Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXXI)

April 17, 2010

I promise to get back to discussing the identity of Babylon the Great in the next couple of posts.  However, since this is a blog, with you effectively reading my “log” over my shoulder, I am going to shift gears for this particular installment.  As I continue to read material on Revelation off and on, I run into the occasional discussion of how chs. 1-3 and the rest of the book fit together.  In fact, not everybody is convinced that they do fit together, a viewpoint related to the less and less common ideas that Revelation is composed of various sources and/or written at different times by different authors.

The most immediately decisive way to address such perspectives is to demonstrate the presence of a grand chiastic structuring of the book.  Obviously, if chs. 1-3 are intended by John to be parallel to specifically-designed sections in the latter part of Revelation, all questions of whether the whole book fits together evaporate.  All that is left to do—though it is no small task—is to think through how they work together.

Among several different approaches, such a macro-chiasm has been laid out most persuasively by Dr. Michelle Lee, in an article in the international journal, Novum Testamentum, in the late 1990s.  I was privileged to interact with her before its publication and I have worked with a very slightly adjusted version of that creative study ever since.

I will soon begin writing on that structure and the further expansion of its chiastic pairings.  However, that is not my focus in this posting.  I am simply going to, off the top of my head, list 14 ways in which Revelation 1-3 introduces, or has clear interplay with, the rest of the book.  There surely are more ways they relate, but these are the one that occur to me quickly.

1)      The relationship of present to future: There are major differences of opinion as to how much preterist and how futurist material is in Revelation.  But, most even-handed interpreters recognize that chs. 1-3 is present-tense to John and the churches (i.e., preterist) and at least a significant portion of chs. 4-22 is about the future.  Since there is considerable futuristic prophecy elsewhere in Scripture, including long sections like Ezekiel 40-48 and most of the second half of Daniel, this present-future sequence should not be viewed as problematic.

2)      The interplay of literary genres: Without question, Revelation is a combination of apocalyptic, prophecy and epistle.  How do I know that?  Because it calls itself apokalupsis in 1:1 and prophecy in 1:3, as well as leading in like a letter in 1:4ff.  Though chs. 2-3 are obviously epistolary, as are parts of the conclusion (e.g., 22:21), the body of the book is prophetic-apocalyptic, playing off the apocalyptic “Son of Man” vision in ch. 1.

3)      The first blessing statement: I just finished a lengthy discussion of the spread chiasm of the seven beatitudes in the Apocalypse.  The first (1:3) is obviously mirrored by the sixth in 22:7, though they all work together to create an overall effect.

4)      The first mention of “kingdom”: I also recently did several posts on the concept of the “kingdom” in Revelation.  The wording in 1:6 sets up the later uses in various ways.

5)      The preview nature of 1:7: The first subject I took on in this blog was the role of 1:7, which cites Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10, in the wider Book of Revelation.  I will get back to 1:7 again later, discussing the location of the fulfillments of both passages,

6)      The references to Jesus: Wording like the “Alpha and Omega” and “the one who is, who was and who is coming” shows up at several later place in Revelation.

7)      The first mentions of “endurance”: The uses in 1:9, 2:2, 2:3, 2:19 and 3:10 set up the spotlighted “twin peaks” inclusions in 13:10 and 14:12.

8)      The implications of the “Son of Man” vision: I think the vision in 1:12-18 looks ahead to the heavenly throne room scenes which begin in ch. 4, since the “Son of Man” prophecy in Daniel 7 is set in the heavenly throne room.  Also, I’ve come to conclude that the wording in Revelation 14:14ff. cannot possibly refer to anything else but the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel 7 and its echo in Revelation 1:7.

9)      The structural statement in 1:19: Any sense of awkwardness than any reader feels in regard to understanding the unity of the Apocalypse should be minimized by reading 1:19.  “The things which you have seen” must refer to John’s vision in ch. 1.  “The things which are” must refer to the current circumstances in the churches in chs. 2-3.  “The  especially given that 4:1 uses the telling wording “after these things.”  Since the body of the book extends all the way to 22:5, it is seen that 1:19 is indeed previewing the whole book.

10)  The promises to the “overcomers”: At the end of each of the seven letters in chs. 2-3, we find promises that look forward to the end of the book for their fulfillment (see Rev. 20-22).

11)  The mention of “tribulation”/”great tribulation”: The uses of thlipsis in 1:9, 2:9 and 2:10 set up, in my understanding, the passage in Revelation 6 where the ideas in which “tribulation” is found in Matthew 24:9 are paralleled.  The use of “great tribulation” in regard to Jezebel to 2:18-29 certainly somehow looks back to Matthew 24:21 and ahead to Revelation 7:14.

12)  Jezebel previewing Babylon the Great: In my paper with Emily Hunter McGowin, “Getting in Touch with the ‘Feminine Side’ of the Apocalypse,” we developed the striking parallels between Jezebel (in chs. 1-3) and Babylon the Great (in the body of the book).  There can be little question that Jezebel represents a first century A.D. form of Babylon the Great—with the hardest part to face being that she was inside the church at Thyatira!

13)  3:10 looking ahead to 7:14: In my adjusted pretribulational understanding, which was developed inductively, then deductively, in my article in Faith and Mission in 2001, “The ‘Earth-Dwellers’ and ‘Heaven-Dwellers’ in Revelation,” I concluded that whatever the “out of” (Greek ek) in 3:10 means, it must mean the same thing as in 7:14.  In other words, because the passages are talking about the same things—“the hour of testing about to come upon the whole earth” (3:10) and “the great tribulation” (7:14)—the uses of ek must mean the same thing in both contexts.  So, since “keep from the hour of testing” logically makes more sense to completely keep away from the time period, the taking of the “great multitude which no one could count” in 7:9 must have also come out before the “great tribulation” (7:14) begins temporally.

14)  Introduction to the “earth-dwellers”: One of the major “villains” of the Apocalypse is the earth-dwellers, who are first mentioned in 3:10—in which context we have no idea exactly who is in view.  However, as you proceed to the body of the book, such uses as in 6:10, 8:13, etc., begin to clarify the identity of the earth-dwellers.  In the end, it is revealed that they are the non-elect (see 13:8; 17:8).

I am quite sure that more links can be demonstrated between Revelation 1-3 and the rest of the book.  However, these are the ones that come to my fevered mind right off the cuff.   As I think of more, I likely with blog on them also.

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