Category Archives: Biblical

The Return of Jesus in the Prologue (Prologue 1:7)

The picture of Jesus’ return in Rev. 1:7 is based on allusions to Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12. The “he” of 1:7 clearly refers to Jesus, as He has been the subject of the previous two verses. “Coming with the clouds” recalls the son of man who comes with clouds to the Ancient of Days and receives dominion over the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). In Revelation Jesus’ right to rule over the earth is recognized in heaven at His ascension (Rev. 5) and on earth at the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7).

The allusion to Zechariah is particularly interesting. In Zechariah 12:7-8 it is Yahweh who comes (Zech 12:7-8), in Rev. it is Jesus who comes. In Zech. 12:10, it is Yahweh who is pierced, in Revelation it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zechariah it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Revelation it is whole earth that sees Jesus come. In Zech. 12:11-12 it is the clans of Jerusalem that mourn, in Rev. it is the tribes of the whole earth that mourn.

In Revelation’s use of the Old Testament, therefore, there is a shift in emphasis from Yahweh to Jesus. There is a similar shift from the literal and local things of Israel to the worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.

The Threeness of God in the Prologue (Prologue 1:6)

Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what I call a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come; perhaps a fourth trinity in the larger scheme of the passage), the Holy Spirit (represented by the seven spirits), and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is mentioned last because He is the subject of the next two “trinities.”

Next comes a trinity of historical realities that qualify Jesus for the role He plays in Revelation. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr—Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and has already joined the Father on His throne (“ruler of the kings of the earth”). The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the foundation of His heavenly reign.

The final “trinity” is a trinity of actions. Jesus loves us (Greek present tense), has freed or washed (two different Greek words sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. These actions are all directed toward His people. The ultimate outcome of Jesus’ love, as expressed in His death and resurrection, is to raise His people to the highest possible status; kings and priests.

This “triple trinity” underlines the central theme of the book of Revelation. It is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is THE ONE who died, rose, and now rules the heavens and the earth. These together are the decisive events that change everything in the cosmic conflict. The last trinity summarizes the things that Jesus does particularly for the human race.

The Book of Revelation Concerns Future Events (Prologue 1:5)

Rev. 1:1 tells us that a major purpose of the book is to “show His servants what must happen soon.” These are events in the future, from John’s perspective. But what does the text mean by soon? Surely the 2,000 years that have passed since this was written do not fit with soon! So the word “soon” must clearly be from God’s perspective in which a day is like 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8).

But from our perspective the return of Jesus has always been soon. In the Adventist perspective, the dead do not know anything, nor do they experience the passing of time. So for those who die, the next thing they experience is the Second Coming. In other words, we don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in our experience He will come an instant after we die. So the opportunity for us to get ready for His coming is now rather than sometime in the future. If Jesus’ coming were not portrayed as soon, many people would delay getting ready for His return. So even in John’s day, the second coming of Jesus is portrayed as soon.

This is such a challenging concept that I will repeat myself at the risk of redundancy, just to make the point. The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future, it is to teach us how to live today. The purpose of prophecy is to motivate readers to the decisions and actions that are needed to accomplish both their salvation and God’s larger purposes (the Great Controversy). The book of Revelation portrays the End as soon, not because it will be soon from a human perspective, but because it must always be soon in the experience of each generation or the prophecies will not have the impact they need to have in our lives.

Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation (Prologue 1:4)

The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus (Rev 1:1-3). He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). The chain of revelation moves from “God” to Jesus and from Jesus to John through an angel and from John to the readers and hearers of his book (1:1-3). What God gave to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). What Jesus passed on to John is called “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2), “the things that he saw” (Greek: hosa eiden). What John passed on to his readers was “the words of this prophecy” (1:3), what John wrote.

This chain of revelation is important for Seventh-day Adventists. It indicates clearly that the “testimony of Jesus” here is not the book of Revelation itself, which is what John wrote (1:3), it is the visionary gift that John saw (1:2). The remnant of Rev. 12:17 will later also have the “testimony of Jesus,” a visionary gift similar to the one John had.

So the Prologue points to Jesus as the central figure of Rev. The book is a revelation from Jesus and about Jesus (1:1). Jesus is qualified for His special role by his death, resurrection and heavenly reign (1:5a). Through these He loves us, has freed us from our sins by His blood (1:5b), and made us a kingdom and priests (1:6a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).

Why Adventists Prefer the “Historicist Method” (Prologue 1:3)

In this blog series on the big picture of the Book of Revelation, I am indebted to the SDA concept of inspiration, the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, the unique organizational structure of Revelation, and a Christ-centered approach to interpretation.

The historicist method, in my view, is supported by the broad structure of Revelation itself. The book begins with the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 3:22), which primarily concern the situation of John’s day. The seals and the trumpets, on the other hand, each cover from the time of John to the End (4:1 – 11:18). The last half of the book (11:19 – 22:5), on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the last days of earth’s history and beyond.

