Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LXXVIII)

August 4, 2010

Layer B of the inverted parallel macrostructure of Revelation is the mirroring pairing of chapters 2-3 up front, then 20:11-22:5 at the end of the book.  Next is the breakdown of chapters 2-3, Christ’s mini-letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor:

a (2:1-7) To the church in Ephesus: “You have left your first love!”

b (2:8-11) To the church in Smyrna: 1- “those who say they are Jews, and are not, but 2- are a synagogue of Satan”; undergoing short-term “tribulation” (i.e., affliction)

c (2:12-17) To the church in Pergamum: “You live where Satan’s throne is.”

d (2:18-29) To the church in Thyatira: “Jezebel” appears to be one especially problematic present-tense form of what is introduced later in the Apocalypse as Babylon the Great.  When 18:4 insists “Come out of her!”, it is probably targeted at the individuals in the churches to break off whatever ungodly, worldly relations they have developed with the Nicolaitans/those who hold to the views of Balaam/those who follow the teachings/lifestyle of Jezebel.

c’ (3:1-6) To the church at Sardis: “You have a reputation for being alive, but are dead.”

b’ (3:7-13) To the church at Philadelphia: 2- “those from a synagogue of Satan, 2-who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying”; kept from “the hour of testing” (i.e., at the end of the age)

a’ (3:14-22) To the church at Laodicea: “You are lukewarm!”

I have only provided enough data from the seven church for the parallels between churches 1 and 7, 2 and 6 and 3 and 5 to be fairly obvious.  What I included in paralleling the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia was to show how two obvious elements in each letter appear in reverse order, making the presence of chiastic structure even more difficult to deny.

In regard to what this inverted parallel understanding of B (chs. 2-3) contributes to our overall understanding of the Apocalypse, three things seem to be most significant: 1) The promises to the “overcomer” (participial form of nikao) are largely fulfilled in its counterpart section (20:11-22:5), dealing with the New Heaven and Earth; 2) In comparing the letters to the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia, it appears that the “mirror” effect is informing the reader that, while the faithful church at Smyrna will have to undergo short-term (i.e., “10 days”) “tribulation” (i.e., affliction; Gk. thlipsis), their equally faithful counterparts in Philadelphia will be spared the future worldwide “hour of testing.”  If you are reluctant to face that fairly clear contrast, at least consider that “testing” (Gk. peirazo) plays a big part in both passages: the Devil’s “testing” of believers in 2:10 and God’s “testing” of “the earth-dwellers” in 3:10; and 3) The fact that the letter to the church at Thyatira is considerably longer than any of the other letters, the unique wording “Then all the churches will know right in the middle of the letter–which is also right in the middle of the overall structure of the seven letters–and the switching of the order of the last two stereotypical elements of all the letters (i.e., “Anyone who has an ear…” moves after the promise to the “overcomer” in this letter and the last three, after having been before it for the first three letters.

Now, we come to B’, which consists of Revelation 20:11-22:5.  Take note of how the chiastic pairs play off each other:

a (20:11-15) The great white throne, from which (the original) heaven and earth flee

b (21:1-8) The New Heavens and Earth and the New Jerusalem, populated by the “overcomers,” with all others in the eternal lake of fire

c (21:9-10) The bride of the Lamb, the holy city, Jerusalem

d (21:11) The glory of the Lord, the light of the city

e (21:12-13) The wall and the 12 gates of the city, on which are inscribed the names of the 12 tribes of Israel

f (21:14) The 12 foundations of the wall, on which are the names of the 12 apostles

g (21:15-18) Measuring the city and the walls (Consider the allusion to Zechariah 2:1-5, which prophecies the future safety of “Jerusalem,” with God Himself being its glory.)

f’ (21:19-20) The foundations of the wall adorned by precious stones

e’ (21:21) The 12 gates and the street of the city

d’ (21:22-23) No temple, sun or moon, because the glory of the God and the Lamb are the light

c’ (21:24-26) The glory of the Lord, the city and “the nations” (i.e., believers)

b’ (21:27) “Defilers” are excluded from the New Jerusalem, with only those in the Lamb’s book of life able to enter

a’ (22:1-5) The throne of God and the Lamb in the eternal Eden

As we consider what can be learned from the chiastic arrangement of 20:11-22:5 (B’), the lead-in sections make it clear that there will
be no “earth-dwellers” present.  They will all be “lake-of-fire-
dwellers” by this point (Rev. 20:15; 21:8).  Also, while “the heaven-
dwellers” had been pictured as Christ’s bride in 19:7-9, the bride is
now said to be “the Holy City, New Jerusalem” (21:2, 9).  That
apparently is intended to convey the corporate nature of “the heaven-
dwellers” much as Babylon the Great being “the great city” did with
“the earth-dwellers.”  Finally, while earlier parts of scripture
definitely lay out different unconditional promises for Israel and
the church, it is indisputable that Revelation 21 uses wording that
leaves the impression that, while they may still be distinct
eternally in some sense(s), they are together in the New Jerusalem
(see 21:12, 14).  In my understanding, the most natural conclusion
here is that the overall people of God is more unified than
dispensationalists have traditionally thought, but still maintains
the distinct covenant promises more than covenant theologians have
traditionally held.

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