KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
1. NATURE AND AIMS OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY....................................................................................................................................3
2. THE RESURRECTED CHILD......................................................................................................................................................................9
3. THE NEW EXODUS IN THE RISEN
4. WHAT SHOULD I READ ON REVELATION?.......................................................................................................................................26
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Dr., Escondido, CA 92027-4961. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00 (U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in Old Testament Abstracts, Washingon, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in Religion Index One, Evanston, IL and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
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ISSN 0888-8513 May 1999 Vol. 14, No. 1
This issue of Kerux is devoted to Geerhardus Vos and the book of Revelation. The Vos article is a surprise, being only recently discovered in The Union Seminary Magazine for 1902. With other Princetonians, Vos was invited to contribute to the journal of the seminary of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) at Richmond, Virginia. While Vos's article reprises themes familiar from his other descriptive biblical-theological treatments (i.e., "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline," in Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation  3-24; and Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments ), there are some fresh insights which will enrich the Vos corpus. This article is not listed in the writer's bibliography of Vos, first published in the Westminster Theological Journal (1976) and revised in the Gaffin edited volume noted above.
The book of Revelation continues to fascinate and frighten the
church. It's imagery intrigues and baffles at the same time. Our author's have
provided penetrating insights for orienting the reader, preacher and student to "the
Apocalypse." May the church be led to pray even more fervently "Amen. Even
so, come, Lord Jesus."
The Nature and Aims of Biblical
Biblical theology is a comparatively recent arrival in the theological family. In view of this, it can create little surprise that a wide divergence of opinion prevails in regard to the place she ought to occupy and the rights to be accorded to her, or even in regard to the question whether she can claim any rights or place at all. Many look upon the new-comer with suspicion, while others run into the opposite extreme of paying her such exclusive honor and attention as to treat her older sisters with unmerited coldness and neglect.
The question whether there is need for a new theological discipline of this general character can best be answered by asking ourselves whether a well-defined field of theological knowledge exists for whose exploration hitherto recognized departments do not make adequate provision, and which is of sufficient importance to deserve, not only incidental, but separate and detailed treatment. It can be shown, we think, that this latter question permits of an affirmative answer. Among the fundamental subjects which lie at the basis of our entire Christian system, there is scarcely one that has received such scant notice as the great subject of supernatural revelation in its historic aspect. From
* Reprinted with correcttions from The Union Seminary Magazine 13/3 (February - March 1902): 194-99.
an apologetic and philosophical standpoint much has been done for it; but, historically considered, it still awaits the first turning of the sod. Back of the formation of the Scriptures as a whole, back of the writing of the single books of Scripture, lies the great process of the supernatural self-disclosure of God in history by word and act. Surely it cannot be superfluous to ascertain its laws, to observe its methods, to trace the mutual adjustment of its various stages, to watch the ripening of its purposesin a word, to investigate its philosophy, so far as this is possible to the human mind. But this is precisely what Biblical theology sets out to do. Whatever may be thought of the manner in which the task has been hitherto performed, the legitimacy of the undertaking will not be denied by any one who is a firm believer in the supernatural.
It might be said, however, that adequate provision is made, or can be made, for all this in the already existing and generally recognized theological disciplines. Systematic theology deals with the revelation of God. But systematic theology deals with it not as a process of divine activity in history; here revelation appears as a finished product, to be logically apprehended and systematized. With more show of reason, sacred history might be expected to take charge of the subject, inasmuch as it describes the unfolding of the plan of redemption in the life of the chosen people, in which, of course, revelation played a most prominent part. Still it is obvious that even thus but very partial justice could be done to so fundamental and complicated a problem. In sacred history revelation appears as one of the factors which have exercised a determining influence; that is to say, it does not form the center of the discussion. Sacred history deals with the redemptive realities created by the supernatural activity of God. Biblical theology deals with the redemptive knowledge communicated in order to interpret these realities. From this it follows, that while the two are intimately associated, yet they are logically distinct. The one moves in the sphere of being, the other in the sphere of truth.
In order to obtain a more definite conception of Biblical theology we must ascertain the general features of God's revealing work. The first of these is its historical progress. The self-revelation of God is a work covering ages. In the abstract, it is quite conceivable that the entire context of revealed truth should have been communicated at once. That God has not
done this may be in part explained from the finiteness of the human understanding. There exist, however, much deeper reasons for it in the nature of revelation itself. Revelation is not an isolated act of God. It constitutes a part of the formation of the new world of redemption, and this new world does not come into being suddenly and all at once, but is realized in a long historical process. This could not be otherwise, since at every point its formation proceeds on the basis of, and in contact with, the natural development of this world in the form of history. It is simply owing to our habit of unduly separating revelation from this comprehensive background of the total redeeming work of God that we fail to appreciate its historic, progressive nature. From the dependence of revelation on redemption, we can also explain why the history of the former had to come to a close when redemption, in the objective sense, had been completed. Revelation is designed to prepare, to accompany, and to interpret the great objective redemptive acts of God, such as the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection. It is not intended to follow the subjective appropriation of redemption in its further course. To expect revelations after the close of the apostolic age would be as unreasonable as to think that the great saving facts of that period can be increased or repeated.
A further ground for the historic character of revelation may be found in its eminently practical aspect. The knowledge of God communicated by it is nowhere for a purely intellectual purpose. From beginning to end it is intended to enter into the actual life of man. Hence God has interwoven his revelation with the historic life of the chosen race, so as to secure for it a practical form in all its parts. This principle has found its clearest expression in the idea of the covenant as the form of God's self-revelation to Israel. The covenant is an all-comprehensive communion of life, in which every self-disclosure is made subservient to a practical end.
The historic progress thus ascribed to supernatural revelation may be more closely defined as a species of organic development. Although the knowledge of God has received material increase through the ages, this increase nowhere shows the features of external accretion, but appears throughout as an organic unfolding from within. The elements of truth are seen to grow out of each other. The gospel of paradise is a germ in which the gospel of Paul is potentially present. Dispensation grows out of dispensation, and the newest is but
the fully expanded flower of the oldest. The result of this organic character of revelation we witness, in its progressive delivery, an ever-increasing multiformity. In the Old Testament already, and still more in the New, there are clearly-distinct types of teaching. Further, there are numerous other variations closely associated with the peculiarities of individual character in the organs of revelation. This individual coloring is not only not detrimental to a full statement of the truth, but directly subservient to it, because God's method includes the very shaping and chiselling of individualities for his own ends. The human is but a glass through which the divine light is reflected, and all the sides and angles into which the glass has been cut serve no other purpose than to distribute to us the truth in all the riches of its prismatic colors.
After what has been said, it may be in order to frame a definition of Biblical theology. We have seen that the revelation of God constitutes a sphere of supernatural divine activity distinct from other spheres, determined by laws of orderly historic sequence, such as are subject to scientific theological investigation. Biblical theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity.
It must be admitted, however, that not everything at present passing under the name of Biblical theology satisfies the requirements of the definition just given. The evolutionistic philosophy, which has so strongly influenced the course of theology in other departments, has affected the treatment of Biblical theology more than that of any other discipline. The reason is obvious. The principle of historic progress in revelation, on which Biblical theology rests, presents certain analogies with the principle of said philosophy. These analogies are merely formal; the development sketched in the Bible is totally different from the naturalistic evolution, by the help of which present-day philosophy seeks to explain the history of the universe. Nevertheless, the formal similarity has not unnaturally aroused suspicion against Biblical theology as such, all the more so since, as a matter of fact, many modern theologians have applied this naturalistic principle to the explanation of the growth of Biblical truth. Thus, in harmony with the agnostic character of the philosophy of evolution, which claims that man can know phenomena only, the treatment of the science has been entirely subjectivized, so that our modern Bibli-
cal theologians professedly deal, not with the progress of supernatural revelation, in which they do no longer believe, but with the development of subjective religion in Biblical times, and devote their labors to the discovery and reproduction of a number of diminutive doctrinal systems, often contradictory among themselves, which they profess to find in the Bible. And from this it further follows that the development traced by such writers is not a development remaining in all its stages within the sphere of absolute, perfect truth, but a development largely consisting in the elimination of error. All this, however, while deeply deplorable, and imposing upon every student of Biblical theology an increased responsibility, lest by his own attitude he should give countenance to this fatal tendency, has nothing to do with the nature of the science itself. It represents a perversion and corruption of it, which should not be allowed to prejudice us against its cultivation in a proper Biblical spirit. If the objective character of revelation, its infallibility, the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures as containing its record be firmly upheld, there is no danger that anti-Christian principles will creep in to exercise their destructive influence upon the minds of our students.
