Category Archives: Biblical Theology

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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Witnessing in Revelation

The role of witnessing is one of the key themes throughout the entire Apocalypse. For John, witnessing is directly connected to suffering and perseverance (Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 12:11; 17; 20:4). One reason for this is because the exodus motif plays a major part in the structure of Revelation.[1] Witnessing is also part of being a faithful disciple of Jesus because he is “the faithful witness” and “firstborn of the dead” who “made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father…” (1:5–6). Jesus is the example that Christians must follow; he overcame through the cross and his resurrection (1:5) and thus believers follow the same pattern (11:7–12; 12:11). Therefore, witnessing through persecution forms one of the paradigmatic elements of the Apocalypse.

To accomplish the task that the Church has been called to complete through their witness Jesus has provided the power of the Spirit (1:10–12; 11:3–6; cf. Acts 2). Waddell rightly points this aspect out in connection with Zechariah 4 within Revelation 11.[2] He quotes Bauckham with affirmation saying that “as they stand before the Lord of the earth, the witnesses (i.e. lampstands) shine with the light of the Spirit.”[3] He then goes on to say that this passage shares “a common echo from Zechariah 4:1–13, the images of the seven spirits and the two witnesses are linked together.[4] The point of the symbolism in Zechariah was that God was in charge of their mission, and he would make sure that they completed their task. In fact, God gave them the message that it was “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). Consequently, John uses the symbolism of Zechariah 4 to show the Church that God, through the power of his Holy Spirit, is protecting them and will destroy their enemies. Through this symbolism, John confirms the presence of the Spirit in their mission (see Acts 2). It is therefore clear in this passage that John has in view the Church of the eschaton; the eschatological Church is marked by the power of the Spirit working fully in her midst to empower her to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the world (Acts 1:8; 2:4; 2:16-21).

Waddell holds that the witnesses act of prophesying is to be equated with witnessing because of the synonymous nature of the two terms and the link between the “eyes of the Lord” (Rev. 5:6) and the Spirit with the witnesses in 11 and Zechariah 4.[5] This link he aptly points out as proof of the empowerment of the Spirit for witness. However, the strongest link which Waddell points out seems to be the connection between the pericope in Zechariah and the statement that the mission would be completed “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).[6] This link seems even stronger when connected with the empowerment in Acts 2, the exodus motif, and the fact that Jeremiah 5:14 states that the word of God, spoken by the prophet, consumes ungodly people like fire consumes wood (cf. Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16; 9:17-19; 12:15-16; 16:13; 19:15, 21).[7]Therefore the task of the witnessing Church in Revelation is a dualistic role of prophetic witness empowered by the Spirit to bring an offer of salvation and a message of judgment. The Church represented in the Apocalypse is emphatically Pentecostal.


[1]. In Exodus, the children of Israel remain in the land while Moses, God’s witness, prophesies before Pharaoh. In turn, God punishes the Egyptians for not listening to his witness through plagues matching those in Revelation. Instead of heeding the word of God, Pharaoh and the Egyptians punish the Hebrews who they blame for God’s wrath. The Exodus finally takes place after God’s most severe judgment upon the Egyptians occurs.

 [2]. Waddell, The Spirit of the Book of Revelation, 177–178.  

 [3]. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 165.  

 [4]. Waddell, The Spirit, 177.   

 [5]. Ibid, 171; 177.

[6]. Ibid, 178.

[7]. Brighton, Theological Exposition, 296.

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Tribulation, Rapture, and Millenium in the Apocalypse

The first thing that I would want to say regarding tribulation, rapture, and the millennium is that the exodus motif plays a prominant role in understanding these concepts in the Apocalypse. In other words, it is vital for the reader/hearer to understand the concept of the Church’s witness, the world’s rejection of their witness, plagues being poured out by God upon the world, the world persecuting the Church, and God judging the world. One reason for this is because tribulation and wrath or judgment are two separate things in the Apocalypse. The term ‘rapture’ never appears in the Apocalypse but it may generally be referred to as the point at which the Church is brought out of this world (goes through exodus). The millennium is obviously more about Christ than the Church.

