There is only one way to read John’s Apocalypse. Aloud, will full dramatic inflection, preferably with a good view of the sky. Minimum, aloud with that inflection. If you have to be alone to do this without being self-conscious, then do it. When you do it, remember that this is how it was written to be read, to committed groups of early Christians who were in a condition of extremity — systematic persecution.
As you read, note the repetitious use of words and phrases for emphasis, as well as correlative words and phrases (”looked,” “heard” — senses). That is an emphasis that must be said aloud with stress on its repetition for the emotional intelligence of Revelation to come through.
(Revelation 14) Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless. 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth–to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” 8 Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” 9 Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10 they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” 14 Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15 Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickleover the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath 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, for a distance of about two hundred miles.
Note how the key images concentrate to form the meaning toward the end. This is how stories are read to listening audiences. Think of how a good storyteller reads to kids.
Ivan Illich, in teaching the 12th Century to students tried to show that…
…contemporary ideas of conscience, citizenship, technology, text, individuality, and marriage all began to emerge in that era… at the same time, the twelfth-century world remained utterly foreign to a modern sensibility…
How does the past bear on the present, and at the same time stand strangely off from it?
The Apocalypse of John — for us, at least — is a very strange document.
And what are some of the ways in which we can distort and misinterpret the past, including past literature?
One example might be Scripture that refers to Jesus’ “healing.” For us, healing has to do with disease, an idea that is associated with things like pathogens and immune systems. It is a medical idea. And it didn’t exist in the mind of anyone until after Pasteur. So it is very easy for us to do something called “retrojection,” that is, to inject our current epistemology into the past — an error. Jesus’ touching the “sick” was, above all else, violating the Purity Code — disease was considered a spiritual condition that put a person outside her or his community — a terrible and painful condition for people who lived before the elevation of the individual above community. This healing was a ritual cleansing that was only authorized for priests to conduct… so Jesus was, in fact, provoking the authorities by “practicing without a license.” That’s far different from our miracle-notion of these healings and exorcisms. But our retrojections, and the retrojections of some theologians, have created a very fundamental distortion.
The Apocalypse of John, while strange to us, was very accessible to his contemporaries — as accessible as the plot conventions of LA film noir is to us (think Chinatown or Devil With a Blue Dress). But, for us to get it, we have to take two steps instead of one. We have to study and grasp the epistemology of the day, and only after grasping that way of knowing and being in the world, we can really read the primary material.
Historical setting for 1st Century Palestine — though John of Patmos was in 2nd Century Asia Minor (Turkey), so circumstances were constantly evolving even then, albeit at a slower pace and smaller scale than now. We need some idea of the strangeness, to us, of what human life was then.
These figures were cribbed heavily from The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion, by Philip Harland:
* 90% of Palestine’s largely Hebrew population lived as peasants. That term needs fleshing out to make it real. A peasant is someone who lives directly off the land. The peasant practices subsistence agriculture. In addition to subsistence agriculture, many peasants have historically served large landholders (so the peasant is a “tenant,” not an owner. Large landholders have typically protected their collective interests through direct of proxy state power — through government of some kind. Peasants who own their own land paid no taxes except to the state… mostly in tribute, not money. A portion of the crops, that is. Tenant farmers pay taxes to the state and to the large landholder. In 1st Century Palestine, these peasants also paid the priestly class through revenues collected via the Temple. In Haiti today, 70% of the population lives as peasants. In many respects then, Haiti is far closer to the reality of 1st Century Palestine than the places with which most of us are familiar — like Raleigh or Durham. Similarly, the Palestine of Jesus was one where the peasant was overtaxed, overworked, and kept on the margin of survival by the rich, the priestly class, and the state — three parasitic social formations whose livelihoods were completely based on the subjugation and exploitation of the peasant. This parasitic strata lived in the city, which itself vacuums up the resources of the countryside.
* In addition to peasant production, urban Palestine practiced a good deal of trade — including imports and exports.
