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Saturday Series: Justification by Faith (Galatians 3:6ff; Romans 4:3ff)

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Justification by Faith (Genesis 15:6)

This is the second study dealing with the Reformation doctrine “Justification by Faith”. Last week we looked at Paul’s use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17; today we will examine his treatment of Genesis 15:6. Paul cites and expounds this verse on two different occasions in his letters—in Galatians 3 and Romans 4. I will deal with the Galatians passage first. This Reformation-oriented series is intended to demonstrate some of the ways in which Biblical criticism relates to theology (and the history of doctrine). The Reformers were heavily indebted to Paul’s rigorous treatment of the subject of faith and “justification”, as presented in Romans and Galatians, examining the words and phrases, the line of argument, very carefully, including a study of the text in Greek. At the same time, Paul himself was working from the Old Testament Scriptures, studying and interpreting those texts with at least as much care. For most Christians—and for committed Protestant believers, in particular—theology and doctrine cannot be separated from a (critical) examination of Scripture.

Galatians 3:6ff

The fact that Paul draws on the example of Abraham, and the declaration in Gen 15:6, on two different occasions, shows how important this tradition was for him. Abraham, of course, was a central figure in Jewish thought, a paragon of faith and obedience, for Israelites and Jews in every age. The deutero-canonical book of Sirach (44:19-21) provides a good (early) summary of this belief; see also the book of Jubilees 23:10. Gen 15:6 is part of a complex of ancient Abraham traditions given distinct narrative shape in chapters 14 and 15ff of Genesis, and which were highly influential in shaping this belief. Chapter 15 is the great covenant-vision scene set around the divine promise of an heir (male child) for Abraham, in spite of his old age and the barrenness of his wife Sarah. In vv. 4-5, God announces to Abraham that, not only will he indeed have a child of his own, but that his descendants will come to be a vast multitude of people, like the stars in the sky. Here it is said of Abraham in verse 6:

“And he had firm (trust) in YHWH, and He reckoned (it) for him (as) ƒ®d¹qâ.”

The Hebrew word ƒ®d¹qâ has a relatively wide range of meaning. It is usually translated “righteousness”, but may also denote “truthfulness”, “loyalty”, as well as the legal sense of “justice”. The fundamental meaning of the ƒqd root appears to be something like “straight”, or perhaps “clear”. Abraham’s trust in God shows him to be a true and faithful friend (or vassal in the context of the covenant), and so God considers him to be a right follower. Paul, in citing Gen 15:6, generally follows the Septuagint (LXX) Greek, which is also a reasonably accurate rendering of the Hebrew:

“Abraham trusted in God, and (this) was counted for him unto dikaiosýn¢” (Gal 3:6)

As noted last week, the verb dikaióœ means “make right”, and the noun dikaiosýn¢ something like “right-ness” or “just-ness”, usually rendered in English as either “righteousness” or “justice”, both of which can be rather misleading in modern English. The dik– word-group is notoriously difficult to translate, especially as used repeatedly by Paul in his letters. It is clear, however, that Paul is using dikaiosýn¢ here is a somewhat different sense than the Hebrew ƒ®d¹qâ of the original Hebrew. For Paul, the word relates to a person’s standing before God—as one who needs to be “made right”. This legal sense, I would argue, is rather different from the covenant-language in Genesis 15 (on this see above, and also the earlier study on the covenant scene of Gen 15). And yet, Paul certainly has the context of covenant in mind, as can be seen from the remainder of chapter 3.

Paul is attempting to reconcile two basic truths, which relate to the new religious identity he sought to define for believers in Christ:

  • Truth #1: Salvation comes through trusting in Jesus—this is the essential Gospel message, which was accepted by at least as many non-Jews as Jews
  • Truth #2: Israelites (i.e. the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob) represent the people of God

These can only be reconciled by positing that those who trust in Jesus and the descendants of Abraham, are, somehow, one and the same. The declaration in Gen 15:6 provided a solution. It allowed one to identify faith/trust in God with Abraham and his descendants. That this association was immediately (and primarily) in Paul’s mind is clear from the interpretation he gives in Gal 3:7:

“Then you must know that the (one)s (born) out of trust—these are the sons of Abraham”

This results in a powerful reinterpretation of Israelite religious identity, now being applied to believers: those who trust in Jesus are the true descendants of Abraham. The line of argument which follows in vv. 8-14 (and on through the rest of chapters 3 and 4) is quite complex, and is meant to address the fundamental message of Galatians: that it is not necessary for (Gentile) believers to observe the regulations and commands of the Torah. I discuss this at length in the series of articles on Galatians in “Paul’s View of the Law” (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”). The main issue involved circumcision—in many ways the central command related to Israelite/Jewish religious identity. But, as Paul makes clear, circumcision was instituted for Abraham (and his descendants) prior to the Torah, being the sign of an earlier covenant established between God and Abraham. This covenant was not based on anything Abraham did, but was God’s own initiative, being predicated upon Abraham’s demonstration of trust. This is the significance of Gen 15:6 (and its context) for Paul. Believers—Gentile believers, in particular—are saved and “made right” before God through faith in Jesus; as a result, they are shown to be Abraham’s very descendants (his true, spiritual descendants). One is not saved through the observance of the Torah (much less circumcision itself), but through trust in Jesus. Paul affirms and argues this over and over again throughout Galatians (and again in Romans, as we shall see).

Romans 4:3ff

In Romans 4, Paul repeats the argument from Galatians, using the same example of Abraham (along with Gen 15:6), but accompanied by a more thorough exposition. The polemical tone of Galatians has been replaced by a carefully structured theological treatment of the theme, in which Jewish and Gentile believers are shown to be united, related to one another as true equals in Christ. Several times Paul asks, essentially, “what does the Jewish (believer) have over and above the Gentile?” The line of argument throughout chapters 2-11 of Romans is especially complex. In various ways, Paul seeks to retain the position of the covenant God established with his people Israel (i.e. Abraham, in chap. 4), once again reinterpreting it so that believers in Christ become the true (and complete) fulfillment of the covenant—Jewish and Gentile believers both as the people of God. The increasingly larger percentage of non-Jewish believers created a difficulty for Paul in this regard, and he addresses it particularly in chaps. 9-11. The illustration of Abraham is made to apply more generally to the Gentile believer by the repeated emphasis that righteousness (or right-ness) is something given by God (as a favor), rather than something earned by the person’s own work (vv. 4-5). This would come to be the emphasis that dominated the Reformers’ thought (see below).

Paul deals with the (Greek) text of Gen 15:6 in more detail here than he does in Galatians, especially the phrase “and it was counted for him unto justice/righteousness” (kai elogisth¢ autœ eis diakosyn¢). The verb logízomai is related to the noun lógos (“account”), and refers to giving an accounting (of something), used essentially as a bookkeeping term. The passive sense (“it was counted…”) here is an example of the so-called “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor. Quite literally, God records something in the ledger (the book, or account) on behalf of the person. This draws upon the traditional image of the (heavenly) book in which a person’s deeds are recorded, and which will be opened on the great day of Judgment. A similar idea is the “book/roll of life”, on which the names of the elect (i.e. citizens of heaven) are recorded. The corresponding verb in the Hebrew (µ¹ša»), has a rather different sense, and is also in active form (“he considered”). Fundamentally, it refers to the work of the mind (thought, thinking), sometimes in the specific sense of creative/artistic work, imagination, planning, and so forth. In Gen 15:6 it is best rendered as “consider”, or somewhat more forcefully, “reckon”—God considered Abraham to be a true and faithful friend.

Protestant commentators tended to emphasize the legal, forensic aspect of the Greek verb logízomai even more than Paul did, though he points in that direction himself in vv. 5-8. There, in good Rabbinic fashion, Paul finds a Scripture with similar wording to Gen 15:6 [LXX], bringing in the point of similarity as a way of explaining the earlier passage. He turns to the Greek of Psalm 32:1-2:

“Happy (are the one)s for whom the (deed)s without law were released, and for whom the sins were covered over! Happy the man for whom the Lord does not make an accounting of sin!” (vv. 7-8)

The “accounting unto righteousness” is parallel with “no accounting of sin”. In other words, God leaves the reference(s) to sins out of the ledger completely, ignoring them or “covering them over”. The idea of a forensic “declaration” or “imputation” of righteousness was certainly influenced by this line of thought in Romans. For Paul, however, it was the idea of the last Judgment that was largely in mind with this sort of language. Believers will escape the coming anger of God (1:18ff) and will be able to stand before God in the Judgment, because of the sacrificial work of Jesus on our behalf, and the trust/faith we have in him. All of this is given freely to us by God, as a favor (cháris). Paul states this clearly in verse 4, and it is given an even more succinct, axiomatic formulation in Eph 2:8. Yet, it is insufficient to view this “righteousness” (dikaiosýn¢) simply in the negative sense of the absence/covering of any record of sin. We must keep in mind the foundational statement in 1:17 (see the study last week), in which the positive aspect is emphasized—the righteousness of God Himself, which brings life to us, through our trust in Jesus.

Throughout Galatians and Romans, Paul is dealing primarily with the question of religious identity, which, for Israelites and Jews, involved circumcision and the observance of the Torah (as the terms of the covenant). Paul fully realized that this could no longer serve as the basis for the identity of believers in Christ, and he argued repeatedly that faith in Jesus took place entirely apart from (chœris) observing the regulations of the Torah. He states this in no uncertain terms in vv. 13ff, and even more absolutely in the famous declaration of 10:4: “For (the) Anointed One [i.e. Christ] is the completion [télos] of the Law, unto justice/righteousness [dikaiosýn¢] for every one trusting (in him)”.

Protestants, however, tended to turn this into a more general religious principle. Instead of referring specifically to Torah observance, “works” (érga) meant any sort of human effort or work in addition to faith in Jesus. Paul himself introduced this generalization at a number of points, such as here in verse 4:

“for the (one) working, the wage is not counted according to favor, but (rather) according to what (is) owed

This sort of illustration supplies the basis for the sweeping idea that salvation/justification comes by “grace and faith” alone, not from any human effort (Eph 2:8). Protestants were well aware of the religious tendency to emphasize the importance of certain actions—both ethical and ritual—and to rely on these for one’s identity. At the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic tradition was filled many authoritative laws, customs, and so forth, considered to be binding upon believers. The Reformers and early Protestants fought against the bulk of this tradition, symbolized most vividly by Luther in his public burning of the corpus of Canon (Church) Law. The doctrine of sola fide—salvation by faith alone—was a most radical solution to the religious problem. At a single stroke, it effectively eliminated vast swaths of Christian tradition—and Christianity in the West has been grappling with the impact of this ever since.

Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 3)

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The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 3)

We have already examined the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” as presented in Mark (Part 1) and Matthew (Part 2); now it is time to complete the picture with a study of the version in the Gospel of Luke. It was seen how the Matthean version followed the Markan version rather closely, with relatively minor differences in wording, but, at the same time, including additional material which significantly expanded the Discourse. The Lukan version also follows Mark, preserving the (original) scope of the Discourse, but with a simpler and more streamlined structure, as well as a distinctive historical emphasis and context. In many ways, the Lukan Discourse is most instructive for an understanding of the eschatology of the New Testament.

Luke 21:5-36

Lk 21:5-7—Introduction

The literary treatment of the material in Luke is smoother and more elegant, as is typically the case. Consider how the corresponding narrative in Mk 13:1 is summarized:

“And as some (were) relating about the sacred (place) [i.e. Temple], that (it was built) with (such) fine stones and arranged (with gift)s set up (for God), he [i.e. Jesus] said…” (v. 5)

A specific statement by the disciples has been turned into a generalized reference to the beauty and splendor of the Temple complex. The actual saying by Jesus predicting the Temple’s destruction (v. 6), though tailored to fit this syntax, remains close to the Synoptic/Markan form, but with two significant differences:

  • Jesus provides a time setting for the Temple’s destruction: “(the) days will come in which…”
  • The key verbs are given in future indicative, rather than aorist subjunctive, forms; this removes any sense of a threat by Jesus, making it a simple prediction of what will occur. This may relate to the Lukan omission of any reference to the reported saying that Jesus would destroy (and rebuild) the Temple (Mk 14:58 par), though the author surely was aware of the tradition (cf. Acts 6:14).

More substantial is the difference in the wording of the question by the disciples which follows (v. 7); here is a comparison of the three Synoptic versions:

  • “When will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when all these (thing)s shall be about to be completed together [suntelei=sqai]?” (Mk 13:4)
  • “When will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign of your coming to be alongside [parousi/a] and of the completion (all) together [sunte/leia] of th(is) Age?” (Matt 24:3b)
  • “So when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when these (thing)s shall be about to come to be [gi/nesqai]?” (Lk 21:7)

This seems strong evidence in favor of the common Synoptic theory that Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, adapting the Gospel material in various ways. Clearly, Matthew’s version expounds/explains the eschatological phrase “when all these things are about to be completed together” as “the completion of th(is) Age” marked by Jesus’ return (the noun parousi/a in its technical Christian sense). Luke follows the Markan form of the question much more closely, with two small differences: (a) “these things” instead of “all these things”, and (b) the simple verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) instead of the more technical suntele/w. Both changes appear to soften the eschatological impact of the question, and also limiting its scope to the more immediate issue of the fate of the Temple.

Lk 21:8-11—The sign(s) of what is to come

In this section, the same set of signs is given, as in Mk 13:5-8, and much of the wording is the same as well. The differences are relatively minor, but again rather significant:

  • In the reference to persons who come falsely in Jesus’ name (or claiming to be Jesus himself), verse 8 is almost identical with Mk 13:5-6, but has a different conclusion: “…saying ‘I am (he)’ and ‘the time has come near!’ You should not travel behind [i.e. follow after] them”. The claim “I am he” is paired with “the time has come near”, indicating the false message which might otherwise deceive Jesus’ disciples. The implications are that the period of trouble, prior to the destruction of the Temple, does not represent the actual coming of the end itself (cp. 2 Thess 2:2ff). Note the interesting parallel in wording (“the time has come near”) with the (eschatological) proclamation by Jesus himself in Mk 1:15 par (“the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near”); significantly, Luke does not record this (but cf. 10:9-11).
  • When referring to the period of warfare among the nations, the Lukan form of Jesus’ explanation differs slightly:
    “…it is necessary (that these things) come to be, but the completion (is) not yet (here)” (Mk 13:7b)
    “…for it is necessary (that) these (thing)s first come to be, but the completion (does) not (come) straightaway” (Lk 21:9b)
    Luke’s version here establishes, in a subtle way, a more precise sequence of events.
  • The description of natural disasters/phenomena (Mk 13:8b) is expanded in Luke’s version: “…and there will be great shakings and (time)s of hunger and pestilence down (in many) places, and there will be fearful (thing)s and great signs from heaven” (v. 11). These serve, in large measure, to enhance the (eschatological) significance of the coming destruction of the Temple (cf. below).
  • Luke omits, or does not include, the final statement in Mark that “these are the beginning of (the birth) pains”
Lk 21:12-19—The persecution (of the disciples) which is to come

Compared with Matthew (cf. Part 2), the Lukan version follows Mark (13:9-13) quite closely in this section. Again, however, there are some important differences, beginning with the opening words of verse 12: “But before all these (thing)s (occur)…”. This makes clear what otherwise has to be inferred in Mark, that persecution of the disciples will take place even before the destruction of the Temple (and the signs preceding it). Obviously, this corresponds completely with the record in the book of Acts, all of which takes place prior to the war in 66-70. Luke also identifies the arrest/interrogation of believers in terms of the persecution of believers (“and they will pursue [diw/cousin] [you]”). There is an interesting shift in emphasis as well, regarding the purpose and effect of this persecution:

  • In Mark (13:9b), the arrest/interrogation of the disciples was allowed (by God) for the purpose of providing a witness to people on behalf of Jesus (i.e. proclamation of the Gospel)—”…unto a witness for/to them”
  • In Luke (v. 13), by contrast, this persecution serves as a witness for the disciples, i.e. their role as witnesses of Christ—”…it will step away [i.e. come out] for you unto a witness”

There is some question as to why Luke does not include the statement in Mk 13:10, given its obvious application to the narrative of the early Christian mission in the book of Acts. Fitzmyer, in his classic commentary (p. 1340) claims that this simply reflects the Lukan tendency to avoid using the noun eu)agge/lion, and does not have any eschatological significance per se. This is certainly possible; however, if the Gospel was composed after 70 A.D., it may also have been omitted to avoid any suggestion that the Christian mission would be completed entirely before the destruction of the Temple.

