Tag Archives: Paulien Revelation

The Biblical Concept of the Remnant (Twelve 5)

The people of God in the final conflict are called the “remnant” (Greek: loipôn) in Revelation 12:17. This end-time designation looks back on a long Old Testament tradition. The original meaning of “remnant” is a group of people who are “survivors of a disaster.” Due to flood, earthquake or conquest, a tribe or people could come in jeopardy of being totally destroyed (what we sometimes call genocide today). The survival of a remnant after any of these disasters brought hope that the tribe or people could be restored to greatness in the future (see Gen. 7:23). Within the Old Testament, a moral or spiritual meaning came to be attached to “remnant.” The remnant was a “believing minority” through whom God could ultimately save the human race from extinction in spite of the presence of sin and evil in the world.

As a result, “remnant” was used in three different theological ways in the OT. 1) Historical Remnant. Any group in the past that has experienced a mighty deliverance of God, such as the descendants of Noah and the Israel of the Exodus. Such a group is visible, nameable and countable. It is a surviving witness to God’s prior salvation, whether or not it remains faithful to God’s original purpose for the group (see 2 Chr. 30:6)

2) Faithful Remnant. This means those among a given historical remnant who remain faithful to the original message and mission of that historical movement. These are those God knows are faithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:19). They are, thus, less visible and countable to human eyes than the historical remnant (1 Kings 19:14-18).

3) Eschatological Remnant. The eschatological remnant is made up of all who will be found faithful during the apocalyptic woes of the end-time (Joel 2:31-32). There is reason to believe that this eschatological remnant will reach far beyond the borders of the historical or faithful remnants of the past (Isa. 66:19-20).

The book of Revelation contains all three type of remnant. The historical remnant in Revelation is the seed of the woman that appears at a particular point in history (Rev. 12:17). The church of Thyatira contains an example of a faithful remnant in the midst of apostasy (Rev. 2:24). And there will be a surprising, expansive end-time remnant that emerges just before the close of probation (Rev. 11:13). It is God’s purpose that the historical remnant faithfully prepare the way for the greater remnant to come.

The Development of the Year-Day Principle (Twelve 4)

The year-day principle is a crucial element of Adventist interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. It is particularly important to the understanding of chapter twelve of Revelation. In verses 6 and 14 the woman flees into the wilderness for “1260 days” (12:6, ESV) or “a time, times and half a time” (12:14, NIV). Adventists have understood these two time periods to be the same 1260-year period of Christian history, reckoning a year for each day in the prophecy. Is this principle biblical or is it something made up in order to achieve a particular conclusion? As is so often the case with the Bible, the answer is a little more complicated than the two options above would indicate.

The year-day principle, as expressed by Seventh-day Adventists, usually goes something like this: “In Bible prophecy, whenever a period of time is listed in days, its fulfillment should be counted in years.” The principle as stated is not found anywhere in Scripture. But the Bible paves the way for it by highlighting year-day equivalencies, that days and years can correspond to each other. In Numbers 14:34, for example, the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness corresponds to the forty days of Israel’s disobedience and rebellion in Numbers, chapters 11-14. In Ezekiel 4:5-6 the prophet is ordered to lie down one day for each year of Israel and Judah’s disobedience. In Leviticus 25 the concept of a week and its Sabbath is extended from days to agricultural years. Daniel 9 contains seventy “weeks” of years. So the sabbatical concept of years corresponding to days of the week highlights year-day thinking in biblical times.

But when should one apply prophetic days as years? There are several guiding principles to consider. 1) Since apocalyptic prophecies, like Daniel 7 and Revelation 12, are full of symbols, a symbolic meaning for any numbers in prophecy should be considered as an option. 2) Year-day numbers tend to be the kind one would not use in normal speech. No parent, for example, would say their child is 1260 days old or even 42 months old, much less 2300 evenings and mornings! Such prophetic numbers are not normal on the face of them. 3) In a sequence of prophetic events, if the prophecy makes more sense when counting the days as years, one should do so. For example, in Daniel 7, the four beasts rule for an average of 250 years each. But when the chief opponent of God appears, getting more attention than all the others, it rules for only three and a half years. Daniel 7 makes more sense historically if the time period is 1260 years. Doing so not only balances the prophecy, but enables it to stretch all the way to the Time of the End.

