A Point to Ponder on 1 Peter 5:6-7

Posted by R. Fowler White

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

“Casting one’s cares on God is a recognition of God’s monopoly on justice as well as a deep-seated confession of God’s power to accomplish his purposes. It is an enacted credo.”

— Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Eerdmans, 2007), 179.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7G Interpreting Rev 20:11–21:8

Posted by R. Fowler White

The visions of Rev 20:11–21:8 are the last set of visions that we’ll examine in the light of the themes of “battle and building.” Starting off, let’s notice why we should treat the vision sequence in 20:11–21:8 as a unit.

1. The unified picture in 20:11–21:8. Following the fiery destruction of the nations and the devil in 20:9-10 and the desolation of the present creation in 20:11b (cf. 6:12-17; 16:17-21; 21:1), we’re told in 20:12-13 (cf. 11:18) that those once dead were standing (20:12), having been released from their burial sites for judgment (20:13-14a). Introduced after the present heavens and earth disappear in 20:11b, the woe of the unrighteous, whose names were not in the book of life, is underlined in both 20:15 and 21:8. Introduced after the new heavens and earth appear in 21:1a, the weal of the righteous, whose names were in the book of life (21:27; 3:12), is highlighted in 21:2-7. Seeing, then, both the resurrection and the judgment of all in 20:11–21:8, the visions form a unified picture of the heavenly court’s final session in which the Divine Judge resurrects and judges all the dead. With that scene in mind, we can summarize how the combat and construction themes help us understand what’s going on in 20:11–21:8.

2. Victory over our last enemy. First, the emptying of all burial sites (natural or supernatural) in 20:13 signals the final overthrow of bodily death. Both the unrighteous and the righteous share in that victory. Yet for the unrighteous, that victory is no victory at all because it’s as empty as their grave: ironically, it issues in a death worse than bodily death. Having no share in the first resurrection (20:5), they emerge from their tombs only to be thrown into the lake of fire where the second death will forever have power over them (20:15; 21:8). By contrast, for the righteous, their victory over bodily death is as full as it is final. Full because, having taken part in the first resurrection, the second death has no power over them; final because they will abide forever in their eternal home with their God in the new creation, never to suffer death again (21:4). Only the righteous, then, will truly have title to proclaim, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? (1 Cor 15:54b-55a).

3. Our final residence with our God is a temple. Second, with the victory theme in clear view, the building theme is expected to shine through in the consequences that follow not only death’s defeat in 20:11-15 but the defeat of the Gog-Magog enemies in 20:7-10. The pattern we saw in 20:1-6 appears again in 20:7–21:8, and the pattern in 20:7–21:8 parallels the pattern in Ezek 38-48. The OT prophet had revealed God’s establishment of the new temple-city in the new paradisal land following His defeat of Gog-Magog. We already know that when the saints shared in the victory of the second death, their first resurrection announced their spiritual re-formation as the kingdom and beloved city (20:4, 6, 9). So, when we reach 21:1ff., we know that the saints have now shared in the victory over bodily death and that the promise Christ made in 3:12 is now to be fulfilled. He had said of the victorious saint that at His coming (cf. 3:11) I shall make him a pillar in the temple of my God … and I shall write upon him … the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven. So, when the saints share in the victory over bodily death, the holy city image reappears in 21:2, 10. In fact, John describes the new city in 21:3 as the dwelling place (i.e., tabernacle) of God. Seeing these images side by side, we recognize that the saints’ presentation as the city-tabernacle in 21:2-3 (cf. 21:9-10) is the building episode that we expected to follow the Divine Warrior’s victory over His last enemy. Presumably, then, the new Jerusalem that appears in chap. 21 after Christ’s return in 20:9-11 is the temple-city that He promised to build using his saints as living stones, indeed, stones resurrected from physical death! Even the eternal heavens and earth should also be understood in the light of the temple building theme since John calls attention to the absence of all that is unclean from that final residence of God and His people (21:27; cf. holy, 21:3). All in all, then, not only do the saints, as living temple stones, make the lasting city holy (21:3), but the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (21:22). Everything about the final residence is temple, a holy house built to the glory of God with man!

4. Conclusion. As we reflect on the contents of the visions in Rev 20:11–21:8, the “battle, then building” themes help us to see that the (second) resurrection constitutes the Divine Judge’s victory over death, while the saints’ resurrection and the creation’s restoration constitute the twofold building project that follows the victory over humanity’s last enemy, death. In all of this, it’s not hard to see that John has framed the Apostles’ teaching about Christ’s redemptive work at His return so that it conforms to the theology of “victory, then house building.” What is more, we see how much of a debt John owed to his OT heritage, a heritage that he embraced no doubt to inspire our confidence in our Lord Christ’s purpose and power both to triumph over His and our enemies and to establish His holy habitation with His holy people.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 8 Final Thoughts

Christ’s Family Tree in Matt 1:6b-17

Posted by R. Fowler White

In my previous post about Christ’s family tree from Abraham to David, we noticed that the tree was an amalgamation of Israelite and Gentile branches. Now we turn to the branches from King David through the exile to Christ Himself (Matt 1:6b-17), and once again we realize that this is no ordinary list of names. These branches carry the history of not just a nation but also a royal lineage, both reeling from the travesty of David’s sins with the wife of Uriah and against Uriah himself. Having laid bare the root of Israel’s division into ten northern tribes and two southern tribes, Matthew would show us again how God’s grace overruled the moral chaos in and among His people to keep the line of Christ alive.