Most intriguing is the difference between verse 15 and Mk 13:11. The Markan form of the promise/exhortation to the disciples emphasizes the role of the Spirit, whereas in Luke it is the personal work of Jesus—”For I will give you a mouth and wisdom…”. This difference may be due to the fact that a similar statement, involving the Spirit, had already been presented earlier in the Gospel (12:11-12, par Matt 10:9-10). There are also a couple of differences in the concluding words of this section:

  • The addition of the proverbial saying in verse 18: “And (yet) a (single) hair out of your head shall not suffer loss from (this)”.
  • The wording of the final promise:
    “(It is) in your remaining under (that) you must acquire your souls” (v. 19)
    “…but the (one) remaining under unto the completion—this (one) will be saved!” (Mk 13:13b)

Given the reference to the disciples enduring persecution (and death), the saying in v. 18 seems somewhat out of place. In its proverbial sense (cf. 1 Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Acts 27:34), it is a generalized saying reflecting God’s care and protection for believers. However, the context of the parallel saying in 12:7 (par Matt 10:30), suggests that here it refers to the soul of the disciple/believer—though the body may be harmed, the soul will suffer no loss. The following statement in v. 19 would certainly confirm this. The same sentiment is expressed beautifully in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom:

“But the souls of the just (one)s are in the hand of God,
and the torment [ba/sano$] shall (certainly) not touch them” (3:1)

The wording of verse 19 would appear to be another example of the Lukan softening of the eschatological implications for the disciples. The Markan form clearly indicates that the disciples are expected to continue faithfully, enduring persecution and the time of distress, until the end comes. In Luke, by contrast, it takes the form of a more general exhortation applicable to all believers. Both versions, however, emphasize the necessity for remaining faithful—it is only the faithful disciple who will be saved (i.e. “acquire [thei]r souls”) in the end.

Lk 21:20-24—The period of great distress before the end

It is here in this section that the Lukan version differs most noticeably from Mark and the Synoptic Discourse as a whole. The differences, compared with Mark-Matthew, may be summarized as follows:

  • The allusion to Dan 9:27 (Mk 13:14 par) has been replaced/explained entirely in terms of the coming military siege of Jerusalem (v. 20)
  • The statement regarding the “(great) distress [qli/yi$]” in Mk 13:19 par has similarly been ‘replaced’ by a more specific reference to the suffering and judgment to be faced by the people of Judea (v. 23b), mirrored by the additional saying in v. 22.
  • The references to the coming of false Messiahs/prophets and the role of the Elect in the time of distress (Mk 13:20-23 par) have all been omitted, or are otherwise not included.
  • Instead, the section concludes with a distinctive prophecy regarding the siege/destruction of Jerusalem (v. 24), following upon the initial warning in v. 20.

Thus, in Luke, the “time of distress” is made more precise and localized—it refers specifically to the judgment which will come upon Judea, centered in the form of a military siege of Jerusalem, leading to its conquest/destruction, and, with it, the destruction of the Temple. This naturally leads to a number of critical questions in terms of the relation of this Lukan version to the Synoptic Tradition.

First, we must consider v. 20 in relation to the Daniel allusion in Mk 13:14 par, discussed in Parts 1 & 2, the supplemental study on the influence of the book of Daniel on New Testament eschatology, as well as the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27. There are several possibilities:

  • Jesus made two different statements together, and the Gospel writers (Mark/Matt and Luke, respectively) each record only one. This would be a strict harmonization, perhaps favored/required by some traditional-critical commentators; it is, however, most unlikely. Three other options remain:
  • Luke has inserted a somewhat similar eschatological prediction (by Jesus) in place of the Synoptic (Mark/Matt) reference to Dan 9:27
  • Luke is explaining/interpreting an original saying by Jesus
  • Luke has the original saying by Jesus (in context), which the Synoptic tradition (in Mark/Matthew) has couched within a cryptic allusion to Dan 9:27

The second and third options are, in my view, the only viable alternatives. Both receive confirmation from the earlier words of Jesus in 19:41-44, located at the fateful moment of his approach to Jerusalem. If we accept vv. 43-44 as authentic, then Jesus, on at least one occasion, prophesied a horrific military siege of the city. The wording is similar to both the prediction of the Temple’s destruction (21:6 par), as well as that here in v. 20. And yet, the evidence cuts both ways; on the one hand, it supports the authenticity of such a prediction by Jesus, but, at the same time, it demonstrates the Gospel writer’s interest for including such detail (regarding the siege of Jerusalem) not found in any of the other Gospels. While the destruction of Jerusalem is certainly implied in the framework of the Eschatological Discourse, as well as in Lk 13:34-35 / Matt 23:37-39 (“Q” tradition), only in Luke do we find detail describing a specific military siege. The best explanation for this remains the critical assumption that the Lukan Gospel was written (shortly) after 70 A.D. This does not, by any means, invalidate the authenticity of the sayings; it does, however, explain why the Gospel writer chose to include them as he did.

The use of the word e)rh/mwsi$ (“desolation”) certainly derives from the LXX of Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 and the Hebrew expression <m@v) JWQv! (“detestable [thing] causing devastation”), rendered in Greek as to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ (“stinking [thing] of desolation”). The idea of causing (or intending to cause) desolation certainly fits well with the Roman siege/destruction of Jerusalem; even Josephus uses this sort of language, referring to the “desolation” (e)rhmi/a) coming upon the city and its people (War 6.288-96). As for the expression “days of (work)ing out justice” (h(me/rai e)kdikh/sew$), it may be drawn from Hos 9:7 LXX, with “justice” in the sense of punishment or retribution. In Hosea it refers to the judgment which is about to come upon Israel, and that is precisely the same context here in the Eschatological discourse—punishment upon Judea and Jerusalem. For similar language, cf. Deut 32:35; Jer 46:10 [LXX 26:10], and note the various oracles prophesying Jerusalem’s earlier destruction (Mic 3:12; Jer 6:1-8; 26:1-9).

The expression of woe in verse 23 is similar in theme to the prophecy by Jesus in 23:27-31, almost certainly referring to the same ‘time of distress’—the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (“the days are coming…”). For the language used by Jesus in that latter prophecy, cf. Isa 37:22; 54:1ff; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9. The idea of people calling to the mountains to cover them and put an end to their suffering, comes from Hos 10:8; its eschatological significance, as a reference to the end-time Judgment, is found in Rev 6:16. The setting in Lk 23:27-31 also makes clear a connection between the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, however uncomfortable this might be for Christians today. The kindling/burning of the dry wood is a traditional symbol of judgment (Isa 10:16-19; Ezek 20:47, etc). Again, the suffering/judgment in the Lukan version of the Discourse is focused specifically on Judea (“this land” / “this people”).

The nature and reason for this punishment is explained by the allusions to Deut 28:64 (cf. also Sir 28:18) in verse 24. The context in Deuteronomy involves the curse/punishment which will come upon the people for disobedience (i.e. violating the covenant), as expressed similarly in Ezek 32:9; Ezra 9:7, etc. In the original historical tradition, siege/destruction led to exile among the nations; however, Zechariah 12:2-3ff describes things in the reverse direction—the nations gathering together for a siege of Jerusalem, in an eschatological setting. This language likely influenced the description in verse 24 of Jerusalem being “trampled under the nations” (cf. also Rev 11:2, and the recent note on that verse). The closing phrase “until the [moment] at which the times of the nations should be fulfilled” gives a distinctive chronological setting to the Discourse which is unique to Luke’s version, and one which depends entirely on the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. as a point of reference. This will be discussed further in the conclusion to our study on the Discourse (Part 4). There is a reasonably close parallel to this language in Tob 14:5, and Paul uses a similar manner of speaking (Rom 11:25), though in terms of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles.

Luke 21:25-28—The coming of the Son of Man

Here the Lukan version follows Mark fairly closely, though with a somewhat different emphasis. The celestial phenomena (and the Scriptural allusions to them, cf. Part 1) in vv. 25f are no longer simply an indication of the Son of Man’s appearance (theophany). Rather, they now represent an extension of the Judgment coming upon humankind—in vv. 25-26 the Synoptic tradition has been adapted to include humanity’s reaction (fear and astonishment), in traditional language from the Old Testament (Psalm 46:4; Isa 24:19; cf. also Ps 65:8; 89:10). This brings the scene close in tone and feel to the sixth-seal vision in the book of Revelation (6:12-17). Also important is the shift in location from Judea to the whole “inhabited world” (oi)kome/nh); if verses 20-24 refer the Judgment coming upon Judea, vv. 25ff describe that coming upon the whole world. It is possible that the omission of the phrase “in those days” (Mk 13:24) is meant to emphasize this distinction of two periods of Judgment—one for Judea (culminating in the destruction of the Temple), and one for all the nations.

Luke’s version also has quite different wording in reference to the deliverance which the Son of Man brings. In Mk 13:27 par, we have the traditional eschatological imagery of Angels gathering the elect from the ends of the earth; by contrast, here we find a more general promise of salvation, though one with Messianic implications:

“And (when) these (thing)s are beginning to come to be, you must bend (your necks) up and lift up your heads, for (the reason) that [i.e. because] your loosing from (bondage) [a)polu/trwsi$] comes near!” (v. 28)

We may recall that Luke earlier had omitted the proclamation by Jesus that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mk 1:15 par, but cp. Lk 10:11); similarly, the declaration “the time has come near” is the mark of false Messiahs (v. 8). It is only with the appearance of the Son of Man, at the end-time, that the Kingdom truly “comes near” (vb. e)ggi/zw). The Anointed One now brings the long-awaited deliverance (lit. “loosing from [bondage]”) for the faithful ones among God’s people (on this expectation, cf. 1:68-77; 2:25-26, 38; 23:51). For the word a)polu/trwsi$ in this sense, as adapted by early Christians, see Acts 3:19-21; Rom 8:23; Eph 4:30.

Luke 21:29-33—Illustrations regarding the time of the End

A small but significant difference in the Lukan version here is the reference to the “Kingdom of God” in v. 31: “when you see these (thing)s coming to be, (then) know that the kingdom of God is near” (Mk 13:29 par, simply, “…know that it is near”). This repeats the point noted above—that in Luke, the coming of the Kingdom is specifically linked to the end-time, and is defined in terms of the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. the return of Jesus, for early Christians). The Kingdom will not be fully realized until that time (cf. Acts 1:6-8). Another small difference is in the saying of v. 33, where Luke has “all things [pa/nta]” instead of “all these things [tau=ta pa/nta]” (Mk 13:30). In a subtle way, this deflects away from the signs of the end to its actual fulfillment—the coming of the Kingdom. The difficult saying in v. 33 par itself will be discussed in a separate article on imminent eschatology in the Gospels.

Luke 21:34-36—Concluding exhortation

Here Luke demonstrates a simplification/modification of the Synoptic discourse in Mk 13:33-37 par, with two notable results: (1) it emphasizes the idea of the coming Judgment, and (2) it becomes a more direct ethical exhortation for believers. The first point is brought out especially in verse 34b-35, making clear that the end-time Judgment will begin suddenly, without warning:

“…and that day will stand upon you without shining (in advance) [i.e. unexpectedly], as a trap—for it will come (suddenly) upon all the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the face of all the earth!”

The Judgment scene is described even more clearly in verse 36, moving from the experience of humankind on earth, to the heavenly court: “…to stand in front of the Son of Man [i.e. as Judge]” (cf. Matt 25:31-46, etc). Only the faithful disciple (believer) will be able to stand in the final Judgment, and pass through it. For the earliest Christians, this was the fundamental context and meaning of salvation—being saved from the coming Judgment.

The exhortation for believers here also specifically involves prayer (a special emphasis in Luke): “And (so) you must be without sleep [i.e. awake/alert], making request [i.e. praying] (to God) in every time…” It is this combination of alertness and devotion to God (in prayer) which marks the faithful disciple. The closing words encompass the entire discourse, as instruction for believers on how to be prepared for “all these (thing)s th(at) are about to come to be”—i.e. all that Jesus has mentioned in the Discourse. The seriousness of this is indicated by the exhortation to stay awake and in prayer (as in subsequent Passion scene in the garden, 22:40, 45-46 par). The time of distress, including temptation and persecution for believers, will require “strength against” it (vb. katisxu/w), and believers must be prepared to “flee out of” it (vb. e)kfeu/gw). This is very much the sort of idea expressed famously by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13; Lk 11:4b), and provides confirmation for scholars who see a definite eschatological dimension to the prayer—there, too, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Kingdom (Matt 6:10/Lk 11:2), as here in v. 31.

For a number of references and insights mentioned above, I am indebted to the fine commentary on Luke by J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible series (Vol 28A: 1985); for the Lukan “Eschatological Discourse”, cf. pp. 1323-56.

Saturday Series: Justification by Faith (Romans 1:17)

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(The Saturday Series returns after a hiatus of several weeks)

This coming Thursday (October 31) is the date commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, marking Luther’s posting of the so-called “Ninety-five Theses” on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Intended for an academic debate, these propositions, many of a highly technical nature, had an influence which went far beyond their original purpose, and Martin Luther himself came to be the leading figure of the early years of the Reformation. In celebration of this time, I will be presenting a series of brief studies dealing with some of the key tenets of Protestantism.

In these Saturday Series studies, I have attempted to introduce the method and techniques of Biblical criticism to Christians who may be unfamiliar with them (and their value), in the hope and expectation that they will help readers to explore the text of Scripture more deeply and thoroughly. The Reformation-themed studies, beginning today and running through November, on into the start of Advent season, will each focus on a particular principle or belief central to the Reformation and the Protestant Tradition, examining the Scriptural basis for it. One or two key, representative Scripture passages or verses will be chosen, and given a critical treatment. This will demonstrate how Biblical criticism applies to theology and doctrine. On the one hand, we can see the way that established doctrines developed from particular interpretations of Scripture. At the same time, it is important always to take a fresh look as such beliefs, examining them anew in the light of Scripture.

Justification by Faith

The first Reformation tenet we will explore is justification by faith, as summarized in the famous slogan sola fide (“faith alone”)—that is, salvation comes only through faith in Christ, and not as a result of human work and effort. The fourth article of the Augsburg Confession gives the following statement (brackets represent explanatory text in German):

“…men can not be justified [obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness] before God by their own powers, merits, or works; but are justified freely [of grace] for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and their sin’s forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by his death hath satisfied our sins.” (translation from P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3)

There is a long history behind this theological formulation, but, to a large extent, the primary idea comes from the New Testament, perhaps best seen by the declaration in Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by (the) favor (of God) you are (one)s having been [i.e. who have been] saved, through trust—(and) this (does) not (come) out of you, (but is) the gift of God, (so) that no one should boast (of it).”

The word translated “favor” above is cháris, usually rendered “grace”; that translated “trust” (pístis) is more commonly rendered “faith”. We are saved through trust in Christ, but this does not come from our own ability or effort; rather, it is a result of the gift and favor shown to us by God.

The very expression “justification by faith” clearly shows the dependence on Paul’s letters (especially Galatians and Romans), with his repeated (and distinctive) use of the verb dikaióœ and the related noun dikaiosýn¢ and adjective díkaios. As a transitive verb, dikaióœ fundamentally means “make (things) right”, or “make (something) just”, sometimes in the formal (legal) sense of “declare (something to be) just”, “provide justice”, etc. Paul draws heavily upon this legal usage, applying it in a religious sense. We will be looking at two key examples which are essential to the doctrine of “justification by faith”. The first comes from the opening section of Romans, the concluding declaration in Rom 1:17. A seminal moment for the Reformation occurred during Luther’s study of Romans in his years spent as an Augustinian monk; he began to meditate more deeply on this verse, leading to a kind of revelatory moment (and conversion experience) for him, as he describes in the 1545 Preface to his writings in Latin. He expounded this verse, and the theological and religious principle drawn from it, a number of times in his published works; and other Reformers also inspired by it, followed him as well. Thus, Romans 1:17 may serve as a kind of keystone verse for the Protestant Reformation, and is deserving of careful study. In fact, Paul’s statement is considerably more complex than it seems at first glance, especially when reading it in translation, and through the lens of Protestant theology.

Romans 1:17

The particular words in Rom 1:17 which so struck Luther, are actually a quotation from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4). This is just one of several elements in the verse which need to be examined; let us consider them in order. To begin with, verse 17 marks the conclusion of the opening section (introduction) of the letter, and further explains the statement by Paul in v. 16 that the “good message” (Gospel) is “the power of God unto salvation for every(one) trusting (in Jesus)”. There are three parts to this explanation in v. 17:

  • “For the justice of God is uncovered in it”
  • “out of trust (and) into trust”
  • “even as it has been written…”—the citation from Hab 2:4

1. “For the justice of God is uncovered in it”—The word translated “justice” is dikaiosýn¢, part of the dikai- word-group mentioned above, and related to the verb dikaióœ. It is notoriously tricky to translate in English. Perhaps the best rendering would be something like “right-ness” or “just-ness”, but, as there is nothing truly equivalent in English, most translators opt for “justice” or “righteousness”. However, both of these can be misleading in modern English—”justice” has a predominantly socio-legal meaning, while “righteousness” a religious meaning, and one that is seldom used in English today, also having the negative connotation of self-righteousness.

