Tag Archives: Revelation

Review: Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

The fourth in a four-volume series, C. Marvin Pate examines “apocalyptic literature as it begins in the Old Testament, develops in Second Temple Judaism, and culminates in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation, all the while demonstrating how to communicate the message of that literature to today’s audience” (21). Each volume contains eight elements (which make up Pate’s chapters):

  1. The Genre and Figures of Speech of Apocalyptic Literature
  2. The Historical Background of Prophetic-Apocalyptic Books
  3. The Function of Apocalypticism and the Theme of Israel’s Story
  4. Preparing to Interpret the Text
  5. Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic Literature
  6. Communicating a Passage in Revelation
  7. From Text to Sermon: Two Examples
  8. Selected Sources

Each chapter has an opening “Chapter at a Glance” section and a closing “Chapter in Review” section to help summarize the information. Pate’s book isn’t very long, but he’s able to provide a lot of information for the reader to digest (inhale?).

The first three chapters provide an overall understanding to the apocalyptic genre. In chapter one, using J. J. Collins’ definition (which has now become the standard definition to the genre), the apocalypse “is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherwordly being to a human recipient disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (30). Books in this genre each have a specific kind of form, content, and function-although Pate only defines what the “function” aspect is. The function of the apocalyptic genre is to remind the letter’s recipients that they are still in exile, and defecting from God brings covenant curses on oneself, but staying faithful to him will bring covenant blessings-the presence of the Messiah himself (32).

Chapter two shows how apocalypticism retells Israel’s story “in light of the imminent end/actual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians” as seen in Isaiah 24-27, 56-66, Joel 2-3, and Ezekiel 38-39 (p. 49). Other retellings of Israel’s story that are examined are Daniel 9-12 and Zechariah 9-14. The Oliviet Discourse and Revelation 6 (as well as the whole letter of Revelation) are apocalyptic reapplications of the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Chapter three provides the function of apocalypticism. Pate examines the main themes of Israel’s story (sin, exile, and restoration) and shows how they are seen in seven apocalyptic books (Daniel, 1 Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Revelation, the Testament of Moses, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch). He shows how other aspects of the apocalyptic genre are seen in these books, such as the covenantal blessings and curses, otherworldly beings, journeys, and mediators, and more.  (Pate also mentioned that, in an unpublished study, he has “applied the entire taxonomy of the genre of apocalypticism to these seven works,” p. 80. Yet, if the study is unpublished, how does that help the reader?).

Chapter four is a short lesson on text criticism and Bible translation (see more on that below). Chapter five focuses on some of the background issues such as author, date of writing, and major system of interpretation. Pate, who admits he is the only person he knows of who has seen this, thinks the Arch of Titus is behind Revelation 4-19. “The Arch of Titus depicts three parts of the victor’s triumph: (a) the pre-parade, (2) the procession, and (3) the sacrifice and feast. Revelation 4-5 includes parallels to the pre-parade; Revelation 6-18 includes parallels to the procession; and Revelation 19 includes parallels to the sacrifice and feast” (153). Some aspects seem to fit, others do not, but that is up to the reader to decide. The syntactical function of words and semantics are briefly covered at the end of the chapter. Chapter six helps guide the reader on how to communicate a passage in Revelation (mainly 1:1-3) to today’s audience. Chapter seven (which I talk more about below) gives two examples on how to bring the text to the sermon.

The Spoiled Milk

Pate’s tables don’t always work.

  • On page 197 is a table comparing the old covenant of Israel in the Deuteronomy with the new covenant in Romans. He tries to show how the order of Romans follows the order of Deuteronomy, but because there isn’t much explanation concerning how these sections work, it made little sense to me.
  • The same goes with the comparison of the covenant format of Deuteronomy with Revelation 1:1-3 (173), only there Pate was able to provide more explanation, which I still found confusing.
  • On page 37, Pate gives a chart which “demonstrates how the covenant structure of Deuteronomy thoroughly informs the letters to the seven churches in Revelation.” Yet strangely, before this point Pate hasn’t provided his outline of Deuteronomy (this doesn’t come until later in the book, see p. 82). So while the reader can see the genre divisions, he won’t know how Pate divides Deuteronomy until later on in the book, which is, again, unhelpful. Most of the other charts, however, were very informative and laid out well.

Chapter four, Preparing to Interpret the Text, was unnecessary. Most of the chapter covered textual criticism, something that the reader-exegete should already know about. It’s too difficult to compress the ocean of textual criticism into a single chapter, especially in such a short book as this one. It would have served the reader better to see textual critical examples in Revelation instead (which is done on a page and a half in this chapter, and a few pages in later chapters).

