The Third Seal of Revelation 6

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Third Seal of Revelation 6 – Audio Version

Assignment: In your own words, retell the account of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Revelation 6:1-8, and then explain the symbolic meaning of one of the four horseman.

Alright, no small undertaking, but assignment accepted. In this essay I choose to explain the symbolic meaning of the third horseman. Now, how do I go about this? How should I retell The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? What is the best approach? I guess I should strive to be as succinct as possible, and yet provide enough information for a reader who might be unfamiliar with the Book of Revelation.   

Narratively, each one of the four horsemen follows a predictable pattern. The horseman appears only after some sort of documentary seal has been broken open and a majestic summons has been issued to come forth. And then the observer is given just a brief bit of information about the particular horseman in view. Somewhat surprisingly, observers are only given the briefest of glances at each of the four-and-a-half horsemen before the narration moves ahead and the next horseman is revealed. The whole scenario unfolds in a quick, clipped, dream-like manner. The vision “feels” somewhat random; and yet there is obvious organization to it. It leaves a first-time observer a bit bewildered, wondering what possible meaning is intended. And yet, given its cryptic character, the observer knows that the vision is meant to be deciphered.

The backstory to the Four Horsemen involves a sacrificial lamb who alone has the authority to break open the seven seals to a document — a scroll, to be precise. Among all creatures everywhere throughout all of history, the sacrificial lamb alone is worthy to break open the seals of this scroll and reveal its contents. The observer should realize that the sacrificial lamb symbolizes Jesus Christ.

In the first verse of the chapter, the Sacrificial Lamb breaks open the first seal of some sort of historically significant scroll. Upon being summoned thunderously by one of four heavenly cherubim (that is, one of the Living Creatures) to “Come!” the first of four horseman appears, mounted upon a white horse. He, the unidentified first horseman, holds an archer’s bow, and somehow a crown is given to him. And the verse abruptly concludes with, “He went forth conquering and to conquer.” 

And that’s it. That is all the information we are given about the first horseman. 

When the Sacrificial Lamb breaks open the second seal of the significant scroll, another cherub summons the second horseman to “Come!” Then the second horseman appears, riding a red or scarlet horse. The second horseman is permitted to take peace from the earth, “so that they should kill each other.” He, the second horseman on the scarlet horse, is also armed, but with another sort of weapon: a great sword. 

And that is the extent of the information we are given about the second horseman. 

When the Sacrificial Lamb breaks open the third seal of the unidentified scroll, a third cherub summons a third horseman to “Come!” On cue, the third horseman appears, mounted upon a black horse. However, this rider does not carry a weapon, per se. Instead, the rider on the black horse holds a balance, or a pair of scales, in his hand.

The next sentence of the passage has a closing quotation that appears to be directly related to the rider on the black horse. But for a moment, we will skip that closing quotation. Yes, we will just skip it for now. Perhaps it’s not important. Perhaps it’s just incidental, extraneous info. Maybe. Who knows?      

As per the three-peat pattern thus far, the Sacrificial Lamb will go on to break open a fourth seal on the mysterious scroll, after which the fourth and final cherub will summon a fourth and final horseman (actually, twin ghastly riders in tandem) to “Come!” Tellingly, the fourth horse is colored pale green or ashen, that is, the color of a dying person or a corpse. But here I hit the pause button. Rather than continue recounting the rest of the passage about the ghastly twin horsemen, in the remainder of this article I want to take one step backwards and focus intently upon the third horseman, the rider on the black horse. 

For reasons that I shall soon divulge, this third rider might otherwise be called the merchant on the black horse. Now, let’s plunge into greater depth about what this brief passage potentially symbolizes. 

Oh yeah… were you annoyed when I casually skipped over the closing quotation in the third horseman passage? Yeah, that was my intent. I wanted to annoy you so as to pique your curiosity. And here’s what I skipped over: The passage ends with “what seemed to be a voice” — a voice in the midst of the four cherubim, proclaiming, “A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius; but do not harm the oil nor the wine.”    

What “seemed to be a voice” in the midst of the cherubim should be considered God’s own voice, because the cherubim orbit or circle around the throne of God in heaven. 

Tangentially, someone may wonder why I keep referring to the cherubim as the cherubim, considering that they are never actually called “the cherubim” in Revelation 6:1-7. Good question; I’m glad you noticed and asked. My answer is this: I refer to them as the cherubim (plural) or the cherub (singular) because a careful reading of the Book of Ezekiel leads to that conclusion. In Ezekiel 10:20 the living creatures in Ezekiel’s visions are specifically identified as cherubim. Since the Living Creatures in the Book of Revelation ever-so closely resemble the Living Creatures in Ezekiel, they must be cherubim throughout. I suppose there is a remote possibility I could be wrong with this one-for-one equivalence; but all the available textual evidence points thusly. Please go check it out for yourself. 

Moving along, then… on the assumption that it is God’s own voice proclaiming, “A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius; but do not harm the oil nor the wine,” a bunch of questions ensue. The first, most general question being: Huh?

Huh? What does that quotation even mean?

In an effort to make sense of the voice’s proclamation, let’s make some initial observations: Inequity seems to be meant here. For some reason, wheat is inordinately expensive, since a denarius is Roman currency amounting to a full day’s wage. Barley is less expensive, but still expensive. Oil and wine are being prioritized by someone or some group, over basic foodstuffs. That probably means that the rich are somehow swindling the poor. This notion of economic inequity connects directly to the rider (or merchant) on the black horse via the scales in his hand. Together, the quotation and the rider/merchant’s scales depict economic inequity, and probably, rampant oppression. 

But why? Why are we presented with this image of economic inequity? And what is the intended connection with the previous two horsemen?

Deuteronomy 25:13-16

There are two likely explanations for why we are presented with these images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first explanation is that the Book of Revelation here shows us, its readers, a generalized overview of how human history invariably and repeatedly plays out. These Four Horsemen are thought to be figurative personifications of the universal destructive forces of human history. Commonly, it is suggested that these four destructive forces are 1) conquest of some sort, whether of a political or ideological nature, 2) bloodshed, violence, and especially, open war, 3) famine or economic inequity, and 4) prolonged, dreadful death, especially by epidemic or some variety of pestilence. This understanding of the Four Horsemen may depend upon passages like Jeremiah 15:2-3 and Ezekiel 14:21, which contain comparable tetrads of “disastrous acts of judgment.” The overall theological point of Revelation 6:1-8, then, would be that however horrifying these historical occurrences may be, they are nonetheless under the full control and delegated authority of the meek Sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ. 

To which I say, Amen. It is reassuring to know that the Lamb has authority over the outworking of history. And this chapter of Revelation definitely affirms that truth. Yet there is even more to this chapter to be explained. Although I find this first broad-brush explanation compelling and satisfying to a degree, it does not adequately explain everything happening in the sixth chapter of the Book of Revelation. There are quite a few more “incidental” details that need to be explained. And I never have heard those “incidental” details explained particularly well.    

The second, more detailed explanation is that Book of Revelation here symbolically portrays some very specific — and even datable — historical events. Those specific historical events are four of Israel’s “reckonings,” each of which can be plotted with precision on an Old Testament timeline. In this article, I will advocate this second precise “reckoning” explanation, and focus in particular on how this explanation pertains to the rider on the black horse.     

Here is my assertion, in the tersest terminology possible: The third horseman, the merchant on a black horse, symbolizes God’s climatic judgment on the nation of Ephraim, otherwise known as the northern Kingdom of Israel. This “reckoning” can be dated with precision to 722BC/E, which is when Israel’s capital city of Samaria fell to the Assyrians.

