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Note of the Day – August 16 (Revelation 3:7-13)

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Revelation 3:7-13

The sixth letter in chaps. 2-3 is addressed to the city of “the one dear to (his) brother” (Greek fila/delfo$, philádelphos), surname of the Pergamene king (Attalos II) who founded the city in the mid-second century B.C. Today it is known by the name Alashehir. The brotherly affection (or loyalty) indicated by the name filade/lfeia (philadélpheia) takes on a new significance for early Christians, based on their use of the words fila/delfo$ and filade/lfeia, where the fondness/affection (fi/lo$) is understood in terms of the love (a)ga/ph) believers share with one another in Christ (cf. Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1 Pet 1:22; 3:8; 2 Pet 1:7, and note the interchange of file/w and a)gapa/w in Jn 21:15-17).

Rev 3:7

In this letter, for the first time, the introduction to the risen Jesus does not draw upon the vision in 1:11-16ff; however, it continues the blending of Messianic and Divine attributes which especially characterizes the portrait of Jesus in the book of Revelation. It begins with titles properly applied to God the Father (YHWH):

“the Holy (One), the True (One)…”
o( a%gio$ o( a)lh/qino$

The first title, “Holy One”, occurs in Isa 40:25; Hab 3:3 (cf. also Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Prov 9:10; Isa 5:19ff, etc), and relates to the idea of God’s holiness, expressed many times in the Scriptures (e.g., Exod 3:5; 15:13; Lev 19:2; Deut 26:15ff; Josh 24:19; Psalm 99:3ff; Isa 6:3; Luke 1:49, etc). It is applied to Jesus in the New Testament, usually in the form “the Holy One of God” (o( a%gio$ tou= qeou=)—Mark 1:24 par; John 6:69; also Acts 3:14 (“Holy and Just [One]”); and Acts 2:27; 4:27, 30; 13:35 (“your Holy [One]”). In these passages the sense is primarily Messianic, influenced, in part, by the wording in Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:27; 13:35). However, there can be no doubt that the title “Holy (One)”, would have been associated in the minds of early (Jewish) Christians, with God Himself (cf. Rev 16:5, to be discussed). The association of the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) with the title “Son of God”, in Luke 1:35, may point in this direction. There would also have been an obvious association with the Holy Spirit for early Christians as well (cf. 1 John 2:20; Luke 1:35).

The second title “True One”, “the One (who is) True”, using the adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”, par a)lhqh/$), is less common, but draws upon truth (a)lh/qeia) as an attribute of God—cf. 2 Sam 7:28; 22:31 (Ps 18:30); 2 Chron 15:3; Psalm 25:5; 43:3; Prov 30:5; Isa 10:20; 45:19; 65:16; Jer 10:10; Rom 3:4ff; 1 Thess 1:9, etc. Both noun and adjective are especially prominent in the Johannine writings (both the Gospel and Letters), where the terms are variously applied to God (the Father), Jesus (the Son), and/or the Spirit. Of the many occurrences, note especially: Jn 1:9; 3:33; 4:23-24; 5:32; 6:32 (and v. 55; 15:1); 7:18, 28; 8:14ff, 26, 32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:37f; 1 Jn 2:8, 27; 5:20. The Spirit is specifically connected with the Truth of God (and Christ)—Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6. The declarations in Jn 17:3 and 1 Jn 5:20 are central to Johannine theology, and must be studied closely. In the book of Revelation, “true” as a divine title, is applied to God the Father (i.e. YHWH) and Jesus interchangably, as can be seen in 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:11, etc. The twin attributes “holy” and “true” are used together again in 6:10 (to be discussed).

Following these (divine) titles, we find the descriptive phrase:

“The (one) holding the key of Dawid, the (one) opening up and no one closes, and (the one) closing and no one opens up”

This is essentially a quotation of Isa 22:22, which came to interpreted in a Messianic sense, due to the expression “key of David” (klei/$ Daui/d). The key symbolizes both authority and rule (i.e. within the house or kingdom). The one holding the key typically would be a trusted servant acting with the ruler’s authority, giving/granting access and administering the household (or kingdom), etc. It is especially appropriate as an image for the risen Jesus, who was exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, and was given authority (as judge, etc) over the world. His actions/judgments cannot be reversed—what he opens cannot be closed, and what he closed cannot be opened. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples in Matt 16:19 (cf. also Jn 20:23). In Rev 1:18, the risen Jesus declared “I hold the keys of Death and (the) Unseen realm (of the Dead) [i.e. ‘Hades’]”. There the keys are unquestionably connected to Jesus’ resurrection; the significance of the image is also eschatological—as are the keys held by the heavenly Messengers in 9:1; 20:1.

Rev 3:8

The message to the believers in Philadelphia is entirely one of praise and encouragement (there is no blame/rebuke section beginning “but I hold [this] against you…”). The praise is emphasized at the start in verse 8:

“I have seen your works—see! I have given (you) a door having been opened up in your sight, (of) which no one can close it—(in) that you hold little power, and (yet) you (have) kept watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and you did not deny my name.”

The praiseworthy “works” are clearly summarized: the believers in Philadelphia have little power (i.e. in a socio-political or religious-cultural sense), and yet they have been faithful, in the face of the pressures (and persecution?) surrounding them in the city. Here the “word [lo/go$]” is best understood in terms of the Gospel message (which includes the teachings of Jesus), often referred to in the New Testament as the “account/word [lo/go$] of God”. They have been faithful in a two-fold sense: (a) keeping watch over the Gospel, and (b) not denying the “name” of Jesus (i.e. their faith in him and religious identity as believers). The latter implies some measure of persecution, or at least pressure (from the surrounding culture) to abandon one’s Christian identity. The idea of “keeping watch” (vb. thre/w) over the word/account (i.e. Gospel) may indicate the danger of false teachings, but could just as easily refer to influence from Greco-Roman (pagan) religion and culture—cf. the use of the verb in 1 Thess 5:23 (note the eschatological context); 1 Tim 5:22; 6:14; 2 Tim 4:7; James 1:27. The specific idea of keeping watch over the word (or ‘command’) of Jesus is especially prominent in the Johannine writings—Jn 8:51-52; 12:47; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 20; 1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:22ff; 5:3. In the Johannine tradition, this ‘command’—better understood as the charge/duty laid upon believers—is two-fold [1 Jn 3:23-24]: (1) trust in Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, and (2) love for one another, following the example of Jesus.

On the suffering and persecution of believers being tied specifically to the name of Jesus, cf. Mark 13:13 par; Matt 10:22; Luke 21:12; John 15:21; Acts 5:41; 9:16; 15:26; 26:9, etc. The similarity of language between Rev 3:8 and the earlier wording used in 2:13 (letter to Pergamum) strongly indicates that the believers in Philadelphia were facing danger (and/or active oppression) from the provincial government (Roman magistrate, etc) due to their Christian identity.

The “door” that is opened up, relates back to verse 7, and the key held by Jesus; this door should be understood symbolically in terms of the believer’s entry into Eternal Life. On this basic motif in Jesus’ teaching, cf. Matt 7:13-14; Luke 13:24-25; John 10:1-2, 7ff. For the idea that Jesus provides access to God the Father, cf. the famous saying in John 14:6. The image of the “open door” will appear again in Rev 3:20 and 4:1.

Rev 3:9

As with the situation in Smyrna (2:8-11, cf. the earlier note), the believers in Philadelphia were dealing with opposition from the Jewish community. The same harsh language and terminology from 2:9 is used here. The nature of this conflict is not entirely clear; at Smyrna, it may have involved the denunciation of Christians to the authorities. Certainly, it had to be serious enough to bring about the condemnation (and punishment) described here:

“See, I will make them (so) that they will come and will kiss toward (you) in the sight of your feet, even (so that) they should know that I (have) loved you.”

This is a stark reversal of the traditional (eschatological) image of the Gentiles coming to Judea/Jerusalem to worship the one true God, and submitting or giving homage to God’s people Israel (cf. Isa 60:14, etc). It entails the love God has for his chosen ones (Exod 15:13; Deut 7:7; 33:3; Hos 3:1; 11:1; Isa 63:7; Psalm 98:3; Ezra 3:11, etc; and note especially the wording in Isa 43:4), which here is expressed in terms of Jesus’ love for his faithful followers—the people of God in the New Covenant. The idea of Jews bowing down (in submission), giving homage to Christians, will doubtless make many believers today a bit uncomfortable, in light of the sad legacy of centuries of anti-Jewish persecution. It is important to remember, however, the emphasis here in the book of Revelation, and elsewhere in the New Testament, which is fundamentally Messianic (and Christological)—true Israelites and Jews (i.e. those who are truly God’s people) would recognize and accept Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Their opposition to believers, however this was manifest, shows that they do not accept Jesus, and, indeed, are opposed to him.

Rev 3:10-11

Here, Jesus expounds upon the idea of keeping watch over his word (lo/go$), using a bit of wordplay (with the verb thre/w):

“(In) that [i.e. because] you kept [e)th/rhsa$] my account [lo/go$] of remaining under, I also will keep [thrh/sw] you out of the hour of the test(ing) th(at) is about to come the whole inhabited (worl)d to test the (one)s putting down house upon [i.e. inhabiting] the earth.”

The expression o( lo/go$ th=$ u(pomonh=$ mou is somewhat ambiguous, and can be read one of two ways:

  • “the account of my remaining under”—that is, of Jesus’ willingness to endure suffering and death, as expressed in the Gospels; it would mean specifically following his own example
  • “my word (to you) of [i.e. about] remaining under”—this would refer to Jesus’ instruction to his followers, regarding how they should conduct themselves in the face of persecution and suffering

The motif of “remaining under”, rendering the noun u(pomonh/ literally, entails both patience and commitment, continuing to follow Jesus and remaining faithful to him. It is used frequently in the New Testament (more than 30 times, including 7 in the book of Revelation), and is often translated as “patience” or “endurance”. The reward, or result, of this faithfulness, is presented here as being reciprocal: just as believers kept Jesus’ word, so he will keep them out of the time of testing which is about to come upon the world. According to the eschatological view of many Christians (today), this refers to the so-called “Rapture” of believers which is to occur before the “Great Tribulation”. However, this certainly reads far too much into the text, and, even in its general premise, does not appear to reflect accurately what the text actually describes. Note that Jesus does not say that he will remove the believers of Philadelphia from the world, but only that they will be kept out of the time of testing, implying that they will still be in the world, but will be protected from the suffering and evil (temptation, etc) that is to come. This is very much akin to Jesus’ words in John 17:15 (and almost certainly expresses the same idea), as well as the famous petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13 par).

It also seems clear that Jesus is not speaking here of something that will take place in the distant future (i.e. our time today, or thereafter); rather, in addressing believers at the end of the 1st century A.D., he speaks of “the hour…that is about to come”. This is one of several definite indications of an imminent eschatology, which we have already seen in the first chapters of the book. The doctrinal difficulties involved in this, for us today, will be addressed in a special upcoming study. The same sense of imminence is found in the following declaration of verse 11:

“I come quickly [taxu/]—grab firmly (to that) which you hold, (so) that no one should take your crown.”

Here the nuance of the Greek is often lost in translation—believers already hold (vb. e&xw) faith, life, etc, in Jesus; they are exhorted grab hold firmly (vb. krate/w) to these things. The adverb taxu/ (“quickly, [with] speed”) was used previously in 2:16, and will occur 4 more times in the book, always in reference to the end-time coming (vb. e&rxomai) of Jesus. The wreath, or “crown” (ste/fano$) was mentioned as a symbol of heavenly honor/reward in 2:10.

Rev 3:12

The final promise (and exhortation) in the letter-format always involves the eternal/heavenly reward which the faithful believer will receive. Here it is expressed with two statements:

  • “I will make him (to be) a standing post [i.e. pillar] in the shrine of my God, even (so) he should not (ever) go out(side of it) any more”
  • “I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God…and my new name”

The first image draws upon the ancient Temple design (1 Kings 7:15ff; Ezek 40:49; 11QTemple 10:4ff; 35:10; Josephus Jewish War 5.190ff), which involved supporting columns or pillars (Grk. stu/lo$)—in other words, the individual believer has a fundamental place and position in the overall design (and structure) of the Temple. The word nao/$ properly refers to the inner shrine, or sanctuary, but can also be used for the entire Temple building-complex. The Temple in Jerusalem, of course, was central to ancient Israelite religion, and early Christians made use of it, in a figurative (and spiritual) sense, referring to individual believers, and to believers collectively, as the Temple (or “house”) of God—cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; Heb 10:21; 1 Pet 2:5; 2 Clement 9:3; Ignatius, Philadelphians 7:2; Barnabas 4:11; 6:15. In the vision of the “New Jerusalem” (chaps. 21-22), there is no longer any Temple building, being replaced by the personal presence of God and Christ (v. 22). The idea of Jesus as the real/true Temple is likewise expressed, or suggested, at various points in the New Testament and early Christian tradition (John 2:19-21; Matt 12:6; cf. also Mk 15:38 par; Acts 17:24; Ignatius, Magnesians 7:2; Barnabas 16. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians (9:1) refers to believers as the stones of the Temple, an idea not so different from that in the book of Revelation here.

The second reward involves three “names” which will be written on the believer: (1) the name of God, (2) the name of God’s city, the “new Jerusalem”, and (3) the “new name” of the risen Jesus. All of these should be understood similarly to the “new name” which the believer will receive (2:17). The image presumably is that of God’s name being written on the forehead of the believer (14:1; 22:4). The symbolism indicates that the believer belongs to God (and Christ). In light of the pillar/temple imagery in the first half of the verse, there may be an allusion here to the inscription/dedication of pillars, etc, in temples and other public buildings, known from the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world (cf. Koester, p. 327).

The city of God (i.e. Jerusalem) is specifically identified as “the new Yerushalaim th(at is) stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven from my God”. This makes clear that it is not the current, earthly Jerusalem, but a heavenly/eternal “city”. The meaning of this image will be discussed later on when addressing the final vision(s) of the book in chapters 21-22. There are precedents for it elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:1; Gal 4:25-26; Heb 12:22).

