It only lasts two weeks. But the beauty of the poppy fields can last much longer. This is about 40 miles east of the church, on the way to Lancaster.
Revelation, or more properly apocalypse is the first word in the book. It is used in this book only in this place. Notice that God gave to Jesus and He in turn gives it to the angel who gives it to John. Only at the end of the verse do we find John’s name. It might seem unusual for the author to be writing in the third person. We expect it to be a first person (John’s document) document. But John carefully avoids any misunderstanding that may result from having the the source and content attributed to him. By 1:9, John switches to the first person so as to identify with his fellow Christians who are suffering.
Given the focus of content on Jesus Christ, the title of the writing could very well be “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” or “The Revelation of God.” The former makes sense because Jesus is front and center as to content and the delivery person from the Father. The latter makes sense because the Father is the ultimate source and revealer, who then reveals to His Son, Jesus Christ [see Matthew 11:25]. Jesus is then the medium through whom the father passes it to the Angel and then to humans. That the Son receives what He is and has from the Father is the constant teaching in the Gospel which John wrote: John 3:35; 5:20ff.; 5:26; 7:16; 8:28; 12:49; 16:15; 17:2ff. Jesus is the Revealer of this as He is enthroned in heaven, but He causes it to be realized in history [see 1 Cor. 15:26].
Next there is the angel whom Jesus commissions to guide John and to exhibit to him by means of visions the elements which are to be revealed. This angelic guide shows John a vision of heave, then earth, then the wilderness, then the new heaven and the new earth. The servant, John, is next in line to receive the revelation. The phrase “he bore witness” is typical in John’s Gospel and his three letters [John 1:15, 29-34; 21:24; 1 John 1:1-4; 5:10-12].
In 1:2 the phrase: “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” occurs in several significant places [1:9; 6:9; 20:4]. The revelation comes by means of a vision “he saw” — consistent with Old Testament prophetic visions. What better source than to have an eyewitness of the end write down the things which he had seen. John is seeing more than the end of the world—he is seeing the victory of the Lamb and His triumphant return. Throughout Revelation there are two phrases that emphasize the testimony/witness of Jesus to John: “I heard” (28 times) and “I saw” (49 times).
The symbol can also point to the reality behind it (or in our earlier lessons: the symbol has a referent). For instance, wedding rings are not marriage, but they signify the promises and reality of the wedding and the corresponding marriage.
Symbols in the Old Testament
In the Bible we find symbols quite often. In the Old Testament, we find memorial stones placed on the ephod:
Or when Joshua led the people across the Jordan River:
So Joshua summoned the 12 men he had selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, and said to them, “Go across to the ark of the LORD your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the LORD’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Joshua 4:4-7 HCSB)
The use of symbols increases in the prophetic writings, especially Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah. In the Writings (last division of the Hebrew Scriptures), Daniel incorporates the most symbols, and especially as it looks toward the future.
Variety of Symbols
We notice that there is symbolism from all aspects of life (references in parentheses are to Revelation):
Animal Kingdom: various colored horses (6:2), lamb (5:6, etc.), lion (4:7), calf (4:7), leopard (13:2), bear (13:2), locust (9:3), scorpion (9:5), frog (16:13), eagle (4:7), vultures, fish of the sea.
Plant Kingdom: trees (8:7), herbs, grasses (8:7).
The sky, sea, earth, and agricultural operations all for part of the scenic, beautiful, yet at times horrifying images symbolizing what God intended. Figures move across the stage of Scripture arrayed in a variety of colors and designs; some with priestly garb, others in sackcloth.
Symbols in Revelation
By the time we get to Revelation, John sets his writing in the midst of many symbols. The strange and sometimes monstrous images suggest something far more than even simple narrative can achieve. Most of the images come from the OT.
Place names: Euphrates, Egypt, Sodom, Hill of Megiddo, Babylon, and Jerusalem.
Names of People: Balaam, Jezebel
Concepts: Tree of Life, Book of Life, Water of Life, Two Witnesses
Other terms take on added or even new meanings: The Lord designated as the Lion and the Lamb, the Root of David (root of Jesse in Isaiah 11).
One of the key points is to realize that while the same name may be used in Revelation as in the OT, the referent (what it is pointing to may not be the same). For instance, in the OT Babylon has the referent the city/nation that looms over the horizon and where the two southern tribes are exiled. But in the NT we find Peter using Babylon in reference to something entirely different (1 Peter 5:13).
