Revelation: A Continental Commentary 0800696506

Is Revelation, with its strangeness and idiosyncratic theology, a legitimate expression of the gospel? To this question,

996 88 17MB

English Pages 286 Year 1993

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Revelation: A Continental Commentary

Table of contents :
xx_20191016_0000a......Page 1
xx_20191016_0000b......Page 2
xx_20191016_0001......Page 3
xx_20191016_0002......Page 4
xx_20191016_0003......Page 5
xx_20191016_0004......Page 6
xx_20191016_0005......Page 7
xx_20191016_0006......Page 8
xx_20191016_0007......Page 9
xx_20191016_0008......Page 10
xx_20191016_0009......Page 11
xx_20191016_0010......Page 12
xx_20191016_0011......Page 13
xx_20191016_0012......Page 14
xx_20191016_0013......Page 15
xx_20191016_0014......Page 16
xx_20191016_0015......Page 17
xx_20191016_0016......Page 18
xx_20191016_0017......Page 19
xx_20191016_0018......Page 20
xx_20191016_0019......Page 21
xx_20191016_0020......Page 22
xx_20191017_0001......Page 23
xx_20191017_0002......Page 24
xx_20191017_0003......Page 25
xx_20191017_0004......Page 26
xx_20191017_0005......Page 27
xx_20191017_0006......Page 28
xx_20191017_0007......Page 29
xx_20191017_0008......Page 30
xx_20191017_0009......Page 31
xx_20191017_0010......Page 32
xx_20191017_0011......Page 33
xx_20191017_0012......Page 34
xx_20191017_0013......Page 35
xx_20191017_0014......Page 36
xx_20191017_0015......Page 37
xx_20191017_0016......Page 38
xx_20191017_0017......Page 39
xx_20191017_0018......Page 40
xx_20191017_0019......Page 41
xx_20191017_0020......Page 42
xx_20191018_0001......Page 43
xx_20191018_0002......Page 44
xx_20191018_0003......Page 45
xx_20191018_0004......Page 46
xx_20191018_0005......Page 47
xx_20191018_0006......Page 48
xx_20191018_0007......Page 49
xx_20191018_0008......Page 50
xx_20191018_0009......Page 51
xx_20191018_0010......Page 52
xx_20191018_0011......Page 53
xx_20191018_0012......Page 54
xx_20191018_0013......Page 55
xx_20191018_0014......Page 56
xx_20191018_0015......Page 57
xx_20191018_0016......Page 58
xx_20191018_0017......Page 59
xx_20191018_0018......Page 60
xx_20191018_0019......Page 61
xx_20191018_0020......Page 62
xx_20191019_0001......Page 63
xx_20191019_0002......Page 64
xx_20191019_0003......Page 65
xx_20191019_0004......Page 66
xx_20191019_0005......Page 67
xx_20191019_0006......Page 68
xx_20191019_0007......Page 69
xx_20191019_0008......Page 70
xx_20191019_0009......Page 71
xx_20191019_0010......Page 72
xx_20191019_0011......Page 73
xx_20191019_0012......Page 74
xx_20191019_0013......Page 75
xx_20191019_0014......Page 76
xx_20191019_0015......Page 77
xx_20191019_0016......Page 78
xx_20191019_0017......Page 79
xx_20191019_0018......Page 80
xx_20191019_0019......Page 81
xx_20191019_0020......Page 82
xx_20191019_0021......Page 83
xx_20191019_0022......Page 84
xx_20191019_0023......Page 85
xx_20191019_0024......Page 86
xx_20191019_0025......Page 87
xx_20191019_0026......Page 88
xx_20191019_0027......Page 89
xx_20191019_0028......Page 90
xx_20191019_0029......Page 91
xx_20191019_0030......Page 92
xx_20191019_0031......Page 93
xx_20191019_0032......Page 94
xx_20191019_0033......Page 95
xx_20191019_0034......Page 96
xx_20191019_0035......Page 97
xx_20191019_0036......Page 98
xx_20191019_0037......Page 99
xx_20191019_0038......Page 100
xx_20191019_0039......Page 101
xx_20191019_0040......Page 102
xx_20191020_0001......Page 103
xx_20191020_0002......Page 104
xx_20191020_0003......Page 105
xx_20191020_0004......Page 106
xx_20191020_0005......Page 107
xx_20191020_0006......Page 108
xx_20191020_0007......Page 109
xx_20191020_0008......Page 110
xx_20191020_0009......Page 111
xx_20191020_0010......Page 112
xx_20191020_0011......Page 113
xx_20191020_0012......Page 114
xx_20191020_0013......Page 115
xx_20191020_0014......Page 116
xx_20191020_0015......Page 117
xx_20191020_0016......Page 118
xx_20191020_0017......Page 119
xx_20191020_0018......Page 120
xx_20191020_0019......Page 121
xx_20191020_0020......Page 122
xx_20191020_0021......Page 123
xx_20191020_0022......Page 124
xx_20191020_0023......Page 125
xx_20191020_0024......Page 126
xx_20191020_0025......Page 127
xx_20191020_0026......Page 128
xx_20191020_0027......Page 129
xx_20191020_0028......Page 130
xx_20191020_0029......Page 131
xx_20191020_0030......Page 132
xx_20191021_0001......Page 133
xx_20191021_0002......Page 134
xx_20191021_0003......Page 135
xx_20191021_0004......Page 136
xx_20191021_0005......Page 137
xx_20191021_0006......Page 138
xx_20191021_0007......Page 139
xx_20191021_0008......Page 140
xx_20191021_0009......Page 141
xx_20191021_0010......Page 142
xx_20191021_0011......Page 143
xx_20191021_0012......Page 144
xx_20191021_0013......Page 145
xx_20191021_0014......Page 146
xx_20191021_0015......Page 147
xx_20191021_0016......Page 148
xx_20191021_0017......Page 149
xx_20191021_0018......Page 150
xx_20191021_0019......Page 151
xx_20191021_0020......Page 152
xx_20191022_0001......Page 153
xx_20191022_0002......Page 154
xx_20191022_0003......Page 155
xx_20191022_0004......Page 156
xx_20191022_0005......Page 157
xx_20191022_0006......Page 158
xx_20191022_0007......Page 159
xx_20191022_0008......Page 160
xx_20191022_0009......Page 161
xx_20191022_0010......Page 162
xx_20191022_0011......Page 163
xx_20191022_0012......Page 164
xx_20191022_0013......Page 165
xx_20191022_0014......Page 166
xx_20191022_0015......Page 167
xx_20191022_0016......Page 168
xx_20191022_0017......Page 169
xx_20191022_0018......Page 170
xx_20191022_0019......Page 171
xx_20191022_0020......Page 172
xx_20191022_0021......Page 173
xx_20191022_0022......Page 174
xx_20191022_0023......Page 175
xx_20191022_0024......Page 176
xx_20191022_0025......Page 177
xx_20191022_0026......Page 178
xx_20191022_0027......Page 179
xx_20191022_0028......Page 180
xx_20191022_0029......Page 181
xx_20191022_0030......Page 182
xx_20191023_0000......Page 183
xx_20191023_0001......Page 184
xx_20191023_0002......Page 185
xx_20191023_0003......Page 186
xx_20191023_0004......Page 187
xx_20191023_0005......Page 188
xx_20191023_0006......Page 189
xx_20191023_0007......Page 190
xx_20191023_0008......Page 191
xx_20191023_0009......Page 192
xx_20191023_0010......Page 193
xx_20191023_0011......Page 194
xx_20191023_0012......Page 195
xx_20191023_0013......Page 196
xx_20191023_0014......Page 197
xx_20191023_0015......Page 198
xx_20191023_0016......Page 199
xx_20191023_0017......Page 200
xx_20191023_0018......Page 201
xx_20191023_0019......Page 202
xx_20191024_0001......Page 203
xx_20191024_0002......Page 204
xx_20191024_0003......Page 205
xx_20191024_0004......Page 206
xx_20191024_0005......Page 207
xx_20191024_0006......Page 208
xx_20191024_0007......Page 209
xx_20191024_0008......Page 210
xx_20191024_0009......Page 211
xx_20191024_0010......Page 212
xx_20191024_0011......Page 213
xx_20191024_0012......Page 214
xx_20191024_0013......Page 215
xx_20191024_0014......Page 216
xx_20191024_0015......Page 217
xx_20191024_0016......Page 218
xx_20191024_0017......Page 219
xx_20191024_0018......Page 220
xx_20191024_0019......Page 221
xx_20191024_0020......Page 222
xx_20191024_0021......Page 223
xx_20191024_0022......Page 224
xx_20191024_0023......Page 225
xx_20191024_0024......Page 226
xx_20191024_0025......Page 227
xx_20191024_0026......Page 228
xx_20191024_0027......Page 229
xx_20191024_0028......Page 230
xx_20191024_0029......Page 231
xx_20191024_0030......Page 232
xx_20191025_0001......Page 233
xx_20191025_0002......Page 234
xx_20191025_0003......Page 235
xx_20191025_0004......Page 236
xx_20191025_0005......Page 237
xx_20191025_0006......Page 238
xx_20191025_0007......Page 239
xx_20191025_0008......Page 240
xx_20191025_0009......Page 241
xx_20191025_0010......Page 242
xx_20191025_0011......Page 243
xx_20191025_0012......Page 244
xx_20191025_0013......Page 245
xx_20191025_0014......Page 246
xx_20191025_0015......Page 247
xx_20191025_0016......Page 248
xx_20191025_0017......Page 249
xx_20191025_0018......Page 250
xx_20191025_0019......Page 251
xx_20191025_0020......Page 252
xx_20191025_0021......Page 253
xx_20191025_0022......Page 254
xx_20191025_0023......Page 255
xx_20191025_0024......Page 256
xx_20191025_0025......Page 257
xx_20191025_0026......Page 258
xx_20191025_0027......Page 259
xx_20191025_0028......Page 260
xx_20191025_0029......Page 261
xx_20191025_0030......Page 262
xx_20191025_0031......Page 263
xx_20191025_0032......Page 264
xx_20191025_0033......Page 265
xx_20191025_0034......Page 266
xx_20191025_0035......Page 267
xx_20191025_0036......Page 268
xx_20191025_0037......Page 269
xx_20191025_0038......Page 270
xx_20191025_0039......Page 271
xx_20191025_0040......Page 272
xx_20191025_0041......Page 273
xx_20191025_0042......Page 274
xx_20191025_0043......Page 275
xx_20191025_0044......Page 276
xx_20191025_0045......Page 277
xx_20191025_0046......Page 278
xx_20191025_0047......Page 279
xx_20191025_0048......Page 280
xx_20191025_0049......Page 281
xx_20191025_0050......Page 282
xx_20191025_0051......Page 283
xx_20191025_0052......Page 284
xx_20191025_0053......Page 285
xx_20191025_0054......Page 286

Citation preview



THE REVELATION OF JOHN A Continental Commentary

Translated by

John E. Alsup


Other Continental Commentaries from Fortress Press Genesis 1-11 Claus Westermann Genesis 12-36 Claus Westermann Genesis 37-50 Claus Westermann Psalms 1-59 Hans-Joachim Kraus Psalms 60-150 Hans-Joachim Kraus Theology of the Psalms Hans-Joachim Kraus Isaiah 1-12 Hans Wildberger Obadiah and Jonah Hans Walter Wolff Haggai Hans Walter Wolff Micah Hans Walter Wolff Matthew 1-7 Ulrich Luz Galatians Dieter Luhrmann

THE REVELATION OF JOHN A Continental Commentary First Fortress Press edition 1993. Translated from Die Offenbarung des Johannes, second edition, published by Theologischer Verlag ZOrich in the ZOrcher Bibelkommentare series. Copyright © 1984, 1987 by Theologischer Verlag ZOrich. English translation copyright © 1993 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, Minneapolis. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Write to: Permissions, Augsburg Fortress, 426 S. Fifth St., Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Roloff, JOrgen. [Offenbarung des Johannes. English] Revelation: a continental commentary / JOrgen Roloff; translated by John E. Alsup.-Ist Fortress Press ed. p. cm.-(A Continental commentary) Translation of: Die Offenbarung des Johannes. Includes bibliographical references and indexes. ISBN 0-8006-9560-6 (alk. paper) : I. Bible. N.T. Revelation-Commentaries. I. Bible. N.T. Revelation. English. New Revised Standard. 1992. II. Title. III. Series. BS2825.3.R6513 1993 228'.077-dc20

92-35669 CIP

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z329.48-1984.

Manufactured in the U.S.A. 97




AF 1-9618











Preface vii Abbreviations




History of Influence 1 Apocalyptic and Apocalypses 3 Revelation-an Early Christian Apocalypse? 5 7 The Epistolary Character of Revelation Author and Original Situation 8 Language and Style 12 Tradition and Interpretation 13 Regarding the Challenge of Interpretation 14 Structure and Organization 15 COMMENTARY


Foreword (1:1-3) 18 Epistolary Opening (1 :4-8) 22 Commissioning Vision (1 :9-20) 30 The Seven Circular Letters (2:1-3:22) 41 To the Church in Ephesus (2: 1-7) 43 To the Church in Smyrna (2:8-11) 47 To the Church in Pergamum (2: 12-1 7) 50 To the Church in Thyatira (2: 18-19) 53 To the Church in Sardis (3: 1-6) 57 To the Church in Philadelphia (3:7-13) 60 To the Church in Laodicea (3: 14-22) 63 The Appearance of God (4:1-11) 67 v


The Lamb and the Sealed Book (5: 1-14) 74 The Visions of the Seven Seals (6: 1-8: 1) 83 The First Four Seals (6: 1-8) 85 The Fifth Seal (6:9-11) 88 The Sixth Seal (6: 12-17) 91 The Preservation of the Church (7: 1-17) 94 The Seventh Seal (8:1) 101 The Visions of the Seven Trumpets (8:2-11: 19) 103 Preparation (8:2-6) 106 The First Four Trumpets (8:7-13) 109 The Fifth Trumpet (9:1-12) 113 The Sixth Trumpet (9: 13-21) 117 The Mission of Prophecy in the 121 Context of the End Event (10: 1-11) The Measurement of the Temple and the Two Witnesses (11:1-14) 127 The Seventh Trumpet (11: 15-19) 136 Second Series of Visions: The End Event as God's Struggle 139 with His Adversary (12: 1-19: 10) The Woman, the Dragon, and the Child ( 12: 1-18) 141 The Beast from the Sea and Its Power (13: 1-10) 153 The Beast from the Earth (13: 11-18) 160 The Lamb and the 144,000 on Zion (14: 1-5) 169 173 View toward the Judgment (14:6-20) The Visions of the Seven Bowls (15: 1-16:21) 180 Preparation (15: 1-8) 181 The Pouring Out of the Seven Bowls (16: 1-21) 186 The Execution of Judgment on the Great Evil City (17: 1-19: 10) 193 The Harlot Babylon and the Beast (17: 1-18) 194 The Judgment over the Great City (18: 1-24) 202 Hymnic Finale (19: 1-10) 209 Concluding Visions: The Consummation of God's Plan for History (19: 11-22:5) 214 The Return of Jesus as Judge of the World (19: 11-21) 216 The Thousand-Year Kingdom and the Destruction of Satan (20: 1-10) 222 End of the World and Universal Judgment (20: 11-15) 230 God's New World (21:1-22:5) 233 God's New Act of Creation (21:1-8) 234 The Perfected Salvation Community (21:9-22:5) 239 The Conclusion of the Book (22:6-21) 248

Select Bibliography 255 Index of Biblical References Subject Index 271




Every interpretation of a biblical text is a dialogic process. The text becomes an active participant only when the interpreter addresses questions to it. During the dialogue such questions must be appropriate for the substantive concern expressed by the text. At the same time, however, the questions ofthe interpreter inevitably reflect his or her own situation arid historical perspective. While working on the Book of Revelation, I have learned that this book has a great capacity to answer questions that have a special urgency for the Christian community today, such as those of our relationship to creation and of the political dimensions to Christian faith. Other issues that the text addresses may seem less urgent, but only because we are unavoidably indebteded to our historical moment. I have tried to make clear that Revelation is not an abstract monologue but presents the results of a vital interaction between the author and concrete communities of faith. For this emphasis on the significance of the book's epistolary elements, I was able to draw on the conclusions reached by my student Martin Karrer in his dissertation "Die Johannesapokalypse als Brief." In recent years Karrer has contributed much to the emergence of this interpretation with his suggestions and perceptive criticism, for which I thank him heartily here.



Old Testament Apocrypha 1, 2 Mace. 1, 2 Maccabees Sir. Book of Sirach Tob. Book of Tobit Wis. Wisdom of Solomon Jewish Writings, Second and First Centuries Asc.Isa. 1 Enoch Jub. LXX 3 Mace. lQH lQM lQS 4Qpatr 4QpHab 4QTestim

Sib. Or. T. Dan T. Jud. T. Levi T.Naph.


Ascension ofIsaiah Ethiopic Enoch Book ofJubilees Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) 3 Maccabees Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls, Cave 1 Qumran War Scroll Qumran Rule ofDiscipline Qumran Blessings of the Patriarchs, Cave 4 Qumran Commentary on Habakkuk Qumran Testimonia, or collection of testimonies Sibylline Oracles (Jewish propaganda document, with Christian emendations) Testament ofDan, in Testimony of the Twelve Patriarchs Testament ofJudah Testament of Levi Testament ofNaphtali

Jewish Writings, First-Third Centuries A.D. Apoc. Abr. 2 Apoc. Bar. Apoc. Elijah As. Mos. Ber.

Apocalypse ofAbraham Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch Apocalypse ofElijah Assumption (Ascension) ofMoses, an apocalypse Berakot, a tractate in the Mishna IX

Abbrep;at;ons Gen. R. Exod. R. 2 Enoch 4 Ezra Jos. Ant. Jos. J. W. Mek. Philo Spec. leg.

Genesis Rabbah Exodus Rabbah Slavonic Enoch. an apocalypse (or 2 Esdras), an apocalypse Antiquities of the Jews. by Josephus (c. A.D. 37-100), a Jewish historian Jewish Wars. by Josephus Mekilta. a rabbinic commentary on Exodus De specialibus legibus. by Philo, a Jewish philosopher and biblical interpreter, a contemporary of Jesus

Non-Christian Greek and Roman Writings Dio Chrys. Oratio Speeches. by Dio Chrysostom (c. A.D. 40-120), a popular cynic-stoic philosopher Lucian Syr. dea De syria dea. by Lucian (c. A. D. 120-180), a Greek writer Ovid Metam. Metamorphoses. by Ovid (43 B.C.-C. A.D. 18), a Roman poet Pliny Epist. Epistles. by Pliny the Younger (c. A.D. 61-112), a Roman rhetorician and statesman Suet. Dom. Life ofDo mitian. by Suetonius (c. A.D. 75-150), a Roman historian and author of the biographies of the Caesars Suet. Nero Life ofNero. by Suetonius Annales, by Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120), a Roman historian Tac.Ann. Tac. Hist. Histories. by Tacitus

Christian Writings, First-Second Centuries A.D. and Later Barn. I Clem. Did.

Epistle ofBarnabas. by one of the Apostolic Fathers I Clement Didache. a book of church order, written in Syria at the end of the first century Eus. Hist. eccl. Church History. by Eusebius (c. 263-339), bishop of Caesarea Herm. Vis. Visions. by the Shepherd of Hermas (fl. in Rome in first half of2d cent.), an apocalypse Hippol. e.o. Church Order (or Apostolic Tradition), by Hippolytus (c. 160-235) Hippol. Frag. Gen. Fragments on Genesis. by Hippolytus Epistle to the Ephesians. by Ignatius (martyred in Rome c. Ign. Eph. 110), bishop of Antioch Ign. Magn. Epistle to the Magnesians. by Ignatius Iren. Adv. haer. Against Heresies. by Irenaeus (died c. 202), bishop of Lyon's Justin Apol. Apology. by Justin Martyr (died c. 165) Justin Dial. Dialogue with Trypho. by Justin Martyr Martyrdom ofPolycarp Mart. Pol. Pol. Phil. Epistle to the Philippians. by Polycarp (martyred c. 155), bishop of Smyrna

Modern Works ANF HenneckeSchneeme1cherWilson

Ante-Nicene Fathers E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha in German



LCL Str.-B.

Translation. ed. W. Schneemelcher, 2 Yols. (1959-64); English trans. R. M. Wilson (1965) Loeb Classical Library H. L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Commentary on the New Testament. from the Talmud and the Midrash, 4 Yols. (192261 )



History of Influence No other biblical book can be compared to Revelation in terms of the richness of its history of influence. In the ancient and medieval church its significance far exceeded that of the Pauline letters, and even that of Matthew's Gospel. With its rich visual language it provided the intellectual material on which Christian piety fed. Thus the image of the Pantocrator-the reigning Christ who holds the sealed scroll in his right hand-became one of the central images of the faith of the Eastern church; it is found consistently in the central cupola of Byzantine churches. Similarly, the image of the jUdging Christ, out of whose mouth protrudes a sharp, double-edged sword (1:16; 2:12; 19:15), had prominent significance for the piety of the Middle Ages. Frequently we find it in the tympanic area above the portals of Roman and Gothic churches. For the portrayal of Mary, the image of the heavenly woman from chapter 12 (wrongly understood as the mother of Jesus) was standard. Indeed, the Book of Revelation even influenced church architecture: the house of God was to reflect the heavenly Jerusalem in its proportions (21: 16) as well as in many details of its furnishings. Among the countless works of art inspired by Revelation are the tapestry by Anger (thirteenth century), Michelangelo's Final Judgment in the Sistine Chapel (cf. 20: 11-15), and Albrecht Durer's woodcut series. Furthermore, in the Lutheran pictorial Bibles of the sixteenth century the illustrations from Revelation far outnumber those from other New Testament books. Revelation also plays no small role in the church hymns and music, an artistic medium that was central for the piety of the Reformation. Music influenced by this book includes "Rejoice, Dear Christians" (Erasmus Alber), "Sleepers, Wake" (Philipp Nicolai), and the well-known cantatas of Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach.


In contrast to this rich, positive history of influence, since the days of the ancient church there has also been a history of mistrust, even of vigorous rejection. It began as early as the end of the second century among a group of Christians from Asia Minor who designated the orthodox Epiphanius as A/oger ("irrational") because of his favorable regard for the book. They saw in Revelation a deceitful writing by the gnostic heretic Cerinthus, who made use of John's name in order to perpetuate his heresies. This criticism was certainly a reaction to the fact that the Montanists, a heretical group living in fanatic expectation of the end, had in their speculations about the beginning of the end time referred chiefly to Revelation. Because its images and visions have again and again provoked speculations concerning the course of end-time events and the nearness of the end of the world, Revelation has been-and remains today-the book of fanatics and sectarians. Millenarianism, the expectation of an earthly kingdom of God lasting a thousand years (cf. 20: 1-6), has repeatedly drawn nourishment from Revelation, in spite of its repeated rejection by official church doctrine (e.g., Augsburg Confession, art. 17). Such developments have led many church theologians to distance themselves from the book. In the Reformation period a determined theological criticism was raised for the first time. In the preface to his September Testament of 1522, Luther bluntly denied that Revelation had the character of an apostolic witness, for two reasons. First, in his view it lacked the clarity of didactic statements. Revelation is neither apostolic nor prophetic because "the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the Gospel" (Works 35: 398). Second, Luther contended that Revelation's witness to Christ lagged behind that of Paul and the Gospels. He concluded that Christ "is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do" (p. 399). Zwingli is no less clear in the Bern disputation: "I do not accept the witness of Revelation because it is not a biblical book." Finally, Calvin passed over it in silence in his Bible commentary. This theological critique has continued since the nineteenth century on the basis of history-of-religion arguments. Scholars became more aware of the Jewish characteristics of Revelation, noting that its language and world of ideas are Old Testament and Jewish throughout and that it contains a whole series of motifs and images whose roots are found in ancient Oriental mythology and folklore (see commentary on chapter 12). Thus arose the question: To what extent is Revelation a Christian book? Several scholars hold the view that much of it is composed of revised Jewish apocalyptic models that are only superficially Christian. The substantive question of the Christian character of Revelation is closely related to such literary and history-of-tradition problems. Does not its expectation of the end time, in which judgment and destruction of a humanity at enmity with God occupy so much space, clash with the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is not the vision of the future in this 2

Apocalyptic and Apocalypses

book "riddled with hate and a thirst for the punishment of hostile Heathenism" (H. J. Holtzmann)? This deeply conflicting history of influence leads to questions that confront every interpreter: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ in Revelation so thoroughly overlaid with Jewish apocalyptic ideas that, theologically, it must be considered a peripheral, if not altogether foreign, text of the New Testament? Alternatively, is Revelation, with all its strangeness and peculiarity, still a legitimate expression of the gospel that belongs to the series of great apostolic and postapostolic witnesses in the New Testament? In the commentary below, my observations on the text attempt to demonstrate that in good conscience one today may answer yes to the latter question.

Apocalyptic and Apocalypses Traditionally, Revelation is assigned to the genre of apocalyptic literature, which developed in the late Israelite period. Since it was recognized in the nineteenth century that numerous elements of style and content in Revelation were present in Jewish as well as early Christian writings, this group of writings was designated by the term "apocalypse," which comes from the Greek of Rev. 1: 1 ("revelation [apokalypsis] of Jesus Christ"). It is understood to include revelational writings that depict in mysterious images and visions the course of history to its end as well as the future of the world and humanity. The whole complex of ideas lying behind these writings is thus designated with the term "apocalyptic." Apocalyptic developed out of Old Testament prophecy and wisdom literature in the postexilic period. Apocalyptic sections containing visions regarding the end time can be found in Isaiah (24-27), Zechariah (12-14), and Joel. However, the great mass of apocalyptic literature arose between 150 B.C. and A.D. 100. To a certain degree it may be seen as resulting from the experience of the Jewish people, who in the period following the loss of an independent nationhood were at the mercy of the great world powers. The larger question to which an answer is sought in apocalyptic literature is that of the goal that God has established for world history and the place that the endangered presence of Israel will occupy in the framework of God's plan of history. Thus the first great apocalypse, the Book of Daniel, which was written at the time of oppression by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.), portrays a large-scale view of history. The end of the Seleucid dynasty, the last of the four great world powers, is imminent; in the near future God will bring about the end time and rescue Israel, the people of the "saints of the most high" (Dan. 7:2-27), from all oppression. Similarly, later apocalypses, such as Baruch and 4 Ezra attempted to counter the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70 by sketching God's hidden plan for history, according to which the end of the hostile world power was to be awaited in the immediate future. The essential function of Jewish apocalypses, therefore, is to serve as books of comfort: they 3


offer hope for the approaching era of salvation and thereby make perseverance possible in the perilous present. Their secondary function is that of reminder (parenesis) and warning. The intention is to show the pious that in their present critical situation everything depends on their steadfastness. A series of stylistic characteristics recur in most of the Jewish apocalypses and can therefore be considered distinguishing features of this specific genre. We consider here the most significant of these features. Use oJmetaphoric language. The powers and events of history are described in vivid symbolic images that are borrowed both from Old Testament tradition and from ancient Oriental mythology. Thus world powers are portrayed as dangerous animals (Daniel 7; 1 Enoch 85-86; 4 Ezra 11), powerful trees (2 Apoc. Bar. 36), or a lion (4 Ezra 11-12). Numerical speculation. Certain numbers, such as 4, 7, 10, and 12, which are occasionally associated with a definite symbolic content, playa significant role. Mainly, they serve the purpose of uniting the visions into groupings linked variously by similarity of structure. Such groupings of visions, in turn, express the central thought of apocalyptic writers: the course of world history and the end event follow a definite schema of periods that is determined in God's plan from the very beginning. Interrelation oj vision and interpretative meaning. The most important medium of description in apocalypses is the account of visions. The authors employ the first person to report the disclosure to them in visions (in some cases also in dreams) of mysteries concealed in heaven that determine the future destiny of humanity. In what is a basic motif of apocalyptic thinking, it is understood that the fulfillment of events and visions of the future already exists in heaven, from where it will be made visible on earth without delay. The seer is typically unable to explain the contents of the vision, which are concealed in mysterious symbols, and often is transposed into terror and perplexity by the vision. An angel (the so-called angelus interpres) or another highly placed personality of the heavenly hierarchy provides the necessary resolution. This figure is devoted to the seer and interprets what has been seen detail by detail (e.g. Dan. 7: 15-27; 1 Enoch 18: 13-16; 27: 1-5; 4 Ezra 10:29-58; 12:3-40; 13:2556). Fictitious location in an earlier time. Apocalypses feign a time period that precedes the present. Thus, for example, the Seleucid dynasty during which the book of Daniel is written is offered as the work of a prophet who supposedly lived during the exile, that is, in the sixth century B.C. in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. This deception belongs to the dramaturgy of apocalyptic; the reader is to have the impression that the book has precisely and accurately predicted the course of historical events from its ostensible beginning to the present. Thus the reader is to trust the reliability of the description of the future that is yet to unfold. In order to explain why the book, despite its age and


Revelation-an Early Christian Apocalypse?·

importance, has remained unknown for so long, it is frequently reported that its author consciously saw to its secrecy until the end of time by sealing it (e.g., Dan. 12:9; cf. 4 Ezra 12:35-38). Pseudonymity. Apocalypticists do not write under their own name but borrow the authority of great figures from the past. This is due not only to using a fictitious prior setting but also to the decline of independent prophetic authority in this later period ofIsrael's history. Enoch, Moses, Baruch, Ezra, and even Adam are thus enlisted as fictitious authors. The choice of the authority named is by no means arbitrary, as apocalypticists select a name that will evoke certain theological programs and traditions.

Revelation-an Early Christian Apocalypse? Today it is more certain than ever that apocalyptic was a factor that greatly influenced the thought and intellectual world of primitive Christianity. In the preaching of Jesus apocalyptic motifs are relatively sparse, but Palestinian Jewish Christianity early was moving strongly in apocalyptic directions. For example, the so-called Synoptic apocalypse (Mark 13, par.; Matt 24; Luke 21) originated there. But decidedly apocalyptic passages are also found in Paul (1 Thess. 4-5; 1 Cor. 15:23-57). One can say in general that wherever expectation of the imminent return of Jesus was alive, space was reserved for apocalyptic thought, for it obviously provided a form of expression for this expectation. At the conclusion of the first century and in the second, numerous larger Christian apocalypses arose. Of these only a few have survived-and that in fragmentary form (Shepherd of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter, Ascension of Isaiah)-because the church increasingly assumed a posture of criticism toward this literature from the third century on. The only writing with apocalyptic content that found acceptance in the New Testament canon is Revelation. But is Revelation really to be consigned to the genre of apocalyptic? As surprising as it may sound, this question is justified. It appears that this question occupies a special place in the framework of the entire apocalyptic literature in Judaism and early Christianity. The formal stylistic characteristics of apocalypses, mentioned above, are found in Revelation, but only partially. Its metaphoric language is unquestionably apocalyptic. As in Daniel 7, the world powers in Revelation 13 are portrayed as terrifying animals. Satan appears under the mythological symbol of the dragon (12:7-13: 1); the essence of the Roman Empire is dramatically sketched with the image of the harlot (17:3); the afflictions and catastrophes of the end time are finally expressed in the vivid images of riders (6:8), swarms oflocusts (9:7-11), or fabulous creatures (9:17). The images chosen have their precedent in tradition and are fixed as to their significance. One has the impression that the author of Revelation provides no originality here. He offers no new riddle to his readers. Every Christian of the late first



century who was even only peripherally familiar with apocalyptic tradition would have understood these images immediately. The frequent use o/numbers also points to an apocalyptic heritage. The visions include four riders (6:8); seven seals (6: 1), trumpets (8:2, 6), and bowls (17: 1); twelve stars in the diadem of the heavenly woman (12:1); twelve gates (21:12) and twelve foundations (21:14) of the heavenly city; and 144,000 (12 x 12,000) members of the people of God (7:4). In addition, the number 31h-half of seven-plays a mysterious role (11:9, 11), not to mention the enigmatic number 666, which has especially preoccupied interpreters for ages (13: 18). One should not, however, exaggerate the number riddles in terms of their importance. Nowhere-not even in the series of seven visions-does the author attempt to arrange world events and events of the end time into periods by numerical schemata and thereby determine their inner regularity. The attempt by many commentators to show that the presentation of Revelation is constructed throughout in series of sevens, and that seven is therefore the secret central number of the book, has also been demonstrated to be erroneous. In Revelation, accounts 0/ visions are a significant element of the presentation. The phrase "I saw / I looked" runs throughout the whole book as a primary motif( 1: 12; 4: 1; 5: 1,6, 11; 6: 1, 12; 7: 1-2,9). However, it is noteworthy that the pattern of initially obscure vision and subsequently interpreted meaning-found consistently in other apocalypses-is almost completely absent in Revelation. Not only are the visual images and symbols not puzzling for the seer; the assumption is that their meaning is immediately clear and sensible to the readers ofthe book as well. The only exceptions are found in 7: 13-1 7 and 17: 7-18 (see commentary on 5:5). But even here the words of the angel offer no real interpretation of the preceding vision but provide merely a stylistic means of highlighting the attention of the readers (7: 13) and also of introducing thematically related material (17:7). The composition of Revelation thus does not aim at the moment of tension of revealing hidden secrets; it makes no effort to captivate the reader by that which could be called the "keyhole effect" of customary apocalypses. The beginning of Revelation is not surrounded by an aura of the mysterious. It does not wish to give the impression of being a long-hidden book from the distant past; rather, it confesses openly to contemporaneity with its readers, the Christians of the churches of the province of Asia in the early nineties of the first century. It addresses their situation, which is characterized especially by the confrontations with the totalitarian religious claims of the Roman Empire, not indirectly in the form of a prophecy of the future, but directly on the basis of solidarity with respect to matters of common concern. And this address takes the form of a public letter. John expressly stresses that his book is to remain unsealed according to the will of God (22: 10); that is, he explains it as a public message, not a secret one (as in 10:4). To this emphatically expounded public character of the book, 6

The Epistolary Character of Revelation

there also corresponds the fact that the name of its author is openly mentioned. Alongside the likewise early Christian "Shepherd of Hermas," Revelation is the only apocalyptic writing known to us that forgoes pseudonymity. It is not the fictitious authority of a great man of God from the past that gives importance to its message; rather, it is the real authority of the exalted Jesus Christ who speaks to his church through the prophetic witness of John. Because of such considerations, it is difficult to consign Revelation to the genre of apocalypse. Although numerous apocalyptic elements of style and form are found, one must conclude that they are not developed with sufficient clarity to allow us to make a final determination of genre for the book. We must therefore ask whether there are still other criteria could contribute to a clearer determination of genre.

The Epistolary Character of Revelation The research of the last two hundred years has so one-sidedly focused on the relationships between Revelation and Jewish apocalypses that it completely neglected another aspect: the epistolary character of Revelation. The book opens with an epistolary address that strikingly resembles the openings to the Pauline letters (1 :4-8), and it concludes with an ending that is customary in letters (22:21). Furthermore, its first main section (1 :9-3:22) consists of a series of specific addresses to the churches in Asia-the seven letters. By no means may one, as frequently happens, regard these epistolary elements as insIgnificant additions to the "true" apocalypse in the later main sections (4:1-22:5), or even as secondary ornamentation. Closer examination shows instead that they are inseparably connected to the rest of the book by various thematic references. The letters in the first section are intended to prepare the churches to understand the series of visions in the later sections as messages of the exalted Lord to them; conversely, the series of visions in the later sections refers directly to the problems of the churches that are addressed in the first section. The epistolary structural elements at the beginning (I :4-6) and the conclusion (22:21) are strongly reminiscent of the formula in Paul's letters. Conscious imitation may be present here. But nothing justifies the assumption that these epistolary elements occur merely because of external adaptation to a letter tradition that became firmly rooted since Paul. After all, Revelation is not a monologue that was subsequently expanded around several epistolary elements but part of a dialogue in which the author engaged with the churches in Asia Minor. As in any genuine letter, it can be understood only when one is acquainted with the recipient's point of view. Herein also rests-as is the case with the Pauline letters-the central difficulty for the interpretation; we are dependent upon reconstructing the perspective of the recipients from the few intimations of the book. With regard to the point of view of the sender, not everything has yet been said if one refers to the human author who calls himself John. It is particularly striking that again and again John emphatically expounds 7


the exalted Christ as the true author of the message of his book. Thus the seven letters of the first main section are stylized as letters that Christ dictates to the "angels" ofthe churches in Asia (2:1,8,12,18; 3:1, 7,14). John claims for himself only the function of the witness (I :2) and scribe (1: 11, 19) who passes the received message on to the churches (cf. 22:610, 16). This constellation is repeatedly recalled in the three main sections of visions (4: 1-22:5) whenever particular high points are marked by instructions to the seer to record the received message, which is intended for the church (14: 13; 19:9; 21: 5). The designation of the book's contents as "the revelation of Jesus Christ," which appears in the preface (1: 1), is also to be understood in terms of this background. By that is meant the self-proclamation of Jesus Christ that has been passed on to the churches by his "servant," John. Thus a central characteristic feature of primitive Christian prophecy is found again in Revelation. It was incumbent on the prophets, who still played an important role in the life of the church in the first century, to announce to the churches the will of the exalted Lord, revealed to them by the Spirit, as a binding, shaping message for the life and conduct of believers. This announcement occurs in Revelation in written form-specifically, in the form ofa letter, which since Paul bore a particular authoritative claim. In summary, Revelation is a prophetic writing that contains numerous apocalyptic motifs and elements of style, but whose form is chiefly characterized by the purpose of epistolary communication.

Author and Original Situation Four times the author mentions his name-John (1: 1,4,9; 22:8). For any other information about his person and position, however, we have only inferences from his work. He claims for himself neither title nor office, but rather presents himself to the churches as "your brother who share[s] with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance" (I :9). And yet, he speaks in the obvious expectation of commanding the attention of those whom he addresses. He need not first convince the churches of his authority but is able to assume this at the outset; nowhere does he consider it necessary to make a direct personal claim for authority. What gives his message full authority is the word of the exalted Christ itself which is issued through it. In any case, there is no justification for the occasionally expressed suggestion that John is merely addressing small groups in the church that are close to him; rather, his message is aimed at the churches in their totality. It is noteworthy that he nowhere mentions the church offices of bishops, deacons, elders, and pastors that already existed in the churches of Asia Minor in the Pauline missionary region. He refers only to two church offices, apostles and prophets. The first clearly appear retrospectively; for him they belong to the initial period, which has been passed, as those who laid the foundations on which the church stands (21: 14; cf. 1 Cor. 3:9-11; Eph. 2:20). In contrast, the prophets have for him an importance in the present. He makes their task and mission in 10: 1-11 into a theme of detailed reflection, by which it is clear that he is referring to his own role. It may be 8

Author and Original Situation

concluded from this that John was presumably the leading member of a group of prophets that saw its purpose in influencing directly the churches with the testimony entrusted to them. Language and the world of ideas betray the author's connection with Palestinian Jewish Christianity. Thus in 11: 1-13, he used traditional material that appears to mirror the painful experiences of the Palestinian church in the closing period of the Jewish War (A.D. 60-69). John and the circle of prophets around him therefore might have heard of those Palestinian Jewish Christians who immigrated to the province of Asia after the catastrophe in the year 70 (cf. the accounts in Eus. Rist. Eccl. 3.3739). Between A.D. 70 and 90 the churches in Asia that go back to Pauline missionary work were strongly influenced by Jewish Christians whose tracks are preserved in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna, letters that originated in this region of the church shortly after the turn of the second century. To be sure, John neither intends to convert the Pauline Gentile Christian churches as a whole to Jewish Christian views, nor does he concern himself with small circles of Jewish Christians within the churches. Rather, he fundamentally affirms Gentile Christianity and the Pauline tradition that is alive in it. Indeed, there is much to suggest that he is very familiar with the thinking of the church to which he writes, thinking that was strongly characterized by Hellenistic influences; moreover, indicators point to a deliberate attempt to interact with it. Specifically, he wishes to make clear to the churches what it means for them that Christ is the Lord of history. For them it means understanding their present circumstances within the history that is embraced by Christ and moves toward the visible accomplishment of his will; it means overcoming their individualism disconnected from history, their feeble routine Christianity, and their moral indifference; and it means enduring the approaching critical situation with obedience and responsibility vis-a.-vis the returning Lord. This critical situation to which Revelation alludes with repeated clarity (13:11-18; 17:8-14) can be described fairly accurately. The author of Revelation sees it in the growing religious-ideological claim of totality of the Roman state as it is expressed in the imperial cult of the Caesar. Augustus had already supported the divine veneration of the deceased Caesar because in it he saw a cultic-religious bond for the empire that would override the local cults. Among his successors it was particularly Caligula and Claudius who went beyond that and demanded divine glory for themselves. However, it was not until the last years of Domitian's reign (A.D. 81-96) that there was a systematic propagation of the cult of the Caesar that spanned the entire empire. He had conferred upon himselfthe official title "our Lord and God" (Suet. Dom. 13). In the years A.D. 92-96, Asia Minor, a region in which the ruler cult already had a long-standing tradition going back to pre-Roman times, became a center of religious worship of the Caesar. Excavations in Ephesus, the metropolitan city of the province at that time, have unearthed remains of a temple to Domitian and an enormous statue of the emperor that had 9


been violently destroyed after his death. Christians who refused to offer the divine worship the emperor demanded placed themselves outside society and indeed had to reckon with suffering and persecution. That Christians were considered strangers and outsiders who were distrusted in many ways was nothing new (1 Pet. 2: 12; 3: 16). The first major experience of this rejection occurred in the so-called Neronian persecution (A.D. 64) in Rome. The pogrom-like excesses and measures against Christians; yet, they remained confined to isolated places. Now, however, a whole empire threatens comprehensive total confrontation with Christians by state officials. This confrontation takes place at the time of the early stages of the writing of Revelation; only in detached places, such as in Pergamum, had the persecution become public (2: 13). In his dramatic images John not only announces an imminent, external intensification of the conflict but also makes visible its true essence: the Christians of Asia Minor are to know that encountering them in the totalitarian religious claim to power by the Roman state is the manifestation of the powers opposing God, which in the end time engage in the final futile battle against the lordship of Jesus Christ. In this conflict between the church and the empire there is no compromise; the way of the church can only be that of passi ve resistance and of obedience toward her Lord. At the same time John offers the church comfort and hope. It should know that the powers opposing God will soon have exhausted themselves and that the ultimate victory of God, which is already reality in heaven, will also soon be made manifest on earth. To be sure, Revelation neither mentions the name Domitian nor does it contain a direct and unmistakable reference to him. Occasionally, some have even claimed warrant for inferring from particular passages that Revelation was written during the reign of an earlier emperor. Thus the name of the emperor Nero lies hidden behind the secret number 666 in 13: 18, according to the most likely interpretation. This passage, however, does not speak of the contemporary Caesar at all; rather, it sketches a terroristic emperor who is awaited in the immediate future, who, according to a widespread popular notion, would be a returning Nero. The statement in 17: 10 appears to be even clearer, according to which the emperor currently in power is the sixth emperor. But this is of little help since we know neither which emperor the counting begins with nor whether it includes the three "soldier emperors." If one begins with Augustus, then Vespasian would be the sixth (leaving out the soldier emperors). During Vespasian's reign (A.D. 69-79), the conquest of Jerusalem occurred, and some have frequently understood 11:1-2 as an illusion to this event. But this very passage is merely an isolated piece of tradition from the period of the Jewish War that the author reinterprets in the context allegorically. There is no justification for understanding it as a reference to a contemporary event. And as for Vespasian, he neither promoted emperor worship nor is known for calling for the persecution of Christians. Rev. 17: 10 also appears to be an older fragment of tradition that offers nothing for the dating of the book. Also in favor of an origin of Revelation between A.D. 90 and 95 is 10

Author and Original Situation

the picture it sketches of the churches in the province of Asia. The period of the Pauline mission work seems to lie in the past; the churches show all of the crisis symptoms of the second generation, as faith threatens to languish (2:4; 3: 15-16). The gnostic heresy, which first began to take shape during Paul's lifetime, became stronger and threatened the churches (2:6, 15). From the church at Smyrna, which did not even exist during the time of Paul (Pol. Phil. 11: 3), we learn that it had already proved steadfast for a longer time, and in 3: 17 the church at Laodicea is described as "rich," although this city had almost been completely destroyed by an earthquake around A.D. 60-61. Our dating is also confirmed by the ancient church witnesses. Irenaeus, who also came from Asia Minor, writes around A.D. 180 concerning Revelation: "For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian's reign" (Adv. haer. 5.30.3 = ANF 1:559-60). Eusebius quotes this information in agreement (Hist. Ecc!. 3.18-20; 5.8.6). Modern interpretation cannot agree with ancient church witnesses who claimed that the author of Revelation is the same as that of the Gospel of John: John, the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve disciples of the earthly Jesus. According to Justin, "There was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him. (Dial. 81.4 = ANF 1:240; (cf. also Eus. Hist. Ece!. 4.26.2; Clement of Alexandria, Quis dives salvetur? 42). The assumption of authorship by John, one of the Twelve, is prohibited on the basis of the fact that the author of Revelation neither identifies himself as an apostle nor gives any indication of presenting an eyewitness account of Jesus but rather places himself in the line of church prophets. One must consider, moreover, that John of Zebedee would have had to be ninety years old at the time Revelation was written. With its dazzling colors and sharp contrasts, this powerful book does not bear traces of a work of old age. In addition, the identification of the writer of Revelation with the fourth evangelist encounters insuperable substantive obstacles as Dionysius of Alexandria already recognized in the third century (in Eus. Hist. Eccl. 7.25.7-8). The language and thought structure in both works are very different. As is generally observed, the central difference lies in the eschatology. The Fourth Gospel certainly stresses present eschatology as it demonstrates that the judgment regarding death and life already occurs in the encounter with Jesus Christ, the Revealer; Revelation, however, focuses on the future appearances of Jesus Christ as judge of the world and the fulfillment that then breaks in. Nevertheless, Revelation also knows that the judgment of what is to come has already fundamentally occurred in the cross and exaltation of Jesus Christ (5: I11). It describes the future as an event defined by the kingdom of God, which has already dawned in hidden form. More profound still are the differences in Christo logy and in understanding of the church. The Fourth Gospel thinks in terms of the coming of Jesus to the earth, that is, of the incarnation of Christ as ruler over the world and history. The Fourth Gospel knows only the bond of 11


the individual believer to Christ (John 15: 1-11.) but nowhere speaks of the community of the church and its function in the world. Correspondingly, it contains hardly any references to worship and sacraments. In contrast, the notion of the church as the people of God who are called to bear witness to the world is central for Revelation, which emphasizes that the place where the Christian community ofthe church is now realized is worship. There the church participates in the future world by means of the sacraments. Also, the conceptual terminology of John's Gospel, dominated by the great pairs of opposites such as light-darkness, lifedeath, truth-falsehood, and salvation-damnation, has no parallel in Revelation. To be sure, there are in several places surprising similarities in both writings. The designation of Christ as "the Word (of God)" is found in the New Testament only in John 1 and Rev. 19: 13; and only in John 1:29 and Rev. 5:6 is Jesus mentioned as the "lamb" (although the Greek word is not identical). But these similarities are no closer than those between Revelation and other New Testament writings.

Language and Style Within the New Testament the language of Revelation has no parallel. Nowhere is the Greek "ground cover" over the Semitic "subsoil" as thin as it is here. The Greek character of Revelation follows the style and rules of form for Hebrew and Aramaic so much that linguistic incongruities constantly arise that are difficult to translate. However, it is unlikely that the basis for this feature is the lack of familiarity with Greek on the part of the writer, who comes from Palestine. In several places he demonstrates that he knew the Greek language relatively well and was able to use typically Greek expressions. More likely is the assumption that he consciously employed this ancientsounding Hebraicized Greek in order to remind his readers of the biblical language of the Old Testament. Close examination shows that he largely took his linguistic and conceptual material from the Old Testament. It is true that he does not quote the Old Testament a single time-proof texts that are otherwise common in early Christianity are absent-but large portions of the book are nothing more than paraphrasing interpretations of Old Testament texts, predominantly from the prophets Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, and Daniel. Thus behind the vision of the heavenly throne in chapter 4 stands Ezekiel 1, behind the vision of the beast in chapter 13 stands Daniel 7, and behind the concluding vision of the fulfillment stands Ezekiel 40-48. The symbols and images of the Old Testament models are freely adapted and modified in the service of the author's compositional method and poetic power of expression. New elements of interpretation overlap traditional images, and the new meaning that they achieve is at the expense of their vividness. Thus for example, in the vision of the throne vehicle in Ezek. 1: 18, the concept of wheels that are full of eyes inside and outside is still primarily visual; however, in its transference to the particular creatures of the vision of the throne room i.n Rev. 4:8, it becomes nonvisual and abstract. 12

Tradition and Interpretation

On the basis of such observations, the list of which could be lengthened, the question of the so-called genuineness of experience of the visions in Revelation must be answered very cautiously. Without doubt, John, as a prophet, not only received instructions in the Spirit of the exalted Christ but also had visionary experiences. But what he writes down in his book is not their photographically precise image, as it were. Rather, it is so strongly subjected to the process of theological interpretation and reflection on the Old Testament that inferences as to the contents of the original visions are not possible. Especially problematic is any attempt at a psychological interpretation that would try to draw from the contents of the visions conclusions regarding the spiritual disposition and internal world of the seer.

Tradition and Interpretation As far as its composition as a whole is concerned, Revelation should be seen as a uniform, consistently constructed work that from beginning to end reflects the theological intention of its author. The assumption, represented in earlier research, of an underlying document of Jewishapocalyptic origin that has been supplemented and commented upon by a Christian editor is not viable. The clear connection between the first main section and those that follow leaves unpersuasive the thesis that the book originated in two phases: for example, that the author enlarged the book of visions (probably 4:1-19:10), which was written first, then probably the part consisting of letters (1 :4-3:22), as well as the concluding sections (19: 11-22:21). As uniform as the book is in its overall continuity, it nevertheless exhibitis at many points numerous irregularities, breaks, and repetitions that require explanation. Thus in the visions ofthe seven trumpets (8:211: 19) two different principles of organization intersect. The last three trumpets are introduced as the "three woes" without the reader knowing the reason for it. The trumpet visions are extensively parallel, in terms of content, with the visions of the seven bowls (15: 1-16:21), a circumstance that is also not explained. One may conjecture that the author used here two variants of an already present tradition. But even beyond the great series of visions, he returns again and again to earlier material. Thus in 11:1-14, two Jewish Christian pieces of tradition from the time of the Jewish War are assimilated. Their contemporary references almost explode the context. Behind the passages 10: 1-11; 14:6-20; 17:8-18; and 18: 1-24, older traditions might also stand. John attempted to incorporate material taken from the rich reservoir of early Christian apocalyptic tradition by revising his own theological statement of intention. However, he is only partially successful; the traditions maintain their own life, as it were, beneath the thin cover of interpretation. The numerous hymnic pieces are a problem. They appear in a series of scenes that, interrupting the portrayal of the end-time event, deal with the worship of the heavenly Being and the perfected righteous ones in heaven (4:11; 5:9-13; 7:9-17; 11:15-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19: 1-8). In view of its worshiplike language, it has been asked whether 13


John took it directly from the liturgy of his church. But there is little support for this possibility. John certainly occasionally uses elements and forms of expression of worship of his time, but he himself essentially wrote the hymnic passages, as the artistic language reveals.

Regarding the Challenge of Interpretation Whoever wishes to understand a text of the distant past must try to determine what the writer wanted to say to his or her readers at the time and in what sense those readers could understand the writer's message. Attention to this basic rule is particularly important in an interpretation of Revelation. What especially strikes the modern reader in this book are the mysterious, unfamiliar images. Our powers of imagination are so captivated by the contents of the fantastic and bizarre visions and by the scintillating apocalyptic language that we may easily miss the real message of the book. But for the writer, this world of images was a piece of the intellectual tradition in which he lived; it was, as it were, a language whose grammar he so controlled that he was able to use it to communicate his message to the churches of Asia Minor. After all, the grammar of this language was also to a certain extent familiar to these churches from Christian tradition. We can assume that neither for John nor for the Christians of Asia Minor were the actual images and contents of the visions truly central. What John wants to say is found not in the sounds and syllables of this language but in the passages he forms from them. His message is thus expressed less in the strength of the image of communicated visions and more in arranging traditional visual material, in furnishing his editorial comments that diverge from tradition, and in fitting it all together into an overlapping and unified composition. The main goal of my interpretation is to investigate these relationships established by the writer and thus to decode his message. However, for reasons of space, I must largely forgo a history-of-religion and a history-of-tradition analysis of the particular materials utilized (as Wilhelm Bousset accomplished impressively in his extensive commentary). It should be clear now that the understanding of Revelation that has been favored down to the modern era is not satisfactory-the book does not intend to present an interpretation of church and/or world history, and it is a mistake to interpret particular images in terms of specific events and persons. Much less can we use such identification to find our present moment in the course of the history presumably prophesied here, and then from that orientation to draw conclusions regarding the time that remains until the end of the world. John does not intend to provide a predetermined portrayal of the course of the world for the later church. Instead, in a very concrete, contemporary situation he is concerned that the oppressed interpret their situation in light of their faith in the reign of the exalted Christ over this history. Only if we take seriously this contemporary background of Revelation does its message also become meaningful and exciting for us. For then we recognize that this book is not, as its critics maintain, a collection of gloomy pronounce14

Structure and Organization

ments of the future that provoke speculation. Rather, in light of the hope given by Christ, it sketches a substantive image of the history that hastens toward its end and thus aids the church in recognizing its responsibility in that history.

Structure and Organization In interpretating Revelation, much depends on whether one is successful in detecting the principle of composition that the author has pursued in the organization and interpretation of his abundant material. Relatively unproblematic in this regard is the first main section (1 :9-3:22), which includes the seven letters (2: 1-3:22). Regarding the section (4: 1-22:5), however, considerable difficulties arise. Here the interpreter must especially deal with the question of the relationship of the three series of visions (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls) to one another. At first glance, one might think that successive periods of the end time are being described. Thus, the grouping of the visions of the seven trumpets appears to grow out of the last part of the visions of the seven seals (8:1-5). Arguing against this interpretation, however, is the fact that a corresponding transition from the visions of the seven trumpets to the visions of the seven bowls is absent, that the contents of the three cycles of sevens are quite similar, and above all, that the visions ofthe trumpets and those of the bowls are in large part parallel. Thus, the theory of recapitulation, which is represented for the first time by the ancient church interpreter Victorin von Pettan (d. 304), is more probable. It explains these repetitions by maintaining that the same end-time events are described variously from different angles of vision. More important still is the question of the relationship of the three great cycles of sevens to the surrounding sections. Commentators have frequently attempted to arrange these also in series of sevens, believing that the book's principle of composition is an arrangement of units of sevens. But the results have been too contrived to be persuasive. The opposite approach of explaining the sections that stand between the series of sevens as supplementary appendixes and insertions also has led to a dead end. After all, one does not do justice thereby to the substantive importance of such passages as 12: 1-14: 19; and 17: 1-19: 10. Progress is made only if one draws conclusions from insights regarding the relationship of the author to the materials that have been passed to him by tradition and as one frees oneself from a one-sided fixation on the cycles of sevens which according to their context are largely found in tradition. One could thus profitably pursue the network of thematic main lines, compositional references, and motif connections by which John organizes his various materials. The following observations emerge thereby, which constitute the basis for our outline of the book (see the table of contents). First, the vision of the throne in 4:1-5:14 is the center that governs the entire main section. Three thematic series of references proceed from it and determine the following presentation. 15


The first series of references takes up the theme of the lordship of Jesus Christ over history, which is found in the delivery of the sealed book to the lamb (5:1-14). In the opening of the seven seals (6:1-8:1) the exalted Christ is proved to be the one who has the authority to set in motion the sequence of end-time events. But in the cycle of seven trumpets (8:2-11: 19) the idea of Christ's power over history is also taken up indirectly insofar as the end-time catastrophes are interpreted as a call to repentance (9:20). When with the sounding of the seven trumpets (11: 1519) heavenly voices finally announce the lordship of Christ over the world, one is led directly back to 5: 1-14. The first circle is closed here, defining a distinct segment. With 12: 1 a new circle extending to 19: 10 clearly begins. A second series of references now appears, which is the negative counterpart to 4: 1-11 : 19: God's adversary and the demonic powers employed by him, who want to contest Christ's right to lordship over the world. It is clear that the scene in 13: I-tO, in which the dragon delivers power over the world to the beast from the sea, parodies the transfer of the kingdom to the lamb in 5: 1-14. The sections that follow draw their tension from the struggle, which now begins, of God against this adversary, whose power manifests itself in the form of the demonic empire in history. Here the third cycle of sevens of the vision of the bowls is found. In content, it reflects the same catastrophes and afflictions as the two preceding cycles of sevens; what is new, however, is the illumination it provides: now it is a matter of the end-time event as God's judgment over this adversary. The third series of references, beginning with 4: 1-5: 14, transects the two others. To it belongs a series of passages that, in regular intervals, interrupt the description of the final events with its catastrophes and afflictions. The theme here is the church. John wishes to demonstrate that although it is engulfed and threatened by this event, it now has a part in the new reality that is established in heaven by the lordship of Christ: it lives from the hope in the visible but still unfulfilled accomplishment of the power of its Lord (7: 1-17; 15:2-4). Thus, the church can .endure the most extreme danger to its existence and can demonstrate steadfastness and obedience (14:1-5). Second, a clearly marked break exists between 19: 10 and 11. The sections that now follow focus on the events that conclude the end-time event: the return of Jesus as judge of the world (19:11-21), the establishment of the messianic kingdom (20: 1-10), the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of the world (20: 11-15), as well as the new world and the consummation of the community of salvation (21:1-22:5). The return of Christ is presented as the triumph over the forces opposing God (19: 11-21). In this section the composition} references to chapers 12 and 13 stand out prominently; this is to emphasize that the returning Christ will overpower the hostile power with whose visible manifestation, the godless world empire, the church is presently in conflict. When in conclusion (21:1-22:5) God's new world is portrayed in the two images of the bride of the lamb (21 :2; cf. 19:7) and the heavenly 16

Structure and OrgJlnization

city (21 :9-22: 5), we have clear counterreferences to the "harlot of Babylon" (17: 1-6) and to the hostile "city" that has fallen under judgment. But 13: I-lOis also presented again as a contrast, for the city of God, which comes from heaven and in which praise to God resounds eternally, now takes the place of the kingdom "from below" (13: 1), which was the place of glorification of God's adversary (13:4). Finally, it is clear that the compositional references are assembled strongly in two places: The first is the vision of the throne in 4:1-5:14, which forms the theological fulcrum of the entire book. The second is the twofold vision of the beast in 13: 1-18. The latter, together with 17: 18, indicates the actual crisis situation, which the Christians of Asia Minor needed to understand and to endure. For that purpose, John wrote his book.


Revelation 1 :1 -3


Text 1 : 1 The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. 2 He bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to everything that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads aloud these prophetic words and those who hear and keep what is written therein; for the time is near.

Form In the ancient world it was quite common to place brief statements about the author and the contents at the beginning of a literary work. Such comments ordinarily represented only an expanded superscription. This form at the beginning of Revelation, however, is developed further into an actual, brief foreword that informs about the content, essence, and goal of the book in terse, precise formulations. It has a certain similarity to the openings of Old Testament prophetic books (Hos. I: I; Amos I: I; Isa. I: I), which could, however, hardly have served as a literary model. In the New Testament one finds no corresponding instances; only Luke's Gospel has a foreword (Luke 1:1-4), but it follows the literary form of dedication. In contrast, several extracanonical writings of the second century-for example, the Didache. the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. and the Apocryphon of John from Nag Hammadi-exhibit preliminary remarks that are similar in form and content. Whether this similarity is purely coincidental or an indication of a fixed literary form that had developed shortly before the turn of the century can hardly be determined with any degree of clarity. The fact that the foreword is placed before the beginning of the letter in 1:4-8 is surprising at first glance. However, this does not warrant 18


the assumption of a secondary addition. Both in terms of language and content I: 1-3 fits into the book smoothly; such a close bond exists with the conclusion (22:6-21) that one could speak of a frame that encloses the whole. But there is also a substantive basis for the priority of the foreword: apparently it was John's intention before taking up the real communication of the letter to the churches in Asia to explain the framework that determines everything that follows. The originator of Revelation is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Although John is writing to the churches, it is not because he has something of his own to tell them; rather, Christ is using John as an instrument to declare his will to his churches through John. John withdraws himself completely; he wishes to be nothing more than an effective tool. Because it makes clear that the epistolary communication of John to the churches is at the same time an event in which God speaks to his own through Christ, the foreword becomes an important means of guidance for the reader.

Commentary f1:1) The opening verse begins by specifying directly the content of the book: "the revelation of Jesus Christ." What does this phrase communicate? Revelation (apokaiypsis). in its literal meaning, is the uncovering of what is hidden. With this concept, early Christianity expressed the fundamental idea that God in his activity in Jesus Christ has come forward out of hiddenness, that God has disclosed to his own the secrets of his saving activity and graciously proclaimed his will to them. Indeed, its breadth of significance in the New Testament is considerable; it spans from the proclamation mediated by prophets ofthe church about the divine plan of salvation and purpose (1 Cor. 14:6, 30) across the ecstatic vision of heavenly things (2 Cor. 12: I, 7) to the end-time appearances of Jesus Christ himself (I Cor. 1:7; 2 Thess. 1:7). For our purposes, only the first of these points comes into play. The revelation, however, is one that proceeds from Jesus Christ (the subjective genitive), the cause of which is God, and that is mediated to the "servants" of God, that is, the members of the churches, through John by virtue of his prophetic calling. The fact that this revelation comes to John predominantly in ecstatic visions of the apocalyptic sort is not crucial for fleshing out the content here of apokalypsis. since these visions are, strikingly, never designated as "revelations." The important point is not the manner in which the revelation is received but the fact that this binding word of Jesus Christ is for the churches. The reference to the content of the revelation as "what must soon take place" adds the tone of apocalyptic, however, by reflecting almost verbatim a formulation in Dan. 2:28. Events in the world are shaped neither by blind chance nor by human initiative but rather unfold according to a plan decided by God before all eternity; indeed, the realization of this plan has entered the final, decisive phase, which means that the goal that God has set for history is immanent. John shares this basic conviction with all apocalypticists in order to fulfill its content, as will be shown, in a new way by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of history. The angel of God appears as an intermediary 19

Revelation 1:1-3

between Christ as the author of the revelation and John, its recipient (cf. 19:9-10; 22:6, 16). It also corresponds to apocalyptic style that angels appear as dispensers and interpreters of visions. Understood here is one of the seven angels that according to Jewish tradition stand before the face of God. John mentions his own name without adding a designation of office or title (cf. commentary at 1:9). It is noteworthy that the mere mention of his name suffices to create a hearing for his words. Since the only predicate that he claims for himself is that of being a servant of Jesus Christ, which is none other than what is attributed to all members of the church, we must conclude that John consciously and adamantly rejects a claim to authority on the basis of his office or position. What is to gain attention for his message is simply the fact that Christ himself speaks through it. Thus the book's superscription "revelation of John," which was deri ved in the second century from v. 1, is, in the end, not entirely correct because it suggests the impression that John is the originator and author of the revelation that ensues in this book. It would better read "revelation of Jesus Christ through John." (1:2) This verse forms the bridge from the writer to the recipient as it

describes the results of John's receiving the revelation of Jesus Christ. John has testified, without suppressing anything, to all that he saw and to that which in its essence was the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ; his witness now lies before the churches in written form. Just as John does not hide behind a pseudonym in the manner of writers of Jewish apocalyptic, so too he does not wish his book to be understood as a secret writing that would be accessible only to a select few. Because Jesus Christ addresses the whole church in his revelation, it is John's task to make it public-which indeed occurs through his witness.

Excursus: Testimony and the One Bearing Witness With the term testimony, or witness (martyria), one of the central theological terms in Revelation is introduced. Its origin is in the realm oflaw: testimony is the binding deposition that someone renders before a court about that which one has seen and heard. Whenever the New Testament speaks oftestimony and of bearing testimony or witness to that which has occurred in Jesus Christ, it signifies not only a formally reliable reproduction of words and facts but also an intercession of the one bearing testimony with his or her whole person on behalf of the truth about what has been heard and seen. In this sense of the unity of testimony to fact and truth, the disciples after Easter proclaimed to the world the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Cor. 15: 15; Acts 2:32; 3: 15; 5:31-32). Here Revelation goes a step further inasmuch as it points to a direct correspondence between the testimony that human beings bear and the testimony that Jesus Christ himself has borne. Jesus is the "faithful witness" (1: 5), whose intercession for God's cause has been fulfilled in his crucifixion. One can be a witness for Jesus only if one is prepared to let 20


oneself be shaped by Jesus' own witness, which means taking the road of suffering obedience for the sake of Jesus' cause uncompromisingly and, if necessary, even to death (cf. commentary on 2: I3). Revelation precedes the theology of the martyrs of the second century, according to which genuine witness necessarily demands death. But it clearly moves in this direction when it assigns an exalted place to the testimony of those who spill their blood for its sake (6:9; 11 :3; 20:4). However, above all, this christological understanding of bearing testimony appears to be one of the roots for the rigorous ethics in Revelation. According to it, every Christian is fundamentally called to bear witness, which means that he or she must be prepared to suffer for the sake of obedience in relation to the testimony of Jesus, even to the point of death (cf. 13:9-10; I4:4-5). In his testimony John wishes to pass on the testimony of Jesus Christ-the message of the risen and exalted One that has its basis in the willingness of the crucified One to die-and at the same time to develop its consequences. It is nothing other than the word of God itself. [1:3) The final verse of the foreword is devoted to the recipient. The appropriate behavior of the churches in relation to the book appears here in a pronouncement of blessing. This is the first of seven such pronouncements. Together they develop the message of the book in solemn, comprehensive formulations that address the situation of the readers (14: 13; 16: IS; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, I4). The first blessing is the only one given neither by Jesus nor an angel but by John himself. Through it a place is assigned to the book in the worship of the community: it is not to be used as a reading for a few who are seeking special secret knowledge; rather, it is intended to be read as a prophetic word in the openness of the gathered community, just as Paul's letters were intended to be read in worship (1 Thess. 5:27). Already toward the end of the first century, the practice of reading aloud Christian writings in worship alongside texts from the Old Testament seems to have been widespread (Col. 4:16; Justin Apo/. 1.67.3). The formulation ofv. 3 could even be part ofa pronouncement of blessing that introduces such readings, an interpretation favored by its striking similarity to Luke II :28, a verse undoubtedly used in worship. With the reading and attentive hearing of John's prophecy, we reach the last part of the arch that the foreword lays out, which spans from Revelation's origin to its goal. Indeed, everything depends on the message of this book being faithfully kept by its hearers. A twofold meaning seems to be suggested: first, the prophecy must be protected from threatening falsifications (22: I8-19); second, its hearers must adhere to all its demands (3:3,8,10; 12:17; I4:12). The reference to the immanence of end-time events gives this admonition its emphatic seriousness. It is John's conviction that the hearers can withstand the afflictions of the end time that are coming to them only if they adhere, in thought and behavior, to the firm basis of the message that is declared to them.