With regard to the “new name” of Jesus, the most reliable line of interpretation is to be found further on in the book, at conclusion of 19:11-16 (to be discussed in turn). However, there are a few other passages in the New Testament which may be relevant, such as the great prayer-discourse in the Gospel of John (chap. 17), which is vital to an understanding of Johannine theology (and Christology). God gives his own name to Jesus, who, in turn, makes it known to his followers (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). An interesting parallel is also to be found in Phil 2:9-10 (cf. also Heb 1:4; Eph 1:21). It is important to realize that the “name that is over every name”, like the “new name” in Rev 3:12, contrary to popular belief, is not simply “Jesus/Yeshua”, but that which reflects the essential identity and (divine) nature/status which Jesus (the Son) shares with God (the Father). In the earliest preaching, this was understood almost entirely in terms of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God. Eventually, it came to encompass the idea of divine pre-existence and eternal Sonship (to be glimpsed already in Phil 2:6-11).

Note of the Day – August 15 (Revelation 3:1-6)

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Revelation 3:1-6

This fifth letter, to the believers in Sardis, follows the format used in all seven letters (as discussed in the earlier note). Here we will examine the features and details which are unique to this particular letter.

Rev 3:1a

Each introduction to the risen Jesus draws upon the wording and imagery in the vision of 1:11-16ff. Here the reference is to the image in v. 16a, i.e. holding the seven stars in his right hand. They are connected closely with “the seven Spirits of God” (from 1:4), which merely confirms that these “Spirits” are to be understood as heavenly beings (i.e., Angels, cf. 1:20).

Rev 3:1b

The main message, or body of the letter, differs from the others in the way that it blends together the two aspects of praise and blame/rebuke. This is clear from the way that the opening formula has been adapted:

“I have seen your works—that you hold a name (indicating) that you live, and (yet) you are dead.”

This is doubtless meant, in part, as an ironic echo of Jesus words in 1:18:

“I am the living (one)—I came to be dead, and see! I am living into the Ages of Ages…”

The expression “holding a name that you live” presumably means that the Christians in Sardis identify themselves (by name and confession) as believers in Christ (“the living one”). It is hard to know just what is meant by the statement “and (yet) you are dead“. It is probably best here simply to understand the adjective “dead” as the opposite of “alive”—the absence of life, in the sense of a lack of true faith and/or love, as manifest in the words and actions (“works”) of the congregations. Specific or blatant sin does not seem to have been the issue; the situation is perhaps similar to that stated in the letter to the Christians of Ephesus (2:4f).

Rev 3:2-3

The rebuke of verse 1 turns into an exhortation, whereby the believers in Sardis are urged to remain awake (i.e. watchful, vb. grhgoreu/w) and to strengthen (lit. fasten, firm [up], sthri/zw) “the (thing)s remaining which are about to die off”. The neuter plural ta\ loipa/ makes it clear that this refers to their “works” (ta\ e&rga), i.e. to their words and acts of love, faith, etc, which are still manifest in the congregations, but are in danger of dying out. Again, we must be cautious about reading into this the idea that the Christians of Sardis were particularly “worldly” or immoral. The book of Revelation tends to express an extremely rigorous view of Christian faithfulness and devotion, in relation to the negative influence of Greco-Roman (pagan) culture and false religious practice. The standard, or ideal, is stated clearly here in verse 2:

“For I have not found your works (as) having been made full [i.e. complete] in the sight of my God.”

The exhortation shifts again back to a warning:

“Remember, then, how you have received and heard (before), and (so) you must keep watch and change your mind(set) [i.e. repent]. (But) if, then, you would not remain awake [i.e. watchful, alert], (know that) I will come as a thief, (so that) you should not even know what hour I will come upon you!”

Here, Jesus’ coming (“I will come”) is unquestionably eschatological, referring to his end-time return (whereas in 2:16 this was not so clear). The suddenness and unexpectedness of his appearance is characterized as that of a thief who breaks into a house, an image used in an eschatological context for the coming of the end (and the return of Jesus) several times in the New Testament, including by Jesus himself in the Gospels (Matt 24:43 / Lk 12:39; cf. also 1 Thess 5:2, 4; 2 Pet 3:10). Similarly, the verb grhgore/w (“be/remain awake”, i.e. be watchful, alert) is often used in relation to eschatological expectation in the New Testament (Mark 13:34-37 par; Matt 25:13; 1 Thess 5:6; Rev 16:15; cf. also Mark 14:34ff par; 1 Cor 16:13). In such instances, there is a strong emphasis on ethical behavior, with the idea of the approaching time of Judgment serving as a warning and exhortation to repentance, etc.

Rev 3:4-5

As indicated above, the sections on praise and blame/rebuke in this letter have been reversed, beginning with blame and concluding with praise. The second section typically begins, “But I hold (this) against you…”; but here it has been modified:

“But you hold [i.e. have] a few names in Sardis which did not dirty their garments, and they will walk about with me in white (garment)s, (in) that [i.e. because] they are brought [i.e. weighed] (in the) balance.”

There is a bit of wordplay here with o&noma (“name”). In verse 1a (cf. above) it referred to the reputation and character of the congregation(s) in Sardis (i.e. Christians as a whole); here, it refers to individual believers (and their names). While the congregations are characterized generally as “dead”, there are still present a small percentage of (“a few”, o)li/go$) true and faithful believers. They are described as those who “did not dirty [e)mo/lunan] their garments”. The verb molu/nw (“darken, dirty, soil, stain”) is rare in the New Testament (elsewhere only in 1 Cor 8:7; Rev 14:4). However, the motif of dirtying/washing one’s clothing is a relatively common religious motif, and can be used in the context of both ritual and moral purity (cf. Exod 19:10-14; Lev 11:25ff; Num 8:7; 19:7ff; Lam 4:14; Zech 3:3-5, etc). The image of a garment might suggest the physical body (as opposed to the soul/spirit), leading to the idea that sensual/carnal sin is involved. More likely, however, is the association with the believer’s baptism—where the ritual symbolism entails the removal of one’s old nature (taking off the garment) and putting on the new. Presumably from very early times the baptism rite included use of a clean white robe. Paul’s language in Gal 3:27 (cf. also Rom 13:12-14; Col 3:9-10 [Eph 4:22-24]) draws upon well-established baptism imagery. The idea of putting on (new/glorious) clothing can also be used in the context of eschatological expectation (of the resurrection, etc), cf. 1 Cor 15:53-54; 2 Cor 5:2-3; 1 Thess 5:8 [cp. Eph 6:11ff].

White clothing brings together the twin attributes of brightness and purity. Heavenly beings are typically described wearing a white (linen) garment or robe—Ezek 9:2ff; 10:2ff; Dan 10:5; 12:6-7; Mark 9:3 par; 16:5; Matt 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; 10:30, and frequently in the book of Revelation. The promise here in verses 4-5 relates to heavenly reward and honor. This is expressed by the promise-formula in verse 5:

“The (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious, this (one) will be cast about [i.e. clothed] in white garments…”

The white garments (of heavenly purity/holiness) allow the believer to “walk about” with Jesus (i.e. in Heaven). This is the first of three rewards given in v. 5, all of which refer primarily to the Eternal Life the believer will receive, having passed through the Judgment. The context of the end-time/heavenly Judgment is clear enough, but there is an important allusion to it in the earlier use of the adjective a&cio$ (end of v. 4). Often translated “worthy”, it fundamentally refers to being “brought (down)”, i.e. weighed, in the balances. These are the scales of justice/judgment; the person who is weighed in the proper balance is deemed worthy of entering into Life. The second reward in verse 5 is:

“…and I will not rub his name out of the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of Life…”

The word bi/blo$ is usually translated “book”, but literally refers to a paper (papyrus) roll, or scroll. The specific image is that of a roll on which the names of citizens are recorded—in this instance, those who are (to be) citizens of heaven, who belong to the Kingdom of God and the realm of Eternal Life. The expression “scroll/book of Life” (o( bi/blo$ th=$ zwh=$) goes back to Old Testament tradition and ancient Near Eastern concepts of the divine Judgment (cf. Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Dan 12:1; also 4Q381; 4Q504; Jubilees 30:22; 36:10; 1 Enoch 108:3; Koester, p. 315). The specific expression is used by Paul in Phil 4:3, and repeatedly again in the book of Revelation; Jesus refers to the basic idea in Luke 10:20.

The third, and final, reward is:

“…and I will give account as one of [i.e. confess/acknowledge] his name in the sight of my Father and in the sight of His Messengers.”

This statement gives a snapshot of the scene of Judgment in which Jesus testifies on behalf of believers. It is better viewed in terms of Jesus as one who is overseeing the court of Judgment and authorizes the believers to pass through into Life. There is a precise parallel in the Gospel tradition (the so-called “Q” material); the saying by Jesus in Matt 10:32b and Luke 12:8b is very close in wording—combining the two versions gives a saying not too far removed from that here in Rev 3:5c:

“Every one who gives account as one in (regard to) me in front of men, I will give account as one in (regard to) him in front of my Father in the heavens.” (Matt 10:32)
“Every one who would give account as one in (regard to) me in front of men, the Son of Man also will give account as one in (regard to) him in front of the Messengers of God” (Luke 12:8); [v. 9] “…in the sight of the Messengers of God”

The verb o(mologe/w literally means “give account as one”, i.e. “give common account”, “say the same thing”, often rendered as consent, acknowledge, confess. It implies agreement regarding a statement or principle, etc. In other words, the believer agrees to the Gospel message regarding Jesus (his teaching, example, etc), and Jesus, in turn, confirms the believer’s trust/faith and (religious) identity—an identity which is also confirmed by what the believer has said and done during his/her lifetime.

Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 2)

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The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 2)

In the previous article, I examined in detail the declaration by Jesus (Mark 1:15; par Matt 4:17; cf. also 3:2; 10:7; Luke 10:9ff) which introduces his public ministry in the core Synoptic Tradition. The eschatological background and connotation of the language was discussed. Indeed, the eschatology of Jesus cannot be separated from his teaching regarding the Kingdom of God. This will be mentioned at several points during our survey of the remaining sayings of Jesus; for more detail on the expression/concept “Kingdom of God” in the New Testament, cf. my earlier article, and Part 5 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

I have decided to group together the sayings of Jesus, which have an eschatological aspect, or emphasis, under several themes. At the same time, I find it useful to continue the method applied in the earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, distinguishing between: (a) the core Synoptic tradition, representing primarily by the Gospel of Mark, (b) the [“Q”] material shared by Matthew and Luke, and (c) sayings or details which are unique to Matthew and Luke.

As we shall see, most of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in the Synoptic Tradition is grouped together, or otherwise contained, in the great “discourse” set in Jerusalem shortly before his death (Mark 13 par). This portion of the study will be limited to those sayings and statements which appear elsewhere in the narratives. The sayings cover the following areas:

  1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist
  2. References to the coming of the Kingdom, with a clear eschatological emphasis
  3. References to the coming Day of Judgment
  4. Specific references to the coming of the “Son of Man” (Judgment context)
  5. References indicating a(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers
  6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist

As the Synoptic Gospels essentially begin with the baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist, it is useful here to look again at several important traditions related to the Baptist. In the previous article, we examined briefly the eschatological background and context of John’s preaching, which, according to Mark 1:15 par, was generally shared by Jesus at the start of his ministry. More significant for the Gospel tradition are the two Scripture passages associated with John and his ministry—Isa 40:3 and Malachi 3:1ff. The age and authenticity of the association with these passages is confirmed by several factors:

  • Multiple attestation in several lines of tradition (Mark 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; Luke 1:16-17, 76; John 1:23)
  • The similar use of Isa 40:3 by the Qumran Community (1st century B.C.)
  • The (Messianic) language/terminology influenced by Mal 3:1ff (cf. below), which largely disappeared from subsequent Christian usage
  • The inconsistencies of application to both John and Jesus, only partly harmonized in the Gospels as we have them
  • The lack of reference/interest in John, and the related Messianic associations, in early Christianity by the time most of the New Testament books were written (c. 50-90 A.D.).

The prophecy in Malachi 3:1ff had an eschatological emphasis essentially from the beginning. As I have discussed elsewhere, in its original context, the “Messenger” almost certainly referred to a heavenly/divine Messenger (i.e. an Angel), who represented YHWH himself when he comes to judge his people. At some point in the composition of the book, this was given a specific interpretation, or application (4:5-6): the prophet Elijah would be the one preceding the Lord’s appearance on the great day of Judgment. He would bring about the repentance of the people, restoring the faith and religion of Israel. This belief and (eschatological) expectation came to be established in Jewish tradition (cf. Sirach 48:10, and Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) and certainly informs the Baptist traditions in the Gospels. Even though John specifically denies being Elijah in Jn 1:21, 25, early Christians came to view him in this light. Jesus himself makes this association in the Gospel tradition, in Mark 9:11-13 par, which is worth examining briefly.

Mark 9:11-13 par

This exchange between Jesus and his disciples follows the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:1-10 par), though it may reflect a separate tradition which has been joined to that scene, through thematic “catchword-bonding”—i.e. the common motifs of Elijah and the prediction of Jesus’ suffering/death. There does seem to be an abrupt shift in the discussion toward eschatology, as the disciples ask Jesus:

“(Why is it) that the writers [i.e. scribes, experts on the Writings] relate that it is necessary (for) Eliyyah to come first?” (v. 11)

This certainly reflects the tradition from Mal 4:5-6 (cf. above), that Elijah would appear shortly before the great day of Judgment. The use of the verb dei= (“be necessary” [lit. binding], i.e. required) emphasizes a very specific detail of the eschatological expectation—before the day of Judgment comes, Elijah must first appear, preparing God’s people for that moment, in fulfillment of Mal 4:5-6. Jesus would seem to confirm this belief:

“(Yes) Elijah, coming first, (does) set all things down from (what they were before)…” (v. 12a)

I have given an excessively literal translation of the verb a)pokaqi/sthmi, but the basic idea is that of restoring a previous condition—i.e. the kingdom of Israel, the religious devotion of the people, etc. The verb has eschatological significance, as is clear from its use in Acts 1:6 (to be discussed). What is interesting here (as in Acts 1:6ff) is how Jesus suddenly shifts the focus from this eschatological expectation to the situation in the present moment, namely his upcoming suffering and death:

“…and (yet) how (then) has it been written about the Son of Man, that he would suffer many (thing)s and (be) made out as nothing?” (v. 12b)

Jesus is using the equivalent of a me/nde/ construction, establishing a contrast—i.e. “[me/n] (on the one hand)…”, “but [de/, here kai/] (on the other hand)…” To paraphrase, he is telling his disciples:

“Yes, it is true that Elijah comes first and restores all things, but then how is it that the Son of Man will suffer many things and be reduced to nothing?”