In Revelation both believers and the world go through tribulation or “the great tribulation” (1:9; 2:9-10, 22; 7:14). However, only the world ‘earth dwellers’ go through God’s wrath (2:22; 3:10; 6:8; 7:3; 9:46; 20:6, 14; 21:8). John clearly shows the disparity between both the notions of tribulation v. wrath and insider v. outsider in the Apocalypse. Death is a term that is both used and helps to define tribulation and judgment in Revelation. For instance, Revelation 9:4-6 speaks about those who are not sealed by God going through torment and begging for death “in those days.” Death is also mentioned as judgment or “second death” for outsiders (6:8; 20:6, 14; 21:8) but not insiders (20:6; 21:4). The term ‘test’ or ‘testing’ is another term mentioned with tribulation. Testing is referred to as something that Christians go through which leads to victory (2:10) and that the world or earth dwellers will go through as God’s punishment (3:10). As I alluded to before, earth dwellers is a designation that John uses to speak about those who oppose God and his people or align themselves with Satan (1:7; 3:10; 6:10, 15; 8:13; 11:10; 12:9; 13:3, 8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8; 19:2). For John, it is clear that one will be spared from God’s wrath but go through tribulation while the other will go through wrath and judgment.

There are many passages in the Apocalypse that some use to speak about a ‘rapture’ (3:10-11; 4:1-4; 5:9-10; 6:2; 7:9-17; 11:3-12; 15-19; 12:5; 14:14-16; 20:4). In 3:10-11, the passage speaks about the Church not going through “the hour of testing.” This is simply a reference to the fact that, like God’s people in Egypt, the Church will be protected from the plagues that God will pour out upon the earth. Other passages either include symbolic ways to speak of heavenly images received by John while in the Spirit (4:1-4; 6:2), martyrs (5:9-10; 7:9-17), Jesus’ ascension (12:5), or judgment upon the earth dwellers (14:14-16). The two passages that are really intriguing regarding a ‘rapture’ are Revelation 11:3-12 and 20:4. In both of these cases the conclusion indicates an exodus of the Church after tribulation. The scene in chapter 11 most likely serves as a proleptic anticipation of the events of chapter 20. In my opinion the term ‘rapture’ should be done away with if for no other reason than for the eschatological baggage that comes with it. Obviously the Church will ‘meet the Lord’ when he does return, but the most popular teaching concerning the rapture is just not founded upon scripture.

The millennium is mentioned six times in chapter 20. During the time of the millennium Satan will be bound for 1000 years so that he cannot deceive the nations while the faithful will reign with Christ. There are a few interpretations of this time which are intriguing. Literalists take this to be a literal 1000 year period in which believers will reign with Christ while Satan is bound. This belief is usually accompanied by exegetical gymnastics which try to populate the earth with people who can be deceived by Satan upon his release. Others believe that the martyrs who have died are reigning with Christ during this time. However, this is problematic due to the fact that the passage indicates a total view of the Church when saying “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Still, some hold that this is a spiritual reign that symbolizes the time of the Church when believers take part in the lordship of Christ which is in anticipation of the fullness that is coming. My opinion is that the 1000 years are clearly a symbolic period which is most likely speaking of the time of the Church in anticipation. I must say that I am unsure about this position but it seems to be the strongest of all the options. I am certainly open to hear what other options might be out there.

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The Eschatology of Revelation

As most who know me are already aware, I have a great interest in the book of Revelation and biblical eschatology. In fact, I will be writing my dissertation on the eschatology contained within Revelation using the methods of biblical theology. I believe that a proper understanding of biblical eschatology is vital for the Church in the day that we live. Biblical eschatology is important for the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement because the eschatological Church is Spirit-filled. It is also important because the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has been so inundated by bad theology, which has created a view that destroys the reality of the Church. Therefore, the following article seeks to promote a healthy and biblical view of the eschatology contained within the book of Revelation.         

The Role of Jesus in Eschatology

The most noticeable theme of eschatology within Revelation is the role of Jesus. In fact, some theologians have argued that from the very beginning of Revelation Jesus is not only the subject but the author who reveals the truth to John through mediating angels. The message of Revelation is therefore seen as the testimony of Jesus Christ. The repeated theme within the letter is the witness of Jesus’ person, work, and fulfillment of God’s mission. For John, Jesus is the beginning and the end of eschatological understanding. Therefore, in the prologue he can say that this is the revelation from Jesus Christ, which the Father gave to him in order that he might show his servants what would soon happen.

 From the beginning of the Revelation, John starts with a doxology which centers on Christ and begins with a threefold celebration of his redemptive work. Jesus is the one who is the faithful witness, first born from the dead, and ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5). Through his work he has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom of priests unto God the Father (1:5b-6). The eschatology of Revelation thus begins with the cross as the foundation of everything that is to be revealed. 