Much more, however, can be said in favor of Biblical theology, as a theological discipline, than that it admits of treatment in a harmless spirit. The practical results which may be expected to follow its cultivation are by no means inconsiderable. It exhibits to the student of the word the organic structure of revealed truth. By doing this it interprets to him the meaning and relative importance of the single aspects and elements of truth. There is no better safeguard against that one-sidedness in the appreciation of truth, which is the source of all heresy, than an intelligent insight into the vital, organic relation which any one doctrine sustains to all others. Besides this, Biblical theology imparts new life and freshness to the old truth by placing it in its original historic setting. The Bible is not a handbook of dogmatics: it is a historical book full of dramatic interest. Familiarity with the history of revelation will enable the student to utilize the concrete realistic interest attaching to the truth, and so to guard against a too abstract presentation of it. Still furtherand this is a matter of great importance at the present dayBiblical Theology bears witness to the indispensableness of correct knowledge of the truth for every healthy religious development, because it shows what infinite care God has taken to reveal truth to us. Again, Biblical theology
meets the charge that the fundamental doctrines of our faith rest on an arbitrary exposition of isolated proof-texts. That system will hold the field which can show that its doctrines grow organically on the stem of revelation, and are interwoven with its whole structure from beginning to end. This our Biblical theology should do for our dogmatics. In doing this it will also help to keep dogmatics in touch with the realities of actual revelation, so as to guard it from losing itself in fruitless speculations. Finally, the highest practical aim of Biblical theology is that it grants us a new vision of the glory of God. As eternal, he lives above the sphere of history. He is the Being, and not the becoming one. But, since for our salvation he has condescended to work and speak in the form of time, and thus to make his work and his speech partake of the peculiar glory that belongs to all organic growth, we must also seek to know him as the One that is, that was, and that is to come, in order that our theology may adequately perform its function of glorifying God in every mode of his self-revelation to us.
In the foregoing the question has not been raised in how far the name Biblical theology fits the discipline we have endeavored to describe. It cannot be denied that this name lies open to serious objection, although it may be impossible to displace it, now that it has become almost generally adopted. The appropriation of the adjective "Biblical" would seem to call in question the Biblical character of the other theological disciplines, which, from a Protestant point of view, would be tantamount to denying their right of existence altogether. If the usual division of theology into the four departments of Exegetical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical Theology is to be retained, the designation of a subdivision of one of these four by a phrase constructed on the same principle as the names of the main divisions, must inevitably lead to confusion of thought. These difficulties can all be obviated by substituting for Biblical Theology the name, "History of (Special) Revelation," which has actually been adopted by some writers.
The Resurrected Child
Charles G. Dennison
In celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the church invariably stays close to the stories about the empty tomb found in the four gospels, preferably one of the accounts from the synoptics. As we consider the resurrection, however, we do well to be on our guard against such an approach, lest we fail to profit from what the whole of Scripture has to say about the subject.
We are not helped much by the contemporary church in appreciating the extent of the testimony in Scripture to the resurrection, especially that part of the church that takes pride in calling itself "contemporary." This branch of the ecclesiastical world focuses on the resurrection narratives not only because of its predictable seasonal interest, but because it finds those narratives overbrimming with charm, warmth, enthusiasm, even romancejust the sorts of things thought so useful for its seeker-sensitive messages.
After all, the resurrection stories provide such excellent raw material for promoting the contemporary church's vision for ministry. Where else, but in the resurrection stories, do we find better material for positive, uplifting messages about success in the face of overwhelming odds? What other biblical stories offer such a powerful statement about
human potential? Jesus, you should know, was the greatest "possibility thinker" of all time. He triumphed over death, we are told, because he kept his mind right and continued, even on the cross, to believe in the possibility of victory. Along these lines, I'm reminded of a message on the resurrection from one of the megachurch moguls; it bore the profane title: "You can't keep a good man down!"
There is, of course, another corner of the contemporary church, the corner that prefers to be known as modern. This portion of the ecclesiastical world also enjoys the resurrection accounts, not because it believes the gospel records or embraces Jesus' bodily resurrection as an historical fact. Rather, modernism is drawn to these tales because they are filled with such poetry, such powerful religious symbolism.
Here is affirmation of the optimism so cherished by modernism. The resurrection story's true value lies beyond even classical liberalism's interest in mythical notions about immortality and in its message about the power and progress of life itself. What use is religion, anyway, if it fails to promote human and world betterment? If it fails to provide an agenda for this year's favorite oppressed minority? If it fails to supply support in those inevitable visits to hospital rooms and funeral homes through comforting words about our contribution, limited as it might be, to Life Almighty? Of course, the modernist church is no less hypocritical here than it is in so many matters about which it so self-righteously puffs and blows, as its wholesale support of the slaughter of the unborn proves.
While there are reasons the contemporary church, whether modernist or evangelical, hangs close to the gospel narratives in considering the resurrection, there are also reasons the book of Revelation is furthest from the place these people want to be at the Easter season. We cannot help but notice a certain irony in this. With all the figurative language in Revelation, what better place for those whose religion is principally preoccupied with image?
Of course, the imagery in Revelation doesn't exactly fit the contemporary church's notion of image or contribute much to its program and goals. For example, the images in Revelation are not the type to mix well with the anthropocentric, subjective, anti-historical attitude, dominating the contemporary church.
History, of course, is very much at the center of Revelationsince Revelation is nothing, if it isn't history. Its imagery reinforces its intention to be a book of history of the most unique sort. Within its pages, we have powerfully presented the comprehensive history of God's people, the church of Jesus Christ, from Christ's first coming to his second. Revelation's images come to us from the exalted God-centered consciousness of the sublime religion at work in the book, as the Lord of history identifies himself with that history and thereby guarantees its certainty. Therefore, he presents himself as " . . . him which is, and which was, and which is to come . . ." (1:4); and "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end . . . which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" (1:8; cp. 21:6; 22:13).
This historyalways one and the sameis reviewed multiple times throughout the course of Revelation. First, it comes to us from the angle of one like the Son of Man, standing among the seven golden lampstands with words directed to the churches of Asia Minor but intended to speak to the church to the end of the age (chapters 1-3). This one and the same history next is surveyed by concentrating on the Lamb of God, whose breaking of the seals on the mysterious book carries God's full purpose into action and to completion (chapters 4-7). Then, as the shattering blasts from the angels with their trumpets rend the world and the church has her life summed up in the two witnesses of Revelation 11, the identical history is again scrutinized (chapters 8-11). The conflict between the woman with her child and the dragon with his minions opens up yet another angle of vision on the history of the world as it moves toward its conclusion (chapters 12-14). This history is once more recounted in the description of the angels from the heavenly sanctuary who pour out their bowls of wrath (chapters 15, 16), as it is in the movement toward consummate judgment upon this Babylon-of-church-and-world (chapters 17-19). Finally, the church's complete history is pic-
tured with us presently participating in Christ's millennial reign, at the end of which comes the final struggle and life in glory through God's great condescension to his own in love (chapters 20-22)1
Revelation is a history book and the best of Christian interpretation has understood this. And yet, while many have no trouble accepting Revelation's historical character, some have had difficulty admitting its comprehensive sweep. For example, a growing number of people limit the book's chief historical interest to the years leading up to the temple's destruction in A. D. 70. Others say Revelation focuses on the years proximate Christ's return and its aftermath.
However, such approaches truncate the scope of John's visions and prove inadequate in communicating the full sense of the church's participation in what is being described. Set before her is not a portion of her life, however important that portion is thought to be. Much less is Revelation, in the main, about national Israel. Rather, in this conclusive book to the New Testament canon, nothing less than the church's entire life is presented. We may even say, it is being hammered home repeatedly, first with Christ in the church's midst commending, correcting, and warning her, then with her hid in him "safe and secure" in the midst of all this world's alarms, until her final glory comes to light.