Another difficulty involves the genitive construction (“…of God”): is it a subjective or objective genitive? That is to say, does it represent an attribute of God (i.e. something he possesses) or something which comes from him (i.e. as an object to us)? In Phil 3:9, Paul refers to the justice/righteousness that comes “from God” (ek theou), and given to believers; while in 2 Cor 5:21, believers become the “justice/righteousness of God” in Christ. There the expression may be taken as an objective genitive, and so many commentators understand it in Rom 1:17 as well—the Gospel communicates justice/righteousness to us. Certainly, that is how Luther and the Reformers came to understand it—righteousness as a gift from God, especially in the legal/declarative sense implied by Paul in much of his writing. Luther translates the expression in Rom 1:17 as “die gerechtigkeit die vor Gott gilt” (the justice/righteousness that counts before God). However, the overall context of Romans here strongly suggests that Paul is primarily using a subjective genitive—i.e. justice/just-ness as a divine characteristic. It is parallel to the “anger of God” (org¢ theou) in v. 18, which is also said to be “uncovered” and specifically directed against injustice (adikía). Similarly, we may note the expressions “the trust(worthiness) of God” (h¢ pistis tou theou) and “the truth(fulness) of God” (h¢ al¢theia tou theou) in 3:3, 7. It is an attribute expressing the character of God, but especially in terms of his action toward humankind.

What does it mean to say that the justice of God is “uncovered” in the Gospel? The verb apokalýptœ literally means “take the cover (away) from”, indicating something previously hidden or unknown. It relates to the character of God as one who makes things right, and specifically involves the salvation brought about through the person and work of Jesus. In v. 16, the Gospel—the message/announcement of this saving work—is called “the power of God”, an expression parallel to “the justice of God”. The Gospel reveals the plan of salvation for humankind, and, in so doing, makes known the very nature and character of God himself.

2. “out of trust (and) into trust”—This phrase can also be somewhat difficult to interpret. It is meant to qualify and explain the earlier phrase. The justice of God is revealed in the Gospel. How, or in what manner does this occur?—”out of [ek] trust and into [eis] trust”. Trust is both the source (“out of”) and goal (“into”). Of course, when Paul uses the word pístis (“trust”), he is referring to trust, or faith, in Jesus. Trust leads to the communication of God’s justice/righteousness to us, in the person of Christ, which, in turn, also leads to (greater) trust as we are united and grow in him. Paul uses similar syntax in 2 Cor 3:18: “from glory into/unto glory”. Likewise in the Greek of Psalm 84:8, the prepositions ek and eis in sequence would seem to indicate the passage from one point, or degree, to another.

3. The citation of Hab 2:4—Paul quotes this as follows:

“But the just (one) will live out of trust”
ho dé díkaios ek písteœs z¢¡setai

Part of New Testament (textual) criticism involves a careful study and comparison of the text of the Old Testament as it is quoted/cited by the author (or speaker). There are three forms of this verse in the Greek version (Septuagint/LXX) of the Old Testament, two of which differ from Paul’s quotation in the use of the 1st person possessive pronoun (occurring at different points):

“But the just (one) will live out of my trust”
“But my just (one) will live out of trust”

The Hebrew of Hab 2:4, by contrast, reads:

“but the righteous (one) will live by his firm (loyal)ty”
w®ƒaddîq be°§mûn¹¾ô yihyeh

The LXX is a reasonably accurate translation of the Hebrew, except for the use of the 1st person pronoun, which could indicate a slightly different reading of the underlying Hebrew (1st person suffix instead of 3rd person). The 1st person pronoun means that the righteous person lives as a result of God’s faithfulness. The Hebrew, by contrast, means that the person lives because of his/her own loyalty to God. The original context of the prophetic oracle clarifies this meaning. Judgment is coming upon Judah by means of foreign military invasion (by the Babylonians or “Chaldeans”, 1:6ff); only those who are faithful to YHWH will survive the attack (“will live”). Here, faithfulness refers to the binding agreement (covenant) established between God and the people Israel, with the Torah representing the terms of the agreement. The righteous/loyal Israelite remains firmly committed to the covenant, and obedient to the Torah, even as the rest of the society has fallen into disobedience and sin. This is similar to the faithful remnant motif found in many of the prophetic oracles—only the faithful ones will be saved from the coming judgment.

Considered in this light, it is interesting to see how Paul interprets the verse here in Romans. First, he preserves the original formulation from the Hebrew, i.e. that the trust/loyalty is that of the righteous person, and not God. Even though his Greek has no personal pronoun (“his”), that basic meaning is still implied, as in the reading of LXX manuscript 763* which matches Paul’s version. Second, Paul also retains something of the judgment-setting from Habakkuk, not in verse 17 itself, but in vv. 18ff which follow, referring to “the anger of God” (parallel to “the justice of God”) which is being uncovered. Only believers in Christ will escape the coming Judgment. However, it must be admitted that Paul has a deeper sense of the verb “will live” in mind; in addition to the negative context of the Judgment, there is the positive sense of what it means for the believer, even now in the present, to live in Christ. As expressed in 6:4ff, and other passages, the believer experiences new life in Christ, quite apart from the eternal life which one inherits after death and the Judgment. Though he does not state it here at this point in Romans, this sense of life in Christ is understood primarily through the presence of the Spirit.

More significantly, what Paul does not explain immediately in verse 17 is how the just/right (díkaios) character of the believer relates to the justice/righteousness (dikaiosýn¢) of God. In quoting Hab 2:4, the adjective díkaios is used without indicating exactly what makes the person “just”. In the Old Testament religious context of the oracle, a person’s just/righteous character is demonstrated by loyalty to the covenant and faithful obedience to the Torah. Paul, of course, turns this completely around, through a complex logic and series of arguments, expressed primarily in Galatians, and here in Romans. A person’s righteousness is the result of trust in Christ, rather than faithfulness to the Torah. Paul’s teaching in this regard is extremely complicated, and must be studied with considerable care, to avoid misunderstanding or over-simplification. For a detailed examination and discussion, I recommend you explore the articles on Paul’s view of the Law in my earlier series “The Law and the New Testament”.

There is an interesting comparison to be made between Paul’s interpretation of Hab 2:4 and that found in the Community of the Qumran text (Dead Sea Scrolls). In the surviving commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab), 2:4 is interpreted as follows:

“…(it) concerns all observing the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will free from the house of judgment on account of their toil and of their loyalty to the Teacher of Righteousness”

Two criteria are combined: (1) proper observance of the Law, etc (“their toil”), and (2) loyalty to the person called “Teacher of Righteousness”, the leading/founding figure of the Community, viewed as an inspired prophet and teacher. Paul would reject the first criterion, but the second is a bit closer to his own approach. Both the Qumran Community and early Christians defined salvation in terms of faith in a person.

One final point of interpretation involves the syntactical position of the expression ek písteœs (“out of trust”)—from Paul’s standpoint, does it modify the subject (ho díkaios, “the just [one]”) or the verb (z¢¡setai, “will live”)? In other words, is the emphasis on the person being considered just because of his/her trust, or does the person live as a result of that trust? Compare: (1) “the (person who is) just out of (his/her) trust will live”, or (2) “the just (person) will live out of trust”. The latter is to be preferred, especially if Paul understood the original meaning of the Hebrew text. If so, then Rom 1:17 is not so much as statement of “Justification by Faith” as it is of “New Life by Faith”. Paul, however, would certainly affirm both sides of the equation, as, indeed, he does through the central phrase “out of trust (and) into trust”, indicating both source (“from the just-ness of God”) and goal (“eternal life in Christ”).

As you meditate and study this verse, begin looking ahead through Paul’s letter to the Romans, reading from 1:18 on into the beginning of chapter 4. This coming Saturday, we will explore a second key verse related to the doctrine of “Justification by Faith”—the quotation of Genesis 15:6 in Rom 4:3 (also Gal 3:6).

Note of the Day – October 25 (Revelation 12:1-6)

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Revelation 12-13

An intriguing aspect of the book of Revelation, following a common Apocalyptic literary model, is the way that visions develop one out of the other, often overlapping in detail and outlook, restating the same message in different and creative ways. In the first half of the book, the visions, for the most part, were relatively straightforward, expressed either in terms of: (a) scenes of worship and ritual in Heaven, or (b) vivid pictures of the Judgment which is coming upon the earth. While these aspects continue in the remainder of the book, they are presented within a more complex visionary narrative. The main theme of this narrative may be summarized as: conflict between the people of God and the wicked nations. Expressed in more traditional dualistic terms, we might better say—conflict between the people of God and the peoples/nations of Satan. This is the primary matrix in which nearly all of chapters 12-19 are set. The central theme of conflict was present throughout the opening chapters, but only begins to take a definite literary/narrative shape in chapter 11. Now in chapters 12 and 13, it is woven out in a visionary tableau, which establishes: (1) the history of the conflict (chap 12), and (2) the current manifestation in the time of distress (chap 13).

Chapter 12 has a fairly straightforward (and symmetric/chiastic) structure, which I would outline as follows:

  • Vv. 1-6: Conflict on earth—The woman and her child are threatened by the dragon
    —Vv. 7-9: War in heaven—Victory of Michael and the (good) Angels
    —Vv. 10-12: War in heaven—Victory Hymn, with praise and warning
  • Vv. 13-17: Conflict on earth—The woman and her children are threatened by the dragon

The outer portions (vv. 1-6, 13-17) refer to conflict on earth, in which a mythical dragon-being attacks a woman and her children. The inner section (vv. 7-12) narrates a parallel conflict in heaven, in which the dragon is understood as a heavenly being. The main difference is that the conflict in heaven ends in victory, while the conflict on earth remains to be fought (chap. 13).

Revelation 12:1-6

The opening words establish a new kind of vision:

“And a great sign [shmei=on] was seen in the heaven…”

The word shmei=on occurs only in the second half of the book (chapters 12-19, seven times). This marks the distinctive character of these visions, different from those in the preceding chapters. Even though the sign appears in heaven, what it describes and narrates takes place on earth. Actually, two signs appear, indicating the conflict which will take place between the two (symbolic) figures:

  • A Woman
    • cast about [i.e. clothed/draped] with the sun
    • down under her feet (is) the moon
    • a crown of twelve stars upon her head
    • she holds a child in her stomach [i.e. is pregnant]
  • A Great Fabulous (Serpent)
    • the color of red
    • having seven heads and seven horns
    • (royal cloth) bound around each of the seven heads
    • his tail drags down a third of the stars to the earth

The point of conflict between the two clearly involves the child she is bearing:

  • “being in pain and (be)ing tormented, she cried (out) to produce (the child) [i.e. to give birth]” (v. 2)
  • “the fabulous (serpent) stood in sight of the woman being about to produce (the child), (so) that it might gobble down the product [i.e. child/offspring] when she should produce (it)” (v. 4)

I have kept the translation above excessively literal, to make clear the verbal relationship between the child (“product/offspring”, te/knon) and the act of giving birth (“produce”, ti/ktw). The point is that the woman is in the process of bringing forth a child, and the ‘dragon’ stands by waiting during it all. The conflict between woman and dragon begins (in earnest) once the child is born. The reason is made clear in verse 5, where the special nature of the child is described:

“And she produced [e&teken] a male son, who is about to shepherd the nations in [i.e. with] an iron staff. And her offspring [te/knon] was seized/taken (up) toward God and toward His ruling-seat [i.e. throne].”

The words in italics, of course, derive from Psalm 2:9, blended with the Messianic shepherd-imagery taken from passages such as Ezek 34:23. It is possible that Micah 5:2-4 is specifically in mind here, with its combination of elements:

  • The coming forth of God’s chosen ruler (v. 2)
  • The motif of a woman in labor (v. 3)
  • The ruler as a Shepherd who will be great over all the earth (v. 4)

The use of Mic 5:2ff in the Matthean Infancy narrative (Matt 2), with its description of Herod’s attempts to kill off a new-born Messiah, certainly seems relevant as well. However, it is by no means clear that a reference to this specific Gospel tradition is intended. The narrative motif of the wicked ruler seeking to kill a chosen (male) child as soon as he is born, is found in many traditional tales and legends worldwide. It is perhaps enough to view the motif here as indicating that the ‘dragon’ wishes to destroy the child before he can exercise his chosen position of rule; the implication being that the ‘dragon’ is already (currently) exercising rule over the nations, or may have the opportunity to do so.

Despite the rather clear allusion to Jesus‘ birth in v. 5, the imagery in the vision is more complex than a simple history of his life. Consider how this is expressed in verse 6:

“And the woman fled into the desolate (land), where she holds a place there having been made ready from God, (so) that there they might nourish her for a thousand two-hundred (and) sixty days.”

This does not correspond with anything in the Gospel narratives per se; rather, like many of the visions in the book of Revelation, it represents a blending of elements:

  • The woman fleeing from attack—believers fleeing from persecution (cf. below)
  • The desert location—traditionally the place where people encounter God, experiencing suffering and deprivation along the way
  • The place “made ready”—Messianic language from Isa 40:3; Mal 3:1
  • A place of refuge coming from God—The righteous/believers find security and salvation from God alone
  • The strengthening of the woman—a time of growth and testing for the people of God
  • The time frame of 1,260 days (= 3½ years)—symbolic designation of the end-time period of distress

The reference to the 1,260 days is perhaps a bit misleading, as though there are two periods of 3½ years being referenced. The book of Revelation, it would seem, conceives of a single 3½-year period which represents the time of suffering and distress which is to come upon the world at the end-time Judgment. The motif of 3½ years, expressed variously in the book, ultimately comes from Daniel (7:25; 9:27; 12:7). The woman is in the desert, ready for the time of distress, but the 1,260 days themselves do not take place until verse 14, after the vision of heavenly warfare in vv. 7-12. If we are to attempt an historical approximation, it would be as follows:

  • Vv. 1-6: The period from the conception/birth of Jesus to the present time (i.e. time of the author and his audience)
    Interlude: Vision of the warfare in Heaven (vv. 7-12)
  • Vv. 13-17: The present time through the period of distress (“3½ years”)
Symbols of the Woman, Child, and Dragon

Like nearly all of the visionary figures in the book of Revelation, the Woman (gunh/), Child (te/knon), and Fabulous Serpent (dra/kwn), all function as symbols with a wider meaning than a simple identification with specific/historical personages. I would suggest the following line of interpretation:

  • Woman—the people of God, in both a heavenly and earthly aspect; that is to say, as a figure, it has a broader meaning than “Israel” or even “believers in Christ”
  • Child—this child, the product/offspring of the people of God, has a two-fold meaning:
    (1) the (first) male son—Jesus Christ, in his human/earthly life
    (2) the other children (v. 17)—Believers in Christ
  • Dragon/Serpent—the forces/powers of evil and wickedness; like the Woman (people of God), it has both heavenly and earthly aspects.

A bit more perhaps should be said regarding the dra/kwn, a word typically rendered by the transliteration in English as “dragon”, but which more properly refers to a creature with a fabulous/fascinating appearance; it is usually understood as a (hybrid) creature resembling a serpent. Various forms of this sort of creature are attested in myths and legends worldwide. The multi-headed serpent also appears in many traditions, but is especially familiar to Greek readers from writings such as Apollonius’ Argonautika 4.153ff. The most famous such monster is the Typhon/Typhoeus (Hesiod Theogony 821ff; Plutarch Moralia 359E, 362F, etc); though more relevant to the context here in the book of Revelation is the Python-serpent, opponent of the god Apollo, which sought to kill his mother Leto (Hyginus, Fabulae 140; Koester, p. 545).

Legendary serpent-creatures are also mentioned in the Old Testament, based on ancient Near Eastern concepts and terminology—cf. Psalm 73:13-14; Job 7:12; 26:13; 41:1; Isa 27:1; Ezek 32:2; Jer 51:34. They did not represent evil as such; rather, they tended to symbolize chaos and disorder, including the destruction connected with warfare (e.g., Jer 51:34; Psalms of Solomon 2:25; Sibylline Oracles 5:29). The Jewish and early Christian association of the serpent/dragon with evil, was largely due to the role of the snake/serpent in the Creation narrative (Genesis 3), acting as one who tempts people to sin and disobedience against God. In the vision of the warfare in Heaven (vv. 7-12), the book of Revelation specifically identifies the dra/kwn with the figure of Satan (i.e., the Devil); a similar identification is made in 20:2. The Genesis narrative also refers to a conflict between the serpent and the woman (and her children), 3:15, which may well be in view here in chap. 12.

In the next daily note, we will examine the vision of warfare in heaven (vv. 7-12), before returning to the woman/dragon conflict in vv. 13-17.

