Thursday, November 12, 2020

Apocalyptic? #13: 2020 Vision and Hearing (Rev. 1:7, 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22)

 

“every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; (1:7)

 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 
(2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22)

 

 

(Revelation 1:7, 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22  NIV)

                                                                                                                                              


Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 
As I write this blogpost, the 2020 U.S. Election voting has just taken place (one week ago, this past Tuesday) and the American electorate see and hear the election results in two entirely different ways.  The vast majority of mainstream media outlets have called the Presidential Election for Joe Biden.  Talk Radio, Real Clear Politics, and NewsMax--have not yet chosen to call the Presidential Election.  Seventy percent of those who voted for President Trump (roughly ½ of the country) believe that the election process was fraught with fraud.  Why do such large portions of the electorate “see” things so differently?  For one thing, each half of the population refuses to hear or see what the other half sees.  They choose which news media they will watch or listen to.

What does this election have to do with the Church?

It serves as what Kenneth Burke calls a “representative anecdote.”  One’s conclusions depend on how one “sees” things.  According to an exit poll conducted by CBS, 76% of the voters who identified themselves as White evangelical or white born-again Christian voted for Donald Trump.  That group represents 27% of the voters sampled.  73% of the voters who identified themselves as Protestant and other Christian, among whites, voted for Donald Trump.  That group represents 30% of the voters sampled.  56% of the voters who identified themselves as Catholics voted for Donald Trump.  That group represents 17% of the voters sampled.  On the other hand, 63% of the voters who identified themselves as having No Religion or Something Else voted for Joe Biden.  That group represents 18% of the voters sampled.  It would appear that the vast majority of Christians “saw” the issues in favor of Donald Trump.


Can so many Christians have been so wrong on the issues?  Could they not SEE?  Or was it the opposing voters who could not SEE?

One of Jesus’ favorite formulas, found in Matthew 11:15, Luke 8:8, and 14:35, is the cry: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear!”  John, in Revelation, records Jesus making the same cry to each of the Seven Churches.  But, what does this formula mean?  Hugo Odeberg, in his book The Fourth Gospel, notes that the verb HORAŌ/ὁράω/TO SEE in the Gospel of John “always refers to the spiritual sight, the spiritual perception” (40).  The parallel expression of the verb TO HEAR most likely indicates the same sort of spiritual hearing, the spiritual perception.  Hence:

John 1:18: “No man has SEEN God . . . the only begotten Son . . . has declared him.”

John 1:34: (John the Baptist’s statement) “I have SEEN and born witness that this [Jesus] is the Son of God.”

John 1:51: “You shall SEE the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.”

John 3:11: “We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have SEEN.”

John 4:45: “The Galileans received him, having SEEN all the things that he did in Jerusalem at the feast.”

John 6:2: “And a great multitude followed him because they SAW the signs which he did on them that were sick.”

John 8:38: “I speak the things which I have SEEN with my Father; and you also do the things which you have HEARD from your father [the devil].”

John 9:37-38: “You have both SEEN him and it is he who SPEAKS with you.  And he said, Lord, I believe.”

John 11:40: “Said I not to you that if you believe, you will SEE the glory of God?

John 14:9: “He that has SEEN me has SEEN the Father.”

John 15:24: “but now they have both SEEN and hated both me and my Father.”

John 16:16: “A little while and you behold me no more; and again a little while and you shall SEE me.

John 19:35: “And he that has SEEN has born witness, and his witness is true.”

John 19:37: “Scripture says, ‘They shall SEE him whom they pierced.’”


I am not suggesting that predestination is involved, but the kind of SEEING to which John’s Gospel refers is a “perfected” kind of sight (even better than 20-20 vision).  Indeed, some who have physical 20-20 vision cannot SEE at all in spiritual matters!  As Kenneth Burke says, "A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing--a focus upon object A involves a neglect of object B" (PC 49).  He considers this a type of psychosis.  I understand, as Burke suggests, that all seeing is partial, perspectival.  If I look at a soda can from only the side perspective, I see only a rectangle.  If I look at it only from a top or bottom perspective, I see only a circle.  If I look at it from an exterior perspective, I may believe it is solid.  If I look at it from an internal perspective, I see that it is hollow or filled with liquid.  No single perspective provides the full picture, that it is a hollow or liquid filled cylinder.  Every perspective is important.  This applies to the representative anecdote of the 2020 election.  (The perspectives of looking at the tabulated vote counts, recounts, Supreme Court interventions, ballot processing issues,” vote-counting software glitches, etc.)  This also applies to one’s knowledge of the world as it exists.  If one relies only on the perspective of sense data (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell), that one has personally experienced, one would not even know whether one even had great grandparents.  We learn that we had great grandparents from the testimony of our parents.  If a person says that s/he has accepted the “word” of others (which, of course, we do!), that person enters a new world of SEEING, tremendously larger than anything associated with the perspective of sense data that one has personally experienced.  Frankly, it must be said, we SEE what we want to SEE.  We HEAR what we want to HEAR.  We have what communication scholars call “selective perception.”


