Friday, April 23, 2010

My take on Revelation.

Another excerpt from the book- My reading of the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation centers on Jesus Christ as both the author and object of the Church's liturgical activity. Jesus Christ has by his death and resurrection actualized a new creation and determines his bride the Church as a new creation by freeing her from sin, death, the devil and the law. He thereby actualizes her as a creature capable of reflecting his glory through a sacrifice of praise. This occurs when humanity is re-created in the divine service through Word and sacrament in accordance with God's original design through faith. Nevertheless, as the book reveals, the divine act of redemption has a corresponding act of judgment. Jesus acts through both the law and the gospel. By his opening the book of the testament (the book of the seven seals) he unleashes the law's condemnation and its destructive effects. The opening of the book annihilates the old creation and its dependency on false worship centered on autopoesis. He also redeems his Church so that the message of judgment becomes glad tidings to the elect.
The book begins with the John encountering the risen Jesus (Rev. 1:7-8, 13, 19-20). Jesus is dressed in the garb of a high priest, and is described as being one like the “Son of Man” who has received universal dominion.[1] In chapter 4, Jesus is further described both as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (referring to the messianic prophecy of Genesis 49:9-10), as a “Lamb” “looking as if it had been slain” (4:5-6) (a priestly image borrowed from the Passover and Exodus narratives). In this, Christ is portrayed as a second Adam (who as we have seen was both a king and priest) and thus the progenitor of a new creation. Because as Genesis tells us, creation is inherently liturgical, with a new creation comes a new liturgy of creation (Heb. 7:12). This fact alerts us both to Jesus' identity and the liturgical nature of the book as a whole.
This new liturgy centers on the worship of the risen and ascended Jesus. When John enters heaven (Rev. 4:4), he discovers representatives of the people of God (the twenty-four elders- possibly representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles)[2] worshiping God the Father and Jesus (4:4) in the power of the sevenfold Spirit. They do so along with symbols of the creation (the four living beasts (4:6-8) are likely, according to David Chilton, symbols of the zodiac and therefore images of the starry heavens).[3] Jesus is portrayed as possessing a throne just as the hypostatized Divine kavod or glory does in many other contemporary Jewish apocalypses.[4] In this, Revelation is clear that Jesus is the Divine kavod who occupied the earthly Tabernacle and Temple from Exodus 40 to Ezekiel 10, come again (Is. 40) to "tabernacled" among us, as John puts it in his Gospel (Jn 1:14-5).
Because of this, we are shown that the worship of the New Testament is no different than that of the Old. Jesus who was the kavod worshiped and encountered in the Tabernacle and Temple, dwelling in the midst of Israel, is now the incarnate one dwelling the midst of the Church through Word and sacrament. The only difference is that whereas the old covenant restricted access to the Holy of Holies, Jesus has now torn the veil of the Temple (Mt 27:51, Mk 15:38, Lk 23:45-6) and given the Church direct access by way of his presence in Word and sacrament. He has now not only been exalted to the right hand of God (which is everywhere, since it is God's power and glory (Heb. 9:11), but in a special sense also dwells in the midst of and within believers through Word and sacrament. In this, the exile from the divine presence that occurred from Genesis 3 onward has been reverse via the divine Service. Each divine Service is a sharing in the act of heavenly worship. Each divine Service is also a restoration and completion of creation.
Jesus is praised as one who by shedding his blood has freed the Church to be a true liturgical community, a “kingdom and priests to serve our God” (Rev. 5:5). Not only does this represent a fulfillment of Isaiah 61, but it is a description of what Luther described as the freedom of a Christian. As "kings" (as some manuscript have it) or "a kingdom" they are "lords of all," as "priests" they are "servants of all." This freedom has occurred through the substitionary death of Jesus, typologically described as the true Passover lamb. The Passover lamb itself the substitutionary victim that freed Israel to come out of exile. Leaving exile, Israel gained the land of Canaan and partially restored the dominion that Adam had over the whole creation (Gen. 1:28). Christians, united with Christ through faith, have now received the whole creation again by being ". . . raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:16). Similarly, Israel itself became a "priestly nation" (Exod. 19:6) both prefiguring of the restored liturgical humanity of the Church and looking back to the original role of Adam in the garden as the protological high priest. Now, the Church has come out of the true exile of spiritual alienation from God byway of Christ and therefore become the eternally restored humanity (Eph. 2:12-3).
