Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XL)

May 5, 2010

I’m currently focusing on the second scene of the second “interlude” of the Book of Revelation.  In this post, I am going to discuss the first uses of “the holy city” in 11:2 and of “the great city” in 11:8 and how those uses preview later uses of both in the book.

However, before doing so, I want to get one ongoing hermeneutical frustration related to the beginning of Revelation 11 off my chest.  Why is it that most commentators consider it impossible for there to be a rebuilt temple (note the use of the Greek naos, “inner part of the temple, sanctuary” there) in 11:1-2?

I don’t get it.  After all, did not Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, speaking in the context of the end-times Day of the Lord, refer to “the man of lawlessness” (aka the Antichrist figure) sitting in God’s “sanctuary” (the same Greek word vaos)?

In my opinion, contrary thinking is, as much as anything, historically arrogant hermeneutical bias.  The inability to finally get past Augustine’s famous (or infamous, depending on where you’re coming from) epochal shift is less rooted in the biblical text or sober interpretation than a perspective that looks down one’s nose at a less symbolic/semi-allegorical approach to the exegesis.  I have no respect for such narrow-minded pride, but I am sympathetic to some who continue to feel they must hold that view.  It is difficult to rethink views held dogmatically for many years—I’ve done it in more than one major theological area.  And, it must be admitted that, in some schools or denominations, it is quite possible to lose your job over changing such views.

Enough of that… now, back to “the holy city” and “the great city” in Revelation 11.

The context of Revelation 11:2 contains apparent mention of the temple (see the brief discussion above) and of the city being “trampled,” just as was prophesied about Jerusalem during the latter part of  “the times of the Gentiles” in Luke 21:24.  Thus, there is significant evidence that the city of Jerusalem is in view.

Likewise, when you hear the wording in 11:8—“where their Lord was also crucified”—you automatically think of Jerusalem.  And, the contrast of the city being called “Sodom and Egypt” does not in any way undermine such an understanding.  After all, that perspective is taken symbolically/allegorically—that is what the Greek pneumatikos means.  Thus, it would be absurd not to take “where also their Lord was crucified” in the natural sense, as Jerusalem.

To summarize, in chapter 11, Jerusalem is described as both “the holy city” and “the great city.”  In context, it seems that the idea of “the holy city” has to do with the presence of the temple.  In the slightly later context, it appears that the idea of “the great city” has to do with the killing of the two witnesses and the desecration of their dead bodies.

These first uses point set the stage for the later locations of those phrases: “the holy city” and “the great city.”  For example, “the holy city” is the way the New Jerusalem is referred to in 21:2.  “The great city” turns out to be a key way of referring to Babylon the Great in 17:18 and 18:10.

What do these linkages infer?  At least two things: 1) Jerusalem is a “two-faced” entity, partly holy and partly evil; and 2) Since Jerusalem is somehow related to Babylon the Great, is it not highly likely that every other part of this world—the system outside of Christ—is also part and parcel of Babylon the Great?

Next time: “Mud on the Wall XLI” will discuss the temporal wording “42 months” in 11:2 and “1,260 days” in 11:3, as well as other similar wording in 12:6, 14 and 13:5.

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