Study Notes: Revelation 1:4-6

1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 

Here John tells us to whom he’s addressing this letter – to the seven churches in Asia. There were more than simply seven churches in Asia (as Voddie Baucham points out), but these might simply be the main churches to whom John has been working/corresponding. In fact, there were many other churches that were equally significant (see Mounce). So we can guess all we want, but I haven’t yet read any convincing argument on why these specific churches would have been picked. It is enough, I believe, that Jesus ordained these letters to be handed down to us today and that He picked these specific churches for His reasons and His glory.

Hendriksen points out that on a map, they form a sort of irregular circle. Ephesus was the closest to John physically, but perhaps also relationally.[i]

I believe (as do others) that its important that the Lord, in His sovereignty, directed these letters written to the number of churches (7) that represent the idea of “fullness” or “completeness” and “perfection” in the Bible. Thereby leading many scholars to believe that while the Lord was certainly speaking to specific churches with specific people during John’s life and in his ministry, He was also speaking the “whole” or “complete” church – the universal church.

Baucham certainly believes this, and Hendriksen says bluntly, “These seven churches represent the entire church throughout this dispensation.” I think of it like this – just because something is used as a figure or symbol doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or had real application in its context. Jesus spoke many words to Pharisees and disciples that had meaning to those people in that context, yet they still hold meaning for us today. The fig tree Jesus cursed was a real fig tree, yet it had greater meaning for many throughout the ages.[ii]

Therefore, while written to specific real churches with real Christians, this letter is still relevant for the universal church, the complete and full church across all geographical boundaries for all time. Just as we still apply the lessons of the gospels and the epistles of Paul to our lives today, so too this letter applies to us today.

He begins with the greeting “grace and peace” and its well that he says “grace” first, for as Beale says in one of his sermons on the text, grace must always precede peace. The greeting is meant as a reminder of the grace they have received by way of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the peace it has brought them not only in this life, but eternally. This greeting is a refreshing way of encouraging the elect and quickly identifying in their minds just exactly who they are and who is writing the letter. This letter is from the Prince of Peace, this letter is from the One who has extended grace to you and saved your lives.

Hendriksen summarizes better than most, “Grace is God’s favor given to those who do not deserve it, pardoning their sins and bestowing upon them the gift of eternal life. Peace, the reflection of the smile of God in the heart of the believer who has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, is the result of grace. This grace and this peace are provided by the Father, dispensed by Holy Spirit, and merited for us by the Son.”

Then we are told from whom the message comes. John describes him as “him who is and who was and who is to come.” I love that because it reminds us that what you’re about to read was preordained from before the foundation of the world, is being currently underwritten and guaranteed, and will be upheld until the end of history. The forthcoming letter’s veracity is built upon the enduring character of God. Not only that, the emphasis on the timelessness of God reminds us again of the timelessness of His Word. By prefacing His message in this way He is reminding them that this word – His word – will be relevant from now until the end of time and beyond, for:

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

As Beale says so well:

The purpose of this revelation is to give the eternal, transhistorical perspective of “the one who is and who was and who is coming,” which can enable them to understand his commandments and so motivate them to obedience (vs.3). Confidence in God’s sovereign guidance of all earthly affairs instills courage to stand strong in the face of difficulties that test faith: this is the point of the OT expression which lie behind “the one who is and who was and who is coming.[iii]

Next we are told that there is another co-author in the Godhead, the “seven spirits who are before his throne.” We’re only four verses into this letter and already we’re going to have to try and understand what is meant by this description. Are there seven literal spirits floating around the throne of God? What is John talking about here? Who are these spirits? What are they?

The key is in the number. The number is used to communicate a concept, an idea. Seven is used to communicate fullness, completeness, as I mentioned earlier. So seven here represents the Holy Spirit in His universal function and mission. 

