Towards Understanding Revelation


Good Morning! Before we get started today, I wanted to give you a list of the topics that I’m especially focusing on when I read these books on Revelation. 

They are:

  1. Opinions about the title of the book. Amazingly, there are a number of different, though related, titles that have been given to it.
  2. Is the book dealing with Jesus as a man, a deity, or both? It startled me to realize that some of the commentators clearly see Jesus as one or the other, but not both. I decided that I wanted to know that about a commentator before I bought into what else he was saying (most are he’s).
  3. What group of people(s) is the book primarily about? This topic colors the interpretation of the whole book. So far the two choices are: the book is about Christians, and/or the Christian Church, so the outcome is the triumph of the Church; or the book is about the redemption of the Jews, so the outcome is about the triumph of Jesus. I lean to the latter.
  4. Relevant comparisons of the book to other parts of the Bible.  It is said that Revelation is the culmination of the entire Bible, which means that it’s related to most of the Bible. Different commentators see different connections, which can get pretty interesting!
  5. Concepts that are singled out as important. Again, these vary by commentator, and are heavily based on who they think the book is about, and how they see the millennium. I’ll get into some of the millennial categories in a future post. 
  6. The interpretations of prophecy vs history; other interpretations of the meaning of the book. This is another topic that colors the overall interpretation heavily. Some see the book as all prophecy after Chapter 3, some see it as all history, some see it as some combination of history and prophecy. To some, especially the very early writers, it’s totally unintelligible except for the letters to the seven churches. There are names for these different belief systems, I’ll get into those in a future post as well; if you’ve been interested in Revelation for a while, you probably already know about this.
  7. What the book is unveiling and who is behind it. Some see it as God unveiling Christ, others that it’s Christ unveiling himself, a few that it’s unveiling Christ’s plan for the earth, and I’ve even seen one that sees it as Christ deciding to share some of what he regained after the Resurrection.
  8. Information about pertinent Greek and/or Hebrew words related to or in the book.Not everyone finds the language issues interesting. I do. Languages don’t always have totally equivalent words, so the meaning of a given word can be multiple and varied, leading to all sorts of hidden meanings and interpretations once it’s in English.
  9. Information about symbology and specific symbolic uses in the book.There is clearly some symbology in the book, and John is usually pretty clear about it. But some people see it as ALL symbology, especially some of the 19th century writers. 
  10. Views on how accessible the book is to the servants of God. This really changes over time. The more modern the writer, the more convinced he is that the masses can understand Revelation.
  11. Comments on the times and how they relate to the book.Just like language, cultures change over time and what was meant by a given word or phrase can change from what was originally intended. For instance, if a young woman in the 1940’s announced to her family that she was going down to the pool hall for the evening, they would have locked her up in her room, because the inference would have been that she was going there to pick up men, or to hustle, or be hustled at the pool tables (i.e. gambling). Her reputation would be totally shot. If a young woman said the same thing to her family in 2010, they would think nothing of it. A place where people play pool is no longer equated with “den of iniquity”, but rather with “entertainment”.
  12. Conclusions on the date the book was written.There is a lot of controversy about this, and most of it is based on whether the commentator thinks Revelation is all history or not. We’ll see the evidence for each conclusion.
  13. Conclusions on the author of the book. Whether the “John” who wrote Revelation was the Apostle or not has been argued about since about the third century. We’ll be seeing a lot of evidence for each opinion as we go through the commentaries.

As we go forward, this list may change.

Today, let’s look at a piece called DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO by Justin Martyr (~100-165 A.D.). In this piece, written about 155-160, Justin is imagining a conversation with a Jewish man named Trypho. We are, of course, interested in the part where he talks about prophecy, and the Apocalypse (Revelation).

For Isaiah spake thus concerning this space of a thousand years: ‘For there shall be the new heaven and the new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, or come into their heart; but they shall find joy and gladness in it, which things I create.  For, Behold, I make Jerusalem a rejoicing, and My people a joy; and I shall rejoice over Jerusalem, and be glad over My people. And the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, or the voice of crying. And there shall be no more there a person of immature years, or an old man who shall not fulfill his days…

They shall not build, and others inhabit; they shall not plant, and others eat. For according to the days of the tree of life shall be the days of my people; the works of their toil abound. Mine elect shall not toil fruitlessly, or begat children to be cursed; for they shall be a seed of righteous and blessed by the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call I will hear; while they are still speaking, I shall say, What is it? Then shall the wolves and the lambs feed together…

They shall not hurt or maltreat each other on the holy mountain, saith the Lord.’   Now we have understood that the expression used among these words, ‘According to the days of the tree (of life) shall be the days of my people; the works of their toil shall abound,’ obscurely predicts a thousand years. For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, ‘The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,’ is connected with this subject. And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand yeas in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place….”

So we learn a few things from this passage. First of all, he is connecting Isaiah’s prophecies to John’s, which suggests that he sees John’s Revelation as prophetic, as well as the fact that he states that John “prophesied”. Next, he states flat out that the “John” of Revelation is “one of the apostles”. 

He makes an interesting leap between the phrase “According to the days of the tree of life…” and it being a reference to 1000 years. I haven’t seen this correlation before, but perhaps it was something known and used in the second century. Or may be I just haven’t seen it before. He’s also using Peter’s statement about “the day of the Lord is as a thousand years” as a subtle and indirect reason for why Jesus has not yet returned. The Early Church Fathers, including Justin Martyr, were read and well known in the Middle Ages. That could be why so many people were sure that when the calendar year changed to 1000, Christ would return.

And lastly, that he believes in the millennium, with “eternal resurrection” and “judgment”. 

On the whole, I find nothing to disagree with in Justin Martyr. If he doesn’t agree with your beliefs, then we will hold off until we find a quote that does, and do some comparisons.

I want to end today with another quote. This is from ON PASCHA, AND FRAGMENTS by Bishop Melito of Sardis, from about 170 A.D. It’s not on point about Revelation, but it talks about the persecution that was taking place. 

Pascha, by the way, is the transliteration of the Greek word for the time we call Easter. It originally came from Aramaic (pascha), and that word came from the Hebrew, pesach, which means passover.

Here’s the quote…and I want you to think about the first paragraph especially. It sounds like the road we are going down today…

“Now the race of the god-fearing is persecuted, which is something which has never before taken place, afflicted by new decrees in Asia. For the shameless cheats and those who love the goods of others are, on this pretext, robbing openly by night and by day, seizing the goods of those who have done nothing wrong…

  “That nothing discred­itable has befallen the Empire since the reign of Augus­tus, when the Empire began so auspiciously, and flour­ished along with our thinking is the best proof of the goodness we intend. But on the contrary, everything has been glorious and splendid, as we all pray that it should. Only Nero and Domitian, persuaded by certain mali­cious people, were willing to put our activity under attack. It is from them, and through unreasoning custom, that false information about us has arisen like a flood…”  

It’s also interesting that Melito speaks pretty highly of Augustus. During the time of Augustus, the Christians had some difficulty because Augustus declared himself a god and required worship, which a Christine could not do. Melito was living during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, who was basically a philosopher king that persecuted Christians and pursued incessant warfare. Looking back, Melito appears to be feeling romantic about Augustus’ reign as he compares it to his current ruler, and the disastrous reigns of Nero and Domitian.

So we’ve set the stage for the second century a bit. The next post will be about Irenaeus, and we will see some changes in thought as the second century winds down.

I’m adding a page for my sources, so feel free to look at them and do further reading. 

Take care, and I’ll be praying for your peace of mind. k

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