Does this sound like a zany, crazy claim? You might wonder on what possible basis I would venture to make a claim with such historical specificity. After all, the language in Revelation 6:5-6 is rather vague.

Actually, no it isn’t. It’s not rather vague. Here the language of Revelation is very exact. And the exactness of the wording is very telling. Revelation 6:5 contains a nearly word-for-word quotation of the opening portion of Hosea 12:7, except for the omitted first word (which, when revealed, is also illuminating). But all of this requires some digging. You have to be willing to do some homework to discover the textual overlap of Revelation and Hosea in these two verses.

For those of you who read Greek, here are the two passages.

If you look up the two verses in English you may recognize a vague resemblance, but definitely not a nearly perfect overlap. That is because in your English language Bible the translation of Hosea was made from Hebrew, and not from Greek. But the original recipients and readers of Revelation would have read Hosea in a Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. And the Septuagint rendering of the opening to Hosea 12:7 is very, very close to the relevant portion of Revelation 6:5. It’s so close that it cannot be a coincidence. That should be repeated for emphasis: The textual overlap cannot be a coincidence. Revelation 6:5 contains a quotation of Hosea 12:7. And that makes my Assyrian claim a lot less crazy. In fact, it makes my claim quite plausible, because in context this portion of Hosea is all about how God was about to judge Ephraim by means of Assyria. If you wonder if I have this right, please just read through Hosea 11:1-13:14. But I assure you that this portion of Hosea is all about how God was about to judge Ephraim by means of Assyria. And a key portion of Revelation 6:5 quotes Hosea 12:7. 

Screen Shot from israel365news.com

If that is not enough to convince you, then I encourage you to do a biblical word study of just one word. That word is scales. Sometimes it is translated as balances. You will discover that in the Old Testament the word balances/scales appears in three of the minor prophets when they are condemning an act of grave Torah disobedience — the disobedience of economic exploitation (cf. Hosea 12:7; Amos 8:5; and Micah 6:11). These three minor prophets condemn the covenant people of Israel and Judah for their exploitive use of dishonest scales. These strong prophetic denunciations are aimed directly at the northern kingdom of Ephraim/Israel, which fell to Assyria in 722 BC/E. Therefore, scales serve as an excellent symbol for why God brought a final reckoning upon Ephraim/Israel. This is not an inflated argument. The use of the word scales is relatively rare in the Old Testament. It is significant that the use of word scales “happens” to congregate in prophetic literature around the time that Ephraim/Israel fell to Assyria.

Citations of the word Scales/Balances in the OT.

Finally, if the third rider represents the divine reckoning wrought by Assyria, it all fits neatly in the broader context of Revelation 6. Each of the Four Horsemen represents a divine reckoning in Old Testament history. Each follows in the expected and accurate chronological order: the LORD himself as the rider on the white horse in the Exodus; Edom, as the rider on the red horse, whenever Israel and Judah would backslide into idolatry; Assyria, as the rider on the black horse, symbolizing God’s final means of judging Israel; and Babylon, as the rider on the ashen or pale green horse, symbolizing God’s final means of judging Judah and Jerusalem.

In my next post, I intend to cover the fourth rider, which, as I said, should be interpreted as the reckoning wrought by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.     

Zechariah’s Horsemen

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

In my last post, I made a rather bold claim, an audacious claim. I suggested that in one very important and well-known passage from the Book of Revelation our English Bible translators have misled many generations of readers. No, not that our translators intentionally misled us, but their choice of one little word in Revelation 6:4 has misled generations of their readers all the same. In retrospect, the translators could have and should have chosen a better word, I argued. But they didn’t know any better then, so we need to cut them some slack.   

Which word did they mistranslate? Our translators gave us the word earth where they should have given us the word land. In a lexical vacuum, the nuance between the two words may seem quite small, rather insignificant, and merely worthy of a “whatever” shrug. But practically speaking, when readers of Revelation 6:4 first imagine and then interpret the passage, the difference between the two words carries immense consequence. That is because English speakers today automatically imagine “the Earth” in global terms, whereas otherwise they might have imagined “the land” as a more confined geographic locality, which is the correct image, actually. Revelation 6:4 makes better sense if the setting is considered a limited geographic region or locality (that is, the land of Israel), and not the entire planet. Thus the claim of a probable misleading translation error was the opening premise in my last post.

From there, I went on to assert what I believe to be the correct identity of the second Horseman of the Apocalypse: The Red Rider, otherwise known as the Crimson Swordsman, is textually identifiable as… drumroll… Edom, Edom the nation. The Red Rider in Revelation 6:3-4 symbolically represents the historical, biblical nation of Edom, the next-door neighbor and sometime arch-enemy of Israel. In this post, I hope to further establish the claim that the Red Rider actually equals Edom by looking into the Old Testament Book of Zechariah, because the Book of Zechariah is where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse first make their debut in the Bible. But before I look into Zechariah, maybe I ought to correct something…

After publishing my previous post, a bit of a doubt came to mind — a doubt about the precision of my opening premise. The doubt eventually solidified into a couple of questions: “What if the mistranslation of Revelation 6:4 began even earlier? What if our English translators simply passed along an earlier mistranslation or misconception from another language?” For the sake accuracy, I realized I ought to go research the possibility. But in which language might the mistake have originated? “Ah yes,” I thought, “I should see how Revelation 6:4 is translated in Latin.” And why Latin? The answer is because Saint Jerome’s Vulgate Latin translation became the official (and effectively the only) version of the Bible in western Europe for over a thousand years. Yep, true story: look it up, if you doubt me. Perhaps then the mistranslation misconception about earth versus land goes way, way further back in time.

And for you Latin readers out there, here is Revelation 6:4 per the Vulgate, followed by the Roman Catholic 1899 Douay-Rheims English translation:

Et exivit alius equus rufus, et qui sedebat super illum datum est ei ut sumeret pacem de terra, et ut invicem se interficiant, et datus est illi gladius magnus.

Revelation 6:4 in the Latin Vulgate Translation

And there went out another horse that was red: and to him that sat thereon, it was given that he should take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another, and a great sword was given to him.

Revelation 6:4, from the 1899 Douay-Rheims Translation

Like me, you may not read much Latin; nonetheless, like me, you might recognize the above underlined word terra as meaning earth or land or ground. For example, terra firma (i.e., solid ground) or terra incognito (i.e., land unknown) are Latin expressions that are sometimes used today by English speakers. Admittedly, I cannot claim any real expertise in Latin. But I wonder if by means of the “stretch-able” Latin word terra we eventually inherited the somewhat more rigid English word earth. Perhaps our current (mis)understanding of Revelation 6:4 had its origins long before English became English. Perhaps our present-day “earth-must-mean-the-entire-planet” presumption was inadvertently conceived back when the Saint Jerome Bible Translation Committee first translated the Apocalypse into Latin in the decades just before 400AD/CE. The real issue, then, would be how the meaning of just two words — the earth — became more fixed and inflexible in English. Perhaps it all boils down to the ascent of science and, especially, to 20th century space exploration. If such is the case, then NASA may be part of the reason we now misread Revelation 6:4. When it comes to Bible translation and interpretation, stranger things have happened. If any of my readers really do read Latin, please let me know if my speculative supposition here has any validity.

Now if the English speaking world has been misled by a (mis)translation or misconception of Revelation 6:4 for hundreds of years, that raises a whole other set of theological questions. One such question is, “Does that imply that this and other portions of Revelation are better understood now than they were in the past?” The answer to that, of course, would potentially be yes. Frankly, in my opinion the word potentially can be crossed out — potentially, and revised to definitely. Yes, diligent scholarship means we are now able to understand the Book of Revelation better than before. Current efforts to interpret the Book of Revelation do yield valuable insights that are beneficial to the Church (even if the same efforts sometimes also result in wacky theories and interpretations). After all, the Book of Revelation was given by the Triune God as a gift, and those who hear it are promised a blessing (cf. Revelation 1:3). Christ gave the Book of Revelation through John the Narrator to the Church for a reason, otherwise it would not have been given.