There is also a close connection between the lampstands we read about in 1:20, and the “seven spirits” as well. We are told in verse 20 that the lampstands represent the church, and Beale sees close ties between verse 4’s “seven spirits” and golden lampstands lit with the fire that stand “before the throne” (before likely meaning a role as messenger):

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God (Revelation 4:5).

If we assume the lampstands/torches are the church and the Holy Spirit is normally symbolized by fire (think Pentecost), then it would make sense for John to say here in chapter 4 that “the seven spirits of God” are the “seven torches of fire” – the idea being that we, the lampstands, are empowered by the Spirit.

Adding to this interpretation is the context of the OT. As I mentioned before, the OT is important for understanding these things because the OT speaks in this language a great deal. Look at what Zechariah writes in chapter 4 of his book:

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied. So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:1-7)

So we see here that God Himself gives the interpretation of the seven lamps with the fire, and tells us that what is going to be accomplished will not be done by mere might or power (of man, presumably), but by the Spirit. The lamps and the olive trees – which we’ll read about more in chapter 11 – are the people of God filled with His Spirit.

Beale explains the context of Zechariah 4:

In Zachariah’s vision the lampstand represented the second temple (the part representing the whole), for which Zerubbabel had laid the foundation. On either side was an olive tree that provided oil for the lamps. Zechariah interprets the olive trees as ‘the anointed ones who are standing before the Lord of the whole earth’ (4:14), that is, as Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel.

The main point of this OT chapter (Zechariah 4) was that even though the temple kept getting delayed by outside forces and opposition, God was calling them to endurance and perseverance. It wasn’t going to be done by their strength alone, however, but by “my Spirit.”

The same is true for us today. We live by the power of the Spirit, are led into “all truth” by the Spirit, and are born again by the Spirit. Therefore once again, the OT helps give us grammatical context for what we’re reading here – it also reminds us that God’s character and methodology for interacting with man has been very similar throughout the Bible. His message and His power haven’t changed.

Revelation, as you’ll soon figure out, is going to repeat the same themes over and over again using OT imagery and OT texts to remind the seven churches – and us – that God is faithful. He was faithful in the OT and is faithful today, and will be faithful in the future.

Lastly, it seems to me that in verse 4 and 5 we have a situation where authorship is connoted. Some have said that these seven spirits are angels, because they seem to be messengers standing “before” the throne. While the note about them standing “before” the throne is a great point and may indicate a sort of messenger or implementer of the message, the same could be said of the Holy Spirit. And when you combine the NT principle that it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking through the Word of God, and making it come to life in our hearts – indeed implementing it and leading us into “all truth”, with the idea that there seems to be an authorial (authorship) role given to the seven spirits, I think we have to lean toward these spirits being the one Holy Spirit in His completeness and perfection.

1:5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 

Verse five extols the attributes of Jesus. Both His priesthood (“by his blood”) and His kingship (“the ruler”) are described in dramatic fashion here. Jesus’ kingship is seen as superior to all other kings of the earth.

This phrase is used in Colossians 1:18 and indicates his kingship and rule. “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).

Mounce is right to note that there is a very rich connection with the Messianic Psalm 89:

And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. (Psalm 89:27)

The phrase is also used in connection to our standing with Jesus. Paul says in Romans 8:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29) 

Mounce concludes, “As the risen Christ now exercises sovereign control, so also will the faithful share in his reign.”[iv]

We’re also told here that Jesus is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins” – this is a description of his priesthood, as I just mentioned, but also it reminds us of our former captivity to sin and death. These topics are going to be important in the coming chapters. You see, what this book will do is paint in great detail the vile nature, the horrid reality, of sin and its end – which is the “second death.”

In other words, those who think very little of their sin now in this life, ought to read the consequence of it, and see how God views their sin. God views sin as an abomination. It is a stench in His nostrils. And those who “dwell on the earth” and “refuse to repent” of their sins will one day be “cast into the lake of fire.” That’s a pretty violent end.

