Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXI)

March 31, 2010

You thought I was through writing about the “kingdom of God” in Revelation, right?  Well, I did too… until I realized a connection between what I had decided several days ago to take on after the “kingdom” studies.  I will attempt to put the two together at the end of this post.

What is it that I have had on my mind for my next topic?  It’s the obvious parallelism that exists between Revelation 2:9-10 and 3:8-10.  Actually, perhaps I should clarify by saying “inverted parallelism” (i.e., chiasmus).

Can I sustain that assertion (as opposed to “seeing a chiasm under every bush,” as some who have a bias—or, at least, require stronger proof than with other biblical phenomenon)?  Yes, quite easily.

The first place I recall seeing the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 interpreted in a chiastic manner was in the Tyndale commentary on the Apocalypse by Leon Morris.  However, Morris simply observed that: (a layer) the first and seventh, (b layer) second and sixth and (c layer) third, fourth and fifth mini-letters contained enough parallel elements to be far more than coincidence.

Other commentators have gone further in their analysis since, producing some helpful results.  However, as I will lay out shortly, I believe that there is still quite a bit more to learn from the wording and word order, especially between 2:9-10 and 3:8-10.  In regard to those passages, I also am convinced that what will be learned has significant ramifications for the eschatology of the Book of Revelation, including its depiction of the “kingdom of God.”

In comparing 2:9-10 and 3:8-10, first of all, it is definitely worth noting contextually that the letters to the churches in Smyrna (2:8-11) and Philadelphia (3:7-13) are the only two in which the risen Christ levels no criticism whatsoever.  But, that is just the beginning as far as the parallels between the two—whether by way of comparison or contrast—is concerned.

Proceeding deeper: 1) Both churches are enduring suffering.  In 2:9, the church at Smyrna is said to be going through “tribulation” (i.e., the preliminary kind, like Acts 14:22, before the “great tribulation,” at the end of the age [see Rev. 7:14]) and in 3:8 it is referred to as keeping Christ’s word and not denying His name—wording which only makes sense if they were in situations in which they were being pressured to deny Christ’s name; 2) 2:9 refers to “those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (HCSB).  Then, 3:9 speaks of “those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews but are not,” the same ideas, but in reverse order—which is also a common sign that chiasmus is present; and 3) 2:10 says that the church at Smyrna is about to be tested (Greek peirazo) by the Devil and that they will have “tribulation” for “10 days.”  By contrast, 3:10 says that, because of the endurance of the church at Philadelphia, God will keep them from the “hour of trial” (Greek peirasmos)—which almost certainly is wording looking ahead to the “great tribulation” (7:14).  In other words, the church at Smyrna is about to go through a short period (i.e., “10 days”) of intense testing by affliction at the hands of the Devil, while the church at Philadelphia, at some future point, is going to be spared by God from a longer period (i.e., “the hour of trial”) that, instead, is designed to test (Greek peirazo) not believers, but the “earth-dwellers”—the non-elect of the world (see 13:8; 17:8).

I have long held that Revelation 3:10 teaches a pretribulational taking of the church, primarily due to the purpose of the “hour of testing” being focused on the non-elect.  However, when viewed through the lens of the author’s intended contrast between 2:9-10 and 3:8-10, the case for a pretrib understanding is made just that much stronger.  Short-term present-tense “tribulation” is to expected for believers to endure, a la 2:9-10, but the unparalleled “great tribulation” at the end of the age is not something they will have to endure (3:10).

Before closing, I must bring in the findings of the last several posts on the “kingdom of God” in Revelation, so that this post can clarify something there.  In those posts, I noted that there are three quick up-front references to believers being in some sense a “kingdom” even now (1:6, 9; 5:10).  But, then, there is no other wording related to that until the fulfillment of “They will reign on the earth” (5:10) in 20:4, 6.

What gives?  The apparent answer to me is that the “kingdom” group of 1:6, 9 and 5:10 are, in fulfillment of 3:10, taken to heaven as the “great multitude” in 7:9ff.  Then, they become known as the “heaven-dwellers” in 12:12 and 13:6, reappear successively as the “great multitude” in 19:1, 6 (the only other uses of ochlos polus in the Apocalypse), the bride of the Lamb in fine linen (19:7-8) and the armies following Christ, wearing fine linen (19:14).  This positions them to rule with Him on earth (20:4, 6), finally fulfilling the prediction of 5:10.

In my considered—but still provisional—opinion, that’s why the “kingdom” terminology used for believers in the early part of Revelation just evaporates throughout the part of the book dealing with the period of “great tribulation.”  What do you think?

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