Note of the Day – October 24 (Revelation 11:15-19)

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Revelation 11:15-19

After the interlude in chapters 10-11, the cycle of seven Trumpet-visions (i.e. visions of the Judgment) comes to a close. The initial words of the vision need to be considered in comparison with the parallel description of the seventh Seal-vision:

  • “And when he opened up the seventh seal,
    there came to be silence in the heaven as (for a period of) half and hour.” (8:1)
  • “And (when) the seventh Messenger sounded the trumpet,
    there came to be great voices in the heaven saying…” (11:15)

The contrast is clear and striking—silence vs. “great voices”; the distinction is important for an understanding the structure of the book here:

  • “Silence”—marking the awesome/ominous moment when the great Judgment begins
  • “Great voices”—marking the end of the Judgment, with worship and praise of God

With a full 11 chapters (half the book) remaining, it may seem strange to think of the end of the Judgment as being represented here, and yet that is indeed what the vision declares, with the “great voices” sounded together in heaven:

“The kingdom of the world (has) come to be (that of) our Lord and His Anointed (One), and He will rule (as king) into the Ages of the Ages!” (v. 15b)

This is the ultimate eschatological statement regarding the twin concepts, so central to New Testament and early Christian thought, of: (1) the Kingdom of God coming near, and (2) Jesus coming and inheriting the Kingdom. The first is an expression of traditional Jewish eschatology, while the second is a distinctly (and uniquely) Christian idea. Both are combined at many points in the New Testament, and, especially, here in the book of Revelation—the image of the exalted Jesus ruling in heaven alongside God the Father (YHWH), sharing the same power and authority. It is only after the Judgment that the “kingdom of the world” (i.e. humankind and all earthly power) has been completely and utterly transformed into the Kingdom of God. The heavenly scene of chapters 4-5, reprised in 7:9-12, receives its climactic expression here in vv. 16-18, with a similar hymn of praise. It is again to be noted the emphasis on God’s victory and Judgment of the nations:

“…you have seized your power and ruled (as King). And the nations became angry, and (yet) your anger came, and (also) the time of [i.e. for] the dead to be judged and to give the wage [i.e. reward] to your slaves—the foretellers and the holy (one)s and the (one)s fearing your name—the great and small (alike), and to thoroughly ruin the (one)s thoroughly ruining the earth!” (vv. 17b-18)

There is a bit of marvelous wordplay here, often lost in translation, which should be noted—at two points:

  • the nations became angry (w)rgi/sqhsan), and God’s anger (o)rgh/) came
  • the time came for God to thoroughly ruin (diafqei=rai) the people (i.e. nations) who have been thoroughly ruining (diafqei/ronta$) the earth

It is a kind of equation, the Judgment being entirely reciprocal, mirroring almost exactly how humankind has thought and acted. This is an important (religious and ethical) principle, with most ancient roots, expressed many times in Scripture (cf. Gen 9:6, etc). Jesus, in his sayings and teachings, tended to express it through a ‘reversal of fortune’ motif, as in the Lukan Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26) or the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31)—i.e. the one rich and happy now (in the present) will mourn and receive nothing (at the end time). Believers will receive a reward in proper measure to what they have suffered and endured (while remaining faithful); similarly, the wicked will receive punishment according to how they have acted and behaved during their earthly life.

The reference to the nations becoming angry is probably an allusion to Psalm 2:5, reflecting the ancient (socio-political) phenomenon of vassals who rebel and seek independence when a new king (son of the ruler, etc) comes to power. Psalm 2 was given a Messianic interpretation and applied specifically to Jesus by early Christians; indeed, it was one of the principal Messianic passages that shaped Christian thought and belief. In Psalm 99:1, there is a more precise formulation of the peoples’ anger in relation to the rule of God (as King). Here in the vision, as throughout the book Revelation, the exalted Jesus rules along with God as His Anointed One (Messiah).

This heavenly scene concludes with a powerful vision of the “shrine of God” (o( nao\$ tou= qeou=), featured in the earlier vision in vv. 1-2. In the daily note on that passage, I expressed my view that the Temple image is best understood as a figure for believers (collectively) as the people of God. The inner shrine itself, where the altar is located, represents the true believers, worshiping and remaining faithful during the time of distress. Now we see the shrine located specifically in heaven (“the shrine of God in heaven”). Significantly, the shrine is opened up (vb. a)noi/gw), reflecting an important structural framework for the Judgment-visions of chapters 6-11:

  • The seals of the scroll are opened up (by the Lamb)
    • Seventh seal—there comes to be silence in heaven
      • Visions of the Great Judgment
    • Seventh trumpet—there comes to be great voices in heaven
  • The shrine of God is opened up (revealing the Divine Glory)

Just as the innermost area of the shrine signified the Presence of God, i.e. seated above the golden throne (ark), so here the opening of the shrine reveals the Divine Presence—God in His glory made manifest, described almost entirely in the traditional language of storm theophany:

“And the shrine of God th(at is) in the heaven was opened up, and the (sacred) box [i.e. ark] of His diaqh/kh was seen in His shrine, and there came to be flashes (of lightning) and voices and thunders and shaking and a great downfall (of hail).” (v. 19)

This storm imagery was already utilized in the earlier Trumpet-visions, including fiery hail and other celestial phenomena thrown/falling down to earth. Now it is focused more properly in the presence of God Himself, reflecting the shift here in chapter 11, away from the Judgment and (back) toward the worship of God (and Christ) in Heaven.

As indicated above, this seventh Trumpet-vision reflects the completion of the Judgment; or, perhaps it is better to say, the aspect of the Judgment which is located on earth. The context of the passage makes clear that it is now the moment of the resurrection and the final Judgment of humankind before God in the heavenly court. What is strangely missing from this framework is the end-time appearance of the Son of Man (return of Jesus), which normally would be thought to occur prior to the resurrection. Description of this glorious event is put off until a later point in the book (19:11ff). In between (12:1-19:10), the end-time period of the Judgment is presented in a different manner, one which focuses on the idea of conflict between the people of God (believers) and the wicked nations. This shift in emphasis was introduced in the visions of chapter 11, and is developed considerably in the visions which follow. The opening vision of chapter 12 will be discussed in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – October 23 (Revelation 11:3-14)

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Revelation 11:3-14

As discussed in the previous daily note, the scene involving the measuring of the Temple is transitional between chapter 10 and this vision of the ‘two witnesses’ in 11:3-14. It establishes the contrast between the “holy city” (with the Temple at the center) and the “great city”, an allegorical distinction between the people of God (true believers) and the surrounding world (the “nations”, spec. the Roman Empire). In this vision, the image has shifted from the shrine (nao/$) of God to a pair of persons—two witnesses:

“And I will give to my two witnesses and they will foretell [i.e. prophesy] for a thousand two-hundred (and) sixty days, having been cast about [i.e. clothed] in a coarse garment [sa/kko$].”

Much ink has been spilled regarding the identification of these two persons—how are they best understood? The visionary character of this section, in context, would suggest that they are figurative, and yet many commentators believe that it refers to a pair of actual (historical) persons expected to appear, or to be active, at the end-time. It is important to begin with the language used to describe them, and the Old Testament traditions which are involved. Three lines of interpretation may be mentioned:

  • Angels—i.e. heavenly beings sent by God as a witness to humankind prior to the Judgment; the reference to the “great city” as “Sodom” would certainly bring to mind the Abraham narrative in Genesis 19, and the two (heavenly) Messengers that come to the city.
  • Messiah-Prophets—the Messianic figure-type of Anointed Prophet, expected to appear at the end-time (prior to the Judgment), according to several traditional patterns, most notably Moses and Elijah (cf. below).
  • People of God (Believers)—that is to say, as witnesses, these two persons represent the people of God, the faithful believers as a whole.

All three of these are more or less clearly present in the text; the vision draws upon the distinct lines of tradition, in various ways, and a proper interpretation must take each of them into account. Let us begin with the primary identification of the two persons/figures as witnesses (ma/rtu$, sg.). The word occurs five times in the book of Revelation, being used in two distinct, but related, ways in the other four references:

  • Of the exalted Jesus, who is given the title “the trust(worthy) [pisto/$] witness” (1:5; 3:14)—this is best understood in two respects:
    • Jesus gives witness of God the Father (YHWH), proclaiming His word and will, and acting as His representative (cf. the context of 1:1ff)
    • This witness entails, in a fundamental way, the sacrificial death of Jesus (the Lamb)
  • Of believers, who follow the example of Jesus, bearing witness of Christ and the Gospel, especially insofar as they follow him to the death (i.e. beginnings of the technical use of the term [“martyr” in English]):
    • In 2:13, Antipas, who was put to death, is given the same title used of Jesus in 1:5—”the trustworthy witness”
    • In 17:16, the believers whose blood was shed are specifically called “witnesses of Yeshua

Is it possible that this two-fold aspect is implied by the fact that there are two witnesses mentioned? The next bit of evidence comes from the parallel identification in verse 4:

“These are the two olive (tree)s and the two lamp(stand)s, the (one)s having stood in the sight of the Lord of the earth.”

This imagery is drawn from the fourth chapter of Zechariah, and, again, there is a clear two-fold aspect involved:

  • Messianic—Olive oil was used for anointing, and, in the context of Zech 3-4, the two olive trees (vv. 3, 11) refer to Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua (“sons of oil”, v. 14) according to early Messianic/Anointed figure-types—Davidic ruler and Anointed Priest, respectively.
  • Heavenly/Angelic—The (seven) lampstands in Zech 4:2-3 are identified as the “eyes of the Lord” (vv. 10-11)—personalized as (heavenly/spirit) beings who represent YHWH in the world, i.e. Messengers (“Angels”), and, one might say, also witnesses. This is reproduced in the book of Revelation (1:4, 12-13, 20; 2:1ff; 5:6). At the same time, we should note:
    • The lampstands are also identified with believers collectively (i.e. congregations/churches), 1:20; 2:1, 5
    • The exalted Jesus is at the center of the lampstands, holding/controlling them (1:12-13; 2:1, cf. also 3:1; 5:6)

Verses 5-6 bring out a number of Messianic details, especially those connected with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah (for more on this, cf. Parts 2-3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”):

  • “fire travels out of their mouths” to “eat up” the enemies of God (v. 5)—the idea of the word of God, communicated by the Prophet, as fire is found in Jer 5:14, and is specifically associated with Elijah in Sirach 48:1. Indeed, in Old Testament tradition, Elijah called down fire from heaven (1 Kings 19:36-38). The more direct Messianic association comes from Isa 11:4, in which the mouth of the Messiah (vv. 1-3) slays the wicked. Paul draws upon this in a clear eschatological context in 2 Thess 2:8; as does the deutero-canonical book of 2/4 Esdras (13:10, 37-38, roughly contemporary with the book of Revelation), where the slaying power of the mouth is presented as fire. There is an interesting parallel here with the fire-breathing plague-army of the sixth Trumpet-vision (Rev 9:13-20).
  • “authority to close the heaven” so that rain does not fall (v. 6)—a clear allusion to the Elijah traditions (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1; Lk 4:25; James 5:17)
  • authority to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with plagues (v. 6)—Moses and the Plagues of Egypt (Exod 7:19, etc)

If verses 3-6 tend to emphasis the heavenly and Messianic character of the two witnesses, verses 7ff more clearly reflect the dual aspect of Jesus-Believers as true and faithful witnesses who are put to death. Their role as Heavenly/Messianic Prophets covers the period of 1,260 days (= 3½ years) during which they prophesy, wearing coarse garments (‘sackcloth’, sa/kko$), marking the coming of the Judgment and urging people to repent. In a sense, this period of preaching/prophesying is similar to that of John the Baptist, as well as Jesus (in his Galilean ministry), both of whom were identified in different ways as the Messianic Prophet (Elijah) who would appear at the end-time. Jesus was also associated with the end-time “Prophet like Moses”, though the Gospel tradition identifies him more closely with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff. In any case, it is after this time of prophetic proclamation/ministry, that Jesus comes to Jerusalem and is put to death. This Gospel narrative-matrix is very much at work here in Rev 11:3-14.

At the same time, verses 7ff open up an entirely separate line of imagery as well—that of the beast (i.e. wild animal, qhri/on) who attacks the people of God. It is this visionary conflict which dominates much of the second half of the book (beginning with chapter 12). It is introduced here, without any real explanation or elaboration:

“And when they should complete their witness, the wild (animal) stepping up out of the (pit) without depth [i.e. bottomless pit] will make war with them, and will be victorious (over) them and will kill them off.” (v. 7)

As the “beast” (wild animal) is clearly symbolic in the context of the visions which follow (to be discussed), it stands to reason that the two witness are figurative as well; this would seem to be confirmed by the description in verse 8, where several different images are blended together:

  • The body (singular) of the two witnesses is left laying in the streets of “the great city”, which is further given a hybrid identification:
    • Sodom—traditionally associated with wickedness/immorality (and the judgment which came upon it)
    • Egypt—the land of slavery for the people of God (Israel)
    • Jerusalem—here, literally, “where our Lord was put to the stake [i.e. crucified]”

Some commentators, relying on the last detail, would identify the “great city” flatly as Jerusalem (i.e. the actual city). However, I believe that this is overly simplistic, and, indeed, incorrect. In my view the designation “the great city” is meant as a specific contrast to “the holy city” (i.e. where the Temple is located) in v. 2. By comparison, “the great city” is marked by its “wide (street)s” and wickedness (“Sodom”). It is best to see it as a figure for the wider world—i.e. the “nations”, or, the Roman Empire, according to the (historical) setting of the book. By contrast, believers (the people of God, collectively) are represented by the “holy city” and the Temple-complex (cf. on vv. 1-2 in the previous note). The 3½ years (1,260 days) is also a figurative period, drawn from Old Testament tradition, and represents the coming time of distress (and persecution). During this period, believers are to serve as witness of Jesus to the world (the “great city”); many, like Jesus himself, will be put to death as a result. This is the main association in verse 8, identifying the “great city” as the place “where our Lord was put to the stake”.

The death of the witnesses—that is, the time they remain dead—parallels the period of ministry (3½ days | 3½ years). The people of the “great city” rejoice and celebrate (evoking the Roman Saturnalia festival), even as the body of the witness(es) lies dead and unburied in the street (vv. 9-10). The cruelty and wickedness of humankind could not be more simply and vividly expressed. It is possible that the public spectacle-executions of Christians under Nero is in mind here, serving as a pattern for many other early Christian Martyrdom narratives. The period of 3½ days also serves to bring out more strongly the parallel with the death of Jesus (i.e. the traditional motif of three days); like Jesus, after three days, the two witnesses are raised from the dead (v. 11). The parallel is extended, as the witnesses ascend to heaven (v. 12) in a cloud, just like Jesus (Acts 1:9-11). Their enemies look on as they go up in the cloud, even as the nations will watch as Jesus (the Son of Man) returns in a cloud at the end-time (Rev 1:7)

The vision concludes with judgment striking the people of the “great city”, by way of a “great shaking [i.e. earthquake]”. An earthquake is also tied to Jesus’ death (and resurrection) in Matthew’s version of the Passion narrative (27:51; 28:2). Here, however, the more immediate connection is with the six Trumpet-visions in chapter 9, especially the first four, in which various natural disasters and phenomena destroy/afflict a portion (one-third) of the world. In this vision, the earthquake destroys a tenth of the city, killing seven thousand people (v. 13). It is interesting to note the smaller percentage involved, compared with that in the Trumpet-visions. Almost certainly, this reflects the ministry/witness of the two figures, culminating in their death and resurrection/exaltation. That this is meant to blend together features marking both Jesus and his faithful/true followers (believers), was noted above, and must be maintained as a fundamental aspect of any proper interpretation. This work of witness ultimately has a profoundly positive effect for humankind—limiting the extent of the Judgment, and leading people to repentance and the worship of God. This shift from judgment to worship also characterizes the seventh Trumpet vision, which follows in vv. 15-19 (to be discussed in the next daily note). The closing words of v. 14 effectively enclose the visions of chapters 10-11 back within the structure of seven-vision cycle, repeating the refrain from 9:12 (following the fifth vision):

“The second woe (has) come along—see! the third woe comes quickly!” (v. 14)

This third woe refers to the seventh (final) Trumpet vision, and yet, interestingly, no “woe”, as such, is described in vv. 15-19. It functions, rather, as a literary device, here primarily indicating the end, or completion, of the Judgment visions. With chapter 12, an entirely new mode of visionary expression is introduced, one which restates the Judgment narrative along more traditional-historical lines. Before embarking on that interesting study, it is necessary to examine the final Trumpet vision, which we will do in the next daily note.

Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament: The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 2)

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The “Eschatological Discourse” (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this study, I surveyed the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse as represented by Mark 13. According to the common hypothesis, held by many critical scholars, the Gospel of Mark was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke. Whatever the precise relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, it is clear that they draw upon a common line of tradition, in which the same material occurs in the same sequence and setting. This is certainly true of the Eschatological Discourse. It is part of the common Synoptic narrative, derived either from Mark, or from a Gospel framework with a similar outline and set of contents. In discussing the Matthean version of the Discourse, I will be focusing almost entirely on the elements or features which are distinct or different from the Markan version. These may be viewed either as Matthean additions and modifications, or in terms of a particular (literary) arrangement and emphasis which the writer has given to the material.

Matthew 24

Matt 24:1-3—Introduction

Matthew’s version follows Mark quite closely, as can be seen already in the introduction (vv. 1-3; comp. Mk 13:1-4). Matthew’s account differs here in two respects: (1) it has a simpler narrative, with less local color/detail, and (2) it evinces a more distinctly Christian perspective. On the first point, one simply notes the omission of the disciples’ words in Mk 13:1 commenting on the great stones and buildings of the Temple complex, as also the fact that the disciples who subsequently approach Jesus (v. 3) are left unnamed (in Mk 13:3 they are identified as Peter, James, John, and Andrew). The second point touches upon the most significant difference in these verses—the form of the question posed by the disciples to Jesus. Compare the question in Mark and Matthew, respectively:

  • “Say to us [i.e. tell us], when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed (all) together [suntelei=sqai]?” (Mk 13:4)
  • “Say to us [i.e. tell us], when will these (thing)s be, and what (is) the sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] and (of) the completion together [sunte/leia] of th(is) Age?” (Matt 24:3b)

The first part is virtually identical, but the second portion differs considerably. In Mark the question refers, somewhat ambiguously, to “all these things”—in the present literary context, this must refer primarily to the time-frame of the Temple’s impending destruction; however, we may infer that other teaching regarding the end-time, especially the coming Judgment, may also be involved. The disciples ask for a sign (shmei=on) so they may known when these things will occur. The verb suntele/w, literally refers to “all these things” being completed together; an eschatological context is implied (i.e. the end of the current Age). Matthew’s version makes this context much more specific: “…the completion (all) together of th(is) Age“. The noun sunte/leia is related to the verb suntele/w, but functions as a distinct technical term (Dan [LXX] 8:17, 19; 11:27, 35, 40; 12:4, 6-7, 9; Matt 28:20; Heb 9:26; cf. also Testament of Zebulun 9:9; Benjamin 10:3, etc). More problematic is the way that this eschatological context is tied to the (early Christian) idea of Jesus’ future return, using the technical term parousi/a (parousia, “[com]ing to be alongside”). The actual disciples of Jesus, at this point, prior to his death and resurrection, would have had little or no sense of his future return. At best, they may have begun to connect his statements regarding the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man” with Jesus’ use of that expression as a self-designation. From the standpoint of historical accuracy, it is hard to see the disciples formulating the question this way. The Markan version is more realistic; Matthew here likely reflects a Christian gloss, or explanation, of the disciples’ words.

Matt 24:4-8—The sign(s) of what is to come

In Mark 13:5-8, Jesus gives an answer to the second question by the disciples (“what is the sign…?”), outlining several things which will occur before the coming of the end: (a) people coming falsely in Jesus’ name, (b) a period of warfare among the nations, and (c) shakings/earthquakes in various places. Matthew’s version is nearly identical in this description, with a number of small, but significant differences. Two may be noted:

i. In Mark 13:6 Jesus warns his disciples: “Many (people) will come upon my name, saying that ‘I am (he)’…”. This indicates that there will be persons who claim to speak for Jesus (prophetically), or, perhaps, claim to be Jesus himself. At the same time, later in the Discourse (vv. 21-22), Jesus warns of the coming of false Messiahs—lit. “false Anointed (One)s”, in Greek yeudo/xristoi (i.e. false Christs). Matthew’s version brings this association into the earlier saying as well:

“For many (people) will come upon my name, saying ‘I am the Anointed (One)'” (v. 5)

This appears to reflect a degree of confusion in the Gospel Tradition—a confusion which clears itself up instantly when we realize that, for early Christians, claiming to be the Messiah and claiming to be Jesus were effectively the same thing. From the standpoint of the historical Jesus’ teaching to his disciples, however, this simple identification is problematic. A warning against people claiming to be the Messiah is more realistic in a first-century eschatological setting; in this regard, Matthew’s version is perhaps closer to Jesus’ original intent.

ii. In Mark 13:7, Jesus says: “But when you hear of wars…”; Matthew (v. 6) phrases this a bit differently:

“And you are about to hear of wars…”

This has two subtle effects: (a) it enhances the passage as a prophetic declaration by Jesus, and (b) it distances the coming period of warfare from the present moment. This is perhaps significant in relation to Jesus’ statement in v. 6b (= Mk 13:7b) that “…the completion [te/lo$] is not yet (here)”.

Matt 24:9-14—The persecution (of the disciples) which is to come

Here Matthew’s version, while following the same outline as Mark, differs more substantially in the way the material is presented, as well as in the points of emphasis reflected in Jesus’ words. To begin with, the prediction in Mk 13:9 refers to the disciples being brought before the Jewish council(s), as well as the courts/tribunals of rulers (in the wider Greco-Roman world), enduring beatings and mistreatment during the process of interrogation. In Matthew, by contrast, the prediction is more general and harsher in nature:

“Then they will give you along into distress and will kill you off, and you will be (one)s being [i.e. who are] hated under [i.e. by] all (people) through [i.e. because of] my name.” (v. 9)

Another difference is that the statement in Mk 13:10 occurs in Matthew at the end of the section (v. 14, cf. below). It may be helpful to compare the Markan and Matthean versions, in outline (marked by letters to aid in comparison):

  • Mark 13:9-13:
    • [A] Interrogation and mistreatment of the disciples before ruling authorities (v. 9)
    • [B] Statement on the proclamation of the good message into all the nations (v. 10)
    • [C] Promise that the Holy Spirit will inspire the disciples when they speak (v. 11)
    • [D] Hostility and division within families (over the Gospel), leading to persecution and death (v. 12)
    • [E] Promise that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 13)
  • Matt 24:9-14:
    • [A*] Mistreatment of the disciples[, including being put to death; hatred by all people] (v. 9)
    • [**] Lack of faith and betrayal (i.e. abandoning the true/Christian faith) by many (v. 10)
    • [**] Rise of false prophets (v. 11, cf. v. 24)
    • [**] Increase in lawlessness and lack of love (v. 12)
    • [E] Promise that the one who endures to the end will be saved (v. 13)
    • [B*] Statement on the proclamation of the good message to all the nations (v. 14)
      Note: asterisks indicate sayings or details in Matthew not found in Mark

Matthew’s version thus differs from the Markan in three respects:

  • The suffering/persecution faced by the disciples (or believers) is made more general
  • The statements regarding the work of the Spirit and division within families (Mk 13:11-12) are replaced by a trio of statements describing the overall decline of both the (early Christian) Community and society in general; however, note the similar promise regarding the role of the Spirit in 10:9-10 (par Lk 12:11-12).
  • The statement on the proclamation of the Gospel to the nations occurs at the end of the section

Overall, in Matthew’s version, this section paints a more negative portrait of both the condition of the world (i.e. human society) and the difficulties faced by the disciples (believers) in this environment. On the one hand, the emphasis on a period of missionary work by the disciples, central to the Markan version of this section, is not present in Matthew’s version. At the same time, what remains of this mission (proclamation of the good message) is given a more robust formulation in the saying corresponding to Mk 13:10:

  • “And it is necessary first to proclaim the good message into all the nations.”
  • Matt 24:14:
    “And this good message of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole inhabited (world) unto a witness for all the nations—and then the completion [te/lo$] will come/arrive!”

The context and significance of these two statements are dramatically different. In Mark, the Jesus’ words simply indicate that the disciples will not face the persecution mentioned in 13:9 until they first begin to proclaim the good message. In Matthew, it becomes a sign of what must first happen before the end comes! This Matthean formulation, while authentic enough in comparison with, e.g., Lk 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; Matt 28:19-20, appears out of place at this point in the Eschatological Discourse, when judged from an historical-critical standpoint. The Markan version is much more realistic within the overall context of this material. Again, Matt 24:14 may well be an early Christian gloss, reflecting (accurately) the belief that a period of extensive missionary work would have to occur before the end comes. This will be discussed further in Parts 3 and 4, as well as in the study on the eschatology in the book of Acts.

Matt 24:15-28—The period of great distress before the end

This section corresponds to Mark 13:14-23, and follows it relatively closely in outline and in much of the wording. However, Matthew has an expanded, developed form of this material, primarily in verses 26-28 which appear to have been added/appended to the Synoptic section (represented by Mark); their secondary character is confirmed by the fact that Luke has the same sayings as vv. 27-28, but in an entirely different location (17:24, 37). This does not mean that the sayings are inauthentic; on the contrary, it confirms that the Discourse itself is most likely a traditional/literary arrangement of (authentic) material on eschatological themes. Matthew simply has a more extensive arrangement at this point.

This first significant point of difference is in the allusion to Dan 9:27 in Mark 13:14, which Matthew (v. 15) makes specific and turns into a direct citation; compare (differences in italics):

  • But when you should see the stinking thing [bde/lugma] of desolation having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not—the one knowing this again (through reading) must put his mind (to it)—then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Mk 13:14)
  • Therefore when you should see ‘the stinking thing of desolation’ that was uttered through Danîyel the Foreteller (now) having stood in the holy place—the one knowing this again (through reading) must put his mind (to it)—then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (Matt 24:15-16)

If the saying of Jesus in Mark is authentic (in that precise wording), then most likely Matthew has modified it to give clarity for his readers, making clear that: (a) the expression “the stinking thing of desolation” comes from Daniel (9:27), and (b) that the phrase “having stood where it is necessary (that it should) not” refers to a location in the Temple (“holy place”), that is, in the sanctuary, as indicated in Daniel. I have discussed Dan 9:24-27 in its original context in an earlier detailed study. Most commentators accept that v. 27 refers primarily to the desecration of the Temple by the Syrian/Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes, with a corresponding disruption of the Temple ritual, 167-164 B.C. According to 1 Maccabees 1:54, this involved a pagan altar that Antiochus IV had set upon the altar in the Temple (v. 59, also 4:43), and upon which, it would seem, unlawful/unclean pagan sacrifices were offered (cf. 2 Macc 6:5). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple, a pattern which was to be repeated by the emperor Gaius (Caligula). Jesus’ use of Dan 9:27 indicates that he is predicting something similar to happen at the end-time, and it could conceivably relate to the historical actions/intentions of the emperor (c. 40 A.D.).

It is not clear what the editorial aside (in English idiom, something like “let the reader understand”) means specifically. The author who inserted it (whether the [Markan] Gospel writer or an earlier source) must have assumed his audience would have understood the context and significance of Jesus’ saying, and is thus referring to an early interpretation, perhaps tying it to the present circumstances related to Roman rule over Jerusalem. That is certainly how it is interpreted in the Lukan version (to be discussed in Part 3), where it is connected with the (Roman) siege of Jerusalem, fulfilled in 70 A.D. Matthew’s version, however, does not take that step, but follows the Synoptic/Markan form of the section closely. Whatever is to take place in the Temple, it marks the beginning of the brief but intense period of “great distress” for Judea described in vv. 17ff (par Mk 13:15-22). The summary statement utilizing the expression (“great distress”) is a citation/allusion from Dan 12:1; in Mark (13:19) it reads:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], (and) of such (kind) as this (there) has not come to be, from the beginning of (the world’s) formation which God formed, until now, and (surely) will not (ever) come to be (again)!”

Matthew has a slightly different formulation, simpler and more pointed:

“For then there will be great distress, such as has not come to be, from the beginning of the world-order [ko/smo$] until now, and (so) will not (ever) come to be (again)!” (Matt 24:21)

The expression “great distress” suggests a development in the tradition (cf. Rev 7:14), echoed by the expanded version of the remainder of the section in Matthew, with the addition of the sayings in vv. 26-28. The effect of this expansion to enhance the role of believers (the elect) during this period. In Mark, the structure of the section may be outlined:

  • Allusion to Dan 9:27, marking the time of distress (13:14a)
  • Warnings and instruction regarding the severity of the coming distress, in traditional language and imagery (vv. 14b-18)
  • Statement on the time of distress (v. 19)
  • The Elect in the time of distress (vv. 20-22)
    —It will be cut short through the (presence/activity of the) Elect (v. 20)
    —False claims that the Messiah has appeared or is in a particular location (v. 21)
    —The appearance of miracle-working false Messiahs/prophets who might deceive the Elect (v. 22)
  • Final exhortation (v. 23)

Here is the portion corresponding to vv. 20-23 in Matthew:

  • The Elect in the time of distress (24:22-28)
    • Duration: It will be cut short through the (presence/activity of the) Elect (v. 22)
    • Character of it: A time of testing for the Elect—False signs and testimony:
      —Claims that the Messiah has appeared (v. 23)
      —Appearance of miracle-working false Messiahs/prophets (v. 24)
      —Importance of this: Jesus is warning them ahead of time (v. 25)
      —Claims that the Messiah has appeared in various locations, outdoor and inside (v. 26)
      —The true Messiah (Son of Man) will appear suddenly, in a manner visible and unmistakable to everyone (v. 27)
      —Proverb: The false prophets are like vultures circling around, taking advantage of the time of distress (v. 28)

The closing exhortation in Mark 13:23 thus serves a different purpose in Matthew: instead of being an assurance by Jesus to his disciples that they will be able to recognize the signs and events of the end-time when they come, it specifically relates to the appearance of false Messiahs and false prophets. This takes on much greater importance in Matthew’s version, and the three added sayings enhance and reinforce the message:

  • 26—Repeated warning regarding claims that the Messiah has appeared
  • 27—Contrast with the actual appearance of the true Messiah (Son of Man), that it will be clear and unmistakable to everyone
  • 28—Closing illustration: The false Messiahs/prophets are like vultures circling around a dead body, taking advantage of people in the time of distress

This is an altogether different sort of eschatological setting for the material than in the Gospel of Luke (17:23-24, 37); the way these sayings were adapted and included by each Gospel writer will be discussed in Part 3 on the Lukan version of the Discourse.

Matt 24:29-31—The appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time

In the outline of the Discourse, the section describing the time of distress is followed by a description of the Son of Man’s appearance, which contains three pieces:

  • Supernatural celestial phenomena—combination of Scripture allusions, drawing upon the language/imagery of theophany (manifestation of God) [Mk 13:24-25]
  • The appearance of the Son of Man (allusion to Dan 7:13) [Mk 13:26]
  • The gathering of the Elect by the Angels [Mk 13:27]

Matthew follows Mark closely here; the only real difference is in the actual description of the Son of Man’s appearance (Matt 24:30 / Mk 13:26), where the Markan saying is preceded by two additional statements (in italics), each beginning “and then…” (kai\ to/te):

And then the sign of the Son of Man will shine forth in heaven, and then all the offshoots [i.e. tribes/races] of the earth will beat (themselves), and they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Let us consider each of these additions:

  • “the sign of the Son of Man will shine forth in (the) heaven”—On the one hand, this serves to distinguish the Son of Man’s actual appearance from the celestial phenomena which preceded it. These were signs that he (a divine/heavenly being who represents God himself) was about to appear, but now his presence, as he comes down from heaven, is marked by a special sign in the sky. At the same time, the context here suggests that the sign (shmei=on) is to be understood as the cross—symbol of the Son of Man’s (Jesus’) suffering and death.
  • “all the offshoots of the earth will beat (themselves)”—If there is a sign in the heaven of Jesus’ suffering and death, so there is also a corresponding sign on earth, which follows in response. The earth’s “offshoots” (i.e. the tribes and races of people) beat themselves in an act of collective mourning. This is an allusion to Zech 12:10, interpreted in light of Jesus’ death (cf. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 also combines Dan 7:13 with Zech 12:10 in a similar eschatological context, referring to the exalted Jesus’ visible return to earth at the end time.

Both of these additions make more specific what would otherwise have to be inferred by early Christians in this, as in all the other, eschatological Son of Man sayings (cf. the earlier study)—that the Son of Man’s appearance is to be equated with Jesus’ future return. This is confirmed by the way that the Son of Man is specifically identified here with Jesus in his exalted state (in Heaven), following his death and resurrection. Again, it is easier to view these statements as explanatory additions by the Gospel writer, and that Mark (13:26) more closely approximates the original saying of Jesus.

Matt 24:32-25—Sayings and illustrations on when the end will occur

Matthew follows Mark in this section very closely, almost verbatim. One small, but possibly significant difference is in the application of the fig-tree parable. Mark (13:29) reads: “So also you, when you see these (thing)s coming to be [gino/mena]…” Matthew (24:33) does not include the participle “coming to be”, stating more flatly, “…when you see these (thing)s”. It is possible that this is intended to avoid the implication that all these things will, indeed, come to pass for the disciples, i.e. in their own lifetime. If so, then it might give a slightly different sense to the famous statement that follows in verse 34 (par Mk 13:30), distancing “this generation” from the current generation whom Jesus is addressing. This is possible, though rather unlikely, and is, in any case, untenable as the original meaning intended by Jesus. I discuss this difficult saying in a separate study (upcoming) on “Imminent Eschatology” in the Gospels.