Though it would appear that the people of God have already been conformed to the true eschatological goal of creation by the divine service, the temporal world still stands under the sway of demonic forces. The lamb who sits at the “right hand” of God (an intertextual echo of Psalm 110:1), is given a scroll with seven seals that he alone can open. In the first century AD any scroll sealed seven times represented a "will" or "testament."[5] The Lamb is worthy to open it because he was slain and his blood is the catalyst for the giving of the redeeming testament of the gospel. As we shall see, the opening of this testament (the gospel of the forgiveness of sins) results in the re-creation of the world. Indeed, as Luther notes in the Small Catechism, "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation."[6] Nevertheless, it also leads to the judgment and destruction of the old creation, much like God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 led to the judgment of Egypt and Canaan. In the same way, in baptism, not only does the promise create the new person in Christ, but also drowns the old Adam or Eve (Rom 6).
The throne room scene of Revelation (which portrays the slain Lamb enthroned at the right hand of God giving his testament to his people won by his blood) provides a description of the Church's fellowship with Christ in the Lord's Supper mixed together with a description of the fellowship of the heavenly Church. In establishing the Lord's Supper (Mt 26:26-28, Mk 14:20-25, Lk 22:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:20-26), Jesus himself characterized his death as a means for the forgiveness of sins which enacts the new "testament" (diatheke) through his body and blood.[7] Jesus, therefore, dies so that he might "will" us his own life and righteousness to the Church. The Lord's Supper is a tangible giving of this testament. In Lord's Supper, Christ gives us his flesh and blood to eat in order to confirm his testament of forgiveness. We can be certain that this sacrifice has been offered for us in that God himself in Christ donates his own person to us in the form of his sacrificed body and blood (to sacrifice in the Old Testament is to drain the blood and thereby separate body and blood, see Lev. 17: 11-14). Similarly, just as by eating Adam had fellowship with Satan and fell into sin at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, by eating the Lamb sacrificed on the altar and tree of the cross, we reenter this fellowship with God who is bodily present "in, under, and with" the elements. As Revelation demonstrates, this also gives us a foretaste of the heavenly feast wherein we will have direct and unmediated fellowship with Christ in eternity.
The Word of the testament can also be a destructive law if it is rejected (Mt. 10:15, 1 Cor. 11:27-32). Because of this, the seals opened by the Lamb not only result in the redemption of the new creation, but the destructive judgment of the old. It is difficult, as Richard Bauckham notes, to directly identify any of the judgments unleashed by the opening of the seven seals with any particular historical events.[8] The apostle John, nevertheless, appears to see the pretentions of fallen humanity and its master the Devil as manifested in the prevalence of emperor worship under the Pax Romana. This does not of course mean that he sees this present embodiment of the spirit of Antichrist does not exclude his manifestation other forms. Doubtless, as he wrote his church, "many Antichrists have appeared"(1Jn 2:18).
John describes Satan as being thrown down from his place in the heavenly court (where he serves as chief prosecuting attorney- much as in Zech 3 and Job 1-3) by the blood the Lamb who has atoned for sin (Rev. 12:7-9). Due to his loss of power he seeks to make war against the temporal manifestation of the true liturgical community and its leader the Lamb through the organs of religion and state. The war of Christ and his people with Satan are portrayed with the image of the conflict between the seed of the woman and the dragon/serpent (13).[9] The imagery of the strife between the “Son of Man” and the serpent/dragon represent the culmination and fulfillment of the protevangelium (compare Gen. 3:15 and Rev. 13).
