Category Archives: Bible Interpretation

Commentary on Matthew 26 (The Last Supper) – #7 Post of 2017

During the week before the Passover Feast, the Jewish authorities have been looking for a way to arrest Jesus and they finally find one. In Matthew 26, verses 14-16, Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, betrays him. Judas goes to the chief priests and offers to help them arrest Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. This amount represents about four months of wages for Judas. To put this in perspective, this would be the equivalent of about $18k for the average American worker today.

Why would Judas offer to betray Jesus? Scripture does not tell us directly, but we can guess. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, offers the following: “Perhaps most plausible is an intermediate view, which sees Judas as growing increasingly disenchanted with the type of Messiah Jesus is proving to be, a far cry from the nationalistic, military liberator the Jews hoped would free them from Roman tyranny.”

On Thursday afternoon of the Passion Week, Jesus arranges for himself and the twelve disciples to eat the Passover meal that evening in a large upper room in a private home. Jesus and his disciples recline on three couches that form a U-shape (referred to as a triclinium). The food and wine are in the center of the U. The meal would only start after sundown because Passover begins after sundown.

Michael Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), explains how the Passover meal would have looked:

The ‘Haggadah of Passover’ was the set form in which the Exodus story was told on the first two nights of Passover as part of the ritual Seder (‘order’). The expression ‘Haggadah of Passover’ then came to be used for the entire Seder ritual as well as for the book containing the liturgy and ritual narration of the events of Deuteronomy 26:5–9 (first referred to in m. Pesah. 10). Central to the meal were three foods—unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and the Passover offering (lamb in temple days)—along with the four (traditional) cups of wine.

During the meal, each of the disciples would dip bitter herbs into a mixture of nuts, fruit, and vinegar to lessen their bitterness. Also, bread would be dipped in sauces. Just before the meal begins, Jesus announces to the disciples that he “who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” The mood of the meal turns to sorrow as each of the disciples asks Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” Judas asks Jesus if it is him, and Jesus answers, “You have said so.” It seems likely that Judas and Jesus’ conversation is private because the other disciples don’t seem aware that it is Judas who will betray Jesus. Otherwise, they surely would have confronted him during the meal.

In verse 24, Jesus affirms that the betrayal was prophesied in the Old Testament and is thus part of the divine plan. However, the person who actually betrays Jesus is responsible for freely choosing to do so. Judas will be damned because of his betrayal. Presumably, Judas leaves the meal at this point, although Matthew does not report it (his departure is reported in John). The other disciples still don’t suspect what he is up to.

Jesus then begins the Passover meal by breaking bread and saying a blessing over it, but he also gives a new command to the disciples: “Take, eat; this is my body.” Blomberg explains Jesus’ meaning:

A common loaf would be distributed to all. The unleavened bread originally symbolized the haste with which the Israelites departed from Egypt (Exod 12). For additional laws about how to celebrate the feast, see Lev 23:4–8; Num 9:1–14; and Deut 16:1–8. Jesus now invests the bread with new meaning. It foreshadows his body figuratively broken and literally killed in his upcoming death.

Deflecting intra-Christian debates about whether the bread is, in some sense, actually Jesus’ body, Blomberg writes,

As Jesus holds up a loaf and declares, ‘This is my body,’ no one listening will ever imagine that he is claiming the bread to be the literal extension of his flesh. Moreover, in Aramaic these sentences would have been spoken without a linking verb (‘is’), as simply, this, my body and this, my blood. As frequently elsewhere, Jesus is creating a vivid object lesson. The bread symbolizes (represents, stands for, or points to) his crucifixion in some otherwise unspecified sense.

During the Passover meal, four cups of wine would be consumed. Each had special significance, according to Michael Wilkins.

(1) The first cup initiated the ceremony with the Kiddush, the cup of benediction, a blessing over wine that introduces all festivals. (2) The second cup just before the meal and after the Haggadah of the Passover concluded with the singing of the first part of the Hallel (Ps. 113–114). (3) The third cup was drunk after the meal and the saying of grace. (4) The fourth cup followed the conclusion of the Hallel (Ps. 115–118) (m. Pesah 10:1–7).

Just before the third cup of wine was to be passed around, Jesus again gives a new command. Blomberg explains that the third cup is “tied in with God’s promise, ‘I will redeem you,’ in [Exodus 6:6c] and hence specifically to his original liberation of the Israelites from Egypt (m. Pesaḥ. 10:6–7).

Jesus ties the cup of wine to the blood he will spill on the cross. This blood sacrifice will result in the forgiveness of sins for many people (those who accept Jesus). This language echoes Isaiah 53, where Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, or the Messiah who will come. But Jesus is also announcing the beginning of a new covenant. Wilkins writes:

The traditional cups of the Passover celebration now offer another stunning illustration for Jesus to show that his sacrificial life is the fulfillment of all that for which the historical ritual had hoped. This is the new covenant that was promised to the people of Israel by God: ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ (Jer. 31:31, 34).

In verse 29, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not ever drink wine at another meal with them until the great banquet that accompanies the inauguration of the messianic kingdom at the end of the age.

The combination of eating bread and drinking wine, as Jesus directed during this Passover meal, has become known as the Lord’s Supper. Blomberg believes there are two key reasons for celebrating the Lord’s Supper:

One looks backward; the other, forward. First, we commemorate Jesus’ redemptive death. Second, we anticipate his return in company with all the redeemed. These two points remain central to all three Synoptic accounts and should form the heart of any theology of this ordinance.

After the meal, the disciples accompany Jesus out of Jerusalem and back east to the Mount of Olives, where they will spend the night. When they arrive, Jesus surprises them by telling the eleven remaining disciples that every one of them will abandon him because of the events that would transpire this Thursday night. When a shepherd is struck, his sheep will scatter. However, unlike Judas, the disciples will get another chance to renew their allegiance to Jesus after he rises from the dead and meets them in Galilee.

The disciple, Peter, once again sticking his foot in his mouth, insists that even though all the other disciples abandon Jesus, Peter will never do so. Jesus corrects Peter and tells him that he will deny Jesus three times before dawn breaks Friday morning (before the rooster crows). Peter, however, vows along with the other disciples that he would die before denying Jesus.  How is Peter’s denial of Jesus different from Judas’ betrayal Jesus to the chief priests? Blomberg writes:

Peter’s impulsive denial of Jesus is obviously not as treacherous as Judas’s premeditated betrayal, but Jesus has already said that any who disown him ‘before men’ he will disown before his Heavenly Father (10:33). So the difference between Peter and Judas lies primarily in their subsequent behavior. One may either deny or betray Christ and be forgiven if one genuinely repents. Without repentance (a change of heart followed by right action), both remain equally damning.

Commentary on Acts 8 (Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch) – #8 Post of 2017

In chapter 8 of Acts, Stephen’s death sparks an intense persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Many of the believers must flee the city, but the apostles decide to stay. It seems likely that the persecution was targeted more toward the Greek-speaking Christians, as they were more closely associated with Stephen. However, the persecution may have spread to the Hebrew Christians as well. Saul tracks down Christians and has them arrested and thrown in prison. Some brave Christians give Stephen a proper burial, even though it was prohibited by Jewish law.

The attacks on the Christians in Jerusalem have an unintended consequence, however. As they flee the city and travel to other towns and villages, the believers start to spread the story of Jesus to the surrounding region, something they hadn’t done for the first several years after Pentecost.

Luke focuses on Philip. Recall that he was one of the seven chosen to ensure the Hellenist widows were cared for. As a Hellenist Christian, he was probably one of the first to leave Jerusalem. He travels to a city in Samaria and preaches “the Christ.” It is unclear which city Philip visits first, although Darrell Bock suggests Sychar (see map below). Sychar is the religious center of Samaria, so it would make sense that Philip would go there first.

Philip performs miraculous exorcisms and healings, all of which cause the Samaritans to listen to what he has to say about Jesus. Luke reports that a significant number receive the message and that there is great joy in the city.

In verses 14-17, Luke reports that Peter and John travel from Jerusalem to see for themselves what is happening in Samaria. When Peter and John arrive, they pray for the Samaritan converts and lay hands on them. Immediately, the Holy Spirit manifests himself in the new believers. We are not sure what occurs, but we can speculate that they were able to speak in foreign languages just as the disciples were able to do at Pentecost. In fact, some scholars refer to this event as the Samaritan Pentecost.

A question arises, however, as to why the Samaritan believers did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit when they professed and were baptized in Jesus’ name. Only after Peter and John lay hands on them does this occur.