In my book Psychotic Entelechy:  The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology, pages 11-12, I observe:

A proverb that runs throughout the gospels and Acts in the New Testament reflects the same observation:  "Though seeing they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand" (Matthew 13:13 NIV; Cf., also Mark 4:12 and 8:18, Luke 8:10, John 9:39, and Acts 8:26).  Matthew attributes the proverb to the Old Testament book of Isaiah (6:9-10):

" . . . In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:  'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them' . . . ." (Matthew 13:14-15 NIV)

Thus, the Bible combines the two-sense-perception forms of SEEING and HEARING—as I have combined in this post.  To the churches, Jesus is saying:  You need to have EARS that actually HEAR.  Not everyone in the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea actually had EARS to HEAR.  As an example, not everyone who HEARS or READS my commentary on Revelation will SEE or HEAR what I SEE and HEAR.  That, of course, does not mean that I am SEEING incorrectly; nor does it mean that I am SEEING correctly.  Therefore, I aim at SEEING Revelation from MANY perspectives.


In my book Revelation: The Human Drama, I state that I specifically view the book from four primary perspectives:

1.      Poetics

2.      Psychological

3.      Socio-Political

4.      Rhetorical

Furthermore, I specifically view the book from several other perspectives (that many other interpreters do not use):

1.      The critical studies approach of renown liberal biblical scholars,

2.      The conservative, bible-believing, perspective of Evangelical scholars,

3.      The Greek and Hebrew language analysis of the original text,

4.      Old Testament studies

5.      The Rabbinic Jewish background of the New Testament

6.      Jewish Historical approach

7.      Church Historical approach

8.      Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical approach

9.      Aristotle’s rhetorical approach

10.  Contemporary Historical approach

11.  Premillennialism

12.  Postmillennialism

13.  Amillennialism

14.  Preterist views

Many liberal scholars refuse to consider many of these perspectives, because they are committed to a perspective that rules out the possibility of divine inspiration or predictive prophecy.  Many evangelicals refuse to consider many of these perspectives because their individual religious creeds commit them to a particular view.

The goal and objective is to have EARS to HEAR and EYES to SEE.  By viewing Revelation from as many perspectives as possible, we have a better chance of SEEING and HEARING as Jesus would have us SEE and HEAR!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Apocalyptic? #12: Coming with the Clouds (Rev. 1:5b-8)

 

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 

 

(Revelation 1:4-8 NIV)

                                                                                                                                              


To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.  In this popular benediction/doxology, quoted in the church down through the ages, John praises Jesus for so loving us that he paid for our sins by his death (John 3:16), and making us into a Kingdom of priests.  Martin Luther saw in this verse a very important doctrine: “The priesthood of all believers.”  We do not need to have priests (beyond our great high priest, Jesus) to approach God for us.  WE are ALL priests!  The clergy-laity distinction is unnecessary, if not completely wrong!  We will serve Jesus’ God and Father.   Notice that God is not only Jesus’ Father; John calls him Jesus’ God, as well.  The benediction/doxology ends with words familiar to all who pray the Lord’s Prayer: “To Him be glory and power for ever and ever!  Amen.”  The Lord’s Prayer ends: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever!  Amen.”  Who is the “Him” who has glory and power forever?  The antecedent of the pronoun “him” could be either Jesus (To him who loves us) or his God and Father (which is the closer antecedent).

