Episode 40: The Book of Revelation (6) The New Jerusalem
For our first episode in 2022, Paul and Dan close out our series on Revelation. They discuss the final sequence of seven bowls and tie them in to the previous groups of seven seals and trumpets. They then tackle the question of how God will intervene in human history – will it really be as warlike as the language sounds in Revelation? Finally they close the series by exploring the wonderful imagery of the New Jerusalem and think about what that could mean in reality!
Paul and Dan pick out some key points from the final sections of the book of Revelation to bring the series to a close.
Last time they looked at the Dragon, the Sea Beast and the Earth Beast from chapters 12 and 13 and saw how they represented human power structures (like the Roman emperor) that demand allegiance from people as an alternative to the true God and his son Jesus.
Dan can’t resist coming back to the mark of the beast and so they explore its significance a bit further and Paul emphasises that the important concept behind it is who people give allegiance to (rather than anything that people feel stops them from buying and selling).
Time periods in the book of Revelation
Dan then points out that we have come across a few time periods in the text – things like 1260 days, 42 months and 3 and a half days. Paul explains that these are all periods that relate to three and a half, (1260 days is the same as 3.5 years, using a Jewish calendar of 30 days per month and 360 days a year). Like many things in the book of Revelation this time period is drawing from the Old Testament, in this case from the book of Daniel. It appears there in Daniel 7:25 as “a time, times and half a time” (that is, three and a half times).
Paul quotes from John Goldingay’s analysis of this phrase in his commentary on Daniel:
It suggests a time that threatens to extend itself longer: one period, then a double period, then a quadruple period … but the anticipated sequence suddenly breaks off, so that the seven periods (in effect an eternity) that were threatened are unexpectedly halved.Goldingay, J.E., 1989. Daniel, Dallas: Word Biblical Commentary
So this doesn’t appear to be a period with a specific start and end date, but is instead conveying a concept that describes what it is like to be in a period of waiting and feeling like it will never end. But the construction of the phrase also gives an assurance that it will be brought to an end, it will be shortened!
Seven bowls of God’s wrath
Paul and Dan then take a look at the series of 7 bowls in chapter 16 and compare it with the 7 seals and 7 trumpets. They find a few differences that seem significant. There is no interruption between the 6th and 7th bowl for a start. The 7 bowls go straight through to the end and finish up with the words “it is done!”
This seems to further emphasise that the time will come when God will break into world history and things will be brought to a climax. They then think about what the message of these sequences of 7 might have been to the original audience.
Dan asks, given that there is so much detail in the descriptions, whether we should be looking for a deeper interpretation and linking individual symbols to events in history, as many Bible commenters have done. As they think this through, they conclude that some caution is appropriate as there have been many different ways of linking symbols to events. While this may be a worthwhile exercise, it is sensible not to get too attached to one specific interpretation. As guiding principles, we can always make sure we stay focused on firstly, how the symbols are drawn from their Old Testament context and, secondly, on what the original audience took from the messages in the letter.
Language of warfare that brings about victory
Dan then moves on to ask about the nature of the victory that emerges in chapters 17 and 18. They explore some of the language used, which seems very martial and a little disturbing at times! It is particularly hard to reconcile with the way Jesus and his followers are presented as a slain lamb and as witnesses who don’t take vengeance into their own hands. Paul points that part of chapter 17 hints that the downfall of the human structures comes about as a result of infighting – which is remarkably consistent with other parts of the Bible.
The New Jerusalem – completion of the story at last
Now they get to the final section which presents a completely different picture – New Jerusalem descending from heaven and the dwelling place of God being with man! They spend some time reveling in the poetic language, drawn from all over the Old Testament, particularly the garden of Eden. But then Dan asks – what does this all actually mean? How will this happen in reality!?
They finish by drawing on other (less symbolic) parts of the New Testament to identify the re-appearance of Jesus on the earth as being the reality behind all the poetic imagery. And with that, the series is concluded with a vision of peace and justice firmly in their minds.
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(2) The structure of the whole thing