As mentioned in a previous lesson, there is not a set pattern in the Book of Acts for baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit, so we must not take this particular story and try to make it normative for the church. It seems that the addition of the Samaritans to the early church required apostolic confirmation to keep the church from dividing. We need to remember that the Jews and Samaritans actively dislike each other. Clinton Arnold, in , recounts the history of the Samaritans:

The Samaritans viewed themselves as Israelites, true remnants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who maintained a monotheistic faith and upheld the Torah as holy scripture. They kept the rite of circumcision, regularly observed the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals, and honored Moses as the greatest of the prophets. The Jews, however, viewed the Samaritans as ‘half breeds’—descendants of Mesopotamian (Gentile) colonists who settled in the area and intermarried with the Jews remaining there after the Jewish exile by Assyria (2 Kings 17:24-31).

At the heart of the schism between Jews and Samaritans in the first century was the fact that Samaritans rejected the Jewish temple worship. Three centuries earlier, they had constructed their own temple on Mount Gerizim. They also rejected all of the Hebrew Bible except the first five books of Moses. The hostility intensified in the century before Christ when John Hyrcanus destroyed their temple (107 B.C.) and devastated many of their cities. Under the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (167 B.C.), they had requested that their temple be dedicated to Zeus Hellenios, thus identifying Zeus with Yahweh.

The Jewish rabbi Ben Sira refers to the Samaritans as ‘the foolish people that live in Shechem.’ Jews regarded Samaritans on the same level as Gentiles in ritual and purity matters. Not only did Jews prohibit intermarriage with Samaritans, but they did not even allow a Samaritan to convert to Judaism. The apostle John summarizes the situation well when he says, ‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans’ (John 4:9).

If the apostles did not personally visit the new Samaritan converts and confirm that they were truly added to the church by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, there would likely have been a schism. The bad blood between the Samaritans and Jews would have caused considerable damage to the movement. But with the Holy Spirit coming to the Samaritans, all doubts are erased, and church unity is preserved.

In verse 26, an angel instructs Philip to leave Samaria and go down south of Jerusalem onto the road that leads past Gaza (see map above). As Philip is walking on the road, an Ethiopian official is riding in a chariot and reading aloud from an Isaiah scroll. Clinton Arnold explains that in the

Greco-Roman period, ‘Ethiopia’ referred to the land south of Egypt—what is today the Sudan and modern Ethiopia. In Old Testament times, this was the land of Cush (see Est. 1:1; 8:9; Isa. 11:11). The term ‘Ethiopia’ has come to mean the land of the ‘Burnt-Faced People,’ indicating their black skin. The man whom Philip encounters is most likely from the kingdom of Nubia located on the Nile River between Aswan and the Fourth Cataract (a waterfall-like area of rapids). The capital of this region is Meroe.

Since the Ethiopian had come to Jerusalem to worship, he would have been called a God-fearer. God-fearers are people who worship the God of Israel, but who are not official converts to Judaism (proselytes). In this case, because the Ethiopian is a eunuch, Jewish law forbids him from becoming a proselyte. Arnold surmises, “As a Gentile God-fearer, he could not have taken part in the temple services in Jerusalem. At the most, he could be admitted into the Court of the Gentiles. Perhaps the Ethiopian came for one or more of the three great pilgrim festivals (Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles).”

The Holy Spirit directs Philip to engage with the eunuch, so Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch tells him no and invites Philip into his chariot to explain the words (Isaiah 53:7-8) to him. Philip explains that the sheep led to slaughter is none other than the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. From there, Philip expands upon how the Scriptures all point toward Jesus as the promised Messiah.

As the chariot passes by water, the eunuch asks Philip to baptize him because the eunuch has understood and believed what Philip has said about Jesus. Philip baptizes the eunuch and then disappears, taken by the Holy Spirit to a city just north called Azotus. Philip continues his missionary work up the coast of Judea and Samaria until he reaches Caesarea, where he resides for at least 20 years (see Acts 21).

Why would Luke spend so much time on the conversion of a single man? First, the Greco-Roman world regarded Ethiopia, which was south of Egypt, as the “end of the earth.” Luke wanted to show that the command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8 is being accomplished. Second, Luke is recording the first conversion of a black man, a man who belongs to a non-Semitic ethnic group. All ethnic groups are to be included in the kingdom of God. Third, the eunuch is the first example of a God-fearer coming to believe in Jesus. God-fearers were excluded from becoming full Jews, but in Jesus’ church, they were not excluded. They are full members, along with all other converts.

Commentary on Revelation 21-22 (New Heaven and New Earth)

After the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20, John sees a new heaven and new earth which replace the old heaven and old earth. John sees the new city of Jerusalem descending from heaven, and he calls it a bride prepared for her husband.

A loud voice (not sure whose voice, but it is not God’s voice) announces the following: 1) God will live with humans in the New Jerusalem, 2) the people living with God will belong to Him, 3) God will ensure that there will be no more suffering among His people, and 4) God will make sure that there will be no more death among His people.

The idea of God dwelling with His people has a long history in the Bible. George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, beautifully explains:

In the Old Testament times, God’s dwelling place (skene) first was the tabernacle in the wilderness, and later the temple; and his presence was manifested by the shekinah glory. In the coming of Christ, God took up his dwelling temporarily among men (John 1:14 ‘The Word … dwelt among us.’ The same Greek root is used: eskenosen). During the church age, God indwells his church, which is his temple (Eph. 2:22); but this is a dwelling ‘in the Spirit,’ which can be apprehended only by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:17). In the consummation, all this is changed; faith will be changed to sight, and ‘they shall see his face’ (22:4).

This is a reality which we cannot visualize; but direct, unmarred fellowship between God and his people is the goal of all redemption. This is further expressed by the phrase ‘they shall be his people.’ This is an echo of the Old Testament idiom, ‘I shall be their God and they shall be my people,’ which expresses the oft-repeated aim of the divine self-revelation and of all of God’s dealings with his people. All the promises of God’s covenant with men, made first through Abraham, renewed through Moses, and embodied in Christ, are at last brought to full realization.

In verses 5-8, God the Father speaks. He assures John that He is making all of reality new. The entire creation, including human beings, is re-created. John can know that these events will occur because the One speaking is the omniscient, omnipotent ruler of the universe.

God will give to all those who seek to be with Him what they desire. Those who conquer will become fully adopted children of God. To conquer is to remain faithful to Jesus (God) throughout one’s life, regardless of the suffering a person might be forced to endure. Those who are “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” will spend eternity in the lake of fire.

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, comments about verse 8:

The list of sins in this verse is a typical ‘vice code’ (see Reid, DLNT 1190–94) of the type developed by the Stoics and Cynics and found often within Hellenistic Judaism (Philo, Sacr. 15–33; Wis. 14:22–27; 4 Macc. 1:2–4, 22–28; Sib. Or. 2.254–82) and used frequently in the NT (Rom. 1:29–31; Eph. 4:25–32; 5:3–5; Col. 3:5–8; 1 Tim. 1:9–10; James 3:14–16; 1 Pet. 2:1; 4:3, 15). Revelation has three such lists (9:21; 21:8; 22:15), the longest of which is here.

The list here is not, however, a general enumeration of sins but instead a specific list that draws together the sins of the book. Its purpose is to sum up the depravity of the unbelievers, and each term reflects sins mentioned elsewhere in the book [of Revelation].

However, the coward merits additional explanation. Osborne writes:

While the rest of the list describes the unchurched and wicked who were the enemies of Christianity, this first term probably describes those in the church who fail to persevere but give in to the pressures of the world. . . . The reader is being asked to make a choice whether to ‘overcome’ the pressure of the world and refuse to succumb to it or to be a ‘coward’ and surrender to sin. Those who do so will join the unbelieving world in eternal damnation.

In verse 9, the same angel who showed John the destruction of the evil city of Babylon will now show John the holy city of New Jerusalem. Babylon is portrayed as a harlot, but Jerusalem is the Bride of the Lamb (Jesus). The next seventeen verses describe the glory of the New Jerusalem.

The first thing John sees is that the city is descending from heaven down to the earth. Heaven and earth are now joined together. Second, the city radiates God’s glory, which John compares to a brilliant jasper (likely a diamond in this case). Third, a high wall surrounds the city on four sides. On each wall are three gates (total of twelve), and twelve angels occupy the twelve gates. The gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them. The wall of the city also has twelve foundations, and the names of the twelve apostles of Jesus are on the foundations. Mark Wilson, in Hebrews to Revelation: Volume Four (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), notes that the number twelve is “used repeatedly in chapter 21 to speak of gates (vv. 12, 21), angels and tribes (v. 12), foundations and apostles (v. 14), and pearls (v. 21). Twelve signifies completion and perfection and is the product of the sacred numbers three and four.”