Jesus’ explanation is actually a shattering of traditional eschatological (and Messianic) expectation, presented as something of a conundrum. The significance of this has specifically to do with the identification of John the Baptist as “Elijah”. The traditional understanding of Mal 4:5-6 involved Elijah (as the Messenger) bringing the people to repentance and restoring Israel to faithfulness and true religion (Mal 3:2-4). If this is so, and if John is Elijah, then how could Jesus, God’s Son and Anointed (cf. the Transfiguration scene, esp. Mk 9:7 par) have to endure suffering and death at this time? Clearly, Israel as a whole has not yet been restored in the manner prophesied by Mal 3:2-4. Jesus’ concluding words turn the tables even more strikingly on the identification of John as Elijah:

“But I relate to you that, indeed, Eliyyah has come, and they did to him as (many thing)s as they wished, even as it has been written about him!” (v. 13)

This must be understood as a radical re-interpretation of the traditional expectation. Yes, John is “Elijah”—in fact, he suffered abuse from the political and religious rulers, much as Elijah himself did! It is a uniquely Christian reworking of Messianic thought which emphasizes the suffering and death of God’s Anointed (Jesus). That this understanding goes back to the words and teachings of Jesus himself cannot be doubted (on objective grounds). His suffering and death are injected right into the middle of the traditional Messianic/eschatological beliefs of the time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scenes surrounding Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem in the Gospel Tradition, as will be discussed.

Matthew 11:14 (and 17:11-12)

Jesus also identifies John as “Elijah” in Matthew 11:14, but in a very different context, and without the unique interpretation in Mark 9:11-13 par. It is a Matthean detail, incorporated within material otherwise shared by Luke (i.e. “Q”, Matt 11:1-19 / Lk 7:18-35):

“…and, if you are willing to receive (it), this [i.e. John] is Eliyyah, the (one) about to come.”

In contrast with Mark 9:11-13, here Jesus makes an unqualified identification of John with the eschatological figure of Elijah, called “the one (who is) about to come” (cf. my discussion on the background this phrase). This also affirms an imminent expectation of the end (“about to come”), in line with the thinking of many Jews (and nearly all early Christians) of the period. Matthew’s version of the Mark 9:11ff tradition also seems to tone down the radical interpretation given by Jesus, presenting it in more conventional terms (note the words in italics):

“Eliyyah (indeed) comes, and will restore [a)pokatasth/sei] all (thing)s; but I relate to you that Eliyyah already came, and they did not know (this) about him, but did with him as (many thing)s as they wished. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer under them.” (Matt 17:11-12)

Interestingly, Luke has omitted, or does not include, the Mark 9:11-13 tradition, and has nothing corresponding to Matt 11:14. However, the author of the Gospel clearly knew (and, we may assume, accepted) the tradition identifying John as “Elijah”, in light of Mal 4:5-6 (cf. Luke 1:16-17, 76).

2. The coming of the Kingdom

Jesus’ eschatological understanding of the coming of the Kingdom is clear enough from the declaration in Mark 1:15 par, occurring at the beginning of his public ministry in the core Synoptic tradition (but not in Luke). There are a number of other sayings which emphasize this aspect as well. I note here the more significant of these.

Mark 9:1 par

In between the confession by Peter (Mk 8:27-30ff) and the Transfiguration scene (9:1-10), there is a short block of sayings by Jesus, which may be outlined as follows:

  • The need for the disciples to “take up his cross” (8:34)
  • Saving/Losing one’s life, i.e. for the sake of Jesus (8:35-37)
  • The Son of Man saying, rel. to the Judgment and faithfulness in following Jesus (8:38)
  • The saying about the coming of the Kingdom of God (9:1)

There is a clear thematic progression, moving from the motif of faithfulness in following Jesus to the eschatological theme of the Judgment and the coming of the Kingdom. The eschatological context of 9:1, which some commentators may be reluctant to admit, seems to be unmistakable in light the Son of Man saying in 8:38 (to be discussed in the next part of this study). Note the parallel:

“…when he [i.e. the Son Man] should come in the splendor of his Father with the holy Messengers” (8:38)
“…the kingdom of God having come in power” (9:1)

Here is the saying in 9:1 (with the Synoptic parallels):

“Amen, I relate to you that there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not (at all) taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power.”
Matthew’s version (16:28) is identical except for the closing words:
“…until they should see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Luke’s wording (9:27) differs slightly, but is otherwise identical to Mark, except for the omission of the final words “in power”.

While it is possible that Luke’s version downplays the eschatological context, Matthew’s version unquestionably enhances it, relating it to the Son of Man sayings in Mk 13:26f and 14:62 par (to be discussed). It is understandable why many commentators, especially those with a strong traditional-conservative leaning, would be uncomfortable with the eschatology expressed in Mk 9:1 par, since Jesus appears to say that some of his disciples would still be alive when the Kingdom of God comes (at the end-time). This has led to interpretations which view the saying in a somewhat different context than that indicated by both the wording and the association with the Son of Man saying in 8:38. These alternate interpretations include:

  • Witnessing the resurrection and/or ascension
  • A vision of Jesus’ in glory (such as the Transfiguration) which presages his subsequent (end-time) appearance in glory
  • The manifestation (“coming”) of the Kingdom through the early Christian (apostolic) mission, accompanied by miracles and the work of the Spirit

The narrative context suggests at least a thematic connection between the saying in 9:1 and the Transfiguration scene which follows, but this association is highly questionable in terms of Jesus’ intended meaning. The last option is probable, at least in terms of the understanding of the writer and overall presentation of Luke-Acts. However, the problem with all of these interpretations is they really do not square with Jesus’ own emphasis that some of the disciples standing with him would not die (“would certainly not taste death”) until they saw the Kingdom come in power/glory. For the events mentioned above as possible solutions, nearly all of the disciples would still be alive, and provide nothing remarkable in confirmation of Jesus’ prediction. On the other hand, the idea that some of the disciples would still be alive at the (end-time) coming of the Kingdom would certainly be worthy of note, establishing a general time-frame for the realization of this event (i.e. by the end of the 1st century A.D.). This is important, since in coincides with the general belief, held, it would seem, by nearly all of the earliest Christians, that end of the current Age (marked by the return of Jesus and the Judgment) would occur very soon. Only after the first generation of believers had begun to die off in significant numbers, did this eschatological expectation start to alter. This can be seen at several points in the later strands of the New Testament, most notably with the tradition involving the “Beloved Disciple” in John 21:20-23.

The obvious doctrinal difficulties related to an imminent eschatology in the sayings of Jesus will be discussed in a separate, supplemental article.

Matthew 12:28 / Luke 11:20

An interesting (and much-discussed) saying of Jesus comes from the so-called “Q” material (i.e. traditions found in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark). It raises questions as to Jesus’ understanding of just how (and when) the Kingdom of God will come. The saying is incorporated within the Synoptic “Jesus and Beelzebul” episode (Mark 3:22-27 par). In response to accusations that he expels unclean spirits “in (the power) of Beelzebul”, Jesus makes the following statement:

“But if (it is) in the Spirit of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived [e&fqasen] upon you.” (Matt 12:28)

Luke’s version (11:20, probably reflecting the original form of the saying) really only differs in the use of the expression “finger [da/ktulo$] of God” instead of “Spirit of God”. The verb fqa/nw has the fundamental meaning of arriving at a particular point or location, especially in the sense of reaching it first, or ahead of someone else. It is rare in the New Testament, occurring elsewhere only in Paul’s letters (Rom 9:31; 2 Cor 10:14; Phil 3:16; and 1 Thess 2:16; 4:15). The latter references in 1 Thessalonians are especially significant due to their eschatological emphasis. But how is Jesus’ statement here to be understood? Is the reference to the coming of the Kingdom eschatological? If so, then it would signify that the end-time is being inaugurated in the person and work of Jesus (i.e. his miracles). The use of fqa/nw could be taken to mean that the Kingdom is coming upon people, through the work of Jesus, before they realize it, and, perhaps, in a way that they would not have expected (cf. below on Luke 17:20-21). What is especially important is Jesus’ emphasis that his working of miracles is done directly through the presence and power of God (His “Spirit” or “finger”). This certainly would reflect God’s ruling power and authority (over both human beings and evil spirits). In Jesus’ ministry, the proclamation of the Kingdom is closely connected with his power to work healing miracles (Mk 1:15, 21ff, 32; 3:15-16 par; Matt 4:23ff; Luke 4:40-41, 43; 8:1-2; 9:1-2; 10:17-18, etc).

Luke 17:20-21
[cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Thomas sayings 3, 113]

Another famous (and difficult) saying regarding the coming of the Kingdom is recorded in Luke 17:20-21. It is part of a block of eschatological teaching (17:22-37), largely identified as so-called “Q” material, but which Matthew incorporates at a different location, in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Matt 24). It begins with a question by certain Pharisees: “When (will) the kingdom of God come(?)”. As is often the case in the Gospel tradition, Jesus gives an ambiguous or unconventional answer to such eschatological questions (cf. on Mk 9:11-13 above). His answer is composed of three statements, two negative and one positive:

  • “the kingdom of God does not come with (a person) keeping (close) watch alongside”
  • “they will not (be able to) say ‘See! here (it is)!’ or ‘There (it is)!'”
  • “see—the kingdom of God is within [e)nto/$] you [pl.]”

The two negative statements seem to express the same basic idea, that the coming/presence of the Kingdom will not be readily visible through observation and sense-perception—at least not by the people at large. In some respects these statements are at odds with others which emphasize the visible signs of the Kingdom (cf. Matt 12:28 par, above). There seem to be two ‘groups’ of people referenced in the first two (negative) statements:

  • Persons giving careful study and consideration to the matter—examining the ‘signs of the times’, the Scriptural prophecies, engaging in learned speculation, etc (i.e. persons perhaps like the very Pharisees inquiring of Jesus)
  • A popular response to apparent signs or claims that the Kingdom is coming, or has come (cf. Luke 21:8 par)

The implication of these statements is that the Kingdom of God comes in a way and manner that the people at large—the learned and unlearned alike—do not (and cannot) realize. This informs the positive statement in verse 21b: “For, see!—the kingdom of God is within you”. The precise meaning of this saying has been much debated and remains controversial, the difficulty centering primarily on the rare preposition (or adverb) e)nto/$ (“within, inside”). The translation “within” or “inside” can be rather misleading, as it suggests an identification of the Kingdom with the Spirit dwelling in and among believers (cf. Rom 14:17; Luke 11:2 v.l.; John 3:5). However, here in vv. 20-21 Jesus is addressing certain inquisitive Pharisees (often his opponents in debate/dispute), rather than his disciples. Also, the use of e)nto/$ with the plural pronoun u(mw=n (“you [pl.]”) suggests something a bit different.

Unfortunately, e)nto/$ is quite rare, occurring in the New Testament only at Matt 23:26; however, the basic denotation is locative (and usually spatial)—something which is located, or takes place, within/inside certain limits or boundaries. To use it in the context of a group of people suggests a meaning akin to “in the midst of” (usually expressed as e)n me/sw|), but with a slightly different emphasis. The idea seems to that the Kingdom of God exists (or is/will be established) in the very midst of the people (esp. the learned Pharisees), without their being aware of it. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus, in the saying as we have it, is referring primarily to himself—i.e., many people, including these Pharisees, do not recognize that the Kingdom is present (has “come near”, Mk 1:15 par, etc) in the person and work of Jesus. It is also possible to understand the saying, and the use of e)nto/$, in a more figurative sense—e.g., that the Kingdom comes, or is present, within the limits of their own expectation (and/or their religious understanding), without their realizing it. This may seem overly subtle, but keep in mind that Jesus’ ministry began with a declaration (Mk 1:15 par) that draws upon traditional Jewish eschatological expectation (regarding the Kingdom), and he continued to make use of similar language and imagery throughout his ministry, often giving it an entirely new meaning. This will be discussed further as we continue in our study on Jesus’ sayings and parables.

One additional difficulty involves the force of the present verb of being (e)stin, “is”) which closes verse 21. There are two ways to understand this:

  • Taken literally, in a temporal sense (i.e. referring to the present), it would mean that the Kingdom has already come, and is present. This would agree with sayings such as Mk 1:15; Matt 12:28 pars. It also would provide confirmation for the idea that the Kingdom is present primarily in the person of Jesus.
  • It may simply reflect an indicative statement describing the nature and character of the Kingdom—i.e. this is what the Kingdom is like, etc—without necessarily referring to time (past-present-future). In other words, he may be saying that, when the Kingdom comes, it will be present in their very midst (without their recognizing it).
Matt 6:9-13 / Luke 11:2-4

Finally, mention should be made of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4). It is not customary for Christians to think of this famous prayer by Jesus from an eschatological viewpoint, but it is likely that this aspect was present in its original form as uttered by Jesus. We have already seen how the idea of the coming of the Kingdom (the wish and petition expressed in the first lines of the prayer) is fundamentally eschatological, both in its background, and as used by Jesus. Similarly, the requests that one not be led “into testing” (Matt 6:13a; Lk 11:4b), and for “rescue” from evil [or from the Evil One] (Matt 6:13b), probably carry an eschatological nuance. A prayer to God for the coming of the Kingdom and deliverance from evil would have been a fundamental component of Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation at the time of Jesus.

