Apocalyptic Literature and the Book of Revelation

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Apocalyptic Literature and the Book of Revelation
Revelation Revealed by Gordon Ferguson

Revelation by Jim McGuiggan

Worth is the Lamb by Ray Summers
Apolcalyptic literature = unveiling. apokalupsis αποκαλυψισ vision as a literary device.
The name Revelation is a translation of apokalupsis The word if found in Rev 1:1
1. To show in dramatic fashion that God is in control.
2. To reveal the kingdom of God. (The “day of the Lord” in the OT)
“The purpose of these writings was to stress the virtue of loyalty and of stimulate faith by showing in vivid fashion the certain overthrow of evil and final victory for God’s righteous cause.” (Summers: Worthy is the Lamb)
Characteristics of apocalyptic:
1. Generally produced because of troubled times.
Isaiah: Destruction of Samaria

Daniel: visions of judgment of God on his enemies (Rome and Greece) and vindication of God’s people. (four-part statue, four creatures, goat and ram, Kings of the North and South)

Ezekiel and Daniel: Captivity

Revelation: Roman persecution

Zechariah: Under the Persian rulers (admittedly not as terrible persecutors, but…)
Pseudepigrapha apocalpytics such as 1 Enoch Antiochus Epiphanes
2. Cryptic in style (ie. the message is not obvious to the uninitiated)
Why cryptic?
Out of wisdom and caution. When a nation is under great duress from another power, it is wise to speak of the destruction of the powerful enemy in symbolism. The safety of both writer and reader was at stake. It concealed the message to the outsider, but revealed it to the initiated insider.
All this is true, of course, about John and the Book of Revelation.
Revelation is both quite similar to OT apocalyptic and also different from it.
3. Prophecy vs Apocalyptic
Prophecy: Mainly preaching and secondarily prediction.

Apocalyptic: Mainly prediction and secondarily preaching.

Apocalyptic: A wider scope than prophecy. (whole world addressed, rather than just the Jews)
Apocalyptic: A heavy emphasis on eschatology (the study of end times) Daniel, by far, gives most clear glimpse of heaven and the resurrection in the OT. Ezekiel: valley of dry bones.
Apocalyptic (vs. prophecy): Very visual. A valley of dry bones
4. Apocalyptic literature always has a historical setting and significance. Knowledge of the historical situation is very important to understanding the vision.
Revelation: Domitian’s persecution.
Purpose: to give comfort, assurance and courage in difficult times.
5. Pseudonymous (but not Revelation because it was Christian rather than Jewish revelation)
6. Visions. Used in prophecy but dominant in apocalyptic. (Daniel 9?)
7. Symbolic. The rule of thumb with apocalyptic literature ought to be that, unlike historical, doctrinal or other literature, things should be taken figuratively, unless the context demands a literal interpretation. This is the exact reverse of historical or doctrinal literature, in which things should be taken literally unless the context demands it be taken figuratively.
There was a more or less accepted use of certain symbols.

Numbers used symbolically extensively.

1 = unity, unique, alone.

2 = strength, courage, energy (two are better than one) (two witnesses in Revelation) (two beasts war against the saints = a strong enemy)

3 = divine number. Number of God.

4 = the world (four winds, four cardinal directions, four angels, four creatures in Revelation = the four divisions of the wild animals. Four horsemen = powers of mankind, destructive powers of the world.

6 = sinister, Satan 6 falls one short of seven. Doom. 666 in Revelation.
7 = perfection, completeness 4 + 3 = 7 world + God = perfection. 7 spirits, 7 churches, 7 golden lampstands, 7 stars, 7 sections of Revelation, each in seven parts (7 signs and 7 I Am statements in John)
3-1/2 = incomplete, imperfect. Restless longings unfulfilled, waiting. (time, times and half a time Daniel 7) 3-1/2 used a lot in Revelation 1260 days the church was in the wilderness. Daniel 7:25 12:7 Rev 11:2,3 12:6,14 Rev 13:5
10 = completeness (all your fingers or all your toes) 10 commandments are the whole duty of men. The dragon, the first beast and the scarlet beast all have 10 horns.
Multiples of 10