Now to be sure, this unique history comes to us in profound imagery. By way of this imagery, the church's history is presented as no mere record of bare facts. Instead, Revelation communicates the church's history overtly in terms of its meaning. Here is another dimension to the contemporary church's avoidance of this book. The synoptic gospels do not explicitly present the
1 Summarized here is the recapitulation approach to Revelation so well presented by William Hendriksen in More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1939). Hendriksen's basic interpretation, with variations, is held by many. In an unpublished manuscript, Meredith G. Kline has offered his own refinement, particularly in his interpretation of the later chapters. For a published example of Kline's work on Revelation, with implications for the outline of the book, see "Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium," JETS 39/2 (June 1996): 207-222. I have not had time to research this matter but suspect that G. K. Beale's recently published commentary on Revelation stands close to Kline [The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999)].
meaning of the events they record. Thus, they may become the occasion, in the wrong hands, for a studied avoidance of the true meaning but also everything but the true intention of the text.
With Revelation, however, we are forced to deal with the meaning, since the meaning is directly before us in the imagery that overlays the book. We may arguequite passionately, in factabout the imagery; but such struggles demonstrate we cannot avoid the issue of explicit meaning, if we are to approach Revelation on its own terms.
However, this leaves some in an impossible situation, as you can well imagine. Coming to grips with Revelation's meaning confronts them with images of a startling and even disturbing nature. The last thing the contemporary church wishes to set before its audiences are images of this sort. While they have a place in the Bible, such images have no place in the lighter-than-air messages composed for their mass appeal, free of all negative, frightening, offensive, and supposed non-growth features. Let's face it; John's description of the whore of Babylon is gender insensitive.
For those of us unimpressed by such reasoning, and rightly callous toward the contemporary church's preposterous sensitivities, Revelation is as good a place as any when considering the resurrection. Not that Revelation doesn't leave us more than a little amazed, even more than a little unsettled at what we find. Revelation 12:5, for example, catches us off guard because of the unique light it casts upon the resurrection event. That verse reads this way: "And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne" (KJV).
You may be surprised, at hearing this verse again, that I have connected it to the resurrection. There seems to be mention at its beginning of the incarnation, reference to the birth of God's son as he comes forth from the womb of Mary. At the end of the verse, you hear the word about the ascension into glory, as the child is "caught up unto God, and to his throne." But where, you ask, is the resurrection, the movement of the child from death to life? It seems
to you that verse 5 presents a sweeping review of the career of the Messiah, touching his life at its extremities, i. e., at his birth and his ascension.
To be sure, this is a very compelling interpretation, one to which many have quickly leaped. In support, appeal has been made to Genesis 3:15. The figures of Mary and her child Jesus are understood as the fulfillment of the promise made to to Eve concerning a seed who would crushed the serpent's head. How fitting this seems in the context of Revelation 12:5, when mention is made in verse 9 of the great red dragon, who is none other than the serpent of old.
However, as compelling as this interpretation is and as inappropriate as it is in verse 5 to dismiss entirely Christ's actual birth to Mary, certain considerations push us down a different path. To begin with, the woman in Revelation 12 is not Mary. This woman belongs to the prophetic anticipations of texts like Isaiah 66:7-9, a passage in which Zion in the figure of a pregnant woman brings forth a whole new nation in the birth of her child. So conclusive is this birth and so wonderful its joy, it displaces even the birth pangs belonging to it: "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." (v. 8). Pictured in this prophecy is elect Israel, faithful to God, awaiting in travail her anointed king and his eschatological community. Although Mary is a piece of this prophecy, she is not the woman per se.
Secondly, while the birth in Isaiah 66 introduces the child at a point beyond threat to the child, the child of Revelation 12:5 is not beyond threat until he is caught up to God. This means that the travail belonging to this child's birth does not end until he assumes his reign. In the truest of senses, here is his birth and the end of the woman's birth pangs; not the birth to Mary in Bethlehem, but the birth to expectant Israel many years later just outside Jerusalem.
Mary, whose tears began with Jesus' birth, does not end her travail, so to speak, until he is raised. The presence of the women at the resurrection scene, some of them named Mary, serve as poetic conclusion to the nativity, underscoring the fact that Christ is not full-born except in his death and resurrection. Theologically this is to say the nativity lacks all meaning apart from the crucifixion and resurrection. The same message is reinforced effectively in Luke's gospel by the matching of birth clothes and grave clothes (cp. 2:7 and 23:53; 24:12), by stressing the virgin womb and the virgin tomb (cp. 1:27, 34
and 23:53), and by joining the service of Joseph of Galilee to that of Joseph of Arimathea (cp. 1:27, 2:4 and 23:50-53).
However, as important a matter pushing us along this other path in Revelation 12:5 is its citation of Psalm 2:9. We are told the remarkable child is destined "to rule all the nations with a rod of iron", the words "with a rod of iron" being lifted from the second Psalm. Recalling the importance of this Psalm, you cannot help but be struck by its earlier relevant statement in verse 7: "I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." The interesting thing is, despite Psalm 2's direct reference to the divine begetting of the Son, never once is it applied in the New Testament to Christ's birth to Mary. Rather, Psalm 2 specifically anticipates the Messiah's exaltation. One passage powerfully sets the tone for much of the New Testament's use of the Psalm. I refer to Acts 13:33, where Paul tells those at Antioch of Pisidia, " . . . God hath fulfilled . . . [his promise] . . . , in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." According to this text, the birth of the Son is the resurrection.
Thus far in our consideration of Revelation 12:5, we have seen the woman, who is not Mary but the faithful, expectant people of God; the birth with its agony, which is not the birth in Bethlehem but the crucifixion and resurrection event outside Jerusalem; and the significance of Psalm 2:9 in connection with Revelation 12:5, which is not a reference to the nativity but to the resurrection of Christ. Finally, we have the child himself. Actually, the child is the most startling feature of the text. That he is portrayed as a child through all this verse describes may leave us somewhat confused. If, in fact, the birth is the child's exaltation, the extraordinary thing is that he should still be presented to us a child in that context. Had not the child by then become the man?
It is at this point that we are tested concerning our comprehension of Revelation's intention. I have been arguing for Revelation as a unique history, never leaving matters at the level of mere external event. The book pressures us to penetrate the meaning inherent in the event. But how, you ask, does John's vision of Christ as child in resurrected and ascension glory penetrate to the meaning of his exaltation?
The vision's meaning, to say the least, is glorious. Expecting to see the powerful king, the Lord of glory, we see a child. For those of us of the Reformed faith, this vision becomes especially convicting and even disarming, because of John's appeal to Psalm 2. It has been this Psalm, after all, which Reformed pulpits have repeatedly cited through the years to justify the call to lordly governmental activism and even mobilizaiton of armies in the interest of the crown rights of King Jesus.
John's vision, however, presents us with no lordly head of state. Rather, its sets before us a meek and humble child. Not that this child doesn't reign! Indeed, he does. But in the divinely ironic character of the present administration of the kingdom, Christ reigns specifically through his meekness that we, being united to him, might reign in childlike humility with him. He who told us we must become as children (cp. Mt. 18:3), that we must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:3) was himself made the child, was himself born again so that he might enter before us and on our behalf. The one who commanded foot-washing, not as ceremony, but as way of life, himself washed feet (Jn. 13:4-17). In contrast to the spirit of gentile ambitions, he continues to reign among us as servant and we must follow him (Mt. 20:20-28).
Nothing less than this introduces us into the meaning of the resurrected child of Revelation 12:5; and I might add, nothing less than this introduces us into the present meaning of Psalm 2 for the church. Neither do I hesitate to say: Revelation 12 exegetes Psalm 2.
The compelling irony witnessed here in Revelation 12 received an earlier endorsement from Revelation 5. In that context, as John wept uncontrollably because no one was found to open the sealed book (v. 4), one of the twenty-four elders consoled him by telling him the Lion of Judah had overcome and was worthy to open the book (v. 5). However when John looked fully expecting to see the lion of Judah, he instead beholds, in the midst of the throne, the four living creatures, and the elders, a Lamb as if slain (v. 6). In other words, in the place of the figure manifesting great glory appears a figure communicating the most magnificent humility. The Lamb of Revelation 5 and the resurrected child of Revelation 12 preach the same message.
