Chapter 8 of Revelation: Deja Vu

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be silent before God?

One of the more stunning reminders of the horrors of modern war stands in downtown Berlin in Germany. It is called: Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (memory church—see right). The church, built between 1891 and 1895 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, burned to the ground by Allied bombing on the night of November 18, 1943, except for the broken west tower. After the war, the people of Berlin built a new church (see below), but left the west tower as a reminder of the horrors of war.

The prophet Zephaniah (1:7).writes: Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near…

Why is it so hard to remember?

What is most interesting in Revelations 8 are not the four trumpets, it is the reason for the delay in their sounding.

The apostle John writes: And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel (Rev 8:3-4). The prayers of the saints delay judgment.

Do you believe in the power of prayer?

While some observers speculate that these are imprecatory prayers (damnation prayers such as Psalms 69 and 109), the delay of God’s judgment brings to mind the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). The prayers of the saints here echo Abraham’s response on hearing of God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (Gen 18:23).

Do you think that Abraham believed in the power of prayer?

The trumpets should also be familiar. The trumpet calls echo the plagues of Egypt in Exodus 9:22-25, 7:20-25, 10:21-23, and 10:12-15. For example, God commands Moses: Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt (Exod 9:23). Again, the allusion here is the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24).

Why is it so hard just to be silent before the Lord?

Questions

1. What does it mean to be silent before God? (Zephaniah 1:7; Psalm 32:3; Proverbs 17:28)
2. What image comes to mind when trumpets are blown in the bible? (Exodus 19:19; Joshua 6:1-4). How many times is the trumpet blown in Revelations 8 and 9?
3. What plagues do we hear about? (Exodus 9:22-25, 7:20-25, 10:21-23, and 10:12-15).
4. How do these scenes compare with the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21)?
5. What woes come to mind in Revelation 8:13? (Luke 6:20-27; Matt 23:12-30)

Chapter 8 of Revelation: Deja Vu

Also see:

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship 

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died….So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live (Num 21:5-9).

Judgment is not pretty—especially when it is deserved and avoidable.

Revelations 9 begins with the release of Satan from the abyss. V. 1 alludes to Jesus’ statement when the seventy-two disciples report by from their missionary trip: saying, Lord, even the demons subject to us in your name! And he [Jesus] said to them, I saw Satan are fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:17-18). Satan believes that he has won with Calvary’s cross, but he is defeated with resurrection on Easter morning. This is the paradox of the cross.

So what is the point of these horrible judgments? Our text provides two clues.

The first clue comes in the three references to scorpions (Revelations 9: 3, 5, and 10). The scorpion references are a reminder of the story of the fiery serpents in Numbers 21 cited above. When the Israelite people grumbled against God or, in other words, refused to believe in God, God sent fiery serpents among them. Of course, they deserved their fate, but God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Those looking at the snake were saved. (In other words, if you see fiery serpents or scorpions, then the appropriate response is repentance). This story anticipates the cross of Christ.

The second clue comes in Revelations 9:20- 21. Those who repent avoid all these torments. What are they to repent of? They are to repent of worshiping demons and idols and of murder, sorcery, immorality, and theft—at least four of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.

So what is the point of these horrible judgments? In Jesus, it is never too late turn to God and repent.

Questions

1. What image comes to mind when trumpets are blown in the bible? (Exodus 19:19; Joshua 6:1-4). How many times is the trumpet blown in Revelations 8 and 9?
2. Read Luke 10:17-18. What is the image of the star fallen from heaven to earth (Rev 9:1 ESV) bring to mind?
3. What is the point of these judgments?
4. What does the image of the smoke of a great furnace (Rev 9:2) remind you of? (Genesis 19:28)
5. What does the image of the scorpions bring to mind? (Numbers 21:5-9)
6. What is repented of? (Read Exodus 20).

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross

Also see:

Chapter 8 of Revelation: Deja Vu 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 10 of Revelation: Take and Eat

Clouds“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you.

Be not rebellious like that rebellious house;

open your mouth and eat what I give you.

