Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Apocalyptic? #20: Mirroring the Gospels: Jesus in Heaven! (Rev. 4-5)

 

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.(Rev. 4:1 NKJV)

(The full text of Revelation 4-5 is printed in the RSV at the conclusion of this blogpost.)

 


It is now, finally, time to take the second step “back to the future” into the mirror (John’s mirror-image history/prophecy concerning the thousands of years of the human drama on earth).  In Chapter 1 of Revelation, John introduces his book by mirroring the age of the epistles.  In 1:4 (NIV), he begins: “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia:  Grace and peace to you,” just as Paul would have begun his epistles to each of his churches.  In 1:11 (NIV), John stipulates that it is Jesus who wants him to write epistles to the seven churches: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”  In Chapters 2 and 3, John writes those seven specific epistles to the churches. 

What is remarkable is that (after Chapter 3) John, in Revelation, NEVER AGAIN mentions those churches.  Instead, beginning with Chapter 4, John takes a second step into a mirror.  Now, John is stepping into a mirror image of the Gospels—the life of Jesus.  This time, however, he is picking up where the Gospels left off (after Jesus’ ascension, after his resurrection) and, for two chapters, he is focused upon the next phase in Jesus’ life—his existence in heaven. Beginning in chapter 6, John will take a third step into the mirror and begin to mirror the age of the prophets, as they promised that God would divorce Israel.  Jesus is given a “divorce scroll” with seven seals. 



Just as the priests of John’s age gave their sinful wives seven chances to repent before they were divorced, Jesus is giving “the inhabitants of the land” of Israel seven warnings (chances to repent) before he consummates the divorce at the opening of the seventh seal (at the end of Chapter 11).  To look at it a slightly different way, chapters 1 through 3 are addressed to the concerns of the Christians in Asia Minor (the seven churches).  Chapters 4 and 5 are concerned with the new status of Jesus, now alongside God in Heaven. Chapters 6 through 11 (and, in another step, from the age of the prophets to the period of the plagues of Exodus in chapters 15 through 19) are concerned with the Jewish people who had rejected Jesus.  As one can detect by the greater number of chapters John devotes to this concern with the Jewish people who had rejected Jesus, this concern is the primary focus of the Book of Revelation.


It surprises many people to learn that the word “heaven” does not mean what they think it means.  Many think that heaven is the utopian destination to which we go when we die.  Not so.  Heaven is the term used to indicate the throne of God.  Often, in the Bible, the terms God and Heaven are interchangeable.  For those acquainted with synecdoche, this happens as the “container” represents the “thing contained.”  To speak of the “Kingdom of God” is the same thing as to speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Similarly, we say the White House and the Kremlin agreed on an arms treaty, although we really mean that the U.S. President and the Russian President (and, frankly, the most influential of their advisors) agreed.  If you are searching the book of Revelation to find the utopian destination to which we go when we die, you will find a somewhat better depiction in chapters 21 and 22, but even then, the symbolism prevails and you must not interpret the chapters completely literally.


Just as the gospels set the scene for Jesus’ earthly life—Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt, Galilee, Samaria, Jerusalem, the temple, etc.—so, Revelation chapter 4 sets the scene for the next phase of Jesus’ life—the throne room in Heaven.  Everything we see in chapter 4 is exactly what ANY JEW might expect to see in Heaven:  God’s throne framed by a rainbow, as in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and elsewhere, with God Almighty sitting on it (verses 2-3), twenty-four seats surrounding the throne of God with twenty-four elders, reminiscent of I Chronicles 24, Leviticus 26, and elsewhere, seated therein (verse 4), with seven lamps of fire, such as the seven lamps of the menorah of the ancient temple and the tabernacle of God (verse 5), four living creatures, representing all of God’s animated creation—lion representing wild beasts, calf representing domesticated beasts, eagle representing fowl, man representing the human race, all resembling the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 with an allusion to the seraphim of Isaiah 6, and the sea of glass representing animated creation in the sea (verse 6), with all attendants to the throne worshiping the “holy” Lord God Almighty because He had “created” all things (verses 6-11).  No Jew would object to this picture, so far.  All are agreed that all creation should “worship” the Lord God Almighty because of his creation of all things.  The Baruch Atah prayer of the Jews from the time of the Mishnah unto the present time attests to that. The Shema of Israel attests that the Lord our God is One.