What is the meaning of the walls, gates, angels, foundations, and names written on them? Grant Osborne writes, “The wall is emphasized in 21:18, where we read it is made of jasper, meaning its purpose is not defense but rather radiating the glory of God. It is a ‘great high wall’ because of the size of the city but especially due to the greatness of the glory of God (in keeping with 21:11, ‘It held the glory of God’”).”

Regarding the twelve gates and twelve tribes, Osborne comments:

The idea of twelve gates, three on each side, is taken from Ezek. 48:30–35, where the new temple also has twelve, with three on each side. A major difference is that each gate in Ezekiel is named after a tribe, while here it says simply that ‘the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel were written on the gates.’ The meaning in Ezekiel is that each tribe has a gate that opens to its own tribal territory. Here the thrust is quite different. These gates provide access to all ‘humankind,’ namely, the ‘people’ (21:3) who have ‘overcome’ the world (21:7a) and so ‘inherited’ the city of God (21:7b). The fact of twelve gates means that access is plentiful, and the names of the twelve tribes written on the gates builds on the symbol of the 144,000 in 7:1–8, meaning that the people of God provide access to the ‘people’ of the world so that they might repent and thus gain entrance to the city of God.

The angels could be watchmen standing guard over each gate (see Isaiah 62:6) or they could be linked to the angels of the seven churches and represent God’s new relationship with His people.

The twelve foundations with names of the apostles, according to George Eldon Ladd, are

an obvious allusion to the theology of the church, which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). By this symbolism of the twelve gates bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve foundations bearing the names of the twelve apostles, John indicates that the city encompasses both dispensations, and that both the Israel of the Old Testament and of the church of the New Testament have their place in God’s final establishment.

In verses 15-17, the angel then measures the dimensions of the city. The city is constructed as a cube with each dimension being 12,000 stadia (about 1500 miles), a truly enormous volume. The walls are 144 cubits (216 feet) thick. Osborne notes that the “cube shape matches the shape of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits each direction, 1 Kings 6:20; 2 Chron. 3:8–9). Since the Holy of Holies was the place where the Shekinah resided, this is especially appropriate for the celestial city.”

Are we to understand the New Jerusalem to be literally these dimensions? Doubtful. Osborne explains,

As the 1,600 stadia of 14:20 was the length of Palestine, the 12,000 stadia here was the length of the Roman Empire (from Joppa [in Spain] to the Euphrates). The number is obviously symbolic (like the 12,000 of 7:4–8). It signifies not only perfection but a city large enough to hold all the saints down through the ages, the saints from ‘every tribe, language, people, and nation’ (5:9; 7:9; cf. 21:24, 26).

To emphasize the glory of the city, John writes that the walls are made of jasper (a precious stone), and the city is made of a clear gold (see Isaiah 54:11-12). No such gold is known, so John must be attempting to describe a precious metal that is beyond human experience. Osborne adds, “The splendor of earthly gold is inadequate; it must be transparent so God’s glory can shine through it.”

The foundation of the city contains twelve different precious jewels. The stones listed are like the twelve stones found in the breastplate of the high priest in Exodus 28 and 39. Mark Wilson writes, “The stones represent a city not only of majestic beauty and glory, but also one of great value to be desired by its future residents.”

The twelve gates are made of single pearls and the main street of the city is made of clear gold. Grant Osborne writes, “In short, Revelation builds on a lengthy tradition in depicting the majesty of the celestial city yet transforms these images into a description of the glory the saints will receive on the basis of the presence of God and their priestly status in the eternal city.”

Verse 22 records the fact that there is no temple in the New Jerusalem, because God the Father and Jesus are the temple. The glorious light that shines forth from God and His Son means that there is no need for the sun or moon in the sky. Ladd explains:

In reflecting upon the glories of the new Jerusalem, John was overwhelmed by the vision of the presence of God and recalled the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night, but the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory’ (Isa. 60:19). It is doubtful that John intended to give astronomical information about the new world; his purpose is to affirm the unsurpassed splendor which radiates from the presence of God and the Lamb.

Unlike typical cities, the gates of New Jerusalem will never close. All the kings of the earth will be welcome to the city to honor God. But, John reminds us, only those whose names are written in the book of life will enter the city. Evil will never stain the New Heaven and New Earth.

Why does John describe the New Heaven and New Earth as a giant city instead of something more rural? Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, writes:

Some Jewish pictures of the end emphasized a return to Israel’s pastoral/agricultural beginnings, without ruling out urban existence (Sibylline Oracles 3:744–51), but the New Testament and most contemporary Jewish literature are more urban than most Old Testament depictions of the end (Amos 9:13–15). The symbolic imagery for paradise was adapted to speak most relevantly to the cultures addressed.

In chapter 22, verses 1-5, we see that the New Jerusalem is also the restored Garden of Eden. There is a river of life that flows directly from the throne of God the Father and the Lamb (note it’s a single throne that they share). George Elton Ladd comments:

This is a symbolic way of describing the reign of eternal life in the age to come. The symbolism of a river of life is a common one in biblical thought. The Psalmist wrote of a ‘river whose streams make glad the city of God’ (46:4). Jesus spoke of the living water (John 4:10, 14) which he offered men. Ezekiel’s vision of the new Jerusalem pictured a river of water flowing from under the temple (which was not located in Jerusalem itself), which brought healing and life to the waters of the Dead Sea (Ezek. 47:1–12). Zechariah had a vision of the Kingdom of God in which rivers of water flowed from Jerusalem both eastward and westward (Zech. 14:8). The presence of the river of life in the new Jerusalem is a picturesque way of saying that death with all its baleful accompaniments has been abolished and life reigns supreme.

Beside the river is the tree of life which yields fruit year-round. Ladd writes:

The description of the tree of life follows very closely the language of Ezek. 47:12 . . . The tree is pictured as bearing a different kind of fruit each month. This obviously has no parallel in the human experience of this age. The meaning is that the tree will not pass through the ordinary cycles of budding, blossoming, fruit-setting, and harvest, giving a crop once or twice a year, but will be loaded with fruit every month of the year. This expresses the absolute triumph of life over death.

The curse from Genesis 3:14 is reversed because sin is no more. All of God’s servants will worship Him in the restored Eden, and they will worship Him face-to-face. Ladd reminds us:

This is the hope and the goal of individual salvation throughout the Scriptures: the beatific vision of God. Throughout all redemptive history, God’s presence was mediated to men in different ways. In the Old Testament it was mediated through the prophetic word, theophanies, dreams, angels and the cult. To come face to face with the living God meant death (Exod. 33:20). Jesus in his incarnation brought the presence of God to men in his own person (Matt. 1:23); to see and to know Christ was to see and know the Father (John 14:7, 9; 17:3). This vision of God was still a mediated vision, realized only in faith. In the age to come, faith will give way to sight (Ps. 17:15; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2).

The servants of God will reign with Him forever and ever. Grant Osborne writes:

In [Revelation] 2:26–27 the overcomers are promised the same ‘authority over the nations’ that Christ received from the Father; and in 20:4 and 3:21 Christ promised that they ‘will sit with me on my throne.’ Those promises were partially realized in 20:4 when the victorious saints ‘reigned with Christ a thousand years.’ But here that millennial reign is transformed into an eternal reign. This also fulfills Dan. 7:18 (‘The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever’) and 27 (‘Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High’). In Luke 22:30 (par. Matt. 19:28), Jesus promised the disciples that they would ‘sit on twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel,’ and in 1 Cor. 6:2 Paul said, ‘Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?’ (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12, ‘If we endure, we will also reign with him’). This sums up a major biblical theme on the future reign of the saints. Of course, this cannot be meant literally, for every saint will rule a kingdom that only the saints inhabit (there is no hint in Scripture that we will reign over the celestial beings; rather, we are their ‘fellow servants,’ 19:10; 22:9). Thus, it probably means we will participate in the rule of Christ over the eternal kingdom and perhaps ‘exercise sovereignty over the new creation in a way similar to how Adam was to rule “over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28)’ (Beale 1999: 1116).

What Are the Three Different Views on the Millennium in Revelation 20?

The interpretation of the thousand years (Millennium) described in Revelation 20 has caused much debate in the church. Biblical scholar George Elton Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, walks us through the three most popular views on the Millennium.

Postmillennialism means that the return of Christ would not occur until the Kingdom of God had been established by the church in human history. In this view, chapter 19 does not describe the coming of Christ but is a very symbolic way of describing the triumph of Christian principles in human affairs and the triumph of Christ through his church. After this ‘golden age,’ Christ will return to raise the dead, judge the world, and inaugurate the new eternal order.