And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me,

and behold, a scroll of a book was in it.” (Eze 2:8-9).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to eat a book and who is asking?

Let me start with the second question. The apostle John writes: “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven” (Rev 10:1).

Mighty here means big because v. 2 reports: And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land (Rev 10:2). The placement of his feet suggests authority over both, as in: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:6) which alludes to the authority of the Messiah.

Although this angel might be confused with God himself because he is: wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire (Rev 10:1), this same description appeared earlier asking: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Rev 5:2). It seems that this angel speaks with the authority of God and is tasked with keeping this scroll and commissioning prophets, as we learn later (Rev 10:11).

So what does it mean to eat a book?

The angel says to John: “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Rev 10:9 ESV). Beale and Carson (1117) see the sweet taste of the scroll referring to the life-sustaining attributes of God’s word, but the bitterness arising because of the judgment woes to follow.

In his book, Eat This Book, Peterson (90-117) sees this verse inviting us to read scripture differently. He commends to his readers a method of devotional study first introduced by Saint Benedict called Lectio Divina: reading (lectio), meditating (meditatio), contemplation (contemplatio), and praying (oratio). The purpose of reading scripture multiple times with different attitudes is to enhance spiritual reflection rather than simple to approach scripture through the mind. In this sense, Lectio Divina is a means of eating the text.

Bon appetite!

Questions

  1. How was your last celebration of Holy Week? Did you do anything special for Easter? Good Friday? Maundy Thursday?
  2. What is the key verse in chapter 10? Why?
  3. How does the key verse alter your opinion about the rest of the chapter?
  4. When the angel speaks, how does the angel sound? (v 3)
  5. Is the voice from heaven the same voice as the angel? (vv 4, 8)
  6. Is this angel the same angel described in Rev 5:2?
  7. What is Lectio Divino? What are the four aspects?

References

Beale, G.K. and D.A. Carson [Editors]. 2007. Commentary on the NT Use of the OT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Peterson, Eugene. 2006. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Chapter 10 of Revelation: Take and Eat

Also see:

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses

CloudsAnd when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be
alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation
will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will
be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These
are but the beginning of the birth pains (Mark 13:7-8).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly does judgment look like?

The images of the four horsemen of the apocalypses in Revelations 6 are as vivid as any in scripture (and likely taken from Zechariah 1:8). The allusion here is to the Olivet Discourse when Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives before entering Jerusalem for the last time and prophesied the destruction of the city (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21). The prophecy was quickly fulfilled as Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in AD 70—within that generation (Mark 13:30).

If you think that the four horsemen are a horrible judgment, take a look at the blessing and curses listed in Deuteronomy 28—stipulations for the Mosaic covenant. There we read: And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God (Deut 28:2). The voice of the Lord, in this case, is articulated in the Mosaic covenant. Later we read: But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you (Deut 28:15). And, of course, Deuteronomy 28 lists more curses than blessings.

The blessings and curses are attention grabbers. The expected response is: exactly what commandments, Lord, did you have in mind? (Remember: when scripture talks about the future, the purpose is to inform the present).

The clue to this question in Revelations 6 arises in the opening of the fifth seal. The martyrs of the faith ask: how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Rev 6:10) What is the response? The martyrs are told to: rest a little longer (Rev 6:11). In other words—the message to the seven churches is: be patient under persecution and remember who you serve. So the four living creatures may be saying: come, but not yet!

The Olivet Discourse underscores this point in the next verses: But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations (Mark 13:9-10).

While looking out for the fearsome horsemen, we are to be about our father’s business (Luke
2:49).

Questions

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6? a. What was judgment like under the Mosaic covenant? (Deuteronomy 28)
b. What does judgment look like in the Olivet Discourse? (Mark 13; Matthew 24; Luke 21)
c. What must happen before judgment? How are we to wait? How are we to respond?
3. Who are the four horsemen? What do they represent? (Zechariah 1:8)
4. What is special about the fifth seal?
a. What do the martyrs ask? (v. 10)
b. What is the response? (v. 11)
5. What is the allusion in the opening of the sixth seal? (Hint look at the references to the moon and what comes after in Mark 13; Matthew 24; and Luke 21

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses

Also see:

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Clouds“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.… they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them” (Isaiah 49:6-10).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle John sees heaven as an eternal party. He paints the picture he sees with familiar colors.