Without further ado, I want return to the thesis that the Second Horseman represents the nation of Edom. If I may, I have request: Please humor me here. Please just suspend a negative knee-jerk judgment and grant me the hypothetical possibility that it could be so, even if you’re not yet persuaded. I ask that of you because to persuade some of my readers I probably need to continue making my case. And what case it that? I am attempting to gradually construct an interconnected, cumulative historicist interpretation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (an interpretation which covers the rest of Revelation Chapter 6, as well). With ample reason, I suggest that the Four Horsemen of Revelation, in order, are actually 1) Yahweh (that is, the LORD of Hosts, who was dreadfully present and active in the Exodus from Egypt), 2) Israel’s “brotherly” neighboring nation of Edom, 3) the aggressive, expansionistic, and brutal Assyrian Empire, and finally 4) the short-lived and yet historically pivotal Neo-Babylonian Empire, which destroyed the City of Jerusalem and Yahweh’s temple around the year 586BC/E. Together, these four horsemen acted as Israel’s most notable disciplinarians. By means of the four horseman, God judged the rebellious and “stiff necked” people of Israel and Judah (cf. Nehemiah 9:26-31 for a succinct retelling of Israel’s history of rebellion and God’s disciplinary reaction).

The Four Horsemen?

To establish the proposition that the Four Horsemen are whom I claim they are, it is essential to look at a few key passages in the Book of Zechariah, because, as noted previously, that is precisely where the Four Horsemen make their biblical debut. Perhaps it goes without saying, but by turning to Zechariah, I am intentionally following the hermeneutical “rule of first mention,” which is just a technical way of saying that an interpreter cannot presume to ignore the first occurrence of any given topic in the Bible. Stated a bit differently: the first mention of a topic in Scripture almost always provides essential interpretive information — information relevant to subsequent topical material. Since the Four Horsemen first appear in the Book of Zechariah, we should not overlook what Zechariah says. Curiously, though, and for whatever reason, a lot of interpreters of Revelation Chapter 6 do overlook the Prophecy of Zechariah. Indeed, this tendency to overlook the imbedded scriptural antecedents is the primary reason the Book of Revelation often gets misinterpreted. Do remember that, because it is not an insignificant point.

The second portion of Zechariah we should consider is Zechariah 1:8-17, which is where we hear Zechariah recount his vision of the Four Horsemen. But first we should glance at verse 7, so as to get ourselves oriented to the historical timing of his seven visions. In verse 7 we learn that Zechariah received his visions “on the twenty fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat during the second year of Darius.” That, then, is when these visions occurred.

Well,  umm… so what? 

Well, eventually that chronological datum might be — indeed, will be — very important. It will be important because of when it falls on the scriptural timeline. Should you triangulate it with other scriptural chronological data (such as the dates given in Haggai 1:1 and Daniel 9:2) so as to determine an exact date, you will discover that Zechariah’s visions are to be situated just after the prophesied 70-year Babylonian captivity. In Zechariah 1:7, Jeremiah’s prophesied 70 years of exile (cf. Jeremiah 29:10) have just been fulfilled and are now recent history. Yes, the fact that Jeremiah’s prophesied 70-year exile has finally slipped into history will definitely matter in our interpretation of the following vision verses.

And why is that? Why will the Babylonian Exile’s final terminus matter in these vision verses? The answer is because it means that the curse is about to be reserved. Both the vision of Zechariah 1:7-17 and the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10 point back in unified harmony to a much earlier series of promises from God, promises (of judgment for sin, horror, loss, destruction, exile, and yet of eventual restoration) that are first listed in Leviticus 26:14-45. The very same promises are then certified as having been fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 36:15-23 (crucially, see v. 21). In the vision of Zechariah 1:7-17, the most pertinent of these promises concerns the Sabbath-rest of the Land.

The Book of Zechariah – Medieval Vulgate Manuscript/Codex Gigas

Now let’s look at the actual vision. In this first of Zechariah’s seven visions, he beholds a man at night riding a reddish horse in a wooded area; and behind the horseman are horses of various colors, including another reddish horse, a sorrel horse, and a white horse. But unlike Revelation 6:1-8, there is no black horse in this passage. Zechariah doesn’t know exactly what to make of the horseman and the horses among the myrtle trees, so he turns to someone and asks, “What are these, my lord?” In response, that someone informs him, “I will show you what they are.” And then the horseman himself says, “These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth/land.”

Okay, so thus far the vision is a bit weird. It gets weirder.        

Then the riders (plural) report in unison to the Angel of the Lord, who is presumably the individual talking to Zechariah. They say, “We have patrolled the earth/land; and behold, all the earth/land remains at rest.” 

For some reason, I imagine these night riders to speak simultaneously in stereo. Please notice that I keep on placing a slash between earth and land. That’s because the original word can be translated either way. But I want to suggest that the best rendering is land, on the assumption that this all alludes back to Leviticus 26. Were these mysterious riders commissioned as septuagenarian park rangers to keep out trespassers, tillers, and would-be squatters? Perhaps these angelic riders ensured that the land got every second of its promised seventy years of rest. I propose that these horsemen thus reported to the Angel of the LORD that they had faithfully completed their assignment. The entire land had indeed received its promised rest.

But wait, there’s more: 

Then the angel of the LORD said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?”

Zechariah 1:12, English Standard Version

The mention of seventy years here must not be overlooked. This is an all-important allusion to both Jeremiah 29:10 and 2 Chronicles 36:21. The just-past Babylonian Captivity is implied in this allusion. 

The vision continues:

And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the Angel who talked to me. So the Angel who talked to me said, “Cry out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”

Zechariah 1:13-17, English Standard Version

All of which is to say, now that the exile is officially over, God is going to punish the nations that had destroyed Jerusalem and Judah. And God is also going to bless the rebuilding of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. 

As for the Horsemen, the main takeaway from this vision passage in Zechariah is that they were there to make sure that God’s will was accomplished within the Land of Israel, even during the time of Babylonian exile. The Horsemen are thus the agents of God, even when Israel is disobedient and when Israel is absent. This will also hold true in the Book of Revelation, although the Four Horsemen will be revised significantly and might have different identities. The main point of continuity between the Horsemen in both the Book of Zechariah and the Horsemen in the Book of Revelation is that they serve as the active agents of God. They are the enforcers of God’s stated will. And their specific domain is the Promised Land, as opposed to the entire planet.

 

The Second Seal of Revelation 6

Thursday, June 30, 2022

3 When he broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!”

4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it (= the rider), it was granted to take peace from the earth/the land, and that [people] would kill one another; and a large/mighty sword was given to him.

Revelation 6:3-4
The Land, Not The Earth
No, Don’t Imagine The Planet Earth in Revelation 6:4!

To do justice to these two verses I need to walk my readers through multiple Old Testament passages. Yes really, I do. But to start, I want to focus your attention on just one word in verse 4. That would be the word earth (from the original Koiné Greek word γῆς), which I would vigorously insist should be translated as land in this present context. It matters because of what probably pops to mind when Bible students nowadays encounter the word earth. Most will immediately imagine our brilliant blue marble hanging in space: Planet Earth. But no, no, no… that is entirely misleading, an errant assumption, the wrong image. Instead, imagine the rolling, rocky hills of Israel. The correct word and most accurate image for this verse is land. Imagine a Middle Eastern landscape, not a globe. On this point, I must be emphatic because what a Revelation reader imagines will determine how these verses are interpreted. More on this point soon; but please take a brief glance at the fiery red stallion and its menacing rider. 

