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).
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?
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).
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?
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)
Niehaus, Jeffery. “Covenant and Narrative, God and Time” pages 535-59 of Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 53:3, 2010.
Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega
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