To all of this, John adds his own (through the Holy Spirit) symbols and meanings that are unique to his writings. The woman with the Child can find no parallel in Biblical or extra-Biblical literature. Also unique are the Seal openings, the Trumpet blasts, the outpouring of Bowls. While the idea of a millennium was around it had not been seen as a symbol of spiritual triumph.
Another caution. Some of what is written is not symbolic, but rather a use of images to heighten the coloring of scenes and add vividness to what we witness through John’s writing. And in some cases symbols are interpreted for the reader:
1:20 “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (NAS)
4:5 Flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder came from the throne. Seven fiery torches were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. (HCSB)
5:6 Then I saw One like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. (HCSB)
17:9 “Here is the mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated.” (HCSB)
17:12 The 10 horns you saw are 10 kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they will receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. (HCSB)
17:15 He also said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute was seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.” (HCSB)
But even with the aid to interpreting the symbol, we still have more problems: what is the referent in each case?
More to come…
Time Framework for Interpretation?
Time lines, tigers, and bears. It seems that the focus of end times and Revelation is often the basis for a timeline industry of interpreting prophecy. If you miss the timeline, then you miss the whole thing. But what if the common/popular view of time is not correct? What if there is another way to look at time and the framework based on time?
The assumption is that everything happens chronologically (over time). Hence John wrote Revelation in the same way. The story begins in the present and ends with the Parousia (Jesus’ final appearing).
Within this framework it is necessary to identify specific points on the line with specific historical events. Over the past 50 years as this view has gained popularity, we find a wide variety of events given significance on the end times timeline. But it keeps changing with each new event or interpreter.
This approach also places more stress on getting the timeline right rather than focusing on what Christ has encouraged: live in faith and trust in Jesus Christ, keep watch, and “lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” The focus on linear interpretation makes faithfulness dependent on your timeline, not on your heart that trusts God in all circumstances.
For the lack of a better term, this framework looks at Revelation as a series of recapitulations, retelling the events from different perspectives, each starting with the present and going to the end (Parousia). This diagram gives a simple view of the approach. In revelation, the scene repeats, but switches between earth and heaven.
So, Revelation 2-3 focuses on the people of God on earth. Revelation 4-5 shift the cycle to heaven, 6 is back on earth, while 7 once again shows a heavenly perspective.
That focal point is always on Christ in working out the perfect plan of salvation. So, we could present each cycle as this:
Thus, even as Christ is the center of history, he is the center of the book of Revelation—in each cycle, whether in heaven or on earth.
This little post on time and the framework for studying Revelation is not meant as the be-all-end-all of the discussion. Rather, I offer it as an alternative to the popular, strict linear interpretation of Revelation. In the process, perhaps we can learn even more from this writing in Scripture.
Here are a few snapshots of our team decorating for the 2014 Rose Bowl Parade.
What a delight it was for me to meet Gunya and Berhanu Moges. Both of them will be riding on the LHM float.
There was a walkway on the east side of the building so that you could look at all eleven floats from the “sky.” Quite spectacular!
On the left is a view of the Lutheran Hour float.
While the building is done and the painting underneath the pine branches is done (for determining flower color placement), this side of the float looks rather bland.
Not any more!
Working on the final touches on the back of the float.
While some tired, others were going strong, even with laughs!
Deatil and concentration definitely needed!
LCMS President Matt Harrison will be riding the float.
Even had the privilege of meeting National Cherry Queen at the float.
Another float that we helped decorate.
Two more aerial view of the floats.
We worked from 4 PM to midnight. Great group to work with. The float supervisors were fantastic, always engaging, helpful, knowledgeable.
Farewell from the sky.
An excellent way to spend a day before New Year’s Eve!
[PS Don’t try to push a float with your nose. It’s been tried, and they didn’t even give me style points!]
Prophecy 3: Limits of prophecy
Four ways that prophecy should not be used
- To satisfy human curiosity
- To determine the specific day of the end
- To disregard the historical factors related to the original prophecy
- To disregard the covenant with Abram
Six ways prophecy should be used
It should lead to…
- Firm faith in the true, living God
- Quiet faithfulness as we watch and wait for the redemptive acts of God when He ushers in the fullness of the true, everlasting reign of Christ
- Clear, calm, courageous evaluation of the arch enemy of God, Satan, and the forces of evil arrayed against God and His people
- Clear sighted recognition that the battle lines in history have been drawn as written in Genesis 3:15
The next section will cover linear and recapitulation as interpretive grids for understanding Revelation.
This post continues the discussion of the beginning of the Prophecy topic.
Fulfillment Greater than Prediction
The chief concern of prophecy is not
- to prove that God can predict future events with meticulous exactness before they happen.