The Evangelist opens this segment of the family tree by casting a knowing glance toward King David’s affair with the woman-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned. She was the wife of the faithful and elite Gentile warrior Uriah, whom David conspired to get killed in an effort to cover up his tryst. The effects of David’s sins on his family and on the nation of Israel were catastrophic. We’d prefer to remember David as a war hero and conquering king, but the Evangelist pushes us to face the reality of who Christ’s ancestors really were and what they really did.

Matthew wants us mindful of how David yielded to sexual indulgence and excessive ambition … how he so badly mismanaged the raising of his children that he sired not only insurrectionists but an incestuous sex offender. Later in life, David was presiding over the nation when it collapsed, and he was responsible for his family when it fell apart. Embedded in the names of 1:6b-11 we find the conflict among his sons and the revolt they led against him. We recall too the revolt of the ten northern tribes of the twelve that made up the nation. Do we remember just how bitter the fruit of David’s sins was not only in his family’s history but in the whole nation’s history? Yet the fruit here is not only bitter. As we turn from King David to his descendants, the names in Matthew’s genealogy remind us how God brought hope to the nation: hope in the midst of failure during the divided kingdom and during the southern kingdom’s final years.

For Matthew, it seems, this hope-amidst-failure was epitomized in David’s son Solomon himself, whose divided heart led to a divided nation and bore a spiritually divided lineage. We track these divisions in the four royal father-son combinations that Matthew mentions after his brief glance at Solomon. We’re to remember that bad father Rehoboam begat bad son Abijah, and bad father Abijah begat good son Asa. Then good father Asa begat good son Jehoshaphat, while good father Jehoshaphat begat bad son Joram. Clearly, Solomon’s divided heart begat a divided lineage. And as we reach the final branch in Christ’s pre-exilic family tree, we stumble on Jeconiah and his brothers. Remember them? No? No, not so much. They’re David’s descendants who were taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar, enduring the shame of being the last royal family of Judah before the exile. So, what was going on among Christ’s ancestors from Solomon to Jeconiah and his brothers? Despite bad royal seed, God raised up good royal seed and, in the midst of failure, He was giving hope. Though King David’s sins wrecked the purity and peace of his family, his descendants, and his nation, God’s grace was finally irresistible, preserving the line of the Messiah.

There’s one last segment of Christ’s family tree for Matthew to cover: he walks us from the exile to Christ’s birth in 1:12-17. Having given us three selective groups of fourteen generations to aid our memories, Matthew informs us that even through the deportation God preserved the line of Christ. Made obscure by the exile, only two names in the final group stand out. The first mentioned, Zerubbabel, was heir to David’s throne and governor of Judah after the return from exile. Then we reach the last name, that of Joseph, only to notice that once more Matthew departs from the standard genealogy formula and recounts a most extraordinary event. Matthew states only that Mary was Christ’s mother. Wait. What? Though Joseph is the last natural branch that links Jesus to David, Matthew indicates that he was not Jesus’ biological father. How, then, was Joseph a link between David and Jesus? The facts of how Joseph got into Jesus’ genealogy may rattle our cages.

On the authority of Matthew’s account, we learn that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary became the mother of Jesus, and it was therefore not through ordinary biology but through adoption that Joseph, a son of David, became the father of Jesus and Jesus the son of David. Furthermore, however, Matthew would have us reckon with the world-altering fact that Jesus, conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit, is truly David’s God as much as He is truly David’s son! He is the eternal Son of God in the flesh, God-with-us, Immanuel! And it was Heaven that mandated that His parents give Him the name Jesus because He had come to save sinners from their sins!

Christ’s family tree is no mere registry of names, is it? No, these names carry indelible memories of God’s power in His grace to overcome the sin that destroys both individuals and nations. Is it not transparent from this genealogy, then, that we must confess on bended knee that God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass? Moreover, must we not confess that He was pleased, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the mediator between God and man? Knowing Christ’s family tree as Matthew has given it to us, let us be sure to confess Him as the God-man, son of David and son of Abraham, who came to save us sinners from our sins.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7F Interpreting Rev 20:7-10

Posted by R. Fowler White

As I understand it, the vision in Rev 20:7-10 depicts the Divine Warrior’s age-ending victory over Satan-led nations who were threatening God’s kingdom-temple with desolation after they had turned His creation into an abomination of desolation. Let’s see if we can shed light in particular on the meaning of John’s depiction of that kingdom-temple as the camp of God’s people, the city he loves (NIV; cf. the encampment of the saints, the beloved city [CSB]) in 20:9.

1. Parallels to Ezek 38–39. Like 20:4-6, the vision in 20:7-10 is shaped by chapters from Ezekiel where we find a group of visions that reflects the OT pattern of “combat, then construction” that we’ve mentioned before. We can be sure that John has adapted Ezekiel’s visions of God’s victory over the chaos-causing nations because in 20:8-9 he explicitly mentions the Gog-Magog passage in Ezek 3839. In fact, in Rev 20 as in Ezek 3839, the Divine Warrior intervenes in the conflict with His customary weapon of theophanic fire to destroy those who attack the city of God (Rev 20:9; Ezek 38:22; 39:6, 9-10; cf. Ps 46:9; 76:3).