Revelation 1 :4-8

Epistolary Opening

Text 1:4 John to the seven churches in (the province of) Asia: Grace be with you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the One who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and has made us a kingdom and priests for God, his Father,-to him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold he comes with clouds, and every eye will see him, and (also) those who pierced him, and all families of the earth will wail over him. Even so, Amen. a "I am the Alpha and the Omega,· says God the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Form Pauline epistolary introductions doubtless served as a model for John in his direct address to the recipients. John may have referred back to this form, which was familiar to the churches established by Pauline missionary work, but not without introducing also some new accents that signal the thematic focus of his book. The customary introduction of the Hellenistic-Roman letter consisted of a single phrase: Greetings from A (writer) to B (recipient). The beginning of the Pauline letters can be portrayed schematically in the following way: 1. A to B (in one phrase) 2. Greeting formula (in a separate phrase) 3. Thanksgiving


That Paul expanded the customary greeting formula to an independent sentence may be less because he had adopted an element of Near Eastern letter style than because he had the need to address his churches with a theologically augmented greeting formula that was familiar to them in the context of the worship service. Revelation follows Paul in the first step, identifying writer and recipient in v. 4a. Also as in Paul, the greeting formula is contained in a separate clause (vv. 4b, 5a). However, in place of Paul's thanksgiving (e.g., in Gal. 1:5), a christological formula of praise (doxology) appears in v. 6b that is expanded and developed by the adoption of a type of confessional formula, the Sitz im Leben of which is apparently a baptismal service (vv. 5b, 6a). There follows a prophetic saying that proclaims the return of Jesus Christ (v. 7), as well as a direct statement by God that solemnly confirms this announcement. Commentary [1:4] Unlike in Paul, the identification of writer and recipient is extremely

brief. Beyond 1: 1, John forgoes every predicate that accompanies his name. Seven churches in the Roman province of Asia proconsularis are addressed, the names of which we later learn (1: II). It is surely no coincidence that there are seven; in Revelation, seven is without exception the number for completeness established by God. In German it is customary to translate the Greek work ekklesia, used here, wherever the gathering of Christians in one place is meant, with "community" (Gemeinde); and wherever the larger community of believers in Christ is intended, it is rendered with "church" (Kirch e). It is characteristic of John's thinking, which is strongly influenced by worship, that he applies the word ekklesia only to the Community-to the gathering of Christians in a particular place, joined together through the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Nevertheless the dimension of the larger church is not foreign to him; he includes it with the number seven. The end-time people of God in its wholeness is conceivable for him only as the fullness of believers made holy by God who concretely assemble around the table of the Lord. The greeting formula in its center-the wish of grace and peace for the recipients-is identical with that used by Paul. In form, the customary word of Jewish greeting, "peace" (shalom), is placed here beside the noun "grace," which is at the root of the customary Greek greeting. Through this association as well as through the wider continuation a statement arises that goes beyond the level of human greetings and wishes: the writer tells his readers of the certainty of the end-time life of salvation (shalom) that has already begun in the gift of God's grace in Jesus Christ. The communication between writer and reader is intentionally subordinated here to the activity of God. The two-part continuation of the Pauline formula (" ... from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ") is replaced-also according to plan-by a three-part formula. In the first part, which mentions God, a three-part formula, not found elsewhere in the New Testament and


Revelation 1:4-8

closely tied to contemporary Jewish interpretations of Exod. 3: 14, appears in the place of the Father predicate, which clearly recedes in importance in Revelation. (God is designated throughout only as the Father of Jesus Christ, not as the Father of believers; cf. v. 6; 2:28; 3:5, 21; 14: 1.) Because it expresses the eternity and identity of God with himself in past, present, and future, it has been labeled the formula of immutability. This immutability is not that of a being that persists motionlessly in itself, but rather one of an activity that orders the times and controls history. This understanding is made clear in that the anticipated phrase" ... who will be" is replaced by "who is to come." Beyond the immutability formula (1:8; 4:8), Revelation speaks only of the coming of Jesus Christ (1:7; 2:5, 16; 3:11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 17,20). The formulation found here does not contradict that; rather, it interprets the coming of Jesus as the event in which God's power over history is visibly achieved. The seven spirits before the throne of God, which are mentioned in the second part of the formula, have for centuries been joined with the idea of the sevenfold Spirit of God (which goes back to Isa. 11 :2), whereby the number seven was understood as an expression of the ordered abundance of the work of the Spirit. Over against this interpretation, which was influenced by later dogmatics and for which no sound support can be produced, one might draw on that which identified the seven spirits with the seven heavenly angels who-according to a Jewish notion-are allies with God as servants and instruments who immediately carry out his commands (Tob. 12:15; 1 Enoch 20:1ff.; cf. Str.=B. 3:805ff.). In the language of Jewish theology on the one hand, the expressions "spirits" and "angels" are used interchangeably; on the other hand, John sets the seven spirits in direct parallel to the angels (3: 1; 4:5; 5:6), while establishing no such relationship when speaking of the spirit in the singular (e.g., 3:6, 13,22). (1:Sa] Only in the third part is Christ mentioned. This is not intended as a diminution of Christ vis-a.-vis the angels but rather results from the strictly theocentric orientation of Revelation: the heavenly angels, who belong to and are devoted to God, are placed by him in the service of Christ's saving work. Nevertheless, they still remain God's angels; this relationship is expressed by their mention between God and Christ. As God, so also is Christ more precisely described by means of three predicates, which are reminiscent of Ps. 88:28, 38 (LXX). The first, "the faithful witness," refers back to his earthly work; he fulfilled the message given to him with the obedience of his whole person and sealed this work with his death (cf. commentary on 1:2). The application of the adjective "faithful" to Christ appears to refer to a tradition that occurs several times in the later writings of the New Testament. This tradition speaks of the faithfulness of Jesus as sealed in his death (Heb. 2: 17; 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:13). The second predicate, "firstborn of the dead," not only includes the saving event of the resurrection but also addresses the present under24


standing of Jesus Christ for the churches. Because in the resurrection he has gone before as the firstborn from the kingdom of death, God's new creation has already become reality in him (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1: 15), and those who belong to him have the promise of going with him and through him from death to life. John perhaps is consciously alluding here to a notion that is familiar to the churches in Asia Minor and that we know from Col. 1: 18. According to it, Christ is the firstborn from the dead as well as the head of the body of the church, which by virtue of this close connection to its Lord, is now already standing under the reality of the resurrection. Finally, by naming Christ "the ruler of the kings of the earth," the third predicate addresses his significance beyond the church and at the same time introduces a primary motif for the whole book. By his exaltation Christ has been established as Lord over the cosmos and over history (cf. Phil. 2: 1; Eph. 1:20-23; Matt. 28: 18). The "lords of the earth" are not only the political rulers, whose selfish desire for power knows no bounds, but also the demonic powers, who appear in Revelation as their exponents and helpers (cf. 13: 1-3). With the appearance of Christ's kingdom all of them are subordinated to his power. John's prophetic message will deal with how the exalted Christ accomplishes in the end time his will against the attempt of the "lords of the earth" to assert their power. [1:5b, 6] The doxology that follows is aimed even more decisively at the present meaning of salvation in Jesus Christ for the churches: it substantiates the summons to praise with the references to what Christ has done for his own. The sonorous, liturgically rich language should not conceal the fact that John establishes a direction here that is fundamental for the theological conception of Revelation. The starting point for everything that follows is that which has already occurred through Christ and is now at work in various ways in the life ofthe churches. This is reflected in formulations in which the writer emphatically allies himself with the recipients using "we" and "us." Much supports the notion that here John consciously addresses the Asia Minor churches, using ideas that held particular significance for them. Widespread in the region of Pauline missionary work was the thought that placed the present realization of salvation in the center of faith; it was therefore constantly in danger of slipping into an individualistic enthusiasm that was estranged from the world and history. Evidence of this tendency is seen in the Letter to the Colossians. Yet, the manner in which John confronts his addressees with these ideas makes it obvious that he is expressly at one with the churches to which he writes regarding the realized event of salvation. He wishes to supplement this basic position by means of what he has to say about the activity of God still to come in the world and in history. John does not represent one-sidedly a futuristic-apocalyptic eschatology to the exclusion of a present eschatology. Indeed, he vigorously emphasizes the future eschatology, but he does so on the basis of the experience of salvation that is already presently realized in the Christ-event.


Revelation 1:4-8

The first of the three statements characterizes comprehensively the saving work of Jesus Christ as his love for us. This love became evident in an event of the past, namely, in Jesus' death, but its effect penetrates the present, sustaining and defining Christian existence. The second statement names the consequences of this cross-event, namely, redemption from sins through the blood of Jesus. As throughout the New Testament (e.g., Mark 14:24; Rom. 3:25; 5:9; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25; Heb. 9: 12), blood does not refer to the actual substance, but rather to the death of Jesus. His life was the purchase price by means of which he rescued members of the church from the realm of the hostile, enslaving power of sin and put them under the authority of his kingdom. The consequence of the cross-event, then, is an exchange in power and dominion. This interpretation of the death of Jesus agrees with a theological motif that is particularly prominent in Pauline circles (Gal. 3: 13; 4:5; 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet. 1: 18). But while Paul maintains that believers, although freed from the dominion of sin, are threatened by it as much as ever and must constantly struggle against it, Revelation advocates a fundamental freedom of Christians from sin (cf. 1:5; 2:6, 22; 18:4). This position has significant consequences for the ethic represented in this book. The third statement supplies a positive supplement to the second insofar as it describes the status that Christians have attained through liberation from the past of their sins. This occurs in an expression which superficially resembles Exod. 19:6, where God promises Israel, who has been delivered from the oppression of Egypt: "you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation." The future promise there is transposed here into the past; it is declared as an event that has already taken place. Note, however, that "priestly kingdom" has become "a kingdom" (cf. the central role of "kingdom" in Jesus' proclamation) and the simple plural "priests." It should be said here that Christians are God's realm of dominion; wherever they are, in the midst of a world quickly coming to its end, something of God's end-time new creation is realized. This is, in fact, expressed in that Christians remain faithful to God; they no longer need the mediation of priests who establish the bond between the world of the profane and the distant realm of God. Instead, they, like the priests in the Old Testament, have immediate access to God's realm; indeed, they belong to this realm (cf. 20:6; 22:3-5). The conclusion to the doxology contains formal phrases that were firmly anchored in Christian worship. But whereas originally they were confined exclusively to God (e.g., 5: 13; 7: 10; Rom. 11 :36), here they are transferred to Christ, as is also the case in other second-generation Christian writings (cf. 2 Tim. 4: 18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4: 11; 2 Pet. 3: 18). The closing "Amen" also corresponds to liturgical usage. This Hebrew word meaning "so be it" or "so it is" was the answer of the community in the synagogue worship to the prayer of praise spoken by the prayer leader. This practice was adopted in Christian worship. In addition, in Revelation we encounter for the first time instances of an "Amen" where it is no longer a community response, but rather an immediate conclusion to a formula of praise (cf. 7:12; 22:20). 26


(1:7) From the perspective of the present lordship of Jesus Christ, as it was experienced in the faith of the church, the words of the prophet provide the link to its worldwide end, which is not yet visible to all people. Thereby the two constitutive poles of tension for the christological statements of the book are brought into relationship to one another. In form, v. 7 is a combination of two Old Testament quotations. The first is taken from the description of the mysterious appearance of the heavenly "son of man" in Dan. 7: 13 ("I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven"); the second originates from the prophetic portrayal of the end time by Zech. 12: 10-14, according to which the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who have been miraculously rescued by God, full of repentance "look on the one whom they have pierced"obviously a figure selected by God for particular service to his people-in order to prevent people from mourning him. Both passages might have been assimilated early into the reservoir of illustrations for christological proof-texting. Thus, Dan. 7: 13 appears in the Synoptic apocalypse (Mark 13:26 par. Luke 21 :27) as an allusion to the Parousia, while Zech. 12: lOis understood in John 19:37 as a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus. But the combination of both quotations was already present in tradition, as the parallel in Matt. 24:30 demonstrates (cf. also Justin Dial. 14.8). For although a literary dependence between Revelation and Matthew can be excluded, v. 7 and Matt. 24:30 are in harmony regarding characteristic changes vis-a-vis the Greek forms of the Old Testament text. Thus, in both places a different Greek word for "see" than appears in Dan. 7: 13 is chosen, namely one that rhymes with "mourn" (Matt. 24:30 kopsonlai . .. kai opsontai). Also in both passages a universalistic broadening of the assertion of Zech. 12: 14, which originally referred only to Israel, is applied, when "all the families that are left" is altered to "all the families (tribes] of the earth." It is striking that John does not use the central son of man predicate in Dan. 7: 13, whereas he appropriates it emphatically in the vision account that follows (v. 13), in the context of an independent reference to Dan. 7: 13. The reason for this usage may be that the christological tradition of quotations available to him used the son of man predicate in the sense of a clear christological title (Matt. 24:30: "and they will see the son of man"; cf. Dan. 7: 13), whereas John avoids such a titular definition consistently and uses it, as in Dan. 7: 13, in the sense of a mysterious apocalyptic representation of one who is "like the son of man." But if that is the case, then this is further evidence that in v. 7 John is following a tradition and not quoting directly from the Old Testament. What he found in this tradition was a statement about the encounter of the great number of nonbelievers with the returning Christ: they will all then recognize him as the ruler and judge, and this recognition will produce among them a sense of grief as well as a confession of complicity in the death of Jesus that serves as a visible sign of repentance and return to God. Whether such late repentance and return opens the way to community with God and Jesus Christ, or whether here it is a matter of an irrevocable "too late" is not clear. The only concern of the text is to 27

Revelation 1:4-8

proclaim the coming universal acknowledgment of the lordship of Jesus Christ by all people, his followers as well as his present enemies. The "Amen" whose ratifying meaning is also underscored by the addition of "so it is to be," which is intended as a translation of the Hebrew word, is here, unlike in v. 6, not a kind of responsi ve conclusion to the communal praise, but rather a transition to v. 8. (1:8)11 is God himself who expressly ratifies the importance of the preceding christological assertions. Such a direct speech by God in Revelation is found otherwise only in 21:5-8. Here it serves to identify the Christ-event with the activity and being of God himself: Christ will come and be acknowledged before all the world as ruler because and insofar as God allows himself to be recognized in him as the One who is to come. What occurs in Christ is nothing other than the end-time realization of the claim of authority that God makes as the Almighty relative to his world. The statement about God begins with a powerfully assertive metaphor: God is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the beginning and the end by which everything is embraced. In its basic meaning this metaphor conforms to biblical passages such as Isa. 44:6 ("I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God"), without being derived from them. Some have sought its background in Jewish speculations about alphabetical letters, which start with the notion that the Hebrew word for "truth" (emet), which also serves as a term for God, includes the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But the evidence for this is late and uncertain. We do know, however, that already in the second century in Hellenistic Christianity speculations about numbers and letters played an important role (Iren. Adv. haer. 1.14). John perhaps is referring here to such speculations in the churches, which he mentions in order to reinterpret them from his point of view with meaning froOm the theology of history that he represents. While he decodes the metaphor by repeating the formula of immutability that he used earlier in the greeting formula (v. 4), he makes it clear that the God to whom he bears witness is the living and historically active God. The concluding predicate for God, "the Almighty" (pantokrator), is also strongly colored by Hellenistic backgrounds. In the LXX it serves regularly as the translation for the designation sebaot = (Lord 00 hosts, which is attached to the name of the Lord. However, independent of such, the Stoic understanding of deity asserting itself in the predicate played an important role as a key concept; this may also be the reason that early Christianity avoided it to a great extent. In the New Testament one finds it, apart from 2 Cor. 6: 18, only in Revelation, but relatively frequently here (4:8; 1l:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6, 15; 12:22); it then became a common term in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. That John breaks with the reservations of early Christianity regarding this title may, at least in part, be connected to his forthright focus of attention upon the 28


Hellenistic Christians here addressed, among whom the title was certainly common. But above all it shows itself to be suitable for the biblical supplements cited throughout in order to establish a central accent regarding the image of God in Revelation: whereas human rulers like to claim total dominion over the world and have themselves celebrated as rulers of history, and whereas demonic powers like to afflict the community of God, in truth it is God alone to whom dominion over the world and history belongs.


Revelation 1 :9-20

Commissioning Vision

Text 1:9 I John, your brother, who shares with you the affliction, the dominion, and the perseverance in Jesus, I was on the island with the name Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I fell into a trance on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a voice, powerful like a trumpet, 11 which said, "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. 12 And I turned around to see the voice which was speaking to me; and when I turned around, I saw seven golden lampstands 13 and in the midst of the lampstands One, like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle around his breast. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, like snow, and his eyes were like flames of fire; 15 his feet were like gold ore which is refined in an oven, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth went forth a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in its strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell down at his feet like a dead man. And he laid his right hand on me and said, "Fear not'" I am the first and the last 18 and the living One, and I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys to death and Hades. 19 Write down what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place hereafter. 20 With the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands the matter is to be understood thusly: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.



Form The body of the letter opens with a great vision scene. Whereas after the introductory formalities in his letters Paul turns immediately to the recipient churches, John at this point reports about the experience through which the message of Jesus came to him, which he is preparing to pass on to the churches. It is important to observe that the scene has both a confirming and an inaugurating function. The gift of the letter from John to the churches is confirmed by means of the double command to write (vv. II, 19). He does not address the Asia Minor Christians on his own authority, but rather in carrying out a command of his exalted Lord, who is also the Lord of the church. Now, however, the focus shifts from the command to write to the contents of the message of the exalted One, which moves then immediately into the circular letters that follow (2: 13:22); in fact, they are composed as direct words of Jesus. Only in terms ofform do vv. 19-20 constitute a certain conclusion; in terms of content they inaugurate the circular-letter section, which, as it were, emerges out of them. The constellation, intimated in vv. 1-2, between Jesus the dispenser of the revelation, John its witness, and the churches to which it is directed thus receives here its narrative foundation. In its form, the scene has often been traced to Old Testament accounts of calls of prophets (e.g., Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 1-3), but without justification. One does find here a series of similarities in terms of motifs. For example, the exposition with reference to time and place (vv. 9-10) corresponds to Isa. 6:1; Jer. 1:2-3; Ezek. 1:1-13. Also, John's reaction to the vision (v. 17) is reminiscent of Ezek. I :28. However, absent is the moment of initiation-constituti ve for the calling of prophets-to a new vocation that is defined by God's commission and that indicates a change in the life of the one who is called: John is already on Patmos for the sake of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (v. 9). The commission he received did not signify the initiation to a new ministry; rather, it addresses him concerning his ministry as witness to the word in which he is already engaged. Moreover, in content it is confined to writing down and dispatching the word of the Lord that is now being issued; it refers simply to the book before us and, strictly speaking, only to I :9-3:22. The scene can most appropriately be characterized as a commissioning vision. Its nearest parallels, in terms of form and content, are found in apocalyptic scenes of revelation such as Daniel 10 and the Apocalypse ofAbraham 10. The similarities to Daniel 10 especially are so close that a direct literary influence must be assumed: in this scene Daniel sees an angel whose description in vv. 14b, 15 flows almost literally into the depiction of the son of man likeness: thereupon he collapses, is taken by the hand by the angel and lifted up (cf. v. 17), and finally receives a message from him (cf. v. 18). However, DaniellO offers no parallel for the critical characteristic of the commissioning, namely, a command to write; in this way our scene proves itself to be independent; to this one must add the fact that the actual vision has an auditory message in it (vv. 12-20). 31

Revelation 1:9-20

Commentary 11:9) At the beginning is a brief description of the external circumstances of the vision. Again (cf. v. I) John forgoes all designations of a special office and function in order to identify himself emphatically with the recipients of the letter by means of the predicates that are added to his name. He is their brother-thus the familiar self-designation of the members of the Christian community (Acts I: 15-16; II :29, and elsewhere)because he is a participant in their journey and destiny defined by association with Jesus. The sequence of the three terms that characterize this journey and this destiny-persecution, kingdom, and patient endurance-appears to be deliberate: afflictions of the most varied kind are, according to apocalyptic thought, phenomena that precede the end of the present era and at the same time announce its arrival. The Christian community lives in them, but it also already participates in the kingdom of God as a present reality (cf. v. 6). The coexistence of the two brings believers into a very tense situation that can be endured only in suffering steadfastly the afflictions ofthe present through the strength of salvation, which has already been received, and in the hope for its speedy visible establishment relative to the whole world. Patmos, an island in the Aegean belonging to the group of the Sporades, lies relatively close to the west coast of Asia Minor; at that time it was a day's journey by ship to Ephesus. Why was John living on this sparsely populated mountainous island? Some have considered the possibility that he consciously sought solitude in order to await divine revelations (cf. Mark I: 12-13; Gal. 1: I 7). That he was on the island "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus," however, can only mean that John was banished to Patmos because of his preaching activity, even if we lack clear evidence that this island was the site of a penal colony at the time. After all, the context makes plain a direct connection between the residence on Patmos and the reference to John's suffering perseverance. Consequently, in his banishment, John himself learned that the witness of Jesus leads to a common suffering with Jesus (cf. v. 9; 6:9; 20:4). Although there were no centrally organized measures by the state against Christians at that time, that does not contradict the fact that John was exiled to Patmos by the authorities in Ephesus as a promoter of official unrest on the basis of his strong views against the cult of the Caesar, which forced itself more and more to the forefront in the cities of Asia Minor. 11:10) In understated terms, John indicates the nature of the encounter given to him. It involves an ecstatic out-of-body experience caused by the Spirit of God during which John had glances into the heavenly realm and received instructions and revelations from God and/or from the exalted Christ. Similar ecstatic experiences are frequently attested to in the New Testament-for example, by Peter (Acts 11 :5) and by Paul (2 Cor. 12: 17). One may assume that they were relatively widespread among community prophets. According to everything that can be gleaned from the 32


account, with John it was not a case of the soul's heavenly journey, as Paul experienced (2 Cor. 12: 1-7), that is, not a departure from the earthly realities of time and place (see commentary on 4: 1-2). Rather, it was the reception of a message, experienced in the condition of full consciousness, which proceeded from heaven to him in words and pictures. Of particular significance is the time: "the Lord's day." This is the first day of the Jewish week following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:2), the day on which the community customarily celebrated worship-thus, our Sunday. The term "Lord's day" came into use clearly around the tum of the second century (Barn. 15:9; Ign. Magn. 9). Through that which happens to him John discovers himself being taken into the worship that the churches celebrate on Sunday. The exalted Christ, who is revealed to him as Lord of the church and who instructs him, is the same one whose kingdom the church acknowledges and pleads for his speedy coming (22:20). The reference to worship in Revelation is indicated here for the first time (cf. 22: 12-20). Next John hears a voice whose strength is compared to that of the most powerfully sounding of all instruments: the trumpet. Comparative expressions such as these interweave the entire book of Revelation. They are typically apocalyptic elements of style that give the depictions of visions and auditions a tone of imprecision and thus suggest that human language is able to grasp the revealed heavenly realities only approximately (cf. vv. 13-16). In the Old Testament the trumpet announces the epiphany, the coming-in-appearance of God (Exod. 19: 16); primitive Christian tradition associates it with the end-time Parousia of Christ (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4: 16; Matt. 24:31). Nevertheless, the voice is not that of Christ but that of the angel of God, who in v. 1 was mentioned as the deliverer of the revelation. That is clear from 4: 1, where the voice of the trumpet as the "first voice" is distinguished from that of him who is like the son of man. In general, it shows that the ideas of transmitting the revelation by means of an angel is consistently followed throughout the entire book (cf. 10:1-11; 17:1,7,15-18; 19:10;21:9, 15;22:6, 16); indeed it is to be presumed that this idea is also presupposed where the angel is not mentioned explicitly. The figure of the interpretative angel, which is so important in apocalyptic literature, lives on here in faded form; its role as interpreter of the event is only a peripheral one (see commentary on 17:7), since John's images and visions are not encoded (see Introduction above, p. 6). Nevertheless its function remains to serve as their mediator. (1:11] In the present context, the angel prepares for the following ap-

pearances of Christ with his message by pointing John beforehand to its goal, the instruction to write. The prophet should write in a scroll what he sees and send this, apparently a circular letter, to the seven churches mentioned by name. That there are seven churches is not surprising, in view of the great symbolic significance of the number seven in Revelation, which is expressly underscored in v. 12 and v. 16 (cf. 1:4). More difficult to answer is the question why precisely these churches are mentioned while other important churches in Asia, such as Miletus, Troas, 33

Revelation 1:9-20

Colossae, Tralles, and Magnesia, go unmentioned. The letters (2: 13:22) offer an answer, for from them one discovers that at issue throughout are churches that are variously endangered by heretical tendencies and groups. Evidently the other churches in the region at that time were in large part intact and did not need such immediate messages. In other respects it is noteworthy that the churches in the sequence mentioned form a circle starting at the metropolis of Ephesus and returning to it. If one takes into consideration the situation of the commercial route of the day, one sees that they were arranged in a relatively convenient roundtrip route: from Ephesus a main road went north, parallel to the coast, past Smyrna and Pergamum; from there the main highway, heading southeast to the inland, went through Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea; from there one was able to return to Ephesus by a westerly route following the valley of the Meander River. The conclusion suggests that Revelation was drafted as a circular letter, thus being brought to the attention of the seven churches by means of a messenger following this round-trip route. 11:12) The actual vision begins here. Because the voice resounds from behind, John turns around to see who is speaking. What he sees instead is an image whose great symbolic strength suggests itself to the reader in the course of the description. The account proceeds, as it were, from the edges to the center before it is completely disclosed in the speech of the One who appears in the center (vv. 17b-20). Seven lampstands are erected, obviously in a circular arrangement. That they are made of gold, the purest and most precious of all metals, is a reference to its cultic significance. The seven-branched lampstand of the tabernacle (Exod. 37: 17) is hardly the model here; the ten golden lampstands that, according to 1 Kgs. 7:49, stood before the Most Holy place in the Solomonic temple is a more likely model. More important as background, however, appear to be Jewish traditions that portray the obedience of Israel to God in the image of the lampstand (Str.-B. 3:717). These traditions were taken over early by Palestinian Christianity; thus, according to Matt. 5: 15, the disciples' obedience of faith is like a lampstand that gives light to the world. 11:13] This verse is devoted to the figure that stands in the midst of the lampstands. Its depiction moves from the outside to the inside, beginning with the clothing and groping, as it were, uninterruptedly to the hand and mouth. Whenever the One that appears is described with a phrase that is linguistically awkward in Greek, which is translated by "one like the son of man," this again remains on the level of an approximate and inexact comparison (cf. v. 10). John does not say, "I am the son of man"; he obviously avoids the titular use of the term "son of man" (cf. also 14: 14). That is all the more striking, as the Jesus tradition of the Synoptic Gospels identified Jesus with the mysterious figure of the "son of man," that heavenly human being to whom, according to Dan. 7: 13, judgment is


The Roman Province of Asia

Revelation 1:9-20

given in the end time (Luke 12:8, par.); moreover, early Palestinian Christianity was acquainted with a titular use of the son of man designation (Mark 14:62 par.; Acts 7:56). Apparently John forgoes the titular use because this predicate was not familiar to the churches to which he was writing, which were influenced by Pauline christology; nor was it relevant for his own christological conception. Unquestionably he appeals to Dan. 7: 13, but it is a vague allusion that by no means exhausts the possible christological references of this passage. Thus he assumes that readers who are familiar with the son of man title will already recognize the identity of the One who appears here, but he avoids submitting a statement that describes directly his nature and function (such a statement first occurs in v. 17b). The figure is like a person wrapped in a long mantle such as priests, rulers, and aristocrats customarily wore. It is held together by a gold belt that runs through the armpits and across the breast, a piece of clothing reserved for notable personalities (cf. Dan. 10:5-6). It would be stretching these statements for one to see in the long robe an allusion to the priestly majesty of Jesus, and in the belt an allusion to his kingly stature, especially since the supporting texts that are cited for locating the meaning for these two pieces of clothing here are by no means unequivocal. [1:14) Dazzling light irradiates the head of the One who appears. The

material for this statement is taken from the description of God in Dan. 7:9 (cf. 1 Enoch 46:1), which corresponds to the general tendency of Revelation to transfer predicates for God to Jesus. The eyes are like flames of fire (cf. Dan. 10:6); they penetrate everything, and nothing can remain hidden from them. [1:15) The order as well as the content of the statements are found in Dan.

10:6. First, the feet-illustrating the weight and powerful majesty of the figure-are compared to pillars of gold ore, an alloy that was considered as valuable as gold (NRSY has "burnished bronze"). Then there is the voice, whose majestic sound is illustrated by the image of the rush of powerful water, used in the Old Testament for the voice of God (Ezek. 1:24; 43:2). [1:16) In the right hand, considered the seat of strength and power, the

One like the son of man holds seven stars. In the ancient world the stars were viewed as powers that determine the course of the world and control human destiny in a variety of ways. Dominion over them thus means supreme power and authority that encompasses everything. A close parallel to the image before us is found in the so-called Mithras liturgy, a magical text describing an epiphany of the god Mithras "holding in the right hand the golden shoulder of an ox, which is the bear constellation which shakes the skies and turns them back, changing back and forth hourly" (i.e., the Deity wields the seven stars of the Little Bear like a club in order to govern what happens; cf. also Job 38:31). Next is the biblical 36


symbol of judgment, appearing as a symbol of world dominion: the sharp sword that comes out of his mouth, indicating that he judges with his word. Again an attribute of God is assigned to Christ (cf. Isa. II :4; Eph. 6: 17). Seemingly inconsistent at the conclusion is a description of the face, which sounds like a repetition of v. 14b. But, unlike there, at stake here is the effect of the appearance on the human being who catches sight of it. It is the illumination of the Deity, before which man must be destroyed (Ezek. 1:28). (1:17] The reaction of the seer is thus anticipated. The terror of mortals in the face of the direct encounter with the reality of God belongs to the style of epiphanic narrative in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 32: 19; Isa. 6:5; Ezek. 1:28; Dan. 8: 18). Behind it stands the knowledge that sinful human beings must perish before the holiness and purity of God. Thus what is needed is the command, "Do not be afraid," which removes the threat from the encounter (Luke 1:13,30; 2:10; Mark 16:6). As in Dan. 10:8, a passage which influenced the present one in its formulations, the reaction of the seer to the appearance is intensified to that of unconscious collapse "as though dead." He returns to consciousness only after the hand of the One who appears touches his head. The contrast is certainly quite emphatic; the Lord ofthe world, to whom power over everything is given, is the same One who devotes himself to his servant with compassionate love; the hand that holds the stars gives the sign of blessing. Only by the spoken word can the One like the son of man be recognized. And this One does this, in fact, without using any ofthe customary christological titles, by speaking in a three-step series of statements about his relationship to God, his life, and hisjunction. (1:18] In the first statement group the two predicates for God "the first"

and "the last" (cf. Isa. 44:6; 48: 12), which call to mind v. 8a, are joined by the predicate "the living One," which also belonged to God in the view of the Old Testament (Josh. 3:10; Ps. 42:3); thus emerges a triad. The transfer of these designations to Jesus was possible only with the preexistence Christology as a background. That is, it assumes the conviction that Jesus lived near and with God before his incarnation, indeed, before the creation (Phil. 2:6; John 1: 1, Heb. 1:3). However, the emphasis here is not on the preexistence of Christ and his mediation in the creation but rather on his history-encompassing being. The second statement group relates directly to the last part of the first: Jesus may be called "the living One" on the basis of his life. God did not leave him in death but, through the resurrection, made him the One who is alive for all time (cf. Acts 2:31). What that signifies for those who belong to him leads to the third group: as the living One, Jesus is the One who has broken the power of death. The Greek word hades can also refer to the realm of the underworld, the kingdom of the dead (Heb. she'ol). In Revelation, however, what is intended throughout is not a place but a demonic power (cf. 6:8; 20: 14). It governs the world of the dead and, as is 37

Revelation 1:9-20

evident in the Greek depictions of the god Hades, possesses the key as an attribute of its strength. But now Christ has overcome death and Hades, that demonic pair; he has seized from them the key to that place where they guarded the dead (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26; Acts 2:27, 31). His followers partidpate in this victory and need not fear death anymore. [1:19) Jesus himself repeats the angel's command to write (v. 11), but not without giving it a deeper foundation. The simple "what you see" in v. 11 has now become a solemn-sounding formula in three time periods. This can hardly be understood as an assertion related to the contents of Revelation ("what you have seen" = the vision of instruction in 1:9-20; "what is" = the circular letters in 2: 1-3:22; "what is to take place after this" = the vision of the end time in 4: 1-22:5). Speaking against this view, among other things, is the fact that the circular letter portion does not simply describe what is but also reaches into the future. Rather, it is a formula that is appropriated from the Hellenistic world and generally characterizes the essence of divinely mediated knowledge. Thus in Ovid (Metam. 1.517), Apollo is the revealer of what will be, what was, and what is; and the famous Isis statue of Sais bore the inscription: "I am everything that was, is, and will be." In the present context, the formula describes John's charge to understand history in its totality and depth and to make disclosures about it. A specific emphasis is thus established in the first part that does not speak, as would be customary, of the "which was," but rather of that which John "has seen." With that a clear boundary is set: John is not to give a comprehensive view of past history; the starting point for his view of history to which he is directed is prescribed for him by the visions shown to him. [1:20) An important basis for his charge ensues in the explanation of the "mystery," that is, of the real background of the visionary image of the seven lampstands and the seven stars. This much is clear at first glance: at stake here is the relationship of Jesus Christ to the seven churches. What is particularly surprising is the linking ofthe seven stars with the angels of the churches. Initially, the image of the stars in v. 16 could create the impression that we are dealing here with a symbol of world dominion.

Excursus: The Angels of the Churches The idea that Christ commanded a human being to write to angels (2: 1) is scarcely conceivable for modern readers. There has been no shortage of attempts to explain away this difficulty. A number of commentators, in returning to the basic meaning of the Greek word angeios (messenger), conjectured that what is pictured here is in fact messengers from the seven Asia Minor churches who had assembled with John on Patmos to receive from him a message and instruction. Apart from mentioning that the simultaneous sending of seven messengers from different churches to the exiled prophet is extremely unlikely, this interpretation fails because in the letters the "angels" are expressly addressed as the recipients. Such a



manner of address contradicts the rules, strictly adhered to in the ancient world, that the messenger is simply responsible for delivering a message. Still less auspicious is the hypothesis that the angels refer to the holders of a church office, whether bishops or prophets. There is not the slightest reference outside of Revelation to the use of ange/os as a designation of office. Conversely, the fact remains that elsewhere throughout Revelation, as well as almost consistently in the rest of the New Testament, ange/os always refers only to an angel. If a departure from this usage is present in our context, it would have to be marked more distinctly as such. So, if angels are meant, the question arises as to the meaning. There is a certain justification for referring to the conviction documented within Judaism that every individual, and indeed every nation, has a guardian angel who is at the same time a heavenly twin and representative. But because it is not sufficient to resolve all the problems, one must go further. Here John appears to refer critically to a tendency among the churches to which he writes to worship angels. Not only in postbiblical Judaism is there evidence that angels were elevated to a place of figures that determine the destiny of the world and human beings (1 QH 10:8; lQM 1:10-11). It is also clear that this Jewish angelo logy was eagerly taken up and developed further, especially in the Gentile-Christian churches of Asia Minor. Thus, the letter to the Colossians, a church in the same area as that to which Revelation is directed, is contending against a heretical worship of angels (Col. 2: 18); moreover, we know that it was not an isolated incident. In the interior of Asia Minor, inscriptions originating from Roman imperial times have been found that mention "divine angels,'" which must be considered as evidence of such angel worship which was perhaps even influenced by pagans. Angels were viewed as personifications of the forces and powers that govern the world. That explains the initially surprising juxtaposition of angels and stars in v. 20, which finally is linked to the identification of stars with gods, a notion that was widespread in the Greek world and that could otherwise also be associated with certain Jewish ideas (1 Enoch. 21 :3ff.; cf.18:14). In a milieu that was showing itself open to faith in angels, it was only a small step to the concept that the church or individual congregations were governed by angels (cf. Berm. Vis. 5:3; Asc. [sa. 3: 15). John assumes a critical posture toward such angel worship in that he meets his conversation partners on their own conceptual turf by addressing the circular letters to the angels of the churches, but he does so in order simultaneously to correct this view. By means of the image in v. 20, he demonstrates that these angels are in the hand of Jesus Christ, are under his power, and therefore deserve no particular veneration or even admiration. And he extends this understanding further in the letters as, on the one hand, he subordinates the angels, which are viewed by him as standing beside, not above, the church, to a hard criticism by the word of 39

Revelation 1:9-20

Jesus, and as, on the other hand, he makes clear that salvation remains bound to the obedience of each individual member of the church (2:7, etc.) but cannot be guaranteed by angels. The command to write to those angels of the churches identified here with the stars thus proves to be an expression of the view that the lordship of the exalted One over the world powers in the present takes visible form in his lordship over the church.


Revelation 2:1-3:22

The Seven Circular Letters

Form The section comprising the circular letters grows directly out of the commissioning vision (1 :9-20). However, in form it is stylized as a message that the exalted One has given to the prophet John with the order to send it in written form to the angels of the churches. This is not a subsequent collection of originally independent letters to individual churches; rather, it is a self-contained compositional unit that can be understood only from its position in the book as a whole. The content of the individual letters is carefully coordinated. The impression arises that a uniform message is being directed to the whole church of the province of Asia. That united message does highlight different matters, depending on the particular circumstances of the individual churches. The parallel organization of all seven letters also points to compositional unity. The following schema lies at the base of this organization: I. A specific command to write ("to the angel of the church in-write

... ").

II. A/ormula o/the messenger ("these are the words of him who ... "). III. Analysis o/the situation, consisting ofa determination of the situation ("I know ... ") as well as of variable individual elements (a word of salvation, a word of judgment, a call to repentance, an allusion to keeping guard by the church, an announcement about coming). IV. A call to listen ("Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches"). V. A saying about overcoming ("To everyone who conquers ... ").

In a variation appropriate to the situation, I and II contain the elements of the letter's introduction (cf. 1:4-5). Thus, the statement about the sender is contained in the formula of the messenger, the statement 41

Revelation 2:1-3:22

about the addressees in the command to write. These introductory formulations are strongly reminiscent of the openings of prophetic letters in the Old Testament (Jer. 20:4, 31; 2 Chr. 21:12). Parts III-V and the individual elements contained in them definitely assume the stylistic forms of early Christian prophetic speech. In similar fixed expressions, such as words of salvation and judgment, the summons to listen, announcements of the imminent coming of the Lord, the community prophets would largely have clothed their message. It is questionable whether the whole schema as presented here corresponds to a genre of prophetic speech that already existed. That analogies are absent speaks in favor of the notion that this is an original creation by John. His literary art is seen most notably in the shape of the messenger formulas (II). Occasionally they adopt motifs from visions of calling ("these are the words of him who ... ") in order to set them in association with the specific message of the respective circular letter. Other crossreferences are established by the sayings about overcoming (V). Numerous motifs appear in them that refer to the section of Revelation regarding visions (2:7 = 22:2, 14, 19; 2: 11 = 20:6; 2: 17 = 19: 12; 2:26-27 = 12:5 and 19:15; 3:5 = 20:12,15 and 21:27; 3:12 = 14:1; 3:21 = 5:6). In other respects the reversal of the sequence of the call to listen (IV) and the saying about overcoming (V) in the last four circular letters most likely also originates in conscious redactional intention.


Revelation 2: 1 -7

To the Church in Ephesus

Text (I) 2:1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: (II) Thus speaks the One who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: (III) 2 I know your works and your toil and your endurance and that you cannot bear the evil ones and have tested those who consider themselves apostles but who are not and you have found them to be liars. 3 And you have endured and borne patiently for my name's sake and have not grown tired. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned your first love. 5 Remember from what heights you have fallen, repent, and do your first works! But if you do not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (IV) 7 Let the one who has ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches: (V) Whoever overcomes, to this one will I give to eat of the tree of life which stands in the paradise of God.

Commentary (2:1) The church in Ephesus, the splendid metropolis of the province of Asia, is addressed first. At that time Ephesus was certainly not any longer the provincial capital-the Roman proconsul had presumably moved his seat to Ephesus's rival, Pergamum-but it was as much as ever the economic, commercial, and cultural center of the province. For years the city enjoyed a special religious reputation as guardian of a statue, osten-


Revelation 2:1-7

sibly fallen from heaven, of the Ephesian Artemis, around which a flourishing cult developed (cf. Acts 19:23-40). In addition, however, very early it became one of the most important strongholds of the cult of the Caesars in the eastern part of the empire; in 29 B.C., Augustus had persuaded the Ephesians to dedicate a temple to Julius Caesar. The Christian community established by Paul became the mother church for the whole province through the mission reaching out into the hinterlands, and Paul's legacy seems to have been kept very much alive for a long time there. If the tradition also associates other figures of the early life of the church with Ephesus (e.g., John, the son of Zebedee, and Mary, the mother of Jesus), it is at least evidence for the respect and importance of this church. When the messenger's formula (II) presents the image of the One who is like the son of man in the middle of the seven lampstands, holding the seven stars in his right hand, this alludes to the significance of Ephesus: with this church the entire circle of the churches of Asia is addressed. (2:2] The situational description (III) opens with a positive assessment in an ascending sequence: "works" does not have, as with Paul, the meaning of meritorious works of the law; rather, as throughout Revelation, it refers to the conduct characterized by faith (cf. 2:22-23; 14: 13; 15:3; 16:11; 20:12-13; 22:12); "toil" is an established term for active missionary effort (1 Thess. 2:9; 1 Cor. 15:58); while "patient endurance" designates the steadfast trial in the sufferings and conflicts that were imposed on believers (cf. 1:9). At work here, ~pparently, is a triad that became familiar through the tradition (1 Thess. 1:3). Only the third part is amplified: the church in fact endured and took a firm position in light of a variety of threats. One-the appearance of false apostles-is mentioned in detail. Presumably, this refers to traveling missionaries and messengers who passed themselves off as apostles (i.e., as envoys of Christ) and sought to gain influence in the church. Beside the narrow understanding of apostle represented by Paul and the primitive church in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 15:3-11), which was confined only to particularly called witnesses of the resurrection, there was a broader one in some church groups according to which traveling missionaries and charismatics were also considered to be apostles. In Corinth Paul had to come to terms with such traveling apostles who wanted to entice the church away from him (2 Cor 11 :5). The only criterion for justifying the claim of these apostles was their teaching. Concerning them, the Christians of Ephesus had to judge in order to be able to unmask them as liars (cf. Ign. Eph. 9: 1). What kind of teaching was this? Presumably, it was along the same lines as that of the "Nicolaitans" (vv. 6, 15) and the other heretics mentioned in Revelation (vv. 14, 20)-that is, the false apostles represented an early form of Christian Gnosticism. (2:3] Next to the internal threat also appeared external threats by Jews and Gentiles, against whom the church proved equally as steadfast.



12:4) This verse moves abruptly from praise to criticism: in spite of its firm orthodoxy and endurance, the church has abandoned its first love. At stake here is not only the abatement of the initial enthusiasm, which typically occurs in the church of the second and third generation, but also a breakdown in obeying the love commandment, which is to be the central norm defining the association of Christians with each other in the church. If there is no longer any room for love in it, the active connection of the church to Christ is imperiled. 12:5) The summons to repent is introduced with the singularly graphic image of a downfall from great heights, which demonstrates the threatening aspect of this development. It would gain even greater relief if allusion had been made to the well-known mythological idea of the fallen angel (lsa. 14: 12). The angel of the addressees can neither protect the community to which it is allied nor even guarantee it salvation; rather, it shares in the destiny of the community in the sense that by its fall it has become itself a fallen angel! There is, therefore, only one possibility of escaping the threatening ruin-namely, repentance, the radical transformation of the whole direction of life, which must take the form of returning to "the works you did at first," to the behavior of the initial period, which was characterized by unconditional love toward their brothers. The gravity of the admonition is underscored by the following threat, which picks up again the image of v. 1: the Lord himself will come to the unrepentant community and remove the lampstand from its place. Such a coming does not refer to the Parousia and the accompanying final judgment, but rather, to the demonstration within history of the Lord's power over his church. Neither its grand past nor its present reputation but only its obedience is able to protect the church from being expelled from the circle of communities of Jesus Christ. 12:6) Praise follows the rebuke: that the community clearly rejected the Nicolaitans was nevertheless a step in the right direction. The Nicolaitans were presumably a Christian-Gnostic group that adopted the name of a certain Nicholas, a teacher, whose instructions were normative for them; he may well be identical with the proselyte Nicholas (Acts 6:5), who originated in Antioch of Syria and belonged to the circle of the Hellenistic Seven (see commentary on 2: 15). When the church is praised for its "hate" of the works of the Nicolaitans, this does not contradict Jesus' command to love one's enemies, since after all this hatred is directed not at human beings but at their conduct. The issue is not one of feelings, but rather-following frequent biblical linguistic usage (e.g., Ps. 97:10; Sir. 17:26; Matt. 10:37 par. Luke 14:26)-of a fundamental, conscious withdrawal and renunciation. 12:7a) The prophetic call to awaken (IV) grew out of the formulaic expression "let anyone who has an ear listen" found in the Synoptic Jesus tradition in association with particularly cryptic parables and enigmatic sayings (Mark 4:9 par. Matt. 13:9; Luke 8:8; Mark 4:23; 8: 18; Matt.


Revelation 2: 1-7

11: 15; Luke 14:35), whose point is to refer to the peculiar, mysterious character of these words, which is disclosed only by God to his chosen ones. When Revelation enlarges this formula by adding, "what the Spirit is saying to the churches," it thereby shifts the accent from the mysterious to the summons to listen: the exalted Christ speaks through the Spirit to his churches and in such a way that not only a select few but everyone can hear. Everything depends only on whether or not they are prepared to listen. Corresponding to this function of awakening a preparedness to listen, in Revelation the calls to awaken do not refer back to what has already occurred, but forward to what is to follow. In the first three letters (cf. 2: 11, 17) they direct the attention of the reader to the sayings about the one who overcomes; in the other four (2:29; 3:6, 13, 22), to the main section of the book, which begins with 4: 1. [2:7b) The closing statement about the one who conquers sets what has been said heretofore in a wider perspective as it summarizes in the challenge to overcome (V) the admonitions and warnings that were based on the actual situation of the community. This central idea in Revelation likewise describes the goal of the pilgrimage of Christ (5:5; 17:14) as well as of Christians. Behind it stands the notion that all that transpires in this world is an uninterrupted struggle between God and the satanic powers. Christ himself has indeed already won the victory on the cross, but God's enemies on earth still have occasion for their battle against those who belong to Christ. For them, therefore, it means that they should not withdraw from such confrontations and that they should resist the hostile powers until they are finally overcome by Christ at the end of history. Thus, overcoming is the goal and fruit of the endurance commanded to all Christians (1:9). According to John, the circle of those who overcome is by no means confined to martyrs, it includes others even though the reality of such overcoming is not clearly expressed in their lives. The content of the promise to those who overcome is portrayed with the image that points to the concluding vision of the book (22:2) and becomes completely understandable only in its framework: they may eat of the tree oflife in paradise, which returns at the end time (Gen. 2:9; 3:22); thus, they share in the abundance of the salvation of the consummation.


Revelation 2:8-11

To the Church in Smyrna

Text (I) 2:8 To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write: (II) Thus speaks the first and the last, who was dead and became alive: (III) 9 I know your affliction and poverty-but you are rich-and the slanders on the part of those who call themselves Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you must still suffer. Behold, the devil will throw some of you into prison; so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (IV) 11 Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: (IV) Whoever overcomes, on him the second death can have no claim.

Commentary (2:8) Smyrna, which is today Izmir, was a burgeoning commercial city

thanks to its favorable location on a bay that cut deeply into the west coast of Anatolia. The letter to the angel of the church there has the tone of unbounded praise. It is clear that underlying this praise is the antithesis between life and death as a pervasive leitmotif. It is introduced by the reference back to 1: 18 in the messenger formula (I): Christ is he who was dead and became alive. Might this motifbe seen in connection with the church situation? Some have, in fact, wanted to see such, since the city of Smyrna was rebuilt in the first century B.C. out of ruins and thus could boast of being "resurrected"; however, against this view is the fact that this event affected the Christian community neither directly nor indirectly. It is likely that an allusion is being made here to the debate with the Jews, which deeply affected the church; the central point of the 47

Revelation 2:8-11

controversy was the confession of Christians that in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus from the dead, God had acted decisively for the salvation of the world and humankind (Acts 2:32; 4: 10; 5:31). 12:9) The external situation of the church, as can be seen in the description of the situation (III), is characterized both by poverty and afflictions from various sides. To be sure, this poverty is only external; with regard to the inner life and spiritual strength of the church, it is rich (2 Cor. 6: 10; 8: 10), and therein it stands in contrast to the church in Laodicea, which considered itself rich without being so (3: 17). What afflicted the church in Smyrna the most were the vehement hostilities on the part of the Jewish population. That corresponds to the picture that later witnesses also give. Thus, Jewish hostilities at least contributed to the martyrdom of Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna in A.D. 156 (Mart. Pol. 17:2). The conduct of the Jewish populace is characterized in very general terms as "slander," which signifies the open contradiction with respect to the center of the Christian proclamation, the confession of Christ. The Jews dispute that in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth God himself acted for the salvation of human beings (Acts 13:45). If Jews are denied their Jewishness on the basis of such slander, that is quite consistent with the appraisal of the second-generation Gentile-Christian community, which sees itself as the end-time people of God who has entered into the rights and promises of Israel (Gal. 4:28-31; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). Although a Jewish-Christian himself as regards his origins, John shares this perspective of the Gentile Christians. With surprising boldness he-going in this matter far beyond Paul (Rom 11: 1-36)begins from the position that Judaism, which rejected faith in Christ, no longer belongs to the people of God, and with equal boldness he transfers to the church traditional statements that referred to Israel (e.g., 7:4-8; 12: 5). Indeed, at no point in his book is it discernible that Israel's unbelief was for him an immediately afflicting theological problem in the way that it was for the generation before him. When with the designation "synagogue of Satan" the exalted Christ refers back to the self-appraisal of the Jewish community as being the assembly (= synagogue) of God (Num. 16:3), this is the consequence of the Jews' refusal to acknowledge him as Lord over the people of God. In Revelation's view of history, which tends toward dualism, one who does not subordinate oneself to the lordship of Jesus Christ and thus of God becomes subject to the lordship of the demonic adversary of God. [2:10) The other hostilities and persecutions that beset the church are also caused by this adversary. Intended here, apparently, is not a general persecution but official steps taken against particular members of the church. This affliction serves to test the steadfastness of faith, and it stands indirectly under the permission of God (Job 1-2), which is also expressed in the announcement of its temporal limitation. A relatively short, manageable time span is meant by ten days, an allusion to the tenday test of faith of the young Israelites in the Babylonian court (Dan.



1: 12, 14). The death-life antithesis also illuminates the instructions that follow. In antiquity the crown was such a frequently used symbol of honor and salvation that it is difficult here to determine a concrete background for the image. It is hardly possible to think of the crown of victory that the winner of a competition would obtain (1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3: 14), or of the crowns that participants in cultic meals of the mystery religions wore and by which they became certain of the nearness of the Deity. It is more promising here to look for an association with the idea of overcoming; the image here would then be understood to be the crown of victory with which the returning triumphant one was honored. In any case, the meaning is clear: the crown of life signifies the eternal salvation that Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, grants to those who have endured the hardships of this world and have staked their lives on it (cf. Jas. 1: 12). What is promised here is, finally, participation in the life that Jesus Christ has won and lordship in fellowship with him (20:4-5). [2:10) The concluding word about the one who conquers also retains the life-death motif by supplying the negative counterpart to the positive statement in v. lOb: whoever receives the crown oflife can be claimed no longer by the second death. The expression "the second death," which derives from Judaism, denotes that final death following which there is no resurrection (cf. 20:6). It alone is to be feared, but not physical death, which for the witnesses of Jesus is the passage to the life of resurrection and to fellowship with their Lord.


Revelation 2:12-17

To the Church in Pergamum

Text (I) 2: 12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: (II) Thus says he who has the sharp two-edged sword. (III) 13 I know where you dwell-where the throne of Satan is. And you hold fast my name and have not denied my faith, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed among you, there where Satan dwells. 14 But I have something against you: among you are people who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to deceive the sons of Israel into eating food sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. 15 So you have also people who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and battle them with the sword of my mouth. (IV) 17 Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: (V) Whoever conquers, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and to him I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except the one who receives it.

Commentary (2:12-13) The communique for Pergamum is characterized by a particularly blunt juxtaposition of praise and criticism, which accurately reflects the church's difficult situation, both internally and externally. In spite of competition from Ephesus, Pergamum-the ancient capital of the empire of Attalos I-also enjoyed position and reputation under Roman rule. This was due to its function as a universal religious center. On the hill towering precipitously above the city stood the massive altar, whose central portion can be viewed today in the Pergamum Museum in



Berlin. It was dedicated not only to Zeus but to all gods. Very near the city arose the immense shrine of the healing god, Asclepius, which at that time experienced an unprecedented popularity and attracted crowds of sick persons seeking to be healed. Understandably, Pergamum has been called the Lourdes of Asia Minor (Lohmeyer). By erecting a temple dedicated to the goddess Roma and to Caesar Augustus (29 B.C.), the city had also placed itself at the pinnacle of the development of the cult of the Caesar. Whether "Satan's throne" refers to one of the cultic places is not clear; more likely, it characterizes Pergamum as a whole as a stronghold of heathen religiosity. To live in such an environment was difficult for a Christian community. It meant standing outside society, being constantly subjected to discrimination and attack, resisting powers in ceaseless provocations by the hostile surroundings. The praise that the exalted One utters is appreciation for and acknowledgment of this situation: he knows where this church dwells and what it means that they have held fast to the faith in spite of all adversities; it is a faith based on confession of him as Lord. He also does not forget that a member of the church, Antipas, had to pay for this confession with his life. Antipas receives the title of honor: "my witness, my faithful one," or "my faithful witness." That title reflects the idea that he traveled the path of the witness up to his death in conjunction with and according to the archetypal image of Jesus (I :5). This martyrdom of Antipas occurred a long time before, presumably in the initial period of the church there, and it remained an isolated episode. At any rate, there had not been a public persecution so far. Much more acute than the external threat from the hostile heathen environment are the dangers that threaten the church from within. But, as one may assume from the harsh criticism in the letter, they also stand all the more helpless before these internal threats. Already in the selfdescription of the statement about the messenger (II), allusion is made to the essence of this danger. Here the sharp two-edged sword coming from the mouth of the exalted One (I: 16; 19: 15; cf. Heb. 4: 12) symbolizes his judging word by which he will destroy seducers and heretics. (2:14-15) Standing out in relatively clear relief behind the criticism here is the picture of gnostic heretics who have infiltrated the church. In fact, at issue here are the same Nicolaitans who were encountered in Ephesus (v. 6). However, while they were repelled there, in Pergamum they were able to persuade a part ofthe church to accept their teaching. This teaching is characterized as "the teaching of Balaam. " According to Numbers 22-24, the pagan prophet Balaam was summoned by the Moabite king Balak to curse the Israelites; this failed because instead the God of Israel enlisted him to prophesy his will to his people. In the view of postbiblical Judaism, Balaam was nevertheless seen as a prototype of the wicked blasphemer and instigator of idolatry (Num. 25: 1-9; 31: 16; cf. Str.-B. 3:793), and this view is reflected in this passage. However, the phrase "teaching of Balaam" was hardly coined by


Revelation 2:12-17

John, but rather might go back to the opponents themselves, who understood Balaam positively as archetypal image of the prophet who explored secret divine wisdom, just as the Christian Gnostics gladly laid claim to Old Testament persons and traditions. What we learn about the content of this teaching of Balaam-instigation of eating sacrifices to idols and of sexual immorality-remains quite general and is characterized by polemical intent. It does not address the central contents of the heresy but only their consequences as pertains to ethical behavior in matters that were especially sensitive for the Christian community. Like most Gnostics, the Nicolaitans were indifferent toward corporeality and external behavior because of their conviction that only spiritual perception was relevant for salvation and life; this attitude resulted in compromises in modes of conduct in the pagan environment. Thus, they did not adhere to the refusal to indulge in the eating of meat slaughtered in the heathen cult as well as participation in cultic meals, a refusal widely practiced in the Gentile Christianity of the day (1 Corinthians 8-10). Their sexual conduct also did not correspond to the strict norms of the community (cf. 2:20,22). (2:16] Because it had made room for these heresies, the whole community has become guilty and must be called to repentance. If it refuses, Jesus himself will punish the guilty ones by means of the power of his judging and separating word. Revenge on transgressors is not his aim, but rather the preservation and purification of his church. (2:17] The word about conquering contains two promises whose interpretation is difficult because neither of them stands in direct relationship to other statements in Revelation. The first appropriates, however, a Jewish tradition. According to it, the manna, the bread from heaven, with which God fed his people in the wilderness (Exod. 16:32-35), is to be preserved in heaven for the elect at the messianic time (2 Apoc. Bar. 29:8; Sib. Or. 7: 148-49; Mek. Exod. 16:25). If one also considers that in primitive Christianity the interpretation of the manna as a type of Lord's Supper was well known (1 Cor. 10:3ff.), one is justified in concluding that this promise describes participation in the messianic meal at the time of salvation, a meal toward which the church looks each time it celebrates the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11 :26). The second promise refers back to a Hellenistic-Gentile notion, namely, that of the amulet stone to which a magic charm is attributed, one that bestows on its possessor supernatural powers and protects him or her from evil powers. The stone that those who overcome receive is white, the color of purity and perfection (3:4-5, 18; 4:4); the name that is etched on it, which the pagan world does not know, is the name of Jesus, the One to which the church in Pergamum has clung heretofore against all enemies (v. 13). Christians submitted themselves to the authority of this name through baptism. The meaning of the image is that to those who have remained faithful to it, this name will open the entry to future perfection.


Revelation 2: 1 8-29

To the Church in Thyatira

Text (I) 2: 18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: (II) Thus says the Son of God, who has eyes like flames of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (III) 19 I know your works and your love and your faith and your service and your endurance, and your last works are more than the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and seduces my servants into immoral practices and eating food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will bring into great tribulation, unless they repent of their works. 23 And I will kill her children through sickness. And all churches should know that it is I who examines minds and hearts, and I will recompense to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira who do not hold to this teaching. who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, I say: I do not lay upon you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast to what you have until I come. (V) 26 And to whomever overcomes and whomever keeps my works to the end I will give power over the nations27 and this one shall rule them with a rod of iron and destroy them like broken pottery, 28 as I also have received (power) from my Father, and I will give him the morning star. (IV) 29 Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


Revelation 2:18-29

Commentary [2:18) Thyatira was situated in the region of Lydia, at an intersection of

important routes. This relatively small provincial city, which depended mainly on commerce, handicrafts, and small industry, appears to have been relatively little affected by the various religious movements of the time. There was no temple for the cult of the Caesar there. We know only of the existence of a strong and active Jewish population group: Lydia, the first Christian converted by Paul in Greece, was a proselyte who came from Thyatira (Acts 16: 14). The letter certainly reveals no conflicts between the Christian community and the Jewish community; the danger to this church comes exclusively from within. In the formula about the messenger the exalted Lord presents himself as "the Son of God." That is noteworthy because not only do the other letters avoid the direct use of christological titles, but the commissioning vision does as well (cf. commentary on 1: 13); moreover, this is the only place in Revelation where this title appears. Verse 27 provides an explanation for this, since in Psalm 2, which is quoted there, the Messiah-King is called the Son of God (Ps. 2:7; cf. Acts 13:33). When the self-predicate of the exalted One adopts further from I: 15-16 the description of feet made of burnished bronze and the eyes flaming like fire, this is a complex reference to the destructive power with which the Lord meets the destroyers of his church as well as to his piercing look from which no shortcoming can remain hidden. [2:19) The description of the situation (III) begins with a positive valuation from which emerges the picture of a peaceful and stable church. The Christians in Thyatira have lacked nothing in their conduct: their love, their faithfulness to Christ (the word "faith" has this meaning throughout Revelation; cf. 2: 13; 13: 10; 14: 12), their concern for the poor, and their patient endurance are expressly valued. Nevertheless, there is an internal danger that is of the same kind as that in Pergamum (v. 14), but goes even deeper. [2:20) At the pinnacle of the gnostic movement, which the church ap-

parently tolerated uncritically, stands a woman who claims to be a prophetess. The biblical name Jezebel is simultaneously a characterization and a criticism of her activity. Jezebel, the pagan wife of King Ahab, propagated the Baal cult in Israel and encouraged its false prophets (1 Kgs. 16:31-34); this activity spawned the accusation of immorality and witchcraft (2 Kgs. 9:22). The fact that a woman is active as a prophetess is not condemned-there are many references to women in primitive Christianity having the gift of prophetic speech (Acts 2: 17; 21 :9; I Cor. 11 :5). The problem is that by her prophecy she spreads in the church pagan ways and looseness in ethical matters. That is the essence of the attack on immorality and idolatry that is made here as well as earlier in v. 14 (see commentary there). 54


[2:21-23) Seemingly some time has already passed since John's prophetic call to repentance, which, however, received no response. The established interval for repentance has passed in vain, so now only the announcement of judgment remains (v. 22). As is frequently found in the Old Testament prophets (cf. 1 Kgs. 21:17-24; Ezek. 5:7-10), the announcement takes place so as to proclaim and to set in motion the connection between the activity and result; inasmuch as by her teaching and conduct the prophetess has placed herself outside the sphere of salvation, which is determined by communion with Jesus, she is handed over to the activity of calamity, which extends to physical existence (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5). With drastic vividness the announcement is made that the bed-a symbolic image for lewdness and debauchery-would become a sickbed for her. For church members who followed her teaching and allowed their conduct to be determined by it, a time for repentance has been established; afterward, however, punishment also threatens them. No such time interval, however, is granted her immediate circle of followers, her "children"; they also are immediately surrendered to physical calamity (v. 23). The issue is not reprisal but the maintenance of the purity of the church, whose Lord makes sure that it remains in the domain that is characterized by his saving will. Here it is evident that John is bound by the same notion of the purity of the church as were the. early Jerusalem community (Acts 5: 1-11) and Paul (1 Corinthians 5). The judgment regarding the gnostic prophetess and her followers is to demonstrate to all churches that Jesus, who, like God himself (Jer. 11 :20; 17: 10; Ps. 7: 10), grasps the innermost thoughts of persons, executes dominion over his own. [2:24-25) In contrast to the announcement of judgment on the transgressors, the word of comfort is aimed at that part of the churchaddressed here directly in association with the angel-that did not submit to temptation: on them no further burdens will be placed. The context shows that the word "burden" (baros) does not mean here (as in Acts 15:28) a legal regulation; rather, it is to be understood in the sense of "stress, threat" (cf. Gal. 6:2). The Lord will not punish the church as a whole with further calamity; all that he expects of it is that it hold fast to what it has-which does not mean a list of rules and laws, but rather, in the sense of 1:5-6, the salvation given to it of communion with Christ. The main thrust of Revelation is not against the teaching of the Nicolaitans, to whom the prophetess of Thyat ira also belongs, but against their deeds, that is, the conduct that results from this teaching and destroys the church. Only incidentally and indirectly do we learn in v. 24 something of the content of the teaching. Apparently, the false teachers claimed to disclose knowledge (gnosis) of the depths of the Deity. This means an intuitive view that goes beyond rational knowledge with the aim of union with the divine ground of all being (cf. Iren. Adv. haer. 2.37.6; 2.38.1). John parodies this claim when he speaks of the "deep things of Satan" in order to suggest that in the end the false teachers 55

Revelation 2:18-29

deliver themselves with their deep insights over to the dominion of God's adversary (cf. vv. 9, 13). [2:26-29] Here, as in the following three letters, the sequence of a call to awakening (IV) and words to the one who overcomes (V) are reversed. The words to the one who conquers contain two promises. The first (vv. 27-28a) promises participation in the end-time kingdom of Christ to those who endure (cf. 1:6; 20:4), doing so with words from Psalm 2 that were interpreted messianically in primitive Christianity (Ps. 2:8-9). The ruling of the nations with an iron rod (which refers to the wiping out of all resistance by means of judgment), understood in 12:5; 19: 15 as a statement about Christ, the "Son of God," is now transferred to Christians. End-time communion with Christ means receiving a share in his final accomplishments throughout all reaches of God's creation. The second promise (v. 28b), which at first sounds especially enigmatic, is clear when it is seen as a reference to the designation of Jesus as a bright morning star (22: 16): the Lord will give himself to his own people; to reign with him means to have full communion with him (cf. 1 John 5: 12).


Revelation 3:1-6

To the Church in Sardis

Text (I) 3:1 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: (II) Thus speaks him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: (III) I know your works; I know that you have the reputation of living, and yet you are dead. 2 Awake, and strengthen what remains and threatens to die. For I have not found your works perfect before God. 3 Remember what you received and heard; keep that, and repent! If you are not vigilant, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. 4 But you have several persons in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white garments because they are worthy. (V) 5 Whoever overcomes will be clad in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before my father and before his angels. (IV) 6 Whoever has ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

Commentary [3:1) Sardis, lying southeast of Thyatira on a fertile plain, was not an

entirely insignificant city, even though its golden age as the residence of the much-fabled Lydian King Croesus had long since passed. The Christian community, about whose origins we know nothing, appears to have been in existence for some time because the same indications of secondgeneration fatigue with respect to the life of faith, like those in Ephesus (cf. 2:4), are noticeable. The letter is wholly one of rebuke. The negati ve picture is not brightened by praise of steadfastness in the face of external or internal dangers, since obviously this church had been spared perse-


Revelation 3: 1-6

cution as well as false teaching. The self-designation of Jesus joins the image, already employed in 2: I , ofthe seven stars in his hand-an image that comes from the commissioning vision (I :20)-with the reference to Jesus' rule over the seven spirits that are mentioned in the introduction to the letter (see commentary on I :4). These seven spirits are the archangels that stand before the countenance of God (4: 5). As is stressed here, they-and not only the angels of the churches subordinate to them-are in the hand of Jesus. The church in Sardis presents the external image of being completely intact, which explains its reputation as a vibrant church. But the gaze of the Lord goes deeper. He examines its works, that is, the whole picture of its conduct as it emerges from the various aspects of the church's life, and comes to the harsh judgment that the church, in truth, is dead. A church is alive only when it is moved by the life of Jesus Christ and, in concrete life experience, authenticates the salvation it has received. Christianity in name only falls under the judgment ofthe Lord to whose name it falsely appeals. However, this judgment is not carried out; instead, the church receives the possibility of repentance. [3:2-3) The call to repentance makes such frequent allusion to the parable of the thief in the night (Luke 12:39-40 par. Matt. 24:43-44; cf. I Thess. 5:2, 4), which originates from the sayings source, that one could actually speak here of a paraphrase. The call to vigilance forms the climax of the parable; this call makes the church aware that the Lord is coming unexpectedly, like a thief; it is intensified here, moreover, to a call to awaken for those who lie in spiritual, deathlike sleep. The Christians in Sardis are to be vigilant and to arouse the others who do not yet hear this call. Indeed, it means fulfilling the standard of "works" that are demanded by God, who seeks not a quantitative increase of certain achievements but a qualitative change in conduct. The backward glance to the beginnings of the church (cf. 2:5) is to remind it of the magnitude of the change that took place then. What it received were not merely specific traditions and instructions but the saving reality of communion with Jesus Christ, which transforms human beings (cf. Gal. 3:3; Rom. 10:14-17). If the church had forgotten and repressed something so great, it will be jolted from its sleep by the Lord, who comes unforeseen like the thief in the parable. But then it will be too late to repent. [3:4] This verse brings a small light into the gloomy picture of this church: even in it there are a few who have not fallen from the salvation they received but have responded to it with corresponding conduct. The white robe represents in Revelation the purity and holiness received from Christ (see excursus on 6: II). If the reference here is to a white baptismal cloth-a view with much in its favor-it would be quite concretely an allusion to the salvation received in baptism. Whoever is lacking in the works that correspond to this new saving condition defiles the robe. But those who keep it pure are in the communion with Christ that it promises; they are worthy and therefore share in it.



(3:5-6] The words to the one who conquers enlarge on this idea, in which the ethical rigor is clearly manifested. The names of all church members are recorded in the Book of Life, which, according to Jewish thought (Dan. 12: I), contains the names of the righteous who are destined for eternal life. However, only those who overcome, those who have been obedient, will remain listed in this book; the names of the rest are expunged, so that they fall under judgment (cf. 19: 12, 15). In the second promise the image of the Book of Life is translated, as it were, into an actual personal event, again through appropriation of a saying of Jesus (Luke 12:8; Matt. 10:32-33 [Q]). Jesus himself will confess before the judgment seat of God at the final judgment the names of those who have been faithful to him; he will publicly consolidate the communion that he promised them so that they will be free from judgment.


