Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXVIII)

April 14, 2010

We are finally approaching the end of the road of discussing the seven beatitudes in the Book of Revelation.  We have already considered in some depth the mirrored pairings of 1:3 and 22:7, 14:13 and 20:6, and 16:15 and 19:9.  As I have tried to make clear, I think a very strong case can be made–a fair amount of which I’ve already made in the earlier posts–that these pairings function as layers A, B and C of a spread chiasm of significant interpretive value for understanding particularly the practical message of the Apocalypse.

However, we are not finished with this “survey” of the beatitudes of the Apocalypse just yet.  There is one more yet to consider–the final blessing statement of the book, in 22:14: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates” (HCSB).

Now, there is no inverted parallel pairing to go along with 22:14 in the Book of Revelation.  However, there is another passage to which it is almost certainly related in attempting to determine its significance.  That is the explanation in 7:14 that the “great multitude” in 7:9 had “washed” (Greek pluno) their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, the only other inclusion of pluno in the Apocalypse.

Assuming that such a relationship between these two passages does exist, how does it work?  Well, I am taking a cue here from previous research and publishing I did on the Book of Ruth back in the mid-1990s.  Baker Book House was kind enough to ask Dr. Barry Davis and myself to contribute a volume to their ‘Expositor’s Guides to the Historical Books’ series (which is now out of print, but which Christian Focus Publications was willing to re-publish a few years back in their ‘Focus on the Bible’ series), with me handling Ruth and Barry doing an exceptional job on Esther (certainly the more challenging of the two books).

As I got serious about working with Ruth, I began to see clear inverted parallelism between certain scenes.  Ruth 1:1-5 and 4:13-17 formed layer A, 1:6-22 and 4:1-12 comprised layer B and chs. 2 and 3 were the midpoint, mirroring each other as layer C.  But, that seemed to leave 4:18-22 out hanging in the wind, so to speak.  What was I to make of that?

Upon further reflection, it was as if a light bulb came on!  I “saw” that 4:18-22, the family tree of David, crowns the Book of Ruth in order to give “the big picture” historically of David’s claim to the throne of Israel.  This amazing little book lays bare the typically unseen providence of God in preparing David to be king.  That is one of the reasons Barry and I named our volume God behind the Seen: Expositions of the Books of Ruth and Esther.

So, not only is the ABCC’B’A’D chiastic structuring of Ruth not forced, that “hanging” seventh literary section turns out to be the key to the purpose for the whole book.  The writer “keeps the cat in the bag,” so to speak, until the end, where it has a heightened–“now I see!–impact on the reader.

Is something similar to this true in regard to the beatitudes in the Book of Revelation?  I think so, but I will let you make your own judgment.

To briefly review the last several posts, I conclude that layer A of the beatitudes in the Apocalypse (1:3 and 22:7) exhort readers to open their ears and hearts to the content of the book, in light of possibly imminent events related to the end times.  Layer B (14:13 and 20:6) are intended to prepare readers who believe during the end times itself to be martyred, with the realization that they will most certainly reign with Christ after He returns.  Then, layer C (16:15 and 19:9) challenges believing readers to be alert, especially in regard to the influence of Babylon the Great.  But, what of D (22:14)?

Here’s how I see things: not a few commentators on the Apocalypse have viewed it as being virtually devoid of the gospel.  That is not true, but it is true that there is only one use of the Greek euangelion (i.e., “gospel, good news”) in Revelation: in 14:6.  In that context, it is speaking of the final proclamation of the gospel at the end of the age, likely as (at least a partial) fulfillment of Matthew 24:14.  However, where is the preaching of the gospel in the book to readers here and now, before the end times?

I would assert that is the primary function of 22:14.  The last blessing statement in the Apocalypse functions in a similar manner to a closing evangelistic appeal in a church service.

Think about it: the imagery of washing your robe in the blood of the Lamb is, without much of any question, clearly depicts dependence on the shed blood of Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) for redemption.   The last–and eternal–section of the body of the book describes the eternal city (21:1-22:5), partly as a new Eden–Paradise restored, never to be lost, so to speak–complete with a tree of life (22:2), so it is not strange that such elegant and picturesque wording would be used to present the gospel.  If a person would spend eternity with the Lord, he or she must believe!

Nor does the evangelistic appeal stop there.  In 22:17, we read: “Both the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And the one who is thirsty (i.e., for the gospel of grace) should come.  Whoever desires should take the living water as a gift” (HCSB).  With words reminiscent of Jesus’ offer to the Samaritan woman, the Book of Revelation closes on a beautiful and passionate evangelistic note.

But, could there also be an even wider purpose of 22:14 related to the overall book?  Yes.  Remember when I mentioned that 7:14 and 22:14 are the only two places in Revelation where “wash” (Greek pluno) is found?  I firmly believe that the shared wording is intended to get the unsaved reader ready to be part of the “great multitude” taken to heaven in 7:9.

In the end, when the dust settles, all seven of the beatitudes in the Apocalypse thus hang together beautifully.  They complement one another in amazing ways toward the end of preparing both believing and unbelieving readers for spiritual challenges we face now, as well as the unparallelled suffering of the end of the age.

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