Yet, we dare not close this sermon without clearly stating this warning: the one we have seen as the slain Lamb and the resurrected child finally comes with crown and sickle (cp. 14:14); finally appears as the regal warrior, riding his white horse, his eyes aflame, his robe dripping with blood, bearing his name the Word of God, his mouth holding his tempered irresistible sword with which he slays the nations, his rod of iron ruling the peoples, his vesture and his thigh adorned with the inscription, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords (19:11-16).
How unfortunate if the contemporary church is no more prepared to meet such a startling, disturbing figure than it is to live in the lamb-likeness and child-likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ presently. How tragic if the Reformed church, for its own reasons, finds itself equally offended. I trust that is not the case for you.
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
The New Exodus in
the Risen Lamb
Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ, our God has given us the blessings of his kingdom through the resurrection of our Savior. And he will come again to judge his enemies and bring us to glory. To him be glory and dominion for ever.
In the past Israel was in bondage in Egypt. But God set his love upon Israel. Thus he appeared to Moses in the burning bush as "I Am." Then God freed the firstborn of Israel from death through the Passover lamb. After this he guided them through the Red Sea by a cloud. But he destroyed the Egyptians by the cloud and the sea. Then God brought Israel to Mt. Sinai where he called them to be a kingdom of priests. There he gave them his law. That law was later placed in the tabernacle as a continual witness to his grace.
Still Israel did not worship their God but gave themselves over to a golden calf. And even in the land of promise, Israel turned aside to worship other gods. They didn't trust in God's power to save them from their enemies. Instead, they scrambled for other ways to find security. So God sent them back into bondage in Babylon. All appeared to be lost. They fell into despair mourning the loss of their land.
But there was one hope. God had said of David in the 89th Psalm, "I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth . . . his seed . . . shall be established forever . . . as a faithful witness in heaven." This promise God has fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For John calls Christ "the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5).
Christ has brought a new exodus, and in it he has been exalted as the firstborn king. Jesus says in Revelation 22:16, "I am the root and offspring of David."
For Solomon, although he came after David, was not the promised seed.
But Christ rose from the dead.
Christ assures us that he has freed us forever by the imagery of our text. For it is the imagery of the exodus. In verses 4 and 8 God is called "the one who is and who was and who is coming." This reminds us of the divine name "I Am" which God used with Moses. Verse 6, where we are made a kingdom and priests, is a clear reference to Exodus 19:6 where God called Israel to be a kingdom of priests.
In light of these clear references to the exodus, other allusions fit in with these exodus themes:
In verse 5, Christ is the firstborn from the dead just as all the first- born of Israel were saved from death by the blood of the Passover Lamb;
In verse 5 again, Christ has loved us and freed us from our sins just as God set his love upon Israel and freed her from bondage in Egypt; We too have been loved and freed from bondage;
At the end of verse 5, we are freed by his blood just as Israel was freed by the blood of the Lamb;
Finally in verse 8, Christ will destroy his enemies with a cloud of judg- ment just as God destroyed Israel's enemies with the cloud that accompanied them.
The New Exodus Surpasses the Old Exodus
But the new exodus in Christ surpasses the old exodus in three distinct ways. To see this we must first look at the structure of our text, which is divided into three distinct sections.
These three sections are bracketed by verses 4 and 8 with the name of God, "the one who is, and who was, and who is to come." These words serve as a frame to our text, coming at the beginning and end. They assure us that God has freed his people (the one who was), is present with his people in their suffering witness (the one who is), and will come again to deliver us (the one who is coming).
The first of the three sections is composed of verse 4 and the first half of verse 5. There God blesses us in Christ. He says in verse 4, "Grace and peace to you," a blessing which extends to the middle of verse 5.
The second of the three sections begins in the middle of verse 5 with the words "unto him" and concludes at the end of verse 6. In the middle of verse 5 we respond to God's blessing with joyful worship: "Unto him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood." The first words "unto him" clearly identify this as worship. This clause begins the same way the song of worship in Revelation 5:13 begins: "Unto him who sits on the throne," that is, "unto him who sits on the throne
and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." The second section of our text in chapter 1, verse 6 even ends in the same way: "to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever," and then adds "Amen."
The third of the three sections is composed of verses 7 and 8. There Christ will come again to judge his enemies and deliver his people.
Thus, in the first and last sections we have the work of God, and in the middle we have the response of his people in worship. In the first section Christ assures us of his past work of redemption and his present blessing. In the last section he guarantees his future return. John enfolds us in the work of Christ. He surrounds us with the already and the not yet. He begins with the alreadywhat God has already done for his people. He ends with the not yetthe future return of Christ that has not yet come.
And in the middle we respond in worship. We praise him for his great and mighty works in Christ. Praise God! We have been emancipated! We praise him in the midst of our suffering witness, for in it we have the presence of the heavenly sanctuary. Yes, in it we now possess the indestructible life of the risen Lamb. By his presence he assures us that we have resurrection life to come; yea, no more suffering. We are surrounded by the new exodus in the final Lamb of God.
As we said, this new exodus surpasses the old one. And it does this in three specific ways based on the structure of our text.
1) The new exodus in Christ brings the eternal blessings of the kingdom of God. God blesses us forever because his Son has been raised as king forever.
2) The new exodus in Christ has made us eternal priests who worship Christ forever. We are eternal worshippers because we have been freed from bondage forever by Christ's blood.
3) And finally, the new exodus in Christ will destroy all of God's enemies forever. Christ's second coming will be universal and final. In it the Lamb will deliver you from suffering, persecution, and death because he will destroy all of your enemies forever.
Let us look at each of these in turn.
The New Exodus Brings the Eternal Kingdom of God
First, the new exodus in Christ brings the eternal blessings of the kingdom of God. The theme of the kingdom is clearly evident. In the first section we see God's throne (vs. 4). And Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth (vs. 5). In the second section we are called a kingdom (vs. 6), and God's dominion is praised.
You will notice the movement of our text from the first to the second section. The blessing of God's throne and Christ's rule in the first section is transferred to us in the second. We become a kingdom. We participate in the blessed arena of God's throne where Christ is exalted as king, and thus, we are a kingdom. We become kings in Christ our King.
But, you might object, "aren't the saints in heaven worshipping God because he is different from them?" "Aren't they worshipping God because he has glory and dominion while they don't?" Certainly, God has a unique glory that he can never give to us because we are creatures. And he has displayed it most fully in the new exodus. For this we must worship and adore him. At the same time he has shared this glory with us insofar as we are able to receive it as creatures. This is sometimes referred to as God's communicable attributes. God gave his people these attributes under the first exodus. But now, under the new exodus, he has given them to us in greater abundance by making us participate more fully in the heavenly life. Out of the abundance of the new exodus, God has allowed us to participate in his heavenly life and glory. In this way we are brought into intimate communion with him. His heart is filled with love for you (Rev. 1:5). Oh, to think that Christ would lavish such love on us. He longs to have intimate fellowship with you. This indeed is true piety, to commune with such rich and eternal love. And this is true worship, to realize that we commune with God Almighty himself, who is uniquely glorious. He has exerted his unique dominion now in the new exodus. Praise him.
For he has been glorified through the resurrection of the Lamb. God is now exalted as king forever.
And he is so exalted because Christ is raised from the dead forever. Our Messiah is not like Solomon, who died and decayed. Since Christ is king forever, our blessings in him are eternal.
The kings of Israel fell from glory. Their true dignity and glory as kings was their identity with God himself. But they sought earthly power and glory instead, so God brought the curse of Babylon upon them. He destroyed their kingdom and gave their glory to another.
But God shed the blood of the final Lamb to remove our curse forever. He has taken us out of bondage. He has made us a kingdom forever, eternally protected from all our enemies. Unlike Israel of old we can never be destroyed, even by the greatest persecution and suffering. For we have been given an indestructible, eternal dignity and glory in the risen Lamb!