So is the “year-day principle” principle biblical? Not in an exegetical sense. There is no text in the Bible that states the principle and outlines the contexts in which it is to be applied. The principle was applied to prophetic texts only when the passage of time made such a reading plausible. In other words, while there are plenty of evidences of year-day thinking in the Bible, a prophetic year-day principle was only applied to Scripture when historical circumstances caused such a reading to make sense. For example, the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 seem to point to the Messiah. When the Jews arrived at a point in time 490 years from the beginning of the prophecy, people used year-day thinking to suggest that Messiah was about to come, and from a Christian perspective, he did! Around 1200 AD people began to wonder is a year-day reading of Revelation 12 might point to the time of Jesus’ return. So the principle is not drawn from explicit statements of Scripture, but when prophetic texts were read with the wisdom of time passed, time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation took on new meaning. The year-day principle is a theological principle, not an exegetical one.

The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict (Twelve 3)

The war in heaven of Revelation 12:7-9 is described in military language. There is the language of “war” (12:7– Greek: polemos), and “fighting” (also verse 7– Greek: polemêsai, epolemêsen). These Greek words normally describe armed conflict in the military sense. But these same words can be used in figurative ways as well, to heighten the drama of quarrels and verbal disagreements (Jam 4:1). When we examine the war of this chapter closely, it becomes clear that the war in heaven is more a war of words than a military event. There are four main evidences for this conclusion in chapter twelve.

First, the dragon sweeps a third of the stars down from heaven with his tail (Greek: oura). A crucial parallel text in the Old Testament is Isaiah 9:15. In that text the “tail” is a symbol for a prophet who teaches lies (Greek LXX: oura). So the focused of the dragon’s action is persuasive words rather than force. Second, the dragon is defined in multiple ways in Revelation 12:9. He is the devil, the deceiver, Satan and “that ancient serpent.” The latter is a clear reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who told lies about God to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-6). Here again, the focus is on persuasive speech rather than military force.

Third, the dragon/Satan is cast out of heaven as the “accuser of the brothers” in Rev. 12:10. It is his accusing words, rather than physical weapons, that cause his casting down. The remedy for accusations, at least in God’s form of government, is not to shut down discussion, but to provide evidence that the accusations are not true. The most powerful evidence that God is not arbitrary, judgmental or severe is how Jesus behaved on the cross (Rev. 12:11). God is so unwilling to resort to violence that He allowed His own creatures to torture and kill Him in human form. And finally, the dragon/Satan is overcome by “the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). On earth, the evidence against Satan’s lies is provided by the testimonies of believers who are so firmly convinced that they would continue their testimony even in the face of death. So the war of Revelation twelve is not a military battle, it is a war of words. The solution to the problem in the universe is not force but evidence and persuasive speech.

What Happens When New Characters Appear in Revelation (Twelve 2)

The twelfth chapter of Revelation portrays the history and experience of the church from the birth of Christ (Rev. 12:5) to the final crisis of earth’s history (12:17). As such it sets the stage for Revelation’s primary focus on end-time events from chapter thirteen on (see next week’s lesson for details on Rev. 13). The backdrop for these earthly events is the cosmic conflict in heaven (12:7-10).

There is an important literary pattern in the book of Revelation. Whenever a new character appears in the story, the author pauses the narrative and offers a visual description of that character and a bit of its previous history. This “freeze frame” often helps the reader identify the character. After this introduction, the character plays a role in the larger story.

