Revelation: Genre and Theological Decisions

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Genre – Epistle, Prophecy, Apocalypse

Revelation 1.1-4
Revelation 1:1–4 ESV
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

Apocalypse Revelation 1.1a

Apokalypsis; ἀποκάλυψις
· As a noun: To expose in full view what was formerly hidden, veiled, or secret (LBD)
· Apo – kalupto (verb): prepositional prefix + verb; apo from, or away; kalupto conceal, covering.
· As a Genre:
The apocalyptic style of writing … was used in both Jewish and Christian circles. It often has an angel or otherworldly being reveal heavenly mysteries to a human recipient. The mysteries are delivered in the form of visions placed in a narrative framework (Collins, “Introduction: Towards the Morphology,” 9). The visions serve to interpret the difficult times the recipients are experiencing, portraying them as temporary and counterfeit, while the heavenly mysteries are portrayed as an accurate depiction of reality.
In this function, apocalyptic literature has an ethical component. On the basis of the message, the recipients are mandated to modify their thinking and behavior. They are expected to either persevere or overcome depending on their current situation. Those who pursue a life of faithfulness and purity will avoid the punishments promised to the unfaithful (Aune, “The Apocalypse of John,” 90–91).
- Lexham Bible Dictionary
… With the exception of Daniel, all the surviving Jewish apocalyptic literature was written from the 3rd century bc to the early 2nd century ad. After the second Jewish revolt (led by Bar Kochba) was crushed by the Romans in ad 135, composition of apocalypses ceased and rabbinic Judaism prevailed.
- Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
Examples of Apocalyptic outside of the bible:
- The Book of Enoch c. 170BC
- The Book of Jubilees c. 150BC
- The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs c. 140BC
- Sibylline Oracles c. 150BC
- Psalm of Solomon c. 50BC
- Assumption of Moses c. AD 6-30
- And More!
“Where can hope be found when the world is in chaos and not only one’s own future but also that of the entire community is bleak? … Apocalyptic Literature seeks to minister in such circumstances to the suffering community by answering questions like these”
Dr. William Warren Jr.; p. 347 in Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture

Principles for Interpreting Apocalyptic (pp. 352-54, Warren and pp. 145-210, Stevens)

1) Ministry Purpose – the book should be read primarily as a ministry document that called for response to the message even as it sought to offer hope the recipients. The modern-day response should be based on the response sought in the historical setting of the text.
2) Christocentric Focus – The central character of the Revelation is the risen Christ, who is vividly presented in chapter 1 as such. Therefore, the person of Christ should be central point of exegesis.
3) Historical Setting – An appreciation of the text in its historical context is the correct starting point for exegesis of the text. To do otherwise risks undermining the exegetical process.
4) Multiple Genres – more on this in a moment.
5) Apocalyptic Symbolism – The symbolism used in the book should be recognized as symbolism and not a rigid literalism. The idea is that a picture is being painted by words in order to communicate an impression for the reader. Importance is on the impact of the symbol and not on pulling apart the details and treating them separately.
a) common for ancient minds
b) Assyrian Winged Bull
c) Zoomorphism – that showed the might of a king or empire. Its like propaganda.
d) Numerology – 7, indicative of the days of creation, represents God’s sovereignty, divine completion or divine fulfillment
6) Millennial Perspective – John wrote with an emphasis on the person and presence of Christ with his people as book ends to the text of Revelation. Therefore, the text should not be interpreted by a short and difficult passage such as found in Rev. 20.1-10. “… The millennium is not even mentioned in the rest of the New Testament. Surely this indicates that the Spirit who inspired the text did not consider this concept as central…” (353, Warren).
7) Readers’ Context
One more thing on Apocalypse! It is freely innovative.
1. John uses OT images like stock photos.
2. John’s use of imagery is not bound to the OT images. Ex. Daniel’s beasts (Dan 7) and the beast (Rev 13).
3. John innovates these images. The book of Daniel does not interpret Revelation.
4. Instead, John interprets Daniel

Prophecy Revelation 1.3

Prophecy defined: An oral, divine message mediated through an individual that is directed at a person or people group and intended to elicit a specific response (LBD)


Jeremiah 3.6-12
Jeremiah 3:6–12 ESV
The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “ ‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever.
Jonah 3.1-5
Jonah 3:1–5 ESV
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Jeremiah 1.11-16
Jeremiah 1:11–16 ESV
And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the Lord said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands.

