Posted by: religionthink | December 7, 2006

And there will be no more night: The Role of the P…

And there will be no more night: The Role of the Prophets Part VII

Coming to the end of our group of essays on the role of the prophets, we will now discuss the book of Revelation. In order to bring a book and perspective we must first understand the historical background of the text. It is still somewhat disputed but scholars believe the text of Revelation was written between year 90 and 100 AD. Some believe that the writing of the text was after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem by the Romans. Although there may be some allusions to this in the text, the debate is still ongoing. The Apostle John’s role was to help new Christian believers withstand the persecution and tyranny of the Roman rulers, and to encourage them to stand fast until the end so they might see the judgments poured out on those who persecuted them because of their Christian beliefs.

Many texts influence the writings of Revelation; Daniel, Jeremiah, Enoch, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Dead Sea Scrolls, and many others. Also included are references to Canaanite, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman mythology. Together we will look at this tapestry of writing and select three topics of interest as examples of John’s role as a prophet and see if they match up with what occurred with other prophets of the Old Testament. We will find that the same roles and techniques and modes of transmissions were used. Although most Christians like to distant themselves from the Old Testament to live in the new, we will at first hand see how much impact the Old Testament had before the implementation of modern day theology took its toll on how we read the text of Revelation.

One of the biggest issues for the new Christians was persecution, emperor cult worship of the Romans, and the prolonged return of the messiah. We read of their distress; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”(Rev 6:10 NRSV). By now the new Christians also took the title of “Jew” and used it for themselves. They have read of other accounts of persecution from the writings of Ezekiel in Babylon, Maccabees, and Daniel. They used these along with the Exodus accounts of the slavery in Egypt and identified it with the issues they were encountering with Roman rule. John, by the standards of Jeremiah, was a true prophet because he witnessed the Divine Council and its proceedings and wrote what he seen. He gave the message to the early churches and fulfilled his obligation to Christ and Yahweh. With this done and the warning given all they had to do was to wait for the glorious holy war to ensue.

Though there are many, the three examples we will use are the plague references through out the book, the beast references, and the mark of the beast. The latter will be used due to its popularity. Many have heard hundreds of interpretations on what this could be; social security numbers, barcodes, computers, the list goes on. It is the goal of the author that those reading this essay will be able to go away with a new perspective of the text of Revelation and a better appreciation for the texts used to help comprise the apocalyptic ideas. The prophets played an important role in keeping the Yahweh religion strong in the face of adversity, and it preserved its traditions and rituals through exiles and displacement. Here we will observe John using the same techniques of his predecessors to preserve the budding Christian community.

The plagues in are found in Revelation chapter 16 we read the full account below:

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the earth, and a foul and painful sore came on those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped its image. The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, “You are just, O Holy One, who are and were, for you have judged these things; because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar respond, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!” The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire; they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God, who had authority over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness; people gnawed their tongues in agony, and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and they did not repent of their deeds. The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up in order to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw three foul spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, [56] not going about naked and exposed to shame.”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon. The seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake, such as had not occurred since people were upon the earth, so violent was that earthquake. (Rev 16:1-18 NRSV)

It is rather easy to make some connections to the stories of the plagues of Egypt when reading this account; boils, water to blood, darkness, reference to frogs, and else where pestilence, all were brought on by the rod of Aaron and Moses. The references to scorching heat, drought, earthquakes, and other nature elements, were used by Yahweh to wage holy war and bring judgment on those who transgressed. One example of this is found in Haggai 1:3-11 around 520 B.C. Here Yahweh causes a drought due the neglect of his temple. The plagues in Revelation are made to be much worse then those of Egypt, and the use of elements as punishment from Yahweh, Christ and the angels would be all the more fierce for we read , such as had not occurred since people were upon the earth, so violent was that earthquake. To a persecuted Christian, all the above mentioned would be most welcome.

Next topic of discussion is the references to the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth. Just as in Daniel, a beast also comes up out of the sea in Revelation. Here we have the imagery of the serpent, the Sea waging war and bringing chaos. We are reminded of the text of the Song of the Sea in Deuteronomy 15. In the text Yahweh defeats the sea and saves the people from destruction. Also in the text of Revelation the Serpent, Sea monster, Leviathan, Dragon, wages holy war against Yahweh, Christ and Heaven until he is bound. After the binding there is no mention of the Beasts or of the Sea. There are speculations about the historical references. The beast of the sea, inspired by Daniel chapter 7, was symbolized here as Rome. The others whom this beast gives power to over all the earth are the rulers and kings who help control the large Roman territory. The account of the wounded beast that was healed may have been inspired by the story that circulated about Nero returning to power after his suicide. The Beast of the earth is mentioned as a false prophet. This symbolizes those officials who went about expanding the emperor cult of Rome. These wealthy people would be employed to protect the cult of Rome. During the rule of the emperor Trajan many who professed Christianity and refused to worship the image of Trajan were killed.

Finally the last and most popular topic is the mark of the beast or six hundred sixty-six. Below we read the following concerning the name and the mark:

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six. (Rev 13:16-18 NRSV)

This simply means that in order to prosper you have to be Roman and use Roman money. Even today, currency is necessary to buy and sell and be able to provide the basic essentials. Merchants from all parts of the world brought riches and goods and became very wealthy. The names and images were printed on the money and therefore in a way deified the emperors. So if you were an early Christian and failed to use the currency due to being found out. Those who become Roman to gain wealth and betrayed their faith because of it according to the text above would face sever punishment for it in the end times. The Imperial cult seemed to be an issue for the new churches. We read of one example of a church that had issues and there were more if one cared to read the whole of Revelation chapter 2.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to 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. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. (Rev 2:8-11 NRSV)

Concerning the number many have come to the conclusion the Greek and Hebrew letters were represented at times with numbers and this gave the name or symbol of the name. There are many interesting studies done on this topic with both positive and negative results. When studying such biblical texts as Revelation it is hard not to implement your own personal theology and views on the text. As we have learned from the past the beast’s name has changed many times over the years from communism to terrorism, barcodes to internet. It even has been profitable topic for many authors who took on the task of predicting, calculating, and searching for some hidden information for an inside view.

Throughout these essays we have explored the roles of the prophets of Israel across time into the New Testament. We have seen that the responsibilities have changed over time from being powerful rulers in government to preserving the teachings of Yahweh in captivity, up to encouraging their believers to hold fast. The role of the prophets still continue today many still use pieces of biblical texts pieced together to reassure their followers that their God is in control of uncontrollable matters. We have seen the context of older prophecies change to fit the context of the issue at hand. This is seen especially in times of uncertainty. For we all have seen or heard these types of techniques. A minister or teacher may have the news paper in one hand and the bible in the other. It is at times important to step back and view all the angles used before we commit to such beliefs.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Hartman, Louis F and DiLella, Alexander A. “The Book of Daniel,” In The Anchor Bible, vol. 23, eds. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

All biblical references were taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

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