Towards Understanding Revelation

4/10/23 REVELATION 1:1a, PART 14

We start today with a major preterist/postmillennialist, David Chilton. I was thinking of including a lot of quotes from his introduction, but to do that would take this whole post because I would spend twice as many words refuting him. His writing is very high-minded, and denigrating to all who dare to disagree. Here’s an example:

“The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical history (Biblical history is not primarily adventure stories). The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical law (the Bible is not primarily a political treatise about how to set up a Christian Republic). And the Covenant is the meaning of Biblical prophecy as well (thus, Biblical prophecy is not ‘prediction’ in the occult sense of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and Jean Dixon).”

Basically he sees the whole Bible as being a series of God’s Covenants: he sees just about every book of the Old Testament as a Covenant, no matter how hard he as to bend it. He uses Deuteronomy and Hosea as examples; Hosea because he says that prophecies aren’t about the future, they are evaluations of the Covenant that he refers to as “Covenant Lawsuits,” which is how he sees Revelation (I’m wondering how he sees Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Solomon…). 

Mr. Chilton describes how Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD because the Jews had broken the Covenant and God was wiping them out in favor of the Christians (God waited until 70 AD so that the new Covenant could be written — what we know as the New Testament). This is a scary idea because you have to wonder how it’s going to play out now, as we do appear to be breaking the second Covenant…will we be wiped out? Doesn’t Revelation depict that? No, says Mr. Chilton, Revelation is the record of what was done to the Jews and how we replaced them; we, on the other hand, are just doing better and better: the whole world is becoming Christian thanks to our efforts!

Here’s a bit more of Mr. Chilton, just to show that I’m not exaggerating:

“The death, resurrection and ascension of Christ marked the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New; the apostles were commissioned to deliver Christ’s message in the form of the New Testament; and when they were finished, God sent the Edomites and the Roman armies to destroy utterly the last remaining symbols of the Old Covenant: the Temple and the Holy City. This fact alone is sufficient to establish the writing of the Revelation as taking place before A.D. 70….While wrath built up ‘to the utmost’ (l Thess. 2:16), God stayed His hand of judgment until the writing of the New Covenant document was accomplished.” 

 14For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all people, 16hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always reach the limit of their sins. but wrath has come down upon them fully.  (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; NASB)

I believe there is some truth in this: the death of Jesus did establish a New Covenant, and, the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s wrath for the death of Jesus…and the prophets. 

Jesus quite plainly said in Matthew 5:17, that He did not come to destroy the Law (the First Covenant), but to fulfill it. And by ‘fulfill’, He didn’t mean to end it. The Hebrew word used is ‘lekayem,’ and while it can mean ‘complete’ or ‘accomplish,’ it also means ‘uphold’ or ‘establish.’ More importantly, the phrase ‘fulfill the law’ is an idiom that means ‘to properly interpret Torah so that people can obey it as God really intends’ [from ].

Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  (Matthew 5:17; NASB)

Paul, in Romans, goes into great depth about how Christ’s coming affected the Law. Here’s just a short bit:

27Where then is boasting? It has been excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31Do we then nullify the Law through faith? Far from it! On the contrary, we establish the Law.  (Romans 3:27-31; NASB)

 As for the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus alludes to that:

34“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35so that upon you will fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation…38Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the LORD!’”(Matthew 23:34-36,38-39; NASB)

Notice that Jesus says nothing about replacing the Jews or totally destroying the Jews. They suffered great punishment from the Wrath of God, but they were not wiped out, and their Covenant is not lost. Indeed, the implication is that one day they will say “Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the LORD!” and accept Jesus as their savior.

Mr. Chilton goes on to discuss the conflict between Rome and the Christians. He sees it as purely political from the Roman side, while religious from the Christian side. In other words, the Romans didn’t really believe that their emperor was a god (they did), and they weren’t really requiring the Christians to worship the emperor (they were):

The Christians were never asked to worship Rome’s pagan gods; they were merely asked to recognize the religious primacy of the state…The officials of the Roman Empire in time of persecution sought to force the Christians to sacrifice, not to any heathen gods, but to the Genius of the Emperor and the Fortune of the City of Rome; and at all times the Christians’ refusal was looked upon not as a religious but as a political offense… Who represented true and ultimate order, God or Rome, eternity or time? The Roman answer was Rome and time, and hence Christianity constituted a treasonable faith and a menace to political order.”

Mr. Chilton then goes on to explain that “faith in Jesus Christ requires absolute submission to His Lordship, at every point, with no compromise,” which is certainly true. But, he uses this conflict as a way to say that the “official worship of Caesar was required for the transaction of everyday affairs. Failure to acknowledge the claims of the State would result in economic hardship and ruin, and often imprisonment, torture, and death,” as if this totally explains the ‘mark of the beast.’ 