In Revelation chapter one, Jesus appears as a character in the book for the first time (Rev. 1:12-18—He is named earlier: 1:5,9, but is not described as a character there). There is a visual description (1:12-16) and a bit of His previous history (1:17-18) followed by His actions in the subsequent vision (Rev. 2 and 3). In chapter eleven, the two witnesses are introduced similarly with a physical description and a glimpse of their past history (11:3-6) followed by their actions in the context of the vision (11:7-13).

Two new characters appear at the beginning of chapter twelve (Rev. 12:1-4). First, there is a visual description of a woman (12:1) and a bit of her previous history (12:2). Then a dragon appears and is similarly introduced (12:3-4). Only then do both characters begin to act in the context of the vision itself (Rev. 12:5ff.). The male child of verse five, on the other hand, is not introduced with a visual description, probably because He has already been introduced earlier in a different form (1:12-18).

We will see the same literary pattern in Revelation 13. Both the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth are introduced with a freeze frame (Rev. 13:1-7 and 13:11) that prepares the way for their actions in the context of the final crisis of earth’s history (Rev. 12:17).

Revelation 12 and Christian History (Twelve 1)

Revelation twelve covers the entire sweep of Christian history with glimpses of the universal war that lies behind the conflicts of earth. This history is presented in four stages, beginning in Old Testament times: 1) The period before the birth of Christ; with a glimpse of Old Testament Israel, represented by a woman, (Rev. 12:1-2) and the original expulsion of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12:3-4). 2) The birth, ascension and enthronement of Christ with a fresh picture of the war in heaven as seen in the light of the cross (Rev. 12:5, 7-11). 3) The history of the Christian church between the two advents of Jesus, with a particular focus on the persecution of New Testament Israel (the faithful church) during the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:6, 13-16). 4) A view of the experience of the church in the final conflict (Rev. 12:17).

The study of chapter twelve of Revelation has caused me to consider the following themes:

1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Revelation.
2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict.
3. The Development of the Year-Day Principle.
4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant.
5. Textual Issues in Rev. 12:17.
6. The Testimony of Jesus.

The most important contribution of Revelation 12 to the Bible is the clarity of its description of the cosmic conflict. If we didn’t have Revelation 12, we would be unable to piece together a much larger picture of eternity past and the implications of what happened then for our lives today. Revelation 12, in a sense, is the essential context that gives everything else in the Bible meaning. Once you have read Revelation 12 many other texts shine with greater clarity. Awareness of the cosmic conflict impacts the way we look at the world and the way we find meaning and purpose in it. It also sharpens our understanding of the character of God. I hope to elaborate on some of these things in blogs to come.

The Spiritual Payoff in the Trumpets (Trumpets 7)

The material in the seven trumpets does not lend itself to a great deal of application to everyday life experience. But the following two points have been helpful to me.

1) How does the connection between the introduction to the trumpets (Rev. 8:3-5) and the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) offer encouragement to those suffering for the sake of the gospel today? The martyrs’ cry for judgment in the fifth seal is answered by the seven trumpets (see Rev. 8:13). The trumpets are God’s judgment within history on powers that have been oppressing His people. The message of the trumpets is that God sees the suffering of His people and responds to the injustice, not only at the end of time, but in the course of history. Like Job, we may not always understand what God is doing, but we have reason to trust Him even in the darkest times.

2) The judgments of the first two trumpets fall on those powers that combined to crucify Jesus (the religious authorities of Jerusalem under Caiaphas and Roman civil authority under Pilate). What does this tell us about opposition to the gospel? Opposition to the gospel and those who embrace it tends to come from two distinct directions; opposition from inside the house and from outside the house. Jesus was crucified when the leaders of Israel (inside) combined with outside powers (Rome) to put Him to death. Historically, however, the greatest opposition to the true gospel and its followers often comes from those in the same faith.
A similar dynamic is seen in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The father is not only rejected (initially) by the son who left, but also by the one who stayed. The former is indifferent to the father, the latter is motivated by selfish gain. The prodigal son represents those today who care little about God and faith and are visibly on a different track. The elder son, on the other hand, represents those in the church who do not know or exhibit the character of the Father. On the outside they look pious and obedient, but inside is the heart of a rebel.

