Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Place of Chs 2 & 3 in the Revelation

My working assumption is that the Revelation is the working out of the revelation that Jesus promised to the Sanhedrin. Jesus' sole response to the high priest's adjuration was to admit the charge, saying "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Mt 26.64).

Here Jesus applies Ps 110.1, a clear messianic Psalm, and Dan 7.13, about the son of man victoriously coming on the clouds to be received by God.

More pointedly, Jesus tells the Sanhedrin that they will see him as the ascended messiah, seated at God's right hand.

So, Rev 1.7, sets the Revelation in the context of Dan 7.13 and Zechariah 12.10-11, which is about Israel "looking" on Yahweh whom they have "pierced," i.e., seeing the pierced Yahweh, and mourning as a result of what they have done.

Here's the text: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all of the tribes of the earth [land] will mourn over him. So it is to be. Amen."

So the "Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1.1) -- which commentators say can be taken as either the subjective or objective genitive, or both, is not simply the revelation that Jesus provides to John, but is about Jesus being revealed in the events described in the book. The Revelation is about the revelation -- the revealing -- of Jesus Christ.

And, specifically, I'd suggest, is about Jesus redeeming the lone statement he made to the Sanhedrin, a statement forced from him under oath -- that they would see him enthroned at God's right hand.

But enough throat clearing about that.

What I wanted to comment on was the tendency of commentators to treat Rev 2 and 3 as somehow separate from the remainder of the book. Now, to be sure, there seems to be some sort of liturgical movement going on in the transition from chapter 3 to chapter 4.

In Rev 1, John turns and see seven golden lampstands, with the Son of Man dressed as a high priest standing in the middle of the lampstands. In the temple, the lampstands stood in the Holy Place. And, of course, the high priest would stand in the midst of the lampstands while in the Holy Place.

In Rev 1.20, Jesus specifically tells John that the seven lampstands are the seven churches. So the seven churches are, as it were, in the Holy Place of the heavenly temple.

When we move into chapter 4, however, we have moved from the Holy Place into the throneroom, i.e., into the Most Holy Place (or the "Holiest of Holies"). This is where the action takes place -- or at least where the action comes from -- in the remainder of the book (at least through Rev 18).

Although, for the most part, it is judgment that comes out of the Most Holy Place, onto a Jerusalem that is not close to God, in the large middle section of the book.

And here, I think, is the explanation for the interaction that Jesus has with the seven churches in Rev 2 and 3. The idea is that "judgment begins with the household of God" (1 Peter 4.17). This often is also the sequence in the OT -- Israel is judged, then the Gentile nations around Israel are judged.

The Revelation is, of course, a thoroughly Christological book. Hence, it naturally assumes that Israel has been recentered around Christ, as the true Israel, the bride of Rev 19-22, as opposed to the harlot of Rev 16-18. This is, of course, the church.

Hence, when judgment starts with the household of God, it starts with the true Jerusalem -- the churches -- in Rev 2 & 3, and then moves out to the false Jerusalem , differently identified as "Babylon" and "Egypt" and "Sodom" in Rev 4-18. (We of course know that Jerusalem is the reference because Rev 11.8 identifies the "great city" as the city in which Jesus was crucified.)

So the movement from Rev 2 & 3 to Rev 4 ff follows the traditional sequence of judgment from "in" to "out" (or from "near" to "far") that we find in the Old Testament. So Rev 2 & 3 are part and parcel with the overall thematic thrust of the book.


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