A Handful of “Mud”: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (I)

February 17, 2010

I like the description of brainstorming that sees what it involves as “throwing mud on the wall and seeing what sticks.”  I love to generate ideas and try them out.  Some pass the test of scrutiny and many don’t.  However, even those that don’t survive often have a very important purpose: they provide mid-course corrections that often lead you to other, far better—sometimes far more significant—insights than you would have arrived at had you not thrown that initial mud against the wall.

It is my rough-hewn plan to post at least twice per week (some weeks, when I have time, possibly much more) for the foreseeable future on the Book of Revelation.  Why am I doing this?  It’s not just because my notes on Revelation will be published in the Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible in the next few months, though I look forward to responding to any comments interested parties might have, including questions.  Beyond that, I’m in the process of refining a number of my ideas about the Apocalypse, anticipating the possibility of writing a book, possibly a commentary, in the not terribly distant future.

Anyway, today’s post is my “maiden voyage” blogging on Revelation.  (I hope it goes better than the first voyage of the Titanic!).  I’m going to start by briefly discussing the role of the Apostle John—yes, I do think there is a much stronger case for his authorship than commentators, including some evangelicals, are willing to admit—in writing the introductory segment of the Apocalypse.

Admittedly, much of Revelation is either dictated to John by Christ or an angel or he is simply writing down visions he has been allowed to see in the best terminology he—and the Holy Spirit as a Divine-human team (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21)—can conceive to try to describe, among other things, the heavenly throne room and incredible apocalyptic imagery.  However, it does seem that certain parts of the book, notably the introduction and the conclusion, bear John’s particular literary “stamp” more than those which say in so many words that they came directly from the Lord Jesus or indirectly through an angel.

In this initial post, I want to focus briefly on one aspect of the introduction of the book (Rev. 1:1-8).  Before the reader arrives at the description of John’s personal circumstances on Patmos (1:9), before the initial command for him to write this book (lit. “scroll”; 1:11) and his description of the appearance and words of “one like the Son of Man” (1:13ff.), John has some very important opening remarks that we do well to contemplate.

It is as if John has been given the most amazing “body” of a message to those seven churches (1:11)—and, by applicational extension, to us today—that could be conceived.  However, it was up to him to write a brief lead-in section.  In future posts, I will explore several other aspects of these opening verses.  But, for now, the question I’m bringing up for consideration is: Why did John choose the, if you will, “texts for proclamation” that he did to launch the book in 1:7?

If you are not aware of it, Revelation contains hundreds (one scholar claimed as many as 1,000, though 300-400 is much more common estimate) of allusions to/echoes of the Old Testament.  The truly intriguing thing about that point, though, is that with the exception of one verse in the entire book, none of those OT echoes is extensive enough to be considered a “quotation.”  That verse is Revelation 1:7 and, interestingly, it contains not just one, but two, clearly discernible citations from the OT.  As will be discussed in my next post in this series, those OT quotes are from Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10.

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