On our way back to looking at the first phrase of Revelation, I’m going to add one more quote from the Introduction that will explain his overview of Revelation, and thus, where the first phrase fits in:

As [Meredith] Kline explains, the standard treaty-form in the ancient world was structured in five parts, all of which appear in the Biblical covenants: 

1. Preamble (identifying the lordship of the Great King, stressing both his transcendence {greatness and power} and his immanence {nearness and presence}); 

2. Historical Prologue (surveying the lord’s previous relationship to the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed); 

3. Ethical Stipulations (expounding the vassal’s obligations, his ‘guide to citizenship’ in the covenant); 

4. Sanctions (outlining the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience); 

5. Succession Arrangements (dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations).” 

So with that in mind, here is the quote about the first bit of Revelation:

“The purpose of the covenantal Preamble is thus to proclaim the lordship of the Great King, declaring his transcendence and immanence and making it clear from the outset that his will is to be obeyed by the vassals, his servants. Biblical treaties set forth God’s transcendence and immanence by referring to one or more of three activities: creation, redemption, and revelation. It is the latter two that are especially emphasized in Revelation’s Preamble. [There is] stress on divine revelation in the opening sentence, and this is underscored in the following verses….St John makes it clear from the outset that his book is a revelation, an unveiling or disclosure of God’s purposes. It is not intended tobe mysterious or enigmatic…”  [From THE DAYS OF VENGEANCE: AN EXPOSITION OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION; by David Chilton; 1987

Moving on to the next quote:

The revelation of Jesus Christ” (1) can be taken two ways. It can either mean the unveiling has come from Christ (a subjective genitive in the Greek) or it is about Christ (an objective genitive). Both of these statements are true, for God gave the apocalypse to Jesus, who was to show it to the Christians through the agency of an angel who, in turn, unfolded it to John; but also Jesus is the main figure in the subject matter of the book. Perhaps it is meant to be taken both ways. Although high authorities take opposite positions, one does not have to declare himself either/or so long as he understands it can be both/and. The ultimate source is God, but He speaks through Christ and the subject matter of His Word is Christ.  [From REVELATION; by Lewis Foster; 1989]

This is an agreeable quote. I think that this is the first time someone has said that it really doesn’t matter which side you come down on, about Jesus or from Jesus, as long as you understand that it can be both. A pretty good side-step.

The next quote:

“The title in our Bibles, ‘The Revelation to John,’ and its variations in the manuscripts, is not from John but was added by church editors during the process of canonization. John’s ‘title,’ which is really titular summary of the document, is found in verses 1-3. John’s title is similar to the titles of Old Testament prophetic books and thus identifies John’s letter in the minds of the hearer-readers with the prophetic books of the Scripture they were accustomed to hearing read in worship (cf. Isa. 1:1; Jer. 1:1; Ezek. 1:2-3; Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Amos 1:1; Obad. 1:1; Micah 1:1; Nahum 1:1; Hab. 1:1; Zeph. 1:1; Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1; Mal. 1:1). 

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  (Isaiah 1:1; NASB)

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: (Jeremiah 1:1; NKJV)

2(On the fifth day of the month, in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile, 3the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and there the hand of the LORD came upon him.) (Ezekiel 1:2,3; NASB)

The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel: (Hosea 1:1; NKJV)

The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: (Joel 1:1; NASB)

The words of Amos, who was among the sheep breeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. (Amos 1:1; NKJV)

The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Lord GOD says concerning Edom — We have heard a report from the LORD, And a messenger has been sent among the nations saying, “Arise, and let’s go up against her for battle”—  (Obadiah 1:1; NASB)

The word of the LORD that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. (Micah 1:1; NKJV)

The pronouncement of Ninevah. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite:  (Nahum 1:1; NASB)

The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw. (Habakkuk 1:1; NKJV)

The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, King of Judah: (Zephaniah 1:1; NASB)

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,  (Haggai 1:1; NKJV)

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying,  (Zechariah 1:1; NASB)

The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.  (Malachi 1:1; NKJV)

“John’s letter is by no means yet ‘Bible’ for his hearer-readers; their Scripture was the ‘Old Testament.’ Yet John places his writing in continuity with the biblical revelation. The god who speaks here is not a different God from the one heard in the words of the biblical prophets….