2. Camp, city, and saints. After the fiery destruction of the nations and the devil in 20:9-10 and the desolation of the present creation in 20:11 (cf. 6:12-17; 16:17-21; 21:1), we expect, following biblical patterns, to read about an episode of cosmic (re)construction in the visions that follow 20:7-10. And, in fact, that’s what we find. The theme of construction-after-victorious-combat clearly helps us understand what we read in 20:11–21:8 (we’ll explore that point in a subsequent post). Yet, interestingly, while we expect to find a building project in the visions after 20:7-10, we also see a building project within the vision of 20:7-10 itself. John sets before us the camp of the saints, the city God loves in 20:9 (NIV; cf. CSB). When he describes the camp of the saints using the additional terms the beloved city, his description links the saints with the four-square configuration of Israel’s camp in the wilderness (see, e.g., Num 2) and with the city of God that was represented in the tabernacle and the temple (Ps 27:4-6; Isa 4:5-6; Ezek 40:2–42:20). Described as the camp that is the city, the saints are an extraordinary sight to behold: they are God’s holy protectorate that has itself become the tabernacle-temple-city through Christ, the greater Moses and the greater Solomon. We get confirmation of this identification from another parallel to Ezek 3637.

3. A dwelling place for God’s Spirit. John’s presentation of the saints in 20:9 forms a really striking parallel to Ezekiel’s vision of Israel in Ezek 37:26-28. There we learn that, in the day when the Spirit rebuilds Israel’s house (37:11) by spiritual resurrection (37:1-14; cf. 36:27), that house will be the very dwelling place (Heb. mishkan, “tabernacle”) of God. No doubt this will be the case because, as we see in 36:27; 37:9-10, 14, the house will itself have become a sanctuary for God’s Spirit. Furthermore, according to Ezek 38–39 (especially 39:29), it is these very Spirit-indwelt residents of God’s dwelling place who will prove to be indestructible in the day of the nations’ final assault in Rev 20:7-10.

4. Parallels in the NT. In light of the parallels in Ezek 36–39, we can say the visions of 20:4-10 depict the saints as the kingdom-temple-camp-city built by Christ after His capture of the dragon in 20:1-3. The saints are nothing less than the blessed kingdom-temple built by the victorious Lamb in 20:4-6 and the beloved camp-city defended by the Divine Warrior in 20:7-10. What makes John’s visions all the more compelling is that their teaching is not at all isolated from the rest of Revelation or the NT. We’ve already seen the theology at the heart of Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10; 12:10-12; 14:1-4 (with John 2:19-22; 5:24-29). Yet the parallel to Ezek 3637 shows up again in the broader NT when Paul and John both refer to those chapters in other contexts. Paul describes the church as the new covenant temple in 2 Cor 6:16, citing Ezek 37:27. John recounts Jesus’ teaching on the new birth in John 3:5-8, alluding to Ezek 36:25-27; 37:1-14. Then, while reviewing Jesus’ post-resurrection words and deeds and specifically His breathing (of the Spirit) on the Eleven in John 20:22, John touches on Ezek 37:9 (cf. Gen 2:7). With more space and time, we could show in detail how the theology of the camp of God’s people, the city he loves in Rev 20:9 is consistent with Paul’s and Peter’s presentation of the church in 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20; Eph 2:20-22; and 1 Pet 2:4-9 as a spiritual house for God in the Spirit.

5. Conclusion. We’ll close these comments on Rev 20:7-10 by stressing the power of John’s vision there. Like his OT forebears, Ezekiel in particular, John found in the ancient “battle and building” themes a theological prism through which he could make known to us the dynamics at work in our experience as the church militant between the first and second comings of Christ. By knowing and pondering those dynamics, our longing to see the final manifestation of Christ’s power in the devil’s death and the nations’ vanquishment and in the establishment of our eternal residence with God only grows stronger.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7G Interpreting Rev 20:11–21:8

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7E More on Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Posted by R. Fowler White

As I suggested in a previous post, the vision of Rev 20:4-6 concerns that session of the heavenly council of God in which authorization is issued to avenge the blood of the martyred saints whom Christ, with the living saints, had built into God’s kingdom-house of priests through their participation in the first resurrection. Let’s narrow our focus in this post by looking in some detail at John’s description of the saints’ worship, name-bearing, first resurrection, and reign in 20:4-6.

1. Background. Before we get to 20:4-6, let’s recall that in 1:5-6 and 5:9-10 John implicitly compares the Lamb’s redemptive work for the church to God’s victory over Egypt and His subsequent constitution of Israel (with her tabernacle) as His kingdom-dwelling place. Then, in 5:5 the Lamb’s redemptive victory becomes the victory of a new David, that lion-warrior of Judah who was given rest from his enemies before turning his attention to building the Lord’s temple-house. Finally, in the Divine Warrior victory song of 12:10-12, saints are described as those who have obtained victory over their draconic accuser on account of the blood of the true Lamb (12:11), whose blood, unlike that of the first Passover lamb, secures the release of God’s people from their sins. Thus, when in Rev 1, 5, and 12 John invokes the redemptions of Israel under Moses and David to describe the church’s experience, the point we should not miss is his willingness to employ the battle and building themes of the OT to explain the significance of the church’s redemption through Christ’s work. With this background, we have good reason to expect these same themes will help us clarify the interpretation of 20:4-6, especially since that vision follows a vision of divine victory over the dragon in 20:1-3.

2. Worship and name-bearing. So, what can we say about the saints’ worship and name-bearing in 20:4? We agree with those who see those activities as issues that led to the saints’ martyrdom. Probing more deeply, it’s interesting to notice that John’s description here connects back to these saints’ participation in the new exodus and their re-creation as the Lamb’s kingdom. The connection comes to light in Rev 14:1-4. There, John links worship and name-bearing with redemption by the Lamb (14:3-4) by recalling the lyrics of the Divine Warrior victory song in 5:9. The word redeemed (by the Lamb) also reminds us of the victory lyric in 12:11, compelling us again to connect the saints’ redemption with Israel’s exodus. To speak of the saints’ worship and name-bearing, then, is to speak of their participation in the new, Messianic exodus and of their reconstitution as Messiah’s kingdom.

