Last weekend I had the privilege of participating in an “End Times” conference in Blue Point, New York (Long Island). The conference was held at Blue Point Bible Church, pastored by Michael Miano. It was a great time of fellowship with like-minded believers, meeting Facebook friends for the first time, and learning from and being challenged by others. I also had the opportunity to speak on the following two-fold theme:
- What was the purpose of the end times?
- How do we walk worthy of the kingdom of God?
My presentation video was produced by one of the elders at BPBC. I’m a lot more confident as a writer than I am as a speaker, but I’m sharing this video here anyway and I’ll just hope that no one unsubscribes from this blog because of it. Below the video are my notes which correspond with about the first 29 minutes of the video. (Some readers may recognize that the first half of this lecture is based on my article titled, “Echoes of Mount Sinai in the Book of Revelation,” which was posted exactly two years ago today.)
One major theme which weaves through the book of Revelation goes a long way in answering the first question of this conference. This theme is covenant transition:
- preparing to see the old covenant – already obsolete when Revelation was written – completely vanish away
- revealing the glories of the new covenant – already valid when Revelation was written – which would soon stand alone
Proposal: Revelation guides the early church in navigating the transition period from one covenant to the next (old to the new), especially as that period was drawing to a close. This period lasted roughly 40 years (30 AD – 70 AD), parallel to the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.
Evidence: The same imagery that was present at the giving of the law, the old covenant, is echoed several times in the book of Revelation (4:5, 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18).
Parallel Scripture Passage: “In that He says, ‘a new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).
1. The background of these passages is Exodus 19.
a. The children of Israel were camped in the Wilderness of Sinai.
b. This was less than three months after leaving Egypt (verse 1).
c. God spoke to Moses from Mount Sinai.
“…Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings* and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’**… Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly (Exodus 19:1-18).
2. God reminded them how He bore the people of Israel “on eagles’ wings”*out of Egypt and to Himself.
*Compare to Revelation 12:13-14, where the persecuted woman “was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.”
3. God was establishing a covenant with them at this time, and He called them to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”**
**Compare this with John’s opening greeting to the seven churches, where he says that Jesus “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Revelation 1:6).
4. This meeting on Mount Sinai was for establishing the old covenant.
a. It was marked by thundering and lightning, the sound of a loud trumpet, thick smoke, and the whole mountain quaking greatly.
5. The same cosmic phenomena present at Mount Sinai are seen again in the book of Revelation. Obviously it’s not because the old covenant was being established in John’s day. Rather it’s because the old covenant was being dissolved in John’s day, and a new covenant was being established.
Four Passages That Echo Mount Sinai in Revelation
We will observe these four passages, with some brief notes on their significance:
“Around the throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones I saw 24 elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”
a. Who are the 24 elders?
b. Some scholars believe they are the 12 patriarchs of Israel and the 12 apostles.
- They represent the redeemed of both covenants, united in Christ.
c. The names of the 12 tribes and 12 apostles are written on the gates/walls of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12-14).
d. This covenant-establishing imagery takes place in the presence of elders representing both the old and the new covenant ages.
e. There are seven lamps representing seven Spirits of God. We see the number seven in each instance where these features at Mount Sinai are shown.
“And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”
a. This scene takes place at the opening of the seventh and final seal (Rev. 8:1).
b. It’s likely that these prayers are linked to the cries of the martyrs for God to avenge their “blood on those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10).
c. If so, the seal judgments are poured out in response to the prayers of God’s people.
d. The covenant-establishing imagery of Mount Sinai appears here because the prayers of the new covenant community were about to result in the old covenant system reaching its demise.
“Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
a. This scene takes place at the sounding of the seventh trumpet.
b. The 24 elders are also present at this scene (Rev. 11:15-16).
c. Loud voices declare, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
d. Here is perhaps the most explicit reference connecting the old covenant to prophecies in the book of Revelation.
e. John sees a vision of God’s temple housing “the ark of His covenant.
- In ancient Israel, the ark of the covenant was a centerpiece of the temple and the old covenant.
- The ark was located in the Most Holy Place and represented God’s presence.
f. When the judgments are over, what does heaven shout? “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).
- This did not suddenly become true because buildings fell in 70 AD.
- Paul told the Corinthian church that they were “the temple of the living God“ (II Corinthians 6:16).
- The downfall of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple in 70 AD demonstrated and confirmed that God had chosen the glorious new covenant over the inferior old covenant (see Hebrews 8).
g. In this same passage, John witnesses an earthquake that kills 7000 people in “the city” (Rev. 11:13).
- This is already identified as Jerusalem: “the great city…where our Lord was crucified“ (verse 8).
- Josephus wrote about one night in early 68 AD when “a prodigious storm” took place in Jerusalem, marked by “the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake.”
- Josephus added that the Jewish zealots allowed the Idumaeans to come in and help slaughter some of their fellow Jews who opposed their rebellion against the Romans. Between this slaughter and the earthquake, 8500 people died that night (Josephus, Wars 4:4:5, 4:4:7-4:5:1).
“Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great. “
a. This scene takes place at the pouring out of the seventh bowl.
b. John sees the great city, Jerusalem, divided into three parts.
- This is a flashback to Ezekiel 5:1-12, when the prophet was required to shave his head and divide it into three parts, and was told by God: “This is Jerusalem” (Ezek 5:5).
- One third of his hair was burned, one third was chopped up by the sword, and the last third was scattered into the wind.
- This was fulfilled when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. at the hands of Babylon. Jerusalem was also divided between 67-70 AD into three warring factions:  the Zealots, led by Eleazar  the Galileans, led by John of Gischala, and  the Idumeans, led by Simon.
c. Revelation 11 described a literal earthquake, and Rev. 16 describes literal hail.
- A talent was about 75-100 pounds.
- Josephus wrote of large stones shot from catapults by the Roman armies into the temple complex in Jerusalem. This happened during the 5-month siege from April-August 70 AD.
- The watchmen in the city reported these stones as appearing white in the sky:
“Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness” (Josephus, Wars 5:6:3).
- Josephus also records that the watchmen on the wall, when they saw the stones coming, would shout, “The Son cometh!” After a while the Romans learned to blacken the stones so that they couldn’t as easily be detected, and many more were crushed by these stones. J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book titled The Parousia, offers this explanation for the words of the watchmen (p. 482):
“It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood [in 62 AD]. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia.”
- The same phenomena that appeared at Mount Sinai appear repeatedly in the book of Revelation.
- They take place at the seventh seal, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl. In Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, and 28 God promised to punish Israel seven times if they abandoned His covenant. God said He would “execute the vengeance of His covenant” (verse 25).
- Other covenant imagery can be seen in these passages in Revelation where the phenomena of Mount Sinai appear.
- All of this shows that a major goal of the end times was to completely dissolve the old covenant system and to champion the new covenant age that Jesus established at the cross.
Just as the book of Revelation does, Galatians 4 and Hebrews 12 also contrast Mount Sinai and the new covenant, as well as two cities (earthly Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem) and two women (the harlot and the bride of Christ):
“For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven…to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant… Now this… indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace…” (Hebrews 12:18-28).
“For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage…and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is…but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all… ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ (Galatians 4:27-31).
The next post, Part 2, will include the notes that I used in the second half of my presentation, where we looked at Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 as a blueprint for how to walk worthy of God’s kingdom in the New Jerusalem.