Applebaum’s survey of archeological and literary evidence for imports and exports, for foreign or international trade, is illustrative of the situation, though his conclusion that “[e]conomic activity was predominantly internal” is debatable (1976:669-680, largely followed here). Regarding imports, Egyptian grain was, from time to time, imported in times of shortage or famine (e.g. Josephus, Ant.15.299-316 [25 BCE], 20.51-52 [46-47 CE]), but Palestine was largely self-sufficient for such food staples. The Temple cult required considerable imports, as I discuss below. With respect to clothing, later references in rabbinic literature to sandals from Tyre and Laodicea, goat-hair from Cilicia, and fine linens from Pelusium and India are suggestive of possibilities in the 1st century. Among the most common items in daily use in antiquity was pottery, so it is significant that archaeological excavations at Samaria, Schechem, Ptolemais and Ashdod uncovered red glaze both from the east (in the Hellenistic and Roman eras) and from Italy and Gaul (in the Roman era); a stamped jar from Colonia Hadrumetum in North Africa found at Joppa (2nd century or earlier) is also suggestive of such imports. As Applebaum notes, Palestine was lacking in metals (except copper) and we can assume the import of all necessary metals. The principal exports from Palestine were olive oil (cf. Josephus, B.J. 2.591; Vita 74-76), dates, opobalsam and spices. The  Jericho region was renowned for its dates and date-wines, which were in high demand in Rome (cf. Strabo, Geogr. 16.763.41; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 13.44-49). Products from the opobalsam bush, grown in the Dead Sea area, were exported, including the sap, twigs and bark, which were used as medical remedies for headaches and problems with eye-sight. By the 4th century, Gaza and Ascalon became well-known for their wines. Long-distance luxury items from East Africa, Arabia, India and the Far East would also pass through Palestine following the usual trade routes. (Harland)
* When urban centers form, they generate economic satellite activity in smaller communities, neither elite nor peasant. The retainer class for the elite (like Matthew, a tax collector before his discipleship) lived in smaller communities sometimes, as did artisans — skilled labor — like Jesus and Joseph, who were carpenters in the town of Nazareth, or like small commercial fishermen — Simon, for example. So while they are privileged in comparison to the peasants, they are by no means admitted among the elite. This middle strata in 1st Century Palestine was not like our middle class — which is substantial and politically powerful; it was very small. Remember, 9 out of ten people were peasants… illiterate and destitute. Slavery itself was a contractual institution, most commonly befalling its victims when they fell deeply into debt. The retainer class and the artisans were a small sliver between the small elite and the ocean of the peasantry. The retainer class works directly for the elite; and so it is privileged but totally dependent on the elite. The artisans, on the other hand, while still dependent on the overall system ruled by elites, had more autonomy in their lives than any other non-elite group. Historically, during times of great social agitation, these in-between classes are the ones who have the autonomy from power and the autonomy from paralytic poverty; so it is from these in-between classes that movement leaders emerge.
Jesus was a tekton, sometimes interpreted as carpenter, though divisions of labor weren’t as specialized then. The closest meaning would be construction worker, which was skilled labor — an artisan, possibly employed in the massive construction of Sepphoris, a spectacular Herodian project only four miles from Nazareth.
* In a peasant economy that is also under imperial control — as Palestine was under the Romans — there is always a group among the elite who act as the colonial servants and liaisons for the imperial elite. Herod was such a figure — ruling his population with an iron hand on behalf of the Romans in exchange for the ability to himself exploit his own people.
* Zealotry was more and more common… a term referring to guerrilla-like resistance of the occupied Palestinian Jews against the Roman occupiers. Officialdom referred to these people as “bandits” and “thieves.” This kind of state agitprop is still used by repressive regimes to describe any opposition. In fact, they were not bandits, but political activists who had given up on peaceful resistance. Many speculate that the two “thieves” crucified alongside Jesus were, in fact, Zealots. Crucifixion, after all, was a sentence set aside for political crimes. There is good evidence that several of the disciples were former Zealots.