When a passage seems mysterious, look for the key verse. In chapter 7 of Revelation we see everything leading up to verse 10 where we witness a huge choir singing: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (Rev 7:10). This conclusion is highlighted in the reference to palm branches in verse 9.

For the uninitiated, scriptural allusions can be found by checking the concordance in a good reference bible—the scriptural references in the middle of the page or off in the margins. Old Testament allusions are often the most insightful. In verse 9, for example, we find an allusion to Leviticus 23:40-43—a key reference for the Feast of Tabernacles. You shall dwell in booths for seven days…that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (Lev 23:42-43). And, of course, we see the waving of palm branches (Lev 23:40). This party celebrates salvation—as mentioned in verse 10.

This chapter of Revelations is famous for its numbers. Here we read that the remnant of Israel will number 144,000. This is a big number, but the more important number comes in verse 9: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev 7:9). The remnant of Israel is numbered, but the multitude of Gentiles is too big to be numbered!

The allusion here is to the parable of the wedding feast. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. (Matt 22:2-3). The invited guests have no interest in the party so the king opens up the guest list: And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests (Matt 22:1). Our party is a wedding feast.

The most important allusion in Revelations 7 is to Isaiah. Isaiah 49, cited above, references one of the Servant Song passages—references to the coming Messiah. Jesus cited another Servant Song in his sermon in Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:18; Isa 61:1). Sunday morning worship is a rehearsal for the real party in heaven and we are guests of the king himself.

You have to love a good party! And guess what? You are invited.

QUESTIONS

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6?
3. What are the angels doing? (v. 1) Why? (v. 3)
4. How many saints are sealed from Israel? (v. 4) How many others? (v. 9) a. What is the parable of the wedding feast? (Matt 22:2-10)
5. What is going on in heaven? (vv. 10-12)
6. What does the elder ask? (v. 13) What is the answer (v. 14)
7. What are the Servant Songs in Isaiah? (v. 16; Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and 61:1-3)

 

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Also see:

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons

CloudsAfter this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice,
which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will
show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold,
a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (Rev 4:1-2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was in high school, the youth director at church, who knew that I was shy, appointed me photographer for the summer retreat. This was a brilliant move onher part because my new job required that I meet everyone and take their picture. Open doors and open windows became my favorite backdrop for these photos. In my mind, open doors and windows were a symbol of our new life in Christ: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom 12:2).

Doors and Windows in Time

There are also doors and windows in time. The Greek language distinguishes two types of time. When the disciples asked the risen Christ, he refers to both types of time: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:6-7). The Greek word for times is: chronos (χρόνους (Acts 1:7 BNT)). The Greek word for seasons is: Kairos (καιροὺς (Acts 1:7 BGT)). Chronos time is watch or calendar time. Kairos time is a decision moment or crisis. In other words, Kairos is a door in time. Once you go through it, you enter a new phase in life. Entering the door into heaven is a Kairos moment.

A lot of the discussion over interpreting the book Revelations has to do with attitudes about time. Does Christ return to earth before reigning for a thousand years (pre-millennial) or after (post-millennial)? Are the biblical covenants exclusively and consecutively administrated? That is: Adamic/creation covenant (Gen 1-2)=>the Noahic/recreation covenant (Gen 9:1-17)=>the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15)=>the Mosaic covenant (Exod 20-24)=>Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:1-17)=>New Covenant (dispensational). Or, can more than one covenant be in effect at the same time? (Non-dispensational) Is there a rapture? If so, when does it occur in reference to all of the above? All of these interpretations of the end times can be confusing.