Revelation 3:7-13

To the Church in Philadelphia

(I) (II)


Text 3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

8 9

10 11 (V)


(IV) 13

Thus speaks the holy One, the true One, who has the key of David, who opens so that no one can shut, and who shuts so that no one can open: I know your works; behold, I have opened before you a door which no one can shut. For you have but little power and have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will see to it that people from the synagogue of Satan who call themselves Jews and are not, but lie-, behold, I will see to it that they come and bow down before your feet and see that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of endurance, I will preserve you from the hour of trial which is to come over the whole world, to try the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one takes your crown. Whoever overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God; and this one shall not go out of it again, and I will write on this one the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my new name. Whoever has ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

Commentary (3:7] Philadelphia, named for its founder, King Attalos II Philadelphos of Pergamum, was a small city, threatened by frequent earthquakes and located about 25 miles southeast of Sardis. The Christian community there was small in number and weak economically. As the letter indicates, it was also exposed to severe pressure from the strong Jewish 60


population. To this extent the picture is similar to that in Smyrna (2:811). The letter to Philadelphia also resembles that to Smyrna in that it is characterized exclusively by praise. The church requires neither reproach nor a summons to repent; it receives that which it alone needs-encouragement and support in the conflict with the Jews. The message formula (II) addresses indirectly the theme of this conflict. When Jesus calls himself holy and true, he thereby claims for himself attributes that in the Old Testament are reserved only for God (Isa. 6:3; 65:16; cf. Rev. 6: 10) and thus strengthens the christological confession of the church, which is disputed by the Jews. The image of the keys of David points in the same direction. It is taken from Isa. 22:22 and there refers to the power of the royal vizier to open or to close the entrance to the royal palace. In the mouth of Jesus it takes on a new meaning: it describes his full authority to decide irrevocably membership in Israel, the "house of David," and thus, at the same time, membership in the kingdom of God (cf. v. 12). The description offers a complementary addition to 1: 18: Jesus not only has the keys to death and Hades, that is, he is able not only to destroy the range of infl uence of the demonic powers, but he also has the power of the key that provides entry into God's kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:19). (3:8) The description of the situation (III), characterized entirely by comforting encouragement, immediately takes up this image of the power of the key. Jesus has opened the door to the kingdom of God to this church, which has been faithful to him with its limited powers; it can therefore be certain that it belongs to the end-time people of God. The image of the open door here thus has a completely different meaning from its use in 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2: 12; and Acts 14:27, where it denotes a new missionary possibility. (3:9) With the same words that are in 2:9, the claim of the Jews to be the assembly (synagoge) of God and the people of God is rejected as false. Because they rejected Jesus as the bringer of God's salvation, in truth they subordinated themselves to the dominion of God's adversary. Israel's heritage and claim are completely transferred to the Christian community. To it, therefore, also belongs the promise, originally made to Israel, that at the end time the Gentiles will enter the city of God and subjugate themselves to the people of God (Isa. 60:14 and elsewhere). Indeed, among those who then come will be the unbelieving Jews, who will realize that Jesus loved them and that means he chose them; (cf. Isa. 42: 1) and made them into the people of God. When mention is made of "bowing down" before the feet of the church, this assumes full participation of the church in the kingdom of Christ and sitting with him on his throne (v. 21). (3:10) Because the church remained faithful to the word of Jesus that

challenged it to endure (cf. 1:9), it is now promised that in the end-time 61

Revelation 3:7-13

trials imposed on the whole world, it is to remain protected-not in the sense of an external exemption, but of an ability to stand firm in the faith (cf. Matt. 6: 13). (3:111 In spite of this promise, the church remains called in the brief time until the coming of the Lord to constant vigilance and alertness; but it is not to forfeit what it has received, namely, the present salvation of communion with Christ (I :6), which is depicted in the image of the crown of victory (cf. 2: 10). A reference to Jesus' parable of the talents (Matt. 25:28) perhaps stands behind the admonition to stand firm. (3:12-131 The promise of the words about overcoming (V) returns again to the basic motif of the opening, which is woven throughout the letter in order to connect it to the image in the closing vision (21:1-22:5). Not only will Jesus irrevocably provide those who are faithful to him entry into the community of salvation of the end time-this is the meaning of the image of the temple (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20-2 I)-but also he will give them an exalted place in it. Similarly, the leaders of the Jerusalem primitive church (Gal. 2:9) bore the honorific title "pillars" (of the endtime temple), and in Judaism Abraham was called "pillar of the world" (Str.-B. 3:737). Placing a name on another signifies its transference to the one bearing it: thus, those who overcome are to be characterized as God's possession and as citizens of the new Jerusalem, which will come down from heaven at the end of days (21 :2; cf. Gal. 4:26; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:22). But what is also new is the name of their Lord by which they are then to be identified. Because the name expresses the character of its bearer, the highest and the actual name of Jesus, which finally discloses the secret of his person, is now not yet recognizable (2: 17). Only in God's new world will this "new" name, which corresponds to the entire reality created by him, be made known (19: 12).


Revelation 3: 14-22

To the Church in Laodicea

Text (I) 3: 14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: (II) Thus speaks the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the begin-

ning of God's creation: 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich and have possessions and lack nothing. You do not know that you are needy, miserable and poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you so that the shame of your nakedness can no longer be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 I rebuke and chastise those whom I love. So be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in to him and eat with him and he with me. (V) 21 Whoever overcomes, I will grant to this one to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (IV) 22 Whoever has ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches! (III)

Commentary (3:14] Laodicea in Phrygia, located on the main road that follows the

Lycus, a tributary of the Meander, had been named by Antiochus II in honor of his wife, Laodice. The city had become wealthy through trade


Revelation 3:14-22

and industry; its wool manufacturers and banks were especially well known. Thanks to its economic strength, it was able to recover quickly from the consequences of an earthquake in A.D. 62. The church there was established early by associates of Paul; especially Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4: 12-13) appears to have played a role in its establishment. The letter from Paul (or one of his followers) to the Laodiceans (mentioned in Col. 4: 16) is lost; the letter that has come down under this name is a rather primitive forgery (Hennecke-Schneemelcher-McL.Wilson 2:88-94). The association between the churches in Laodicea and Colossae, only 9 miles away, was so close in the beginning that one could call them sister churches. Also to be considered is the fact that the Laodicean Christians were influenced by the gnostic heresy, which was resisted in the Colossian letter. To be sure, there is no mention of heretics in this letter; neither the Nicolaitans nor a correspondingly similar Christian-gnostic group appears to have threatened the church at the time. However, from particular characteristics of the criticism of the church expressed in the letter, which in its sharpness almost surpasses that of the letter to Sardis (vv. 1-6), one can conclude that the misguided conduct of the Laodicean Christians is associated with its earlier influence by gnostic thought. The message formula (II) consists of three parts. The first, "Amen," is the same Old Testament designation of God in Isa. 65:16, which appeared in the Greek form in 3:7. Like God himself, Jesus is absolutely truthful and dependable; he keeps his word. The two parts that follow refer back to 1:5 and simultaneously to the situation of the church. Jesus, "the faithful and true witness," who sealed his service with his life, finds such readiness to testify absent in Laodicea. His participation in creation is presented more sharply with the phrase "origin [or beginning] of God's creation" than in 1:4, where there was more emphasis on the majesty of Jesus Christ over history. Surely it is no accident that the tone sounded here resembles one found in Colossians (Col. 1: 15-20). Apparently, Revelation also wishes to counter strongly the separation of Christ from the created world, which is represented by Gnosticism.

(3:15-161 The criticism of the church reveals indirectly a concrete reference to the situation, in spite of the more generic wording of the criticism. In response to the radical claim of the Christian message there really can be only a clear no or a clear yes-and hostile rejection or total obedience-but not an attitude of lukewarm indecision. When the church exposes such indecision, it thereby demonstrates that it has not yet grasped the substance of this message. The Lord, therefore, can only dismiss them with a gesture of disgust. The occasion for this hard prophetic word of judgment might also be again (cf. 2:4-5; 3: 1-3) the church's ethical behavior. The Christians in Laodicea were living in the selfsatisfied certainty that they had already received salvation as a sure possession. In this respect, they were forgetting that this gift of salvation required radical obedience, which shows itself within the church by a love that serves and outside the church by courageous public testimony. 64

Commentary (3:17) Not without irony is the misguided self-estimation of the church

condemned: it lives in the contented certainty of its wealth and does not recognize that before its Lord it stands poor, blind, and naked. Indeed, it seems here that the issue is not so much material self-satisfaction as it is the proud boasting about an ostensible spiritual possession (cf. 2:9), for it corresponds to the manner of thinking of an enthusiasm influenced by Gnosticism (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8); it is an enthusiasm that lives in the conviction that a final profound knowledge and perfection has already been achieved. In spite of the hard word of judgment, this church also does not fall to the final judgment but receives another chance to repent. (3:18) The call to repentance is clothed in the image of a summons to purchase (cf. Isa. 55: I), which certainly alludes to the commercial mentality of the Laodiceans. The point now is finally to acquire from Jesus what is truly necessary for life. For its poverty the church needs "gold," that is, true wealth, which only he can give; for its nakedness, the white garment of salvation (v. 5); and for its blindness, salve for the eyes, which grants spiritual sight. By no means-and here the image breaks downdoes Jesus sell these gifts for payment by human beings; one can receive them only as gifts from him again and again. But this insight necessarily signifies the end of all proud boasting of spiritual ownership, (3:19) Instead of the expected threat of judgment in the case ofa refusal to

repent (cf. v. 3b), there sounds a new tone: the church is to know that behind the rebuke stands nothing other than the love of its Lord, which seeks and goes after the lost. Like God himself (Prov. 3: 12; Heb. 12:6), Jesus also teaches and punishes those whom he loves. (3:20) Thus the point is that the church may anticipate the imminent return of the Lord not in fear of judgment but rather in the joy of perfect communion with him. Underlying the announcement of his coming is the parable of the servants waiting for their master (Luke 12:35-38 [Q?]). Three features are taken from it: the knocking by the master, the opening of the door by the servants who have remained awake, and the reward of these servants with a meal prepared by the returning master. To those who obediently wait for the returning master, he will-this is the meaning of this piece of tradition. which is also appropriated by Revelationgrant a place at the messianic meal at the time of salvation. But that also means that the church's celebration of the Eucharist here and now is an allusion to the imminent coming of the Lord and anticipation of the future meal with him in its perfection. (3:21) The final word about overcoming (V) in the series of letters has particular importance. It summarizes in conclusion the central promise of salvation, which in the promises heretofore was sounded several times with variations and modifications, by using another Synoptic expression of Jesus (Luke 22:30b; Matt. 19:28 [Q?]): to those who overcome is


Revelation 3:14-22

promised here participation in Jesus' heavenly kingdom. Thus, just as Jesus sits on his throne (cf. 5:6) beside God as equal ruler on the basis of his having overcome and thereby shares his dominion, so also will those who have overcome for his sake receive a place in his messianic rule (cf. 20:6) with unlimited communion, and even equality, with him.

13:22] The call to vigilance (IV), which is advanced to the end as in the three preceding letters, is not to serve as a conclusion, but as a transition. Like an emphatic "as follows," it directs the reader to the series of visions of the end time that begins with 4: 1. It contains that which the Spirit now has to say to the churches as prophetic message.


Revelation 4:1-11

The Appearance of God

Text 4: 1 After that I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven, and the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ·Come up here, and I will show you what is to take place after this." 2 At once I fell into a trance, and la, a throne stood in heaven, and one sat on the throne, 3 and he who sat there looked like jasper and carnelian, and a rainbow was around the throne which looked like an emerald. 4 And round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones were seated twenty-four elders, who were dressed in white garments with golden crowns on their heads. 5 And from the throne issue flashes of lightning, voices, and peals of thunder, and seven torches of fire burn before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. 6 And before the throne was something like a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne and round about the throne were four creatures, full of eyes in front and behind. 7 The first being resembled a lion, the second an ox, the third had the face of a man, and the fourth looked like a flying eagle. S And each of the four creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and within. And they do not rest, either by day or by night, and say, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. 9 And whenever the creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever, and they lay down their crowns before the throne and say:


Revelation 4: I-II 11

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

Form The second main section of the book opens with a powerful twofold vision (4:1-5:14) in which the seer beholds the heavenly throne room. But it is more than simply prelude and opening. Rather, it forms the point of departure and reference for all that follows. Indeed, in view of the exceedingly numerous allusions and compositional references to it, which are found later (particularly in chaps. 12-13 and 21-22), it must be seen as the theological center of the book. With the response and interpretation of what he has seen, John has here, as elsewhere, gone back to traditions he has received. In fact, the main source from which he draws his thematic material is the opening vision of Ezekiel, in which the prophet describes the coming of God with violent winds and thunderclouds: in his glory God is enthroned on an immense carriage that is borne by four mysterious living creatures and rolls on four wheels and that is also a likeness of the heavenly arch (Ezek. I :3-15). In addition, however, the depiction is also influenced at several points, particularly noticeable in v. 8b, by the vision in Isaiah 6, which is an account by the prophet of the view of God's throne in the temple. As is true for Isaiah, so also for John, the throne of God stands firmly at its appropriate place; but this place is now no longer the temple, but heaven. The dramatic movement, which is characteristic ofthe Ezekiel vision, has given way here to static rest. John combines in a new way the cosmological motifs of Ezekiel I with a grandiose picture of the eternal, immutable dominion of God over the world and history. Commentary [4:1, 2a] The introductory phrase "after that I looked" is very general (cf. 7: 1,9; 15:5; 18: 1). A more precise temporal and spatial description of the new vision (cf. 1: 10) is not possible. It is only clear that it has no direct relationship to the commissioning vision ( I :9-20). The seer sees first that in the heavens, portrayed as a solid, impenetrable arch, a door opens. This frequent motif in apocalyptic literature of the opening of the door to heaven is a picture of the permission granted certain chosen persons to view hidden, heavenly mysteries (l Enoch 14: 15; T. Levi 5: 1). This permission is additionally underscored by the summons of a voice that proves to be identical with that of the angel who introduces the first vision (1: 10). The result is a visionary, ecstatic experience similar to that which Paul reports of his own in 2 Cor. 12:2-7. Indeed, in contrast to 1: 10 (see there), at issue here is a so-called heavenly journey of the soul. The idea was that the soul of the seer, by the ecstasy caused by the power of the Spirit, is released temporarily from the body in order 10 rise to heaven and to receive entry to the domain of God that is found there. According



to Jewish-apocalyptic views, heaven is where the future things, which will define the new world era, are being prepared and preserved (cf. 21 :2). Furthermore, it is the place from which the powers, which define God's future, take their departure. The announcement that the seer will receive there "what must take place after this" means not only the issue of future things and the communication of future events but the understanding of what lies behind these things and events, namely, God's activity, his saving plan. It should be noted that this first vision does not apply to the future, but has for its content an occurrence that in majestic peace beyond all time embraces past, present, and future. God's world rule, his gracious will as Creator, is the constant of all that happens in the world. (4:2b, 3] Unlike the vision in Ezekiel I, which begins with the visible appearances of wheels in order to press forward gradually from there to the throne of God as the center, here a view of the throne of God stands at the beginning, representing a clear expression of the theocentric thought of John. Of course he is unable to see or to describe God himself; all he can see is the overpowering heavenly radiance surrounding God, which both declares his power and glory and mysteriously conceals his being (cf. I Tim. 6: 16). While in his vision Ezekiel describes the shape of what appears, at least at the beginning in its human similarities, and mentions the holy name of God (Ezek. I :27-28), John exercises even more restraint here. What he describes is simply a glistening and shining that he compares to the sparkling of variously colored jewels. Their exact identification is not possible because the corresponding designations in antiquity were imprecise and uncertain. With jasper an opaque, brightly shining stone seems to be meant, while the carnelian indicates a bright red, transparent stone. The only certainty is that the color of the emerald, which is associated with the glory surrounding the throne, is a green that changes into blue. (4:4] Here begins the description of the area around the throne of God,

moving from the outer to the inner area. Arrayed in the circle around this throne John sees twenty-four thrones, on which are seated elders. They are wearing splendid white robes and golden crowns. Who are they? Some have pointed to ancient, astral-mythological references-for example, to the fact that the Babylonian zodiac was ruled by twenty-four gods of the stars. It is in fact possible that the seer took up here an image that goes back to such ancient notions. However, he himself was scarcely fully aware of these backgrounds, and thus, as an explanation of what he meant, they settle little. One should also exclude the interpretation, circulated since the early church, of the elders as the perfected righteous ones who sealed their faith with martyrdom or as the twelve patriarchs of the old covenant and the twelve apostles of the new covenant (see at 7: 13). Rather, everything favors the notion that the elders signify not transfigured human beings but angelic figures, specifically, the members


Revelation 4:1-11

of the heavenly council with which the Old Testament is acquainted (1 Kgs. 22: 19-22; Isaiah 6). The thrones on which they sit are symbols of sovereignty. Their mention is reminiscent of the primitive Christian hymn in Col. 1: 16, where the term "throne" serves to describe angelic beings subordinate to God. The number twenty-four is most easily explained as a reference to the number of hours in the day; accordingly, the elders represent before God the fullness of time and their purpose is to praise God ceaselessly, day and night (cf. v. 10). [4:5) There is much activity between the thrones of the elders and the throne of God. It is filled with lightning, voices, and thunder-the attributes of God's appearance (Exod. 19: 16; Ezek. 1: 13; Job 37:4-5). Here they are not to be understood, however, as signs or as phenomena accompanying a special revelation of God. Rather, they underscore generally the impression of that which stirs fright and is full of mystery. The seven torches that burn before the throne remind one of the sevenbranched (menorah) lampstand in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple (Zech. 4:2; 1 Macc. 1:21; 4:49). But here they are equated with the seven spirits of God that were mentioned in the letter's introduction (I :4). They are hardly expressions of the one Spirit of God, as the ancient church wished to understand them through reference to Isa. II: 1-2. Rather, in line with Jewish tradition, they are the seven highest angels that stand immediately before the face of God (see at 1:4).

[4:6-7) The "sea of glass," which stretches out from the throne, is another conceptual element from an ancient traditional complex appropriated by John in a spontaneous way. According to the Old Testament worldview, the heavenly ocean stretches forth (cf. Gen. 7: 11) above heaven, thought of as a solid arch (Gen. I :6-8). Above this rises then God's habitation, his throne, on firm pillars (Ps. 104:3). This contextual association is expressed more clearly when Ezekiel sees the throne of God standing above a forged dish, similar to a gleaming crystal, which undoubtedly represents the heavenly arch; the crystal is to reflect the splendor of heaven (Ezek. 1:22). John was surely thinking only of the connection between the throne of God and the sea, not of its background; thus, he reduces the heavenly ocean to a body of water before the throne of God. He could have taken the comparison with crystal, also without extensive reflection, from Ezek. 1:22. Four mysterious creatures constitute the inner circle around the throne. John does not call them "beasts" because this term remains reserved for figures inimical to God (cf. II :7; 13: I). The depiction of these creatures goes back in part to a collection of primeval traditions whose original meaning remains unknown to us. The throne of God in the ark of the covenant, which was in the Holy of Holies of the temple, was carried by cherubim, composite creatures with winged bodies of animals and heads of human beings; the ancient Orient also saw them as guardians of the realm of the Deity (2 Sam. 22: 11; 2 Kgs. 19: IS). In some 70


traditions in which the ancient concept of Yahweh as a weather-god who travels about with storm and tempest was still influential, these cherubim bearing the throne of God are identified with the winds of the storm; thus Ps. 18: 10: "He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind." Ezekiel takes up these traditions when he has the (heavenly) arch on which the throne of God rests borne by four creatures, each of which has four faces and four wings and whose animal-like feet run in a system of wheels, in the middle of which the throne is moved. In other words, the four creatures constitute here the chassis of the throne's carriage (Ezek. 1:5-21). That there are four of them may symbolize the four winds and thus the four ends of the earth ruled by God. To be sure, in his portrayal of the creatures John appears to be dependent, in part, on Ezekiel, but he might also have reached back, independently, to other branches of this traditional complex, for various departures from the Ezekiel depiction can be explained only in this way. But what is the meaning ofthe four creatures in Revelation? In the second century, Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.11.8) identified them with the four evangelists, and this interpretation had a broad history of influence extending into the ecclesiastical art of our own time. But apart from the fact that it assumes the existence of the four-evangelist canon, which took form only in the second half of the second century, this interpretation breaks down in light of the fact that John does not wish to portray an assembly of perfected and transfigured persons, but rather the heavenly court. If the twenty-four elders are angelic figures, then the same is also suggested for the four creatures. They are apparently angelic beings who were appointed to keep watch at the throne of God (cf. 1 Enoch 71 :7). Not to be ruled out is the possibility that in there being four of them, which is the number of the directions of heaven and thus of the world in its entirety, they are also to symbolize the reign of God over the whole of creation. The localization of their position "around the throne, and on each side of the throne" seems confusing. It appears as if the former assertion goes back to a tradition that understood the creatures as cherubim in the sense of 2 Sam. 22: 11; 2 Kgs. 19:5, who carried the throne and thus were its constituent parts; in contrast, the latter statement reflects John's own view, according to which the creatures surround the throne as the innermost circle, so to speak, of the heavenly court. The countless eyes that the creatures have in front and in back-John borrowed the motif from Ezek. 1: 18-make tangible their watchfulness in the service of God. The four faces, which each of the creatures has in Ezekiel (Ezek. 1: 10), are distributed among the individual creatures in an order different from that in Ezekiel (man, lion, ox, eagle), which could be evidence for the use of an independent tradition. In the four faces some have wanted to identify remains of an ancient, astral-mythological reference to the four creatures of the zodiac-ox (= ram), lion, scorpion (often depicted in human form), and Aquarius (in immediate proximity to the constellation of the eagle). However, it is more likely that what was originally intended 71

Revelation 4: I-II

were images of the most regal and the strongest animals together with human beings, which were to depict in concrete terms the all-encompassing power of God. [4:8) If the creatures, in contrast to Ezek. 1:6, each have six wings, they are thus comparable to the seraphim, those winged, snakelike beings that, according to Isa. 6:2, hover around the throne of God in adoration; in fact, the depiction now moves more strongly in the direction of Isaiah 6. Once again the motif of the eyes appears, "all around and inside," which is taken from the description of the wheels of the heavenly carriage in Ezek. 1: 18 ("full of eyes all around"), and which does not quite fit. But the second mention of the eyes here very likely had a substantive basis: the creatures are the constantly watching ones, those who never sleep; they are there to sing praises day and night to the eternal power and glory of God (J Enoch 39: 12). Therefore they are doing that which should really be the duty of all creatures, above all of human beings. The hymn corresponds almost literally to that which the seraphim sing in Isa. 6:3 (LXX): "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Sabaoth." Instead of the obtuse reference to God as "Lord Sabaoth" (= Lord of the heavenly hosts), the reference "the Lord God the Almighty" appears, which was more familiar to Hellenistic people (see at 1:8). To this title is immediately attached a historical-theological interpretation of significance that corresponds almost literally to that given in 1:8 (cf. 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21 :22). (4:9-10) When the seer's angle of vision shifts again from within to without, it is guided, to a certain extent, by the sounds of the hymn of praise, which, emerging from the narrow circle of the four creatures, is taken up by the wider circle of elders. The scene thus is expanded to a comprehensive view of heavenly worship that never ends. John wishes to portray it as an antiphon: when the creatures have sung their thrice-holy, the elders respond, underscoring their worship with a particularly graphic gesture of homage. There are analogies for this in the realm of earthly politics: Tacitus reports (Ann. 15.29) that the vassal king Tiridates expressed his loyalty to the emperor Nero by laying his crown at his feet. Such homage, as earthly rulers demand and receive it, rightfully befits God alone, for he is the living One who as the Creator gives life and provides a place for the living. He does not rule because he removes and diminishes life, but rather because he gives abundance to his creatures.

[4:11] The short hymn that renders this praise of the Creator does not appear wholly without hidden polemical references to those earthly rulers who dispute God's unique right to be worshiped: "our Lord and God" could also mean Domitian (Suet. Dom. 13). And the phrase "you are worthy" is clearly reminiscent ofthe festive shouts of the people at the acclamation of the emperor, by which honor and power were imparted to the ruler on the basis of his achievements. Through such an acclamation something cannot be attributed to God that God did not already have in the first place; his honor is not dependent on whether or not others 72


acknowledge it-the analogy breaks down at this critical point. John certainly did not understand the declaration of honor by the heavenly creatures as the impartation and affirmation of God's honor; this would completely contradict the image of God he depicts elsewhere. But what then is its meaning? Probably there is an abbreviated reference in it to the liturgy of Christian worship. In the celebration of the Eucharist the church responds to the invitation "Let us give thanks to the Lord" with the words, "it is honorable and right" (Hippol. ; 1 Clem. 38:4). John changed this invitation to praise formulated in the third person into a direct address that consistently signifies, "It is honorable and appropriate that we give you honor." As Creator and Giver of all life, God is entitled to the praise of his creatures. This praise itself does not furnish him his power and glory, but it is their visible and audible reflection.


Revelation 5: 1 -14

The Lamb and the Sealed Book

Text 5: 1 And I saw in the right hand of the One who sat on the throne a scroll which was written within and on the back and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a powerful angel who cried with a loud voice: 'Who is worthy to open the book and break its seals?" 3 And no one in heaven and on earth or under the earth was able to open the book and look into it. 4 And I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the book and look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! Behold, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has overcome, in order that he might open the book and its seven seals .• 6 And I saw between the throne and the four creatures and among the elders a lamb standing, that was as though it had been slain, and had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the world. 7 And it went and took (the book) from the right hand of the One who sits upon the throne. 8 And when it had taken the book, the four creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the lamb; they all had harps and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sing a new song, and say: Worthy are you to take the book and to open its seals! For you were slain and ransomed people for God with your blood from every tribe and every tongue and every people and every nation, 10 and made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they shall reign on earth.


Form 11 And I saw, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the creatures and the elders, and their number was ten thousand times ten thousands and a thousand times a thousand. 12 They said with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, riches, wisdom and might, honor, glory, and blessing. 13 And I heard all creatures who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and on the sea, and all that is therein, saying: To the One who sits on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might for ever and ever. 14 And the four creatures said: Amen. And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Form The second section of the throne-room vision of the throne emerges directly out of the first. Substantively, its relationship to the first part is like that of the second article of the confession of faith to the first. The depiction ofthe majesty of God the Creator, whose eternal, unchangeable lordship over history finds its reflection in the constant and ceaseless hymn of heavenly worship, forms the basis for the portrayal of the saving event in Christ. The life and work of Jesus Christ are, to a certain degree, described here from the heavenly perspective, that is, how they appear from the perspective of God and his heavenly court; the consequence and vividness of this description are without parallel in the New Testament. To be sure, this perspective was prepared by numerous christological traditions that had their Sitz im Leben predominantly in hymns of worship of the church and in which the life of Jesus Christ was sketched mostly in hymnic language as a life that led from humiliation to exaltation and to inauguration in heavenly authority. Indeed, these traditions develop the activity of God with respect to Jesus according to a fixed three-step scheme that was patterned upon the coronation ritual of oriental kings: (1) exaltation, (2) transfer of authority (or conveyance of the ruler's title), and (3) presentation of the new ruler before the subjects paying homage. This scheme is especially clearly pronounced in the last strophe of the Christ hymn quoted by Paul (Phil. 2:9-11). But it is also found in 1 Tim. 3: 16; Heb. 1:5; and Matt. 28: 18-20. It is clear that precisely this scheme forms the basic framework of Rev. 5:1-14: V. 5: description of the exaltation event (in the word ofthe elder); Vv. 6-7: transfer of authority (in the conveyance of the book); Vv. 8-14: presentation of the ruler (in the homage ofthe heavenly world).

This schema does not explain the first narrative section in vv. 14-inserted prior to v. 5-which deals with the consternation of the heavenly assembly in view of the sealed book and the vain search for one who can open it. But even that episode is not without basis in tradition


Revelation 5:1-14

insofar as an ancient motifis contained in it, namely, that of the search of a council of a god, or a king, for someone who is able to solve an especially difficult problem. Thus, the Ugaritic Cereth myth tells how the god 11, whom his sons surround like a court, "sitting on thrones of authority," seeks a commissioned one who is able to heal the illness of King Cereth. 11 poses the question, "Who among the gods is able to subdue the illness, expel the suffering?" But "no one among the gods answers him." Because after the question is repeated no one suitable is found, 11 must take the task upon himself. Similarly, the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic told of the search of the king of Cullab and his heroes for a courageous volunteer who abandons a hopelessly besieged city. Finally, when in the scene of the call ofIsaiah (Isa. 6:8) Yahweh, enthroned in the midst of his court, initially directs to it this question, "Whom shall we send?" before Isaiah declares himself ready to be sent, this is an abbreviated version of the same motif. Its function is twofold: to point to the extraordinary difficulty of an assignment, and to make clear that only the one in question comes to take it on. This one toward whom everything rushes is Jesus Christ. The assignment that no one besides him is able to accept is the world dominion of the end time-the use of the exaltation and enthronement scheme leaves no doubt of this. But if this is the case, then the question of the significance of the mysterious book, a question that has been endlessly debated in the history of interpretation, is also clarified. This book must have something to do with the world dominion; its acceptance signifies its rightful transfer to the "Lamb," and the opening of its seals is a sign for the active execution of the function of lordship. Jesus Christ is seen here as the end-time ruler who, on the basis of the saving work completed by him, is called to discharge with authority God's plan for the end of history. It should be noted that the content of this vision is a past event that operates in the present and future. To the seer the meaning is disclosed of what occurred in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. While apocalypticism otherwise generally has for its theme the view of that which is hidden with respect to the future, here in the center stands the view of the event by which the future has already begun in the past. That the turning point in world history has come to pass in him is made visible in this stunning vision. Commentary [5:1) The words "then I saw" signify that something new has begun, not

because a new vision is about to be introduced, but because the reader's attention is to be directed to something that will continue the event. In the right hand of the One who is seated on the throne, the hand that embodies power and authority, the seer recognizes a scroll. Its more detailed description shows that most likely it is a document with legal significance according to the style of the ancient duplicate certificate. With important documents, like wills and imperial decrees, a brief sum76


mary of the contents was added to the outer covering in which the book was wrapped, so that the meaning of the contents was immediately evident. In just this way the book in the hand of God is written "on the inside and on the back." The seals, then, are not supposed to keep the contents hidden but rather to protect them from unauthorized appropriation. Whoever breaks open the seals executes it and legally sets it into effect. Throughout Revelation, seven is the number of completeness and of the perfection that God has brought about. That the book has seven seals may therefore be an allusion to the notion that in it the completion of history is resolved. With few exceptions (1 :8; 21 :5), God does not speak directly in Revelation. (5:2) Thus, an angel is introduced who poses the question which to be consistent would have to be directed by God to the heavenly assembly: "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" This question must be understood in the sense of a public invitation that is issued to the whole world, not simply to the heavenly creatures. He who comes forward, he who meets the prerequisites to accept the proposed task, is "worthy." Unlike the hymn of praise in 4: 11 and 5: 12, here and in v. 9 "worthy" especially means ability and qualification, although the other component of having a claim to praise also resonates. The task at hand is not the disclosure of the future but rather the discharge of God's plan for history vis-Ii-vis the world, the setting in motion of the world event toward the end that God has planned for it. Everything depends on finding someone for this task: can God, in conformity with his promises, really establish his dominion relative to the world, or has this world long since slipped away from him and left humanity to despotism? At issue here are both the future of the world and the divine being of God. (5:3) This verse offers no concrete depiction of the scene. It does not tell us that various candidates "in heaven or on earth or under the earth"the three regions in the ancient view of the world (cf. Phil. 2: 10), that is, angels, human beings, and demons-might have come forward and been turned away as being unworthy; nor is anything said about sorrow or consternation in the heavenly assembly. What is at stake is simply that there was, in fact, no one in the whole world who could have assumed the task. (5:4) A person can only react with sorrow and consternation at the absence of the expected one: the seer weeps. The weeping is, to a certain extent, the retrospective summary of the heretofore vain and shattered messianic expectation of Israel, the people of God. (5:5) But the members of God's heavenly court do not share this perplexed sorrow. They know that there is one who is able to accept the proposed task-indeed, who has already accepted it. One of the elders functions as an interpretative angel for the seer and discloses to him this 77

Revelation 5: 1-14

secret. He mentions neither the name of Jesus nor a clear christo logical royal title, but only two indirect descriptions of the messianic majesty of the one who is able to open the mysterious book and break its seals: he is the lion from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:9) and he is the descendant of David (Isa. 11: 10; cf. T. Jud. 24:5), that is, the expected king of salvation who, according to an Old Testament promise, was supposed to come forth from the line of David (Rom. 1:3; 15: 12; cf. 4Qpatr. 3-4). The decisive emphasis, however, is not on these majestic titles, but rather on the event by means of which its representative showed himself worthy: he overcame, he achieved victory by the obedient giving of his life (v. 9), for the sake of which God raised and exalted him. Likewise, by "conquered" Revelation characterizes the point of Jesus' life and destiny as well as that of those who belong to him; because Jesus overcame, they are also promised that they shall overcome on the basis of their obedience and steadfastness in the affliction of the present (cf. the words for those who overcome in 2:7, 11, and elsewhere; further 15:2). Because he did overcome, he is worthy to open the book and its seven seals. He, and only he, can be considered the end-time ruler and the one who consummates history. [5:6-71 It is not enough simply to proclaim the presence of such a ruler; rather, the seer himself may now behold the festive act of the transfer of lordship. In the center of the heavenly assembly, directly on the throne of God, he sees a lamb that receives the mysterious scroll from the right hand of God in which it had rested-removed from every kind of seizure-until now. In this impressive scene, primary attention is given to the theological statement of will, at the expense of vividness. The place reference in v. 8 would be absolutely incomprehensible on the level of objective portrayal. For how can the lamb not only be "in the midst of the throne" (en meso tou thronou) on which God himself is seated, but also at the same time still be in the midst of the creatures and the elders? (The NRSV attempts to smooth over this difficulty.) On the level of theological statement, however, it is quite sensible: the lamb can be nowhere else than "in the midst of the throne," the place of God's dominion, because it shares in God's majesty and dominion. But if it thus belongs to God, then it forms together with him the center of the heavenly assembly. What does it mean when Jesus is represented here by the mysterious image of a lamb?

Excursus: The Lamb "Lamb" is the most frequent designation given for Jesus in Revelation. It is mentioned twenty-eight times, far surpassing the use of "Christ" (seven times). Nevertheless, this hardly means that it was a fixed, common title in the churches being addressed, for the Greek word used here (arnion) appears nowhere else in the New Testament with a similar meaning. In John's Gospel (John 1:29,36) Jesus is certainly identified as the "lamb (of God)," but a different Greek word is found there (amnos). It is more likely that here we are dealing with a christological symbolic image that



the author of Revelation himself fashioned from available traditional motifs. Because arnion can mean both "lamb" and "ram," some have tried to trace this symbol back to an astro-mythological origin, namely, the constellation of Cerus; yet, that is quite unlikely, since the latter is generally not designated as arnion. There is not much more support for the conjecture that John is dependent here on an apocalyptic tradition that presents the Messiah in the image of the powerful and warlike ram, the "lead animal" of the people of God, as it were (cf. Dan. 8:3; I Enoch 89:45-49), for no direct terminological bridge leads in this direction. More likely is the derivation from a christological motif that is disseminated in the New Testament: Jesus as the paschal lamb of the new covenant. The oldest evidence for this is the quotation in 1 Cor. 5:7, the origin of which is in a liturgical formula: " ... our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed" (cf. Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1: 19). According to Jewish belief, the blood of the passover lambs, which were slaughtered upon the exodus from Egypt, had an expiating effect for the sins of the people of Israel (cf. Str.-B. 1:85ff.). Similarly, primitive Christianity saw Jesus' handing over his life at the end-time as superseding correspondence to the slaughter of the passover lambs during the exodus, that is, the event of the cross was interpreted as a passover typology. Thus, on Good Friday Jesus was sacrificed as the passover lamb, by means of which the endtime community of salvation was liberated from its sins and received redemption. That John has this passover typology in mind follows from the observation that he describes the lamb as "slaughtered," which was his own way of approaching a comparison (see at 1: 13). Perhaps he is thinking concretely of the butcher's cut at the throat as a visible mortal wound, by which also, however, this motif exceeds the level of the visibly imaginable, like its immediate association with motifs that are to emphasize the authoritative power of the lamb. To the latter belong the seven horns as symbols of strength (Ps. 89: 18; 132: 17) and the seven eyes as signs of the omniscience that is unique to God according to Zech. 4: 1O. If these eyes are contrasted with the "seven spirits of God," which we have already identified as angels before the countenance of God (see at 1:4; 4:5), then it is a reference to the lamb's position of authority, which is the same as God's: the angels that assist God as his instruments in the accomplishment of his dominion are also servants of the lamb. Everything suggests that John did not find in the tradition this association of the lamb motif, which developed from the liturgy of the Lord's Supper, with symbols of power and strength, but that he himself first shaped it in order to make visible in this way the two central aspects of the community's confession of Christ-humiliation and exaltationin their intimate unity: Jesus is Lord over the world and history only on the basis of his self-sacrifice in death. In other respects it is conceivable that John consciously chose the word arnion in view of the fact that by virtue of its broad meaning it was particularly suited to give place, as it were, for both aspects-sacrifice and dominion-which come together in the image of the lamb. 79

Revelation 5:1-14

[5:7] More implicitly than explicitly, the true center of the event is now tersely described: the lamb comes forward and from the hand of God receives the mysterious book, the symbol of authority over the world. No one will be able to take it back from him; something final and irrevocable has occurred that shines forth into all parts of the world and the heavens. Although it would have been suggested by christological tradition (cf. Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Eph. 1:20; Mark 12:36 par.), John avoids depicting this act of investiture of lordship as coronation. For from the very beginning for him, Jesus as the preexistent one belongs on the side of God. [5:8] The homage that is in response to the act of conveyance of lordship

is described in greater detail (vv. 8-13). A mighty hymn of praise is sounded in heaven in order to include and sweep along, part by part, all regions of the world without delay. The homage of the heavenly courtthat is, the four creatures and the elders-forms the prelude to this cosmic liturgy by which the parallel to 4:8-11 is to suggest that the same reverence comes to the lamb on the part of the heavenly beings as to God himself. A new element is that the elders play music on harps and wield valuable censers from which, like incense, the prayers of the saints (i.e., members of the community of salvation) ascend to God. The musical instrument that is understood is the kithara, which-much smaller than our harp today-served to accompany cultie songs (cf. Ps. 33:2; 98:5). This image of the sacrifice of incense is used here in a figurative sense, as in Ps. 141 :2: "Let my prayer be counted as incense before you." The role that the sacrifice of incense plays in the earthly cult is played in the heavenly liturgy by the prayers of the community of salvation. With the incorporation of the Jewish notion of angels serving as mediators in prayer (Tob. 12: 12), it is said that they present those prayers before God, bound in their own hymns of praise. [5:9a] According to Isa. 42:9, God's new miracles and demonstrations of salvation, by means of which he ushers in the end-time, exceeding his act of creation, are to be answered with a "new song." In this sense the song of the heavenly beings is identified here as "new"; it is praise of the endtime act of God in Jesus. Because it has to do with the beginning of the new creation, the moment has come for a new song that expresses the fundamental change of the situation effected by Jesus and his work of salvation. The song consists of praise in the narrow sense (v. 9b) and its concomitant foundation (vv. 9c-1O). [5:9b] The praise fulfills the event with thanksgiving: it is worthy and appropriate to praise Jesus for having assumed power and proving himself to be the messianic ruler chosen by God. Once again, as in 4: 11 (cf. commentary there), the "worthy" exclamation is not ascribed after the consideration of certain prerequisites, but rather follows from the fact that such an event demands grateful high valuation.



[5:9c-lO) In two couplets, arranged parallel to each other, the foundation describes the saving work of Jesus, on the basis of which God has established him as the end-time ruler, and thus develops the two statements in v. 6. First, by his sacrificial death Jesus redeemed from all nations and social realms human beings for God. The expression about the "blood" of the "slaughtered lamb" is therefore not to be understood in the first instance as a description of the death of Jesus. Crucifixion was to a large extent a bloodless form of death. Blood is a graphic expression for Jesus' giving up of his life in its meaning for salvation in numerous christological statements of the New Testament shaped by associations with the Old Testament sacrificial cult (e.g., Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 11 :25). Similarly graphic and symbolic is also the speech about the lamb's having redeemed people from imprisonment by God's commission through his blood as purchase price. This is intended to say that Jesus through the giving up of his life emancipated people from the power of sin and from the realm of opposition to God and brought God into community. Revelation's universality of salvation is emphasized by the reference to the origin of these people from all peoples and nations. As a second consequence of Jesus' work of salvation, Jesus created the people set free by him from all peoples into a new people; this people belongs to God, exists under his lordship. This people bears even now, in the midst of the transient old world, the motifs of God's royal dominion; as "priests," its members have direct access to the realm of God (cf. at 1:6). It is the endtime community of salvation and is destined for lordship over the renewed earth (cf. 20:6). [5: 11-12a) The heavenly liturgy is expanded, as it were, still further corresponding to the magnitude of the event to be lauded. All heavenly creatures lend their voices to it initially. The formula of multiplication of 10,000 times 10,000 is traditional (Dan. 7: 10) as a circumlocution for an incalculably great throng. Even in terms of content the hymn entoned by the host of angels (v. 12b) is an echo appropriated and developed further in vv. 9b-1O. In it seven characteristics are attributed to the slaughtered lamb, of which the first four are properties of God that are transferred to the Messiah for the execution of his office, while the last three, as in 4:9, describe what happens in the offering of the praise. [5:13] At a second level, the expansion of the worship oversteps the boundaries of heaven in order to be taken up by all of creation. To its three regions of heaven, earth, and the underworld, which are customarily mentioned (v. 3; Phil. 2: 10), a fourth appears here-the sea (cf. Exod. 20:4), as the region that in Jewish thought was considered particularly threatening (cf. 13: 1; 21: 1). The comprehensive character of this concluding worship by all creatures is also expressed in its content. The brief hymn is directed as much to God the Creator as it is to the messianic lamb. It therefore summarizes the two scenes of worship in 4:8-11 and 5:8-12. With that it becomes evident that the saving work of the lamb


Reyelation 5: 1-14

belongs together with God's work of creation and, like the latter, includes all regions ofthe world and all periods of history. A cosmic christology is evident here that is reminiscent in some ways of Col. 1: 18-20. Unlike the latter, however, it is not developed from the idea of Jesus' mediation in creation and his preexistence but rather is grounded in Jesus' historical work of salvation. (5:14) The four creatures speak the closing Amen, closing the circle of worship, which in 4:8-9 led from the creatures then to the elders and the angels all the way to the whole creation. The adoration again reaches the point where it had begun, namely, the eternal worship of God in heaven. As is true in the corporate worship ofthe community, the Amen here also has the character of the reciprocal response to the hymn (cf. at 1:6). With the double scene in chaps. 4-5, the beginning of Revelation's interpretation of history is offered, and it is developed in what follows. All the emphasis is on the notion that a past event, the death of Jesus, establishes the present reality in the existence of the church and determines the yet-to-come future for the whole world. The imminent expectation is a result of the end event that was essentially already realized in Jesus' salvation-producing death. What still remains is only the external accomplishment of that which has already happened before God and that is already experienced in the church as reality. To the church is offered a great hope, but also a heavy responsibility. In its obedience and in its overcoming, the church now represents Jesus Christ, the hidden Lord of that which happens in the world as it hastens toward its own destination. Everything that is further reported in Revelation is the accomplishment of the lordship of Jesus in light of its struggle toward the end.


Revelation 6:1-8:1

The Visions of the Seven Seals

The first great seven series of visions describes how the lamb opens the seals of the book, one after the other. This procedure is neither intended as a disclosure of hidden secrets of the future that are outlined in the book, nor is the breaking of the seals to anticipate a subsequent announcement regarding the book's contents. In fact, nowhere are the book's contents mentioned. Instead, the book is the document by which God transfers the accomplishment of his plan for history to the lamb; the opening of the seals is therefore an image for the accomplishment of this plan for history toward its end. Indeed, this procedure is described under a twofold aspect. First, it is to show how the power of Jesus operates in quite elementary areas of existence with respect to concrete earthly events: the complex and incomprehensible factors such as aggression, war, hunger, and disease, which appear to determine world history, are seized by the will of the end-time ruler, who conducts history to the destiny that is determined for it in God's plan. Second, the question of the fate of the church is posed, which, as the multitude purchased by the lamb (5:9-10), already participates in the future kingdom, but that also still lives in the midst of the history that proceeds toward its end with its catastrophes (6:9-1 I; 7:1-17). The description of the events, which are launched by the opening of the seals, is determined by the ancient apocalyptic idea of end-time oppression and terrors that precede the end (e.g., cf. Dan. 2:28-29; 11:27; 4 Ezra 13:30). Indeed, here John appears to refer back to a Palestinian Jewish Christian tradition from the period of the Jewish War in which this notion had been made concrete in the sense of a sequence of definite occurrences that precede the end. The Synoptic apocalypse in Mark 13, into which this tradition enters, thus enumerates as the travail of the end


Revelation 6: 1-8: 1

time the following: war, civil war, earthquake, famine, persecution of the church (Mark 13:7-13), and finally cosmic catastrophes, which are followed by the immediate coming of the son of man (Mark 13:26-27). To that correspond the occurrences associated with the opening of the seals, both in terms of content and sequence, with one exception: there is no earthquake, and it is replaced by the plague, which is essentially associated with starvation (vv. 7-8).


Revelation 6:1-8

The First Four Seals

Text 6: 1 And I saw when the lamb opened the first of the seven seals, then I heard the first of the four creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, "Come!" 2 And I saw: and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out as a conqueror to conquer. 3 And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second creature say, "Come!" 4 And another horse, bright red, came out; and he who sat on it was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men would slaughter one another; and he was given a mighty sword. 5 And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third creature say, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a scale in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four creatures which said: "A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius. But do not harm the oil and the wine." 7 And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth creature, saying, ·Come!" 8 And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and he who sat on it was called "Death," and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Analysis Within the series of seven, the first four visions of the seals form a particular group on the strength of their unity in motif and the strict


Revelation 6:1-8

parallelism of their structure. That is consistent with the fact that a broader traditional motif is taken up here that is blended with, or superimposed on, the tradition of the end-time oppressions. In his night visions Zechariah sees four horses (Zech. 1:7-17), that is, four carriages harnessed with horses (Zech. 6: 1-8), which are to pull the earth at God's bidding prior to the end. This motif arose from ancient cosmological ideas; the horses, or carriages, symbolize "the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all of the earth" (Zech. 6:5). Presumably John took it up because from its origin it was suited to illustrate the fact that all regions of the world, or all four directions of heaven, are affected by the plagues. Similarly to that, he has the four riders dispatched by the four creatures at the throne of God, who symbolize the rule of God over the world in their delivery to all four directions of heaven (cf. at 4:6-7).

Commentary [6:1) In a strictly parallel development, which as such already underscores

the impression of inevitability, the same awesome event is carried out after the opening of each of the first four seals. Each time upon command of one of the creatures a horse appears in motion bearing a rider, apparently coming from heaven to earth. Each of these riders symbolizes a plague whose effect befits the color of his horse. [6:2) That the first horse is white (i.e., the color of victory), along with the fact that its rider appears as a conqueror, has confused commentators. Some have wanted to see in him either Christ himself (cf. 19: 11) or the gospel forging victoriously ahead to the ends of the earth (cf. Mark 13: 10). This view, however, founders on the strict parallelism of this first rider with the three that follow: like them, he must also represent a plague. Indeed, on the basis of his attributes the first rider must be identified as a victorious warrior who in his form embodies aggression and conquest. A concrete contemporary reference from the period to the Parthian cavalry, which since the year A.D. 62 had been crossing over the eastern borders of the Roman Empire with repeated assaults, cannot be ruled out (cf. at 16: 12; 17: 10-14), even if the image extending beyond it becomes a general portrayal of warlike conquest. [6:3-4) The second rider also has, as the blood red color of his horse and his sword indicate, a warlike occupation, but one distinguished from the first. He does not stand for external military conquest but rather for battles and misgivings that divide the citizens of a community among themselves (cf. Mark 13:8). With this vision of civil war John may have been thinking specifically about the end of the Pax Augustea, the internal condition of peace that was proclaimed by Emperor Augustus and preserved by the Roman governmental bodies. Moreover, he perhaps wanted this internal confusion to be understood as a consequence of the external aggression represented by the first rider.



(6:5-6] The third rider, whose horse is black, brings famine and starvation to the earth. In his hand he holds a scale as a sign of the shortage of sustenance. A mysterious voice resounds that originates "in the midst of the four living creatures," at the place, therefore, where the lamb is standing (5:6). It is the voice of the exalted Jesus, who sets in motion the event that is united with the rider, but at the same time limits it in view of its ominous effects. A measure (approx. a liter) of wheat or three measures of barley are supposed to cost a denarius, that is, the entire day's wages of an unskilled worker (Matt. 20:2), which is approximately ten times the average price of the day. The catastrophe of famine and starvation is not to be a total one, for the rider is prevented by the heavenly voice of command from allowing a scarcity of oil and wine. Undoubtedly a contemporary reference from the period is present here. In Asia Minor at that time oil and wine were abundantly produced; however, for the supply of wheat one was dependent on imports, especially from the region of what is today southern Russia. In the event of war and internal unrest, which cut off the import routes, a shortage of wheat was especially to be feared. Because it provided the basic staple for the poorer population strata, it would be particularly disastrous. (6:7-8] The fourth rider, sitting on a pale horse, is the embodiment of death. He has a companion who follows on the heels behind him, namely, Hades, the embodiment of the underworld. Here Hades, dependent on the Greek concept of the god of the underworld (cf. 1: 18), is presented as a demonic figure that accomplishes the work of death in that it gathers its victims into its realm in order to deliver them up again at the final judgment (cf. 20: 13-14). Specially thought of here is death by pestilence and disease as customarily occurred as a result of wars of conquest, internal disorder, and starvation. When in the concluding summary of the factors of the calamitous event wild beasts are named, this is a reference to Ezek. 14:21, where "sword, famine, wild animals, and pestilence" are named as the four worst forms of punishment by God. Specifically in mind here are the beasts that descend on the corpses of the victims of catastrophes. To be sure, the limitation of these catastrophes is emphasized again (v. 6): only a fourth of humanity is released to the riders for destruction. The four riders realistically portray an experience of that time (and not only of that time). It offers a comprehensive view of the consequences of the disaster that humans cause in history, from the perspective of the weak, defenseless people who are always victims. If this sequence of disaster is now brought into association with the end-time commencement of Jesus Christ's dominion, it is to say the following: world history, with its brutal and barbarous events introduced by human beings, is no confirmation of the view that God has abdicated; rather, in its apparent contrariness, it is subordinate to the will of God, who promised to conduct it to a safe end for Jesus' sake. Thus, the calamitous event in the present serves to prepare for the visible commencement of the lordship of Jesus Christ over the world of God.


Revelation 6:9-11

The Fifth Seal

Text 6:9 And when it opened the fifth seal, I saw at the foot of the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 And they cried out with a loud voice, "0 Lord, holy and true, how long will you not judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" 11 Then each of them was given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Analysis At first glance it may appear that with the opening of the fifth seal the series of end-time oppressions and catastrophes that occurs on earth is interrupted by a scene in heaven. However, in reality the prior traditional scheme of end-time oppressions is continued here in which the persecution of witnesses to Jesus follows upon war and disease (Mark 13:913). The theme of persecution is also taken up here, although intensified in two respects in comparison with Mark 13. First, every indication of a possible preservation in the persecution (Mark 13: 11) is omitted. In fact, the loss of life appears here precisely as the inevitable consequence of testimony for Jesus. Indeed, many in the church must still reckon with the fact that they also, like so many before them, will lose their life. Second, what makes the persecution barely tolerable is not the inevitability of death but the question of God and of the accomplishment of his salvation. The internal struggle of the afflicted church of the martyrs is that God does not seem to intervene, he does not seem to realize his promised end-time dominion.



Commentary 16:9] The seer sees the heavenly altar of burnt offering, at the feet of which are found assembled the souls of martyrs. According to Jewish apocalyptic thought, which goes back to the temple vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 40: 1-44:3), heaven contains a temple (cf. 7: 15; II: 19; 14: 15) that is the archetype of the earthly temple. As with all temples, its inventory includes a burnt-offering altar and an incense altar (8:3). As the blood of sacrificial animals, spilled on the altar, gathers beneath the altar of burnt offering, so are the "souls" of those who have sacrificed their life found at the foot of the heavenly altar (i.e., in immediate proximity to God). According to common Semitic thought, the seat of the soul, or oflife, was in the blood (Lev. 17:11, 14; Deut. 12:23-27). Here lies the presupposition behind the comparison of the death of the martyrs with the slaughter of sacrificial animals. All those who side with the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (cf. I :9) must count on the fact that the hostile resistance that they thereby invite will cost them their lives, and that they will be slain as a sacrifice, no differently than Jesus was (cf. 18:24). Specifically, the author appears to be thinking of the victims of the pogrom of Christians in Rome instigated by the emperor Nero in A.D. 64. If Revelation emphasizes the similarity between the fate of Jesus and that of his witnesses, it also at the same time makes clear a not unimportant difference: the martyrs are "slaughtered," that is, they are dead; only their "souls" exist-they are in an intermediate state that depicts a figurative life, and they wait for the new corporeality at the resurrection that was promised by God. In contrast, as the lamb, "standing as if it had been slaughtered" (5:6), Jesus remains forever acknowledged as the one who died for those belonging to him; he bears the mortal wound as an unrelinquishable characteristic feature. However, he is not dead; rather, because of his sacrifice, he is established as the living Lord. [6:10] Although the martyrs occupied a favored position near God before all the other dead (cf. 20: 13), they show themselves to be most dissatisfied with their present situation. With a loud cry they demand that God establish justice finally for them and avenge their murders. This demand for revenge has been perceived by commentators repeatedly as beneath the Christian: does it not stand in crass contradiction to Jesus' message of reconciliation, love of enemy, and limitless forgiveness (Matt. 5:44-45; 6: 12; 18:21-22)? In fact, far-reaching parallels in Jewish apocalypses can be found to it, even to the smallest detail. In 4 Ezra 4:35-36 "the souls of the righteous in their chambers" ask, "How long must we remain here? When will the fruit of our reward finally appear on the threshing floor?" And from an angel they receive the answer, "When the number of those like you is complete" (cf. further 1 Enoch 47; 97:3-5; 99:3, 16; 104:3). Before one is prematurely critical in theological terms, one must consider that Jesus commanded his disciples to renounce their own arbitrary judgment of others, but he also taught them to wait patiently for God's end-time fulfillment with respect to his world (Luke 18:6-8). At issue here


Revelation 6:9-11

is only the former. The martyrs, who have given their lives for the sake of God's cause, ask that God finally fulfill his cause for the world. The justice that they demand is, in the end, God's own justice (cf. 16:5-6; 18:20; 20:4). For them at stake is whether God is able to carry out his plan for history and to make manifest also on earth the lordship of Jesus Christ, which has already been proclaimed in heaven (5:9-10). (6:11] The answer given to the slain directs them to the temporal immanence of the realization of God's plan for history: only a brief period of time is left for God's enemies and his church (12: 12); then he will judge them (18:20) and secure for his witnesses their justice (20:4). Until then, however, they are to wait patiently and be prepared for the fact that the suffering of the church has by no means reached its worst. God will concede that the number of those who must give their lives will continue to grow. At the same time, the slain witnesses receive a visible sign that God has not forgotten them and that he will fulfill his promise to them: each of them receives a white robe.

Excursus: The White Robe Certainly the white robe is not an image for the new resurrection corporeality with which the righteous are clothed (2 Cor. 5: 1-5). The righteous and the martyrs are, according to Revelation, awakened to new life only at the Parousia (20:4); the notion that they receive the new corporeality in heaven beforehand is a foreign one. Rather, here, as throughout Revelation (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 7:9, 13; 19: 14; 22: 14), the white robe is a symbol for the salvation granted to the faithful on the basis of Christ's saving act and, for their communion with God, to be preserved in faithful obedience. Both aspects are expressed in distinct images, but both belong substantively close together. White is the color of end-time joy, but also of immaculate purity. Those who overcome receive the white robe as God's gift (3:5), and the whole church, the "bride of the lamb," also recei ves a radiantly white wedding garment (19: 14). With a bold image the white color is traced back to the idea that the robe is washed in the blood of the lamb (7: 14); it is only Jesus, therefore, who has made this gift of salvation possible by his atoning death. To be sure, the magnitude of this gift obligates its preservation. Those who do not adhere to the demands of God in their ethical conduct, and especially those who lack it in steadfast obedience in the face of the challenge by the power of the empire, which is inimical to God, stain their robe and indeed run the risk oflosing it and being found "naked" by the returning Lord (16: 15). This last notion corresponds, in large part, to the Matthaean parable of the wedding clothes (Matt. 22: 11-14). Accordingly, nothing more is basically given to the martyrs in 6: 11 than that which every Christian believer receives, namely, salvation and communion with God. Specifically for them this means that this white robe becomes an enduring, permanent possession.


Revelation 6:12-17

The Sixth Seal

Text 6: 12 And I saw, when he opened the sixth seal, then there was a mighty earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, and the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of heaven fell to the earth as the fig tree, shaken by a strong wind, sheds its autumn figs, 14 and the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 And the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the strong and every servant and freeman hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they say to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the countenance of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?"

Form In the sixth vision of the seals the content again is largely preceded by the tradition: the series of end-time oppressions in the Synoptic apocalypse closes with cosmic catastrophes that directly accompany the appearance of the son of man from heaven (Mark 13:24-27). In contrast, the depiction of these catastrophes is intensified to the picture of total world collapse. John uses images and motifs of apocalyptic language that are largely taken from the Old Testament; he especially takes up the image of the great and fearful day of Yahweh on which God carries out his endtime judgment over the world (Isa. 2: 12-21; cf. 2 Thess. 1: 10). However, it cannot be overlooked that, at the same time, John has fashioned the


Revelation 6: 12-17

scene as a counterpart to the fifth seal vision. It provides the answer to the martyrs' question regarding God's response to the inhabitants of the earth who oppose him with hostile resistance (v. 10); it shows that the final judgment is coming and with it how the ungodly are terrified before God. The scene is therefore intended to approach directly up to the brink of the Parousia, but it is satisfied with sketching its framework. The center of the picture, the coming of Jesus Christ, remains open-until the conclusion of the second main section (19: 11-21).

Commentary 16:12] The series of catastrophes is introduced by a great earthquake that shakes heaven and earth and that, according to Joel 2: 10 (cf. Amos 8:9; 9:5), belongs to the accompanying phenomena of the fearful day of Yahweh. Next follow the darkening of the sources of light, the sun and the moon (Joel 3:3-4; Isa. 13: 10; Ezek. 32:8). The sun becomes dark as if it were wrapped up in a robe of mourning (Isa. 50:3), while the moon takes on a bloodred, the color of disaster and death (Joel 3:4; As. Mos. 10:5). 16:13) By means of the convulsion of the firmament the stars, which, according to ancient thought, are fixed in it like lamps, are loosed, so that they fall to the earth like figs shaken from a tree by a storm wind (Isa. 34:4). 16:14) There follows the disintegration of the firmament itself-under-

stood as a tent roof that covers the earth. With a drastic picture, taken from Isa. 34:4, this occurrence, which seals the collapse of the cosmos, is compared to the rolling up of a scroll. The disintegration advances from above to below as the mountains, bearing the heavenly tent like pillars, collapse and the islands are shaken from their moorings on the ocean floor. From this overall portrayal it follows that John does not wish to provide here a prophecy of the details of the end of the world; rather, in conjunction with Old Testament traditions of the epiphany of God, he depicts the accompanying phenomena of the Parousia. Here it is a matter of an end caused by divine intervention, an end that moreover affects not only the earth but the whole cosmos as well. Suggestive for us today in view of the almost limitless possibilities of human technology and the accumulation of a powerful atomic potential for destruction, this section cannot be read as a portrayal that anticipates a world catastrophe caused by human beings. To do so would be a gross misunderstanding that fails to recognize that at issue here is an "event where human decision and efficiency are removed" (A. Vogtle, Das Buch mit den sieben Siege/n, 1981). 16:15) The true point of the section is the reaction of people to the event. They hide anxiously in the caves and fissures of the mountains-ob-



viously not to protect themselves from external, bodily dangers but rather to escape the look of wrath of the judge of the world (cf. Isa. 2: 10, 19, 21 ). Representati ves of all levels of society also stand before the judge there; here there are no longer any distinctions between rich and poor, strong and weak. 16:16] Desperately they all ask the mountains and rocks to bury them (Hos. 10:8; cf. Luke 23:30) so that they will not have to confront the One seated on the throne and the lamb, but in vain: none of them is able to escape judgment. What remains for them is only acknowledgment of their guilt. [6:17] The closing anxious question, "Who is able to stand?" permits only

one answer for those who have rejected God and his claim: no one! (cf. Joel 2: 11; Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2). It is noteworthy that here mention is made not only of the wrath of God (cf. 11: 18; 14:8-10; 19: 15, and elsewhere) but also of "the wrath of the lamb" (v. 16). That is associated with the consistent inclusion of Jesus Christ in the functions of God in Revelation. As God is simultaneously Savior and Judge, so also is Jesus. In Revelation Jesus' death is understood as revelation both of God's gracious will for salvation and his wrathful judgment-a particular point of vv. 16-17 also is found in the fact that the inhabitants of the earth, while they confess their guilt, also now must acknowledge God and the lamb as the true rulers of history. Wherever such abdication by man of his presumed dominion over the world is induced, there place is made for God's renewing lordship over his world.


Revelation 7: 1 -1 7

The Preservation of the Church

Text 7: 1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. They held fast the four winds of the earth, so that no wind might blow on land, sea or against any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun which had the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, 3 "Do not harm the earth nor the sea nor the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of the sealed ones, a hundred forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel: 5 twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Gad, 6 twelve thousand out of the tribe of Ashur, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Manassah, 7 twelve thousand out of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Issachar, 8 twelve thousand out of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand out of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Benjamin. 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, 10 and they cried with a loud voice: Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne, and from the lamb!


Form 11 And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.· 13 And one of the elders addressed me, saying: "These who are dressed in white robes-who are they and whence did they comel" 14 And I said to him, "Sir, you know," And he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation and who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. 15 Therefore they stand before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them. 16 They shall no longer hunger or thirst, nor will the sun strike them nor any scorching heat, 17 for the lamb in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.'

Form The vision of the sixth seal had led up to the collapse of the cosmos and the beginning of the judgment. One might have the impression that the narrative relationship to it, begun in chap. 4, has come to an end. In fact, however, the goal, to which 5:6 had referred, is achieved: the lamb has fulfilled God's plan for history and has established his lordship visibly over the world and humanity; the resistance of the earth's inhabitants toward God is broken. But a crucial question still remains unanswered, namely, that of the fate of people who now belong to the lamb (5: 10). What becomes of the community of salvation in the end-time events? The answer to this question is found in chap. 7. At first glance it may be surprising that John did not provide it in the form of another seal vision. But one must first consider that the opening of the seal represents the end-time inauguration to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the establishment of God's plan for history toward its end. According to 5: 10, however, the church is already subject to the lordship of the lamb; in its existence the future royal kingdom, toward whose visible establishment God's plan for history is moving, is already manifestly hidden, so that the event of opening a seal does not directly concern it. Second, one must also consider that what is depicted in chapter 7 is not to be understood as a temporal and substantive continuation of the events bound to the opening of the seals. Here John wishes, instead, to sketch a contrasting image to the preceding six seal visions, which adds to the aspect of the fate of the community of salvation in the end-time events that was left untouched in them and indirectly appears only in 6:9-11. With that in mind, it should not be all that surprising that 7: 1-2 appears completely unaffected by the account of the collapse ofthe cosmos that immediately 95

Revelation 7:1-17

preceded it (6: 12-14) and presupposes the existence of earth and sea and even trees on the earth. Here we have a new insertion that is essentially parallel to chap. 6. Chapter 7 is structured in the form of a large two-part scene, both of whose parts deal with proceedings separated in time, and yet substantively coordinated with each other in terms of the relationship of cause and effect. The first part of the scene (vv. 1-8) deals with a present event: the end-time Israel, the salvation community, is sealed and thus subject to God's right of possession. This is not to be understood in the sense of external preservation and exemption from affliction (cf. 6:9-11). Rather, it refers to the promise of being spared God's judgment, which penetrates to a humanity alienated from God. The second part of the scene (vv. 917) is closely related to the closing vision of the city of God (21: 1-22:5) in particular motifs (v. 15a = 22:3; v. 15c = 21 :3; v. 17 = 21 :4) as well as in its outlook as a whole. It sees the future completion of God's people in their heavenly glory: those who are now sealed will at some future time, freed from misery and suffering, be in the immediate proximity of and in communion with God and will join the heavenly creatures in everlasting praise.

Commentary (7:1) The new image that appears before the seer is strongly reminiscent in its motif of 6: 1-8, but its content contrasts sharply with the latter. At the four corners of the earth's surface, which in the ancient worldview was considered a square (lsa. 11: 12; Ezek. 7:2), four angels are standing in order to retard the four gales that are blowing from there. As in the Old Testament tradition, these winds are also here instruments of God's endtime work of destruction (Hos. 13: 15; Dan. 7:2); in Zech. 6:5 they appear under the image of four war chariots harnessed to different colored horses. But by their intervention the four angels effect a pause in this work of destruction: on the earth comes silence, the stirred-up waves of the sea become calm, and even in the trees, the most susceptible to wind of all created things, not a leaf moves. Such temporary delay of judgment is a favorite motif in apocalypticism: thus, according to 1 Enoch 66, the angels of death were restrained until Noah had built his ark; and according to 2 Apoc. Bar. 6:4-5, the angels who were standing with torches at the four corners of Jerusalem were not permitted to burn the temple until the sacred vessels were hidden. As in these parallels, so also is the destruction, a sign of divine judgment, postponed here in order to create a place for the accomplishment of a particular divine directive. (7:2) This activity originates from the East, the direction out of which

Judaism expected the coming of God (Ezek. 43:2) and the Messiah (Sib. Or. 3.652), another angel comes upon the surface of the earth. First he must carry out a particular commission, bearing God's seal as his sign and, at the same time, his instrument. Solemnly he commands the angels restraining the winds to give full vent to the work of destruction only 96


when he has sealed the servants of God, that is, the members of the salvation community (cf. 1:1) on the forehead. [7:3] What is to be understood by this sealing with the seal of the living God? Above all, it is clear that it is the imprinting of a mark of property, which is similarly a sign of protection and responsibility. It was customary to brand animals and slaves one time, which established the ownership relationship. Ezek. 9:4-6 provides a direct substantive parallel to our passage: Ezekiel sees in a vision how God commissions an angel to imprint a mark on the forehead ofthose in Jerusalem who groan over the horror in the city. They are to be spared in the coming judgment. The mark that is meant there is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the taw, which was archaically written as a horizontal or a vertical cross (X or +) and which is thus the same in appearance as the Greek letter (X), with which the name Christ begins. Like Ezekiel, John also intends an eschatological sealing that brings about rescue and preservation in judgment by means of subordination to God's right to ownership. But one may go still further-it appears certain that here John is thinking specifically of baptism. According to 14: 1, the sign of the seal that the 144,000 bear on their forehead is the name of the lamb and "his Father's name." According to early Christian understanding, subordination to the power of the name of Jesus occurs in baptism (1 Cor. 1: 13, 15; Acts 8: 16; Matt. 28: 19). In Paul "seal" (sphragis) is already a technical term for baptism (2 Cor. 1:22; cf. Eph. 1: 13; 4:30). It must remain undecided whether John already specifically assumes the liturgical use, attested later, of an anointing in the form of a cross on the forehead and breast. In 13: 16 a satanic imitation of the mark of property is discussed that the "beast" imprints on the forehead and hand of his followers. But characteristically, John avoids there the word "seal" (sphragis)-an indication that for him it was not only an image but a fixed technical term. [7:4] The number 144,000 is naturally to be understood symbolically. It is the square of the twelve tribes of Israel multiplied by one thousand, the number of an incalculably large throng. It is to indicate that at stake here is the perfection of the people of God in its end-time fullness. The number twelve as the number of God's people had a particular symbolic importance already for Jesus: with the constitution of the circle of twelve disciples around him (Mark 3: 14) he demonstrated symbolically his claim on the reestablishment of all Israel at the end time (cf. Matt. 19:28). Similarly, with the aid of this symbolic number, derived from twelve, John wishes to designate the church as the end-time people of salvation who have taken up Israel's inheritance. He is thinking as little of a reestablishment of Israel as a nation as he is of a special gathering of Christians originating out of Israel. Rather, for him it is a clear presupposition of his conception of "church" that Christians have assumed the rights ofIsrael in every respect (cf. Rev. 2:9; 3:9). Thus, in them the holy order of the twelve tribes also find their end-time fulfillment.


Revelation 7:1-17 17:5-8] If the list of the tribes that follows varies with the Old Testament lists of Jacob's sons (e.g., Gen. 35:22-26; Num. 13:4-15; Ezekiel 48), they are not based on errors but on dogmatically deliberate corrections. Thus, Judah is placed first as the royal tribe, from which the Messiah was to come (5:5). The tribe of Dan is absent, probably because according to Jewish tradition it was considered to have fallen away and to be ruled by Satan (l Kgs. 12:29-30; Judges 18; Jer. 8: 16; T. Dan 5:4ff.). The interpretation of the church fathers adopts this line of thought: according to Hippolytus, Judas Iscariot came from the tribe of Dan (Frag. Gen. 3031), and according to Irenaeus the antichrist arises out of Dan (Adv. haer. 5.30.2). In the place of Dan, Manasseh appears in the list, one ofthe two tribes of Joseph. 17:9] The introductory formula of the vision marks something new: the location of the event now being seen is no longer the earth, but again, as in chaps. 4 and 5, the heavenly throne room. The vision is an immediate continuation of vv. 1-8, for it portrays the future consequence of the sealing of the people of God. The promise of deliverance and preservation in the midst of the afflictions of the present and their redemption in the future fullness of God's salvation are directly contrasted with each other. Still omitted is what the church will experience in the intervening time of threat, persecution, external defeat, and challenge to the authenticity of its faith. Before that is discussed (12: 1-19: 10), the comforting image of God's promise to them now appears. With the same phrases that are in 5:9, the consummated salvation community is characterized as a group from all peoples, nations, and languages. In vv. 4-8 the issue was the theological determination of the essence of God's people as the Israel of the end time, but here it is the empirical description of the multitude of Christians. Undoubtedly, the same circle of people is being discussed in both sections. Also, the fact that instead of a specific number, as in v. 4, only a counties sly large multitude is mentioned cannot, finally, dispute this conclusion, for the number 144,000 is a symbolic number that suggests a boundless immensity. The perfected ones stand immediately before the throne of God and of the lamb; nothing separates them any longer from those to whom they belong (cf. 21:7, 22). As an external sign of the salvation they have received, they wear white robes (cf. at 6: 11), and the palm branches in their hands represent the symbol of the joy of the victory they have obtained (l Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7). 17:10] The song that they sing is a paean of triumph. It adopts almost literally an Old Testament formula in which the worshiping community expressed its confidence that God is the only aid and Savior (Ps. 3:8; 38:22; 42: 11; 43:5; Jonah 2:9). Here it is expanded by the addition of "and to the lamb" to allow for the participation of Jesus Christ in the endtime work of salvation. With this hymn the redeemed multitude proclaims the victory that God and Jesus Christ have achieved and by which deliverance was given to them.