70 = perfect completeness Jesus sent out 70 workers. Septuagint translated by 70

1000 = ultimate completeness
4 x 3 = 12 Number of religion. God’s people. 12 tribes, 12 apostles, 12 gates in New Jerusalem.
We should hesitate to use the numbers in Revelation as literal. They are intended to express an idea.
Ex. 144,000 is the full number of God’s people (12x12x10x10x10) and is certainly NOT literal!
Many other uses of stock symbols in apocalyptic literature.
The seas represent the peoples of the earth.

Horns = kings or powers

Many other stock images used in Revelation
Colors have traditional meanings as well
Red war, sacrifice Zech 6:2, Rev 6:4, Is 63:1-6, Joel 2:31, Rev 12:3, 17:3 Red heifer Numb 19:1-10, Heb 9:19

White purity and innocence Dan 7:9, Rev 1:14, Zech 6:3,6 (victory of God’s people) White by blood of lamb Rev 7:9,13-14, 19:?

Purple royalty or voluptuous ease (woman with purple and scarlet means wealty, but not by righteous means) Jer 10:9, Rev 17:4, 18:12

Blue heaven, sky, Holy Spirit Rev 9:17

Black famine, death, distress Zech 6:2, 6 Rev 6:5,12,

Pale yellow near the end of life Rev 9:17

Crimson blood, atonement

Pale death, terror-stricken Jer 30:6, Dan 10:8 Rev 6:8

Gold divinity, splendor Rev 1:13 15:6

Green death? 6:8, 8:7, 9:4

8. Dramatic. Apocalyptic literature is very dramatic, vivid, forceful. Uses the grotesque and the terrifying to catch our attention. Rivers of blood, hail, locusts, dragons, death riding a horse with the grave following behind. Animals with many heads and heads with many horns, a dragon with a river of water from its mouth which overcomes the woman A dragon a beast and a false prophet, each of which vomits up a frog which joins in gathering an army. All exaggerated symbols, used for dramatic effect. We should avoid interpreting the small details of such dramatic visions (such as interpreting the ten toes of the statue in Daniel 2 as the Common Market)
Non-canonical apocalpyses:
1 Enoch

First vision:

God’s judgment announced. The righteous to remain safe. Fallen angels in prison, Enoch visits Sheol/Hades, sees the tree of life, prepared for the righteous, Jerusalem on a holy mountain, and a valley for the accursed.

Fourth vision:

An account of history, which after 150 BC becomes an apocalyptic. The Gentiles make a final assault on the Jews. The fallen angels and the wicked are judged and condemned to the abyss. Jerusalem to be replaced by a newer and greater city. All remaining Gentiles submit to the Jews. The righteous dead are raised, the Messiah appears and the New Kingdom is established. Familiar?
Very popular in the early church (and used by Jude)
The Assumption of Moses 1st half of 1st century.

The Heavenly one arises, the earth shakes, the mountains brought low, the sun turns to darkness, moon turned to blood, the stars moved, the sea falls into the abyss and the rivers dry up. God judges the Gentiles, and the faithful Jews rejoice.

The Secrets of Enoch 2 Enoch. Early 1st century

Seer goes to various heavens. Gardens maintained by angels. Abode of the wicked seen, with darkness, fire and suffering. Enoch sees God in the 10th heaven. Eternal abode of the righteous, without labor, sickness, anxiety, violence, night or darkness.

Baruch After AD 70

Baruch in the ruins of Jerusalem after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. Has a vision of four kingdoms: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Rome will be far harsher than her predecessors. Greater than the cedars of Lebanon. Rome to be destroyed by the Messiah. Vision of a coming golden age of the Messiah, sinners go to torment, righteous go to splendor with the angels. The pious are instructed to patient endurance, waiting for their deliverance.