* There was no concept of disease. Afflictions, like leprosy (though this term appears to have covered a lot of skin disorders), were not understood — as we think of them — as physical pathologies, but as a state of spiritual disrepair. Ritual purity, not health in the way we have only understood for the last 150 years, was the desired state. There were no “germs,” no contagion, no “insanity.” I, for one, think that demonic possession is at least as accurate a diagnosis as most of the stuff in the DSM-IV. I’d wager that anyone reading this probably has at least two demons themselves… I certainly do.
John of Patmos was writing around 90 AD, as best we know from exile. The literary form, “apocalyptic,” was handed down from Jewish writers who began the genre during the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BC). The exilic period ended when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Hebrews to return to Judea (where the Temple that the Babylonians had destroyed was rebuilt by 515 BC). Because of close contact with the Persians — being now under Persian rule — Persian ideas penetrated and combined with Hebrew ideas, one of them being the dramatic convention of a cosmic struggle between good and evil.
Hebrews were so poor that it took 100 years to rebuild Jerusalem.
In 331 BC, Alexander defeated Persia and took control of Palestine for the Greeks.
Hebrew theology at the time included the “Deuteronomic” idea that God rewarded good collective behavior and punished bad collective behavior. Hebrews believed that their infidelity to God had led to the Babylonian exile. As time went on, and this tit-for-tat relation became less credible, a rethinking began of the relationship between the Hebrews and God. This rethinking, which was more nuanced and subtle, was eventually named “the Wisdom Movement.” The Books of Job and Ecclesiastes were both Wisdom Movement literature.
After many years of continued general misery, the Wisdom Movement — influenced by the Persian convention of a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, in which Good would finally triumph — gave rise to the “apocalyptic mindset,” in which the good suffered during periods of Evil’s advantage in this cosmic battle.
Apocalyptic literature has two important components: (1) the use of comparative opposites, growing out of this idea of a cosmic battle between Good and Evil, and (2) the idea of two ages (the present and the age to come). In troubled times, the present age was one in which Evil had the apparent upper hand in battle. The age to come would reverse this.
Though this Persian convention influenced John’s Apocalypse, the basic content of the visions is decidedly Christian. The battle has been won, once and once only and absolutely, in cross and resurrection. Evil is simply thrashing in a death throe. It is conquered and that conquest is manifest as we live into it by Christ’s example. This is the core proclamation of John’s Apocalypse.
Apocalyptic literature is not literal. It uses symbols that — while strange to us now (because our language and epistemology has changed so dramatically) — were widely and readily recognizable to John’s contemporaries. Images, numbers, and colors had specific meanings. Here are some of them that are important in readingRevelation:
White – victory or victor (morally neutral — could be good victor or bad victor)
Black – lack or loss (famine, pestilence, bad health, etc)
Red – bloodshed, especially war
Gray-Green (”pale”) – death (color of a corpse)
3 – spirit world
3 1/2 – the amount of time (not everyday time) God allowed Evil to advance before He said, “enough is enough”
4 – created order — a taxonomy of sensible life included (1) humans, (2) wild beasts, (3) birds of the air, and (4) domestic animals.
7 – maturity or completeness… all of something (NOT literal)
10 (and multiples of ten) –inclusiveness
12 – the people of God
Beast – a nation
Horn or head – a head of state, ruler
Another symbolic practice then was called gematria. This is the use of a number obtained by adding alphabetic-numerical values to represent a word. If — and this is not a literal example — S = 19, t – 20, a = 1, and n = 14, then my first name could be represented as 54. This is particularly important in unraveling the meaning of 666 (or variously 616) as the “number of the beast.” In fact, these sums represented two spellings of the same name: Nero Caesar, or Neron Caesar… Nero, the first Roman persecutor of the Christians. The beast (a nation) is Rome, and the head of the beast is numbered 666.
It is not the sign of some anti-Christ in the future.