3. Parallels to Ezek 36-37. Coming to the saints’ participation in the first resurrection and their reign as the kingdom of priests, let’s consider briefly the parallels between 20:4-10 and Ezek 36-39. Like the sequence in Ezek 36-39, the sequence in Rev 20:4-10 has the saints’ resurrection and reconstitution preceding God’s victory over the Gog-Magog rebels (we’ll get to them later, God willing). To get the meaning of the resurrection in 20:4-6, we should consider the meaning of the resurrection in Ezek 36-37. The OT prophet uses the metaphor of physical resurrection to describe the spiritual re-creation of Israel as God’s kingdom of priests. In fact, the metaphor describes Israel’s transformation into a temple for God’s Spirit. In keeping with the parallel in Ezek 36-37, then, we should interpret the saints’ first resurrection and reign in 20:4-6 as their spiritual re-creation as God’s kingdom of priests, as their transformation into a dwelling place of God’s Spirit.

4. The beatitude of 20:6. Confirmation of the interpretation above comes in 20:6 where John describes the blessing of partaking in the first resurrection by way of a contrast. On the one hand, the blessing announces the partakers’ redemption from the power of the second death (20:6b). But, on the other hand, the blessing records their constitution as a kingdom of priests to God and Christ (20:6c). Yet there is more.

Wise as God is in the application of redemption to Christ’s people, He ensures that neither bodily death nor eternal (i.e., the second) death will frustrate the final redemption of His people. As a result, the Spirit of Christ applies His victory to His people in a particular sequence. To be specific, since there must be no threat of eternal death to Christ’s people after they’re delivered from bodily death, the Spirit delivers them from eternal death before He delivers them from bodily death. Likewise, since there can be no deliverance from eternal death after bodily death, the Spirit delivers Christ’s people from eternal death before their bodily death. The beatitude of Rev 20:6 distills the point: the Spirit’s application of redemption delivers Christ’s kingdom-people from the second death before He delivers them from death, lest the second death still threaten them after their deliverance from death (thus the first [spiritual] resurrection in 20:4-6 precedes the general [bodily] resurrection in 20:13-14a; cf. John 5:24-29). Likewise, the Spirit’s application of redemption delivers Christ’s kingdom-people from the second death before their martyrdom occurs, lest their death prevent their deliverance from the second death.

5. Summary. The first resurrection and reign of the saints in Rev 20:4-6 highlight two blessings bestowed on the church: 1) their spiritual resurrection that takes place before both their physical death and their physical resurrection, and 2) their transformation into the kingdom-temple built by Christ (just as we saw in John 2:19-21; 5:24-29). Having been united even now with the Lamb in His resurrection and reign (cf. Eph 2:5-6; Col 3:1), the saints take courage in the authorization of God’s heavenly court to avenge their blood, should martyrdom be their portion. In the truths of the vision and beatitude of Rev 20:4-6, then, the saints will find the comfort and hope they need to persevere in the face of marginalization, persecution, and even death.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7F Interpreting Rev 20:7-10

Christ’s Family Tree in Matt 1:1-6a

Posted by R. Fowler White

The family tree of Jesus Christ as Matthew presents it, and the window that it gives us into His human origins, is as intriguing as it is startling. When we review it closely, the lessons are arresting. One means that Matthew seems to use to give us clues to his lessons is when he adds phrases to the standard genealogy formula of “X was the father of Y.” Notice, for example, these three listings: “Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers,” “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,” and “Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary.” Additions such as these, and even omissions of certain names, seem to be among Matthew’s tactics to focus our attention where he wants it to go. Let’s see what we can find.

The Evangelist presents to us, first, the branches of Christ’s family tree that came from Abraham to King David (Matt 1:1-6a). Strikingly, here we see that certain natural branches (i.e., Israelite descendants) were selected and cut off from the line of the Christ, while unexpected unnatural branches (i.e., Gentile descendants) were grafted in. Check out the details.

Matthew begins with a summary of his message about Jesus’ human origins: He is the son of David and the son of Abraham. His family tree starts with His lineage from David and Abraham (notice the reversed chronology), evidently and primarily because of the covenant promises God gave to each. What makes this the more interesting is to recall the events in each man’s life that gave rise to the promises they received. One event that made David’s reputation (before his tragic fall into sin with Bathsheba) was his victory over Goliath, the enemy of God’s people. It was a victory that adumbrated his future subjugation of the foreign enemies that remained in the land after the conquest under Joshua. God rewarded David’s faith with the promise that his son would be better than he and would have the better, final victory over the enemies of God’s people. In fact, in the narratives that follow the family tree, Matthew will show us that Jesus is indeed better than David. He is, in fact, the obedient Royal Son who defeats the greatest enemies of God’s people: sin and death, the devil and the world!

But what of Abraham? Two events stand out in Abraham’s saga as preludes to God’s promises to him. At the beginning, we remember that it was by faith that Abraham left his home in Ur to go to a land of which he knew nothing other than that God would show it to him. Let that reality sink in for a moment. Later, toward the end of his story, by faith Abraham offered up his unique son Isaac in sacrifice to God, and God delivered Isaac from death. On both occasions, God rewarded Abraham’s faith with a promise to provide him a seed, a son in whom all the nations of the earth would find blessing. No wonder Matthew shows us by the end of his Gospel that Jesus launched a pan-national evangelistic campaign through His Apostles. This was the commission from none other than that Son of Abraham who, having offered Himself in sacrifice and been raised from the dead, brings the blessing of salvation from sins to all the nations!