4 Ezra. After AD 70

Seven visions of Ezra. Grief of Jews over destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon is used as an image of grief of Jews over destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. Why? Ezra asks. He is told that it is not because God does not love his people. There will be ultimate deliverance. Increase of suffering should cause cheer because it means the deliverance of God is nearer. At the end, the sun will appear at midnight, blood will seep from wood, stones will speak, fish in the ocean will die, volcanic eruptions will happen, and sin will have the upper hand. But… A New Jerusalem will be revealed. Destruction of the eagle (Rome) is announced.

A few OT apocalyptic passages:
Joel 3:18-21 or Joel 2:1-11 The purpose? Joel 2:12 Notice the use of the Day of the Lord—a coming of the Kingdom.
Daniel 7:7-8, 11-14 Judgment on Rome
Isaiah 34;2-8 Judgment on Edom
Ezek 32:1-10 Judgment on Egypt
These give a good flavor of apocalyptic literature and give context to Revelation.
How to approach Revelation?
The visions had a definite setting and cause and we should understand the visions in the context of the immediate context and historical setting, which is the Church being persecuted by the Roman power.
About the visions and imagery: get the big point and do not get caught up in the details.
However, the book is for all and for all times, and the principles taught in the book apply to all people in all times and all settings. Daniel is a good example of this.
End-time theories (Eschatology):
Preterist a theologian who believes that the Scripture prophecies of the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) have already been fulfilled
Amillenialist Amillennialism (Latin: a- "no" + millennialism) is a view in Christian end-times theology named for its rejection of the theory that Jesus Christ will have a thousand-year long, [physical] reign on the earth. ...
Premillenialist The doctrine that the prophesied millennium of blessedness will begin with the imminent Second Coming of Christ.
Postmillenialist The doctrine that the Second Coming of Christ will be the culmination of the prophesied millennium of blessedness.
Possible views of interpreting the historical significance of Revelation:
1. It is either principally or entirely about the time of Roman persecution of the church.
2. It is principally about the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church.
3. It is about the entire history of the world until Jesus comes back.
4. It is principally about end-times—about Armageddon, the rapture and the millennial reign of Christ which will ensue. Revelation is principally unfulfilled prophecy.
5. It is about how God deals with mankind in all ages, with no particular specific historical context.
Some are driven to despair by all this contradictory interpretation. What about you? Can we reach a fairly certain view of which is correct or at least nearly completely correct? Does it matter?
#1 The principal view we will be using. Called the Historical Background View
#3 The “Continuous Historical” approach. Revelation is the story of Western civilization. This was the view of Wyclyffe, Luther, Fox and many in the Reformation and is still a factor today.
1st seal = Domitian to Commodus AD 180

2nd seal = Commodus to Caracella

3rd seal = Caracella to Decius

4th seal = Decius to Gallienus (243-268) (many persecutions)

5th seal = Diocletian and friends (284-315) (greatest persecutions of all)

6th seal = Barbarian invasions (see below)

7th seal = trumpets

1st trumpet = Goths 395-410 (sacked Rome)

2nd trumpet = Genseric 428-468 (sacked Rome)

3rd trumpet = Atilla 433-457

4th trumpet = Odoacer 476-490 (ended Western Roman empire for good)

5th trumpet = Muslim invaders

6th trumpet = Turks
Ch 10 Great angel = Reformation

This is a classic example of argument by scenario

Little book opened = restoration of the Bible by Luther et al
7th trumpet = final triumph of the true church
Ch 12 Woman = true church desert = church under papacy
“Wrath of Satan” = Roman Catholic Church’s response to the Reformation
Great Harlot = papacy You get the idea.
First bowl 16:1-2 French revolution???
This is too narrow. It is the 16th century equivalent of premillenialism.

#4 above. This view is some common it deserves some extra comment here.

A (sarcastic) comment about this viewpoint: “To some the book becomes largely a problem of celestial mathematics; and they are more concerned with the calculating of time charts than they are of securing social and economic and political righteousness for their immediate neighbors. (Donald Richardson The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 1939)
According to the most common premillennial view Ch 4-19 is about a seven year period which will follow the “rapture” as prophesied in Daniel 9:24-27. This “seventieth week” is separated by a very long and indeterminate amount of time from the other sixty-nine weeks of Daniel 9, marking the end of the Christian Era. During this seven-year period the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and the Antichrist will rule. Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek 40) is a description of this temple. The two great prophets in Rev 11 are two literal people who will live on the earth.