Amillennialism is the term used to describe the view of those who do not look for a millennial reign of Christ either before or after his second coming. This way of interpreting Rev. 20 involves the principle of recapitulation, viz., that the structure of Revelation does not relate consecutive events but frequently covers the same ground from different perspectives.

Interpreters of this viewpoint often identify the binding of Satan and his incarceration in the abyss with the victory over Satan accomplished by our Lord in his earthly ministry. It is clear that the gospels do represent Jesus as having bound Satan (Matt. 12:29) and toppled him from his place of power (Luke 10:18); and this victory over Satan is reflected in the Revelation (see note on 12:9); it is an open question as to whether the binding of Satan in Rev. 20 is the same as that in Matt. 12 or is an eschatological event.

Amillennialists usually understand the ‘first resurrection’ in one of two different ways. Some see here the resurrection unto eternal life, which is an altogether spiritual reality that occurs for each believer when he becomes a Christian (John 5:25; Eph. 2:5–6). The reign of Christ with his saints is either the reign of Christ manifested in history through his church, or the spiritual reign of believers with Christ ‘in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 2:6). The thousand-year period is no literal piece of history; it is a symbolic number coextensive with the history of the church on earth between the resurrection of Christ and his return.

A different amillennial interpretation understands the resurrection and reign of the saints with Christ to represent the destiny of the martyrs. Though they were slain, the martyrs did not really die. In fact, they lived and reigned with Christ in heaven. The ‘millennium’ is the church age when martyred saints reign with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection.

Premillennialism is the view that Rev. 20 is altogether eschatological. The coming of Christ will be followed by a binding of Satan and the resurrection of the saints who will join him in a temporal kingdom when he reigns over the earth. This millennial kingdom will end with a final rebellion and the last judgment.

A variant form of premillennialism is Dispensationalism, which sees the millennial kingdom primarily in terms of God’s theocratic promises to Israel. The entire book of Revelation is interpreted in terms of these dispensational presuppositions and is concerned with the fate of restored Israel in the last days and not with the church. In many circles the only form of premillennialism known is Dispensationalism.

Commentary on Revelation 20 (The Millennium)

Now that the beast and the false prophet have been defeated, John sees another vision which starts in chapter 20. John sees an angel bind up Satan with chains and seal him in a pit. For one thousand years (the Millennium), Satan will not be able to deceive humankind any longer. Ominously, though, Satan will be released at the end of the Millennium one last time. Bible scholars differ over whether the one thousand years should be taken literally, but it seems clear that regardless of the actual length of time, the one thousand years describes a fixed amount of time determined by God.

John then describes an earthly kingdom which will be ruled by Christ and his saints. In particular, those saints who were martyred by the beast because of their allegiance to Christ will reign with him during the Millennium. How will Christ’s deceased saints rule with him? They are resurrected! God will give all believers throughout human history resurrected bodies to live, rule, and serve as priests with Christ in the Millennium. Those who are resurrected will never die again; they will live forever with Christ.

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, notes that verses 4-6 in chapter 20 emphasize the vindication of the saints:

“The second part (20:4–6) stresses another major theme of the book, the vindication of the saints. In Matt. 19:28 Jesus promised the disciples they would sit on ‘twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes.’ In 1 Cor. 6:2 Paul says the saints ‘will judge the world.’ Then in Rev. 2:26 the saints will have ‘authority over the nations,’ and in 3:21 they ‘will sit with [Christ] on his throne.’ This prepares for 6:9–11, where the martyred saints are promised that at the proper time they would be vindicated. That vindication took place in stages, from the storm theophany of 6:12–17 to the outpouring of wrath in 8:3–5 to the destruction of Babylon the Great in chapters 17–19. But it is finalized in 20:4–6, where the saints sit on thrones and judge the nations for the thousand-year period.

Also populating the earth during the Millennium are those who were aligned with the beast before his demise and their descendants. They will live in their natural bodies under the rule of Christ and his resurrected saints during the Millennium. Remember that only the Antichrist’s armies were killed in the battle of Armageddon.

After the Millennium ends, Satan will be released from prison one last time, and he will deceive the people of the earth (not the resurrected saints). A leader called Gog, from a land called Magog, will gather a massive army and march on the city of Jerusalem, the city where Jesus lives and rules. Before they can enter the city, God rains down fire on them, and they are all killed. God then throws Satan into the lake of fire with the beast and false prophet where they “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, notes the parallels between Ezekiel 36-39 and argues that Revelation 20 is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Gog and Magog are biblical names for the nations who are rebellious against God and hostile to his people. In Ezek. 38:1, Gog is the prince of the land of Magog and comes from the north in the latter days to do battle with God’s people. In Revelation, both words represent the hostile nations.

While the New Testament has little to say about a temporal messianic kingdom, Ezekiel’s prophecy has the same basic structure as Rev. 20. Chapters 36–37 picture the salvation of Israel, restored to their land and blessed with the messianic salvation (see 36:24–29). The goal of the prophetic expectation, ‘you shall be my people, and I will be your God’ (Ezek. 36:28) is now realized. David, God’s servant, will rule over his people, and God will dwell in their midst (37:25, 28). However, the blessing of the messianic kingdom is not the end. The kingdom is disturbed by an eschatological war led by Gog from Magog (chapters 38–39); and only after the divine victory do we have a picture of the eternal new order, which in Ezekiel is described in terms of a rebuilt temple in the new Jerusalem (chapters 40–48). This structure of a temporal messianic kingdom followed by the eternal kingdom in the new age is the same as that in Revelation.

Why will there be a temporal, earthly kingdom under Christ’s rule? Why allow Satan to deceive the world again? Ladd answers:

In the present instance, even after Christ himself has reigned over men during the millennium, when the deceiver is set free from his prison, he finds the hearts of men still responsive to his seductions. This makes it plain that the ultimate root of sin is not poverty or inadequate social conditions or an unfortunate environment; it is the rebelliousness of the human heart. The millennium and the subsequent rebellion of men will prove that men cannot blame their sinfulness on their environment or unfortunate circumstances; in the final judgment, the decrees of God will be shown to be just and righteous.

Osborne adds:

For a thousand years, those among the nations who worshiped the beast will be under Jesus’ sovereign control and ruled by the saints. They will not experience Satan or be deceived in any way by him. All they will experience is the benign rule of Jesus himself. Yet after fourteen lifetimes of enforced good (according to the text, i.e., the story form), as soon as Satan is released, they allow themselves to be ‘deceived’ all over again and follow him. The purpose is to prove the power of total depravity and demonstrate once and for all the necessity of eternal punishment. The millennium is the judicial evidence that will convict the earth-dwellers and prove that their eternal sin demands eternal punishment. In other words, 20:3c and 20:7–10 are the divine ‘must’ of a just God.

John has told us the fate of the beast, the false prophet, and Satan himself. But what will happen to the people who, throughout human history, rejected God while they were alive, but are now deceased?

John’s vision moves to a great white throne upon which God sits (compare the following verses to Daniel 7: 9, 10, 22). The entire physical universe ceases to exist. All the unrighteous dead are resurrected and join the already resurrected believers. Both the saints and the wicked stand before God where He reviews the books which contain their deeds.

John then mentions another book, the book of life. This book lists all the saved people of God. The only way for a person to be saved is through the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Every person whose name is not found in the book of life is sent to the lake of fire. Death itself is also thrown into the lake of fire, meaning that no saved person will ever die again.

Mark Wilson, in Hebrews to Revelation: Volume Four (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), connects these verses to the book of Daniel:

Daniel prophesied that ‘everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered’ (Dan. 12:1). The deliverance promised to the righteous dead is everlasting life (12:2). The victors in Sardis are promised that their names would not be erased from the book of life (Rev. 3:5). The primary act disqualifying the earth dwellers from inclusion in the book of life is worshiping the beast rather than the Lamb (cf. 13:8; 17:8). The consequence of omission from the book of life is being thrown into the lake of fire. An angel has earlier warned those who worship the beast that eternal torment with burning sulfur would be their fate (14:10–11). That moment has finally arrived. . . .

The dead, who are excluded from the first resurrection, are the multitudes spoken of by Daniel who will awaken to shame and eternal contempt (Dan. 12:2). Upon hearing the voice of the Son of Man, those practicing evil will come out of their graves to be condemned to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28–29). The second death is the punishment Jesus warned about: ‘Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matt. 10:28). Death and Hades are the last to be thrown into the lake of fire. He who holds the keys of death and Hades has finally turned the lock (cf. Rev. 1:18). This picture accords with Paul’s statement, ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor. 15:26).