Obedience Goal: the prophets dealt mostly with the present or near future of God’s Judgement. The prophet preached for repentance.

Gospel Concordance: prophecy as a genre, in the NT canon must be in canonical concord. What we mean is that it must stay true to the gospel.

Revelation will not tell us anything about Jesus we do not already know in the four Gospels. If an interpretation is not in concord with Gospels, it should probably be reevaluated.

Epistle Revelation 1.4-5

Revelation as an epistle (letter) calls for us to read it as such.

Epistolary Elements in Revelation:
1) identifies sender and the receiver: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia…”
2) Greeting: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…”
2) conclusion and benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Examples of ancient epistolary elements:

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
1 Peter
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Letter of Apion 2nd C. AD.
Apion to his father and lord Epimachos: Many good wishes!
First of all I hope you are in good health and that things are going well for you and my sister and her daughter and my brother. I thank the Lord Serapis [an Egyptian god] for saving me right off when I was in danger at sea.
When I arrived at Misenum [the Roman war harbor, near Naples], I received three gold pieces from the Emperor [Trajan?] as road money, and I’m doing just fine.
Please write me a line, my lord father, about your own well-being, second about that of my brother and sister, and third so that I may devotedly greet your hand, because you brought me up well and I may therefore hope for rapid promotion, the gods willing. Give my regards to Capiton [some friend] and my brother and sister and Serenilla [a family slave?] and my friends. I’m sending you my little portrait through Euktemon. My [new]Roman name is Antonius Maximus.
All my best!

When we read Revelation, it comes to us as an Apocalypse and Prophecy sandwiched in an Epistolary form. That means we read it as an epistle with care for the other genres.

Historical Setting:
1) letters are grounded in their historical meaning. Revelation was not written in a vacuum.
2) this means that there is an immediate meaning for the first audience. As a letter, it was written to the seven churches for Christians of all time.
Unitary Whole:
1) If there is an epistolary format, this means that the text is a unitary whole.
2) For instance, what is seen about Jesus in the opening of the text will carry through to till the end.

As an Epistle, John is signaling to the readers, then and now, that apocalyptic and prophetic figures are to be read from within his own first century historical context.

Theological Decisions

Who is Jesus (Christology)?

1) Messiah, yes. But, what kind of Messiah?
2) Jesus call’s himself the Son of Man.
3) Jesus is a suffering Son of Man
4) in reference to Messiah - from Dan. 7.13-14, and Jewish Apocalyptic literature
Daniel 7:13–14 ESV
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
1 Enoch 46
1 And there I saw One who had a head of days,
And His head was white like wool,
And with Him was another being whose countenance had the appearance of a man,
And his face was full of graciousness, like one of the holy angels.
2 And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things, concerning that
3 Son of Man, who he was, and whence he was, (and) why he went with the Head of Days? And he answered and said unto me:
This is the son of Man who hath righteousness,
With whom dwelleth righteousness,
And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden,
Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him,
And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness for ever.
4 And this Son of Man whom thou hast see
Shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats,
[And the strong from their thrones]
And shall loosen the reins of the strong,
And break the teeth of the sinners.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10.45 NASB
Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Matthew 26.45 NASB

We Know the Story, Jesus Came to Suffer and Die for the Sins of the World. A Very Upside Down Messiah.

What is the Church (ecclesiology)?

1) The Church is the ongoing story of Jesus after his resurrection.
2) The picture of Gospels and Acts shows us this.
3) The church is a Kingdom Community.
4) Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom and it is coming into its fullest as we wait for Jesus’ return.

What is salvation (soteriology)?

1) It is the big question of how God conquers evil.
2) Its both present and future.
John 20.31
John 20:31 NASB95
but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Mark 8.38
Mark 8:38 NASB95
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Jewish Apocalyptic thought compared to Pauline (Christian) Apocalyptic thought

How we answer these questions will inform how we read Revelation and more broadly our eschatology.

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