Sunday, September 6, 2020

Apocalyptic? #9: Revelation 1:1-3 Commentary


Writing from the Isle of Patmos (pictured above):

1 “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 

2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.


(Revelation 1:1-3 NIV)


Are you ready to “take on” what the dean of all Revelation scholars, R.H. Charles, has called “the most difficult book in the entire Bible”?  Dr. Charles began his Lectures on the Apocalypse for the British Academy in 1919 with the words:  "From the earliest ages of the Church, it has been universally admitted that the Apocalypse is the most difficult book of the entire Bible.  School after school has essayed its interpretation, and school after school has in turn retired in failure from the task."  Nevertheless, using principles culled from the writings of more recent scholars of Revelation, over the past 100 years, fully understanding Revelation is very possible.  I have attempted to prepare you for this daunting task with my first eight posts in this series:

Apocalyptic?  #1:  The End introduced Jesus and God as the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  Before John penned these words in the Book of Revelation, the Greek philosopher Aristotle coined a word—entelechy/εντέλεχεια—to describe any process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Although I began this series with a look at YOUR END, the human drama John sees had its beginning in Creation (Genesis 1-2) and its end in a New Creation (Revelation 21-22).  God is there at both the beginning and the end.  He is also there at every point in the middle—even the point at which you and I are living (and dying).

Apocalyptic?  #2:  Reading Revelation through the Mirror showed you how to read this book, in light of the entelechy John is unfolding.  Entelechies (the one in Revelation, included) are frequently mirror images.  If the same person is BOTH the First AND the Last, BOTH the Beginning AND the End, we can visualize a single person looking into a mirror.  The individual appears BOTH Outside the mirror AND Inside the mirror as equidistant images of the VERY SAME INDIVIDUAL.  I showed you that the book of Revelation is a mirror image of everything that had happened before John wrote the book, and that the key to understanding the book is to look at the future through the mirror of the past.

Apocalyptic?  #3:  The Mirror Image of the Week showed you that one of John’s major mirror images is the Creation “week”—which lasted 7 “days.”  John takes us to Daniel 9 and makes much of the fact that, in 69 A.D. (when John is writing), his audience was living in the MIDDLE of the last WEEK of years (7 years) prophesied by Daniel:  “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week (7 years): and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of ABOMINATIONS he shall make it DESOLATE, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the DESOLATE”  (Daniel 9:27).  Daniel’s prophecy of the ceasing of the sacrifice was fulfilled in 70 A.D., as the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple.  The Roman War against the Jews had begun in 66 A.D. and would last for SEVEN years (3 ½ more years)—until 73 A.D. 

Apocalyptic?  #4:  The Week that Lasted 7000 Years cites Revelation 20:2 (NIV): “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”  With his mention of the 1000 years in which the Dragon is confined to the Abyss, John raises the specter of the Cosmic Week (7000 year human history) discussed by the School of Elias.  The German scholar, Paul Billerbeck, observes that, according to the school of Elias, humankind would exist on earth for a total of six thousand years, followed by the 7th day (Sabbath), i.e., eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth. 

Apocalyptic?  #5:  The 7000 Year Drama and the 3 Women introduced a breakdown of the 7000-year-long week into 3 segments of 2000 years each, with each 2 day (2000 years) represented by a metaphorical woman at war with a metaphorical dragon.  The first woman, Eve, represented the time from Adam to Abraham.  That time was PAST, when John penned his book.  The second woman, Israel, represented the time from Abraham to the birth of Christianity and the 7-year-long war between the Jews and Romans (from 66-73 A.D.).  That time is now PRESENT (for John’s audience), but its END IS NEAR.  The third woman, the Church, is preparing to be rescued from the world, and to rule with Christ for more than a thousand years.  That time is still FUTURE (for John’s audience), but its BEGINNING IS NEAR.

Apocalyptic?  #6:  The Divorce of God (7 Seals) points to God saying in Isaiah 50:1 (See also Jeremiah 3:6-10): “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, with which I have put her away?” Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophesying a time when God would divorce Israel.  Catching the attention of Israel was the goal of the Seven Seals of Revelation.  He wanted to warn Israel that (in 69 A.D.) she was in the process of being DIVORCED, to give her the chance to repent.  J. Massyngberde Ford observes: “The Hebrew document which resembles the apocalyptic scroll most closely is the get mequssar, the tied (folded and sealed) deed [used by] . . . priests who wished to divorce their wives.”

Apocalyptic?  #7:  The Number 666 and the Friday Fixation enlightens us concerning the SIXES in Revelation (including the ominous number 666 [Revelation 13:18]). John is using what Kenneth Burke calls the psychology of form to indicate to his audience (in 69 A.D.) that it was on the brink of the “end” of a list of seven.  Something cataclysmal was about to happen.

Apocalyptic?  #8:  ZERO STRESS—Shalom—The New Heaven and New Earth glimpsed the “happy ending” of this vast human drama.  John offers us a glimpse of an existence in which there is no stress at all.  Zero Stress or perfect peace/perfect rest involves experiencing Zero Corporal Stress—no illness, injury, hunger, thirst, pain, tears, death, etc.  Zero Community Stress—no conflict, war, litigation, argumentation, fighting, etc.  Zero Conscientious Stress—zero temptation.  Zero Cash Stress—no money.  Nothing to spend money on. Zero Competence Stress—no difficult tasks required to be done.  Zero Confusion Stress—no sense of being lost.  Zero Chrono Stress: Eternity has no deadlines.


