Four verses in Revelation 2.12-17 that allude to the Old Testament

  1. Revelation 2.12 and 2.16 allude to Isaiah 49.2, in which the Servant of the Lord has a mouth like a sharpened sword.
  2. Revelation 2.14 alludes to the story of Balaam’s enticing the Israelites to commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. This story is told briefly in Numbers 25.1-2 and 31.16.
  3. Revelation 2.17 mentions that Jesus will give his faithful followers manna and a new name.
    • Psalm 78.24 mentions God’s giving of manna in Moses’ time. See Exodus 13 and Numbers 11 for more on manna.
    • Isaiah 62.2 and 65.15 mention the new name that God will give his people.

Source: The Greek New Testament (UBS, 4th edition), compared with the Old Testament Quotations and Allusions in the New Testament feature in Logos Bible Software version 4.

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An “inventory” of Revelation 4

Imagery and symbols (‘this is that’ or ‘this is like that’)

  • Voice like a trumpet (Rev. 4.1)
  • appearance of jasper and carnelian (Rev. 4.3)
  • A rainbow, resembling an emerald (Rev. 4.3)
  • seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God (Rev. 4.5)
  • sea of glass, clear as crystal (Rev. 4.6)
  • The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. (Rev. 4.7)

Names for God

  • the Spirit (Rev. 4.2)
  • One sitting on the throne (Rev. 4.2, 4.3)
  • the seven spirits of God (Rev. 4.5) / God
  • the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 4.8)
  • him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever (Rev. 4.9, 4.10)
  • our Lord and God (Rev. 4.11)

Cast of characters

  • the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet (Rev. 4.1)
  • twenty-four elders (Rev. 4.4, 4.10)
  • four living creatures (Rev. 4.6-9)
  • All things (Rev. 4.11)

Literary elements

  • Hymns (Rev. 4.8, 4.11)
  • Action and dialogue (Rev. 4.1-2, 4.8-11)
  • Description of people and things (Rev. 4.3-8)
  • Reasons (Rev. 4.11)
  • After this I looked, and there before me (Rev. 4.1)
  • I was in the Spirit (Rev. 4.2)
  • there before me (Rev. 4.2)
  • What John hears (Rev. 4.1b)
  • What John sees (Rev. 4.1a, 4.2-11)

Visual elements

  • a door standing open in heaven (Rev. 4.1)
  • what must take place after this (Rev. 4.1)
  • The throne (Rev. 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.9, 4.10)
  • Jewels (Rev. 4.3)
  • Rainbows (Rev. 4.3)
  • White clothing (Rev. 4.4)
  • Crowns (Rev. 4.4, 4.10)
  • Lamps (Rev. 4.5)
  • Lightning, rumbling, thunder (Rev. 4.5)
  • Sea of glass (Rev. 4.6)
  • Eyes (Rev. 4.6, 4.8)
  • Lion (Rev. 4.7)
  • Ox (Rev. 4.7)
  • Eagle (Rev. 4.7)
  • Wings (Rev. 4.8)
  • Day and night (Rev. 4.8)

Themes and theology

  • God (Rev. 4.2, 4.3)
  • God as king (Rev. 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.9, 4.10)
  • The Holy Spirit (Rev. 4.2, 4.5)
  • God’s beauty and glory (Rev. 4.3)
  • Worship (Rev. 4.8-11)
  • God’s holiness (Rev. 4.8)
  • God’s power (Rev. 4.8)
  • God as past, present, future (Rev. 4.8, 4.9, 4.10)
  • Glory, honor (Rev. 4.9, 4.11)
  • Thanks (Rev. 4.9)
  • Worthiness (Rev. 4.11)
  • Creation (Rev. 4.6-9, 4.11)
  • Possibly omniscience and omnipresence (Rev. 4.6, 4.8)

Source: author’s personal study

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Several parallels between Revelation, Acts and the General Epistles