Notice that the rider on the red horse carries a sword. While the archer on the white horse in verse 2 carries a bow, the Red Rider receives another weapon: a sword — a large sword, a great sword, or perhaps, a mighty sword. At first glance the adjective large might seem superfluous, but it matters because the word serves as a subtle hint. It points readers back to a passage in the Old Testament: Isaiah 27:1, where the “mighty sword” is the LORD’s own sword with which he slays the serpent Leviathan, the monster of the sea. But discussion of that particular passage I will postpone for now. At present our focus is on the blade presented to the Red Rider. Not just any regular sword, this one is mighty. And now, with mighty sword in hand the Red Riding Swordsman has been given license to take peace from the… what? He takes away peace from the land. No, the swordsman on the fiery red horse was not granted permission to take peace from the entire planet. The Crimson Riding Swordsman was only granted permission to take peace from the land of Israel. ’Tis a big, big difference, a crucial difference, actually.

The relevant entry from a Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG, Third Edition): This shows the potential variations of γῆ/γῆς.

But you’re not yet convinced that I’m right about changing the word earth to land; are you? Granted, most, if not all, of the current English translations render the Greek word γῆς as earth, so your reluctance to cede the point is to be expected. You might well wonder on what basis or authority I make the claim — the rather audacious claim — that almost all Bible translators got this particular word wrong. That is a good question. That is indeed the right question to ask here. And so, with trepidation I now cautiously submit my response: I do so on basis of carefully-studied biblical theology. I am a (wanna be) theologian, while they are translators. Their gig is primarily linguistics; mine is primarily in-depth Bible study. Linguistically, the translators made a predictable decision, a decision perhaps by default, because it has a long-standing precedent, even a four-hundred year precedent. Furthermore, they’re not wrong, per se. Yes, the word γῆς does mean earth. Notice though that in both English and Greek the word earth can have several different connotations, one of which is land. Moreover, most of the translators were probably not considering the implicit Old Testament references when they made their translation decision. But if an interpreter does carefully consider the implicit Old Testament references in this passage, it conclusively tips the scales in favor of the translation land (implying something local) and against earth (implying something global), as I aspire to convince you now. 

Let’s look at the relevant Old Testament passages. We will need to figuratively walk through the following passages: Leviticus 26:31-35; Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:15-21; and eventually, Zechariah 1:7-13.

To start, here is Leviticus 26:31-35:

31 I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices. 32 I also will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to live there will be appalled by it. 33 But I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword to chase after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.

34 Then the land will make up for its Sabbath years during the time it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies. At that time the land will rest and make up for its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate, it will have the rest it did not have during your Sabbaths when you lived there.

God, in Leviticus 26:31-35

If I have counted correctly, there are a total of one, two, three, four references to “the land” or “your land” in these verses, or, more accurately, seven references — should the pronoun “it” also be counted (as it ought to be). Now, if Revelation 6:3-4 does indeed allude to (or point back to) this particular Levitical passage, then which geographical domain does the passage have in view? Is it Planet Earth in its global entirety or just the Land of Israel? The correct answer is, ding, ding, just the Land of Israel. Therefore “land” might be the better translation in Revelation 6:4. But hang on… does the Revelation passage actually point back to Leviticus 26:31-35? Or am I just jumping to conclusions because it happens to suit my argument? Perhaps we should revisit and contemplate more closely what this Leviticus passage says.

In Leviticus 26:31-35 God is speaking to, or more exactly, threatening someone. God threatens to “devastate the land,” (which land?) and to “draw a sword to chase after you” (which you?); in so doing, God will give the land a period of much-needed rest. By the way, later in Israel’s history, God carries through on this threat, as we shall see. 

Oh my, I almost forgot to mention the sword! As with Revelation 6:3-4, there just happens to be a sword in Leviticus 26:33! What a coincidence! But it is not a coincidence. References back to a combination of recurring key words is how Revelation works, and how Revelation provides crucial hints for its own interpretation. Admittedly, the mere mention of a sword in Leviticus 26: 33 does not clinch this as a definite, intentional intertextual connection; but it does serve to make it more likely. What makes for an even stronger case is the combination of the word land and the word sword together in both passages.

Eventually, the glue that will bring this all cohesively together is the historical identity of the Red Rider with the mighty sword (who, like his brother Israel, was first an individual person and then a nation). And with regard to my overall thesis (i.e., that the Red Rider/Crimson Swordsman represents one particular eponymous historical person-nation), the most convincing passage of all is found in the Book of Zechariah. For now, please just be aware of the desolation and exile foretold in this present Levitical passage regarding the land and people of Israel.

The second passage to consider is Daniel 9:2:

2 In the first year of his [Darius of Persia’s] reign, I, Daniel, understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to the Prophet Jeremiah that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be seventy.

Daniel, in the Book of Daniel 9:2

Based on a prophecy in the writings of the Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 29:10), Daniel realized that the designated time of Babylonian exile (that is, 70 years) had been fulfilled. Daniel, a Jewish exile working as a government official in several foreign administrations, realized that it was time for his own Jewish people to potentially return to their ancestral homeland. Thus Daniel turned to the LORD in prayer, requesting that God would forgive the Jewish people for their obstinate disobedience. Daniel also prayed for God to restore the desolate City of Jerusalem. In his plea for their forgiveness, Daniel either knowingly or unknowingly fulfills a key stipulation for the return and restoration of Israel, a stipulation that is laid out immediately after our previously discussed passage: that is, in Leviticus 26:40-45. God then answered Daniel’s prayer by giving him what he requested and even more. God gave Daniel several symbolic visions of future events pertinent to the land and people of Israel. The Book of Revelation noticeably makes use of much of the imagery from Daniel’s symbolic visions. I provide all this information to provide feasible “Land of Israel” narrative links from Leviticus 26 through Jeremiah 29 and Daniel 9 to Revelation 6.    

As for the Crimson Swordsman, Daniel may have just barely missed him. While still young, Daniel was one of the Jewish captives that had been sent off to Babylon. Daniel was probably taken away to captivity before the final devastating destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. During that final devastating destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian conquerers had some enthusiastic supporters. Those enthusiastic fans (or rather, allies) of Babylon were a neighboring nation of Israel, the Edomites, the descendants of Israel’s twin brother Esau (cf. Genesis 36:8). Not for nothing, scripture makes a point of this Edom and Babylon tag-team connection at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction around 586BC/E (cf. Psalm 137:7). In my view, the nation of Edom best qualifies as Revelation’s own Red Rider, the Crimson Swordsman. But I need to tighten up my proposed connection of three words from Revelation 6: red, land, sword.

Screen Shot from Haaretz Newspaper, featuring an article published on June 13, 2021 about Edom’s likely role in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Etymologically, in Hebrew the words for red and Edom derive from the same root. For all practical purposes, we can think of red and Edom as virtual equivalents. Therefore, I want to suggest that whenever Edom appears in the Old Testament, we just might be reading about Revelation’s Red Rider.      

Now we turn to 2 Chronicles 36:15-21:

15 But the LORD, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of his messengers, sending them time and time again, for he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against his people that there was no remedy. 17 So he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their fit young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; he handed them all over to him. 18 He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the Lord’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19 Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles.

20 He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. 21 This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until seventy years were fulfilled.