With the summary of Jesus’ human origins before us in the headlines about David and Abraham, Matthew moves on to tell us that, from Abraham through David, God grew and trimmed Christ’s family tree. The Evangelist tells us that by grace God chose certain natural branches, but He cut off others. He included Isaac and Jacob, but cut off Ishmael and Esau. The Lord also included Judah, the natural branch who persuaded his brothers to sell their brother Joseph into slavery and was otherwise known in Scripture as a devious, conniving, promiscuous womanizer. Of course, He also included David the king, the war hero who fought God’s enemies; the king who reformed the nation and established its worship. This was David the poet, musician, and prophet in Israel; a friend to Jonathan, the firstborn son of none other than his nemesis Saul. This was David the adulterer, the accomplice to murder, the failed husband, the failed father. One message Matthew would have us get: in God’s determinations of Christ’s ancestors we do well to recognize His grace to the natural branches that He included and His severity to those that He excluded.

Matthew’s account of Christ’s family tree continues as he recites the names of those unnatural Gentile branches whom God grafted in by grace. God grafted in the sons of Tamar, the Gentile daughter-in-law of Judah. She is the woman who took the desperate step to save the coming Messiah’s lineage from extinction by posing as a prostitute to seduce negligent Judah to make her the mother of his twin sons, Perez and Zerah. God also grafted in the son of Rahab, the Gentile prostitute who believed in the God of Abraham, and was saved by Joshua and his spies from the destruction of Jericho. Further, God grafted in the son of Ruth, yes, even Ruth, the Gentile widow from the shamed line of Lot.

The family tree of Christ from Abraham up to David the king was quite an amalgamation, wasn’t it? It was a tree of natural Israelite branches and of unnatural Gentile branches. More than that, it was a tree husbanded by the singularly sovereign God who overrules sin for His own good purposes, even to bring His eternal Son into the world to save sinners.

Stay tuned for a meditation of Christ’s Family Tree in Matt 1:6b-17.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7D Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Posted by R. Fowler White

In an earlier post, I indicated that my aim here is to point the way to an interpretation of Rev 20:1-6 that takes full account of what we know from Scripture about God’s combat with beasts and His building work. While appreciating the work of many others, my approach at this moment is to apply the biblical themes of “victory over the dragon followed by house building” to the interpretation of this controversial passage. Since I’ve applied the combat theme to help in understanding Rev 20:1-3, we’ll turn to Rev 20:4-6 in this post.

I. The overall context of 20:1–21:8—Recall what we said before: the sequence of visions in this passage twice repeats the pattern of “victory followed by house [temple] building.”

A. 20:1-3, capture of the serpent = victory over the serpent

B. 20:4-6, first resurrection = temple building

C. 20:7-10, death of the serpent = victory over the serpent

D. 20:11–21:8, resurrection = temple building

Having applied the victory theme to the interpretation of Rev 20:1-3, we can turn to Rev 20:4-6 and the theme of temple (house) building.

II. Rev 20:4—Here we find a vision of that session of the Divine Council in which the heavenly court is authorized to avenge the blood of the martyred saints who, with the living saints (see Rev 20:9), had been built into God’s kingdom-city-encampment of priests through their participation in the first resurrection.

III. Rev 20:5—In this verse John distinguishes the first resurrection from the (second) resurrection in Rev 20:12-13. He makes the distinction by identifying the non-Christian dead as participants only in the (second) resurrection and the Christian dead as the only participants in the first resurrection. In other words, Rev 20:5 is profoundly important: it instructs us readers not to confuse the first resurrection, in which Christians are the only participants, with the (second) resurrection, in which non-Christians and Christians are both participants.

Some interpreters claim that Christians have no part in the resurrection of the dead in Rev 20:13, but they must then explain what Rev 20:5 contributes to this context where two resurrections are presented. We cannot say that because only Christians take part in the first resurrection, they have no part in the second. Nor can we say that because non-Christians take part only in the (second) resurrection, Christians do not take part in it. For either of these statements to be true, we must establish that both resurrections deliver from physical death—and the evidence for such a claim is lacking.

IV. Rev 20:6—A beatitude for the Christian dead. Here we notice that the blessings that belong to those who take part in the first resurrection are described elsewhere as the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work applied to believers before they die.

A. The first phrase of the beatitude: “the second death has no power over them.” According to Rev 20:12-15; 21:8, 27; and 22:15, the second death has power over the resurrected dead who died in bondage to their sins. To say, then, that “the second death has no power” over those who take part in the first resurrection is simply to say that Christ has freed them from their sins by His blood (1:5). In other words, such freedom is a benefit of redemption indisputably applied to believers before they die. To put this truth in the words of Rev 20:4, we say that God’s heavenly court will avenge those who had come to life in the first resurrection and had thereby been freed from the second death’s power, for Christ had freed them from their sins by His blood.

B. The second and third phrases of the beatitude—“they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years”—also reaffirm benefits of Christ’s work applied elsewhere to believers before they die.

1. The beatitude affirms truths that are the equivalent of “he has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” in Rev 1:6 and of “you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” in Rev 5:10. The beatitude, together with the new song of 5:10, doesn’t merely view the kingdom as future from the vantage point of the believer’s death. Nor does it view the kingdom’s reign as future from standpoint of the believer’s resurrection from the dead. Rather, the beatitude views the kingdom’s reign as certain from the standpoint of its establishment with Christ’s redemption of many from their sins and from the second death (5:9; 1:5).