This method is also supported by the allusion to Daniel 2 in the very first verse of the book. Let’s take a closer look at that verse.

Generally, the best way to approach Scripture is to take everything at face value, unless it is clear that a symbol is intended. In Rev. the opposite approach is indicated in the first verse. There it tells us that the entire vision was “signified” (Rev. 1:1, KJV, Greek: esêmanen) by either God or Jesus. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is clear that a literal meaning is intended (for example, “Jesus Christ” in Rev. 1:1 should be taken literally).

This insight takes even clearer shape when the reader discovers an allusion to Daniel 2 in the first verse of the book. The only other place in the Bible that combines “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) is Daniel 2 (LXX: combine verses 28 and 45). Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image was the place where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.

At the very opening of the book of Revelation, therefore, one finds a powerful allusion to Daniel 2. This allusion ties the two books together, like companion volumes. While Revelation alludes to many of the prophets, there is a special bond between it and the book of Daniel. So we should expect at least some of the symbolism of the Rev. to point to sequences of history in John’s future. Apocalyptic sequences run from the prophet’s time until the End. Not all of Daniel is historical apocalyptic, but much of it is, and that is the case also with Revelation.

The Main Themes of Revelation’s Prologue (Prologue 1:2)

The Prologue to the Book of Revelation (Rev 1:1-8) introduces the following themes:

1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation. This is made clear by the title of the book (Rev. 1:1), the qualities and actions of Jesus Christ (1:5-6) and His central role at the Second Coming (1:7).

2. The Book Concerns Future Events. These are not just end-time events, most were already future in John’s day (Rev 1:1).

3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. This is clear from one of the key words in Rev. 1:1 and that verse’s allusion to Daniel 2.

4. The Threeness of God. There is a “triple trinity” of persons, qualities and actions in Rev. 1:4-6.

5. The Return of Jesus. Rev. 1:7-8 addresses this.

I will have more to say about each of these themes in the blogs that follow.

The Prologue (1:1-8) of the Book of Revelation (1:1)

This is the first in a series of blogs on the big picture of the book of Revelation. On Facebook and Twitter I have been working the details of the book of Revelation piece by piece over many years. In the process of looking at the details, the big picture can easily be lost. So halfway through the larger project (chapters 1-5 and 10-14 are complete), I thought it would be helpful to go through the entire book in a series of blogs that would bring out the big picture view of each section. The first few blogs will focus on the Prologue to the book of Revelation, Rev. 1:1-8.

The Prologue to Rev. (Rev. 1:1-8) introduces the main themes of the book in relatively plain language. These verses contain no scary beasts, no heavenly journeys and no seven-fold sequences. Instead, they describe how the book got here (1:1-3), who sent it (1:4-6), and how everything will turn out in the end (1:7-8). The Prologue expresses the centrality of Jesus Christ to the whole book and prepares the reader for what is to come in straightforward language.

New Work on Revelation (The Big Picture)

I have completed blogging ten of the twenty chapters in the new book Conversations About God. Since I am not entirely done with editing that book, I am pausing the publication of those chapters in order to share some of my new work on the Book of Revelation. In the Facebook commentary I am publishing a paragraph a day toward a complete commentary. I started five or six years ago and have completed chapters 10-14 and 1-5. I plan to continue posting those daily, working through the four horses of chapter six right now. But that is the detailed picture. What often goes missing in that work is the big picture. I plan to blog the big picture for the next several months, chapter by chapter and section by section, building toward a complete theology of Revelation. Stay tuned.

Summary of NT Language of Leadership

Christian leadership is grounded in God the Creator. The clearest revelation of God is in the person of Jesus Christ. The clearest revelation of Jesus is the New Testament. And within the New Testament, the leadership principles of Jesus are most extensively exhibited in the letters of Paul.

When the early Christians were choosing language to describe leadership in the New Testament church, there were three basic models in the Greco-Roman world to choose from; 1) Judaism and the synagogue, 2) the every day household, and 3) the institutions of the Greco-Roman society. Language drawn from the civil, military and business affairs of the Greco-Roman world is widely used in the New Testament in relation to God, Christ, and demonic powers, as well as secular authorities. But with one exception, it is never applied to human leadership in the church. The one exception (proistēmi) has a strong related meaning of caring concern and the giving of aid.

Instead, the church blended the leadership language of the household with that of the synagogue and Judaism. Early Christian leadership language had strong overtones of parental concern, service, divine guidance and delegation of authority. In the earliest church, leadership was charismatic. But toward the end of the first Christian century, appointed leadership became the norm and adopted more hierarchical forms.

The bottom line of New Testament leadership is attention to God’s way of leadership through observing the examples of Christ and the apostles. It exercises itself in loving concern for those being led, with the attitude of a servant. As we seek to learn from the language of the New Testament, Christ-like, servant leadership must always be the goal.