The world may be against you, but you have triumphed over the world in Christ. Therefore, don't think that the world can crush you in its grip. Though suffering may seem to overwhelm you, take heart. For it cannot overcome you. No nothing, not even death, can defeat you, for you are kings in Christ. And our kingly dignity in the midst of suffering witnesses to the world that Christ is king. Christ is our king, not the world. For he has triumphed over the world. This new exodus has established his kingdom forever and has brought you into the eternal blessings of the kingdom of God.
The New Exodus Brings Eternal Priesthood
Now we come to the second way in which the new exodus in Christ surpasses the old.
The new exodus in Christ has made us eternal priests who worship Christ forever. We are eternal worshippers because we have been freed from bondage forever by Christ's blood. God freed Israel from bondage by the blood of the Passover Lamb, not the fullness of his own blood. But Christ has loved
you and freed you from bondage by his own blood. He is the final Lamb of God; so your freedom can never be reversed.
In the old exodus God loved Israel and commanded Pharaoh saying, "Let my people go that they may serve me" (Ex. 10:3). And he gave them the tabernacle in the wilderness to worship before him. Then he built and blessed the temple through Solomon with the sacrifice of lambs and oxen (I Kgs. 8:5, 10- 25). There Israel worshipped the Lord.
But the old exodus and its kingdom did not give them an enduring place of worship. For Israel became consumed with the things of the world. Such a mind-set will steal true worship from your soul. You know what I am talking about! God's response was terrifying. He judged Israel with the curses of the covenant. Babylon destroyed the temple and carried Israel away into captivity.
But your heavenly tabernacle can never be destroyed, and you can never be taken into bondage again. For the eschatological Lamb has removed the curse from you forever. You will always be free to worship the risen Lamb, even in the midst of your greatest suffering and persecution. No, neither suffering, nor persecution, nor even death can take this from you, because you have been set free forever by the blood of the last and final Lamb. And your heavenly place of worship is indestructible.
Through your confident worship in the midst of suffering, persecution, and death you witness to the reality of your heavenly and indestructible temple. You witness to the eternal glory of the risen Lamb. When you continue to worship God in your sufferings, you show the world that your temple is not of this world. It is eternal in the heavens.
As priests in an eternal tabernacle, the world can not invade your temple and pull you from its altar, as Babylon did to Israel of old (2 Chron. 36:17). Instead, this temple itself will destroy all those who curse it and who persecute you, its worshipping saints. Your suffering and worshipping witness will be victorious!
The New Exodus Brings Eternal and Universal Judgment
Finally, we come to the last way in which the new exodus surpasses the old. The new exodus in Christ will destroy all of God's enemies.
In the first exodus God judged the Egyptians and the Canaanites, but not the Babylonians. They would arise several hundred years later and take away Israel's freedom. But when God comes again in judgment, all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. God will judge all his enemies forever. And no one will be left to persecute or tempt God's faithful witnesses, not even Babylon the Great.
Christ is coming soon to judge his enemiesthose who curse his name. He is coming with clouds of almighty terror. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him, because the day of his wrath will bring eternal despair.
But we are blessed as kings in Christ. We are enfolded by his almighty hand. We have been delivered in the new exodus. We are secure, free from God's wrath. With confidence we look forward to his coming. For Christ is our security. His word is secure. He testified that he would triumph over suffering and death. He confirmed this in his resurrection. He is the faithful witness to you. "Blessed are those who wash their robes," says the Lord Jesus Christ. You who are in Christ are blessed, not cursed. Yes, you will have "the right to the tree of life" (Rev. 22:14). And he has provided his Amen to this promise. He is the Amen, for he has defeated death. He has exalted himself as the mighty King in his resurrection.
He has delivered us from death to lifefrom a lake of fire and utter peril to a glassy sea of eternal peaceand from eternal despair and mourning to the utter depths of joy found in worshipping Christ Jesus.
San Diego, California
What Should I Read on
Revelation studies is a burgeoning field at present. There is a vast amount of scholarship available to the Biblical-Theological preacher today. But as I surveyed the literature, looking for anything that might assist me as a preacher, I soon discovered the need to distinguish between the material that would be useful for the homiletic task, and that which, while interesting in its own right, would contribute little to the glorious weekly assignment before me: to feed God's people with Christ-exalting, heaven-opening messages from this wonderful book. I approach the question, "What Should I Read on Revelation," as a preacher, as one who is zealous to be the ordained instrument of God in leading Christ's sheep into the heavenly places with Christthat with John the seer, they too might be "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10), and see "a door standing open in heaven" (Rev. 4:1). I have been preaching through Revelation for about five months now, and am currently in chapter five. What follows is an overview of the materials that have proved most useful to me in this process. I also offer some comments on one commentary which I found to be less than profitable in order to save the penurious preacher from shooting his wad on tempting but tediously trivial tomes.
The Biblical Theologian who wants to preach through Revelation has more tools at his disposal today than ever before. While William Hendriksen's More Than Conquerors, originally published in 1939, is still useful, a wealth of new material has become available since then. Critical scholarship has been paying increasing attention to this once neglected portion of the Bible. There is a current shift in critical scholarship, across the entire face of Old and New Testament studies, from source and form criticism to a stress on the literary unity and aesthetic power of biblical literature. Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza classifies the 20th century research on Revelation according to two major types: historical-critical analyses, and literary-functional interpretation.1
The older historical-critical methodology attributed the doublets, inconsistencies, and repetitions of the text to a mysterious editorial process in which various Jewish and Christian apocalyptic sources were patched together into the quilt we now know as Revelation. The classic attempt to work this out was that of R. H. Charles in his two-volume commentary (1920) for the International Critical Commentary edited by Driver, Plummer, and Briggs. More recently (1975) J. M. Ford put forth a new source hypothesis in which two apocalypses from John the Baptist and his school were redacted by a Baptist disciple who had become a follower of Jesus (The Anchor Bible). Ford's novel theory has not been generally received. Along these lines, scholars in the historical-critical camp have also spent much energy attempting to discern the Sitz im Leben ("life setting") of the so-called liturgical and hymnic materials in the book. This form-critical approach is often tied in with a history-of-religions analysis which seeks to trace elements of Revelation to an original matrix in Jewish apocalyptic, Hellenistic mythology, or early Christian prophetic-eschatological forms.
Schüssler Fiorenza believes that this historical-critical method is now beginning to fade into the background and that a paradigm shift is taking place in the scholarly interpretation of Revelation. "The current
1 Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, "Revelation," in The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters, ed. Eldon Jay Epp and George W. MacRae (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), pp. 407-27.
progress in the historical-critical analysis of Revelation moves in a way parallel to that of other NT writings. Just as in other areas the stress on source and form criticism has been replaced by a stress on redaction criticism, so in scholarship on Revelation the source and compilation theories of the last century have given way to the scholarly consensus that Revelation is the theological work of one author."2 She states that Revelation is no longer seen as Jewish writing superficially edited by later Christian redactors, but as "an authentic Christian prophetic-apocalyptic work addressed to the situation and problems of the Christian church in western Asia Minor".3 As a result, the shift is now away from historical-critical analyses to literary-functional interpretations which focus on Revelation's literary structure, and the imaginative, evocative power of its symbolic language. This does not mean that the traditional critical methodologies have been totally abandoned, but critical scholars now recognize that the meaning of Revelation's symbolic language cannot be derived from an archeological excavation of the historical traditions that lie behind the text, but by studying the literary conventions and social function of apocalyptic symbolic discourse as found in the text before us.
With these developments in mind, I now offer the following comments on a selection of some recent Revelation scholarship. I include not only commentaries but other monographs and articles of which the Biblical-Theological preacher or student should be aware. My order of treatment is basically alphabetical.
Aune, David. Revelation 1-5. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1997.4
In light of the emerging literary paradigm, Aune's recent massive commentary, which may seem full of promise at first, turns out to be a major _________________________
2 Fiorenza, op. cit., p. 415.
4 Volumes two and three are now available, but I have not been able to read them as of the writing of this review.
disappointment. Aune states in his preface that out of the enormous bibliography of books and articles on Revelation, he is "particularly indebted to the rich and creative commentaries of Wilhelm Bousset and R. H. Charles" (p. xii). Aune self-consciously places himself in the older historical-critical tradition of Revelation studies, striving to update Charles' search for the elusive textual sources, doublets, seams, editors, and redactors. Aune's commentary reveals the profile of a well-funded but uninspired, plodding academic who views commentary writing as the literary equivalent of the archeological task of amassing and cataloguing a mind-numbing mountain of broken potsherds. No doubt he is an erudite scholar. But he lacks theological and literary sensitivity. He is more interested in textual criticism than understanding the symbolismeven on an aesthetic, much less a theological level.
