Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Structure of Revelation (Rev 4)

The structure of Revelation is partly evident in the text, but not without complications, which explains why there is little agreement among scholars on the book’s structure. The search for a structure usually begins with the four, numbered, seven-fold visions in the book; the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22), the seven seals (6:1 – 8:1), the seven trumpets (8:7 – 11:18) and the seven bowls (16:1-21). Each of these visions is preceded by an introduction related to the sanctuary (the seven golden lampstands—1:12-20; the heavenly throne room—4:1 – 5:14; the altar of incense—8:2-6; and the heavenly temple scene—15:5-8). Each of these introductions/visions forms a natural division of the book’s structure. The material between the trumpets and the bowls (12:1 – 15:4) also forms a natural division of the book. A sanctuary introduction to that section (reference to the temple in heaven and the ark of the covenant) can be found in Revelation 11:19.

The biggest challenge to any structure of Revelation is what to do with the second half of the book, especially chapters 17 and 18. It appears that there is a natural division in chapters 19 and 20, with a focus on the final events of earth’s history (19:1-10), the Second Coming (19:11-21) and the millennium (20:1-15). The search for a sanctuary introduction leads to 19:1-10, which has many of the elements found in an earlier sanctuary introduction, Revelation 4-5. The final natural division of the book is the New Jerusalem narrative (21:1 – 22:5). In this section of the book, the sanctuary setting seems to have merged with the vision as a whole. There is no temple there because the New Jerusalem itself is the Most Holy Place (a perfect cube—Rev 21:16, cf. 1 Kings 6:20), God and the Lamb dwell in city (21:22), and there is face to face contact with God before the throne (22:3-4). This makes a total of seven sections in the structure of Revelation; seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, 12-14, seven bowls, the millennium and the New Jerusalem.

What remains to be structured are two things, the opening (1:1-8) and conclusion (22:6-21), and chapters 17 and 18. The opening and conclusion have many parallels with each other and are fittingly called the Prologue and the Epilogue. Some see in chapters 17 and 18 an eighth section of the book, focusing on the Fall of Babylon, But an eighth section would be surprising, considering the centrality of the number seven in the book. A better approach is to note the many connections between the sixth and seventh bowl-plagues (16:12-20) and chapter 17. Since chapter 17 portrays the fall of Babylon the prostitute, and chapter 18 portrays the fall of Babylon the great city, both chapters offer a fitting expansion and conclusion to the seven bowl-plagues.

Some scholars have noted a chiastic structure in the above outline. The Prologue and Epilogue have many parallel elements, as do the Seven Churches and the New Jerusalem sections. The Seven Trumpets and the Seven Bowls are also clearly parallel. The resulting outline highlights the centrality of the vision of Revelation 12-14. Unlike the Greek/Western tradition, the central purpose of the book is not found in the conclusion, but in the center, the location of the heavenly war and the three angel’s messages. This has important implications for interpretation.

Prologue (1:1-8)
I. The Seven Churches (1:9 – 3:22)
II. The Seven Seals (4:1 – 8:1)
III. The Seven Trumpets (8:2 – 11:18)
IV. The Great War (11:19 – 15:4)
V. The Wrath of God (15:5 – 18:24)
VI. The End of Evil (19:1 – 20:15)
VII. The New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5)
Epilogue (22:6-21)

A Short Summary of the Book of Revelation (Rev 3)

The opening of the book (Rev 1:1-8) states the main themes of the entire book in relatively plain language. The central theme of the book is Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1-2, 5-7) with particular attention to future events (Rev 1:1, 7). The source of the book’s content is a vision that originates with God and was handed down to John through Jesus Christ and “his angel” (Rev 1:1-3). The book John wrote was intended to be read aloud to the churches and “kept” by them (Rev 1:3). After a vision of the glorious Christ (1:12-20) and message to the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3), John and his readers get a glimpse through the open gates of heaven into the heavenly throne room itself. It is there that the centrality of the cross and of Christ in the operations of the universe becomes plain.

The seals, trumpets and bowls (Revelation 6-11 and 15-18) are mostly plagues of judgment. The seals and trumpets cover the whole Christian era, while the bowls focus especially on the end. The over-riding message is that God is in control of history even when it appears out of control.

For Seventh-day Adventists, the most critical part of the book is the central vision (Revelation 12-14). It describes the war in heaven (Rev 12:7-12), the birth and ascension of Christ (12:5), the experience of the church during the 1260 “days” (12:6; 14-16), the unholy trinity (dragon [12:3-4, 17], sea beast [13:1-10], and land beast [13:11-18]), the remnant (12:17; 14:1-3), and the three angels’ messages (14:6-12). There is also a symbolic view of the Second Coming (Rev 14:14-20).

The final chapters of the book cover the celebration of Babylon’s fall (19:1-6), the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10), the Second Coming along with the destruction of the enemy powers or earth (19:11-21), the Millennium and its aftermath (Revelation 20) and the New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5). The book closes with an appeal to the reader (22:6-21).