The Allusion to Daniel 12 in Revelation 10 (Trumpets 6)

One of the clearest allusions to the Old Testament in all of Revelation is found in 10:5-6 (compare Dan. 12:7). The two passages have eight major words in common. Both passages have heavenly figures standing on or above bodies of water. In both cases the heavenly figure raises his right hand to heaven and swears by the one who lives forever and ever. In each case there is a reference to prophetic time. So the allusion to Daniel 12 in Revelation 10 is one of the two or three clearest allusions to the Old Testament in the entire book.

Renowned British scholar C. H. Dodd articulated a very important principle based on his study of the quotations of the Old Testament throughout the New Testament. He noticed that New Testament writers did not refer to the Old Testament for the sake of “proof texts,” references that would by themselves support what the writer was saying (as we often do today). Instead they referred to specific parts of the Old Testament as pointers to a much larger context. In a few words one can bring a whole section or theme of the Old Testament into play. That is clearly what is going on in Revelation 10.

The key to the allusion to Daniel 12 in Revelation 10 is in the reference to time. The reference to “time no more” parallels the reference to “time, times and half a time” in Daniel 12:7. Daniel 12:7 is in one of several explanations of the original Hebrew-language vision of Daniel 8:3-14. So the reference to Daniel 12:7 is a pointer to the entire prophetic context of Daniel 8 through 12. The vision of Revelation 10 invites the reader to consider the whole context of Daniel 8 through 12. This passage contains a number of references to prophetic time (2300 evenings and mornings [Dan 8:13-14], 70 weeks [9:24-27] and the 1260, 1290 and 1335 days [12:7-11]). The “time no more” of Revelation 10:6 is announcing the close of Daniel’s time prophecies in the context of the sixth trumpet. Thus the close of the sixth trumpet ushers in the final events of earth’s history. Revelation 10 is building a case based on the entire last five chapters of the book of Daniel.

The Relation of the “Interlude” to the Seven Trumpets (Trumpets 5)

The trumpets focus on the opponents of God and of those bearing witness for Him (Rev. 9:4, 20-21) but the “interlude” between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Rev. 10:1 – 11:13) focuses on God’s people. The big question is whether the “interlude” is truly a pause or an “interruption” within the seven trumpets or whether it is actually part of the sixth or seventh trumpets themselves. Related to this is whether the interlude should be seen in terms of the timing of one of these trumpets or is it timeless in some sense. We have already seen that the “interlude” of Revelation 7 is closely related to the sixth seal rather than truly independent. Chapter seven answers the question of who will stand in the day of God’s wrath against the persecutors of His people (Rev. 6:17).

The answer to the question is not difficult to find when it comes to the material between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The “interlude,” however, is not separate from the trumpets, it is clearly part of the sixth trumpet. This is found in the sequencing of the three woes. Revelation 8:13 describes three woes coming upon those who live on the earth. According to Revelation 9:12, the first of these woes is the fifth trumpet. The second woe is the sixth trumpet, but it does not end at the close of chapter nine, it is described as ending at Revelation 11:14. So the bulk of chapters 10 and 11 are part of the sixth trumpet. While the forces of evil are gathering for the final crisis during the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:16), the forces of the righteous are gathering to counter them (Rev. 7:4; Rev. 10:1 – 11:13). Since the sixth trumpet ends with the close of human probation (Rev. 10:7– the point where conversions no longer occur), the “interlude” within the sixth trumpet describes the final proclamation of the gospel to the world.

The Meaning of the First Six Trumpets (Trumpets 4)

Here’s a nutshell summary of the key themes in the first six trumpets. 1) The first trumpet uses the Old Testament language of God’s judgments (hail, fire and blood– Exod. 9:23-26; Isa 10:16-20; Ezek. 38:22) directed against symbols of God’s OT people (vegetation and trees– Isa. 28:2ff.; Ezek. 20:47-48). Hence the first trumpet represents God’s judgment on the Jerusalem that had rejected Christ (Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 23:28-31). 2) The second trumpet recalls in general God’s judgments on those who opposed Him (Exod. 7:19-21), and in particular the fall of ancient Babylon (Jer. 51:24-25, 41-42). This trumpet seems to describe the fall of the Roman Empire.