- nor is it to construct a calendar of events with divine precision so as to chart history beforehand.
Both of these would make “walking by faith” unnecessary, since we would walk by what we see in events unfolding before our eyes.
A key point to remember is that the fulfillment is always greater than the original prediction. Consider two examples regarding the birth of the Savior:
The promise of a miraculous birth:
Isaiah gives a prophecy to Ahaz (and specifically the House of David) that a birth would provide relief from the nations: “Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering stubs of firebrands, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah.” As it turns out the immediacy of the prophecy is fulfilled within two years (Isaiah 8:3-4). Matthew shows that the original intent was bigger than Ahaz, or even the house of David, when Jesus is born in Bethlehem.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. (Isaiah 7:14 HCSB)
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 HCSB)
God’s deliverance of His Son:
What was an historical event (Exodus) is reflected by the prophet Hosea, and then expanded and applied by Matthew to the great deliverance do God’s Son, Jesus.
Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what Yahweh says: Israel is My firstborn son. (Exodus 4:22 HCSB)
He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son. (Matthew 2:15 HCSB)
Unifying Focal Point
God’s saving activity in all of history culminates in Jesus Christ and His work of active obedience (under the Law, Galatians 4:4-5) and passive obedience (1 Peter 3:18). The incarnation (God becoming flesh, John 1:14) is the line of demarcation between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant [testament], between prophecy and fulfillment. Significantly, all of Israel’s history must find its fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ (Romans 9:4-5). Israel as a political, military, social entity, such as during King David’s reign, is not the more significant thing in prophecy. Jesus Christ is Israel reduced to One. Israel in the New Testament is the community of God, made through faith in Jesus Christ.
Double Emphasis of Prophecy
Because God by His nature deal with sin—a holy and righteous God cannot endure sin—He established the covenant relationship with humans. The only way to fulfill the covenant was to take on human flesh (John 1:14) and then take the punishment that was properly required of humans. (Genesis 15:7-18). God deals with humans in one of two ways: judgment and redemption. In the Old Testament the terms were curses and blessings (for example Deuteronomy 27-28 under the Mosaic Law).
Focus on the Goal
As we read through the Old testament we clearly see God moving events toward the goal of His promises: the full realization of His gracious presence. God moves forward to the goal by his acts of judgment and redemption. Notice how the Psalmist has a sense of this movement:
When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny. Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin.
Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever. (Psalm 73:16-18, 23-26 HCSB)
The task for Christians is not to have every detail of every situation laid out in front of them. Rather, Christians share the prophetic faith that God has acted, is acting, and will act according to His covenant promises. Our goal is not to “prove” the accuracy of the Bible in predicting events, but to interpret when they take place in light of the prophetic word which God has provided.
How do we approach prophetic literature?
In this age of fear, too often the study of prophecy becomes even more fear-full. Bible teachers who proclaim fashionable topics related to prophecy and the end times frequently focus more attention on the “anti-christs” than on Christ himself. Current events are distorted as specific prophecies are detached from the historical framework, and become selectively attached to specific nations today.
The key to prophetic interpretation is to focus on the redemptive activity of God, rather than being caught up with the latest minute-by-minute drama of world events proclaimed by CNN/Fox News updates. Prophecy finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ—in his first coming in the first century, and in his second coming at the end of time.
Principles of prophetic interpretation
Too often interpreters will omit or bypass this crucial point. The original prophets wrote and spoke for their own day and time first and foremost, and then secondarily pointing toward the future. The function of the prophet was to speak to his own contemporaries the two fold message: Law and Gospel. By doing so he was calling the people to repentance and believing God’s promises of salvation. Two words help us keep this dual focus:
Forth-telling: speaking the Word of God to the people at the time of the prophet’s utterances.
The historical factor is important in both aspects of focus. A critical mistake is made by those who read prophecy out of context.
God entered into covenant with sinful humans. The primary covenants have been established by God and based on God’s grace; that is, all of God’s redemptive activity in history revolves around the covenant. The covenantal understanding of Biblical history does not lead to a “dispensational” approach, namely that God operates in different ways in each dispensation. Rather the covenantal understanding of history leads to a recognition of purpose and goal in human history. The entire prophetic message deals with sin, judgment, salvation, hope, faith, and the future, which all relate to God’s covenant with humans as fulfilled throughout history.