Commentary on Revelation 19 (Battle of Armageddon)

The preceding chapters of Revelation describe the great suffering that the children of God would suffer due to the evil actions of Satan, the antichrist (the beast), and the false prophet. The beast represents anti-Christian political power, and the false prophet represents anti-Christian religion. Some writers have referred to these three as the false trinity.

The Old Testament writers promised that God would defeat evil in a final battle (see Isa. 13:4; 31:4; Ezek. 38–39; Joel 3; Zech. 14:3). The New Testament writers understood Jesus Christ to be the one appointed by God to subjugate evil (see Matt. 13:41–42; 25:41; Rom. 2:5; 2 Thess. 1:7; 2:8). When Jesus returns to the earth at his Second Coming, his first act will be to conquer those who oppose God and His people. These events are described in Revelation 19, starting in verse 11.

In verses 11-13, John sees heaven open up and a rider on a white horse coming forth. It is clear from John’s description that the rider is none other than Jesus Christ! His mission is to judge and make war against the enemies of God. George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, explains the OT background of John’s description of Jesus:

The most vivid prophetic picture is that of an unnamed conqueror who strides forth in crimsoned garments for vindication, who had trodden the wine press of God’s wrath and stained his garments with his enemies’ blood, who trod the hostile peoples in his wrath and established the day of vengeance (Isa. 63:1–6). John sees Christ coming as a conquering warrior in bloodstained garments, destroying all hostile and opposing powers with his mighty sword.

The armies of heaven, dressed in white robes and also riding white horses, follow Jesus (white is the symbol of victory). This army is most likely a combination of angels and deceased believers. Since their robes are not stained with blood, the implication is that they will only watch the battle and not participate.

John sees a sword coming from Jesus’ mouth, symbolizing his judgment and execution of justice. Ladd explains the sword imagery:

The only weapon involved in the warfare is the word of Christ. This language looks back to Isa. 11:4: ‘And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.’ Here is a symbolic representation of victory by the power of a word which is impossible to be literally envisaged. The idea goes back to creation. God created the worlds by his word. He spoke and it was done. This creation was mediated through the living word, Christ (John 1:3; Heb. 1:2). The judgment on the old order will also be mediated through the word of Christ. Just how John visualized this victory is impossible to say. It is, however, certain that he expected actual objective events to occur which would transform the structure of human society, purging out the evil.

Jesus will make the wrath of God known to the persecutors of His children. Even though the beast (antichrist) has set himself up as a world leader and has convinced other political leaders to follow him, the reader understands that there is only one real power in the universe, Jesus Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Upon Jesus’ return, the whole world will finally understand who is in charge.

Earlier in chapter 19, John wrote about the marriage supper of the Lamb, where the redeemed in Christ will celebrate their victory in Jesus, the Lamb of God. Verses 17-21 describe a second supper, but in this supper, those arrayed against God will be the meal, and the birds of the air will be the ones eating the meal. This image, though grotesque, is a metaphor for God’s total victory over evil, and it is firmly rooted in the OT. Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, provides background:

There will be two great messianic banquets at the eschaton: the feast with the Lamb for the saints and the feast on the sinners for the carrion birds. The saints will partake of the great banquet, and the sinners will be the great banquet! This image is drawn from Ezek. 39:17–20, where the judgment against Gog is punctuated by an invitation to the birds and wild animals to ‘come together’ for ‘the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel,’ where they will ‘eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth.’ The difference is that in Ezekiel the call to the scavengers comes after the defeat and burial of Gog, while here it comes before those events. This gives the scene great rhetorical power.

John sees the armies of the beast and his allies ready to battle the rider on the white horse. These verses are a continuation of the narrative from Revelation 16:13-16, where the false trinity prepares for the battle of Armageddon.

Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. ‘Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.’ Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

John’s vision, however, only records the aftermath and not the battle itself. First, the beast and his false prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire where they suffer eternally. Second, the kings and armies aligned with the beast are all killed by the sword from Jesus’ mouth. Just like that, the battle is over. Osborne traces the possible source of the phrase “lake of fire,” which only occurs here in the NT:

Bertrand (1999) says the origin of the ‘lake of fire’ comes from a combination of two images, with the ‘fire’ stemming from traditions regarding the destruction of Sodom by fire and sulfur (Gen. 19:24 = Luke 17:29–30; 1 Enoch 21.7–10; 67.4–13; 90.25) and the ‘lake’ stemming from Hellenistic mythical portrayals of hell. The basic connection with ‘Gehenna,’ of course, is certain. ‘Sheol’ (OT) or ‘Hades’ (NT) refers to the grave, while ‘Gehenna’ refers to eternal fiery punishment. The name Gehenna derived originally from the Valley of Hinnom on the south slope of Jerusalem, which became notorious during the evil reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, when their own children were burned as sacrifices to the god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). It was condemned and became a symbol for future punishment (Isa. 66:24; Jer. 7:30–33). Thus, ‘Gehenna’ symbolized the place of final punishment, located in the depths of the earth (Sib. Or. 4.184–86) and associated with eternal torment (Sib. Or. 2.292–310). In Jesus’ day it was the city dump, and the fires never went out due to the burning garbage. In Jesus’ teaching, Gehenna was also the symbol for eternal fiery punishment (Mark 9:43, 45, 47 par.; Matt. 10:28 par.; 18:9; 23:15; cf. 25:46). Thus, the idea of final fiery punishment has a rich history behind it (see Lunde, DJG 310–11).

Many people have pointed out that God’s destruction of the armies of mankind arrayed against Him seem inconsistent with His compassion. Osborne deals with this accusation:

How can a compassionate God do such a thing? Yet such a question forgets that Yahweh is at one and the same time a God of love and a holy God of justice. To ask the question is to ignore the devastating consequences of sin. We must remember the number of times in the book God has offered them forgiveness if they were to repent, yet they again and again refused God’s offer (9:20–21; 14:6–7; 16:8, 10–11) and preferred to worship the very demons who hated them (9:1–21). They preferred the delusion to the truth. It is a holy God who must eradicate sin in order to inaugurate the perfect reality for which he had created humankind in the first place.

What Are the Four Different Ways the Book of Revelation Is Interpreted? Part 2

Continuing from part 1,

Idealist. This popular approach argues that the symbols do not relate to historical events but rather to timeless spiritual truths (so Hendriksen, Hoekema, P. Hughes). As such it relates primarily to the church between the advents, that is, between Christ’s first and second comings. Thus it concerns the battle between God and evil and between the church and the world at all times in church history. The seals, trumpets, and bowls depict God’s judgments on sinners at all times, and the beast refers to all the anti-Christian empires and rulers in history. Thus the book describes the victory of Christ and his people down through history. The millennium in this approach is not a future event but the final cycle of the book (so Hendriksen) describing the church age. There are certain strengths in this view: the centrality of theology for the book, the relevance for the church at all times, the symbolic nature of the book. But it has certain weaknesses as well: the absence of historical connections, the failure to see the future nature of many of the prophecies or to connect them in any way with history (as it seems the text does in several instances).

Futurist. This was the method employed by some of the earliest fathers (e.g., Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus), but with the triumph of the allegorical method (taking a spiritual approach to the book) after Origen and of the amillennial view after Augustine and Ticonius, the futurist method (and chiliasm) was not seen again for over a thousand years. The first to develop once more a literal view of the book was Franciscus Ribeira, a Spanish Jesuit who wrote in the late sixteenth century to counter the Reformation antipapal interpretation. While he was not truly a futurist, he turned the attention back to the early fathers, and after him that view returned to prominence and stands alongside the others as equally viable.

Futurism believes that chapters 4–22 refer primarily to events that will take place at the end of history and usher in the eschaton. There are two forms of this approach, dispensationalism and what has been called ‘classical premillennialism.’ Dispensationalists believe that God has brought about his plan of salvation in a series of dispensations or stages centering on his election of Israel to be his covenant people. Therefore, the church age is a parenthesis in this plan, as God turned to the Gentiles until the Jewish people find national revival (Rom. 11:25–32). At the end of that period, the church will be raptured, inaugurating a seven-year tribulation period in the middle of which the Antichrist will make himself known (Rev. 13) and instigate the ‘great tribulation’ or great persecution of the 144,000 and others among Israel who have become Christians. At the end of that period will come the parousia as Christ returns in judgment, followed by a literal millennium (20:1–10), great white throne judgment (20:11–15), and the beginning of eternity in heavenly bliss (21:1–22:5). Classical premillennialism is similar but does not hold to dispensations. Thus there is only one return of Christ, after the tribulation period (Matt. 24:29–31; cf. Rev. 19:11–21), and it is the whole church, not just the nation of Israel, that passes through the tribulation period. Also, dispensationalists view themselves as literalists on the symbols, while the second school would take many of them to be symbolic (see above). There are some weaknesses of this school as well: it can develop a perspective that would remove its applicability to first-century Christians (see above on the ‘prophecy’ movement), and it can often deteriorate to mere speculation cut off from first-century backgrounds. If all we have are events without symbolic/theological significance, much of the power of the book can be lost.

