Revelation, Apocalyptic, and Renewal Studies

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The exodus is a prominent motif which runs throughout the biblical text. Old
Testament scholars have presented evidence that Jewish writers incorporated or borrowed symbols and themes from the Egyptian exodus in order to convey
contemporary messages. NT scholars have linked the exodus motif to the
hermeneutical strategies and theology of the early Christian writers. Likewise,
the exodus is a vital element in the book of Revelation. In light of this I thought that I might discuss the exodus motif in the book of Revelation by describing how the author of the Apocalypse uses the exodus and how it might relate to renewal eschatology. I also thought that I might look at how the exodus motif impacts current renewal eschatological thought.

Purpose and Method

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the exodus motif in the book of Revelation by describing how it is used by John,[1] how it relates to renewal eschatology, and what significance it might have for renewal eschatology moving forward. The exodus is a prominent motif which runs throughout the biblical text.[2] In fact, the exodus seems to serve as a paradigm for John. Thus, ignoring the exodus motif in Revelation can lead to a misunderstanding of its message specifically and eschatology in general. The recent work of renewal theologians can serve as an example of how understanding the paradigmatic nature of the exodus in the Apocalypse can be valuable for eschatological formulation. Therefore, this work will illuminate and analyze some of the most important features of the exodus motif in the book of Revelation. The method used for this research will be examination of primary and secondary texts pertinent to the discussion at hand. The exodus motif has the potential to provide a vital contribution to the study of the Apocalypse, eschatology, and renewal theology. Therefore, this essay will discuss recent renewal contributions in relation to John’s exodus paradigm and attempt to reveal its potential impact for current and future renewal eschatological formulations.

 The Exodus Motif in the Book of Revelation

The exodus paradigm is pervasive throughout the book of Revelation. In fact, it serves as the backdrop to the entire writing. John uses the familiar exodus pattern of prophetic witness, rejection of the prophetic message, resulting judgment, persecution of God’s people, and finally exodus into the new heavens and earth (cf. Rev 10–11; 21). Like those before him, he uses the exodus as a way to speak about God’s salvation of his people. Due to John’s extensive use of the exodus, it would be impossible to mention every instance or elaborate upon all passages, but a few of them deserve attention here.

There are many points in Revelation that reveal an exodus framework to the writing, some are subtle and many are more obvious. For instance, in Rev 1 and 5 the exodus motif is presented in terms of Christ as the Passover lamb. In Rev 1, John points to Jesus’ death as that of the paschal lamb, whose blood marks the redemption of God’s people from slavery – slavery to sin.[3] Redemption is powered by the love of Christ and instituted by his sacrifice that freed believers from sin into an inheritance formerly promised to Israel. The imagery could not be clearer, especially with John’s quotation of Exod 19 concerning Christ’s activity. Jesus’ sacrifice is depicted as that of the new and greater paschal lamb that offers redemption and a new exodus. In Rev 5, John once again quotes Exod 19 in stressing the redemption of a people to become a kingdom and priests to God through the sacrifice of the Lamb. In fact, lamb Christology runs throughout the book of Revelation and is referred to directly twenty-eight times. The lamb’s connection to salvation is implicit in Rev 13 and 21. In Rev 15, the salvation of the Lamb is related to the Red Sea deliverance in the song of Moses and the lamb. Still, the most powerful representation is of the slain lamb that purchased the people of God through the shedding of his blood (cf. Rev 5; 14). The victory in the exodus by God over the forces of chaos was celebrated in the liturgy of Israel’s redemption, and John’s reference to victory through the blood of the lamb continues this line of development that witnessed the replacement of the Red Sea deliverance by the Passover as the symbol of the entire exodus.[4]

Like redemption, the presentation of judgment in the book of Revelation follows the exodus paradigm. Exodus typology underlies the presentation of the seal, trumpet, and bowl series of judgments. As aforementioned, the pattern of witness, persecution, and judgment holds these together. In addition, lamb Christology appears perhaps most profoundly within the pericope leading to the opening of the seals. Beyond the significance of the number seven within the Apocalypse, John likely uses the pattern of seven plagues in keeping with the exodus tradition. There is evidence for a widespread ancient tradition of seven plagues in addition to the narrative of ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians according to Exodus.[5] In fact, there was a strong tendency to reduce the ten-plague tradition of Exodus to seven plagues. The tradition of a seven-plague divine scourge appears to have been well known in early Judaism.[6] John also transforms the plague elements of the Exodus by adding features of Sinai. However, the events of Sinai and the exile were commonly interwoven into one exodus tradition. For instance, in the OT poetic descriptions of the exodus, the theophany imagery of the thunderstorm and earthquake is extended to cover the whole exodus event from the Red Sea to the Jordan.[7] The importance of the seven plague scheme for this essay is that it shows further evidence that John employed the exodus tradition that was well known and utilized by Jewish writers.

