Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LXXVII)

August 3, 2010

Having just completed a survey of the locations of “the earth-dwellers” and “the heaven-dwellers” in the Book of Revelation, I am now sensitized to that information.  With that awareness in the front of thinking, what I will be doing in the next series of posts is: 1) laying out the micro-chiastic structures within each section of the book; and, at the same time, 2) seeing where the new knowledge I have gained about “the earth-dwellers” and “the heaven-dwellers” might make a meaningful difference in interpreting the inverted parallel structures in each section.

(Along those lines, realizing that someone who stumbles upon this blog may not have any idea what “chiastic” structures are, allow me to make a brief understandable explanation.  The Ancient Near/Middle East was a primarily oral communication culture.  One of the techniques speakers used for obvious emphasis was to reverse the order of topics in a “mirroring” fashion.  What we have from that era, including the biblical documents, is basically oral communication written down, given that writing was considered a pale substitute for oral communication.  The advantages that writing offered, of course, were that it possessed the durability to: 1) be able to be “mailed” or passed on to someone who was somewhere the writer could not be/go; and 2) be able to “last,” from a legal/historical standpoint—which, of course, is the specific factor that has allowed modern readers to have access to the Bible.

It is easy to see how “chiasm” (i.e., inverted parallel) structuring works at the smallest level.  A classic example of this is Philippians 3:10-11: a (v. 10a) the power of [Christ’s] resurrection; b (v. 10b) fellowship of His sufferings; b’ (v. 10c) conformed to His death; a’ (v. 11) the resurrection from among the dead.

If you read my last post, you probably also are willing to at least admit that it is possible for an entire book, even one as complex as the Apocalypse, to be arranged as a grand chiasm (i.e., a macro-chiasm).  I expect, however, that the reaction most people might have to what I am proposing here is that, “OK, I can handle the micro-parallels and even the macro-chiastic structures.  But, this chiasm within a chiasm thing straight through the whole book—come on!”

Well, I have to admit that was exactly my reaction years back, when I first started to notice things that seemed very odd.  Michelle Lee had convinced me of the book being a grand chiasm.  I was more than satisfied with “sitting tight” at that point.  Then, I ran into the idea that the mini-letters in Revelation 2-3 are arranged in a chiastic fashion, which proved to be very much the case.  Then, I began to notice it here and there, and all over the place!  So, I finally had to admit that, as odd as it may seem, when the Lord decided to give us “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), He was, in superintending John how to write it down, completely capable of communicating in a manner that is, at once, incredibly complex and astoundingly artistic at the same time.)

The first two sections to be explored in this way are chapter 1 and 22:6-21.  Together, they comprise Layer A of the chiastic macro-structure of the Apocalypse.  First, we will look at chapter 1.  Note the similar or contrasting material in each “pair”:

a (1:1-2) The revelation/testimony which John saw and delivered to God’s servants

b (1:3) Blessed is the one who reads, hears and heeds the words of this prophecy, for the time is near

c (1:4a) John, to the seven churches in Asia, grace and peace

d (1:4b) From the One who is, was and is coming

e (1:5a) Jesus Christ, the faithful witness and firstborn from the dead

f (1:5b-6) Jesus loves us, set us free from our sins by His blood and has made us a kingdom, priests to the Father, who is glorified, Amen. (Jesus’ past work was to begin forming His people)

f’ (1:7) Christ/the Son of Man (Dan. 7) is coming on the clouds and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him (Zech. 12), and all the families of the earth will mourn over Him (Zech. 12), Amen. (Jesus’ future work will be to complete forming His people)

e’ (1:8a) I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God

d’ (1:8b) The One who is, was and is coming, the Almighty

c’ (1:9-11) I, John, on Patmos, commanded to write to the seven churches

b’ (1:12-18) The vision of the glorified Son of Man (see Dan. 7 and the Mt. of Transfiguration)

a’ (1:19-20) The testimony to the churches which John was commanded to write down

As you work your way to the middle of this structure, the ideas dovetail together in this way:

–         (a) John is commanded to write down that which God’s servants in the churches need to understand (1:1-2, 19-20).