“…The title added later by the church identifies the book as the ‘Revelation of John.’ John himself identified it as the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1). As is also the case in English, the ‘of’ here is ambiguous in John’s Greek text. It could be taken in the objective genitive sense (a revelation about Jesus Christ) or the subjective genitive sense (a revelation from Jesus Christ), or a combination of the two. The grammar (the connection with the relative clause) as well as the theology (the setting of Jesus Christ within the revelatory chain) and the nature of Christian prophecy (which comes directly to the prophet from the risen Christ but is not necessarily about him) all indicate that John intends the expression in the subjective genitive sense. What the hearer-reader is about to receive is a revelation from Jesus, the exalted Lord of the church who is present with his congregations in worship and addresses them in the prophetic word.”  [From REVELATION: INTERPRETATION: A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING; by M. Eugene Boring; 1989]

I like the comparison to all the Old Testament prophets; it really helps to provide a setting for Revelation. He makes a fair case for the use of the subjective genitive, but I still think we should keep an open mind for both. 

The weakness in his argument is: “the nature of Christian prophecy (which comes directly to the prophet from the risen Christ but is not necessarily about him)”  In other words, this part of his argument is not definitive. I also don’t see “the setting of Jesus Christ within the revelatory chain” as a particularly definitive argument; Jesus is certainly part of what is revealed. That leaves the grammatical argument, which is not definitive either.

The next quote is from a well-known preterist/postmillennialist:

“The first sentence of John’s work has become the title of the work. And from that title we know John fully intended that his work be a ‘revelation.’ The Greek word for ‘revelation’ is apokalupsis, which means an ‘opening up, uncovering.’ John intended his book to be an opening up of divine truth for his original audience.”  [From HE SHALL HAVE DOMINION: A POSTMILLENNIAL ESCHATOLOGY; by Kenneth L. Gentry; 1992]

Mr. Gentry seems to imply that we shouldn’t really be bothering with Revelation because it was written for John’s “original audience.” There is a further implication that it’s John’s book: “John fully intended that his work be a ‘revelation’…John intended his book to be an opening up of divine truth;” rather than it being an unveiling from God.  

I’m still not a postmillennialist.  Moving on:

“The apostle John began the book of Revelation with the declaration that this book was ‘the Revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Rev 1:1); that is, it was an unveiling of truth about the future work of Jesus the King and Judge. The Lord has revealed prophetic truth so that we will be changed by it. This presupposes that truth can be understood. If the prophetic Word is important to the Lord, it ought to be important to us as well.”  [From UNDERSTANDING END TIMES PROPHECY; by Paul Benware; 1995]

This quote is not very deep, but good all the same. He doesn’t get into all the Greek arguments, he just lays it out for you. The new thought he adds is the idea that we are being given this message so that it will change us. I really like that. It’s almost a direct counter to Mr. Gentry’s statement of the book being written for a particular audience in time. To come close to understanding this book you have to know and understand most of the rest of the Bible; this is why I chose to work on this book: it forces you to look more deeply at everything else. And in doing that, it has to change you. And yes, it should “be important to us as well.”

Here’s a short quote:

“Although it is true that this book reveals Christ, the genitive expression ‘of Jesus Christ’ means that it is a revelation given by Christ.” [From REVELATION; by Charles C. Ryrie; 1996]

Mr. Ryrie was a very well-known, some say renowned, theologian of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was known as the Dean of Dispensationalism, so I expect to be agreeing with him on most things, but not today. Though I will say, if it absolutely has to be decided one way or the other, then I would go with the subjective genitive. But I really don’t think it has to be nailed down.

Many of the books I’ve collected are ones that were referred to in other works and that I sought out. This next quote is from a book I stumbled upon. The author is a little-known British pastor, and this is from one of the two books that he’s written:

“John begins his book by explaining what sort of work his readers are to expect. It is a ‘revelation’…or apocalypse which has come, not simply from John himself, but from Jesus Christ, the risen Lord to his Church.

“To the first readers or hearers of the book, this would explain what type of literature to expect. Firstly, it would be an apocalypse, dealing with the events of earth and heaven and the last days, and secondly, it was a prophecy — a message from the risen Lord to his church.

“While apocalypses took many forms, John’s original audience would not be surprised, and might well expect, to find the message conveyed in rich and wonderful symbols, which they would recognize from their knowledge of scripture and their experience of similar kinds of writing. However, they would most certainly expect to find a message of relevance to them, for this was a prophecy.

“To us, prophecy tends to mean a foretelling of the future, and there is some of that in Revelation. But that is too narrow a view of prophecy. The biblical prophets, and the prophets of the early Church, intended their message to speak to the situation of those who first heard it. So Revelation claims to be a message from Jesus to the Christians of the seven churches in Asia Minor to whom it is addressed.” [From REVELATION: A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR EVERY DAY; by Marcus Maxwell; 1998]

Mr. Maxwell can’t seem to decide if Revelation is actually an apocalypse or if it’s a prophecy. He is focusing on the idea of Revelation being written to the first century people, and ignoring how it speaks to us today. I agree that prophecy often meant something to the people of the day in which it was  written, but then it usually means more to the future. We are that future, so I hope he will address that at some point.

