Day 360b (Dec. 26): Introduction to Revelations

Welcome to Bible Bum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Since Revelation can be a complicated book and is like no other in the Bible, Rob offered up this introduction to Revelations.  It helps get you in the right frame of mind before you dive into it.  Enjoy!

Introduction to Revelation

by Rob Fields

Revelation is both the strangest and least understood book of the Bible.  Some people say that Revelation is an exact blueprint for the future that merely needs to be interpreted, others say that it’s really about the past, and others find it merely to be an unfiltered glimpse into heaven and heavenly worship.  The landscape of Revelation is dotted with numbers, images, creatures, visions, and the wrath of God.  We could spend a year just looking at different aspects of the story, but for now, we will examine important aspects of the text that I believe will make it easier to understand.  In this lesson, we are going to look at five important overview concepts for understanding Revelation.

Five things you should know about Revelation:

1) John (the author) is writing in a particular genre of literature: apocalyptic literature.

2) The more Old Testament you know, the more sense Revelation makes.

3) In general, images presented in Revelation should be interpreted symbolically, NOT literally.

4) Revelation predicts the future, but not in the way we really want it to.

5) The story of Revelation is really the story of Jesus, the one who is worthy.

1: Genre is everything

?) Imagine that the only kind of books you had ever read were romance novels.  Now imagine that you picked up a mystery or detective story for the first time.  What do you think your reaction would be?

Probably the most intimidating thing about Revelation is the language.  The chapters of the book are full of great images: beasts covered with eyes worshipping God, brightly colored horses that bring death and famine, an army of warrior locusts, a great red dragon, beasts with seven heads and ten horns, and so on.  The language can appear to make the meaning so cloudy that we just give up and don’t bother trying to understand the image that John is painting for us.

It is an important thing to recognize the style, or genre, that the author is writing in.  This is the genre of the apocalypse. (Apocalypse is Greek for “the act of revealing” or “unveiling” — this is why Revelation is also known as the Apocalypse of John.)  Apocalyptic literature was originally a Jewish writing style where circumstances had become so bad that God himself intervened on behalf of his people.  We tend to think that Revelation is unique because it is the only book of the sort that we have read.  But if we examine some other samples of this literature, I think we will move away from this overemphasis on the images in Revelation.

So I have a little test for you.  At the end of this lesson, I have placed four samples of this kind of literature for you to examine.  Read each of them, and see if you can find the one passage that comes from Revelation (they are labeled at the end).

2: Go old school

Revelation is fairly unique among NT books, in that it does not usually quote from the Old Testament.  There are only a few quotations from the OT in Revelation, but the book is full of images from the OT, and we are going to sample some here.

1) Time, times, and half a time (Rev. 12:14).

2) Manna (Rev. 2:17)

3) Four horsemen (Rev 6) — color is important!

4) Four living creatures (Rev. 4)

5) Sound of rushing waters (Rev. 1:15)

6) The two witnesses: (Rev 11:6) witness #1 — no rain; witness #2 — water to blood.

7) Tree of life (Rev. 2:7 and Rev 22)

Using the concordance such as the keyword search on Biblegateway.com and your knowledge of the Old Testament, find a reference for each of these seven images.  When you have a reference, see if you can infer what each of these images is being used to show.

As I believe you can see, the more OT you know, the easier it is to understand Revelation

3: Keep it Symbol

With Revelation, we as readers tend to overanalyze the imagery that is being described to us.  The main danger of Revelation is that we will bring our own meaning, biases, and interpretations into our reading of the text.  We must be very careful about doing this, for the reasons we have already talked about.  We must also be careful about interpreting images too literally.  Let’s look at an example:

In Revelation 5:6, the “lamb of God” has “seven horns and seven eyes.”  A literal interpretation of this verse will give us an image such as:

That seems a bit ridiculous if you ask me.  But, what if we examined each part of the verse separately?  First, we have the number 7.  What are some of the biblical associations with the number 7?  Seven represents completeness, or wholeness.  Now let’s examine the horn.  We have lost the association with this, but in ancient societies, the horn — such as on a ram or bull — represented power.  The eyes, like today, represent seeing or vision.  So, if we combine the images, we get the following:

7 (completeness) + horn (power) + eye (seeing) = all powerful and all seeing. 