The Chronicler, in 2 Chronicles 36:15-21

Although there is no specific mention of Edom in this important summary passage regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, from other biblical sources we know that Edom played some memorable antagonistic role. Like a bad neighbor, Edom left a very negative impression upon the few Jews who survived the destruction of Jerusalem. In passages like Psalm 83:1-8, Psalm 137:7, Isaiah 34:5-10, Ezekiel 35, Amos 1:6-12, and the entire Book of Obadiah we read that the people of Edom enthusiastically allied themselves with the enemies of Israel and Judah. Therefore, God promised to judge Edom severely. In fact, God pronounced an edict of utter destruction against the nation of Edom, specifically because they had betrayed his people in Israel and Judah.

Nevertheless, although this passage from 2 Chronicles 36 does not mention Edom, it still matters theologically. It matters because it shows that destruction of Jerusalem was not merely another tragic historical event. Rather, it was God’s own decree and God’s act of judgment against his own people. Babylon and its allies may have been the human instruments, but God takes responsibility for what happened. This needs to be kept in mind as we consider the Red Rider and the other horsemen of the apocalypse in Revelation 6. 

Very importantly, Edom played the role of God’s means of judgment (i.e., the sword of God) at least four times in Israel’s history. 

For example, in Numbers 20:14-20 Edom denied the sojourning people of Israel permission to pass through their land. Significantly, in Numbers 20:18 Edom threatened to attack Israel with a particular weapon: “with the sword.” This refusal-of-passage occurred immediately after Moses the man of God sinned. And it is noteworthy that unlike other times, God did not come to Israel’s aid. Edom withstood Israel on this occasion.

Centuries later, after King Solomon sinned by allowing his pagan foreign wives to coax him into idolatry, God raised up an active adversary against him. That adversary was Hadad the Edomite (cf. 1 Kings 11:14). The text is crystal clear that it was God’s own doing: “God raised up against Solomon an adversary.” 

Later, in 2 Kings 8:16-22 Edom successfully rebelled against Judah during the reign of Jehoram, the wayward son of the good King Jehoshaphat.

And finally, as we have already noted, Edom allied itself with Babylon during the siege and destruction Jerusalem around 586BC/E. Babylon was God’s own prophesied means of judgment.    

From the Book of Amos

So we see that over and over in its history, Israel and Judah found Edom to be a problematic neighbor — a neighbor that sometimes became an outright enemy. And yet, God takes at least partial responsibility for Edom’s periodic belligerence. Edom served as the instrument of divine judgment — “the sword of God” — at key times in Israel’s history. And Revelation 6:3-4 symbolizes Edom in that historical role as the Red Rider, the Crimson Swordsman.

To be continued…

The First Seal of Revelation 6

Monday, June 27, 2022

1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures (one of the cherubim, per Ezekiel 10:20) saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”

I looked, and behold, a white horse (cf. Revelation 19:11), and the one who sat on it (= the rider) had a bow (ergo, was a mounted archer); and a crown was given to him (note the passive tense here), and he went out conquering and to conquer (cf. Psalm 45:4-5? Habakkuk 3:3-18?).

Revelation 6:1-2
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/466572

In Revelation 6:1, John the Narrator watches as the uniquely worthy Lamb breaks open the first of the seven seals to the scroll (but which scroll?). Presumably, the attentive reader/listener realizes that the Lion-Lamb is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Throughout most of Chapter Five and continuing into Chapter Six, our narrator John refers to Christ simply as “the Lamb,” thus placing his metaphorical emphasis on the crucified Jesus. This is actually an allusion to a statement by John the Baptist, who introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (cf. John 1:29, 36). In Revelation 6:1, Christ, by virtue of being the Lamb, is worthy to “take the scroll and open its seals.” What specifically and exactly qualifies him to be worthy of such an honor? His own shed blood. He is said to be worthy because he was slain (as a sacrifice for sin), and by means of his shed blood he ransomed people for God. The Church of Christ is purchased with blood, the precious blood of the Lamb. 

But what is Christ the Lamb worthy of? What is he worthy to receive? Backtracking ever-so briefly here, according to Revelation 5:9, by virtue of his self-sacrifice the Lamb is worthy to “take the scroll and open its seals.” But whatever might that mean? What is this scroll exactly? And why was it sealed that it now needs to be unsealed? We can presume that the answers to these questions may be a prerequisite to correctly interpreting the imagery and the apocalyptic events of Chapter Six. 

Here I want to suggest that the scroll is simply the Torah itself, which served at Mount Sinai as a ketubah (that is, a covenantal pre-nuptial agreement) between the LORD and the nation of Israel. I owe the ketubah/scroll connection to the late, great (and very eccentric) Bible teacher Chuck Missler. But I take Missler’s insight a step further by identifying the ketubah/scroll as the Torah itself (a quick online search confirms that at least one other blogger has taken exactly the same step of identifying the Torah as a sealed ketubah scroll). If this interpretation is correct, then the slain, now triumphant Lamb unseals the Torah. And according to Revelation Chapter Five, the fact that the Lamb is worthy to unseal the Torah scroll gives occasion in Heaven for celebration, even worship.

Chapter Five ends in heavenly worship directed towards the Lamb. What else can Heaven’s celebration be called other than worship? Selah. Selah means pause. Pause and consider that! Not only is the Lamb worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, he is also worthy of Heaven’s adulation and worship. He is worthy to receive what God alone is worthy to receive. The Lamb is worthy to receive 1) power, and 2) wealth, and 3) wisdom, and 4) might, and 5) honor, and 6) glory, and 7) blessing. Which, as enumerated, elicits a couple of questions: Why a list of seven? Why this sevenfold benediction? What significance might be implicit in a sevenfold benediction? Because it is sevenfold, this benediction signifies something complete, something in its entirety. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy to receive our utter devotion, and all of our worship, even all of Heaven’s worship. Ergo, Jesus must be divine.     

On we go to Chapter Six, and the progressive unsealing of the (Torah) scroll. The passage says that when the Lamb opened the first one of the seven Torah seals, one of the living creatures/cherubim called out, “Come!” with a voice like thunder, whereupon John the Narrator beheld a white horse, with its rider holding a bow and wearing a crown — a crown which had been given to him. The archer on the white horse heeds the cherub’s summons and comes out conquering and to conquer. 

So, who is this mounted archer on a white horse? Is this Jesus Christ himself or someone else? Is this perhaps an imposter? From the immediate context, we cannot determine the answer to that question. We don’t have enough information from these two brief verses alone. We will need to press further and glean additional data. For now, we can only note that this mounted archer seems in some ways to resemble Christ (given the white stallion and the crown), and thus might potentially be Christ. Alternatively, if this mounted archer is an imposter and a fraud, he might very well be an antichrist. A decisive answer will have to wait until we have more information. 

Personally, I used to think that the mounted archer must be an antichrist figure. Back then, I reasoned that the author would simply identify the archer as Jesus if he is indeed Jesus. But further study of Chapter Six as a whole has convinced me that the mounted archer is in fact Christ Jesus himself — more specifically, the pre-incarnate Old Testament Christ. Why then, doesn’t the author simply say that the archer is Christ? There is a sound scriptural reason for why the mounted archer is not immediately identified as Jesus. And that is because the Old Testament itself keeps the identity of Christ a veiled mystery. But I am getting somewhat ahead of myself by divulging that I believe Revelation chapter six represents the unfolding of the Old Testament, and its scary curses upon the disobedient.      

Verse 2 does not say who gave the crown to the mounted archer. It avoids identifying the crown-giver by using what grammarians call the passive voice. Who, then, gave a crown to the mounted archer? Is the crown-giver God? Is the crown-giver Satan? Could the crown-giver be anyone other than God or Satan? If the crown-giver is in fact God, then the passive voice has a technical theological term. It is called the divine passive. A working assumption I employ is that whenever the passive voice appears in the Book of Revelation, it is always (or at least almost always) the divine passive. If that assumption is correct, then the crown-giver must necessarily be God. If I were asked why I think the passive voice in Revelation is (almost) always the divine passive, my response is because the Book of Revelation everywhere asserts the ultimate, supreme sovereignty of God; and because the passive voice deliberately obscures the actor behind an action, the divine passive alludes indirectly to the unrecognized and yet absolute sovereignty of God. Ultimately, if something — if anything occurs — it occurs because God allows it. Nothing occurs except that which God allows. Some find this claim disturbing, others comforting. 