I was also disappointed in chapter seven, From Text to Sermon: Two Examples, because neither of them dealt with Revelation. Although they deal with apocalyptic literature sections (Romans 11:25-27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7), how does this help the reader with Revelation, especially with the seal, bowl, and trumpet judgments? While chapter six was helpful, that only dealt with the first three verses. How does the pastor take Revelation’s parallels with the other apocalyptic literature and preach that to his congregation? Perhaps he shouldn’t preach it, but at least he’ll have the knowledge stored away for his own knowledge and growth.

There were a few spelling mistakes throughout the book (32, 204), and two times that the parenthetical statements weren’t closed properly (57, 148). Also, see my quote above on the Arch of Titus (p. 153) where, in the three listed items, the listing goes from alphabetical (“a”) to numerical (“2” and “3”).

Recommended?

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a book to help you with sermon preparation, give this book a pass. Pate has some interesting ideas (like the Arch of Titus), a view I hope to see people interact with, however, his book is too clunky and messy, there is too much going on, and I didn’t find it very helpful to use in interpretation. If you want a book that offers parallels between the apocalyptic books, there is a lot of good information here. However, I don’t see how it is very helpful as an exegetical handbook. Pastors can stick with Keener’s NIVAC volume, along with either deSilva, Beale, Mounce, or Osborne (or all of the above).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Handbooks for New Testament Interpretation
  • Author: C. Marvin Pate
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Kregel Academic (November 27, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Images of God in Revelation

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A few days ago I reviewed Matthew Emerson’s Between the Cross and the Throne. In chapter four, The Portrait of God and His People, Emerson gives us the Skeleton Key to understand some of the cryptic images John uses about God. He reveals three of the images which John uses “to describe Yahweh’s rule over his enemies, his people, and his creation” (35).

God is Sovereign

“And before the throne [of God] there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal,” Revelation 4.6.

What do we make of this “sea of glass”? Why is there a sea before God’s throne, and why is it of glass? Emerson says, “In the Old Testament, the sea represents chaos and evil” (35).

Psalm 74.12-15 says,

12  Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13  You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
14  You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15  You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

God is the sovereign one who rules over the seas. He is able to dry “up ever-flowing streams” (v15b). The disciples were shocked when Jesus stilled the wind and the waves in Mark 4, saying, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” If only Yahweh can control the waters, who then is this who does the same?

leviathan

In the rest of Revelation, the sea “is the place from which evil arises” (35).

“And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads,” Revelation 13.1.

The sea being “the place from which evil arises” explains why Revelation 21.2 says there will be no sea. In the new creation there will be no chaos nor evil. Thus, “the image of God sitting on or over the sea shows his authority over chaos and evil” (35-36).

God is the Sovereign King of His People

elders

Revelation 4.4 and 11.16 together speak of 24 white-robed elders who sit on 24 thrones before God. While the issue of who the 24 elders represent is ever the debate, Emerson sees 12 elders as representative of Israel and the other 12 of the Church. In his lectures on Revelation, Peter Liethart sees the 24 elders as representing the 24 divisions of the priesthood in Chronicles with Jesus Christ as the 25 priest, the High Priest. The 24 elders would represent the Church, as we are a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19.6; 1 Pet 2.5) in Christ (though, to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what Leithart said, but I think it was roughly that idea).

These 24 elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. God is the sovereign King of his people.

God is Lord Over All Creation

rainbow-and-the-throne

The twenty-four elders receive a lot of attention, but we mustn’t forget the equally head-scratching four creatures around Yahweh’s throne. Emerson says, “[T]he creatures likely represent the fullness of creation (represented both by the number four, which is the number of creation . . . and by the diversity of the creatures)” (36).

“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree,” Revelation 7.1.

“And [Satan] will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth,” Revelation 20.8.

So, in Revelation 4.11 when the living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before Yahweh and sing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” it is “[b]oth creation and the people of God [who] fall down before [Yahweh]” and sing praises to him (36).

Here in the throne room scene of Revelation 4, John emphasizes Yahweh’s dominion over everything “because John is exhorting the Church to remain faithful to the end, even in spite of persecution” (36).

bt

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Review: Between the Cross and the Throne

bt

How often do Christians read Revelation? Do you think when you read it? Are you intrigued? Do you feel fear? Anxiety? Confusion? Does it lead you to praise and worship our Lord and Savior, the Lion-Lamb King? Revelation is a very difficult book, especially so for the modern day. The further along into time we go, the farther we get from the culture John write Revelation in. Should Revelation be taken literally? Are there symbols, how many, and what do they mean?

Summary

Emerson summarizes the book of Revelation and it’s application to the church in eight chapters.