Note of the Day – August 13 (Revelation 2:18-29)

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Revelation 2:18-29

This is the fourth of the seven letters in chapters 2-3, addressed to Thyatira, an important commercial and manufacturing city southeast of Pergamum. The common format and outline of these letters was discussed in an earlier note; here, I will be addressing only those details which are distinctive of the fourth letter.

Rev 2:18

The introduction to the risen Jesus draws upon images and phrases in the vision of 1:11-16ff—here it is the imagery in vv. 14b-15a. Somewhat unique is the inclusion of the title “Son of God” (o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=), which otherwise does not occur in the book of Revelation, though, of course, it is frequent elsewhere in the New Testament. On the Messianic background of this title, as applied to Jesus, cf. Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. In the earliest Christian preaching, Jesus’ Sonship was tied specifically to his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). The idea of his divine pre-existence, as the eternal Son of God, was not recognized by believers, it seems, until a somewhat later point (c. 60 A.D. and thereafter). Here, it is still the resurrected/exalted Jesus which is primarily in view.

Rev 2:19

The praise accorded to the believers in Thyatira, as expressed in the formula at the start of the main message in each letter, is especially fulsome:

“I have seen your works, even your love and trust and service and remaining under [i.e. endurance], and (how) your your last works are more (numerous/excellent) than the (one)s (you did) at first.”

This draws upon the language used in the letter to Ephesus (vv. 2, 5). It is perhaps meant to contrast the Thyatiran believers’ improvement (in acts of love, etc), with the Ephesian Christians who “left” the love they had (and showed) at first.

Rev 20:20-21

The blame/rebuke portion of the message, while of limited scope (dealing with one flaw or issue), is presented in considerable detail. It is introduced with the typical formula:

But I hold (this) against you: that you (have) allowed [i.e. tolerated] the woman ‘Îzebel, the (one) counting herself (as) a foreteller [i.e. prophet], and (yet) she teaches and makes my servants [lit. slaves] go astray to engage in ‘prostitution’ and to eat (offering)s slaughtered to images.” (v. 20)

This is the same issue addressed in the previous letter to the believers in Pergamum (verse 14, cf. the earlier discussion)—that some were eating food (meat) which had been sacrificed to the Greco-Roman (pagan) deities, and even teaching that this was acceptable and encouraging believers in this regard. There the teaching and practice was symbolized by the character of Bil’am (Balaam); here it is ‘Îzebel (Jezebel), one of the most infamous figures in Israelite history and Old Testament tradition, the archetypal “wicked queen” (cf. 1 Kings 16:31; 18; 19:1-2; 21; 2 Kings 9). The figures of Balaam and Jezebel are clearly parallel, symbolizing the wickedness being addressed in two respects:

  1. Both figures played significant roles in encouraging the people of Israel to adopt, and participate in, Canaanite religious practices—specifically involving the worship/veneration of the deity (or deities) designed as Ba’al. This word is actually a title (“Lord, Master”, cf. my earlier article) which was applied primarily to the Canaanite sky/storm deity Haddu (or Hadad). In the late 2nd millennium and early 1st millennium, worship of Baal Haddu was at its peak in Syria and Palestine, and was the most prominent pagan religious ideology (and ritual) which could serve as an alternative to the worship of the Creator God El-Yahweh. Balaam’s role in the Baal-Peor episode (Numbers 25) is mentioned in Num 31:16 (cf. also Josh 13:22), and reflects the decidedly negative associations with his name in Jewish tradition (cf. 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11). The spread of Baal-religion in Israel at the time of Jezebel (and her role in it) is described in 1 Kings 16:31b-32ff and 18:17-19ff. According to 16:31a, Jezebel was a Syrian (Sidonian) princess, daughter of Ethbaal (“Ba’al is with him[?]”).
  2. Both were closely connected with wicked kings—Balak and the Israelite king Ahab, respectively. This emphasizes not only the idolatrous character of the pagan sacrificial offerings, but the wicked influence of Greco-Roman culture in general. The royal aspect of Balaam and Jezebel points to the Roman imperial government, especially in the province of Asia.

The space devoted in the letter to the issue of food sacrificed to idols indicates that the problem was especially acute in Thyatira, and that it reflects a longstanding situation:

“And I gave her time (so) that she might change (her) mind [i.e. repent], and (yet) she is not willing to change (her) mind (and come) out of her ‘prostitution’.” (v. 21)

As discussed in the previous note, pornei/a (lit. prostitution, sex for hire) most likely is being used in a figurative sense, referring to religious unfaithfulness (i.e. the eating of food sacrificed to idols). It does not necessarily mean that the Thyatiran Christians were involved in any blatant sexual immorality; indeed, the overall context argues strongly against this.

Mention should be made of “Jezebel” as “one counting herself (as) a prophet” (v. 20). Whereas, in the letter to Pergamum, “Balaam” signified issue generally, here a specific individual is singled out—a female prophet of some influence in the churches of Thyatira. According to the ideal expressed in Acts 2:17-18 [Joel 2:28-29], female prophets were known (and accepted) among early Christians, though, admittedly they appear to have been somewhat rare (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5ff; cf. also Luke 2:36, and earlier in Old Testament tradition, Exod 15:20; Judg 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14, etc). Paul seems to have accepted the role and position of women as prophets in the congregation, as long as the followed certain (social) customs and maintained proper order (1 Cor 11:2-16). Gradually, however, women were barred from any such ministerial position within most churches, and the exercise of the prophetic gift by women was reduced to heterodox circles (such as Montanism in the mid/late 2nd century, which was centered in Asia Minor). As I have discussed repeatedly, early Christian prophecy was not limited to predicting the future; rather, the prophet was a spokesperson for God, a gifted individual who communicated the word and will of God to other believers. Despite the singling-out of this “Jezebel” at Thyatira, it is by no means clear that the book of Revelation opposes the idea of female prophets as such; it is the content of her teaching that is at issue, not her gender (cf. Koester, p. 299).

Rev 2:22-23

The seriousness of this situation is expressed by the solemn announcement of punishment in vv. 22-23; it is much more specific and graphic than that earlier in v. 16, though both passages doubtless convey the same idea:

“See, I will throw her into the (place) where (she) lays down [i.e. bed], and the ones engaging in adultery with her, into great di(stress), if they should not change (their) mind [i.e. repent] (and come) out of their works, and her offspring I will kill off in death.”

There is play on the word kli/nh here—the place where one “lays down”, i.e. one’s bed. It refers both to the bed as the place where the prostitute engages in sexual intercourse with her client, and to the place where the sick/ill person lays down (in hopes of recovery). It is a colorful and roundabout way of declaring that “Jezebel” (and all who follow her teaching/example) will be struck with serious illness, which may result even in death. The idea that this punishment would extend to the children of these sinning Christians should probably be taken literally. The earlier reference to Jesus coming to “make war” on the unrepentant believers in Pergamum may also denote the coming of plague or illness. The concluding statement in this announcement is a worthy echo of the prophetic word in Old Testament tradition (especially Jer 17:10); it is aimed at warning to all the congregations in Asia Minor:

“And all the (believer)s called out (to assemble) [i.e. congregations] will know that I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the (One) searching kidneys and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”

Rev 2:24-25

This warning continues into verses 24-25, reassuring the faithful believers in Thytira (i.e. those who have not accepted eating food sacrificed to idols), in light of the ominous warning of the previous verses:

“But I relate to the rest of you in Thyatira, as (many) as do not hold that teaching, who have not known the ‘deep (thing)s’ of the Satan, as they are counted, I will not throw upon you (any) other weight—(no) all the more, you must grab firm(ly) to that which you hold until the (time at) which I should come.”

Special notice should be taken of the expression “the deep [baqu/$] (thing)s of Satan”. It may well be a parody of “the deep (thing)s [ba/qh] of God”, which Paul uses in 1 Cor 2:10 (cf. also Rom 11:33). Through the presence and work of the Spirit, believers have access to the “deep things” of God. It is perhaps significant that Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 8-10 is specifically in response to certain believers at Corinth, who as a result of their (spiritual) knowledge (i.e. that idols and pagan deities have no real existence), felt that it was acceptable to partake in food which may have been sacrificed to “images”. By contrast with Paul’s careful and sensitive argument, the book of Revelation makes a blunt condemnation of the practice outright. However, we do not have enough information about the situation in the churches of Asia Minor, at the time the book of Revelation was composed, to make a definite comparison. In any event, it is certainly possible that “Jezebel”, in her function as a (would-be) prophet, may have determined and declared (by the Spirit/word of God) that there was no harm in eating food sacrificed to idols.

The eschatological context of these letters is confirmed by the closing words of verse 25. It indicates again, from the standpoint of the book, that Jesus’ coming (i.e. his return) would take place very soon.

Rev 2:26-28

The promise of heavenly reward here is expressed two ways:

  • The faithful believers will be given “authority [e)cousi/a] over the nations” (v. 26-27), described in terms of Psalm 2:8-9.
  • Jesus will also give to them “the early [i.e. dawn/morning] star” which he himself received from the Father (“even as I have been given [it from] alongside my Father”), v. 28.

Some question has been raised by commentators as to just what is involved, or is signified, by this “authority over the nations”. It probably is related in some way to similar ideas expressed by Jesus in Matt 19:28 (par Luke 22:28-30), and Paul in 1 Cor 6:2-3. There are several possibilities for how this should be understood here in the book of Revelation:

  • It is meant as a symbol of heavenly honor for believers in Christ
  • It refers to the participation of believers, with Christ, in the end-time Judgment
  • It specifically refers to believers ruling with Jesus in a Messianic kingdom on earth
  • It relates somehow to positions of honor and authority in heaven (over other believers)

While the book of Revelation draws upon the tradition of an earthly (Messianic) kingdom at several points (most notably in 20:1-6, which will be discussed), it is unlikely that this is intended here. All of the promise formulas in the seven letters refer either to eternal life or heavenly reward/honor for believers, and so it should be understood here in vv. 26-27. Some combination of the first two options above is to be preferred. The tradition itself, based on the scant New Testament evidence, refers to the second option; however, how the tradition is applied in the letter supports the first—i.e., it is an honorific description of believers’ participation in the ruling power and presence (of God) we share in Christ (cp. the promise in 3:21).

This ruling power itself is properly represented by the star in verse 28. Here it is said to be the “early (morning) star”—i.e. the star which appears at the dawning of a new day (or Age). The star itself is symbolic of rule, as in 1:16ff. Notice, of course, should also be taken of the Messianic interpretation of the star in Balaam’s third oracle (Num 24:17), and the star in the Matthean Infancy narrative (2:1-10). The specific image of the morning star is also found in 2 Peter 1:19, where it refers to the indwelling word of God. While the star is said to be given by the Father to Jesus here in v. 28, at the end of the book (22:16), Jesus himself is described as the morning star, in language that draws strongly upon Messianic tradition.

Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus

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The Synoptic Gospels

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus

We begin our study of the eschatology of the New Testament with the Synoptic Gospels—in particular, the sayings and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Synoptic Tradition. On the basic approach adopted here, see the introduction to my earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition“. The shorter sayings and teachings of Jesus will be examined first, followed by the parables, and concluding with a study of the great “Eschatological Discourse”.

When dealing with the Sayings of Jesus, the situation is complicated considerably for many critical scholars, who, as a matter of principle (and method), seek to distinguish between sayings which are authentic (going back to the words of Jesus) and those which are thought to be largely the product of early Christians in light of their beliefs regarding Jesus, etc. Various “criteria of authenticity” have been developed which help scholars to determine, on objective grounds, the sayings which are more likely to be authentic. Traditional-conservative commentators, on the other hand, tend to accept the Gospel accounts at face value, viewing all (or nearly all) of the recorded sayings as reflecting the actual words of the historical Jesus, allowing for a modest amount of editing and translation (from Aramaic, etc). While I do not reject out of hand nor disregard the critical analyses and theories regarding authenticity—indeed, I often find them to be most helpful and insightful—however, for the purposes of this study, I work from the assumption that the Gospel Tradition preserves the genuine words of Jesus in substance. Only in special cases will I be discussing matters related to the question of authenticity.

Any discussion of the sayings of Jesus, relating to his (and early Christian) eschatology, must start with the declaration that begins his public ministry in the core Synoptic tradition.