Having said that, humility requires that I admit on this particular point I stand opposed to one of the very best New Testament interpreters, that is, Dr. Gordon D. Fee. When it comes to biblical interpretation, Dr. Fee would be a very formidable somebody indeed. Among many other writings, Fee co-authored the best-selling guide How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Fee believes that the mounted archer on the white horse cannot be Christ, because the Lamb opening the scrolls is already Christ. How then could Christ the Lamb be releasing himself as a mounted archer? 

Dr. Gordon D. Fee – Screenshot

To quote Fee: 

Christ is the Lamb who opens the seals, and therefore even in apocalyptic literature cannot at the same time be this horseman. Moreover, this horseman belongs to a sequence that finally ends in death and leads to the martyrs’ cry in verses 9-10. But if not Christ, who then? The best answer seems to be that John intends this figure to be a demonic parody of Christ, just as the beast in chapter 12 is presented as a parody of the Lamb. 

From p. 93 of Gordon D. Fee’s Revelation, in the New Covenant Commentary Series

In response to the esteemed Dr. Fee (my esteem is sincere; this is not meant to sound sarcastic), I want to observe that he does not actually take issue with my divine-passive claim, per se. In fact, I think he would probably admit that it is an interpretive point in my favor. Rather than address the divine-passive question, Fee rejects the idea that the mounted archer is Christ on a jumbled-and-blended symbolic basis. Fee thinks the notion of Christ the Lamb unveiling an image of Christ the Mounted Archer stretches and confuses the passage’s symbolism too much; and on that basis just doesn’t work. Okay, I understand, Dr. Fee, but what if you’re making an erroneous assumption about the timing of the two depictions? For example, I can show you a photo of myself as a small child dressed in a costume; and I can still be myself, even if the photo of little costumed me only vaguely resembles the middle-aged me of today. The same exact idea may be in play here. In Chapter Six, the New Testament Jesus presents John our Narrator with an image of himself from back in his Old Testament days.

Here are the scriptural references to God as an archer.

Moreover, it is not at all a problem that the seals sequence ends in death, because that is exactly what the Torah itself foretold would happen. At the end of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are told in very exacting and terrifying terms what the result of covenant disobedience would be. Christ’s opening of the seals in Revelation Chapter Six just graphically portrays what once Deuteronomy foretold. Dr. Fee’s primary mistake, in my estimation, is that he does not realize that the unsealing of the seals refers backward in time to the Old Testament. But it does, as I shall attempt to continue to prove.

The Bible and Human Trafficking

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Sometimes people will argue that the Bible was often used historically as a justification for slavery. Sadly, that is true. Regrettably, slave traders and slave owners sometimes did use passages from the Bible to justify slavery. But actually, they almost always misused and abused the Bible. If you read through the whole Bible, you will find that the Bible’s ethical comments on slavery change over time. Early on, the Bible is silent on slavery, other than to acknowledge that it happened. Later, God gives laws that restrict and regulate the practice of slavery. And towards the end of the Bible, slavery is increasingly frowned upon. Paul’s epistle to the slave owner Philemon is especially notable in this regard. And finally, in the last book of the Bible (that is, the Book of Revelation), the practice of slavery is indicted as one reason for severe divine judgment. 

Curiously, you will find that final indictment of slavery at the end of a commodities list. It reads a bit like a grocery list. Except this is a grocery list for a fabulously wealthy civilization.  

At the end of a list of more than twenty commercially traded luxury items, Revelation 18:13 indicates that the wicked, irredeemable Harlot City Babylon also happened to trade slaves. The verse is mostly just an informative list. If you were to summarize it in context, you might say, “So they traded gold, silver, jewels, pearls, linen, silk, ivory, wood, bronze, iron, marble, spices, yada, yada; and, oh yeah — almost forgot — they also traded slaves…” 

And yet two telling Greek words of indictment are added at the very end to that list: ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων, or, in English, human souls. The implicit condemnation of slavery in those two words may be oh-so-subtle and easy to miss. But the condemnation is there nonetheless, because those two words are otherwise simply unnecessary. The list could have just ended with the word slaves, but it goes on with those two words to expound on the what slavery actually entails. These are human beings, or human souls that are being traded and treated as if they were merely commodities. Human trafficking was happening in Babylon.

And perhaps that’s why the Harlot City Babylon is especially wicked and, in the end, entirely irredeemable: because of slavery and human trafficking, because in the City of Babylon human beings have become mere commerical commodities.  

“Okay, but Babylon was just ancient Babylon; right? How is any of that relevant to me?”  

On the contrary, it might be very relevant to us. In the Book of Revelation Babylon actually isn’t ancient Babylon at all. Instead, Babylon symbolizes another city or civilization (or two). In the Book of Revelation, Babylon serves as a cipher for the City of Rome and for the entire Roman Empire. Significantly, at the very same time, Babylon also seems to represent a final, future city or civilization — a future metropolis that meets an abrupt and fiery end.     

My fellow Americans might claim, “Well, the passage definitely cannot apply to us, because we don’t practice slavery here in America anymore. The Civil War took care of that, once and for all. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended well over 150 years ago. We are entirely free from the institution of slavery now. Some of our ancestors may have been guilty of that dehumanizing practice; but we are innocent.”  

Okay, good for us. But what about the less overt forms of slavery that do occur here in the United States and around the world? Various forms of human trafficking do occur here and now. Modern-Day Babylon might be closer to home than we want to acknowledge.  

The Demise of Milady Babylon

Friday, March 11, 2022

A piece in an art contest.

Milady Babylon’s days are numbered. 

Some will say that Milady Babylon’s days are long past, that yes, certainly, her days were once numbered; but those days have long since expired. They would contend that Milady Babylon is already deceased and that she has already passed from the historical scene. Milady Babylon’s days have already come and gone, they would argue. But… they would be wrong. Milady Babylon exists yet, for a while longer, at least.     

Now, to call Milady Babylon “milady” might be perceived as somewhat scandalous. After all, Milady Babylon is a woman of compromised virtue, to put things politely and mildly. Older English translations of the Bible use quite strong and rather corse language in reference to Milady Babylon and her preferred occupation. Milady Babylon, you see, debases and sells herself in exchange for money and gifts. If nothing else, Milady Babylon is a material girl.

A painting from an art museum in California.

But if you are at all inclined to think that Milady Babylon might be an actual person, I should quickly correct that. Milady Babylon has the surname Babylon because Babylon was once the seat of a glorious, spectacular empire. Historically, Babylon was a wealthy, beautiful city that oversaw a much wider empire. In the Book of Revelation Milady Babylon serves as a prototype, a pseudonym, and a cipher for another, similar city that was the capital of a much wider empire. That city was Rome. And of course Rome stood as both a city and a vast empire at the time the Book of Revelation was written. Incidentally, the Romans referred to Rome as Roma; and Roma was frequently depicted as a robust, fierce lady.

But that’s not all. Somehow Milady Babylon features quite prominently in the very section of Revelation wherein the Beast of the Abyss rises to power and prominence (i.e., chapters 16-19). This coincidence must not be missed.

According to Revelation 13:2, the Dragon (that is, Satan) empowers the Beast.