Chapter one is the Introduction. Revelation isn’t a decoder ring you get out of your Sunday morning cereal box. “Rather, it is a book that was and is vital for the Church; it assures us, even as we face tribulation, of the triune God’s victorious reign and the imminence of Christ’s return” (1). Emerson says, “Most, if not all, of the book [Revelation] uses figurative images and language” (1). John draws these images from the Old Testament so that we can understand the conflict going on between Satan and God and his people.

Emerson provides his outline and the theological center of Revelation. Despite all of the persecution, it is God who rules on the throne, not Satan. Jesus suffered, died, and is the victorious King who will one day come to crush his (and our) enemies. “We can stand firm because he has already stood firm, and we can fight the Dragon’s servants because Christ has already bound their master” (5-6).

In chapter two Emerson guides the reader in seeing Revelation as a work of literature, a work that is a letter made up of prophecy and containing apocalyptic elements (figurative imagery, a focus on the end of history). Emerson takes a closer look at some of the literary devices, such as John’s use of numbers.

In chapter three, “The Drama of Redemption,” Emerson adds a fourth genre category, narrative. John sees his book “as the completion of the entire biblical narrative, connecting Christ’s work in his first and second coming with the story of creation and the fall (Gen 1–3). The new heavens and new earth (Rev 21–22) “is the consummation [completion] of Christ’s work of redemption to restore and renew creation from the effects of the fall.” John uses repeating patterns throughout Revelation to highlight different aspects of God’s judgment and mercy on the world and his faithfulness to his own people.

In chapters four and five, the reader is given two portraits. First, one of God and his people. Second, one of God’s enemies. Emerson believes that the church is seen all throughout Revelation. The reader is given a look at some of the images of God (“the seven spirits of God” and “the Lamb and Lion”). In writing to the seven churches, “‘[t]o the one who conquers,’ also reminds the church that they are being called to persevere” (40).  Emerson takes a quick guide to some of the phrases that describe the church in Revelation. When looking at the enemies of God, Emerson looks at “the unholy trinity” (made up of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet) and the harlot of Babylon.

Chapter six looks at the specific time periods (i.e., 1,260 days, 42 months, and “time, times, and half a time”), with Emerson saying that “the book’s time frame is especially structured around the events of Jesus’ first and second coming” (59). The war of the Lamb occurs during this period, where we see the dragon’s destructive dominion, the Lamb’s judgment, and the testimony of the church conquering over the dragon.

Chapter seven show us how to think about Revelation today in our modern world. The word has it’s agenda on how to shape people into its mold, “and it also has the practices to accomplish that purpose” (73). But believers today need to resist the world’s pressure and allow our worship of the crucified and risen Lamb to shape our minds and bodies to react in faithful trust to Christ.

Chapter eight draws the book to a close, reminding us “remain faithful to God in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit until he returns in glorious victory over all his enemies” (77).

Each chapter ends with some suggested Bible reading and questions for the reader to reflect on which would also be good to use in a group setting.

Recommended?

This is highly recommended. It’s an easy introduction to Revelation. If you’re one who is put off by long, dense books, especially ones written on Revelation, then you really ought to pick up this book. It’s smooth reading, and was honestly hard for me to put down.

For the more academic, this book will be very light. But even still, if you’ve never studied up on Revelation and you’re neck-deep in biblical studies for other subjects, Emerson’s book would be a good side read to help become acquainted with the Apostle’s fantastic book. It’s hard to read this book without wanting more. Hopefully Emerson will provide us with more in the future.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Matthew Emerson
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 27, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Urban Legend: God Would Rather You be Cold Than Lukewarm

Urban legends are un- (or dis-)proved stories that have been passed down for decades, such as how Coke will dissolve a tooth overnight, how alligators live in New York’s sewers, or how Mr. Rogers was a sniper in the Navy SEALS. David Croteau, in his new book Urban Legends of the New Testament (review here), covers 40 of the most commonly misunderstood New Testament passages, or 40 New Testament “urban legends.”

So far I’ve covered Philippians 4.13 and John 21’s use of  “love,” this time I’ll look at the cold, hot, and lukewarm church of Laodicea in Revelation.

The Urban Legend

“One of the reasons the church isn’t doing well is because those who call themselves Christians don’t live much differently than unbelievers in society…. [O]ne of the top reasons unbelievers give for not attending church is that there are too many hypocrites in the church. And… they have a point. Many of us are hypocrites. The church has many who say they are Christian but don’t really follow Christ” (227).