The Alpha and The Omega

Jesus said: I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8). The use of the phrase alpha to omega is a literary merism. A merism is a description of a continuum, defined by its end points, but which refers to the whole continuum. When Jesus says, I am the Alpha and the Omega, he really means: I am the alpha, beta, gamma, delta…omega. In other words the whole alphabet! The doublet that follows—who is and who was and who is to come—makes this clear. It also clearly refers to time—all of it. The implication is that Christ stands above and outside of time.

This is an important clue as to how to interpret Revelations. If one stands outside of time, the sequence within time is irrelevant. When we confront the living God, we are in Kairos time, not Chronos time. The image of a throne underscores this point because it is an image of judgment—also a Kairos image.

Amillennial Defined

For this reason, the conventional view of the end-times (eschatology) since the early church has been that to interpret biblical glimpses of the future as primarily focused on how we live today (amillennial), not hints as how to interpret end-time events or sequences. This is why Jesus said: It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:7 ESV). Be ready and watch out for those doors…

Questions

Read Revelations 4. Then read: Isaiah 6:1-5, Ezekiel 1:4-28, and Daniel 7:9-14

1. How long was the journey up to heaven that John traveled? Why makes this journey special?
2. What does the door to heaven (v 1) mean to you? What does it mean to John?
3. How is heaven decorated? Is this more or less than you might expect? How does this compare to a typical king’s palace? How about the president’s office?
4. How does one get a crown normally in ancient times? What do you suppose the crowns indicate here?
5. What does the number 24 signify?
6. What do the creature eye symbolize (v 6) and mean? What is the job description of the creatures?

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons

Also see:

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you get excited when you read the Bible?

In May 2013 I had the privilege of attending a prayer service in Charlotte, NC. Normally, I would drive to school on Friday morning, attend Friday evening and all day Saturday, and drive home late Saturday evening so attending a Sunday morning prayer service in Charlotte was a treat for me.

Harp and Bowl Prayer

This prayer service consisted of prayer mixed with music. Some prayer and music was prepared in advance; some was spontaneous. The point was to praise the Lord, to enjoy the His presence, and to linger. This style of worshipful music and prayer is referred to as a Harp and Bowl service (Rev 5:8; also: www.ihopkc.org). The idea apparently originated with King David (Psalm 141:1-2) which perhaps inspired the Apostle Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

The outbreak of worship is Revelations 5 arises immediately after the fifth verse:

And he [the Lamb] went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 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 golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:7-8).

Worthy to Open Scroll

The excitement arises because of the scroll which: no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:3 ESV). This scroll, which previously was treated as an idolatrous object of worship (Deut 5:8), was suddenly now being opened by someone worthy: the Lamb—ironically referred to as the Lion of Judah (Gen 49:9). This passage obviously refers to Jesus Christ.

The interpretation of this chapter accordingly hangs on one word: scroll—what scroll is it? The Greek word for scroll is βιβλίον normally translated as: Bible. So why do many translations read: scroll?

The First Book (Codex)

In the first century, the very first book (called a codex) ever assembled was the New Testament (NT). The church did not agree on the content of the NT until the fourth century. However, many of the books now contained in the NT were already assembled together in the first century, bounded together on leather pages printed front and back—an innovation.

Christian evangelists developed the book format for three important reasons—it was cheap, transportable, and was easily distinguished from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament—OT) which were traditionally written on multiple scrolls which were neither cheap nor transportable. Consequently, scholars disagree as to whether the Apostle John’s vision referred to the OT (scroll) or the NT (book). The Book of Revelations is one of the last books in NT to have been written so arguments go either way. Theologically, translating βιβλίον as scroll makes sense because John’s point then becomes that the OT is understandable only when viewed through the lens of Christ.

Getting Excited

So in verse 9 we see a party breaking out in heaven: And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9 ESV).

So if you get excited reading your Bible, consider yourself an angel!