So who is this Beast from the Abyss? The Beast from the Abyss is one and the same as the Antichrist, although admittedly the Book of Revelation does not use that particular title. The Antichrist has various monikers in the New Testament, including the Beast, the Antichrist, and the Man of Lawlessness. But whatever his title, this individual (probably a totalitarian dictator) appears right before Jesus Christ’s triumphant final physical return to Earth. I should perhaps repeat that for emphasis. The Antichrist is on the scene when Jesus comes back. And somehow Milady Babylon persists (or perhaps reappears) long enough to see the Beast from the Abyss rise to power. If you doubt me here, please see Revelation 17:16, which says that “the Beast will hate the prostitute … and burn her with fire.”

So then, who or what is Milady Babylon? Revelation 18:21 clearly says that she is a city. Okay, if she is a city, which is she? Well, perhaps we need to recall that Babylon itself was a city and more than a city. It was an empire. Likewise, Rome was a city and more than a city. It was an empire. If a latter-day Babylon reappears at the end of history, can we thus expect it to be an empire or even a civilization?

Maybe, just maybe Milady Babylon represents a decadent, materialistic society or civilization.

If so, brace yourself, because Revelation 18:8 and 18:17 reveal that Milady Babylon goes up in flames “in a single hour.” Nuclear war, perhaps? I admit that I am inclined to see it that way.

Now, you can console yourself with the thought that maybe this is referring to Rome’s demise when it was sacked by the Visigoths many, many centuries ago. Or alternatively, you can read Revelation chapters 16-19 as a coherent sequential narrative, which would imply that Milady Babylon is an empire or a civilization that will meet its sudden fiery demise shortly before the final physical return of Jesus Christ to Earth. Either way, the Book of Revelation reveals that Milady Babylon’s decadent days are definitely numbered. 

Finally, this ugly scenario is one reason I personally hope the rapture occurs beforehand, regardless of how out-of-vogue the notion of the rapture may currently be.

Have a nice day. 🙂

A Lion Before, A Serpent Behind

January 11, 2022

Numbers 10:11-28 details the (divinely?) prescribed processional order of the nomadic twelve and a half tribes of Israel. They first assumed this exact processional order upon leaving Mount Sinai, and thereafter did the same whenever they would decamp and follow the pillar of cloud during their forty year meander through wilderness. According to Numbers 10:14, the tribe of Judah was to take up its banner (or standard) first and commence the procession of the entire nation. With its standard hoisted, the tribe of Judah marched at the vanguard, at the head of the hosts of Israel. The other tribes would follow after. The last tribe to leave camp, according to Numbers 10:25, was the tribe of Dan. The tribe of Dan was always to serve as the rearguard, or tail, of the mass procession, carrying their own distinctive banner (or standard).

The Book of Numbers mentions that four of the twelve tribes had a distinctive banner or a standard. The three tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun (which always camped to the east of the tabernacle) were to march following Judah’s standard. Some of the Levitical priests would follow the first three tribes carrying the deconstructed tabernacle. Then the three tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad (which always camped to the south of the tabernacle) were to march following Reuben’s standard. Following those six and a half tribes, the three tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin (which always camped to the west of the tabernacle) were to march, behind Ephraim’s standard. And finally, the three tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali (which always camped to the north of the tabernacle) were to march last, with the tribe of Dan carrying its standard towards the rear of the procession.

Necessarily, a banner or standard has a distinctive insignia or emblem of some sort. In the case of the fledgling nation of Israel, the emblems adopted by each of the twelve tribes likely derived from metaphors their forefather Jacob used while speaking a final blessing over each one of his sons, as recorded in Genesis chapter 49. If so, then the tribe of Judah’s marching standard would have featured a lion (see Jacob’s declaration in Genesis 49:9). Likewise, simple consistency would dictate that the tribe of Dan’s standard feature a serpent (see Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49:17).

A lion went before, a serpent behind.

During their long sojourn through the wilderness the nation of Israel had the figurative head of a lion and figurative tail of a serpent. This, I would suggest, is the biblical background to the symbolism we find in Revelation 9:17-19.

And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

Revelation 9:17-19

For this and additional reasons, the army depicted in Revelation 9:17-19 should be understood as the elect people of God, in their sojourn through the centuries between the first and second coming of Christ. Though this might be a different interpretation than you have heard before, the preceding background information can help you understand why I believe it is correct.

A Militant, Jealous, Gracious God

January 8, 2022

In the Book of Revelation, death is often not death.

Not What It Seems?

Regrettably though, even the best interpreters have failed to notice this twist. Instead, they usually just assume that references to death must mean literal, physical death. But the unquestioned assumption that Apocalyptic death must be the equivalent of physical death results in gross distortions and vast misunderstanding of an important section of the text and thus its message. Many readers conclude that the Book of Revelation is disturbingly macabre and not very New Testament-like because of the mass violence, death, and killing depicted therein. That prima facie impression changes dramatically if “all the death and violence” is not read literally, but understood… baptismally. Apocalyptic death should often be read as a baptismal reference in Revelation. And that dramatically changes things.

Yes, baptismal is the best possible word here. The New Testament teaches that when a convert to Christianity submits to baptism that person dies. Oh my! Does the baptized person physically die? Of course not. Typically, ecclesiastical officiants do their utmost to prevent fatal slips or pours that might result in accidental drowning deaths. A high baptism fatality rate would probably discourage most people from participating in the sacrament.

Baptism Saves: 1 Peter 3:21

Nonetheless, the New Testament teaches that someone who submits to baptism somehow dies. Obviously, this cannot be understood as physical death. It must be understood as another kind of death, call it metaphorical or symbolic. Egotistical death, perhaps? 

Conversion to Christ = A Death to Self

My contention is that the author of Revelation takes this non-physical understanding of death and runs with it imaginatively — and quite counter-intuitively. Consequently, much (or at least some) of the violence, killing, and death in Revelation refers not to the automatically assumed horrors of human history, but instead to the triumph of the Cross through evangelism and conversion. In particular, this observation holds true with the Seven Trumpets series, and especially in the incremental, fractional, twelve-thirds of fire, blood, and violence symbolically presented in Revelation chapters eight and nine.

The First of Seven Trumpets – Revelation 8:7

My guess is that many readers/listeners are thoroughly unconvinced by my proposal at this point. One question I anticipate is rather straightforward and simple: “But why? Why would the author of Revelation present evangelism and conversion as violence and death?”

My initial response to that question involves pointing back to the Old Testament — as the Book of Revelation itself so often does. In the Old Testament God is a militant and sometimes violent God. That is an indisputable claim, as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows. The Old Testament God can and does go to war. The Old Testament God can and does shed blood. But then Jesus arrives. At the beginning of the New Testament Jesus comes along and talks a lot about his Father as a loving, patient, merciful, and forgiving God.

So… which is it? Is God jealous, wrathful, militant, and violent? Or is God gracious, kind, compassionate, and forgiving? 


A Deadly Fire Breather from Revelation 9:17-18: One of the Good Guys or Bad Guys?

My suggestion here is that much of Revelation’s militant and violent imagery serves as a subversive, radical re-interpretation of “the battle plan” — the modus operandi — of the jealous, wrathful, militant God of the Old Testament.

Paradoxically, this is one and the same God, before the incarnation of Christ and after. Yes, this jealous, gracious God is indeed thoroughly intent on the death of all his enemies; but this jealous, gracious God much prefers that his enemies die baptismally through conversion, rather than die physically and spiritually.