How does Osborne synthesize these views in his commentary on Revelation?

The solution is to allow the preterist, idealist, and futurist methods to interact in such a way that the strengths are maximized and the weaknesses minimized. Beale, for instance, calls his method ‘a redemptive-historical form of modified idealism’ (1999: 48). He takes the symbols in an inaugurated sense as describing the church age from the present to the future. For instance, the beast of 13:1–8 refers both to the ‘many antichrists’ throughout church history and to the final Antichrist at the end of history (1999: 680–81). The approach of this commentary is similar, but the futurist rather than the idealist position is primary. My study of ancient apocalyptic and of the Book of Revelation has led me to believe that John’s visions (esp. chaps. 4–22) were primarily intended to describe the events that will end world history.

The saints in these chapters are believers alive in that final period, and the beast is the Antichrist who will lead the ‘earth-dwellers’/unbelievers in a final pogrom against all the people of God. The seals, trumpets, and bowls symbolize a final series of judgments by which God will turn the evil deeds of the nations back upon their heads (the Roman legal principle of lex talionis, the law of retribution) to prove his sovereignty once and for all and to give them a final chance to repent (9:20–21; 11:13; 14:6–7; 16:9, 11).

But the preterist school is also correct, because the visions use the events of the future to address John and his readers in the present. Most of the imagery used to describe the beast and Babylon the Great comes from actual first-century parallels. The beast is a final Nerolike figure, and Babylon is the final unholy Roman Empire. One of my definitions for apocalyptic is ‘the present addressed through parallels with the future.’ John’s readers were being asked to identify with the people at the end of history and gain perspective for their present suffering through the future trials of God’s people. This leads us to the idealist position, also intended in the text, for these final events are also timeless symbols meant to challenge the church in every era. The three-and-a-half-year great tribulation provides models for the similar tribulations of the saints down through history. Therefore, this commentary is quite similar to Beale’s except for the centrality of the futurist approach (also similar to Ladd, Beasley-Murray, Michaels, and Mounce).

What Are the Four Different Ways the Book of Revelation Is Interpreted? Part 1

Because of the literary genre and dense symbolism in the Book of Revelation, there has been much disagreement in the church about how to interpret it. The events described in chapters 4-19 especially invite a diversity of opinions. Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, describes the situation:

There are several major categories of interpretation of this book: (1) Revelation predicts in detail the course of human history till the Second Coming, (2) Revelation reflects the general principles of history, (3) Revelation addresses only what was happening in John’s day, (4) Revelation addresses only the end time, and (5) combinations of the above approaches (e.g., John addresses the principles of history in view of the ever-impending end time until it arrives, and originally articulated these principles to speak to the situation of his late-first-century readers).

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, gives a detailed accounting of the historicist, preterist, idealist, and futurist schools of interpretation which correspond to Keener’s categories above.

Historicist. This approach began with Joachim of Fiore in the twelfth century. He claimed that a vision had told him the 1,260 days of the Apocalypse prophesied the events of Western history from the time of the apostles until the present. The Franciscans followed Joachim and like him interpreted the book as relating to pagan Rome and the papacy (due to corruption in the church). Later the Reformers (e.g., Luther and Calvin) also favored this method, with the pope as the Antichrist (see Beckwith 1919: 327–29; Johnson 1981: 409). Classical dispensational thinking took this approach with regard to the letters to the seven churches, believing that the letters prophesied the seven periods of the church age. Also, the so-called prophecy movement, those preachers who see every detail in OT as well as NT apocalyptic symbolism as fulfilled in current events (the ‘newspaper approach’ to prophecy), would be aligned with this school. Proponents of this method have tended to take Rev. 2–19, including the seals, trumpets, and bowls as well as the interludes, as prophetic of salvation history, that is, the development of church history within world history. Thus the beast/Antichrist has been variously identified with the pope, Napoleon, Mussolini, or Hitler. Because of its inherent weaknesses (its identification only with Western church history, the inherent speculation involved in the parallels with world history, the fact that it must be reworked with each new period in world history, the total absence of any relevance for John or his original readers; see also Beale 1999: 46), few scholars today take this approach.

Preterist. This approach argues that the details of the book relate to the present situation in which John lived rather than to a future period. Thus the symbols refer to events in the first-century world as experienced by the original readers, and John is telling them how God would deliver them from their oppressors. There are three basic approaches to the book from within this school of thought. The two most popular relate the book to the situation of the church in the Roman Empire. The first (taken by critical scholars like R. H. Charles, Sweet, and Roloff) views the book as written about Roman oppression and the fall of the Roman Empire. Due to the development of the imperial cult, pressure to conform and the resultant persecution have become serious threats to the church. The beast thus would be the Roman Empire or the Roman emperor, and the seals, trumpets, and bowls are contemporary judgments God is pouring (or soon will pour) upon Rome itself. Thus the book describes the conflict between church and state, between faithfulness to God and compromise with the pagan world.

The second is taken by many modern critics (Yarbro Collins, L. Thompson, Krodel, Barr) who argue that there was little persecution and a perceived crisis rather than a real one. The church is still called out from the ‘world’ to follow God, but it is an internal spiritual crisis rather than external persecution. Osiek (1996: 343–44) says the eschatology of the book is not a timetable for the future but a reinterpretation of the present. It provides a spatial interaction between the earthly and the heavenly so as to give new meaning to the present situation. In this case the symbols provide alternative worlds that the readers have to choose between, the transcendent realm of God and the church or the alternative secular world of Rome. The problem of the book then is compromise, as seen in the Nicolaitan cult, and the solution is true worship of Christ (see esp. Krodel).

A third option is to take the book as written before a.d. 70 and prophesying the fall of Jerusalem as God’s judgment upon apostate Israel for rejecting the Messiah and persecuting the church (so Gentry, Chilton). The beast is Rome, the kings from the east are the Roman generals who brought the Roman army from the eastern boundary of the empire to destroy Jerusalem, and Armageddon is the siege of Jerusalem itself. For Kraybill (1999: 32–35) the white horse of 6:1–2 is Rome and the red horse of 6:3–4 is the Jewish War of a.d. 66–70.

This third approach is least viable, not only because it necessitates an early date of writing but because it limits the universal language of the book (all ‘peoples, languages, tribes, and nations’) to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, the first two are also problematic because they would involve an error of prophecy (which many critical scholars state openly) since final judgment and the end of the world did not come with the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century.

To be continued in part 2.

Commentary on Revelation 1 (John’s First Vision)

The traditional view of the book of Revelation is that it was written by John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, the son of Zebedee, brother of James, and writer of the fourth Gospel and three letters in the New Testament. The book is most commonly dated around AD 95, although a significant minority of scholars date the book to AD 69.

The immediate context for the author and initial hearers of the book, according to A. Boyd Luter Jr. in The Apologetics Study Bible, was “a group of churches (1: 11; chaps. 2– 3) experiencing selective persecution (2: 9-10,13) in the midst of doctrinal and practical problems (2: 6,13-15,20-23), set against the backdrop of unseen but powerful spiritual warfare (2: 10; 9: 1,11; 12: 3-4,9-10; 20: 2).”

Regarding literary genre, Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, writes:

Revelation mixes elements of Old Testament prophecy with a heavy dose of the apocalyptic genre, a style of writing that grew out of elements of Old Testament prophecy. Although nearly all its images have parallels in the biblical prophets, the images most relevant to late-first-century readers, which were prominent in popular Jewish revelations about the end time, are stressed most heavily. Chapters 2–3 are ‘oracular letters,’ a kind of letter occurring especially in the Old Testament (e.g., Jer 29:1–23, 29–32) but also attested on some Greek pottery fragments.

Steve Gregg, in Revelation: Four Views, adds:

Unlike most other books of the New Testament, Revelation does not contain even one direct quotation from the Old Testament. However, there are hundreds of allusions to familiar images and phrases from the Old Testament, and from the New Testament as well (especially the other writings of John). It has been calculated that concepts and imagery are drawn from Isaiah (79 times), Daniel (53 times), Ezekiel (48 times), Psalms (43 times), Exodus (27 times), Jeremiah (22 times), Zechariah (15 times), Amos (9 times), and Joel (8 times). The principal historical matrices from which the images frequently are taken are: a) the Exodus, b) the Babylonian exile, and c) the life of Jesus.