One other aspect of the exodus paradigm that should be mentioned is the presentation of inheritance. Inheritance dominates several significant passages, even whole chapters. For instance, the interlude of Rev 7 uses exodus analogies and is linked to the trumpet and bowl judgments that use the Egyptian plague tradition. By linking these together, John has made the image of the sealing of the servants of God an element in his exodus structure. The image of the sealing of the people of God is itself dependent upon the exodus tradition of the protection of Israel in Egypt during the plagues, and particularly on the blood of the Passover lamb as a saving (sealing) mark against the final and most severe plague on the new Pharaoh (cf. Rev 15; 16; 19; 22).[8] Revelation 7 also incorporates images such as the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel that represent the entire church, the reversal of the exodus prohibition concerning the possibility of meeting God face to face, and the fulfillment of the exodus promise that God’s people would be “a kingdom of priests.” All of these images and analogies serve as central elements in John’s use of inheritance within the exodus paradigm (cf. Rev. 14). Revelation 15 follows the exodus pattern very closely and includes plagues, the crossing of the sea, the engulfing of the pursuers, the song of Moses, the erection of the tent of testimony, and the smoke that accompanies God’s presence. The entire vision is a reminder of God’s promise to drive out his people’s adversaries and bring his people into the land. Likewise, Rev 20 speaks of the reign of Christ and the priestly rule of his people upon the earth. These are all glimpses of the inheritance promised to God’s people.

The vision of the new heavens and earth is the climax of Revelation and the whole Bible (Rev 21 and 22). Although John’s description of the new creation is not extensive, what he emphasizes is newness. The focus of the new creation is the new Jerusalem, and the significance of its appearance is described in the language of the exodus tradition.[9] First, God comes to dwell with his people and they will enjoy his presence eternally. Second, the removal of tears, death, mourning, crying, and labor pains, and God’s offer of “springs of living water” flow from John’s use of the Isaianic new exodus. Third, all of the visions in Rev 21 and 22 thread together elements of the exodus tradition. Finally, John includes the figure of the lamb to the description of the city as a means of ‘Christianizing’ Isaiah’s view of Zion. Specifically, he uses the exodus motif of the lamb to redefine the eschatological Zion tradition. In these passages, John gathers up all of the promises of the exodus and applies them to Christ’s followers. Throughout he shows a willingness to adapt the exodus traditions of the past to his formulation of an exodus paradigm that rests upon Christology. John proclaims that something new is coming. This new heavens and earth inherited by the followers of the Son will be built upon the promises of God in the exodus but will far exceed the expectations of the exodus tradition.

 Renewal Theology and the Exodus

 Renewal scholars have recently produced works that propose a positive outlook on the eschaton. These works generally purport themes such as social justice, Pneumacentric eschatology, and renewal of the cosmos. However, there are differences in approach and emphases within this area of modern renewal scholarship. For instance, Thompson revisions Pentecostal eschatology in reaction to the marriage between Pentecostalism and dispensationalism. Meanwhile, Amos Yong seeks out a pneumatological eschatology.

Thompson’s goals are to propose an eschatology that is harmonious with his interpretation of Pentecostal distinctive, and to provide a more accurate portrait of God’s salvific purposes in the world (Thompson, Kingdom Come). Thompson believes that Pentecostalism is a movement that is first and foremost fired by the eschatological imagination. The themes of pneumatology, spiritual experience, process, and cosmic salvation drive his work. He depends heavily upon Moltmann and Eastern Orthodoxy, but overlooks that the more positive views of the eschaton that he proposes are at best marginal within the Christian tradition (e.g. Origen). Thompson also adopts Moltmann’s denial of the filioque in favor of a Pneumacentric eschatology. Essentially, he proposes a positive view of the eschaton, a pneumacentric culmination of all things, and hell as the cessation of existence in reality (Crenshaw, “Kingdom Come”).

Amos Yong attempts to present a distinctively new pneumatological eschatology in his works. His hermeneutic basically revolves around a rather unique reading of Acts in which, like Moltmann, he purports that the Spirit was poured out upon all creation (Yong, Spirit Poured Out). Yong’s eschatological assertion is that the expectation of a final apostasy in the last days leads to a ‘Noah’s ark’ mentality that awaits the rescue of the church from the wicked all around it (In the Days of Caesar). He thus argues for the renewal of all creation through the Spirit. Like Moltmann, Yong’s driving concern seems to be at least partially for a renewed emphasis on social and political action. For Yong, the pouring out of the Spirit involves a concern for every facet of creation in the present and a renewal of the entire cosmos in the future. The problem is that not only do these eschatological formulations not take into consideration the exodus paradigm of Revelation, but they seemingly lack fundamental understanding of biblical eschatology altogether.