 John’s message concerning the faithful witness seems to correlate with his use of witnesses in his gospel which confirm the truth of the message. However, in Revelation the main witness to testify of the truthfulness of John’s message is Jesus himself. It is through Jesus’ witness that John expounds upon the central message of Revelation that Jesus is the prototype for those who would be raised with Christ in victory. Jesus is presented as the one who is sovereign over both life and death. The case is thus made in Revelation that Jesus is the eschatological fulfillment of the messianic expectation. However, the majority of the emphasis of John focuses on the sovereignty of theGodhead because at this point Jesus’ messianic fulfillment is accepted fact within the Church. 

 John focuses his letter to seven churches within Asia which have been enduring persecution. Therefore, his emphasis must necessarily be on the sovereignty of God over all powers which would come against the Church and the witness of Jesus. However, John uses the occasion to give several key insights of deep Christology. For instance, John portrays a threefold reality of the work of Christ in that his present love is exemplified in his past sacrifice and released us from our sin while also making us a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. John draws directly from Exodus 19:6 to pull out the image of a realized eschatological occurrence. To John, Jesus has already brought the eschatological fulfillment of the messiah which in turn has commissioned the Church to be a faithful witness. 

 Christ is presently at the “door” of each person’s heart, announcing himself and knocking. This picture of Jesus knocking at the door may reflect Song 5:2, where the beloved is knocking at the door and requesting entrance. However, there is a condition to this invitation in that Christ requires a personal response. Jesus is the visitor at the doorknocking; the person must respond by opening the door and allowing him admittance. Only then can the fellowship begin with the sharing of a meal. Through this beautiful illustration John eloquently lays out the missional purpose of the message in Revelation. Jesus is the Messiah who calls all to repentance and fellowship, but who will also judge righteously.

 John further exhibits a realized eschatology of the Messiah in that he points to Jesus’ victory occurring at the cross. Only God and the Lamb are worthy because God is “creator” (4:11) and the Lamb “has triumphed” (5:2-5), and this victory was achieved by his sacrificial death as the “slain Lamb” (5:6, 9, 12). It is vital to notice that the victory of the Lamb and his elevation to a place of authority occurs not at the end of Revelation but has already been achieved at the cross. In the picture of the throne room, Jesus’ victory is celebrated and not merely proclaimed. Furthermore, the door to Heaven is pictured as being open. In John 1:51 Jesus said that Heaven remained open to him, and now in Rev. 4:1 the final stages of the consummation are announced. The message is that in Christ’s ministry the eschaton began, the kingdom had arrived, and will now be completed. In other words, John shows an eschatological understanding that is both already and not yet.

 Throughout much of Revelation Jesus is explained by John as the complete Messiah. In other words, John portrays Jesus as the one who pre-existed creation, the one who has already ushered in the eschaton through the cross, and the one who will bring and end to the created order. For instance, John describes Jesus as the Lion who is the conquering Lamb, who is the slain Lamb, who is at the center of the throne and is God himself (5). Some of the most powerful New Testament Christological imagery is found in Rev. 5. In essence, chapters five and six give a picture of the message of Revelation. Jesus is given authority by God the Father through his sacrifice on the cross (5:9). He has purchased the people of God by his blood sacrifice and therefore rendered himself  “worthy” to lead also in judgment (6:1-2). The cross is thereby the basis of both divine love in redemption and justice in judgment.

 The nature of John’s Christological “already/not yet” is found in his message concerning the cross. The paradox is that Jesus will destroy the nations but at the same time his victory will not primarily be by this future might but by his already completed work of the cross. The reality is that Revelation is not a battle for victory because the victory has already been achieved through the cross. The work of Satan in Revelation is thus a feeble attempt to get as many shots in at God as he can before his allotted time is over. Jesus is thus seen as the Messiah who has already claimed victory and simply completes the fulfillment thereof. In fact, at Jesus’ baptism the heavens were “split apart” (Mark 1:10), which is also an apocalyptic symbol for the end of the age, and in Rev. 6 the heavens will be “rolled up.”  Jesus’ first coming thus began the end times; this act of God will culminate the end times. 

 Jesus is the culmination of the eschatological event in Revelation. Throughout their persecution, the saints are reminded that they are to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus and his sacrifice (2:17). He is seen as the judge in the wrath of God which is poured out through a concentric theme of punishments for those who have rejected him(6:1-2).  Jesus is the conqueror who rules with “a rod of iron” (19:15). He is the fulfillment of all the Davidic messianic hope (22:11a, 15). 

