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.
Questions & Observations
Q. So, this is all still John’s vision? Why is this so crazy compared to everything we have read before … except for some of those wild monsters we read about in the OT.
A. This is John’s vision, but it is written in a particular type of genre of writing called apocalyptic. It would have been a commonly used form for writing in this era, but since the Bible does not contain much of this type of literature (though parts of Zechariah, as we read yesterday, and Daniel 7-12 are examples we do have from the OT. Note how similar the visions in the second half of Daniel are to what we are reading).
Apocalyptic literature hit its “peak” in the intertestament period, when Jewish oppression drove writers to create visions of God avenging their deaths at the hands of cruel pagans. John, a Jew, is very familiar with this type of literature. The key characteristics of this type of writing are vivid use of symbols, animals, numbers, and colors; but it is also characterized by its contrast to what we would call prophetic writing. In prophetic writing (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, etc.), the situation is dire, but it is not too late for the people to repent — the common call of the prophet. But this is not the case in apocalyptic literature: it IS too late in this case to repent, God Himself must intervene to avenge what has been done to His faithful children, something we see over and over again. The wrath that is being poured out in these visions is to avenge those who have suffered at the hands of the unjust — something Christians had heavily experienced during the era of the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian.
Q. (Revelation 7:1-8): Where does the 144,000 come from? Are these Israelites alive or passed?
A. I’m going to assume you mean what is significant about it, because to me, the math is not in question (12 tribes, 12,000 sealed from each tribe). There are numerous theories about it: some say it is a symbolic number. One scholar I read noted that the number signifies completeness in two ways: by squaring the number of tribes (12×12) and multiplied by 1,000, which would have been understood to the original hearers as a sign of completeness. Others view it as a literal number of Jews saved (Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that ONLY 144,000 PEOPLE will be saved in total!) But there is not a lot of consensus. I tend to see it as a symbolic number, since it is from a book that deals in symbolic numbers, not literal headcounts. As to whether these Jews are alive or dead, that questions is impossible to answer, and is irrelevant anyway: they have completed their trial, so there is no longer a distinction between alive and dead- all are alive in Christ.
Q. (Revelation 7:14): Does the “crowd” refer to the rest of us — non-Israelites? I thought Israelites were put on a level playing field with everyone else. What is the great tribulation?
A. The common understanding is that the Jewish group is first seen by John as being a subsection of the great multitude, so that removes any notion of being the “special” section of the saved. The Jews are still God’s chosen people, and His plan of salvation for the entire world had its origins with them. But salvation is now for everyone. The crowd is the survivors of the great tribulation, which the rest of the book will be showing to us. Symbolically, this does describe all Christians from every nation and people, who ALL must pass through some form of trial and tribulation, either great or small. That’s the way that I read what John has written here: it is a victory celebration for those, Jew and Gentile throughout all time, have come to salvation in Christ.
Q. (Revelation 8:6-13): Why is the significance of the star’s name — Bitterness? How about the eagle?
A. The star has a few interpretations. Those who hold to a more literal, “this represents this” interpretation argue that the language of Rev. 8 represents events of great leaders who have fallen (a “falling star”) in the history of our world. I, frankly, don’t buy that, because there is no indication that this is what John means, and it requires too much pure speculation about who this is. I think that takes too much away from what John is doing — writing symbolically — in this work. I believe that the name, which refers to a type of plant, represents the coming bitterness that will befall the inhabitants of the earth in the midst of the coming tribulation. The eagle is sometimes seen as a symbol of pending destruction, as in Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 4:13, and Hosea 8:1 — note that in Jeremiah the warning is followed by a declaration of “woe to us” and in Hosea there are trumpets that precede the warning.
Q. (Revelation 9:1-12): Ouch. I don’t want to be in that crowd. Locusts are a popular pest in the Bible. Who is the Destroyer?
A. Most likely a symbolic personification of destruction, though some think that there is a powerful demon, a fallen angel, who is lord of the Abyss.
Q. (Revelation 9:13-21): Horses are popular in Revelation. And, colors are pointed out when they are mentioned — here, the riders. Why all the mutations of animals? These visions can’t be actual — like back with Joseph’s visions when the wheat symbolized his brothers.
A. Yes, they are visions. Horses are powerful symbols in this story because at the time, a warhorse would have been the most powerful weapon of war in existence. They symbolized power, control, and conquest, and to a certain degree, they still do today. Other animals — including some non-real ones coming up — are used because they often carry with them double meanings, the same reason that various colors are used. The images of wild beasts and vivid colors drive our imagination, exactly as John desires.
Q. (Revelation 10:1-11): Is the mighty angel Jesus? Can you point us back to the scripture that v.7 talks about when God revealed His plan to the prophets? And, what is being symbolized when John ate the small scroll and it tasted sweet and then bitter?
A. No, Jesus is NEVER referred to as an angel. It most likely refers to an archangel, one of the “high” classes of angels. There is no Scripture that tells the exact spot where God revealed His plan to the prophets: it simply didn’t work that way. God revealed pieces of His vision to the various men and women who were faithful to Him in the OT, and those visions, put together, and viewed through the “lens” of Jesus’ earthly ministry, gives us the vision for God’s plan. The sweet/bitter of the scroll harkens back to Ezekiel, who was also ordered to consume a bitter message. The sweetness is the inevitability of God’s victory, the good news. The bitterness/sour is that this victory will involve the suffering of many or the bad news. John must proclaim both messages, telling of Christ’s victory will be sweet, telling of suffering and persecution will be painful.