  1. There is one parallel between Revelation and Acts: in Revelation 2.20-24, a prophetess whom John names Jezebel entices the church in Thyatira to engage in sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. In Acts 15.28 the council in Jerusalem prohibits the churches from engaging in these two activities.
  2. There is one parallel between Revelation and the book of James: in Revelation 2.10 Jesus warns the church in Smyrna that they will be tested, and promises that those who are faithful will receive the “crown of life”. James 1.12 says that the person who passes the test will receive the crown of life.
  3. There are two parallels with 1 Peter:
    • Revelation 13.8 speaks of the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” 1 Peter 1.19-20 also compares Jesus to a sacrificed lamb, and says he was chosen from the creation of the world.
    • Both Revelation 16.19 and 1 Peter 5.13 refer to Rome as Babylon.
  4. Revelation has numerous parallels with 2 Peter and Jude. For a full list, see Wilson, 40. Here are a few notable examples:
    • False teachers compared to Balaam: Revelation 2.14; 2 Peter 2.15, 3.17; Jude 11.
    • False and true knowledge contrasted: Revelation 2.17, 24; 2 Peter 1.2-3, 16; Jude 10.
    • Christ called a Morning Star: Revelation 2.28, 22.16; 2 Peter 1.19.
    • The day of Christ compared to a thief: Revelation 3.3, 16.15; 2 Peter 3.10.
    • The disappearance of the current heaven and earth: Revelation 6.14, 16.20, 20.11; 2 Peter 3.10.
    • Fallen angels chained in an abyss: Revelation 20.1-3; 2 Peter 2.4; Jude 6
    • Mentions of Sodom and Egypt: Revelation 11.8; 2 Peter 2.6; Jude 5, 7.

    Sources: William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 47; Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 40.

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    Six parallels between Revelation and Paul’s letters

    1. Revelation 1.5 and Colossians 1.18 both refer to Jesus as the “firstborn from the dead” in contexts that speak of his rule.
    2. Revelation 3.3 and 16.15 say that Jesus will come like a thief. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5.2 and 5.4 say that the day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night.”
    3. Revelation 3.12, 21.2 and 21.10 refer to a new Jerusalem that descends from heaven. Galatians 4.26 refers to “the Jerusalem that is above”.
    4. Revelation 17.14 and 1 Timothy 6.15 refer to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.
    5. Revelation 18.4 calls its readers to come out of Babylon and not take part in her sins. 2 Corinthians 6.17 quotes Isaiah 52.11, which is also a call to come out of Babylon. In Ephesians 5.11 Paul tells his readers not to take part in the sins of darkness.
    6. In Revelation 21.4, a voice from the throne says that the old order of things has passed away, and in verse 5 God says “I am making everything new!” 2 Corinthians 5.17 says if anyone is in Christ, the old has gone and the new has come.

    Mark Wilson also has a chart containing eschatological topics that Revelation and Paul both write about, such as shouts, trumpets, crowns, and angels at the last day; Jesus coming on the clouds and ruling the nations; a day of vengeance and wrath; the nations being deceived; judgment and reward; exhortations to keep awake and to endure.

    Sources: William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 47; Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 36-37.

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    Eleven parallels between Revelation and the Synoptic Gospels

    1. Both Revelation 1.3 and Luke 11.28 pronounce a beatitude on those who hear and obey God’s word.
    2. Both Revelation 1.7 and Matthew 24.30 say that Jesus will come on the clouds and that the nations will mourn because of him.
    3. The description of Jesus in Revelation 1.16 is similar to the description of Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17.2.
    4. The phrase “He who has an ear to hear” in Revelation 2.7, 2.11, and 2.17 echoes Jesus’ usage in Matthew 11.15, 13.9, etc.
    5. Jesus’ coming is compared to a thief in Revelation 3.3, Matthew 24.42-43 and Luke 12.39-40.
    6. In Revelation 3.5 Jesus says he will acknowledge those who overcome before his Father. In Matthew 10.32 and Luke 12.8, Jesus says he will acknowledge before his Father those who acknowledge him.
    7. Revelation 3.20-21 says that Jesus knocks, and those who invite him in and overcome their trials will eat and drink with Jesus and sit on his throne. Luke 12.35-40 speaks of servants who need to open the door when their master knocks. Luke 22.28-30 says that Jesus’ disciples will eat and drink with him and sit on thrones. Matthew 19.28 also mentions the thrones of Jesus’ twelve disciples.
    8. The seven seals in Revelation 6 and Jesus’ eschatological discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 mention the same phenomena in roughly the same order: false Christs, wars, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, persecution, and the disturbance of the sun, moon and stars.
    9. Revelation 12.9 and Luke 10.18 both speak of Satan’s fall from heaven.
    10. Revelation 13.10 and Matthew 26.52 have somewhat similar proverbs about dying by the sword.
    11. Revelation 18.24 holds “Babylon” (i.e., Rome) responsible for the death of all the prophets. Luke 11.50 holds Jesus’ generation responsible.