2. Because the kingdom is established by Christ’s redemptive work, we may say both that the redeemed will reign in glory on the new earth (Rev 22:5) and that they will reign now on this earth and in heaven, even as Christ Himself has been doing (Heb 2:10, 13a). Still, it is fair to ask, how do the redeemed reign now? They reign now on earth by persevering in faith despite suffering and death. They also reign after death in heaven as they rest in glory from their earthly labors. Again, to put these things in the words of Rev 20:4, we affirm that Heaven’s court will avenge those who had come to life had reigned with Christ for a thousand years, for He had made them a kingdom of priests to His God and Father.

V. Death, resurrection, and temple in the Gospel of John

It is instructive to see the harmony between the Revelation to John and the Gospel of John as it relates the topics of death, resurrection, and temple.

A. John 2:13-22: In this text, John the Evangelist, who is author of the Revelation, portrays Jesus’ death and resurrection as the destruction and construction of the true temple. The death and resurrection of those united with Jesus should be interpreted similarly. That is, the death and resurrection of those in Jesus is the destruction and construction of a temple. In the resurrection of Jesus and the first resurrection (from the second death) and the resurrection (from death) of those in Him, something better than the temple is here.

B. John 5:24-29: Notice here that Jesus speaks of two resurrections, not one. First comes the spiritual resurrection, then the physical resurrection.

1. There is a resurrection in an hour that now is, 5:24-25: it is now ongoing and is seeing the Son’s own raised from spiritual death to spiritual life.

2. There is another resurrection at the last day (6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:54), in an hour that is to come, 5:28-29. That resurrection will, in the future, raise “all who are in the tombs” from physical death: some to everlasting life, others to everlasting death.

3. Relevance of this point to the two resurrections of Rev 20:4–21:8

a. Participation in the first resurrection from the second death (20:4-6) is the building of the church as the spiritual temple.

b. Participation in the resurrection from death (20:12-13) is the building of the church as the physical temple-city (21:2-3, 9-27).

c. Note: Whether we interpret the first resurrection as spiritual or physical, the concept of resurrection as a divine building project in John’s theology should tell us that the first resurrection marks the building of a holy place.

Certainly, much more could be said. Not least we could show how the victory and house building themes appear in Ezekiel 36–48 and are used by John to help us understand the reimagined depiction of Christ’s work between His two comings and at His second coming and beyond in the visions of Rev 20:4–21:8. All this works together to inspire our confidence in our Lord Christ’s purpose and power to triumph over His enemies and ours as He works invincibly to finish His redemptive mission and to establish His righteous rule. For now, we’ll settle for noticing that when it comes time for the Heavenly Court of God to avenge the saints, martyred or living, those saints will have been built into God’s temple-kingdom-city-encampment through their participation in the first resurrection.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7E More on Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7C The Dragon’s Imprisonment in Rev 20:1-3

Posted by R. Fowler White

We have said in a previous post that the best approach to Rev 20:1-6 sees it as a series of visions related to Christ’s first coming and the interadvent age, while Rev 20:7–21:8 is a series of visions related to Christ’s second coming, the general resurrection and judgment, and the new world to come. If our approach is correct, then we need to consider this question: if the text says that Satan the serpentine Dragon is cut off from the earth during the confinement envisioned in Rev 20:1-3, how can we harmonize this vision of his imprisonment during the interadvent age with the clear NT evidence that he is active in the same period (e.g., 1 Thess 2:18; 1 Pet 5:8)? Can we still confess our commitment to a consistent method of historical-grammatical-theological interpretation?

The force of this question is well taken. Yet that force is blunted when we consider Jesus’ saying about the binding of the strong man (Matt 12:29), His vision of Satan’s fall (Luke 10:17-18), and His teaching that His death/exaltation means the judgment of the world, the deposing of the ruler of this world, the exaltation of the Son of Man, and the drawing of all peoples to Himself (John 12:31-32). All those passages give us light on the question before us. We get even more light if we recognize John’s tactical use of the themes of God’s victory and house building. So, back to our question: to what extent should we expect the events in the vision of Rev 20:1-3 to translate into events in history?

I. The fates of God’s enemies in the Bible outside Rev 20:1-3—The answer to our question about the dragon’s imprisonment comes when we examine the relationship between historical events and their reimagined depictions as God’s combat and construction in the Bible. When we study those depictions, we find that the fate of dragons is analogous, not identical to the fate of those characters or entities in history to which the images are applied. To put it differently, while the dragon (serpent, sea beast) may be captured or slain in the reimagined depiction, the enemy depicted in the beastly image is neither captured nor slain in history. We can see this fact in the way biblical writers apply the imagery to the events of creation and release from exile.

A. In Job 26:10-13, we’re told that the creation process involved God smiting Rahab the anti-creation monster and running the fleeing serpent through (presumably with a sword). We read a similar reimagining of the creation plot in Ps 89:9-13. And yet, when compared to the creation account of Gen 1, we find that the deep and darkness, to which Rahab and the serpent correspond, were neither smitten nor run through: they were restrained or compartmentalized.

B. Similarly, in Isa 51:9-11, the exiles’ release from Babylon is compared to God dismembering Rahab and (again) running the dragon through. Yet in history Babylon, to whom Rahab and the dragon correspond, was neither dismembered nor run through by God; rather Babylon, in the person of King Cyrus, was stirred to act on the exiles’ behalf according to the Lord’s good pleasure (2 Chron 36:22; Ezra 1:1; Isa 44:28).