At the end of Revelation, Jesus is recognized as the “root and offspring of David.” He is also referred to as “the bright morning star,” alluding to Num. 24:17. In 2:28 this messianic glory was shared with the faithful followers and also referred to as the victory of the Warrior Messiah over his enemies. Thus the nature of Jesus’ messianic glory is not only revealed, but also his great power over evil. Christ has already won the victory and therefore the future is securely in his hands. Therefore, John’s eschatological outlook in Revelation on the role of Jesus is best expressed as the complete fulfillment of the biblical expectation of the Messiah for the past, present, and future. It is thus through the reality of Christ’s present victory that the Church must remain a faithful community that does not lose hope through earthly circumstances and proclaims the Gospel to the end.

 The Role of the Church in Eschatology

 The role of the Church in John’s Revelation of Christ can be seen mainly in the first section in which he writes to the seven churches of Asia and in the passages concerning Jesus’ interaction with the saints. For John, the role of the Church in Revelation is emphatically linked with perseverance and the mission of the Gospel in proclaiming the realization of Jesus’ victory and judgment. In his letter, John is mainlyconcerned over the Church’s ability to overcome the persecutions from those who follow Satan. Therefore, he is prompted to call on the representative churches to live decisively and completely for God because “the time is near.”

Revelation was not to be considered by the churches to be simply apocalyptic but as prophetic-apocalyptic. Its purpose is not merely to outline the future intervention of God or to portray the people of God symbolically in light of that divine reality, but to call the saints to accountability on that basis. This was to be a prophetic book of warning as well as a comfort to the Church. The Church is to understand that Jesus will greatly reward all who endure for the sake of the Gospel and will punish justly those who do not. Therefore, the Church’s role in the eschatological theme of Revelation is not only to be a witness of the Gospel through word but deed also.

 John’s first order of business regarding the role of the Church is to emphasize the saints current place in the heavenly order. In spite of the persecution and suffering that the saints are enduring, John wants them to know that they already inhabit a high position with Christ before God. The world is now in seeming control, but Christ has already entered the world and as a result of his love has freed them from the burdens of their sins and made them part of his kingdom, in which they are both royalty and priests. Their reign with him has already begun, even though it is yet to be consummated.

 As aforementioned, John tells the Church that those who are willing to hear and overcome even through persecution would be given “a crown of life” (2:10). In addition to the “crown of life,” believers can expect to be given spiritual manna from Heaven and a new name which symbolizes their unity with Christ. Furthermore, the ones who endure apostasy will be given a white robe which signifies purity before God. Time and time again John portrays the message of blessing from God to all who will endure for the sake of the Gospel.  Eventually, the saints of the Church will be given thrones with Christ in which to reign for eternity. Through all of these blessings John conveys the message that persecution only lasts for a moment but the victory of the believer over Satan is through taking up their cross and following in the suffering of Christ.

 The most pressing problem of the Church during the time of John’s letter was the persecution that they were suffering at the hands of the Roman Empire. The Jews were apparently forcing many Christians to either face persecution or apostasy by banishing them from their synagogues. Unfortunately, many Christians had begun to despair in the misconception that God had no control over the events that were taking place, and many others were simply giving in to the imperial cult. It was to this situation that John wrote each representative church of Asia with a letter of admonition and condemnation. The message of John to the churches is that they must repent of any wickedness and continue to carry the faithful message of Christ even unto death.

 However, the message to the Church is redeeming. Those that have been slain for their witness of the Gospel are later seen in Heaven singing praises to God and the Lamb. Therefore, John casts a victorious image over the saints who endure suffering for Jesus’ sake. In fact, it is the prayers of the saints that are answered in part by God’s wrath of the seals, trumpets, and bowls. The Church is seen in the vision of the throne room as fulfilling its intended purpose to an extent in that it is proclaiming praises to God and the Lamb for their worthiness and sovereignty. As priests of God we are to proclaim his glory and majesty with every fiber of our being.

 Furthermore, John affirms that Christ “has made” us to be a kingship and priests. The verb is aorist or past tense, relating to Christ’s redemptive action. There is a point to be made in conjunction with this verb in the past tense of Christ’s redemptive action and its relationship to the promises of Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 61:6. The verbs of both of these Old Testament texts are future tenses; they contain God’s promises to his people for the future. By affirming that Jesus has made us kingship and priests, John clearly sees Christ’s redemptive actions as a fulfillment of those promises of God. God is therefore faithful and sovereign in all that he does. John’s attempt is to reveal to the churches that God is aware and in control of their situation.