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

 


The Clouds of Heaven

Daniel 7:13 states: “I saw One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence.”  In Matthew 24:30, Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man from Daniel and states: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”  Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27 agree, but shorten the prophecy to the words, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”  Since Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all pertain to Jesus’ mini-apocalypse and connect his “coming” with his prophecy of the Fall of Jerusalem, John is here effectively informing us that he is connecting the prophecies of Revelation to that same time frame, i.e., around 70 A.D.  Writing a year before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70, John is informing the churches in Asia Minor, which probably contained many who had fled Jerusalem and Judea because of Jesus’ prophecy and their perception of a gathering storm around Jerusalem, that he is writing concerning the apocalyptic events surrounding the Judean-Roman War that had begun a year earlier.  This further corroborates the dating of 69 A.D. that I presented in my earlier post (Apocalyptic? #10) that other scholars are unsuccessfully digging for historical referents in 96 A.D., I repeat the Indiana Jones line: “They are digging in the wrong place.”  They need to be digging in the historical events around 69 A.D. 


Every Eye Will See Him,
Even Those Who Pierced Him

Having said that, I am immediately confronted with the question of what will be the visible nature of Jesus’ “coming.”  What does he mean that EVERY EYE will see him?  The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association suggests a possibility:  

First, He will come for believers, both living and dead, in the “rapture” (read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). In this view, the rapture—which is the transformation and catching up of all Christians, dead or alive, to meet Christ in the air—will be secret, for it will be unknown to the world of unbelievers at the time of its happening.

The I Thessalonians passage (4:17) refers to the meeting in the clouds,” but the BillyGraham.com quotation says that that that meeting might be secret.”  Are the believers (both living and dead) the only ones who are indicated when John says that “every eye” will see him?  The Christians, you will note, are not the ones “who pierced him.”  Daniel only claimed that HE (in a vision) “saw One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Zechariah 12:10 states that God “will pour out on the house of David and on the residents of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer, and THEY will look on . . . the One they have pierced. They will mourn for Him.” 

και

So, was John saying that Jesus’ coming would be a visible event, clearly seen by everyone alive on Earth at the time and by everyone who has died in the history of mankind?  Or, was he saying, as BillyGraham.com suggests that the event will be secret?  A lot hinges on one little Greek word—KAI—that is normally translated “and,” but is translated “even” in the translation we have used: “EVEN those who pierced him.”  What would it mean, if it were translated “and”?  Wouldn’t it be redundant to say that “every eye” AND the eyes of those who pierced him would see him?  That’s probably why our translator chose another alternative: “even.”  Nevertheless, “even” is only one of several alternative translations of the word KAI.  Another major alternative translation is “namely” or “that is.”  If the “every eye” that will see him means “namely” those who pierced him, we do not have a universally visible event.  We have something closer to the suggestion of BillyGraham.com:  that it will “be secret.”  Matthew 26:64 has Jesus telling, specifically, the Sanhedrin that tried him: “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.  The vast majority of those who pierced him in 30 or 33 A.D. (being of adult age in that year) would now likely be dead (in 69 A.D.), so God may be saying that they (from their residence in Hades) will see the “Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven . . . approach[ing] the Ancient of Days and [being] led into His presence.”  This would fit clearly with Zechariah 12:10, that God “will pour out on the house of David and on the residents of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer, and THEY will look on . . . the One they have pierced. They will mourn for Him.”  John confirms: “all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” Keep in mind:  the word “earth” means “land (of Israel).”  Matthew 24:30 confirms: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”  The “tribes” are the twelve tribes; the “earth” is the “land” of Israel.  The Christians would NEVER “mourn” when they see Jesus being led into God’s presence.  In terms of mourning, Luke 23:28 reports Jesus’ words: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”


Furthermore, vast numbers of the residents of Jerusalem in 69 A.D. (especially, those old enough to have taken part in or to have accepted the “piercing” of Jesus) were savagely slain in the siege of Jerusalem.  Some of the younger residents were kept alive to provide sport for the wild beasts in the Roman amphitheaters, but the older residents were killed.  In fact, this event (the coming in the clouds) may not have been witnessed by ANYONE ALIVE—except for the Christians who were being raptured (in the Parousia).  The visible nature of Jesus’ “coming” is described elsewhere in the New Testament as happening “in the twinkling of an eye” (I Corinthians 15:52) and as happening as rapidly “as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west” (Matthew 24:27).  While “every eye” might “see” the lightning flash, the significance of what had happened would have occurred in such rapid-fire sequence that, effectively, it would have been “secret.”  Matthew 24:41 describes the event narratively: “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Luke 17:35 reports the same phenomenon.  Not only does that sound like a rapid-fire event, but also it would seem to place the general time frame of the Parousia as occurring at a time when “women [would] be grinding at the mill.”  For those who contend that the Parousia has not yet come, modern technology seems to have ended the period when women grinded at the mill.