Later Leadership Language in the NT Church

With the close of the first Christian century the office of apostle seems to have died out and prophets have become increasingly rare. Well before then, charismatic leadership was increasingly replaced with appointed leadership. Timothy and Titus are excellent examples. As a successor of the apostles, Timothy was ordained both by a council of elders (1 Tim 4:13-15) and by Paul himself (2 Tim 1:6) to leadership over multiple churches (see 1 Tim 5:17-22). Titus not only exercised authority over multiple churches, he also appointed elders and overseers to guide them (Tit 1:5-7). But although Timothy and Titus functioned like apostles, they were not themselves called apostles. The second generation of leadership functioned under three titles in particular.

(episkopos– overseer)
The term episkopos was a common title in the ancient world for someone “who watches over,” therefore it is often translated “overseer.” It means something like “supervisor,” a position of responsibility within a wide range of contexts and applications, “one who has the responsibility of seeing that something is done the right way.” In the non-biblical context episkopos was associated with very specific responsibilities, in today’s terms, the title came with a job description. There can be an element of service and caring relationship in the broad usage of the term.

The word occurs only three times in the New Testament (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7) and the related noun episkopē (evpi,skoph) occurs twice (1 Tim. 3:1 and Acts 1:20). 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-7 offer a lengthy list of qualifications and disqualifications for those holding the office, things like gentleness and ability to teach while avoiding arrogance and greed. There is very little overlap in the two lists so the job description had not yet been standardized in Paul’s lifetime. Overseers had the same qualifications as deacons (compare 1 Tim. 3:2-7 with 1 Tim. 3:8-12), with the one exception that they must be “able to teach.”

(presbuteros– elder)
Presbuteros refers to someone of relatively advanced age in comparison with others. Elders, as a leadership group, existed as far back as patriarchal times in the Old Testament. Based on usage within Judaism and also in the Greco-Roman world, presbuteros became a major title for church leaders in Jerusalem (the apostles and the elders– Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4) and much more widely throughout the Empire later on (1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:5; Heb. 11:2; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1). It usually occurs in the plural, suggesting that elders did not normally function alone, but as part of a ruling council. A heavenly version of such a council is found frequently in the Book of Revelation. According to 1 Timothy 5:17-18, elders were normally paid for their efforts, which implies that they were to have a full-time focus on their ministry. While not all elders engaged in teaching, many did. They may have been somewhat equivalent to congregational pastors today.

To some degree the titles of overseer and elder seem to be used interchangeably, as a comparison of 1 Timothy 3:2-7; 5:17-18 and Titus 1:5-7 indicate. According to Acts 20:17-35, the overseers and elders together are the guardians of the traditions of the apostles. Having said this, however, episkopos in Timothy and Titus is always in the singular and presbuteros is always in the plural, which would suggest that the overseer has a top leadership function. So it is likely that overseers were drawn from the council of elders as their leadership qualities were recognized.

(diakonos, deacon)
The term diakonos in the ancient world designated a person who served at tables or took care of other people. There are many terms for service in the Greek, but diakonos particularly emphasizes the personal touch, a one-on-one kind of service. It was widely used for an intermediary or a courier, so like apostolos there is a sense of delegation. But serving others was not highly regarded in the ancient world; ruling, not serving was what brought dignity to a man. So the use of this term for leadership in the church went strongly against the culture of the time.

Diakonos is used in the New Testament, first of all, for Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:8), the ultimate diakonos. All human ideas of greatness were reversed when the Son of God Himself not only served at table (John 13:13-17; 21:11-13) but laid down His life for His friends (John 15:13). The Christian diakonos learns the position by serving Jesus and following Him (Luke 22:24-27; John 12:26).

Over time the word naturally came into wide Christian usage for individuals singled out for special ministerial service in Christian communities (see Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12), but these texts do not tell us much about the nature of the office. Evidently, both men and women were permitted to serve as deacons (Rom. 16:1).The original task of the deacon may have been to assist overseers in their work of caring for the church. It is possible that early Christians built on the synagogue model which had a “head of the congregation” (archisunagôgos) and an assistant, who was called a hupēretēs rather than a diakonos.

The office of deacon is often thought to have been established in the early Jerusalem Church by the direction of Peter in Acts 6. But the title diakonos does not appear in the chapter, instead the verb form (Acts 6:2, 4) and a related noun form (diakoni,a–  diakonia: Acts 6:1) are used. The seven “deacons” selected in Acts 6 all have Greek names and function more like apostles than deacons. But since they were appointed so that the apostles would not neglect “prayer” and “the ministry (diakonia) of the word,” it may be inferred that the office of deacon came to focus more on the social and practical side of ministry than the teaching-oriented roles of overseer and elder.

It is clear from these titles that the New Testament church valued service above dominance or “power over” when it came to leadership. But the question remains of how the early church eventually moved away from the servant characteristics of leadership to more structured and hierarchical models.