The violence of the end for sinners therefore sets in sharp relief that blessing which we read here – He has “freed us from our sins.”

Lastly, notice that Jesus is described as the “faithful witness” – He bears witness of the truth of the kingdom of God. Although Christ is reigning now and has ushered in His kingdom, it is invisible to the world. They do not see it, nor do they desire to seek it.

Like Christ, we are to be faithful witnesses to the kingdom of God, which leads us to verse six. 

1:6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

We are to follow Christ in both His kingship and His priesthood. We realize these privileges even now. This is both present and past – He made us and is making us – is the sense of the text. Interestingly, very similar phrasing is found in 5:10 and 20:6. The latter is that passage on the millennium that so many people are familiar with, and it says this:

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

Now this only really makes sense if we see the millennium as taking place right now. Before the kingdom of God becomes physical for every eye to see, we have to persevere (see Beale[v]).

To understand our roles as priests we need to look at the OT. Exodus 19 says:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:4-6)

The people of Israel were to be a “kingdom of priests” who would witness to God’s character, as a light to the gentile nations. They were a kingdom of priestly, holy, special people meant to show the surrounding nations what it looked like to be in a right relationship with God.

The priest was a mediator between God and people and that is how is how Israel functioned writ large on the earth. They were to be the go-between between God and the nations. They acted in a kingly way and performed priestly functions.

Today we take on this role in a new way. Peter puts it this way:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Mounce notes:

The early church understood itself to be the true Israel and the inheritors of all the blessings promised to their spiritual predecessors. Corporately they are a kingdom (which stresses their royal standing in connection with the exaltation of Christ as ruler of all earthly kingdom), and individually they are priests of God (which emphasizes their immediate access to God as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death).[vi]

We engage in our priestly responsibilities as mediators of the new covenant. We shine as lights to the world by living lives controlled by love, and sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus. As Paul says:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

So we are mediators, priests in this this way. We bring people to God, and help them make peace with God and, as Peter says, “we proclaim the excellencies” of God.

This is likely what Jesus had in mind when He announced the new covenant in John 13:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Similarly Paul in Ephesians 2:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Interesting Side Note: I think it’s interesting how John has written in a sort of parallelism here in verse 5 and 5 as it corresponds to the priesthood and kingship issues. Check this out:

A. “the ruler of kings on earth” 1:5b
B. “has freed us from our sins by his blood” 1:5c
A. “and has made us a kingdom” 1:6a
B. “priests to His God and Father” 1:6b

Obviously the A’s go together and so do the B’s. Now, I’m just an amateur theologian, but this was pretty easy to spot. The idea being that we are following in His footsteps – He is making us after Himself, not by our power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

To What End?

Now what is the purpose of all of this? Why has God made us “priests and kings”? Verse six tells us why: “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”

The reason we are mediators for God is for His glory (see Isaiah 43:7). We do this out of love – we are happy to do this (2 Corinthians 5:14). It is the joy of Christ within us, a changed heart (Ezekiel 36:26) that drives us to extend Christ’s grace to others.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16).

And, as we’ll see even shortly now, this grace, this witness, will often take place during tribulation.

 

Footnotes

[i] Hendriksen, Pg. 52.

[ii] Obviously we want to be cautious not to confuse application with interpretation though. I have found that in trying to give examples of how to think appropriately about prophetic symbolism it is easy to sometimes shy away from a blunt answer because I want to give examples and help get minds to understand where John is coming from. In doing so, however, I find more trouble sometimes than is warranted! We must always be cautious with these matters.

[iii] Beale, Pg. 187.

[iv] Robert Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, Pg. 71.

[v] Beale, Sermon on Revelation 1:4-9, found here: http://www.lanesvillechurch.org/sermons-audio/970112.mp3

[vi] Mounce, Pg.’s 72-73.