Then comes Jesus, in chapter 5.  This chapter, disclosing the next phase of Jesus’ existence following the Gospels, is the great stumbling block for many Jews.  Chapter 5 has the gall to explain how Jesus, like the Lord God Almighty, is now also “worthy” of praise and worship and blessing.  That’s the problem:  Jews allow themselves to worship only one individual:  the Lord God Almighty.  Nevertheless, in this chapter, Christians (along with “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea” [Revelation 5:13]) say: “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, AND TO THE LAMB forever and ever” (KJV). 


How did this new development occur?  As I described in an earlier post (Apocalyptic? #6), the dilemma in chapter 5 revolves around God holding a book sealed with seven seals (verse 1).  An angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose[n] the seals thereof?” (verse 2, KJV).  However, “no man in heaven, nor on earth, neither under the earth, was able [understand: worthy] to open the book” and look inside (verse 3).  J. M. Ford identified the kind of book it was: 


The Hebrew document . . . the get mequssar, the tied (folded and sealed) deed . . . originated with priests who wished to divorce their wives, as in Baba Bathra 160b (Epstein):

What is the reason why the Rabbis instituted a folded (deed)?—They were [in] a place [inhabited] by priests, who were very hot-tempered and they divorced their wives (for the slightest provocation). Consequently, the Rabbis made [this] provision, so that in the meantime they might cool down.

The book [Greek: biblion] is a bill of divorce.  The term.biblion is used for a bill of divorce in LXX Deut 24:1,3, Isa 50:1, Jer 3:8, Mark 10:4, Matt 19:7. (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, vol. 38 of The Anchor Bible [Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975], 92-94.)

In Deuteronomy 24:1 and 3, the very same term for “bill” of divorce (biblion) is used when God gave Israel the law concerning divorce as when in Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 prophesied that God would divorce Israel—would give her a bill of divorcement.  The document actually resembled a pamphlet or brochure, rather than a scroll.  It was sealed at every fold.  Jesus (the Lamb) was the only Israelite deemed “worthy” to break the seals and open the biblion.  Jesus was the victim of Israel’s greatest sin—demanding his crucifixion.  Each time a seal was broken, there was an opportunity for God’s wife—Israel—to repent and be forgiven. 


Who is “worthy” to condemn a woman taken in the act of (even spiritual) adultery (as was the case with the Balaamites, Nicolaitans, and Jezebel in the earlier addressed seven churches and the Harlot Jerusalem:  the porneia/pornē/Great Harlot Babylon)?  Although the Greek text of John 7:53-8:11 does not appear in any existing Greek New Testament texts or other language versions until the 5th century A.D., and, therefore, may not be an inspired text from the Bible, it does give us some insight into what may be happening here in Revelation.  John’s gospel account is the account of a woman taken in the very act of adultery—indicating that she must have been married to someone else.  She is brought to Jesus to see if she should appropriately be stoned to death (not just divorced).  Jesus responds that whoever among her accusers is “without sin” may indeed “cast the first stone,” thus commencing the execution of the woman.  Apparently, none of her accusers considered themselves “worthy” to cast the first stone, by Jesus’ standards.  Then, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”  By the standards of this account, an accuser must himself/herself be “without sin” in order to be “worthy” to execute judgment on an adulterer/adulteress.  Hence, the dilemma in Revelation 5:  no man was worthy to open the seals of the divorce scroll.  All had sinned.

But, wait!  After John wept because of this dilemma, in verse 4, an elder told him, in verse 5, “Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book and to loosen the seven seals.”  Who is this Lion of Judah?  The Lamb that had been slain (verse 6).  His coming and taking the book from the hand of God (verse 7) prompted the outpouring of worship from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (verse 8), because he was “worthy” to open the seals (verse 9). What made him worthy?  He “was slain and . . . redeemed us to God by [his] blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation” (verse 9).  Therefore, ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels, living creatures, and elders (verse 11) proclaimed: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (verse 12). 

Jesus and God are, thus, now both worthy of worship.  This is what Jews stumble over.  Christians worship BOTH God and Christ, His Son.

 

Revelation 4 and 5 (RSV):

1 After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this." 

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! 

3 And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. 

4 Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. 

5 From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; 

6 and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 

7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 

8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" 

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 

10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 

11 "Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created."

 

1 And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 

2 and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 

3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 

4 and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to into into it. 

5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." 

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; 

7 and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 

8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; 

9 and they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 

10 and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth." 

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 

12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" 

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, "To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!" 

14 And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.

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