Christianity was not yet a separate faith, but a sect of Judaism. There were no churches as we know them; the churches were gatherings that met in people’s houses. There was a sharing of blood, body, and spirit — which meant wine, bread, and a greeting kiss (that exchanged “breath,” then synonymous with “spirit”). The latter was scandalous to many, because the meetings breached class, ethnic, and gender boundaries. Scriptures were meant to be read aloud, and originated in oral traditions (that were maintained by women, as a rule). The Apocalypse of John is doxological. That is, praise-giving… a form of proclamation.
It is not a prediction.
 Then one of the elders said to me, “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth;
 and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;
 and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
 and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on earth.“
From John Howard Yoder’s The Royal Priesthood:
To see history doxologically meant for John’s addresses that their primordial role within the geopolitics of the Pax Romana was neither to usurp the throne of Nero or Vespasian, Domitian or Trajan, nor to pastor Caesar prophetically, but to persevere in celebrating the Lamb’s lordship and in building the community shaped by that celebration. They were participating in God’s rule over the cosmos, whatever else they were or were not allowed by the civil powers to do. That is was not given them to exercise those other more blatantly “powerful” roles — whether assassinating Trajan or becoming his chaplain — was not for them either a renunciation or a deprivation. They considered themselves to be participating in ruling the world primordially in the human practices of doxological celebration — perhaps in Ephesus? — of which Johns’ vision of the Heavenly Throne Hall is the projection. Some would take John’s vision to mean “if we keep the faith through these tough times, in a century or two the tides will turn and we can dominate the Empire the way Domitian does today.” Others would think it meant: “if we keep the faith, the world as we know it will very soon be brought to a catastrophic end, and a new nonhistorical state of things will be set up, with us on top.”
Yoder is paraphrasing other theologians’ notions about what the Apocalypse means to its storyteller and the original story-hearers. But pay attention.
Some would favor this latter interpretation because they are themselves enthusiasts, believing themselves to be on the brink of the final saving catastrophe, as its beneficiaries. Others would ascribe that meaning to John’s vision in order to discredit it, since, after all, that catastrophic victory did not happen.
What then did the vision mean? “Neither of the above,” we must respond. Each of these restatements is incompatible with the hymnic text. The line about “serving God [the priestly role] and ruling the world [the royal one]” is found in the second strophe sung in the Heavenly Hall, the one concerned with the present age. The hymn of verse 4:11 was about the past, the praise of creation. The strophe of 5:12ff. is about the future universal consummation, when all the creatures chime in. Our strophe, the “new song” elicited by the work of the Lamb, describes the seer’s present, the same age in which the people of every tribe and tongue are being called into a new community. It is not about a future, either organic and therefore distant, or immanent and therefore catastrophic. It has to be taken as a statement about what they were then involved in doing. What then could it mean? What could it mean then?
Strophe – a choral verse-construction code.
Strophe 4:11 –
“Worthy art thou, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for thou didst create all things,
and by thy will they existed and were created.”
Strophe 5:11-12 –
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Now go back and read the 5:7-10 at the beginning of this note.
Once you’ve re-read it, let’s continue with Yoder’s riff:
Some readers of the New Testament think that early Christians were all poor. Another set say that not all of them were. But no one thinks that taken all together they were socially significant. How then could they think — even in ecstatic flights of worship that they were involved in governing the world? That seems odd to us because we forget that what we have taken metaphorically they took realistically, that is to say, doxologically [as praise-giving proclamation of a New Life in Christ -SG]. For them to say “Jesus Christ is kyrios” was a statement neither about their subjective psychic disposition (as pietism would say) nor about their sectarian belief system (as scholasticism would assume) but about the cosmos, the way the world really is. “Sitting at the right hand of the Father,” the eighth article of the Apostle’s Creed, designated a role of cosmic viceroy, invisibly in charge of history, sovereign over the principalities and powers. That royal rule of Jesus at the Right Hand is “the service to God and rule over the world” in which they confessed themselves to be participants.