The verse is shorthand for these things.  This is one example, and much of Revelation is not that simple, but in general, we can watch for the following symbols:

Numbers: numbers are almost always significant, they include: 3, 3½ (half of seven), 4, 6, 7, 12, 144 (12×12), etc.

Objects: Eyes, horns, crowns, swords, scrolls, robes, etc.

Animals: Horses, lions, lambs, dragons, beasts, bulls, eagles, men,

Locations: Babylon (we’ll talk about this), Heaven, the earth, the sea, the stars, etc.

4: Ask the magic 8-Ball

?) What are some of the ways people try to predict the future?  How do you think God feels about such efforts?

It is my belief that the Bible does predict the future, but not in such a way that we could make a profit from such efforts, or be able to blueprint the future.

Read Matthew 24: 36-44.  What do these verses tell us?  What should this tell us about Revelation?

The “future” that Revelation predicts is that God will be victorious in the end, because of what Jesus Christ has done for each of us.  Revelation, then, tells us only how the story will end: with God and his followers victorious.  What benefit does this have for us?

There is a legend of a general whose army was tired and outnumbered by the opposing force.  The men needed to be rallied.  The general gathered his army to him, and held up a coin.  I’m going to flip this coin, he said, and if the eagle lands face up, we will win, but if the wolf lands up, we will lose this day.  He flipped the coin, and the soldiers held their breath as the coin flew through the air.  The eagle side landed up, and the soldiers let out a huge cheer.  Reinvigorated by the general, the soldiers rallied and won the day.  Only afterwards did the general reveal the secret: the eagle was on both sides of the coin.  It was the knowledge that the victory was assured by the toss of the coin that led the soldiers to win the day.

Knowing that you are on the winning side is powerful, and should empower each of us to be better “soldiers” for God.  This, I believe, is the true power of the Book of Revelation, for God’s people to have just a glimpse of the power that is on our side.

5: The One Who is Worthy

We have covered a lot of material tonight, and I don’t want to over saturate you with material.  So instead of getting too deep with the text itself, we will begin our look at Revelation just by reading chapter 1 aloud.  (We’ll return to it next week for some explanation).  Note any details that seem important based upon what we have shared tonight.  Read it again this week, with chapters 2 and 3.  I think that you will see that the character of Jesus Christ is the center of this text, as the author intended.
Sample of Apocalyptic Literature:

4 Ezra is a Jewish writing from between the OT and NT, but not part of the Bible.  The Apocalypse of Peter is a Christian writing from the era of the early church (circa 150 AD), but it is NOT part of the NT.  Zechariah is part of the OT as we read, and the last passage is from Revelation itself.  Note the patterns in the use of broad, symbolic language, and the use of color, rising and falling, animals, and visions.

Passage 1:

And it came to pass on the second night I had a dream, and behold, there came up from the sea an eagle that had twelve wings.  And I looked, and behold, he spread his wings over all the earth, and all the winds of heaven blew upon him, and the clouds were gathered about him.  And I looked, and behold, the eagle flew with his wings, to reign over the earth and over those who dwell in it.  And I saw how all things under heaven were subjected to him, and no one spoke against him, not even one of the creatures that was on the earth.  And I looked, and behold, the eagle rose upon his talons, and uttered a cry to his wings, saying, “Do not all watch at the same time; let each sleep in his own place and watch in his turn.” – 4 Ezra 11:1-9

Passage 2:

And the Lord showed me a very great country outside of this world, exceeding bright with light, and the air there lighted with the rays of the sun, and the earth itself blooming with unfading flowers and full of spices and plants, fair-flowering and incorruptible and bearing blessed fruit. And so great was the perfume that it was reached even to us. And the dwellers in that place were clad in the linen of shining angels and their clothes were like unto their country; and angels hovered about them there. And the glory of the dwellers there was equal, and with one voice they sang praises alternately to the Lord God, rejoicing in that place. The Lord said to us: This is the place of your high-priests, the righteous men. — Apocalypse of Peter 15-19