(7:11] The various groups of angelic beings surrounding the throne of God (cf. 5:6)-from outer to inner they are the angels, the elders, and the four creatures guarding the throne-answer the proclamation of victory with their praise, which is accompanied by gestures of homage (cf. 4: 10). (7:12] The Amen that preceded the brief hymn of praise is to be understood as a direct response to v. 10. Similarly, in early Christian worship the church was accustomed to answering the prayer of the leader with "Amen." The prayer of praise itself consists ofa series of seven attributes that were already mentioned in 5: 12 and 5: 13b. Perhaps the number seven is an allusion to the fact that the chain of expressions praising God's power and greatness could be continued without end. It is striking that as recipient of praise only God is mentioned, and not also the lamb. It is not to be ruled out that John wanted thereby to indicate that the circle at the opening scene in 4: 1-11 is now closed and that only praise to God stands at the end of every event as at its beginning (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28). The formula for eternity with the adjoined Amen (cf. at 1:6) forms the conclusion. (7:13] The particular importance of the vision is underscored in that an

interpretation of it is attached. Only one other scene in Revelation contains such an interpretation: the appearance of the prostitute Babylon (17:7-18). One of the elders-the same one that announced to the seer the victory and exaltation of Jesus (5:5)?-directs a question to him. To some extent it is a didactic question that makes the one being addressed aware of his still insufficient knowledge and points him to the peculiar significance of what he has observed~ Perhaps the scene in Ezek. 37:3-4 served as a model, in which God directs the prophet to the valley of dry bones and asks him, "Mortal, can these bones live?" -to which the prophet replies, "0 Lord God, you know" (cf. also Zech. 4:2, 5). (7:14] When the elder answers his own question regarding the who and whence of those who are delivered, he also places the present situation of the church into the perspective of the future consummation of salvation. This situation is characterized by a great "ordeal" (cf. 3: 10), that is, by threats to life and limb of those who belong to God, but it is also characterized by dangers to their obedience. Only for that reason is the church able to stand firm in these perils because it has already received the gift of salvation and the promise of communion with God. It is freed from its sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 :5). The bold image of the robes, washed and bleached in the blood of the lamb, is to express nothing else; more than likely it is an allusion to baptismal terminology, for the event of baptism is frequently described in the New Testament as purification by the blood of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 9:14; 1 John 1:7; cf. Eph. 5:26; John 15:3). (7:15] The explanation of the elder goes beyond the initial question (again

now from the perspective of the situation of fulfillment) in order to 99

Revelation 7:1-17

develop the promise to the church. Full, unlimited communion with God will be given to those who have remained steadfast during the afflictions. They will stand before his throne with the heavenly angelic beings and participate in his eternal worship. As God once tabernacled in the wilderness period of Israel in the midst of his people, so also at the end time he will be in the midst of the perfected ones (cf. John I: 14). [7:16) Such presence of God will signify that all torment and all danger

have an end. Clearly overtones of Old Testament end-time prophecy resonate here (Isa. 49: 10) when it is said that neither hunger and thirst (deprivations that constantly accompany earthly existence) nor sun and scorching wind (natural threats) can threaten the perfected ones. [7:17) But the absence of want and threat is not the last thing that can be said about existence in the consummation. It will be defined positively by

the guiding and leading of him whom his church now knows as the Good Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4; Matt. 9:36). Jesus Christ himself will lead them to those sources out of which they receive imperishable life, depicted here in the image of the life-giving water (cf. 21: 1-2; John 4: 10-15). In communion with him the Old Testament promise, which pledges the end of all pain and all sorrow at the end time (Isa. 25:8), also will find its fulfillment (cf. 21:4).


Revelation 8: 1

The Seventh Seal

Text 8: 1 And when it opened the seventh seal. there was silence in heaven for about a half an hour.

Analysis The opening of the final seal comes at last. The reader expects an event that in the end surpasses everything to this point. Instead, there is only a half hour's silence in heaven. What does it mean? Many commentators, and not only more ancient ones, wish to understand it as a reflection of the subjective feeling of the seer who portrays here his "ecstatic lockjaw" (W. Bousset): John experienced a disabling silence that felt "immensely oppressive" (E. Lohse) before the visions resumed with the subsequent series of trumpets. But the text says nothing about a subjective feeling of the seer, speaking rather of an objective event in heaven; everything suggests that this event, analogous to the events produced by the other seal openings, must be understood as part of God's end-time plan for history. But what is still absent from this plan for history? The epiphany of the Judge of the world, which follows the end-time catastrophes, was indirectly alluded to in 6: 15-17, and the deliverance ofthe elect was also described in visionary form in 7:9-17. What still remains is the coming of a new creation (cf. 21: 122:5). In fact, the silence in heaven appears to be a reference to the endtime work of God's new creation. According to Jewish tradition, there was complete silence before the beginning of the first work of creation: "And then the Spirit was hovering, and darkness and silence embrace everything" (4 Ezra 6:39). For the end-time one has to expect the superseding return of the events of primeval history (cf. 2:7; 21: 1; 22:22); thus, an overwhelming silence will once again precede the new creation: "And 101

Revelation 8:1

the world shall be turned back to primeval silence" (4 Ezra 7:30). So far, investigation has been unable to provide a satisfactory explanation of the "half an hour." For Revelation the "hour" is either a symbolic designation of salvation-historically prominent events (e.g., 3: 10; 9: 15; 14:7, 15)-or a circumlocution of the brevity of a period of time (17: 12). Wherever John uses half of a symbolic whole number (three and a half, as half of seven: 11:9, 11 [cf. excursus at 11 :2]; "times and half a time": 12: 14), he thereby signals a situation of crisis and transition. Analogously, the mention of the "half an hour" may indicate that here a span of time is being discussed that according to God's plan was particularly stressed but that is not the end, a transition in that it points beyond itself to something new, something final. Immediately before the threshold of this new thing toward which God's salvation plan is conclusively moving, the series of visions pauses. Only at the conclusion of the book (21: 122:5) will the series be exceeded. Until then, further series of visions must follow that develop the end event approaching the world and the church, again and again from new perspectives.


Revelation 8:2-11 :19

The Visions of the Seven Trumpets

Analysis The series of visions of the seven trumpets that now begins is relatively clear in its structure. At the outset is a prelude in heaven that sets the thematic indication for what follows (8:2-6): the plagues are to be understood as demonstrations of God's power against faithless humanity, by which he answers the prayer of his earthly church. The first four trumpet visions (8:7-12), like the first four seal visions (6: 1-8), are presented as a complete block on the basis of their terseness and the extensive parallelism of their structure. The fifth (9: 1-12) and sixth (9: 13-2l) visions provide much more detaiL As prior to the seventh seal vision, there is prior to the last trumpet vision a longer interruption that is produced by the addition of two insertions (10: 1-11 and 11: 1-14), which must be considered the most noteworthy and enigmatic parts of the entire book. The final three trumpet visions are particularly set offby an additional (if not consistently carried out) enumeration as the "three woes" (8: 13; 9:12). Excursus: The Seven Trumpets and the Seven Bowls Instructive is the comparison between the series of seven trumpets and the series of seven bowls (15: 1-16:21), which results in numerous close correspondences. Here we juxtapose the two series, noting for each item (a) the content, (b) the setting of the action, and (c) the consequences of the particular plagues. Bowl Cycle

Trumpet Cycle I. (a) hail (= 7th Egyptian plague, Exod. 9:26) and fire, mixed with blood

1. (a) foul and painful sores (= 6th Egyptian plague, Exod. 9: 10-11 ) 103

Revelation 8:2-11:19

(b) earth (c) a third of the vegetation burned up 2. (a) water becomes blood (= 1st Egyptian plague, Exod.7:20-21) (b) sea (c) a third ofthe sea creatures and ships are destroyed 3. (a) water becomes bitter (b) rivers and springs (c) many people die 4. (a) sun, moon, and stars grow dark (= 9th Egyptian plague, Exod. 10:22) (b) heaven (c) day and night lose a third of their light 5. (a) stars fall to the earth, the underworld opens, poisonous smoke emerges out of which come locusts (= 8th Egyptian plague, Exod. 10: 13 (b) underworld (c) people who do not bear the seal of God are tormented 6. (a) four angels are releasedmounted troops set fires

(b) at the great Euphrates River (c) a third ofthe people are killed; also the rest do not repent 7. (a) lightning, voices, thunder, earthquakes, hail (b) "temple of God in heaven"

(b) earth (c) people who bear the mark of the beast and worship his image are affected 2. (a) water becomes blood (= 1st Egyptian plague, Exod. 7:20-21) (b) sea (c) every sea creature dies 3. (a) water becomes blood (= Exod. 7:20-21) (b) rivers, floods, and springs (c) those who shed "the blood of saints and prophets" are soaked in blood 4. (a) the sun scorches the people

(b) heaven (c) the people who blaspheme God and who rejected repentance burn 5. (a) darkness (= 9th Egyptian plague, Exod. 10:22

(b) "the throne of the beast" (c) the kingdom of the beast becomes dark 6. (a) kings from the east come evil spirits "like frogs" (= 2nd Egyptian plague, Exod. 8:2) come out of the mouth of the dragon, etc. (b) at the great Euphrates River (c) the kings of the earth are gathered for battle on the "great day of God" 7. (a) lightning, voices, thunder earthquakes, hail (b) a powerful voice comes "out of the temple, from the throne" 104


(c) the city of Babylon is divided into three sections; the cities of the heathen collapse.

(c) the place of God becomes visible (= epiphany)

It is clear that both series are variations of an existing schema from tradition. In fact, the series are almost identical with regard to the settings of their respective items (b). In the underlying tradition the order may well have been: earth, sea, heaven, underworld, Euphrates (= the East). The opening of the heavenly sanctuary, that is, the epiphany of God for judgment, formed the conclusion. Only the fifth bowl vision (16: 10-11) appears to go its own way, since it is not related to the underworld but to "the throne of the beast." But even this difference is only relative because for Revelation the beast belongs to the underworld. In the respective contents (a), the agreement of the two cycles is essentially less. It is limited to parts 2, 3, 6, and 7 of the two series. Furthermore, it is striking that both series contain several references to the Egyptian plagues (Exodus 7-10), but they are congruent only in one case (item 2), while they otherwise function quite differently. The traditional basic scheme, therefore, is by no means developed from the Egyptian plagues; instead, the latter were used only secondarily as interpretative additions. Indeed, this might have already occurred in the framework of pre-J ohannine development of the tradition. It appears as if John already had in hand two different versions. Differences in the two cycles with regard to the consequences (c) may be due less to tradition than to the conscious literary work of John. Thus, in the trumpet visions it is clearly his intention to show that the plagues actually attain only a part (a third) of the affected region. Indeed, the plagues do not truly have the character of destructive judgment, but rather of a sign that calls to repentance in that it points to God's power over the world and history (esp. Sc and 6c). With this accentuation a motif is taken up that was already present through the interpretation of the Egyptian plagues in Exod. 7:S; 9:16; 10:2: God demonstrates his power in order thus to lead to his recognition. It is different with the consequences of the bowl plagues: John understands them as a judgment of destruction on God's adversaries, namely, the beast and his following.


Revelation 8:2-6


Text 8:2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar who had a golden censer. And he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints to God. 5 And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth. And there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. 6 And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them.

Analysis The introductory heavenly scene offers the reader the interpretative key to the event that follows; in its structure it entwines two aspects closely together: v. 2 and v. 6 have to do with the transfer of the trumpets to the seven angels and with their preparation for the work commissioned to them. The events that now begin are thus clearly traced back to God's will and regulation. In fact, they belong in the framework of that end-time event in which God makes himself visible before his creatures and finally realizes his lordship. Within the framework of this activity of preparation is the scene in vv. 3-5, which deals with the offering of the prayers ofthe church as the incense offering to God and with God's reaction to it. It is intended to show that the church on earth participates in the end-time event. To be sure, everything depends on God's will and action alone, but in this action God answers the request of his people for the coming of his kingdom. 106


Commentary [8:2) Again (cf. chap. 4; 7:9-17) the seer looks at the heavenly throne room. Before God's throne stand those seven angels who, according to the tradition of postbiblical Judaism, were the leaders of the heavenly band of angels and particularly prominent mediators of divine messages. Several of these angels are mentioned in the Bible by name: Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26), Raphael (Tob. 12:15), and Michael (Dan. 10: 13, 21; 12: 1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7); the extrabiblical tradition (1 Enoch 20: 1-7; cf. Str.-B. 3:805ff.) mentions other names (Uriel, Jeremiel, Sariel, Raguel). Revelation introduces them here for the first time under the designation "angels," but without doubt they are identified by it with the seven spirits before the throne of God mentioned in 1:4. God himself, whose name, following Jewish linguistic usage, is described with the impersonal passive form, gives to each of them a trumpet. The sound of the trumpet is the signal in the Old Testament that precedes the appearance of God (Exod. 19: 16, 19), or the end-time day of Yahweh (Joel 2: 1; Zeph. 1: 16). Prophetic-apocalyptic traditions of primitive Christianity joined here, according to which trumpet signals, given by angels, will introduce the end-time events of the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the gathering of the faithful (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4: 16-17; 1 Cor. 15:52). Especially instructive is the prophetic word quoted by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:51-52: "we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." The Christian apocalyptic tradition was evidently aware of the motif of a partitioning of the end event by means of the succession of several trumpet signals, one that John was able to borrow. [8:3) Before the angels blow their trumpets, a cultic activity takes place. It is carried out by another angel that does not "stand before God." It remains anonymous-wholly as if John wanted also to demonstrate here his disinterest in speculations about angels, which was so important to the original readers of his book (cf. at 1:20). As in 6:9, it is also presupposed here that in heaven the archetypes of the cultic furnishings of the Jerusalem temple are present. However, unlike these, the burntoffering altar is not meant by the altar, but rather the incense-offering altar, whose place was in the anteroom of the Holy of Holies. The angel approaches it with a censer in hand in order to light with embers the mixture of aromatic essences. The incense, rising to God's throne, bears the prayers of the saints, that is, of the church on earth (cf. at 5:8).

[8:4) The idea, mentioned first in Tob. 12: 12, of the ministry of mediation by angels that present prayers of the saints before God, is taken up here. We learn nothing of the content of these prayers. It is by no means suggested here that the cry of the martyrs for God's recompense in 6: 10 may be intended. It is more likely that the prayers of the worshiping community in general are meant. With the exception of 6:9-10, all prayers in Revelation are ones of praise of God and his lordship. In their 107

Revelation 8:2-6

common prayers Christians subordinate themselves to the lordship of God; they give to him as the Creator the honor that is otherwise refused him on earth, and with their plea for the coming of Jesus as Lord (22:20) they look to the final visible self-accomplishment of God (cf. Matt. 6: 10; par. Luke 11 :2). As a mere human word this prayer could effect and change nothing. And yet, it has transforming power because it submits itself to the will of God for change and renewal. 18:51 A dramatic image depicts the effect of the prayer of Christians when

it has a movement proceeding from God that corresponds to the ascending motion of the smoke: the angel now takes burning embers from the same altar, on which he had kindled the incense offering accompanying the prayers, in order to pour them out on the earth. Clearly the reference is to Ezek. 10:2, where an angel receives the order to take the burning coals from the altar of incense offering and scatter them over the guilt-ridden Jerusalem. The pouring out of fire is a symbol for the outbreak of divine wrath (Matt. 3:10-11; 2 Thess. 1:7-8). In this act of the angel the event that follows is summarized symbolically and interpreted in its entire direction: God prepares himself to demonstrate his power in that he has his wrath appear visibly over disobedient humanity. In doing this, he answers the plea of his people for the final accomplishment of his lordship. (8:61 In the meantime the angels standing before God prepare to make

manifest, with their trumpet signals, the imminent demonstrations of God's anger.


Revelation 8:7-13

The First Four Trumpets

Text 8:7 And the first (angel) blew [his trumpet]. There came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the land. And a third of the land was burned up, and a third of the trees was burned up, and all green grass was burned up. S And the second angel blew [his trumpet]. Then something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. And a third of the sea became blood, 9 and a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 And the third angel blew [his trumpet]. Then fell a great star from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the fountains of water. 11 And the name of the star is "Wormwood." And a third of the waters became bitter and many people died from the water because it had become bitter. 12 And the fourth angel blew [his trumpet]. Then a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened, and a third of the day had no more light, and likewise a third of the night. 13 And I looked and I heard as an eagle flew high in the heavens and cried with a loud voice, ·Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, on account of the remaining blasts of the trumpets which the three angels have yet to blow!"

Analysis The first four trumpet visions are largely parallel in their structure. Successively, the trumpet signal of the angel triggers an event from heaven that brings destruction, with consequences on the earth and for human beings. Particular emphasis is placed on the movement from heaven to 109

Revelation 8:7-13

earth, thus making clear that in every detail of the plague event the basic pattern, which was present in the symbolic activity of the angel (v. 5), is repeated and developed. The gruesome appearances are flung from heaven to earth, which fulfills the earlier symbolic throwing down of fire from the heavenly altar to the earth. It is important to see that the contents of the individual plagues are influenced extensively by tradition; as we have seen, the Egyptian plagues in particular served as prototypes. Certainly several details are also influenced by concrete catastrophes like volcanic eruptions and by events of rare, inexplicable natural phenomena such as the mysterious red rain, which occurs occasionally in Mediterranean regions with the infiltration of dust from the Sahara, or by eclipses of the sun and the moon. But John hardly wanted to establish direct associations with individual concrete natural catastrophes of his day. Thus, the second trumpet plague (v. 8) is certainly not, as is sometimes supposed, a depiction of the great eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 but rather the announcement of a coming cosmic catastrophe that will affect the whole surface of the earth; in any event, individual concrete motifs could have been influenced, to be sure, by stories of that volcanic eruption, which shook the entire known world. If one recognizes John's intention as being to announce catastrophes that come from heaven and are triggered by God's intervention, then all (possibly obtrusive) associations of particular moments of the portrayal with threats in our own world caused by human abuse of creation-like napalm bombs (v. 7), atomic explosions (v. 8), acid rain and water polluted by industrial waste (vv. 10-1 I)-are prohibited. John does not intend to predict such occurrences in their details. However, his depiction may very well open our eyes to the fact that such developments, made and caused by human beings, can be signs of God's judgment on our world and calls for repentance.

Commentary (8:7) The first trumpet signal releases a disaster that affects the fertile land. The seventh Egyptian plague-hail, in which lightning bolts struck, destroyed all vegetation-is expanded to a cosmic dimension here, presumably influenced by Joel 3:3-4, where blood and fire are proclaimed as signs of the end time (cf. Acts 2: 19). Fire destroys a third of all plants on the entire earth. Thus, humanity'S life support basis is seriously threatened, but-and this is to be emphasized by the numerical reference to "a third"-not yet destroyed. (8:8-9) The second trumpet signal sets in motion disaster for the kingdom of the sea. From the height of heaven a mighty burning mass is slung down. The mode of description suggests the idea of a meteorite. But here also a traditional image served as a model: at the end of heaven Enoch sees "seven stars like great burning mountains" and discovers that they have to do with chained angels (1 Enoch 18:13-14). The mass crashes into the sea, a third of which is immediately changed into blood-like the Nile in the first Egyptian plague. Again here blood also appears as an 110


image primarily for something sinister and life threatening. The effect is dreadful: in a third of the sea all of life is destroyed-not only aquatic animals and fish, but also mariners aboard ships. A rational explanation, that the poisoned water could also destroy the ships, cannot be extorted from the text. The dominant notion is that by means of the satanic heavenly body the sea becomes a sphere of disaster that basically includes all living creatures. (8:10-11) The third trumpet signal also releases the plunge of a star; this time it affects the domain of rivers and springs on the mainland. Even more clearly than earlier, here it is a phenomenon that was attributed in tradition to the end-time events (6: 13; Mark 13:25). The name of the star intimates its destructive effect: Wormwood, an extremely sharp, bitter vegetal substance, is by itself not poisonous, but because of its bitterness it frequently appears in the Old Testament as a symbol for bitter suffering and judgment, which are the consequence of defection from God (Deut. 29: 17; Lam. 3: 15, 19; Jer. 9: 14; 23: 15). This meaning of the term, becoming figurative in its transference, appears to be taken up here when it is said that the star transforms a third of the water into wormwood, so that its consumption by people causes death. It is a sign of judgment on human disobedience when God poisons the water and thereby destroys the place where these people live. (8:12) The fourth trumpet signal releases an appearance in the realm of heaven that also has fateful consequences for the earth and human beings. Again, a broad history-of-tradition background can be shown that ranges from the ninth Egyptian plague, with its three days of continuous darkness (Exod. 10:22), to apocalyptic expectations of a sudden eclipse of the sun (Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:31; 3: 15). Even this plague is only partial: sun, moon, and stars lose a third of their luminosity, so that day and night are each deprived of a third of their light. (8:13) The vision of a flying eagle serves as a transition to the three remaining trumpet visions. The eagle announces that even more severe plagues than those heretofore will come to those who are disobedient to God. The threefold cry of woes, which imitates, onomatopoetically (Gk. ouai), an eery cawing scream, is linked hereafter with the three visions of the cycle that follow (cf. 9: 12; 11: 14); the last one (II: 15-19), strictly speaking, has in its content no plague that affects the inhabitants of the earth. From ancient times commentators have seen it as an obstacle that the eagle, which among Jews is considered an unclean bird, appears to be here a messenger of God, especially since the tradition provides no parallels whatever: elsewhere in apocalyptic literature the eagle appears only as a symbol of the Roman Empire (4 Ezra II: 1; 12: II; 14: 17; As. Mos. 10:8). Instead of "eagle" (Gk. aetos), several ancient manuscripts read "angel" (Gk. angelos). But undoubtedly that is a secondary attempt at mitigation to which the apparent parallel in 14:6 gives rise. The obstacle, however, is removed as soon as one recognizes that here the III

Revelation 8:7-13

eagle is not at all sketched as a messenger of God; rather it simply has the function of announcing imminent disaster in a graphic way and portraying it beforehand. There is some support for the view that reference is being made here to Jesus' saying transmitted in an apocalyptic context in Luke 17:37 and particularly Matt. 24:28: "Where the corpse is, there the vultures [or eagles] will gather." It suggests that the carrion-devouring eagle, which had been understood in the tradition as a sign of the coming end-time disaster, became its messenger in a further developmental step.


Revelation 9:1-12

The Fifth Trumpet

Text 9: 1 And the fifth angel blew [his trumpet]. And I saw a star which had fallen from heaven to earth, and it was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 And it opened the shaft of the bottomless pit; then smoke rose out of the shaft like smoke from a great oven, and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3 And out of the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like that which scorpions have on the earth. 4 And they were told that they were not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any trees, but only people, those who do not bear the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 And they were commanded not to kill them, but to torture them for five months. And the pain which they cause is like the pain of a scorpion when it stings a human being. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it, and they will want to die, but death flees from them. 7 And the forms of the locusts were like horses outfitted for war, and on their heads they had something like golden crowns, and their faces were like human faces, 8 and their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like those of lions; 9 and they had protective covering like armor of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of many chariots and horses which are rushing into battle. 10 They have tails like scorpions and stingers, and in their tails lies their power to torture people for five months. 11 As king over them they have the angel of the bottomless pit. His


Revelation 9: 1-12 name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek he is called "Apol/yon"[= Destroyer). 12 The first woe has passed. Behold, two woes are still to come.

Analysis While the first four trumpet signals released catastrophes that affected entire regions of the world and involved human beings in the shared suffering only indirectly, the fifth as well as the sixth trumpet visions have to do with plagues concerning humanity exclusively and pointedly. Herein, as well as in the full portrayal of gruesome, bizarre details, lies a clear moment of intensification. Much that may seem to the modern reader like a confusing product of an unbridled imagination becomes more clearly comprehensible when one recognizes that John is once again standing here on the shoulders of prior traditionists. Indeed, three complexes of tradition can be observed from which elements have been woven together quite artistically into one picture. First is the tradition of the eighth Egyptian plague (Exod. 10: 12-20), which provided the basic material of the locust catastrophe, although it knew nothing of special demonic locusts, which were compared to warriors, nor of their attacks on human beings. Second, these last motifs are present in Joel 1 and 2. There the coming of the day of Yahweh is introduced by the attack on Zion of a demonic army of giant locusts, which are likened to horses, riders, and war chariots. From such John has appropriated a whole series of concrete individual elements. This is not surprising because the Book of Joel, with its announcements of end-time events, was an important resource for early Christian apocalypticism (cf. 6: 17; 8:7). Third, at least peripherally, the trumpet visions resemble the ancient tradition of the fall of an angel prince from heaven (lsa. 14: 12; 1 Enoch 86: 1, 3; 88: 1), although here John-unlike 12:7-9 (cf. commentary there)-leaves it completely undeveloped. Commentary [9:1) The movement of the event sketched in 8:5 becomes visible in the

star falling from heaven to earth. This star is none other than an angel who has been charged by God to open the shaft of the underworld. In the ancient Jewish view of the world, beneath the flat disk of earth is the underworld, the place of demons (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4). It is joined to the earth's surface by means of a shaft, the entrance to which is closed. The region of demonic powers comes into view here for the first time in Revelation. But the aspect of the active hostility of these powers against God is not yet addressed-this theme is reserved for the second section of the visions of Revelation (chaps. 12-19). Above all, everything else here comes under the aspect of God's powerful self-disclosure in his wrath. Thus, although it would suggest the traditional motif of the fall of the rebellious angel in the form of a star (see above), the mysterious starangel is not depicted as a satanic figure; rather, its role remains confined to that of the executor of the divine will.



(9:2-3) "Smoke" rises out of the opened shaft as a symbol of the anger and destructive power of God (cf. Gen. 19:28). After it has darkened the sun and moon (cf. Joel 2: 10), it condenses into swarms of demonic locusts that have scorpionlike tails armed with stingers. (9:4) Unlike normal locusts, they do not descend on the vegetation; their victims are exclusively human beings-and only those who do not belong to the salvation community, which is sealed by commission of God (cf. 7: 1-8). Thus, the plague has the character of the judgment of wrath on the humanity that is inimical to God. (9:5) As before, the plague also remains only a partial one: the locusts may not kill the human beings but merely inflict them with pain, and this only for a limited time. Puzzling is the reference to "five months." Some have wanted to trace it back to a computation of the usual lifespan of locusts. However, that is not very persuasive, since the locusts here are not at all normal ones, but supernatural ones. (9:6) John breaks out of the style of describing the vision in order to announce in a prophetic declaration the fate of people under this plague: because of the terrible nature of their torment they will long for death but will be unable to die (cf. Job 3:21; Jer. 8:3). (9:7-10) The portrayal of the locusts as demonic hybrid creatures, with part-animal and part-human form, is to emphasize even more distinctly their threatening character. Several traits are borrowed from Joel 1-2; hence, the comparison with war horses (Joel 2:4: "They have the appearance of horses, and like war-horses they charge"), the description of their teeth as "like lions' teeth" (cf. Joel 1:6), and the comparison of the sound of their wings with the "noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle" (cf. Joel 2:5). In addition, other elements appear to be taken from the sphere of popular mythological ideas; hence, the comparison of their faces with human faces, their hair with women's hair, and their heads adorned with golden crowns. The notion of the centaur of Greek mythology, animals with human heads, suggests itself here. (9:11) While natural locusts have no king (Prov. 30:27), this demonic army has a ruler, namely, the angel of the abyss. Its name is imparted in two languages: Abaddon (Hebrew) is the designation of the abyss, the place of the dead (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31: 12; Ps. 88: 12; Provo 15: 11; 27:20). That here not only a place, but also its ruler, the personified wielder of authority over the underworld (cf. 6:8; 20: 13-14), is considered, soon becomes clear with the Greek rendering of the name. It is not, as in the LXX, an abstract noun (apo/eia). but rather a concrete, proper one: "the destroyer" (ho apollyon). Furthermore, it is conceivable, even if it is not clear, that with it an allusion is being made to the similarly sounding name of the Greek god Apollo, who was thought to be the god of pesti115

Revelation 9:1-12

lence and quick death. In any case, here the personified demonic power is depicted exclusively as an executor of the will of God, but not yet as God's adversary.

19:12] This verse refers back to 8: 13: until now only the eagle's first announcement of woe is fulfilled; further, still more dreadful disaster is to come.


Revelation 9:13-21

The Sixth Trumpet

Text 9: 13 And the sixth angel blew [his trumpet], and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who held the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." 15 So the four angels were released, who were standing ready for the hour and the day, the month and the year, to kill a third of mankind. 16 And the number of cavalry troops was two times ten thousand times ten thousand (= two hundred million); I heard their number. 17 And this was how I saw the horses and riders in my vision: they had breastplates the color of fire, sapphire and sulphur, and the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulphur. 18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, (namely), by the fire, the smoke, and the sulphur which came forth from their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses lies in their mouth and in their tails; their tails are namely like serpents, and they have heads by which they inflict injury. 20 The rest of mankind that was not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands that they not worship demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they repented neither of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.

Analysis Like the preceding plague, this plague also directly affects human beings, but in an extremely intensified way: it causes not only torturous pain, but also death. In this respect it is related to the final Egyptian plagues (Exod. 117

Revelation 9:13-21

12:29-34), although in its contents the Old Testament portrayal did not serve as a model; instead, various biblical and postbiblical apocalyptic motifs, hardly identifiable in isolation, had an influence. The instrument of accomplishment, of which God makes use in the demonstration of his power, is again, as in 9: I-II, a demonic army under the command of a satanic angel. This time, however, the army comes not from the underworld but from the East, the region on the other side of the Euphrates River. The climax of this section and at the same time the aim of the six trumpet visions heretofore lie, without doubt, in the closing observation regarding the reaction of the surviving human beings (vv. 20-21). For the question posed by 8:2-5, whether the humanity that is hostile to God will be ready to open itself to evidence of God's power and to honor him, receives a negative answer here: the dreadful signs are not understood as calls for repentance; the people remain steadfast in their stubborn resistance to God.

Commentary [9:13) In spite of its dreadfulness, the plague that is introduced by the trumpet signal of the sixth angel is an event commanded by God. The movement from above to below, from heaven to earth, which characterizes the entire series of visions, is depicted again: from the heavenly altar of burnt offering from which the prayers of the saints had ascended to God and from which, in answer to these prayers, the angel had thrown fire to the earth in 8:5, a mysterious voice now issues forth. We do not learn to whom it belongs, but it is clear that the command that it imparts pa ves the way for the discharge of the will of God. [9:14) The angel that has just given the trumpet signal is to release four demonic angels that he chained in the area of the Euphrates, so that the satanic hosts, whose leaders and representatives they are, are able to fall upon the Roman Empire from its eastern borders. A motif-historical relationship with the four angels mentioned in 7: I is certainly present, but the differences in the arrangement of details of the motif here and there are too strong to make an identification of the two groups of angels possible. In 7: I the representatives of the four regions of the earth, or the four winds, are standing at God's disposal; here, bound by God, demonic figures are ready to exercise destructive power upon their release. Similarly, the Apocalypse of Enoch (1 Enoch 56) mentions that evil angels incite the nations of the East, Parthians and Medes, to a campaign of destruction toward Palestine (cf. 2 Apoc. Bar. 6:4-5). The Euphrates River represented the eastern edge of the Roman Empire, beyond which are presumed to be sinister and threatening nations. Whether beyond such general fears reference is being made to the very real danger of an expected attack by waves of Parthians is by no means certain (cf. at 16: 12). [9:15) The demonic armies may do nothing without God's express permission: even the time of their attack is precisely determined to the 118


hour-again, a common apocalyptic motif (cf. 4 Ezra 7:40-41; Sib. Or. 2.325-27; 3.89; 8.424-27). Their power is also limited in that they may kill only a third of humankind, just as the first four trumpet plagues were each limited to a third of the affected region (8:7-13). (9:16] It is almost casually reported that the four angels are to be understood as representatives of cavalry troops, a clear indication that John is appealing here to associations of ideas present in tradition. Important to him is only the number of demonic riders, which exceeds every imaginable size: it is even twice as large as the number of angels mentioned in 5: II! He explicitly stresses that he "heard" them by means of a particular heavenly pronouncement (cf. 7:4). (9:17-19] A detailed visionary portrayal describes the attack of the four armies. From the manner that it occurs it becomes clear that the seer does not envision earthly warriors, but demonic beings with mythological characteristics. Horses and riders are combined into a mysterious unity, and the horses are not typical equines but are mixed creatures with lions' heads and tails like snakes that also have heads. The colors of the riders' breastplates-fire-red, smoke-blue, and sulphur-yellow-correspond to the destructive powers of fire, smoke, and sulphur that come out of the lions' heads. The monster of the primeval world, Leviathan, spews out fire and smoke (Job 41: 18-21); sulphur and fire destroy the godless cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24,28). (9:20] This verse comprehensively describes the effect of all six trumpet plagues heretofore and, at the same time, drives the thematic arch back to 8:2-5: the plagues were demonstrations of God's power against the humanity that was hostile toward him; they were to lead to repentance. However, the people are just as unprepared as was the Pharaoh in Egypt (Exod. 11: 10) to give honor to God and to acknowledge his lordship. Instead, they persist in their despotic resistance against God; its central feature, John notes, according to Jewish tradition, is the worship of idols (Ps. 115:4; 135: 15; Jer. 1: 16; Dan. 5:4,23). While people worship images made by human hands, they place the realm of the created world in place of the Creator (cf. Acts 14: 15; 17:23-27). The detailed description of the dead materials out of which the cultic images are made corresponds to a widespread topos of Jewish polemic (e.g., Isa. 44:6-20; 1 Enoch 99:7; Sib. Or. 5:77ff.). (9:21] As a necessary consequence of the perverted conduct manifested in the heathen cult, primitive Christianity considered those vices that are presented here in a catalog of vices borrowed from the fundamental parenetic tradition (cf. 21:8; 22:15; Gal. 5:19-21). Beside the sins of the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments of the Decalogue-murder, adultery, and theft-magic appears, significantly, because magicians played an important role in the popular piety of the eastern Mediter-


Revelation 9:13-21

ranean region (Acts 19: 18-19). While John mentions here what in his view are the fundamental features of heathen society, implicitly he points to the sharply drawn limit that distinguishes it from the Christian community and makes any compromise impossible.


Revelation 10:1-11

The Mission of Prophecy in the Context of the End Event

Text 10:1 And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was wrapped in a cloud and a rainbow was over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire; 2 and he had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3 and he called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down." 5 And the angel whom I saw standing on sea and on land lifted his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, and the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: there will be no more delay; 7 but in the days of the trumpet call of the seventh angel the mystery of God shall be fulfilled, as he announced it to his servants, the prophets. 8 And the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke again to me saying, "Go and take the small scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land. " 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, "Take it and eat, and it will be bitter to your stomach, but in your mouth it will be sweet like honey. " 10 And I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; in my mouth it was sweet like honey, and when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.


Revelation 10: 1-11 11 And they said to me. ·You must again prophesy concerning peoples. nations. languages. and many kings.·

Analysis Inserted between the sixth and seventh trumpet vision, as between the sixth and seventh seal vision (7: 1-17), is a longer intermezzo (10: I 11: 14). It forms, by far, the most difficult part of the whole book. It is clear that here John is conducting a conversation with older traditions and ideas that were already available to him. These are identifiable for us only in rough outline because they derive from an area of primitive Christianity about which we know very little, namely, from the prophecy of Palestinian Jewish Christianity; for that reason the attempt to reconstruct the intention of John as he relates to these materials is laden with great uncertainties. A key for the entire thematic focus of this section is found in the observation that allusions to prophets and prophetic speech run through it like a scarlet thread (10:7, 11; 11 :3, 11; cf. also 11: 18). That is all the more striking because elsewhere in his book John does not allow his self-designation as a prophet to appear in the foreground and employs it, in any case, indirectly (22:6, 9). Only here does he account for his task and self-understanding, and particularly in this way he draws them into a larger picture of the mission and task of primitive Christian prophecy. From that perspective the placement of the section in the context ofthe trumpet visions would make good sense: if their theme is the effective self-disclosure of God by means of which people are called to repentance and obedience, then the function of the prophets is likewise addressed. They call for repentance and obedience in the name of God with reference to his effective proximity. Accordingly, the section may well be intended to provide an answer to the question about the commission and destiny of the prophets in the framework of the end event. In form and content the first part, 10: 1-11, is a vision of commissioning that in some respects is in harmony with 1:9-20. The one who appears is certainly not, as there, the exalted Christ, but a mighty angel, and the commission imparted is neither a written command, as there, nor is it based at all directly on Revelation as a book. The small scroll that appears in the hand of the angel (v. 2) in order to be given to the seer with the instructions to consume it (vv. 8-10) is a general symbol for the prophetic charge. At stake is the idea that the seer subordinates himself obediently to the will of God for the end time, which is announced to him, and without consideration for the consequences to his personal fate, and lets. himself be sent for renewed prophetic witness before all the world. Any focal sharpening of this prophetic charge related to the situation is absent here. In any case, the "again" in v. 11 could be taken as an allusion to the fact that the scene is to be understood as a renewal and confirmation of an earlier commission. Altogether, however, it appears as if John is appealing here not to a personal encounter that concerns his specific charge but to a tradition that reflects a generally prophetic charge.



In comparison, the episode in vv. 3-7, in which the seer is forbidden to write down the message of the "seven thunders," receives a special position. On the one hand, it does not fit into the schema of the commissioning vision; on the other hand, it does not have to do simply with a prophetic charge, but rather quite concretely with the book at hand and its contents. Thus, this might also be the place at which John introduced his own word in conversation with tradition. What is the meaning of this episode? It might be clear, to a certain extent, if a command to write in v. II would correspond to the command not to write in v. 4. One would then be able to see here a reference by the writer to the fact that he was not permitted to record in his book on heavenly instructions certain revelations imparted to him-namely, a series of seven visions of thunder-in order, instead, to incorporate others contained in the mysterious little scroll. But because there is no command to write at the conclusion, this interpretation is eliminated. However, if one recognizes that the charge to the seer is motivated by the announcement of the immediate proximity of the end (vv. 6-7), then another interpretation is suggested: in view of the immediate immanent end, it would be wrong to write down the course of God's coming activity of judgment and thus to preserve for a future that will not be; what is called for now is the immediate and direct prophetic proclamation. We would then be dealing here with a polemical distancing from apocalyptic writings of the customary sort. If this conjecture is correct, John would want to underscore through the insertion of the thunder episode (v. 4) that his book has nothing in common with such apocalypses: unlike them, it is intended to be a direct prophetic address to the seven churches that announces what moment is now at hand (cf. 1:3).

Commentary [10:1] For the first time since 4: I, the seer is back on the earth. The shift of location is not explicitly related in the text; it is determined from the contents of what follows: the location of a prophet's instructions can only be the earth. The mighty angel that John sees descending from heaven does not belong to the seven angels in God's presence who give the seven trumpet signals (8:6)-that alone is indicated by the designation of "another angel." An identification with "another angel" in 7:2 can hardly be intended. What concerns the narrator, rather, is to depict the attribute of divine power that distinguishes the angel and proves him as a representati ve of God: as God reveals himself in the cloud (Exod. 16: 10; I Kgs. 8: 10), the angel also appears in the cloud; like the throne of God (4: 3), his head is also surrounded by a rainbow. His countenance, which radiates like the sun, calls to mind the appearance of the exalted Lord (I: 16), and the same is true of the feet likened to fiery pillars (I: 15). [10:2] The small book that the angel opens (i.e., which he holds in his hands as an unrolled scroll) is clearly not identical with the sevenfold seal book that had been given to the lamb to open in 5:7. It is not like that document of lordship, but rather it contains the message that is to be


Revelation 10:1-11

given to the prophet. The angel stands with one of his powerful feet on the sea and the other on the land: therein the all-encompassing meaning of his mission is expressed, for sea and land together compose the whole world (Gen. 1: 10; Exod. 20:4, 11). (10:3-4) The event takes an unexpected tum. What now becomes the theme is not the book and the charge contained in it to the seer but rather a message of the angel that is obviously not contained in this book. We learn nothing of its contents. However, its importance and its effect are vividly exposed when the voice of the angel is compared to that ofa lion and its echo to seven thunders. In the Old Testament the roar of the lion frequently represents the voice of God (Hos. 11: 10; Amos 3:8; Joel 3: 16), and thunder is the essential element in an appearance by God. In it the crushing and overwhelming aspects of the coming of God become apparent (Psalm 29). Without doubt, then, the message that the angel cries out is a message from God. Indeed, it is articulated and understandable, for the seer hastens to write it down. But he is prevented from doing even this by a voice from heaven. When he is commanded to "seal" what he has heard, this resembles a familiar motif in apocalyptic literature: apocalyptic seers seal the revelations, written down by them, concerning the course of God's plan for history in order to prevent their discovery by the present generation and to reserve them for the generation of the end time (Dan. 12:4; 4 Ezra 14: 18-48). However, here there is to be precisely no preservation of secret knowledge for the future (cf. 22: lO)-John is to forgo completely writing down what he has heard. The sealing, therefore, is to be understood only symbolically. What is the reason for this prohibition? This question can be answered only in association with the other, according to the content of the message of the seven thunders. It is too simple to see an analogy here with the heavenly visions that were imparted to Paul and whose contents he consciously set aside from his preaching to the churches as religious encounters that concerned him only in a very personal way (2 Cor. 12:4). For here what is at stake is precisely not such personal encounters but an announcement of God's sovereign will that is related to the whole world, presumably even a proclamation of the course of the approaching activity of judgment. The seer may not record the content of this announcement in his book because-this is to be inferred-the specific character of his charge would thereby be missed. In what this charge consists will be made clear in what follows. (10:5-7) This scene is evidently shaped under the influence of Dan. 12:7. There the appearance of an angelic figure is described that with a solemn oath confirms God's decree for the end event: when, according to the mysterious time period of three and a half times (cf. at 11 :9), God will have broken the power of the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, who is afflicting the people of God, the consummation is near. Here also there is such a confirmation of God's decree that ensues through the mighty angel introduced in vv. 1-4. The designation of God as the one "who 124


lives forever and ever" also is derived from Dan. 12:7. However, it is supplemented in a way that is characteristic of describing God in Revelation, namely, by means of the reference to the power of God as creator and sustainer of the world (cf. 4:9-11). That which the angel proclaims with his oath concerns, as in Daniel, the decree of God for the end event. Of course-and here is the crucial distinction that stands out all the more sharply against the background of the otherwise close literary similarity-there is no reference to a period of time that precedes the end event; instead, its immediate proximity is emphasized: "there will be no more delay!" The time of God's final self-disclosure in judgment and salvation has advanced to an imminent reality. Indeed, it will come immediately, as soon as the angel, standing ready, gives the seventh trumpet signaL The "mystery of God," his plan of salvation, according to which he will bring history to its objective, remains irrevocable; indeed, because it is accomplished from God's perspective, one can speak of its fulfillment here only in the past tense. Precisely from this perspective of God, from which there can no longer be any unsettled issues, the prophets have been initiated into this plan of salvation. Therefore, it is their task to proclaim the certainty of its imminent visible realization, but not to predict certain dates and times of God's coming activity. The verb, translated "announce" (Gr. euangelizesthai), belongs to the same etymology as the word "gospel," by which one could be tempted to render it "announce as good news." However, opposing this is the observation that here (as in 14:6) we are dealing with a very old Palestinian-Jewish Christian linguistic usage that is not yet defined by its terminological importance and that the related word in Greek-speaking Christendom was to achieve. Here it is simply a matter of a message commissioned to the prophets by God, but not specifically of a message of salvation. The question of whether the Old Testament prophets or those of primitive Christianity are meant here raises a false alternative. Certainly John speaks of his own charge, in which he sees himself as one with all other primitive Christian prophets, but at the same time he seems to see them in a direct line with the Old Testament prophets, whose charge it was also to proclaim to the community of salvation the secret of God's will that had been disclosed to them. [10:8-9] If vv. 5-7 described the essence and salvation-historical place of the prophetic charge, the following scene deals with its concrete delivery to the seer. The same heavenly voice that had restrained him from writing down the message of the seven thunders (v. 4) instructs him to take the open book from the hand of the angeL By means of this contrasting correspondence the proper understanding of this charge is obviously to be compared with the false one rejected earlier. The content of the small book can be determined now more precisely from v. 7: it is the "mystery of God," his plan of salvation for the end time, the visible fulfillment of which is immediately imminent. In a remarkably bizarre way the text relates how the seer, instructed by heavenly command, turns to the angel to ask for the small book; perhaps that is to make clear his 125

Revelation 10: 1-11

readiness to accept the charge. The words with which the angel hands over the small book are a variation of a motif from the vision of Ezekiel's calling in Ezekiel 3. There the prophet receives from the hand of God a book that he is supposed to eat, which tastes as sweet as honey in his mouth (Ezek. 3:1-3); this is to indicate that the Word of God, which the prophet incorporates bodily, as it were, is experienced and accepted as salvation-creating reality by him (cf. Ps. 19: II; 119: 103). In contrast to that, a twofold effect of the small book is mentioned: in the prophet's stomach it is bitter, but in his mouth it is sweet. This can hardly be based on the content of the proclamation of the prophet, perhaps in the sense that for the one it is an announcement of salvation, for the other a declaration of judgment (2 Cor. 2: 16); this view is contradicted by the context, which speaks exclusi vely of the charge and fate of prophets, but not of the effect of the prophetic message on others. It is more likely a reference to a twofold effect of the word on the prophet himself: on the one hand, it is for him, no different than for Ezekiel, a word of salvation that he accepts with his whole being and by which he lives; on the other hand, it becomes for him cause for suffering and persecutions (11 :3-13). To be bearers and messengers of the Word of God means having to experience both the sweetness and the bitterness of this word in their own existence. (10:10-11) John obediently discharges the angel's instructions and verifies the appearance of the twofold effect proclaimed in it. Verse 11 offers a concluding explanation of the vision, which presumably is to be thought of as being given by the angel, although its author is not directly named: the seer is to direct his message untiringly to the whole world and without consideration to the consequences for his own personal fate. The enumeration "peoples and nations and languages and kings" is formulaic. It need not be pursued further. The fact that, beyond similar lists in 5:9 and 7:9, kings are also mentioned does not justify the assumption that a concrete view of the message in chaps. 12-19 reaching into international political dimensions is' intended. This is probably a reference to an ancient primitive Christian apocalyptic tradition in which the testimony before kings and peoples appears as a firm topos to describe the commission of the church in public settings within the world (cf. Mark 13:9; par. Matt. 24: 18; Luke 21: 12).


Revelation 11 :1 -14

The Measurement of the Temple and the Two Witnesses

Text 11: 1 And I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told: "Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there. 2 And omit the court outside the temple and do not measure it, for it was given to the Gentiles, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant my two witnesses a charge, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.· 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands, which stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and consumes their enemies. And if anyone would harm them, he must die in this way. 6 They have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they wish. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends from the abyss will engage them in war and conquer them and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the streets of the great city which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was also crucified. 9 And men from the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will gaze at their bodies for three and a half days, and they will refuse to let them be placed in a grave. 10 And the inhabitants of the earth will rejoice over them and make


Revelation 11:1-14





merry and exchange presents, for these two prophets had tormented the inhabitants of the earth. After three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear overcame those who saw it. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ·Come up here!" And they arose into heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city collapsed, and seven thousand people were killed by the earthquake; but the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed. Behold, the third woe is soon to come.

Analysis This section belongs closely with the preceding one. In it the charge to the seer to bear his prophetic witness publicly before the forum of the whole world is developed in two parts: first, in vv. 1-2 in view of what it produces for the salvation community, and then in vv. 3-13 in view of its association with the personal fate of the prophet. This development occurs essentially with the aid of an older tradition that John has incorporated into his work. Here we encounter a series of images and motifs that do not appear elsewhere in Revelation. Many of the details and narrative traits that are mentioned apparently cannot, or at best by figurative interpretation, be integrated with the intention of John as it is evident exegetically from the context-for example, the miracles of the two witnesses (vv. 5-6) and their miraculous ascension (vv. 11-12). Such excess generally indicates the elaboration of a prior tradition. The observation that this tradition both in vv. 1-2 and in vv. 7-9 reflects distinct local references to events in Jerusalem justifies the conclusion that it stems from Palestinian Jewish Christianity. In fact, the reflection of Christian prophets here regarding their charge and their self-understanding seems to have found its outcome in the historical experiences of the period of the Jewish War (ca. A.D. 70). Commentary (11:1-2) The first scene is inspired by Ezek. 40:3tf.: Ezekiel is transported to an ideal, heavenly Jerusalem and sees how an angel measures the heavenly prototype of the temple. But while this measuring served to transmit to Ezekiel the measurements, according to which the Jerusalem temple, at that time lying in ruins, was to be rebuilt, the measuring with which the seer in Revelation is instructed by a heavenly voice is to be applied to the existing Jerusalem temple. Indeed, its meaning is symbolic: whereas a large part of the temple area, namely, the outer court of the Gentiles, is expressly excluded from the measurement by heavenly instruction, its abandonment to the Gentiles, along with all of Jerusalem, is to be announced symbolically to the "holy city." But whatever concerned



the measured portions, namely, the Holy of Holies and the inner court where the altar of burnt offering stands, the measurement for them is, conversely, a sign of God's merciful will. Finally, however, this sparing will does not point to buildings, but rather to people, namely, to those who "worship there" (i.e., in the inner part of the temple area). The correspondence to the actual events of the year A.D. 70 appears particularly astounding. When the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, the zealots who were conducting the Jewish revolt took shelter in the inner chambers of the temple in order to make it the center of their defense, "so that the surrounding temple-court from the multitude of dead resembled a common burial-ground and the temple itself a fortress. Into those hallowed and inviolable precincts they rushed in arms ... " (Jos., J. W. 6.3.122 = LCL 3:411). From this account some have conjectured that the basis of the present piece of tradition was formed by a prophetic saying from zealot circles that promised protection for the inner area of the temple and the resisters who were sheltered there. However, this assumption depends on the unlikely presupposition that such a zealot oracle, which in its original meaning was refuted by the historical course of events, must have been subsequently accepted by Christians. More likely is the assumption that we have before us an originally Christian prophetic saying that interpreted the events of the year A.D. 70 from the perspective of the Christian community. Indeed, in it the understanding, which was firmly rooted in primitive Christian tradition, of the end-time community of salvation as the true temple (I Cor. 3: 10, 16; Gal. 2:9; Matt. 16: 18, and elsewhere) was associated with a motif of Christian apocalyptic prophecy, namely, the announcement of the end of Jerusalem and its temple (Luke 21 :14). In the demise of Jerusalem, the surrender of the "holy city" to the Gentiles, the Christian community saw a sign of the judgment on Israel, but not the withdrawal of God's promise to his people. For it was crucial to preserve the inner portion of the temple, spiritually understood-the multitude of those worshiping God in Jesus Christ. Here the church is understood as the "holy remnant," which remains in judgment and in which the identity of the people of God endures. For John those original historical references of the piece of tradition used by him were unimportant. Also, for his understanding of the church the notion of remnant played no perceptible role, nor did he make the relationship between the church and Judaism in general a matter of theological reflection (cf. at 2:9; 3:9). In spite of the wording in v. 2, which is characterized by tradition, for him Jerusalem is no longer the "holy city" but an image of the humanity that is hostile toward God (cf. v. 8), and the inner portion of the temple is the community of salvation that is exposed to the most extreme hostility and affliction. He wants to show wherein the prophetic charge for this community of salvation consists: the point is to make certain that in spite of the most extreme affliction, it will be preserved by God to the end. This affliction may scarcely be 129

Revelation 11:1-14

bearable any longer and may go to the extreme, but it will not last forever; God himself has set an end to it. This time limitation is expressed in the mysterious reference "forty-two months" which is presumably incorporated by John into his tradition.

Excursus: 3% years-42 months-1 ,260 days The same time reference appears repeatedly in Revelation in three variants (11 :3, 11; 12:6, 14). What is its origin, and what is its meaning? Forty-two months, computed according to a lunar month of 30 days, is 1,260 days, or three and a half years. The historical b.ackground for this use of numbers rests in the length of the reign of terror of Antiochus Epiphanes over Jerusalem (Dan. 7:25; 12:7). But even in Daniel the number has a symbolic significance insofar as it encompasses half of the seventieth and final week of the world, which precedes the end set by God. Thus, the persecution is not only limited in time, it does not complete the time period provided and planned by God but rather is surrounded by it. In this sense John also uses the mysterious number: the three and a half years (and its equivalents) symbolize an epoch of affliction, limited by God and surrounded by his plan of salvation. The epoch is capable of becoming the time of verifying for the church that knows of God's decree of salvation. Analysis Behind vv. 3-13 can be seen the contours of a Palestinian piece of tradition that told the story, arranged in three phases, of two prophetic witnesses: vv. 3-6 deal with the earthly activity of the two witnesses, which is characterized by overpowering acts of strength. Like Elijah, they are able to ward off their adversaries with fire (2 Kgs. 1: 10; Sir. 48:3) and obstruct the sky so that no rain falls (1 Kgs. 17: 1; Sir. 48:3); like Moses, they have the authority to change water into blood and thus intimidate their opponents with plagues (Exod. 7: 17, 19-20). Verses 7-10 deal with their departure from this life and its immediate consequences: they suffer death in Jerusalem, and their bodies, which lie unburied and desecrated "in the street of the great city," become the occasion for their opponents' greatest triumph. But, according to vv. 11-12, their fate takes an unexpected turn: God has them-again like Elijah (2 Kgs. 2: 11; Sir. 48:9) and Moses (Jos. Ant. 4.8.48)-rise and bodily ascend into heaven. Without doubt this passage takes up the idea, widespread in postbiblical Judaism, of prophetic figures of the earliest time-Moses and/or Enoch and Elijah (Apoc. Elijah 35:7)-returning at the end time as preachers of repentance and preparing for the arrival of the Messiah. This idea, the biblical bases of which are formed in Deut. 18:18 and Mal. 3:23-24, is also encountered several times in the Gospel tradition: John the Baptist is esteemed on the basis of his preaching of repentance as the returned Elijah (Mark 1:2; 6: 15; 9: 11-13; Matt. 11: 14); and in the transfiguration of Jesus, Moses and Elijah appear as the two forerunners (Mark 9:4). The problem here lies in the fact that after Jesus' death and resurrection primitive Christianity found it impossible to accept this 130


Jewish expectation as its own, particularly because, as far as Elijah was concerned, the expectation was considered already fulfilled in the appearance of John the Baptist. Therefore, as several interpreters conjecture, it must have been an originally Jewish piece of tradition. But how would its Christian adaptation be conceivable if the ideas contained in it were not to be brought in harmony with the Christian expectations of the end time? Thus, more likely is the assumption that we have here an originally Christian piece of tradition in which the Jewish notion of the two end-time prophets was transformed by a new typological interpretation so that it was suitable to interpret the path and fate of Christian prophets. These ideas therefore provided for Jewish-Christian prophets the material by which they were able to develop their self-understanding as fulfillers and surpassers of the mission of the Old Testament prophets. The motifs of preaching repentance, accompanied by miraculous deeds, and of the ascension thus constituted the cornerstones: like Moses and Elijah, Christian prophets understood themselves to be empowered to preach sermons of repentance that were accompanied by signs (Luke 10: 17-20); like the former, they also expected God's redeeming act at the end of their path, that is, at the resurrection of the dead. Connected for them with these motifs was the motif of rejection, which also stems from the Old Testament tradition, and of the violent death of the prophets, a motif that also placed for them the fate of Jesus in a new light (Luke 13:33-34; Matt. 5:12; Acts 7:52; Heb. 11:36-37, and elsewhere); a violent death not only was the fate of prophets but also was participation in the path of Jesus. It is to be assumed that the piece of tradition originated in Palestine immediately prior to the Jewish War, when the church there was afflicted more and more by Jews and several of their prominent men became victims of riots and pogroms. It is not to be ruled out that vv. 7-8 refer to specific events that particularly shocked the churches. Thus, some have thought of the death of James of Zebedee (Acts 12:2) and of James, the brother of the Lord (Eus. Hist. ecc!. 2.23.4ff.). But in view of the meagerness of our sources regarding the history of the primitive church in Palestine, speculations of this kind are idle. How does John interpret the piece oftradition? With it he wants to illustrate the path and destiny of the prophets: theirs is a path that is tread in public settings within the world as a testimony regarding "peoples and nations and languages and kings" (10: 11); it is also a path into sufferingthe small book is bitter in the prophet's stomach (10:10). For John this motif of suffering is especially important; he also appears to have intervened redactionally rather strongly in the section vv. 7-10. Here he interrupted the original close reference to Jerusalem in favor of a worldwide perspective that anticipates chaps. 12-13. He seems to have understood the statements regarding the ascension and resurrection in vv. 1112 as a justification of the prophets and their commission from God, whereby with v. 13, created by him, he ties the section into the whole of the trumpet vision and thus, at the same time, gives it an unexpected climax. 131

Revelation 11:1-14

Commentary [11:3] The heavenly voice that is heard here is the same one as in 10:8, II; 11: 1-2. That it belongs to God becomes clear when it utters "my two witnesses." It is God himself that seeks out witnesses for himself (cf. at 1:2, 9) and calls them. In other respects it corresponds to John's own selfunderstanding (cf. 1:9) when the two are introduced with the overlapping term "witnesses"; for him prophecy is merely a function of bearing witness. That there are two witnesses is a result of the law of witnesses: every truth must be verified by at least two witnesses (cf. Matt. 18: 16). Their clothing indicates that the two are preachers of repentance: the sackcloth is a robe symbolizing sorrow and repentance (Isa. 22: 12; Jer. 4:8; Jonah 3:6-8; Matt. II :21). By means of the symbolic time reference to "1,260 days," which here as well as throughout originates with John, what follows is connected with v. 2: the two witnesses appear precisely in the epoch of affliction that is limited in time by God's will, when the heathen (i.e., those persons who are inimical to God) have the upper hand and seem to determine the destiny of the world (cf. v. 7). [1l:4] This verse sketches the place and function of the two witnesses more precisely with the help of a reinterpretation of a vision of the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 4: 1-14). This portrays the two heads of Israelthe Davidic King Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua-as two olive trees, from which oil flows in golden tubes to a seven-armed lampstand that is to symbolize God's presence. This image was of great importance for the messianic expectation of postbiblical Judaism. In the Qumran sect it was interpreted as evidence for their hope in the coming of two Messiahs, a priest and a king (I QS 9, II). Such a messianic understanding is not present in this passage. Out of the one lampstand of Zechariah emerge two, so that each of the two witnesses is, at the same time, an olive tree and a lampstand. Thus, the olive tree is to be understood as a symbol of their sending by God, and the lampstand, in all likelihood, as an allusion tothe gift of the Spirit, for in 4:5; 5:6 the seven spirits of God are depicted in the image of the seven-armed lampstand. (11:5-6] Because the witnesses are commissioned by God himself and en-

dowed with his Spirit, they stand under God's special protection. The authority for performing miracles, which are described in reference to the Elijah and Moses tradition (see above), is closely tied to their charge. On the one hand, the miracles make them unassailable by their opponents (v. 5); on the other hand, like the Egyptian plagues, they serve as demonstrations of God's power, calling these opponents to repent (cf. at 8:6-13). 111:7] Such an unassailability has an end, however, when the two wit-

nesses are engaged by a new, sinister opponent at the end of their activity. The latter is introduced as a familiar power, although it is not identified until chaps. 13 and 17. But when in assimilating the words of the world 132


kingdom vision in Dan. 7:21 it is said that it "will make war on them and conquer them and kill them," its identity for the readers of that time has already been sketched as a superhuman demonic power in whose appearance the end-time opposition to God reaches its greatest intensity. The introduction at this point of the beast from the abyss is an adroit literary device by which the author announces in advance the thematic focus of the second part of the vision, beginning with 12: 1, and ties it into what has happened heretofore. Whoever, like the prophets, delivers God's testimony is obliged to confront the demonic adversary of God; indeed, he or she must be prepared to be defeated by him in battIe. God does equip his witnesses with strength, but he does not protect them from final external defeat and physical destruction. An extremely sober and realistic prognosis is presented here that refutes all ecclesiastical triumphalism. [11:8) The bodies of the witnesses lie unburied "in the street of the great city"-a picture of the most extreme degradation and humiliation (cf. Jer. 8:2; Tob. 1: 18-20; 2:3-4). But which city is meant? According to the observation that it is "where also their Lord was crucified," one thinks necessarily of Jerusalem. It appears to exclude an identification of the "great city" with Rome, although in what follows John will portray the "great city" of Rome as the seat of the beast from the abyss (17: 18) and as the center of resistance of the demonic powers. But here a riddle is not being posed to the reader by the absence of the city's name; rather, the peculiar indirect description indicates that at stake here is not a real city but a typical one. What it characterizes is its spiritual name-that is, the disclosure, made possible by the Spirit, of that which determines its reality before God: it is both Sodom, the prototype of the city that rejects God's commandment and will (Isa. 1: 10; Jer. 23:24), and Egypt, the typical place of alienation and slavery of the people of God (Matt. 2: 1323; Acts 13: 17). And because that is so, the followers of Jesus must suffer there the same fate as their Lord. Thus, here Jerusalem is expanded, as it were, beyond its purely geographic .area into the picture of the world hostile to God; indeed, the picture of Jerusalem blends with that of Rome. This merging of the contours presupposes that for John Jerusalem had ceased being the "holy city" (cf. 20:9; 21 :2). ~11:9J

The entire public arena of the world is also thought of as being present in this city. All peoples, groups, and classes join together in celebration in view of the victory of the beast over the witnesses. But the mysterious number of three and a half days that appears here again indicates that the humiliation of the witnesses will not be the final word: even that fate belongs to those afflictions, limited in time, to which God will bring an end by his intervention. [11:10) Against this background appears the depiction of joy over the liberation from the uncomfortable preachers of repentance, which is


Revelation 11:1-14

expressed in the exchange of gifts (cf. Esth. 9: 18-19; Neh. 8: 10, 12), not without subtle irony. (11:11) With phrases that originate in the vision of Ezekiel of the resur-

rection of the dry bones by God's life-giving Spirit (Ezek. 37: 10), the turning point in the destiny of the prophets is described. Because God intervenes, death and defeat are not the end for God's witnesses. Instead, God raises them from the dead, and the adversaries must look on in terror that their celebration of triumph was premature. (11:12) The resurrection is followed by a bodily translation to heaven: at the command of a heavenly voice the witnesses are raised into heaven by a cloud. This translation scene cannot simply be explained by the model of the Elijah story (2 Kgs. 2: 11); rather, it appears to be painted with the colors ofa very original Parousia expectation, as it is similarly tangible in 1 Thess. 4: 16-17: accordingly, with the return of Jesus Christ the faithful who were still alive and those who have been raised from the dead are encountered in a cloud by the coming Lord and united with him. If one assumes that the end-time awakening of the dead and the union with Christ of the faithful witnesses are also the subject here, then the statement that this is to be accomplished before the eyes of the hostile world appears especially strange. It, as well as what follows, becomes more understandable if one reads it against the background of 20:5-6: John distinguishes between the "first resurrection" of believers in Christ and the final judgment, which concerns all people (cf. 20: 11-15). What he describes in v. 12 belongs within the framework of this first resurrection. (11:13) John turns to the question of the destiny of those hostile to God, who saw the resurrection of the witnesses. At the same time he also brings the entire section of 10: 1-11 : 12 into association with the series of trumpet visions. For whatever happens now resembles the demonstrations of divine power that are introduced by the trumpet signals: again an event is produced that partially brings disaster on human beings. Indeed, it is a powerful earthquake that destroys a tenth of the city and kills seven thousand people (cf. 8:7, 9,10, 12; 9:5, 15). But while heretofore people affected by such plagues refused to give honor to God and repent (9:2021), this result now occurs: those who remain are seized by the fear of God and give God honor. They do therefore that which Revelation expects and hopes as an activity corresponding to salvation by all inhabitants of the earth (cf. 14:6-7). With this view of God's final selffulfillment at the end of history, John is now able to move from the first part of his visions beyond the gloomy perspective of 6: 15-17; 9:20-21 to a vision of ultimate salvation. (11:14) This verse again takes up the enumeration of the three final trumpets, introduced in 8: 13 and 9: 12, but as three "woes" appears difficult to explain in the present context. Why did it not happen im-



mediately after 9:21 ? But more important, how can the announcement of a third woe be reconciled with the actual content of the last trumpet vision? Two answers are conceivable: either the announcement here was mistakenly omitted from an early draft of the trumpet visions, which ended with a catastrophe, or-more likely-we are dealing here, as perhaps also in 9: 12, with the addition of a pedantic annotator who wanted to divert from 8: 13 an enumeration that was not at all intended by the author.


Revelation 11 :1 5-1 9

The Seventh Trumpet

Text 11 : 1 5 And the seventh angel blew a trumpet signal. There sounded forth mighty voices in heaven, saying, "The lordship over the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and they shall reign for ever and ever. " 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who are and who was, for you have seized your great power and you have become King. 18 The nations became enraged, but your wrath came, and the time to judge the dead, to reward your servants, the prophets and the saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth." 19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, thunder, earthquakes, and heavy hail.

Analysis Unlike the six preceding trumpet visions, the seventh one does not deal with God's battle to establish himself on earth. This battle concludes victoriously with v. 13. Here we have now a heavenly event, namely, the proclamation of the conclusive assuming of the lordship by God and Jesus Christ (v. 15b) as well as, in response, the prayer of thanksgiving of the twenty-four elders (vv. 17-18). This is, therefore, a view of the consummation of history, and indeed it is incomparably clearer than in the final seal vision (8: 1). At the same time the circle begun in chap. 4 is now closed: there praise of the Creator was at stake, but here the dominant theme is thanksgiving that this Creator has not deserted his creation but rather has established his justice in its sphere. 136


Commentary 111:15) The consummation of the mystery of God, announced in 10:7,

commences with the seventh trumpet signal. Heavenly voices cry out God's ultimate victory. We do not know whose voices these are. Because the following prayer of thanksgiving is sung by the twenty-four elders, one could conclude that here, as in 4:8, it is the four creatures who open the heavenly act of worship. Their proclamation takes up the Old Testament expectation of God's kingdom (lsa. 24:23; 33:22; Mic. 4:7; Zech. 14: 16-1 7). In this proclamation it is not a matter of the general world rule of the Creator; rather, the end-time royal power of God becomes manifest in all regions of the world. This manifestation of God's royal power presupposes the destruction of all powers and authorities opposing God (Isaiah 24-27; Obadiah 21). This expectation is now fulfilled; together with his anointed one (Ps. 2:2) God has assumed the reins of lordship over the world. Here the "world" is to be understood as the realm of humanity and nations. However, it is also presupposed that God's victory over those who resist him also extends to nature and the entire creaturely world. When God in the end time assumes dominion, the whole world will be whole. The closing lines emphasize that this dominion is nothing transitory, but rather is final. God's lordship, which is now realizing itself in the world, will last forever. 111:16) The twenty-four elders pay homage to God in that they fall down before him in worship. This proskynesis (obeisance) is described almost verbatim as in 4: 10-an indication that this is not a new kind of heavenly worship. It is the same worship that takes place continuously in heaven; it has simply achieved a new dimension, namely, that of offering thanks to God for the ultimate victory over his enemies. 111:17) The introductory formula ofthe prayer of thanksgiving, "We give

you thanks" (eucharistoumen soi), is the only phrase in the hymns of Revelation for which a simultaneous use can, with certainty, be authenticated in primitive Christian worship; among other places, it is found in the Lord's Supper prayers in Did. 9:2, 3; 10:2, 4. Because the prayer exhibits no additional resemblances to the Lord's Supper liturgy, as a whole it cannot be understood as a Eucharistic prayer. However, an intended allusion could be present in the formulation of the introduction: the victory of God, which the community celebrating the meal requests and for which it simultaneously gives thanks, has now become manifest before all the world. Pointing in a similar direction is the fact that the familiar designation of God in 1:4, 8; 4:8, "who is and who was and who is to come," is shortened here in the address of the prayer with the omission of the last part: the coming of God, the last demonstration of his power over history, not yet here but longed for by the church, is now realized! Because God has "taken" (i.e., put into effect) his great power that he had at his disposal from the very beginning, he is present. 137

Revelation 11:15-19

[11:18] The basis for thanks is more precisely given in that we are told

how this coming of God is executed in detail. The twofold direction of this coming is stressed: God comes to save as well as to judge. To the rebellion of the nations against him (cf. Ps. 2: 1-5; 99: 1), God responds with the demonstration of his wrath and destroys the resistance. The time has now come for his judgment, which includes all people, even the dead (cf. 20: 11-15). In this judgment his wrath falls on all who have corrupted the earth (cf. 19:2): rebellion against God and destruction of the earth are seen together here directly as cause and effect. Wherever God's will is not taken seriously as that of the Creator and where humankind misuses the earth as an instrument and means of its own self-realization, God's good creation is corrupted. Human relationship to God not only is a matter of the inner realm but radiates forth to all areas of life. Where it is destroyed, the earth is also implicated. No other New Testament book presents this insight, which is so fundamental to us in view of today's environmental problems, as pointedly as Revelation. At the same time, however, God's coming means salvation for his servants-in fact, for all who have been faithful to him in obedience, the "small" and the "great" (13: 16; 19:5, 18; 20: 12). They receive their reward according to the measure of their works (cf. at 20: 13). [11:19] We have here an impressive concluding image: the heavenly temple (cf. 6:9; 8:3) opens, and the innermost part, the archetype of the Holy of Holies of the earthly temple, closed to all trespassers, becomes visible. Before all eyes the heavenly archetype of the ark of the covenant appears. Without doubt an appearance by God himself is supposed to be intimated here. For the mysterious ark, which originally had its place in the meeting tent during the desert period, is frequently associated in the Old Testament with theophany portrayals (cf. Isa. 33:3, 10; Ps. 99: 1). The classic elements that accompany a theophany-lightning, voices, thunder, earthquakes, and hail-are also mentioned here (cf. Exod. 19: 16-19; Ps. 18: 13; 104:7; Isa. 30:30). God himself enters from his heavenly hidden ness in order to reclaim, for all to see, the earth, which has been liberated from his adversaries-that is the meaning of this view toward the time of consummation, a view which hastens far ahead of the dangerous present. By it the Jewish idea that the ark of the covenant must remain concealed from all Gentile eyes is pointedly-and perhaps somewhat polemically-preserved.


