Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LV)

June 15, 2010

My first true “research interest” was the Great Commission.  It was the subject of my doctoral dissertation, as well as two books I have co-authored, several journal articles and the “Great Commission” entry for the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, which was essentially a biblical theology treatment of how the Commission statement in Matthew 28 is carried out in the rest of the New Testament, the most intriguing part of the entire study for me was to figure out how the Commission is completed at the end of the age in the Book of Revelation.  After all, does it not mean something significant when Matthew 28:20 says “even to the end of the age?”  And, it also occurred to me that Matthew 24:14 very much comes into play in regard to the end-times completion of the Great Commission: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to the whole world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”

In retrospect, what I had to say in my dissertation on the Book of Revelation 25 years ago was pretty sketchy.  That is quite clear to me now.  Still, it was more than anyone else in the theological circles in which I was coming along had to say at that point.  So, it was a step in the right direction, even if little more than a baby step.

I’ve done a lot of thinking, teaching and writing since that point.  Along the way, my insights on the final stages of the Great Commission in the Apocalypse have progressed quite a bit, usually in regard to an assignment to write on the book in some way.  Having the privilege to do the study notes on Revelation for four study Bible projects (the latest of which, the Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible, is due out on October 1) has been a gift from the Lord I never expected, but have rejoiced over greatly—and at great length.  In addition, getting to write a chapter on “Interpreting the Book of Revelation” for Black’s and Dockery’s volume, Interpreting the New Testament, was the perfect discipline behind my zeal to understand the wonders of Scripture’s capstone book.

Why am I “waxing”—no claim to eloquence here!—on about the Great Commission and the Apocalypse?  I’m doing so because the arrival of the innumerable multitude from “every nation…” to heaven in Revelation 7:9ff. brings into view the fulfillment of the Great Commission at the end of the age.  It is not the only passage dealing with the Commission in Revelation, but it is the first passage in the Apocalypse that weaves together making disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19) with the great events of “the end of the age” (v. 20).

(In later posts, I will deal with other passages that also reflect the completion of the Great Commission in Revelation.  Especially significant are 11:13 and 14:6-7.  But, for now, there are other related factors to consider to be able to understand how the innumerable multitude fits into the wider book.)

Besides the Great Commission angle echoed in 7:9 (i.e., “every nation…” vs. “all the nations” in Matt. 28:19), I must quickly get back to the equally clear allusion to Daniel 7:14.  Can there be any real doubt that the wording in Revelation 7:9 (“every nation, tribe, people, and language, ” HCSB) has a connection to Daniel 7:14 (“every people, nation, and language”)?  However, to have a fairly complete sense of what is in play in Revelation 7:9, we must not leave out the earlier wording in 5:10: “every tribe and language and people and nation” (HCSB).

Now that all the cards are out on the table, so to speak, I will explain how all these strands fit together in the next post.  As you will quickly see, there is quite a bit going on in Revelation 7:9ff. which pulls together both earlier parts of the book, as well as amazing prophecies in earlier biblical books.

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