How could the Parousia have happened “in secret” in the years from 70 to 73 A.D.?  How could no one have known about this event?  So many Jews (including Jewish Christians?) were either slain or escaped into hiding at that time that no one would know if they had been raptured, killed, or just gone into hiding.  I cited Church historian S. G. F. Brandon in the previous post: “[F]ar more amazing is the fact that . . . Christian Literature contains no record of the fate of its Mother Church in this calamity.”  What happened to them? 


When did Jesus say that the Parousia would occur?  Matthew 16:28 says: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”  Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27 repeat Jesus’ prophecy.  Put otherwise, a generation for the Jews is 40 years (based on the generation of wondering in the wilderness after the Exodus).  Jesus is cited in Matthew 24:32: “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.  Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32 repeat Jesus’ prophecy.  And, now, in 69 A.D., Revelation 1:1 (NIV) indicates that John is showing God’s “servants what must SOON take place.”  John is to be listened to by his audience, according to Revelation 1:3 (NIV): “because the time is NEAR.”  John predicts that the "time" is "near" also in Revelation 22:10, that Jesus is "coming soon" (Revelation 3:11, 22:20), that the dragon’s "time is short" (Revelation 12:12), and that these things “must soon take place" (Revelation 22:6).


Compare John’s discussion of “soon” with Daniel’s discussion of Nebuchadnezzar’s apocalyptic dream in Daniel 2:28: “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will necessarily happen in the last days . . . As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me,The Hebrew word for “reveals, revealer, and revealed” may be translated with forms of the term “apocalypse” in the Greek, which I think John does in Revelation 1:1.  Daniel then proceeds to predict the coming of four great empires,beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s own Babylonian empire, and proceeding through the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires, concluding with a messianic prophecy of one whose kingdom will never be destroyed (understand:  Jesus).  John borrows Daniel’s language of “show[ing] King Nebuchadnezzar what will necessarily happen in the last days” and changes the wording from showing “King Nebuchadnezzar” to showing “His servants what will necessarily happen SOON.”  John substitutes the word “soon” where Daniel had written “the last days.”  John has, therefore, stated that the prophecy of Daniel concerning the “kingdom will never be destroyed” is about to be fulfilled.  Soon!  Not in some far-off “last days.” 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

We have already discussed “Alpha and Omega” in previous posts (Apocalyptic?:  #1 and #2).  We have already discussed “who is, and who was, and who is to come” in a previous post (Apocalyptic?:  #11).  We will reserve discussing the term “Almighty” until a later post.  More “digging in the right place” coming soon. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Apocalyptic? #11: What Happened to the Jewish Church in 70 A.D.? Rev. 1:4b-5a

 

4b Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

 

(Revelation 1:4b-5a NIV)

                                                                                                                                              



Grace and peace
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Apostle Paul used this very greeting in each of his letters/epistles, but he used the Greek word for “peace (IRENE)” and coupled it with the word “grace (CHARIS).”  (Rom. 1:7, I Cor. 1:3, II Cor. 1:2, Gal. 1:3, Eph. 1:2, Phil. 1:2, Col. 1:2, I Thess. 1:1, II Thess. 1:2, I Tim. 1:2, II Tim. 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3.  Although some want to ascribe the authorship of Hebrews to Paul, Hebrews does NOT have this signature greeting. James does NOT have this signature greeting.  I Peter picks up and uses the greeting (1:2), as does II Peter (1:2).  NEITHER I John NOR III John employ the greeting, but II John (1:3) does.  Jude does NOT have this signature greeting, but now we see the greeting AGAIN in Revelation.  We know why Paul would use the greeting “Peace/Shalom.”  He is Jewish.  The common Hebrew greeting is Shalom.  Why does Paul use the twin greeting—Grace AND Peace?  Paul is being creative.  He is using a literary device that John the author of Revelation also uses:  paronomasia.  In layman’s terms, Paul is using a “pun.”  In Revelation 22:2, John reports that the tree of life produces twelve “fruits,” corresponding to the twelve months of the year.  It might appear that this “twelve” has nothing to do with Israel, except for the strange shift from "fruits" to "leaves" in John's statement:  "And the leaves of the tree (are) for the healing of the nations."  The Greek word for "leaves" is phulla.  There would appear to be a play on words, what classicists call paronomasia, if John had intended the word to be a pun on the word "tribes" (phulai).  In the Old Testament, the twelve tribes are presented as being capable of healing of the nations (Ezekiel 47:12, Genesis 12:1-3, 26:3-4)