Revelation 12:1-19:10

Second Series of Visions: The End Event as God's Struggle with His Adversary

Form A large caesura lies between 11: 19 and 12: 1. With the view toward the consummation of the mysteries of God (10:7) in 11: 19, the first part of the visions has reached its end, the theme of which was the lordship of Jesus Christ over history and the establishment of it. This series of visions beginning with 12: 1 is not a continuation, but a complementary supplement of everything heretofore. John makes a fresh beginning to portray the end event from a different perspective that he has, except for a few intimations, avoided to this point. The struggle between God and his satanic adversary as well as the place of the church in this struggle now becomes the determinative theme. Why is it mentioned only now? Apparently John wanted to avoid the misunderstanding that Satan was an equally powerful, equally real, and equally eternal counterpart to God-a countergod, as it were. Biblical faith in God was always sharply differentiated from such dualism and stressed, in contrast to it, the singular efficacy and singular omnipotence of God. Thus, all satanology, all speculative teaching regarding the origin and essence of the evil one, is also foreign to it. Revelation remains faithful to this starting point when it poses the question of the presence and work of the evil one only after it has made it clear that God the Creator and sovereign ruler is Lord of history, and that his commission upon Jesus Christ for the discharge of his sovereign will is the only strength that determines and brings about the end event. The question of the evil one necessarily results from the experience of its reality. 139

Revelation 12:1-19:10

Revelation treats the issue in all seriousness in 12: 1-19: 10, without, however, also losing sight for even a moment of the connection to the first part of the visions (4: I-II: 19). What is said there about the lordship of God and Jesus Christ remains the basis and leitmotif of the argument, which is expressed particularly in the numerous compositional retrospective references and cross-connections to it. According to the standards of speculative logic, one may substantiate here a contradiction: if God is truly the one and only sovereign ruler, can there still be room in the world and in history for demonic powers? But the starting point of Revelation is not determined by such abstract speculation, but rather by the real-world experience of faith. In its daily existence the church experiences the reality of demonic powers and authorities. The church is not told where these powers come from, but only that because of the end-time victory of God in Jesus Christ, they are already conquered in heaven and have no more future. It must learn to understand the circumstances and events of the present as parts of that intense final battle in which the evil one once again wishes to establish on earth his whole demonic authority before it is finally destroyed here also by God. This part of the vision corpus is characterized by an extremely diverse spectrum of portrayal, ranging from myth (chap. 12) to the analysis of pressing circumstances in the political and social context of the church (chaps. 13 and 17). A metaphoric language that could hardly be surpassed in terms of drastic imagery and boldness is put in the service here of a passionate, relevant connection to the situation. Undoubtedly, this section forms the true climax of John's message to the Christians of Asia Minor-and, beyond that, to the church of all eras.


Revelation 12:1-18

The Woman, the Dragon, and the Child

Text 12: 1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 And she was with child and cried out in her pains and suffered the anguish of delivery. 3 And another portent appeared in heaven; and behold, a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour the child as soon as it was born. . 5 And she bore a son, a male child who would rule all nations with an iron rod. Then her child was caught up to God and to his throne. 6 But the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place which God had prepared for her so that she would be nourished there one thousand two hundred sixty days. 7 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels (rose up) in order to make war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels battled, 8 but the dragon could not hold its ground and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the ancient serpent, called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels with him. 10 And I heard a mighty voice in heaven, saying, I. Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our


Revelation 12:1-18



13 14

15 16



God and the authority of his annointed has dawned! For the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accused them day and night before our God. II. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. III. Therefore, rejoice, 0 heaven, and all who dwell therein! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you and has great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who had borne the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly into the wilderness to the place where she would be nourished for a time and (two) times and half a time, far from the serpent. Then the serpent spewed water from his mouth, like a river, after the woman in order to carry her away in the flood. Then the earth came to the aid of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had spewed from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious over the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and bear witness to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Excursus: Myth in the Revelation of John Within Revelation this chapter holds a special place, for it is the only chapter in which myth is inserted clearly and directly as a means of depiction. By "myth," the science of the study of religion understands a narrative portrayal of primordial proceedings between gods, demonic powers, and heroes, which wishes to provide information regarding the origin and essence of the world, the place of human beings in it, and the genesis of the relationships and norms that define their existence. Myth seeks to explain what is now and what is experienced as real in that it interprets it as a consequence of an event between supernatural beings. Indeed, two very ancient mythological traditions have been used here. The first of these traditions surely goes back finally to the astrological myth of the goddess of heaven who gives birth to the sun every day, and of the dragon of darkness who pursues to devour her. So goes the Egyptian saga that the pregnant goddess, Hathor or Isis, pursued by the red dragon, Typhon or Seth, fled to an island in the Nile delta, where she bore her child, the sun god, Horus. When Horus had grown up, he engaged Seth-Typhon in battle and killed him. The Asia Minor-Hellenistic variants of this saga deal with the goddess Leto. When the great dragon Python, the oracle serpent of Delphi, had learned that Apollo, the yet-unborn child of Leto, was going to destroy him, he laid in wait for her. On the island of Delos, to which the north wind had delivered Leto for safekeeping, she bore Apollo and his twin sister, Diana. Only four days after his birth, Apollo left to kill the dragon. In the background of the second tradition that is assimilated here 142


stands the myth of the battle of the gods in heaven and of the defeat of Satan, the oldest form of which can be reconstructed from Ugaritic texts. EI Elyon, the highest god, sits enthroned in the midst of his royal court on the world mountain. Helel, Schachar's son, a mighty warrior, wanted to be like him; he stormed the mountain in order to rule there as king of the universe. But he did not succeed and was thrown down into the depths of the underworld. Here there is also a Greek variation: the saga of the earthly giants who wanted to ascend to heaven as they scaled the highest peaks, Ossa and Olympus, but were killed by Apollos with arrows. Here it is a matter of resisting the attacks of the chaotic powers on the world order by the highest deity and, thus, providing the knowledge of the reliability of the world. Motifs of this myth are also found in the Old Testament, characteristically in demythologized, unhistorical form. Arrogance and the fall offoreign rulers were glossed in the portrait of the heavenly battle and defeat of the gods. One supporting reference for this is the taunting song to the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14), the "son of Dawn" who had fallen "from heaven," who wanted to ascend to heaven to be "like the Most High," but who was thrown down from there into the deepest parts of the underworld (lsa. 14: 13-15). Another reference is the satirical funereal lament to the king of Tyre in Ezek. 28: 11-19, which reads, "You were on the holy mountain of God, ... and you sinned; so I cast you ... from the mountain of God .... I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you .... You have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever." How and why have these mythological traditions been assimilated in Revelation? There is scarcely any support for the idea that John directly used preexisting written sources that contained these myths in a definite form. Rather, everything points to the idea that John shaped in very free fashion both myths, the basic elements of which he knew from popular tradition and whose familiarity among his readers he could assume. He joined them together and used them for his own theological purposes. Indeed, he used the myth of the battle of heaven and fall of Satan to locate the place of satanic power in the context of the end event: there is no longer any room "in heaven" for God's adversary, Satan; in God's realm, where Jesus Christ is already proclaimed as Lord over the world and history, he is already defeated and judged. On earth, however, in the realm of history that is moving toward its end, where the vain resistance of God's enemies develops its full strength once more before the end, yet "his time is short." The fact that he is already judged in heaven allows him to fight for his authority all the more embitteredly. The adversary of God risks everything to keep his hold on history, which is moving to its end, as the realm of his dominion. The myth of the woman and the child now serves to describe the place of the church in the context of the end event. The fact that the population of Jerusalem and, beyond that, the salvation community of the Old Testament, gathering around the temple there, could be portrayed in the image of a woman, the "daughter of Zion" (lsa. 1:8; Jer. 143

Revelation 12:1-18

4:31; 4 Ezra 9:38ff.), made possible the transfer of the mythical picture of the woman to the church. Interpreting the divine child as the messianic bringer of salvation is also suggested by the Old Testament (Isa. 7:14; 9:5). What is new and not concealed by the forms of myth familiar to us is, on the one hand, the distinction between the fate of the woman-she remains on earth and is afflicted further by the dragon-and that of her child, who is translated to heaven and taken from the grasp of the hostile power. On the other hand, what is also new is the introduction offurther descendants of the woman, who also suffer the wrath of the dragon on earth. Both are specific points provided by John, which are to make clear that the salvation community is joined directly to its Lord but does not yet visibly participate in his victory over the powers. While its Lord is in heaven, it is still on earth, which means it is still where the dragon has made the final bastion of his dominion. So it must count on the fact that the enmity of the satanic powers, intended for its Lord, bursts on them with full force. Because the place of the church in the present age is not heaven but earth, this church is not a triumphant one, but rather one that suffers and is mortally afflicted. Elsewhere in the story one also finds a series of original myths with foreign characteristics, by the introduction of which John offers Christian interpretative accents. Thus we have the motif of the messianic cries of pain (v. 2), the identification of the child with the messianic ruler of Psalm 2 (v. 5) and of the dragon with the serpent of the story of the Fall (v. 9), as well as the reference to the three and a halftimes of the affliction (v. 14). Conversely, however, one also finds several traits adopted from the myth, the integration of which is not all that successful and which therefore seems curiously out of place in this story. The birth of the divine child by the woman especially belongs in this category. Because John interprets this in terms of the church, the conclusion could be suggested that the church appears here as the mother of the Messiah-but this interpretation is surely not intended. Similar incongruities resulting from incorporated traditions appear in v. 2, where the messianic woes of the people of God proceed from the birth of the Messiah, and in vv. 5-6, where the place of the threat to the woman and her child is the earth; v. 7, however, presupposes that the dragon dwells in heaven, to be expelled only after the exaltation of the child on earth. What induces John to breach his otherwise strictly historical style of portrayal and insert a mythological story? In order to sketch the presuppositions that define the present situation of the church he must relate a prehistory, but it is a prehistory that lacks the dimension of the historical. Discussion of the power of the evil one that governs the present is different from discussion of the power and lordship over the world of Jesus Christ. If the latter can be grounded in the singular activity of God by means of which the history of the world has been set in motion toward its end, the former lacks such a historical grounding and such a historical reference point. John appears to wish to suggest precisely this when he resorts to a mythological metaphoric language in which the contours of space and time become strikingly blurred. Such a figurative 144


narrative style finally takes into account the fact that God's adversary is nothing before God, the Creator and Lord of history.

Form The story is structured in three scenes (vv. 1-6; vv. 7-12; vv. 13-18). The first and third are closely related to each other and form a frame, as it were, around the second. The middle scene contains the central theological statements on which the whole triptych is placed. Commentary ~12:1) The chapter begins, not with a vision of the seer (cf. 4: 1; 5: 1; 6: 1; 7: 1, and elsewhere), but with the description of an extraordinary appearance in heaven. A woman becomes visible who is enveloped by the rays of the sun, like a robe; beneath her feet is the moon, and twelve stars encircle her head, like a diadem. Obviously a particular stellar constellation is being considered here: whenever the sun passes into the sign of Virgo, which was often equated with Isis by the ancients, then the full moon stands at her feet in the night sky. This heavenly phenomenon, visible to all, is interpreted now as a "portent," that is, as a proclaiming reference to events of the end time. Quite analogously in early Christian apocalyptic tradition, mention is made of more or less extraordinary heavenly signs that signal a coming event (Mark 13:24-25; Matt. 24:2930; Luke 21 :25). In the Middle Ages devotion to Mary saw the mother of Jesus in Virgo, and from these the picture of the queen of heaven became a central motif of ecclesiastical painting and sculpture. Yet the context rules out this interpretation of a specific historical figure. The heavenly woman, rather, is an image of the end-time salvation community, a symbol of the church. She is the heir of the promises ofthe Old Testament people of God; pointing to this is the reference to the twelve stars (cf. Gen. 37:9), which symbolize the holy twelve tribes in their end-time fullness and perfection (cf. 7:4-8; 14:1). Against the possibility that the heavenly woman refers to the people of God of the old covenant, out of which the Messiah was born, is both the continuation of the story (vv. 13-17) and quite generally the fact that nowhere in Revelation is the question of the relationship ofIsrael to the church treated as a theological theme. The certainty that the church has her roots in Israel and that now she has entered into the claims of Israel is sufficient for it (cf. 7:4-8). Also, considerations of whether the heavenly woman may be understood as a heavenly prototype of the church, as a community of the consummation, find no support in the text, which clearly speaks in what follows of the earthly fate ofthis woman and localizes her place on earth. That the woman appears "in heaven" does not indicate a serious contradiction when one recognizes that here heaven is introduced not as the place of God and his heavenly assembly but as the firmament on which an appearance of symbolic significance becomes visible. That the woman is clothed by the sun and stands above the moon-no different than the crown of stars-signifies the promises to the church: to her is promised the future consummation and the triumph over the powers of darkness. 145

Revelation 12:1-18

[12:2) John next discusses her present perilous state: she is to bear a child

and is in the agony oflabor. Certainly this is not only intended to describe realistically the birth scene, which is taken from the myth; it also serves as a fundamental characterization of the situation of the salvation community in the present, preparing it for what is to come: it is afflicted and shaken by the "woes" of the end time, those hardships that, according to apocalyptic expectation, precede the time of the consummation of salvation. Thus, Mic. 4:9-10 mentions the painful woes of the "daughter [of] Zion" (cf. Isa. 26: 17; 1QH 3:7-12; John 16: 19-23). Specifically understood is the "affliction" imposed on the church now, which demands "endurance" from the church and her members (cf. at 1:9). [12:3) When a second heavenly "portent" is contrasted to the first, the basic structure of everything that follows is outlined. Again, this could be a reference to a familiar appearance in the sky: as the constellation of the sea-serpent Typhon faces that of Virgo, so the salvation community now is confronted by her embittered enemy. It is more precisely described as a red dragon. As in ancient Oriental myths, the chaotic power on which God has declared war appears in the Old Testament embodied in the form of a sea monster, Leviathan, whose name is rendered in the LXX as "dragon" (Ps. 74: 14; Job 7: 12; Amos 9:3). Red is the color of death and of mortal threat. The frightfulness of the dragon is seen in the fact that it, unlike any other living creature, has several heads (Ps. 74: 13). Beyond that, an anticipatory reference to 13: 1 is made with the seven heads and the ten horns: the beast that the dragon arouses from the sea as his likeness and that is the symbol of the satanic empire also has seven heads and ten horns. Similarly, the beast upon which the great harlot rides has seven heads and ten horns (1 7:3). In the last instance this symbolism goes back to the vision of empires in Daniel 7 (cf. at 13: I). In the dragon are associated the claim to power, symbolized by the seven diadems, and the capacity to destroy. [12:4) This verse refers to the destructive power. As the "small horn" in Dan. 8:9-10, symbolizing the dreadful King Antiochus Epiphanes, grows

up to heaven in order to hurl stars from there to the earth, so here the dragon sweeps the stars from the sky with its tail. The first and central object of its destructive power is the child of the woman. Thus it stands immediately before her to await the birth and to devour the newborn child forthwith. The heavenly picture thus makes visible a situation of inescapable threat. [12:5) This picture now begins, as it were, to take on life; a dramatic activity develops from it, the location of which is first the earth (vv. 5-6), then heaven (vv. 7-12), and then again the earth (vv. 13-18). At its beginning is the birth of the child whose special place is emphasized by references to messianic promises in the Old Testament: according to Isa. 7: 14, the "young woman" will bear a "son," the end-time bringer of



salvation, and Isa. 66:7 speaks of a "son" to whom the daughter of Zion gives birth after her pains. Ps. 2:9 describes the royal authority of the Davidic Messiah, who will rule the nations "with a rod ofiron"-that is, he will bring all Gentiles under his dominion and judgment (cf. 2:27). As these predicates characterize the newborn child as the future end-time world ruler, the cause for the hostility of the dragon becomes clear: the child is his rival because it challenges his claim to world dominion. In spite of its threatening appearance, the dragon proves itself to be powerless, for the child is translated to the place of God (i.e., to heaven). The passive verb form (passivum divinum) indicates that God himself is the One who seizes the initiative. Whoever would like to find here pi votal moments from the earthly history of Jesus of Nazareth in the birth and translation of the child confronts the difficulty that the central event of this history-namely, the cross-goes unmentioned. But even the attempt by some to interpret the messianic birth not in terms of the event at Bethlehem but rather in terms of the resurrection and exaltation, which in fact could be understood in light of Ps. 2:7 ("You are my son; today I have begotten you"), is not persuasive. For here it is a matter of the tense juxtaposition of human birth and danger to the child, on the one hand, and its exaltation by divine intervention, on the other. The absence of the cross can also be explained from the concentration on this juxtaposition; the earthly path of Jesus is as little in mind here as his work of salvation and its result. By divine intervention the child not only is secure from danger but also is given the status of ruler, which is reserved for him: the throne of God to which he is taken is precisely the place from which the lamb exercises his dominion (5:6). [12:6) With this verse the point of the first section of the story is formulated, which lies in the separation of the fate of the woman from that of the child. Unlike what is in the familiar forms of the underlying myth, the woman is not rescued with her child, or before its birth; instead, she remains further exposed to affliction by.the dragon. With her flight into the wilderness the theme of the third scene is already introduced (vv. 1317). The wilderness is here similarly a place of necessary immigration as well as of preservation. Those who were persecuted in the cities and in civilized lands withdrew to the wilderness, as Elijah did. Reference might be made here to the miraculous provision of food that was given to him by the ravens (1 Kgs. 17:2-6) and by the angel (1 Kgs. 19:5-9); but it is also conceivable that this is a reference to the feeding oflsrael with quail and manna during its wandering in the wilderness (Exodus 16). The duration of the woman's stay in the wilderness is given by the mysterious number "1,260 days," that is, by a variation of the measurement that Revelation uses to describe the time period of affliction that is limited by God (cf. 11 :2, 11). The salvation community faces times of affliction and danger, but God will not leave them without his care and help; he will see to it that his adversary does not achieve his aim of destroying them. But one 147

Revelation 12:1-18

will be frustrated in trying to find, beyond that, any contemporary references-for example, to the flight of the Jerusalem primitive church during the Jewish War to Pella in the Decapolis. (12:7-8( The course of the narrative is interrupted here in a way that appears to be most ungrounded. A new scene begins that takes place in heaven. There the hosts of God are gathered under their leader, the archangel Michael, to do battle against the dragon. A familiar notion from apocalyptic tradition is thus taken up: Michael was seen as the angel of Israel who superintends the angels of the nations (Dan. 10: 13; 1 Enoch 9-10; T. Naph. 8-9). As general of the divine armies he is responsible for combatting Satan (1 Enoch 20:5; IQM 9:15-16; 17:33ff.; Jude 9). How does the dragon suddenly appear in heaven, when in v. 5 he had appeared on earth? The conflict is explained when one recognizes that here "heaven" is a place reference that was theologically motivated by the preceding: it is the place of God from which now Jesus, on the basis of his exaltation, also exercises his lordship. But wherever Jesus reigns, wherever the world dominion of the lamb is already established, there the adversary of God has neither a place nor rights (v. 8). With the assumption of the mythical portrait of a heavenly battle against Satan, a replacement is indirectly provided here for the destruction of the dragon by the son of the divine mother, a destruction that is demanded by the myth of the birth of the child, yet with the important modification that the victory over the adversary is confined, for the time being, only to heaven; the victory on earth still remains open, which is where the salvation community has its place. The exalted One himself does not enter the action here; it is up to the prince of the angels to carry out his victory visibly. (12:9] The significance of this victory is that it reveals the identity of the dragon and thus exposes a broad theological system of connections. It is none other than the "ancient serpent," the tempter from the story of paradise that had deceived humanity into rebellion against God (Gen. 3:1). His two names, which are synonymous in meaning, prove him to be God's adversary: Greek diabolos, "devil," is the translation of the Hebrew word satan, "enemy" or "adversary." In its later stages the Old Testament knows the form of such an adversary, which is still seen as one belonging to God's heavenly court and thus as a power subordinate to God (Job 1:6; Zech. 3: I). Its function is to appear as accuser and to bring before God's tribunal all that speaks against human beings. Only in postbiblical literature does it embody evil and the negative counterpart to God. Now he appears as the leader of a demonic army that does battle with God's angels (2 Enoch 29:5). In addition, Revelation sees here in Satan the mysterious power that from the beginning of human history personified resistance against God and whose design it was to bring human beings under its influence and thus acquire dominion over the world. Now, however, this intention of Satan is thwarted by the victory of Jesus Christ. A similar view of the fall of Satan in the sense of the end-



time disempowerment of Satan by the path and destiny of Jesus is also found in Luke 10: 18 and John 12:31. (12:10-12) What is new here is the specific point, according to which Satan is indeed disempowered in heaven but continues to exercise power on earth for a limited time. It is clearly expressed in the hymn, in which a heavenly voice-presumably that of the four creatures and the twentyfour elders before the throne of God (cf. 4:10-11; 5:8-9; 11:15-16)comments on the event. In it the two stand side by side: the praise of God and his anointed one, to whom the victory in heaven is to be attributed (vv. IOb-12a), and the cry of woe over the earth in view of the misfortune that still threatens it from the dragon (v. 12b), whereby both in form and in content praise is the dominant element. This hymn is the high point and the center of chap. 12. In it the level of the mythological story is broken into three parts. First, in the introduction (v. lOa), what follows is characterized as the result of a prophetic voice that is mediated by the Spirit, while elsewhere in the entire chapter references to prophetic seeing and hearing are absent. Second, in v. lOb there follows a precisely fixed time reference of the "now" of the salvation-historical situation between Easter and the Parousia that goes beyond the timelessness of myth. Third, going hand in hand with the latter is a perspective on the path and destiny of the present church. With that, the climax is reached on which John wishes to interpret the mythological story (v. IOc). In form the hymn can be outlined in three strophes of four lines, three lines, and four lines. Strophe 1 (vv . lOb-c) opens with a proclamation of victory that is reminiscent of 11: 15b. The crucial turn in God's story with his world has now taken place: God has established his power for the salvation of his creation; he has caused his kingdom to dawn, doing so in such a way that he has transferred power to his anointed one. What is meant by that is the incident, depicted in 5:6-7, of the empowerment of the Lamb with carrying out on earth the divine plan of history. The "now" thus describes the salvation-historical period of Christ'.s lordship, which is revealed by the event of cross and resurrection and in which the church lives. The motivation that follows in v. 10c is also aimed entirely at the situation of the church: that the believers on earth who are addressed here literally as "our brothers" by the heavenly creatures "now" already are subordinate to the kingdom and live in terms of it is a result of the fact that Satan is overthrown and therefore has no more power over them. It is surprising that Satan is characterized here with a word like "accuser" (Gr. kategor), which appears nowhere else in the New Testament. In terms of the history of the motif this forms an association with the notion of Satan as the accuser of human beings before the divine tribunal (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5; Zech. 3: I). This does not mean that the dominant view of Satan in this chapter as God's adversary should be minimized, but rather that a particular aspect of his activity is highlighted: his aim is to destroy the relationship of God with human beings. But now the church learns that Satan can no longer force a wedge between it and God. Because Jesus


Revelation 12:1-18

Christ is Lord of his people, no power is able to separate them from the love of God (cf. Rom. 8:33-35). Strophe II (v. II) extends the motivation further: not only does the earthly church live in the certainty of the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, but the church itself has also shared in this victory in that it is repeatedly realized in its own existence. The church is the flock that has been purchased by the atoning power of the blood of the lamb (5:9-10) and that is therefore God's possession, over which no other power can any longer claim control. By its presence on earth, the church becomes a sign pointing ahead of time to the victory of Jesus Christ precisely by delivering the testimony entrusted to it in the struggle with the power of Satan, which is still present on earth, and by accepting fearlessly the consequences resulting from that which may lead to loss of life. Because believers stand unreservedly on the side of Christ and have entered into his victory, they can do nothing else but include this victory in their testimony. But because they still live on earth, which is presently Satan's battlefield, such a testimony necessarily takes the form of the "overcoming" that suffers (cf. at 2:7). Indeed, this testimony is also then victory when it leads to apparent defeat because in it the church does not proclaim its own claims to power but rather represents the cause of him who is already proclaimed in heaven as victor. It corresponds to the rigor of Revelation when martyrdom appears in an expression, sounding like Mark 8:34-35, not only as a special calling of a few, but rather as a possibility with which all Christians must fundamentally reckon because it results from the enmity toward the testimony entrusted to them. Strophe III (v. 12) opens with a summons to rejoice, followed by a cry of mourning. The commencement ofthe lordship of Jesus Christ and the fall of Satan have two sides: salvation and disaster. The rejoicing is confined in the present time to heaven, the realm of God and his angels, where Satan no longer has a place. The confinement is even more striking by the intentional similarity to Old Testament formulations in which heaven and earth are called to rejoice over the commencement of God's dominion (lsa. 44:23; Ps. 96: II). Earth is excluded from rejoicing because the victory achieved in heaven has not yet been made manifest there. On the contrary, Satan has descended to it in order to make it the arena for his final desperate stand against God. That the sea is expressly mentioned with the earth corresponds to the biblical worldview, according to which the region beneath the firmament consists of land and water (cf. 21:1). While the inhabitants of heaven are named with acclamation, a similar mention of the inhabitants of the earth is absent in the cry of woe. That is surely no accident, for Revelation designates throughout as "inhabitants of the earth" those persons who are enemies of God (3:10; 6:10;8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2,8),butnevermembers of the church. However, the cry of woe is fundamentally to apply to the latter as well as to the former: to the persons who are enemies of God in the sense of an announcement of the judgment that God will carry out on his adversary and those who are ruled by him, but to the faithful in the 150


sense of an admonition to remain vigilant and fearless in the face of the afflictions coming to them in the form of Satan's final earthly demonstration of power. Satan will unfold his power boundlessly-but the time provided him for this is limited. He has only a short period of time, which will end when God's plan for history, entrusted to the lamb, will have achieved its aim. (12:13] The third scene of the chapter now begins, which has to do with the most extreme threat and miraculous preservation of the salvation community on earth. The mythological manner of portrayal is taken up again as the narrative threads of the two preceding scenes (vv. 1-6 and vv. 7-12) are tied together. The dragon, which was expelled from heaven to earth, immediately carries out there the announcement of the cry of woe in v. 12c as it uses the brief time given to him there to persecute the salvation community, depicted in the mother ofthe child. Because it was unable to seize the messianic child, its great anger is now directed toward the woman.

(12:14] This verse refers back to the narrative in v. 6 in order to recapitulate and develop it further: God assists the woman in finding in the desert a place of shelter and safety. In a new variation the mysterious time of three and a half years appears here (v. 6; 11 :3; 13:5), this time (in connection with Dan. 7:25) as a description of the period of time of the affliction that is limited by God's saving will. With her rescue the same thing befalls the woman as befell the salvation community of Israel, which had been led by God as "on eagles' wings" out of Egypt into the wilderness (Exod. 19:4; Deut. 32: 11). As Israel has been miraculously fed then with manna, so also will the church be nourished and kept alive by God. (12:15-16] Here an Old Testament typology is curiously blended with mythological motifs. In what may be an association with the ancient mythological notion of the dragon of chaos as a monster of the sea, the pursuer here appears as a water creature (Ezek. 29:3; 32:2; Ps. 74: 14) and tries to drown the woman with the flood that proceeds out of its mouth. It also sounds mythological when the earth intervenes like an acting person, as it were, who comes to the aid of the woman in distress and absorbs the flood of water. At the same time, however, the formulation of v. 16 is reminiscent of an incident from Israel's period in the wilderness: against Dathan and Abiram, insurgents against God, the earth opened its mouth in order to devour them (Num. 16:32; Deut. 11 :6; cf. Ps. 106: 17). The possibility is not to be ruled out completely that the memory of Israel's rescue from the floodwaters of the Red Sea (Exod. 14: 16) also played a role here. In any case, the sense of the passage is clear: Because God stands with his church, the destructive powers summoned by his adversary, depicted in the picture of floods of water (Ps. 32:6; 124:4, and elsewhere), cannot extinguish it.


Revelation 12:1-18

[12:17) The story again takes a surprising turn. Because the dragon sees that it cannot destroy the woman herself, its anger now shifts toward her other children, and it devises a battle plan against them, the realization of which is reported in chap. 13. What lies behind the distinction between the woman and "the rest of her children," and how should it be understood? In all likelihood it goes back to an interpretation of Gen. 3: 15, God's announcement in the story of the fall that there would be enmity between the "seed" of the serpent and the "seed" of the woman. In any case, the identification of the dragon with the serpent in paradise in v. 9 points in this direction. A further root seems to be present in the tradition cited earlier by Paul (Gal. 4:26), according to which the children of believers belong to "the Jerusalem above"-portrayed as a woman (cf. at 21 :2). If John is introducing the "rest of the children" of the woman here as a special entity, it is because for him a distinction appears necessary between the destiny of the individual believers and that of the church. As a salvation-historical entity established by God, the church stands under God's protection. It cannot be destroyed because Christ's work of salvation, whose fruit she is, cannot be revoked. But that does not mean that the individual members of this church could expect preservation and exemption in the end-time events. On the contrary, they must expect failure and physical destruction (cf. 13:9-10). In the two features of these faithful people that are presented the rigor of Revelation's understanding of the church is manifested: members of the church "keep the commandments of God"; that is, in the midst of a world governed by disobedience to God, they stand up for the will of God in unconditional obedience (cf. 14:12). Furthermore, they "hold the testimony of Jesus" (cf. 1:9; 6:9; 12:11; 20:4). [12:18) In pursuit of his new plan the dragon stands at the edge ofthe sea. (Some manuscripts, which older editions of the Luther Bible as well as the Zurich Bible follow, read here instead, "And I stood ... ," that results in a completely different meaning of the sentence, for it thereby becomes the introduction of a new account of a vision by John. But that reading, which is not supported by the reliable ancient manuscripts, is certainly not original.) Why does the dragon go to the sea? For the Jews who were not seafaring people, the sea is generally a sinister region where the only reliable mainland leads to the threatening underworld (cf. 21: 1). Moreover, for the inhabitants ofthe Orient of that time, the sea could easily be associated with the Roman world power. Indeed, it was over the Mediterranean Sea that the Romans had come to their country. Thus, according to 4 Ezra 11: 1 (cf. 12: 11), the Roman eagle, which proclaims the victories of the world empire, comes from the sea. Here the boundary is reached at which the timeless mythological view ofthe world event crosses over into an allegorical-symbolic depiction of the very real present.


Revelation 13:1-10

The Beast from the Sea and Its Power

Text 13: 1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast which I saw resembled a panther, and its feet (resembled) those of a bear, and its mouth (resembled) the mouth of a lion. And to it the dragon gave its powers, its throne, and its great might. 3 And one of its heads (appeared) to be mortally wounded; but its mortal wound was healed. And the whole earth attended after the beast with wonder, 4 and they threw themselves down before the dragon in reverence because it had given its might to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?" 5 And the beast was given a mouth in order to utter arrogant words and blasphemous speech, and it was allowed to exercise might for forty-two months. 6 And it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling place (and) those who dwell in heaven. 7 And it was allowed to wage war against the saints and to conquer them, and it was allowed to exercise might over every tribe, every people, every tongue and nation. S And all inhabitants ofthe earth will worship it-(every one) whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. 9 If anyone has ears, let him hear:


Revelation 13:1-10 10 If anyone (is to be taken) captive, to captivity he goes. If anyone is to be slain by the sword, with the sword (he will) be slain. Here is the endurance and faith of the saints.

Analysis Nowhere in Revelation are the contemporary references so tensely clustered as in the twofold vision in chap. 13. Here events in John's immediate present are set against the horizon of God's revealed plan for history and from this perspective illuminated prophetically. In order to avoid becoming lost in the confusion of conjectures about details, the interpreter must account for (1) the underlying tradition of the section, (2) the peculiarity of the illustrative materials, as well as (3) the principle of portrayal that underlies the section. The basis for the vision is the tradition of the antichrist, the counter-Messiah that appears at the end-time. A preliminary stage of this tradition is found for the first time in Daniel (Dan. 9:27; 11 :31; 12: 11) and has its historical starting point in the irreligious Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV. Epiphanes. His desecration of the Jerusalem temple (167 B.C.), which he wanted to transform into a sanctuary of Zeus of Olympus, was a traumatic experience for Judaism. Out of that arose the expectation that at the end time, resistance to God would increase and a demonic dominating figure would place himself at the head of the rebellious powers and do battle with God's anointed One. Thus, the Qumran sect expected the appearance at the end of time of one who was cursed, one "from Belial," who, "in order to entangle his people and become a terror to all his neighbors," would make Jerusalem "a bulwark of godlessness" (4QTest. 22ff.). In the New Testament the technical term antichristos appears only in 1 John 2: 18,22; 4:3; and 2 John 7, but the concept is more widespread. Thus, the Synoptic apocalypse (Mark 13:6, 22) speaks of miracle-performing false prophets who claim to be messiahs. Events from the time of the Jewish War, when messiah pretenders appeared as seducers of the nation (cf. Acts 5:36-37) may have played a role here. The most distinct characteristic of this tradition is found in (certainly not Pauline) 2 Thessalonians: The "lawless one" will appear, "the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God" (2 Thess. 2:3-4). Revelation has taken up precisely this expectation of a man who appears as an instrument of God's adversary with the claim of bringing religious salvation, thereby venturing into competition with Jesus Christ. The material for this image essentially originates in the vision of the four kingdoms in Dan. 7:2-27. John has not, of course, employed it mechanically but rather has consciously adapted it to fit his own purposes. Daniel sees appearing from the sea, successively, a lion, a bear, a panther with four heads, as well as a monster with ten horns that crushes everything. These beasts are interpreted as the four last world empiresthe Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Diadochi Hellenistic



kingdoms. The ten horns of the fourth beast represent ten rulers, the last of whom is Antiochus Epiphanes. In Revelation only one beast appears, but it incorporates the characteristics of all four beasts in Daniel-to the extent that the seven heads form the sum of all the bestial heads in Daniel 7. Therefore, John is not concerned with making the vision in Daniel fit the actual historical sequence in his time, as was attempted in 4 Ezra 11. He did not want to illustrate a course of historical events, but rather to characterize the contemporary Roman Empire: for him it is clearly the demonic power. This demonic character is developed by means of a principle of portrayal that can be most accurately described as a parody approach. The entire scene is laid out as a distorted counterpart to the heavenly inauguration of the lamb to the world dominion in chap. 5. As the lamb receives the sealed scroll from the one seated on the throne (5:7) and with it receives power (5: 12), so is power transferred to the beast from the dragon (v. 2). As the lamb is ruler over human beings from every tribe, language, people, and nation whom it purchased with its blood (5:9), so also does the beast rule over every tribe, people, language, and nation (v. 7). As the heavenly creatures, as representatives of the whole creation, offer the lamb their homage (5: 12), so do all inhabitants of the earth fall down before the beast in homage and sing a hymn of praise to it (v. 4). As the distinguishing mark of the lamb is that of its slaughter (5:6), so also does the beast bear a mortal wound that is healed (v. 3). This parody approach is not confined to chap. 13, but proves to be, beginning here and continuing to the end of Revelation, a factor that essentially defines the composition of the book. Thus, the "great city" that is ruled by the beast appears as a negative counterpart to the city of the salvation community (chaps. 17; 21-22). Similarly, the great harlot of Babylon (17: 1-6) has her positive counterpart in the church, which is described as the bride of the lamb (19:7). Such a style of comparison by way of parody, in which certain sarcastic undertones are not absent, has an unmasking effect. By this manner of describing, the essence of the demonic power and the society under its rule is exposed. This power is also splendidly portrayed, but it is nothing unique, only a poor copy, even when it itself is not conscious of it! It is usurped power, born out of the negation of God and his claim to dominion, and therefore is capable of nothing constructive, but only of negation. As this becomes clear, at the same time a judgment upon the history of the world and of humanity is suggested: Since the exaltation of Jesus Christ to world ruler this history is determined by God's dominion, which has already dawned in hiddenness (cf. 5:9). The powers that rule in history have the alternative of either bowing before this dominion or fighting it as they themselves attempt to sit in the place of Jesus Christ, the true ruler of the world. Every power trusting only itself that does not inquire into God's claim on his world, and every society that is based on such autonomous power, becomes without fail a caricature of the authority of Jesus Christ and carries with it the traits of the antichrist. 155

Revelation 13: 1-1 0

Commentary (13:1] The vision opens with a description of the beast emerging out of

the sea. Standing on the shore, the dragon, which is none other than Satan himself, arouses for itself out of the sea, the region of threatening, chaotic forces and dreadful monsters (cf. Job 40: 15-32), his creature, which he needs in order to wage war victoriously against the salvation community, portrayed in chap. 12 in the image of the woman. The beast that rises from the deep is, to a certain extent, the dragon's mirror image: like him, it also has seven heads and ten horns (12:3). The only difference is that the dragon has as a sign of its claim to dominion seven diadems that rest directly on its seven heads, while ten diadems rest on the horns of the beast. Presumably this is explained by the fact that the horns are identified with kings in connection with Dan. 7:24 (cf. at 17: 12); thus, the signs of dominion had to be coordinated with them. Undoubtedly, the blasphemous names that stand on the horns refer to the titles of honor that were conferred on Roman emperors in order to declare their claim to divine veneration in the cult of the Caesar: divus (divine), augustus (exalted one), dominus ac deus (Lord and God). In any case, the identity of the beast is sufficiently explained for all readers ofthe time by means of the imagery taken from Daniel 7 together with these pointed allusions. It is the Roman world empire, which in the cult of the Caesar attributes to itself divine honor and thereby usurps the power that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. To these references may also be counted the fact that the beast emerges on land from the sea, just as the Roman troops did who occupied the eastern Mediterranean (cf. at 12: 18). (13:2] Following the heads, the body of the beast becomes visible to the seer. It is a strange hybrid creature that is part panther, part bear, and part lion. The writer is concerned not with providing a detailed description but rather with bringing together all of the traits in Dan. 7:2-8. Thus, he sees no discrepancy in the fact that the beast has seven heads, but only one mouth. The dragon "equips the beast with sovereign authority and grants it a share of his throne: in very concise form an enthronement scene is intimated here, which essentially corresponds to 5:7. (13:3a] A further reference in the style of parody to the enthronement of the lamb is established: one of the heads of the beast has a mortal wound, just like the lamb (5:6); this wound was healed again, just as Jesus also did not remain in death. What is specifically intended by the healed wound of the one head? This is most often explained as a reference to the popular legend, widespread in Asia Minor toward the end of the first century, of the return of Nero. According to one variant, this eccentric and dreadful emperor did not really kill himself in the year A.D. 68, but rather fled unrecognized from Rome to the Far East in order to return from there in the near future at the head of the Parthian cavalry forces and retake his



empire. According to another variant, Nero was thought to have truly died but was expected to return from the dead soon (Suet. Nero 57.2-3; Dio Chrys. Oralio 21.10; Sib. Or. 5.23-24). [13:3b-41 Following the festive enthronement is, as in 5:8-13, the presentation of the new ruler and homage before him. His entire realm of dominion-the earth (cf. 12: 12)-accords him divine praise harmoniously. The basis for this general readiness to worship him is surely not to be found only in the miraculous return of the presumably dead emperor. The latter is finally only a sign that confirms the irresistibility of the power that comes from the dragon. The dragon is expressly included in the homage as originator and guarantor of this power, just as homage of the lamb simultaneously includes worship of God (5: 13). The brief hymn, which the inhabitants of the earth sing to the beast as the visible exponent of power, demonstrates that this is an act of cultic-religious reverence. It is constructed in the style of Old Testament hymns and consists of two parallel rhetorical questions that allude, in parody, to the statements that praise God's saving power. From the rhetorical question, Who among the gods is like Yahweh? (Ps. 89:7; 113:5, and elsewhere) arises the question, Who is like the beast? The second question, moreover, is reminiscent of the cry of the angel in 5:2 and the answer in 5:3 ("Who is worthy to open the scroll ... ? No one ... was able to open the scroll"). Here it has to do with a proclamation of omnipotence clothed in the dress of a rhetorical question. The inhabitants of the earth thus attribute unlimited power to the beast. In vv. 5-8 the conduct of the beast is described. Four times we read that the beast "was given" or "was allowed," which conveys a strong interpretative accent referring, if only indirectly and in veiled fashion, to the fact that it is God who yields to the beast. Even God's adversary can do nothing without God's tolerance and permission, which will sometime come to an end. He may still display his power without restraint, but he nonetheless remains dependent on God's leaving him alone. And that means that he is subordinate to God in every respect. This picture thus establishes a boundary with respect to dualistic thinking that would understand the satanic powers as equivalent and autonomous antagonists of God. That God has limited the effect of the beast is also expressed in the repetition of the mysterious time reference "forty-two months" (= three and a half years; cf. 11 :2; cf. 12:6, 14), which describes the limited period ofthe church's affliction and preservation. [13:5-6] The beast's most important organ is his mouth. Out of it come arrogant and blasphemous speeches (cf. Dan. 7:8,20) in which it declares its absolute claim to power and celebrates its own dominion. The blasphemous aspect of these speeches lies not in the direct slander of God but in the actual pretension of putting itself in God's place. While the beast allows itself to be celebrated as divine, it blasphemes God's "name," the


Revelation 13:1-10

epitome of his lordly power, God's "dwelling," heaven, and God's subservient forces, the angels (cf. Matt. 5:34). (13:7) The self-deifying power cannot tolerate people who have committed themselves to the dominion of God and of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is only consistent when the beast wages war against members of the salvation community, especially since Satan created his creature, the beast, for this purpose (12: 17). This war ends with victory. Within present world history members of the church have no chance to assert themselves and to save; the concentrated attack of the satanic political power must crush them. It remains God's secret how he will nevertheless see to it that the church will be preserved for his future (12:14-16). The power of the beast has a collective and integrative effect: people from every race and nation are brought together into a new, worldwide unity. To the Roman world empire, whose self-understanding is described here, has therefore been "given" and made possible within the framework of history something that looks deceivingly similar to the effects of Jesus' work of salvation, namely, the gathering together of people of different languages and backgrounds to form a new people that is destined for dominion (1 :6; 5:10). (13:8) This verse is formulated as a prophetic announcement. This claim to power will be established universally; all inhabitants of the earth will succumb to the fascination of the beast and render him the divine reverence demanded-with the exception of those whose names appear in the book of life of the lamb that was slain (cf. at 3:5), that is, those members of the church who remain steadfast and faithful to their Lord (cf. 14:4-5). Only they refuse to acknowledge this empire of blasphemy and self-glorifying might. Thus, they place themselves outside the consensus of the worldwide human society and attract its hatred.

(13:9] A prophetic call to awaken indicates the point in the narrative where a directive emerges that concerns specifically the activity and conduct of the Christians in Asia Minor (cf. at 2:7). (13:10) The directive itself is issued in the form of a prophetic oracle arranged in two parallel lines. It appears to be formulated in close as-

sociation with Jer. 15:2: "Those destined for pestilence, to pestilence, and those destined for the sword, to the sword; those destined for famine, to famine, and those destined for captivity, to captivity." (The textual tradition is, however, very uncertain. Several manuscripts, which are followed by the Zurich Bible and older editions of the Luther Bible, interpret the verse, undoubtedly influenced by Matt. 26:52, as a warning to Christians to seize the resources of might themselves: "If someone takes you into captivity, he himself goes into captivity; if someone kills by the sword, he himself must die by the sword." But apart from the ques-



tionableness of this view, it would be an anachronism in view of the actual powerless position of the Asia Minor Christians.} The saying, on the one hand, points to the great risk that confronts those who resist the demand of the beast for worship and divine reverence; on the other hand, it indicates the inevitability of such resistance. Confronting the Asia Minor Christians now is a situation in which their Lord expects them to stand firm and thereby participate in his suffering testimony (cf. 11 :3-10). The time has now come to stand the test of faithfulness as a believer.


Revelation 13:11-18

The Beast from the Earth

Text 13: 11 And I saw another beast which rose out of the earth, and it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 And it exercises all the might of the first beast in its presence, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It works great wonders, making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of human beings. 14 And it deceives the inhabitants of the earth by the signs which it is given to accomplish in the presence of the beast as it tells the inhabitants of the earth to erect an image for the beast which was wounded by the sword and (yet) lived. 15 And it was allowed to give (life's) breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast was even able to speak, and to cause to be slain those who do not worship the image of the beast. 16 It also causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slaves, to be marked on their right hand and on their forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 Wisdom is required here. Let whoever has understanding reckon the number of the beast; it is, namely, a human number, and its number is six hundred sixty-six.

Analysis This vision is linked directly to the preceding one and is, in terms of content, closely associated with it. However, the image material in it is not taken from Daniel 7, and neither the Old Testament nor the extracanonical Jewish literature offers correspondences to its content. A re-



mote similarity is found, at most, in Job 40-41, where two mythical beasts are described: Leviathan, which lives in the sea, and Behemoth, a hippopotamus-like monster that dwells on land. But because there is no allusion to this passage, it hardly figures as a point of origin for the image of the second beast. Instead, it is more likely that John created this image independently. With regard to the substantive theological content of the scene, it is clear that an early Christian apocalyptic tradition lies behind it, namely, the expectation that false prophets will appear at the endtime. According to Mark 13:22 par Matt. 24:24, they will confuse and seduce into apostasy the chosen ones not only by their preaching but also by signs and miracles (cf. also Matt. 7: 15). John follows this tradition by connecting the appearance of the antichrist to that of the false prophets and by having its work characterized by a propagandistic preaching that glorifies the "first beast" as well as by signs and miracles that are confusing to human beings. In the course of the book the second beast is also quite openly characterized as "the false prophet" (16: 13; 19:20; 20: 10). Furthermore, it is clear that the dragon and the two beasts belong closely together. Taking a formulation by Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817), some have frequently spoken of a satanic trinity. That may be seen as correct insofar as the depiction of the second beast is defined by the parody approach. For John the dragon and the first beast are nothing but a distorted counterpart to an entity out of God's realm of salvation. However, this entity is not the Holy Spirit. Prophecy in the church should be considered instead. Some of what the second beast does corresponds to characteristics of the work of Christian prophets, as they are portrayed in 11 :5-6. But much suggests that the positive counterpart that the author had in mind cannot be confined to the bearers of the prophetic office in the narrow sense, but rather that it includes quite generally the service of messengers and witnesses by means of which the dominion of Christ is proclaimed and his church is assembled on earth. The aim of this proclamation and the establishment of the church is baptism, which is what vv. 15-16 clearly allude to. From that perspective we are better able to answer the difficult question of who is specifically meant by the second beast. That it stands in direct relationship with the religious veneration of the Caesar is clear. But behind it is there hidden a particular figure, perhaps a priest equipped with special civil powers, who sought to establish the cult of the Caesar in the province of Asia with propagandistic tricks and took brutal measures against those who refused to comply? Or, should one look behind him for the priesthood for the official sanctuaries of the empire? The fact that here we are dealing with a counterpart to the service of the messengers and witnesses of Jesus Christ suggests a more widespread interpretation. By contrasting them to what is typical, John wishes to characterize all the institutions, people, and forces that promote the religious veneration of the empire and its power, focused chiefly in the cult ofthe Caesar.


Revelation 13:11-18

Commentary 113:11) In terms of substance, this verse stands parallel to v. l. Like the first beast, the second is also a creature of the dragon, created by it as an instrument in its battle against the salvation community. The second beast comes "out of the earth," that is, from the mainland. Is this a specific reference to the mainland of Asia Minor? While we cannot rule that out entirely, it is more likely a reference back to 12:12 ("Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you"): The dragon secures its power over earth and sea by having one of his subservient creatures appear from each of these regions. Similarly, its double-sided position is made vivid by the depiction of the appearance of the second beast. It has two horns as a sign of its power; it looks "like a lamb" but talks "like a dragon." The reminiscence about false prophets in sheep's clothing who are ravenous wolves within (Matt. 7: 15) may be coincidental, but it is clear that at issue here are also false prophets who appear to be something other than what they truly are, and in a very pointed way. These are not prophets who refer to Jesus in a false way, but rather they are functionaries of the dragon whose deeds imitate the deeds of the witnesses of Jesus. Only the speech of the beast is unmistakable, showing itself to be a mouthpiece for the dragon. 113:12) The second beast has no might of its own, but it exercises the might transferred to it by the first beast, quite analogously to the witnesses and messengers of Jesus Christ, who are also able to act only by the power of their Lord that is given to them (Matt. 28: 18-20). And so, as the latter proclaim the crucified one to all the world, the second beast has the task of bringing the inhabitants of the whole earth to worship the first beast with the mortal wound that has healed. The latter is a reference to the cult of the Caesar, whose primary area of practice in the first century A.D. became Asia Minor. The ideological-cultic increase of the empire's power, personified in the emperor of the time, encountered a particularly favorable fertile soil in the form of local cults of similar direction. After the cult of the Caesar had achieved its initial high point under Caligula, it reached a renewed intensification under Domitian. This is documented externally by the imposing dimensions of the cultic image of the Caesar in the temple at Ephesus. The head, which has remained intact, is almost four feet tall, and the entire statue may have been around twenty-three feet tall! Domitian was also the first Caesar to give himself the religious title dominus ac deus (Lord and God) (Suet. Dam. 13.2). Precisely this development, which is not conceivable without a great display of nationally managed religious propaganda, may be presupposed here. Finally, the fact that the reference to the healed mortal wound alludes, strictly speaking, to Nero and not to Domitian does not speak against this view. For Revelation it is not the Caesar at the time but rather the empire itself that is the creator and subject of the cult of the Caesar. However, it sees this empire in its



limitless claim to power, its enmity toward the Christian church, and its human indestructability symbolized in the dismal, mystery-enshrouded figure of the persecutor of Christians, Nero, who is to return. (13:13) As Jesus' witnesses and messengers have authority to perform signs (Mark 13:22; 2 Cor. 12:2; Heb. 2:4), so also do the functionaries of the beast perform signs. They are not, of course, references to the saving nearness of God's liberating dominion, but rather to apparent miracles with propagandistic effect that are intended to deceive people and enslave them. In both cases the same thing may appear to happen outwardly, and yet they are fundamentally different from each other in their aim. Outwardly, when the second beast has fire rain from heaven "in the sight of all," it may be doing the same thing as the two witnesses did (11 :5), but at the substantive level precisely the opposite effect results. For thereby it wishes to establish and stabilize power which has already been emptied of power by God and no longer has any future. In other respects it is not certain whether and to what extent concrete events are referred to here, for the portrayal is characterized by the traditional topos of the demonic imitation of signs carried out by God's servants (cf. Exod. 7: II). (13:14) The fraud is successful. The inhabitants of the earth (i.e., everyone except the salvation community) allow themselves to be persuaded to worship the imperial power. They erect their cultic images, which may be outwardly equipped with the changing features of the Caesars of the time, but they reveal a lack of theological depth, exposing the hidden backgrounds as demonic caricatures of the image of the crucified One and the Lord of the church who was raised to life by God. (13:15) This verse seems to refer more specifically to contemporary priestly practices. Popular belief attributed to priests the capacity of causing statues of gods to move and to speak. Hence Lucian (Syr. dea 10) reports that the statues in the temple at Hierapolis could move about and voice audible oracles, and at night when the temple was closed, one could hear a voice speaking in the holy of holies. Whether it was the power of suggestion here or whether by technical tricks it was possible to produce such effects, we do not know. In any case, from the fourth century A.D. there is evidence that heathen priests were able to stage such sensational effects by clever technical devices. The cultic statue made to speak offers an oracular saying: All who refuse to worship it will die. With that the church is reminded in heightened form of the situation from the time of King Nebuchadnezzar, who had commanded all the subjects of his empire, upon the threat of death, to worship his cultic image (Dan. 3:6, 11, 15). The concrete events to which reference is made here can be reconstructed from a letter that the Roman governor Pliny the Younger wrote to the Caesar Trajan around A.D. 112, barely twenty years after the writing of Revelation. In it he 163

Revelation 13:11-18

reports that he had forced those suspected of being Christians to invoke the heathen gods and to sacrifice wine and incense before a statue of the Caesar (Epist. 96; cf. also Mart. Pol. 8). Nothing prohibits the assumption that such a proceeding was already in practice at the time of Domitian. Whether at the time there were death sentences against Christians who rejected the cult of the Caesar is not clear. According to more recent research, it is hardly possible to speak of a systematic persecution of Christians in Asia Minor under Domitian. However, there were sufficient indications in the final years of Domitian's reign for John to expect an imminent and greater persecution, which did not then materialize because of the Caesar's sudden death. Noteworthy is the reference to the defection of particular individuals from Christianity at the time of Domitian, which may also be found in Pliny's letter (Epist. 96.6). (13:16-17) Already at the writing of Revelation there were huge pressures on Christians, which amounted to a virtual exclusion from heathen society. Every participant in the official cult is recognized by a "mark" on the right hand and on the forehead, and this sign alone entitles participation in trade and commerce and therefore in public life. This mark consists of "the name of the beast" and/or an encoded (numerical) symbol of its name. What did this mark look like? There is a multitude of answers to this question, none of which is wholly satisfactory. Some have pointed to imperial coins, which in image and inscription reflect the di vine dignity ofthe emperor (but they are not worn on the forehead!). Or might events in a heathen cult be intended? Worshipers of deities frequently had themselves tatooed or branded to identify themselves as property of that deity, very much as the slave also bore the mark of his lord's ownership. Thus, the worshiper ofDionysius was branded with the imprint of an ivy-Ieaf(3 Macc. 2:29-30). But it is hardly conceivable that the engraving of such marks for all participants in the cult of the Caesar might have been a compulsory practice. It might be helpful to observe that the Greek word (charagma) translated "mark" denotes the official stamp of the Caesar, with which official papers and documents were supplied to make it legal. Undoubtedly at issue here is the verification of persons who subordinated themselves to the religious and legal order established by the Caesar. That does not explain the placement of this mark on the forehead and hand. Thus, we are forced to conclude that it is not a particular concrete practice that is described here but rather a variety of phenomena, which John neither was able nor wanted to describe precisely, that together form an overall picture of a counterpart to a reality in the domain of the salvation community-namely, as a counterpart to baptism. In the latter people are subordinated to the name of Jesus Christ by means of a visible sign (Matt. 28: 19; Acts 2:38; 10:48, and elsewhere) and thereby incorporated into his dominion; his dominion can be interpreted graphically as the seal that those who are God's property bear on their forehead (cf. 7:3-4; 9:4); whoever receives this dominion is a full member of the salvation community and therefore participates in all aspects of its life.



In quite analogous fashion, John wishes to suggest, wherever persons submit to the totalitarian demand of the cult of the Caesar, they subordinate themselves to the name of the Caesar and are incorporated into his dominion, which ultimately is a dominion of the demonic power. Thus, like slaves, they let a mark of ownership be burned on them, and they concede that they are acknowledged as full members of the society of the empire. In contrast, all who resist the totalitarian demand are outlawed and excluded from participation in the activities of the society. John wishes to be quite clear with the members of the churches he addresses: in the case of conflict, there remains nothing else for them to do than to accept the forfeiture of such civil rights. For the mark of belonging to Jesus Christ is irreconcilable with that of the beast because with each of them a legally binding relationship is founded, although in diametrically distinctive ways. [13:18) As in the case with the preceding vision (vv. 9-10), so also this one concludes with a direct address to the readers. John appeals to their wisdom, by which God has enabled them to recognize his secret ways in the end-time events (cf. Dan. 1: 17; 5: 12; 10: 14) and, at the same time, provides them with a task. They are to compute the number of the (first) beast, by which also the outcome is mentioned, namely, the number 666. A further aid to understanding is found in the indication that the number is that of a human being. The weighty manner in which the task is given makes it unlikely that the issue is simply that of identifying a certain person with the beast by means of computing the name, particularly because (as will be shown) such a computation is possible only for one who knows the result at the outset. The emphasis appears to be not on the determination of the name but rather on the assessment of the special and mysterious number with its identity of hundreds, tens, and ones. In other words, the readers should reflect on the fact that the ominous name, that is already familiar to them, has such a mysterious and profound numerical value, and they should, by means of numerical speculation, as was natural enough for ancient persons, draw conclusions regarding the secrets of God's plan of salvation.

Excursus: The Mysterious Number 666 No other problem in Revelation has given rise to so many speculations as that of the meaning of this number. There is also scarcely a controversial figure in world history who has not been identified with it. To give a convincing explanation, however, requires that we identify the system of coding and interpretation used by the author. Three possibilities exist. Arithmetic interpretation. This proceeds from the notion that 666 is a so-called triangular number with the basic value of 8. The numbers 1 through 8 add up to 36; the numbers 1 through 36, when added together, total 666. According to ancient numerical speculations, the same meaning is found in every triangular number as in the last number in the first series (i.e., in our case in the number 8). However, for this number to be meant, one must refer to the allusion in 17: 11, according to which the 165

Revelation 13:11-18

beast "that was and is not" is the eighth. But this interpretation falters in that, according to v. 18, at issue is "the number of a person." The explanation, then, would clearly have to be a name. Interpretation as gematria, that is, a numerical riddle. According to both the Hebrew as well as the Greek alphabet, each letter also had a numerical value (e.g., using the corresponding Latin letters, a = 1; b = 2; i = 10; k = 20; r = 100). The number of a name could be determined by adding the numerical values of the particular letters in the name. Deciphering this number for the intended name was virtually impossible because each number could consist of the most varied combinations of numerical letters. In Pompey a scrawling on the wall was discovered: "I love her whose number is 545." Its author could be certain that only the loved one herself and a few initiated knew what name lay hidden behind the number! The formulation of v. 18 suggests that such a numerical riddle is also present here. However, it is not clear whether the Greek or the Hebrew alphabet was being used. Many things support the second possibility. Thus, in 9: 11 and 16: 16 the writer refers to Hebrew words. In addition, the Hebrew alphabet must have appeared particularly well suited to such mysterious decipherment. Above all, this would presuppose that in the Asia Minor churches being addressed were also Jewish Christians who were conversant in this art and had already developed from it a corresponding interpretation of names. Now in fact on the basis of the Hebrew alphabet a convincing possible explanation is offered that has the advantage of fitting the context of chap. 13: The sum of the numerical values of the words Neron Quesar (= Caesar Nero) is 666 (n = 50; r = 200; 0 = 6; n = 50; k = 100; s = 60; r = 200). This explanation was surprisingly confirmed by the discoveries at Murabba'at in which precisely the style assumed here appears. Furthermore, it has the advantage that it can also explain an important textual variant. A series of manuscripts have 616 instead of 666. In the Latin pronunciation of the name, one read Nero, not Neron, which meant that the number of the name was reduced in value by the letter n (= 50). In addition, there is a further surprising observation: the numerical value of the Greek word therion (= the beast), written in Hebrew letters, also produces 666. From this fact the statement in v. 18, that the number of the beast (= 666) is a human number, can receive an additional symbolic weight in the sense suggested above. Attempts to use the Greek alphabet as a basis have, in contrast, not led to convincing results. They have not succeeded in deriving from the number in this way the name of a Caesar of that era who could be seriously considered. Symbolic-theological interpretation. This possibility is clearly stated by Irenaeus (Adv. haer. 5.28.2). According to Irenaeus, 666, with its six hundreds, six tens, and six ones, is the recapitulation of the whole revolt against God that took place at the beginning of the world, in the middle eras, and at the end. Behind it stands the view that the number 6 is significant in preceding 7, the number of divine completeness. 166


As a whole, the gematric interpretation of the number as referring to the Caesar Nero seems to provide the key to resolving the riddle. Moreover, this explanation fits naturally into the context (vv. 3, 12-13). By no means should one rule out the possibility that John also wanted to point his readers to a symbolic interpretation of the number in the third sense described.

Excursus: Christians and the State according to Revelation 1 3 The unique statements in the New Testament regarding the relationship of Christians to the state and civil power can be understood only if their concrete contemporary background is kept in mind. At the height of its external and internal power, the Roman world empire is prepared to bind to itself the inhabitants of all its provinces, even more so than before, by means of a cultic-religious bond of unity. Everywhere, especially in Asia Minor, the cult of the Caesar is established as a visible expression of the official empire ideology by the means of the intimidating deployment of splendor and massive propaganda of political positions. Christians who refuse to worship the Caesar see themselves exposed to all forms of social and political repression; here and there are excesses against the churches, and several oftheir members have had to pay for their steadfastness with death (2: 13; 6:9). Greater aftlictions and chicaneries, even to the extent of state-sanctioned persecution, appear to be announced. To be sure, there is no civil prohibition of the exercise of the Christian faith, but the state requires that all its citizens participate actively in the official imperial cult. This state thus proves to be an ideological-totalitarian state that claims for itself that which belongs only to God and Jesus Christ. In the seer's judgment the state is the earthly likeness and image of Satan (vv. 12), simply the embodiment of satanic power. Therefore, for Christians there is only one option, namely, resistance to the end. Their powerless outward position permits Christians nothing other than mere passive resistance. The possibility of shaking loose the demonic dominion by force cannot even be considered. Indeed, the faithful must be prepared to be crushed by the political power machine. John holds out for them no prospect for any worldly rescue (vv. 9-10). What remains for them is, on the one hand, the certainty that God himself will, by his effective intervention, destroy the power that contends against him, and, on the other hand, the hope for participation in the future consummation that has been promised by God. As much as the statements regarding the state in Revelation 13 are based on a particular situation, just as little can they be restricted to the contemporary situation of the relationship of Christians to the Roman Empire. Instead, the prophetic vision here sets out in sharp contours certain characteristic features and appearances of debasement of civil power in the image of the beast, which embodies the Roman Empire. It is no accident that the beast from the sea in vv. 1-3 is portrayed as the compilation of all world empires heretofore (Daniel 7). For John it is 167

Revelation 13:11-18

plainly the image of the hybrid state that celebrates its totalitarian power as an end in itself. The negative appraisal cannot be confined to the cult of the Caesar and its immediately accompanying phenomena; rather, this cult is only one manifestation of the self-understanding of the society that supports the Roman state, and indeed of all its classes (vv. 3-4). Because the empire as divine makes itself the object of worship in the state, the cult becomes an expression of a social power consciousness that no longer acknowledges limits and allows itself to be called into question by nothing. This demonic, totalitarian state appears as a distorted contrast to God's counterpart and to the church. Since the dawn of Jesus' dominion in heaven, everywhere that people, states, and societies exalt absolute claims to power, there has been the attempt to occupy and misuse something that belongs only to God and to Christ. Moreover, since the dawn of Christ's dominion, whether it be public or hidden, the history of the world is destined to come to terms with it. But even in its most resolute "no" to God and his dominion, peoples and systems of power remain dependent on him in a mysterious way. The might that they exercise rests on God's concession, and the rituals and outward forms by which they assure themselves of their unlimited power are not their own; rather, they are poor imitations of that which takes place in God's domain of salvation. How is this extremely vivid image of political power to be related to the apparently quite different one that Paul sketches in Romans 13? One should not play the one off against the other, not even by claiming that Romans 13 seeks the "normal" primitive Christian view ofthe state and Revelation 13 explains the extreme case. Rather, the relationship is such that in Romans 13 Paul describes the state as the Christian can hope and wish it to be in the most favorable situation: it is a state that functions impartially and properly in its organs, creates peaceful and healthy conditions for human social life, and wards off threats. Christians are able to obey such a state because they can see in it an instrument of the gracious preservation of God's will for his fallen creation. In contrast, Revelation depicts an image of an actual political reality in its worst concei vable form: it is a state that has become an instrument of organized resistance against the Creator by a humanity hostile to God. For the Christian there is only one course of action toward it: determined resistance. The actual political and social reality with which Christians must deal will lie, in most cases, somewhere between these two extremes. Revelation 13 becomes, therefore, an appeal to Christians not to come to terms uncritically with all political and social regulations, but rather to raise their voices with criticism and warning wherever state and society develop totalitarian characteristics and give way to the constantly present temptation of a cult of power.


Revelation 14:1-5

The Lamb and the 144,000 on Zion

Text 14: 1 And I looked, and behold, the lamb stood on Mount Zion, and with him (were) one hundred and forty-four thousand who bore written on their foreheads his name and the name of his Father. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the rushing of many waters and like the rolling of loud thunder; and the voice which I heard sounded like harpers playing their harps. 3 And they sing a new song before the throne and the four creatures and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is they who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are chaste. It is they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the lamb, 5 and in their mouth was found no lie, for they are spotless.

Analysis Following the gloomier visions in chapter 13, which dealt with the unrestrained seizure of power by God's adversary and its creatures, now comes a counterpart that answers the question of the path and destinyof the salvation community in this situation that is so threatening to them. This ties in directly to the vision of the sealing of the 144,000 in 7: 1-8 which, moreover, is blended into the context of the seven-seal visions quite analogously as a counterpart. If the intention there was to show that members of the church would be protected in the approaching horrors of judgment because they bear the seal of God's ownership that was imprinted with their baptism, then here it is made clear that such belonging to God enables the faithful to remain steadfast in the coming hardships and to bear faithful witness for their Lord. If one recognizes the close 169

Revelation 14:1-5

relationship between the two sections, then the frequently debated question of whether in 14: 1-5 the image is one of the present or the future situation, whether at issue is the struggling church or the perfected one, is clearly answered with the first alternatives: the 144,000 are not the perfected martyrs, but rather the members of the earthly church. In their struggle against the totalitarian power of the world empire, embodied in the beast, they are not dependent upon themselves, but rather they are assembled around the lamb as the true ruler of the world to whom the future belongs. In a certain sense this vision, then, is also to be understood as a necessary continuation and a sharpening of 12:17: The descendants of the heavenly woman (i.e., the members of the church) are subjected on earth to the ruthless attacks of the adversary, but they are not left alone. For even if the place at which their Lord exercises his dominion in the present age is heaven, he is still in their midst, even now, in a mysterious way.