3) The symbolism of the third trumpet parallels biblical imagery for the work of Satan (Isa. 14:12-19; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9). But the symbolism of lamp, springs, rivers and water suggest spiritual life and growth (Psa. 1:3; 84:6-7; 119:105; Jer. 2:13). The falling of the star and the embittering of the waters connect the two ideas suggesting a perversion of truth and a rise of apostasy. This trumpet, then, may foretell the condition of the church in the Middle Ages. 4) In the fourth trumpet, on the other hand, a third of the sources of light (sun, moon and stars) are darkened, in other words, the symbols of truth are partially eclipsed. This could represent the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages or the deepening of apostasy in the church during the Middle Ages (Exod. 10:21-23; Job 38:2; Isa. 8:22; John 1:4-11; 3:18-21).

5) With the fifth trumpet the partial darkness of the fourth trumpet becomes total and worldwide (Rev. 9:1-2; Luke 8:31). If the fourth trumpet represents the rise of secularism after the Middle Ages, the fifth would represent the triumph of secularism in the modern age. With God and truth totally eclipsed, sinful mankind is left to the demonic torment of suicidal desires (Rev. 9:3-11; Luke 8:31; 10:17-20). The only safety is in genuine relationship with God (Rev. 9:4).

6) While the first five trumpets have many allusions to ancient Egypt, the sixth trumpet particularly echoes biblical accounts regarding ancient Babylon. There are references to the river of Babylon (Rev. 9:14), the idolatry of Babylon (Rev. 9:20; Dan 5:4, 23) and the fall of Babylon (Rev. 9:21; Isa 47:9-12). There are also many parallels with the sixth bowl (Euphrates, battle language, demonic imagery– Rev. 16:12-16). So the sixth trumpet portrays the rise of end-time Babylon, with its opposition to God arising from within the church (Rev. 17:4-5).

The readings in this blog are an attempt to take seriously the exegetical meaning of the trumpets, how the imagery would have been understood when it was originally written. It also takes seriously the apocalyptic nature of the trumpets and God’s ability to foretell the main lines of history in John’s future. The trumpets are not easy to understand, but when the imagery is read with an eye to its Old Testament backgrounds, the meaning is easier to follow.

The Time When the Trumpets Begin (Trumpets 3)

The throwing down of the censer (or fire) in Rev. 8:5 suggests to some Adventist interpreters that the events that follow (8:6—the blowing of the seven trumpets) are after the close of probation. This would mean that the seven trumpets represent end-time events rather than a forecast of events throughout the course of Christian history. But a number of indications in the text make this very unlikely.

First, the pattern in the first half of the book of Revelation (the churches, the seals and the trumpets) is that the visions begin with the New Testament era and cover events throughout Christian history. Second, whatever the casting down of the censer (fire) in Rev. 8:5 means, probation is clearly not yet closed at the time of the sixth trumpet. The intercession at the altar is still taking place (Rev. 9:13) and the gospel is still going forth (10:11; 11:3-6, 12-13). That the “interlude” of Revelation 10:1 – 11:13 should be included in our understanding of the sixth trumpet is shown in a following blog. Chapter ten and eleven are part of the sixth trumpet, not an independent vision. Finally, the proclamation of the gospel ends and probation fully closes only at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev 10:7). So the seven trumpets of Revelation cover the whole course of history from John’s day to the close of probation and final events.

Major parts of Revelation DO concern end-time events in human history. But when John goes there, he makes it fairly clear that he is doing so. While each of the seven-fold series (churches, seals and trumpets) ends in the final era, the central focus of the second half of the book is almost entirely focused on the last events of earth’s history.