Paul’s pun in his “grace and peace” greeting relates to how closely the words charis (meaning grace) and chaire (meaning rejoice) resemble each other when spoken aloud.  While Jews greet each other with the word shalom, pagan Greeks greeted each other with the word chaire (meaning Rejoice!)—similar to wishing someone in the 21st century: “Good Day!”  Charis (meaning grace) is a perfect greeting for Gentile Greek-speaking Christians.  All Christians know how important the theological concept of Grace is for Christians (especially, in Paul’s theology).  Paul is punning in substituting the Greek word charis for chaire.  Although he understands himself to be the apostle to the Gentiles, he actually reaches out to BOTH Jews and Gentiles.  Therefore, Paul begins each letter with a Jewish greeting (shalom) AND a Greek Christian greeting (charis).  He begins virtually every missionary visit to a city by teaching in the local synagogue—In Damascus, immediately following his conversion experience (Acts 9:20), in Salamis (Acts 13:5), in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14, 43), in Iconium (Acts 14:1), in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), in Berea (Acts 17:10), in Athens (Acts 17:17), in Corinth (Acts 18:4, 8), and in Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 19:8).


The stated conclusion of Paul’s joint missionary work with both Jews and Gentiles (centered in Ephesus) is phrased in Acts 19:10 (NIV): “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”  This would seem to confirm that the gospel had, by Paul’s time, probably spread to all seven of the churches in Asia mentioned in Revelation.



So, perhaps, that explains why Paul uses this twin greeting, but why did Peter, in I and II Peter, plus the writer of II John, plus John in Revelation use the twin greeting?  They picked it up from Paul, because it was such a good greeting!  Church historian S. G. F. Brandon posits that Paul had lost virtually all influence in the church-at-large by 70 A.D.  Brandon is wrong if John, writing in 69 A.D. uses Paul’s signature greeting.  Brandon is wrong, if Peter is the actual author of the two letters ascribed to him.  I Peter 5:12 (NIV) states: “12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly.”  Yes, that’s the same Silas who was the companion and amanuensis (one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts) of Paul.  Apparently, he is also now an amanuensis for Peter.  II Peter 3:15-16 (NIV) states: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  Incidentally, the epistle from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth that is attributed to Clement (although Clement’s name does not appear in the epistle) also uses Paul’s twin greeting.  Although that specific epistle is not canonical or inspired, it shows internal evidence of having been written before 70 A.D.  It mentions the temple as still existing.  Paul, of course, exerted influence on both the church at Rome and the church at Corinth.  Paul is mentioned positively in this epistle, so, Brandon’s point about the lost influence of Paul by 70 A.D. is somewhat shakier.  We will return to Brandon’s argument, in a moment.

 

from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  Paul almost always greets his audience by offering his wish for Grace and Peace FROM two individuals:  God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  John, writing in Revelation mentions the phrase “from Jesus Christ,” but instead of using the phrase “from God our Father,” he describes God in clear terminology: “from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come,” in other words, the eternal one. 


John will use the same literary device when introducing Jesus in each of the letters to the seven churches, beginning in Chapter 2.  He never mentions Jesus by name, there, but always uses attributes of Jesus, most of which he spells out in his vision of Jesus, later in this chapter.  Who the “seven spirits” are is a little more complicated, but will be dealt with, in a later post. 



The three attributes of Jesus are:

1. That he is the faithful witness.  Remember that the term “witness” is the term “martyr.” 

2. That he is the ruler of the kings of the earth (or: kings of the land).  This conceptualization is reminiscent of Psalm 2:

1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 

2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, 

3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” 

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 

5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 

6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” 

7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. 

8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 

9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” 

 

In Revelation 6:15, the kings of the earth are among those who hide from the great day of wrath.  This may be the wrath of God directed against the kings of the earth in Psalm 2:5. In Revelation 17:2 and in 18:3 and 9, the harlot Babylon commits porneia with the kings of the earth.  In Revelation 17:18, the harlot Babylon is the city which has "kingship" over the kings of the earth.  In Revelation 19:19, the kings of the earth assemble for war with the Messiah, after the harlot has been destroyed, and the beast is at that point thrown into the lake of fire.      

