Monthly Archives: March 2018

How the Cosmic Conflict Changes Everything (Twelve 8)

How should we see the world differently because of the cosmic conflict? What would it be like to live without that knowledge? The cosmic conflict powerfully answers the three great questions of philosophy; 1) where did I come from, 2) where am I going, and 3) why am I here? 1) According to the cosmic conflict, where did I come from? I come, first of all, from the mind of God, who foresaw me back in eternity and shaped me in His image. He has created me free, with the commission to copy His creative work in the formation of little people like myself. My life has meaning and purpose when I live it in relationship with God and in a creative fashion that honors Him.

2) According to the cosmic conflict, where am I going? To join God in resolving the crisis in the universe by non-violent means. God will bring an end to sin and sinners and will restore the universe to a condition of freedom, joy and peace, grounded in love and trust. Along the way it will appear that all is lost, but the lost battles will not undo the final outcome. God and His ways will win in the end and we can know we are on the winner side no matter how bad things may be now. Knowledge of the outcome gives us confidence to keep trying and avoid discouragement.

3) According to the cosmic conflict, why am I here? I am made in the image of God to reflect His character to others. To bear witness to the unique facet of God’s character that He has gifted me with. My purpose each day is to “fight” for the kind of world and universe that God is leading to, to bring a piece of that glorious eternity into everyday experience today. The little battles we fight every day are part of a much larger war. This gives meaning and purpose to all that we do.

Knowledge of the cosmic conflict provides meaning and purpose to all that we do, connects us to a purpose far bigger than ourselves, and enables us to cope with the past, no matter what we have done or what has been done to us, and relaxed about the future, knowing it is safely in God’s hands.

What is the significance of the heavenly “war of words” on our picture of what God is like? God’s side in the cosmic conflict places priority on love and self-sacrifice, respects the freedom of God’s creatures, and does not coerce but rather is patient, seeking to provide persuasive evidence. On the other hand, Satan seeks to win by persecution (force) and deception (telling lies). The casting out of Satan in Rev. 12:9-10 is more intellectual than physical. The hosts of heaven no longer take his lies seriously, his arguments have lost credibility at the cross.

Our picture of God to a large degree determines how we live and behave. If we think of God as severe and judgmental, we become more like that. If we think of God as gracious and self-sacrificing, we become more like that. We become like the God we worship.

The Meaning of the Testimony of Jesus (Twelve 7)

One of the marks of the remnant in Rev. 12:17 is that they are those who “have” or “hold to” (Greek: echontôn) the “testimony of Jesus” (Greek: tên marturion Iêsou). Many scholars see this phrase as representing either the gospel (Jesus’ testimony about the character of God in His life—John 14:9) or the book of Revelation itself (Rev. 1:1-3). But a closer look at Revelation 1:1-3 indicates that the “testimony of Jesus” is neither of these in Revelation.

Revelation 1:1-3 portrays a chain of revelation. The revelation is passed from God to Jesus, then from Jesus through His angel to His servant John and then John writes it out for the people. What God gives to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” What Jesus gives to John is called “the testimony of Jesus.” What John gives to the people is called “the words of this prophecy.” Summarizing this chain of revelation in different words, based on the text: The revelation of Jesus Christ is what God gave. The testimony of Jesus is what John saw. The words of this prophecy are what John wrote. That means that the testimony of Jesus is not the book of Revelation (what John wrote), it is the visionary gift that Jesus gave to John (what John saw—Rev. 1:2). So the testimony of Jesus is a visionary gift of revelation that he gave to John according to the second verse of the book.

One of the marks of the remnant is having the “testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17—Greek: echontôn tên marturian iêsou). Based on the evidence of Revelation 1:1-3, this means that John foresaw an end-time revival of the kind of visionary, prophetic gift he was given (Rev. 1:2). This reading of 12:17 is confirmed when you compare Revelation 12:17 with a careful comparison of Rev 19:10 and 22:8-9. Revelation 19:10 speaks of John’s “brothers. . . who have the testimony of Jesus” (Greek: tôn echontôn tên marturian iêsou). The two phrases are identical. The further parallel with Revelation 22:9 is instructive. In a very similar scene the angel speaks of John’s brothers “the prophets.” So the testimony of Jesus is closely associated with the gift of prophecy in Revelation. Those who “have the testimony of Jesus” in 19:10 are called “the prophets” in 22:9. This confirms that the mark of the remnant in Revelation 12:17 described as “the testimony of Jesus” represents the kind of visionary, prophetic gift that John himself had.

A Textual Issue in Revelation 12:17 (Twelve 6)

The King James Version reads that the dragon “went” to make war with the remnant. More recent translations are in agreement that the dragon “went off” (ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV, NRSV) or “went away” (Greek: apelthen) to make war. The KJV reading is based on a relatively rare manuscript option (Greek: elthen) supported by the evidence available at the time when the KJV was produced.

In addition, the manuscript tradition behind the KJV translation has “‘I stood’ upon the sand of the sea” (meaning John: Rev. 13:1, KJV) instead of “‘he stood’ upon the sand of the sea” (Rev 12:18, NRSV; 12:17, ESV, RSV; 13:1), meaning the dragon rather than John. The NIV and NRSV go so far as to translate “dragon” instead of “he” (Rev. 12:18, NRSV; 13:1, NIV). While the manuscript evidence is split fairly evenly on this point, text critics strongly favor “he stood” as the most likely reading in the original.

The readings “went away” and “he stood” fit much better with the story of Revelation 13, where the dragon calls up allies from the sea and the land to assist him in the final conflict. The more modern readings tie chapter 13 with chapter 12 as a continuous narrative. Chapter 13, then, is an explanation of the dragon’s end-time war with the remnant (see present and future tenses in chapter 13). But the dragon’s allies, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth, both have a history (Rev. 13:1-7, 11) that parallels the middle portion of chapter 12 (Rev. 12:3-6). Thus, chapters 12 and 13 explain each other as part of an ongoing narrative.

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.