QUESTIONS

  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. What sort of seals are we talking about here in v 5:1?
  3. What is the image of the Lion of Judah? (Genesis 49:9)
  4. What about the image of the lamb? (Exodus 12:21)
  5. What is the symbolism of the seven horns? What do horns signify? (Daniel 7:7-8)
  6. What is the image of a new song? (Isaiah 42:10; Psalm 40:3)
  7. What about the four living creatures? (Ezekiel 1:5)
  8. What does Amen (ἀμήν) actually mean?

405 ἀμήν
• ἀμήν (LXX occas. for אָמןֵ , usu. transl. by γένοιτο; taken over by Christians; in pap symbol. expressed
by the number 99 [α=1 + μ=40 + η=8 + ν=50; ESchaefer, PIand I 29], but also as ἀμήν [POxy 1058, 5].
Ins: ISyriaW 1918; MvOppenheim-HLucas, ByzZ 14, 1905, p. 34ff, nos. 36, 39, 46, 84)

1. strong affirmation of what is stated
a. as expression of faith let it be so, truly, amen liturgical formula at the end of the liturgy, spoken by the congregation 16:10 p. 137, 19 Ja.; Cyranides p. 124, 18 Ἀμήν· τέλος· ἀμήν· ἀμήν) ἀ. was almost always put at the end of books, but not in the older mss. (and hence v.l.) Mt 28:20; Mk 16:20

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Also see:

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

When you are lost, how do you find your way home? In my training as a boy scout, I learned to read a map and to work with a compass during the day and to follow the stars at night. Revelation is one of those books in the bible that tests your skills in biblical interpretation.

Role of Genre in Interpretation

One form of interpretation starts by asking a simple question: what kind of writing (genre) are we looking at? Possibilities include: narrative (simple stories or history), Gospel, poetry, song, wisdom literature, prophecy, parable, epistle (a letter), law, genealogies, or apocalyptic. We tend to look at each of these a bit differently and particular books of the Bible often have multiple genre. Revelations, for example, contains prophecy, history, narrative, song, poetry, and even law.

Role of Perspective in Interpretation

Another important aspect of interpretation is to ask which perspective on the text to take: the author’s, the scripture itself, and the reader’s.  When you see a commentary talking about the audience or the historical context, this is an attempt to understand the author’s intent in writing. Or when you hear a pastor citing Old Testament (OT) references that explain a New Testament (NT) passage, this is using scripture to interpret scripture. When you hear someone explain what a particular passage means to them, this is using the reader’s perspective. John Calvin used these three principles of interpretation, but added one more of interest to pastors–use of the texts in the original languages–which leads to word studies, issues of grammar, literary criticism, and other questions of syntax.

Role of Interpretation in Church Controversies

Biblical interpretation is a bit technical and boring, but it is important. Many of the controversies of our day in the church have at their root differences over issues of biblical interpretation. For example, when the Apostle John writes prophetically in Revelations is he writing primarily to the seven churches in Asia Minor or is he writing to us? If you answer the seven churches, then you are taking the author’s perspective. If you answer to us, then you are taking the reader’s perspective.

New Covenant in Christ

An obvious interpretative pallet for understanding Revelation is John’s Gospel. What is striking about John’s Gospel is that John seems to suggest that the New Covenant in Christ is not a written document or teachings, but rather the person of Jesus.[1] So when John gives us a vision of the son of man in Revelations 1:13, an allusion to Daniel 7:13, we find ourselves witnessing an image of judgment under the New Covenant. Christ has returned to take stock of those he left behind. What is perhaps shocking is that John sees this judgment[2] starting with the seven churches.

Why are the seven churches the first focus of this heavenly vision of judgment and not the gentiles, especially not the Romans, John’s jailors at Patmos, who were persecuting the church at his point?