C. For any who might think the distinction between historical events and their reimagined depictions is isolated to the texts just cited, I can only invite them to consider the other texts where biblical authors apply the anti-creative/anti-redemptive animal images to a character or entity in history. In each and every case, they will find that the beast’s fate in the depictions and its fate in history are analogous, not identical. This will be so whether they find the evil animal to have been captured or slain. In all such cases, the beast’s fate represents the truth that the effort of God’s enemies to resist His creative and redemptive work is itself invincibly resisted by God, whether the means He uses is temporary or final.

II. The fate of God’s enemy in Rev 20:1-3

A. Against the background above, we go back to Rev 20:1-3 where the Dragon named “the Devil and Satan” is captured and confined in the abyss. How should we interpret this captivity? We should remember the way biblical authors reimagine historical events using the images of God in battle and God building. We should recall that, both in Revelation as a whole and in the immediately preceding and following contexts of Rev 20:1-3, John, following his biblical forebears, has already adapted those images to interpret the historical events linked with Christ’s death and exaltation.

B. In that light, we’re bound to conclude that the Dragon’s fate in Rev 20:1-3 is analogous but not identical to Satan’s fate in history. Stated differently, while the Dragon is captured and confined in John’s vision, Satan is, like Babylon and the darkness and deep, restrained and even compartmentalized in history, specifically, deprived of his role as deceiver of the world’s nations.

C. The Dragon’s capture in 20:1-3, then, means that Christ’s exaltation has postponed Satan’s age-ending deception of the nations, his corruption of the world into an abomination of desolation, and, most importantly, his final attempt to destroy the church being built by Christ. As we’ll see even more fully from our study of the vision in 20:4-6, the vision of the Dragon’s capture signals to us readers that, despite appearances to the contrary, the exalted Christ is taking the necessary steps to defeat His enemies and to build His kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 15:24-25), even now rescuing His chosen kingdom-citizens from all the nations (5:9-10) while He keeps the wannabe-deceiver of those nations incarcerated until His rescue work is done.

Conclusion: If we desire to practice and protect a valid and consistent method of interpretation, then there is no better place to press the point than right here in Rev 20:1-3. We should recognize that in Rev 20:1-3 and its context, John has adapted the theme of God’s victory over the Dragon to reimagine and thus to illuminate the significance of Christ’s exaltation as it relates to Satan. To recognize John’s reimagining is to appreciate how much of a debt he owed to the heritage of the OT authors. To overlook or ignore that heritage is arguably to be inconsistent in our practice of responsible biblical interpretation, particularly when it comes to a difficult text.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7D Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7B Interpreting Rev 20:1-3

Posted by R. Fowler White

All Bible interpreters want to be consistent when they interpret the literature in the Bible, whether it’s apocalyptic material or not. The same applies to Rev 20:1-6 in particular. We all must stick as faithfully as we can to the rules of grammar, to the facts of history, and to sound biblical, historical, and systematic theology. Nobody wants to be uninformed, misinformed, incomplete, or inconsistent. So the aim here is to point the way to an interpretation of Rev 20:1-3 (and later 20:4-6) that takes full account of what we know from the canon of Scripture about God’s combat with beasts and about His building work. As a prelude to what follows, I’m more than happy to recommend the studies of others (Hoekema, Poythress, Beale, Venema, Storms) who have used other good approaches. Yet my own approach is to make use of the biblical themes of “victory over the dragon followed by house building” as the fundamental paradigm for interpreting Rev 20:1-6. We’ll begin by summarizing several main points related to how those themes help us to understand Rev 20:1-3.

I. Overall context of 20:1–21:8—The sequence of visions in this passage twice repeats the pattern of “victory followed by house [temple] building.” N.B. Interestingly, this sequence reflects the gospel of Gen 3:15: “rule the beast and fill the earth.”

A. 20:1-3  capture of the serpent = victory over the serpent

B. 20:4-6  first resurrection = house (temple) building

C. 20:7-10  death of the serpent = victory over the serpent

D. 20:11–21:8  resurrection = house (temple) building

II. The “victory and house building” themes in the Bible: an overview

Consider the following survey of the evidence from the OT and the NT.

A. In the OT—OT researchers have discerned the themes of divine victory and/or house building in both poetic and narrative descriptions of the world’s creation (e.g., Job 26:10-13; Psa 89:9-13), the world’s deliverance in Noah’s day (e.g., Psa 29:9-10; 74:12-17; 104:5-9) and in the Day of the Lord (Isa 27:1), and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (the book of Exodus, especially chap. 15), from David’s enemies (2 Sam 7), from Babylon (Isa 51:9-11), and from Gog-Magog (Ezek 36-48).

B. In the NT—While studies of God’s combat and construction in the OT have been extensive, research on the NT use of those themes has yielded still more fruit. These themes show up in descriptions of the church’s redemption at Christ’s first advent (Eph 2:14-22 [cf. 4:8]; Col 2:15; 1 Pet 2:4-10) and at His second advent (1 Cor 15:53-57; 2 Cor 5:1-4).

C. In the book of Revelation—Before turning specifically to Rev 20:1-3, take a look at Rev 1:5-6; 5:5, 9-10; 12:11; and 20:7–21:8. Notice how John describes the church’s redemption as Christ’s “battle and building” work.