The “When” of Revelation (Rev 2)

Revelation appears to have been written in the context of some persecution, so scholars of Revelation have consistently looked to the reigns of Nero and Domitian as the likely context for the book. During the 19th Century the consensus of scholarship was that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.), based on subjective interpretation of certain passages in the book. Revelation was, therefore, read in light of the persecution of Christians that began after the great fire of 64 A.D. Over the last hundred years, however, scholarly opinion has shifted to the later date for the book, around 95 A.D. Most scholars today read Revelation in light of an episode of persecution (or at least “perceived crisis”) toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81-96 A.D.). The earlier date has now fallen out of favor due to the lack of clear references to Nero’s reign in the text of Revelation and the fact that the church fathers universally favored the time of Domitian. The weakness of the later date is the lack of contemporary evidence for officially sanctioned persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian, or for Patmos as a penal isle.

Ellen White assumes that John, the son of Zebedee, is the author of Revelation and that he came to be on Patmos as a result of persecution during the reign of Domitian, whom she explicitly names (AA 568-570). She took that position before the scholarly shift from an early date to a late date for Revelation. The setting of Revelation, in her view, would be the exile of the leader of the churches in Asia Minor to Patmos. Given the lack of evidence for widespread persecution, it is likely that whatever trials the church faced were based on local issues, such as disputes with the local synagogue or pagan neighbors. The purpose of Revelation was to strengthen Christians at a time when they were vulnerable to their surrounding culture.

The Book of Revelation and Its Author (Rev 1)

I am working on a series of blogs regarding LGBT issues and the church. But that is taking a little longer than I had expected. I plan to begin posting by the end of August. In the meantime I have completed a first draft of a Bible Dictionary entry on the book of Revelation. I thought you would find this interesting and helpful and I would love feedback, positive and negative (hopefully constructive either way). The total article is about 3200 words and will cover five or six blogs.

The title of the book (Revelation) is a translation of the Greek word for apocalypse (apokalupsis). Apokalupsis is a compound word that means revelation, disclosure or uncovering. What is uncovered in Revelation is a cosmic picture of Jesus Christ and a vision of “what must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). Revelation is the last book of the New Testament and is the great finale of the biblical symphony, drawing together names, places, stories, and themes from the rest of Scripture (AA 585).

The authorship of Revelation. The author of Revelation identifies himself as John (Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), God’s servant or slave (Rev 1:1), and “your brother” (Rev 1:9). Apparently he was well-enough known to the churches of Asia Minor that he needed no further designation to gain the confidence of his readers. Though he is not directly called a prophet (but see Rev 22:8-9), his book is several times called a “prophecy” (Rev 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19).

All known Christian writers through the middle of the Third Century attributed Revelation to John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel and epistles known by the same name. These writers believed that John was living in Ephesus until the time of Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and was buried there. So the traditional view of Revelation’s authorship has had strong external support through the centuries.

The first serious challenge to the traditional view came from Dionysius of Alexandria (died around 265 A.D.). He offered the following arguments: 1) There are substantial literary differences between Revelation and the Gospel of John, 2) the author did not claim to be a disciple or eyewitness of Jesus, 3) the Greek of the Gospel is grammatically correct but that of Revelation is not, 4) the author of the Gospel is anonymous while the author of Revelation names himself several times. In addition to these arguments, Eusebius of Caesarea (circa 325 A.D.) understood Papias (early second century) to believe that John the Apostle had died much earlier than the writing of Revelation. These considerations seem to have exacerbated the Eastern church’s doubts with regard to the canonicity of the book.

The evidence just cited is not as strong or convincing as might appear at first glance. 1) While there are differences between John and Revelation, there are some striking similarities as well; “the water of life” (Rev 21:6; 22:17, cf. John 4:10; 7:37-38), “keep the (my) word” (Rev 3:8, 10, cf. John 8:51, 52, 55; 15:20), the use of “name” (Rev 6:8, cf. John 1:6; 3:1). While the word for “Lamb” is different, only the Gospel and Revelation apply the concept of lamb to Jesus Christ (Rev 5:6 and 27 other times, cf. John 1:29, 36), both books refer to Jesus as “the Word” (Rev 19:13; John 1:1, 14), and both books make unusual use of the verb for “tabernacle” (Rev 7:15; John 1:14). They also have in common words like witness, life, death, thirst, hunger and conquest. Many of the differences between the Gospel of John and Revelation can be attributed to the difference in genre between gospel and apocalypse.

As noted above (items 2 and 4), the author of the Gospel is anonymous, so in neither case does the writer feel the need to detail who he is. 3) Greek was not John’s native language and editorial assistance would have been much more available to him in Ephesus than on Patmos. In addition, Semitic thinking and allusions to the Greek Old Testament explain a lot of the “solecisms” in Revelation. John wrote in Greek but thought in Hebrew. 5) The works of Papias are lost and the fragments cited by Eusebius are ambiguous. While historical certainty in this matter is not possible, the arguments for the traditional view of John the Apostle as the author of Revelation are at least as reasonable and valid as those that deny his authorship.

Unlike many books of the New Testament, determining the identity of the human author of Revelation is of relatively little importance to interpretation. This book is not, as earlier editions of the Bible had it, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” the book is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1).