten days and they will get out of prison. Is this just literal here? I think he means a period of time but short compared to eternity. Then he says to be faithful unto death. They might kill you but I will give you the crown of life. There is no complaint against this church. He further says, ‘he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says; the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ The second death is the lake of fire. So you must stand for Jesus or he will deny you on the last day. But he says to this church that they will live with him forever. To move down to verse 17, the white stone and the hidden manna are symbols of eternal life. Through all these letters, those who overcome will receive eternal life. There is no complaint about the church in Philadelphia either.
Now I just want to say something about the church in Laodicea in 3:14-22. This is the last church. Note that from 1:18 – 3:22, God is speaking. In verse 3:14, ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.’ I think he means the author of God’s creation, the sovereign over creation. He says, ‘I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!’ Your works are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. They are horrible. I think he fits this to the cultural situation in Laodicea for they had piped hot water into the city but by the time it reached the city, it was lukewarm. I wish you were good but you aren’t. He is not saying that they will receive a lessor reward but instead he is saying that they will go to hell. This is what I think. You need me for you are so self-complacent. Listen to me. When he says in verse 20, ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock,’ this is related to people who profess to be Christians. This is the context. You need to repent. Of course this can be related to non-believers. He is saying to repent and believe. We will continue in the Revelation Part 2.