Revelation: An Introduction Part I

This week I have started a study on Sunday mornings in the book of Revelation.  For the first few weeks we’ll be examining the overall picture of the book, and covering some introductory themes.  Below is part 1 of that introduction – I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction and Overview to the Book

Why Study Revelation? 

Revelation can be intimidating. It has taken me several years just to get up the courage to study through it and teach it. Many commentators also note in their respective prefaces how difficult it was to get around to doing this study as well. Pastor Voddie Baucham says that when surveyed, a large denomination of Christians said that Revelation was the book they most wanted to hear preached. That same survey found it was the bottom of the list of books Pastors most wanted to preach![i]

The word “Revelation” or “Apocolypse” holds negative, even scary connotations in our society today. As Warren Wiersbe writes:

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse which, unfortunately, is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. The verb simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book, the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.[ii]

But I have found that in my studies thus far, it is a book that provides great blessing and perspective which can enable a Christian to persevere, and adore Christ above all other things. In fact, those are the two things that I believe makeup the two main themes of the book: Christ’s reign and ultimate victory, and our ultimate triumph with him. The second part – our eventual triumph – is the reality for which we have been called to endure. Therefore the majestic reign of Christ and the call to persevere under tribulation make up the main nexus of John’s writing.

The majestic reign of Christ and His overall splendor permeates the book. He is the Lord of history, the Lord of man and of all created things. The high Christology of Revelation is evident from the first chapter:

…and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:13-18)

He is the first and the last, and the one who is “alive forevermore.” His power and His majesty are evident to all who read the book. No longer are we limited to the motif of the suffering servant, or the profound teachings of the Great Rabboni. Now we are afforded a peak, a glimpse, a view into the fuller person and majesty of Jesus Christ.

Revelation helps us understand the profundity of His cross work, and finality of His sacrifice. It helps us understand that He is sovereign over all things, including time and creation.

I really like what Warren Wiersbe has to say about the proper approach to the book: “When Daniel and John received God’s revelations of the future, both fell down as dead men (Dan. 10:7-10; Rev. 1:17). They were overwhelmed! We need to approach this book as wonderers and worshippers, not as academic students.”

But it is also a book about the saints who are called to endure. William Hendriksen says, “In the main, the purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the militant Church in its struggle against the forces of evil.”[iii]

Followers of the Lamb are to endure until He comes again – that second coming is our great hope. As Hendriksen so beautifully opines:

As we think of the glorious hope of the second coming, our hearts are filled with joy; our souls are consumed with a breathless impatience; our eyes attempt to pierce the dark clouds which veil the future, hoping that the glorious descent of the Son of man may burst upon the view. It is a longing which gushes into word: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come” (22:17).[iv]

John MacArthur points out that this is the only book in the Bible that begins and ends with a blessing. And Doug Kelley puts his finger on the reason I decided to study this book, namely the blessings/benedictions ascribed to those who would take the time to study it.

Kelly splits these into promises and blessings. The benedictions (blessings):[v]

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) (Revelation 16:15)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)

Here are the promises to the saints that Kelly lists:[vi]

  1. God sees their tears (7:17; 21:4)
  2. Their prayers are heard and used to rule the world (8:3-4)
  3. Their death or suffering leads to glory (14:13; 20:4)
  4. Their final victory is assured (15:2)
  5. Their blood will be avenged (6:9; 8:3)
  6. Their Christ lives and reigns forever and is victorious in time and eternity (5:7-8; 21:22)

Clearly this gives us ample motivation to study this wonderful book!

Who wrote this Book?