Passage 3:

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze!  The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth pail—all of them powerful.  I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”  The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.  The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”  When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. – Zechariah 6:1-7

Passage 4:

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there.  But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.  And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.  If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. — Revelation 11:1-6

Day 255 (Sept. 12): Zechariah’s vision of horses and chariots, Jeshua to serve as king and priest of Jerusalem, Tattenai and others question Temple’s reconstruction, King Darius approves rebuilding, Israelites ask to be released from fasting and mourning, God promises that Jerusalem will be a destination for surrounding nations to come to worship God

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Zechariah 6:1-15

Ezra 5:3-17

Ezra 6:1-14a

Zechariah 7-8

Questions & Observations

Q. (Zechariah 6:6): What happened to the red horses stated in v. 2?

A. I’ve seen a couple of answers to this question, but honestly I don’t find them especially satisfactory.  It might be that the red horse (symbolizing war) didn’t need to go anywhere, as war was all around Israel and therefore there was no particular destination needed.  One commentary I looked at indicated that the red horses’ job might be to patrol the whole earth and therefore is not assigned a direction.  Like I said, meh: I don’t find either of those especially compelling.  So I would say that the “destination” for the red chariot is a mystery or unrevealed by Zechariah.

Q. (6:11): I thought you said that “Branch” was a name for the Messiah.  Here it’s used to say Jeshua.

A. Remember that Messiah or Christ simply means “anointed,” chosen by God.  So, in a sense, Jeshua (same name as Jesus please note, just in Aramaic instead of Greek.  Both names, along with “Joshua” in Hebrew, mean the same thing: the Lord saves) is chosen to fill the office of High Priest.  There are three offices in Judaism that were anointed, usually with olive oil: King, Priest, and Prophet.  And while Christ personifies the ultimate expression of each of these, that does not mean that others do not fill the office until His reign.  Jeshua is the High Priest before the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).

Q. (Ezra 5:3-17): Why were these leaders questioning the rebuilding of the Temple so much?  Did they feel threatened?

A. I am not sure.  They may have just been concerned about the potential threat to the empire, but they clearly gave the benefit of the doubt to the Jewish workers, as they did not stop them from working while they checked up on things.

Q. (6:6-8): I guess King Darius put Tattenai and company in their place, but why should they have to pay for the reconstruction?  They are to blame for the Temple becoming defiled?

A. No, they are not to blame, but are rather officials of Darius, and they were being given orders to use treasury money to pay for the efforts, since Darius controlled the area.  So in a sense, Darius is paying for the cost himself.

Q. (Zechariah 7:4-6): I like this message because whenever I hear someone brag about things they are doing for the Lord, I just wonder if they are doing them for the Lord or to get an “A” for good deeds.  If they are bragging, I wouldn’t think they would be doing it for God.

A. Amen.

Q. (8:1-23): There is so much energy in this reading.  I would have loved to have been there.  I’m just wondering what modern-day Jerusalem is like.  Is there any holiness left to it?  Do you have any knowledge of what state it’s in?

A. Alas, I know almost nothing about its present state, other than there are holy sites of three of the great monotheistic religions in the world there.  Pilgrims of each of these faiths journey to the Holy city every year, but sadly, I don’t know much.  Honestly, I could probably tell you more about what it WAS like than what it IS like.  I would, however, love to go and find out for myself.

Day 253 (Sept. 10): Daniel’s vision of a messenger on a horse, king of south and north continually battle, Daniel’s instructions for the end, call to rebuild the temple, obedience to God’s call

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Daniel 10-12:13

Ezra 4:24-5:1

Haggai 1

Questions & Observations

Q. (Daniel 10:3): Why no meats, wine or fragrant lotions?

A. He is fasting from the luxuries of the Persian kingdom.  It is similar to the notions from chapter 1 when Daniel and his friends forsook the rich foods of Babylon because of their defiling effect.

Q. (Daniel 10:5): Do we know who the man is at the river?  And, why do we often read about clothes made of linen?

A. We only know what Daniel tells us about him: he is not named (though the archangel Michael is), but is an angelic messenger of God who arrives to answer the prayers of Daniel who appears to be asking for more information on the events to come that we saw mentioned in the previous chapter.