It appears that Aune had access to computer programs like Thesarus Lingua Graecae, which enabled him to quarry Greco-Roman, Hellenistic, Rabbinic, Qumranic, Gnostic, and early Christian apocalyptic literature for similar words and phrases. After cataloguing every conceivable cross-reference in the ancient world, one would have expected Aune to draw some conclusions regarding the most likely source of influence. But such scholarly weighing and sifting of the evidence rarely occurs. After trying the reader's patience, he simply moves on to the next word and repeats his parallelomania with the same sterile results. If any significance at all is derived from such research, Aune usually relates it to his own hypothetical speculations regarding the sources, composition, and final editing of the book by an unknown Jewish apocalyptist turned Christian prophet.
In spite of these problems, sections 1-4 of the introduction on authorship, date, genre, and literary structure are worth reading. While the Biblical-Theological preacher will disagree with the majority of Aune's conclusions (such as his rejection of recapitulation as a major structural device), Aune's up-to-date survey of the scholarship should be consulted. If you hesitate to go out and plunk down $32.99 (retail) for each of the three volumes, you may be better off just checking out
volume one from the library to read the introduction and glean references from his extensive bibliography.
Barr, David L. "The Apocalypse as a Symbolic Transformation of the World: A Literary Analysis." Interpretation 38 (1984) 39-50.
If Aune is blissfully unaware of the new literary paradigm heralded by Schüssler Fiorenza, David Barr offers a reading of the Apocalypse that takes this exciting new approach into account. Taking his cue from the work of Northrop Frye, Barr argues that Revelation, like all literature, creates its own worlda world of angels and monsters, whores and virgins, Christ and Antichrist. "The reader/hearer is asked to believe, then, that there exists a world above this one where it is possible to see 'what must soon take place' (1:1), a world into which John has entered by means of the spirit. Let us, too, ascend" (p. 40). Barr's thesis is that John uses symbolic language to engage in a process Barr calls "symbolic transformation" by which traditional symbols are reversed and infused with new meaning. Take, for example, the transformation in Rev. 5 of the symbols of power and conquest into images of suffering and weakness. John is told that "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered." He then sees "a Lamb standing as though it had been slain." John is making a bold theological assertion: the Lamb is the Lion, the victim is the victor. Jesus has conquered through suffering and weakness rather than by might. Barr concludes that "the believing community which encountered the Apocalypse as a living performance would be transformed, and so would the world they live in, for they would understand that world differently" (p. 49). Revelation produces a sort of catharsis, or intellectual clarification, which changes the hearer and brings him into another world, a world where Lambs conquer and victims become victors. As a result, the Christians of Asia Minor are no longer suffering helplessly at the hands of Rome. They are now participants in the overthrow of evil and the establishment of God's kingdom.
This analysis has many parallels with that of Schüssler Fiorenza, who speaks of this process as "a poetic-rhetorical construction of an
alternative symbolic universe."5 "John seeks to motivate and encourage Christians in Asia Minor who have experienced harassment and exploitation. He does this not simply by writing a letter of exhortation but by creating a new plausibility structure and symbolic universe within the framework of a prophetic letter. Apocalyptic vision and explicit admonition have the same functions. Revelation provides the vision of an alternative world intended to encourage Christians and to enhance their staying power in the face of suffering and harassment."6
It is not clear whether Barr and Schüssler Fiorenza believe this new narrative world to be objectively realas we orthodox Biblical-Theologians insist. But that lingering doubt does not detract from the usefulness of either scholar's contribution. They help us to see that the symbolism of Revelation operates not as a coded message, but as a means of being transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the heavenly world. Grasping this is the key to Biblical-Theological kerygmatic proclamation from Revelation.
Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
This book is part of the New Testament Theology series edited by James D. G. Dunn. It is not structured as a commentary, but it does generally follow the order of Revelation itself, though unfortunately there is no Scripture index. Bauckham shows that Revelation contains just as much profound theology as Paul's epistles, including, in his estimation, the most developed Trinitarian theology of the entire New Testament. He argues that Revelation is strongly theocentric in its vision and oriented toward the future establishment of God's Kingdom. Some of the themes Bauckham addresses include the church's prophetic witness, overcoming, and the relation between creation, redemption, and eschatology, to name a few.
5 Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), p. 183.
6 Schüssler Fiorenza, "Revelation," in The Books of the Bible, Bernhard W. Anderson, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989), pp. 375f.
Chapter four is very helpful in its survey of some of the major motifs of Revelation. Christ's work is portrayed using three major symbolic themes: Messianic war, the eschatological exodus, and witness. Bauckham traces each of these symbols to their Old Testament background and shows how Revelation engages in Biblical Theology as it uses these symbols to create a distinctive contribution to the New Testament's theological interpretation of the person and work of Christ.
Certain caveats are in order. First, Bauckham has a quasi-universalistic optimism concerning the success of the prophetic ministry of the two witnesses (the church) in Rev. 11. He recognizes that Revelation does not hold out the hope of an unpopulated hell, but he wants to push the text in a direction that is against the grain of the predominant theme of judgment and the outpouring of divine wrath. Second, Bauckham believes that Revelation offers a prophetic critique of Roman power and oppression that makes John sound like an advocate of modern liberation theology.7 It is clear that for Bauckham the relevance of Revelation is found in this aspect of its message, thus prostituting the text to a this-worldly agenda, denying John's clarion call to overcome this passing world in order to obtain end-time blessedness in the eschatological New Creation. If the reader keeps these caveats in mind, however, there are many positive insights for the Biblical-Theological preacher to glean from Bauckham. Even though his theology is not totally orthodox, he has greater sensitivity to the theological significance of Revelation's symbolic imagery than most commentators.8
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
7 This "liberation theology" reading of Revelation is also featured in the work of Schüssler Fiorenza (see previous notes).
8 The student may also wish to consult Bauckham's collection of previously published articles on various topics such as the structure of Revelation, the use of apocalyptic traditions, the Messianic war motif, and other interesting issues: The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993)
Finally! Many of us having been waiting for Beale's commentary for years. We had several anticipations of what Beale was up to based on his earlier work on Revelation, mostly dealing with its Danielic background.9 In many ways, Beale has accomplished what we have needed for a long time: the definitive, exegetical, amillennial commentary on Revelation. Beale is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. As a former colleague of Meredith G. Kline, he has clearly been influenced by Kline's thought on Revelation, particularly with regard to the structure of the book, which he deals with at length, even though not fully aligning himself with Kline's structure. With regard to the exegesis of the millennium (Rev. 20:1-6), Beale's dependence on Kline's work on this text is even more pronounced.
Beale provides what is lacking in Aune: he cites the cross-references to the Old Testament, the intertestamental Jewish literature, and Greco-Roman sources, but he also weighs the evidence and provides guidance in making sense out of the information. Unlike Aune, he generally recognizes the primacy of the Old Testament background (especially Daniel and Ezekiel), placing less weight on possible pagan sources for symbolic meaning. This one feature of Beale is what makes his commentary so helpful in contrast with Aune. Even if one does not agree with his conclusions at each point, all possible Old Testament allusions are dealt with in depth, as well as the important points of continuity between Revelation and the intertestamental Jewish literature.
Concerning the purpose of the symbolism, Beale writes: "The symbols have a parabolic function and are intended to encourage and exhort the audience. They portray a transcendent new creation that has penetrated the present old world through the death and resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. John's vision communicates values that run counter to the values of the old world and provide 'a structure of meaning that grounds' the lives of Christians in the
9 G. K. Beale, "The Influence of Daniel upon the Structure and Theology of John's Apocalypse," JETS 27 (1984) 413-23; The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John (Lanham: University Press of America, 1984).
new world and spells out the eternal significance and consequences of Christ's death, life, and resurrection and of the readers' present choices and behavior. John thus seeks to motivate the readers not to compromise with the world but to align their thoughts and behavior with the God-centered standards of the new creation. They are to see their own situation in this world in the light of the new world, which is now their true home" (p. 69). A very helpful summary of the book as a whole. Notice that Beale has gone beyond the traditional view that Revelation simply seeks to comfort Christians in the midst of persecution (e.g., Hendriksen), and adds the element of exhortation and the call to live in light of the heavenly, eschatological Kingdom.