 Jesus himself warned his followers in his eschatological discourse to expect terrible persecution from councils, synagogues, secular authorities, and even betrayal from family members resulting in death (Mark 13:9-13). However, throughout the persecution and suffering in the book, the Church is presented as a witnessing church. The true Church does not flee for their lives or compromise the Gospel in order to avoid persecution, but boldly maintains their witness in the desperate situation. 

 Through this idea, John goes on to say that only the saints will have the ability to stand when the judgment of God is poured out because they bear the “seal” of God. There is a continuous stream of data regarding God’s protection of his faithful followers. The programmatic promise is given to the church of Philadelphia in 3:10, “Because you have kept the teaching about my endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of trial  that is about to come upon the whole earth to try those who dwell on the earth.” Although the emphasis here is protection from the judgment of God and not the vindictive wrath of Satan, the saints are reassured by the message from God that they are not to fear for their future is secure (7:1-8). This idea from Revelation correlates to Jesus’ message in Matt. 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Truly the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

 The fear of the Lord and not of the temporal persecutions suffered at the hands of evil is what drives the Church to continue in its mission to be a light to all nations. The reward for the perseverance is seen when the great multitude of the saints in eternity stands before the throne of God and the Lamb (7:9). At the outset, the emphasis is on the successful mission of the Church as the theme of the conversion of the nations takes shape. This idea is amplified by the two witnesses who represent the Church. The two witnesses are struck down, but they are able to rise to be with God in Heaven and affect the conversion of many to God (11). This provides a description of true discipleship: victory through sacrifice.

 To John, the message of perseverance in purity and witness of Christ was of utmost importance for the role of the Church in eschatology. The reason for this emphasis is that time is short and the harvest is ripe. The Church must maintain their witness to the lost of a Christ that loves and judges. Jesus will soon be revealed as not only the Lamb but the Warrior who will come to conquer and judge all of those who reject the testimony about him. However, John also emphasizes the blessedness and the reward for all of those who choose to follow Christ. In fact, Rev. 21-22 points to this divine fulfillment of the Church’s mission. Since Adam and Eve lost their position in Paradise and sin reigned on the earth, the divine plan has prepared for the moment when sin would finally be eradicated and the original purpose of God when he created humanity could come to fruition. Every stage of the Apocalypse has pointed toward the goal that is the “new heaven and new earth.” This is the realization of the hopes and dreams of the people of God from time immemorial. This is one of the reasons the final destiny of the saints is a city; we are meant to be a community which lives in interdependence. We are one with one another and with God.  Therefore, the role of the Church is considered as an agent of Christ in proclamation of his message through word and deed. The reality of the Church is one that involves living a “realized” eschatological existence while awaiting the fulfillment of the messianic kingdom. In other words, the Church is in a state of “already” and “not yet.”

 Future and Present Eschatological Time Frame within John’s Revelation from Jesus

 The time frame of the eschatological reality can be viewed throughout John’s Revelation letter. The majority of John’s focus is on the future due to his concern for documenting the apocalyptical vision that he receives and his emphasis on the hope of the believer. However, John does reveal his belief in a realized eschatology at several points within his writing. In any case, John clearly portrays an eschatological understanding which involves both the present reality and the future hope of all who believe in Jesus.

 The most important thing to understand concerning the eschatology in Revelation is that John devotes the vast majority of his time to a future hope of fulfillment. One of the obvious examples of John’s focus can be seen in his image of the “new heavens and the new earth” (21-22). The “new heaven and new earth” appeared because the “old heaven and earth” had been destroyed. Obviously, the imagery is futuristic in that the Church does not find itself living in the fulfilled eschatological heaven and earth just yet. The present experience is but a glimpse and a taste of what the Church hopes for in the future. Though we are now living in the eschatological age or the end times, we have not yet been brought to the realm of completion. Upon the final fulfillment, the saints can look forward to reigning with Christ forever in a place where there is found no evil and the presence of the Lord is eternally with humanity.