Implications

While renewal scholars are promoting a more positive eschatology that incorporates concerns for social justice and renewal of the cosmos, John depicts an exodus pattern that includes prophetic preaching that brings either salvation or judgment. He emphasizes witness, persecution, wrath, and inheritance of a new heavens and earth. There are certainly similarities in John’s depiction and current renewal theological trends. For instance, Revelation clearly shows the church playing an active role in God’s plans for the eschaton. John also speaks of the new heavens and earth and God’s reign in cosmic terms. Moreover, the Apocalypse is concerned with the oppressed of the world. However, in Revelation the church does not bring about the kingdom of God on earth through social action but serves in the mission of God through prophetic witness. The oppressed are God’s prophetic witnesses. Furthermore, John uses “insider” versus “outsider” language throughout. There is no indication from him that he expects the world to be renewed. In fact, the “earth dwellers,” like the Egyptians, refuse to repent and are judged on a mass scale (cf. Rev 19–20). Although John uses universal language in his descriptions of God’s reign and the heavens and earth, the themes of “newness” and judgment militate against an all inclusive renewal interpretation. In other words, while there is continuity between what is now and what comes after, there is also a radical discontinuity that is not incorporated into many current renewal interpretations. Renewal theology could thus benefit from understanding the exodus paradigm in the book of Revelation.

Understanding John’s use of the exodus would prevent renewal scholars from purporting an overly positive and inclusive view of the end times and help forge a way forward by emphasizing a more holistic eschatology. This can be done by consulting the text first within its context and then interlocking it with biblical
theology and concern for a kingdom ethic. This method would avoid the pitfall of developing a theology that is in contradiction with the biblical text. It would also allow renewal scholars to present a biblical ethic that is distinctly renewal oriented. The renewal of the church can be promoted through a recuperation of biblical comprehension concerning the church as the people of God led by the Spirit in the eschaton. This type of eschatological understanding will lead the church to recover both its historically distinctive eschatological heritage and witnessing role to the entire world.


[1] This essay will refer to John as the author for the sake of space and in reference to the larger Johannine corpus.

[2] Cf. Walter Harrelson, Interpreting the Old Testament (Rinehart and Winston, 1964); Martin Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Prentice Hall, 1972); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Baker, 1997); David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Baker, 2000); David Daube, The Exodus Pattern in the Bible (Faber and Faber, 1963); Ulrich Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness (W. & J. Mackay, 1963), and the works of Gerhard von Rad and Brevard Childs.

[3] Jay Casey, “Exodus Typology in the Book of Revelation” (Ph.D. diss., SBTS 1981).

[4] Casey, “Exodus.”

[5] Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy (T&T Clark 1993). Cf. David Aune, Revelation 6-16 (Thomas Nelson 1998).

[6] Aune, Revelation.

[7] Bauckham, Climax.

[8] Casey, “Exodus.”

[9] Casey, “Exodus.”

[10] Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit (Zondervan 2006).

[11] Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Baker 2005).

[12] Amos Yong, In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology (Eerdmans 2010).

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2 Comments

Filed under Biblical Theology

2 responses to “Revelation, Apocalyptic, and Renewal Studies

  1. Michael Crenshaw

    As it was in the Exodus so it is now they were in this world but they were not of this world as long as they followed the plan and purpose of God. God has a plan and purpose for this world but it is not to be at Peace with this world but to war in our bodies against the pull of the flesh for Earthly desires and goals for there can be no Peace with this world for it is at war with God!

  2. You are right on dad! The problem that I see with much of today’s theology, specifically renewal theology, is that it is largely a reaction to our socio-cultural situation. Obviously, the task of theology is to relate biblical studies to the current culture – this is one of the major reasons why theology is an on going work. Still, there is a major problem when theology becomes imbalanced by being overly concerned with socio-cultural issues to the detriment of what Scripture actually teaches. This is exactly what is currently happening in renewal theology, especially in reference to the eschaton/eschatology. Current renewal scholars have attempted to break the shackles of the old dispensationalist system but have just replaced it with borderline heretical arguments. I say this because much of the current eschatology lines up with Origen and his eschatological thoughts that were eventually named anathema (cursed/rejected/heretical) by the Church. It is a philosophical theology/eschatology emphasizing inclusiveness or universalism, socio-political action, a lack of judgment or eternal judgment, green theology, and Pneumacentric instead of Christocentric theology. However, the Bible, specifically Revelation, teaches us something totally different. The ending of this world, its rulers, and people (earth dwellers) is not pretty; it is not a message of complete renewal. There is a “newness” to the new heavens and earth that, like the exodus, comes through persecution and judgment. Likewise, the gospel message is a coin with two sides: grace and judgment. Those who choose to follow Christ receive boundless grace, and those who choose not to follow Christ and accept this “good news” call down judgment upon themselves out of their arrogance, pride, and wickedness.

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