A Note further along will explain “dispensationalism,” a 19th Century distortion of John’s Apocalypse that is widely subscribed to today by churches we tend to describe imprecisely as “fundamentalist.” (The only thing fundamental about their interpretation of Revelation is that it is fundamentally and demonstrably wrong.) The true fundamentalists were the early, pre-Constantinian Christian communities — those kissing-communities that met in houses, and that heard this Apocalyptic read aloud. Here is an excerpt from a writing by philosopher Aristides (A.D. 125) who was a Christian convert, explaining why he admired this sect:
They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. Those that have distribute freely to those who have not. If they see a stranger, they bring that stranger under their own roof, and they rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves sisters and brothers, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God. When one of the poor passes away from the world, and any of them see it, then he who sees it provides for the burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for the prisoner’s needs, and if it is possible for the prisoner’s delivery. And if there is among them anyone who is poor and needy, and they have no abundance of their own, they will fast for two or three days to ensure that hungry one is fed.
These folks took the “fundamentals” of “abiding in Christ” very seriously.
At the time of John’s Apocalypse, they were under active persecution by Roman Emperor Domitian — who objected in particular to the “unnatural” Christian doctrine of the spiritual equality of women with men. Nero’s persecution two administrations earlier had been political opportunism. He had burned down a section of Rome that supported a political rival, and when that gambit backfired on him, he blamed the Christians — then a small sect, whose strangeness made them an easy target. John of Patmos was called that, because he was exiled to Patmos (now coastal Turkey)… a political punishment. The reason Nero is invoked in Revelation is that the originator of persecutions often comes to personify similar acts in the future. We still invoke Hitler to describe campaigns of Genocide, for example, even when the circumstances are distant in time and space from post-Weimar Germany. Any time we dislike a leader who is cruel, we call him a Hitler. With them, it was Nero… ergo, the mark of the Beast, Nero, or ingematria, 666 or 616.
It is easy — given our modern empirical habits of mind — to dismiss this proclamation of “victory” as pure mysticism, or as just “sour grapes.” But John’s Apocalypse does not predict the future. It proclaims the past… the victory announced by resurrection.
We lack patience. This is not a result of industrial capitalism, like our acquisitive individualism is. It is a refinement of that individualism that has grown since World War II in core nations, especially the United States: “convenience consumerism.”
As the tempo of our lives has been ramped up, the giant hawkers of convenience goods have created greater and greater demand for “time-saving” goods and services. The term “time-saving” is very sly, since we know that time proceeds steadily and inexorably in one direction. We don’t save time, we appropriate more material and space in order to do more things in the same periods of time. This has dramatically shortened our attention spans, increased the need for more direct sensual feedback, abbreviated our reflection, and placed us under the command of clocks and pocket organizers.
Consequently, we have also been weakened in the face of setbacks. We are easily demoralized, disoriented, and overwhelmed. We have forgotten how to wait. That is the epistemological reality — corresponding to our highly abstracted economic reality — that has placed us in front of the runaway train of household debt, among other things, even as we face the specter of a long and arduous deflationary epoch. Lack of patience has real consequences.
So when we read about the victory already having been achieved, of the power of meekness, we need an example that can help us to face up to this tendency to become demoralized in the face of setbacks.
I want to use Martin Luther King’s discipleship as that example. John Howard Yoder wrote (in 1988) — again on the subject of the process of history:
To see history doxologically is to own the Lamb’s victory in one’s own time… Martin Luther King, Jr., [was] one of the victims who in our century have enabled us to keep talking about the power of meekness. The power of his vulnerability taught us again something about about the weakness of Caesar. The provisions of the United States Constitution and its amendments and the solemn oaths of office of generations of White officeholders had been powerless, for ninety years after emancipation, to keep the promise of letting Blacks into the civil community. It took the principled non-cooperation of America’s Black minority to enable elite powerbearers, whether the shrewd pragmatist Johnson or the more programmatic Kennedys before him, to make small steps toward being honest with the American dream. It took the churches of the underdogs to move the churches and the synagogues of the comfortable — and then only some of them — to support the most modest steps toward the most elementary public morality in matters of race.