 John also points to a currently realized eschatological existence for believers. As aforementioned, he emphasizes the victory of Christ as already taken place in the work of the crucifixion(1:5a). Furthermore, the Church has already been made into kings and priests who serve God (1:5b-6). In fact, the throne room depiction is one of saints who are awaiting the number of completion of the totality of martyrs before God will punish the wickedness on the earth. However, the martyrs are given white robes which signifies their current victory over the forces of evil who killed their earthly bodies but could not harm the soul. This is the theme which John follows throughout his entire Revelation. In order to show the sovereignty of God and the truth of the witness of Jesus, he places emphasis on the fact that the cross was the victory which is now being acted upon and brought to fulfillment by God. Thus the kingdom of God is seen as both already and not yet.

 In conclusion, I would say that John’s Revelation concerning Christ has much to say regarding the full spectrum of eschatological reality. The most important factor within John’s message is the realization of the person of Jesus Christ and his fulfillment. In fact, John builds the entire work around the theme of revealing the totality of Christ. John also shows how the Church is to be involved in the mission of God through the proclamation of Jesus in word and deed until the end. It is through this approach that the Church can realize the importance of reaching out to a world who is destined for judgment. The Church can also come to a better and more proper understanding of its place within the realm of God’s plan. 

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What is Biblical Theology?

     Defining biblical theology can be a very tricky enterprise considering the nature and history of the method. For instance, Richard Gaffin and Geerhardus Vos indicate that the label“biblical theology” has historically designated several contrasting things. Seemingly, the name was first used to allocate a compilation of proof-texts employed in the study of Systematic Theology. Pietists used it to voice their dissent against a hyper-scholastic method in the treatment of dogmatics. Later, biblical theology was defined by Johann P. Gabler as a distinct historical discipline, engaged in discovering “what in fact the biblical writers thought and taught.” However, Gabler rejected the Bible’s authority and drew a sharp line between the task of describing past biblical writers, whose views allegedly could not be accepted today, and the task of propounding present-day belief, which was supposed to agree with the judgment of reason.

     James Barr uses the term “biblical theology” in yet another sense, to label a group which attempted to find authority for modern preaching. However, the search for authority did not come in the teaching of the Bible but in biblical “concepts,” through a word study approach to uncovering key theological meanings. Geerhardus Vos stated that “biblical theology is that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.” Under this classification, the focal point is revelation as process, before and up to the time of its deposit. Vos further defines biblical theology by saying that it deals with revelation as a “divine activity,” not as a “finished product” of that activity. Vos’ definition and method looks at the history of special revelation. To Vos, special revelation includes both word and deed, and is signified by natural growth: each phase is flawless in its own shape, but destined according to the plan of God to grow into the succeeding phases.

     Many view biblical theology as a historically focused approach in distinction from the topic focus of systematic theology. However, the two methods are to be viewed as complementary, and in no way competitive.  Ideally, the two disciplines would work together in mutual interaction to form a healthier theological view of the biblical material. However, some theologians, such as Poythress, promote a view of biblical theology that seems to make it a subsumed form of systematic theology. This definition sees systematic theology as the foundation for biblical theology, therefore effectively holding a superior standing.

George E. Ladd wrote A Theology of the New Testament, which included separated chapters on the individual human writers (though he combined the Synoptic Gospels). Ladd saw inaugurated eschatology as a common theme through all of the New Testament books. Thus, in his approach, thematic development through the New Testament becomes key to understanding its message. Graeme Goldsworthy says that biblical theology is the study of the unity of the message of the Bible. In addition, it supplies the means of handling the problematic passages in the Bible by relating them to the one message of the Bible, namely redemption through Christ. The thematic approach of Ladd and Goldsworthy defines biblical theology as the means of looking at one particular event in relation to the total picture or message of the Bible.

     While thematic definitions of biblical theology focus on a centralized theme in which everything is seen to revolve around it, some see biblical theology as having boundaries and no center. In this definition, salvation is seen historically. According to Benny Aker, social scientific criticism plays a key role in understanding the development and meaning of the biblical message. Therefore, it is of vital importance to look at the history, language, and culture involved in the tension between the human and the divine.  Similar to other definitions of biblical theology, this method also traces the story of redemption in the Bible, but it is not confined to a strict central theme. In fact, the main focus of this definition of biblical theology is found in looking at the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.  This method seems to be the most robust definition for biblical theology because it seeks to recognize the unity in diversity of the text.