Matt 24:36-44—Concluding exhortation and illustration(s)

This corresponding section in Mark (13:32-37) brings the Discourse to a conclusion; it has a relatively simple structure:

  • Declaration that no one knows the exact time (day and hour) of the end, though it is coming soon (v. 32)
  • Exhortation to stay awake/alert (vv. 33-37)
    • Initial warning/exhortation (v. 33)
    • Illustration of the Master who goes away (v. 34)
    • Application for disciples/believers (vv. 35-36)
    • Final exhortation (v. 37)

This has been modified/expanded significantly in Matthew’s version (24:36-44ff):

  • Declaration on knowing the day and hour (v. 36, nearly identical to Mark)
  • Illustrations on the sudden/unexpected coming of the Judgment (vv. 37-41)
  • Illustration on the coming of the Lord / Son of Man (vv. 42-44)
  • Illustration of the Faithful Servant (vv. 45-51)

Verses 42-44 generally correspond to Mk 13:33-37, but in simpler form and with a distinctive emphasis, which specifically interprets the core illustration in terms of the end-time coming of the Son of Man and the return of Jesus. The bracketing exhortations in vv. 42 and 44 make this abundantly clear (note the italicized words):

  • “(So) then, you must keep awake/alert, (in) that you do have not seen on what day your Lord comes!” (v. 42)
  • “Through this you must come to be (made) ready, (in) that (it is) in an hour which you do not consider (that) the Son of Man comes.” (v. 44)

The first statement could be understood in the traditional sense of the coming of God (YHWH, the Lord) at the end time (i.e. the day of YHWH); but, when paired with the similar saying involving the “Son of Man” (i.e. Jesus) in an early Christian context, it can only refer to the end-time return of Jesus. Again, Matthew makes specific what would otherwise have to be inferred in Mark’s version.

Matthew also includes significant additional material, in verses 37-41 and 45-51. The sayings in vv. 37-41 are part of the so-called “Q” material, common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. Luke has these sayings in a different location (Lk 17:26-27, 34-35), in a separate section of eschatological instruction (17:20-37). They will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 on the Lukan version of the Discourse. In the Matthean context, the sayings build upon the statement in verse 36 about knowing the day and hour; they are traditional (and proverbial) illustrations to the point that the end-time Judgment will come upon people unexpectedly—most of the population will be overcome and destroyed, while only the faithful ones will be saved. The detail of the illustration in vv. 40-41 is not entirely certain; there are two figure-types—one who is “taken along” and the other who is “released” or “left”. It clearly is meant to distinguish between those saved from the Judgment and those destroyed by it, but uncertainty remains among commentators as to which figure-type represents which category; there are two possibilities (I tend to prefer the latter):

  • “taken along”, i.e. into the ark (salvation); “left” (behind) to face the Judgment
  • “taken along”, i.e. by the flood (destruction); “left” (behind) to survive the Judgment
Matt 24:45-51—An additional (transitional) parable

The parable in vv. 45-51 is unique to Matthew here, and is not part of the Markan/Synoptic Discourse, though it corresponds to the pattern of a number of Jesus’ parables. It features the familiar idea of a Master who goes away, leaving his land/estate in the care of servants. The primary purpose of this parable type is as a vehicle for ethical instruction—i.e., whether the servant will be faithful diligent while the Master is away. The juxtaposition of the two servant types—one faithful, the other lazy/wicked—was a natural fit for the eschatological aspect of such parables. The end-time Judgment would separate the righteous from the wicked, a motif present in most of the eschatological parables, especially the Matthean parables of the Weeds (13:24-30, 36-43) and the Fish-net (13:47-50), as well as those which follow here in chapter 25 (cf. below). If the illustrations in vv. 37-41 build upon the saying in v. 36, the parable in vv. 45-51 builds upon the sayings/illustration of vv. 42-44, demonstrating the importance (and ultimate consequence) of believers acting and behaving faithfully which the Master (Jesus) is away.

Nearly all of the distinctive elements and characteristics of Matthew’s version of the Discourse seem to point in the direction of an early Christian interpretation of Jesus’ (original) sayings, as, for example, in identifying the “Son of Man” more precisely with Jesus himself (and his end-time/future return). At every point, Mark appears to have the more ‘primitive’ version of the material, closer to the context and setting of the authentic sayings. The inclusion of sayings, which Luke preserves in an entirely different location, as part of the Discourse, confirms a level of (secondary) development in Matthew’s version. This must not be misunderstood—it reflects an interpretive layer in addition to the Synoptic material which otherwise more closely reflects the authentic historical tradition. It does not, by any reasonable standard, contradict or invalidate the historicity of the tradition.

On Chapter 25

The expanded nature of Matthew’s version of the Discourse is made even more clear when one considers the place of the three parables in chapter 25. These were discussed already in the earlier study on the eschatological Parables. As I did in that study, those three parables are often treated separately from the Eschatological Discourse; however, the Gospel writer, by all accounts, regards them (and presents them) as part of the Discourse. There is no indication of any break in the narrative between chapters 24 and 25, indicating that, on the narrative and literary level, they represent a single Sermon-Discourse, much as chapters 5-7 are presented as a single “Sermon”. The parable in 24:45-51 is transitional to the three great parables in chapter 25. They all deal with the contrast between faithful and negligent servants, true and false disciples, in the (eschatological) framework of the coming end-time Judgment. The first two parables follow the pattern of the Master who has gone away and is about to return, just as in the illustrations which close the Discourse proper in chap. 24 (cf. above). When viewed in this light, taking chapters 24 and 25 together, it shows just how far, and to what extent, the Synoptic Discourse was adapted in the Gospel of Matthew. Only in Matthew’s version is the end-time Judgment and appearance of the Son of Man completed with a vision of the final Judgment taking place in the heavenly court (25:31-46), ending with the clearest possible description of the fate of the righteous and wicked respectively. In this regard, Matthew’s version of the Discourse is closer to the scope and vision of the book of Revelation, which moves between predictions (visions) of the end-time Judgment, and scenes set in Heaven before the throne of God (cf. the current series of daily notes on Revelation). Moreover, it is in Matthew’s version that the exalted position of Jesus (as Son of Man) is given greatest emphasis.

Supplemental Study: Eschatology and the Temple

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Supplemental Study:
Eschatology and the Temple

This article is meant as a supplement to the current series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament. In our study of the “Eschatological Discourse” in the Synoptic Gospels, we saw how it begins with Jesus’ prediction of the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). The Discourse itself proceeds literally in view of the Temple (v. 3), which continues to play a role in Jesus’ instruction, especially as presented in the Lukan version of the Discourse. Thus it is worth considering the place of the Temple in the eschatology of the time, and how such existing traditions and belief might be reflected in the New Testament. There will be three parts to this study:

  1. The Temple in Jewish Eschatological and Messianic Thought—focusing on evidence prior to, or contemporary with, the Gospels
  2. The Temple-Action & Temple-Saying(s) of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition
  3. Early Christian Views of the Temple with a possible Eschatological aspect

1. The Temple in Jewish Eschatological and Messianic Thought

In the surviving texts from the first centuries B.C./A.D. (i.e. 250 B.C.-100 A.D.), there are a number of passages which indicate the role the Jerusalem Temple was thought to play in Jewish eschatology, which, for the most part, is closely connected with Messianic expectations of the time. Generally speaking, the end time, marked by the appearance of specific Anointed (Messiah) figures, was characterized by two expectations: (1) the deliverance/restoration of Israel (or the faithful remnant), and (2) the judgment of the wicked/nations. Central to both of these components, or aspects, was the location of Jerusalem, which had the Temple at its religious/spiritual heart. Already in the Old Testament Prophets—especially the second half of Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66)—the promise of return from exile had begun to be expressed in eschatological language, envisioning an ideal time of peace and prosperity, etc, for the faithful ones among the people of Israel, a New Age for the people of God.

Much of this eschatological expectation was current at the time of Jesus, and it informs the worldview of the New Testament. Perhaps the best evidence for it is found in the narrative of Luke-Acts, where the devout in Israel are described as awaiting the coming of this New Age, and, with it, the deliverance of the faithful—cf. Lk 1:32-33, 54-55, 68-75; 2:25-26ff, 38, etc. In Acts 1:6ff, the disciples ask Jesus specifically about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, indicating an expectation of the sort outlined above. It is significant that, of all the Gospels, the Temple has the most prominent role in Luke (or Luke-Acts, cf. below).

Especially important for the New Testament view of the Temple is the idea that the restoration of Israel would entail a rebuilding of Jerusalem, and, in particular, a rebuilding/restoration of the Temple. This is suggested already in several passages in the Prophets, esp. (Deutero-)Isaiah—cf. Isa 44:28; 56:5ff; 60:7, 13; 66:20). The Exile, following the destruction of the first (Solomonic) Temple, provides the background for this restoration imagery. The establishment of Israel in the land would require a rebuilding of Jerusalem and a newly-rebuilt Temple. This is presented, in idealized form, in the final chapters of Ezekiel. The new Temple itself is described, in considerable detail, in chapters 40-43. Even after the Temple was rebuilt—even the second (Herodian) Temple in all its splendor (Mark 13:1-2 par; cf. Josephus Antiquities 15.380-425; Wars 5.184-227)—this idea of a New Temple persisted, being cast in an eschatological form. Many Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D. recognized that the Herodian Temple, in reality, was far from the idealized portrait of the restored Temple found in the Prophetic writings. This is reflected in a number of Jewish texts from this period, where it is expressed, in different ways, that the true Temple will yet be built (by God) at the end-time. We see this, for example, in Tobit 14:15 and 2 Macc 2:7; it is formulated in more figurative language in 1 Enoch 90:28ff. Other passages to note in writings from the 1st centuries B.C./A.C., where this is stated or implied, are Jubilees 1:15-17ff; Psalms of Solomon 17:32; and Testament of Benjamin 9:2. For a good survey and discussion, cf. E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985), pp. 77-85.

The leadership of the Community of the Qumran texts was represented by a group of priests who had separated from the religious establishment of Jerusalem. In their view, the current (Herodian) Temple was corrupt, due to the improper conduct of the priesthood officiating and managing the cultic apparatus of the Temple. They envisioned a new Temple, in the manner described in Ezek 40-43, which would soon be built at the end-time. This is best expressed in the Temple Scroll (11QTemple), where the building, and its priestly operation, are depicted in considerable detail. It is an idealized Temple, viewed, it would seem, in terms of a sanctification of the current Temple. At the same time, it is only a temporary earthly sanctuary, to last (presumably a Messianic age/period) until the final creation by God—i.e. a Temple made by God himself (11QTemple 29:8-10).

Thus, at the time of Jesus, the Temple would have played a prominent role in eschatological and Messianic thought. This helps us to understand the place of the Temple in a number of key points in the Gospel Tradition, and elsewhere in the New Testament as well. The eschatological implications of these passages, based on what we have discussed above, must be examined. We will begin with the Temple action and sayings of Jesus in the Gospels.

2. The Temple Action and Saying(s) of Jesus

a. The Temple Action

The Temple Action, otherwise known as the “Cleansing of the Temple” by Jesus, is recorded in all four Gospels—both in the Synoptics (Mk 11:15-19; Matt 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48) and the Gospel of John (2:13-22). In spite of the difference in location within the Gospel narrative, it is all but certain that the Synoptic and Johannine accounts go back to a single historical episode and tradition. I have discussed the meaning and significance of the episode in considerable detail as part of the series “Jesus and the Law“, and in a series of earlier notes, and will not repeat all of that here. Rather, I will focus on the possible eschatological implications of the action, in light of the role of the Temple discussed in section 1 above. The following points should be considered:

  • (i) Whether the action symbolizes the destruction of the Temple
  • (ii) A new/restored purpose for the Temple—whether, or to what extent, this reflects the eschatological idea of the coming New Age
  • (iii) The Scriptures cited or alluded to in the episode
  • (iv) The connection with Jesus’ “triumphal entry” and death

i. It has been thought that the act of upturning the tables more properly signifies destruction rather than “cleansing”. While the eschatological idea of a new Temple does not necessarily require destruction of the old, it is perhaps the most natural way to think of the process. In favor of this interpretation of Jesus’ act, at the historical level, we may note:

  • The Prophetic tradition of using symbolic acts to indicate the coming Judgment by God—cf. .
  • The citation of Jer 7:11 (cf. below) implies the destruction of Jerusalem
  • The generally close connection, in the Synoptic narrative at least, with the Temple saying reported during the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (in Mark/Matt), as well as the prediction of the Temple’s destruction—on both of these, cf. below.
  • In John’s version, the action is connected with the idea of the Temple’s destruction, through the saying in 2:19ff.

At the same time, a number of key details in the narrative point in a different direction.

ii. Certain elements of the Temple action, as narrated in the Gospels, suggest that the symbolism involves a renewal of the existing Temple, giving to it a new purpose. The overturning of the tables, etc, is just one aspect of Jesus’ action; he also is said to have driven out the people doing business (buying and selling) in the Temple precincts. While many readers and commentators assume that this relates to corruption and dishonesty among the traders and money-changers, etc; however, apart from the citation from Jer 7:11, there is little evidence of this. Rather, Jesus seems to be striking a (symbolic) blow at the very commercial apparatus necessary to maintain the functioning of the Temple as a place for sacrificial offerings. In Mark’s account, Jesus goes so far as to forbid persons carrying anything (i.e. performing any sort of ordinary business) as they went through the Temple (on this detail, cf. below). All of this suggests that Jesus has in mind a different role and purpose for the Temple, and this would seem to be confirmed by the citation from Isa 56:7 (discussed below)—it is to be a place devoted to prayer.

iii. There are four Scriptures associated with the Temple action by Jesus: (1) Isa 56:7 and (2) Jer 7:11, both cited by Jesus in the Synoptic versions; (3) Psalm 69:9, in John’s version; and (4) Zech 14:21b in relation to the main historical tradition.

Isaiah 56:7—The verse reads, “…My House will be called a house of petition/prayer [hL*p!T=] for all the peoples”. The message of Isa 56:1-8 is that all people who adhere to the Law of God (including Gentiles and foreigners) will become part of God’s people gathered in from exile. This is one of several Prophetic passages which refer to the nations (Gentiles, non-Israelites) coming to Jerusalem to worship the true God (cf. above; Isa 2:2-4 / Mic 4:1-4 provides a classic formulation of this idea). Subsequently in Jewish tradition, such passages came to be understood in an eschatological sense. Moreover, this is a key text underlying a new/restored purpose for the Temple—i.e., as a place of prayer rather than sacrifice. Certain Gospel traditions and sayings of Jesus already point in this direction, away from the sacrificial/cultic machinery of the Temple (see esp. Matt 12:5-7). It is important to note that even in Luke-Acts, which presents the most extensive (and positive) portrait of the historical Temple, believers are virtually never depicted as participating in the sacrificial ritual (Acts 21:26-27ff is an exception); it is the aspect of prayer, teaching and worship which is emphasized—cf. Luke 1:10; 2:37, 46; 18:10; 19:47 (note the close proximity to v. 45); 20:1; 21:37; 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20ff; 22:17. Cf. also further below on Rev 8:3 and 11:1.

Jeremiah 7:11—Jesus contrasts “house of prayer” in Isa 56:7 with “cavern of thieves/plunderers” in Jer 7:11. This portion from Jeremiah has something of a different meaning in its original context. Jer 7:1-29 is a lengthy oracle condemning the evils committed throughout Judah (delivered by the prophet while standing in the gate of the Temple, v. 2); this includes a familiar prophetic denunciation of those who commit evil and yet come to the Temple to participate in the sacred ritual (vv. 8ff). The bitter question is asked in verse 11:

“Has it become a cave of violent (men) in your eyes, this house of which My Name is called upon it?”

The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew literally, using the approximate phrase “cavern of plunderers” (sph/laion lh|stw=n); Jesus’ quotation follows the LXX phrase. It is an oracle of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (see section i. above). Verse 13ff warns that, because the people (including the priests and religious leaders) have done the things described in the oracle, Judah will face the same judgment (invasion/destruction/exile) experienced by the northern kingdom of Israel/Samaria; this judgment will include the destruction of the Temple (v. 14).

The combination of Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 results in the following logic: the Temple is intended as place of prayer and worship, but has been corrupted and so will be destroyed. This corruption extends to the administration of the Temple, and the business needed to maintain the sacrificial ritual (money-changers, sellers of animals, etc).