With that said, in this post I have not actually carefully examined particular and relevant verses from the Book of Revelation. What I have done instead is provide a suggested approach — that is, a unique hermeneutic — for reading through Revelation. I suggest you re-read Revelation (especially chapters eight, nine, and eleven) with this hermeneutic of divinely-sanctioned non-physical warfare. This suggested hermeneutic regards some Apocalyptic instances of death as conversion. Here baptismal death is God’s preferred means of bringing an end to human self-idolatry and sinful rebellion.

If you do use that approach, you will find certain passages in Revelation make much more sense than before. But other passages (usually later passages) might remain confusing. Your potential confusion is because in the end, especially with the Seven Bowls of Wrath series, God does deal more heavy-handedly with those human opponents who refuse his provision for repentance and conversion.   

Subtle and Oblique by Design

Saturday, November 13, 2021

What did Jesus indicate? 

Shop talk. Get ready for some theological shop talk. I must necessarily get detailed and somewhat technical in this post.  

A single word will examined. I want to make a case for translating and interpreting an old Greek word in a very particular way. How this one rather inconspicuous word gets translated does indeed matter. It matters because this one word informs readers of the Book of Revelation as how they should approach and understand the entire book. 

The old Greek word is σημαίνω, which may be indecipherable to you. It is pronounced “say-mah-ee-no.” It is a verb. The most generic way to translate this verb into English is the word indicate. And as far as translations go, indicate works well enough. But the word σημαίνω needs to nuanced according to how it is used in a particular sentence, in a particular context. The context I have in mind is the very first verse of Revelation, in which Jesus indicated something.

For those of you who know a bit of New Testament Greek, you will notice that the word σημαίνω has shape-shifted a bit in Revelation 1:1. That is to say, it appears as a cognate in verse one, as ἐσήμανεν (“es-ay-mah-nen”). The reason the word looks a bit different is because the word has shifted into what we would call the past tense. In case you’re interested in grammatical exactness, in Revelation 1:1 the word ἐσήμανεν should be parsed as follows: It is the aorist – indicative – active – third person – singular. And it can be translated as he indicated

At this point, you might ask, “Okay, the most generic translation of this word from New Testament Greek into English is he indicated; so what? Why should I care?”

Well, there is a problem here, actually. The problem is that John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, uses the word ἐσήμανεν with a slight nuance. And it matters that his slight nuance is recognized. When John uses ἐσήμανεν, he means that something is not stated directly but indirectly. Something is being alluded to or hinted at or even encrypted.   

At this point, I imagine a good friend of mine saying, “But why should anyone believe you rather than the learned Bible translators?” A good question, good friend. What my good friend knows is that most Bible translators do not translate ἐσήμανεν with any sense of indirectness or opaqueness. 

That’s too bad, though. The translators should have caught the particular nuance in usage in Revelation 1:1. But because their semantic range of reference was too broad, they didn’t. They should have narrowed their focus to just how John uses the word. But for whatever reason, they didn’t. If they had focused just upon John’s usage, they would have noticed that John consistently uses the word σημαίνω and its cognates to convey indirectness, as communication that is not immediately apparent, but which needs to be examined carefully and figured out.

And now my friend is saying, “Okay, prove it.”

Okay, I will. It is not that hard. Just do a selective word study of σημαίνω and its cognates. Look at how John consistently uses the word.

The place to start is The Gospel of John, Chapter 12, verse 33. Here is how the verse is translated in the New International Version: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” The NIV translators used the words “to show” to translate σημαίνων, which is an obvious cognate of σημαίνω. As far as translations go, it is good enough. But notice what the verse means in context. Jesus had indicated or shown how he was going to die. Jesus had not just said, “I am going to be crucified.” Instead, what Jesus had just said was, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men/people to myself.” Jesus had indicated his manner of death obliquely, indirectly. The observant only caught his oblique allusion/reference after the fact, after his death by crucifixion.

John uses the word σημαίνω indirectly again in John 18:32. As with John 12:33, the word is used in its cognate form: σημαίνων. And as with John 12:33, the word references Jesus’ opaque allusion to his manner of death, that is, by crucifixion. The only significant contextual difference is that the crucifixion is now immediately forthcoming.

John uses the word σημαίνων a third time in John 21:19. This time the allusion is not to Jesus’ forthcoming crucifixion, but to the manner of Peter’s eventual death. But all the same, it is an allusion, and not a direct indication. Jesus does not tell Peter, “Someday you are going to die in a way that you would rather not die.” Instead, Jesus is more subtle and indirect — a bit more opaque and oblique. But he makes his point to Peter all the same.

Therefore, in the Gospel of John, we have not one, not two, but three instances of how John uses the word σημαίνω. Every single time, he uses the word to convey a sense of subtlety and indirectness. Jesus indicates what he wants to indicate opaquely. Only the observant (eventually) catch his drift.

My suggestion, or rather, assertion is that John uses the same word the same way in the Book of Revelation. Jesus did indicate something in Revelation 1:1. He indicated the entire vision — all the content of Revelation — opaquely, indirectly, cryptically. Jesus used allusions and references to say what he wanted conveyed. We do well to keep that in mind as we read and interpret the book. 

To summarize, if my assertion is correct, we are told from the very first verse of Revelation that the book’s content is opaque and cryptic by divine design. The implication is that it requires careful observation, frequent reflection, and protracted study.     

His Message to Smyrna

Thursday, September 16, 2021

His Message to Smyrna – Audio Version

Ninety-nine years have passed since it occurred. But I only learned of it within the last week. 

Yesterday I finished reading a book by Lou Ureneck about the Great Fire of Smyrna in September, 1922. If I were to place a small bet, I would wager that most of my readers and listeners are entirely unfamiliar with the 1922 Fire of Smyrna. So was I, less than a week ago.

Alternatively, I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of my readers and listeners — maybe even all of them — would know exactly what I have in mind if I were merely to drop the names Heinrich Himmler, Nazi, and Auschwitz. I am, of course, referring to the Holocaust during World War Two.          

The 1922 Fire of Smyrna was a foreshadow of the Holocaust, two decades in advance. The perpetrators of the 1922 Smyrna Fire were not Nazis, but another militaristic, nationalist group. Like the Nazis, the violent perpetrators of the Great Smyrna Fire wanted to once and for all rid “their” land of neighbors they deemed inferior, undesirable, and loathsome. The undesirable neighbors in their crosshairs were the Greek and Armenian Christian minorities of Anatolia. To their delight, the perpetrators’ plans prevailed. They were almost entirely successful in ridding their land of their loathsome, undesirable neighbors. Nonetheless, the perpetrators were unable to completely annihilate all their undesirable Christian neighbors. With the help of a few intervening outsiders, a considerable portion of the Christian minorities of Anatolia were delivered from certain death. The book I read is about the rescue effort conducted by the intervening outsiders. The account completely and utterly captivated me.

You will not recognize their names, but Asa Kent Jennings and Halsey Powell should forever be recognized for their great courage, faith, and heroism. I sincerely believe the two will hold a place of high honor in heaven. They saved hundreds of thousands of people from certain death.

Aside from my lifelong interest in history, one of the primary reasons that Ureneck’s account was so compelling to me is because of its locale. Smyrna appears in the Book of Revelation. It is the second of the seven churches addressed by Jesus in the opening section of Revelation. 

If you read what Jesus has to say to the Angel of the Church of Smyrna (see Revelation 2:8-11), it undoubtedly applies to the original recipients, who lived there nearly two thousand years ago. But what Jesus had to say could also (almost) equally apply to the Christians who found themselves besieged by death in Smyrna 99 years ago. Although separated by centuries, the historical situation was very, very similar. And Jesus’ words were equally apt for both situations.

In my estimation, the coincidence of geographic location and recapitulated historical situation speaks to the prophetic nature of the Book of Revelation. I would even say that it is one of many like instances which reveal that God is indeed the ultimate author of the Book of Revelation.