Q. (10:12-14): Can you tell us why this segment is about angels and spirit princes?  Also, I looked up archangel on Wikipedia, which opens a whole set of questions about archangels, and more interesting to me about books that are in other religions but not the Christian.  As Christians, I just wonder if it’s worth our curiosity to investigate.  In an “archangel” search, Wikipedia mentions the books of Tobit (Catholic), Enoch (Jewish literature), 2 Esdras (Christian/Jewish) and are there others?  Why were they not considered Holy Scriptures to put in the Bible?  How do experts know that God didn’t consider them divine?

A. Ho boy, you’ve opened a whole big can of worms.  Let’s try to sort this all out.  First, we have seen references to angels before, and the implication of this verse is that there is some sort of hierarchy to angels — and possibly demons as well — that we only have glimpses of.  We aren’t really given details WITHIN SCRIPTURE about what it means to be an archangel (that should always be our starting point- ESPECIALLY since we’re dealing with beings beyond our understanding).  So basically, that’s as far as we can go on that side of the discussion: archangels exist, but that’s all we know for sure.  So let’s look at how we got to this point and address the materials themselves.

Let’s deal with the books you mentioned: In the canon of the Protestant Christian Bible (more on why in a sec, but bare with me), there are only two named angels: Gabriel (which means God is my strength) and Michael (Who is like God?).  But in the tradition of the Jews (its non-canonical for them as well), there is an inter-testament writing called Enoch (which you caught onto) that describes SEVEN archangels (7 being our number for completion or perfection): Gabriel, Michael, Raphael (God heals), Uriel (God is my light), Raguel (Friend of God), Ramiel (Thunder of God), and Sariel (Command of God).  These are powerful angelic beings that watch over Israel in the midst of the difficult persecutions that they faced between the OT and the NT (more on that later).

Enoch (or Enoch I) was a compilation work of various stories, including about angels.  Jews and Christians do not generally consider it be canonical: Jews exclude it because it was not written in Hebrew (it was written in Aramaic), but the writing was extremely influential on Jewish thought in the time of Jesus and the early Church.  A number of early Church fathers refer to the work in their writings (not part of the NT) and there are a few vague references to it in scripture (such as the very short letter of Jude).  Because it was a part of the tradition of the early Church, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church accept it as part of what we call the Apocrypha, but it is NOT considered it be on the same level as the OT and NT.  Still, they nonetheless consider it worth studying, and it is found between the Testaments in a Catholic (or Orthodox) Bible.  So to Catholics and Jews, it is an influential work, but not on the same level as inspired Scripture.  And before you get all over the “how do they know?” angle, that’s mostly because it really doesn’t say anything new about God: it mostly repeats and expands upon other well known stories of the OT, which is part of the reason that it doesn’t have that much influence today, even if it did back then.  The men who compiled the canon put a lot of thought into which books to include and exclude, and they ALWAYS have good reasons for exclusion, so don’t lose any sleep over that.

As to the other books you mentioned, in a Catholic Bible you will ALSO find Tobit and 2 Esdras, whose content you can read about online but I won’t bother going into here to keep us on topic.  So no worries about writings about archangels in OTHER religions, all the books you mentioned can be found within any Catholic Bible.  (Just FYI, you can find any of the writings online through Biblegateway.com or any number of Catholic sites.  They are very interesting reads.)

As to why Protestants do not include the Apocrypha, you can thank none other than Mr. Martin Luther.  Luther is credited with creating the list of canonical Scriptures for his newly created Lutheran church back around 1520.  The list he generated is still used by Protestants around the world today.  Luther’s reasoning is that since the Jews rejected it, it probably wasn’t worth including, and anything that reeked of Catholicism at that point (the beginnings of the Reformation) had to go, so…out it went.  So I think you can see that none of the source material you mentioned has even been considered part of the canon for either Jews or Christians, and even the ones who include it (Catholics and Orthodox) do so in it’s own section of the Bible.

