A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XIII)

March 17, 2010

As I committed myself to do in my last post, this piece will seek to determine what earlier Scripture(s) John may drawn upon when he wrote Revelation 1:9: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance in Jesus…” (HCSB).  Though it is, of course, possible that his circumstances on the island of Patmos (1:9) were somehow enough to get him to think of “tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance” together—and in that striking order—even a cursory study of the Apocalypse reveals that it is saturated in Scriptural ideas at every turn, at least several hundred such echoes in all.  Even that one insight about Revelation should be enough for me as a researcher and you as a reader to take seriously the possibility that John has previous biblical wording in mind as he begins the book.

If you have read this blog much at all, you know that I recently invested a good deal of research/writing time in Matthew 24, which provides the nearest biblical link to Revelation 1:7, given that Jesus there cites both Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10 in ways that appear to “shape” John’s usage in Revelation 1:7.  Thus, it would not be at all strange if the “coloring” of Matthew 24 were still present two verses later in the first chapter of Revelation (i.e., 1:9).

Here’s how I see it: As I said in the last post, John’s “tribulation” (Gk. thlipsis, meaning “trouble, distress, hard circumstances, suffering”) is shared with his brethren in the churches to whom he is writing (2:9, 10).  This insight to call the suffering believers experience here and now comes straight out of Matthew 24:9a: “They will hand you over for thlipsis, and they will kill you,” as had already happened with Antipas in the church at Pergamum (Rev. 2:13).

Some will immediately react against what I have said here, because they mistakenly see all the uses of thlipsis in the Olivet Discourse as having to do with the so-called “tribulation” period at the end of the age.  Yes, there is a period of “great tribulation” at the end of the age, spoken of clearly in Matthew 24:21, but this is not what is in view in 24:9 or Revelation 1:9.  In fact, as I have noted once before in this series, of the 45 uses of thlipsis in the New Testament, a careful word study reveals that as few as three of those uses have to do with the end of the age.  All the rest are references to affliction and suffering/persecution during the course of the church age, prior to the end-times period of “great tribulation.”  Check it out.

As I have said elsewhere, this is really virtually identical to what Paul is saying in Acts 14:22 and 2 Timothy 3:12 and what Peter is getting across in 1 Peter 4:12ff.: Christians should not be caught off guard when suffering or persecution (i.e., thlipsis) comes into their lives.  Playing off Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:9, as echoed in these other passages, it is to be expected.

But, how in the world does “kingdom” fit into all this?  Well, in Matthew 24, the extensive “coming” of the Son of Man” wording is drawn directly from Daniel 7:13ff., which takes place in the heavenly throne room.  There, in 7:14, it says that the Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man “authority to rule… and a kingdom,” in which “those of every people, nation and language—from whom the elect come, those who have been made in some sense “a kingdom and priests to our God,” according to Revelation 5:10—should serve Him.”  Daniel 7:18 then says that, at some point after the playing out in history of the four beasts of chapter 7, “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever… .”  Though Daniel 7:25 clarifies that somewhat by speaking of the great suffering of the “saints” at the end of the age, verse 27 assures Daniel and his readers that the “kingdom” and all the greatness of the previous world kingdoms will be given finally and eternally to the “saints.”

In other words, in Daniel 7, there appears to be two aspects of the idea of the “kingdom” as it is related to the “saints” (which, of course, is a term used interchangeably with “church” and “disciples” in Acts, then applied over and over to the churches in the Epistles): 1) 7:18 is a general statement that, in some sense, after the four beasts (i.e., the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires) had run their course, the “saints” would receive the “kingdom”; However, 2) 7:27 provides some additional detail, which makes it clear that the full sense of the saints possessing the “kingdom” will only follow the putting down of the end-times beast, after his reign of terror over them for “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25).  Thus, in Revelation 1:9, John seems to be using the idea of “kingdom” in the general sense of Daniel 7:18, realizing that, as Jesus said, there will be extensive “tribulation” (thlipsis) now, but unparalleled “tribulation” at the end of the age (Dan. 7:25; 12:1; Matt. 24:1; Rev. 7:14), before the final form of the “kingdom” was given to the saints (Rev. 20:4-6; see 5:10).

In regard to the third word in the triad—“perseverance” (Gk. hupomone)—well before the Olivet Disocurse, Jesus had said “The one who endures (the “cousin” Gk. verb hupomeno) to the end will be delivered” (Matt. 10:22).  The wording in the Olivet Discourse in 24:13 is virtually identical.

In conclusion, just as “tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance” (Rev. 1:9) are major themes in the Book of Revelation, they resound together just as loudly in Matthew 24:1-31, echoing ideas found earlier in Scripture.  If nothing else, this study strongly suggests that that John’s mind was largely focused on Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse as he begins to write the Apocalypse.


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