Commentary (14:1] On Mount Zion, the holy mountain of the temple in Jerusalem, the seer sees the "lamb," surrounded by the large host of those who belong to him. This image is the fulfillment of a prophetic promise. According to Joel 2:32, Zion is the place of the end-time salvation when the Messiah will appear to rescue and gather his people (cf. Joel 2:27). The holy city of Jerusalem and Mount Zion here, as throughout Revelation (cf. 3: 12; 21 :2), are images for the salvation community. With it an ancient JewishChristian tradition (cf. Heb. 12:22; Gal. 4:25-26) is appropriated and continued. Indeed, the new Jerusalem will come down at the end time from heaven to the new earth in order then to become the visible gathering place of the faithful; but that does not mean that in Revelation it would be seen exclusively as it heavenly or future entity. Instead, the faithful already belong now to the new Jerusalem-indeed, in a certain way they are already God's city on earth, the community ruled by him, which contrasts with the satanic city governed by the beast (cf. 11 :8). "Zion" here specifically describes the sphere of the end-time assembly and the preservation of God's people, a sphere provided by God. The symbolic number 144,000 (cf. 7:4) makes the assembled ones distinguishable as the new salvation people to whom God's promises for Israel are fulfilled. The seal that they bear is more clearly defined than in 7:2 (cf. commentary there); the names of God and the lamb are those that they bear on their foreheads, by which they are designated as God's possession. Thus we have the irreconcilable contrast between members of the church and those who bear on their foreheads the sign of the name of the beast, thus being shown as the property of God's adversary (13: 1617). (14:2-3] Accompanying the vision is a heavenly voice, the might and majesty of which is heightened by a series of comparisons (cf. I: 15; 4:5; 8:5; 19:6). In fact, what is heard is the heavenly worship that is described in chap. 5: the sound of the harps (5:8) blends with the song that the 170


twenty-four elders raise before the throne of God (5:9), which the whole host of heavenly creatures take up in response (5: 11). They sing the "new song," the text of which we saw in 5:9. Its content is praise of the lamb, who is worthy to receive the dominion and to execute God's plan for history to the end. This hymn is audible on earth only for the multitude around the lamb; only they are able "to learn" it and make it their own, and there is a good reason for this: they are the priestly people whom the lamb acquired from all peoples of the world by his death (5:9-10). This new hymn is hidden from all other inhabitants of the earth, for they know only the loathsome "ancient song," which praises the power of selfglorifying human being (13:4). Of course, the earthly church does not yet take part in the heavenly worship; the boundary between heaven and earth is not removed. But the church lives on the basis of knowing in its historical place the heavenly song that praises the victory of the lamb and of being permitted to sing it in its worship, which it celebrates in the face of the powers that threaten them with death. What empowers it is the certainty that it already has in its midst its exalted Lord in a mysterious way. Because Christians bear the mark of property of God and the lamb, they can be characterized as those who are "redeemed" from the earth (cf. 5:9b); the earth as the realm of satanic powers no longer has any final power of disposition over them. [14:4-5) No longer as part of the vision, but rather in an explanatory addition, the writer turns directly to the readers in order to show them several marks, essential for him, of those persons who are purchased from the earth and who belong to the lamb. The first that he mentions is celibacy and virginity. Interpretation of this assertion is difficult. Two things could speak in favor of a figurative-graphic understanding. First, the consideration that John was able to presuppose no celibacy at all as a generally binding norm of behavior in the churches to which he was writing must also be countered by the possibility that in them were groups and circles that still held fast to the Pauline ideal of a renunciation of marriage (l Cor. 7: 1, 8, 26-40). In any case, nothing suggests that he wanted to deny that the majority of church members who were married were Christians. Second, adultery, or lewdness, was already a frequent metaphor in the Old Testament for falling away from God and turning toward worship of idols (Hos. 2:4-21; Jer. 2:2-6), the acceptance of which had to suggest itself to John on the basis of the comparison of the church, favored by him, with a pure, spotless bride (22: 17; cf. 2 Cor. 11 :2). To that corresponds the reverse, that as the contrast to the church he sketches the harlot of Babylon, who fell to the lewdness of idol worship (14:8; 17:2, 4; 18:3, 9; 19:2). Although such a figurative-graphic understanding resonates in the assertion regarding celibacy and virginity, it is nevertheless hardly comprehensive. Pointing to this is the close connection with the second mark mentioned, unconditional discipleship of the lamb. Renunciation of marriage and surrender of familiar associations appears in ancient Palestinian traditions as a condition of discipleship, that is, ofthe sharing


Revelation 14:1-5

of radical service and fate with Jesus for the sake of God's dominion (e.g., Matt. 19: 10-12; 10:37-38 par. Luke 14:26-27). In the circles of prophetic itinerant missionaries of Syria-Palestine, in which John had his roots, such ascetic lifestyle was practiced more widely as a sign of undivided devotion to the imminent dominion of God. His self-understanding is also influenced by it. To be sure, John cannot hope to persuade the addressees to this lifestyle of celibacy or the forfeiture of existing marriages, but nevertheless he presents to them celibacy as an image and model of the complete devotion that is now required of them (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7). It means, namely, following the lamb "wherever he goes," that is, even to death if necessary (cf. Mark 8:34). To be capable of such following, one must be completely disassociated from worldly considerations and ties and must opt for total obedience. Here arises the tone of rigorous absoluteness that is characteristic of the ethic of Revelation. Of course, one must not read in this any fundamental depreciation of sexual existence; the ties to wife and family are simply seen as a danger to the demand for total obedience. The totality of the claim, to which Christians are subject, is also expressed in their designation as "first fruits for God and the lamb." The first fruit is the part of the harvest to which God has claim, which is therefore presented to him as a sacrifice (Ezek. 45: 1; 48:9). Precisely in this way God and the lamb lay claim to members of the salvation community; no one may avoid their power of determination. As a final mark of the elect v. 5 names their veracity and purity. By that more is meant than only the renunciation of lies, namely, the uniformity and totality of the standard of life (cf. 21 :27): In their entire conduct the faithful prove to belong undividedly to God. Like sacrificial animals who are pure and without blemish (Exod. 12:5; Lev. 23:12-13), God has chosen and consecrated them as his own possession (Eph. 1:4; Phil. 2: 15; Col. 1:22).


Revelation 14:6-20

View toward the Judgment

Text 14:6 And I saw another angel flying high in the heavens, with an eternal message to proclaim to the inhabitants of the earth, to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He cried with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him honor, for the hour of his judgment has come! and worship him who created heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water." 8 And another second angel followed him and cried, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, who has made all nations drunk with the wrathful wine of her harlotry. " 9 And a third angel followed them and cried with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image, and receives the mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he must also drink of the wrathful wine of God, which is presented unmixed in the cup of his wrath, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur before the holy angels and the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, by day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. 12 Here is (required) endurance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and are faithful to Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice say from heaven, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Indeed, says the Spirit, they shall rest from their labors; for their deeds follow them." 14 And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud was seated one who looked like a son of man with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple and cried with a loud voice to him who was seated on the cloud, "Take your sickle and reap, for the hour has come to reap, for the harvest of the earth has become ripe."


Revelation 14:6-20

16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

1 7 And another angel came from the temple in heaven who also had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came from the sacrificial altar; he had might over fire and cried with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, "Take your sharp sickle and cut the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes have become ripe." 19 And the angel swung his sickle on the earth and cut the vine of the earth and threw (the grapes) into the great wrathful wine press of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse's bridle, one thousand six hundred stadia wide.

Form This scene is the negati ve counterpart to the preceding: After the promise of inviolable communion with God for the salvation community follows the view toward the judgment that God will execute on the rest of humanity. With this view is brought to a first, preliminary conclusion the context of the portrayal that began at 12: 1. The dominion of Satan and his creatures over the earth will in fact last only a short period (12: 12), for God has already prepared its end. The final judgment appears here only in the form of a future event in suggestive images of an anticipating (i.e., proleptic) view. Similar to 8:1; 11:15-19, the portrayal thrusts forward toward the end-event, but without developing fully the latter in the narrative. Only in 19: 1-8 will there be a direct description of the judgment of the son of man. The section 14:6-20 is related to it, as it were, like a sketch is to a completely finished picture. In spite of this suggestive, sketchy character, the scene is nevertheless very artfully composed. It has seven parts: framed by three angels who announce the judgment and three angels who carry it out, there appears in the center of the picture the One who is similar to the son of man who has full authority to set the judgment in motion. Commentary [14:6) A new vision commences. The seer sees an angel high in the zenith

of heaven. Inasmuch as he describes it as "another angel," he makes clear again his explicit disinterest in any speculation about angels (cf. 8:3). What is important is not whether this or the subsequent angels are identical with angelic forms already encountered, but only what these messengers of God do in accord with their task. In fact, the task of this first angel is to proclaim God's activity as his herald. The Greek word euangelion, which we could translate "message," should not be understood to mean that the angel proclaims to all the world the saving message of Christ, the gospel. The notion of a world mission prior to the end (cf. Mark 13: 10) is foreign to Revelation and would, moreover, destroy the context of this section. Instead, an ancient Palestinian Jewish-Christian idiom is present here that reaches back behind the Pauline understanding 174


of euangelion (= saving message of Christ) and relates directly to Isa. 52:7. According to it, euangelion is the message of God's coming to judgment and salvation, the announcement of the herald that God is preparing to take possession of his world again (cf. 10:7). As the angel declares it to the inhabitants of the earth from all peoples and nations, he announces to them that the dominion of the satanic powers on earth, to which they have subjected themselves (13:3-4,14), will soon come to an end. The short time period that was given to the dragon (12: 12) has run out. "Forever" is this message because it corresponds to God's counsel of salvation, which has stood firm before all time. [14:7] The words of the angel confirm that at stake is an announcement of judgment. The inhabitants of the earth still have a final opportunity to repent; they can still relinquish their idol worship of satanic power (13: 14) in order to turn toward the one true God who as Creator of the world is also the Lord of history (cf. 1:8; 4:8, 11). But will they take advantage of this opportunity? [14:8] A second angel immediately follows the first in order to announce,

also from the heights of heaven, the approaching judgment: God has brought about the end of the city that is the center of hostility toward him on earth. What God has settled in his counsel is irrevocable reality, even if the outward fulfillment is still incomplete-thus, the angel is able to speak of the fall of the great city in the past tense. Indeed, he takes up, almost verbatim, the prophetic announcement of the fall of the city of Babylon (Isa. 21 :9; Jer. 51 :7-8; Dan. 4:27). Here Babylon is naturally used as a pseudonym for Rome, not so much to disguise what is truly meant but to reveal its true meaning. The capital city of the new Babylonian empire, Babylon, was understood, since the time of the exile, as the epitome of the satanic world power (lsa. 13: 1ff. and elsewhere). The designation of Rome as Babylon (cf. Str.-B. 3:816) was frequent in postbiblical Judaism (Sib. Or. 5.143, 159; 2 Apoc. Bar. 67:7) as well as in early Christianity (1 Pet. 5: 13). The final clause, which is the basis of God's counsel, boldly mixes two different images. First, Babylon did not keep its harlotry for itself (i.e., its idol worship and the resulting immoral way of life), but rather, as with an intoxicating drink, made all peoples of the earth drunk (cf. 17:4). Second, the cup that it offered to others in a seductive manner was at the same time God's cup of wrath, which he gives the disobedient to drink, the contents of which are his judging wrath (Ps. 75:9; Isa. 51: 17; 25: 15-38; 4QpHab 11: 14-15 and elsewhere). Thus, Babylon, without knowing it, is a tool in the hand of God. Inasmuch as it subjugates the peoples to the fascination of its power by alluring propaganda, God's end-time wrathful power is already appearing(cf.13:5-7). (14:9-11] The message ofthe third angel is a warning to all people, even to

Christians. In content it refers concretely to chap. 13. All who are deceived into participating in the cult of the Caesar, whether by prop a175

Revelation 14:6-20

gandistic persuasion or by external pressure, will without exception succumb to the divine judgment of wrath. The latter is again, as in v. 8, portrayed with the image of the cup of wrath. The drink that it contains is unmixed, it is not diluted with water. In full concentration, therefore, God's wrath meets those who let themselves be made servants and lackeys of the satanic power. Two traditional images are used for the announcement of judgment. The one is taken from the account of the demise of the godless cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in a rain of fire and brimstone (Gen. 19:24; Deut. 29:22; Luke 17:29). The second goes back to the ancient idea that, in the valley of Hinnom (Heb. ge-hinnom), southwest of Jerusalem, a fiery abyss-Gehenna-will open at the final judgment. There the godless who have died will suffer eternal torment (l Enoch 90:26-27; 2 Apoc. Bar. 85:13ff.; 4 Ezra 7:36; Matt. 5:22 and elsewhere; cf. Str.-B. 4: 1096-97). The disobedient and godless are transported to a punishment without end and without the possibility of forgiveness; this is done before the eyes of God's "holy angels" (i.e., before God himself) and before the eyes ofthe lamb. What is the meaning of this passage, which is particularly strange to today's readers? It must be seen from Revelation's central idea of God's self-fulfillment against the powers that contend against his dominion. It is not that God takes pleasure in the torment of his adversaries, but rather that he excludes them forever and that in their destruction they must become aware of his dominion, which they refused to recognize. Nevertheless, a faithful remnant does remain. [14:12) Turning directly to the readers, John stresses that they are not spectators, but persons directly affected. Everything depends on the notion that in their approaching hour of trial they not be weak, but remain steadfast and faithful. Whatever the consequences may be, now it is a matter of holding fast uncompromisingly to God's commandments (cf. 2: 13). [14:13) The significance of this admonition is underscored by a pro-

nouncement of blessing-the second in Revelation (see at 1:3)-which the seer wrote down at the dictation of a heavenly voice. Those who "die in the Lord" was an already familiar expression, referring to those who have died in faith to Christ and in obedience to him (l Cor. 15: 12; 1 Thess. 4: 16). Indeed, this pronouncement of blessing applies especially to those Christians who die in the Lord "from now on," that is, in the particular affliction that John sees approaching the churches. In other words, it belongs in substantive terms directly with the prophetic saying in 13:9-10, which sees the prospect of imprisonment and death for those who reject the cult of the beast. What is said there negatively receives a positive continuation here. The final word is not that God gives up his own without defense to the hostile powers but rather that he grants them his salvation. The prophetic Spirit, whose spokesman John understands himself to be, affixes to the pronouncement of blessing a foundation that 176


interprets it: those Christians who now lose their life will be spared further distress; they may enter God's eternal rest (cf. Heb. 4:3, 9-10); their works will accompany them to bear witness for them (see at 20: 13). Revelation stands on the other side of the Pauline problematic of justification, with its tense juxtaposition between works of the law and faith. For Revelation, "works" are simply the expression of devotion to Christ in total obedience, which proves true in endurance and suffering (cf. 2: 13; 3:8, 15). By their works the faithful demonstrate that they have followed their Lord unconditionally wherever he led them 04:4) and that they have remained in communion with him to the end. Death can no longer call eternal life into question. The faithful visibly bear the brand oflife in the form of their works. (14:14) This verse forms the crucial center of the scene: The prophet sees on a cloud the One who resembles the son of man. With his appearance, the importance of which is alluded to by idou "behold" which provokes the special attention of the readers (see at 4: 1), the announcement of judgment changes into reality. As in the commissioning vision (1: 13), the titular use of the designation "son of man" is also avoided here; it remains an approximate comparison in allusion to Dan. 7: 13. It is left to the reader to recognize in the mysterious form of the "One like the son of man" the Jesus who comes again for judgment. Serving as identification aids are the golden crown, which stresses the sovereign position of the one who appears, and the cloud, which in early Christian tradition is a clear requisite of the Parousia 0:7; cf. Mark 13:26; 14:62; Acts 1:9,11). In his hand the appearing One holds a sickle as an eloquent sign for that which is to happen now: the harvest is to begin-the time of judgment has come. The harvest was a traditional image for the judgment of the world (cf. Matt. 3:12; 9:37; 13:30 and elsewhere). The symbol of the sickle is taken from Joel 3: 13: "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow." With its juxtaposition of wheat harvest and wine harvest, this text has also provided the visual material for what follows. (14:15) Most striking is the fact that the One resembling the son of man

appears here within a group of angels. Thus, with the beginning of the judgment he must wait until "another angel" issues him a command. The author of this command is certainly God himself, who has his throne in the Holy of Holies of the heavenly temple (6:9; 8:3; 11: 19). Nevertheless this aspect does not exactly fit the close proximity of Jesus to God that is emphasized by Revelation elsewhere throughout. So one must reckon with the possibility that here an ancient Jewish Christian tradition is assimilated that, connecting to the original view of the son of man figure in Dan. 7:13-14, understood the "son of man" Jesus as a particularly exalted angelic figure. In any case, as the angel delivers God's command, it becomes clear that the time has now come that God established in his plan for history regarding judgment (cf. Mark 4:29). 177

Revelation 14:6-20

[14:16] The judgment begins in a symbolic image: the one resembling the son of man throws the sickle, the tool for harvesting wheat, to or over the earth. It is not stated who will carry out the harvest. The angels are the likely harvesters (Matt. 13:39). [14:17-20] As the second part of the judgment, the harvest of the grapes follows that of the wheat (cf. Joel 3: 13). It is introduced by the appearance of another (fifth) angel. It comes out of the heavenly sanctuary and, like the one resembling the son of man, has a sickle in its hand that it throws to the earth at the command of the sixth angel. Thus, the incident is in large measure parallel to that which is reported in vv. 14-15, which is a further indication of identifying the one resembling the son of man with the angels. The statement regarding the function of the sixth angel deserves attention. It is coordinated with the altar of incense offering (cf. 6:9) and has "authority over fire." Accordingly, it is identical with the angel in the prologue to the trumpet visions that brought before God the prayers of the earthly church and threw the fire from the altar to the earth in order to set in motion, symbolically, the end-time demonstrations of God's power (8:3-5). The wrathful judgment that now begins, as this reference makes clear, is on the one hand a consequence of the fact that human beings rejected those demonstrations of God's power; on the other hand, it is God's final answer to the prayers of his people for the establishment of his power. Seemingly it is the fifth angel itself that carries out the wine harvest in that it cuts the grapes, throws them into the winepress, and tramples them with its feet. Here, in the trampling of the winepress, lies the true climax of the image of the wine harvest: the liquid that flows from the (red) grapes symbolizes the blood of the enemies whom God has destroyed in his anger. In Isa. 63:1-3 God appears in a blood-splattered garment after he has trampled, full of wrath, the nations in the winepress; correspondingly, in the detailed description of the jUdgment in 19:15, which is only intimated here, the judge of the world himself is introduced as the one who tramples the winepress and thus carries out the judgment of God against the adversaries. The image of the wine harvest is blended, similar to Joel 3: 14, with the decisive battle of the end time, in which God will destroy before the city, according to apocalyptic expectation, the peoples of the world who are advancing toward Jerusalem (Joel 3:2, 12; 1 Enoch 53:1). The judgment will be so powerful that the blood of the slain will reach as high as the bridles of the horses (cf. 1 Enoch 100:3). Difficult to explain is the measurement used to describe the external dimension of the blood bath. The 1,600 stadia (about 200 miles) has led some to think of the north-south dimension of Palestine. However, as in the other numerical references in Revelation, the assumption of a symbolic significance is more likely: 1,600 is the square, multiplied by 100, of 4, the number which expresses the wholeness of the world (cf. 7: 1). The meaning would then be that the destruction encompasses the entire world in all its regions. More important for the understanding of



the message of the section, however, may very well be the accentuated reference to the fact that the judgment was executed "outside the city." That suggests that a motif taken from Joel 3: 16 is employed theologically to interpret the event: the salvation community that is assembled on Zion (14: 1) is God's city, the end-time Jerusalem. It alone remains preserved and has a future (21 :2), while the city of Satanic resistance (11 :8) must fall to destruction.


Revelation 15: 1 -16:21

The Visions of the Seven Bowls

Analysis The visions of Revelation do not intend to outline the linear temporal sequence of end-time events, but rather to illuminate them under various aspects. While 14:6-20 gives a summary view of the coming judgment, the section 15: 1-16:21 goes back behind it in time. It is concerned with the demonstrations, prior to the end, of God's punishing anger toward his adversaries.


Revelation 1 5: 1-8


Text 15: 1 And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels with seven plagues, (indeed) the last ones, for in them God's wrath comes to an end. 2 And I saw (something) like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and (I saw) the victors over the beast and its image and the number of its name standing at the sea of glass with harps of God. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: Great and wonderful are your deeds, Lord God, the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! 4 Who shall not fear you, Lord, And (not) glorify your name? For you alone are holy, For all nations will come and worship you, for your just deeds have been revealed. 5 After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen and girded around the breast with golden girdles. 7 And one of the four creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever. 8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.


Revelation 15:1-8

Form Similar to the trumpet visions earlier (cf. 8:2-5), the visions of the bowls are preceded by a heavenly prologue that is to supply the interpretative key to what follows. This prologue consists of two scenes: the first, which depicts the preparations for the discharge of the bowls of wrath (vv. 1, 58), is arranged like a frame around the second, which deals with the heavenly hymn of praise of those who overcome. The awkward transitions between vv. 1 and 2 and between vv. 4 and 5 give rise to the speculation that John worked this second scene into an existing piece of tradition that already contained the first. In doing so, his intention was to make two things clear. First, the wrathful judgment that God now prepares himself to execute is nothing other than the dark reverse side of his saving activity and belongs inseparably together with it. The revolt of the satanic powers must also serve to prove his glory; as God overcomes this revolt, he shows himself to be Lord of the world, whose works are great and wonderful because they create occasion for life and righteousness (vv. 3-4). Second, the final goal of God in his wrathful judgment is thus also the salvation of his own. For the salvation community he procures justice before their enemies, and he delivers them in the same way he had once delivered his people from oppression in Egypt. Commentary (15:1) This verse serves as a superscription for everything that follows.

The seer sees in heaven seven angels that prepare themselves to discharge the seven last plagues. When he calls these angels a "portent," he wishes to establish a connection with 12: 1 and 3. To that extent it is not altogether clear, as there it did not deal, as it does here, with a visionary view of an event in heaven, but rather with the interpretation of a generally visible apearance in heaven (cf. at 12: I). Beyond that one should not press the assertion. By it John wishes simply to point to the fact that the wrathful judgment brings to a close the history of rebellion and resistance that had begun with the appearance of the dragon and its struggle with the heavenly woman and her messianic child. It is expressly stated that at stake are the last plagues of God. In one last intensification God's wrath achieves its aim in them, the destruction of the enemies. After that, when God's opponents are defeated, his wrath will also end. The image of the seven plagues of wrath goes back to Lev. 26:18, 28. There a sevenfold punishment is announced to the disobedient people for their sins. (15:2) The inserted intermediate scene begins and extends through v. 4. The seer sees in heaven the multitude of those who overcome. Indeed, they stand on a sea of glass that extends around the throne of God (cf. at 4:6). This glassy sea is the dome of the firmament, the heavenly ocean, which in ancient thought was considered to be transparent. Why is it mixed with fire? This peculiar statement has been explained by some by



the idea that lightning, the fire that comes from heaven, is to be thought of as mixed with the water of the heavenly ocean (2 Enoch 29:2). That may in fact stand in the background. But with this statement the author wanted to create a typological correspondence to the exodus. Just as Israel at the time was delivered in its passage through the Red Sea while the Egyptians drowned in it, so also those who overcome are taken through the sea that became the place of judgment for their enemies. In other words, the glassy sea might be an image of the world from which those who overcome were rescued, while fire is the symbol of the wrathful judgment that will befall God's enemies in the world. But who are those who overcome? Undoubtedly they are those members of the church who in the present (2: 13) and in the immediate future that lies before the seer remain steadfast in the face of the religious claim to power by the empire and refuse to participate in the cult of the Caesar, in spite of the resulting consequences for their own personal fate (cf. 13:8; 14:4-5, 13). Those who overcome are not necessarily only martyrs, but in every case are those Christians who have placed obedience to God and Christ before concern for their own life (cf. 12: 11 ). Immediately after death they become participants in the heavenly glory and communion with God, an idea that is also found elsewhere in the New Testament (Phil. 1:23; Acts 7:56). The place of preference for those who overcome is also shown in that they receive God's harps-the instruments, that is, that are reserved for the heavenly elders (cf. 5:8). (15:3a] The hymn that they sing, accompanied by harps, is characterized as "the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the lamb." The reference to Moses certainly calls to mind the Red Sea tradition in Exodus 15. At that time, after the escape from Egypt, Moses sang a hymn of praise with the people in view of the miraculous deliverance ofIsrael from its enemies (Exod. 15: 1-21). Because the hymn deviates greatly from the content of the Red Sea hymn, it cannot be the intention of the author to present it in its original form. The relationship between the hymn of praise of those who overcome and that of Moses, instead, is at the salvation-historical and typological levels. Just the exodus Israel was delivered from the Egyptians by Moses, so now will the salvation people of the end time be delivered from the evil powers that afflict them-in fact, by Jesus, the lamb, who has purchased his own by his blood (cf. 5:9-10). The deliverance event of the end time corresponds, contrastingly and in heightened form, to that of primitive history. The idea that the exodus is a prototype of God's end-time act of redemption toward his people was also active in Jewish tradition. Thus, one expected that Moses as the risen one would one day sing again with the risen community the song of the Red Sea (Mek. Exod. 15: 1). Moses and Jesus are compared here as the representatives of God's saving activity in primitive times and at the end time, which becomes an occasion for the rescued to sing praise; thus, the designation of Jesus as lamb heightens the typology even more. The atoning strength of the passover lambs, slain 183

Revelation 15:1-8

at the departure from Egypt, is a typos for the redemption of the church by the blood of Jesus, the end-time passover lamb (cf. at 5:6). (15:3b-4) The hymn of those who overcome consists almost throughout of

phrases taken from the Old Testament, mostly from the Psalms, which are joined together to form a new whole, namely, a hymn of praise of God's saving activity in history. It opens with a description ofthe magnitude of God's works (cf. Ps. 98: I; III :2; 139: 14) and the reliability of his ways (cf. Ps. 145: 17; Deut. 32:4). Both God's creative magnitude and his power over history find their overlapping expression in the predicates "Almighty" (cf. at 1:8) and "King of the nations" (cf. Jer. 10:7). Two rhetorical questions follow, taken from Jer. 10:7 and Ps. 86:9, inviting concurrence with what the singers of the hymn have already recognized. God so acts in history that everyone, even those who contend against him, must finally honor him and acknowledge his dominion. The last four lines provide a more precise basis for this: because God is the only holy God, the only one that governs justly, in contrast to all powers that want to arrogate to themselves dominion over the world (cf. 13:4-5), this dominion will therefore be established at the end. The image of the endtime pilgrimage of the nations to Zion (lsa. 2:2; Jer. 16: 19) describes the submission of all peoples and powers, which is the aim of his activity. As much as they may now still resist, everyone will then see God's just deeds; that is, they will recognize that from the very beginning his activity was directed at creating salvation and granting life. This hymn thus provides the sign by which members of the salvation community should understand the series, which now follows, of frightful catastrophes. Disaster and ruin are only the outer side of God's saving activity, which aims at leading his people out of danger and giving them fullness of life in the framework of a renewed creation. (15:5) This verse returns to v. I and, thus, to the heavenly preparation of the bowl plagues. The portals of the heavenly sanctuary open, revealing the heavenly prototype of the "tent of witness" contained in it. Understood here is the tabernacle, the place of God's abode in the midst of his people during the period of their pilgrimage in the desert (Exod. 25:9, 40; Heb. 8:5). The exodus typology that dominates the bowl cycle is also suggested in this Old Testament reference. (15:6) In solemn procession the seven angels of the plague emerge from the sanctuary. Their clothing reflects the gravity and significance of their commission as a work that serves God's glory. As priests, they are covered in robes made out of white linen; the latter are secured by golden breast belts, as eminent persons customarily wore (cf. 1: 13). From one of the four creatures who are standing immediately before the throne of God (cf. 4:6) they receive the bowls, which are filled with the wrath of God (cf. Ezek. 10:7).


Commentary (15:7] All members of the heavenly counsel, up to the highest, participate therefore in the execution of the approaching judgment. (15:8] Indeed, God himself stands with the full weight of his holiness behind this event. The presence of God is manifested in clouds and smoke (Exod. 19: 18; Isa. 6:4). Moses could not enter the tent of witness as long as the cloud signifying God's presence rested over it (Exod. 40:3435; cf. 1 Kgs. 8:10-11). God's majesty and holiness in judgment is now shown; no one, not even the heavenly creatures, may approach him before he has completed the work of his wrath.


Revelation 16:1-21

The Pouring Out of the Seven Bowls

Text 16: 1 And I heard a loud voice from the temple which spoke to the seven angels, "Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God!" 2 So the first angel went and poured its bowl out over the land. Then there came a noxious and evil sore upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. 3 And the second angel poured its bowl out over the sea. It became like the blood of a corpse, and every living creature in the sea died. 4 And the third angel poured its bowl out over the rivers and the fountains of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of water say: Just are you, you who are and was, 0 Holy One, That you have so judged. 6 For they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. They deserved it. 7 And I heard the altar say: Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments. 8 Then the fourth angel poured its bowl out over the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 People were scorched by the fierce heat. Nevertheless they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him honor. 10 And the fifth angel poured its bowl out over the throne of the beast. Then its kingdom became darkened, and they bit their tongues in anguish. 11 Nevertheless they cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores, and did not repent of their deeds. 12 Then the sixth angel poured its bowl out over the great river





15 16 17



20 21

Euphrates. And its water dried up so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw, (issuing) from the mouth of the dragon and from the mouth of the beast and from the mouth of the false prophet, three foul spirits like frogs. They are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world to assemble them for the war at the great day of God the Almighty. "Behold, I come like a thief. Blessed is he who is awake and keeps his garments that he must not go naked and be seen exposed! And they (= the spirits) assembled them at the place which in Hebrew is called Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured its bowl out over the air. Then a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, "It is done!" And there were flashes of lightning, voices, and peals of thunder, and there occurred a great earthquake such as had never been since there were people on earth, so great and powerful was the earthquake. Then the great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And Babylon, the great city, was remembered by God, to give her the cup with the fury of his wrath. And every island fled, and mountains were no more to be found. And great hailstones, heavy as a hundredweight, fell from heaven on the people. Nevertheless, the people cursed God because of the plague of hail, so powerful was that plague.

Form As has already been established (cf. excursus at 8:2), two different variants of a traditional plague schema stand behind the bowl visions and the trumpet cycle. Indeed, it is possible that v. 19 contains a reference to the origin and initial perspective of the variants that are employed here. When the "great city" is contrasted there with the "cities of the nations," this refers actually not to Rome but to Jerusalem (cf. 11 :8). The variant of the plague schema that is assimilated here could therefore have been developed originally in Jewish Christian prophetic circles as an announcement of the plagues-disease, war, and earthquake-that will come to the unbelieving and hostile Jerusalem. If this cycle seems unusually bizarre to modern readers in view of the incongruences contained in it and its substantive tensions (e.g., vv. 13, 16, 19), then it is hardly because the author "suffers from fantasies" (W. Bousset). The reason for this, rather, might be that he places rather forcefully the existing tradition in the service of his theological intentions, intermingling a series of motifs that are originally foreign to it. He wishes first to establish the relationship to the context. The series of visions is to serve as a bridge between chaps. 12-14, on the one hand, and chaps. 17-18, on the other. For that reason he has the representatives of the demonic power appear repeatedly-the beast (v. 10), along with its worshipers (v. 2), the prophets oflies (v. 13), and the great city of Babylon


Revelation 16:1-21

(v. 19). Second, in association with that stands the popular effort to historicize more strongly the plagues that were sketched in the prototype predominantly as cosmic catastrophes. There will be, above all, historical events that will destroy the Roman Empire-whether surging cavalry forces from countries in the east (v. 12), or the impulse of unrestrained warlike expansion that comes from within (v. 14). In precisely these events God, the Lord of history, will carry out his judgment. The third concern of John is to establish this judgment character of the event. Above all, the brief hymn in vv. 5-6, inserted in the middle of the series of plagues, takes it into account in that it demonstrates how God's power in history is reflected both in judgment and salvation.

Commentary (16:1( A voice arising from inside the heavenly temple, the place of God, commands the seven angels who are standing ready (cf. 15: 1, 5-8) to begin their work of destruction. With that it is once again emphasized that it is God himself whose holy will is to be carried out in what now follows. The image of the pouring out of the bowls of wrath is associated with the Old Testament notion of God's wrath being something that is poured out (Ps. 69:25; Jer. 10:25; 42: 18; 44:6; Zeph. 3:8). By "earth" is meant here the whole of the created world in relation to heaven as God's place. Its constituent parts-land, sea, rivers, stars-are now to encounter God's wrath. Unlike in the first four trumpet plagues (8:6-13), it is not only a matter of an encroachment on or an injury to these constituent parts, but of catastrophes that concern human beings directly. A further intensification consists in the fact that the calamity is not confined only to a third of the respective regions, but is total. (16:2) The pouring out of the first bowl over the land corresponds in its consequences to the sixth Egyptian plague (Exod. 9: 10-11). Those who have accepted the mark of the beast and have thereby bound themselves to the cult of the Caesar are seized by malignant ulcers. The principle of punishment by means of resemblance appears to be assumed here (cf. 2:22): the bearers of the sign of the beast are punished with boils of the plague as marks on their bodies. (16:3) The second plague concerns the sea. In content it corresponds to the first Egyptian plague (Exod. 7 :20-21): water becomes blood, whereby a sinister intensification occurs as this blood is like that of corpses. A deadly stench of decay is emitted, with the result that all living creatures in the sea must die. (16:4) The third plague, which affects fresh water, is like the second in content: the springs and rivers also become blood, and thus a sinister danger for human beings. (16:5-6) A short hymn is inserted, by which the angel that contaminates the waters comments on its action and-beyond that-on the plagues as 188


a whole. It is God's judgment which is now being carried out. This judgment is just, for by it God responds to the outrageous deeds of his enemies, and he does so in such a way that the punishment decreed by him corresponds to the offense. Because the worshipers and followers of the beast have spilled the blood of members of the salvation community, the vitally necessary water is taken from them and replaced by deadly blood. Again, therefore (cf. v. 2), the principle of punishment in kind is introduced here (cf. Isa. 49:26; Rom. 1:22-32; Acts 7:42). The great persecution that John anticipates in the near future (cf. 13:7-10) is described in the words of the angel as having already occurred, which is consistent with the proleptic portrayal of the entire cycle. The confirming closing remark "it is what they deserved" is clearly a conscious reversal of the words with which the promise of salvation to the church at Sardis concludes (3:4). (16:7) The hymn is answered with an antiphon that rings out from the heavenly altar of burnt offering. The altar appears personified hereindeed, it becomes a spokesman for the fallen martyrs whose souls lie at its feet (6:9). The request of the martyrs that God provide them with justice by means of his judgment is now fulfilled. By their hymn of praise they acknowledge that God has shown himself to be the Almighty and has established his power over history. At the same time they express that God's wrath stands in the service of his truthfulness and justice (cf. 15:34). As is true in all his activity, so also is his wrathful judgment intended to create occasion for his saving will and to give its justice to those who have relied on his goodness and faithfulness. (16:8-9) The fourth plague concerns the region of the firmament and the stars that are fixed in it, which corresponds to the fourth trumpet plague (8: 12). While the effect there is a darkening of the heavenly bodies, here the sun receives a deadly, destructive strength. With its immeasurably intensified heat it scorches those people who are exposed to it without protection. They are so deeply entangled in their hostility toward God that even now, in view of the destruction, they are not prepared to repent and give him the honor (cf. 9:20). Instead, they remain in their cult of the hostile, demonic power and thus in the blasphemy of the true God (cf. at 13:5). (16:10-11) The fifth plague, according to the underlying schema, should actually concern the region of the underworld (cf. 9:20-21). If John allows it to be directed toward the throne of the beast, theologically it is very consistent. The place of origin of the beast is indeed the sea, the realm of the demonic (13:1); it is the governor and representative of the satanic power. The effect of the plague is darkness, which corresponds to the ninth Egyptian plague (Exod. 10:22) and the fourth trumpet plague (8: 12). If this were to be taken literally, one would have to think of a solar eclipse over the city of Rome, the seat of imperial power. But that would be a scarcely comprehensible diminution relative to the preceding 189

Revelation 16:1-21

plagues. Thus, a symbolic-figurative understanding is suggested. In biblicallanguage darkness is God's punishment for evildoers who operate in aimlessness, despair, and fear (Wisdom 17). In precisely this way falls the proud empire, the beast's realm of dominion, into darkness, as a consequence of its distance from God. With this image of darkness the situation of God's enemies, now having suffered the first five plagues, is comprehensively characterized, for the mention of the intense sufferings here can only refer to the sores that are produced by the first plague. Like a refrain, reference is again made here to the stubbornness and impenitence of human beings. [16:12] The situation at the outset of the sixth bowl plague corresponds largely to that of the sixth trumpet plague. From the east, the distant regions beyond the Euphrates River, hostile armies approach, bringing death and destruction (cf. 9: 13-16). But whereas there it was a question of demonic hybrid creatures that are led by satanic angels, the situation here is more strongly historicized. The Euphrates, forming otherwise a natural boundary, dries up so that the kings of the great eastern empires are able to move their armies unhindered to the west. The miracle that Israel experienced during the exodus, of crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, is repeated now under a negative omen at the end-time (lsa. II: 15; Jer. 51:36; Zech. to:II). Specifically, the author may have had in mind the Parthians and Medes, whom the people of the eastern Mediterranean world knew from ancient times as continuously dangerous enemies (cf. 1 Enoch 56:5-8).

[16:13] However, an aberration in the event arises. One would expect that the kings of the East would descend in destruction on the empire of the beast. Instead of being an object of the plague, the evil powers are inserted into it as agents. As a further motif from the Egyptian plagues, frogs (Exod. 8:2) now appear. Perhaps the prototype originally dealt with an army of demonic frogs coming from the east, analogous to the demonic army oflocusts in 9: I-II (cf. 9: I 7-19). In any case, John has used this motif no differently than that of darkness (v. to), also originating from the Egyptian plagues, in the nonliteral sense. He compares the seductive speeches from the mouth of the satanic trinity-dragon, beast, and false prophet (see at 13:11-14)-with frogs. Presumably because of their similarity with dragons and snakes (cf. 12:9) it was natural to draw on the frogs as a graphic characterization of the impure, demonic spirits that belong to the sphere of evil powers. [16:14] The specific events in mind are indicated here. It is a matter of a warlike agitation, of propagandistic intrigues, accompanied and verified by means of "signs," that is, by means of pseudo religious demonstrations of power that attest to the invincibility of the empire (cf. 13: 13-14). The empire thus succeeds in mobilizing the kings of the whole world, which it dominates, to a violent warlike action. Their masses of armies gather from all sides, and a battle to the death ensues between them and the



armies from the east. Without their knowledge and will the kings and powers, together with their multitudes, thereby become executors of God's judgment. With the decisive battle the great day of God, the Almighty, has come. [16:15] Having mentioned the great day of God, John interrupts the

prophecy in order to make occasion in prophetic language for an instruction from the exalted Lmd to his church. Jesus himself summons his own to appear in readiness for his unexpected coming for judgment. As in 3:3, the imagery of Synoptic parables of watchfulness is appropriated here and developed further with a specific cast. The pronouncement of blessing that follows-the third of the book (see at 1:3)-is reminiscent of the warning of the Lord to the church at Laodicea to procure white, pure robes in order not to stand naked on the day of judgment (3: 18). In view of the announcement of the imminent judgment of the evil powers, the conduct of indifferent and unconcerned bystanders does not suit Christians! The day of the Lord, the coming of which cannot be calculated, will instead demand from them an account regarding whether they have remained obedient as commanded. Everything then will depend on whether they have rightly preserved the gifts of salvation that were given to them (cf. 7: 14). In the case of irresponsible activity, judgment threatens not only the evil powers but Christians as well (cf. 20:11-15). [16:16] This verse directly continues v. 14. The demonic spirits conduct the armies raised by them to the place that God has determined for the fatal battle. Its mysterious Hebrew name is given: Armageddon, or Mount of Megiddo. Located in the Jezreel plain, the natural passage from the coastal plain to the Jordan Valley, Megiddo had been in Israel's early history the scene of the defeat of the Canaanite kings (Judg. 4:6-16; 5: 19). The underlying apocalyptic tradition apparently also shifted to that place the decisive battle of the end time, which was to seal the fate of Jerusalem. It is especially difficult to explain the localization ofthis battle on the Mount of Megiddo. Might it be that Carmel, lying nine miles from Megiddo, is meant? It is conceivable that the tradition has been influential here, according to which the evil powers are destroyed in their attempt to storm the mountain of God (Isa. 14: 13). The depiction breaks off abruptly before the beginning of the battle. Perhaps the author omitted it to make possible a climax in the final plague scene. [16:17-21] The seventh bowl is poured out over the air (which is seen as a world element); the effects are also of an atmospheric nature, involving lightning, thunder, and, above all (v. 21), a devastating hailstorm of proportions never before experienced-a clear reminiscence of the seventh Egyptian plague (Exod. 9:22-26). At the same time, this plague contains, like the seventh trumpet plague (11: 19), elements that traditionally belong to the notion of epiphany, the appearance of God. To these is also to be considered, beside thunder and earthquake, the con-


Revelation 16:1-21

vulsion of the cosmos, mentioned in v. 20, which at the same time signifies the immediately imminent end (cf. 6: 12-1 7; 11: 19). But above all, belonging in this thematic context is the sound of that voice from the heavenly sanctuary (v. 18), which is either the voice of God himself or at least one that announces publicly before the world God's will. The message of the voice ties in with 15: 1: with this last plague the judgment of God over his adversaries is accomplished; God has established his dominion and finally demonstrated his power. Indeed, this judgment is carried out on the "great city," which was the center of hostility against God (v. 19). Under the power of the cosmic catastrophes it shatters, and together with it those cities perish that allowed themselves to be misused by it for its evil purposes. The pseudonym Babylon, which is rich in its associations (see at 14:8), makes clear that by the great city Rome is meant; it has become in prototypical fashion the center of the hostility, directed by Satan, toward God and his salvation community. Rome/Babylon must drink the cup containing the wine of God's wrath (cf. 14: 10) But even under the final, most severe blows of judgment, the conduct of God's enemies does not change; they reject repentance and maintain their "no" to God (cf. 9:20-21).


Revelation 17:1-19:10

The Execution of Judgment on the Great Evil City

Analysis This section does not add a further development to the preceding bowl visions. Rather, it is related to them as an enlargement photograph is to the whole. In chap. 16 the essence of the judgment of God had been depicted in one comprehensive view, including heaven and earth, the salvation community as well as the enemies of God. Now one of the sections is treated again in more detail: the judgment on the great city of Babylon, the center of evil resistance. Strictly speaking, 17: 1-19: lOis nothing more than a development of that which was already said in 16: 19. The variation in imagery in this section is striking. The godless empire has heretofore been portrayed predominantly in the image of the beast. Now the image of the "great city" (cf. 11:8, 13; 14:20; 16:19)isin the foreground, used with much less emphasis but bound with the Babylon metaphor (cf. 14:8; 16:19). To that is added the completely new image of the harlot (cf. however 9:21; 14:8). Behind the emphasized use of the two images might be, in large part, the author's compositional intention. For it is clear that a relationship is to be established between them and the ecclesiological images of the end-time city of God (21:2 and elsewhere) and the bride of the lamb (21 :2,9; 22: 17), which dominate the final chapters of Revelation.


Revelation 1 7: 1 -1 8

The Harlot Babylon and the Beast

Text 1 7: 1 And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came to me and said, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters. 2 The kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk from the wine of her fornication." 3 And it carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was covered all over with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and she was bedecked with gold, jewels, and pearls. In her hand she had a golden cup which was full of abominations and the impurity of her fornication. 5 And on her forehead was written her name, a mystery: Babylon, the great one, mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. 6 And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great terror. 7 Then the angel said to me, ·Why do you marvel? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. B (I). The beast that you see was, and is not, and will ascend from the abyss and go to perdition. And the inhabitants of the earth whose names are not written in the book of life from the beginning of the world will marvel when they behold the beast; for it was, and is not, and will come again. 9 This requires understanding with wisdom. (II) The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings.



10 Five (of them) have fallen, one is (now there), one has not yet come; but when he comes, he must (only) remain a short time. 11 And the beast that was and is not-it is itself the eighth, but (in fact) it is one of the seven, and it goes to perdition. 12 (III) And the ten horns which you see are ten kings who have not yet received the dominion; but they shall receive might as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 They are of one mind, and they give their power and might to the beast. 14 They will make war on the lamb, but the lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are his are the called, chosen, and faithful ones.· 15 (IV) And it says to me, "The waters that you saw, where the harlot is seated, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages. 16 (V) And the ten horns that you saw, and the beast-they are those who hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. 1 7 For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose and to be of one mind and to give their dominion to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 (VI) And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth.·

Form The scene has two parts: the actual vision (vv. 1-6) is tied to its interpretation from the mouth of the angel (vv. 7-18). We have here before us the only case in Revelation in which the classic apocalyptic two-part schema of vision and interpretation is carried out consistently (cf. 7: 13). Very quickly, however, it appears in terms of subject matter that this schema is not at all required. John seems to have introduced it simply because it gave him the possibility of inserting diverse material that was associated with the thematic of the vision. While the classic apocalyptic visions (e.g., Daniel 7; 4 Ezra 13) consist of mysterious, dark images that are incomprehensible without the accompanying explanation by the angel of interpretation, the vision here is already relatively transparent by virtue of the imagery, which, in large part, has already been introduced. In spite of the impression of immediate spontaneity, it is constructed theologically in a precise manner; it could almost be characterized as a theological exposition that is converted into metaphors and then set in narrative form. Also in favor of an intentional shaping is the fact that the vision of the bride of the lamb (21 :9-14), which thematically forms its counterpart, is constructed in largely parallel fashion. As clear as the vision is, the subsequent interpretation is, in contrast, as dark and puzzling, especially because many of its details (e.g., the various explanations of the beast and its heads) are self-contradictory and are incongruent with the vision itself. In particular, the interpretation consists of six relatively unconnected juxtaposed words of explanation that connect to various aspects of the vision.


Revelation 17:1-18

I. the beast (vv. 8, 9a); 2. the seven heads (vv. 9b-II); 3. the ten horns (vv. 12-14); 4. the waters (v. 15); 5. the ten horns (vv. 16f.); 6. the woman (v. 18). Only to a small extent might these interpretations originate with John himself. They are mainly cryptic sayings that had already arisen in Palestinian Jewish Christianity as an interpretation of contemporary events and in which elements from Daniel 7 were mixed with popular mythical motifs.

Commentary 117:1] The introduction to the vision is unusual. It is expressly communicated that one of the seven bowl angels enables the seer to see the vision. With that, the thematic connection to the preceding is established: the vision is a segment out of the judgment event of the bowl plagues. An analogy to that is found only in 21:9. The challenge of the angel not only refers to the following vision, which does not yet treat the judgment of Babylon, but also serves as a superscription for everything that follows up to 19: 10. The picture of the harlot is not at all surprising and ties into the familiar Old Testament designation of idolatry and apostasy as harlotry (see at 14:4-5). The prophets frequently identify cities that are ungodly and hostile to God as prostitutes (Isa. 1:21; 23: 1617; Ezek. 16:15-16; 23:1-2; Nah. 3:4). The reference to the many waters clarifies immediately the identity of this particular harlot-certainly in the sense, not of a real, but of a spiritual, topography. Ancient Babylon lay on many canals into which the Euphrates branched (Jer. 51: 13); with the wicked, evil creature, however, the marks of this city are also transferred to Rome, the center of the empire, which now rules the world (cf. v. 15).

117:2] With its world dominion Rome/Babylon has also expanded over the whole earth its rebellion against God, the Lord of history, and has involved all nations in its idolatry, the cult of power of the self-glorifying human being (cf. 14:8). 117:3] In ecstasy caused by the Spirit the seer is transported to the desert. The desert forms the framework of interpretation, as it were, for the event that follows, analogous to the mountain that in 21: 10 forms the theological sign for the appearence of the end-time city of God. The desert is the place of demons; according to prophetic announcement, Babylon is to become a desert (lsa. 13:21; 14:23; Jer. 51:26, 29, 43). Precisely this destiny is also in store for the empire and its powerful capital. The appearance of a woman who is riding a monster takes up an 196


ancient Oriental motif that is found in numerous biblical portrayals: the goddess riding on a beast. To be sure, there are special circumstances connected with this beast: it is Satan's creature (cf. 13:1-3), the embodiment of evil power, the essence of which is the blasphemy of God (13:5). Two aspects characterize the appearance: luxurious voluptuousness and arrogant lasciviousness. The scarlet color of the beast refers to luxury. Scarlet was an extremely precious pigment that was often used to dye expensive textiles. Thus, one thinks here of a choice caparison that covers the beast. [17:4) Even more choice are the robes of the woman herself. Crimson, which was no less precious, is associated here with the scarlet (cf. 18: 12). In obtrusive splendor these luxurious shades of red, together with the abundance of expensive jewelry, are an expression of arrogance and a desire to dominate (cf. Isa. 1: 18; Jer. 4:30). In impressive contrast to that is the white of the robes of the heavenly multitudes of the returning Lord (19: 14) and of the members of the salvation community who have remained faithful (3: 18; 6: 11; 7:9)-it is the color of purity and obedience. Staggering in drunkenness, the woman waves the cup from which she has inebriated herself (v. 6) and which she offers as an intoxicating drink to the nations of the earth (cf. v. 2). Its content is "the impurities of her fornication," that is, her ungodliness and sin. The Roman Empire has not only itselffallen to the cult of the Caesar, which is finally the glorification of a human being who, while sitting in God's place, claims for himself unlimited power, but it has also involved the whole world in this cult as in a wild frenzy. (17:5) On the forehead of the woman the seer is able to recognize her

name. This element corresponds completely to the other mention of names or signs that are written on persons and objects in order to identify their nature (3:12; 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 19:12; 22:4). John is hardly alluding here to the prostitutes of Rome wearing name tags! The name is a "mystery" not because it gives rise to conjecture but rather because it exposes the essence that the phenomenon has in the sight of God and his end-time plan of salvation. It has to do with that great city in which the enmity against God, having already become manifest in Babylon, achieves its extreme focal moment, namely, Rome (cf. 14:8). For this city extended the cult of the Caesar, the most extreme form of idolatry, throughout the world. Indeed, it caused those persons who resisted this idolatry-namely, members of the Christian church who fearlessly bore witness for their Lord-to be murdered. [17:6a) Externally, there is a break in the image. According to this verse, that which occasioned the drunkenness is no longer the abomination of harlotry but rather the blood of the saints. But the substantively based logic is consistent: the murder of witnesses to Jesus becomes for the empire the final, heightened triumph of its godlessness.


Revelation 17:1-18

(17:6b-7) A rather awkward transition from the vision to the interpretations ensues. The seer's terrified astonishment provides the angel the opportunity to elucidate the meaning ofthe image by allegorically decoding its details. (17:8-9a) 1. The beast is explained in an initial cryptic saying that ties in with statements in chap. 13 and thus appears to be formed by the author of Revelation himself. Whereas God is, was, and is to come (1 :8), it is true of the beast that it was, it is not, and it will be. Of course its future existence will be only a brief episode: it will rise from the abyss in order to enter perdition. The solution to this riddle is provided by the myth of the returning Nero, to which the references to the mortal wound of the beast (13:3, 12) as well as to the name number 666 (13: 18) had already alluded. If the "inhabitants of the earth"-everyone except for Christians-are to witness with reverential wonder the reappearance of Nero, then this event will also be a final heightening in the religious aura of the empire and a caricature of the effect of the Parousia of Jesus. To be sure, in order to understand all of this, insight and wisdom given by the Spirit are required (cf. 13: 18). (17:9b-ll) 2. Two very different interpretations are given for the seven heads of the beast. The first equates the heads with seven mountains and thereby refers to Rome, the capital city situated on the famous seven hills. That the harlot is seated on the hills is an obvious image for the fact that the city of Rome is the heart and power center of the empire. The second interpretation equates the heads with "kings." Only the Caesars can be understood thereby, for in the eastern part of the empire "king" was the customary designation for Caesar (cf. 1 Pet. 2: 13-17; 1 Tim. 2:2). The mention of eight Caesars occurs in a mysterious riddle. Five ofthem have already "fallen" (Le., died), one is presently in power, another will come to power, if only for a short period. But then the eighth appears. With him there is a peculiar circumstance. On the one hand, he is identical with one ofthe seven emperors prior to him; on the other hand, he is identical with the beast that was, that is not, and that will come from the abyss to enter perdition (v. 8). This eighth ruler is undoubtedly, therefore, the mythical figure of the returning Nero. But who are the historically real Caesars prior to him to whom reference is made here? A satisfactory answer to this question is hardly possible because three uncertainties stand in the way. With which Caesar does the counting begin? Which Caesars are considered in the counting? Who is meant by the sixth one, that is, the present Caesar? The emperors up to Domitian were as follows: Augustus 27 B.C. -A.D. 14 Tiberius 14-37 Caligula 37-41

Claudius 41-54 Nero 54-68 (Galba,Otho, and Vitellius 68-69) 198

Vespasian 69-79 Titus 79-81 Domitian 81-96


According to the dating of Revelation, it would seem that Domitian is the sixth Caesar. But according to the mode of counting that begins with Augustus, the first Caesar, and that leaves unconsidered the three soldier-emperors of the interregnum in A.D. 68-69, Domitian would not be the sixth, but the eighth. An attractive proposal is for the counting to begin with Caligula, the first Caesar who came to power after the salvation-historical turning point of Jesus' death and resurrection. The difficulty with this proposal is that the understanding of the Christ-event as a turning point in time and the beginning ofa new era of the empire is suggested neither here nor elsewhere in Revelation. It is the case, apart from the view that Domitian is the sixth ruler, that the announcement of another emperor ruling a short time before Nero's return is unlikely because it would be incongruous with the acute imminent expectation of the book. This announcement fits Titus surprisingly well, who governed as emperor for only two years; moreover, Titus is the seventh ruler in a counting that begins with Augustus and skips the soldier-emperors. Another proposal is based on the observation that John here wanted to give the appearance of having already written his book under Vespasian in order to be able to fashion the prophecy of Domitian as the eighth ruler and Nero redivivus so effectively in the style of a fictitious prior time (see Introduction, pp. 4-5). But such an identification of Domitian with a mythical figure is unlikely, and the illusion of an earlier period of composition is completely impossible for an author who is in direct communication with his readers and is known to them. However, it is quite conceivable that here John has assimilated into his book an older Jewish Christian enigmatic saying that did in fact originate in the time of Vespasian, shortly before the accession to the throne of Titus, who was already seriously ill. This is conceivable because it appeared to John to fit the theme. What was important for him in this was only that this saying expressly strengthened the expectation of the return of Nero. To harmonize it in general with the situation, which meanwhile had changed, by means of an altered counting of the Caesars would not have been difficult either for John or his readers. For modern logic there is certainly a contradiction in that the beast is identified first with the city of Rome (v. 9b), and with the empire (vv. 9c, 10), and then with the Caesar of terror at the end time. John is not thinking deductively, but rather associatively. He describes what he means with pictures, the content of which serves as a basis for a considerable breadth of variation. Thus, from the statement in v. 11 that the beast "was and is not," one is not able to infer that the empire in the time of the writer did not present any threat at all for Christians-that would completely contradict the view of chaps. 12-13. The imagery here revolves wholly around the returning Nero: in him the evil essence of the empire, under which the salvation community is already suffering in the present, will receive its clearest and most unequivocal expression. (17:12-14] 3. The ten horns refer, in connection with Dan. 7:24, to ten kings. Unlike the interpretation of the heads (v. 9c), at issue here are not


Revelation 17:1-18

Roman Caesars but rather vassal kings, or to put it more precisely, political leaders and rulers who do not yet have royal dignity but who receive it, together with the beast (i.e., the Nero redivivus), because they support him and place their power and influence at his disposal. We are dealing here with a variation of the idea in 16: 14, according to which the beast wins for its purposes, by demonic wiles, the kings of the world as fellow combatants. But these purposes are defined differently here than there: At stake is a war to the finish against the "lamb," that is, against his salvation community on earth, the multitude of chosen and faithful ones (cf. 14:1-5). Indeed, the beast's helpers will receive might only "for one hour," that is, only for a very short time, for Jesus will conquer them and will thereby show that he alone is Lord of lords and King of kings (cf. 19: 16). The title "King of kings" was originally peculiar to the Babylonian kings (Ezek. 26:7; Dan. 2:37). The Old Testament (Deut. 10: 17; Dan. 2:47) as well as primiti ve Christianity (1 Tim. 6: 15) used it to refer to God. When Revelation transfers it to Jesus, it thus corresponds to its continuous tendency to place Jesus completely on the side of God. (17:15) 4. The waters on which the harlot is seated refer to the nations subjugated by Rome; the image is an Old Testament one that compares nations and armies with floodwaters (lsa. 8:7; Jer. 46:7-8; 47:2-3). The relationship of this interpretation to the vision is imprecise and artificial. In the latter we see only the sitting of the harlot on the beast and its seven heads; her sitting on the waters was mentioned by the angel only in the introduction to the vision (v. 1). (17:16-17) 5. In the context, however, this interpretation is necessary because it forms the presupposition for the interpretation of the ten horns that again follows. The latter is in accord with the first interpretation (vv. 12-14) in that it sees the horns as symbolizing vassal kings that support the beast, the Nero redivivus, and come to his aid with their peoples. But now the discourse has to do with a completely different event than in vv. 12-14. No longer does it concern the common battle of the beast and its vassals against the lamb, but rather their rebellion against the metropolis of Rome. This perspective clearly departs from the vision (vv. 1-6) with its close connection between harlot and beast and quite generally is not to be harmonized with the intention of the writer elsewhere to see the beast together with the empire. Even in vv. 9c-l1, where the beast was already identified with Nero redivivus, its connection to the empire was still preserved-it was able to stand for the ultimate focal moment of the empire's internal essence. But now the beast has nothing more to do with the empire; it has become the force that destroys it. Literal reminiscences ofvv. 12-14 suggest that here as there a variation of the same tradition is present. It was characterized by the expectation, alive among the people at the time, that the returning Nero would ally himself with the feared armies of the Parthians and lead them westward in order to destroy the empire (Tac. Hist. 1.2; Sib. Or. 4.119ff.; 4. 137ff.; 5.361ff.). John was able



to use this peculiar enigmatic saying because it was suited to underscore the perspective that was central for him, namely, that rulers, empires, and social forces in their reckless struggle for power are destined without their desire or knowledge to carry out God's plan for history to the end. The gruesome image of the devouring of the harlot's flesh refers to total physical destruction (cf. Ps. 27:2; Mic. 3:3). This destruction will be merciless. She will come to her end only when the words in which God has first announced his decree are fulfilled. With it is also suggested that the beast and its followers will also finally fall before the judgment of God (cf.19:17-21). (17:18] 6. With the last interpretative saying, which surely John himself shaped, the view of things is directed back to the central content of the vision, and its meaning is once again established. The woman is the embodiment of Rome and its empire; she is the great city that governs the whole world, the commonwealth in which the blasphemous cult of power and might, which radiates everywhere, has its center.


Revelation 18:1-24

The Judgment over the Great City

Text 18: 1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great might, and the earth became bright with his splendor. 2 And he called out with a loud voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great; and she has become a dwelling place of demons, a place of lodging for all unclean spirits, and a shelter for all unclean and hated birds. 3 For all nations have drunk from the wine of wrath of her harlotry, and the kings of the earth have fornicated with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich with the powerful abundance of her extravagance.· 4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Leave her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins and so that you do not contract her plagues! 5 For her sins have mounted up to the heavens, and God has considered her unjust deeds. 6 Render to her as she has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix for her twofold in the cup she has mixed! 7 Give her in like measure pain and suffering as she paraded and indulged in extravagance! For she says in her heart, 'I sit enthroned as a queen, I am no widow, and I will not see mourning.' 8 For that reason her plagues shall come in a single day, death, mourning, and famine, and she shall be burned with fire. For mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.· 9 And the kings of the earth who committed fornication with her and indulged in extravagance shall weep and wail when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off because they will be afraid at her torment, and say, Woe, woe, you great city, Babylon, you mighty city.


Form for in one hour your judgment has come! 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her because no one buys their cargo any more, 12 cargo of gold and silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet, and all kinds of scented wood, and all articles of ivory, and all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, 13 and cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh, and frankincense, and wine and oil, fine flour, and wheat, and cattle and sheep, horses and chariots and human bodies and human souls. 14 And the fruit for which your soul had longed is taken from you, and all delicacies and splendid things are lost to you, nevermore to be found again. 15 The merchants of these wares, who became rich by them, will remain far off in fear of her torment; weeping and wailing 16 they will say, Woe, woe, you great city, which was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, which was bedecked with gold, jewels, and pearls, 17 for in one hour such wealth has been laid waste. And all shipmasters and all skippers, sailors, and seafarers stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, "Who was like the great city?" 19 And they threw dust on their heads and cried, weeping and wailing and saying, Woe, woe, you great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her delicacies, for in one hour she has been laid waste. 20 Rejoice over her, 0 heaven, and you saints, apostles, and prophets, for God has executed your judgment on her for youl 21 And a mighty angel lifted up a stone, as large as a millstone, and threw it into the sea, and said, So shall Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more. 22 And the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters shall be heard in you no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in you no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in you no more; 23 and the light of the lamp shall shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard in you no more. For your merchants were the great ones of the earth, for by your sorcery were all nations deceived, 24 and in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.


Revelation 18:1-24

Form God discharges his judgment on the great city, but Revelation forgoes depicting this judgment. It limits itself to walking along, as it were, the outer edge of the immense crater that has been flung open by God's destructive activity while it turns the event into the occasion for announcement and commentary, and for the symbolic indication of its accomplishment. For this purpose the style of the so-called wall-watch, well known from ancient tragedies, is chosen: Participants and others concerned impart their observations and feelings in the face of an event that takes place before their eyes, but that is concealed from the audience. This artfully constructed section is composed of four parts. First, a twofold message from the angel announces the accomplishment of the judgment (vv. 1-8). Second, three groups of people who are particularly affected by the fall of the city-the kings of the earth, the merchants, and the seafarers-sing laments (vv. 9-19) that in their core (vv. lOb, 16, 19b) are constructed strictly parallel to each other. The lament of the merchants contains a detailed supplement (vv. 11-14) that includes in expansive breadth the luxuries that had earlier supported the city. Third, in sudden contrast to these laments stands the commentary ofthe author of Revelation himself (v. 20), which forms the fulcrum of the section. It takes the shape of a cry of jubilation lifted to the heavenly realm and to the salvation community over the fact that God has finally and visibly established his justice. Finally, a symbolic act of the angel, representing the destruction of Babylon, forms the conclusion, together with a depiction of its consequences (vv. 21-24). The entire section is filled with Old Testament quotations and references. Undoubtedly, the words of Ezekiel concerning the city of Tyre (Ezekiel 26-27) provided the model for the three laments. The harmony consists not only in regard to the motif of the dirge over the city that has fallen to the judgment of God (Ezek. 26: 17-18; 27:2-36), but also in numerous details. Thus, the portrayal of the luxury items is dependent on Ezek. 27:11-24, and the three groups of people that are perplexed by the fall of the city are found there: kings (Ezek. 26: 16; 27:33), merchants (Ezek. 27: 15), and seafarers (Ezek. 27:28-31). But Jeremiah's prophecy regarding Babylon (Jeremiah 50-51) is also taken up repeatedly. Commentary (18:1) A new visual impression begins. It is introduced by an appearance

of an angel, which implies an intensification compared to what has been presented heretofore. An angel surrounded by the heavenly radiance that is elsewhere reserved only for the appearance of God himself (Ezek. 43:23) descends to the earth. (18:2) It repeats the announcement of the fall of Babylon, which had already been declared in 14:8 by an angel from heaven. The past tense form signifies that before God, the city is already destroyed at the moment of his declaration of judgment, even if its realization is still to be



expected at the level of earthly time. In the ruins of the city only demons and unclean birds can still live (cf. Isa. 13:21-22; 34: 11-15; Jer. 50:39; Zeph. 2: 14). (18:2) This verse mentions the guilt on the basis of which God declared his judgment of destruction. In images that are already familiar (cf. 14:8; 17:2), the power cult, self-glorifying arrogance, and idolatry are described, in which the great city has entangled all the nations of the earth. As a further factor that was already suggested in the voluptuous, luxuriant image of the harlot in 17:3-6, the limitless extravagance of her standard of living appears. With that a note governing what follows is struck. The collapse of a prosperous society is depicted whose insatiable greed for expensive goods is a consequence and a symptom of its idolatry of human power and possibilities. (18:4) From heaven the seer hears the voice of another angel, who instructs the people of God to withdraw from the city in order not to be ensnared in their sins and included by their punishment. Behind that word stands both the Old Testament motif of the departure of the righteous from Sodom (Gen. 19: 12-22) and Babylon (Jer. 50:8; 51 :6) and the early Christian apocalyptic tradition that commands flight from Jerusalem and Judea in view of the signs of the end (Mark 13: 14). The directive here cannot be intended literally, perhaps in the sense of a summons to Christians to leave the city of Rome. Instead, it has to do with the fact that the Christians as citizens and members of the city of God (cf. 21 :2, 10) divorce themselves from the way of living of the evil city and, against every temptation to conform to it, remain obedient only to their Lord (cf. 14:4-5). (18:5) In an Old Testament image, the sins of the city form a mountain reaching to the heavens (Gen. 18:20; Jer. 51 :9); thus, the limit of divine patience is ultimately exceeded (cf. 16: 19). (18:6-8) Here we have a change in addressees, as the text turns toward those charged with carrying out the divine judgment of wrath. They are either God's angels of punishment or, which is more likely from the context, those internal worldly powers and groups that God chose as organs to execute his judgment over Babylon (cf. 16:12-16; 17:15-17). The image of the cup appears in its twofold significance: on the one hand, as a symbol of idol worship and of the intoxicated, godless arrogance that results from it, with which the city seduced the whole world (cf. 14:8; 18:3); on the other hand, as a symbol of God's wrathful judgment (cf. 14: 10). In the place of her godless arrogance, Babylon will now have to endure the twofold measure of torment and suffering in conformity with the divine legal maxim that the sin is to be punished twofold (Jer. 16: 18; Isa. 40:2). Sin and punishment correspond to each other also in that for Babylon the fatal potion of wrath is to be mixed in the same cup from which she had forced others to drink. The description of the hybrid 205

Revelation 18:1-24

megalomania of the empire in v. 7b, which boasts of its great power, as well as the announcement of its fall in one day in v. 8 are taken from the prophecy of the fall of Babylon in Isa. 47:8-9 (cf. also Jer. 50:31). Instead of a life of sumptuous pleasure come death, grief, and famine over the city, and a terrifying fiery passion will reduce it to a pile of rubble and ashes. The notion of the execution of judgment in Revelation is ambivalent: first, there are cosmic catastrophes that are produced by God's direct intervention ( 11: 13; 16: 18), but then, as here, it is a warlike inferno that is conducted by persons who act unwittingly as God's instruments (cf. also 16:14, 16; 17:16-17). Behind both ideas stand likewise apocalyptic cliches, so that for John no contradiction was present here. But perhaps with some justification it could be said that the second stood closer to his own thought (cf. at 16: 11-16). [18:9-10] The series of lamenting onlookers who observe the fall of the city from a distance opens with the kings of the earth. John sees no conflict here with earlier statements indicating that the kings of the world themselves had participated in the catastrophe (16: 14, 16), or had even led it (17: 16f.). For him the kings are not real, identifiable individuals, but rather types. They represent one of the groups of persons who have profited from the godless city. And their lament is also formulated completely from the perspective of this damaged self-interest. Like the two that are still to follow (vv. 16-17, 19), it consists of three parts: a cry of lament, a retrospective view of what has been destroyed, and confirmation of the suddenness of the destruction. The retrospective view identifies in each case that which provides the lamenters the special occasion for sorrow. In the case of the kings it is the withered power of Babylon, under whose protection they had established their own power and that at the same time had represented and guaranteed the heretofore prevailing norms. [18:11-13] Their choral lament is answered by that of the merchants. With eloquent words they enumerate the extravagant goods that up to now the great city had purchased and for which the regular market is now absent. Mentioned first are ornamental items, namely, expensive materials, fragrant thuya cedar (which was particularly popular in the interior decoration of wealthy homes and which came from an African citrus tree), luxury items made from ivory, other precious materials, seasonings, perfumes (including amomum, a hair ointment derived from an Asiatic shrub), objects of pleasure, and delicacies. Finally, human bodies and lives are also mentioned. The slave trade is thereby suggested, which played a significant role in the ancient economy. The lavish lifestyle of the Roman kingdoms was essentially made possible by the fact that in their homes multitudes of slaves were available as cheap labor. It is no accident that the list of goods concludes with this reference to slave trade: The sin of a society that Ii ves out its claim to power over the world in the unlimited desire to have all things at its disposal achieves its zenith when it also treats human beings as merchandise.



(18:14) This verse fits poorly into the context not only in form, because of its abrupt transition into the direct address to Babylon, but also in content-fruit hardly belongs to the luxury goods from overseas that are mentioned earlier. Should, as some commentators suggest, the original place of this verse have been between v. 21 and v. 22? There would be more support for the notion that the marginal gloss of an early transcriber slipped into the text. (18:1S-17a) The lament of the merchants is brought to a striking conclusion with a strophe that corresponds exactly to that of the kings (v. 10). What gives the merchants special cause for grief is the destruction of the opulence and the luxurious splendor of the metropolis. (18:17b-19) As a third group of those who mourn, the seafarers enter. What they have to lament specifically in their song is that the great city is now removed as a center of maritime commerce and shipping and with that their means oflivelihood is lost. Of course, Rome was neither a port city nor a shipping center. But here John hardly intended to copy precisely the real situation; rather he wanted to round off the scene oflament by means of a third group, and for that purpose he used the material that Ezek. 27:29-33 provided him. (18:20) Unexpectedly, a summons to rejoice interrupts the laments of those who are able to see the end of the great city only from the perspective of their own disadvantage and loss. Indeed, it is not a heavenly voice, but an earthly one that speaks, namely, that of the author of Revelation himself. We are dealing here with one of those very few places where John inserts his own commentary on what is seen (cf. 14:4-5). At the beginning of the second section of visions a summons to rejoice was sounded in heaven that had accompanied the expulsion of the dragon from heaven (12: 12). However, it was directed only at the heavenly beings, while a cry of woe was sounded over the earth as the region in which the dragon was still able to wield his power. But a turning point is reached with the termination of the evil city. With prophetic authority John can now invite not only heaven but also members of the salvation community on earth to praise God for having finally established his dominion now in all parts of the world. Beside the "saints" (i.e., members of the church), the "apostles and prophets" are also included in the invitation. Presumably, he does not mean thereby charismatic leaders and wandering missionaries who were alive at the time (cf. at 2:2); rather, John is probably reflecting the view of the Asia Minor churches, for whom apostles and prophets were the fundamental witnesses of the prior period of the first generation (cf. Eph. 2:20; 4: 11). They belong to the witnesses already fallen asleep, who have already staked their lives against hostilities and therefore wait for God to secure justice for them (cf. 6:9; 11: 18; 16:7). But even this has already occurred; God has made their claim to justice in relation to their tormentors his own and carried it out by his judgment. Again it becomes clear that God's judgment is only 207

Revelation 18:1-24

the external side of his saving activity (cf. 15:1-8). Thus, the message of judgment over the city becomes a proclamation of the gospel by means of this hymnic conclusion. [18:21) Before the call to rejoice is answered, an angel engages in a symbolic act behind which, as behind a veil, the contours of the judgment of destruction over the great city can be seen. He flings a millstone into the sea. The model for that may be seen in the directive to Jeremiah to bind the scroll with the announcement of judgment over Babylon to a stone and throw it into the Euphrates with the words, "Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disasters that I am bringing on her" (Jer. 51 :63-64). One cannot entirely rule out that Jesus' words in Mark 9:42 par. Matt. 18:6; Luke.17: 1-2 influenced the formation of this Image. [18:22-23a) What the symbolic activity already says obviously enough is confirmed by the accompanying words of the angel: The great city will be extinguished so completely that no trace of human life will be found in her; zeal for life, festive joy, and daily work are banned from it forever. 118:23b-24) One final glance is taken at the guilt that receives its judgment. It rested in Rome's/Babylon's unbridled greed for power-depicted partially by proudly exulting over economic power-with which it deceived the nations, almost as by magical powers (cf. Isa. 47:12; Nah. 3:4), as well as in the murdering of those who have resisted this cult of power, the martyrs of the Christian church (cf. 17:6).


