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  • Writer's pictureBrett Bonecutter

Coffee Talk and Revelation - Part 3

If you managed to read parts 1 & 2 of this blog, you realize that I've showed my hand in my basic understanding Revelation. While I've run the gamut of interpretive views over the course of my Christian journey, I am currently most comfortable with a partial-preterist reading of John's apocalyptic vision. I am not a futurist who believes the bulk of Revelation lies in the future for the world-at-large. Neither am I an idealist who believes the prophecy is a broad portrayal of the struggle between the forces of good and evil. I believe Revelation makes the most sense as a fulfillment of prophecy of covenant curses to Israel laid out by Moses in Leviticus 26 and realized in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. God's unfaithful spouse of the Old Covenant was divorced and replaced by the New Covenant bride, the church of Jesus Christ.

But obviously, I can't hang my whole case on Leviticus 26 alone. I'm going to have to provide more evidence than that and I will do my best to rise to the occasion. Perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning - a very good place to start.

Revelation opens with the Apostle John giving us some important clues that deserve our attention. First, he says that people who keep the words of the prophecy are blessed, "for the time is near." (Rev. 1:3) This time reference is literally book-ended and emphasized in the last chapter of Revelation with Jesus Himself saying not once, but THREE times, "I am coming quickly." (Rev 22:7, 12, 20) We would do well to keep in mind that when Jesus pronounced His judgments of woe on the religious ruling class in the Gospels, He said, "all these things will come upon this generation." (Mt 23:36) And, "Do you not see all these things (buildings of the Temple), Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mt 24:2) On His final approach to Jerusalem prior to His death, Luke records, "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that made for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you, and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another because you did not know the time of your visitation.'" (Lk 19:41)

Here's the point - Jesus was crystal clear that His contemporary generation within Jerusalem would be judged and that the temple would be destroyed. People often miss this because they are ignorant of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and because He compressed some of His teaching of near-time judgments with end-time judgments. Nevertheless, Christ's own prophecy about the nearness of the judgment on Jerusalem was unambiguous. So when John alerts his readers that his prophecy is also "near," we must keep in mind that there was already some anticipation of impending judgment on Israel/Jerusalem.

Second, the thesis of Revelation is given in 1:7, "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth (land) will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen."

This is where people begin to get lost because they miss the apocalyptic language. "Coming with clouds" is a common Biblical image for divine judgment. It doesn't always necessarily mean Jesus will come riding on a fluffy white cloud. It most often mean that when judgment comes it is of divine origin and is not a random circumstance of history. I don't want to weary you with quotes, but here are a handful of references to back this up - Psalm 18:7-14 /Jeremiah 4:7, 13-14 / Joel 2:1-2 / Zeph. 1:15. I would be remiss, however, if I did not fully quote an Old Testament verse that is directly related to the prophecies of Jesus (particularly Mt 24:30 / Mt 26:64) - Daniel 7:13-14, "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."

Our mission here is not fully exegete Daniel or its intricate relationship with Revelation. We may come back to this at a later time. Our mission is to parse the first clause of the Revelation 1:7 thesis - that Jesus was coming in the near-time divine judgment on Jerusalem which He clearly foretold.

The next clause about every eye seeing Him is simply that the divine judgment will be public. It would be widely known and not hidden. But even more specifically, it would be especially apparent to "they who pierced Him." A cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that the first century Jewish leaders were responsible for Christ's crucifixion. While the Romans were accomplices, Pilate officially wanted no part of it. That didn't take them/him off the hook, but Christ's blood, so to speak, was on the hands of the Jewish religious elite. To drive this point home, the final clause says, "And all the tribes of the earth (land) will mourn because of Him..."

You may have noticed that I inserted, "land," parenthetically. The Greek word, "ge," can mean earth or land. And I would argue that the overall context supports land. After all, "tribes of the land," as in, "promised land" of Israel, is more Biblically coherent than "tribes of the earth." This will be true throughout the rest of the book, but it is especially poignant here. The coming judgment on Jerusalem would cause the tribes of Israel to mourn.

One last thing as we wrap this up. After delivering the thesis in Revelation 1:7, John says, "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos...". (Rev 1:9) Note here that this was written during a time of great persecution and duress for Christians. They were under pressure from first century Jews and increasingly from Roman authorities. In fact, John was not on the island for a vacation stay. He was a political prisoner of Rome, imprisoned on Patmos. This book was not written from a peaceful vantage point, but from a place of bondage and pressure.

And I think this provides a clue as to why the language is shrouded in apocalyptic prose. Can you imagine John coming straight-out and saying, "Hey - I know we're all suffering and being martyred, but no worries because Jesus is coming to judge our enemies in Jerusalem/Israel and the Roman empire to set up His kingdom here. So hang in there because the temple is about to be destroyed by the Romans, and then the line of Caesars will eventually come to an end as well. We're going to prevail in this thing, so no worries!"

Writing in those explicit terms and trying to get that message out would have made the persecution even hotter. That was the message, but in God's wisdom, it was delivered in language that would make the most sense to people who were more familiar with the Biblical images and language being used. It wasn't code, per se. But it was paradoxically veiled to people on the outside. It was an unveiling and revealing to people who were suffering unto death - but delivered in a manner that would not foment further persecution. Inside all the biblically-cryptic images of judgment was a message of victory and hope for God's suffering people.

So to sum up:

  1. Revelation and many of the prophecies of Jesus pointed to a near-term judgment on contemporary Jerusalem/Israel for rejecting their Messiah.

  2. The cloud judgment refers to divine judgment, not literal clouds.

  3. The judgment in view would be highly public and especially painful for the "tribes of the land," Israel.

  4. The book was written at a time of intense persecution in such a manner that it could be widely read and distributed without causing more persecution. It was a hopeful message of the victory of God's kingdom once the first century Jewish establishment and Roman empire had been dismantled.

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