Mark 1:15 par

Following his baptism by John (Mk 1:9-11), and his time of testing in the desert (1:12-13), we read of Jesus that he

“came into the Galîl proclaiming the good message of God [and saying] that ‘The time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind(set) [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!'” (1:14-15)

This theme which introduces Jesus’ public ministry generally follows the preaching of John the Baptist, as it is recorded in the Gospels (cf. also Josephus, Antiquities 18.116-119). Indeed, in Matthew’s version, John makes the very same declaration: “Change your mind(set) [i.e. repent]—for the kingdom of the Heavens has come near!” (3:2, using “kingdom of Heaven” instead of “…of God”, cp. 4:17). Even though this is not found precisely in the wider Synoptic tradition, it very much fits the tenor of his preaching—on the need for repentance in light of the coming Judgment of God upon humankind. The Synoptic summary of John’s ministry makes this clear:

“…Yohanan, the (one) dunking (people), came to be in the desolate (land) proclaiming a dunking of a change-of-mind(set) [meta/noia, i.e. repentance] unto the release of (one’s) sins. And all (the people in) the area (of) Yehudah and all the Yerushalaim (peop)le traveled out toward him, and were dunked under him in the Yarden river, giving out as one an account of [i.e. confessing/acknowledging] their sins.” (Mk 1:4-5 par)

The eschatological orientation of John’s ministry of baptism, and his preaching, is readily apparent from:

  • The citation of Isa 40:3 in Mk 1:2-3. This passage is one of a number in Isa 40-66 (Deutero-Isaiah) which had been given a Messianic interpretation by Jews in the 1st centuries B.C./A.D. (cf. the recent survey of Messianic passages). There is every reason to believe that John, much like the Community of the Qumran texts (1QS 8:14-16), identified himself with the herald “crying in the desert”, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord (at the end-time). This is made explicit in Jn 1:19-23. According to certain strands of traditional Jewish eschatology, this coming of the Lord (YHWH) for Judgment was realized through, or along with, the end-time appearance of YHWH’s chosen representative (Anointed One, “Messiah”).
  • Details from the traditions in Matthew and Luke (the so-called “Q” material):
    (a) John’s preaching of the need for repentance is specifically connected with “the anger (of God) (be)ing [i.e. that is] about (to come)” (Matt 3:7-9 / Lk 3:7-8), i.e. the coming Judgment
    (b) the images of the axe (cutting down the tree) and of the harvest (separating grain from chaff) also refer to this idea of God’s impending Judgment (Matt 3:10, 12 / Lk 3:9, 17)

Given these facts, there is little reason to think that Jesus’ declaration in Mark 1:15 par is meant in a fundamentally different sense than that of Matt 3:2 (as a summary of John’s preaching). Thus we can isolate three main elements, or aspects, of Jesus’ statement:

  1. The coming of God—his kingdom, i.e. God as king/ruler over the world
  2. The nearness of His Coming—that it is about to take place, and
  3. The need for repentance—in light of God’s coming rule (incl. Judgment on the wicked)

There can be little doubt that this reflected John’s proclamation to the people of Judea, and Jesus, it would seem, began his ministry with essentially the same message. However, in the case of Jesus, the situation is complicated greatly by the many and varied references to “the kingdom (of God)” in his sayings and parables, as recorded in the Gospels. He spoke quite often about this Kingdom, much of which has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition, bringing out a number of distinct points of emphasis; for Jesus, the Kingdom (basilei/a) was a multi-faceted concept and symbol. I have discussed this extensively in an earlier two-part article, as well as in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Part 5). It will be worth summarizing that analysis briefly here.

These are the primary aspects most commonly found in the sayings and parables. As part of my earlier study, based on the entirety of the evidence, I isolated four basic senses of the term “Kingdom (of God)” in the New Testament:

  1. The eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
  2. An eschatological Kingdom (on earth), which can be understood in two different aspects:
    a. An absolute sense: New heavens and new earth (preceded by judgment on the World)
    b. A contingent sense: Messianic kingdom (preceded by judgment of the Nations)
  3. The presence of Christ—His life, work and teaching, death and resurrection
  4. The presence of God/Christ (through the Spirit) in the hearts, minds, and lives of believers

The fundamental idea informing the phrase “Kingdom of God” is that of the rule of God—that is, His governing power and authority—coming to be present, or made manifest, on earth, in a manner beyond what one sees in the natural order of things. In this regard, and in light of the range of meaning outlined above, it is possible to narrow the focus in Jesus’ usage to three primary aspects:

  • The coming Judgment of God upon the world, after which the righteous (believers) will enter the Divine/Eternal Life and receive heavenly reward [sense #2a above]
  • The establishment of an end-time Kingdom (rule of God) upon earth, however this is understood precisely, with judgment (of the wicked) and transformation of the social/religious order of things [sense #2b above]
  • The Kingdom of God is manifest and realized in the person and presence of Jesus [sense #3 above]

We must ask, which of these three aspects is being emphasized in the declaration of Mark 1:15 par? The first two aspects reflect different sides of traditional Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation—that is, of an (imminent) future eschatology. The third aspect represents what we may call “realized” eschatology—i.e., events and attributes understood as related to the future are realized (for believers) in the present. As discussed above, the parallel with John’s preaching strongly indicates that Jesus is drawing upon the common eschatological expectation—that the end-time appearance of God, coming to bring Judgment, was soon to take place.

This is the interpretation accepted by many, if not most, critical commentators today, and it serves to epitomize the fundamental difficulty in dealing with early Christian eschatology. For traditional-conservative scholars and readers of Scripture, the problem is particularly acute, and may be summarized this way:

  • If Jesus proclaimed that the coming of the Kingdom—and, with it, the end of the current Age—was close at hand, then it opens up the possibility of his being in error on that point.
  • Yet, at the same time, to understand his view differently (and to avoid the doctrinal problem), risks distorting or neglecting the straightforward sense of his words, and how they would have been understood by people at the time.

Before proceeding any further on this thorny interpretative question (one of the most difficult in modern New Testament studies), let us examine the actual words used by Jesus in Mark 1:15; there are three phrases, or components to his declaration:

1. peplh/rwtai o( kairo/$ (“the time has been [ful]filled”). The verb plhro/w has the basic meaning “fill (up)”, sometimes in the more general sense of “complete, bring to completion, fulfill,” etc. Here the expression means that the period of time (and all that it entails), leading up to the point (kairo/$) when a particular event will take place, has been filled (i.e. completed). For a similar example, using the related verb plh/qw, see Luke 2:21-22. It precludes the idea that Jesus is announcing something which is still to come in the (distant) future; the time is now, at his very speaking. There is doubtless also an allusion to the fulfillment of prophecy, where the verb plhro/w is frequently used (cf. Luke 4:21, etc).

2. kai\ h&ggiken h( basilei/a tou= qeou= (“and the kingdom of God has come near”). However one understands the expression “kingdom of God”, it is quite clear what Jesus says about it: “it has come near” (h&ggiken). The verb e)ggi/zw is related to the adverb e)ggu/$ (“close”), and means “come (or bring) close”; the intransitive usage is more common (“come close/near”). It can be understood either in a spatial or temporal sense. In a religious (and theological) context, it can refer to persons (i.e. priests, the righteous) approaching God, as well as the reverse—of God coming near to his people. For example, cf. Exod 3:5; Lev 21:21; Ezek 40:46 (all LXX); James 4:8; Heb 7:19; Eph 2:13, 17. One may also come near to God in a figurative sense (implying a religious attitude), as in Isa 29:13, etc. For the temporal usage, the time when something will occur (i.e. is about to take place), cf. LXX Num 24:17; Isa 26:17; Hab 3:2, etc.

The background to the eschatological use of e)ggi/zw is found in the (later) Prophets ([Deutero-]Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc LXX). It is used in reference to the coming of the “Day of YHWH”, which is the time of salvation and/or Judgment—Isa 13:6; 50:8; 51:5; 56:6; Ezek 7:4; 22:4; 30:3; cf. also Joel 1:5; 2:1; 3:14; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7, 14. The New Testament usage is primarily based on (Deutero-)Isaiah. There are 42 occurrences of the verb. Besides the ordinary sense of coming near (to a place, etc), it is used in three ways:

  • The eschatological sense—that the time of God’s appearance (the day [h(me/ra] of Judgment, salvation, etc) has come, or is coming, near. The third person perfect form h&ggiken is almost always used. Rom 13:12; Heb 10:25; James 5:8; 1 Pet 4:7; cf. also Acts 7:17 for the similar idea of a promised time coming to pass.
  • The sense of believers coming near and encountering God (cf. above)—James 4:8; Eph 2:13, 17. Note Philo’s use of the verb in On the Unchangableness of God §161; On the Special Laws II.57; cf. also Psalm 33:18; 119:151; 145:18 LXX.
  • The special sense of Jesus’ time (or “hour”), i.e. the time of his Passion, coming near—Matt 26:45-46 par; cf. also Lk 4:13.

Jesus’ use of the verb is unquestionably eschatological, along the lines indicated above. This is clear when one compares the declaration in Mark 1:15 (par Matt 4:17; cf. also 3:2; 10:7) with the statements in Luke 21:8, 20, 28. One should also note the distinctive (eschatological) use of the related adverb e)ggu/$ (“close/near”) in Mark 13:28-29 par; Luke 19:11; Rev 1:3; 22:10; cf. also Rom 13:11; Phil 4:5.

[More more on the verb e)ggi/zw, etc, see the article by H. Preisker in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], Vol 2, pp. 330-2.]

3. metanoei=te kai\ pisteu/ete e)n tw=| eu)aggeli/w| (“change your mind and trust in the good message”). There are two aspects to this statement: (a) people are to change their way of thinking (and acting), i.e. “repent”, and (b) they are to trust in the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) of salvation. The verb metaneu/w (lit. change [one’s] mind) and the idea of repentance featured prominently in the preaching of John the Baptist (cf. the discussion above). It is not especially common in Jesus’ own preaching, as recorded in the Gospels, but it is certainly present (cf. below). The word eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. ‘gospel’) is also surprisingly rare, especially in the traditional Christian sense of the “good news” about Jesus (cf. Mark 8:35; 10:29; 14:9). For the righteous (and sinners who repent), the coming of the kingdom of God is good news, for several reasons:

  • It represents the coming of God and the establishment of his rule on earth—entailing the elimination of evil and wickedness.
  • The righteous will be delivered from the power and influence of the wicked (and of sin, etc).
  • The righteous will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment, passing through it into eternal life.

This eschatological context of the “good message” is confirmed by the use of the term in Mark 13:10 par; the implications of this particular verse will be discussed in the upcoming article on the “Eschatological Discourse”.

Matthew’s version (4:17) of the declaration in Mark 1:15 is briefer and uses the expression “kingdom of the Heavens” rather than “kingdom of God”:

“Change your mind(set)—for the kingdom of the Heavens has come near!”

This matches the declaration by the Baptist (3:2), and is essentially repeated in 10:7. These words of Jesus are not present at a corresponding point in the Gospel of Luke, where the public ministry of Jesus is introduced from a different standpoint—the citation of Isa 61:1 and the episode at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30). However, Luke does still depict Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom during the Galilean ministry (4:43; 8:1, etc). In particular, the central declaration (of Mk 1:15 par) is preserved in Luke 10:9, 11: “The kingdom of God has come close [h&ggiken] upon you!” This reflects the Synoptic tradition of Jesus’ sending out his disciples to follow his example, as his representatives, doing the same work (healing miracles, etc) and proclaiming the same message—the coming of the Kingdom and the need for repentance (Mark 3:14f; 6:7-13 par; cf. Matt 10:7; Lk 9:2). Thus this message was not limited to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but continued on through much of the Galilean period (as recorded in the Synoptic Tradition).

The eschatological emphasis in Jesus teaching, as epitomized by the declaration in Mark 1:15 par, may not have defined entirely his teaching and understanding of the Kingdom of God (and its coming), but it was certainly the central starting point in his public ministry. It is important to keep this in mind as we proceed to examine the other sayings and parables found in the Synoptic Gospels.

Saturday Series: Exodus 32-34

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Exodus 32-34

In the most recent Saturday discussion, we examined the covenant scene in Exodus 24, pointing out along the way the place of this episode in the structure of the book as a whole. The entire second half of the book, chapters 19-40, involves the idea of the binding agreement (covenant) established between God and his people at Mt. Sinai. From the standpoint of the narrative of the Pentateuch (or, at least the Tetrateuch, Genesis–Numbers), this extends to encompass the entire book of Leviticus and the opening chapters of Numbers (up to 10:10)—all of which is set at Sinai.

Chapters 32-33 (+ 34:1-9) of the book of Exodus have a special place in this narrative structure, set between two blocks of legal material (instruction, Torah), 20:1-23:33; 25:1-31:17 and 34:10-40:15. At the same time, there have been numerous critical questions surrounding these passages, which continue to be studied and debated in earnest today. As a result, Exod 32:1-34:9 is instructive for illustrating various aspects of Old Testament criticism. I wish to survey briefly each of the following areas:

  1. Textual Criticism
  2. Source Criticism
  3. Historical Criticism
  4. Exegetical analysis of the received Text

1. Textual Criticism

Generally speaking, the text of the Pentateuch is consistent and secure, as compared with other portions of Scripture. The numerous Dead Sea manuscripts tend to confirm the later Masoretic Text (MT), with a few notable exceptions, one of which is the ‘paleo-Hebrew’ manuscript from Qumran labeled 4QpaleoExodm. This (fragementary) copy of the book of Exodus covers the material spanning from 6:25 to 37:16. The text of this manuscript differs from the MT at a number of points, where it tends to agree with the Samaritan Pentateuch (against the MT). The differences are relatively minor, but they are significant enough to allow us to regard the manuscript as representing a distinct recension, or version, of the text. It appears to be the recension which, with some adaptation, was used by the Samaritans in their version of the Pentateuch. There is a particular example from our passage (Exod 32-34):

Exodus 32:10-11

The Masoretic Text (MT), following the BHS/Westminster critical editions, reads (in translation):

(YHWH speaking to Moses): “And now, bring rest to me [i.e. let me alone], and my anger [lit. nostril] will burn on [i.e. against] them and I will consume them, and I will make you to (be) a great nation!” And Moshe (trie)d to soften the face of YHWH his God, and said (to him), “For what [i.e. why], (O) YHWH, does your anger burn on your people…?”

Now, note the reading of 4QpaleoExodm, in agreement with the Samaritan text:

(YHWH speaking to Moses): “And now, bring rest to me [i.e. let me alone], and my anger [lit. nostril] will burn on [i.e. against] them and I will consume them, and I will make you to (be) a great nation!” And with Aharon YHWH was very angry, (enough) to destroy him, but Moshe interceded on behalf of Aharon. And Moshe (trie)d to soften the face of YHWH his God, and said (to him), “For what [i.e. why], (O) YHWH, does your anger burn on your people…?”

The portion in bold italics is not present in the MT. In such an instance, we must consider whether the longer text is original or represents an addition (interpolation). In this particular case, it is unlikely that the longer text is the result of an accident (copying mistake); nor can the shorter text be explained as an obvious mistake (omission). If, on the other hand, the change was at least partly intentional, then we must consider how or why it was made. The arguments cut both ways:

  • The longer text could be explained by the fact that the shorter text, if original, does not really record any reaction by God against Aaron, nor punishment, for his specific role in the Golden Calf incident; scribes thus might have been inclined to add such a detail, whether from authentic tradition or as a pious invention.
  • Scribes may also have been inclined to minimize Aaron’s role in the sin of the Golden Calf, and to eliminate specific details which cast him in too bad a light (esp. in comparison with Moses). This would be an argument in favor of the longer text.