     In his work on Biblical Theology, Scott Hafemann says that biblical theology must last as long as the Bible is understood to be God’s word about himself and his relationship to his creation. It would seem then that biblical theology is an attempt to understand the dynamic relationship between God and humanity as recorded in the Bible. Whereas systematic theology would appear to be more prescriptive in its approach, biblical theology looks at the text as historically descriptive. In addition, biblical theology does its work inductively from within the Bible in an attempt to bring out the Bible’s own message. It does not proof text to try and support some arbitrary topic that comes through deductive reasoning. In short, biblical theology is defined by its emphasis on looking to the biblical text first and foremost.

     Biblical theology is not without its problems. In fact, one of the major problems with biblical theology is definition. There are many more definitions and methods for doing biblical theology than can be mentioned in such a short treatise. To name but a few, the definitions and methods of biblical theology include thematic, redemption history, canonical, narrative, systematic, social scientific, and anthropological existential. In fact, it almost seems as though there is a different definition and approach for every theologian who claims to do biblical theology.

     In addition to the problems of definition, biblical theology is so varied within its practice that theologians have used it to both support the biblical record and “demythologize” it. In other words, some have used it to point out the unity in diversity of the biblical accounts and some have used it to point out fallacies that they see in the text. However, it should be noted that all theological systems of study can and have been used in similar ways.  Biblical theology is by no means alone where diversity of practice is concerned.

    Aker uses biblical theology to point out the beautiful unity in diversity of the text and the continuity and discontinuity found within each book and author. In addition, the message of the Bible seems to become clearer as he carefully points out the social historical background. However, Gabler was influenced by evolutionism, which expected to find religious progress from primitive error to enlightened truth. As aforementioned, he used biblical theology to promote rationalistic assumptions which rejected the Bible’s authority. One of the major problems of biblical theology is this broad range of diversified methodologies and practices. While many would use biblical theology as a thorough study and defense of the biblical text, others would use it as a means to rip apart what they saw as errors or myths. In fact, Rudolph Bultmann was possibly the most famous biblical theologian who sort of coined the phrase “demythologizing the text.” 

     One could argue that there is a fundamental confusion among the biblical theologians’ main categories. The problem seems to result from biblical theology’s attempt to situate itself between fundamentalist and modernist measures and stances. Steven Kraftchick says that biblical theology can be half liberal and modern, on the one hand, and half biblical and orthodox on the other (i.e. its worldview or cosmology is modern, while its theological language is biblical and orthodox). The confusion results in using biblical terms but keeping modern context. This means that the claim to use biblical categories is true only in form, not substance.       

      In addition to concerns over the broad range of diversity within the discipline of biblical theology, many have pointed out other potential flaws within the method. Understanding that biblical theology came out of a scientific-historical form, Paul Minear suggests that the foundational method needs to be modified because it is inadequate to fully comprehend and thoroughly express the main concerns of the biblical writers. The primary means of scientific analysis had succeeded in producing hard effort and critical study, which, ironically avoided interaction with the texts it purported to illuminate. The results were contrary to expectations in that they produced a total failure to understand the texts’ primary concerns.  Essentially, he believed that the biblical witness made subjective claims which the historian tried to understand objectively, the result was a failure to experience the actual arguments of that witness.

     Furthermore, biblical theology has been accused of more than resisting the inroads of theology on exegesis. Some biblical theologians have argued that dogmatic theology itself was constructed incorrectly. The assertion that systematic and dogmatic theologies were ill-prepared to read the Bible resulted in a lack of attention on the concerns of those disciplines. The mistake being, that ignoring those concerns did not cause them to disappear. In the case of the early biblical theology movement, they reappeared under a different guise. Though biblical terms were used, contemporary content was implied.  Therefore, biblical theologians soon discovered that dogmatic and systematic concerns were neither arbitrary nor whimsical.

     Another issue within the biblical theological movement is the question of diversity. Several of the studies and discussions in biblical theology are a response to the fact that the diversity of scripture preserves within its pages unresolved tensions. In the past, biblical theologies have taken this tension to be the remains of competing ideological viewpoints that have been imperfectly combined in the historical development of scripture. Hence, the tension was often neutralized by trying to ascertain the best among many voices or by allowing the diversity to stand as unresolved heterodoxy. What seems to be lost in the melee is the cohesion of the Bible into a unified whole.

      Although biblical theology has certainly had its share of issues and problems, many still believe that there are ways to learn and proceed forward using the discipline. In fact, all forms of theological study have gone through various changes in structure and thought over the time of their existence. Perhaps the real question is which direction will biblical theology take? The most imperative issue within the discipline might be within the hearts and minds of the theologians who purport it. Will biblical theology be used as a tool in the hands of liberal scholars to attack the biblical record, or will conservative scholars be able to use it to reveal the beauty and unity of the biblical text.