Revelation 19:1-10

Hymnic Finale

Text 19: 1 After this I heard (something) like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation, honor, and power belong to our God! 2 For true and just are his judgments; for he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged the blood of his servants by her hand." 3 And a second time they said, "Hallelujah'" And her smoke goes up forever and ever. 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, and said, "Amen. Hallelujah!" 5 And a voice came forth from the throne, saying, "Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great." 6 Then I heard (something) like a voice of a great multitude and like the voice of many waters and like the voice of mighty thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty has become king. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give him the honorl For the marriage of the lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready, 8 and it was granted to her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure. For the righteous deeds of the saints are her pure garment." 9 And he said to me, "Write: Blessed are those who are invited to


Revelation 19: 1-10 the marriage supper of the lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God." 10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "Do not do that! I am your fellow servant and one of your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. You are to worship God (alone)." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Form God has judged the harlot Babylon, and the crucial bastion of evil resistance on earth has therefore fallen. Now the call to rejoice, which had been expressed in 18:20, finds an overwhelming echo. Joyful praise of God's victory commences in heaven and spreads among members of the salvation community on earth. Nowhere else in Revelation is there found such a conglomeration of hymnic pieces of music. In fact, there are no fewer than five hymns or elements of hymns, which have been combined here into an artistic composition: 1. the hymn of victory of the perfected ones in heaven in vv. Ib-2; 2. the declaration of praise that strengthens it in v. 3; 3. the "Amen. Hallelujah!" of the twenty-four elders and the four creatures in v. 4b; 4. the summons to sing praise by the voice from the throne in v. 5; 5. the hymn of praise of the earthly church in vv. 6b-8a.

These hymnic pieces no doubt correspond largely in form and style to the psalms and hymns that the Asia Minor churches sang in their worship. Nevertheless, it is even less doubtful here than elsewhere among the hymnic pieces in Revelation that John composed them himself and did not take them from the church's worship. For references to what has already taken place are found in great concentration here, especially to statements and motifs of the second section of visions beginning with 12: 1, which finds its grandiose conclusion here. We are dealing here with a hymnic finale in which the event heretofore is again bound together and is conducted to a final climax. The hymn of praise does not have the final word of the section, of course, but rather the view toward the situation of the contemporary churches. In a surprising concluding shift (vv. 9-10), they are led to understand correctly what they have heard, or rather what they have read: it is to be nothing other than help and challenge to faithful steadfastness of the testimony of Jesus.

Commentary (19:1-2] From heaven the seer hears voices of a "great multitude." As the

content of the hymn that they sing indicates, it is the multitude of the perfected ones who have overcome in faithfulness (cf. 7:9-10; 15:2-5). The Hallelujah with which they begin is a familiar term in Old Testament prayer language that is documented here in a Christian sense for the first time. Its original meaning was that of a call to praise God (Heb. halelujah = praise Yahweh), which the worshiping community answers with its praise. However, gradually it deNeloped in Judaism into an independent 210


formula of praise (e.g., Tob. 13: 17; 3 Macc. 7: 13). The original meaning still flickers through here: the singers summon themselves and others to praise God by means of the Hallelujah. In postbiblical Judaism the perception was represented that this acclamation was reserved for the end time: "David spoke 103 sections [ofthe Psalms]; but he only uttered Hallelujah when he saw the fall of the godless" (Ber. 9b; cf. Str.-B. 2:725). This specific end-time reference could also stand here behind the Hallelujah and give it weight. Those who saw the fall of Babylon are summoned to join in the praise of God, who has won the victory over his adversaries. The cry of victory is substantiated by the retrospective glance to what has happened: God has demonstrated the truthfulness and justice of his judicial activity (cf. 15:3-4); while he destroyed the city that had involved and so corrupted the whole earth in its arrogant resistance to him and his claim to dominion (11: 18; cf. 14:8; 17:2, 5), he also let its justice fall to those faithful witnesses who had lost their lives because of their obedience to him (cf. 6:9-10; 16:5-6; 18:24). (19:3) The multitude of those who have overcome sings a second brief strophe. Following the introductory Hallelujah is a short declaration of praise that lays out the finality of God's juridical activity. The smoke of Babylon ascends from the place of judgment into all eternity (cf. 14: 11; Isa. 34: 10) as a sign that from now on there will be no more place for resistance to God. [19:4) The members ofthe heavenly council-the twenty-four elders and

the four creatures who praise God's glory day and night and worship him (cf. 4: 1-11 )-reply with a mighty Amen to the declaration of praise of those who overcome (cf. at 1:6-7; 5: 14) and thus incorporate it, as it were, into the eternal liturgy of the heavenly worship (cf. 7:12). But they also sing a Hallelujah, which undoubtedly here has the meaning of a summons to praise. With that they set in motion a more far-reaching movement of the praise of God. [19:5) The latter is continued in the hymnic cry of a heavenly voice that

issues forth from the area of God's throne (cf. 18:4). In it the Hallelujah ofthe elders is developed and made concrete. All servants of God and all who fear him are summoned to join in the praise. Without doubt the members of the earthly church, without distinction of position or function, are meant here (cf. 1: 1; 2:20; 7:3; 22:3). The end-time praise of God now extends to the earth. (19:6a) That there is a "great multitude" that joins in there, and that the chorus that now resounds is to be heard loudly and powerfully as only heavenly voices (cf. 16: 1; 14:2) does not speak against the notion that this verse has in fact the earthly church in view. For Revelation Christianity is certainly a social minority, but in terms of numbers it is no longer a small multitude. In its beginnings there already existed some churches of considerable size in almost all regions of the empire (cf. 7:4; 14: 1).


Revelation 19:1-10

119:6bJ The hymn of those on earth also begins with the Hallelujah, which here has the meaning of a self-summons to praise. Two statements follow that establish why such praise is now possible on earth without restriction. (19:6c) The first refers to God and his claim to dominion, which is confirmed in his activity in creation (cf. 4: 11). Now God has finally established his dominion victoriously against all hostile powers (cf. II: 17). With that he has also shown himself on earth as the Almighty and has made manifest his power in history. (19:7-8a) The second basis refers, in contrast, to the end-time event,

which is bound to Jesus. Now the time of the "marriage of the lamb" has come, and the salvation community stands ready to enter, as his bride, into the wedding joy of the messianic time of salvation. The bride is already wrapped in the festive robe made of expensive pure white linen, which her Lord himself has given her. It signifies the gift and promise of salvation on the basis of the atoning death of Jesus (cf. 3:5; 6: 11; 7:9, 14).

Excursus: The Image of the Marriage of the Lamb The image has essentially two roots in the tradition. First, the Old Testament prophets compared Israel to a woman whom God married and who therefore owes him unconditional loyalty (Hosea 2; Isa. 54:6; Ezek. 16:7). Unbelief and apostasy of the people of God were thus branded as harlotry (Hos. 2:7). Second, and also in the Old Testament (lsa. 61: 10; 62:5), the marriage as a joyful festival was a familiar image for the messianic time of salvation. On the basis of this Jesus described the period of his work as a marital time of joy (Mark 2: 19-20). Through him God invited himself to the wedding feast in that he offered his fellowship (Matt. 22:1-14). The postresurrection church blended both traditions as it interpreted the Lord returning in the end-time not only as the bringer of the marital festival of joy but also as the bridegroom who united himself with the church, his bride who awaited him (2 Cor. 11 :2; Eph. 5:23, 33). Here Revelation goes a step further. It portrays the perfection of the salvation community in the image of the marriage of the lamb, but out of the negative side of the first traditional motif it also achieves an extremely effective contrast. On the one side is the evil city as a harlot with her importunate ostentation who seduces the whole world with her blasphemous disobedience (17: 1-6); on the other side is the salvation community as Jesus' bride with her pure white garment who waits obediently for the union with her Lord (21 :2, 9). (19:8b) This statement is viewed by many commentators as a gloss that

has been inserted into the text. The explanation of the fine linen as a reference to "the righteous deeds of the saints" (i.e., to the obedience of Christians) appears at first glance to contradict its meaning elsewhere in Revelation as an image of the gift of salvation received from Jesus (cf. 6: 11). It must certainly be considered that Revelation associates this 212


garment elsewhere closely with the obedience of Christians (cf. 3: 18). To be sure, Christians received it as a gift, but everything depends on their keeping it white and pure, that is, on their remaining obedient and not relinquishing the salvation they received. The meaning here is precisely that by their obedience the members of the salvation community have preserved in an observably pure state the wedding garment given to them (cf. 14:4-5). (19:9) A voice, the origin of which is not identified (only in v. 10 do we

learn that it is that of an angel) commands the seer to write down a pronouncement of blessing, the fourth in the book (see at 1:3). The utterance strongly resembles Luke 14: 15: "Blessed is the one who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" With it the level of direct communication with the addressees is again achieved, for it contains the message that the angel wishes to mediate to the churches through John's hand. As a consequence of what has up to this time been heard or read, the message aimed at preparing joyfully for participation in the feast of the lamb. All members of the church are invited to the feast, but everything depends on their preparation for this feast in obedience and faithfulness. With a further word the angel confirms to the seer expressly the reliability of the message imparted to him-presumably what is referred to is the content of the cycles of visions beginning in chap. 12, with its exciting content directly concerning the fate of the church. In 22:6 the same term will appear again, but in reference to the content of the entire book. It has to do with God's promises, which are binding and on which one may therefore rely. (19:10) The concluding scene between the seer and the angel also contains, in spite of its apparently private, personal character, a message to the churches being addressed. The seer falls at the feet of the angel to worship him but is restrained from doing so. Quite clearly here again (cf. 1:20; 2: 1) the tendency toward veneration of and speculation about angels, active in the churches addressed, is rejected .. The angels have no higher rank than each member of the church; they are equal to those who "hold the testimony of Jesus" (i.e., all Christians; cf. at 1:9). But beyond that, as the last sentence indicates, speculation regarding particular, heavenly secrets that are disclosed by angelic revelations is also rejected. That which the Spirit wishes to establish in prophetic speech is not more and nothing other than the testimony of Jesus (cf. 1:2). It is a matter of the manifestation of Jesus' work and will for the salvation community with the aim of enabling its members to continue this testimony of Jesus and authenticate it in obedience. All prophetic utterances are to be gauged by whether this testimony of Jesus is articulated. John himself also subjects his book to this final binding norm.


Revelation 19:11-22:5

Concluding Visions: The Consummation of God's Plan for History

With the destruction of Babylon, the center of evil resistance, the fate of the world is finally decided; God has now established his dominion in heaven as on earth, and he has allotted justice to those people who trusted his promise and were obedient to his will. But God's plan for history, the execution of which had been entrusted to the lamb (5:7-8), has thereby not yet reached its end. Therefore, John begins anew to portray in a final series of visions the remaining events of this plan of history: the return of Jesus as judge of the world (19: 11-21), the establishment of the messianic kingdom (20: 1-10), the resurrection of the dead and judgment of the world (20: 11-15), and the new world and the consummation of salvation (21: 1-22:5). Thus, it follows a given traditional schema of JewishChristian expectation of the end. But the formal completion of this schema is not for him the actual occasion for the addition of this concluding section of visions. Instead, he uses it to express again in detail two themes that are essential for his theological conception. The first is the significance of Jesus Christ for the final event. That Jesus' death and resurrection form the central turning point of history and that as a result the final event has been set in motion was repeatedly and emphatically made clear earlier (5:1-14; 12:5, 12); in the depiction of the final battle, however, Jesus is gi ven no active role apart from 14: 14-16. But now Jesus is introduced as the One who acts in the final event. As he eliminates God's adversaries and establishes God's dominion, he proves himself as the one who 214


determines the future of the world by his being and acting (cf. 1:5, 7). The second theme that is dominant here is the future of the salvation community. In 12: 1-19: 10 the emphasis was on the suffering, oppressed church that stands firm trusting God's promise (12: 12-17; 13:9-10; 14: 15; 16:5-6). However, now the content of this promise is to be developed, namely, the dominion with Christ and life on a renewed earth in a communal existence oriented toward God and Christ.


Revelation 19:11-21

The Return of Jesus as Judge of the World

Text 19: 11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and the rider on it is called "Faithful and True"; he judges and makes war with righteousness. 12 And his eyes are like flames of fire, and on his head are many diadems; he bears a name inscribed which no one knows but he himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood; and his name is "The Word of God." 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in white, pure linen, followed him on white horses. 15 And from his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations. And he will rule them with an iron rod; and he will tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty. 16 And on his robe and on his thigh he has inscribed a name, "King of kings" and "Lord of lords." 1 7 And I saw an angel standing in the sun and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly high in the heavens, "Come, gather for the great supper of God. 18 You shall eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of captains and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and their riders and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great!" 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war with the rider and his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he had deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its


Commentary image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with sulphur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword of the rider which issued forth from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Form The theme of this section is the event that stood at the center of early Christian expectation of the end: the return (Parousia) of Jesus Christ. To be sure, here only one of the two traditionally connected aspects is taken up, namely, the execution of judgment (cf. 1 Thess. 1: 10; Acts 17:31) and the destruction of the enemies of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25-27). The other, the assembly and resurrection of the faithful (cf. Mark 13:27; 1 Thess. 4: 1617), is set aside here in order to be treated in 20: 1-6. In fact, the two adversaries that the returning Lord overpowers are the beast and the false prophet. What appears at first glance to be a confusing and unnecessary repetition, namely, that after the account about the destruction of the evil empire now once again distinctively the author tells about the destruction of these two powers that were closely connected to the empire, proves in truth to be a consequence of the compositional logic of the book. In chap. 13 the beast had been characterized as antichrist, that is, as an adversary and as a distorted counterpart to Jesus Christ. Now it comes to a direct confrontation between Christ and antichrist in which the impotence and futility of the latter is conclusively demonstrated. The section is constructed in three parts: the appearance of Jesus Christ with his heavenly army (vv. 11-16); the invitation to the birds of heaven to a funeral banquet (vv. 17-18); the execution of judgment (vv. 19-21). It has a recapitulatory and summarizing character by means of an abundance of allusions and references to what has preceded. Commentary (19:11) With the opening of the vision it already becomes clear that

everything up to now is to be surpassed. Not only is a door to heaven opened to provide the seer a view of heavenly events (cf. 4: 1; 11: 19), but heaven is opened completely in order to make room for the army that proceeds from it (cf. Matt. 3: 16; John 1:51; Acts 10: 1 i). Leading the army is the Christ. As in 1: 12-28 the description begins with the external properties of the One that appears and advances gradually to his essence. It is surprising that he is riding on a horse, for, according to Zech. 9:9, the Messiah is to ride on a donkey (cf. Mark 11:1-7; John 12:14-15). Presumably the Zechariah prophecy is finally to be surpassed here. At the Parousia the Lord no longer appears in humility, but rather as ruler in, white, which is the color of heavenly purity (cf. 3:4-5; 6: 11 and elsewhere). The name of him who appears characterizes his activity (cf. 3: 12). In that which he now prepares himself to do Jesus proves himself faithful to his promises and thereby has the attributes of the word of God itself (cf. v. 13). When he judges and contends with the enemies of God,


Revelation 19:11-21

he creates the occasion for God's righteousness, the ultimate aim of which is the realization of salvation (cf. 15:3; Isa. 11:4-5). [19:12-13) The comparison of the eyes with flames of fire indicates that the One who appears here is none other than the One in the commissioning vision (cf. I: 14). The diadems on his head (cf. 13: 1) suggest that he is the antagonist of the beast; their large number indicate the infinite superiority of his sovereign power relative to the usurped power of his adversary. Finally, the robe red with blood is borrowed from the announcement in Isa. 63: 1-6 of God's coming in wrathful judgment of the nations. Therefore, the blood is not the actual blood of Jesus which he poured out for sinners, but rather the blood of God's enemies: "Their juice [lifeblood] spattered my garments, and stained all my robes" (Isa. 63:3). It can hardly be objected that heretofore no mention has been made of a battle, for here it is a matter of an image that indicates the direction of the event that follows. But how are the apparently contradictory statements regarding the name of the one who appears to be understood in vv. 12 and 13? Noone knows the name that is inscribed on his head except he himself; but almost in the same breath John attributes to him the name "the Word of God," and still other names appear in the immediate vicinity of this statement (vv. II, 16). One should remember here that with very few exceptions John avoids the customary predicates of honor and majesty (I: I, 5; 20:4, 6; 22:21). This is particularly clear in I: 13; 14: 14 where he uses the son of man designation only in the sense of an approximate comparison. Even the designation of Jesus as lamb is not actually to be understood as a title but rather in the sense of an image that characterizes his function. Behind it appears to stand the conviction that none of the names and titles that are provided can truly capture the essence of Jesus and that the true name that adequately describes the essence of the bringer of salvation will become evident only at the end; until then only Jesus knows it. This true name is identical with the "new name" of Jesus that will be ascribed to the One who overcomes (cf. 3: 12). The various names mentioned in vv. II, 13b, and 16 can only characterize the partial aspects of the activity of Jesus that are visible to faith; therefore, they are only a provisional expedient. This is also true for the name "the Word of God" (ho logos tou theou). It describes the highest thing that can now be said about Jesus insofar as it expresses his relationship to God: in him God reveals himself in word and act; he is the executor of God's word and will. In spite ofthe close resemblance to John 1: 1-4, there is a significant difference, for there "the Word" (ho logos) is a designation used absolutely for the preexistent mediator of creation. In Revelation, however, this absolute use is absent as well as the reference to the preexistence and mediation of creation of Jesus. Revelation could probably not say that the Logos was God (John 1: 1); it simply says that God speaks and acts reliably by means of the



Logos, which goes along the line of the wisdom statement regarding the Word of God that "leaped" from the royal throne in heaven in order to have "the sharp sword" of the "inexorable command" of God become effective on earth (Wis. 18:15-16; cf. Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17). (19:14J Next we meet the cohorts of the returning Lord: the heavenly armies of angels (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:27; Matt. 25:31). It is surprising that

their garments are not warlike, but rather appear to reflect festive joy (cf. 19:8). Accordingly, they appear not as warriors but as those who accompany Jesus Christ in his triumphant entry into dominion on earth. (19:15J All activity that is combative and judgmental proceeds from him alone. He needs no helpers for that; indeed, for the destruction of his enemies he also needs no material means of battle and instruments of destruction. The double-edged sword that proceeds from his mouth (cf. at 2: 12) is sufficient to cut down those who resist (cf. Isa. 11:4). By that is meant the power of the judging word of God, which encounters the world in the person of Jesus. Into this view of the warlike Messiah is fitted the announcement, already employed by John several times (2:27; 12:5), from Ps. 2:9 that the Messiah-King will "rule [the nations] with a rod of iron," as well as the image of treading the winepress of wrath, which was introduced in 14: 19-20 (see there) and that originates in Isa. 63:2-3. In order to achieve a climax relative to 14: 19-20, John has blended this image with that of God's cup of wrath, which the disobedient must drink in judgment (14:8, 10; 16: 19), and thus has eliminated any clear distinction. This statement becomes comprehensible only when it is divided again into its original two component parts. The Christ executes justice in that he exposes his adversaries to the wrath of God (compared to a fatal drink) and in that he thus destroys them as one mashes grapes in the press. (19:16) The portrayal of the sovereign power of the returning Christ

reaches its zenith with the mention of his name "King of kings" and "Lord of lords" (cf. 17: 14). He is the only one who rightfully bears these sovereign names with which earthly rulers have repeatedly adorned themselves, for God himself has set him in his sovereign majesty on the basis of his work of salvation. The statement discloses its full meaning only when its substantive context is seen with 5: 12: only the lamb that was slain is to receive majesty, power, and honor. The names are inscribed on the robe and the thigh of the one who appears. That can be as little imagined literally as the "inscription" of the harlot of Babylon and her beast (17:3, 5). We are dealing here again with one of those inscriptions of names that are typical of Revelation (cf. also 3: 12; 13: 17; 14: 1). It is possible that standing in the background is Isa. 11 :5, where it is said of the Messiah: "Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins."


Revelation 19:11-21

(19:17-18( When the one appears who is the bearer of God's victorious

power, then his adversaries are finished. The battle is already decided before it has ever begun. In this sense is the brief interlude here to be understood. Even before the beast and the kings of the earth have formed their military forces, an angel appears to invite the carrion vultures to the gruesome funeral banquet on the battlefield. The exceedingly crass image is directly suggested by Ezek. 39: 17-20, the instruction to Ezekiel to invite the birds and wild beasts to feast on the carcasses of horses and horsemen after the fall of Gog, just as what follows is strongly influenced by Ezekiel 38-39 (cf. Rev. 20:7-11). It is probable also that the word of Jesus about the carrion around which the eagles assemble (Luke 17:37 par. Matt. 24:28 [Q]) was influential, as already in 8: 13 (see there). The invitation to the "great supper of God" should remind the reader of another invitation, whose counterpart it is: the invitation of members of the salvation community to the "marriage supper of the lamb" (19:9). Again this refers to the internal relationship between judgment and salvation (cf. at 15:3-5). The destruction of God's enemies is only the external side of his saving activity, in which God establishes himself visa-vis his creation and dispenses his justice to his people. [19:19-21] The closing scene develops the event that was already intimated in 17: 12-14. The beast gathers its vassals to lead them in the final

battle against the Christ. In the specific constellation in which it appears here, the image of the beast reaches a new height. It is more than only the representative of the Roman Empire, more also than the demonic form of the returning Nero; it is simply the antichrist, the embodiment of all the forces and powers of history that wanted to usurp the place of ruler of the world, which belongs only to Jesus. A depiction of the battle is omitted. Whenever the Christ encounters his adversaries, no resistance is possible for them; the Word of God itself, which issues forth from his mouth, destroys them. Only the demise of the opponents is related. The kings of the earth with their warriors are killed without exception-the carrion birds therefore come to the funeral banquet that was announced to them. Incomparably more severe than mere death is the punishment of the antichrist and his alter-ego, the false prophet. Both are thrown into hellfire and thereby are delivered up to eternal torment (cf. 14: 10; 20: 10, 14-15; 21:8). John found this end of the beast proclaimed in Dan. 7:11 (cf. Asc. [sa. 4: 14). Two members of the evil satanic trinity are thus eliminated. The dragon, however, its third and most important member, still remains. Its fate is treated in what follows.

Excursus: Jesus as Judge It may appear in the first instance as if the figure sketched here of the warlike Christ, who executes an unmerciful judgment of destruction, has nothing in common with the Jesus of the Gospels, who proclaims love and imparts boundless forgiveness in God's name. But before one prematurely confirms an irreconcilable contrast, one should consider that 220


the proclamation of Jesus is not merely a nonbinding appeal to people, but that salvation or disaster for the future is decided by one's conduct with respect to that appeal. Whoever rejects the saving message of God's dominion submits oneself to judgment (Luke 10: 13-14 par. Matt. 11:2122; Luke 11:29-32. par. Matt. 12:41-42; Luke 12:8-9 par. Matt. 10:32-33). The Synoptic tradition already expresses the critical importance of one's view of Jesus and his message for the future of human beings by depicting Jesus as the returning judge who balances accounts and binds the disobedient with the consequences of their action (Luke 19: 11-27 par. Matt. 25: 14-30; Matt. 25:31-46). In addition, there is something further. When Jesus proclaims the dominion of God, he means God's salvific coming to rule over his creation, which is accomplished not only in an inner renewal of the individual but in a transformation of all relationships. This relationship of the world and creation to God's dominion is of central significance for Revelation. Because it sees in Jesus the bringer of God's dominion, it dares to portray him as the One who as judge of the world destroys all those powers and peoples who on the basis of their decision against Jesus oppose God's saving dominion. At stake with the depiction of judgment is not the satisfaction of vindictiveness and resentment of the readers-all characteristics that could offer support are theologically restrained-but rather only the certainty that God will bring to ruin the destroyers of the earth (II: 18) in order to make this earth into a place for his saving reign.


Revelation 20:1-10

The Thousand-Year Kingdom and the Destruction of Satan

Text 20: 1 And I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the abyss and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the abyss, shut it, and sealed it over him, so that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended . After that he must be loosed for a little while (again). 4 And I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed; and (I saw) the souls of those who had been beheaded on account of their testimony to Jesus and on account of the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. And they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power; instead, they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. 7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison, S and he will come out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. Then fire fell from heaven and consumed them.


Excursus 10 And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the pit of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Form If the earth is to be completely freed for God, the inciter and initiator of all human resistance against God must also be eliminated-Satan, whom Revelation depicts in the image of the dragon. The section considered here forms a counterpart to 12:7-12. The issue there was that Satan was given power on earth for a limited time; here the issue is the final stripping of his power. Surprisingly, this is done in two phases: The first scene (vv. 1-3) reports his being shackled in the underworld for the limited period of a thousand years; the third scene (vv. 7-10) has him finally destroyed only after a renewed attempt at resistance, which he undertakes with the aid of demonic powers. This division should obviously create an occasion for the second scene, which tells of the thousandyear reign of Christ with his own on an earth that is freed from Satan (vv. 4-6). Excursus: The Thousand-Year Kingdom For ages the thousand-year kingdom has been the most controversial theme of Revelation. Dogmatically one understands by it a messianic interim reign on earth coming between the Parousia and the general resurrection of the dead as well as the creation of God's new world. The fact that Revelation represents this idea was essentially the cause of its being recognized by the ancient church as part of the biblical canon. While several agreed with this idea, particularly Western church fathers such as Papias of Hierapolis, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus, the fathers of the East, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who were more strongly influenced by Greek philosophy, rejected the expectation of an earthly interim-reign, the so-called chiliasm (from Gk. chilioi = thousand). Through the influence of Augustine chiliasm was also repressed in the West for a long time: In his book The City of God he advocated a church historical interpretation of Revelation 20 that held wide influence for centuries. According to it, the thousand-year kingdom would encompass the time from the first appearance of Christ on earth until his return-that is, the time of the church. This interpretation, which strongly de-eschatologizes the text, was extraordinarily momentous; it formed the fertile soil for the empire ideology of the medieval emperors as well as for the worldly claim of dominion of the papacy. The panic of the decline of the world that seized all of Europe around the year A.D. 1000 also goes back to it. The expectation of a future thousand-year kingdom arose powerfully again in several radical church movements of the High Middle Ages. The thought of Joachim von Fiore (1130-1202), who understood Revelation 20 as a prophecy of future events, influenced the radical Franciscans as well as the Hussites and Anabaptist movements of the Reformation period. To differentiate themselves especially from the latter, the 223

Revelation 20:1-10

Reformation confessional documents (Augsburg Confession, art. 17; Second Helvetic Confessions, 11) repudiated chiliasm bluntly as heresy. This verdict, however, could not prevent chiliastic thought from being defended again and again in the churches of the Reformation, especially in pietistic circles. For the past hundred years it has not played much ofa role at all in European theology. However, it has been important in circles of lay biblical study, in sects, and to a certain extent even in the younger churches in the Third World. It can be said with certainty today that the theological rejection of chiliasm can appeal to the fact that primitive Christian thought knew nothing of a messianic interim reign. Certainly Paul speaks of Christ finally eliminating the evil powers after his Parousia so that everything can be returned to God's rule (1 Cor. 15:20-28), but he knows nothing of two resurrections or of a reign of earthly peace between them. Rather, for him the eternal dominion of God in which the resurrected Christians take part begins immediately with the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The idea of an interim kingdom is found outside of Revelation only in two Jewish apocalypses: the book of 4 Ezra and the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch. Both originated after the catastrophe of Jerusalem at the end of the first century and, thus, almost simultaneous with Revelation. According to 4 Ezra 7:26-33, the Messiah will rule four hundred years. Then he will die together with all human beings, and the silence of primordial time will return. After that will come the resurrection of the dead and the appearance of the Most High on the throne of judgment for universal judgment of the world. According to 2 Apoc. Bar. 29-30, the Messiah will, when he comes, destroy the two demonic monsters of the primeval world, Leviathan and Behemoth. Then a plentiful time will begin. The grapevines will have 1,000 shoots, and a shoot will have 1,000 clusters, and a cluster will have 1,000 grapes, and a grape will bring 40 liters of wine (2 Apoc. Bar. 29:5-6), and manna will fall from heaven ("and they [the people of the time of salvation] will eat of it in those years, because these are they who have come to the consummation of time," 29:8 = R. H. Charles, Apoc. and Pseudep. 2:498). Then the Messiah will return to heaven and the resurrection of the righteous and the destruction of the godless will take place. In both cases the messianic period has a completely earthly character, connected with this present life. Unlike in Revelation there is no "first resurrection"; participants in it are simply the righteous who are still living at the coming of the Messiah. It is clear that at stake here is an idea that arose through the coalescence of two views, in themselves irreconcilable, of the future consummation. The older Davidic Messiah tradition expects in the future a saving consummation on earth. The Davidic salvation king of the end-time will fulfill the national hope of Israel, all enemies of the people will be destroyed, the nations will be judged, and a reign of peace will be established, the center of which will be Jerusalem. The later hope, which was shaped in apocalyptic thought, awaits in the future the collapse of the 224


present age and the dawn of the new age by which the transition between the two is marked by the coming of the messianic, son of man judge of the world, who has the dead raised and sets them before the throne of God. After the catastrophe of A.D. 70 the old earthly national hope was suppressed but nevertheless did not entirely disappear. Thus, one sought to reconcile them with the universal-transcendent notion of the two ages. The result was that unusual view of an earthly national interim reign that precedes the new world. But what led Revelation, which otherwise dissociated itself from all Jewish national hope, to adopt this idea? As an explanation some have referred to the fact that in chaps. 20 and 21 it used Ezekiel 37-48 as a guide. Ezekiel deals especially with the restoration of Israel and the establishment of the reign of the Davidic Messiah over the people renewed at the end time (Ezekiel 37); then he has followed the final assault of a giant army of the enemy and its destruction (Ezek. 38:1-39:22). At the end is the vision of the new temple of the end time (Ezekiel 40-41). Corresponding exactly, there follows in Revelation the thousand-year reign (20:1-6), the destruction of Satan and his armies (20:7-10), and the appearance of the new Jerusalem (21: 1-22:5). As correct as that is, just as little is finally explained by it. By no means does John follow Ezekiel slavishly; he does so only as far as he advances his own ideas. This is shown not least by the insertion of 20:11-15, which breaks with the Ezekiel schema. If the notion of the messianic interim reign had had no significance for John, he would hardly have used it. But wherein lies this significance? The answer is to be found in its understanding of God and the world. For John, God is the Creator (4: 11) and the Almighty One (1:8 and elsewhere), whose plan for history has the aim of establishing clearly his power and dominion in all regions of his creation. God's dominion therefore also means the subordination of the existing world with its history and experience of life to God's saving power. For John salvation can never only be spiritual and otherworldly; it is also always worldly, indeed political, because for him God is the Lord ofthe world and of history. The final aim of God for John is also the creation of a new world, but beyond that he is certain that God does not completely abandon this old world, but rather claims it fully for his dominion and, at the same time, grants those who belong to it their justice in this old world. This emphasis on the worldliness of salvation lies in other respects also along the line of distancing Revelation from all gnostic enthusiasm. John largely renounced a speculative development of the idea of the interim kingdom. Thus, the motif of the paradisiacal abundance is completely absent. Also, the fate of those in the judgment of the world who participated in the first resurrection remains completely unexplained. Accordingly, John does not seem to think of a death of the elect at the end of the interim kingdom but rather assumes that the first resurrection is already the final one, so that the elect enter immediately into the future new world of God. But if that is so, then the boundary between that world and the earthly reign of the Messiah is also open and 225

Revelation 20:1-10

fluid. The time reference "thousand years" can then finally not be understood in the sense of a temporal speculation. At stake here, as with the numbers throughout Revelation, is a symbolic number. At its basis is the idea of the worldly week of 7 x 1000 years. The present age (6 x 1000 years) is concluded with the seventh day, which portrays a thousand-year sabbath rest (cf. 2 Enoch 33: Iff.). Behind it probably stands a combination of Gen. 1:31; 2: 1-3, and Ps. 90:4 ("a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday"). Also Barn. 15:4, 8 compares the period of the Messiah to the seventh day, the day of the silence of the world. The statement of Revelation regarding the interim kingdom is an image that as a whole is not directly convertible into ecclesiastical doctrine and the bizarre mythological individual traits of which give rise to theological criticism. Understood in a theologically legitimate way it isconsidering these boundaries-a reference to an important aspect of New Testament eschatology that Christianity repeatedly suppressed to its and the world's detriment. Because God is Creator and Lord of history, his salvation also addresses this world and its history. God creates his new world not because he would be powerless to secure a place for himself and those who belong to him in the old one, but rather because he wills and has promised something even greater. The new creation is not denial and abandonment of the old, but rather the surpassing of it.

Commentary (20:1] The opening of the vision is reminiscent of 12:7-9: there Michael

and his angels had flung the dragon from heaven to earth, but now an angel descends from heaven to earth to end the period of his dominion there. (20:2-3a) That aim is achieved above all as he chains the dragon, of whose identity the festive repetition of his characteristics, already mentioned in 12:9 (see there), we are reminded, and locks him up in the underworld. With that a primeval mythical motif is taken up. Iranian eschatology tells of the serpent Azki Dahaka that is chained but is set free at the end of days in order to be conquered finally in the last battle. Jewish apocalyptic tells similarly of the chaining and imprisonment of demonic powers (e.g., Isa. 24:21-23; 1 Enoch 18:13-16; 21:6-10; T. Levi 18:12; 2 Apoc. Bar. 40). Here the underworld is seen not as a place of punishment but rather as a place of banishment. Corresponding to the three-tiered view of the universe that is standard for Revelation, it is the realm beneath the solid surface of the earth that because of its darkness and dismal nature was offered forever as the home of demonic powers (cf. 9: 1; 17:8). (20:3b] With the imprisonment of Satan the earth itself is free of his

deceptive power, which incites rebellion against God. One may conclude only this much here; we cannot go on to say that in the messianic interval 226


John reckons with the existence on earth of "nations" (i.e., unbelievers). According to 19:21, the whole of humankind that does not belong to the salvation community is to be considered as already having perished in the messianic final battle. (20:3c) While this sentence announces another brief release of the dragon,

it also emphasizes that what follows deals with a temporally limited event. (20:4) Now the scene changes. The seer sees "thrones," with figures sitting

on them. These have been considered to be thrones of judgment on which a heavenly tribunal-perhaps the twenty-four elders or the twelve apostles (cf. Matt. 19:28)-sits to pass judgment. The phrase that follows could support this view if one were to translate it, as is grammatically possible, with "and they were given judicial authority." That the meaning is different is seen in the observation that here Dan. 7:22 is taken up, where the issue is that God supplies those who belong to him with their justice and "the saints received the kingdom." Just as is true there, so also is it the case here that God provides his own with justice by means of his verdict. He does this as he restores to them the dignity and honor that was robbed from them by the powers that rebelled against him, and as he places them in dominion over the earth. The thrones, therefore, are thrones of dominion; in other words, here we see the fulfillment of what was promised in 3:21 to those who overcome. The people who stood fast in the end-time conflict and resisted the hostile powers now assume dominion together with Christ. Can the circle of those for whom this promise is meant be more precisely defined? To it belong the martyrs whose destiny particularly concerned the author of Revelation throughout (cf. 6:9-11; 16:6; 18:24), but not only them, but also all who at the risk of life and limb resisted the claim of the cult of the Caesar. However, because Revelation sees all Christians fundamentally challenged by the cult of the Caesar and thus also persecution, it also has in mind here the whole of the salvation community that "followed the lamb" and obediently stood fast (cf. 14:4-5). From the very beginning its rigorous posture excludes for them the possibility that people can belong to the salvation community who did not prove their faithfulness to Jesus in steadfast adherence to the witness of Jesus 0:9) and in overcoming (cf. the sayings for those who overcome in the circular letters). The expectation of a future participation of the faithful in the dominion of Jesus Christ is found already in Paul (1 Cor. 6:2); here it is specifically developed in the sense of ruling with Christ over the earth. This ruling cannot mean a forceful suppression of hostile people and powers, since such will no longer be present; rather, it has to do exclusively with bringing to bear the saving will of God for the world. (20:5) Their resurrection precedes the rehabilitation of the faithful and their establishment in dominion. This is explicitly identified as the "first


Revelation 20: 1-1 0

resurrection." It is thus distinguished from the event depicted in vv. 1215, which includes the dead who remain outside the salvation community and for which John especially avoids the designation "second resurrection. "

120:6] With the pronouncement here of blessing-the fifth in the book (cf. at 1:3)-the author addresses his readers directly. From the vision they should draw instant conclusions for their actions and conduct: the magnitude of the promise rewards the effort, but at stake is nothing less than complete, indestructible fellowship with Christ. Only for the participants in the first resurrection is holiness-that is, membership in God's realm of salvation-an undisputed reality. That means that the second death, eternal destruction (cf. 20: 14), no longer is a threat to them; for all time they will have the rights of priests who as such belong immediately to the saving realm of God and Christ (cf. 1:6; 5: 10). 120:7] The third scene begins here, but the customary introduction to the vision is absent, just as it is in 12: 1. And as in chap. 12, John makes use here of a mythical metaphoric language that in the end resists translation into categories of logical, causal thought. Why is Satan released from his prison? Where are nations that allow themselves to be deceived by him after only those faithful to Christ rule the earth? And how is such deception at all possible if the earth is directly subordinate to the dominion of Christ and his own? These questions remain unanswered. The scene must be understood from the point of view of its central concern, which is to show that now, after heaven and earth, the underworld is also cleansed of God's enemies; at the end, the entire world in all its regions is free of resistance to God (cf. I Cor. 15:25). 120:8] Consistent with his being, the liberated Satan again immediately plans war against God and those belonging to him. To do that he needs allies. He seeks them among the demonic powers because the kings of the earth are no longer available to him (cf. 19: 19-21). So he assembles as his auxiliaries Gog and Magog, two gigantic mythical nations. In the background here is Ezekiel 38-39, which discusses the powerful King Gog from the land of Magog, who with his army out of the north advances against Israel to be destroyed by God there. If originally an assault by the wild horsemen of the Scythians is meant, John is thinking of the conscription of a demonic power (cf. 16: 12). Here he follows apocalyptic tradition, for which Gog and Magog had become two mysterious names that were arranged parallel to each other (Sib. Or. 3.319, 512). 120:9] From the edges ofthe earth Satan leads the immensely large armies of Gog and Magog in battle against the "camp of the saints" and the city of God, thought to be the center of the earth. The expression "the beloved city" designates Jerusalem in the Old Testament (cf. Ps. 78:68; 87:2). However, John is hardly thinking of the real Jerusalem; rather, he under228


stands the salvation community again here as a communal entity (polis) in the existence of which the promises of salvation, intended originally for Jerusalem, are fulfilled and which is simultaneously the contrast to the "great city" of the enemies of God (cf. at 3: 12; 11 :8; 14:20). The danger is thwarted by God's intervention, as fire falls from heaven and destroys the hostile armies (cf. Ezek. 38:22; 39:6). [20:10] Another fate awaits Satan, their leader. Like his creatures, the beast and the false prophet (cf. 19:20), he is thrown into the lake of fireconsidered an inaccessible place beyond the world. The power of the evil one is thereby ultimately eliminated.


Revelation 20:11-15

End of the World and Universal Judgment

Text 20: 11 And I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it. Before his presence the earth and the sky fled away, and no place was found for them (any more). 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened which was the (book) of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, (that is), according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead in it; and Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and they were judged by their works. 14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, that one was thrown into the lake of fire.

Analysis More than once John has already brought his readers immediately to the threshold of the judgment that will draw history to a close (6: 12-17; 8: 1; 11: 19) and has allowed them partial glimpses of it (14: 14-20). Perhaps that is why the depiction which he offers here in the framework of the course of the end-events is so strikingly terse and meager. Strictly speaking, this depiction is confined only to one particular aspect: judgment of the dead. The central message of this section is that not only history in its fullness races toward a final, decisive act of God but also every individual human being faces an hour in which one must subject one's life to the final judgment of God. The narrative details by means of which this



message is expressed are to be seen as mere images that point to definite matters of content. All attempts to explain them speculatively as descriptions of a real unfolding event will inevitably fail because it will become entangled in inextricable contradictions. Commentary 120:11] This time not only does the seer see the heavenly throne (4:2), but also the One who is seated on it, God himself, becomes visible to him. When the end comes, God appears out of his inaccessible hiddenness in which he is found for the world and human beings. The throne radiates in a brilliant white as a sign of God's holiness and purity (cf. 2: 17; 3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 7:9; 19: 11, 14). However, heaven and earth must pass away before the face of the holy God. As the Creator's word had caused the world to come into being out of nothing, so does its encounter with the Judge cause it to fall back into nothing-there is no longer any place for it (cf. Isa. 51 :6; Mark 13:31).

120:12] For God to appear as Judge of the world is deeply consistent with the central direction of every event in Revelation that involves God. That Christ participates in the judgment is, according to everything heretofore (cf. 14: 14-16; 19: 11-13), a foregone conclusion for Revelation. Indeed, it was the fundamental conviction of primitive Christianity that Jesus Christ held the office of Judge of the world (2 Cor. 5: 10; Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 10:42; 17:31; cf. the excursus, pp. 220-21), although statements are also found-for example, in Paul (Rom. 14: 10)-that mention a discharge of judgment by God (cf. Matt. 6:4; 18:35). The dead stand before the throne of God in order to receive their sentence. John obviously avoids speaking of a general resurrection of the dead at the judgment. The term "second resurrection," which one would expect here in parallel to the "first resurrection" in v. 5, does not appear. Made alive in the sense of granting new corporeality are only those to whom the resurrection to salvation is imparted (cf. 20:4). Apparently, John considers the dead standing before God only as incorporeal souls (cf. 6:9; 20:4). Two different books are opened, apparently by angels, to serve as bases for the sentence. In the one are recorded the deeds and the failures of human beings (cf. 4 Ezra 6:20; Dan. 7: 10; 2 Apoc. Bar. 24: 1). The second, to be distinguished from the first, is the Book of Life; in it are written the names of those whom God has chosen for salvation (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; Phil. 4:3; Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23). Thejudgment ensues according to works; the entire life of human beings, with all its deeds, is now disclosed in God's light. What is determinative is not the outcome of the calculation of the negative versus the positive balance but rather God's free decision. The deeds of a human being-one's faithfulness to Jesus, one's steadfastness in testimony and confession of faith (cf. 14:13; 19:8)-all of this is not one's own achievement but a consequence of divine election. 231

Revelation 20:11-15

[20:13] It would be superfluous to want to know where the throne of God stands after heaven is no more. Equally futile, in light of the mention of the sea, is the question of where John localizes the destruction of the earth. The sea is portrayed here as a personified demonic power. The dead who are securely in its grasp are particularly far from the vicinity of life because there are not even visible graves for them. Ancient man, for whom burial had tremendous importance, therefore thought of those who perished in the sea with particular dread (cf. J Enoch 61:5). When God sits in judgment, not even the sea can withhold from him those people to whom he as Lord and Creator lays his claim. Death and Hades must also release the dead held in their custody. The world of the dead is personified here in dependence on the Hellenistic notion of the god of the underworld, Hades (cf. 6:8). Death and Hades are the two last powers of corruption that are eliminated before the dawn of God's new world (cf. I Cor. 15:26, 54-55). [20:14] Their defeat is told using an unusually bold image. Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire; the powers of death themselves are therefore killed. God deals with them as with Satan himself and his other associates (cf. v. 10; 19:20). At issue here is not punishment but, as John observes in a clarifying postscript, eternal destruction-the lake of fire is the "second" (i.e., eternal and final) death. [20:15] This verse returns again to the central content of the section in order to warn and admonish the readers. Precisely such eternal death will also be suffered by all those who do not belong to God's elect. It is not a matter of speculating theoretically about how great the portion of humanity is that God has chosen for salvation; the issue, rather, is the promise of election, of which in Christ one may be certain (cf. I :5), of authenticating it in the practical experience of life, and of not placing salvation at risk thoughtlessly through disobedience.


Revelation 21 :1-22:5

God's New World

With the creation of a new world God's activity reaches its goal, to which the final group of visions in Revelation is devoted. As terse and as sparce as the judgment was treated, just as broadly, indeed almost expansively, is the portrayal now. Without doubt the aim of the book is found here, where all tines converge. In these concluding visions John reaches back to a plethora of Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic motifs and traditions: the new heaven and the new earth, the Jerusalem of the end-time, which descends from heaven to earth, the river of life and the tree of life, to mention only the most significant. But the first impression of a disjointed juxtaposition of partially conflicting details is misleading, and especially the frequent attempts to distinguish in this section various written sources appear unfounded. It is evident that John has made use of the abundant material by arranging and organizing it entirely for his central theological desire to show that in the center of God's new creation is the perfected salvation community, which draws its life completely from the direct and immovable presence of God and Jesus Christ. The division into two visions especially proves to be equally significant and pointed. The first (21: 1-8) above all provides a general overview of the event of the new creation, while the second (21 :9-22:5) singles out from it a close-up picture, as it were, of the decisive aspect: the perfected salvation community as the new Jerusalem.


Revelation 21 :1-8

God's New Act of Creation

Text 21 : 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had vanished, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling of God is with people! And he will dwell among them, and they shall be his people; and he, God, will be with them. 4 And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, And death will be no more, neither shall there be suffering nor crying nor distress any more, for the former things have passed away. 5 And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make everything new!" Also he said, "Write, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 And he said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give (to drink) from the fountain of the water of life without payment. 7 Whoever overcomes shall have this inheritance, and I will be this one's God, and this one shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur; that is the second death."


Form Two auditions follow a brief double vision (vv. 1-2). First, an angel speaks (vv. 3-4), then God himself speaks (vv. 5-8). Both auditions refer 234


back to the double vision. While the address of God explains the first part (the creation of God's new world), the message of the angel provides a pointed interpretation of the second part (the appearance of the heavenly Jerusalem) and thus prepares for 21 :9-22:5. Commentary (21:1) The subject matter is that of a completely new beginning. The old cosmos has disappeared forever. In its place God now creates a new one. Thus, the prophetic promise of Isa. 65: 17 is fulfilled: "For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered" (cf. Isa. 66:22; 4 Ezra 7:29ff.). It is expressly emphasized that the sea will also be no more-it was the sinister border region to the underworld, the demonic, which offered a hiding place to powers threatening the earth (cf. 13:1; Sib. Or. 8.236-37). The new world no longer provides room to the evil one-it will wholly be God's world. The act of creation itself remains concealed from the eye of the seer; he is permitted to see only its result. (21:2) Quite abruptly the second part of the vision stands beside the first: the seer sees "the holy city, the new Jerusalem" descending from heaven to the new earth. Prophetic faith already knew of a fundamental renewal of Jerusalem anticipated for the time of salvation as God's earthly dwelling place and as the center of the earth (Isa. 54: 11-17; 60: 1; Ezekiel 4048). Beyond that, apocalyptic developed the idea that John also follows, according to which the new Jerusalem was preexistent in heaven in order to come from there to earth at the end time (4 Ezra 7:26; 8:52; 10:27,54; 13:36; 2 Apoc. Bar. 4:2-6). It would lead to a pointless and extreme form of consequence to debate how the new Jerusalem could now come "from heaven" after the heaven in which it had been preserved heretofore is no more, according to v.I. As the supplementary clarification "from God" demonstrates, what is meant by heaven is not a part of the cosmos but the domain of God. The word "Jerusalem" appears only in Rev. 21:2, 10 and 3: 12, but in all three places it refers to the end-time city of God. The name is consistently withheld from the earthly Jerusalem; it has ceased being God's city and instead has assumed the essence of the great city inimical to God (cf. 11:8). Behind the image of the new Jerusalem is now placed another that illuminates and explains the first: that of a bride who is adorned for her bridegroom, who comes to take her to the wedding (cf. 19:7,9). At issue in the end here is not a piece of end-time topography but the becoming visible ofthe perfected salvation community; it is both God's city and the bride of the lamb. The merging of the two images was natural, since in the Old Testament Zion/Jerusalem was frequently portrayed as a woman (Isa. 1:8; Jer. 4:31; 4 Ezra 9:38ff.; cf. at 12: 1). It is likely that John is using an older tradition here that is found in Gal. 4:21-31 and Heb. 11: 10; 12:22. According to it, Christians no longer belong to the old, earthly Jerusalem, the place of the law and of hostility toward Jesus; rather, because of the promise, their home is in the heavenly, new Jerusalem, the


Revelation 21:1-8

place of freedom given in Christ. John's intent that the double image of the end-time Jerusalem as the city of God and as the bride of the lamb be understood here is achieved by its juxtaposition to the other double image of the great city of Babylon and the great harlot who seduces the world (17: 1-6). In the place of that city and that society, which disputed the justice of God the Creator on earth and which religiously glorified the unlimited power of human beings with their idols, the salvation community appears at the end-time as the community of those who live entirely with God and draw life from God. It is the center of God's new world. (21:3) A heavenly voice that comes from the throne of God, that is, from the immediate vicinity of God (cf. 16: 17; 19:5), mentions the decisive essential feature of the end-time city of God: God's direct and immovable presence among human beings. No longer will God reign as the Holy One in unapproachable distance from human beings; rather, he will be very near, so that they will have direct access to him. The Old Testament promise of an intimate communion between God and man, which is no longer broken (Ezek. 37: 27; Zech. 2: 14), will be fulfilled. Indeed, the original restriction of this promise to Israel as the one people of God is burst asunder. All people are united by this immediate communion with God into the new humanity. (21:4) Wherever God is present and there is no longer any estrangement between him and human beings, there is, as this verse declares in an almost verbatim repetition of 7: 17b (see commentary there), no longer any room for all that which, as a consequence of the broken communion with God, continues to harm and threaten human life. Death, suffering, and pain will have then disappeared. In a descending series death is named first as causal power (cf. 20: 14), followed by that which it causes. Furthermore, it is worth considering that the saving effect of the communion of God with human beings is described here only negatively. One can, of course, say that the life-diminishing factors experienced in the contemporary world will no longer exist. The new creation cannot be described positively, however, because that which it will bring will not be an improvement and an enhancement of what is experienced in this world, but rather something altogether new. When God makes a new beginning, the "first," namely, the old world which had become a realm of disaster due to the rebellion of the creatures against their creator, will be finally over with (cf. Isa. 43: 18; 65: 15; 2 Cor. 5: 17). (21:5) A final intensification surpasses what has been said heretofore. God himself speaks here for the second and last time in Revelation (cf. 1:8). In a solemn explanation of his will he confirms the prophetic promise of Isa. 43: 19: he will make all things new. What Paul had expressed in similar words in 2 Cor. 5: 17 in view of the perfection of the individual believer, namely, that this one will be a "new creation," is proclaimed universally here as the aim of the ways and activity of God. Therein also lies an intensification, that now God himself-and no



longer, as in 19:9, the angel-imparts to the seer a command to write, which, as there, is substantiated by the assurance of the absolute reliability and truthfulness of the words that are heard. The dispute over what this command to write is based on-merely on the announcement of the new creation or on all the visions heretofore received-is meaningless as soon as one recognizes that the announcement of the new creation is the purpose toward which God's plan for history, fulfilled through Christ, was directed. With some justification one could say that v. 5a is the central key verse of the entire book. The acts of God's self-assertion and accomplishment over against the old world and its history, which the prior visions addressed, in the end serve only to anticipate the final demonstration of God's creative power and his sovereignty over history, namely, the creation of a new world, wholly in conformity to him, in which only his saving will rules. (21:6) The words with which God promises the new creation "come to pass" insofar as they contain an announcement of God's will for which God himself is the guarantor (cf. 16: 17). Because he is Creator and Lord of history, he will not leave his work incomplete. This idea is expressed here with the formula that was introduced at the beginning of the book (cf. 1:8), which describes God as the beginning and the end of all things and all events. The following promise of God that in the new creation he himself will quench all thirst without cost with the living water is formulated in close connection with Isa. 55: 1. We are dealing here with an elementary image for the granting of salvation (cf. 7:17; John 4:10-14; 7:37-38). That for which members of the church now thirst in their persecution and suffering (cf. Matt. 5:6), namely, God's saving presence and communion with him, will someday be given to them-and here lies the emphasis-"as a gift." As great as the meaning is which Revelation places on the works of Christians (cf. 14: 13; 19:8; 20: 12), it still maintains that salvation is not earned by works but comes only from the work of Christ, in which God's gifting love is demonstrated (cf. 1:5; 5:10; Rom. 3:24). (21:7) The declaration regarding those who conquer refers back to the

message to those who overcome in the circular letters in that it summarizes in a concluding way their message (cf. at 2:7). "Those who conquer"-that is, those people who remain faithful in suffering and affliction to the testimony of Jesus that is entrusted to them (cf. 1:9; 7: 14; 14:4)-will receive as their inheritance all God's promises, which culminate in the promise of participation in the new world (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 50; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Indeed, in the final analysis in these promises the important matter is not receiving certain gifts from God but rather the relationship to God himself, the giver of all gifts. The ones who overcome are to become sons of God. With that, the content of Nathan's prophecy (2 Sam. 7: 14), which was originally meant only for the messianic King, is democratized, as it were. Not only is Jesus, the anointed One of God, "son" (cf. Heb. 1:5), but also through him and with him all members of 237

Revelation 21:1-8

the perfected salvation community (cf. 2 Cor. 6: 18). But as sons of God they will be in God's immediate presence and will have unlimited participation in his end-time dominion. What that means will be more precisely developed in 22:3-5. (21:8] This verse is an indirect appeal to the readers. In view of the overwhelming magnitude of the promise, the danger of forfeiting it through disobedience and laxity is particularly great. In form this is a catalog of vices, that is, an enumeration of behavioral habits and traits by which one excludes oneself from the inheritance of salvation (cf. Rom. I :29-32; I Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5: 19-21). The Sitz im Leben of such catalogs was baptismal instruction. John has probably taken over the catalog appearing here from tradition. However, he has adapted it with expansions and alterations for his specific statement intention. It is striking, namely, that the list does not begin with the traditional dominant vices of paganism but first mentions cowardice and faithlessness. Thus, aim is taken at the conduct of those Christians who become weak in the midst of persecution and hardship and retract obedience to their Lord. That no distinction is made between them and those who openly practice pagan cults and pagan vices gives the catalog its provocative harshness and is a further demonstration of the ethical rigor of Revelation (cf. at 14:4-5). In an effort to challenge the reliance of the addressees on their safe possession of salvation, John again makes it clear that, because of the magnitude of the promise received, the danger is all the more serious of being disobedient and faithless to Jesus. Whoever succumbs to it does not belong to those who stand in the Book of Life (cf. at 20: 12) and is therefore fundamentally like God's enemies, who stand in his judgment.


Revelation 21 :9-22:5

The Perfected Salvation Community

Text 21:9 And one of the seven angels came who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and he spoke to me, saying, ·Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb .• 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great, high wall (and) twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates were inscribed names, namely, those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel; 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them (stood) the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. 15 And the one who spoke to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates, and wall. 16 And the city is built foursquare, its length as great as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length, breadth, and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, a hundred forty-four cubits by a man's measure, which is the measure of the angel. 18 The outer wall was built of jasper, and the city of pure gold, clear as glass. 19 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with all kinds of jewels: the first foundation stone was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate,


Revelation 21:9-22:5 20

21 22 23 24 25 26 27 22: 1 2 3 4 5

the fourth emerald. the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl. the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each gate was made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty is its temple and the lamb. And the city needs neither sun nor moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb. And the nations shall walk in its light; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. And its gates shall not be shut the whole day, for there shall be no night there; and the glory and the treasures of the nations shall be brought into it. But nothing unclean shall enter it. nor anyone who practices abominations or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. And he showed me a stream of living water, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle, between the street and the stream, far and near, stood the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves on the tree served to heal the nations. And there shall be nothing accursed any more. And the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it (= the city), and his servants shall serve him, and they shall see his countenance, and his name shall be written on their foreheads. And there shall be no more night; they need neither the light of lamp nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Analysis The final vision of Revelation offers nothing new regarding the matters of substance relative to 21: 1-8. Instead, it elucidates and intensifies what is said there. It does this by showing that the promise of God's end-time activity of creation that makes all things new is at its center a promise of fulfillment for the salvation community. Indeed, that which characterizes the perfected salvation community is the full, bodily communion of Christians with God and Jesus, out of which all features of life form themselves anew. In spite of the confusing multitude of visual details, at stake here is not, finally, cosmology, or statements regarding the form and essence of the new creation, but rather ecclesiology, that is, the image of



the future that is promised to the church. Accordingly, this future is not at all radically separated from the present; instead, it merely brings the bodily perfection of that which already defines the essence of the church on earth, even if it is hidden beneath suffering and oppression. This vision has its literary model in the vision of Ezekiel of the rebuilding of the temple and of its cult (Ezekiel 40-48). There Ezekiel is led to a high mountain from which an angel shows him the new temple as it is to be built at the end time according to the will of God. Before his eyes the angel measures the temple in order to provide him with a detailed blueprint of the building, which the prophet is to deliver to the house ofIsrael (Ezek. 40:4-5). Besides the initial situation (Ezek. 40:2), John has taken over many details from Ezekiel, such as the measurements by the angel and the depiction of the temple spring as a paradisiacal river (47: 1-12). However, he has decisively altered the shape of the whole picture. While in Ezekiel the temple is the actual object of the vision and the city of Jerusalem appears only as an annex attached to it, the vision of John deals exclusively with the end-time Jerusalem. Statements that in Ezekiel clearly apply to the temple are now transferred to the city (e.g., 21: 11 = Ezek. 43:2; 21: 15 = Ezek. 40:3-5; 21: 16 = Ezek. 40:3, 5; 21: 16 = Ezek. 43: 16; 22: 1 = Ezek. 47: 12); the supplementary passage ofEzek. 40:30-35, which deals with the gates of the holy city and which was presumably added redactionally to Ezekiel, is integrated into the vision (21: 12-13) but refers back, in supplementary fashion, to statements of the Old Testament circle of tradition that places the revival of Jerusalem at the center of the expectation ofthe end time (Isa. 54: 11-17; 60: 1-22; 62: 1-12; Tob. 13:16; 14:5; 4 Ezra 8:52; 10:27,44,55; 2 Apoc. Bar. 4:3-6). Behind this treatment stands a clear theological purpose: John wishes to establish that the end-time city of God has itself become the temple. There is no longer an actual temple in it because the attribute of the temple to be God's dwelling place has been wholly transferred to the city (21 :22). The merging of temple and city is of considerable importance in the framework of Revelation's understanding of the church, for it brings together two ecclesiological complexes of assertions. The first, which is authoritative for Revelation's understanding of the church, interprets the salvation community as the end-time city of God, as the corporate entity subject to God's dominion, and thus as a contrast to the great city of Rome, the center of all evil forces in the world (cf. at 11 :8; 14: 1). The second, which is preferred by Paul and his school, understands the church as the new end-time temple that has replaced the old temple in Jerusalem and is now the dwelling place of God's presence (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; 4:12; 1 Tim. 3:15). Through the connection with the second complex of assertions the image of the salvation community as polis acquires here a new dimension of depth. It is the physical presence of God and Jesus in it which allows it to become a saving corporate entity that is ordered in all its aspects oflife by God. The structure of the vision is relatively loose. Attached to an initial description of the city (21 :9-14) are the dimensions of its buildings 241

Revelation 21:9-22:5

(21: 15-21), the depiction oflife in it (21 :22-27), and its characterization as an end-time counterpart to paradise (22: 1-5).

Commentary (21:9-10) In design and structure the opening of the vision corresponds precisely to 17: 1-3. The reader should recognize what is seen now as a counterpart to the appearance of the great harlot Babylon. As there, so also here is it one of the seven angels with the bowls (cf. 15:7) who by his command enables the seer to see the vision. Beyond the intended correspondence, perhaps a further allusion can be seen in this aspect to the interrelatedness of judgment and salvation in God's activity (cf. at 15:34). The high mountain to which the seer is led in an ecstasy effected by the Spirit is, like the desert in 17:3, not a real place, but a typical one; it belongs together with God's saving revelations (cf. also Ezek. 40:2). The image of the salvation community as the bride of the Lamb was already introduced in 19:7 (see excursus) and 21:2. If, going beyond what has been said heretofore, the bride is also characterized as a wife, that should probably indicate that the marriage of the lamb announced in 19:7 has taken place in the meantime. The end-time salvation community is now wholly united with its Lord (cf. 22:3). It is noteworthy that this image of the bride, or wife, plays no more role in what follows but is replaced by that of the city. This exchange of images, made possible by the substantive equivalence of the two pictures in v. 2, may have been occasioned by the desire to avoid any resemblance to the motif of the holy wedding that was widespread in pagan religions. However, the most important reason for it was that the image of the city corresponded more suitably to John's intention. (21:11] The most significant characteristic of the city is mentioned at the very outset: it is the radiance of God, the sign of his visible presence which the city fulfills (Ezek. 43:2-3; Isa. 60: 1). As in the throne visions, the abundance of light proceeding from God is compared to the brightness of the jasper jewel (cf. at 4:3). (21:12-13) The next characteristic of which the seer becomes aware is the immense walls of the city, which are furnished with twelve gates. It would be wrong to conclude that the city had the character of a fortification and that its walls were to serve as a defense against enemies, for in the new creation there will be no more enemies of God and his own. Moreover, in vv. 24-25 it is precisely the openness ofthe city that is emphasized. Walls and gates were, as many excavations indicate, common parts of a city and important for its outward appearance. The gates, specifically, were places of communication, deliberation, and administration. The symbolic number of gates, twelve, above each of which stands one of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, is taken from Ezek. 48:31-34. For John the church is also the people ofthe twelve tribes, renewed at the end time, for whom



the promises oflsrael apply (cf. at 7:4-8). Angels stand guard at the gates (cf. Isa. 62:6). (21:14] What the city specifically demonstrates as the end-time salvation community of Jesus Christ is the foundation on which its walls are erected, for they bear the names of the "twelve apostles of the lamb." One should picture that each section of the wall between two gates is associated with a particular apostle. Here John seizes on the common primitive Christian idea of the apostles as the foundation rock on which the end-time temple of the church is built (cf. Matt. 16: 18; 1 Cor. 3: 10; Eph. 2:20) in order to transfer it to his concept of the holy city. He may also be thinking here (as in Eph. 2:20) of the apostolic proclamation that is given to the church as a permanent norm. The idea of the "twelve apostles," which limits the apostolate de facto to the circle of twelve around the pre-Easter Jesus and thus excludes Paul, only developed in the second Christian generation, possibly under the influence of the Jesus logion in Matt. 19:28, and is clearly attested elsewhere in the New Testament only in Luke (Luke 6: 13; Acts 1:2, 26). (21:15] While in 17:7-18 the angel of the preceding vision adds an interpretation, here he silently measures the city before the seer's eyes. But in fact this measurement, which is taken from Ezek. 40:3, 5, functions as an interpretation (different, however, from 11: 1, where the surveying of the temple by the seer is a prophetic sign of forbearance). For it enables the seer to visualize the chosen preciousness, the overwhelming magnitude, and the harmonious beauty ofthe city. (21:16] The square design of the city is already harmonious. According to ancient tradition, Babylon and Ninevah were also designed in the form of a square. But the city of God surpasses these world cities in its harmony, since it forms not only a square but also a cube: its length, breadth, and height are equal, each measuring something over 1200 miles, a dimension exceeding all human imagination. In the ancient world the cube symbolized supreme completeness. However, also involved here might be the idea that the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple had a cubic form. Even in its proportions the city of God is an immense temple (1 Kgs. 6:20). Furthermore, whether it is legitimate to see here a reference to the notion that the city of God may be the end-time counterpart to the tower of Babylon is questionable, since concrete references in this direction are absent. (21:17] Compared to the huge dimensions of the city the height of the walls is remarkably modest: 144 cubits, or about 200 feet. But the seer scarcely reflected on the true relationship of these dimensions to each other; instead, what might have been important to him was the number 144, which, as the square of 12, symbolizes throughout Revelation the


Revelation 21:9-22:5

completeness of the end-time people of God (cf. 7 :4; 14: 1, 3). The somewhat peculiar allusion that the angel uses a human measurement becomes perhaps clearer when one considers that the cubit was a "human measurement" insofar as it corresponded to a basic measure for the human body. Reducing the angel to human measurements is possibly to be understood as an indirect polemic against the worship of angels. (21:18-21) These verses deal with the preciousness of the building materials of the city. The word translated "(outer) wall" (endomesis) is not quite clear; it can mean the enclosure of an area of the temple or, less likely, the stratification of stones within a building. In the first case the meaning would be that the entire wall is constructed out of jaspar (cf. at v. II); in the second case one would have to think only of jewels that cover the true wall as incrustations. The city itself is constructed out of gold that is of such purity that it sparkles and shines like transparent glass. That the foundations and foundation walls of the end-time Jerusalem are made of jewels is already mentioned in Isa. 54: 11; Tob. 13: 17. Corresponding to the number twelve of the foundation stones (v. 14) John adds now twelve precious jewels. In the ancient East it was customary to join together jewels with the astrological signs of the zodiac. In fact, the sequence of the jewels named in vv. 19-20 appear to correspond in reverse order to the signs of the zodiac. That is hardly accidental. To be sure, there is nothing that suggests that John intended to express any astrological symbolism as such. However, he was certainly acquainted with it and at least used here a list of jewels taken from it. Not to be completely rejected, furthermore, is the possibility that he wanted to establish a connection with the twelve jewels that, according to Exod. 28: 17-20; 39: 10-14, adorned the breastplate of the high priest. That the designations do not agree in every case signifies little, since the Greek equivalents to the Hebrew names for jewels were not altogether clear. Both in Hellenistic Judaism (Phil. Spec. leg. 1:87; Jos. Ant. 3.186) and in Palestinian Judaism (Gen. R. 100/64b; Exod. R. 15 [76c); cf. Str.-B. 3:214; 2: 116), one finds speculations regarding the relationship between the twelve jewels of the breastplate, the twelve tribes of Israel, and the signs of the zodiac. The city gates consist of twelve pearls. These had been recognized as jewelry only in the Hellenistic period and were now seen as particularly valuable (cf. Matt. 7:6; 13:45-46). Like the buildings in the city (v. 18), its main street is also made of the purest gold, which shines like crystal. (21:22] Here we reach the actual climax of the vision: "I saw no temple."