Questions for Revelation 2

  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. Which four churches does John address in this chapter? (vv. 1, 8, 12, 18)
  3. Why does John starts with Ephesus? (Acts 18:9-19:5) Or do we really know?
  4. What are the strong points of the Ephesus church? (vv. 2-3) What are the weak points? (v. 4)
  5. What blessings/curses are attached to the judgment of the Ephesus church? (vv. 5-7)
  6. Who is John addressing in verses 7, 11, 17, and 26-29?
  7. What is the morning star reference about? (v. 28; Matt 2:2, 2 Peter 1:19)
  8. What are the blessings and curses faced by the church at Smyrna? (vv. 8-10)
  9. Read Deuteronomy 4:30. What is prophesied?
  10. Read 1 Samuel 26:22-25 and Matthew 5:44. What is enemy love; what is tribulation?
  11. Who are victorious? What is the second death? (v. 11)
  12. What strong points does John mention in the church of Pergamum? (v. 13)
  13. What weak points afflict the Pergamum church? (vv. 14-16)
  14. What is the sword of the mouth? (v. 16; Rev 1:16, 19:21)
  15. What new name are they to receive? (v. 17)
  16. Who is known from the city of Thyatira? (Acts 16:14)
  17. What strong points are mentioned about the church of Thyatira? (v. 19)
  18. What sins afflict the church of Thyatira? (vv. 20-25)
  19. Read Psalm 2:9. What is the reward for the victorious? (vv. 26-27)
  20. Who is Jezebel and what are Satan’s dark secrets? (vv. 20, 24; 1 Kings 16:30-31)

Questions on Revelation 3

  1. What strong points does John mention about the church at Sardia? (vv. 4-5)
  2. What weak points does he mention? (vv. 1-2)
  3. What metaphor of judgment does John use? (v. 3)
  4. What does it look like to be victorious? (vv. 4-5) What is the metric?
  5. Is this judgment applicable only to the church at Sardia? (vv. 6, 13, 22)
  6. What complaint does John offer about the church of Philadelphia?
  7. What praise does he offer? (vv. 8-10)
  8. What encouragement does John offer Philadelphia? (vv. 8, 10-11)
  9. What open door is John referring to? (v. 8)
  10. How does John describe Christ in verses 14, 19-21.
  11. What complaint does John offer against the church at Laodicea? (vv. 15-18)
  12. How does John’s complaint compare to Paul’s observations in Colossians 2:1-3?
  13. Read Proverbs 10:13 and 13:24. How is Christ’s love expressed? (v. 19)

References

Osborne, Grant R.  2006. The Hermenutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretations. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Thompson, John L. 2004. “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.” Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Edited by Donald A. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vanhoozer, Kevin H. 1998. Is there Meaning in this Text? Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (Review)

Footnotes

[1] Unlike Matthew or the author of Hebrews, John never uses the word covenant, not even in reference to the last supper (John 13:1-14). And John uses the word commandment consistently to refer to the double-love commandment. For example, John writes: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

[2] When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, 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” (Rev 1:17-18).

Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

Also see:

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Chapter 1 of Revelation: Alpha and Omega

Clouds

I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God,
who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8).

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Revelation is a mysterious book. The metaphorical language in Revelations makes it a difficult book to understand. The question arises whenever an artist paints a picture: what colors does he favor?

Prophecy

The Apostle John is unique when he says that he is speaking prophetically (Rev 1:3). We should not be surprised about this because the New Testament word for prophet is really apostle—the sent one. The confusion arises because we normally define a prophet in the narrow Greek sense of the word as someone who forecasts the future. Hebrew prophets also do this but a Hebrew prophet’s job description is defined covenantally. A prophet is someone who either introduces a covenant (like Moses) or reminds people of their obligations under a divine covenant and the consequences of covenantal disobedience (like Elijah).

The Covenants

Biblical covenants are modeled after ancient treaties. The full description of a covenant contains these parts: A title or preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, deposition and regular reading, witnesses, blessings and curses. If the stipulations (laws articulated in the covenant) are kept, then the covenant provides for blessings. If not (sin under the covenant), then the covenantal curses are evoked. The five major Old Testament covenants are: Adamic/creation covenant (Genesis 1-2), the Noahic/recreation covenant, (Gen 9:1-17), the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15), the Mosaic covenant (Exod 20-24), and the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:1-17).