    Mark Wilson also gives a full chart of eschatological parallels between Revelation and the Synoptic Gospels, including fig trees, angels, four winds, trumpets, trampling Gentiles, the deception of the nations, exhortations to keep awake and to endure, harvests, banquets, etc.

    Sources: David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 52: Revelation 1-5. (Waco, TX: Word, 1997); William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 47; Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 36-37, 77.

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    Ten interesting facts about the imperial cult (worship of Rome or the Roman emperor as gods)

    1. Verses in Revelation that speak of the worship of the beast and the receiving of his mark show the influence of the imperial cult: Rev. 13.4, 13.14-17, 14.9, 15.2, 16.2, 19.20, 20.4
    2. The worship of the city of Rome was a goddess began early in Asia: starting from the second century before Christ – in 125 bc in Smyrna, and in 29bc in Pergamum. (Thielman) There are coins that picture her “reclining on the seven hills where Rome was built.” (Koester)
    3. Julius Caesar accepted worship in his lifetime (Mounce). Augustus was more cautious in Rome, but accepted temples to himself in the provinces (Mounce). Caligula demanded homage to his statues (Mounce)
    4. For centuries it was believed that Emperor Domitian insisted that he be addressed as “our Lord and God” (dominus et deus). This was the charge that later Roman writers made of him. But these writers had political motives to attack him, and  Leonard Thompson’s investigation of the claims against Domitian discovered a report from Statius “that when Domitian was acclaimed as Dominus at one of his Saturnalia he forbade those who did so to address him in this manner (Statius Silvae 1.6, 81–84). There are no references to Domitian as dominus et deus on any inscriptions, coins or medallions from the Domitianic era.” (Aune)
    5. All of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation had “altars to the emperor and a system of imperial priesthoods.” (Barr), and at least three of them had imperial temples at the time:
      • Augustus had the temple in Pergamum built in honor of Rome and his father Julius in 29 BC.
      • Tiberius had an imperial temple built AD mid-20s in Smyrna. This temple was the center of the imperial cult for the entire province.
      • There were two or three imperial temples in Ephesus, including one that Domitian ordered built.
    6. It was not the empire itself that pressured people to worship the emperor, but the cities. The cities in the empire competed with each other for favors from Rome. Thus there was great pressure to show their loyalty to Rome and to the emperor, and the imperial cult was an important way of showing that loyalty.
    7. We should not imagine that local authorities stood over everyone forcing them to participate in the worship of the emperor and other gods. Rather, such participation was a normal part of political and civic events, the meetings of professional guilds and trade associations, and other social events. It would become obvious at such events if someone refrained from participating. So most of the pressure was for Christians to conform because withdrawing would have adverse effects on one’s occupation and business dealings, one’s political prestige, and one’s friendships. And there was always the risk of provoking an outcry on a local level, which might attract the attention of local authorities and lead to legal consequences.
    8. “[The imperial cult] involved provincial and municipal temples, statues, altars (both public and private), and rites for the emperor in the temples of other deities. Activities included events such as festivals, parades, music performances, athletic games, gladiatorial shows, sacrifices, and civic and household rites.” “In addition, there were fountains, baths, porticos, and statues of the emperor spread through both public and private space. The imperial cult was a pervasive fact of life for John’s audience.” (Barr)
    9. The pressure for the empire to worship the emperor was so strong that even the Jews offered sacrifices to God twice a day in the Jerusalem temple for the well-being of the emperor. (Thielman, 686)
    10. According to Kenneth Cukrowski, prayers were not part of the emperor cult, but hymns, images and honorary titles were. He says that there were animals sacrificed on behalf of emperors past and present, but that it is not clear from the evidence that sacrifices to the emperor were made.