Only because of the temple was the historical Jerusalem the city of God (Ps. 46:5) in which the glory of God was enthroned (1 Kgs. 8: 10-13). The temple was the place that guaranteed God's nearness to his people. Here one was able to approach him and encounter him in the cult. To the Jewish end-time expectation of a new Jerusalem, therefore, also belonged



the renewal of the temple (Dan. 8: 14; Tob. 14:5; Jub. 1: 17, 28; 1 Enoch 93:7). This theological view, according to which the temple also signified the authentic work of the true immanence of God for the saving future, is abruptly rejected here. A temple will no longer be necessary because God himself and the lamb are the temple. In the place of the indirect, cultically mediated presence of God appears a direct and actual presence of God. The perfected salvation community is thus no longer only assembled around the place of God's presence and the mediation of salvation; rather, it will itself be the place of this presence. The beginning of primitive Christian criticism of the temple, which was based on the experience of the immediate presence of God in Jesus (cf. Mark 14:58; John 2:19; Acts 6: 14), is thought out here consistently to its end. (21:23] Using an introductory image borrowed from Isa. 60: 19, this verse describes the consequence of the immediate presence of God for life in the city. Neither sun nor moon is now needed to provide light because the "glory of God," the radiance emanating from God (v. 11), illuminates the city, and its "lamp" is the lamb. Light, the medium necessary for life that makes possible orientation and clarity, will now exist directly, continuously, and without interruption (cf. John 1:4,9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:9). All darkness, obscurity, and alienation have vanished forever. (21:24] Isa. 60:3-6 is taken up, carrying on the image of the light and its effect on human beings. Drawn by the light of the holy city, the nations of the world and their kings will come to Jerusalem at the end time to present their gifts there. It should not be inferred from this statement that in John's opinion on the renewed earth there will still be pagans and tribes outside the new Jerusalem. For him there can no longer be an "outside" the city because the city-or, stated more precisely, the salvation community represented by it metaphorically-is fully and completely identical with the new creation. The fulfillment of the promise of the end-time pilgrimage of nations serves him merely as a symbol of the universal unity, free from distance and fear, of human beings in the light of the presence of God. (21:25-26] These verses take up Isa. 60: 11 and have the same meaning. The walls and gates do not have a limiting function, for the city is not threatened from any direction. Its gates will always be open so that all people will be able to gather there. Direct communion with God means having a new, open, trusting unity among human beings. (21:27] God's presence, which penetrates everything with its light, makes the city a dwelling place of purity and clarity in which there is no more room for that which is impure and the untrue. As in v. 8, a parenetic undertone resonates in this reference to the possibility of remaining


Revelation 21:9-22:5

excluded: whoever does not now risk full, undivided obedience and engages in spurious compromises with the evil powers will not be admitted to the city of God. (22:1-3a) An image is again taken up from the Book of Ezekiel. According to Ezek. 47:1-12 (cf. also Joel 4:18; Zech. 14:8), there shall arise in the temple in Jerusalem in the time of salvation a mighty river that will flow toward the Dead Sea and will transform the desert into fertile land. On both its banks fruit trees will grow that will bear fresh fruit monthly and the leaves of which will have a healing effect. This life-giving river, whose actual archetype may have been the Gihon spring, which originates beneath the hill on which the temple stands, already has in Ezekiel all the characteristics of the river in paradise (Gen. 2: 10-14). John has this river no longer flowing from the temple, but, corresponding to the whole conception of the Jerusalem vision, from the throne of God and of the lamb. He strengthens further the reference to paradise in that he introduces the motif ofthe tree oflife, which, according to Gen. 2:9; 3:22, was found "in the midst" of paradise. The rows of trees that, according to Ezek. 47:12, accompany the river on both sides, are rather forcefully combined with the tree of life. Thus, the term "wood of life" is to be understood as a collecti ve plural. In this context the "in the midst," which originally refers to the one tree oflife in paradise, has a disturbing effect. From John's perspective the situation could be imagined as follows: in the midst of the broad main street of the city flows the river of paradise, and it is surrounded on both sides, "here and there," by rows of trees. But it is doubtful whether that is actually what John had in mind. At issue for him was the transparency ofthe theological assertion. At the end time the paradise with which the old creation began is exceeded in a way that corresponds to the nature of the new creation. In fact, the city of God, the salvation community, is simultaneously also this renewed paradise. Particularly emphasized here seems to be the feature according to which the river of life flows in the city and belongs to it. River and trees signify life and universal state of salvation for all "nations." For out of all nations has the salvation community been forged by the work of Christ (cf. 5:9). Death, suffering, and pain are now forever gone (cf. 21 :4), foras v. 3a, which sounds like Zech. 14: 11, underscores-there will be "nothing accursed," that is, nothing that stands outside the saving sphere of God. The consummation of salvation distinguishes itself from the paradise of primordial time in that the temptation through evil powers that brings death in the latter will not be repeated. (22:3b-5) Like the coda of a symphony movement, the central theme of the vision is once again presented for a final climax. Out of the confusing multitude of images previously employed comes to light now the intended issue in utmost clarity: in its essence consummation of salvation is consummation of communion with God and Jesus. The throne of God and of the lamb forms the center of the city (cf. 21:3, 22), and those who



belong to it may see the countenance of God directly. What was denied to Moses himself (Exod. 33:20-23) is granted to them (cf. Matt. 5:8; 2 Cor. 3: 18), for they bear his name on their forehead and are thereby shown to be God's possession (cf. 14:1). God's clarity gives them direction and orientation for all time (cf. 21: II, 23). Above all, however, God's servants may participate in his dominion forever. The promise, already applicable in the present for members of the church, that they are made a royal domain and priests through Christ for God (cf. I :6) is finally fulfilled now in real corporeality.


Revelation 22:6-21

The Conclusion of the Book

Text 22:6 And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. 7 And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is he who keeps the prophetic words of this book." 8 And I John am he who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown them to me. 9 But he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and one of your brethren, the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. God (alone) you should worship ... 10 And he said to me, "Do not seal up the prophetic words of this book, for the time is near. 11 Whoever does injustice, let him still do injustice, and whoever is unclean, let him make himself (wholly) unclean, and whoever is righteous, let him still be righteous, and whoever is holy, let him continue to be holy." 12 ·'Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may receive the right to the tree of life and enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside remain the dogs and the sorcerers and the fornicators and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." 16 "I Jesus have sent my angel to bear witness to this to you for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." 17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears it





20 21

say, ·Come." And let him who is thirsty come, and let him who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues recorded in this book, and if anyone takes away from the prophetic words of this book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are recorded in this book. He who testifies to these things says, ·Surely, I am coming soon." Amen. Come Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone!

Form The conclusion to the book is by no means an inconsequential appendage. Rather, the writer assigned to it a series of important functions. First, it is to establish a bridge back to the preface (l: 1-3) and to the epistolary beginning (I :4-8) and, thus, unify the whole. Second, it is to provide, once again, information regarding the aim and intention of the book and thereby make clear that Jesus is its true author. Third, it is to provide the churches addressed indications as to how they should appropriate its message in a substantive way. Finally, it is to address pointedly the central aspect of life in which the book's promises of salvation converge with the present experience of salvation in order for each to confirm the other: the Eucharistic worship service. The fact that all these points of view are bound together so very compactly may at first glance cause this section to appear unintelligible. However, upon closer examination it is seen that the writer is very definitely directing his readers. An outline is even discernible: the essence and function of the prophetic message of the book (vv. 6-11); confirmation of this message by Jesus himself (vv. 12-16); a view of the Eucharistic worship service (vv. 17-20); epistolary blessing (v. 21). Commentary (22:6) The angel again takes the word to which the seer owes his vision of the heavenly city. Above all, his words are the conclusion and verification of this vision, which immediately preceded them, but as soon becomes clear, beyond that they refer back to the whole book. For the formula of attestation is almost literally identical with the divine command to write (21 :5b), but the explanation which follows, that God himself as Lord over the prophetic spirit has shown through his angel, his servant, that which must "soon take place," refers back to I: I (see commentary there). That indicates that the program that was formulated at the beginning of the book is now accomplished. Revelation claims to be a prophetic testimony, authorized by God, which proclaims God's omnipotence in history for the imminent end time events. (22:7] It is to be understood almost as a demonstration for the fact that Revelation is the authentic word of God and/or Jesus, when the speech of the angel becomes a direct speech of Jesus. Jesus promises, and twice 249

Revelation 22:6-21

again in what follows (vv. 12,20), to come soon and adds a declaration of blessing. The latter-the sixth of the book-is almost a repetition of the first one (l :3). Only the declaration of blessing of the reader and the hearers at the beginning of the book is left out. Now, at the book's conclusion, after it has been read and heard, it depends only on one thing: that everyone holds fast to what has been heard and allows it to guide their conduct. (22:8) For the fourth and last time in the book (cf. 1: 1, 4, 9) John

mentions his name. He thereby vouches for the reliability of what he has presented (cf. Dan. 12:5, 9). However, he rejects any special claim to importance for his person. That might explain the scene that follows immediately between him and the angel of revelation, even if its meaning does not appear to be entirely exhausted in it. It is an almost verbatim repetition of 19: 10 (see commentary there). What it expressed there regarding the second main part of the visions is now once again vigorously asserted regarding the book as a whole. The mediator of the revelation is not important, nor are the heavenly secrets that are disclosed through him; the only important thing is that the testimony of Jesus is spoken and is held fast in obedience by the church. The angel has no special status; as God's servant, he stands equal with the members of the earthly church. (22:9) Like him, they are nothing other than servants of God. But the

same is also true for John as the earthly messenger of the revelation; he belongs in the series of community prophets who may not claim for themselves any special rank in the church. However, John does make a very decisive claim of importance for the content of his book. The phrases "those who keep the words of this book" and "those who hold the testimony of Jesus" (19: 10) appear to lend themselves to reciprocal interpretation; accordingly, the content of this book is the authoritative testimony of Jesus. Indeed, his words are properly kept whenever one is led by them to the worship of God the Creator and Finisher. (22:10-11) The angel again speaks and instructs the seer not to seal his

scroll. Thus an essential distinction between this book and the Jewish apocalypses, well known at the time, becomes expressly a theme. While those were sealed, that is, allegedly containing messages that had to remain hidden during the time of composition, only to be opened at some future time (see pp. 4-5; cf. Dan. 8:26; 12:4, 9; 1 Enoch 1:2), the message of this book is meant for the present and is eager to be made public. For this present stands in testimony of the imminent coming of Jesus (cf. 1:3). Everything depends on the church receiving instruction and admonition for the approaching period of oppression. Of course, a conversion of God's enemies by means of the prophecy of the book can scarcely be expected. The almost fatalistically sounding v. 11 stands in the tradition of the prophetic statements about hardening (cf. Isa. 6:9-10; Ezek. 3:27), 250


according to which the preaching of repentance causes the ones rejected by God to persist even more in their "no" to God. The front between the members of the salvation community and the enemies of God who have gathered around the "beast" is clear; one may no longer count on their change of heart before the conclusion of God's plan for history (cf. 9:2021; 16:9, 11,21). (22:12) Jesus himself now speaks. With the announcement of his coming he summarizes and corroborates the message of the book. He appears as the judge who by his word of judgment will confirm the separation between those who have been obedient to God and those who have been disobedient, a separation that has already taken place in the present (cf. 2:23; 19:11-21). (22:13) Jesus is identical with God in this function as judge (cf. 20: 11-15), and for that reason he may also claim for himself God's attributes of honor and power. Like God himself, so also is he the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. 1:8), the first and the last (cf. 21 :6). [22:14) With a pronouncement of blessing, the seventh and last in Revelation (cf. at 1:3), Jesus here turns directly to the reader. Its protasis takes up 7: 14 in abbreviated form, while its final clause refers to the Jerusalem vision (21 :25-26; 22:2). To those who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, to those, therefore, who have been renewed through Jesus' saving work and have obediently held fast to this new being (cf. 19:8), are expressly promised the civic rights in the perfected salvation community and the reception of the gifts of salvation that flow from the presence of God. In view of the magnitude of this promise of salvation, a great deal is at stake in the present. For it is also possible to fall from the salvation received. The reverse side of the gift of salvation, as Revelation does not tire of emphasizing (cf. 20: 15; 21 :8, 27), is exclusion from salvation. [22:15)11 will befall those who maintain pagan vices and pagan idolatry and forsake undivided obedience to the will of Jesus. Concretely, this warning might be aimed especially at Christians who have engaged in heresies (cf. 2:2, 14-15,20) and shown themselves prepared to compromise before the pseudo religious claim of the empire. The invective "dogs" that begins the catalog of vices (cf. at 21 :8) might have been intended, as also elsewhere in early Christian testimonies, for false teachers (cf. Phil. 3:2) and apostate Christians (cf. Matt. 7:6; Did. 9:5). With the blunt juxtaposition ofthe promise of salvation to the faithful and the exclusion of the enemies of God, a connection is supposed to be established, as the continuation confirms, with the worship of the church. For in the liturgy of the celebration of the Lord's Supper, following the invitation to the table of the Lord and/or the passing of the peace, which strengthens the community of the baptized, is the exclusion of the unbaptized and the unrepentant.


Revelation 22:6-21

"Greet one another with a holy kiss .... Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Maranatha!" (1 Cor. 16:20, 22)

"He who is holy, let him come. He who is not, repent. Maranatha!" (Did. 10:6; cf. 9:4-5)

Coming to the Lord's Supper now makes the salvation promised by God accessible to the church. While Christians at the table of the Lord receive his body and his blood, they are made firm in their living communion with Jesus, who embodies the promise of actual and visible consummation in God's new world. But the reception of the Lord's Supper also signifies an obligation to an undivided obedience in the present perils and afflictions. Thus, there takes place already at the table of the Lord a separation between those who are united with Jesus and those who are far from him, a separation that points to the approaching judgment. [22:16J Once again, Jesus speaks directly in order to reveal expressly his identity as the true author and initiator of Revelation. He himself commissions his angel to announce to the churches God's counsel of salvation for the imminent end time. In 1: 1 God was named as the final author ofthe book's message. Again it is evident that for Revelation God and Jesus are functionally the same. Jesus is the messianic ruler of the end time; in him are fulfilled the promises given to David and his lineage (see at 5:5). He is the "bright morning star" whose shining announces the dawning ofthe great day of God (cf. 2:28; Numb. 24: 17). [22:17J The message of Jesus to his church, which reaches its sharpest point in the proclamation of his imminent coming (cf. v. 12; 3: 11; 16: 15), demands an answer. This verse indicates that the concrete area of life in which the church responds to this message is in the Eucharistic worship service. There is much to suggest that John assumes that his book will be read in worship. Similarly, Paul had also assumed the reading of his letters in worship and at their end had them flow into the liturgy of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 16:19-24; 2 Cor. 13:11-13). In the celebration of the Lord's Supper the church prays for the coming of the Lord with the Aramaic prayerful declaration "Maranatha" (= our Lord, come! cf. 1 Cor. 16:22; Did. 10:6). It thereby looks to the future appearance of Jesus in the Parousia and, at the same time, anticipating this appearance, asks that he come to his own in the present communion meal. Precisely this double meaning is also intended here. Prompted by the Spirit-inspired prophetic testimony, the church can and may cry out in its worship, "Come!" Indeed, in that it so cries out, this church is already the bride that celebrates the marriage feast with Jesus (cf. 19:7-10; 22: 17). In this cry, which every hearer of the reading of Revelation is to join, the entire fulfillment of salvation, which is promised for the future in 21:1-22:5, is 252


transposed into the personal sphere and brought together with the present coming of Jesus in the Lord's Supper. Every person who thirsts for the living water (cf. 21 :6; 22: 1) is invited to come. Where the church gathers around the table of the Lord, there it receives the gift of salvation that God desires to give to his own. Thus, John is not content with pointing to a temporally imminent future dawning of salvation (cf. 1: 3; 22: 10); rather, he indicates where salvation can be discovered and experienced in the present. (22:18-19) Following Jesus, the true author and initiator of the message of

the book, John again speaks as its human agent. Once more he vouches for the authenticity of his prophecy (cf. v. 8) in order to add a clear warning. Because the book claims to be God's word, it is also subject to God's special protection. Anyone who alters it by additions or omissions risks a corresponding punishment according to the right of reprisal (ius talionis). The words of Moses in Deut. 4:2 by which Israel became committed to the untarnished preservation of God's commandments were a literary model: "You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you." In order to understand this threat, it must be made clear that it lies wholly on the line of prophetic self-consciousness. For the prophet speaks in the certainty that through him God and/or Christ himself is speaking to the church (cf. 1:2). The Book of Revelation is the only comprehensive literary testimony of primitive Christian prophecy in the New Testament; for that reason the expression that appears here also has no analogy in the New Testament. This was one of the factors on which Luther's aversion to Revelation was based. Thus in his preface of 1522 he writes, "It seems to me to be too much that he commands and threatens more severely in his own book than other holy books since much more depended on it." This criticism overlooks the specific peculiarity of prophetic speech. (22:20) Here the book moves directly into the liturgy of the Eucharistic worship service. Jesus' assurance summarizing again all that has gone before, "Surely I am coming soon," concludes the reading of the book in the worship service. The church responds to it with an affirming "Amen" (cf. at 5: 14) as well as the liturgical cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!" which serves as a transition to the celebration of the Lord's Supper. There is here a free transfer of the prayer "Maranatha" (see above) into Greek. The latter consists of two words: the address marana (= our Lord) and the imperative tha (= come!). (22:21) The concluding wish for grace completes the epistolary frame-

work of the book (cf. 1:4-8). It is similar to the expressions at the close of the Pauline letters (esp. Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:28). Not unlike those, however, it is also more than simply a point of epistolary convention. It corresponds, namely, to the exhortation of grace that follows the Mara253

Revelation 22:6-21

natha cry in the liturgy (cf. 1 Cor. 16:24). The theme of worship in the concluding section is therefore maintained to the last sentence of the book. This emphasis on worship has programmatic significance for the theology of Revelation. Worship is the place where the church experiences the presence of the One who is coming, where again and again it subordinates itself to his dominion; at the same time it is also the place of departure for a refusal of obedience to the cult of humanity, who celebrates one's own power over the world. Thus, Revelation is both an eminently political book and an eminently liturgical book.



Select Bibliography

Commentaries Beasley-Murray, G. R. The Book of Revelation. New Century Bible. London: Oliphants, 1974; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981. Boring, M. E. Revelation. Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1989. Bousset, W. Die Olfenbarung des Johannes. Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar tiber das Neue Testament, vol. 16. Gottingen, 1906. Reprint, 1966. Caird, G. B. A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. Harper's New Testament Commentary. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. Ford, J. M. Revelation. Anchor Bible 38. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975. Hadorn, W. Die Olfenbarung des Johannes. Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament, vol. 18. Leipzig, 1928. Kraft, H. Die Olfenbarung des Johannes. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol. 16a. Ttibingen, 1974. Krodel, G. A. Revelation. Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989. Lohmeyer, E. Die Olfenbarung des Johannes. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol. 16. 2d ed. Tiibingen, 1953. Lohse, E. Die Olfenbarung des Johannes. Das Neue Testament Deutsch, vol. II. 3d ed. Gottingen, 1971. Mounce, R. H. The Book of Revelation. New International Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977. Prigent, P. L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean. Commentaire du Nouveau Testament, vol. 14. Paris, 1981. Rissi, M. Alpha und Omega. Eine Deutung der Johannesolfenbarung. Basel, 1966. Schtissler Fiorenza, E. Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Proclamation Commentaries. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991. Vogtle, A. Das Buch mit den sieben Siegeln: Die Olfenbarung des Johannes in Auswahl gedeutet. Freiburg, 1981. Wikenhauser, A. Die Olfenbarung des Johannes. Regensburger Neues Testament. 3d ed. Regensburg, 1959.



Other Studies Aune, D. E. "The Form and Function of the Proclamations to the Seven Churches (Revelaion 2-3)." New Testament Studies 36, no. 2 (April 1990): 182-204.

___ . Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983. Bocher, O. Die lohannesapokalypse. Ertrage der Forschung, vol. 41. Darmstadt, 1975.

___ . Die Kirche in Zeit und Endzeit: Aufstitze zur Offenbarung des lohannes. Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1983. Bornkarnm, G. "Die Komposition der apokalyptischen Visionen in der Offenbarung Johannis." In Gesammelte Aufstitze 2:204-22. Munich, 1959. Collins, J. J. The Apocalyptic Imagination. New York: Crossroad/Continuum, 1987. Court, J. J. Myth and History in the Book of Revelation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1979. Goppelt, L. Theology of the New Testament. Vol. 2, pp. 178-97. Grand Rapids: Eerdrnans, 1982. Hahn, F. "Die Sendschreiben der Johannesapokalypse: Ein Beitrag zur Bestirnmung prophetischer Redeformen." In Tradition und Glaube. Festgabe fur Karl Georg Kuhn zum 65. Geburtstag. ed. G. Jeremias, H.-W. Kuhn, and H. Stegemann, pp. 357-94. Gottingen, 1971. Hanson, P. D. The Dawn of the Apocalyptic. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975. Hellholm, D., ed. Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East.

Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Apocalypticism. Uppsala. 1979. Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1983. Herner, C. J. The Letters of the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986. Holtz, T. Die Chriswlogie der Apokalypse des lohannes. 2d ed. Berlin, 1971. Holtzmann, H. J. Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Theologie. Vol. 2. 2d ed. Tubingen: J .c.B. Mohr, 1911. Jorns, K.-P. Das hymnische Evangelium: Untersuchungen zu Aujbau. Funktion.

und Herkunft der hymnischen StUcke in der lohannesoffenbarung. Gutersloh, 1971. Karrer, M. "Die Johannesoffenbarung als Brief: Studien zum literarischen, historischen, und theologischen Ort dieses Werkes." Diss., Erlangen, 1983. Koch, K. The Rediscovery ofApocalyptic: A Polemical Work on a Neglected Area

of Biblical Studies and Its Damaging Effects on Theology and Philosophy. London: SCM Press; Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, 1972. Mazzaferri, F. D. The Genre of the Book of Revelation from a Source-Critical Perspective. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 1989. Michaels, J. R. Interpreting the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 1992. Muller, H.-P. "Die himrnlische Ratsversammlung: Motivgeschichtliches zu Ape 5: 1-5." ZeitschriJt fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der alteren Kirche 54 (1963): 254-67. Russell, D. S. Divine Disclosure: An Introduction to lewish Apocalyptic. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992. Satake, A. Die Gemeindeordnung in der lohannesapokalypse. Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1966. Schrage, W. The Ethics of the New Testament. Trans. D. E. Green. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988. Schussler Fiorenza, E. Priester fur Gott: Studien zum Herrschafts- und Priestermotiv in der Apokalypse. Munster, 1972.



Thompson, L. L. The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Vbgtle, A. "Mythos und Botschaft in Apokalypse 12." In Tradition und Glaube: Festgabefiir Karl Georg Kuhn zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. G. Jeremias, H.-W. Kuhn, and H. Stegemann, pp. 395-415. Gbttingen, 1971. Yarbro Collins, A. Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984. _ _ . The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976. _ _ . "Eschatology in the Book of Revelation." In Ex Auditu. An Annual of the Frederick Neumann Symposium on Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Vol. 6, pp. 63-72, 1990.



Index of Biblical References (The numbers are those ofthe New Revised Standard Version. Primary references are in boldface.)

Genesis 1:6-8 1:10 1:31 2:1-3 2:9 2:10-14 3:1 3:15 3:22 7:11 18:20 19:12-22 19:24 19:28 32:19 35:22-26 37:9 49:9

70 124 226 226 46,246 246 148 152 46,246 70 205 205 119,176 115,119 37 98 145 78

Exodus 3:14 7-10 7:5 7:11 7:17 7:19-20 7:20-21 8:2 9:10-11 9:16 9:22-26

24 105 105 163 130 130 104, 188 104,190 103, 188 105 191

9:26 10:2 10:12-20 10:13 10:22 11:10 12:5 12:29-34 14:16 15 16 16:10 16:32-35 19:4 19:6 19:16-19 19:16 19:18 19:19 20:4 20:11 25:9 25:40 28:17-20 33:20-23 37:17 39:10-14 40:34-35

103 105 114 104 104, III, 189 119 172 117-18 151 183 147 123 52 151 26 138 33,70,107 185 107 81,124 124 184 184 244 247 34 244 185

Leviticus 17:11,14 23:12-13

89 172




Numbers 13:4-15 16:3 16:32 22-24 24:17 25:1-9 31:16

98 48 151 51 252 51 51

Deuteronomy 4:2 10:17 11:6 12:23-27 18:18 29:17 29:22 32:4 32:11

253 200 151 89 130 III 176 184 151

Joshua 3:10


Judges 4:6-16 5:19 18

191 191 98

2 Samuel 7:14 22:11

237 70,71

Index of Biblical References 1 Kings 6:20 7:49 8:10-13 8:10-11 8:10 12:29-30 16:31-34 17:1 17:2-6 19:5-9 21:17-24 22:19-22 2 Kings 1:10 2:11 9:22 19:5 19:15 2 Chronicles 21:12

243 34 244 185 123 98 54 130 147 147 55 70 130 130,134 54 71 70 42

Nehemiah 8:10,12


Esther 9:18-19


Job 1-2 1:6 1:9-11 2:4-5 3:21 7:12 26:6 28:22 31:12 37:4-5 38:31 40-41 40:15-32 41:18-21

48 148 149 149 115 146 115 115 115 70 36 161 156 119

Psalms 2 2:1-5 2:2 2:7 2:9 3:8 7:10 18:10 18:13 19:11 27:2

54,55,144 138 137 147 147,219 98 55 71 138 126 201

29 32:6 33:2 33:38 38:22 42:3 42:11 43:5 46:5 69:25 74:13 74:14 75:9 78:68 86:9 87:2 88:12 88:28 89:7 89:18 90:4 96:11 97:10 98:1 98:5 99:1 104:3 104:7 106:17 111:2 113:5 115:4 119:103 124:4 132:17 135:15 139:14 141:2 145:17

124 151 80 24 98 37 98 98 244 188 146 146,151 175 228 184 228 115 24 157 79 226 150 45 184 80 138 70 138 151 184 157 119 126 151 79 119 184 80 184

Proverbs 3:12 15:11 27:20 30:27

65 115 115 115

Isaiah 1:1 1:8 1:10 1:21 2:2 2:10 2:12-21 2:19,21 6 6:1 6:2

18 143,197,235 133 196 184 93 91 93 31,68,70 31 72


6:3 6:4 6:5 6:8 6:9-10 7:14 8:7 9:5 11:1-2 11:2 11:4-5 11:4 11:5 11:10 11:12 11:15 13:lff. 13:10 13:21-22 13:21 14 14:12 14:13-15 14:13 14:23 21:9 22:12 22:22 23: 16-17 24-27 24:21-23 24:23 25:8 25:15-38 26:17 30:30 33:3,10 33:22 34:4 34:10 34:11-15 40:2 41:1 42:9 43:18,19 44:6-20 44:6 44:23 47:8-9 47:12 48:12 49:10 49:26 50-51 50:3 51:6 51:17 52:7

61,72 185 37 76 250 144,146 200 144 70 24 218 37,219 219 78 96 190 175 92 205 196 143 45, 114 143 191 196 175 132 61 196 3,137 226 137 100 175 146 138 138 137 92 211 205 205 61 80 236 119 28, 37 150 206 208 37 100 189 204 92 231 175 175

Index of Biblical References 54:6 54:11-17 54:11 55:1 60: 1-22 60:1 60:3-6 60:11 60:14 60:19 61:10 62:1-12 62:5 62:6 63:1-6 63: 1-3 63:2-3 65:15 65:16 65:17 66:7 66:22 Jeremiah I 1:2-3 1:16 2:2-6 4:8 4:30 4:31 8:2 8:3 8:16 9:14 10:7 10:25 11:20 15:2 16:18 16:19 17:10 20:4,31 23:15 23:24 42:18 44:6 46:7-8 47:2-3 50:8 50:31 50:39 51:6 51:7-8 51:9 51:13,26 51:29 51:36

212 235,241 244 65,237 241 235,242 245 245 61 245 212 241 212 243 218 178 219 236 61,64 235 147 235 31 31 119 171 132 197 143-44,235 133 115 98 111 184 188 55 158 205 184 55 42 111 133 188 188 200 200 205 206 205 205 175 205 196 196 190

51:43 51:63-64

196 208

Lamentations 3:15,19


Ezekiel 1-3 I I: 1-13 1:3-15 1:5-21 1:6 1:10 1:13 1:18 1:22 1:24 1:27-28 1:28 3:1-3 3:27 5:7-10 9:4-6 10:2 10:7 14:21 16:7 16: 15-16 23: 1-2 26-27 26:7 26:16-18 27:2-36 27:29-33 27:33 28:11-19 29:3 32:2 32:7 32:8 37-48 37:3-4 37:10 37:27 38-39 38:22 39:6 39: 17-20 40-48 40:1-44:3 40:2 40:3ff. 40:3-5 43:2-3 43:2 43:16 45:1

31 12,69 31 68 71 72 71 70 12,71,72 70 36 69 31,37 126 250 55 97 108 184 87 212 196 196 204 200 204 204 207 204 143 151 151 III 92 225 99 134 236 220,225 229 229 220 12,235,241 89 241,242 12 241,243 204,242 36,96,241 241 172


47:1-12 48 48:9 48:31-34

241,246 98 172 242

Daniel 3 1:12,14 48-49 165 1:17 2:28-29 83 2:28 19 2:37,47 200 163 3:6, II 3:15 163 175 4:27 119 5:4 165 5:12 119 5:23 4,5,12,146,155, 7 160,167,195-96 7:2-27 3,154 156 7:2-8 7:2 96 157 7:8 36 7:9 7:10 81,231 220 7:11 177 7:13-14 27,34,36, 177 7:13 4 7: 15-27 157 7:20 7:21 133 227 7:22 156,199 7:24 130,151 7:25 79 8:3 146 8:9-10 8:14 245 107 8:16 37 8:18 250 8:26 107 9:21 154 9:27 31 10 36 10:5-6 37 10:8 107,148 10:13 10:14 165 107 10:21 11:27 83 154 11:31 59,107 12:1 124,250 12:4 125,130 12:7 5, 124,250 12:9 12:11 154 250 13:5 Hosea 1:1


Index of Biblical References 2 2:4-21 2:7 10:8 11:10 13:15

212 171 212 93 124 96

Joel 1-2 1:6 2:1 2:4,5 2:10 2:11 2:27 2:31 2:32 3:2 3:3-4 3:12 3:13 3:14 3:15 3:16 4:18

3 114,115 115 107 115 92,115 93 170 III 170 178 92,110 178 177,178 178 III 124,179 246

Amos 1:1 3:8 8:9 9:3 9:5

18 124 92 146 92

Obadiah 21


Jonah 2:9 3:6-8

98 132

Micah 3:3 4:7 4:9-10 Nahum 1:6 3:4

201 137 146

4:1-14 4:2 4:5 4:10 6:1-8 6:5 9:9 10:11 12-14 12:10-14 14:8 14:11 14:16-17

132 70, 99 99 79 86 96 217 190 3 27 246 246 137

Malachi 3:2 3:23-24

93 130

I Maccabees 1:21 4:49 13:51

70 70 98

2 Maccabees 10:7

98 45 130 133 133 80,107 24,107 241 211,244 241,245

Wisdom of Solomon 17 18:15-16

Ascension ojIsaiah 3:15 4:14

93 196,208

Zephaniah 1:16 2:14 3:8

107 205 188

Zechariah 1:7-17 2:14 3:1

86 236 148, 149

190 219 5 39 220

1 Enoch 250 148 68 4,226 110 39 107 148 39 226

1:2 9-10 14:15 18:13-16 18:13-14 18:14 20:1-7 20:5 21:3ff. 21:6-10


4 72

36 89 178 118 190 232 96 71 4 114 114 79 176 245 89 89 119 89 178 89


Sirach 17:26 48:3,9 Tobit 1:18-20 2:3-4 12:12 12:15 13:16 13:17 14:5

27:1-5 39:12 46:1 47 53:1 56 56:5-8 61:5 66 71:7 85-86 86:1,3 88:1 89:45-49 90:26-27 93:7 97:3-5 99:3 99:7 99:16 100:3 104:3 1:17 28

245 245

3 Maccabees 2:29-30 7:13

164 211

Qumran IQH 3:7-12 IQH 10:8 IQM 1:10-11 IQM 9:15-16 IQM 17:33ff. IQS9, II 4Qpatr.3-4 4QpHab 11:14-15 4QTestim. 22ff.

146 39 39 148 148 132 78 175 154

Sibylline Oracles 2.325-27 3.89 3.319,512 3.652 4.119ff. 4.137ff. 5:23-24 5:77ff. 5.143,159 5.361ff. 7:148-49 8.236-37 8.424-27

119 119 228 96 200 200 157 119 175 200 52 235 119

Testament ofDaniel 5:4ff.


Index of Biblical References Testament ojJudah 24:5 Testament oj Levi 5:1 18:12

78 68 226

Testament oJNaphtali 8-9 148 Matthew 2:13-23 133 3:10-11 108 3:12 177 3:16 217 5:6 237 5:8 247 5:12 131 5:15 34 5:22 176 5:34 158 5:44-45 89 6:4 231 6:10 108 6:12 89 6:13 62 244,251 7:6 7:15 161,162 9:36 100 9:37 177 10:32-33 59,221 10:37-38 172 10:37 45 11:14 130 45-46 11:15 11:21-22 221 11:21 132 221 12:41-42 13:9 45 13:30 177 13:39 178 13:45-46 244 129,243 16:18 16:19 61 18:6 208 18:16 132 18:21-22 89 18:35 231 19: 10-12 172 65,97,227,243 19:28 20:2 87 22:1-14 212 22:11-14 90 24 5 24:18 126 24:24 161 24:28 112,220 24:29-30 145

24:30 24:31 24:43-44 25:14-30 25:28 25:31-46 25:31 26:52 28:18-20 28:18 28:19

27 33,107 58 221 62 221,231 219 158 75,162 25 97,164

Mark 1:2 I: 12-13 2:19-20 3:14 4:9 4:23 4:29 6:15 8:18 8:34-35 8:34 8:38 9:4 9:11-13 9:42 11:1-7 12:36 13 13:6 13:7-13 13:8 13:9-13 13:9 13:10 13:14 13:22 13:24-27 13:24-25 13:25 13:26-27 13:26 13:27 13:31 14:24 14:58 14:62 16:2 16:6

130 32 212 97 45 45 177 130 45 150 172 219 130 130 208 217 80 5,83,88 154 84 86 88 126 86,174 205 154,161,163 91 145 III 84 27,177 217,219 231 26 245 36,177 33 37

Luke 1:1-4 1:13 1:19,26 1:30 2:10

18 37 107 37 37


6:13 8:8 10:13-14 10: 17-20 10:18 10:20 11:2 11:28 11:29-32 12:8-9 12:8 12:35-38 12:39-40 13:33-34 14:15 14:26-27 14:26 14:35 17:1-2 17:29 17:37 18:6-8 19:11-27 21 21:12 21:24 21:25 21:27 22:30b 23:30

243 45 221 131 149 231 108 21 221 221 36,59 65 58 131 213 172 45 46 208 176 112,220 89 221 5 126 129 145 27 65 93

John I 1:1-4 1:1 1:4 1:9 1:14 1:29 1:36 1:51 2:19 3:19 4:10-15 4:10-14 7:37-38 8:12 9:5 12:14-15 15:1-11 15:3 16:19-23 19:37

12 218 37 245 245 100 12,78 78 217 245 245 100 237 237 245 245 217 12 99 146 27


1:2 1:9 1:11

243 177 177

Index of Biblical References 1:15-16 1:26 2:17 2:19 2:27 2:31 2:32 2:38 3:15 4:10 5: I-II 5:31-32 5:31 5:36-37 6:5 6:14 7:42 7:52 7:56 8:16 8:32 10:11 10:42 10:48 11:5 11:29 12:2 12:3 13:17 13:33 13:45 14:15 14:27 15:28 16:14 17:23-27 17:31 19:18-19 19:23-40 21:9

32 243 54 110 38 37, 38 20,48 164 20 48 55 20 48 154 45 245 189 131 36,183 97 79 217 231 164 32 32 131 149 133 54 48 119 61 55 54 119 217,231 120 44 54

Romans 1:3 1:22-32 1:29-32 3:24 3:25 5:9 8:29 8:33-35 10: 14-17 11:1-36 11:36 13 14:10 15:12

78 189 238 237 26,81 26 25 150 58 48 26 168 231 78

1 Corinthians 1:7


97 8 129,243 62, 129,241 65 55 55 79 227 238 241 26 171 172 171 26 171 52 49 52 26 54 26,81 52 19 19 44 176 20 224 5 217 228 38,232 99 237 107 33,107 232 44 61 252 252 254

1:13,15 3:9-11 3:10 3:16 4:8 5 5:5 5:7 6:2 6:9-11 6:19 6:20 7:1 7:7 7:8 7:23 7:26-40 8-10 9:24 10:3tf. 10:16 11:5 11:25 11:26 14:6 14:30 15:3-11 15:12 15:15 15:20-28 15:23-57 15:25-27 15:25 15:26 15:28 15:50 15:51-52 15:52 15:54-55 15:58 16:9 16: 19-24 16:20,22 16:24 2 Corinthians 1:22 2:12 2:16 3:18 4:6 5:1-5 5:10 5: 17 6:10 6:16 6:18 8:10


97 61 126 247 245 90 231 236 48 241 28,238 48

11:2 II :5 12:1-7 12:1,7 12:2-7 12:2 12:4 13:11-13

171,212 44 32-33 19 68 163 124 252

Galatians 1:5 1:17 2:9 3:3 3: 13 4:5 4:21-31 4:25-26 4:26 4:28-31 5: 19-21 6:2

23 32 62,129 58 26 26 235 170 62,152 48 119,238 55

Ephesians 1:4 1:13 1:20-23 2:20-21 1:20 2:20 2:21 4:11 4:12 4:30 5:8 5:23 5:26 5:33 6:17

172 97 25 62 80 8,207,243 241 207 241 97 245 212 99 212 37,219

Philippians 1:23 2:1 2:6 2:9-11 2:10 2:15 3:2 3:14 3:20 4:3 4:23

183 25 37 75 77,81 172 251 49 62 231 253

Colossians 1:7 1:15-20 1:15 1:16 1:18-20

64 64 25 70 82

[nux 0/ Biblical References 1:18 1:22 2:18 4:12-13 4:16

25 172 39 64 21,64

1 Thessalonians 1:3 44 217 1:10 2:9 44 4-5 5 4:13-18 224 4:16-17 107,134,217 4:16 33,176 5:2,4 58 5:27 21 5:28 253 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 1:7 1:10 2:3-4

108 19 91 154

1 Timothy 2:2 3:15 3:16 6:15 6:16

198 241 75 200 69

2 Timothy 2:13 4:18

24 26

Hebrews 1:3 1:5 2:4 2:17 3:2 4:3 4:9-10 4:12 8:1 8:5 9:12 9:14 10:12 11:10 11:36-37 12:2 12:6 12:22 12:23 13:21 James 1:12

37,80 75,237 163 24 24 177 177 51,219 80 184 26 99 80 235 131 80 65 62,170,235 231 26 49

1 Peter 1:2 1:3-5 1:18 1:19 2:9-10 2:9 2:12 2:13-17 3:16 4:11 5:13

99 237 26 79 48 245 10 198 10 26 175

2 Peter 2:4 3:18

114 26

1 John 1:7 2:18,22 4:3 5:12

99 154 154 55

2 John 7


Jude 9

107, 148

Revelation 18-21,249 1:1-3 31 1:1-2 3,8,97,211,218, 1:1 249,250,252 8,132,213,253 1:2 123,176,191, 1:3 213, 228, 250, 251,253 1:4-3:22 13 1:4-8 7, 18, 22-29, 249, 253 41 1:4-5 8,64,70,79, 107, 1:4 137,250 1:5-6 55 20,26,51,64,99, 1:5 215,218,232,237 211 1:6-7 24, 55, 62, 82, 99, 1:6 158,228,247 24,177,215 1:7 24,72,77, 137, 1:8 175,184,198, 225,236,237,251 7,15,31 1:9-3:22 1:9-20 30-40,68,122 1:9 8,20,44,46,61, 89, 132, 146, 152,


213,227,237,250 68 8,23 6 54,79, 177, 184, 218 1:14 218 54,123 1:15-16 170 1:15 1,51 1:16 47,61,87 1:18 I: 19-20 41 8 1:19 58,107,213 1:20 2:1-3:22 15,31,34,38 2:1-7 43-46 8,38,58,213 2:1 207,251 2:2 2:4-5 64 11,57 2:4 24,58 2:5 11,26,44 2:6 40,42,78, 101, 2:7 150,158,237 47-49,61 2:8-11 2:8 8 55,61,65,97,129 2:9 62 2:10 42,46,78 2:11 50-52 2:12-17 1,8,219 2:12 10,54,55,167, 2:13 176,177,183 251 2:14-15 44,54 2:14 11,44 2:15 24 2:16 42,46,62,231 2:17 2:18-29 53-56 8 2:18 44,52,211,251 2:20 44 2:22-23 26,52,188 2:22 251 2:23 42 2:26-27 147,219 2:27 24,252 2:28 46 2:29 57-59,64 3:1-6 64 3:1-3 8,24 3:1 21,191 3:3 52,90,217,231 3:4-5 3:4 189 24, 42, 65, 158, 3:5 212,231 24,46 3:6 3:7-13 60-62 1:10 1:11 1:12 1:13

Index of Biblical References 3:7 3:8 3:9 3:10 3: II 3:12

8,64 21,177 97, 129 21,99,102,150 24,252 42,170,197,217, 218,219,229 3:13 24,46 3: 14-22 63-66 3:14 8 3: 15-16 11 177 3:15 11,48 3:17 3:18 52,90,191,197, 213,231 24,42,61,227 3:21 3:22 24,46 4:1-22:5 7,8,15,38 4:1-19:10 13 4:1-11:19 16,140 4:1-5:14 15,16-17,68 12,107 4 4:1-11 67-73,99,211 4:1 6, 33, 46, 66, 145, 177,217 4:2 231 123,242 4:3 4:4 52,90,231 4:5 24, 58, 79, 132, 170 4:6-7 86 4:6 182,184 4:8-11 80,81 4:8-9 82 4:8 12, 24, 28, 137, 175 4:9-11 125 81 4:9 4:10-11 149 4:10 99,137 4:11 13,77,175,212, 225 170 5 5: 1-14 16,74-82,214 5: 1-11 11 5:1 6,145 5:2 157 5:3 157 46,98,99,252 5:5 5:6-7 149 6, 12,24,42,66, 5:6 87,89,95,99, 132,147,155, 156,184 5:7-8 214 5:7 123,155,156 5:8-13 157 5:8-12 81

149 5:8-9 5:8 107,170,183 5:9-13 13 5:9-10 83, 90, 150, 183 126,155,171,246 5:9 5:10 95,98,158,171, 228,237 5:11 6,119,171 5:12 77,99,155,219 26,99 5:13 5:14 211,253 6:1-8:1 16,83-84 6: 1-8 85-87, 96, 103 6,145 6:1 5,6,37,115,232 6:8 6:9-11 83,88-90,95,96, 227 107,211 6:9-10 21,32,107,138, 6:9 152,167,177, 178,189,207,231 61,150 6:10 6:11 58, 90, 98, 197, 212,217 6:12-17 91-93,192,230 6:12-14 96 6:12 6 111 6:13 6: 15-17 101,134 114 6:17 7:1-17 16,83,90-100, 122 7:1-8 115,169 7: 1-2 6,95 7:1 68,118,145,178 7:2 123,170 7:3-4 164 197,211 7:3 7:4-8 48,98,145,243 7:4 6,119,170,211, 244 13,101,107 7:9-17 7:9-10 210 7:9 6, 68, 90, 126, 197,212,231 7:10 26 26,211 7:12 7: 13-17 6 7:13 6,69,90, 195 90,191,212,237, 7:14 251 7:15 89 7:17 236,237 8: 1-5 15 8:1 101-2,136,174, 230 8:2-11:19 13, 16, 103-5 8:2-6 103, 106--8


8:2-5 8:2 8:3-5 8:3 8:5 8:6-13 8:6 8:7-13 8:7-12 8:7 8:9 8:10 8:12 8:13

118,119,182 6,187 178 89,138,174,177 114,170 132,188 6,123 109-12,119 103 114,134 134 134 134,189 103, 116, 134-35, 150,220 9:1-12 103,113-16 9:1-11 118,190 9:1 226 164,197 9:4 9:5 134 9:7-11 5 9:11 166 103, 111,134-35 9:12 9:13-21 103,117-20 9:13-16 190 9:15 102, 134 9:17-19 190 9:17 5 9:20-21 134,189,192, 251 9:20 16,189 9:21 135,193 10:1-11:14 122 10:1-11:12 134 10:1-11 8,13,33,103, 121-26 10:4 6 10:7 122,137,139,175 132 10:8 10:10 131 10:11 122,131,132 11:1-14 13, 103, 127-35 11:1-13 9 11: 1-2 10,132 11:1 243 11:2 147,157 11:3-13 126 159 11 :3-10 11:3 21,122,130,151 11:5-6 161 11:5 163 11:7 70 11:8 170,179,187, 193,229,235,241 11:9 6, 102, 124 11:10 150 11:11 6,102,122,130, 147

Index of Biblical References 11:13 193,206 11:14 III 11:15-19 16, 111,136-38, 174 11:15-18 13 11:15-16 149 11:17 28,158,212 11:18 93,122,207,211, 221 11:19 89,139,177,191, 192,217,230 12-19 114,126 12-14 187 12-13 131,199 12:1-19:10 16,98,13940,215 12:1-14:19 15 12 1,140,213 12:1-18 141-52 12:1 6,16,133,139, 174,182,210, 228,235 12:3 156,182 42,48,55,214, 12:5 219 130,157 12:6 12:7-13:1 5 12:7-12 223 12:7-9 114,226 12:7 107 190 12:9 12:10-12 13 152,183 12:11 12:12-17 215 12:12 90,157,162,174, 175,207,214 12:14-16 158 12:14 102, 130, 157 21,170 12:17 12:18 156 12:22 28 5, 12, 132, 140, 13 152,169,175, 198,217 13:1-18 17 16,17,153-59 13:1-10 25,197 13:1-3 17,70,81, 146, 13:1 189,218,235 175 13:3-4 13:3 198 13:4-5 184 17,171 13:4 13:5-7 175 13:5 151, 189, 197 13:7-10 189 150,183,231 13:8

21,152,176, 215 13:10 54 13:11-18 9, 160-68 190 13:11-14 13:12 150,198 13:13-14 190 13:14 150,175 13:16-17 170 97,138 13:16 219 13:17 6,10,198 13:18 16,169-72,200, 14:1-5 215 24,42,97, 145, 14:1 179,197,211, 219,241,244,247 14:2 211 14:3 244 14:4-5 21,158,183,196, 205,207,213, 227,238 177,237 14:4 14:6-20 13,173-79 14:6-7 134 111,125 14:6 14:7 102 14:8-10 93 171,192,193, 14:8 196,197,204, 205,211,219 14:10 192,205,219,220 211 14: 11 21,54, 152 14:12 8,21,44,183, 14:13 231,237 14:14-20 230 14:14-16 214,231 14:14 34,218 14:15 89,102 14:19-20 219 193,229 14:20 15:1-16:21 13,103-5, 180 181-85,208 15:1-8 15:1 188,192 210 15:2-5 15:2-4 16 15:2 78 220 15:3-5 15:3-4 -13, 189,211,242 28,44,72,218 15:3 188 15:5-8 15:5 68 15:7 242 16:1-21 186-92 16:1 211 16:5-7 13 13:9-10


90,211,215 16:5-6 227 16:6 28,72,207 16:7 251 16:9 16:10-11 105 206 16:11-16 44,251 16:11 16:12-16 205 86, 118,228 16:12 161 16:13 16:14 200,206 21,24,90,252 16:15 166,206 16:16 236,237 16:17 206 16:18 193,205,219 16:19 251 16:21 15,193 17:1-19:10 187 17-18 132, 140 17 17:1-18 194-201 17:1-6 17,155,212,236 242 17:1-3 6,33 17:1 150, 171, 205, 211 17:2 17:3-6 205 5,146,219 17:3 171,175 17:4 211,219 17:5 17:6 208 6,99,243 17:7-18 6,33 17:7 17:8-18 13 17:8-14 9 17:8 150,226,231 17:10-14 86 10 17:10 165 17:11 220 17:12-14 102,156 17:12 46,219 17:14 33 17:15-18 205 17:15-17 206 17:16-17 17,133 17:18 155 17:21-22 13,202-8 18:1-24 18:1 68 171,205 18:3 18:4 26,211 171 18:9 197 18:12 90,210 18:20 89,211,227 18:24 209-15 19:1-10 13,174 19:1-8 138, 171 19:2 138,236 19:5

Index of Biblical References 19:6 28,72,170 19:7-10 252 19:7 16, 155,235,242 219,231,237,251 19:8 19:9-10 20 19:9 8,21,220,235, 237 19:10 16, 33, 196, 250 19:11-22:21 13 19:11-22:5 214-15 16,92,214, 19: 11-21 216-21,251 19:11-13 231 19:11 86,231 19:12 42,59,62, 197 12 19:13 19:14 90,197,231 1,28,42,51,55, 19:15 59,93, 178 19:16 200 19:17-21 201 19:18 138 19:19-21 228 19:20 161,229,232 19:21 227 20-21 225 20 223 20:1-10 16,214,222-29 20:1-6 22,225 20:4-5 49 20:4 21,32,55,90, 152,218,231 20:5-6 134 20:6 21,26,42,49, 66, 81,218 20:7-11 220 20:7-10 225 20:9 133 20:10 161,220 20: 11-15 1,16,134,138, 191,214,225, 230-32,251 20: 12-13 44 20:12 42,138,237,238 20: 13-14 87,115 20:13 89,138,177 20: 14-15 220 20:14 37,228,236 20:15 42,231,251 21:1-22:5 16,62,96, 101,102,214, 225,233,252 21: 1-8 233,234-38,240 21: 1-2 100 21:1 81,101,150,152 21:2 16,62,69, 133, 152,170,179,

193,205,212, 235,242 21:3 246 100,246 21:4 21:5-8 28 21:5 8,77,249 251,253 21:6 21:7 98 21:8 119,220,251 21:9-22:5 17,233, 235, 239-47 21 :9-14 195,241 21:9 33,193,196,212 21:10 196,205,235 21:11 241,247 21:12-13 241 21:12 6 21:14 6, 8 242 21: 15-21 21:15 33,241 21:16 1,241 21:22-27 242 72,98,241,246 21:22 21:23 247 21 :25-26 251 21:27 42, 172, 231, 251 22:1-5 242 22:1 241,253 22:2 42,46,251 26,238 22:3-5 211,242 22:3 22:4 197 19,248-54 22:6-21 22:6-10 8 20,33,122,213 22:6 22:7 21,24 22:8 8 22:9 122 22:10 6,124,253 22: 12-20 33 22:12 24,44 21,42,90 22:14 119 22:15 22:16 8,20,33,55 22:17 24,171,193,252 22: 18-19 21 22:19 42 22:20 24,26,108 22:21 7,218 22:22 101

Apocalypse ofAbraham 31 10 2 Apocalypse of Baruch 241 4:3-6 4:2-6 235


6:4-5 24:1 29-30 29:5-6 29:8 36 40 67:7 85: 13ff.

96,118 231 224 224 52,224 4 226 175 176

Apocalypse of Elijah 35:7


Assumption ofMoses 10:5 10:8

92 III

Berakot 9b


2 Enoch 29:2 29:5 33:lff.

183 148 226

Exodus R. 15 [76c]


4 Ezra 4:35-36 6:20 6:39 7:26-33 7:26 7:29ff. 7:30 7:36 7:40-41 8:52 9:38ff. 10:27 10:29-58 10:44 10:54 10:55 11-12 11 11:1 12:3-40 12:11 12:35-38 13 13:25-56 13:30 13:36 14:17 14: 18-48 20: Iff.

89 231 101 224 235 235 102 176 119 235,241 144,235 235,241 4 241 235 241 4 155 111,152 4 111 5 195 4 83 235 III 124 24

Index of Biblical References Frag. Gen. 30-31 Genesis R 100/64b

98 244

Josepbus Antiquities 3.186 4.8.48

244 130

Jewish Wars 6.3.122


Mekiltah Exod.15:1 Exod.16:25

Pbilo Spec. leg. 1:87 Apocalypse ofPeter Apocryphon ofJohn (Nag Hammadi) Barnabas 15:4,8 15:9

183 52 244 5 18 226 33

Clement of Alexandria Quis dives salvetur? 42 II Didache 9:2,3 9:4-5 9:5 10:2,4 10:6

18 137 252 251 137 252

Eusebius Hist. Ece!. 2.23.4ff.


3.18-20 3.37-39 4.26.2 5.8.6 7.25.7-8


Shepherd of Hermas


DiD Crysostom Oratio 21.10


Lucian Syr. dea 10



Gospel of Thomas (Coptic)


Hermes Vision 5:3


Hippolytus 1 Clement 38:4


Ignatius Eph. 9:1 Magn.9

44 33

Irenaeus Adv. haer. 1.14 2.37.6 2.38.1 3.11.8 5.28.2 5.30.2 5.30.3

28 55 55 71 166 98 II

Justin Apolology 1.67.3


Dialogues 14.8 81.4

27 II

Martyrdom of Polycarp 8 164 17:2 48

Polycarp Phil. 11:3



Ovid Metamorphosis 1.517 Pliny Epistles 96 Suetonius Domitian 13 13.2



9,72 162

Nero 57.2-3


Tacitus Annals 15.29 Hist. 1.2

72 200


Index of Names and Subjects (Primary references are in boldface.)

Adversary, God's. See Satan Affiiction. See Persecution Alpha and Omega, 28, 37, 251 Altar, heavenly, 89, 107, 118, 178, 189 Amen, 26, 28, 64, 82,99,211,253 Angel(s), 4, 8, 19-20, 24, 33,38-40, 45, 58,69-70,77,80,107,118,119,124, 174,182,188,213,219,226,244,249 Animals,S, 97,172 See also Beast; Creatures, four; Dragon Antichrist, 154, 161, 220 Antioch, 9, 45 Antiochus IV Epiphanes, 3, 124, 130, 146, 154-55 Apocalyptic, 19 as reminder (parenesis), 4 early Christian, 3, 5-7,18-19,107,114, 145, 161,205,214 Jewish, 2-4, 7,13,31,69,83,87,89, 115,195,224-26,233,235,250 Synoptic,S, 83, 91, 154 Apostle(s), 44, 207, 227, 243 Armageddon, 191 Asia Minor churches. See Churches of Asia Minor Astrology. See Myth(ology); Zodiac Audition/Hearing, 33-34, 149,234-35 Augustus, 10, 44, 51, 186, 190-99 Authorship,S, 7, 8, 12,249 Babylon (city), 4, 48, 105, 175, 187, 192, 193-97,204-8,211,236,243

Babylon (harlot), 17,99, 155, 171, 193, 210,219,239,242 Balaam, 51-52 Baptism, 23, 58, 97, 99, 164, 169,238 Beast(s), 12, 17,70,97,105, ISS, 156, 157,170,187,189,198-200,219, 220,251 from the earth, 133, 160-62, 224 from the sea, 16,153-58, 167, 189,224 Behemoth. See Beast, from the earth Belt, 36,219 Blasphemy/slander, 104, 157 Blessing/promise, 27, 176,215,228,250, 251 Blood of Christ/Lamb, 26, 81, 99, 150, 251 Book oflife, 126, 158,231,238 Book with seven seals, 16, 74-78, 123 Bowls, seven, 13, IS, 16, 103-5, 182-92 Bride/Marriage ofthe Lamb, 16,90,155, 171,193,212,220,236,242 Caesar. See Cult of the Emperor Candlestick. See Lampstand Celibacy, 171-72 Child, 143-44, 146-47, 151,182 Chiliasm, 223-24 See also Reign, thousand year Christ, blood of. See Blood of Christ Christ exalted, 14, 16 firstborn of dead, 24-25


Index of Names and Subjects judge/ing, 1, 11, 16,27, 189, 192,205, 220-21,231,251 lamb. See Lamb Lord of history, 9,14,16,19,24,25,27, 87, 139, 188 return of, 16,23 Word of God, 12,218,220,253 See also Christology; God; Jesus; Messiah Christianity Asia Minor. See Churches of Asia Minor Palestinian, 9, 34, 36,128,131,148, 172,174,177,196 Christology, 11-12,27,28,36,37,54,61, 78,82, 177,213,214,221, 132, 151 Church (understanding ot), 11-12, 16, 82, 129, 144, 145, 150, 167-68, 170-71, 240-41 preservation of. See Community, salvation Churches of Asia Minor, 7-8,10,14, 17, 23,25,31,33,38, 158-5~ 164,207 City Great evil, 175, 178-79, 187, 192, 204-8,212 See also Babylon; Rome heavenly. See Jerusalem, heavenly of God, 17,61, 196,228-29,236,24143,245-46,249 Color, symbolism of, 51, 86-87, 90, 92, 119,146,197,213 Communion. See Eucharist; Lord's Supper Community, salvation, 16,23,45,94100,129,144-46,155,162,169,179, 189,197,200,213,215,227,238, 240-49,251 Confession offaith. See Testimony Conquering. See Victory Constellations. See Stars Consumation. See End-time events Court, heavenly, 71-72, 80, 99,149 See also Creatures, four; Elders Creation, 36, 75, 82,119,136-37,184, 231,233 Creation, new, 25, 26, 101,225,233,23538 Creature, seven-headed. See Dragon Creatures, four, 68, 70-72, 80, 82, 86, 87, 149,211 Crown oflife, 49, 62, 69, 177,218 Cult meals, 52 of Artemis, 44 of the Emperor/Caesar, 9,51,54,156, 161-65,167-68,175-76,183,188, 197-99,227

David, 61, 78 Day of Yahweh, 91-92, 114, 191 Death, second, 49, 228, 232 Demonic powers. See Dragon; Satan Diadem. See Crown Disease(s). See Plagues Domitian, 9, 11,72, 162, 164, 198 Doxology, 25-26 See also Hymn/hymnody Dragon, 5,16,144,146,147-48,151, 156-57,161, 175, 182,20~220,223, 226,227 Eagle, Ill, 151, 152 Earth, new. See Creation, new Earthquake, 92, 134 See also Plagues Ekklesia. See Church, understanding of; Community, salvation Elders, 70, 71, 72,80,137,149,171,211, 227 Elijah, 130-31, 132, 134, 147 Emperor, cult of. See Cult of the emperor; Roman Empire End-time events, 13, 21, 32, 38, 56, 76, 81,106,183,212 Endurance. See Persecution Enigmatic sayings, 45, 195 Ephesus, 9, 34,43-46, 50, 51 Epistolary form, 7-8,23,24, 34,41-42,237,249 introduction, 18,22-23,41,253 Eschatology, 25, 226 Ethic(s), 26, 44, 45,58-59,206,227,238 See also Works Eucharist, 51, 65, 73, 137, 249, 252-53 See also Lord's Supper Evangelion, 174-75 Eyes, 72, 79, 218 Faith(fulness), 24, 27, 44, 48, 51, 54,159 False prophet. See Prophet, false Fire, 36, 54, 118, 183, 218, 229, 232 First and Last. See Alpha and Omega First resurrection. See Resurrection, first Forehead. See Mark Four creatures. See Creatures, four Formula messenger, 41-42, 44, 61, 64 of immutability, 24, 28, 137 Future, the, 4 Garment. See Robe Gnosis/Gnosticism, 2, 11, 44, 45, 51-52, 54,55,64,65 God appearance/epiphany of, 37, 67-73, 92, 105,123,138,185,191,245 kingship/Kingdom of, 11, 26, 32, 61, 69,137,156 See also Throne of God


Index ofNames and Subjects mystery of, 125 son of, 54, 56 voice of, 36 Gog and Magog, 228 Gold, 34, 36, 65, 244 GospelofJohn, 11-12 Hades/HeIUSheol, 37-38, 61, 87, 114, 189,232 Halleluia, 210-12 Harlot, 5,205, 212 See also Babylon (harlot) Harvest. See Sickle Heaven, new. See Creation, new Heavenly bodies. See Stars Heavenly symbols. See Symbols, heavenly Heavenly woman. See Woman, heavenly Hell. See Hades History, Lord of. See Christ, as Lord of history History, Understanding of/God's plan of, 3, 19,38,48,77,82,8~90,95, 134, 136,151,154,189,199-200,214, 223-24,230,237 Horns, seven, 79 Horsemen. See Riders Hymn/hymnody, 13,72,75,80,82,98, 149,155,157,171,182,183-84, 188-89,210-12 Idol worship, 51,54, 119, 171,175, 196, 205,238,251 Israel,27,48,97-98,129, 145, 170, 190, 241 See also Judaism; Twelve tribes Jerusalem, earthly, 3,10,27,44,62,96, 129,133,143,154,178,191,244 Jerusalem, heavenly/new, I, 128, 152, 170,179,225,233,235,241,244-45, 251 Jesus as Judge. See Christ, as judge; Judgment, Last death of (propitiary), 24, 26, 27, 79, 81, 183-84,214 exaltation, 155 lordship of, 10, 81, 144 resurrection, 33, 48 testimony, 32 -tradition, 34, 58-59, 61-62, 87,129, 212,213,243 See also Christ; Lamb Jewels, 69, 244 Jewish War(s), 9,10, 13,83,128-29,148, 154 Jezebel,54 John the Baptist, 130-31 Judaism, 48, 60-61,129-30,211,244 See also Israel; Twelve tribes

Judgment, 55, 59, 96, 105, 110, III, 138, 174,175,178,188,192,204,207, 214,210,251 Judgment, Last, I, 16,56,169,174,176, 178,230 Kingdom. See God, Kingdom of Kingdoms, four, 154 Lamb, 12, 16,74-76,78-81,148,155, 156,170-71,183-84,213,218,24546 See also Christ, as lamb Lament(ation)/mourning, 111, 149, 150, 206 Lampstands, seven, 34, 38,44, 132, 245 Language, metaphoric, 4, 5, 12-13 Laodicea, 11, 34, 48, 63-66, 191 Last Judgment. See Judgment, Last Letter. See Epistle Letters, seven, 8, 41-42 Leviathan. See Beast, from the sea Light, 36 Liturgy, 14,73,211,251 See also Eucharist, Lord's Supper; worship Living water. See Water, living Locusts. See Plagues, Egyptian Lord's Day, 33 Lord's Supper, 51, 79,137,220,251-53 See also Eucharist Man, Son of. See Son of man Manna, 52,224 Maranatha, 252-53 Marriage of the Lamb. See Bride Martyr/Martyrdom, 20-21,48, 51, 69, 88-90,170,183,189,208,227 Medes. See Parthians Messiah/"Christ," 16,25,54,65-66,77, 96,98,130,144,146-47,170,214, 217,219,224-25 Michael, 107, 148, 226 Millenarianism. See Chiliasm; Reign, thousand year Mithros,36 Monster. See Beast; Dragon Morning star. See Star(s), morning Moses, 5,130-31,132,183,185,247,253 Mysteries, 4, 38 Myth(ology), 71,118,140,142-44,151 Oriental, 2, 4, 10,76,142-43,146,19697,226 See also Zodiac Name, 52,62,97, 115, 156, 170,217,218, 247 Nebuchadnezzar, 4, 163 Nero, 10,72,89,156-57,162-63,16667,198-200,220 Nicolaitans, 44, 45, 51


Index of Names and Subjects Numerology, 4, 6, 28, 81,102,146,166, 178,211 144,000,97, 169-70 666, 10, 165-66 four, 71, 86, 96, 178 half-seven (3 112), 102, 124, 144 3 11> years=42 months= 1260 days, 130, 147,151,157 seven, 15,33,77, 134, 14~ 166 ten, 134, 146 twelve, 69, 97, 242, 243, 244 twenty-four, 70, 71 Offering, 108, 118, 129 Oppression. See Persecution "Overcoming." See Victory Pantocrator, 1,28-29 Paradise, 46, 246 Parody, 155, 161, 196-97 Parousia, 27, 33,45,92, 134, 149, 177, 198,217,223-26,252 Parthians, 86, 118, 156, 190, 200 Patmos,32 Paul, 7, 11,26,32,44,48,64,68, 124, 152,177,227,236,243,252 People of God. See Church; Community, salvation Pergamon, 10, 34, 43, 50-52 Persecution/affliction/oppression, 3, 10, 16,32,44,48,88,89,98, Ill, 126, 129,130,144,147,158,159,163-64, 167,176,177,189,237,238 Philadelphia, 34, 60-62 Pit, fiery. See Fire Plague(s), 84, 86, 110, 115, 119, 182, 187 Egyptian, 103-4, 110, 114-15, 117-18, 130, 182, 188-90 Power hostile worldly, 3 God's, 69 Precious stone. See Jewel Prescript. See Epistolary prescript Prophecy, 54-55,176-77 early Christian, 8, 21, 42, 54, 107, 114, 122,125,126,128,131,161,172, 187,207,250 Old Testament, 3, 31,100,125,134, 146,158,204-5,208,217,225,235, 241 Prophet(s), false, 154, 161, 162, 187, 190, 220 Propitiation. See Jesus, death Reign, thousand year, 2, 223-26 Remnant, 129 Repentanc~27, 55,58,65,105,119,131, 175,192,251 Resurrection first, 134, 223, 225

second, 231 Riders, 5, 86-87, 119,217,228 Robe(s), 132, 197,218,219,251 white, 36, 58, 65, 69, 90, 98, 99,191, 212 See also Vestments Rome/Roman Empire, 5, 10, 111, 118, 133,152,155,158,167,175,188, 189,192,196-97,205,207,220,241 Sabbath. See Lord's Day Sacraments. See Baptism; Eucharist; Lord's Supper Salvation, divine plan of, 19,25, 48, 65, 81 Sardis, 34, 57-59, 64, 189 Satan, 5,16,55,98,139,143,148-52, 156,158,167,174,192,223,225, 226,228,229 Sea, 70, 81,110-11,150,151,182-83, 200,232 See also Beast from the sea Seal(ing), 96, 97,101-2,123,124,155, 169,250 See also Book with seven seals Seals, seven, 16,76,83-89,91,169 Seer, 8, 68,227,252 See also Visions Selucid dynasty, 4 Serpent, 144, 148, 152 See also Beast; Dragon; Satan Seven bowls. See Bowls, seven Sickle, 177-78 Silence, 101-2 Smyrna, 9, 11,34,47-49,61 Sodom, 176, 205 Son of man, 27, 31, 34-36,44,174,177, 225 Song. See Hymn(ody) Soul, heavenward journey of, 68 Spirits, seven, 24, 46, 58, 68, 70, 76, 107, 134,191,196,213,249 Star(s), 70, 92, Ill, 114, 142-43, 145, 146,189 ~orning,6, 56,252 seven, 36, 38,44, 58 Suffering. See Persecution; Tribulation Sword, double-edged, 1,37,51,219 Symbolism of animals. See Creatures, four; Beast; Dragon of color. See Color of numbers. See Numerology Symbols, heavenly, 68, 70, 217 See also Elders; Lampstands; Stars Temple, earthly, 34, 70, 89, 107, 128, 154, 170,241,243


Index of Names and Subjects Temple, heavenly, 68, 89, 104, 128, 138, 17~ 18~ 188,241,245 TestimonylWitness, 12,20-21,24,31,51, 64, 13~ 15~ 163,211,21~231,250 Thousand-year reign. See Reign, thousand year Three-time formula. See Numerology Throne, heavenly, 12, 15, 17,68,69,7072,75,86,98, 107, 147, 171, 177, 184,211,225,227,231-32,236,246 Thunder, 123, 125 Thyatira, 34, 53-56, 57 Tree of life, 46, 233, 246 Tribulation, III, 131 Trumpets, seven, 13, 15, 16, 33, 103-5, 107,109-11,134-35,178,188-90, 191 Twelve tribes, 97-98, 145, 170, 242, 244 See also Israel; Judaism Underworld. See Hades Veneration of Caesar. See Cult of the emperor Vespasian, 10 Vestments. See Robes Vices, catalogue of, 119,238, 251 Victory/Overcoming, 41, 42, 46, 49, 56, 62,65,78,137,182-83,184,227, 237 See also Community, salvation Virginity. See Celibacy Visions, 2, 4, 6, 8, 13, 15, 38, 68-69, 9899, Ill, 115, 122, 134, 154, 170, 182, 196,214-15,226-28,242,251

commissioning, 30-38, 41,58 See also Particular visions. e.g.. Throne Wail. See Lament(ation) Wars. See Jewish wars Water, living, 100,237,253 Wedding. See Bride White. See Color, symbolism of; Robes, white Wilderness, 147, 151 Witness. See Testimony Witnesses, two, 128, 130, 132 Woes, cry of. See Lament(ation) Woman, heavenly, 1,6, 143-44, 145-58, 151-52,170,182,196-201 Word of God. See Christ as Word of God Works, 44, 58,177 See also Ethic(s) World, new. See Creation, new Worldly power. See Power, hostile worldly Worship, 12,21,26,81,99, 170-71,251 of heavenly being, 13-14,82,137 See also Eucharist; Liturgy; Lord's Supper Worship of idols. See Idol worship Wrath, 93, 108,138,175-76,182,184, 188, 192,205,219 Zion, 170, 179, 184 Zodiac, 69, 71, 244


Is Revelation, with its strangeness and idiosyncratic theology, a legitimate expression of the gospel? To this question, raised by the book's conflicting history of influence, J urgen Roloff is able to answer yes. Viewing Revelation as a lively interaction between the author and concrete communities of faith, Roloff maintains that the book's epistolary framework is the chief starting point for interpreting its prophetic message and bizarre apocalyptic images. After an informative introduction that focuses on the book's literary characteristics, historical context, and interpretive problems, Roloff explores each successive unit of the text under the following headings: -Text: fresh translation -Form: literary Gattung, structure, and function -Commentary: verse-by-verse discussion of the text in its original context The commentary also includes several helpful excu rsuses that explore specific issues related to a particular unit of the text.

Advance Acclaim 'Jurgen Roloff has produced an interpretation of the Revelation of John that can be certain to gain the special interest of theologians because of his . . . emphasis on the Christological starting-point of Revelation and ~he perspective that this discloses for the ChnstIan community." -HANS-FRIEDRICH WEISS "In this commentary, one catches the Revelator's vision of eternity ablaze with promise and expectation of accountability in the bleakness of the present. May this book find many who are willing to dialog with the Revelator." -FREDERICK DANKER JDRGEN ROLOFF, Professor of New Testament at the University of Erlangen, Germany, is the author of several important New Testament studies.

Jiirgen Roloff


Fortress Press 1-9650 9 780800 696504

ISBN 0-8006-9650-6