Most every scholar and theologian believes that the book was written by the apostle John – the one who wrote the gospel of John, and the three epistles named for him. Some hold that perhaps another John wrote the book – a late 1st century prophet with the same name, perhaps. But G.K. Beale (who believes the apostle John is the likely author) says this, “The issue is not important to settle since it does not affect the message of the book. Regardless of which John wrote, the author of the book identifies himself as a prophet (parenthetical references). Therefore, it is probably that John should be socially identified with a group of early Christian itinerant prophets.”[vii] 

William Hendriksen thinks that the evidence for another John having written this book is particularly weak. For instance, he points out, “Surely the very fact that the author of the Apocalypse merely calls himself John indicates that he was very well known, not only in one particular locality but throughout the churches of Asia.”[viii]

Now, there are certainly different styles of grammar and writing between the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John – some say this is enough to believe another man wrote the book. But conservative scholars are not so sure. There are some differences, but there are also many similarities. Hendriksen says, “The similarities are striking. They are to be found even in peculiar grammatical constructions and in characteristic expressions.” His comparative similarities are as follows (for those who want to look them up):[ix]

John 3:36 and Revelation 22:17
John 10:18 and Revelation 2:27
John 20:12 and Revelation 3:4
John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13
John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6 
 

Some of these comparisons are more obvious, others less so. But there are many other similarities. The gospel calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” and the “Logos” and so does Revelation – these are words and phrases that make John’s gospel unique, and here we find the phrase “Lamb of God” used 29 times in Revelation.

Of course the similarities don’t stop with grammar and phraseology. The doctrine is the same in both books. The sovereignty of God, the pre-temporal nature of Christ, the conquering power of the blood of Jesus all form major doctrinal similarities between books.

I especially like the way in which John describes Jesus as pre-temporal in both books. Here are a few examples:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:57-58)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13) 

When was this Book Written?

It is hard to overestimate the importance of discerning when this book of Revelation was written. The reason being that if the book was written prior to A.D. 70, then scholars have reason for believing that some of the things written herein refer to the events that occurred in that fateful year when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and the great Herodian (2nd) temple complex.

G.K. Beale has done a nice job compiling the different historical arguments for both viewpoints, and is worth quoting his summation here below:

The difference of dating could alter the interpretation of the book, since the occasion prompting John to write might be different in each case. The early date is especially important for those viewing the main intention of the book as prophecy of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem: interpreters who hold to the early date generally understand the book primarily as a polemic against apostate Jewish faith. And the early date places many of the book’s descriptions of persecution against the background of Nero’s oppression of Christians in 65 (A.D.).

But if the book was written in the nineties, then it was occasioned by the situation of Christians living under the reign of Domitian, a situation that itself is an issue of debate. The majority maintaining a late date have viewed Domitian as a persecutor of Christians, though a few others recently have viewed his reign in more benevolent terms.

One can in fact affirm the early date or the late date without the main interpretative approach being affected. Under either dating position the book could be understood as a polemic against Rome and especially against compromise with ungodly Roman culture. The early date allows for an anti-Jerusalem focus, but does not demand it.

There are no single arguments that point clearly to the early or the late date. The early date could be right, but the cumulative weight of evidence points to the late date.[x]

Those who are partial (or full) preterists rely on the early date because they see these events in 65 and especially in 70 AD as fulfilling the prophecies of John’s apocalypse. Full preterists even believe the Jesus Himself came back in 70 AD!

I believe the latter date is more likely simply from my own study of church history this past year in seminary. The persecution under Nero was very localized to Rome, and the rest of the church really didn’t feel the pressures as much.

Furthermore, as Beale and others point out, when Pliny (a magistrate/governor of Rome) was trying to figure out what to do with Christians in 113 AD he wrote to Emperor Trajan as there seemed to be no previous law code or judicial or military precedent as to how to deal with them.[xi] 

Furthermore, John uses the term “Babylon” throughout the book, and while some see this as a sort of symbolic name for the “apostate Jerusalem”, Beale rightly (I believe) notes, “John’s use of the name may be the strongest internal evidence for a post-70 date. ‘Babylon refers to Rome in Jewish literature after 70 A.D. and roughly contemporary with the Apocalypse. Jewish commentators called Rome ‘Babylon’ because the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., just as Babylon had done in the sixth century B.C. This use of the name probably influenced John, as did other Jewish traditions.”[xii]

Lastly, it is the testimony of very early Christian authors that this book was written at a later date. Irenaeus, Victorinus, Eusebius, Origen, and possibly Clement of Alexandria as well all believed the book to be written post 70 A.D.[xiii]

Irenaeus’ writings are especially important. In discussing the antichrist’s identify he wrote that, “We will not, however incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the Antichrist; if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him (John) who beheld the Apocalypse. For it was seen not very long ago, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign.”

