Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XLVI)

May 18, 2010

As I write this, I am trying to remember where I originally heard the idea that there are seven new characters or events introduced in Revelation 12-14.  I cannot recall where I picked that up.  However, I do recall the very long-standing thought that chapters 12-14 must contain seven elements, because almost every other section or sequence of any real significance in the book does.

Well, in all likelihood (at least) the seven personages/elements are there.  You can make a fairly decent case for (or some subtle variation of): 1 and 2) the woman and the dragon (ch. 12); 3 and 4) the two beasts (ch. 13); and 5, 6 and 7) the 144,000, Babylon the Great and the two-sided harvest (ch. 14).  That point notwithstanding, I am coming more and more to the view that the way I grouped the new elements by chapters in the last sentence is actually much more helpful for our understanding of the role of the “prologue” to the bowls of wrath (i.e., chapters 12-14 [or 15, depending on how you look at it]).

What do I mean by that?  The more I have studied and reflected on this section of the Apocalypse, the more it appears to me that it frames the last three and a half years of the Great Tribulation (which figures for it are found in 12:6, 14; 13:5) something like this:

–         Historical/theological perspective leading into the last three and a half years (ch. 12)

–         Apparent victory of the Beasts (and the Devil; ch. 13)

–         Final resolution in favor of the Lord (ch. 14)

I will begin explaining each of the subsections in more depth starting with my next post.  For the remainder of this one, however, I am going to do a very brief overview of all of them to shed sufficient light on the breakdown above to make it clear why I am championing this view.

When we look at Revelation 12, we go all the way back to the protevangelium (“the first glimmer of the gospel,” to use the common paraphrase) in Genesis 3:15 and the curse of the pain of childbirth in 3:16a.  This review of the very beginning of the Bible is apparently to remind us that God is still going to keep that first promise/prophecy of Scripture to the fullest extent.  After that, things move rapidly to the point of the birth of the Messiah.  The dragon lying in wait apparently lets the reader know beyond any reasonable doubt that Herod killing all the boy babies in Bethlehem in Matthew 2 was inspired by the Devil.  The woman, in my understanding, is not so much representative of believing Israel in general—with Mary, Jesus’ mother, as the “lead figure’’—but, by 12:6, is specifically the group of Jews saved in 11:13, after the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses and the great earthquake.  The rest of the chapter makes it clear that the Devil’s strategy here on earth is all he has left, having been cut off from access to heaven.  A large group other than “the woman” will be martyred by the Devil’s henchmen.  However, in their death—which will look like defeat, from an earthly perspective—they will be “victors” through the blood of the Lamb (12:11).  The Devil will unsuccessfully pursue the woman, who will be protected by the Lord for three and a half years (12:6, 14), the final half of the Great Tribulation—which is also presumably the duration of the mass martyrdom spoken of in 12:11.

Chapter 13 tells us where the Devil turns his attention: through the two Beasts, he kills as many of God’s unprotected “saints” (i.e., apparently Gentiles who have come to saving faith) as he possibly can during the last three and a half years of the Great Tribulation (13:5-7).  Through a resurrection—real or otherwise—that takes the focus off what had happened with the two witnesses at the midpoint of the Great Tribulation (see 11:11-13), as well as other miracles, the “earth-dwellers”—who are initially explained here to be the non-elect; 13:8 [see also 17:8]—become completely enthralled with the Antichrist figure.  The means by which the martyrdoms take place is apparently refusal to take the mark of the Beast.

Chapter 14 begins by explaining that, by whatever means, the 144,000 introduced in 7:1-8 are now with Christ.  Also, the climactic proclamation of the gospel, which was prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:14—which also effectively fulfills the completion of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 at “the end of the age (v. 20)—takes place.  The group seen on the sea of glass in heaven in Revelation 15:2-4 apparently are martyrs who responded to that message (note that the same elements the gospel required in 14:6-7 are on the lips of the group in heaven in 15:2-4).  They may also be the positive side (i.e., the “wheat”) of the harvest in 14:14-16.  By contrast, Babylon the Great—here introduced for the first time in the book—and those having the mark of the Beast will be in torment eternally (14:8ff.).  They may well be the negative side (i.e., the “grapes of wrath”) of the harvest in 14:18-20.  The wording in 14:18-20, focusing on “the city” in v. 20, sets up the reader for the destruction of Babylon the Great (the “great city”; 16:19) in 16:17-21, which is explained with much more background in chs. 17-18.

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