It is not possible to make a definite determination on these grounds (though I tend to favor the shorter text at Exod 32:10-11a). In such cases, where there is corroborating evidence from Qumran to support either the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Greek Version(s), against the MT, we ought to give it serious consideration in our study.

2. Source Criticism

According to the common critical analysis of the Pentateuch (the so-called Documentary Hypothesis), Exodus 32-34 is a composite, made up of at least three distinct strands (or sources):

  • The core narrative of 32:1-33:23, usually assigned to the “E” (Elohist) source
  • The appearance of YHWH to Moses (34:1a, 2-13) and a parallel version of the Ten Commandments (34:14-28 [cp. 20:1-17]), assigned to the “J” (Jahwist/Yahwist) source
  • A layer of editing and additional material, referred to as the “Priestly” (P) layer or source—31:18; [34:1b]; 34:29-35ff (to the end of the book).

Interestingly, the “E” source was so labeled based on its presumed preference for the divine name Elohim over Yahweh (YHWH). However, chapters 32-33 consistently use YHWH throughout, the only exception being in 32:16. In this instance, the critical theory is more properly based on the presence of “doublet” traditions (two ascents by Moses, two sets of tablets, two versions of the Decalogue, etc), as well as historical considerations (see below). Traditional-conservative commentators, while often respectful of these analyses based on the Documentary Hypothesis, tend to accept the text at face value, as a unified composition reflected authentic historical tradition throughout. Even so, there are a number of apparent inconsistencies and peculiarities which require explanation. It is certainly possible to recognize the presence of various traditions which have been brought together in the narrative, without necessarily adopting the Documentary Hypothesis as a whole.

3. Historical Criticism

There are two aspects to what we call historical criticism: (1) analysis of the historical background of the text as we have it (including when it was authored, etc), and (2) consideration of the historicity of the events and traditions contained in the text. Both aspects have been somewhat controversial over the years, in the case of the Pentateuch, on the basis of two factors: (a) the detailed critical studies and hypotheses which indicate many different and varied traditions, and (b) the strong tradition identifying Moses as the effective author/source of the books. Students and scholars who adopt (or insist on) extreme positions regarding either of these two factors, in my view, end up distorting or neglecting important pieces of evidence related to the text. Let us briefly consider several critical approaches to Exod 32-34:

a. The blending of contrary or opposing traditions

Commentators who recognize different, distinct strands of tradition in the text, often claim that these are contrary or opposed to one another, in various ways. This may include:

  • Different wording or formulation of a tradition, such as in the two “versions” of the Decalogue—20:1-17 (usually assigned to “P”) and 34:14-28 (“J”).
  • Geographical distinctions—esp. interests of the Northern kingdom (Shechem, Bethel, Mushite priesthood), compared with those of the South (Jerusalem, the Temple, the Davidic legacy, Aaronid priesthood). The presumed source documents “E” and “J” are often thought to come from the North and South, respectively.
  • Religious and theological differences—e.g., the northern Bethel cultus vs. that of the Jerusalem (Temple), cherub-throne (the Ark) vs. bull-throne, the position of the priestly lines of Aaron and Moses, specific traditions associated with the religious centers of Gilgal, Shiloh, Shechem, etc.

As just one example, it is often though that the Golden Calf episode in chapter 32, along with Aaron’s involvement in the incident (vv. 1-5, 10-11 v.l., 21-24f) is intended as a (Northern) polemic against the religious establishment of Jeroboam (at the sites of Bethel and Dan, etc). There can be no doubt that an intentional parallel is at work. All one has to do is to consider the basic iconography (of the bull) and the words used to introduce it:

“These are your Gods, (O) Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exod 32:4, cf. also verse 8)
“See, your Gods, (O) Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28)

How should this parallel be explained? There are two main possibilities:

  • The declaration in 1 Kings 12:28, and/or the golden bulls of Jeroboam’s religious establishment themselves, are meant to reflect the earlier Exodus tradition.
  • The Exodus scene of the Golden Calf reflects the later development by Jeroboam, being projected back into the time of Moses and the Exodus. At the very least, one might say that the Exodus narrative has been shaped (its wording, etc) in light of the later history.
b. The tendency to include traditions with variant details

Apparent discrepancies in detail do not necessarily mean that traditions are unreliable or inaccurate. However one views the composition of the Pentateuch, the author/editor(s) of the books as they have come down to us has included many different traditions, and narratives, which seem to result in certain inconsistencies. Consider, for example, the shifts in setting and emphasis in chapters 32-34, which do not always flow smoothly in the text:

  • The details surrounding the Golden Calf, including the fact that it seems to be understood as representing both distinct “gods” (i.e. separate from YHWH), and YHWH himself (his throne?)—32:1, 4, 5-6
  • The different expressions of God’s anger, judgment, and the punishment of the people (with multiple intercessions by Moses), without a clear sense of how they relate to each other in the course of the narrative—(these will be discussed in the last section of this study [#4]). In particular, Aaron does not seem to face any definite punishment for his role in the Golden Calf incident (see above).
  • The differing descriptions of what God says to Moses on the mountain, and how it relates to what Moses writes, and to what is written on the “two tablets” of stone—24:3-4; 31:18; 32:15-16; 34:1-5, 28-29, etc.
  • In this regard, there are also some interesting repetitions in the sections of legal instruction (Torah)—examine the passages closely, 25:1-31:17; 34:10-35:3ff, as well as the earlier “book of the Covenant” (20:22-23:23).
  • Certain apparent inconsistencies regarding where/how God appears to Moses, etc—chap. 19; 20:18ff; 24:1-18; 33:7ff, 17-23; 34:5ff, 29ff.

Our modern ideals of composition would perhaps require a bit more clarity, harmonizing and smoothing out details in these various episodes and traditions. The ancient author (and/or editor[s]) did not compose and shape the text in quite this way. We must consider that the apparent rough edges and inconsistencies are intentional, meant to bring out certain details and aspects of the narrative which might otherwise be overlooked.

c. The unifying structure of the narrative

A number of the discrepancies or inconsistencies mentioned above, however one chooses to judge them from the standpoint of source– and historical-criticism (see the discussion above), can be explained, in large measure, when one considers carefully the structure of the narrative as it has come down to us. In this regard, the “doublet” and repeating elements, far from being problematic, are actually vital to a proper understanding of the narrative. Consider the basic outline:

  • Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives instruction (Torah) from God, which includes material written down on two stone tablets (i.e. the covenant)—24:15-31:18
    • The people violate the covenant and Moses descends—chaps. 32-33
  • Moses re-ascends Mount Sinai and (again) receives instruction (Torah) from God, including that written down on two stone tablets (the covenant)—34:1-28
    • Moses descends and the covenant with the people is re-established34:29-35:1ff

The simplicity of this outline masks a richly-detailed structure of motifs and associations, particular points of emphasis, and the like. This is part of the uniquely inspired character of the text which cannot be reduced merely to questions of historicity. The fourth (final) section of this study on Exodus 32-34 will examine the structure of the narrative in more detail, from an exegetical standpoint. This we will do next Saturday. I hope that you will join me.

Note of the Day – August 9 (Revelation 2:12-17)

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Revelation 2:12-17

The third letter of chapters 2-3 is addressed to the believers in Pergamum (Grk. Pe/rgamo$, modern Bergama). The name (i.e. a fortified site, or citadel) seems to refer to the ancient (pre-Roman) acropolis, which was renowned for its impressive walls and buildings. It was the center of a kingdom which was absorbed into the Roman Empire (in the mid-2nd century B.C.) and became a leading imperial city, even after the center of the provincial government had shifted to Ephesus.

The distinctive details in the letter are discussed here in turn (for the letter-format itself, cf. the earlier note).

Rev 2:12b

“These (things are) said (by) the (one) holding the sharp two-mouthed [i.e. double-edged] sword…”

Here, following the format in all the letters, the phrase introducing the risen Jesus is taken from the vision in 1:11-16ff—in this case, from the description in v. 16. The motif of the sword, emphasizes both the danger for believers of being put to death for their faith, as well as the judgment which is about to come upon evil-doers (utilizing the military aspect of the eschatological/Messianic image, Isa 11:4, etc [cf. 2 Thess 2:8]).

Rev 2:13

As in the previous letter (to Smyrna, cf. the most recent note), the praise given to the congregations is related to their faithfulness and endurance in the midst of (religious) persecution:

“I have seen where you (have) put down house—(in) the (place) where the ruling-seat of the Satan (resides)—and (yet) you (have) held firm(ly) to my name, and did not deny the trust of [i.e. in] me, even in the days of Antipas my trust(worthy) witness, who was killed off (from) alongside you, (in) the (place) where the Satan puts down house [i.e. dwells/resides].”

The emphasis here has to do with the location (i.e. Pergamum) where the believers currently reside. It is marked by a two-fold (parallel) expression:

  • “the (place) where [o%pou] the ruling-seat [qro/no$, i.e. throne] of the Satan (resides)”
  • “the (place) where [o%pou] the Satan resides [katoikei=, lit. puts down house]”

This is a remarkable declaration that “the Satan” (o( satana=$) both resides in Pergamum and has his “seat of rule” (qro/no$) there. The title “Satan”, of course, derives from ancient Israelite and Jewish tradition, by which the (heavenly/angelic) opponent of God’s people, so understood, came to be described with the title /f*c* (“[the] adversary”)—cf. Job 1:6ff; Zech 3:1-2; 1 Chron 21:1. The Greek transliteration of this title ([o(] satana=$), generally treated as synonymous with [o(] dia/bolo$ (“[the] one casting [slander/evil] throughout”, i.e. ‘Devil’), occurs 36 times in the New Testament, including 8 times in the book of Revelation (5 in chaps. 2-3).

How should we understand the specific use of the term here, with the idea that Satan lives (and rules) in Pergamum? There are several possibilities:

  • It refers to Pergamum’s legacy as a leading center of Roman rule/government in Asia Minor. [#1]
  • It is an allusion to Pergamum as the first city in which the imperial cult (i.e. venerating the Emperor) was established in Asia Minor (c. 29 B.C., in honor of Augustus and Roma, the goddess personifying Rome). [#2]
  • It is a colorful reference to the influence of Greco-Roman (pagan) religion and culture (in Asia Minor) generally; the specific application to Pergamum is circumstantial. [#3]
  • It relates primarily to the persecution of Christians, which, in Pergamum, has led to at least one believer being put to death. [#4]
  • It refers back to the Jewish opposition to Christians (verse 9; also 3:9), which may have involved the denouncing of believers to the provincial authorities; there, such Jewish opponents were called “a gathering together [i.e. synagogue] of Satan”. [#5]
  • More generally, it refers to false teaching and religious belief/practice [#6]

All of these relate to definite themes and points of emphasis (and conflict) both in the letters and the book as a whole:

  • The influence of Greco-Roman culture and religion.
  • The images and practices surrounding the imperial cult, in particular.
  • The persecution of believers.
  • Religious identity of believers, both in relation to Judaism and the surrounding Greco-Roman culture.
  • False teachings and beliefs which are gaining influence in the congregations.

Here, in this letter specifically, the twin motifs of persecution and false teaching appear to frame the issue, though it is certainly also related to the influence of Greco-Roman (pagan) religion. Central to the message in verse 13 is the idea of faithfulness and endurance in the midst of persecution, even to the point of death—as in the case of one Antipas, about whom we otherwise have no reliable information. This is the first clear instance in the New Testament where the term “witness” (ma/rtu$) is tied directly to the idea of being put to death for being a Christian. This, of course, would come to be the primary denotation of the term, in its special Christian sense, transliterated in English as “martyr”.

Rev 2:14-15

Verses 14-16 make up the blame/rebuke portion of the “mixed” message of the letter, which, according to the regular formula, begins, “But I hold (this) against you…” The use of the adjective o)li/go$ reflects the primarily positive side of the message (i.e., their faithfulness in the midst of persecution): “…I hold a few (thing)s against you”. The complaint, or charge, is two-fold:

  • “you have (among you)…(one)s grabbing (hold) firmly [kratou=nta$] (to) the teaching of Bil’am…” (v. 14)
  • “you have (among you) (one)s grabbing (hold) firmly [kratou=nta$] (to) the teaching of the Nikolaitans…” (v. 15)

The use of the verb krate/w (“take strong/firm [hold of]”) is meant as a clear contrast to the faithful believers in v. 13, who are said to have “grabbed (hold) firmly” [kratei=$] to Jesus’ name. If the issue was persecution in verse 13, here it is the influence of false teaching among believers. Two kinds of such teaching are indicated.

The teaching of Bil’am (v. 14)—The name Bil±¹m (Heb <u*l=B!), transliterated in Greek (as Balaa/m), and in English (as “Balaam”), derives from the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, and draws upon several ancient lines of tradition, including one which is positive, and another which is decidedly negative:

  • Positive (Num 22:1-6ff; 23-24): The king of Moab (Balak) called on the seer/prophet Bil’am to curse Israel, which, according to the ancient (magical) worldview, meant bringing about Israel’s demise. However, Bil’am, under God’s influence, instead blessed Israel, uttering four oracles which announced what God would do for his people.
  • Negative (Num 25): The Baal-Peor episode, in which Israelites joined together (intermarriage?) with Moabite women and then took part in Canaanite (pagan) religious ceremonies (vv. 1-5ff); this is combined with a (separate?) tradition involving Midianite women (vv. 6-15ff). Bil’am’s involvement is not mentioned in this narrative, but only through a separate notice in 31:16 (cf. also Josh 13:22).

The statement here in Rev 2:14 combines both traditions, though it is certainly the latter which is primarily in view, in accordance with the dominant (negative) association with the name of Balaam among Jews and Christians at the time (cf. 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11)—Jewish tradition generally depicted Balaam as a magician and false prophet. The mention of Balak (the Moabite king) here may also be a subtle way of connecting false religious teaching and practice (represented by Balaam) with the imperial Roman government (i.e. Balak), the two being closely connected.