I have not worked my way through the whole commentary yet, since I am still in chapter five in my preaching schedule, but so far I find myself turning to Beale's commentary first. Beale's writing style is sometimes less than fluid, but he never fails to cover all the essential issues with balanced judgment and Biblical-Theological awareness.
Boring, Eugene M. Revelation. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989.
The Interpretation commentary series is aimed directly at the needs of the preacher and teacher. While its basic theological orientation may be characterized as somewhat neo-orthodox, the series in general, and Boring's contribution in particular, is quite good at getting at the theological and kerygmatic message of the text. After Beale I find myself continually returning to Boring for insight. Boring's treatment of the religio-political crisis facing the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century is concise and helpful (pp. 13-23). His essay on interpreting the symbolic language of Revelation, which he calls "non-objectifying" and "tensive, evocative, and polyvalent" (pp. 51-59), contains much that can be cautiously appropriated by the Biblical-Theologian.10 On the
10 However, cf. Beale's warning against setting up too strong of an antithesis between propositional and mythological language (Beale, pp. 65-69).
whole, Boring's non-evangelical theological background makes him less trustworthy than Beale (e.g., like Bauckham, he advocates a form of universalism), but his concise comments are highly readable, enjoyable, and often thought-provoking for the Biblical-Theological preacher.
Boring, Eugene M. "Narrative Christology in the Apocalypse." Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54 (1992) 702-23.
In this stimulating article, Boring pushes beyond the approach he took in his commentary by drawing on the narrative theology of Hans Frei's The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974). Boring argues that Revelation's Christology is a narrative Christology. The idea "Christ" implies a list of characters and a dramatic plot-line stretching from creation, to incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming. Although genre analysis indicates that Revelation is a vision, an apocalypse and a letter all in one, it nevertheless contains an indispensable narrative element. Boring identifies four levels of narrativity in ascending degrees of contextual scope: John's/the Churches' story; Christ's story; the world's story; and the presupposed narrative world (God's story). John's story and the story of the seven churches (level one) is actually their participation in Christ's story (level two). Just as Christ conquered through faithful witness unto death, so the Christian church hears the call of discipleship to conquer through faithful witness unto death. The world's story (level three) is also Christologically conditioned, since all the violent terror of the judgments proceed from a scroll in the hand of a slain Lamb. And finally, all three levels imply the existence of a larger macronarrativethe presupposed narrative of God's story. The macronarrative is the story of creation, fall, the death of Christ, the present activity of Christ in heaven, and consummationfrom protology to eschatology. The death of Christ is the key moment in this drama. John shows little interest in the historical Jesus except for his death. Christ's death was an act of divine sovereignty over a rebellious world for through death he has conquered and reclaimed creation for himself.
Boring argues that these four levels of narrativity allow John to use "strategies of indirection" rather than employing a straightforward linear
method of story-telling. Neither continuous chronology nor recapitulation can capture the complexity of the narrative. Rather, Boring agrees with Schüssler Fiorenza's analysis that Revelation is a three-dimensional spiral.11 Another problem with the traditional linear chronology vs. recapitulation debate is that it has an exclusively referential (Enlightenment) conception of meaning. The meaning of the story is not beyond the story but in it. The story functions as truth for those who live "in" it as their story. However, the referential aspect cannot be avoided. The mighty acts of God from creation to eschaton (with the Christ event as the defining center) are objective truths for those who live in this narrative world.
Bible-believing Christians will have problems with the implied relativism of the qualifying phrase, "for those who live in this narrative world." Relativism seems to be a problem that continues to plague narrative theology today. Nevertheless we can benefit from Boring's application of this new hermeneutical method to Revelation in several ways. First, we can learn to be more sensitive to the dramatic and narrative elements of the book. Rather than attempting to translate the book into an eschatological end-times chronological chart, we can step back and appreciate the literary power of the narrative world into which John wants to bring us.
Second, unlike John's Gospel, Revelation presupposes Christ's story rather than making it the central dramatic plot-line. However, Revelation is to the fourth Gospel what Acts is to Luke: it is the continuation of the risen Christ's present activity in the church and the world. As B. B. Warfield put it: "As Luke adjoined to his Acts of the earthly Christ Acts also of the risen Christ, conquering the world from Jerusalem to Rome, and establishing his Church in the face of all opposition, so John, to his Acts of the God become man, adjoins the Acts of the man become God, triumphing not only over one age, but over all ages, not only establishing, but perfecting, his Church; and thus he brings the New
11 Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment, pp. 5-6, 171-73.
Testament and the Bible to its capstone and crown."12 Revelation is therefore fundamentally, as Boring puts it, Christology in the narrative mode. It is Christology with a special reference to the present activity of the living Christ in heaven, as the ruler of the kings of the earth, the Alpha-Originator who is also the Omega-Consummator. Hence, the book is called the Apocalypse or Unveiling of (the exalted) Jesus Christ.
Third, what John is doing in Revelation is no different than what he is doing in the fourth Gospel. The Christological narrative is a call to discipleship by way of participation. The church is called to live and move and have her being in the narrative world defined by God in Christ. The church's story is hidden with Christ in God. Christ achieved the victory through being the victim; the church too must be conformed to his image by faithfulness even to death in the midst of an antagonistic pagan environment.
deSilva, David A. "The Social Setting of the Revelation to John: Conflicts Within, Fears Without." Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992) 273-302.
At the outset deSilva states that the aim of his study is "to explore how work in sociology of religion leads to clarification of the social dimension of the Revelation of John" (p. 273). In the first section of his article, he deals with the "historical location" of the bookby which he means the whole historical situation and context. He addresses the difficult questions of date and whether persecution was in fact in progress at the time of the writing. In the second section, deSilva addresses "the author's relationship to the communities" of the churches of Asia Minor. In section three, which is the heart of the article, he surveys the messages to the seven churches to examine the social tensions between the church and the synagogue, between the church and the imperial cult, and internal tensions within the churches. This section is helpful
12 "The Book of Revelation," Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield - II, ed. by John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), p. 87.
for clarifying the social and religious context facing the churches of Asia Minor. Although some of deSilva's suggestions are questionable in my opinion, there is much that can be gleaned from his sociological analysis.13
In the closing sections (four through six), he appeals to the insights of sociologist Peter Berger to argue that "the prophetic work of John might thus have its most far-reaching effect on the church, serving the function of evoking the hearers' commitment to continuing and fortifying the identity of the communitas over against the societas, thus to maintain their unconditional allegiance to God revealed in Christ against both the coercive and seductive drives towards compromise with the imperial world" (p. 301). Revelation is thus prophetic, not just in the future-oriented, predictive sense, but in the Old Testament sense of a call to repentance and renewed commitment to the Lord of the covenant.
McGinn, Bernard, ed. "Introduction." Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-En-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Spiritual Franciscans, Savonarola. The Classics of Western Spirituality Series. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.
The value of this book is the introduction. McGinn is an expert on apocalyptic movements, particularly those of the Middle Ages. His insights concerning the social function of apocalypticism are helpful. He understands apocalypticism to be "a particular form of eschatology, a species of a broader genus that covers any type of belief that looks forward to the end of history as that which gives structure and meaning to the whole. Thus in the Old Testament there is prophetic eschatology that can be distinguished from an apocalyptic eschatology . . . . What sets off apocalypticism from general eschatology is the sense of the proximity of the end" (p. 5).
13 Other sociological studies of Revelation include Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), and L. L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). These studies are marred, however, by a denial that the Christians of Asia Minor were experiencing any imperial persecution at the time.