The last few chapters of Revelation describe the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ to reign over a new heaven and new earth. Thus, John starts with the hardships and sins predominating the first-century churches and extends these topics all the way out to the ultimate end of the age alluded to so often in the rest of the Bible. Keener writes:

Revelation provides an eternal perspective, by emphasizing such themes as the antagonism of the world in rebellion against God toward a church obedient to God’s will; the unity of the church’s worship with heaven’s worship; that victory depends on Christ’s finished work, not on human circumstances; that Christians must be ready to face death for Christ’s honor; that representatives of every people will ultimately stand before his throne; that the imminent hope of his return is worth more than all this world’s goods; and so forth. From the beginning, the Old Testament covenant and promise had implied a hope for the future of God’s people. When Israel was confronted with the question of individuals’ future, the Old Testament doctrines of justice and hope led them to views like the resurrection (Is 26:19; Dan 12:2). The future hope is further developed and embroidered with the imagery of Revelation.

The first three verses in Revelation form a prologue which some scholars believe was written by John’s followers after he died since it is in the third person. However, it also possible John wrote the prologue himself.

In verses 1-2, the author tells us that the words captured in the book were given by God the Father to Jesus, who gave the words to an angel, who gave the words to John, who finally gave the words to the people of God. The words of this book come in an unbroken chain from the sovereign Creator of the universe.

Also, the things recorded herein “must soon take place” (verse 1) and the “time is near” (verse 3). Those who argue that Revelation should be dated in AD 69 claim that many, if not all, of the prophecies in the book were fulfilled when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Titus in AD 70. Thus, the events predicted in Revelation did indeed happen very soon after the book was written and delivered to the churches.

Those who date the book around AD 95 interpret “must soon take place” and the “time is near” differently. George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, is representative of this view:

We pointed out in the introduction that the Old Testament prophets blended the near and the distant perspectives so as to form a single canvas. Biblical prophecy is not primarily three-dimensional but two; it has height and breadth but is little concerned about depth, i.e., the chronology of future events. There is in biblical prophecy a tension between the immediate and the distant future; the distant is viewed through the transparency of the immediate. It is true that the early church lived in expectancy of the return of the Lord, and it is the nature of biblical prophecy to make it possible for every generation to live in expectancy of the end. To relax and say ‘where is the promise of his coming?’ is to become a scoffer of divine truth. The ‘biblical’ attitude is ‘take heed, watch, for you do not know when the time will come’ (Mark 13:33).

Finally, in verse 3 the author blesses the person who will stand in front of the seven churches and read aloud the book. Less than 50% of people could read in the first century, so it was customary practice to read aloud to a congregation the entire contents of a letter or book. The author also blesses the person who listens to the words in Revelation and obeys them.

In verses 4-8 we have the greeting from John. He is addressing seven specific churches in Asia (although the contents were meant to be shared by all churches) and he extends grace and peace from the Father, Holy Spirit, and Son. The Father is “him who is and who was and who is to come,” the Holy Spirit is referenced as “the seven spirits who are before his throne,” and the Son is “Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

Ladd expands on the reference to the Holy Spirit:

From the seven spirits means from the Holy Spirit in his sevenfold fullness (cf. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). Some have seen here a reference to angelic beings; but since the preceding phrase refers to God the Father and the following phrase to God the Son, it is certain that John included a reference to God the Holy Spirit, thus including all persons of the Godhead. In other places the New Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit in his plurality of functions (cf. Heb. 2:4; 1 Cor. 12:11; 14:32; Rev. 22:6). The source of the idea appears to be Zech. 4, where the prophet described a candlestick with seven lamps which are the eyes of the Lord ranging over the whole earth. The meaning of the vision was, ‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts’ (Zech. 4:8).

Verses 5-7 then give a prolonged word of praise and worship to Jesus Christ specifically. John lists the following attributes of Jesus: 1) He loves us, 2) He freed us from sin by dying on the cross, 3) He is one day coming in judgment over the entire world.

Verse 8 reiterates the divine source and authority of John’s words. Ladd explains:

Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and therefore include all that is contained between them. God is the absolute beginning and the end, and therefore Lord of all that happens in human history. He is at the same time the eternal one, the transcendent one, who is unaffected by the conflicts of history, the one who is and who was and who is to come. As the one who is to come, he will yet visit men to bring history to its divinely decreed consummation. The Almighty can be better translated ‘the All-Ruler.’

Verses 9-20 contain the first vision John receives. John tells his readers that he was on the island of Patmos because of his teaching about Jesus. John was most likely banished to Patmos for about a year. Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, provides background:

Most likely John was temporarily banished there for proclaiming the gospel (see below). Ancient writers (e.g., Tacitus, Pliny) tell us that Patmos, a volcanic and rocky island, was one of three among the Sporades chain in the Aegean Sea. It was about ten miles long and six wide and was located thirty-seven miles southwest of Miletus, a harbor city near Ephesus. Therefore it is likely that Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 3.18–20) was correct when he said John was banished there (according to him, in the fourteenth year [a.d. 95] of Domitian’s reign). Life there was not too harsh, as indicated by its decent-size population and two gymnasia as well as a temple of Artemis. Thus John would have lived a fairly normal life as an exile on that island. He was likely there only a short time and was allowed to go to Ephesus in a general amnesty for exiles by the emperor Nerva in a.d. 96 after Domitian died (see Aune 1997: 77; Carroll, ABD 5:178–79).

One Sunday, as John is worshiping, he hears a loud voice behind him: “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

There were more than seven churches in Asia, so why these seven? Osborne explains:

The order of the cities is significant, for they form the circular route of a letter carrier beginning at Ephesus and moving first north to Smyrna and to Pergamum, then turning southeast to Thyatira, south to Sardis, east to Philadelphia, and finally southeast to Laodicea. Also, we must ask why these particular cities are chosen. Troas and Colosse were critical NT centers, and Magnesia and Tralles were more important cities than Philadelphia or Thyatira. The best solution is still probably that of William Ramsay, as argued further by Hemer (1986: 14–15). These seven cities formed a natural center of communication for the rest of the province, since they were in order of sequence on an inner circular route through the territory. There is good reason to suppose that since Pauline times they had become ‘organizational and distributive centers’ from which messages would disseminate to the other churches of the province. DeSilva (1990: 193) also points out that these particular cities were chosen partly for their relationship to the imperial cult. All but Thyatira had temples dedicated to the emperors, and all but Philadelphia and Laodicea had imperial priests and altars. I would add one other point. They also represented the problems of the other churches in the area (note how each letter includes ‘Hear what the Spirit says to the churches’). As we will see, each town had its own particular set of problems but also served as examples for the other churches.

John turns around to see who is speaking and he sees seven lampstands which he later learns represent the seven churches. Note the connection between the seven lampstands and the seven candles of the lampstand (the menorah) in the tabernacle constructed in Exodus 25. These seven lampstands depict the churches as shining lights for God in the midst of the world.

Verses 13-16 then describe a “son of man” who is standing amid the lampstands (churches). This son of man, of course, refers to Jesus. John now uses several images to communicate important characteristics of Jesus, as he sees him in the vision. These images closely resemble the divine messenger sent to Daniel in Daniel 10:5-6, but they also reflect other biblical passage (noted below):

  1. The long robe and golden sash around his chest likely point to his high rank (only nobility would wear a sash around their chests instead of waist) and possibly priesthood. (Ex 28:4; Dan 10:5)
  2. His white hair is emblematic of age, honor, and wisdom. (Dan 7:9; Mark 9:3)
  3. His eyes of fire convey his piercing and all-knowing vision. (Dan 10:6)
  4. His burnished bronze feet emphasize his glory and strength, and his ability to render divine judgment. (Ezek 1:7; Dan 10:6)
  5. His voice of roaring waters signifies power and strength. (Ezek 1:24)
  6. The seven stars in his right hand indicate his complete control over the seven angels of the seven churches. (Ps 110:1; Matt 26:64)
  7. The sword coming out of his mouth symbolizes his words and then acts of judgment. (Is 11:4; Luke 2:35)
  8. His radiant face sums up the other images and reminds us of Jesus’ divine glory. (Matt 17:2; Ps 84:11; Is 60:19)

John’s reaction to seeing the glorified Jesus is natural: He falls at “his feet as though dead.” In verses 17-18, Jesus lays his hand on John and tells him not to fear. Jesus is the “first and the last,” just as the Father is the “Alpha and Omega.” Jesus reminds John that he died, but was resurrected, and will continue living forever. Jesus now holds the keys to the land of the dead. He can open the gate and allow the dead to return to life, and this is exactly what he will one day do.