      Admittedly, there have been many theologians who have attempted to solve the problems and issues within the discipline of biblical theology.  However, some leading examples might help to gain a better understanding on a solid foundation for a move forward. As aforementioned, some theologians have come out against the discipline of biblical theology all together. Meanwhile, other theologians have suggested modifications to the method of biblical study. Some see biblical theology as a way to use critical methods in order to do highly academic and scientific study on the text much like they would any other book. With all of the differing opinions it can be hard to see the best way forward.

      Francis Watson believes that biblical theology is endangered by modern biblical scholarship’s dissection into three independent communities: Old Testament studies, New Testament studies and systematic theology. He views the threefold separation not merely as methodological but also as an ideologically motivated enterprise that results for the most part in a  falsification of what the Bible is all about. Therefore, he seeks to take apart the barriers that at present separate biblical scholarship from Christian theology.

      Paul R. House purports a way forward that delineates a unitary canonical approach to biblical theology. He proposes that the canon be used as a structuring device and that themes be identified and utilized as cohering centering devices. The reason for this is so that the exposition of the Bible’s presentation of the triune God’s personality and saving acts in history might be adopted as the goal of the whole theological enterprise. House tries to stay broad enough to include many biblical theologians and celebrate their creativity, yet specific enough to keep discussions among likeminded persons from losing necessary focus. In many ways what House presents is a blending of concepts already purported by other biblical theologians.

      Still other theologians like Brevard S. Childs hold that biblical theology should have as its fundamental goal to understand the various voices within the whole Christian Bible, as a witness to the one Lord Jesus Christ, the “selfsame divine reality.” Therefore, the enterprise of biblical theology is theological because by faith seeking understanding in relation to the divine reality, the divine imperatives are no longer tied up in the past. The divine imperatives continue to confront the hearer in the present as truth. It is thus constitutive of biblical theology that it be normative and not merely descriptive, and that it be responsive to the imperatives of the present and not just the past.

      In a more narrative approach to biblical theology, Goldsworthy says that the way forward is to look at biblical theology as a means of examining the development of the biblical story from the Old Testament to the New. He says that biblical theology should seek to uncover the interrelationships between the two parts. However, all types and genres are related to the coming of Jesus Christ in some discernable way. Biblical theology should therefore be a methodical approach to showing these relationships so that all of the Bible can be understood as Christian scripture.

      Theologians within what is considered to be the more liberal camp seem to suggest a view of biblical theology that continues to be heavily involved in various forms of criticism while also incorporating new methodologies based upon new understandings. For instance, John J. Collins purports that biblical theology must make room for feministic theological findings while also remaining true to the historical criticism which founded it. Ironically, much of the liberal theological world does not see much issue with the earlier forms of biblical theology. In fact, it would seem that to the liberal mindset it is the false attacks of the conservative scholars that has created an appearance of weakness within the method. Therefore, the discipline of biblical theology should go on much as it has always done in the past.

      In order to make some sort of valid proposition to the future possibilities within the discipline of biblical theology, I think it is important to recognize that there are some issues within the field that need to be resolved.  However, I believe that most of the major issues within biblical theology have more to do with relationship than with scholarship. The true problem in biblical theology is that it was formed out of an attempt to see the biblical material as skeptical. In addition, many current liberal theologians use the biblical theological discipline to promote their own skeptical agenda.

      In essence, Childs is right in his assumption that a proper study of the Bible should involve some foundation on faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible should be looked at as a divinely inspired document of relationship between God and his creation. Lack of belief and skepticism only leads to negative presumptions and false findings concerning the word of God. Aker once said that theology can only be done properly while in proper relationship with God. How can one possibly understand the message of the Bible if they do not know the messenger?

      The beauty of biblical theology when looked at from the perspective of a an open-minded scholar is that it unifies the Bible into one beautiful story.  While I like the approach of Aker to remain unfettered to a centralized approach through historical-social criticism, biblical theology should also always keep the Christ event in view. In fact, Aker would agree that everything in the Bible should be read in lieu of the incarnation. Biblical theology still has much to offer the Church and the scholar if the right relationship is kept and the right methods are used. It is truly the preferred system for a more comprehensive understanding of the biblical message.


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