Psalm 69:9—If the quotation of Isa 56:7/Jer 7:11 was part of the common tradition, the Gospel of John has omitted it—replacing it with different/historical words of Jesus, or, perhaps, ‘explaining’ the quotation. Another Scripture appears in the parenthesis, from Psalm 69:9: “The ‘zeal’ of [i.e. for] your house has eaten me (up)”. The word usually translated “zeal/jealousy” (ha*n+q!) has the basic sense of “(burning) red”, the Greek word zh=lo$ properly “heat/fervor”. The Septuagint (LXX) renders the Hebrew quite literally, and the quotation in John follows the LXX (B), reading the future tense (katefa/getai “will eat me down [i.e. devour me]”). The future form, of course, betters suited the verse as a prophecy related to Jesus; indeed, reflection on Psalm 69 helped shape the Gospel tradition of his Passion (as indicated in v. 17a), and is doubtless one of the key texts used to show that the Messiah must suffer and die (see especially Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). There is a slight ambiguity here in the Psalm: while the ‘zeal’ is generally understood of the protagonist (or Psalmist)—that he is consumed with (righteous) fervor—it could also be taken to mean, in the overall context of suffering, that his righteous zeal has caused him to be “eaten up” by his enemies. The citation in the Gospel could be interpreted, or made to apply, either way. Since it is associated with Jesus’ “cleansing” action, the image primarily would be the intense nature (all-consuming fire) of his ‘zeal’ for God’s house; but it is also possible that a bit of wordplay is involved—a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death that connects with the Temple saying in vv. 19-22. On this particular association, cf. section iv. below.

Zechariah 14:21—Many commentators feel that the historical tradition of the Temple action, as a whole, has been shaped by the closing words of Zechariah (14:21): “…and in that day there will not be merchants/traders [yn]u&n~K=] any more in the house of YHWH…”. The oracle in Zech 14 draws upon the Prophetic tradition of the nations coming to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship God there (along with Israel), but casts it in a more definite eschatological setting, taking place after the great Judgment against the nations (vv. 1-15). Those who survive will turn to worship the true God (vv. 16ff), coming to worship YHWH in the Temple at the appropriate times (the festival of Sukkoth/Booths is particularly mentioned). Verses 20-21 indicate that in this (end) time, the Temple be given a new or special consecration, extending to every utensil involved in the ritual. There is a bit of wordplay involved with the noun /u^n~K=, which could be read either as “Canaanite” (i.e. a pagan foreigner) or as a technical term for a merchant/trader (a traditional occupation for ‘Canaanites’ [Phoenicians, Syrians, etc]). The LXX understands the former, but most commentators today opt for the latter meaning, which may also have been in mind in the Gospel tradition here.

iv. The Temple action, in the Synoptic narrative at least, follows closely after Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11 par), beginning the final period in Jerusalem prior to his death. These two associations—the triumphal entry and death of Jesus—in context, must be examined. All four Gospels narrate the triumphal entry with Messianic details and allusions, drawing attention to Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic-ruler type. The reaction of the crowd (vv. 8-10 par) makes it clear that many people regarded Jesus as this figure, and that his entry into Jerusalem marked the arrival of the Davidic Messiah into the holy city. Moreover, the narrative details echo Zech 9:9, an association made explicit by the Gospel writer in Matt 21:4-5 and John 12:14-15. There are obvious Messianic connotations in Zech 9, as through much of chaps. 9-14, which helped shape the Gospel (Passion) Narrative and early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. The appearance of Jesus as the Messiah, for early believers and many Jews of the time, would have meant that the end of the current Age was at hand, and that the new time of the Kingdom of God (i.e. the Messianic Age) would be established by Jesus in Jerusalem. The subsequent Temple-action by Jesus must be understood with this context in mind.

Ultimately, however, the early Christian recognition of Jesus as the Anointed One, departed from the traditional conceptions, and was made unique through the historical reality of his death and resurrection—aspects foreign to most Messianic thought. The structure of the Synoptic Passion narrative sets the Temple action in the general context of Jesus’ death; at the historical level, such an action would have increased the opposition to him from the religious establishment, and, presumably, helped to spur his arrest. Certainly, Jesus’ view of the Temple played a role in his interrogation before the Council, at least according to the Synoptic (Mark/Matt) version. Despite the Johannine location of the Temple action at a much earlier point in the Gospel narrative, there is still a clear connection with Jesus’ death—the Temple saying (cf. below) occurs in this context, and is interpreted (by the Gospel writer) explicitly as a prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection (2:19-22). There are definite eschatological implications to the Temple saying(s), as we will discuss.

b. The Temple Saying(s)

The Temple features in a number of sayings and parables of Jesus, but there are several which are especially relevant and, indeed, would seem to relate to the significance of the Temple-action (cf. above). These may be reduced to a pair of historical traditions:

  1. A saying about destroying and rebuilding the Temple (in three days)
  2. A prediction of the Temple’s destruction

Saying 1: Destroying and rebuilding the Temple. There are several sources indicating that Jesus made a statement to the effect that the Temple would be destroyed and (miraculously) rebuilt. These will be examined briefly (for a more detailed analysis, cf. the earlier studies on the subject [links at the beginning of Section 2 above]).

i. Jesus before the Sanhendrin. In the Synoptic account (in Mark/Matthew) of Jesus’ interrogation before the Council (Sanhedrin), it is recorded that witnesses came forward reporting that Jesus claimed he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. The Gospels differ in the exact formulation given:

  • Mark: “I will loose down [i.e. destroy] this shrine made with hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another house made without hands.” (14:58)
  • Matt: “I am able to loose down [i.e. destroy] this shrine, and, through [i.e. after] three days, to build the house (again).” (26:60)

These witnesses are referred to as false witnesses, implying that Jesus never claimed such a thing, or that they are misrepresenting what he said. Most critical commentators assume that the historical Jesus did, in fact, make a statement along these lines; and this would seem to be confirmed by the other sources. It is certainly possible, however, that these witnesses, at the historical level, were distorting a genuine saying of Jesus. The context of the Synoptic narrative presents two traditions which may relate to this report during Jesus’ interrogation: (a) the Temple action (cf. above), and (b) the prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:1-2 par. If the idea of the destruction of the (current) Temple, and the building of a new Temple, had eschatological significance—i.e., marking the end of the current Age and beginning of the new (cf. Section 1 above)—then such a statement by Jesus could be taken to imply that he was claiming to be a Messiah figure who would usher in the end-time. This certainly appears to have been central to the interrogation, according to Mk 14:61-62 par.

ii. The Lukan evidence in Acts 6:13-14. Interestingly, Luke’s version of the interrogation scene does not include the detail of the false witnesses and the saying they report. If this is a deliberate omission, there may be several reasons for it:

  • The author wished to narrow the focus of the scene to the primary exchange between the Council and Jesus (Lk 22:67-70)
  • It reflects the more positive portrait of the Temple in Luke-Acts, including references to early believers continuing to frequent it
  • Luke was aware that Jesus did make a statement of the kind, as reflected in Stephen’s preaching
  • The detail was reserved for the interrogation of Stephen, which follows the general pattern of Jesus’ interrogation (Acts 6:12-7:1ff)

All three explanations are potentially valid, on literary and thematic grounds. The claims made in Acts 6:13-14 certainly are similar to the reports by the ‘false witnesses’:

“This man does not cease speaking words against [this] Holy Place and the Law—for we heard him saying that this (man) Yeshua the Nazarean will loose down [i.e. destroy] this Place…”

The same verb (katalu/w, “loose down”, i.e. dissolve/destroy) occurs here as in Mk 14:58 par. Given the points made in the sermon-speech which follows (chap. 7), it seems probable that Stephen did report an authentic Temple-saying by Jesus, and followed it in his own preaching.

iii. The Johannine Temple scene. John’s version of the Temple action (2:13-17) is followed by a Temple saying by Jesus, similar to that reported by the ‘false witnesses’ (cf. above):

“Loose [i.e. destroy] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (again)” (v. 19)

Instead of katalu/w, the simple lu/w (“loose[n]”) is used here, but with essentially the same meaning. The Gospel writer explains that this statement by Jesus is a symbolic reference to his eventual death and resurrection (vv. 21-22). Thus, in the Johannine version, for both the Temple action and saying, the original eschatological and Messianic connotations (such as there were) have been replaced almost entirely by a typological application to the person of Jesus—spec. his death and resurrection—fully in keeping with the approach taken by the Gospel of John.

Saying 2: Destruction of the Temple. The Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” begins with a prediction by Jesus of the Temple’s destruction:

“Are you look(ing) at these great buildings? There shall not be left (at all) here stone upon stone which shall not be loosed down!” (Mk 13:2)

This prediction was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Its position in the Discourse gives it an unquestionable eschatological significance. The implication is that the Temple’s destruction occurs as the climax of a great period of distress which will come upon Judea (and Jerusalem) prior to the end-time Judgment and appearance of the Son of Man (vv. 14-23ff). The Lukan version describes the time of distress more precisely in military terms as the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24; cf. also 19:41-44). The coming of the Son of Man (vv. 25-28) follows this terrible event. For more on the Eschatological Discourse, cf. the current 4-part study in this series.

Thus we see that the Temple-action and Temple-saying(s) by Jesus have eschatological (and Messianic) significance, both at the level of the original historical event/tradition, and they way they these been narrated and presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus consciously responding to the traditional line of eschatological thought, expressed in Section 1 above, that the “restoration of Israel” at the end-time would involve a new/restored Temple? I believe that the answer must be regarded as affirmative, though with some qualification. From the earlier studies on the eschatology in the Sayings and Parables of Jesus, we have seen how Jesus repeatedly began from the point of the traditional expectation, but then proceeded to re-interpret it, giving it a deeper meaning in relation to his own person and identity (as Messiah and Son of Man). The same appears to be true with regard to the Temple action, and also the Temple saying (in John they are combined together). Three distinct strands can be found in the Gospel tradition:

  • The destruction of the Temple in terms of the end-time Judgment
  • A new/restored role and purpose for the Temple—as a place of prayer and teaching
  • The identification of Jesus himself as the new/true Temple, which also marks the end of the old Covenant and the beginning of the new (in Christ)

Early Christians developed all three strands, though it is the last of these which came to dominate by the end of the New Testament period.

3. Early Christian Views of the Temple

The last two themes mentioned above were applied and developed by early Christians almost immediately, indicating that they followed naturally from Jesus’ own teaching; this pair of themes may be summarized:

  • The Temple as a place of prayer and teaching
  • The Temple fulfilled in the person of Jesus

Both aspects involve the elimination of the sacrificial ritual, allowing for the Temple idea to continue among believers long after the historical Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Already in the Gospel tradition, several statements by Jesus identify the Temple with his own person, and, by implication, that following him effectively takes the place of fulfilling the Temple ritual (Matt 12:5-8; John 2:19ff, etc). This came to be made more explicit by early Christians, and two areas of the New Testament may be highlighted:

  1. The sacrificial ritual is fulfilled and completed (i.e. put to an end) by Jesus’ own (sacrificial) death. This is expressed all throughout the body of Hebrews (4:14-10:18), as well as in passages such as Rom 3:25; Eph 5:2; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
  2. Believers in Jesus are priests, able to touch the holy things and to enter, in a spiritual manner, the sacred shrine through our union with Christ. Cf. 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; also Rom 15:16.

Combining both ideas leads to the core image of believers, collectively and in community, as the body of Christ—i.e., the (true) Temple and House of God. This is found numerous times in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; and especially Eph 2:19-22. In 2 Cor 5:1, it refers to the eternal life awaiting believers following death and resurrection; in this regard, there is a clear echo of the Temple-saying of Jesus (in Mk 14:58), with its use of the adjective a)rxeiroi/hto$ (“made without hands”; cf. also Col 2:11 and the wording in Acts 7:41, 48, 50 [referring to Temples]). In John 2:19ff, the Temple-saying of Jesus was interpreted precisely in terms of his death and resurrection, in which believers now have a share. The idea of believers as the (spiritual) house of God is also found in 1 Pet 2:5; cf. also Rev 3:12.

While these references are all eschatological, in the qualified sense that they relate to the New Age that is realized for believers in Christ, there are several passages which specifically mention the Temple in the more traditional (futurist) sense of eschatology—i.e., referring to events to come in/at the end-time.

a. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4ff—This will be discussed in detail in the study on eschatology in the letters of Paul, but it is worth pointing out here the connection with the Dan 9:27 tradition alluded to by Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:14 par). The reference would seem to be clearly to the historical Jerusalem Temple, indicating a time-frame within the first century A.D., in spite of the historical/chronological difficulties this poses for us today. As in the Eschatological Discourse, this desecration of the Temple is part of coming time of great distress which precedes the end-time appearance/return of Jesus (vv. 7-8).

b. The visions of Revelation (esp. 11:1-2)—The Temple features as a setting/locale for several of the visions in the book of Revelation (cf. the current series of daily notes, where they are being discussed, at the appropriate place). Since these are symbolic visions, while they draw upon the historical image (and idea) of the Temple, they should not be taken as referring to the physical Jerusalem Temple itself. Indeed, most of the references refer to a temple/shrine in Heaven (7:15; 11:19; 14:15ff; 16:1, 17). Thus, while they occur in the context of the the eschatological visions, they do not describe the role of the Temple in the end-time per se.

The situation is a bit different, however, with the scene in 11:1-2, where the visionary prophet (John) is commanded to measure the Temple of God in the “holy city”. As this passage is discussed currently in the daily notes on Revelation, I will not go into it here, except to say that, in my view, it primarily refers to Christians collectively, in the sense outlined above. The true and faithful believers are those worshiping at the altar (symbolizing prayer and devotion), and they are protected from the Judgment, while those in the outer court (presumably to be understood as false believers) will suffer when it is trampled/destroyed by the “nations”.

c. The final vision of Rev 21:9ff (v. 22)—The key eschatological reference to the Temple in the book of Revelation is found in the vision of the “holy city”, the heavenly Jerusalem, in 21:9-27. There it is stated clearly in verse 22:

“And I saw no shrine [i.e. Temple] in it; for the Lord God the All-mighty (One) is its shrine, and (so also is) the Lamb.”

This provides an eschatological setting for the early Christian idea discussed above—that the true/real Temple is to be identified with the person of Jesus (the Lamb). According to the fundamental theology in the book, developed from a long line of Christian tradition, the exalted Jesus stands and rules side-by-side with God the Father (YHWH) in Heaven, sharing the same divine authority. Thus here in the vision, God and Jesus (the Lamb) together represent the true Temple.

Appendix: A Rebuilt Temple at the End-Time?

In Section 1 above I discussed the idea of a new and/or restored Temple as part of Jewish eschatological and Messianic expectation—part of the overall belief in the restoration of Israel at the end-time. There are, in fact, only two Scripture passages which specifically indicate that the Temple (originally destroyed in 587 B.C.) would be rebuilt: (1) Isa 44:28, and (2) the vision of the new Temple in Ezek 40-48. The former can be taken simply as a reference to the initial rebuilding under Zerubbabel (c. 516), which really leaves only Ezek 40-43ff to support the idea of a future Temple built at the end-time. The Herodian Temple of the 1st-century B.C./A.D., for all its grandeur, clearly did not fulfill the vision of Ezekiel in many important respects. The Qumran Community continued to emphasize the idea of a new/rebuilt Temple yet to come, along the lines of the idealized portrait in Ezekiel (the Temple Scroll [11QTemple], cf. above). Surprisingly, however, there is little or no evidence for this in the New Testament, apart from the Temple-saying by Jesus, and the Gospel treatment of that tradition is notoriously ambiguous (cf. Section 2 above). The lack of early Christian interest in a new/rebuilt Temple would seem to be due primarily to three factors, already discussed and outlined above:

  • Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment—given that finality, how/when/why would it ever be rebuilt?
  • The sayings and teachings of Jesus eliminating or downplaying the importance of the sacrificial ritual, i.e. the principal purpose for a physical Temple-complex; this includes the identification/substitution of Jesus’ own person and ministry as the true Temple.
  • The corresponding tendency to spiritualize the Temple, as an image symbolizing believers in Christ as a community (body of Christ)—an idea which was already well established before the historical Temple was destroyed.

Even so, some commentators today believe strongly that there will be a Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem at some future point, despite the fact that this contrasts (and conflicts), in many important ways, with the three ideas (and early Christian principles) highlighted above (cf. Section 3 for more detail). The reasons for this belief essentially relate to (a) the need to preserve the accuracy of Biblical prophecy, and (b) the belief that these prophecies are to be fulfilled, in detail, in a concrete and literal way. This involves three areas of Scripture:

The New Testament passages involve the tradition in Dan 9:27, and so, in a sense, must be taken together. In the Eschatological Discourse (on which, see the current study), the allusion to Dan 9:27 is clearly set within the context of events which will occur before the coming of the Son of Man (and the end-time Judgment). Since all of this did not take place prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., historical accuracy would seem to dictate that some or all of the events will have to occur at a future time. If they require the presence of the Jerusalem Temple, as Dan 9:27 and 2 Thess 2:3ff would seem to, then a natural conclusion might be that the Temple will be rebuilt and serve as the setting for these events. There are, however, serious problems with such an interpretive approach; I have already touched on some of these, and will be addressing them in more detail in Part 4 of the study on the Eschatological Discourse, as well as in the study on Paul’s eschatology (in 1-2 Thessalonians). The significance of the Temple in Rev 11:1-2 is discussed in the recent daily note.