The false teaching of “Balaam” (Bil’am) is specifically defined here, according to the language of the ancient tradition, as:

“to throw (down) in the sight of Yisrael something to trip (them) up [ska/ndalon]—to (make them) eat (offering)s slaughtered to images, and to engage in ‘prostitution’.”

The key terms are: (1) ei)dwlo/quta and (2) the verb porneu/w. The first is a plural noun which essentially means “(offering)s slaughtered [vb. qu/w] to an image [ei&dwlon]”. It is a uniquely Jewish (and Christian) way of referring to sacrificial offerings made to Greco-Roman (pagan) deities, for which the common term was i(ero/quton, i.e. a sacred offering slaughtered (more rarely, qeo/quton, offering “slaughtered to [a] god”). The Jewish/Christian term is a pejorative, reflecting the basic idea that the other (pagan) deities have no real existence, but are represented merely by lifeless images.

In the Greco-Roman cities, food sacrificed to deities could be eaten as part of a religious ceremony; but the meat (from animal sacrifices) could also be subsequently purchased in the marketplace and eaten in a wide range of ordinary (secular) settings. For Jews and early Christians, this aspect of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture was particularly problematic, and is addressed at several points in the New Testament—most notably, in the Jerusalem “decree” (Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25), and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10. The view among most early Christian leaders seems to have been that believers must absolutely avoid eating any food that had been sacrificed to “idols”. However, Paul, while sharing this basic outlook, takes a more careful, nuanced approach when addressing the Corinthians, devoting three whole chapters to the subject. Here, in the letter to the believers in Pergamum, no such consideration or qualification is given—those who allow/accept the eating of food sacrificed to idols, and especially, those who teach and encourage this, are characterized as “Balaam” and are condemned in no uncertain terms.

The verb porneu/w literally refers to taking part in prostitution (i.e. sexual intercourse for hire), but could also be used (together with the related noun pornei/a) as a catch-term for any sort of sexual behavior which was deemed immoral or improper. While it is possible that the message here does refer to sexual immorality (it is certainly associated with “Balaam” through the tradition[s] in Numbers 25), the overall context suggests otherwise. Frequently in the Old Testament “prostitution” (using the comparable Hebrew hnz) was used figuratively, as a way to symbolize unfaithfulness in a religious sense (i.e. to God). Any sort of false or illicit religious practice, regardless of whether a sexual component were involved, could be called “prostitution” (tWnz+[T^], pornei/a). Thus, it is perfectly appropriate to regard the improper participation of believers in Greco-Roman religious culture—i.e., through the eating of food sacrificed to “idols”—as committing pornei/a (cf. 1 Cor 6:12-20, in light of Paul’s following discussion in chaps. 8-10). Most likely, the term here is not limited strictly to the question of food sacrificed to idols, but extends to the influence of (pagan) Greco-Roman culture as a whole (cf. again, the association of ei)dolw/quta and pornei/a in Acts 15:20, 29).

The teaching of the Nikolaitans (v. 15)—The group called “Nikolaitans” was mentioned in the first letter (v. 6). As I indicated in the earlier note, we have virtually no reliable information about the teachings or practices of this group. Many commentators assume, based on the context here, that they followed in the example of “Balaam” and taught that it was permitted for believers to eat food which had been sacrificed to other deities (cf. above). However, I am by no means convinced of this. The point of the comparison seems to be that there are two distinct groups (and sets of teachings) involved in vv. 14-15: (1) those who accept/allow the eating of the sacrificed food, and (2) the Nikolaitans. We simply cannot be certain of what the Nikolaitans taught or believed, other than: (a) they seem to have exercised considerable influence among Christians in Asia Minor, and (b) their teachings/practices were serious enough that, in the message, the risen Jesus could be said to “hate” (vb. mise/w, v. 6) them and their “works”. I find rather dubious the suggested association between the name Nikolaos (Niko/lao$, “victor[ious] over the people”) and an etymology of Bil’am as “he destroyed the people” (<u* ul^B*), though this is at least possible.

Rev 2:16

The warning, stern and foreboding, is given in verse 16, drawing upon the earlier reference to the two-edged (lit. two-mouthed) sword that comes out of the risen Jesus’ mouth (v. 12):

“Therefore you must change (your) mind(set) [i.e. repent]; and if not, (then) I (will) come to you quickly and will make war with them in [i.e. with] the sword of my mouth.”

It is interesting to note the way that the focus shifts here. While the call goes out to the believers in Pergamum as a whole (“you must [repent]…”), the threat of making war is narrowed to the ones who are erring/sinning (i.e. those in vv. 14-15): “…I will come to you [soi] and will make war with them [au)tw=n]…” As noted previously, the motif of the sword coming out of the mouth is an eschatological and Messianic image (coming mainly from Isa 11:4 and 49:2). However, it is not clear whether its use here refers to the end-time Judgment in the full, traditional sense, or to a local manifestation of God’s Judgment (through Jesus) which might take place at some point prior. Probably it is best to view the idea of “Jesus coming” as a generalized expression signifying here “the coming of judgment” upon evil-doers. The orientation would still be eschatological, but not in as precise and dramatic a context as the reference in 2 Thess 2:8.

Rev 2:17

The final exhortation and promise in the letters always beings “(To) the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious…”. Here the promised (heavenly) reward is two-fold (“I will give to him…”):

  • “(to eat) of the hidden manna”
  • “a white pebble” upon which was written “a new name…which no one has seen [i.e. known] if not [i.e. except] the (one) receiving (it)”

According to Old Testament/Israelite tradition, after the manna had ceased to fall from heaven (Josh 5:12), it only existed through the portion stored away in the tabernacle (Exod 16:32-34), and then, it would seem, in the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed, it was “hidden away” by God, to be restored to his people in the future, when it would come down again from Heaven (2 Baruch 29:8; Mekilta on Exodus 6.82; cf. also 2 Macc 2:4-8, etc; Koester, p. 289-90). In the great Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, Jesus plays on this idea of believers eating the manna (“bread”) which comes down from heaven, which he identifies with his own person (his word, his sacrificial death, the Spirit he gives). Here in the book of Revelation, the eating of the “hidden manna” is more or less synonymous with the earlier motif of “eating of the tree of life” (v. 7)—i.e., partaking of Eternal Life at the end-time. There may also be a contrast here between the errant Christians who eat food sacrificed to idols, and the faithful believers (who do not), and, as a result, are allowed to eat of the heavenly food (“manna”).

The second reward is “a white pebble”, which may also echo the motif of the manna (both are small and white in color, cf. Exod 16:31). Of course, white is also a common symbol of purity, and the believers who receive this white pebble (yh=fo$) have likewise kept themselves pure (from sin, in faith, etc). There are several possible meanings to the idea of a “name” being written on the pebble (cf. Koester, p. 290):

  • It indicates a favorable judgment—white (instead of black) indicating victory or vindication, through the vote, in court, etc.
  • A similar use of a white pebble was involved in determining who would be the one to receive certain honors.
  • A name written on a stone could conceivably allude to a kind of (magical) protection for the person—the inscribed stone functioning like a talisman.

The second option seems most probable—that it signifies a special honor for the believer, much like the wreath/crown in verse 10. What is the significance of the “new name” written on the pebble, which is known only to the one who receives it? There would seem to be two possibilities:

  • It is a special name, i.e. of honor, etc, given by Christ, to the believer (cp. Matt 16:17; John 1:42)
  • It alludes to the name of Jesus and/or the name of God (cf. Phil 2:9f). The idea that the name of God is something ‘hidden’ which is made known (by Jesus) to believers is found at several points in the Gospel of John (e.g., 17:6ff).

The latter option would seem to be preferable, in light of the similar language in 3:12 (and cf. also 14:1; 19:12ff; 22:4). The believer’s new “name” is that of Jesus’ himself—not necessarily the simple name “Yeshua/Jesus”, but the name which identifies him with God (Son and exalted One of the Father). As I have discussed previously, a name, in ancient thought, typically represented and embodied the true nature and essence of the person.

Note of the Day – August 8 (Revelation 2:8-11)

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Revelation 2:8-11

Today’s note deals with the second of the letters in chapters 2-3—to the believers in Smyrna, “(city of) myrrh [smu/rna] (?)”, modern Izmir, one of the major cities in Roman Asia (approx. 40 miles N. of Ephesus). The epistolary format used in these letters was discussed in a previous note; here I will be discussing only those details which are distinctive of the second letter.

Rev 2:8b

“These (things are) said (by) the (one who is) the first and the last, who came to be dead and was (made) alive”

The introduction (to Jesus) in each letter includes titles and phrases characteristic of the risen/exalted Jesus, reflecting attributes of deity. They are drawn from the vision in 1:11-16ff—here the titles repeat the declaration in vv. 17b-18a (cf. the note on these).

Rev 2:9

The body of the main address (from the risen Jesus) here is found in vv. 9-10. Unlike most of the other letters, it is not a mixed message (praise and blame), but is entirely one of praise and exhortation. This seems to reflect a degree of persecution faced by the congregations in Smyrna, which was not faced, to the same extent, by believers in the other cities. This is presented dramatically by the first statement (in verse 9):

“I have seen your (di)stress and poverty—but you are (in fact) rich!—and the insult(s) [blasfhmi/a] (coming) out of the (one)s counting themselves to be Yehudeans [i.e. Jews], and (yet) are not, but (are actually) a gathering together [sunagwgh/] of the Satan.”

The suffering of the believers in Smyrna is due to two factors: (1) distress/pressure (qli/yi$), i.e. from outside forces, and (2) poverty (ptwxei/a). This latter term means that they are poor in a material (and/or socio-cultural) sense, while actually being rich (plou/sio$) in the eyes of God (i.e. in a spiritual sense). Both factors are relevant, since believers with a higher socio-economic status generally are less likely to endure suffering and persecution.

While the difficulties for the congregations in Ephesus are described as coming from ‘false’ Christians, the suffering in Smyrna is the result of attacks from the Jewish communities in the city. This, of course, is familiar from the accounts of Paul’s missionary work in the book of Acts (9:23-25; 13:45ff; 14:5, 19; 17:5-8, etc), and confirmed at several points in his letters (e.g., 1 Thess 2:14-16). For Christians today, especially those in the Western nations, the descriptions in the New Testament of Jewish/Christian hostility, with corresponding anti-Jewish statements, can be most troubling, in light of the long and tragic history of ‘Christian’ persecution against Jews. However, this should not cause us to ignore or gloss over the historical reality of another time and place. There were genuine conflicts between early Christians (many of whom were Jewish) and certain segments within Judaism.

Here the Jewish attacks are described as blasfhmi/a (“insult”), a word which often is used in a religious context (i.e. insult against God), as preserved in English by the transliterated form “blasphemy”. There can be no doubt that the religious connotation is intended here; any attack against believers in Christ is effectively an insult (i.e. blasphemy) against God. The grim irony is that Jews who attack believers, perhaps fueled by a sense of religious devotion, are actually committing “blasphemy” and insulting God Himself. We do not know the specific details related to this “insult”, but it may have involved the denouncing of Christians to the provincial (imperial) authorities, which could then lead to interrogation, imprisonment, etc. The context of verse 10 suggests that this is likely the case.

The Jews who insult/blaspheme in this way are considered to be false Jews, just like the would-be apostles in vv. 2-3. The same sort of derisive language is used: “the (one)s counting themselves to be Jews, and (yet) are not”, i.e. they are not truly Jews (cf. Rom 2:17ff, 28-29). There is no real reason to doubt that such persons were genuinely Jews from a religious-cultural standpoint. The basic idea being expressed, almost certainly, is that those who attack believers in Christ, rejecting Jesus as the Anointed One and Son of God, have departed from the true Israelite/Jewish religion. This would be all the more likely if the “insult” involved denouncing believers to the Roman authorities. The question of religious identity, for both Jews and Christians of the period, was complex and difficult. Most of the earliest Christians came out of a Jewish religious-cultural background, and yet lines of conflict and separation were present almost immediately. We know of this conflict best from the account of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 (cf. also chaps. 10-11 and 21:17-26), and from many passages in Paul’s letters (esp. throughout Romans, and most of Galatians). The declaration in v. 9b is sharped with the concluding words, that these ‘false’ Jews are actually “a gathering together of the Satan”. The word sunagwgh/ (lit. “leading/bringing together”) is, of course, the typical term for a Jewish religious gathering and/or place of worship, transliterated in English as “synogogue”. Parallels for this expression are found in the Qumran texts, such as 1QH X.22 (“assembly of Belial”); 1QM 15:9; 1QH XIV.5; XV.34 (“assembly of wickedness”, etc). Cf. Koester, pp. 274-6.

This language is repeated in 3:9, which will be discussed in turn.

Rev 2:10

The statement(s) in this verse function as a prophecy (foretelling) of what believers in Smyrna will soon experience:

“Fear none of the (thing)s which you are about to suffer. See, the one casting (evil) throughout [dia/bolo$, i.e. the Devil] is about to cast [ba/llein] you into a (prison) guard (so) that you might be tested, and you will have ten days of (di)stress.”

This clearly indicates that believers will be put in prison, probably for the purposes of interrogation rather than as a term of punishment. The delimitation of “ten days” is most likely a figurative approximation, symbolizing a definite (though relatively short) period of time (Gen 24:55; Num 11:19, etc). A motif of ten days of “testing” is found in Daniel 1:12ff (Koester, p. 277). In light of this impending suffering, Jesus, in his message, provides a special word of exhortation:

“You must come to be trust(worthy) [i.e. faithful] until death, and I will give you the Crown of Life.”

A special honor is given to the one who endures suffering for Jesus’ sake to the point of death. The “crown” (ste/fano$), or wreath, typical woven out of laurel leaves, etc, in the context of Greco-Roman culture, is given as an honor to one who is victorious in competition (i.e., athletics, military battle) or who has given distinguished service to the people. The word (and concept) appears seven more times in the book of Revelation (3:11, etc), and is used occasionally by Paul (1 Cor 9:25; Phil 4:1; 1 Thess 2:19), and elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Peter 5:4, “crown of honor/glory”).