1. In Rev 1:5-6 and 5:9-10, John compares the Lamb’s redemptive work for the church to God’s victory over Egypt and His constitution of the nation and the tabernacle as His kingdom-dwelling place. Then, in the Divine Warrior victory song of 12:10-12, saints are described as those who have obtained victory over their accuser, the dragon, on account of the blood of the true Lamb (12:11): it is His blood that secures the release of God’s people from their sins. Finally, in 5:5, the victory of the new Lamb is also the victory of the new David. From the context of 1:5-6, we are justified to infer that, like the old David, He turns His attention to building God’s temple-house after His victory. So, when in chaps. 1, 5, and 12 John invokes God’s redemptions of Israel under Moses and David to describe the church’s experience, the point we should not miss is that John employs the “victory and house building” paradigm to explain the significance of the church’s redemption through Christ’s work.

2. Briefly, regarding Rev 20:7–21:8, the combat and construction themes really help our understanding of Christ’s age-ending defeat of the dragon and the nations in 20:7-10 and also our understanding of the resurrection and judgment of the dead in 20:11–21:8. In their application to 20:7-10, the victory theme enables us to see the events depicted there as the Divine Warrior’s final victory over the serpentine dragon who by deception had made a final, failed attempt to destroy God’s kingdom-city. Turning to the visions of 20:11–21:8, the victory theme helps us see the resurrection in 20:12-15 as the Divine Warrior’s victory over His last enemy, death. The resurrection of the dead and the creation’s subequent renovation exhibit the traits of God’s rebuilding project that follows His final victory. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that the saints are portrayed as the holy city (cf. 3:12), while the new heavens and earth appear as the eternal dwelling place of God and man.

From these several examples in Revelation, it seems clear enough that John expects us to understand the significance of the church’s redemption through Christ’s work as both battle and building.

For polemical as well as pastoral purposes, the OT and NT authors depict God in combat with beasts (and other foes), followed by His construction of a holy dwelling place. The point is that these writers adapt ancient battle and building imagery to help us understand certain historical events. This fact should have our attention as we turn to Rev 20:1ff. This should be the case especially when we realize that 20:1-3 is preceded in 19:11-21 by victory over anti-redemption beasts and is followed in 20:4-6 by the establishment of a kingdom-city of saints. What’s more, 20:1-6 is then followed again in 20:7–21:8 by another sequence of victory (20:7-15) and the establishment of an eternal dwelling place for God and man (21:1–22:5).

In our next post, we plan to examine the Bible’s depiction of God’s combat and construction to see how the actions in those images are related to events in history.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7C The Dragon’s Imprisonment in Rev 20:1-3

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7A How Rev 19:11-21 Relates to Rev 20:1ff.

Posted by R. Fowler White

Bible-believing theologians have long recognized that before they can agree on the theological significance of Rev 20:1–21:8, they will have to agree on an answer to the question, Is the relationship between Rev 19:11-21 and Rev 20:1ff. one of historical sequence or historical repetition? In other words, should we read 19:11–21:8 as if the order of the visions represents the actual progress of events in history? Or does 20:7-10 retell the events of 19:11-21, while 20:1-6 tells of events that preceded 19:11-21 and 20:7–21:8?

In another place, I have argued in great detail that Rev 20:1-10 records a series of visions whose contents are related to Christ’s first advent and the interadvent age in 20:1-6 and to His second advent in 20:7-10. I’ll summarize here the three lines of argument that I believe establish this interpretation as the one that is best overall.

1. If the order of the events presented in Rev 19:11-21 and Rev 20:1-3 is interpreted as the actual progress of historical events, it makes no sense to speak of protecting the nations from deception by Satan in 20:1–3 after they have just been destroyed by Christ at His return in 19:11-21 (cf. 16:15a, 19).

2. To encourage the church militant, Rev 20:7-10 retells the story of Christ’s second coming already told in Rev 19:11-21. We know this for four reasons. First, John underlines the historical repetition in 19:17–21 and 20:7–10 by describing both the Armageddon revolt (19:17-21; 16:17-21) and the Gog-Magog revolt (20:7-10) in terms from the same prophetic passage, Ezekiel 38–39. Second, the repeated references to the battle in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 (not to mention 16:12-16) direct us to understand 19:11–21 and 20:7–10 as parallel accounts of Christ’s second coming. Third, God’s wrath against the Gog-Magog rebels in 20:7–10 and His wrath against Babylon and the Armageddon rebels in 19:11-21 (and 16:17-21) must both fall within the timeframe that Rev 15:1 establishes for the end of His wrath against the unbelieving world in history. Fourth, according to Heb 12:26-27, there is only one remaining instance of future cosmic destruction. Consequently, the scenes of cosmic destruction narrated in Rev 20:9-11; 19:11–21; 16:17–21; and 6:12-17 must all refer to that one event at Christ’s return. All of this tells us John recounts the story of Christ’s second coming in Rev 19:11-21 and 20:7-10.

3. Consistent with the function of angels ascending and descending in Rev 7:2; 10:1; and 18:1, the angel’s descent in 20:1 initiates a sequence of visions that has its ending (20:7–10) in the same setting as Christ’s return in 19:11–21 and its beginning (20:1–6) in a setting before that event.

While these arguments point to the correctness of associating both the Gog-Magog revolt in 20:7-10 and the Armageddon revolt in 19:11-21 with Christ’s second coming, they also perform another service: they constitute substantial evidence that 20:1–6 is a vision sequence, not chronicling events after the second coming, but recapitulating events before it. For more on Rev 20:1-6, stay tuned.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7B Interpreting Rev 20:1-3

« Older entries