–         (b) It is very important that they actually “hear”/internalize and act upon the realization that Christ is the Son of Man who is in their midst and that He could come soon (1:3, 12-18).

–         (c) John was exiled to Patmos because of his testimony, but that was not going to stop him from receiving God’s further revelation and writing it down for the churches (1:4a, 9-11).

–         (d) Christ always has been in existence and is coming again (1:4b, 8b).

–         (e) Christ is the faithful witness/martyr, the firstborn from the dead and the Alpha and Omega (1:5a, 8a)

–         (f) Christ laid the necessary spiritual foundation and began forming His people by shedding His blood and making believers a kingdom and priests to His Father and will complete forming His people by: 1) coming for His people on the clouds; and 2) by others repenting on earth and dying as martyrs, not entirely unlike He did (1:5b-6, 7).

As we consider the “heart” of this passage, we come to the realization that this is indeed the beginning of the tale of both the “heaven-dwellers” (by statement) and the “earth-dwellers” (by silence, at this early juncture) in the Book of Revelation.  As you move through the book, it is a tale of two peoples with two dramatically different destinies that, by the end, will also become a tale of two cities.

Before moving on, though, I must say that, until now, I have never quite seen Revelation 1 in exactly this light until now.  But, it makes perfectly good sense.  Now, I realize that, from the very git-go, the Apocalypse tells us about the sum total of those who, by the time the dust settles at the end of the book, will be among the saved, who are most generally known in Revelation as “the heaven-dwellers” (and, by implication of the wording in 13:8 and 17:8, those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life since before the foundation of the world [i.e., the elect]).   They are seen in Revelation 1:7 in two consecutively-stated groupings: 1) those who will be included in what is usually referred to theologically as “the rapture” (“He is coming with the clouds”); and 2) those who will be saved during the Great Tribulation by repentance (“[A]ll the families of the earth will mourn over Him”).

Layer A’ is comprised of the conclusion of the book: 22:6-21.  Again, please note how the pairs play off each other:

a (22:6-7) Jesus is coming quickly

b (22:8-9) John’s error of worshiping an angel instead of God

c (22:10) An unsealed prophecy and the imminency of the end

d (22:11a) The continuing of the unrighteous and the filthy

e (22:11b) The continuing of the righteous and the holy

f (22:12) Christ is coming quickly with His rewards

f (22:13) Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End

e’ (22:14) The eternal blessings for washing your robes in Jesus’ blood/receiving His holiness

d’ (22:15) The unrighteous who are excluded from the eternal city

c’ (22:16-17) The attesting of the book’s content and the open offer of the gospel

b’ (22:18-19) The curses for adding to, or taking away from, the Book of Revelation

a’ (22:20-21) Jesus is coming quickly

At the conclusion (22:6-21) of the Book of Revelation, this is what we see as the breakdown of the “mirror” of the book’s introduction (ch. 1):

–         (a) We’re reminded of the imminency of Christ’s coming (22:6-7, 20-21).

–         (b) There are very serious errors readers can make in regard to both worship and Scripture (22:8-9, 19-19).

–         (c) Both the Book of Revelation and the gospel message are still “open” to all readers/hearers (22:10, 16-17).

–         (d) The unrighteous are excluded from the eternal city (22:11a, 15).

–         (e) The righteous and holy ones get that way via washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb (22:11b, 14).

–         (f) Since the book is correctly called “the Revelation of Jesus Christ, it is completely appropriate that the spotlighted portion of its last section reminds the reader yet again that Christ—who is the First and the Last, is coming quickly.

Speaking of the “beginning and the end,” we have now looked at Revelation 1 and 22:6-21, both internally and then face-to-face (i.e., in a mirror).  The two sections do their “communication” jobs as introductory and concluding sections beautifully, telling us, the readers, at the beginning, what we are going to be told, then, at the end, going back over one more time what we were told.

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