Rev 2:11

The concluding exhortation/promise in the letters always begins: “[To] the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious…”, followed by a description of the (heavenly) reward the believer will receive, after death, or at the end-time following the Judgment. Here the promise is related to the idea that some believers in Smyrna (and elsewhere in Asia Minor) will face death for Christ’s sake in this life:

“The (one) being victorious would not suffer injustice [i.e. injury] out of the second death.”

Being put to death as a Christian involves a terrible injustice (a)diki/a, lit. without justice); yet, the believer in Christ has the comfort and security of knowing that he/she will not be harmed in any way (i.e. suffer no injury [a)diki/a]) by the “second death”. This expression is eschatological, conveying the idea that there is final death for the entire person (the soul, etc), which follows the physical death (of the body). According to a traditional line of Jewish thought (fairly common, it would seem, at the time), at the end, those who are dead (righteous and wicked both) will be raised and enter into God’s Judgment. The righteous would enter into the blessed (heavenly/divine) or “eternal” Life, while the wicked would experience the opposite. The latter is depicted most dramatically in Rev 20:11-15; 21:7-8.

Note of the Day – August 7 (Revelation 2:1-7, continued)

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Revelation 2:1-7 (continued)

The letter to the Christians of Ephesus was discussed in the previous note, along with a summary of the basic format used in each of the seven letters. Today, we will be looking at the elements and details which are distinct to the first letter, found in the main address (vv. 2-6) and the concluding exhortation (v. 7b).

Rev 2:2-3

The “works” (e&rga) of the Ephesian believers which are praised by Jesus are characterized as: (a) sharp pain (ko/po$) from work/labor, etc, and (b) endurance (lit. “remaining under”, u(pomonh/). Both terms indicate a degree of suffering on behalf of Jesus Christ (and the word of God, etc). This is repeated, with a bit of wordplay, in verse 3:

“…and you hold (yourself) remaining under [i.e. with endurance], and have borne/carried (this) through my name and you have not been pained [kekopi/ake$] (by it).”

Their suffering and enduring is “through the name” of Jesus—that is, for his sake. The nature (and cause) of this suffering is explained in verse 2:

“you are not able to bear bad (men), and (indeed) you tested the (one)s counting themselves (as) ones sent forth [i.e. apostles], but are not, and found them (to be) false”

The issue here involves persons claiming to be apostles. For early believers, before there was a set of Christian Scriptures at hand in every congregation, authoritative instruction, etc, was done by local teachers and prophets, as well as by missionaries and other traveling ministers. The latter proved especially problematic for many of the early congregations. At a time when all communication had to be done by personal visits and letters delivered by messengers, it could be difficult to validate the claims (and pedigree/legitimacy, etc) of traveling ministers. The work known as the Didache (late-1st/early-2nd century?) offers some practical guidance on how to handle this (chaps. 11-13). A different approach is taken in the Letters of John, where the Spirit is the main source of teaching. The conflict in 1 and 2 John is related primarily to specific views regarding the person and work of Jesus. The “spirits” of ministers (i.e. by which they speak) are to be tested against the voice of the Spirit which corresponds to established truth/belief regarding Jesus (1 Jn 2:18-24; 4:1-6; 2 Jn 7-11; cf. also 5:6-10). In particular, 2 Jn 8-11 warns congregations against taking in ministers who hold this ‘false’ view of Jesus, persons characterized as “antichrist” (1 Jn 2:18; 2 Jn 7). Paul, too, in his letters, struggles against ‘opponents’ who are regarded as apostles, or who consider themselves to be apostles (esp. in 2 Cor 10-13 [11:13; 12:12]).

Here the text declares that the Ephesian believers tested certain would-be apostles. We do not know precisely what was involved in this “testing”, but presumably it occurred over a period of time, and would seem to have involved considerable challenge and difficulty for the congregations in the city. Nor do we really have any knowledge as to what these would-be apostles taught or said, other than their claim to be apostles. It is possible that they may be connected with the Nikolaitans (cf. below). The only detail we have in the text is that the Ephesian Christians “found them to be false [yeudh/$]”. We can assume this means that the believers in Ephesus (most of them, at any rate), ultimately did not accept the claims and teachings of these ministers.

Rev 2:4-5

If the Ephesian churches proved to sound in doctrine (i.e. testing the claims/teachings of ‘false’ apostles), the mark against them involves their love. This seems to reflect the two-fold “commandment”, or duty of believers, which defines (true) Christian identity—(1) trust in Jesus Christ, and (2) love for one another—and which is a distinctive emphasis in the Johannine writings (1 Jn 3:23-24, etc). Here it is stated regarding the believers in Ephesus:

“you (have) left [a)fh/ke$] your love th(at you had at) first”

The expression h( a)ga/ph sou h( prw/th may be translated “your first love”, but is better understood as “the love you had at first”. Within the Johannine tradition, love is defined primarily as sacrificial love expressed on behalf of fellow believers, following the example of Jesus (Jn 13:1, 34-35; 15:12-13ff, etc). This may entail specific acts of care and provision (1 Jn 3:16-18), but ultimately must be understood in the broader sense of our unity with one another in Christ (1 Jn 2:7-10; 3:10-11ff, 23-24; 4:20-21; 5:1-3). Division and sectarian interest disrupts this unity and is effectively a sign of a lack of love (1 Jn 2:19; 4:3-6ff). It is not entirely clear, however, whether (or to what extent) the statement in Rev 2:4 reflects this line of tradition. If it does refer to a lack of proper love being shown to other believers (in whatever way this is manifested), it is treated as a most serious flaw or sin, as the warning in verse 5 makes clear:

“You must remember, then, from where you have fallen and change (your) mind(set) [i.e. repent] and do (again) the words (you did at) first; but if not, (then) I (will) come to you and move your lamp(stand) out of its place, if you (do) not change (your) mind(set).”

How should we understand the threat of the Ephesian’s lampstand being moved (vb. kine/w)? There are several possibilities:

  • That the believers in Ephesus would suffer some severe disruption or disaster (perhaps as the result of a loss of Angelic protection?)
  • The congregations in Ephesus (the leading city of Roman Asia) would suffer a loss of status
  • The congregations would be broken up and reconstituted in some manner (i.e. ‘moved’ to a different place)

It does not say that Ephesus would lose its lampstand, only that it would be moved “out of its place”. The seriousness of the warning could entail eschatological consequences, but this is not spelled out clearly.

Rev 2:6

Verse 6 shifts from blame/rebuke back to praise:

“But you hold this (in your favor): you hate the works of the Nikolaitans, which I also hate.”

It is not clear whether the Nikolaitans are related to the ‘false’ apostles (cf. above), but the parallelism between verses 2-3 and 6 makes this a distinct possibility. In point of fact, however, we have very little reliable information about the Nikolaitans, other than a presumed association with someone named Nikolaos (Nikolao$, “victor[ious] over the people”). They appear to have been influential, to some extent, among Christians in Asia Minor, since they are mentioned again in v. 15 (and will be discussed further there). The information provided by writers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.26.3; Hippolytus Refutation of Heresies 7.24; Clement Stromata 2.20; 3.4; Tertullian Prescription Against Heretics 33; Eusebius Church History 3.29.1) varies considerably, and cannot be relied upon. The combination of vv. 2-3 and 6, however, certainly indicates that believers in Ephesus (and Asia Minor) faced the challenges of differing (heterodox) sources of authority and belief. The practical impact of such challenges, in terms of showing hospitality, etc, to traveling ministers, is clearly indicated in 2 Jn 7-11 and 3 Jn 5-10ff, where the issue is seen from two distinct sides of the coin.

Rev 2:7b

In the final exhortation, which, according to the formula in the letters, includes the promise of heavenly reward, we read:

“To the (one) being victorious, I will give to him to eat out of the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of God.”

Though the opening words are found in all seven letters, there may be a bit of wordplay here:

  • The Nikolaitans, according to the meaning of the name, are “victorious [ni=ko$] over the people”
  • The promise of reward is given to those who “are victorious” (vb. nika/w), i.e. over the Nikolaitans and other sources of evil and testing, etc.

The promise is eschatological, referring to the divine/heavenly reward that the righteous (believers) will receive at the end-time, following death and/or the final Judgment. The motif of the “tree of life” (cu/lon th=$ zwh=$), and of eating from it, of course, goes back to the traditions in the Creation narrative (Gen 2:9; 3:22ff). Here it represents the Eternal Life which believers possess, in the sense of traditional (future) eschatology, rather than that of the present (‘realized’ eschatology). The image appears again in the final scenes of the book (chap. 22 [vv. 2, 14, 19]). The Greek para/deiso$, transliterated in English as Paradise, is itself a transliterated (Persian) loanword, referring primarily to an enclosed park or garden. From the standpoint of Jewish (eschatological) thought, it refers back to ancient traditions of the “garden of God” (Gen 2-3; 13:10; Ezek 28:13ff; 31:8-9), which, in turn, have many parallels in ancient Near Eastern mythology and religious language. In the New Testament, it is a term for the heavenly realm of God (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4) to which the righteous have access (after death).

Note of the Day – August 6 (Revelation 2:1-7)

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Revelation 2:1-7

The words of the risen Jesus to John in verses 17-20 continue with the seven “letters” of chapters 2-3. Since the book of Revelation itself has an epistolary format, at least in part, the inclusion of these separate “letters” is somewhat unusual. They certainly should be regarded as something more than simple letters written to believers (along the line of Paul’s letters, etc); instead, their function and purpose is literary and rhetorical, personalizing the message of the book to seven groups of believers, which represent the Christians in Roman Asia, and, in a secondary sense, believers everywhere. Given the frequent and repeated use of seven (as a symbolic number) in the book, it seems most likely that its use here is primarily symbolic as well. This is not to say that the selection of cities is merely a literary artifice; it is possible that the author had particular knowledge and familiarity with them (as a minister in Asia Minor), but that limiting the address to seven in particular is in keeping with the character of the visions, and the book, as a whole.

Each of these letters follow a distinctive pattern, consisting of:

  • A formula of address: “To the Messenger of the congregation [e)kklhsi/a] in {city} you must write”. The address to the heavenly Messenger (Angel) assigned to the believers in the city is somewhat peculiar. Technically, John is commanded to write to this Messenger, who, one must assume, would then deliver the message to the believers. At the same time, the book is already being written to these very believers (1:4). Thus, it appears essentially to be a literary device, designed to “mediate” the message.
  • Introduction to the risen Jesus: “These (things are) said (by) the one (who…)” (Ta/de le/ge o(…). The identity of the speaker is described through phrases and titles, reflecting the special (divine) status of the risen/exalted Jesus, drawn primarily from the vision in 1:11-16 (cf. the note on these verses).
  • The address by Jesus. This functions in the manner of a royal decree, emphasizing the kingship of the risen Jesus (1:5, etc), presumably in contrast to the imperial Roman authority in Asia Minor, etc. From a rhetorical standpoint this is a “mixed” message, alternating between praise and blame.
    It begins with a statement (generally of praise): “I have seen [oi@da]…”
    This is typically followed by a statement of rebuke: i.e., “but I hold (this) against you…” (a)lla\ e&xw kata\ sou=).
    The body of the address concludes with an exhortation (and/or warning).
  • Formula of exhortation: “The (one) holding an ear must hear what the Spirit says to the congregations”. This formula appears to reflect Jesus’ own usage in the Gospel tradition (Mark 4:9, 23 par, etc). It also expresses the important theological principle, certainly familiar from the Johannine writings, that the Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among the believers. It is also the source of prophecy, such as the visions and messages given to John in the book of Revelation.
  • Final exhortation and promise: “To the (one) being victorious…” (Tw=| nikw=nti). A promise of eschatological reward, for faithfulness and endurance to Christ, is given, using traditional (Old Testament, etc) religious language and imagery.

We can see how this is applied to the first letter, to the believers in Ephesus (2:1-7):

[Formula of address]
“To the Messenger of the (believers) called out (to assemble) in Ephesus, you must write:”
[Introduction to the risen Jesus]
“These (things are) said (by) the (one) holding firmly (to) the seven stars in his giving [i.e. right] hand, the (one) walking about in the middle of the seven golden lamp(stand)s…” (v. 1; cf. 1:12, 16)
[The address by Jesus]
“I have seen your works…” (vv. 2-3, cf. also v. 6)
“But I hold (this) against you: that you (have) left the you love th(at you had at) first.” (v. 4)
“Therefore you must remember from where you have fallen…” (vv. 5[-6])
[Formula of exhortation]
“The (one) holding an ear, he must hear what the Spirit says to the (one)s called out (to assemble) [i.e. the congregations].” (v. 7a)
[Final exhortation and promise]
“To the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious, I will give to him to eat out of the Tree of Life…” (v. 7b)

The distinctive elements are found in the main address (vv. 2-6) and the final exhortation of v. 7b. The praise and blame of the address form a chiasm:

  • “I have seen your works…and that you are not able to bear bad (men)…and have borne (this) through my name…” (vv. 2-3) [Praise] —”But I hold (this) against you: that you (have) left the love th(at you had at) first” (v. 4) [Blame] —”You must remember from where you have fallen…and do the works (you did at) first…” (v. 5) [Blame/warning]
  • “But you hold this (in your favor): that you hate the works of the Nikolaitans…” (v. 6) [Praise]

One might also adopt an alternating thematic structure:

  • The works which the Ephesians have done (vv. 2-3)
    Against them: they have left the love they had at first (v. 4)
  • Exhortation to do these works again (v. 5)
    In their favor: they hate the evil works (of the Nikolaitans) (v. 6)

These particular points (in vv. 2-6 and 7b) will be examined in more detail in the next daily note.

For background information on the seven cities in Asia Minor, to which the “letters” (and the book of Revelation as a whole) are addressed, consult any reputable Bible Dictionary or Commentary, such as that by Craig R. Koester in the Anchor Bible set (Volume 38A, Yale: 2014), pp. 231-5, 255-349. This is an excellent modern critical Commentary which I have used extensively in the preparation of these notes.