So, now to my commentary:

Revelation 1:1-3:  The Prologue

 The revelation”--The literary genre in which Revelation is placed most frequently is the literary genre "apocalyptic."  Even this placement, however, is not totally satisfactory.  (The genre placement proves itself by itself.)  The genre is actually named for the book of Revelation (Oepke, in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 578).  The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis from which derive the English terms:  Apocalypse and Apocalyptic.  Thus, the book of Revelation became the paradigm (prime example) for the genre classification "apocalyptic."  There are, nonetheless, both Jewish and Christian "apocalypses" which parallel many of the features of Revelation and at least some of these "apocalypses" borrowed much of their form from Revelation.

“from Jesus Christ, which God gave him . . . He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.”John may be the one writing this book, but his Acknowledgements begin with the person who showed him the revelation—Jesus the Messiah—and the person who gave the information to Jesus—God.  John does not mention, in the first sentence of the Prologue, either the other intermediary—God’s angel—or himself, John, perhaps, because, by so doing, he is indicating that he and the angel are less significant than the true authors: God and Jesus.  Indeed, John refers to himself as but a “servant.”

“to show his servants what must soon take place.”  Even though John is but a “servant,” he states that it is, actually, FOR THE SAKE OF God’s “servants” that they are given the revelation.  God and Jesus want their servants to know something about THEIR IMMEDIATE FUTURE: “what must SOON take place,” so that they will not lose faith, but will persist through the tragedies.  R. H. Charles asserts that the close affinity of Revelation to Jewish apocalypses indicates that (like Jewish apocalypses) Revelation should "be taken as referring first and chiefly to the times in which it was originally written" (Lectures, 1).  This assertion by Charles summarizes the position of the CONTEMPORARY-HISTORICAL methodology of interpreting Revelation.  Along with the scholarly consensus, the Contemporary-Historical methodology is the methodology I follow in my interpretation.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance to decide which of the two dating extremes is more acceptable.  The two optional dates are 96 A.D. and 69 A.D.  As you may have noticed in my previous posts, like F. F. Bruce, I am much more persuaded by the 69 A.D. date.  The historical events John describes in Revelation are events that “took place” SOON after 69 began.  Disagreeing with the 69 A.D. date, Adela Yarbro Collins cites evidence from individuals who wrote long after John’s book was written, suggesting that the "date [of writing] [was] about 95 or 96" (Crisis, 76) under the reign of Domitian.  However, she also states that "[t]here is insufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion that Domitian persecuted Christians as Christians" (Crisis, 77).  She points out that many interpreters see Revelation as a response to this situation:  Domitian was persecuting Christians, even forcing them to worship the emperor.  She says this entire scenario is false.  Yarbro Collins claims the crisis addressed in Revelation is more perceived than real.  In other words, she thinks the writer of Revelation was mistaken in his prophecy.  Collins’s view is frustratingly erroneous.  A more elaborate dramatistic analysis and more historical consistency may be found by dating the writing in 69 A.D.  A more consistent and elaborate dramatistic analysis of Revelation is what this blog series attempts to produce.

2 [John] who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  John is not personally “composing” this revelation; he is simply “testifying” to what he “saw.”  In the 7 letters in chapters 2 and 3, he even appears to be taking dictation from Jesus to the seven churches of Asia Minor, much in the same way Silas did for the Apostle Paul, in his letters.  Yet, John clearly uses his own symbol-system (as Kenneth Burke would call it).  John uses his own language in giving his testimony. 

Incidentally, the terms “testifies” and “testimony” are cognates (in the same word family) of the word “martyr.”  The word “martyr” did not originally mean one who is killed; it simply meant one who witnesses.  Later, as the witnesses were slain for their testimony, “martyr” took on the connotation of one who is killed because of his testimony.  John identifies himself along with his "brothers--those having the testimony [marturia] of Jesus—and states that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (19:10).  Also connected as a cognate of the word “martyr,” then, are the two Witnesses (martusi) that prophecied for three and one-half years, and then lay dead for three and one-half days on the street of the great city where their lord was crucified (11:3,6).

Even though John is only reporting/testifying to what he saw, John’s language is unique.  This fact is actually evidence that only one person (John) wrote the book of Revelation.  Some Revelation scholars have made the mistake of thinking that Revelation was “composed” from several sources.  Although John writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew.  His language shows that dual-language mind, throughout the book.  Therefore, correspondence between Greek and Hebrew terms often points to and resolves important issues.  John’s “Hebraized Greek” language may be compared to someone’s unique use of Spanglish (Spanish and English mashed together), in modern day.  Johns unique language is so prominent that Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza states: “The unitary character of Revelation's language and symbol system argues against . . . an arbitrary dissection of the text" (161).  Throughout her chapter on "The Composition and Structure of Revelation," Fiorenza champions the unity of Revelation:  "The unitary composition of Rev[elation] does not result from a final redactor's arbitrary compilation but from the author's theological conception and literary composition" (159).  Once again, although Fiorenza uses the term “composition,” John is not composing this revelation.  He does, however, choose from his own unique vocabulary the terms of his testimony.  As a lawyer might say to a witness on the stand: “Tell us in YOUR OWN WORDS what happened.”

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.  The concept of a Hebrew “blessing” is often misunderstood by modern-day Christians.  Christians say, “Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”  When Jesus “blessed” food, however, he did not actually “bless food.”  He used the words, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, who bringest forth bread from the earth, the one who created the fruit of the vine.”  Christians say, “Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,” but in the Hebrew mind, we do not ask God to bless food or houses.  Instead, we BLESS PERSONS (especially God)!  John blessed “the ONE who reads aloud the words of this prophecy AND . . . THOSE who hear it and take to heart what is written.”  We bless GOD.  We always give a justification for our blessing:  BECAUSE He brings bread out of the earth; He creates grapes.  For John, the justification for blessing the reader and hearers is this: “BECAUSE the time is near.”  The time is near for what?  John already mentioned it in verse 1: “what must SOON take place.”


More commentary SOON!

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