Critical Covenant texts
Genesis 12:1-3, 7; Genesis 15:1-6 (7-18); Genesis 17
Exodus 5:22-6:8; Exodus 19:4-6; Exodus 20:24
2 Samuel 7:12-13; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Amos 9:11
Matthew 26:26-28 (and parallels in Mark and Luke)
Romans 3-4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 8-9; 1 Peter 2:4-10
This refers to the prophetic look forward that cannot be separated from God’s covenant activity. The covenant with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 12 and 15, is expanded through specific instances with Moses, promised through David, and finally fulfilled in Christ (Messiah).
As noted above any fore-telling under the covenant can refer to near-term events, to Christ’s first coming, or to Christ’s second coming (end of time).
Never does a later expansion of one aspect of the covenant nullify or change the original covenant promise and fulfillment. That is, the specific covenant with the people of Israel (Exodus 20, etc.) cannot override the covenant with Abraham (see Galatians 3:15-29). Thus, those who want everything prophetic to focus on the nation of Israel lose the covenant perspective presented throughout the entire Bible. In such a twist of the prophetic message, Israel supplants Jesus Christ as the key to all of Biblical revelation, history, and prophetic proclamation. And such teaching takes away the glory of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do.
Sometimes a prophet will write a specific prophecy but include several components (near-term, 1st coming, 2nd coming) all with a couple verses. This gives the shortened perspective. I liken this to traveling west on I-70 across Kansas heading into Colorado. In the far distance, the traveler sees Pike’s Peak, and many smaller mountains. From the long perspective, it appears that some of the mountains and Pike’s Peak all meld into one mountain. But as the traveler continues, she discovers that she has to drive over many of those smaller mountains, and Pike’s Peak is still in the distance.
In prophecy we can experience that same thing. Joel 2:18-29 provides one example of several future events (restoration of the nation, pouring out the Holy Spirit, Acts 2, signs of the end, etc.) all melded into one prophetic event. Such a caution will help us avoid taking texts out of context and thus interpret texts within linguistic context and within covenant context.
Even more, we then can see how the New Testament sees fulfillment in Christ.
[Yahweh said:] “In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the ddays of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,”
[James said:] “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,
so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the gentiles who are called by my name,’ says the lord, who makes these things known from long ago.
So a text that seems Israel-specific is in fact according to the New Testament, much broader in fulfillment in Christ and ultimately demonstrates the covenant fulfillment of Genesis 12:1-3.
What more could you ask for? On the drive home this afternoon—as I picked up mail, this view was grabbing my attention. So I snapped a quick shot.
Now, Not Yet
This section ends the introductory topics to understanding the Bible and specifically the framework of the Biblical message. As with the last several topics, this is directly pertinent to the study of the end times and specifically Revelation.
When we look at the issue of salvation we have discovered several “time” aspects of it already.
The Past and Present Aspects of Salvation
Past (for all)
Salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago (1 John 2:2)
namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19 NAS)
Past (for the individual person)
Salvation delivered to us through God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 10:17, etc.) and Baptism (1 Peter 3:21, etc.).
Present (for the individual Christian)
Salvation delivered to us through God’s Word (2 Peter 3:18, etc.), Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-27), Absolution (Matthew 18:15-20; Ephesians 4:32, etc.).
Ephesians 2:8 offers the above two aspects of salvation for the person. The verb (ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι) is in the perfect tense: something accomplished in the past is still effective in the present. Note how NAS and HCSB cover both notions in their translations:
NAS: For by grace you have been saved through faith (past tense)
HCSB: For you are saved by grace through faith (present tense)
The Future Aspect of Salvation
But now we look to the future aspect of salvation. We can look at several passages, but here are just a couple.
[Jesus said:] “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels, with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:31-34 HCSB)
Notice that Jesus mentions that on the last day we gain the inheritance that has been promised for those who believe in Him. There is something ahead, the promise of heaven and all that God desires. This is the future aspect of our salvation.
Hence, we live in a “now, not yet” existence. Are we saved? Yes! Have we received everything that Christ has obtained? Not yet.
Living in the Now, Not Yet
How do we as Christians live and grow in this “now, not yet” life? God has given us His Word and the Lord’s Supper for that growth.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; (John 8:31 NAS)
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NAS)
Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi concerning the end, “holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ…” (Philippians 2:16)
In the New Testament the Greek word “covenant” also can be translated as “testament” or even in some contexts “last will and testament.” In legal terms, a testator is a person who has written and executed a last will and testament that is in effect at the time of the person’s death. Thus, Jesus institutes his last will and testament, which becomes effective when the Jesus dies.
for this is My blood of the (last will and) testament, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28 NAS)
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new (last will and) testament in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
…more to come in part B