    Sources: David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 52: Revelation 1-5. (Waco, TX: Word, 1997), David L. Barr, “John’s ironic empire” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 20-30, Kenneth L. Cukrowski, “The influence of the emperor cult on the book of Revelation”, in Restoration Quarterly 45 no 1-2 2003, p. 51-64; Craig R. Koester, “Revelation’s visionary challenge to ordinary empire”, in Interpretation 63 no 1 JA 2009, 5-18; Robert H. Mounce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), Frank Thielman, Teología del Nuevo Testamento. (Miami: Vida, 2007)

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    Five things about Rome other than persecution and the emperor cult that Revelation criticizes

    The book of Revelation focuses on the pressures to engage in emperor worship and the persecution that resulted when Christians resisted those pressures. But we should not overlook the serious prophetic denunciations raised in chapters 17-18 against Rome. A number of commentators refer to Revelation as an example – the most notable example, in fact – of anti-Roman ‘protest literature’.
    1. Revelation condemns Rome’s economic exploitation of the nations for its own self-serving ends (Rev. 18.3)
    2. Revelation condemns Rome for deceiving and intoxicating the nations with its adulteries (Rev. 17.2, 18.3; when the Bible says that a nation commits adultery it refers to the importation and exportation of idolatry)
    3. Revelation condemns Rome’s materialistic excess (Rev. 17.4, 18.3, 18.7)
    4. Revelation condemns Rome’s trafficking of human beings as slaves (Rev. 18.13)
    5. Revelation holds Rome responsible not only for the death of prophets and apostles, but for the murder of many people (Rev. 18.24)

    Source: author’s personal study, inspired by random comments in commentaries and articles.

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    Is Revelation guilty of what it condemns? Three accusations and responses

    David L. Barr writes of the irony in John’s critique of the Roman empire. He presents  xx ways in which John appears to fall into the same sins he condemns:

    1. “…while it seems to condemn wealth, it fantasizes about a new city with streets of gold….”
    2. “…while it condemns Roman culture, it shares the cultural fascination of watching blood spectacles….”
    3. “…while it stands firmly against empire, it imagines a new imperial system with Jesus as supreme ruler.”

    These are fascinating deconstructions, but my responses would be the following:

    1. John does not condemn wealth as such, but the dangers that arise from dependence upon it (complacency and the appeal of compromising morals in order to obtain or retain wealth).
    2. The appeal of writing or reading Revelation’s violent scenes of wrath comes from our desire to see justice prevail and injustice punished. The appeal of the blood spectacles of Rome came from sadistic desires to see violence for violence’s sake, and had nothing to do with justice.
    3. John does not condemn the idea of empire in and of itself, but the way in which one empire exploited, dehumanized and oppressed humankind and made an idol of itself. Jesus’ empire is the realization of the noblest aspirations of human empires.

    Source: David L. Barr, “John’s ironic empire” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 20-30

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    Five things other than persecution that threatened John’s churches

    1. The church’s interactions with pagan religions. Pagan temples were both the restaurants and butcher shops of the day, so for meat, one needed to either eat at the temple or buy meat that had been sacrificed to idols and take it home. This was a major issue of conscience for the early Christians (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Revelation mentions this issue in Revelation 2.14 and 2.20.
    2. The church’s interactions with Judaism. Some of John’s churches were in conflict with local Jewish synagogues (Rev. 2.9, 3.9)
    3. The church’s interactions with idolatry in its daily life in society. John’s readers would have been under tremendous social pressure to cave in to idolatry, whether that be worship of the emperor, worship of Roma (the city of Rome personified as a goddess), or worship of the many Greco-Roman deities. Their participation in civic and political life, professional guilds, and many other activities would have necessitated involvement in idolatrous practices.  Temples, monuments, parades, public education, concerts and sporting events all beckoned them to honor and sacrifice to the emperor and other deities. Wives and slaves would not be able to avoid the religious practices of the heads of their households. Tax payments and daily purchases needed to be done with coins that bore the symbols of gods and emperors.
    4. Complacency. Some of John’s readers were become comfortable and complacent because of their relative prosperity. They were in danger of compromising or had already compromised their principles in order to fit into the idolatrous status quo (Rev. 3.1-3, 3.15ff).
    5. Internal differences within the churches. There were false teachers (‘Balaam’, the Nicolaitans, and ‘Jezebel’) influencing some of John’s churches, urging them by their teachings (“deep secrets” which John attributes to Satan, Rev. 2.24) to assimilate with the larger culture and to engage in sexual immorality, possibly temple prostitution (Rev. 2.14-15, 2.20ff).