The Beast and his community are the antithesis of the Lamb and his community. Not only does the image of the Beast suggest a loss of the divine image through idolatry (most ancient idolatry took the form of the worship of animals- i.e., those who worship beasts lose the divine image through false worship[10]), but it describes an ethos counter to the testament of the gospel. The false community and “The Beast” (Rev. 13) are described as “Babylon” throughout the book. This suggests that several intertextual echoes are meant to be evoked by John. First, much as Babylon was the source of Israel’s greatest exile and the destroyer of Israel’s Temple, the universal world system of evil (presently manifest in the Roman emperor and the false worship of his cult) seeks to make the cosmic exile persist and to destroy the eschatological Temple, the Church (Eph. 2:20-2).[11] Babylon is thus a community that seeks to destroy creation through its stifling and rejection of the purpose of creation, namely the glorification of God. Similarly, as G. K. Beale notes, Babylon is associated with the tower of Babel.[12] Just as “ancient Babylon attempted to link earth to heaven through self-glorifying pride (Genesis 11:1-9) . . . latter-day Babylon would “pile-up” her sins “high as heaven.”[13] We might go a step further than Beale and suggest that just as ancient Babel once attempted to exalt itself into heaven, the Lamb is one who comes down from heaven and gives himself over to the service of his people. It is his self-surrender that makes him worthy to receive worship. For this reason, we must see Babel as something of an antithesis of the Tabernacle and Temple. Whereas the Temple and its true worship are established by God, the tower of Babel is established by humans. Whereas the Temple represented the descent of God to be in solidarity with his liturgical community (Exod. 40:34-5, 1 Kgs 8:10), Babel represented the exaltation of humanity of itself to God. In this sense, the true worship brought about by the gospel centers on the action of God for humanity, stands in contradistinction with the false worship of the Beast and Babel, which centers on human exaltation and autopoesis. In this, the community of the Beast is the culmination of Adam's original sin of false worship.
After a lengthy series of judgment, Christ leads his heavenly armies to conqueror the nations as the prophetic Word of God. We are told that Jesus wears a “robe dipped in blood” (Rev. 19:11-16) much like the earthly high priest. We are further meant to identify Christ with the heavenly high priest, the Angel of the Lord (Zech 3:1-5),[14] in light of the direct allusion to Isaiah 63. Just as the high priest prefigured Christ's expiation sins, he also prefigured his office as the divine warrior. The high priest reenters God's presence in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur in order to cleanse Israel from its sin. In this, he prefigured Jesus' defeat of the serpent which had led Adam into sin and removed him from God's direct presence. Christ is therefore the true heavenly high priest in that by expiation of sins he has defeated the chaos serpent (Is 27:1) that is, the Devil, and inaugurated a new creation. As the result of a decisive victory against his temporal opponents and the Devil, Christ reigns for a figurative thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). After a final judgment, the new heaven and new earth are established.
The new heavens and new earth recapitulate Eden and the Temple. The New Jerusalem is described as an "arboreal temple-city."[15] We are also told that this new creation is a culmination of Christ’s atoning work. Just as he surrendered himself to the Church as the its priest-king in his eschatological battles and atoning work, so at the end of all things he finally gives his entire being over to the new creation in order that it might be a Tabernacle of his presence: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them” (21:3) and again, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). In this, the new creation based on God's own self-donation in the gospel of Christ is completed by his establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem where there is no distinction between the city and the Temple. All existence delights in the presence of God and is devoted to the liturgy of the God and the Lamb


  1. A small question, based on one of your points here:

    Do you think that the doctrine (or, perhaps, theory) of concomitance in the Lord's Supper supports or undermines the sacrificial nature of the Sacrament, which you emphasize by pointing out that, in what is sacrificed, the body and blood are separated? On the one hand, the body and blood of a sacrificial victim have been separated; on the other hand, Christ is alive and not dead.

    I seem to remember that Luther was somewhat indifferent to the idea of concomitance, although clearly he and all following Lutherans was staunchly in support of communion in both kinds, after the necessary catechesis.

  2. I believe you are correct about Luther on this point, though Lutheran orthodoxy was far less tolerant. There's a lot of violent attacks on the idea in the theologians of the 17th century.

    Regarding concomitance, it's hard to say. Obviously Roman Catholics think that Christ is in a perpetual state of self-giving to the Father. So he would be a living victim. But on the other hand separation would more strongly suggest a sacrifice.

    For myself, it's hard for me to get worked up about concomitance. I would say that it seems to my mind to violate the words of institution, so I do not believe in it.