Jesus then instructs John to write down everything he has seen and will see in the visions he is receiving. Everything must be recorded. Finally, in verse 20 Jesus explains that the seven lampstands are the seven churches and the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches.

There is much disagreement over what the seven angels represent. George Ladd weighs the different views:

The expression, the angels of the seven churches, represented by the seven stars in the hand of Christ, is difficult, especially since each of the seven letters was addressed to the angel of each respective church. This fact has led many commentators to conclude that the angel stood for the bishop of the church. This would be a good solution for the problem except for the fact that it violates the New Testament usage. Aggelos was not used of Christian leaders, and in the seven letters, neither angels nor bishops were rebuked. Another meaning of aggelos is ‘messenger,’ and the ‘angels’ are taken to be the seven messengers who carried the letters to the seven churches of Asia. If this is so, it is difficult to see why the letters were addressed to the messengers rather than to the churches themselves. The proper meaning of the word is angel, and the natural idea is that churches on earth have angels in heaven who represent them. However, the feature of angels symbolizing or representing men is lacking in all apocalyptic literature. Some have felt that the angels are guardian angels of the churches. It is best to understand this as a rather unusual symbol to represent the heavenly or supernatural character of the church.

Commentary on Acts 28 (Paul in Rome)

After the 276 people aboard the boat swim safely to shore, they are greeted by island natives, and they discover that they have landed on the isle of Malta. The storm they endured for two weeks carried them exactly where they needed to go to get to Rome (see map below).

Clinton Arnold, in John, Acts: Volume Two (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), explains that

Malta, or Melitē as it is called in Greek, is a Mediterranean island lying fifty-eight miles south of the island of Sicily and 180 miles north of Libya. It measures about seventeen miles at its longest distance from southeast to northwest and about nine miles at its widest distance from east to west. The island became part of the Roman empire in 218 B.C. and was part of the Roman province of Sicily.

The natives light fires on the beach to warm the cold and wet visitors. Paul picks up a pile of sticks and within the bundle of wood is a poisonous snake in a cold-blooded stupor. The heat of the fire revives the snake, and it bites Paul. The natives expect Paul to swell up and then die, but instead, nothing happens.

When the viper first bites Paul, the Maltese assume Paul is suffering divine judgment for a crime, but when he survives, they change their minds and decide he is a god (similar reaction to the Lystrans). God will allow nothing to stop Paul from getting to Rome!

Paul then heals the father of the “chief man of the island” of dysentery. Seeing this miracle, many other Maltese bring their sick to Paul to be healed. Even though there is no mention of Paul evangelizing the people of Malta, we can assume that he did so. Today, the people of Malta proudly proclaim their Christian heritage and have preserved historical sites where Paul allegedly stayed during his three months on the island. John Polhill, in vol. 26, Acts, The New American Commentary, writes:

The emphasis on the Maltese hospitality is striking. It is recurrent throughout the account of Paul’s stay on Malta: the Maltese welcomed the shipwrecked party with ‘unusual kindness’ (v. 2); Publius received Paul’s group and entertained them ‘hospitably’ (v. 7); on their departure, the travelers were ‘honored’ and amply fitted for their journey (v. 10). It is the same sort of hospitality (philanthrōpōs) shown by the Christians of Sidon (27:3). Perhaps in this manner Luke was drawing attention to the fact that simple pagan ‘barbarians’ like the Maltese have a genuine potential for becoming Christians. Their hospitality would in any event be in stark contrast with the reception Paul found from the Jews of Rome.

In February of AD 60, when it is safe to sail again, Paul’s party departs for Rome. The route is marked on the map above. They first travel to a port on Sicily, then to a port at the southern tip of Italy, and finally to the major shipping port of Puteoli. Here everyone debarks from the ship, as they will travel the rest of the way by foot.

Christians in Puteoli warmly greet Paul and his companions, and the Roman centurion Julius allows Paul to stay with these brothers and sisters for one week before they begin the five to six-day journey to Rome. Along the way to Rome, two distinct groups of Christians come southeast to intercept and encourage Paul. One group meets them in a town called Forum of Appius, which is about forty miles south of Rome. Another group meets them in The Three Taverns, a place about thirty miles south of Rome. Once Paul reaches Rome, he can rent an apartment if a Roman soldier stays with him at all times. The soldier is frequently, if not always, chained to Paul so that Paul cannot escape.

Clinton Arnold describes the city of Rome (population of 1 million) in AD 60:

Rome was the political, economic, and military center of the enormous Roman empire. It was the wealthiest and most powerful city in the world in the first century.

The city was fifteen miles inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea and situated along the banks of the Tiber river. It was divided into fourteen different regions, the most well-known being the Circus Maximus and the Forum Romanum. The perimeter of the city measured just over thirteen miles.

The forum was the hub of the political, religious, and economic life of Rome. Here the Senate building was located as well as the Mamertime prison, where prisoners were kept prior to their executions. The Colosseum had not yet been built (it was completed in A.D. 80). Throughout the city were numerous temples dedicated to many deities and to the deified Caesars. The palaces of the Caesars were in the Circus Maximus and crowned the Palatine Hill.

Only a small percentage of people in Rome enjoyed its great wealth. Many slaves and poor people lived in Rome, dwelling in large blocks of apartment buildings that ranged from three to five stories in size. Some scholars have estimated that as many as two hundred thousand people relied on a government welfare system that provided free grain to the unemployed masses of the city.

Three days after Paul arrives, he summons the leaders of the local Jewish synagogues to his apartment. Paul addresses the leaders and makes the following points: 1) Paul has done nothing against the Jews or their customs, 2) The Romans wanted to free him, 3) The Jewish opposition in Jerusalem led to his appeal to Caesar, and 4) He is a prisoner for believing in the hope of Israel (Jesus).

The Jewish leaders tell Paul that they know nothing about him, but they do have a negative opinion of the Christian sect (they still see Christianity as a Jewish sect). However, they agree to come back with even more fellow Jews to hear him out.

On the appointed day, the Jews come in substantial numbers, and Paul speaks to them about Jesus, his resurrection, and his appointment by God as Messiah and Lord (the consistent message of the apostles). Jesus is the one who was prophesied in the Scriptures. Paul undoubtedly provides ample biblical evidence to the crowd in his home, but only some accept what he is saying. The majority reject his message, and Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to show them that God Himself predicted that they would not receive the message Paul is giving them about Jesus. Paul ends his plea by noting that instead of Jews, Gentiles are receiving the message in considerable numbers. John Polhill elaborates on the use of Isaiah 6:9-10:

Isaiah 6:9f. was a key Old Testament text for the early Christians as they sought to come to terms with the Jewish rejection of the gospel. It occurs in the Synoptic tradition among the sayings of Jesus with reference to the failure of the Jews to understand and appropriate the message of his parables (Matt 13:14f.; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). When in Rom 9–11 Paul wrestled with the riddle of the Jewish rejection of the gospel, he cited this same passage of Isaiah (Rom 11:8). Isaiah’s words were seen as a real prophecy of the Jewish obduracy. They did not, however, explain it. It remained something of a riddle. In Rom 11 Paul suggested that perhaps the hardening was temporary, a time allowing for the message to be taken to the Gentiles, that finally in the mystery of God’s plan of salvation there would be a great turning of his people to Christ. Here in Acts he provided no such solutions. The Jewish rejection was a reality and a riddle. To a great extent it remains so—how the gospel of God’s salvation which was foreshadowed in the Jewish Scriptures, fulfilled in a Jewish Messiah, and first proclaimed by Jewish heralds like Paul would ultimately be embraced not by the Jews but primarily by Gentiles.

The book ends with Luke telling his readers that Paul remains two years in Rome, under house arrest, speaking and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel finally reached the “ends of the earth”! Darrell Bock, in Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, reminds us what we’ve learned from the book of Acts:

In sum, the book of Acts, a book of witnesses to the risen Jesus, ends with one of the key witnesses living out his calling despite having suffered unjustly. We see the continued tragic nature of Jewish unbelief, yet Paul continues to keep an open door to anyone who will listen to him and consider his message. Paul loves his enemies, whom he views as brothers who have lost their way. We see what makes for good evangelism: (1) a confidence and readiness to share because God is sovereign, (2) a focus on God and God’s kingdom program through Jesus, (3) an open door to any who will hear, and (4) a recognition that evangelism and mission are a priority, even the most fundamental calling of the church in the world (Fernando 1998: 628–32). Nothing, including prison, persecution, or possible death, has hindered Paul’s ability to minister and preach the message. We are to marvel at how God has protected Paul and accomplished his word (Stott 1990: 402). We also can see in this book that Paul suffered well. He kept the faith and continued to serve, living out his call.