Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Revelation 1: Jesus Vomits Swords

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Let's start by looking at the wikipedia page. Looks like it is written by John, although it seems to be a different John from the books by that name. Also, it seems many believe it was written in 95AD, although some place it at 70AD instead. There is actually a ton of information there, but most of it seems to be about the content itself, which we will get to in the reading soon enough. Near the bottom though is a section Criticism which contains a quote from Ingersoll that Revelation is "the insanest of all books." Awesome!

Prologue (v. 1-3)

God sent an angel to John so that his followers would know what is about to take place. Blessed is anyone who reads or hears this prophecy, for the time is near.

First, I'd like to point out that it says the events which are going to be described in this book are right around the corner. It says it twice actually, in v1 it says "must soon take place" and in v3 is says "the time is near". Seems pretty clear to me that it is therefore going to be a failed prophecy. The only way out of it is to redefine what they mean by "soon". I suppose it is up to each individual person to determine whether they think it is reasonable to define soon to be "in about 2000 years.

Guzik has 2 answers for this point. The first is one that we have seen him use many times in the past, that we are not running toward a distant brink, but we are running along side it, always right near the edge. With this logic we can be on the verge of falling for thousands of years without ever falling. Honestly, I think he's pushing his "falling off a cliff" analogy pretty hard here. If that was what was meant by the book, you would think it would say something like "it could happen at any moment" or something. Would you describe his situation (running along side the edge) as "must soon take place" or "the time is near"? I think not.

His other defense here is a quote from someone named Walvoord, he says 
Shortly is the ancient Greek phrase en tachei, which means “'quickly or suddenly coming to pass,' indicating rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place. The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden.”
which I decided to check out on the lexicon for this point, when it comes to verse 1, he is potentially right, the Greek is tachei which translates to speed. Perhaps his interpretation here is correct here and we are talking about speed once it starts but not speed in it getting started. But what about verse 3? Here 'near' is from the word engus which means 'near (in place or time)'. Given that the phrase is "the time is near", I don't think there is really a way around this.

Second, if God really is all powerful, why would he only send an angel to John? Why not send one to everybody?

Greeting to the Seven Churches (v. 4-8)

John greets the 7 churches in Asia. He wishes them peace from God and the 7 spirits before his throne.

Is there supposed to be one spirit for each church? I feel like I'm missing something here.

According to Guzik, this is a reference to Isaiah 11 which describes 7 aspects of the holy spirit. I don't know about that, because the text clearly says "seven spirits". I also looked at the commentary of Jamieson, Fausset & Brown for this and didn't find anything very satisfying. They talk about seven's a lot, it has a bit of a numerology feel to it. I still might just be missing something here.

Jesus freed us with his blood, he will come with the clouds and everyone will see and wail on account of him.

I'm guessing 'coming with the clouds' means he will be flying down from the sky. This makes some sense as they believed heaven was up in the clouds. Does the idea that everyone will see him indicate a flat earth? I suppose it would be argued that Jesus could fly around the earth and everyone would see him, they don't necessarily have to all see him at the same time.

Guzik says that "every eye will see" refers to the fact that when Jesus returns everyone will know about it, in contrast to his first coming which was "somewhat obscure", and "never made front-page news in Rome". I don't know about that, didn't Herod kill a bunch of children because of the birth of Jesus? Doesn't sound so obscure to me.

God is the alpha and the omega, "who is, who was, and who is to come"

This is said twice, in verse 4 and 8. I guess it is the way the bible says God is eternal.

Interesting point from Guzik here
The Greek construction of who is, who was and who is to come is intentionally awkward in the Greek. It seems that John searched for a phrase to communicate the Old Testament idea of Yahweh.
 Vision of the Son of Man (v. 9-20)

John tells us that God sent him to the island Patmos, and while he was 'in the spirit' a loud voice like a trumpet told him to write a book and send it to the 7 churches.

Apparently Patmos is a prison island. (Guzik)

I'm not really sure what it means to be 'in the spirit', was he praying?

Again from Guzik's commentary, Walvoord says he was "Carried beyond normal sense into a state where God could reveal supernaturally the contents of this book." Whatever that means.

When he turned to see the voice, he saw 7 golden lampstands. In the middle was Jesus in a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. His hair was white like wool or snow. His eyes were like fire, his feet were bronze, his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held 7 stars in his right hand, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like staring into the sun.

Uhh...so he's insane right? Or stoned out of his mind, or something. Seriously, how are we supposed to make sense out of this?

Looking at Guzik once again, the lamp stands are not lamps, they are a vessel to put a lamp where you display light, but they don't produce light themselves. This is an analogy for the church, which is more of a platform for Jesus. He also says that the garments are meant to show that Jesus is of high status. Long robes are worn by people who don't have to work much, and the sash is gold and therefore very valuable. The hair is about old age and wisdom. Eyes are about judgement. The feet are also about judgement, as well as stability and permanence. His voice is powerful. The sword is power and it is coming out of his mouth because it is supposed to be his words. His face is shining because of his glory.

Jesus says he is the first and last, and then says he has the keys of death.

A third time he is saying he is eternal, and that with Jesus you can't die.