The antichrist will be an actual, single, identifiable person, and will be the “man of sin” in 2 Thess 3. The “beast” in Rev is also an actual future person. Antichrist will impose his rule and attach Christians. He will be defeated and destroyed after 3-1/2 years in a battle known as Armageddon. This is the interpretive method of the Scofield Bible.

At the end of the 7 years, Jesus will come and establish his kingdom.
This view has the Kingdom of God principally established at some time in the future. It downplays the coming of the Kingdom at Pentecost or when Jesus came.
This view is untenable for several reasons:
1. Revelation 1:1 God seems to have anticipated some false interpretations here.
2. Makes Revelation have virtually no value to its primary audience: The primitive church.
3. Blatant overliteralizing
4. Serious covenant errors. Has Jewish sacrifices being reestablished in a rebuilt temple. Has Jesus coming down from the true heavenly tabernacle to occupy a physical throne which is only a shadow of the real one (Hebrews 9:11-12)
5.(the biggest problem) It makes the kingdom of God a physical kingdom. (Luke 17:20-21 the kingdom of God is within (or among) you.) My kingdom is not of this world John 18:36)
A wise statement about this mode of interpretation from Isaac Newton (remarking about Daniel):
The folly of Interpreters has been, to foretell times and things, by this Prophecy, as if God designed to make them Prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt. The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and the Prophecies of the Old Testaments, not to gratify men's curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event; and his own Providence, not the Interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world. For the event of things predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by providence

#5 “Philosophy of History” method. This view has a ring of truth.

It is a book about how God deals with his people in general (but not about any specific event)
Symbols are tendencies, fulfilled again and again.
Ex: Beast from the sea (Rev 13) is “secular powers antagonistic to the Church.”

2nd Beast = any religious power which allies with secular power to oppose God’s church.

There is some truth here.
Multiple fulfillment of prophecies. I agree with this view, but it is too limited.
My suggestion:
A combination of preterist/Historical Background and Philosophy of History is the wisest approach to understanding Revelation.

Historical background:

What is the setting of the book?
Our strongest hint is Revelation John 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
A small island southwest of Ephesus, west of Miletus and south of the island of Samos. About 8 miles long and 2 miles wide. Northernmost of the Dodecanese islands (most important of which is Rhodes).
The monastery of St. John dominates the island. Established in the 1088 by “Saint Christodoulos”. The island at the time was “deserted, uncultivated, completely covered with brambles and entirely arid. It is completely mountainous with virtually no arable land. It was deserted because it was subject to raids by pirates. The island, like Mount Athos, was to be perpetually free of women. Later this was amended to allow women on the northernmost peninsula. Three years later, the pirate raids were so oppressive, Christodoulos amandoned the island.
Many mystics, mostly Orthodox come here, believing it is a source of mystical energy.
There is a cave in the south of the island where, it is claimed, John received his vision on a Sunday (the Lord’s day v. 10) in 95 AD.

Date of authorship:

Most likely during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96)
It is clear that the church, not just John, is being persecuted.
Nero persecuted the church in Rome, but that appears to be about it.
People are being commanded to worship the emperor. Domitian demanded this, but Nero did not.
Time of Vespasian (AD 69-79):
Revelation 17:9-11 Five have fallen (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero) one is (Vespasian) one who is to come for a little while (Titus, ruled two years) and “the beast who was, and is not and is also an eighth and is of the seven = Domitian, whom Revelation pictures as the reincarnation of Nero because both persecuted the church, but Domitian is much worse.
(note, this view ignores Galba, Otho and Vitellius who Daniel does not in Daniel 7.)
Response: It appears the writer is “throwing himself back” into the Vespasian age.
Time of Domitian:
This was the unanimous belief of the church fathers and agrees with Revelation 17, as well as the assumption that the Christians are being ordered to worship the emperor. All agree that John was exiled to Patmos about AD 95.
Domitian demanded to be addressed as “my Lord and my God” Domitian (Seutonius)
Conclusion AD 81-96, but most likely 94-96 when we know the persecution was active.
The apostle John, the son of Zebedee is the “traditional” view.
In favor:
External evidence:
Papias 125 AD probably, but hard to say for sure quoted by Eusebius

Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho AD 150 from Asia John is the apostle John

Irenaeus ~ AD 170 born and raised in Asia, a pupil of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who knew John personally John the apostle wrote during the reign of Domitian
Origen ~AD 220 What shall we say of him who reclined on the breast of Jesus, I mean John? Who has left us one gospel, in which he confesses that he could write so many that the whole world could not contain them. He also wrote the Apocalypse, commanded as he was, to conceal, and not to write the voices of the seven thunders. (quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History)
Also: Tertullian (AD 200), Clement of Alexandria (AD 210), Hippolytus (Rome, 220), Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome. A who’s who of early church fathers.
John was buried in Ephesus (Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, AD 170)
Internal evidence:
The writer is clearly a Jewish Christian

The writer clearly assumes he has great authority over the churches in Asia (and we know that John came there some time soon after AD 70 and was over the church in Ephesus for 25 years)

Uses logos (Rev 19:13)

Piercing mentioned (Rev 1:7)

Lamb of God stressed (only John in Jn 1:29,36) 23 times in Revelation

Only internal evidence.

Dionysius of Alexandria AD 250 Used internal evidence, declaring that the writing style was too different to allow the same author as the gospel of John.
Eusebius AD 330 quotes Papias, and concludes that it was Presbyter/Elder John, a separate John. (but Irenaeus is definite that the “elder John” is the apostle John)
Papias (from Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History)
If, then, any one should come, having followed personally the elders, I would question him concerning the words of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any one of the disciples of the Lord said, and the things which Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord said.
Possible explanation: Aristion and the elder John are living still, which is why he listed John twice.
As to internal evidence, both John and Revelation are very simple in language structure, but Revelation uses many ungrammatical constructions, whereas John does not
Possible answer: John was extremely carefully constructed, and Revelation was written down in a very short time as the result of a very emotional experience. “Write what you see and hear.”
Bottom line: If we must abandon the idea of common authorship, it is most likely that Revelation is the one to which we would ascribe John as author.

John was exiled to Patmos in AD 95 by Domitain. Almost certainly the last living apostle. 85+ years old? According to tradition, John had a vision in a cave on the island which we have as the book of Revelation.

Theme of Revelation: Peel back the layers of history and even the terrible persecutions and what do we find? The lamb is on the throne and God is in control.
Message of Revelation: Be encouraged and faithful to Jesus Christ. Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord.
Objective: to comfort persecuted Christians.
Description of Revelation: A “divine picture-book”. “Spiritual cartoons,” representing the historical development of the early Christian church.
To do this, God uses the grotesque, the dramatic.
“Revelation is a series of apocalyptic images given to John by the Holy Spirit to set forth Christ as eternally victorious over all world conditions and thus to encourage the Christians of John’s day and every succeeding day until the return of our Lord. It is also a message of warning to the church to keep itself pure and free from worldly entanglements. It is a message of warning to the enemies of the church that the church, through Christ, will eventually triumph and that those who oppose it will find themselves broken by the righteous power of God.” (Worthy is the Lamb)
Romans appeals to the intellect/mind

Psalms appeals to the emotions

Revelation appeals to the imagination.
Outline of Revelation
Ch 1 Prologue

Ch 2-3 Letters to the Seven Churches

Ch 4-7 The Seven Seals

Ch 8-11 The Seven Trumpets

Ch 12-16 Seven Mystical Figures

Ch 15-16 The Seven Vials

Ch 17-20 Enemies of the Church Overthrown

Ch 21-22 The Kingdom of God Revealed

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