In Revelation 3:14–19, John writes to the church of Laodicea, “which is a chilling passage for those who call themselves Christians in America today” (227). Rev 3.15-17 says,

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

“Being cold toward God means you hate God… [whereas b]eing hot toward God means you are on fire for the Lord, [and] you are motivated to live a holy life” (228). But being lukewarm means you are sitting on the fence. You have a half-hearted love for God. You don’t read your Bible, pray, or even express excitement toward the thought of God (228).

Why would sitting on the fence be worse than being against God? “When you declare yourself an enemy of God, people understand that you hate him. But when you say you are a Christian but you don’t have any joy for him, your life slanders his name. You aren’t demonstrating to unbelievers the abundant Christian life. You are hypocritical, and people hate hypocrites” (228).

Introduction: Unraveling the Legend

While there is a lot of truth stated above, there are two main problems with this interpretation.

1.  The definitions of the terms hot, cold, and lukewarm.

2.  There is helpful background information that was not used in the interpretation.

inigo

Questioning Definitions of Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm

Cold:The word cold doesn’t occur that much in the Bible. When it does occur outside of Revelation 3, it refers to something being physically cold” (228). Cold could actually have a positive meaning in Revelation 3.

Hot: “One Greek dictionary states that hot never referred to a favorable attitude toward someone. How do we know hot means something positive?” (228).

Lukewarm:The Greek word for lukewarm means ‘between cold and hot’” (228). But does lukewarm naturally mean one “sits on the fence”? Does sitting between two extremes always put one “on the fence”?

Cultural Context

What John isn’t telling us in Revelation (because the Laodiceans already knew this) was his knowledge of Laodicea’s aquaduct system. Up until recent years (i.e., 20th century), tap water wasn’t a common household feature.

Laodicea was a city formed because it was at the center of trade routes going through that region. It did not have a natural water supply” (229). So water had to be piped in from nearby cities like Denizli and Hierapolis, the latter of “which was known for its hot springs. The springs at Hierapolis were famous for their healing qualities, similar to a Jacuzzi: it was used to relax and help sore muscles” and eventually became a “major health center” (229).

To the east was Colossae which “was known for its cold, pure, and refreshing drinking water. The water came down from the snowy caps of Mount Cadmus, and the cold, life-giving water at Colossae explains why people originally settled there. It was the only place in the region that had this water” (229). If you’ve ever been in the Deep South in the dead heat of summer, you know how precious ice cold water is.

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While Croteau uses coffee as an example, I’ll use hot chocolate.

HC

Mari and I love chocolate milk, especially O’Boy chocolate milk. We enjoy going to cafes when it’s cold, buying hot chocolate, and sitting there to read and enjoy each others company. I also enjoy ice cold chocolate milk. Even in the middle of a Norwegian winter, I will put ice in my cereal, in my smoothies, and in my chocolate milk to make sure it’s cold enough. Whether hot or cold, chocolate milk is refreshingly smooth. But all that changes when it’s lukewarm. Warm milk is gross, even if it’s chocolate. 

In Revelation 3.14-19, the concepts of being “hot” or “cold” were positive! It reminded the Laodiceans of “the hot water of Hierapolis and the cold water of Colossae” (230) where hot refers “to being spiritually [healed] as Hierapolis’s springs were physically healing[, and cold]… refers to being spiritually refreshing… a life-giving church” (229).

However, when the waters from Denizli mixed with those from Colossae, the water became… lukewarm.

“The citizens would take the water from the aqueduct and put it in jars in the shade to let it cool off because it was still a little bit on the warm side. Sometimes visitors would come to Laodicea, and they might not know about the water situation. They would pour a cup of water, drink it, and sometimes they would spit out the water because they weren’t prepared for the taste or the temperature. Some visitors would swallow the water, and because of all the minerals and the calcium carbonate that was in the water, it would give them an upset stomach, and they would vomit the water out” (230-231).

Conclusion: Context and Application

Verse 15 starts with “I know your works.” So already this isn’t about the church’s attitude toward God, but their works as Christians under Christ’s name.

These actions, then, are evidence about their attitude. It is directly about the works of Christians. So hot, cold, and lukewarm are terms describing water that represent their works metaphorically. Cold and hot are good descriptions while lukewarm is a negative description. The reversing of the word order of “hot” and “cold” also suggests this. Hot and cold refer to good water and therefore good deeds—the spiritually refreshing, spiritually healing, life-giving works these local churches were known for.

Lukewarm water was bad and refers to a lack of deeds, a barrenness of works. The Laodiceans viewed themselves as self-sufficient and needing nothing. The hot/ cold/lukewarm metaphor challenges this idea of self-sufficiency. In 3:19, John gives the cure to a life of barren works: be committed and repent. Lukewarm refers to a lack of good works.

Urban Legends

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