Note of the Day – October 18 (Revelation 11:1-2)

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Revelation 11:1-2

Many commentators regard the first two verses of chapter 11 as belonging more properly with chapter 10; in my view, it is best to treat them as a separate (transitional) scene set between 10:1-11 and 11:3-13.

Rev 11:1

“And there was given to me a reed (which was more) like a staff, saying ‘You must rise and measure the shrine of God and the place of (ritual) slaughter [i.e. altar] and the (one)s kissing toward [i.e. worshiping] (God) in it’.”

The reed (ka/lamo$) refers to any stick which might be used as a measuring tool; the further description of it as being “like a r(a/bdo$” means that it is larger/longer and firmer, like the staff held by a shepherd or ruler. The possible royal/Messianic allusion adds to the idea that this is no ordinary measuring-stick.

The command to measure is a visionary detail which echoes a number of Prophetic passages, such as Amos 7:7-9. The Old Testament idiom involves a measuring-line (plum-line), and usually refers to the application of judgment—cf. also 2 Sam 8:2; 2 Kings 21:13; Lam 2:8. The most immediate reference comes from Zech 2:1-2, which involves the vision of a man (i.e. heavenly being/messenger) holding a measuring-line, who has been tasked to measure the dimensions of Jerusalem. This passage is part of a visionary promise of Israel’s restoration and return to Jerusalem, presented in eschatological language. Also relevant is the vision of the new Temple in Ezek 40-43ff, where the building’s dimensions are described in detail; the prophet also sees a heavenly/divine being holding a measuring-stick in his hand (vv. 3, 5). Taking all these prophetic passages together, we see that there is a two-fold aspect to the symbolism of measuring:

  • Negative—determining the portion/people which are to receive the judgment
  • Positive—demarcating the space marked for deliverance/restoration

Both of these apply to the visionary scene here in the book of Revelation.

Rev 11:2

(The heavenly voice continues:)
“And the open court(yard) th(at is) outside the shrine you must throw out and you should not measure it, (in) that [i.e. because] it was given to the nations, and they will tread (over) the holy city (for) forty-two months.”

Here the Temple is envisioned as having a simpler structure than the Herodian (Second) Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. It is closer in design to the ancient temple-pattern of the Israelite Tent-shrine (Tabernacle)—an inner sanctuary surrounded by an outer court (cf. Exodus 26-27). This indicates that it is typological—while it draws upon the historical Temple in outline, it should be understood here as a figure or symbol. The Herodian Temple did have a “court of the Gentiles”, marking a division in the Temple-complex past which non-Jews were not supposed to enter (Josephus Wars 5.190ff). This historical detail probably factors into the imagery here as well. Some commentators would infer from this passage that the Jerusalem Temple was still standing when the book of Revelation was written, indicating a date in the 60’s A.D. This is possible, but, I think, rather unlikely; other factors point to a time somewhat later in the 1st century. The reference here involves the (historical) Temple as a basic type-pattern, and really cannot be used for a dating of the book.

The contrast in vv. 1-2 is clear: the inner sanctuary (shrine, na/o$) is to be measured, but the outer courtyard (au)lh/) is not. The people (of God) are worshiping (vb. proskune/w, lit. “kiss toward”) within the shrine, but the outer court is given over to the nations (i.e. foreigners, unbelievers). This results in a religious division within the Temple itself, marking off the sanctuary from all that is outside.

This, too, draws upon historical memory and tradition, as interpreted and given shape in Scripture, set within a distinctive eschatological setting. Two main (historical) events are involved:

  • The violation and profanation of the Temple by the Syrian/Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) in 167 B.C., generally recognized as the primary point of reference in Dan 9:27 (cf. the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27).
  • The destruction of the (Herodian) Temple by the Roman army in 70 A.D., after which the Romans exercised more direct control over Jerusalem. Even prior to the Temple’s destruction, the emperor Gaius (Caligula, c. 40 A.D.) introduced policies which seemed to echo those of Antiochus IV.

Both of these events are reflected in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13:1-2, 14ff par)—indeed, the Lukan version combines them together, presenting the prophecy in Dan 9:27, and the time of distress associated with it, specifically in terms of the siege/destruction of Jerusalem (Lk 21:20-24). The wording, and the idea expressed, in verse 24 is quite close that here in Rev 11:2:

“…and Yerushalaim will be (be)ing tread (down) under the nations, until the (moment at) which the times of the nations should be fulfilled.”

Here Jesus (along with the Gospel writer) is clearly referring to the conquest of Jerusalem and, with it, the destruction of the physical/historical Temple, which occurred in 70 A.D. After this, there will be a period of time when the “nations” (i.e. Gentile Romans) exercise control over the city and the Temple. This seems to parallel precisely what is declared to the seer (John) in Rev 11:2, and yet, if the book was written after 70 A.D. (as most commentators believe), it cannot refer to the same event(s) prophesied by Jesus. Moreover, in this vision, the sanctuary itself (the inner shrine or “holy place”) is not destroyed or desecrated. Modern-day commentators who wish to retain verse 2 as a concrete historical prophecy, require a situation whereby the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt at a future time. Yet there is nothing of the kind suggested here in the text, nor anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter. The idea derives almost entirely from a specific interpretation of Ezek 40-43ff, harmonized to fit the eschatological references to the Temple in 2 Thess 2, etc. As an interpretive method or approach it is highly questionable, though popular as a way of navigating certain historical/chronological difficulties related to New Testament eschatology. I discuss this approach at various points throughout this series.

The idea that the Temple in Rev 11:1-2 refers to an actual historical/physical building would seem to be rather flatly contradicted by the fact that all other references to the Temple in the book are either (a) symbolic of believers, or (b) are part of a setting/locale in heaven; mainly it is the latter7:15; 11:19; 14:15ff; 16:1, 17; 21:22, while 3:12 also indicates the former. Moreover, the final reference in 21:22 identifies the Temple with the person/presence of God and Christ (the Lamb) together. Numerous other passages in the New Testament use the Temple as a symbol for believers (collectively) as the body of Christ—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5.

As would be expected in a vision such as those in the book of Revelation, the Temple as an image is a concrete symbol or pattern for something else. A proper interpretation should begin with the idea of the Temple as symbolizing believers as a group or body (community). If this is correct, then what is the meaning of the distinction between the sanctuary (nao/$) and the outer court? The key is found in verse 1, where John is commanded to measure the shrine, including specifically the altar and the ones worshiping God there. Above I translate qusiasth/rion literally as the “place of (ritual) slaughter”; however, the context clearly shows that this is not the altar for animal sacrifice (which was in the outer court), but the altar for offering incense (which was inside the sanctuary). This is the altar-type assumed throughout the book (except possibly in 6:9), and the incense is associated specifically with the prayers of believers (8:3). I would say that the persons inside the sanctuary, worshiping at the altar, are meant to represent true believers, those following Jesus faithfully even unto death (6:9ff). By extension, this would imply that any persons in the outer court, outside the sanctuary, are not true believers, but false disciples or believers in name only who do not remain faithful in the time of distress. This is very much the theme of the warning/exhortations in the letters to the Seven Congregations (chaps. 2-3), and follows the clear symbolism in Jesus’ own eschatological teaching (esp. the parables in Matt 13 [vv. 24-30, 37-43, 47-50]).

What, then, of the motif of the nations treading/trampling the “holy city” (v. 2)? The “nations” (e&qnh), in the basic traditional/religious sense of the term, refer to all those who are not part of the people of God (i.e. not believers in Christ). The “nations” are fundamentally synonymous with the “wicked”. As part of the end-time Judgment, in its initial phase(s) at least, the nations/wicked will war against one another, bringing about suffering and destruction on humankind. This is expressed in the first four seal-visions (6:1-8), with the same idea also found in Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:7-8 par). The time of warfare precedes, or is part of, the great distress (1:9; 2:22; 7:14; Mk 13:19 par; cf. Dan 12:1ff), which will even engulf the faithful.

The measuring of the sanctuary is a sign that those in it (believers) will be protected from judgment (cf. above). Traditionally, a temple, and, in particular, the area around the altar, due to its sacred character, was a place where persons could seek (and find) protection or asylum (Exod 21:13-14; 1 Kings 1:50). Similarly, here, we have the idea that the believers worshiping in the sanctuary (at the altar) will be protected from the Judgment. This does not mean that believers will not suffer any harm, or even be put to death, as is clear from 6:9-11 and Mk 13:9-13, 20-22 par; however, the promise is that, ultimately, the true believer will be saved from the (final) Judgment (2:7, 10-11 etc; Mk 13:13 par), while those outside, among the nations, will be destroyed. God’s Judgment does not only mean punishment for the wicked; it is also a time of testing for the righteous, and is to be endured by believers as part of our coming salvation (1 Pet 4:12-19, etc). The time period involved—forty-two months (= 3½ years)—comes from the book of Daniel (9:27; also 7:25; 12:7, 11f); here, like the rest of the vision in vv. 1-2, it is best viewed as symbolic, reflecting a short but intense period of suffering and distress at the end-time. For those seeking to preserve a concrete literal/historical fulfillment, it would mean a period of precisely 3½ years (42 months), as written. Rev 12:14 uses the same idiom as in Dan 7:25; 12:7 for this duration—”time, times and half and a time”.

It should be pointed out that not all commentators would interpret Rev 11:1-2 exactly as I have above; I note here a different approach, which still treats the Temple image as symbolic in more or less the same sense (Koester, p. 485):

“{The} outer court as the vulnerable aspect of the church. The enclosed temple (naos) that is measured signifies the worshiping community, which God preserves on earth. The open court (aule) signifies the church, as it is vulnerable to affliction in an unbelieving world. The same community is both preserved and vulnerable…”

I have already mentioned above the line of interpretation which would view vv. 1-2 as a vision of the historical/physical city and Temple, to be fulfilled (literally) at a future time, parallel with a similar modern/futurist interpretation of Mk 13:14ff. For more on the Temple in New Testament eschatology as a whole, see the separate study on this subject.

References marked as “Koester” above, and throughout this series, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

Note of the Day – October 17 (Revelation 10:7-11)

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Revelation 10:7-11

In the previous note, we began to examine the message uttered by the heavenly Messenger (Angel) in verses 6b-7:

“…there will not yet be (any more) time [xro/no$]; but (rather), in the days of the voice of the seventh Messenger, when he shall be about to sound the trumpet, even (then it is that) the secret of God is completed [e)tele/sqh], (even) as He gave the good message (of it) to His slaves the Foretellers.”

As I indicated, this statement, along with the verses which follow, are most important for a correct understanding of the book of Revelation as a whole, and of the visions which make up the remainder of the book. However, a precise interpretation of the Angel’s words here in vv. 6b-7 is by no means easy to establish; indeed, the language and phrasing used presents a number of difficulties. I begin with the initial statement:

xro/no$ ou)ke/ti e&stai
which I have translated as
“there will not yet be (any more) time”

Of the two primary Greek words translated “time”, xro/no$ and kairo/$, the former (used here) more properly refers to a length of time, as opposed to a particular point in time (kairo/$). The compound particle ou)ke/ti means “not yet” or “no longer”. The bluntness of the statement has led some commentators to think that it may refer to a cessation of time itself. This, however, is unlikely; more probable is a reference to the time which is to pass before the end comes and God’s Judgment is completed. To say that “there will not yet be time” or “there will no longer be time” simply means that the end will finally come. This is described in verse 7 as the completion of the “secret [musth/rion] of God”. That it is a “secret” means that it has been kept hidden, revealed only to the Prophets (“Foretellers”)—both those in the Old Testament, as well as chosen believers in Christ such as John. Much the same idea is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, in passages such as Rom 16:25-26; Eph 3:3-5, and 1 Pet 1:10-12. From the standpoint of the visionary narrative in the book, a final stage in this process of (special) revelation involves the sealed scroll of chaps. 5ff. Its opening by the Lamb (6:1ff) indicates that its contents are to be read and made known.

The message also gives a general notice as to the time-frame according to which the end will finally come: “in the days of the seventh Messenger, when he is about to sound the trumpet”. The expression “in the days of…” could suggest that a period of time is involved; from the point of view of the visions, this would mean a period between the first six trumpet-visions and the time when the seventh sounds.

Though the declaration “there will not yet be (any more) time” is set (in the visionary narrative) at a point after certain events will have taken place, it would have had meaning as well for readers/hearers at the present moment (i.e. when the book was first written and transmitted). As I have discussed at various points in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, as well as in these notes on the book of Revelation, early Christians generally held to an imminent eschatological expectation—i.e. that the end would occur very soon. If, as is commonly thought, the book of Revelation was written toward the end of the first century (c. 90-95 A.D.), most of the first generation of believers would have already passed away, and Christians at the time would have become increasingly aware of what is referred to as “the delay of the Parousia” (cf. 2 Pet 3:3-10, etc). The entire thrust of the book reiterates and reinforces the idea that the end-time Judgment and return of Jesus will yet occur very soon.

Rev 10:8-10

Verses 8-10 describe an interesting scene, involving a symbolic action (within the context of the vision) which resembles certain episodes in the Prophet books of the Old Testament, especially that in Ezek 2:8-3:3. The seer (John) is commanded, by a voice from heaven, to eat the scroll held by the Messenger. As I argued in the previous note, this is the same scroll from chaps. 5ff, which had been sealed, but has now been opened (by the Lamb, 6:1ff). It is important to remember that the visions in 6:1-8:1 stem from the opening/breaking of the seals; they do not, it would seem, reflect what is actually written on the scroll itself. This is what the prophet John consumes in the vision. The action is narrated in a repetitive, three-fold manner, which has most ancient roots in Near Eastern (Semitic) oral tradition and writing:

  • The voice tells John to take the scroll from the Messenger, implying that the Messenger will instruct him what to do with it (v. 8)
    • The Messenger tells John to take it and eat it, describing what the effect will be (v. 9)
      • John follows the Messenger’s instruction (practically verbatim), takes the scroll and eats it, and experiences the effects (v. 10)

As noted, the action itself draws upon Ezek 2:8-3:3, describing the scene more or less precisely—the prophet eats the scroll, with writing on front and back, as commanded, and it was sweet (as honey) in his mouth. Here is how this is narrated in verse 10:

“And I took the little paper-roll [i.e. scroll] out of the hand of the Messenger and I ate it down (completely), and it was sweet as honey in my mouth, and (yet) when I ate it my belly [i.e. stomach] was made bitter (by it).”

I would interpret this graphic contrast as follows: the words of the scroll initially seem sweet, as they entail the fulfillment of God’s will and the deliverance of His people; however, the implications of this also involve pain and bitterness. The source of this discomfort, best understood as the realization and experience of the Judgment, may be two-fold: (a) the suffering/persecution to be faced by believers, and (b) the suffering of humankind generally during the Judgment. The same verb (pikrai/nw) was used in the third trumpet-vision (8:11).

Moreover, it is the prophet who experiences this bitterness in his stomach, implying that it is difficult for him to digest. This relates specifically to his role as prophet—i.e. spokesperson/representative who delivers the divine message. This certainly is reflected in the Ezekiel passage (2:3ff; 3:4ff), indicating the difficulties facing the prophet in delivering the message—the word and will of God—to the people.

Rev 10:11

This prophetic task is precisely what is described in verse 11:

“And he said to me: ‘It is necessary for you again to foretell about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings’.”

The four terms (peoples, nations, tongues [i.e. languages], kings) are comprehensive—i.e. all of human society—and echo the wording used earlier in 5:9. This marks an important shift in the book. Up to this point, the visions foretelling and announcing the coming Judgment involved the world and humankind generally, treated as a whole; but now, in the remainder of the book, a more distinct world-historical approach will be taken, entailing visions and prophecies related to the history of God’s people (Israel/Believers) and the surrounding nations (the Roman Empire, etc).

In this regard, as we shall see, the visions of the book come to resemble the visions of Daniel, in many aspects. The Danielic influence has been present throughout, but perhaps comes into sharper focus here in chapter 10. In concluding this note, I would point out certain parallels of wording with Dan 12:6-9 (cf. the upcoming special study on Dan 12); in this illustration here I follow Koester (p. 489), using his translation with relevant words in italics (modified slightly):

“How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” The man clothed in linen … raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.” (Dan 12:6-9)