A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XIV)

March 18, 2010

My recent work in Revelation 1:9 has gotten me to thinking carefully about an aspect of Revelation 3:10 to which I now realize I had not paid sufficient attention.  Why, you ask?  It’s because of their shared usage of the intriguing Greek word hupomone (“perseverance, endurance”).

Let’s take a quick look together at the relatively sparse, but very significant, usage of hupomone in Revelation.  Of its seven total inclusions, five of those are in the first three chapters of the book.  In that section dealing with the Son of Man and the seven churches in Asia Minor, besides 1:9—where I discussed the usage in my last couple of posts—the word is found in 2:2, 3, 19 and 3:10, in each case commending the church in question (Ephesus, Thyatira and Philadelphia) for their spiritual endurance in trying circumstances.

The other two passages in the Apocalypse where hupomone is found are 13:10 and 14:12.  What is striking about that is, when the grand chiastic (i.e., inverted parallel) structure of the book of Revelation is laid out, there is a “twin peaks” effect at the center, focusing on ch. 13 and ch. 14.  It amounts to side-by-side choices: either you worship the Beast (at the end of the age) or you worship the Lamb.

What does that have to do with the usage of hupomone, you ask?  Quite a bit, actually.  You see, right in the middle of the literary structure of ch. 13 is found this wording: “Here is the endurance (Gk. hupomone) and faith of the saints” (13:10).  Then, in an almost eerie parallel, smack dab in the middle of the literary structure of ch. 14 we read—you guessed it—“Here is the endurance (hupomone) of the saints…” (14:12).

So, clearly, since that “stuttered” wording is strategically located at the twin midpoints of the elegant chiastic structuring whole book, hupomone is a very big deal in regard to the body of the Book of Revelation.  But, how does its usage in these two main portions (i.e., chs. 1-3, focusing on the seven churches John is addressing, and chs. 4-22, focusing on God’s working out into this world His wrath/judgment and His victorious kingdom plan, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ) “fit together?”

That’s where I am beginning to think that the usage in the first part of 3:10 might be particularly helpful, especially because of the wording “Because you have kept My command Gk. logos, “word, teaching”) to endure…” (HCSB)—though I do not think that is the most accurate translation of the original language.  The Greek says ton logon tes hupomones mou, which would be rendered literally as something like “the word (or teaching) of My (patient) endurance.”

What would “the word/teaching of [Christ’s] endurance” be referring to?  That does not appear to be answered in the previous uses of hupomone in Revelation (i.e., 1:9; 2:2, 3, 19).  Those verses all speak positively of “endurance,” whether it be John enduring on Patmos (1:9), the endurance of the church at Ephesus (2:2, 3) or the endurance of the faithful proportion of the church at Thyatira (2:19).  But, there is no hint as to what would be meant by the “the word/teaching of [Christ’s] endurance.”

So, where does the idea come from?  From my recent research in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, in chapter 24, I would suggest the most likely source is 24:13: “… [T]he one who endures to the end will be saved” (HCSB).

How does that help us in regard to our understanding of the first part of Revelation 3:10?  I would suggest that Jesus’ amazing promise in the last part of 3:10 is based on them doing what he had told them to (i.e., even if it does not sound like a “command”) in Matthew 24:13.  That is, because they have endured in their faith and obedience, Jesus promises the church at Philadelphia—which is a promise that the Holy Spirit says that all churches (i.e., in all times and places) should “listen up” to [Rev. 3:13])—that they will be kept “from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth” (3:10b, HCSB).

Now, I understand “the hour of testing” here as referring to “the great tribulation” spoken of in 7:14.  And, because it is referred to as a time period (i.e., “the hour of testing”), and because it is designed to test (i.e., to show that they fail the test) the “earth-dwellers,” whom we are told in 13:8 and 17:8 are the non-elect—those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s “book of life”—I understand 3:10 as a fairly clear promise of—to use the standard evangelical theological terminology—a pretribulational taking (a.k.a. “rapture) of the church.

So, you may ask, how does the usage of hupomone in 3:10 put together the overall usage of the word in the Apocalypse?  As I have studied the in’s and out’s of the usage, it appears to me that, in 3:10, Jesus—who originally gave the “word” in Mathew 24:13—is adding a clarification for His disciples reading Revelation.  In my understanding, here’s what it amounts to: 1) the earlier readers’ (i.e., those in 2:2, 3, 19 and those of us who now “read over their shoulders,” so to speak) “endurance” (Gk. hupomone) during the preliminary “tribulation” (i.e., affliction, suffering”) of the present church age (see, e.g., Matt. 24:9a; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3, 12:12; 2 Tim. 3:13) will keep them from going through the “hour of trial” (3:10), the unparalleled “great tribulation” (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14) at the end of the age, but 2) those who are not believers in Jesus when the end of the age comes upon them must demonstrate the “endurance” spoken of in Revelation 13:10 and 14:12.

Thus, when the dust settles of the usage of hupomone in the Book of Revelation, it turns out to be a very important concept in this amazing word from the Lord.  No wonder John, almost right out of the box, refers to himself as his readers’ “brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom and perseverance (Gk. hupomone) in Jesus” (1:9, HCSB).

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