Q. (11:2-45): This vision seems to go at quadruple speed to make an account of all the changes in power and rifts between the kings of the south and north.  What do we need to take from it, if anything?

A. As I mentioned yesterday, it refers to the power struggle between two of the nations that form after Alexander the Great died and his empire was chopped up.  It is the King of the North (Antiochus Epiphanes) who will desecrated the Temple in his attempt to dismantle Jewish worship and will incite the rebellion I mentioned yesterday (the Times, Time, and half Time refers to the three and a half years (2, 1, ½) of revolt before the Temple is restored.  That’s the basic understanding of the reading, and when we move to the NT, we will skip over these events and move into the modern era.

Q. (12:1-4, 9): So is Revelation being described here or is it about the fall of Israel?  And, why would God want Daniel to know about this, especially since it’s not happening for a while (right?) and tell him to keep it secret.

A. The angel is describing an apocalyptic event, that is, an event where the world ends.  The Bible casts multiple visions for what this looks like (Jesus Himself will provide one), but this is one of the oldest, and John, who wrote Revelation, will refer back to it.  As to why God told Daniel to keep it a secret, I have no good answer for that.

O. (Haggai 1): If you are wondering who Haggai was, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haggai

Day 145 (May 25): Solomon builds towns and ships, Sheba impressed with Solomon’s wisdom and success, Solomon lavishes in wealth, Solomon acquires horses and chariots

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

2 Chronicles 8:1-18

1 Kings 9:15-10:29

2 Chronicles 9:13-28

2 Chronicles 1:14-17

Questions & Observations

Q. (1 Kings 9:27): Hiram certainly did a lot of work for Solomon.  Why is he so loyal to Solomon?

A. Two options: one is that he is really being loyal to God’s chosen leader, so he is really being faithful to God not Solomon.  The other is that he desired the favor of the king who clearly made him wealthy, even if they had some disagreements over HOW good the properties were.  As we have mentioned, it was not a good idea to be on the king’s bad side.

Q. (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12): After reading this once, I thought this is a great story, but nothing I don’t already know.  But, on a second read, I thought about the lavish gifts exchanged between Solomon, Sheba and Hiram.  Rob, you were right when you said that Solomon was a diplomat.  But, with his wisdom, I would think that it would not be just for his gain, but for mutual gain of the one’s he’s befriending and also, just because he’s a god-loving person and wants to give them the mutual respect that friends give one another.

A. Yes indeed.  And Solomon’s gain is the gain of his nation.  What an image of saying that Solomon’s influence made gold and silver as worthless as stone!

Q. (1 Kings 10:19): Why lions?  Because they are king of the land?  With all of this adornment on his throne, I hope he doesn’t forget that there is a much bigger king above him.

A. Alas, he will in a way.  The lion, is, naturally king of the land.  In those days lions could still be found in the Middle East, so seeing one wasn’t out of the question.  The lion is also the symbol of Judah’s house (Judah was the lion’s cub of Jacob back in Genesis 49).

Q. (1 Kings 10:22): Apes and peacocks?  My footnote says baboons and peacocks.  Why would Solomon want them?

A. We’re not exactly sure what the Hebrew means here, either monkeys or peacocks, because it’s the only place in the Bible where it is used.  I presume they were used for pets or perhaps Solomon had a zoo or something like it to entertain guests.  People still keep all of those things as pets today — sadly for the apes and monkeys — and VERY sadly for the people who live near a person with a peacock.  I’ve been near one and they are incredibly noisy and annoying!

Q. (1 Kings 10:23): Did Israel have a commodity to trade or are they just making their fortune from all of these gifts.  The nation is recognized because it’s where the Lord resides in the temple and for Solomon’s wisdom?

A. It is, but clearly there were things that the people were trading as well, probably woodcraft, metal workings/jewelry, foodstuffs (remember the fertile soil in the land), and aquaculture (since part of the land is by the sea).  But what is making all of these things desirable is Solomon himself.

Q. (2 Chronicles 1:14-17): Why is Solomon building such a big army right now?  Is it the size of the force helps intimidate the enemy?

A. Most likely.  Solomon’s about to have some enemies.  It’s down hill from here.