Acts 4 offers a Christianized version/interpretation of Psalm 2:

And the peoples [Gk. laoi] think vain things.  The kings of the earth and the rulers [Gk. archontês] were assembled on the same (day?) against the Lord and against his Christ.  For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the heathen and the peoples [Gk. laoi] of Israel were gathered together against your holy child, Jesus, whom you anointed. (Acts 4:25-27, emphases mine)


Acts connects the term "rulers" with the “kings.”  In Acts 4:5, the rulers were gathered along with the elders and scribes.  Specifically, verse 6 reports that this group included "Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of high-priestly family" (emphasis mine).  Peter addresses the group in verse 8 as "rulers [archontês] of the people [laos] and elders of Israel" (emphasis mine).  In this authoritative Christian exegesis, then, this Psalm is interpreted as a syncretistic alliance between the rulers of the people (the priestly family) and the kings of the earth (Herod and Pontius Pilate, specifically).    

The issue as to whether the term "earth" is to be taken as generally referring to the entire world or specifically as referring to Palestine is important.  The Jews most frequently refer to the “Land of Israel” as simply the “Land.”  The Hebrew word for “Land” is the same word translated “Earth.”  The only specific "kings of the earth" which are identified in the Acts 4 passage were Herod and Pilate, both of whom ruled over only the "land" of Israel, although they received their authority from Rome.  If Babylon is Jerusalem, the location of her porneia would appear to be in the "land" of Israel. Certainly, either interpretation--Palestine or Earth--is possible, as Charles acknowledges (Commentary, 1:289).


The earth/land is to be the focus of the seven last plagues in 16:1, so this is a very important interpretive issue.  If John is speaking of a destruction which comes upon the land of Israel, rather than the entire earth, it is easy to find historical referents in the Jewish war of 66-73 A.D.

3. That he is the firstborn from the dead.  (Firstborn can either be a chronological first or a logical first.  Perhaps, with Jesus, it is both.  There are, however, individuals such as Lazarus who were raised from the dead before Jesus’ resurrection, but his resurrection appears to be into a mortal body.  There is also the Matthew 27:50-53 (NIV) passage:

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.


Jesus also had the following conversation with the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43 (NIV):

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Theologians may wrangle over chronological timelines, but the point that Jesus is “logically” the firstborn from the dead is fairly secure.

 

Where is the Jewish Christian Church after 70 A.D.?

 



What, then, is the historical problem that Church historian S. G. F. Brandon tries to solve by positing that Paul had fallen out of favor with the church by 70 A.D.?  He states it clearly (pp. 9-10):

The Epistles of Paul clearly attest the position of the Church at Jerusalem as the Mother Church of the Christian Faith.  . . . The position of the Jerusalem church then being such, it is certainly remarkable that, except for a few minor documents . . . there has survived no important authentic writing of the leaders of this Church.  . . . The fact of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 brings us to a question . . . that of the almost complete silence maintained in the Christian documents, both within and without the New Testament canon, about this event.  . . . But far more amazing is the fact that, except for the few remarks of Hegesippus in the second century, Christian Literature contains no record of the fate of its Mother Church in this calamity.


Brandon’s book (The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church:  A Study of the Effects of the Jewish Overthrow of A.D. 70 on Christianity, 2nd ed.) offers, as a solution to this problem, an elaborate proposed explanation that Paul, who wrote the earliest Christian documents in existence, must have experienced a time during which he lost all influence on the church.  During that time (the decade before 70 A.D.), the Jerusalem Church, teaching a form of Christianity (posited by Brandon) that linked itself closely to the Temple-based religion of the Jews, taught all of the churches throughout the world (including Paul’s churches) that all Christians (including the Gentiles) should follow all of the Jewish laws.  Therefore, when Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D., all of the Jewish Christians were so shocked and disappointed at the destruction of the Temple that they all reverted (converted back) to Judaism.  That’s how he explains the disappearance of the Jerusalem (and, for that matter, the rest of the Jewish) church.  He is correct that Paul had struggled in his ministry with those he called Judaizers or the Circumcision, but he always appears to show honor and respect to James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter (whom he calls Cephas) and the other apostles in Jerusalem (and vice-versa), except for the one time he confronted Peter in Antioch because he thought Peter was disrespecting the Gentile Christians.  The conclusion that Pauline Christianity was in direct conflict with the Mother Church is not at all probable.

Of course, if I am correct that Revelation was written by a Jewish Christian in 69 A.D. and predicts the fall of Jerusalem, there clearly must be another, better answer.  What is that answer?  We shall pursue that answer as we continue to “dig in the right place.”