    Recognizing the influence of these issues, especially item #4, are important in order to counter the traditional understanding that John’s purpose in writing was only to prepare and comfort Christians threatened by persecution. Hays, 177, hits the mark when he says that Revelation was written in order to  “afflict the comfortable” just as much if not more than “to comfort the afflicted”. This knowledge also shows the relevance of Revelation for Christians who do not face immediate persecution but do face the temptation of caving in to the status quo of materialism, immorality and complacency.

    Sources: Sources are many, but see especially David L. Barr, “John’s ironic empire” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 20-30, Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. (New York: HarperOne, 1996), Grant R. Osborne, “Recent Trends in the Study of the Apocalypse,” in Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, The Face of New Testament Studies. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).

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    Should John’s readers assimilate to Roman culture? Warren Carter’s arguments pro and con

    Warren Carter helpfully describes the diversity of opinions in the churches to which John wrote. John represents one extreme, urging withdrawal from political, economic and religious affairs that compromised the integrity of their faith. But others (whom John labels as Balaam and Jezebel) are more open accomodating in their approach to the prevailing cultural practices. Carter lists five arguments that John’s adversaries could have made in favor of assimilating to the larger culture, and seven arguments that John makes against such assimilation. I offer the arguments below, with my responses to the adversaries, and a note at the end regarding Carter’s conclusions.

    Five arguments in favor of cultural engagement

    1. John’s opponents could have argued (and most likely did argue) that active participation in social, political and economic activities tinged with idolatry was necessary for survival. (I would object to this argument by pointing to Daniel: actively engaged with culture, but willing to die to avoid idolatry).
    2. John’s opponents may have argued, in a manner similar to 1 Peter 2.11-17, that cultural engagement was an important evangelistic strategy. In order to maintain Christianity’s reputation it would be necessary to maintain business and political relationships and engage in practices such as “honoring the king” (1 Peter 2.17). (My response is that John’s approach and Peter’s approach are not fundamentally in conflict).
    3. John’s adversaries may have used an argument found in Paul: Christians know that the gods represented by idols don’t really exist, and that there is only one God (1 Corinthians 8.4), so eating meat sacrificed to an idol means nothing. (I would respond that while Paul agrees with this sentiment, he counters it in chs 8 and 10, issuing a universal prohibition of eating in temples, and even limiting the eating of meat in private homes.)
    4. They may have pointed to biblical characters such as Joseph in Genesis, who was politically involved with imperial powers. (But Genesis repeatedly tells us that Joseph was exceptionally faithful to God in the midst of temptations, even suffering in jail for years for staying true to his convictions. The issue is not whether to get involved in society, but how far may we be involved in a given society without compromising our core convictions).
    5. They may have pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem as a sign that rebellion would be useless, and that Rome had been chosen by God to rule. (My response is that the exhortation to faithfulness to God and rejection of idolatry applies no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in)

    John’s seven arguments against cultural engagement

    1. “…anyone who lives faithfully to Jesus will collide with and suffer from imperial power, rather than enjoy  a cozily accommodated existence.”
    2. “Participation in the empire and its cultic celebrations compromises allegiance to God and the Lamb, who are alone worthy of worship.”
    3. The empire is under God’s judgment.
    4. The empire is under the control of the devil.
    5. Given the four points above, Christian strategy “requires societal distance and withdrawal.”
    6. John recognizes that such withdrawal will involve great hardship and suffering.
    7. Christians should remain faithful because God will ultimately triumph.

    Carter unfortunately compares the two positions above to Niebuhr’s categories of “Christ embracing culture” and “Christ against culture”, and, because he believes in the importance of cultural engagement, finds John’s approach “disturbing” and “not entirely satisfactory.” I think a better approach would be to say that the Christian faith can and should adopt the “Christ transforming culture” when and where it can. But in situations where the church is vastly outnumbered and fights for its very survival against hostile cultural forces, the noble goal of cultural transformation must be temporarily set aside as impossible to pursue. In such situations a different strategy, strengthening Christians to withstand attack, is called for. Also, regardless of whether the situation calls for engaging culture or withdrawing from it, Christians are called to be faithful to God and distinct from their unconverted neighbors in the way they live. John is not so concerned about withdrawal versus engagement. He is concerned with faithfulness versus compromise.

    Source: Warren Carter, “Accommodating Jezebel and withdrawing John: negotiating empire in Revelation then and now” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 32-47

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