Jesus explains that the 7 stars in his hand are the angels of the seven churches, and the 7 lamp stands are the churches themselves.

Okay, so does every church have a corresponding angel then, or are these 7 churches special? Why do the stars and lamp stands go together? What about all of the other crazy images here?

What we learned today:


Revelation 1:1,3 The end is near

"must soon take place", "the time is near"

--Properties of God--

Revelation 1:4,8,17 God is eternal

"who is and who was and who is to come" (twice)

"I am the first and the last"


  1. Walvoord says he was "Carried beyond normal sense into a state where God could reveal supernaturally the contents of this book." Whatever that means.

    I'm pretty sure that means, as you later guessed, that he had gone bat-shit crazy, possibly due to malnourishment or the stress of the island prison. :-) There seems to be a historical track record of crazy people hearing from God.

  2. Ahh yes, the insanity of Revelation...it would seem, that right from the start, reasonable people should already be questioning John's sanity...

    The ideas of the "end being near" and "Jesus in the clouds" are also preposterous, yet many still seem to believe the first, and somehow are expecting the latter...I wonder where they think he would start his "heavenly descent" from?

  3. I have to agree with the above comments. Revelation seems more like some guy's hallucinations rather than a divinely inspired symbolic story. I have to agree with you on the time frame. If it wasn't so explicitly written all over the Bible about the second coming being close (for example, before people living when it was written were dead) I could maybe let the guy's explanation slide. I think he's taking that verse out of context.

  4. You guys are spot on, this dude is pretty clearly insane or stoned out of his mind, or something. It makes me think of the line that I hear from many atheists, that reading the bible is the best way to convert someone to atheism. I think revelation might be a particularly good example of this. In fact, there were even people in my church who thought this on some level. I remember people saying things to the effect of "you shouldn't read revelation on your own, it takes a seasoned theologian to make sense of it."

    1. That's interesting. When I was young I didn't read revelations for similar reasons. I was afraid of what it'd contain and figured it was beyond something I'd be able to handle. Now I feel silly for thinking that.

  5. Some years ago I made a rather cutting remark to a friend in an offhanded way. He was hurt far more than I had imagined he would be.

    He was an artist (for real) and by way of apology I drew a picture of myself in an aggressive stance (like ready for a fight) with my tongue coming out of my mouth and passing through my hand where it became a two edged sword so that the point of the sword was the tip of my tongue. I gave him the picture and explained I had been an ass and was terribly sorry.

    As I recall neither of us was crazy, stoned or were at all confused about the meaning of the picture.

    Just sayin'

    1. Sounds like a cool picture :)

      I would argue that the big difference here is you weren't trying to put forward the idea that your tongue actually became a sword.

      By contrast, John seems to be saying that this actually happened. I read back over the "vision of the son of man" section again, and I don't see anything to indicate that this isn't supposed to be real. I might be missing something, but by my reading he believes this happened. I think that is why we are all responding so strongly to this.

    2. On this account, I do side with Mr. Holland, even though I did joke about how crazy John was. ;-p

      There is some history visual metaphors in the Bible, and that is truly what is going on in much of Revelation. For example, check out Daniel 4 or Daniel 7. Daniel 7 is particularly interesting relative to Revelation, because some of essentially the same imagery is later used in Revelation. You know, the creative process is tough work, so why not borrow from the creativity of others?!?! :-)

      In my opinion, this is one of the few Bible books where most of the content is really intended to be metaphor, as opposed to much of the rest of the Bible which is often claimed to have a metaphorical meaning when it does not align with particular believers' points of view.

    3. I suppose it is a possibility, I guess my question then would be how can you tell that it is supposed to be a metaphor instead of literal? Where do you draw the line?

      If something is fantastic, how can you tell if it was a miracle or if it was a metaphor? If something is mentioned in the old testament, how can you tell when it is a prophecy or symbolic?

      The only example I can think of off the top of my head is the parables from Jesus. He said they are parables, so we know they were supposed to be theoretical lessons he was telling.

    4. Those are the million dollar questions, indeed! This is especially precarious for skeptics who may be lured to believe it was meant as literal when most people now read it as metaphor, or visa versa. And the same hazard applies with believers, but with the opposite polarity.

      It's language recorded as text, which is actually one of the most challenging ways to communicate. Text is tricky.

      We use figures of speech, similes, and metaphor all the time in our speech today, and most of the time we understand the meaning because we've learned the cultural groundings for those phrases. But looking back on the Bible, so far removed from that era, is extra challenging to parse correctly. There are at least a handful of phrases in the original Hebrew text which even the Jews today do not really understand the meaning of.

      All that to say that I don't know the answers to those questions, other than trying to get a feel for the text, kind of like getting a feel for the way a new friend or coworker talks.

      Speaking of Jesus and the OT, though, the Jesus references the creation of Adam and the flood of Noah as if they are literal truth, so I am guessing the main belief at that time was that the OT was literally true.

    5. Good point. Matthew 24:37-39 for the Noah story for anyone who hasn't read it.

    6. hmm. Excellent points. I'm going to think about this a little bit more, and probably make a post about it for sunday. Thanks for the food for thought guys


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