Here’s a quote from another little-known pastor, this time from the American south, and he’s written 16 books instead of 2:

“The very title makes it clear that the writer wanted his message to be known. Thayer says the word “revelation” means, ‘an uncovering, prop. a laying bare, making naked’…The book’s author was obviously John (Revelation 1:1, 9; 22:8). However, he merely writes the words of Jesus (Revelation 1:1, 5, 10-19)…We have already observed that Revelation means an uncovering or a laying bare. Particularly, this is Jesus’ Revelation, but as John has done so often before…he stresses that it is a message from the Father and given through the Son.” [From WHAT JESUS REVEALED TO THE CHURCHES! A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION; by Gary C. Hampton; late 20th century]

Mr. Hampton completely avoids the subjective/objective argument, which probably isn’t missed by most people.  Instead, he just jumps into the statement that “this is Jesus’ Revelation” and then refers to it as a “message,” thereby implying it’s a subjective genitive.

Let’s move on:

Revelation is a drama in two acts. The first half of the book (revelation 1-11) takes readers from the valleys and hills of Asia Minor to the heights of heaven, where choruses of praise resound in the halls of God’s heavenly throne room…Before the curtain rises, so that the action can begin, the theater darkens and a single spotlight focuses attention upon John, the writer of Revelation, who walks out on to the stage alone in order to address the audience. His opening lines indicate that readers will encounter a ‘revelation’ and a ‘prophecy,’ but John presents his message in the form of a letter to seven congregations.”  [From REVELATION AND THE END OF ALL THINGS; by Craig R. Koester; 2001]

Mr. Koester seems to like the dramatic approach. I rankle a bit at the idea, also expressed by Mr. Maxwell, that Revelation itself is “in the form of a letter to seven congregations.” Revelation starts with a series of seven letters to seven congregations, but the continuation of the book is decidedly not in the form of a letter. 

The last quote is from Adrian Rogers, a well-known radio preacher of the past who is still on the air today:

“I find Jesus wherever I look in the Bible. He is the heart of the entire Bible. He is the Rose of Sharon. He is the Lily Fair. If you read the Bible and you don’t see Jesus, you need to reread it. Indeed, Jesus is the hero of the Bible and especially in the Book of Revelation. Revelation 1:1-2 tells us that the central person of the book is Jesus, and the testimony of this book is Jesus…When the the world begins to wind down, we will not be looking for something to happen; we will be looking for someone to come. And His name is Jesus. Sometimes people call this book ‘Revelations’. It is not Revelations. It is Revelation, singular. It is the revelation of One — the spotless, glorified Lamb, Jesus Christ… The second coming of Jesus will be so different from His first coming when His glory was veiled. He came the first time to a crucifixion; He is coming again to a coronation. He came the first time in shame; He is coming again in splendor. He came the first time to a tree; He is coming again to a throne. He came the first time and stood before Pilate; He is coming again, and Pilate will stand before Him to be judged. He came the first time as a servant; He is coming again as a sovereign.

“Today, Jesus is abused, misused, neglected, and scorned. He does not have His rightful place in society. After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush called for a day of prayer at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Thousands watched it on television. If you may recall, they sang Martin Luther’s hymn (which may be my favorite hymn), ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’. What you may not remember is that they left out the following verse:

Did we in our strength confide, our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabbath, His Name, from age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

“During this ceremony, Billy Graham preached about the cross of Jesus Christ, and yet National Public Radio omitted part of his message. When asked about this, NPR responded, ‘We were changing the tape.’ You be the judge. When Jesus returns, not one word will be omitted. We will behold His unveiled glory, not as He was, but as He is — the King of kings and the Lord of lords.”  [From UNVEILING THE END TIMES IN OUR TIME: THE TRIUMPH OF THE LAMB IN REVELATION; by Adrian Rogers; 2004]

This quote doesn’t tell me a lot about Revelation, but I liked it anyway. I especially liked: “When the the world begins to wind down, we will not be looking for something to happen; we will be looking for someone to come. And His name is Jesus.”  I also feel compelled to point out: “Today, Jesus is abused, misused, neglected, and scorned. He does not have His rightful place in society.” Mr. Rogers was seeing this almost 20 years ago. It’s gotten far worse now. We started today with Mr. Chilton trying to tell us that Revelation is just a law-suit against the Jews, revoking their Covenant with God because we Christians are making such a better world; and we are ending with Mr. Rogers pointing to the obvious…that we, as Christians, no longer look to Christ as our Leader. We are no different than the Jews, we are off the rails in the same way they were. Can we expect any different result? This is truly what we are looking at in Revelation.

That’s enough for today. I will try very hard to finish this first phrase next time, and from there we will pick up speed. 

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