"Through the book of the apocalyptic seer a message from the heavenly realm is revealed that proclaims a three-act historical drama of present trial, imminent judgment, and future salvation. This triple pattern is implicitly or explicitly put within the framework of a sense of the total structure of history, frequently a survey of the ages of the world or the succession of empires. A hope for the coming salvation of the just both individually and collectively provides the prime motive for endurance of present trials" (p. 6).
"It is true that almost every apocalyptic text can be related to some time of crisis, frequently one of persecution . . . . But we may well ask if crisis really is the cause of apocalypticism and if consolation forms its only message . . . . Perhaps the apocalypticist might be better described as one on the lookout for crisis, rather than one who merely reacts to it when it happens. The apocalyptic mentality is a particular form of pre-understanding rather than a mere way of responding. More sensitive to change than the mass of their fellows, apocalypticists are more in need of a religious structure within which to absorb and give meaning to the anxieties that always accompany existence and change" (p. 8).
"The purposes for which apocalyptic messages were spread abroad are far too complex to be exhausted under the rubric of consolation alone. The apocalypticist not only strives to console the believer with the hope of coming vindication, but he also tries to strengthen him to endure and to rouse him to resist" (p. 9).
McGinn's insights are especially applicable to the book of Revelation, which is clearly not only given to console the suffering believer, but to call the church to resist the Roman beast and overcome in spite of the threats this will bring to her earthly security in this life. The opening chapters of the book set the tone for the rest of the book: the risen Christ addresses his church and says, "Do not compromise with the pagan environment, but overcome even as I also overcame through death and am now seated on my Father's throne" (Rev. 3:21).
Mathewson, Dave. "Revelation in Recent Genre Criticism: Some Implications for Interpretation." Trinity Journal 13 (1992) 193-213.
The value of Mathewson's article is that it provides the best basic introduction to the discussion and debate in the past twenty years regarding the genre of Revelation. Is it an apocalypse or a prophecy or both? If it is an apocalypse, what common elements are found in all apocalyptic literature that set this genre off from all others? Mathewson traces the history of the scholarly search for a definition of apocalyptic literature. He surveys the major players in the debate: the Apocalypse Group of the Society of Biblical Literature's (SBL) Genre Project, which published its results in Semeia 14 (1979); the Uppsala Colloquium on Apocalypticism (1979); a second SBL seminar that published its results in Semeia 36 (1986); Christopher Rowland's The Open Heaven (1982); and miscellaneous idiosyncratic contributions. Of these, the two Semeia issues devoted to apocalypticism are certainly the most important. No scholar writing on the subject of apocalypticism today can ignore the seminal scholarship of the SBL Apocalypse Group. If you do not have access to them or you don't want to wade through all the technical material, Mathewson's summary is the place to start in order to get your bearings.
In addition to the question of definition, Mathewson also deals with the scholarly debate regarding the function of apocalyptic literature. His conclusion is helpful: "The function of apocalyptic literature is generally seen to be . . . exhorting and consoling the righteous oppressed by means of the transcendent perspective it provides on reality. That is, the otherwordly and eschatological character of apocalypses provide the perspective from which the present world is to be viewed and to which behavior is to conform" (p. 199). Once again, we see the importance of going beyond the simplistic formula "Revelation as comfort for persecuted Christians," to see a strong exhortational function in the book as well.14
14 "Apocalypse is a genre in which a revelation is given by God, to a human seer, through an otherworldly mediator, disclosing the future events and/or transcendent reality, which is intended to affect the understanding and behavior of the audience." Charles H. Talbert, The Apocalypse: A Reading of the Revelation of John (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press,
After surveying the scholarly landscape, Mathewson considers the implications of this research for the interpreter and preacher of Revelation. He concludes that the book is both apocalyptic and prophetic. Many treatments of Revelation are reductionistic. They either treat Revelation solely as an apocalypse, and see the images as only archetypal and trans-historical realities that have no concrete historical fulfillment; or they treat Revelation in exclusively prophetic terms in order to decode a literal chronology of future events. Mathewson argues (and I think correctly) that a balanced reading must account for both the apocalyptic and the prophetic perspectives. This cautionary word is needed in light of the current trend in scholarship today which tends to view apocalyptic not as an authoritative word from God concerning the actual future of the world, but simply as a mythological projection of present hopes and fears into a literary tale of the future not meant to be taken seriously.
My ministry has been greatly enhanced by studying all of the above materials, although "greatly" would be an overstatement for Aune's commentary. I find that in my weekly sermon preparation I rely most heavily on the commentaries of Beale and Boring. Boring is definitely not boring, and you can learn a great deal from Beale. I also strongly recommend Bauckham's compact Theology of the Book of Revelation, which is very helpful for the Biblical-Theological preacher. My recommendation to the preacher is to purchase and pore over the three B's: Bauckham, Beale, and Boring.15
1994), p. 4. Talbert argues that Revelation is not "persecution literature" (a call to endurance in the midst of suffering) but "anti-assimilation literature" (a call to radical Christian commitment, particularly first-commandment faithfulness in a time when many Christians were advocating a policy of accommodation to pagan culture).
15 If I have time I also try to check the historic premillennial commentaries by Mounce and Ladd, as well as the amillennial treatment of Hendriksen _ all three of which have judicious, even if less than scintillating, comments.
Let me wrap up this survey of selected Revelation scholarship by drawing three conclusions:
1. The shift in the late 70s from historical-critical analyses to literary-functional interpretations of Revelation has created a flood of insightful material coming largely from the non-evangelical tradition. Now that most research on Revelation has turned aside from the sterile and futile search for source documents and redactors (David Aune being the egregious retrograde exception!), the literary and aesthetic dimensions of the text are receiving much more attention. Scholars such as Barr, Bauckham, Boring, and Schüssler Fiorenza have done much stimulating work on the nature and function of apocalyptic symbolism. To be sure, certain troubling themes arise in their writings (e.g., liberation theology; universalism), but the discerning reader can glean the good grain amid the chaff. As Vos once said in another connection, "Under the control of God exegetical good not seldom comes out of critical evil."16
2. In addition to this shift from compilation to composition, from speculated Ur-text to canonical text, we also see many positive insights coming out of various sociological approaches to the text. I have included two examples of such study (deSilva and McGinn), in addition to the research concerning the social function of apocalyptic literature cited by Mathewson. The significance of this is that the book of Revelation is fundamentally misconstrued if it is read merely as a tract of consolation and comfort for suffering believers. It is that, but it is also much more: it is a call to arms, a call to engage in the eschatological conflict of the ages by overcoming even as Christ overcame, through resistance to the point of death. Thus one of the purposes of the book is to stimulate a complacent and compromised church (Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea) to total covenant loyalty to Christ in the facof the false religious claims of the Roman empire. Those who participatein the false religious system of Babylon the Great are the harlot Jezebel, the anti-bride (Rev. 2:20-22; 17:1ff). Those who are loyal to Christ are the faithful
16 "The Eschatology of the Psalter," in The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), p. 325f.
bride, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9-11).
3. The purpose and function of the apocalyptic imagery in Revelation, then, is the renewal of our minds and the accompanying consecration and new obedience that flow from that renewal (Rom. 12:1-2). The imagery functions not only to assure us that God and the Lamb are sovereign in heaven above, and that they will vindicate the suffering servants of God, but to provide the indicative that stands behind the imperative of chapters two and three. The imagery offers a transcendent, heavenly perspective on the world. We see God, his Christ, ourselves (the church), and our enemies in a different light. We do not evaluate ourselves according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16), but according to our heavenly identity in Christ in the heavenly places. Caught up with John into the heavenly world, we see our true identity as the 24 elders before God's throne, as the 144,000 sealed by God, as a mighty army clothed in white, and as the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Likewise the symbolic imagery grants us a mind-renewing perspective on the true identity of our enemies (the dragon, the beasts, etc.), and their ultimate end in judgment. Once our minds are thoroughly renewed by means of this symbolic transformation, the mighty "therefore" of the Christologically-conditioned imperative makes its claim upon us. No longer is there any room for rationalizing away our little compromises with the world in order to make our earthly life more secure. Away with such thoughts! Having been united to the Lamb who has overcome by his blood, we too must take up our cross and follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev. 14:4), losing our lives in this world in order to gain them in that which is to come (Rev. 21:7)!
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