This is very hard to refute for early daters no matter how much they try and re-translate or offer new ideas about what Ireneaus clearly spoke.

Early daters mention a number of arguments in their favor, from the mention of the “seven mountains” in 17:9, which are supposed to be seven kings of Rome, to the calculation of the number 666 as meaning Nero in the gematria, to Babylon (which we’ve already mentioned). Beale goes through each argument (and several more) and I really don’t find the weight of these arguments convincing.

Therefore, while either date might be correct, it seems like the weight of both the historical and internal arguments on behalf of a later date rule the day.

The Importance of Hermeneutics

It is so important that before we begin our study in this book that we have an understanding of how to interpret what we’re reading. The book of Revelation is classified as what theologians call “apocalyptic literature”, which means that the genre of this writing is not poetry, historical narrative, or epistolary – though it has some elements of the latter form.

R.C. Sproul explains this very well, and its worth quoting him at length here:

The basic principle of biblical interpretation established by the Reformers was literal interpretation, sensus literalis, which means that responsible interpreters of Scripture always interpret the Bible in the sense in which it was written. Poetic literature should be interpreted as poetry, didactic literature should be interpreted as didactic, and so on. A verb remains a verb, a noun remains a noun, a simile is a simile, and a metaphor is a metaphor.

Conversely, the style of interpretation called “literalism” involves applying a wooden interpretation, which does not work well for poetic literature. For example, when the psalmist says that the rivers clap their hands (98:8), we do not take that to mean that rivers somehow grow hands and begin clapping. We do not interpret such poetic images in an overly literalistic way.

When it comes to interpreting prophetic literature, the question is whether the language is figurative or ordinary prose, and there is widespread disagreement about that. Some believe that we must interpret the prophecies of the future literally in order to be faithful to the Bible, but that can lead us in circles.[xiv]

Revelation is a book will need to be interpreted differently than, say, the book of Genesis. We will encounter all manner of symbols, numbers, and visual descriptions that will leave us in awe – and perhaps a little confused, especially if we take the wrong approach to the book. Dennis Johnson rightly says, “The strength of symbolism is vividness, for often a picture is worth a thousand words. The challenge of symbolism, however, is its ambiguity.”[xv]

…to be continued…

Footnotes

[i] Voddie Baucham: http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/sermons/2012-05-introduction-revelation/

[ii] Warren Wiersbe, Commentary on the New Testament (The David Cook two volume set), Revelation, Pg. 1036.

[iii] William Hendriksen, ‘More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation’, Pg. 7.

[iv] Hendriksen, Pg. 8

[v] Douglas F. Kelly, Revelation, A mentor expository commentary, Pg. 21

[vi] Kelly, Pg. 21

[vii] From G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, Pg.’s 35-36

[viii] Hendriksen, Pg. 12

[ix] Hendriksen, Pg. 12 – carries on the discussion onto page 13 as well, and really provides some helpful comparative verses here. Shockingly, he leaves out John 8 which I cite above (it’s one of my favorite examples of Jesus’ pre-temporal existence).

[x] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, Commentary, Pg. 4

[xi] Beale, Pg. 5

[xii] Beale, Pg.’s 18-19

[xiii] Beale, Pg. 19

[xiv] R.C. Sproul, ‘Everyone’s A Theologian;, Pg.’s 310-311

[xv] Johnson’s commentary on Revelation is called, ‘Triumph of the Lamb’ and this quote is found on page 10.