[P]rogress in history is borne by the underdogs.
This is a strange message indeed — contemporary as it is — when we are inundated with cultural productions that glorify violence, domination, acquisition, egoism, and power. The strangeness of John’s Apocalypse — aside from its language and symbolisms — is that its readers and hearers actually believed in the power of meekness — in the victory of the slain Lamb — and that this was an embodied practice, this belief, here on earth; not something in a cosmically separated realm of pure spirit.
Notes from James Efird’s Revelation Bible Study guide:
Written as a series of self-contained visionary units. Each describes something going on at that time and place with descriptions of the events given in symbolic (but not secret) terms… [some listed above] …
Essential to read apocalyptic text with understanding of these symbols and images to discern the message.
As Jews left Palestine and Christian movement became basically a Gentile group, apocalyptic style of writing fell away and early Church lost understanding of apocalyptic symbolism.
By end of 2nd Century AD, the church fathers already were puzzled by symbols of apocalyptic literature.
Efird’s Notes (paraphrased)
7 churches, stars (angels), lampstands, etc. Jewish menorah is a seven-branch candelabra. Seven indicates completeness. There were more than seven churches in Asia Minor; but John lists 7, in order along a well-known postal route, just as the New Testament lists 12 disciples, though there are far more… because 7 means complete or total, and 12 means the people of God (12 tribes of Israel).
Seven churches, each with its own angel (also a popular convention then).
Letters to the seven churches, each contains praise and censure, and each is encouraged to keep the faith. Ephesus (2:1) is told that it is in danger of allowing sanctimony to cast a shadow on love. Nicolaitans (2:6) is warned that it is slipping toward a Gnostic heresy (an elaborate cosmology of intermediate beings between humans and God, with ascetic and “libertine” sects. Pergamum (2:12) is cited for its steadfastness even as it is co-located with “Satan” (Roman worship temples). Sardis (3:1) is moribund and in danger. Laodicea (3:14) is called “lukewarm,” an accusation of cheap grace, smugness, an excess of comfort… and a word play since a warm stream from an upstream hot spring was famous in Laodicea.
Rainbow is an Old Testament reference, when God promised Noah that God would not destroy humanity again. This was a necessary reminder under the stern circumstances of Domitian’s persecution.
24 is multiple of 12 (4:4), people of God, and two 12’s is two groups, one the old community and one the new community.
Four: an apocalyptic number representing created order (wild beasts, domestic animals, birds, humans). These visions are to be attended by all created order. (Interpretations that the four refers to the gospels were the result of the loss of ability to “decode” apocalyptic numerical references.)
The scroll (Rev. 5) is written on both sides (normal scrolls had a smooth and rough side — recto and verso), usually only written on the recto side. Writing on both sides means that the document is extremely important.
Opened by the slaughtered lamb… a paradoxical figure of Jesus the Christ, since this whole set of visionary units proclaims a great “victory.” Thousands (multiples of ten — inclusion) praise the lamb. (5:11)
Seven cycles recapitulate the lamb’s triumph, each ending very badly for the enemies of God’s people.
This is how one can go through Revelation — reading aloud — getting the sense of how dangerous this literature was for its author, and how defiant. “Imprison us, torture us, kill us… but out proclamation stands. Christ is sovereign, no other, not even Caesar.”
Now that we know what Revelation is about — the proclamation to a community suffering persecution — and what it is not — a prediction of the future, and now that we have some basic examples, as well as “Mickey” Efird’s scholarship, to help us make the jump back into 90-95 AD, we can re-claim Revelation from the Darbyist (dispensationalist) accounts and proudly acknowledge that this Book is part of our canon.
I strongly urge readers to at least read the Preface of Harry Maier’s Apocalypse Recalled, linked here.
Read all of Ted Grimsrud’s Revealing a New World: Power According to Biblical Apocalyptic, linked here.
One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”