The Apostle John paints his picture of the future focusing on allusions to two covenants: the Adamic/creation covenant and the Davidic covenant. For example, John writes: To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7). This is an obvious reference to Eden in Genesis 2:9. The Davidic covenant is likewise brought to mind every time John mentions words like reign or kingdom or takes images from the Prophet Daniel who likewise evokes many images of kingly power. Revelation evokes an image of an uncreation event as the end-times draw near and we find ourselves in a new relationship with animals and exotic creatures, like angels, and a new kingdom (Isaiah 65:25).

The New Covenant

What about the New Covenant that we have in Christ? Covenantal language is all over the New Testament, but is especially obvious in the book of Matthew. One outline is: preamble (Matt 1:1,21), prologue (Matt 1-3), stipulations (Matt 5:18-20,14:28-29, 17:9, 19:16-21, 22:36-40, and 28:18-20), reminder (Matt 26:26-28), witnesses (Matt 1:1-17, 1:18-2, 3, 3:17,17:5), blessings (Matt 5:3-11), curses (Matt 23:13-30, 26:24).

Can you identify the covenantal language in Revelations that Apostle John uses to outline his version of the new covenant in Christ?

Interesting Resource

Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation 

Questions

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the purpose of the Book of Revelation? What is the basic theme of chapter 1? (vv. 1, 19)
3. Who is it addressed to and by whom has it been delivered? (vv. 1, 4, 9)
4. How does John describe himself? (vv. 1, 9-11)
5. What is a prophet? What is the point of prophecy? (vv.2-3, 9-11, 19)
6. Who is Jesus Christ? (vv. 5-7, 12-16)
6. What genre(s) does John write in? (vv. 1, 4, 10)
7. Seven churches are named? Who are they? Where are they? (vv. 4, 11)
8. What is the significance of the number seven? (vv. 4, 12, 16, 20)
9. How do you interpret verses 4-6?
10. Read Daniel 7:13. Where else have we seen this verse cited? What is the significance of this reference? (Matt 26:64) (vv. 13-15)
11. Read Zechariah. 12:10. How do you interpret this verse?
12. What is significant about verse 8?
13. Who is writing this epistle? From where is he writing? When? (vv. 9-10)
14. What are the lampstands? What is their purpose? (vv. 12-13, 20)
15. What are the keys? (v. 18)

References

Niehaus, Jeffery. “Covenant and Narrative, God and Time” pages 535-59 of Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 53:3, 2010.

 

Also see:

Christian Spirituality 

 Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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2 Corinthians 13: Passing the Test

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I taught in the university, my final exam was never a surprise. The week before the final I would pass out ten questions as homework and announce that five of these questions would be on the final exam. Now these were not easy questions—my questions were designed to encourage my students to master the subject. My good students invariably typed up answers to all ten questions and simply turn all of them in on the day of the examination; my lazy students showed up empty handed and unprepared to answer the questions.

Which kind of Christian are you?  Are you prepared for your exam?

Paul’s does not hold himself up as the judge over the Corinthians.  Rather, he asks them to judge for themselves.  What is interesting about the question is that if the Corinthians believe that their faith is real, then the evangelist that brought them to faith must also be real!  And, the question of Paul’s apostolic authority would also be answered.  Clearly, Paul has this interpretation in mind when he writes:  I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test (v 6).  The use of the plural (we) implies the answer to the question reflects well or badly on Paul himself.

Paul’s use of the weak-strong motif is a reminder of what Paul sees the answer to be.  When we adopt a servant attitude with respect to others in the church, in other words are “weak”, then we are clearly strong in the faith.  A defensive or haughty attitude, in other words are “strong”, would be the opposite.  The example of Christ is crucial.  Paul writes:  For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God (v 4).  In giving his life for our sins on the cross, Christ led out of weakness and provided an example for us all.

Christ’s example also motivates Paul’s leadership style and purpose in writing.  He writes:  For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down (v 10).  According to Paul, the proper use of authority is to build up, not to tear down.

In closing, Paul admonishes the church:  rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you (v 11).  If the church is to be a foretaste of heaven, these admonitions must be practiced.

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